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New Story Line for ECAC: Itís Anybodyís Tournament

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, March 3, 2004

In previous ECAC tournaments, there have always been clear favorites.

Last year, Cornell and Harvard were expected to, and did, challenge for the title. The year before that, Cornell was the choice to win it all. In the 1990s, Clarkson had a yearly reservation in the championship round.

But this year is a different story.

As the tournament gets underway this weekend with four first-round series, there isn't one team that stands out from the others. This may be the most wide-open tournament in ECAC history.

Some of the teams in the lower half of the standings, like Union and Vermont, have as good a chance of getting to Pepsi Arena in two weeks and winning the tourney as the top four finishers - Colgate, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth.

"It is wide open," said Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Dan Fridgen, whose fifth-seeded Engineers host 12th-seeded Princeton this weekend at Houston Field House. "When you look at the games that were played late in the season, everybody was basically beating everybody else. If you want to call that a lull in the top teams, you can."

How crazy a regular season was it? You only need to look at the season's final night to see how jumbled everything was.

Only one team had wrapped up its seeding position, Princeton, which was dead last. One point separated three teams (Colgate, Cornell and Dartmouth) for first place. Union, meanwhile, was keeping one eye on its game with Princeton and the other on updates from the Clarkson-Cornell game in the battle for the final home-ice spot.

"There's definitely not a favorite this year," said Union coach Nate Leaman, whose eighth-seeded Dutchmen host ninth-seeded Clarkson on Friday at Messa Rink at Achilles Center. "Different teams were inconsistent. Different teams were hot."

Union was one of those teams that closed out the season on a roll. The Dutchmen went 6-2-1 over their final nine games to get home ice for the second straight year.

Eleventh-seeded Vermont, which started the year 0-11-2, won five straight before falling to Brown, 6-0, Saturday.

Brown, which was in first place three weeks ago, snapped a five-game winless streak with the win over the Catamounts. The Bears, who dropped to third place, were outscored, 16-4, during the skid, and were shut out three times.

"[The tournament] is going to provide teams with some great entertainment," Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. "A lot of the teams in the bottom half of the league have been playing very well as of late. The top teams remain fairly consistent. You see by the scores throughout the year, the old saying that anybody can beat anybody on any given night has never been more true than this year."

In looking at the first-round series, it wouldn't be a surprise to see at least one of the road teams advance to the quarterfinals. Clarkson and Union were separated by one point. St. Lawrence has enough firepower to batter a porous Yale defense. Vermont just beat Harvard, 6-4, on Friday.

"No matter who's got the home ice, it's a situation where anybody can go on the road and win, whether it be in this round or the next round," first-year Clarkson coach George Roll said. "I haven't been in the league the last seven years, but before, in my eight years as an assistant, I've never seen the parity in the league like it is now."

The picks

Here are some predictions on the four first-round series.

No. 12 Princeton (5-22-2) at No. 5 RPI (19-13-2)

The only mismatch of the first round.

The Engineers have played strong hockey for the past two months. They are getting solid goaltending from Nathan Marsters, and their power play, led by Kevin Croxton and Kirk MacDonald, is one of the best in the nation.

The Tigers enter the postseason on a 15-game winless streak (0-13-2).

The only thing that could stop RPI is if it's caught looking ahead to a quarterfinal-round matchup with Dartmouth. The pick: RPI in two by scores of 5-1 and 6-0.

No. 11 Vermont (9-20-4) at No. 6 Harvard (12-14-3)

The Catamounts struggled early and finished strong. The Crimson, who were expected to win the regular-season title, were an inconsistent team all season.

Vermont just won at Harvard on Friday. Can the Catamounts do it again?

They may get one game, but not two. The pick: Harvard in three by scores of 2-3, 4-1 and 4-2.

No. 10 St. Lawrence (11-19-6) at No. 7 Yale (12-17)

An intriguing series. The Saints are just 2-12-2 on the road this season, while the Bulldogs were 1-7 in their last eight games.

Yale has the worst defense in the league. It's given up an average of 37.2 shots per game. Opponents outshot the Bulldogs by 338.

The Bulldogs won both meetings during the regular season, but that won't happen here. The pick: St. Lawrence in two by scores of 5-3 and 6-4.

No. 9 Clarkson (13-16-5) at No. 8 Union (14-5-5)

Union has home ice for the second straight year, while Clarkson is on the road in the ECAC tournament for the first time since 1988.

The Dutchmen wilted under the pressure of last year's home-ice series with RPI and were swept in two games. That extended Union's playoff losing streak to 11 games. It hasn't won in the postseason since beating RPI in Game 1 of the 1994 quarterfinals.

Union enters this postseason on a roll. If the Dutchmen learned their lesson from last year, they will advance. The pick: Union in three by scores of 3-1, 1-2 and 4-2.

Engineers honored

Croxton and Marsters were honored by the ECAC on Monday.

Croxton was named player of the week. He had three goals and two assists in five games as the Engineers swept the Princeton-Yale trip. Croxton was also a plus-minus rating of plus-5.

Marsters earned goalie of the week. He stopped 65 of 66 shots, including 34 saves Saturday against Yale in earning his fifth shutout of the season.

Marsters became the school's all-time leader in games played by a goalie (110), minutes played (6347:03) and saves (2,979).

Named to the honor roll were RPI's Oren Eizenman, and Union's Kris Mayotte and Jonathan Poirier.

RPI gets Eaves

The son of a former Adirondack Red Wings great is coming to RPI next season.

Tyler Eaves has committed to the Engineers. He is the son of Murray Eaves, who played with the Red Wings in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Tyler Eaves is 17 years old. He is a 5-foot-10, 190-pound center for Shattuck St. Mary's, the Minnesota school that is RPI cocaptain Ben Barr's alma mater. He has 18 goals and 43 assists in 58 games.

Dutchwomen win

The Union Dutchwomen, playing their first year at the Division I level, ended a 20-game losing streak Saturday with a 3-1 ECAC victory over Cornell. It was their first league win.

During the skid, the Dutchwomen (1-15, 4-27-1) were outscored, 129-12. They were shut out 12 times, and they broke a five-game scoring drought in their win.

Kelly Lannan scored twice in the triumph, and goalie Mandy Hanson made 44 saves. Lannan was named to the ECAC honor roll.

"It was a pure sense of relief," Union coach Fred Quistgard said. "The only difference between that game, and the first Cornell game, the Vermont game and the Boston College game, we finished our chances and got a lead. We put the other team in a more defensive comefrom-behind atmosphere, instead of being on cruise control against us."

The Dutchwomen were expected to struggle in their inaugural Division I season. Eleven freshmen and lack of depth combined to hurt Union.

"There were games we got blown out, so I'm not going to say we'd beat Dartmouth or Harvard," Quistgard said. "But there were other games against other Division I teams that, yes, we're going to be outshot, but had we finished on the chances that we had and did, and did a lot of the little things well, we could have stolen some games. But we weren't experienced enough to take advantage of the opportunities."

Union closes out the season this weekend at St. Lawrence.