March 11, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Playoff Preview

CHN Staff Report

Yale's Ryan Rondeau has emerged as a capable backstop. (photo: Sam Rubin)

Yale's Ryan Rondeau has emerged as a capable backstop. (photo: Sam Rubin)

Capsule previews of this weekend's ECAC quarterfinal series:

1. Union (25-7-4) vs. 12. Colgate (9-25-3)

Colgate was picked by many to finish in the top four this year, but had a dreadful season — inexplicably, really. The Raiders have a good coach in Don Vaughan, this is not a slouch program. But the Raiders didn't win a league game until Feb. 5.

But since then, the Raiders are now 6-2-2 in the last 10, and could give Union some fits in the quarterfinals, coming off a three-game series win at RPI. Freshman goalie Eric Mihalik is a big reason for the turnaround, after taking over the starting job in midseason.

"It's a tough league," said Union coach Nate Leaman. "A lot of close games within the league. You never know what to expect in our league. So I don't think you go into the season surprised by anything."

Leaman, who is sitting on the precipice of the school's first NCAA bid in its 20-year Division I history, said he doesn't expect a letdown against Colgate.

"That is not a concern of mine, lack of respect, so to say, of an opponent," Leaman said. "We've had two hard-fought games with (Colgate) this year. The 6-3 win by us was tied going into the third period. The game at their building was basically a very tight game and we were able to score a couple late in the game. I don't think I have to fire the guys up that way."

People think of Union as a veteran team, but they are led in goals by freshman Dan Carr (20), and in points by junior Kelly Zajac (12-26—38). Sophomores Jeremy Welsh and Wayne Simpson add 15 and 13 goals, respectively.

Certainly senior Brock Matheson is a key component from the backline, but freshman defenseman Mat Bodie actually leads the team in plus-minus (plus-24). And then there's sophomore goaltender Keith Kinkaid, who played in 34 games this season and has a 1.94 goals against average.

The freshman Mihalik wrested the goaltending spot away from Alex Evin for the Raiders, but the team struggled on both ends of the ice most of the season. Senior Francois Brisebois (15-16—31) leads Colgate in scoring, but no one else has more than 10 goals. Sophomore Thomas Larkin was the team's top defender, managing a plus-five despite being a 9-win team.

"You have to get pucks deep and get a good forecheck going," Union senior Adam Presizniuk said about combatting Colgate. "They're going to try to clog up the neutral zone. You have to be strong on pucks, you can't be turning it over, because they'll get their transition going and they're a good rush team."

Union lost Game 1 of the quarterfinals last year, a 5-OT epic with Quinnipiac, before rallying to win the series.

"Playoffs is a whole new season," Matheson said. "Colgate is playing great hockey and it's really important for us right off the bat to establish ourselves."

2. Yale (23-5-1) vs. 11. St. Lawrence (12-20-5)

Everyone knows Yale can score. It has six players in double-digit goals. The question has been whether it could keep the other team off the board in big games.

So far, this year, it's been the case for the most part, as senior Ryan Rondeau has stepped up in net to post a 1.97 goals against average. He gets help from a very good defense, and excellent backchecking, two-way forwards.

If Yale takes care of business this week, it is looking at wrapping up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, though, Yale lost the quarterfinals in three games to Brown. This year, coach Keith Allain said the practices were more up-tempo than last year's at this time.

“We kind of used it as a training camp week,” Allain told the New Haven Register. “We tried to make the best of the situation we earned.”

St. Lawrence struggled this season, after losing a lot to graduation, and suffering through many injuries this year. The latest was Jared Keller going down again Saturday after missing the first half of this season recovering from a pair of concussions suffered last year.

Unlike the upsets pulled off by No. 10 Harvard and No. 12 Colgate in their series, the Saints did not come in red hot. In fact, they had lost five of six, and then lost Game 1 to Princeton — so 1-6 in the last seven before turning things around.

Saints coach Joe Marsh has also been trying to find the right formula in net. After starting Robby Moss last Friday in a loss, he turned to Matt Weninger, who won the two games at Princeton. Weninger, who has a 2.51 GAA made 48 saves Saturday against the always-shooting Tigers.

"You saw the last two games really, where we played with such urgency, the way you have to play in the playoffs," Marsh said. "We got the good goaltending the last two games, and our special teams came through. But overall it was a gutsy effort, some good defensive adjustments."

Greg Carey has gone somewhat unnoticed nationally, but he's likely to win the ECAC's Rookie of the Year Award after he had a great weekend, picking up his 21st goal to start the scoring Saturday. Carey got very little ink during the course of the season, because SLU wasn't having a good year — but this guy scored all season long as is destined to become the next St. Lawrence offensive star. After not scoring in his first five college games, he had a hat trick against Western Michigan and things took off from there. With six multi-goal games, he tends to score in bunches, and now has six goals in the last seven games.

Marsh also praises freshman Kyle Essery, who he compares to Travis Vermeulen, the team's leading scorer last year but most importantly, a strong two-way player.

"(He) has been absolutely spectacular addition to this team," Marsh said. "He's a terrific defensive player, great penalty killer, he's on it all the time, high energy guy, low penalty minutes, plays unbelievably hard, durable — you name it. He's extremely predictable, very reliable player. And he's pretty loose."

Yale has not lost a home game all season, the only team in the nation that can say that. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence hasn't won in New Haven in over four years. The last meeting there, Marsh was not available to coach, back home recovering from an illness.

“One of the things they did well in that game they beat us was they kept a third guy back all night long, which made it tough for us to get anything off the rush," Allain told the New Haven Register. "We’re going to have to work hard to get the puck through the neutral zone against this team and create some offense.”

Said Marsh, "You don't have much margin of error with them. ... Look at our record and look at theirs. It's a clean slate right now. We've certainly had great preparation for this weekend considering what last weekend was like. We want to get in games where we can stick around and battle. We have to do a lot of the hard things and do them right. ... It's a pretty simple formula. We have to get pucks in deep, try to get zone time, and can't take penalties against the team. And we can't turn the puck over, they're a great transition team."

3. Dartmouth (16-10-3) vs. 10. Harvard (11-19-1)

Dartmouth comes into the quarterfinals having lost three of the last four games, but held onto a top-four spot because others faltered as well. Before that, the Big Green was remarkably consistent this season. Sprinkle in one good non-league win, over New Hampshire, and it's been enough to put Dartmouth in position for its first NCAA bid in 31 years.

The Big Green have been here before under coach Bob Gaudet, with better rosters, only to falter in the ECACs and miss the NCAAs.

But led by seniors Scott Fleming (12-15—27) and Adam Estoclet (13-12—25), they are in the hunt with a veteran lineup. The real key has been in net, where junior James Mello finally took the bull by the horns in the goaltending battle with fellow junior Jody O'Neill. He turned in a season with a 2.17 GAA and .929 save percentage.

After a woeful start to the season, Harvard has won seven of eight and five in a row, including last weekend's two-game sweep at Clarkson. The Crimson will give Dartmouth all it can handle. Earlier in the season, when things were gloomy for Harvard, Dartmouth swept a home-and-home series by a combined 13-4 score.

It's the scoring that has woken up in this hot stretch. Guys who haven't scored much are suddenly scoring, and Danny Biego and Alex Killorn have come alive. The goaltending has stabilized too — with Kyle Richter struggling, fellow senior Ryan Carroll has taken over down the stretch.

Harvard has a lot of players that a lot was expected from. The program has gone south the last couple of years, but maybe this group of Crimson really are figuring it all out at the right time.

4. Cornell (13-13-3) vs. 8. Quinnipiac (15-13-8)

Quinnipiac was the only host team to win a series last weekend, knocking off Brown in two games.

Quinnipiac has often been an enigma, able to play great for big stretches of seasons, but never really able to fully get over the hump. This year, for example, it split series witih Ohio State and St. Cloud State, and swept Nebraska-Omaha in two games. It also lost four straight games at one point, and had gone eight straight (0-5-3) without a win coming into the playoffs.

Jeremy Langlois scored a goal in each game last weekend, and leads the team in that department with 17.

Bobcats sophomore Eric Hartzell started almost twice as many games as junior Dan Clarke over the course of the season, but lately coach Rand Pecknold has gone to a rotation. That resulted in consecutive shutouts last season.

Cornell, of course, is no stranger to the ECAC tournament, winning its 12th championship last year. But this was a rebuilding year of sorts for the Big Red, and it got off to a slow start.

Despite that, Cornell usually is able to recruit the weapons to reload, and had a good class coming in. So it seemed to be laying the foundation for the future, and at least the potential to make life difficult for its conference-mates down the stretch. But the Big Red bounced back to do even more than that, going on a 9-3-3 run to move into a top-four slot. They held that slot despite losing the final two games of the regular season, on the road at Brown (in overtime) and Yale.

Now they've had two weeks to think about it.

Cornell has played 11 overtime games this year, going 4-4-3. That's a lot of overtime decisions.

Coach Mike Schafer has essentially rotated junior Mike Garman and freshman Andy Iles all season in goal, and they come in with a .918 and .915 save percentage, respectively. Iles, an Ithaca native and former U.S. junior program player, has the higher upside, but for now the rotation continues.

Cornell has a number of strong players, and many more with a lot of upside. But for now, it's a team with few standouts. That's OK though, for this season, because it could be enough to get the Big Red to Atlantic City, where it can roll the dice with house money.

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