The first round of the ECAC hockey tournament will feature great goaltending, bitter rivalry, and even a few flying oranges.
Beginning tonight, the lower eight teams in the ECAC will compete in best-of-three weekend series. One match will feature Brown’s standout goalie Yann Danis, but the most compelling series will likely be in Schenectady, N.Y. when Rensselaer visits regional rival Union, whose home fans defiantly tossed oranges on the ice after the Dutchmen’s first goal against the Engineers.
The four playoff series winners will advance to face the league’s top four teams — Cornell, Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale — in the second round. From there, the competitors will dwindle to a final four, who will face off in single elimination games for the ECAC championship at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y., March 21 and 22. The tournament winner is guaranteed a slot in the 16-team NCAA tournament.
While Cornell and Harvard are the tournament favorites, the first weekend of games offers several intriguing contests.
Princeton vs. Brown
All season, the fifth-place Bears (12-11-5, 10-8-4 ECAC, 24 pts.) have been buoyed by junior goaltender Yann Danis, and his leadership should carry them to victory over 12th-place Princeton (3-24-2, 2-18-2, 6 pts.). In 28 games this season, Brown has scored only 80 goals, but Danis has surrendered less than 70 goals in the same span. He consistently faces about 40 shots in a game and has one of the top save percentages (.924) in the league. During the regular season against Princeton, Danis and the Bears have had no problems, notching two solid wins over the Tigers.
Prediction: Brown 2, Princeton 0
Rensselaer vs. Union
Since Union began playing Division I ice hockey in 1991, the Dutchmen have often played catch-up to their rival across the Hudson River. This year, the roles are reversed; sixth-place Union (14-16-4, 10-10-2 ECAC, 22 pts.) has the home-ice advantage against 11th-place Rensselaer (10-23-3, 4-15-3 ECAC, 11 pts.). Union was ranked as high as third this year, while Rensselaer has won just two league games since the winter holidays.
In two games this season, RPI earned a win and a tie with Union, but the playoff match-up will likely favor Union. Leading scorer Nathan Gillies and freshman goalie Kris Mayotte should lead the Dutchmen to a win. The Engineers do not have top scorers or a standout goalie to go against Union’s skilled skaters in a three-game series.
Prediction: Union 2, Rensselaer 1
Vermont vs. Clarkson
This year has been a struggle for both teams: seventh-place Clarkson (12-18-3, 9-10-3 ECAC, 21 pts.) fired its head coach in November after he stick-slashed a player at practice, and 10th-place Vermont (11-18-3, 8-14-0 ECAC, 16 pts.) is still rebuilding after forfeiting a recent season because of a hazing controversy. Nevertheless, each team has had some success; the pair split their season series, with the Catamounts and Golden Knights both winning on their home ice.
Clarkson’s raucous fans at Cheel Arena will likely figure in the outcome of this series. Senior goalie Mike Walsh and the Knights’ second-ranked penalty-killing unit also should help Clarkson to victory.
Prediction: Clarkson 2, Vermont 1
St. Lawrence vs. Colgate
The ninth-place Saints (10-19-5, 7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts.) and the eighth-place Red Raiders (14-16-4, 9-10-3 ECAC, 21 pts.) tied in both of their meetings this season. The playoff series may come down to a battle between goalkeepers: St. Lawrence’s Kevin Ackley and Colgate’s Steve Silverthorn have both played stellar games this season. Colgate has an 11-4-0 home record, but St. Lawrence’s experienced head coach Joe Marsh should motivate the Saints to a narrow win.
Prediction: St. Lawrence 2, Colgate 1