ECAC First Round Preview
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Quinnipiac has long locked up the Cleary Cup, but the race behind them was closer than ever. Ultimately Rensselaer, Yale and Union joined Quinnipiac in gaining a bye for the first round.
Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Brown and Princeton earned home series for this weekend, which begins the race to Atlantic City. Winners of this weekends' series will move forward to play the teams that received the first-round byes.
12. Harvard at 5. Dartmouth
Early in the season, it appeared that Dartmouth was going to roll into a bye, but the Big Green struggled for consistency throughout the second half, going 5-8-2 in 15 league games. The reward for their struggles is a three-game first-round series with travel partner Harvard, which is actually playing its best hockey of late.
"That (Harvard) is a team we know and have a great deal of respect for,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “It should make for a pretty exciting playoff series for both teams as well as the fans in Thompson Arena this weekend."
Dartmouth began the season 5-0-1 and was 8-2-2 after a win against New Hampshire in late December. The problems have compounded though, as keeping up with the pace and the added attention was unsustainable. The win against UNH should have been the start of a stretch run that set them up well for the second half, but in some ways it sent them in the opposite direction.
The Big Green struggled with key injuries from mid-January through the early part of February, as Matt Linblad, Dustin Walsh and Eric Robinson all missed games. One constant for Dartmouth has been sophomore center, Tyler Sikura, but he has just four of his 29 points in the last 11 games. His presence has been especially missed lately, as he has not found the scoresheet in the last four games.
Harvard’s season was marred with an academic scandal that saw four players removed from the roster in early December and they have struggled with depth ever since.
The Crimson were doomed to the 12th seed because of a stretch of games that saw them go winless in ECAC league play from Nov. 17 to Feb. 15. During that stretch, the Crimson had just two non-conference wins against Boston University and went 0-12-1 in ECAC league play. Saying that stretch was a struggle for Harvard would be an understatement, as most of those losses were by three or more goals.
Recently, the Crimson have been on a resurgence of sorts that began in the Beanpot consolation game with a 7-4 blowout win of cross-town, Hockey East rival Boston University. Harvard is 4-2-1, including that win, with wins over Colgate, Clarkson and top-seeded Quinnipiac in their last seven contests.
Goaltending and defense, which struggled throughout the season, oddly enough has been a strong-suit in those seven games. Raphael Girard has given up just 11 goals in his last seven starts, while the Harvard defense has given up just 17 in the last 8 games.
Alex Fallstrom has led the way for them in recent weeks as he rides an eight game point streak into the playoffs, on four goals and four assists. Jimmy Vesey sits in second place on the team in points one point behind Fallstrom, but his production has fallen off a bit of late with just one goal in his last eight games. He missed two games in mid-February to injury with a knee injury.
This shouldn’t be a typical 5-12 matchup as both teams have been relatively inconsistent over the course of the season. Dartmouth won the season series with a 3-2 win on January 12th, while the two teams tied just three weeks ago. If there is an advantage to be had the Big Green are 10-4-1 on home-ice this season, while the Crimson are 3-9-1 on the road.
"We are excited to be at home and playing our travel partner at this point of the season,” said Gaudet. “Harvard is a team we played two extremely tough, hard-fought games against this year and we expect another tough battle from them this weekend."
11. Colgate at 6. St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence enters the first round on a three-game losing streak that cost it a first-round bye. Colgate also enters struggling, losers of seven of their last eight games. With both teams limping into the playoffs this series is sure to be an interesting one.
The fact that St. Lawrence is the sixth seed is surprising given that they were just 1-6-2 in their first nine ECAC contests. The early struggles were equally surprising because the Saints had done pretty well in non-conference action before entering league play.
Before the three game losing streak that plagued them near the end of the regular season, the Saints were one of the hottest teams in the country — 9-1-2 in the 12 contests before.
“The roller coaster as of late was due to sickness for Carey and (Kyle) Flanagan, who play such a big part in our success,” said St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel. ”If we can get both guys back and able to play at the top of their games I would suspect that we will play well as a team.”
St. Lawrence could be without senior star forward Kyle Flanagan, who had emergency appendectomy surgery last week. His 41 points is good for second in the ECAC and sixth in the country.
“Kyle’s participation in this weekend’s games is yet to be determined.” Said St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel. “If there is any possible way of him playing I expect he will play and if he does it will be a tremendous and inspiring lift for our team.”
Colgate is one of those teams that one can say is better than their record but they have struggled mightily on defense and in net. Despite leading the conference in scoring at 3.12 goals per game the Red Raiders are in eighth in scoring defense, as they allow 2.66 per game. With numbers like that one could expect a better record, but this is when conference only statistics matter as they sit ninth in scoring (2.36 gpg) and tenth in scoring defense (2.88 gapg).
The Red Raiders are very young. Four of their top five scorers are freshmen and sophomores. Colgate is led by a line composed of the Spink twins, both freshmen, and Kyle Baun. Tylor Spink leads the team in points with 29 and Baun leads the team in goals with 13. This line is probably one of the most exciting to watch in division I hockey because every time they are on the ice the show instantly turns to them.
10. Clarkson at 7. Brown
Brown enters the tournament 7-6-2 in their last 15 conference games. The Bears pride themselves on a strong defense that is ranked fourth in the ECAC. They allow 2.24 goals a contest and their goaltender, Anthony Borelli sits third in the ECAC allowing 1.77 goals per game. He has appeared in the last 20 games for the Bears and has started 19 of those. He has been an integral piece to their second half success that led them to a home ice berth.
If Brown has a struggle it is on the offensive side of the puck, as the Bears only score 2.41 goals per game. Matt Lorito is the guy to watch. He is the only Brown skater that has more than 20 points on the season, as he has 15 goals and 13 assists. Lorito is also the only Bear to have more than 6 goals on the season.
Clarkson has struggled mightily in recent weeks, as the Golden Knights enter the tournament 2-5-0 in their last seven games. Clarkson relies heavily on freshman netminder Greg Lewis. Lewis has started all but three games for the Golden Knights on the season and he has certainly had his share of troubles, allowing more than three goals in 17 of 32 games that he appeared in.
Clarkson also struggles to gain consistency scoring goals on a given night. Their top goal scorer, Joe Zarbo, has scored only 12 goals on the season and their top point guy, Allen McPherson has contributed just 25 points.
When the defense and goaltending struggle so does the offense. When it allows three or more goals, Clarkson is 1-9-6. Allowing less than that magic number would be ideal, as Brown certainly allots them an opportunity and whether they can take advantage will be the huge question mark heading into the playoffs. There could be a premium for goals in this series, especially if Clarkson’s Greg Lewis holds up well in his first playoff action.
9. Cornell at 8. Princeton
After a rough middle portion of the season Cornell recovered to have a strong finish going 4-1-1 in their last six games, including wins over some of the top teams in the league. Princeton on the other hand is coming in with the total opposite record of 1-4-1 in their last six. On paper it would appear that the teams are heading in opposite directions, but in the playoffs anything can happen.
Princeton’s season can be described as three within one; the beginning struggle to win games, the middle boom and the end fall. The Tigers struggled mightily out of the gate going 3-5-4 and then made up a lot of ground going 6-3-0 in nine games from early January to early February. Princeton has scored two or less goals in nine of their past 10 games.
Andrew Calof sits third in the ECAC in scoring, with 36 points on the year, while Tyler Maugeri also has an explosive side for Princeton scoring 23 points on the year. Those are the two players that can change the game for the Tigers, offensively, but Andrew Ammon also has the ability to find the back of the net with eight goals on the year.
Princeton goalie Mike Condon has struggled off and on this season, seemingly with the ebbs and flows of the team in front of him. His numbers may not be spectacular, allowing 2.42, but Condon has the ability to take over a game.
Cornell was predicted near the top in the preseason polls but suffered through a midseason funk that saw them lose 11 of 12 games from Dec. 29-Feb. 9. The struggles were profound as both ends of the ice were struggling. Much like Harvard, the Big Red have come back in a big way going 4-1-1 over their last six games.
Cornell is led by senior forward Greg Miller, whose 28 points on 14 goals and 14 assists tells only half the story of his production. He also boasts a plus-17 rating, good for a tie for second in the ECAC, which is quite remarkable given Cornell has given up 27 more goals than they have scored.
Junior Andy Iles has been the workhorse for the Big Red, starting every game again this season. His 2.37 goals against per game is sixth in the conference, but the numbers don’t tell the complete story. He has allowed two or less goals in his last eight games and if not for that terrible stretch Cornell went through they would be better.
Cornell, if consistent, will be hard to beat. The talent is there and so is the confidence. Its recent performances tell more than the performances during their skid.