March 17, 2005

Top Teams Face Off in ECACHL Championships

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You’ll have to forgive Mike Schafer ’86 for being a little bit surprised that his team will be facing No. 4 Vermont tomorrow afternoon in the ECACHL semifinals. It just is not that frequent an event that the conference’s top four regular season finishers all advance to the final four.

“It doesn’t normally happen,” the Cornell head coach said. “You would expect it to happen based on the course of the year, but it’s the first time in a while that all top four seeds got through.”

Five years to be exact.

Not since the 1999-2000 season has each of the top four seeds advanced to the ECAC semifinals. That year, No. 1 St. Lawrence, No. 2 Colgate, No. 3 Rensselaer, and co-No. 4’s Cornell and Clarkson all made the jaunt to Lake Placid, N.Y, the then-home of the ECAC tournament. In 2000, the Red won the play-in game against Clarkson before losing in overtime to the Saints in the semifinals. It happens again this year, as the Red battles the Catamounts tomorrow afternoon, before No. 2 Harvard takes to the ice against No. 3 Colgate in the nightcap.

It comes as no surprise, though, that this year is one in which the standings have been predictive. The ECACHL just completed one of its best seasons in several years, heralding a return to national prominence. Aside from the third-ranked Red, Harvard and Colgate are also in the top 15 in both the and the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine polls. Vermont, the Red’s semifinal opponent tomorrow afternoon, received votes in both polls, as did Dartmouth.

Additionally, the ECACHL compiled a .518 winning percentage (52-48-12) in non-conference games this year, an improvement over years past.

Based on this season’s performance, this weekend’s tournament promises to pack the most punch it possibly could.

Though Cornell enters the weekend as the odds-on favorite to capture the ECACHL championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Red’s coronation as champion for the second time in three years is far from a foregone conclusion. Against the three other participants in this championship weekend, Cornell holds a 3-1-2 record– meaning the three teams joining Cornell in Albany account for three of the four conference games the Red did not win this year.

“It goes to show you that they’ve earned their seeds through the course of the year,” Schafer said. “They protected their home ice and got to Albany.”

Harvard, Colgate, and Vermont reached this point in their seasons in much the same way that the Red did — by depending on strong goaltending and sound fundamentals. Colgate, the Red’s long-time travel partner, boasts one of the best goaltenders in the country in Steve Silverthorn. The Raiders’ senior has posted a 1.76 GAA this season, recording five shutouts.

Harvard is much the same story. Behind netminder Dov Grumet-Morris, the Crimson again made hockey observers around the country take notice, as it emerged victorious over teams such as Boston College and Maine.

Vermont, in its last year as a member of the ECACHL, has made the most of its farewell tour, racing to the top of the conference standings after several years of cellar-dwelling.

The sum of these parts could be one of the most exciting championship weekends in recent memory — with a significant chance that more than one of these teams will be playing again a week from now.

ECACHL Commissioner

The ECAC Hockey League removed the “acting” tag from commissioner Steve Hagwell’s title yesterday, signing him to a three-year contract.

“I can think of no one better in college hockey to lead us into the future than Steve Hagwell,” stated Wayne Dean, Yale senior associate athletic director and chair of the ECACHL administrative group. “He has tremendous support from our policy committee, institutional administration, coaches and officials, as well as the college hockey community.”

Hagwell, formerly the associate commissioner of the ECAC in charge of men’s hockey, had been the acting commissioner of the independent ECAC Hockey League since its formation in April.

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Senior Writer