It's shaping up to be another one of those ECAC hockey races. Five teams entered the weekend within two points of the top, and those same five are still just two points apart, but none of them is in the place they were before. The first big shakeup took place Friday night in Ithaca, where Cornell took on the first-place Princeton Tigers. Big Red Captain Matt Cooney and Junior Defenseman Jason Dailey were serving team-imposed suspensions, but freshman Mike Rutter stepped up to fill the captain's skates with two goals in the first, while sophomore Keith Peach took advantage of his playing time to add a tally of his own as the Red built a 4-0 lead before the Tigers added two goals in the last three minutes to make it respectable at 4-2. The Big Red moved into a first-place tie in the ECAC with the win and added the Ivy league lead the following night with a 4-0 shutout of Yale. Sophomore netminder Jean-Marc Pelletier registered his first non-exhibition shutout for the Red. Meanwhile, Princeton kept pace with a 5-2 win over Colgate, who were themselves 5-2 victors over Yale the previous night.
Friday night also saw two of the leaders--and the ECAC's two nationally-ranked teams--clash in the North Country as #8 Vermont took on #6 Clarkson. UVM's Eric Perrin broke a 1-1 tie in the second with his team record 100th career goal, and with Tim Thomas making 47 saves for the Catamounts, that was all they needed to register the 2-1 victory and avenge a loss two weeks earlier in Burlington. Both teams came from behind to win the following night, with the Golden Knights erasing a 2-1 deficit to prevail 6-4 over Dartmouth, and the Cats clawing their way back from trailing 2-1 after two to defeat the St. Lawrence Saints 3-2 in the first Empire Sports Network ECAC Game of the Week. The Saints had broken their six-game losing streak with a 6-1 win over Dartmouth Friday night.
Meanwhile, in the Capital District (all three ECAC weekend series taking place in the state of New York), the RPI Engineers registered the other weekend sweep to join the Big Red in first place. Rensselaer freshman Robert Prekaski let in two of the first three Harvard shots he faced, but stopped the remaining 63 and allowed the Engineers to come back for the 5-2 victory. They pounded the hapless Brown Bears 9-1 the following night. Over in Schenectady, Union had their turn at Brown Friday with a 4-2 win. Then on Saturday they demonstrated why they replaced Army in the ECAC several years ago with an 8-1 drubbing. Army has had some good games agianst the ECAC this season; this wasn't one of them.
Union's non-conference game gave the Harvard Crimson the night off to prepare for last night's Beanpot Tournament. It paid of for 40 minutes, as the Crimson trailed Boston University only 1-0 after two, but in the third the Terriers managed to pierce Harvard's defense and opened the floodgates with six goals to prevail 7-1. In an early game which did double duty as a Beanpot semifinal and a Hockey East contest, Boston College defeated Northeastern 4-1.
The standings find Cornell and RPI tied for the lead at 20 points with Vermont just a point back at 19. Princeton also have 19, but with an extra game played, their position is anything but secure with Clarkson close behind with 18 points. Sixth-place Colgate drop back a bit with 15 points after the weekend split. Union hover at .500 with 14 points; Harvard have 14, but have played one more game. Struggling St. Lawrence are in ninth place with 10 points, followed by Dartmouth with 9. Two Ivy league teams with an extra game under their belts round out the standings: Yale with 9 points and Brown with 5.
With Vermont's victory over Clarkson, the two switch places in this week's Around the Rinks/US College Hockey Online poll, with the Catamounts climbing from eighth to fifth and the Knights falling from sixth to ninth. The ECAC stands higher in the pairwise rankings which will be used at the end of the season by the NCAA to select the twelve teams for the national tournament. As reported on US College Hockey Online, www.uscollegehockey.com, Vermont is currently ranked third by this method, Clarkson fifth and Cornell seventh.
No ECAC Game of the Week this time, but be sure to join me at Iggy's in two weeks for the Vermont-RPI matchup. In the meantime both leaders face tough challenges on Saturday, with Cornell and Colgate visiting Dartmouth and Vermont, while RPI and Union are at St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The RPI-Clarkson skirmish will again be televised by closed-circuit this year, but the nearest outlet for you Engineers and Knights fans will be in Denver. Harvard takes it easy between Beanpot games with a single home contest Friday against Yale, which will be carried by WNDS in Derry, NH. Princeton has a light weekend, with a single game Saturday at Brown.
Next Monday sees the ECAC's final nonconference game, with Harvard playing Northeastern in the Beanpot consolation. BC and BU will fight for the Beanpot itself in the late game which will be carried on WABU in Boston, but alas not picked up by eSPn2 this year.
I'm Joe Schlobotnik and that's this week's ECAC hockey report.