ECAC Playoff Picture
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
Take a good, hard look at the ECAC standings heading into the final weekend of play, because next week, it could be an entirely different story. Every team, top to bottom, has two games remaining, with plenty of jumbling left. The possibility of a four-point weekend could vault a team to a league championship, a first-round bye, home-ice, or a favorable first-round match up.
With all that on the table, things are understandably messy.
At the top of the league, Yale (14-4-2, 30 pts), Princeton (14-6-0, 28 pts), and Cornell (12-5-3, 27 pts) have all sewn up a bye for the first round of the playoffs, and all three are still mathematically in the running for the William J. Cleary cup as regular season champs. A single win by Yale, however, will bring the hardware back to New Haven, though those two points will be hard-earned, as one of their remaining games is against the Big Red - a team that knows all too well how close the league can play out.
"Honestly, from a coaching standpoint ... there's not a whole lot of difference between a lot of teams in our league," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. His Big Red team also heads to Brown to finish out their schedule. "The league's been deeper than it's been in many, many years."
Proof of that is the race for the fourth seed and final first-round bye. Currently, St. Lawrence (9-7-2, 22 pts) holds the edge, though Dartmouth (10-8-2, 22 pts), tough-luck losers of three straight, could just as easily take hold. Harvard (7-7-6, 20 pts) still has a foot in the door, though would need to tackle Quinnipiac and Princeton - no easy feat. The Bobcats (8-9-3, 19 pts), as well would need all four weekend points to finish as high as fourth, but could also go as low as ninth.
"Ultimately, you'd like to be in the top four," Harvard forward Nick Coskren said. "If that doesn't happen, I think that's all right. We want to go on a run and really be clicking as a team as we go into the playoffs. Going into this weekend, if we can just keep building on the same path we're on, we have a great shot going into the playoffs."
You don't have to be an Ivy League student to know the importance of the last remaining top-four spot, as other teams are ready to fight it out, as well.
"We really want to get into fourth place and get the first-round bye," said Quinnipiac's Brian Marshall, who recently broke the team's D-I scoring record. "It’s much easier to get to [ECAC semifinals and final site] Albany just needing to win two games at home. We know we hold our own destiny."
Of course, having to settle for a seed numbered 5-8 isn't necessarily the worst thing in the ECAC either. All get to play their opening round matches at home, though current number eight, Union (8-10-2, 18 pts) and nine, Clarkson (7-9-4, 18 pts) could climb as high as the fifth seat, though they could, along with Harvard and Quinnipiac, face the challenge of playing every playoff series as the road team as the ninth seed.
With everything being so close, tie-breakers will inevitably come into the play. The first would be head-to-head play, followed by conference wins, a rule instituted after last season which could have a serious effect on the playoff makeup.
Clarkson coach George Roll isn't preparing for the worst however.
"I think we'll be fine," he said about this weekend's games at Brown and Yale. "We've proven we can play with anybody in our league."
Colgate (5-11-4, 14 pts) and Rensselaer (6-13-1, 13 pts) are already resigned to the away-game playoff squad, though they can still jockey for a better first-round match-up. Brown (3-14-3, 9 pts), in the twelfth spot, must wait until the dust finally settles, as will the rest of the league - the final regular-season game will have Colgate traveling to Yale on Sunday - to see where they'll head for their first-round tilt.