Fish, oranges and upsets: the quarterfinal round of the ECAC playoffs had everything. The hottest action was in Burlington. Vermont, where the Catamounts of UVM, far-removed from their great preseason expectations, were upended 3-2 Friday by the Princeton Tigers thanks to a pair of goals from Jean Verdon. The following night the Cats rebounded to paste the Tigers to the tune of 7-1. UVM captain Martin St. Louis had the hat trick and linemate Eric Perrin notched four assists in the win, forcing a deciding game Sunday. But Princeton were back in form that night, ending Vermont's ECAC season with a 3-2 win. Erasmo Saltarelli came up big in the nets, stopping 36 shots, half of them in the third period.
Another hard-fought series saw Cornell host their archrivals Harvard. The teams fought to a 2-2 standstill in a typically bitter game Friday, setting up a Saturday contest to decide the three-point series. Cornell came on strong Saturday with a 4-1 win that included the only power-play goal scored all weekend, despite 26 man-up advantages for the two teams.
The much-anticipated Union-RPI series resolved itself in a couple of 3-1 Rensselaer victories. Union's goaltender Trevor Koenig, invincible of late, had an off weekend, stopping only 15 of 17 shots on Friday and being yanked in the first period Saturday after giving up two goals on seven shots. He returned to start the second, and surrendered another goal in the first minute before settling down to finish the game with 25 shots. Koenig's counterpart, freshman Joel Laing, had an outstanding weekend in the nets. Laing, who has platooned with classmate Scott Prekaski all season, made 38 saves on 39 shots Friday, and outdid himself Saturday, stopping 39 of 40.
And in the other series, Clarkson survived a slight scare, spotting Yale two early goals Friday before rolling over the Elis with 5-2 and 4-1 wins. The Golden Knights have now extended their NCAA-best winning streak to eleven games.
So the field of four is set for the ECAC Championships this weekend in Lake Placid, New York. Top-seeded Clarkson have opted for the early game, in which they'll take on upstart Princeton. The Tigers upset the Knights under similar circumstances two years ago, and will be looking for history to repeat itself. Cornell plays RPI in the other of Friday's semifinals. The losers of those games will face off in the consolation game Saturday afternoon, followed by the ECAC title game.
Once again, the ECACs will be televised by Empire Sports Network of Buffalo. Those of us in Salt Lake City will be gathering at Fiddler's Elbow in Sugarhouse for the games. Give me a call at 585-3449 after the report if you'd like to join us. Gametimes are 2 and 5pm Friday and five o'clock Saturday.
The winner of this weekend's tournament will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament to start the following weekend. Clarkson have already secured a berth by winning the regular season, and they seem to have the top seed in the East locked up. According to the NCAA's pairwise rankings, calculated by US College Hockey Online, www.uscollegehockey.com, the Knights are a solid second in the nation to Michigan. Winning the ECACs is probably the only chance for Princeton or RPI to make the tournament, as the squads are ranked 14th and 15th among eligible teams, and only 12 schools make the NCAAs. Cornell, meanwhile, are on the proverbial bubble with their #11 ranking.
One other ECAC team are almost certain to make the tourney: Vermont. The Cats, despite their early exit from the league playoffs, are are currently fifth in the PWR, which would earn them the number two East seed and a first-round bye. However, that position is not secure, as two more wins by New Hampshire in the Hockey East tournament would move the Wildcats into UVM's spot. And the Catamounts got more bad news from the NCAA selection committee yesterday with the announcement of a new rule that any team winning both the regular season and tournament titles of a conference would receive an automatic bye in the NCAAs. That means that ninth-rated BU, should they win the Hockey East tournament, would be granted the number 2 seed in the East.
This idea of awarding an automatic bye was actually proposed two years ago, and the reversal of circumstances is quite ironic. At the time, the top three eastern teams were all in the Hockey East conference, with ECAC regular season champion Clarkson in line for the fourth spot. The NCAA announced it would award a bye to any dual-champion, which meant that Clarkson were in line to displace Maine or BU from the number two seed in the East if they won the ECACs. After an outcry, the NCAA withdrew the so-called "Clarkson Rule". Now the situation is reversed: the top two teams in the East come from the ECAC, and the "Clarkson Rule" has been re-introduced, potentially allowing a Hockey East team to knock an ECAC team out of the #2 East seed. I have yet to hear an outcry.
And with the ECAC Hockey Report, I'm Joe Schlobotnik.