The Vermont Catamounts' 1995-96 season saw a first place ECAC finish and a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, and with all-Americans Tim Thomas, Eric Perrin and Martin St. Louis returning as seniors, the Cats looked to improve on that this season. They started the campaign 4-0 against impressive non-league competition and earned themselves the top spot in the national polls. Then their ECAC cohorts let a little air out of the UVM balloon. They started conference play at 2-3, were shut out in a tournament game, and dropped out of the top ten altogether. With the start of 1997 they began to right their ship, and this continued this weekend with a 3-2 win over league-leading Princeton and a 3-0 blanking of Yale to complete the road sweep and run their winning streak to five games, earning them a tie for eighth in the national poll. Meanwhile, their travel partner Dartmouth, entering the weekend just a game below the Cats in the standings, slipped back with losses of 5-4 at Yale and 4-3 at Princeton.
The other league action saw splits all around, as Harvard fell 4-2 at home to Union before rebounding to paste RPI 6-1 in the ECAC's first televised game of the season, while Brown lost 5-3 to the Engineers, then notched a rare win, 4-2 over the Skating Dutchmen. Cornell kicked off the non-league slate Tuesday night with an impressive 3-3 tie at defending national champions and #1-ranked Michigan. Over the weekend, former ECAC doormat Army played like they were campaigning for re-admittance by getting out to a 5-1 lead at Colgate before losing 6-5 in overtime, and tying Cornell 1-1 at Lynah Rink. On the road in New England, St. Lawrence reminded themselves what it was like beginning the season without goaltender Clint Owen, as third-stringer Eric Heffler (who gave up three goals in three minutes against Clarkson back in November) suffered a 7-2 defeat at the hands of New Hampshire. The following night at UMass-Lowell second-stringer John Bracco fared better, and actually saw his team leading 3-2 with a minute and a half left, but Lowell tied it up at 18:35 of the third, and pulled out the 4-3 win in the last minute of overtime. Clarkson managed to sweep the same opponents, with a 5-0 win over Lowell and a 5-2 victory at New Hampshire.
Three games were played tonight involving ECAC teams: Cornell and Colgate battled it out in Hamilton, with the Big Red prevailing 3-2 for their first victory of 1997. In non-league play RPI fell 3-2 Boston College and Yale were 7-4 losers at Mass-Amherst.
The standings are a bit deceiving at this point with some teams having played as many as five games more than others. Princeton maintain their nominal hold on first with 17 points in thirteen games, but they'll be idle until January 31, giving the rest of the league a chance to catch up. Cornell remains in second with 17 points in twelve games, with Harvard third at 14 points in fourteen games. RPI leads the games-in-hand club with 13 points in ten contests, while Colgate have 13 in twelve games. Vermont is sixth in total points with 12, but tops in winning percentage with only nine games played. Next we find Union with 11 points in eleven games, followed by Clarkson with 10 in nine. Yale are in ninth with only 9 points to show for their thirteen games, St. Lawrence have 8 in nine, Dartmouth place eleventh with 6 in nine, and Brown are in last place by anyone's standards with but 5 points in thirteen games.
A light but lively conference schedule this weekend sees St. Lawrence and Clarkson visit Vermont and Dartmouth, while Union travels across town to play RPI on Saturday. In non-league action, Colgate visits Bowling Green, Brown hosts Air Force for a pair, and Yale entertains first-year division I independent Niagara.
And that's this week's ECAC hockey report, here on the Joe Schlobotnik Extravaganza.