ECAC Quarterfinal Preview
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Last weekend, Dartmouth was the only team that needed three games to advance, as it defeated Harvard 6-3 on Sunday. St. Lawrence, Brown and Cornell all swept their respective series.
Looking ahead, there are numerous great matchups and a lot at stake, in what usually is one of the most exciting and frantic weekends of the season.
9. Cornell at 1. Quinnipiac
Cornell swept two games at Princeton last weekend, a mild upset seeding-wise, but not given how the teams have played coming into the playoffs. Cornell is playing its best hockey at the right time. It didn’t seem fazed against a solid Princeton team. Seven different skaters found the back of the net for the Big Red, including senior center Greg Miller's three assists on Saturday. Miller has 16 points in his last 12 games on seven goals and nine assists.
Cornell's offense has been renewed, after slumping badly during a mid-season seven-game losing streak. The defense, too, has made improvements, and those have gone hand in hand.
"We changed a couple things in our systems," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "Nothing major, but one was to make us better in the neutral zone, which I think we have been. And the second, on our forecheck we made a little adjustment. And defensively, look at the numbers, it's helped us out. But it's also given us transitional goals.
The Big Red have come a long way since their middle of the season rough patch, which saw them go 1-10-0 in an 11-game stretch.
"Through that long stretch, there was some games we played really well," Schafer said. "You could see the whole disappointment. When we outshot Princeton 39-12 at home and lost 1-0, that could've been the lowest of the low for us as a team. And you're wondering if you're ever going to score again. I'm happy to see young men overcome that adversity and get rewarded. It's a great life lesson.
"There's obviously areas where I wasn't getting through, and you go through that, and you have to figure it out. But they're the ones that deserve the credit. They stuck together. They didn't turn on each other, we didn't turn on them, and they didn't turn on us.
Cornell suffered a big loss when center Cole Bardreau was lost for the season, but the Big Red are expected to get center Dustin Mowry back in the lineup this weekend.
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac enjoyed last weekend off. But byes can be good and bad.
The Bobcats have cooled down considerably in recent weeks after an impressive 21-game unbeaten streak that was snapped by St. Lawrence on Feb. 15. Quinnipiac has gone 3-2-1 in its last six, including losses to St. Lawrence and Harvard. Twenty-one games is as impressive as it gets in college hockey, but that was the regular season, and the only way it is validated is by winning more games in the tournament.
Quinnipiac boasts the nation’s top defense, which allows just 1.59 goals per game. Goaltender Eric Hartzell is key to that, but like most great teams the Bobcats play a tough, in your face defensive game hardly anyone in the country rivals. Hartzell is tied for second in the country in GAA at 1.49. He has played in all but one game for the Bobcats.
Quinnipiac has also scored in bunches for much of the season. Thirteen Bobcat skaters have posted 10 or more points this season, led by veteran forward Jeremy Langlois. Langlois has 28 points on 12 goals and 16 assists. Quinnipiac is arguably the deepest team in the conference, as anyone in the lineup could light the lamp for them.
This should be a classic series, as Cornell is better than its seed. Quinnipiac caught the Big Red at the right time twice and swept the season series by an aggregate 8-2 score. In some cases numbers lie, and this may be a prime example. This series will be a great chance for Quinnipiac to prove themselves. It is already assured a high seed at the NCAAs, but everyone seems to be waiting for the Bobcats to falter. So a lot rides on this for them as well.
Before even knowing he was going to face Quinnipiac, Schafer gave great credit to the Bobcats. But in a friendly word of warning, more than anything — coming from experience of being in this situation — Schafer acknowledged Quinnipiac's lack of experience in this situation.
"They have so many seniors on that team. Starting from Hartzell out, I believe they start 10 seniors on any given night. Their special teams are great," Schafer said. "They’ve bought into a real team concept. Senior night for them must have taken about three hours. They’re built for the playoffs. But now the pressure’s on. They’re heading into that unchartered territory now – what happens if they lose? It can be paralyzing. What if we lose? What if we don’t get to the ECAC championships?"
6. St. Lawrence at 3. Yale
The Saints came out Friday night inspired by the return of star forward Kyle Flanagan, and they raced out to a 4-0 lead in the game and a 1-0 series lead. They backed it up the next night by sweeping Colgate out of the playoffs.
His appearance, returning from emergency appendectomy surgery 10 days prior, did exactly what coach Greg Carvel said it would — inspire his team. The Saints had lost the previous two games entering the tournament, without Flanagan. His team is 1-9-0 when he fails to get a point, including 0-3 when he doesn’t play.
St. Lawrence is dangerous because of its two star players, who can find the back of the net regularly. Along with Flanagan, the Saints have the nation’s leading scorer, Greg Carey. The dynamic duo has combined for 98 points, and Carey leads the nation in goals with 28 in 36 games.
The only question mark is whether the Saints can get consistent defensive play and goaltending. Two weeks ago on the road, goalie Matt Weninger and the Saints gave up nine in a weekend sweep. It is those defensive games that need to disappear in the tournament.
Yale has played better in recent weeks, thanks in large part to the return of Jeff Malcolm. The Bulldogs lost five games in a row early in February as Malcolm missed five games due to injury. Yale is 0-6-0 when Malcolm does not appear in the game, and 16-4-3 when he does.
As is usually the case with Yale, it has many explosive players, led by a top scoring line of Jesse Root, Kenny Agostino and Andrew Miller (a combined 87 points). Those three lead the way on an offense ranked fifth in the conference. But the Elis also add dangerous power forward Antoine Langaniere into the mix, with his 24 points.
One should expect a high-scoring series. Yale swept St. Lawrence during the season, with wins of 5-3 and 4-2.
5. Dartmouth at 4. Union
Dartmouth survived a three-game series against Harvard, turning it on the last two games after losing Game 1. Union comes in somewhat inconsistent winners of just four of their last nine contests. The teams have never faced each other in the ECAC playoffs.
“Union is a great team,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “They were a Frozen Four team last year that got a lot of guys back and are very well coached.”
Dartmouth’s play Sunday night was reminiscent of its first 12 games, when it went 8-2-2. After a rough first period, where the Big Green were sloppy with the puck, they scored an early goal in the second and scored often after that, winning 6-3. The response in Games 2 and 3, after a Game 1 one loss, are what people would expect from a higher-ranked team.
Dartmouth is dealing with injuries on the blueline that forced Gaudet to dress just five defensemen Saturday and Sunday. This lack of depth was hardly noticeable over the weekend, as the Big Green did a great job rotating available defensemen. It helped that freshman goaltender Charles Grant also played well. Cab Morris picked up the 2-1 loss on Friday. But the defense could be an issue against a better Union team.
Although Dartmouth is lacking depth on the blueline, it isn’t lacking it up front. In Game 3, the Big Green received goals from all four lines including three from the listed fourth line, as Brad Schierhorn added two goals and Eric Robinson potted another. This is good, but front liners like Tyler Sikura, Dustin Walsh and Matt Lindblad need to be noticeable if Dartmouth wants to advance to Atlantic City.
“We had two great games with them earlier in the season,” said Gaudet. “We won here and we tied there. They are a hard, tough and skilled team. It will be a good matchup for us and I like the fact that we aren’t travelling too far, so it won’t be too strenuous on the guys.”
Union had the talent to be further up in standings than fourth but they were never able to gain the consistency needed to do so. Union does comes in off a sweep of St. Lawrence and Clarkson in the last weekend of the regular season, but the Dutchmen finished with five straight losses on the road.
After a phenomenal sophomore, all-American season that saw him lead Union to its first Frozen Four, Troy Grosenick has struggled off and on this season and coach Rick Bennett has had a short leash with him in recent weeks. He has allowed nearly a half a goal more per game, with a 2.22 GAA. But Union knows that if he can come alive in the ECAC postseason, anything is possible going forward.
Union actually has the second best goal differential in the ECAC. But the Dutchmen have struggled mightily to win the close games this season.
Seniors Kyle Bodie and Wayne Simpson both have more than 30 points on the year, while five other skaters have 20 or more points. Three defensemen have more than 20 points — Shayne Goestibehere, Greg Coburn and Mat Bodie. Activating the defense has been key in their success the last two seasons.
There is so much on the line for both teams. Union sits 16th in the Pairwise, while Dartmouth sits 19th. One team could make a charge with a sweep of the other this weekend, but the loser will probably have to deal with the end of their season.
7. Brown at 2. Rensselaer
Rensselaer entered the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country, earning the second seed and a bye. Brown had its travails throughout the season, but defeated Clarkson in two games to advance to the quarterfinals.
The Bears made quick work of Clarkson in a weekend series. They won 3-0 on Friday and raced out to a 4-1 lead on Saturday en route to a 4-3 victory. Brown goaltender Anthony Borelli stopped 65 of 68 shots.
Considering the start the Engineers had in conference play, 0-6-1, earning a bye was rather phenomenal. Rensselaer finished the season 9-1-0, and the late hot streak can be traced back to the point that Jason Kasdorf returned as the starting goaltender.
On the season, Kasdorf has shut down opponents, allowing an ECAC-second-best 1.51 goals against average and stopping 94 percent of shots. His play has been a bright spot for the Engineers, but really the whole second half has been filled with good efforts.
Rensselaer's scoring has picked up, too, during its 9-1-0 stretch — 39 goals in 10 games. Defenseman Nick Bailen leads the team in scoring with 31, while Matt Neal, Jacob Laliberte and Ryan Hegarty have all added 20 or more points. It's rare for a defenseman to lead a team in scoring, but that is the weapon that is presented to any Engineer opponent.
Rensselaer won the season series 1-0-1 against Brown, thanks to a 5-1 win nearly a month ago. Both teams have great goaltending, but the question will be whether Brown can stop the firepower that Rensselaer will present to them.