Another year, another ECAC final weekend, and while this one didn't feature quite the pandemonium atop the standings of past years, it had its share of excitement.
In the marquee matchup, Empire Sports Network viewers watched the Golden Knights of Clarkson battle the Cornell Big Red for the regular season crown. Clarkson dominated the first period, but Cornell's Jason Elliott turned away all 14 shots, and the Red took a 1-0 lead in the second when Chad Wilson's centering pass from behind the goal bounced off a Clarkson defender and into the net. But that was all the scoring the home team could muster, as Clarkson's Hobey Baker hopeful Todd White scored the game-tying and -winning goals. Dana Mulvihill's wraparound goal cemented the 3-1 Clarkson victory, and gave the Golden Knights their second regular season title in three years. Clarkson defeated Colgate 7-3 the following afternoon to avenge an earlier loss and end up as the only ECAC squad to defeat every other at least once this season. Meanwhile, their travel partner St. Lawrence were swept, falling 6-5 to Colgate in overtime and giving up three goals in the third to lose 5-2 at Cornell.
The Saints' misfortune opened the door for Yale to claim ninth place. The Elis, who upset RPI 4-3 friday to wrap up the final playoff spot, led Union 4-1 in the second, but the Skating Dutchmen came back with four straight goals, forcing Yale to score again and send the game to overtime. In the final minute of the extra session, knowing a tie would do them no good, Yale pulled their goaltender, and Union's Chris Ford found the empty net ten seconds later for the 6-5 overtime win. The victory allowed the Dutchmen to re-claim fifth place and an anticipated playoff matchup with RPI from the Princeton Tigers, who had edged Union 3-2 on a goal with one minute left in overtime, but fell 3-2 Saturday to Rensselaer.
Meanwhile in the other weekend series, Harvard hastened Dartmouth's exit from the playoff picture by handing them a 6-3 loss, Craig MacDonald using a short-handed empty-netter to complete a hat trick. The Crimson had a 4-1 lead on Vermont Saturday, but were denied the upset, as Vermont scored four unanswered goals, including the last two of Eric Perrin's hat trick, to prevail 5-4. Finally, last-place Brown, with nothing to play for except pride, led Vermont 2-1 Friday before falling 3-2, pulled out an 8-6 slugfest with Dartmouth. The game between the ECAC's two non-playoff teams, which could have no impact on the standings, saw the teams go a combined 5-for-18 on the power play, with Brown scoring a short-handed empty-netter at the end.
So at last we come to the final standings in the ECAC. Clarkson end up regular season champions with 34 points at 17-5-0. The Knights have the longest winning streak in the nation at nine game, and are one of only three teams in the country not with no ties all season. Their 34 points match their total last season, when they finished three behind Vermont, but this year it's enough for first place. Cornell at 14-6-2 come in second with 30 points, just edging UVM, who are third with 29 points and a 13-6-3 record. RPI round out the top four at 12-7-3, with 27 points. Union and Princeton finish with 25 points a piece and identical 11-8-3 records, but the Dutchmen claim fifth place by virtue of a 3-3-2 record against the top four, compared to the Tigers' 2-6-0. Still, Princeton's sixth-place finish is their highest ever. They are not taking part in tonight's preliminary round among the seventh through tenth-place teams, for the first time since its inception. Colgate finish seventh with 23 points, but manage a winning record at 10-9-3. Harvard are eighth with 20 points and a 9-11-2 record. St. Lawrence, despite their bad weekend, managed to retain the ninth spot with 15 points at 5-12-5, and Yale's strong showing garners them the tenth and final playoff spot at 6-14-2 and 14 points. The also-rans are Dartmouth, who went winless in their last six to finish eleventh with a 5-15-2 mark and 12 points, and last-place Brown, who just managed to crack double digits with 10 points and a 4-16-2 record.
Clarkson's regular-season championship means they've earned an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament in three weeks. The winner of the ECAC tournament will also get an bid, and along with the regular season and tournament champions of the other three conferences. Then the field will be filled out using the pairwise rankings. The final rankings won't be set until after the conference playoffs, but calculations of the current numbers by US College Hockey Online, www.uscollegehockey.com, put Clarkson and Vermont as the top two Eastern teams, second and third in the nation. Cornell also cracks the top twelve, being ranked tenth among eligible teams.
Polls become increasingly irrelevent this time of year, but yesterday saw the release of the final Around the Rinks/US College Hockey Online poll, of the season, and Clarkson were ranked second in that as well, moving up from number four. One other ECAC team shows up in the poll, with Vermont climbing back up from ninth to eighth.
Meanwhile at the conference level, the ECAC's two preliminary-round playoff games were played tonight. In Cambridge, Harvard bested St. Lawrence 4-2, while Yale blanked Colgate 1-0 on the road.
With eight teams remaining in the ECAC playoffs, we move on to the quarterfinal round. These are run as "three-point" series. The two teams play regulation games Friday and Saturday, with five minutes of overtime each if neccessary. If one team wins both games, or wins one and ties the other, they win the series and advance to the ECAC tournament in Lake Placid. If the two teams split the first two games, or tie them both, the series goes to a third and deciding game Sunday, with as many 20-minute overtimes as it takes to determine a winner.
The most highly-anticipated of these series pits Capital District travel partners Union and RPI in Rensselaer's Houston Fieldhouse. The Engineers and Dutchmen have played three times already this season, with Union winning a non-conference game in Albany's Knickerbocker Arena, RPI prevailing at Houston, and the teams tying at Union's Achilles Rink. Ithaca markets now brace for a run on seafood as Cornell will host arch-rivals Harvard in their playoff series. In other action, Princeton visit Vermont, with whom they split this year, while Clarkson will entertain Yale.
And with the ECAC Hockey Report, I'm Joe Schlobotnik.