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Local Ice to Decide Champs

ECAC Hockey League Seedings Still in the Air

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, February 24, 2006

SCHENECTADY - With a swirl of ambiguity surrounding the final weekend of the ECAC Hockey League's regular season, one of the few certainties is that the championship will be decided on Capital Region ice.

Mathematically, five teams could still become the champion and earn the top seed for the upcoming playoffs, but what happens between (6-7) Union/RPI and (1-2) Cornell/Colgate will have the most significance in the final standings.

Union needs to sweep the league's top two teams and then get some help to improve its status from first-round host (top eight) to first-round bye team (top four). RPI could finish as high as fifth.

"It's been our goal all season long to get a first-round bye," said Union coach Nate Leaman, whose 9-7-4 Dutchmen are looking to surpass the school's best-ever standings finish (fifth-place tie in 1996-97). "I'm happy with the fact that going into the last weekend of the season we've put ourselves in a position to accomplish our goal."

Here's what else we know: Cornell is home the second weekend; Colgate and Dartmouth each need two points to clinch first-round byes; St. Lawrence needs three points and Harvard needs four to clinch a bye; Quinnipiac, Princeton, Yale and Brown travel for opening weekend series; Clarkson hosts next weekend.

Both Union and RPI might have been in better spots had they not lost a plethora of key players.

"We've had a lot of adversity," said Leaman. "Josh Coyle (academically ineligible at midseason) was an enormous loss for us just for the fact that he was leading our team in scoring. He had nine goals then; now we have only one player (Olivier Bouchard, 14) that's above that. Losing the other two guys was also tough. T.J. Fox at the time was leading our team in scoring (8-12--20) and Lane Caffaro (5-11--16) was the leading point-getter by our defensemen."

Both were removed from the team for undisclosed reasons, but Leaman said they could return before the season ends.

"I've got to give the team credit. They've found ways to have different guys step up on different nights and help us get wins."

RPI's season could have been sponsored by nearby Samaritan Hospital, considering the rash of injuries the team has had to endure. The Engineers, who lost 2004-05 leading scorer Kirk MacDonald to testicular cancer before the season, have been without top players like Kevin Croxton, Brad Farynuk, Alexander Valentin and Kevin Broad for a total of 39 games. Broad and Tyler Eaves are still sidelined, and Valentin's senior season is over.

Still, RPI could play a major spoiler role against Cornell and Colgate, teams it earlier tied.

"We want to take advantage of the opportunity that we're playing at home for the last weekend of the regular season against two very good opponents," coach Dan Fridgen said. "What better way to get tuned up for playoff hockey? I see this weekend as being no different than how we're going to have to play in the playoffs. We want to finish as high as we can. We don't know what opponent we'll have, but we don't want to be complacent. We want as many points as we can get out of the season."

For Union, the reward may be larger.

"I think they're 100 percent excited about it," Leaman said of his players. "We've done well at home this year (10-1-4). I know their goal for the last three years that I've been here has been to get into the top four, and now in the last weekend of the year we have that opportunity."

Ice chips: Union F Augie DiMarzo and RPI F Oren Eizenman were named to the ECACHL honor roll.