This Week in ECAC Hockey: With shot at regular-season title, Clarkson ‘ecstatic,’ knows ‘a lot at stake this weekend in the league’

Zach Tsekos has notched eight goals and 26 points in 32 games this season for Clarkson (photo: Clarkson Athletics).

The schedule-maker couldn’t have drawn it up any better than Clarkson at Cornell on the final night of the ECAC regular season.

Even if the only thing on the line is pride, it’s always a compelling matchup. There could be more than bragging rights at stake, however.

Cornell is in first place in the ECAC with 34 points heading into Friday’s home game against last-place St. Lawrence, which is 59th out of 60 in the Pairwise. Clarkson, which plays at Colgate (44th in the Pairwise) on Friday, is second with 32 points.

Depending on Friday’s results, it’s possible that the top seed in the ECAC tournament won’t be decided until the Big Red and the Golden Knights collide.

Out of necessity, Clarkson’s title hopes start with a win on Friday.

“Saturday means nothing if we don’t get Friday,’’ said Clarkson coach Casey Jones. “With an opportunity to compete for a regular-season championship going into the last weekend, we’d obviously be ecstatic about that any year, right?’’

And this isn’t just any year. Both Cornell and Clarkson are among the top teams in the country.

The Big Red are 21-2-4 overall, 16-2-2 in the ECAC and third in the Pairwise. The Golden Knights are 23-7-2, 16-4 in the ECAC and 10th in the Pairwise. Whether they finish first or second, both teams will have a first-round bye and home ice in the second round of the ECAC playoffs. Cornell has all but locked up an invite to the NCAA tournament.

It’s looking good for Clarkson, too.

Cornell coach Mike Schafer doesn’t sit down with his team at the start of the season and set a specific goal of winning the ECAC regular-season crown. They take a get-better-one-day-at-a-time approach.

“It was just talking about staying in the moment and following the process all the time and good things will happen. What those good things are we don’t know, but we never try to look that far ahead. We might talk about where we want to get to, but that’s the end of the conversation,’’ Schafer said.

One thing Schafer didn’t expect was to have just two losses after 27 games.

“At this point, you’d be crazy to think it’s not a little bit of a surprise. Overall, we thought we had a chance to be near the top of the league and compete to get ourselves in the NCAA tournament. How you get there is you just set the goal to get better and better and follow our process throughout the course of the season,’’ he said.

The Big Red won 10 straight to start the season, lost a one-goal game at Dartmouth, then went 4-0-4 before getting blitzed 5-0 at Quinnipiac.

Since then they’ve won seven straight, including back-to-back shutouts at Yale (4-0) and Brown (3-0) last weekend.

“We didn’t think in that (Quinnipiac) game that we competed hard enough or we weren’t focused on our process of being solid defensively and focusing on things that we could control. A lot of things that had been creeping into our game came to a head,’’ said Schafer.

“We’ve been much better defensively since that point. We’ve been committed to get above people, committed to our defensive zone and playing just simple hockey. Sometimes getting whacked like that is a good thing.’’

Clarkson had won five in a row and seven of eight before taking a step back in a 5-2 home loss to Harvard last weekend. A night later, the Golden Knights rebounded to beat Dartmouth 4-0.

“We had a hiccup on Friday. We were a little disjointed early and Harvard jumped on us quickly. We battled back, but could never get that second goal to get back in the game,’’ Jones said.

He likes his team’s resilience.

“We’ll see Friday,” said Jones. “It will be another test. Colgate’s always given us fits. They’re well-coached. Our league is so close in different spots. We’re kind of separated for the bye, but the guys with the first-round byes aren’t set, the guys hosting second round around aren’t set. There’s a lot at stake this weekend in the league, almost in every game.”

Bobcats bite back

Facing Brown and Yale at home this weekend, Quinnipiac will look to clinch third-place in the standings. With 26 points, the Bobcats are one point ahead of Harvard.

Last Saturday, junior Odeen Tufto put on a terrific display of leadership as Quinnipiac rebounded from a 4-0 defeat on Friday at Rensselaer by coming from behind to beat Union 3-2 in overtime.

It was the first victory for the Bobcats at the Houston Fieldhouse since Nov. 2014.

It appeared that Tufto might have to leave the game in the second period after he tried to jump around Union’s Ryan Sidorski and took a nasty spill.

But the junior assistant captain was soon back on the ice and midway through the third period he tied the game with a second-effort goal. Then he scored the winner on a power play with 45 seconds left in overtime.

Quinnipiac poured 53 shots on Union goalie Darion Hanson, outshooting the Dutchmen 21-6 in the third period and 5-0 in OT.

By the way, Friday night is Rand Pecknold Bobblehead Night with the first 1,000 fans receiving a bobblehead of the Quinnipiac coach.

RPI on the rise

Rensselaer starts the weekend in fifth place, two points behind Harvard and looking to move up. The Engineers will visit the Crimson on Friday before moving on to Dartmouth.

RPI has already wrapped up home ice in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in several seasons. They could earn a first-round bye if they can move up to fourth place.

“The quest for the perfect game never ends, from the coaching perspective, but a lot of good things happened, not only tonight but this weekend,’’ said coach Dave Smith after his team beat Princeton 7-1, one night after blanking Quinnipiac 4-0.

One of the sparkplugs for the Engineers lately has been senior right wing Todd Burgess, who has nine goals in his last eight games. He became the first RPI player to score four goals in a game in 20 years on Saturday. Burgess and linemates Jake Marrello and Ture Linden combined for nine points.

“It was one of those nights when the puck was just following our line,’’ said Burgess. “Our line’s been moving, doing the little things right. That’s where it starts and we need to continue to do those things.’’

‘One of those games’

Coming off a 3-1 win over Colgate on Friday, Brown gave first-place Cornell a run for its money before losing, 3-0, at home on Saturday.

The Bears trailed by goal past the midway point of the third period when Cornell’s Sam Malinski threw the puck to the front of the net and it bounced in off the skate of a Brown defenseman. The Big Red added an empty-net goal with 2:33 left.

“They’re obviously a very good hockey team. They’re very good structurally, they make you earn every bit of ice, but we got better as the game went on. I thought we played with a lot of intensity, but just was one of those games,’’ said Brown coach Brendan Whittet.