ECAC Tournament Preview
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
The quarterfinals held suit. The top four teams in the league standings made it to Lake Placid for ECAC semifinals.
Not that it was easy.
"The league is phenomenal from top to bottom," said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. "We had tremendous games down the stretch and all year long. Now that Union, Quinnipiac and Yale have had recent success, we get noticed. Until you do that no one else will stand up and take notice. Until we did in the NCAA's what we have done in recent years we weren't going to get noticed. It is great for all 12 teams in our league."
Cornell and Colgate likely need to win at least one game this weekend to have a shot at the NCAAs. Union and Quinnipiac are the only two locks from the ECAC.
The ECAC returns to Lake Placid for the first time since 2002. The return has been a long time coming, after a three-year experiment in Atlantic City that was poorly attended. For players and fans alike, the experience of being in Lake Placid is typically a memorable one. The caveat is the Olympic-size ice at 1980 Arena, which was a sticking point for many years. But now that the league is back, most coaches are dismissing its importance.
1. Union vs. 4. Cornell
Season Series: 2-0-0 Union
Cornell played a tough, gritty three-game series against Clarkson last weekend, while its semifinal opponent Union swept Dartmouth in two games. The two teams played twice in the regular season with Union winning both. In those two games, Cornell scored just a lone goal.
Union has won consecutive Whitelaw cups and will be looking for an historic three-peat this weekend. The last ECAC three-peat occurred from 1974-1977, when Boston University achieved it. Interestingly enough, if Union can pull it off it will occur in the first three seasons of the Rick Bennett era. The 1974-1977 Terriers also achieved it in the first three seasons under Jack Parker.
The Dutchmen have been consistent since November, after a rough start. It holds the best record in college hockey since Nov. 1 at 25-4-2.
"Union is really good defensively," said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. "They are like a lot of other teams this time of year. Their special teams are really good and they are good defensively. People forget that Union is also very good offensively and have great offensive habits. They have good players but they have an excellent buy in to what they are doing as a team. They execute and find ways to win hockey games."
Shayne Gostisbehere and Mat Bodie get a lot of credit for this Union team but senior forward Daniel Carr has been stellar this season. He will be leaned on a lot by Bennett for experience and scoring. He leads Union with 20 goals and 40 points, including seven goals in the last five games.
"Dan has always been consistent here," said Union coach Rick Bennett. "His leadership really showed in the last series against Dartmouth, as he had a hell of a series. He was a difference maker for us.
"Any time that we have had success in the playoffs, we have had some guys really step up and really take the leadership role."
Union has the nation's fifth-best offense and fourth-best defense. It is the only team in the country that sits in the top five of both categories. Union has balance that few teams have but it is led by the back end. Its complement of defensemen aren't only great defenders but they skate really well, which bodes well for Lake Placid. Union is 3-0-1 on Olympic surfaces this year.
"From a size perspective we don't matchup very good with Cornell," said Bennett. "They are one of the biggest teams in the country and I'm not sure we are. The two games we played them were extremely tough. We came out of those two games very fortunate to win them."
Cornell comes into Lake Placid relatively healthy, despite a tough series with Clarkson last weekend, though still potentially without top-line center Dustin Mowrey.
"We are playing well enough to get back here," said Schafer. "The Clarkson series was one of the hardest fought that I have been involved in as a coach. Their team played extremely well and tough. It was an absolutely battle to get back to the final four of the league."
Andy Iles is a senior now, with a save percentage of .921, comforting facts for the Big Red.
"Andy Iles has seen it all in his career," Schafer said. "He has been in the championship and he has lost along the way. Now he gets an opportunity to do what all four teams' goal is, and that is to win a championship.
As a coach, few coaches know what they are going to get from their goaltender to start a game. But his career statistics and his consistency has just been outstanding since being here at Cornell."
Brian Ferlin was the hero against Clarkson with the overtime, Game 3 goal. He has been the only consistent scorer for the Big Red, with 13 goals this season. No other player has more than eight.
Prediction: Union: 3-1
2. Colgate Vs. 3. Quinnipiac; 7:30 p.m.
Season Series: 1-1-0
Quinnipiac and Colgate played an important league matchup two weeks before the end of the regular season. The young Raiders were poised and impressive pulling out arguably one of their better wins of the season. In that matchup, Quinnipiac was missing an important piece in Jordan Samuels-Thomas.
"It is pretty simple to figure out how important Samuel-Thomas is because we were 1-4-1 without him," said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. "We have been very good with him and not very good without him. One extra player makes us deeper. We just aren't deep enough to lose a high end forward. He makes us three lines deep and you have to pick your poison against us when he play."
For Quinnipiac, Samuels-Thomas will be in the lineup but it will be missing arguably its best defenseman, Dan Federico. Nevertheless, the Bobcats are first in the country in team defense, allowing just 1.95 goals per game. But the defense corps lack experience, with four freshmen getting the call on the blue line each game.
"Last year we lost four of our top six on D," said Pecknold. "A big part of our defensive success has been our freshmen have been really good. The two defensemen that have been really good for are Toews and Connor Clifton. They are two of our top four D. It is tough for freshmen defensemen to step in like they have."
QU will need to stop Colgate's talented forwards. The Spink twins, Tylor and Tyson, and Darcy Murphy, among many others, know how to put the puck in the net. When the two teams played in late February, Murphy and Tylor Spink combined for three goals. But the game was relatively even and the possession that QU usually dominates was hardly present.
"Colgate presents challenges to any team that they play, not just us," said Pecknold. "They are deep and have a lot of real talented forwards. The biggest thing with Colgate is trying to shut down the offense they get from their defensemen. We have to maintain our game."
Colgate has grown more than any other team in the country this season, especially defensively. Its entrance into the league's final four would have been a surprise early in the season, but right now it seems expected. Its defense has been one of the top ones in the country during the second half.
"We started the season with an emphasis on defense," said Colgate coach Don Vaughan. "It started with our first meeting. We felt we had enough weapons offensively that we would be able to score, but we didn't shut the door as well as we would have liked last year. We spent a lot of time early on. We didn't get the results we wanted initially, we had some big blowout games. It's still a work in progress."
The growth all began with a defeat of the top two Pairwise teams in the country, at the time. A shootout win at Minnesota was the biggest confidence booster and that is all this young team needed to grow. Since coming back from the holiday break, the Raiders are 12-3-3.
The one thing that Colgate doesn't have going it for it this weekend is experience. The Raiders are young with just one senior in the lineup. It all starts with the steady junior, Spiro Goulakos, on defense. This has been noticeable during the latter stages of the season.
The Raiders have a rock-star-filled sophomore class, with the Spink twins, Mike Borkowski, Murphy and Kyle Baun. The class has combined for 166 points and 66 goals.
"We know that we can beat them because we did a month ago," said Vaughan. "If we were coming in off the game in November we wouldn't be so confident. They were clearly the best team we have played all year long in that game and they are still the best team we have played this year. I have so much respect for their top guys. They have a little bit of everything."
Prediction: Quinnipiac: 5-4 OT