The surprising story this week in the ECAC is the Skating Dutchmen of Union College. Anchored by the nation's top goaltender, Trevor Koenig, the Dutchmen entered the weekend having won five of their last six and given up three goals only once in that stretch. They continued their defensive run Friday against league-leading Cornell as Koenig set the new ECAC record by running his consecutive shutout streak to 198 minutes and 44 seconds before the Red scored their only goal of the game. What was new was an uncharacteristic display of offense by Union, knocking Cornell's Jason Elliott from the game with two goals on three shots in under ten minutes, going up 4-0 before the Red could score, and prevailing 7-1. The following night's Empire Sports Network telecast saw Union return to form in a 1-1 tie with Colgate. Meanwhile, over in Troy, third place RPI were swept on the weekend, with Colgate prevailing 3-2 on Friday and Cornell scoring three goals in two and a half minutes in the third to pull out the 5-2 win Saturday and clinch home ice in the playoffs.
Over in New England, Vermont continued their recent slide with a split, pulling out a 3-2 win over Yale on Friday and being blanked 2-0 by Princeton Saturday. The Cats have now gained just three points in the last two weekends. The one leader not to stumble was Clarkson, with the Golden Knights sweeping for the third straight weekend, 4-2 over Harvard and 7-4 over Brown. In other action, St. Lawrence moved closer to securing a playoff spot with a three-point weekend, tying Brown and 6 and beating Harvard 6-3, while Dartmouth could only manage one point, tying 4-all with Princeton and falling 4-1 to Yale.
And now to the standings, with only two games left to play. Clarkson now have sole possession of the lead at 30, and can wrap up the regular season title with a win or a tie against Cornell on Friday. Cornell are in second with 28 points, and their tiebreaker status against the teams around them is variable. Their best chance to catch Clarkson would be to sweep the final weekend and hope the Knights slip up against Colgate. But other possibilities exist, such as sweeps by Cornell and Princeton combined with a three-point weekend by Vermont. Second place is more secure, with two points by the Red sufficient to clinch it. In the three to seven slots, things become complicated. RPI and Vermont are currently third with 25 points, and RPI holds the head-to-head advantage with Vermont and Union. But the Engineers could still finish as low as seventh if they lose both games and Colgate sweeps. Vermont has a 3 points to 1 head-to-head advantage over the Red Radiers, but could still land in seventh place and have to play a preliminary playoff game if they get into a tie with Colgate, RPI and Union. Two points back and tied for fifth are Union and Princeton at 23 points. The two teams meet on Friday, with Union having won the previous meeting. Princeton can claim a top four berth and home ice in the quarterfinals with a weekend sweep. Finally, Colgate at 21 are in seventh now, but still have a slim chance of finishing in the top four. Harvard are likely to stay where they are in eighth place with 18 points. St. Lawrence are likewise somewhat stable in ninth at 15; they hold tiebreaker advantages over Harvard and Yale, but could still find themselves out of the playoffs. The battle for the last playoff spot will probably be between Yale and Dartmouth at 12 points. Yale has the tiebreaker advantage, but Dartmouth has the easier weekend. Finally, Brown at 8 points have been eliminated from playoff contention.
On the national scene, the ECAC drops down to only two teams in the Around the Rinks/US College Hockey Online poll, as Cornell's weekend split ended their one-week stint in the top ten. Clarkson continue their ascent, moving up another notch to fourth, and Vermont slide further from eighth to ninth. These trends continue in the pairwise rankings which the NCAA will use in a couple of weeks to seed the national tournament. The calculations done by US College Hockey Online, www.uscollegehockey.com, show that Clarkson are now the highest-ranked team in the East, #2 overall, while Vermont fall behind New Hampshire in the battle for the second eastern spot, dropping from third to fifth in the nation. Cornell slip back a notch to ninth.
This weekend the ECAC's top two teams will clash as Clarkson and St. Lawrence take on Cornell and Colgate. The Cornell-Clarkson game, with all its title implications, will be televised via satellite as Empire Sports Network's ECAC Game of the Week. The local Cornell community will be down at Iggy's Sports Grill here in Salt Lake City. Call me after the report at 585-3449 if you want to join the party. Princeton features in a couple of games of note in the race for the last two home playoff spots as they, along with Yale, host Union and RPI, and finally, Vermont and Dartmouth look to better their lots as they travel to face Brown and Harvard.
And with the ECAC Hockey Report, I'm Joe Schlobotnik.