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ECAC Hockey previews: Yale-Brown, Colgate-St. Lawrence and Cornell-Harvard

Friday, March 12, 2010
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St. Lawrence at Colgate

If Colgate loses the first game of its quarterfinal series to St. Lawrence tonight, don’t expect Raiders coach Don Vaughan to panic.

He’s been in that position before.

The Raiders and the Saints have met three times in the last seven years in the quarterfinals at Starr Rink in Hamilton, and each time, St. Lawrence has won the first game.

But the Raiders have advanced every time.

“The matchup is nothing new to these programs,” said Vaughan.

The two teams also played in the quarterfinals in 2007, with St. Lawrence winning at home.

Colgate (15-12-6) posted a 4-1-1 record in its final six regular-season games to crack the top four and nail down the final bye, while St. Lawrence (17-14-7) struggled in February, going 0-4-3 before winning its last regular-season game against Harvard. But St. Lawrence, which defeated rival Clarkson in the opening round of the playoffs, is an underdog with a bite.

The Saints swept the regular-season series with the Raiders, winning, 4-0 at home, and 3-2 in overtime at Starr Rink. And more important, the Saints could have an edge in goaltending.

“Actually, both games were very close, and could have gone either way,” said Vaughan. “Even the 4-0 loss was 0-0 with 10 minutes left.”

Both teams alternated goaltenders during the regular season. Sophomore Alex Evin (3.02 goals-against average, .901 save percentage) and senior Charles Long (3.35, .893) worked the nets for the Raiders, while Kain Tisi (2,51, .912) and Alex Petizian (3.12, .895), both seniors, shared the duties at St. Lawrence. Tisi made 20 saves in the 4-0 win over the Raiders to record his only shutout of the season.

“Goaltending is always a big part of postseason play, and I expect it to be in this series, as well,” said Vaughan.

The Raiders have more offensive potential. Sophomore Austin Smith, a draft pick of the Dallas Stars, in the leading scorer with 40 points (15-25), and is part of Colgate’s “Big Three” that includes senior David McIntyre (11-26-37), whose rights are held by the New Jersey Devils, and junior Brian Day (20-14-34), a draft pick of the New York Islanders.

Seniors Travis Vermeulen (17-23-40) and Mike McKenzie (12-21-33) are the Saints’ top offensive threats, but Vaughan is more concerned about intangibles than he is numbers.

“There is not a team in the country that brings a more consistent work ethic than St. Lawrence, and we need to be prepared to contest every inch of the ice on every shift,” he said. “I also thought St. Lawrence’s penalty kill was the best we’ve seen all year. We need to find a way to break that and give our power-play a chance to be more effective.”

Harvard at Cornell

When Cornell and Harvard play during the regular season, it’s known simply as “The Game.”

When the two teams face off this weekend in their quarterfinal playoff series at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, it will be called elimination.

Harvard and Cornell are used to meeting in the playoffs, but usually not this early. The teams have played for the ECAC championship six times, with Cornell holding a 4-2 edge.

The two teams have combined to win 19 ECAC championships, with the Big Red also leading in that category, 11-8.

But it’s intensity, not numbers, that define the rivalry between the two shades of red.

“I don’t really think players hate a particular school,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, a former defenseman for the Big Red. “Rather, they love the competition a rivalry brings.”

According to legend, the rivalry heated up on Jan. 6, 1973. During a game at Harvard, a fan threw a dead chicken at Cornell goalie Dave Elenbass, which Cornell fans took as a crack at their agricultural college.

When Harvard traveled to Cornell later in the year, a dead fish came flying out of the stands at Lynah Rink, starting a tradition that is still part of the Lynah mystique.

“The rivalry has been really intense because of the success of the programs over a long period of time,” said Schafer. “Therefore, the tradition of two teams competing against each other with a lot on the line over many years makes for great games, and the games have really lived up to their hype.”

Cornell (17-8-9) finished second in the regular season, while Harvard (9-19-3) defeated Princeton in the opening round.

Cornell is anchored by senior goalie Ben Scrivens, who has been one of the top goaltenders in the nation for the last three years, but who hasn’t been able to lead the Big Red to the league championship.

After appearing in 12 games during his freshman year, the undrafted free agent has been a workhorse ever since, playing in 100 games heading into tonight’s contest. He’s third in the nation in both goals-against average (1.99) and save percentage (.931), and his four shutouts this season pushed his career total to 16. One of his shutouts came against Harvard.

During the summer, both senior Colin Greening (13 goals, 17 assists) and junior Riley Nash (9-18) thought about leaving Cornell to turn pro, but both decided to return in the quest of a national championship. They sit second and third in points, respectively, behind another senior, Blake Gallagher (17-17-34).

Harvard has struggled at both ends of the ice, ranking 46th out of 58 Division I teams in scoring offense (2.61 goals per game) and 47th in scoring defense (3.39).

Kyle Richter, who won the Ken Dryden Award as the ECAC’s top goalie two years ago, sat out last year because of an academic issue, and his return this year was supposed to bolster the defense. But he sports a 3.25 goals-against average and a 5-12-1 record.

Louis Leblanc, a first-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens last summer, got off to a slow start, but leads the Crimson in scoring with 23 points (11-12). Junior Mike Biega is right behind him with 22 (7-15).

Biega is one of three siblings playing for the Crimson, as his older brother, Alex, a senior, and his younger brother, Danny, a freshman, both play on defense.

Brown at Yale

Brown sophomore goalie Mike Clemente had better have big shoulders, because coach Brendan Whittet is expecting him to carry the Bears when they face regular-season champion Yale this weekend at Ingalls Rink in New Haven, Conn.

“Mike Clemente will be the biggest key against Yale,” said Whittet, who has the Bears back in the playoffs in his first year behind the bench. “When Mike’s on, he’s very tough to beat, and going against Yale, the top offensive team in the NCAA, will be a major challenge, especially in their barn. He is going to have to be very good.”

Clemente, who has a 3.45 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage, was very good last weekend, stopping 82 of 89 shots as the 11th-seeded Bears (10-18-4) eliminated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the first round.

Yale (19-7-3) won its first ECAC tournament championship ever last year, and is still a strong contender to repeat, but a development last week could affect the Bulldogs’ chemistry.

Senior forward Sean Backman, the team’s third-leading scorer with 35 points (21-14), which includes a team-high nine power-play goals, suffered a serious foot injury and is done for the season.

Yale coach Keith Allain, citing privacy restrictions, wouldn’t discuss the nature of the injury, or when it occurred, but the injury has been rumored to be either a broken ankle or a broken heel on two different Web sites.

Backman was a major reason that the Bulldogs are the top offensive team in the nation, averaging 4.24 goals per game. Junior Broc Little has 25 goals, tied for second in the nation, and 38 points, and sophomore Brian O’Neill (12-24-36) and junior Denny Kearney (8-22-30), whose sister, Hannah, won a gold medal in freestyle skiing at the Vancouter Winter Olympics, have also hit the 30-point mark.

“Yale can score on anyone, and they’ve proven that,” said Whittet. “They put up 14 goals on us in two games, so I would say we’re definitive underdogs.”

If the Bulldogs have an Achilles’ heel, it’s goaltending. It’s March, and Allain still doesn’t have a No. 1 goalie. Freshman Nick Maricic has gotten the most work, but his .888 save percentage ranks him 74th in the nation.

Another rookie, Jeff Malcolm, has a 5-2-0 record, but his save percentage (.882) is worse that Maricic’s. Senior Billy Blase has a perfect 6-0-0 record, but the last time he started a game, on Feb. 19, he gave up three goals on seven shots in the first period against St. Lawrence, and hasn’t played since. Yale came back to win that game, 7-5.

The Bulldogs may have scored 14 goals on the Bears, but they also gave up 10, winning 6-5 in overtime and 8-5.

Sophomore Jack Mclellan (13-17-30) and junior Harry Zolnierczyk (12-18-30) lead Brown’s offense, giving the Bears two 30-point scorers for the first time since the 2003-04 season, but the catalyst is senior free agent Aaron Volpatti (14-14-28), who has attracted the attention of the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks, according to Whittet.

 
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