For the most part, the four ECAC Hockey teams playing this year made it through the season unscathed.
But news that Clarkson was cancelling its season last week after some team members violated the school’s COVID-19 policies brought back flashbacks to last March, when teams started to drop out of the league tournament before the entire hockey season was eventually canceled.
However, that wasn’t the case this season, as the three remaining teams are set to compete in the abbreviated ECAC Hockey playoffs starting Thursday, when fourth-seeded Colgate travels to No. 3 St. Lawrence at 5 p.m. The winner of that game will face top-seeded Quinnipiac at 4 p.m. Saturday, concluding what’s been an unusual ECAC Hockey season.
Teams have had to get creative this year in order to keep playing safely.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said that his team dresses in four different locker rooms, while goalie Keith Petruzzelli often changes in an official’s room.
Despite all the changes, the coaches are quick to recognize all the work that has gone into playing this season.
“I think Colgate and all the other schools still playing deserve a lot of credit for the time and money they’ve put in to get us to this place,” Raiders coach Don Vaughan said. “That doesn’t go unnoticed by our guys. Our guys are grateful that the school have stepped up. I think they’ve done a great job to continue to make that commitment to community healthy. Everybody is doing their part and we’re just thrilled to be playing.”
Here’s a preview of the three teams set to compete for the league championship later this week:
No. 4 Colgate at No. 3 St. Lawrence
Season series: Colgate 3-2-1
Top scorers: Colgate – Alex Young (6-7-13); St. Lawrence: Cameron Buhl (3-10-13)
Colgate ended the regular season with arguably its best win of the year, beating Quinnipiac 4-3 on March 6, while St. Lawrence resumed practicing on Sunday after a pause in team activities due to COVID-19 precautions.
“We’ve got to get our legs back,” said Saints coach Brent Brekke, whose team hasn’t played a game since Feb. 27. “We’re not going to get into optimal condition. That’s just the reality of that. It’s a balancing act of where you can’t tax the legs too much, but you have to try and gain your legs back.”
It helps that St. Lawrence has Emil Zetterquist in goal. The junior has been the Saints best player this season, and enters the playoffs with .928 save percentage.
But even with Zetterquist in net, Brekke knows that the Saints can’t afford to play passively.
“We talked to our guys; it would be easy to come off a ten-day pause where you haven’t skated for a week and a half just say that we’re going just going to sit back and not overextend ourselves. That’s not the way we’re built, but doing that, you have to manage the puck because you don’t want to get into a track meet where you’re going up and down the ice because you can get extended quickly.”
As for the Raiders, Colgate has been mired in a six-game winless streak before beating Quinnipiac to end the regular season.
“We’ve played two of the top 15 teams in the country a combined 14 times in Clarkson and Quinnipiac,” Vaughan said. “For our young team, that is a baptism by fire. We’ve learn a ton and we’ve grown as a group. From that standpoint, its’ been a great development piece.”
Colgate has gotten several important contributions from its freshman class this season. Goalie Carter Gylander has played the most minutes in net for the Raiders, while defenseman Pierson Brandon was named the league’s best defensive defenseman and forward Alex Young lead the team in scoring.
While the Raiders have played Clarkson and Quinnipiac plenty of times, Vaughan said it was probably the Saints who bottled the Raiders up in their own end the most of the three league teams.
“They were physical, every inch of ice was contested,” Vaughan said. “You’ve got two teams that are pretty similar in a lot of ways…for our young team, it’s going to be a great experience with a lot on the line and a chance to compete for a championship.”
No. 1 Quinnipiac
Top scorer: Odeen Tufto (6-38-44)
Season series vs. Colgate: 4-1-1
Season series vs. St. Lawrence: 4-1-1
In a way, Saturday’s championship is a microcosm of how the season has gone this year, as Quinnipiac won’t know their opponent until less than 48 hours before game time.
“In this year, you’ve got to deal with what’s in front of you,” Pecknold said. “We’ll be fine. Our guys will be fired up and we’ll be ready to play.”
Regardless of the opponent, Pecknold hopes his team isn’t too fired up, as penalties have hurt the Bobcats at times this season.
“The big thing is staying away from the penalties,” he said. “We’ve taken a lot of penalties this year and we can’t do that on Saturday.”
Despite that, Quinnipiac’s penalty kill has been clicking this year, especially in league play. A big part of that has been Petruzzelli, who has a .929 save percentage and is tied for third in the country in shutouts.
Offensively, Quinnipiac has been led by senior Odeen Tufto, who leads the nation in assists and faceoff winning percentage.
“He’s been as a good as any player offensively in a season that I’ve ever had,” Pecknold said. “He’s been absolutely dominant. He’s a weapon for us in all three zones. When I put him on the ice, we have the puck.”
It could be little details like that which give Quinnipiac the edge Saturday in what Pecknold expects Saturday to be a close game.
“We have to make sure that we compete and battle,” he said. “With the type of goaltending that either team is going to put in the net, it’s going to be a hard game.”
Around the league
* With Clarkson’s season over, junior forward Josh Dunne signed a two-year entry level deal with Columbus on Sunday. Dunne was one of the best two-way players in the league during his first two seasons, but got a late start this year due to an injury and finished with only five points in 14 games.
* The league has started announcing its end-of-year awards.
Here’s who has been honored so far:
Coach of the year: Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac
Rookie of the year: Ethan Haider, Clarkson
Best defensive forward: Zach Tsekos, Clarkson
Best defensive defenseman: Pierson Brandon, Colgate