A Look at the First Half in the East
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
The CHN Oscars
A little-known fact: Slap Shot did not win an Academy Award, but it actually did win Best Foreign Language Film at Japan's Hochi Awards. Now, in the spirit of the upcoming awards season and the Oscar nominations scheduled to be announced later this month, here is an awards-style review of the first half of the season in both the ECAC and Hockey East:
Best Ensemble Cast (Best Team): St. Lawrence
The Saints come marching into the holiday season as one of college hockey's most surprising teams, and despite a recent surge by defending league champion Cornell, St. Lawrence has been the most consistently impressive team of the first half. Not having enjoyed any significant playoff success since their ECAC title in 2001, this year's St. Lawrence team has been characterized by an explosive offense led by senior star T.J. Trevelyan and a timely defense that has earned them wins against No.1 Wisconsin, No.5 Vermont, and a hard-fought tie against No. 2 Miami – all on the road. Often involved in high-scoring affairs, the Saints' league-leading offense has been balanced; 9 different players already have over 10 points. Leadership characterizes this cast of players; in addition to Trevelyan, who averages 1.16 points per game, seniors John Zeiler, Mike Madill, and Mike Zbriger have led the way for the 12-6-1 Saints, who will be put to the test with 7 of their next 9 games on the road.
Best Player in a Leading Role (Best Player): Tie ... Kevin Croxton, Rensselaer and Mark Dekanich, Colgate
As impressive as Trevelyan has been in leading the Saints, Rensselaer's Croxton has dominated offensively, with 11 goals and 18 assists in 19 games. Much as he has been his entire career, the senior forward from Calgary has been a bright spot for the Engineers this season, memorably scoring a third period game-winner to lift his team to a 3-2 victory over Boston University earlier in the year. This season, Croxton, the team captain, also reached the 100-point plateau for his career.
Meanwhile, having lost Steve Silverthorn to graduation, many questions surrounded the Colgate Raiders regarding their goaltending situation for this 2005-2006 campaign. However, in the first half, sophomore Mark Dekanich has put those questions to rest, playing exceptionally well between the pipes while allowing only 2.29 goals per game and boasting a .921 save percentage. Dekanich, playing behind offensive standouts Jon Smyth, Tyler Burton, and Jesse Winchester, will look to lead the Raiders to a return trip to Albany for the ECAC Final Four.
Best Breakthrough Performance (Most Improved Player): Mark McCutcheon, Cornell
With no goals in his first two seasons with the Big Red, forward Mark McCutcheon, son of former Cornell player and coach Brian McCutcheon, has blossomed into one of the most impressive and energetic players for Cornell this year. His increased playing time, in both even strength and special teams situations, has paid dividends for the Red. Twice since Thanksgiving, McCutcheon has scored game winning goals late in the third period, the latest coming against Quinnipiac with 30 seconds remaining, to lift Cornell to a 2-1 win.
Best Director (Best Coach): Ted Donato, Harvard
Harvard's run at yet another NCAA tournament appearance seemed to be in jeopardy entering the season, thanks in large part to the departures of last year's graduating class, which included Noah Welch, Dov Grumet-Morris, Ryan Lannon and Tom Cavanagh. The Crimson, who have reached the ECAC Championship game for 4 consecutive seasons, were expected to go through a rebuilding year. However, Donato, who won a national championship with Harvard in 1989, has his team playing at a level not many people expected of them. Harvard's 10-6-1 record includes road wins against Boston College, New Hampshire, and North Dakota, the last two of which were 1-0 shutouts for goaltender John Daigneau. Donato has the Crimson playing an up-tempo style relying on talented young players such as forwards Kevin Du and Jon Pelle. Thanks to Donato, who is only in his second year as head coach of the Crimson, don't be surprised to see the Crimson back in Albany in March.
Best Special Effects (Most Defining Out-of-Conference Moment): Tie ... St. Lawrence 1, Miami 1; and Harvard 1, North Dakota 0
It should be no surprise that the two choices be typical ECAC-style games, characterized by exceptional goaltending and solid defensive play. On December 9, St. Lawrence was out to prove its worth. Skating into a raucous Goggin Ice Arena on the campus of Miami University, the Saints gave the then-No. 2 Redhawks all they could handle, battling to a 1-1 tie in which St. Lawrence goaltender Justin Pesony stopped 30 of 31 shots. The previous weekend, Miami had swept the Michigan Wolverines, and the tie further legitimized the Saints' strong season thus far, showing that their early season win over Wisconsin was far from a fluke.
Last week, the Harvard Crimson stunned a crowd of almost 11,000 in Ralph Englestad Arena, skating away with a 1-0 win over No. 10 North Dakota. Goaltender stopped 29 shots, and Mike Taylor's third period goal was enough for the Crimson to hang on, despite a desperate late third period surge by the Fighting Sioux. In the years before coach Ted Donato's arrival, Harvard notoriously struggled in out-of-conference games, most notably in the NCAA Tournament. The win against North Dakota, especially following the Crimson's victories over Boston College and New Hampshire, is another example that, on any given night, a team from the ECAC can beat any team in the country.
Best Ensemble Cast (Best Team): Providence
The Friars, tied for first place in the conference, are certainly the story of the year thus far in Hockey East, and amidst a five-game winning streak that includes wins over Maine and Boston University, Providence has risen from the cellar to the summit in only half a season. With dependable and determined players such as goaltender Tyler Sims and forwards Torry Gajda, Chase Watson and Jon Rheault, coach Tim Army has legitimized a program that has struggled in recent years. And this is Army's first year with the Friars, who have relished playing at their home Schneider Arena, where they are an undefeated 7-0-1 entering the New Year.
Best Player in a Leading Role (Best Player): Tie ... Chris Collins, Boston College and Joe Fallon, Vermont
Collins' numbers speak for themselves: 15 goals and 10 assists in 16 games played. The assistant captain's versatility is what makes him such an outstanding player, as he dominates in every facet of the game. Collins, who has set the pace for the 10-4-2 Eagles, leads the nation in total goals, as well as shorthanded goals (4), and he leads the team in power play goals (5) and game-winning tallies (2). The senior forward closed out 2005 with a bang, scoring 2 goals in the championship game of the Denver Cup on New Year's Eve.
With an 11-4-1 record and a miniscule 1.61 goals-against average, sophomore Joe Fallon has certainly helped ease Vermont's transition to Hockey East. His 4 shutouts are tied for first in the nation, and he too had a memorable final weekend of 2005, stopping all 38 shots he faced in back-to-back shutouts of familiar old foes, Dartmouth and Clarkson. Playing behind an offense that has struggled at times this season, Fallon has allowed the Catamounts to win close games all season long and will look to continue his success in the second half against all Hockey East opponents.
Collins and the Eagles and Fallon and the Catamounts will play a weekend series in Chestnut Hill on January 20 and 21.
Best Breakthrough Performance (Most Improved Player): Billy Ryan, Maine
Sophomore Billy Ryan scored 15 points in 34 games last season. This year, through only 16 games, Ryan has surpassed that total, scoring 4 goals and 12 assists. Ryan's time on the power play has increased since last year as well. The forward from Milton, Massachusetts scored a game-winning power play goal against Boston College earlier this season, in a 2-1 win for the Black Bears. Ryan has been refreshingly consistent this season for Maine, whose season has been full of off-the-ice distractions. He is also the only Black Bear to average at least one point per game so far this season.
Best Director (Best Coach): Kevin Sneddon, Vermont
The Vermont Catamounts are 11-4-1 and have taken their transition from the ECAC to Hockey East in stride. And Kevin Sneddon, in his third season as head coach of Vermont, has a lot to do with it, encouraging a team system that relies on strong defense and opportunistic offensive play. As Sneddon told CHN earlier this season, " I think what we learned in the ECAC was to be very good defensively first and then build our game from there. Not that there aren't a lot of great offensive players in the ECAC, but in terms of systems, a lot of teams really focus on team defense. And that's helped us to be very good defensively in Hockey East now." Sneddon, who, like Harvard's Ted Donato, was on Harvard's 1989 national championship team, has been able to successfully prepare Vermont for the more up-tempo style of Hockey East and has turned a program that was 9-22-4 in 2003-2004 into the current No. 5 team in the nation.
Best Special Effects (Most Defining Out-of-Conference Moment): Tie ... Vermont's 4-0 start against WCHA teams; and Massachusetts 4, Colorado College 3
Vermont may have switched from the ECAC to Hockey East, but their first four games featured opponents from the WCHA. A 4-3 overtime victory over Michigan Tech at home, a 2-0 shutout at Alaska-Anchorage, and a dominating home sweep (5-1, 5-1) over Minnesota-Duluth propelled the Catamounts to a 4-0 start of what has been a very successful season so far. Immediately, Vermont gave itself, as well as Hockey East, some early season credibility.
The day after Thanksgiving, Gabe Winer (42 saves) and the Massachusetts Minutemen made the then-No.3 Tigers from Colorado College look like turkeys. Despite being outshot 45-24, UMass jumped on the shoulders of goaltender Gabe Winer, who made 42 saves and withstood a ferocious third-period onslaught of 18 shots by the Tigers to hang on for a 4-3 victory. The upset win has been Hockey East's only victory over a top-tier WCHA school this season, but it was as memorable a game as any in the first half of the season. The game also sent the Tigers reeling, beginning a stretch in which they won only 2 of 6 games.