This past Saturday was a huge night in the ECAC, and a colorful one. The two Red and White squads were tied for the league lead: Cornell, winners of three straight including 5-3 over Dartmouth the night before, and RPI, also extending a three-game winning streak Friday with a 7-2 win at St. Lawrence. The two leaders visited a pair of Green and Gold teams tied for third just two points back. Clarkson had won eight of their last nine with a 3-2 victory against Union, and Vermont had a four-game unbeaten streak going, despite only tying Colgate, 5-all, on Friday.
In Burlington, the Catamounts got out to a roaring start, knocking Cornell goalie Jason Elliot from the game with four goals on 11 shots in the first, three coming on Vermont's first three power plays, and had built a 6-1 lead by the middle of the second. But the Big Red would not go down without a fight. Vinnie Auger scored on a delayed penalty in the second to make it 6-2, and Kyle Knopp added another in the third to close the margin to three goals. But with under six minutes remaining, Cornell head coach Mike Schafer decided to turn it up another level. He called for an inspection of Eric Hallman's stick, which was found to be illegal. Darren Tymchyshyn converted the power play--6-4, Vermont with 3:42 to go. Schafer immediately called for inspection of another stick. Catamount forward Matt Stelljes broke the stick before it could be measured, and received a delay of game penalty for his efforts, but this powerplay was killed off by the Cats. With the Big Red goalie pulled for another attacker, Cornell's Chad Wilson scored with a minute and a half to go, making it 6-5, but the Big Red could not manage the equalizer, and UVM captain Martin St. Louis scored the empty-netter with two seconds left to cap a 7-5 victory.
The battle of the two tech schools in Potsdam turned out to be as one-sided as the Cornell-Vermont game had started. Trailing 2-0 in the first, the Engineers' star forward Eric Healey was whistled for a five-minute major and game-misconduct, and while they scored shorthanded on the ensuing powerplay, RPI could never get their offense on track without Healey, and Clarkson coasted to the 5-1 victory, with their top scorer Todd White notching two of the scores.
So, with Green and Gold prevailing over Red and White, all four teams ended up tied for the ECAC lead. In other weekend action, Princeton lost their only game of the weekend, 3-2 to last-place Brown. That clinched Cornell's second straight Ivy League title, and dropped the Tigers from third to fifth in the ECAC. In other Ivy play Friday, Harvard edged Yale 3-2, while Saturday's other ECAC contests saw Dartmouth top Colgate 5-3 and St. Lawrence lose the ninth of their last ten, 2-1 to Union.
And last night the ECAC played its last non-conference game of the season, with Harvard being blanked 2-0 by Northeastern in the consolation of the Beanpot tournament. Boston University erased a 2-0 deficit to defeat Boston College 4-2 to claim the Beanpot, awarded to Boston's top college hockey team.
As we turn to the standings with just six games remaining, let's recall what's at stake here. Ten of the twelve ECAC teams make the playoffs. The top six get a preliminary round bye; the top four play their first-round series at home, and the top two get the advantage of hosting teams already tired from a preliminary round game. Finally, the top finisher gets the ECAC regular season title and an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. Clarkson, Cornell, Vermont and RPI are all tied for the lead right now with 22 points, with Clarkson holding the edge in the tiebreakers with a sweep of Rensselaer, a win over Cornell and a split with Vermont. All four teams clinched playoff spots over the weekend. Princeton now find themselves in fifth with 19 points, three ahead of a trio of teams fighting for the last preliminary round bye: Harvard, Colgate and Union are tied for sixth with 16. Dartmouth with 11 and St. Lawrence with 10 look to hold their positions and make the postseason, but with Yale having 9 points and Brown 7 those slots are anything but secure.
Turning to the national scene, Vermont's three-point weekend drops them to sixth in the Around the Rinks/US College Hockey Online poll, while the ECAC's other top-ten team, Clarkson, climb to seventh. Polls are all well and good, but at the end of the season, it's the NCAA's pairwise rankings system that will be used to fill out the twelve-team field for the national tournament. Looking at the current state of those rankings, thanks to US College Hockey Online, www.uscollegehockey.com, we find three ECAC teams in the top twelve: Vermont are third overall, and second in the East, Clarkson rank fifth and Cornell are tenth. Rensselaer, the fourth team currently tied for the ECAC lead, look most in need of the automatic berth for winning the ECAC regular season or tournament title, since they are currently 17th in the pairwise rankings.
More big games in the ECAC this weekend. Friday sees the rising Golden Knights visit the falling Tigers as part of the travel partner series pitting Clarkson and St. Lawrence against Princeton and Yale. Another series, Dartmouth and Vermont at RPI and Union, features the monumental Vermont-Rensselaer clash on Saturday. And those of us living outside of New York's Capital District are in luck. Empire Sports Network of Buffalo will be featuring UVM and RPI on their ECAC Game of the Week. I, Joe Schlobotnik, will be down at Iggy's Sports Grill here in Salt Lake to catch the action, which starts at 5pm Mountain time. Give me a call after the report at 585-3449 if you want to join me. The final series, Harvard and Brown at Cornell and Colgate, won't feature any showdowns at the top of the standings, but whenever the Crimson come to Lynah rink it's a big deal. In fact, Turner Classic Movies is showing Love Story Friday night in honor of the occasion.
And that's the ECAC hockey report for this week on the Joe Schlobotnik Extravaganza.