ECAC Championship Preview
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The ECAC switches its postseason championships to Atlantic City, N.J., after an eight-year stint in Albany, N.Y. Whether the move pays off, remains to be seen.
In the mean time, expect some passionate hockey games, with a lot riding on it. Only Yale is guaranteed an NCAA bid. Dartmouth will get one with at least one win. Colgate and Cornell need to win the championship.
No. 2 Yale (25-6-1) vs. No. 12 Colgate (11-26-3)
Colgate has already knocked off the highest seed playing in the first round, RPI, and the highest seed in the whole tournament, Union. So why not the highest seed remaining, and the team that just so happens to be No. 1 in the Pairwise?
Hey, crazier things have happened. Actually, no, they haven't. Brown reached this spot from the No. 11 seed last year, but then journey ended there.
"It was a frustrating regular season," Vaughan said. "We had a lot of close games. At the end of the day, it took its toll on the psyche of the team. That said, we're extremely proud we stuck with it. The attitude remained focused and somewhat positive."
In both cases in these playoffs, Colgate lost the first game, was up against the wall, and was allowed off the deck, then stormed back from there.
This is a team that was picked to be in the top four in preseason polls. But things spiraled massively from there. It wasn't until February that the Raiders got their first league win, against Clarkson.
"From there, you could really see the light go on with the team," Vaughan said. "They came to the rink with a different attitude. We were fortunate to get the bounces in both (playoff) series that we weren't getting before."
The winning goal in overtime last week was scored by Wade Poplawski, his first goal of the season.
"The last two weeks, the backbone has been Poplawski," Vaughan said. "And not just because he scored the game-winning goal (last weekend). He was the MVP of the team against RPI. We tried to match him with Chase (Polacek), and he's a hard guy to contain. He's been injured on and off. He missed a large block of games."
There are numerous other players finally living up to potential, as well. And the goaltending of freshman Eric Mihalik has been a revelation.
Vaughan expects to maintain a business-like approach in Atlantic City.
"We feel we play better when we're focused," Vaughan said. "Because I've tried everything. But my experience is that we haven't performed when we're too loose."
Yale, meanwhile, knows it's in the NCAA Tournament, but still has plenty on the line. It's playing for the No. 1 overall seed in the whole thing, which would be a good advantage, especially when doubled with playing at nearby Bridgeport in the first round of the NCAAs.
Yale, which won the ECAC Tournament two seasons ago, was knocked out by Brown in last year's quarterfinals. It managed to avoid the same fate this year by bouncing back from a Game 1 loss to St. Lawrence, only to dominate the next two games.
"I still contend we played pretty well last year, and the goalie (Brown's Mike Clemente) stole it. ... But the thing I like about our team this year is we played OK Friday, and got better every period of the series. And that's the direction a coach likes to see things go."
Yale's offense is truly special. They are fast, great stickhandlers, great in traffic, and they are tenacious. The team will go as far as the goaltending and defense takes them, and so far, that's been pretty good this year.
One thing to note: Colgate did manage a 1-1 tie with Yale in Hamilton.
No. 3 Dartmouth (18-11-3) vs. No. 4 Cornell (15-14-3)
These two played a pair of tight games this season, with Cornell winning in overtime at home, and the teams tying in Hanover.
"There was so much energy and really good action for the game here, it went up and down," Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. "In Ithaca, they made a nice play to win — they got a puck to the net on a screen and got the goal.
"Our styles are fairly close. We like to think we're a good, solid defensive team. We spread it around on offense."
Gaudet said that his team is well-prepared for Cornell, coming off a grueling three-game series with Harvard.
"(Harvard) played a style where they were physical and we had to fight for ice," Gaudet said. "That's excellent preparation for Cornell. They played everything very close to the vest."
Still, expect Dartmouth to try to stretch its legs a bit against the Big Red.
"We don't have quite the transition that Yale does, but we like to play the game the way it should be played and Cornell does the same thing," Gaudet said.
"(Cornell) is always well-schooled and disciplined."
While Dartmouth settled into using junior James Mello all season in goal, after he finally came into his own this season, Cornell has strictly rotated junior Mike Garman with freshman Andy Iles. The pair has put up nearly identical numbers this season.
The Big Red started out the season poorly, still recovering from the loss of a lot of talent off last year's team. But they picked it up in the second half, and suddenly, here they are in position for a 13th ECAC Tournament championship. They come off an overtime win over Quinnipiac in Game 3 of the quarterfinals last Sunday, when Joe Devin scored his second of the game and team-high 17th of the season.
"The week off allowed us to practice things that we were lacking the last three-to-four weeks (of the regular season)," Schafer said. "But it's difficult to get that with everyone playing three games last weekend. You want to be energized. It's not a typical preparation week. A lot of lessons were learned (in games)."