March 6, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC 1st Round Preview

by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer

The last weekend of the regular season had many playoff spots up for grabs. Brown had the biggest opportunity. As things turned out it needed just one point on the weekend to clinch a home-ice berth, but was shutout in both games and will now have to travel 360 miles to St. Lawrence. It will also do so without Matt Lorito, one of its top scorers.

Union, Colgate, Quinnipiac and Cornell will enjoy weekends off with byes by finishing in the top four of the league. They will host quarterfinals beginning March 14, with the lowest remaining seed playing the Cleary Cup champion, Union. The road to Lake Placid officially begins this weekend with four best-of-three first-round series.

12. Princeton at 5. Clarkson
Season Series: Clarkson 2-0

On paper, this is the biggest mismatch of the first round. It was going to be that way no matter which team faced Princeton. The Tigers were on a whole different level of struggle in comparison to any of the teams in the league. Clarkson comes into the series unbeaten in three, while the Tigers enter on a five-game losing streak and have gone a 2-16-0 since defeating Quinnipiac in late November.

"Princeton has new life coming into the second season," said Clarkson coach Casey Jones. "They are a team that is getting healthier now. They have some forwards that are really dangerous, and we will have to respect that."

Clarkson was the surprise team of the first half, rattling off wins with ease. But the second half has not been the same. It went an impressive 12-3-1 before the break but struggled in the second half, going just 6-10-3. Tech finished strong by going unbeaten in its last three games and it also picked up a huge tie against Quinnipiac on Saturday night.

"One thing that we have had the last few weeks is we are getting guys healthier," said Jones. "We have had some continuity in our practices, which has been big for us. Injuries are part of the equation on any season but we had injuries at a lot at the same positions. We lost a little continuity in practice, so we looked a little lost offensively through that.

"Right now we are playing back to some of our better hockey, that we have played. There is a confidence to guys that they know when they are playing well. It all started when we had regular practices and got that continuity back."

Particularly, Ben Sexton returns to the lineup this weekend after missing a few games with a presumed concussion.

Clarkson is led by its defense but has received sub-par goaltending, which has stopped just 88 percent of shots sent at the net in league play. The interior defense of the Knights is strong, as it limits shots, it blocks shots and has active sticks to break up passes. To win in the playoffs, it needs more consistent goaltending. Steve Perry has been the guy, lately, playing in 7 of the last 11 games.

The key for the Tigers this weekend will be keeping its opponent off the board. In its last nine losses, it has given up 41 goals for an average of 4.56 per game. During that time frame, its opponent has scored five or more, five times.

Offensively, Princeton has struggled as well. The Tigers were snake bitten with injuries for much of it and guys like Andrew Calof have been unable to find a groove. Princeton scores a league worst, 1.90 goals per game. Calof was supposed to be a candidate for ECAC First Team honors, but his injury in the first half put big pressure on his team to find secondary scoring, and they did not. Princeton has been held to a goal or less in 12 of 29 games this season and has been shutout five times.

11. Harvard at 6. Yale
Season Series: 2-0-1 Yale (incl. NC game)

Yale and Harvard will play, again. The Crimson and Bulldogs have already played three games against each other this season, including a non-conference game at Madison Square Garden in January. In the second half of the season, the teams have played twice with Yale winning both, outscoring the Crimson 10-3.

"Yale's top guys like Agostino and Root are dangerous players," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "We also have to be aware of guys like Gus Young and Tommy Fallo because they jump into the rush often for them. I expect a great effort from them and it will be a huge challenge for our guys."

This is the one first round matchup that Harvard did not want, as the speedy Bulldogs cause matchup problems up and down the lineup. Harvard has played solid defensively against most teams in the ECAC, but it struggles against its long time rival. Harvard had the third-best defense in the league during conference play, allowing just 2.18 goals per game.

"This time of year you worry about the team that is in front of you," said Donato. "Playing the defending national champions is both challenging and exciting for us. We have a lot of respect for them and what they have accomplished."

As consistent as Harvard's defense has been this season, its inexperience throughout the forward lines has showed. In league play, the Crimson have lost nine games in which it trailed by a lone goal going into the last minute.

The defense and goaltending have been solid. Steve Michalek has taken that position and run with it. But Raphael Girard has also been in the mix. Both have been solid at particular times of the year, Girard early in the season and Michalek more recently. The Crimson have the second-best save percentage in the conference at .931 in league play and .921 overall.

"Steve has played well for us down the stretch," Donato said. "He was hurt in December and never was really able to catch a rhythm until recently but he is playing really well now. This time of year your goalie needs to step up and we have the confidence that our goaltenders will."

Yale has the big game experience, being the defending national champion. It will need it throughout the tournament because it is "win or go home." Without winning the ECAC tournament or making it to Lake Placid, there will probably be no NCAAs for the defending champions; Yale currently sits 19th in the Pairwise.

Unlike the other teams that are playing this weekend, Yale is the one team that has no glaring reasons as to why it is here. Offensively the Bulldogs are ranked fourth in the conference, scoring 3.28 per game and defensively they are also ranked fourth, allowing just 2.30 per game. Add one of the better freshman goalies in the country, Alex Lyon, who has a 2.37 GAA and a .920 save percentage and Yale seems to be poised for another run.

10. Dartmouth at 7. Rensselaer
Season Series: 2-0-0 RPI

Rensselaer dominated the Big Green in two regular-season tilts — the Engineers defeated the Green 7-1 on the road and 4-2 at home.

Rensselaer had high expectations this season, entering the year as the media's pick to be regular-season champions. But as fate would hold it, its top goaltender, Jason Kasdorf, went down in the second game of the season against Boston College with a season-ending shoulder injury. The Engineers never really recovered as a group, but have put solid efforts together recently.

"Yeah, we had high expectations," said Rensselaer coach Seth Appert. "It hit us in December and January, and that was our low point where the realization that we weren't going to contend for a league championship in the regular season starts hitting you in the face a little bit. Since then we tried to march forward toward being a playoff team, knowing that that's where we needed to make some hay."

The problem, though, hasn't been Scott Diebold between the pipes. The main issue rests more on the shoulders of an offense that was supposed to be good, but just hasn't panned out.

Ryan Haggerty has been the offense for RPI most nights; his 24 goals are good for third in the nation. Brock Higgs has 14 goals for the Engineers but consistent scoring up and down the lineup has been an issue. Only six skaters have more than six goals on the season and only three have more than 10. RPI's offense is rated six in the conference.

Dartmouth on the other hand has turned its nightmare of a season around going unbeaten in five, with four wins. That streak was snapped against Colgate on Saturday night but the Big Green have lots to build on.

The problem has hardly been scoring. It has put up offense, at times this season, but its defense was awful for much of the first two-thirds of the season. Charles Grant bore the brunt of a barrage of clear, open looks and his numbers suffered.

In recent weeks, Dartmouth's defense has improved markedly. Over the last six games, it has allowed just eight goals. In those six games, Dartmouth has gone 4-1-1.

9. Brown at 8. St. Lawrence
Season Series: 1-0-1 Brown

Brown's misfortune of squandering an opportunity to host became St. Lawrence's immediate gain. Brown needed just one point to clinch home ice against Union or RPI at home over the weekend but it got shut out in both games. Instead, it will travel 360 miles to take on the Saints.

"I don't care where we go," said Brown coach Brendan Whittet. "We just have to play better hockey and we will be fine because we have good enough hockey team. We are going to go on the road and sometimes when you're on the road and your backs are against the wall you play much more simple hockey. Our season is just beginning."

Brown made it to the ECAC final last year, as the seventh seed. Most of that team is intact, but the main difference is that it will enter without Anthony Borreli, whose numbers last year were phenomenal in goal.

"You would have thought the experience of playing in the ECAC final last year, would have helped us in the regular season but this is a new team," said Whittet. "Anthony Borelli had a .940 save percentage last year. If you look statistically, we are exactly the same team. But Borelli was a .950 save percentage goaltender. That is why we are where we are, right now.

"We haven't figured out a way to use last season to our advantage. Quite honestly I think a lot of guys just think it just should have happened. Those were bad assumptions, as I told the guys. We have had good moments, but 15 losses is not where we want to be as a program."

The goaltending, though, hasn't been bad. Tyler Steel, a freshman has been solid, and when called upon Marco de Fillippo has been consistent as well. Brown struggles most with finishing glorious scoring opportunities and on the offense. The same can be said of last weekend, as the Bears got shut out in both games. It has gone 143 minutes, and six seconds without a goal.

"We have to get back to fundamental, simplistic hockey," Whittet said. "We over-complicate things so much offensively. There is too much one on one play, not enough moving the puck or head-manning things or funneling things to the net. It is way too individual."

Brown learned of a huge blow early in the week — third-leading-scorer Matt Lorito broke a bone in his leg. He will be out for the remainder of the season. His loss is a huge one because he is a key piece to the Brown offensive puzzle.

St. Lawrence started off pretty solid but tailed off right around the break, going winless in nine games.

Greg Carey has 53 points, which is good for second in the nation. His brother, Matt, has a team-leading 18 goals, which is good for second among rookies in the ECAC and nationally.

The Careys are a dynamic 1-2 punch for the offense but when the Saints win, it has a supporting cast of players that can light the lamp. Jeremy Wick has 17 goals on the year and Gavin Bayreuther, as a defenseman, has scored 33 points. The 33 points are the fifth most in the country by a freshman, and second nationally for defensemen.

The Saints can score but the real issues lie on defense. SLU sits in 11th out of 12 teams in defense allowing on average 3.38 per game. A more concerning stat is an .871 save percentage.

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