Four Hot Teams Will Battle for a Title
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
The road to Atlantic City has ended with four teams advancing to the semifinals this weekend. Brown is the biggest surprise of the four and could cause a stir in the NCAA tournament picture if it were to win this weekend. Quinnipiac, Union and Yale will join the Bears in the semifinals as the teams fight for the Whitelaw Cup to be awarded on Saturday night.
1. Qunnipiac (26-6-5, 17-2-3) vs. 7. Brown (15-13-6, 7-9-6)
Season Series: 0-0-2
It's not surprising that Quinnipiac is in the semifinals. Brown on the other hand is being carried by strong defensive play and goaltending to a point where few thought attainable just a few weeks ago. Neither team has won the Whitelaw Cup in their histories, while Brown will be looking to make the NCAA tournament for only the second time in the past 37 years. Quinnipiac won a Division I conference title in 2002, when it was a member of the MAAC.
Quinnipiac will finish the season at the top of the Pairwise and receive the top seed in the NCAA tournament, which begins next week. As the top seed, it would get the closest regional to them, which is Providence. But Brown has an opportunity to ruin that plan if it was to win this tournament, as the host team of the Providence regional. It makes for an interesting storyline within a game that has so much meaning.
Quinnipiac had a grueling three-game series last weekend with Cornell. On Sunday night, unsung hero Kevin Bui scored in the second overtime of game three to send the Bobcats to Atlantic City. Bui had scored just one goal all season before the game winner.
Going to three games with the ninth seed would have been cause for concern coming into this round, but Quinnipiac was facing a Cornell team that had come on strong in recent weeks. On Saturday night, the Bobcats demolished the Big Red winning 10-0, responding to a Game 1 loss as well as they could.
“We are certainly excited to be moving on to Atlantic City,” said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “The Cornell series was a great series and a battle for my team.“
Being able to back up the regular-season success with the tournament title would be a huge step for QU going into the national tournament.
“I think we have handled the added pressure really well all season,” said Pecknold. “We have certainly had a lot of pressure and a media rush. When you are one of the top teams in the country, everybody comes to play wanting to knock you off the top of the totem pole. We have great leadership that has handled it well and I don’t think that will change.”
Unlike Quinnipiac, Brown will need to win the Whitelaw Cup to make it into the NCAA tournament. It will be the prohibitive underdog coming into this week, but it seems to like the role.
Brown held on for dear life in Game 3 Sunday night, racing out to a 3-0 lead on Rensselaer and holding on to win 3-2. The Bears may not be the flashiest team in the country, but they get the job done with great defense and solid goaltending; things that are always of utmost importance in the tournaments.
Anthony Borelli became the starting goaltender for Brown in early December and hasn’t relinquished it, going 13-8-4 in 25 decisions. His 1.72 goals against average in conference play is good for third behind Jason Kasdorf and Eric Hartzell. In Game 3, Borelli made 40 saves to seal the win for his team.
“Borelli is a fascinating story for us,” said Brown coach Brendan Whittet. “We are talking about a player that hadn’t played for us in three years and waited patiently. He has grasped his opportunity and become one of the elite goalies statistically in the country this year.”
Brown has struggled at times offensively, but Matt Lorito has been the bright spot. His 20 goals on the season puts him second in that category in the ECAC and he has scored one goal in each of the last six games for the Bears. No other player on the team has more than seven goals.
Brown is the only team Quinnipiac did not defeat in conference play; there were two ties. Brown can take something out of that.
“We know that we have to raise our level against Quinnipiac,” said Whittet. “They are a very crisp hockey team that is well coached and are hard to play against. This Friday we will need a totally different level hockey to move on to Saturday’s championship game.”
3. Yale (18-10-3, 12-9-1) vs. 4. Union (19-12-5, 10-8-4)
Season Series: Union won, 1-0-1
Union enters this tournament as the defending champion, while Yale comes in as winners of two of the last four tournament titles.
Union has put it together after being inconsistent for much of the season. Last weekend, it swept a solid Dartmouth team by an aggregate score of 9-3 and looked good in the process.
“I think they're a pretty complete team," Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said of Union. "Especially the defensemen who can move the puck. ... They're a tough, well-coached team.”
The Dutchmen are getting a steady mix of scoring up and down the lineup. Friday, Daniel Carr added two goals, and Saturday, Kevin Sullivan added two and an assist. It was the biggest question entering the season, but those questions have been answered in recent weeks. When the Dutchmen are winning, they are scoring in bunches. In four March contests, they have scored 4.5 goals a game and it should be no surprise they are 4-0. When they struggled for consistency, mainly from December through February, they scored just 2.3 per game and consequently went 7-10-4.
“We have been playing an overall sound game, not allowing the opponent many scoring opportunities,” said Union coach Rick Bennett. “That is very important playing a team like Yale because we are playing a team, which I feel is one of the best in our league or around the country.”
Defensively and in goal, Union is solid, but Troy Grosenick has come down to Earth a little from last season. He allows 2.17 a game, which is great, but nearly half a goal more per game than last season. With defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere, Greg Coburn and Mat Bodie, the Dutchmen are dangerous.
The Bulldogs have struggled, at times, on the defensive side, but with Jeff Malcolm in net, they have been solid. And Yale is coming off its most impressive all-around effort of the season. Last weekend, it swept St. Lawrence in two games, allowing just one goal in the process and holding at bay two of the nation’s leading scorers, Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey.
Everyone knows Yale can find the back of the net, too. Yale’s top scoring trio of Jesse Root, Kenny Agostino and Andrew Miller combined for five goals, eight assists and a plus-14 rating in the series against St. Lawrence. When those guys score, Yale is tough to beat.
Since Malcolm's return from an injury, Yale has won five in a row. Malcolm has a record of 17-4-2, while Nick Maricic and Connor Wilson are a combined 2-6-1. His 2.28 goals against average is not as flashy as some of the other goaltenders throughout the league, but his teammates provide him nearly three goals of support. When called upon he has answered the bell.
“Yale is a very dangerous team,” said Bennett. “They are quite possibly the best transition offense in our league. They have the speed, skill and hockey sense to make plays. It can be a very long night if you decide to turn pucks over.”