There are four teams left in ECAC Hockey, each with a different storyline entering the championship weekend in Lake Placid.
Cornell is looking to add to its trophy case, as the Big Red already won the ECAC Hockey and Ivy League titles this year. This is the tenth time in the last fourteen years that Cornell has made it to the league semifinals. The Big Red will face seventh-seeded Princeton, who are playing in the championship weekend for the first time since 2009.The Tigers lost to in double overtime to Cornell in the semifinals before tying St. Lawrence in the now defunct third-place game.
Fourth-seeded Harvard is looking for its third Whitelaw Cup in the last four years. The Crimson might not be as dominant as in recent years, but still have a dangerous team led by ECAC Hockey Player of the Year Ryan Donato, who had a hat trick in Game 3 of the league quarterfinals Sunday against Dartmouth.
Harvard will go up against No. 3 Clarkson in the second semifinal game on Friday. The Golden Knights are making their first appearance in the semifinals since 2007, when it beat Quinnipiac in the championship game to win the Whitelaw Cup.
The Big Red are the only one of the four teams that enters the weekend assured of an NCAA tournament bid. Clarkson, which is currently tied for tenth in the PairWise, has a high chance of getting an at-large bid should it not win the championship, while Princeton and Harvard will need to win twice this weekend in order to make the national tournament.
Here are the picks for Friday’s games. I’ll be on the road today to Lake Placid and will provides updates from all three games as well as post my prediction for Saturday’s championship game.
Friday, March 16
No. 7 Princeton vs. No. 1 Cornell, 4:05 p.m.
Season series: Cornell, 2-0
This is an interesting matchup, as Princeton plays a high-flying, run-and-gun type of game, while Cornell is more methodical, but still plenty dangerous offensively. The Tigers might have two of the most dynamic lines in the country, led by junior Ryan Kuffner and his 29 goals, while Cornell goalie Matthew Galajda was named ECAC Hockey’s rookie of the year and goalie of the year. However, Princeton has had defensive issues at times this season, which could hurt it against a Big Red team that doesn’t have the big guns Princeton does, but is deep offensively.
Coach Mike Schaefer and his staff have begun to recruit more speed to the Big Red, and it’s paid off this season, as Cornell is averaging more than three goals a game for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Princeton continued its hot streak, but I think the Big Red are stout enough defensively to hold off the Tigers while being able to generate enough offense for the win. Cornell wins
No. 4 Harvard vs. No. 3 Clarkson, 7:35 p.m.
Season series: Harvard 1-0-1
Despite a late-season slump, the Golden Knights are still a formidable team. I think Clarkson might be a little deeper than Harvard, but Donato is without a doubt the best player on the ice. Both teams have talented puck-moving defensemen, while Golden Knights goalie Jake Kielly tailed off a bit down the stretch as Clarkson struggled, but is still one of the top goalies in the conference.
As the higher seed, the Golden Knights get the last line change, which should be key in getting Nico Sturm’s line matched up against Donato. Sturm, a sophomore, leads the nation in faceoff winning percentage and was voted the league’s top defensive forward.
Again, this is a game that I could see going either way. In the end, I think the Golden Knights are a little stronger defensively and that should be the difference. Clarkson wins