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The ECAC hockey playoffs are once again upon us, and the seeding pattern really hasn't changed significantly from that of 1971. Only Brown is missing from last year's final eight, three of the top four teams last March earned home-ice advantage again, and four teams have drawn the same opponents they faced in the 1971 quarterfinals.
This year, though, Cornell is the team to beat, having whipped second ranked Boston University twice this winter and split with third-rated Harvard. The Crimson, whose performance down the stretch seems remarkably similar to that of last season, should again be a major contender. Penn, who five years ago joined Division 1 for the first time and once finished a dubious 17th out of 17 in the final standings, earned the fourth seed, and could be considered a dark horse. Tonight, the winnowing process begins at 'Ithaca, Boston, Cambridge and Philadelphia, and this is how the pairings look:
PROVIDENCE at CORNELL: The game between the first and eighth seeds has never been much of a contest, and it seems unlikely that Cornell will be sorely pressed tonight. Last year, these teams met in the first round at the same rink, and Cornell skated to an easy 6-3 victory. Given Cornell's phenomenal success at Lynah Rink (only Clarkson has beaten them there in the past five years), it is difficult to see how the Friars can reverse last year's results. Granted, Providence has proven its ability to win in hostile rinks, having defeated Brown at Meehan Auditorium and New Hampshire at Durham, but playing at Ithaca is unlike playing anywhere else in the country. And now, with its mid-season problems smoothed out, Cornell has become an incredibly formidable opponent. The Big Red has won seven consecutive games, including victories over Boston University and Harvard that sewed up the top ECAC seed and the Ivy title.
Providence, which sneaked into the eighth playoff spot only because of Boston College's loss at Pennsylvania Saturday, is a scrappy squad, though, and could make a surprisingly close game of it. Still, one has to go with Cornell because of its recent record, the tremendous advantage of Lynah Rink, and general ECAC tradition. The eighth team just doesn't beat the first, at least not at Ithaca, CORNELL BY 4.
RPI AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY: Many Terrier supporters feel that the major reason behind B.U.'s unexpected loss to Harvard in the ECAC semifinals last year was due to the physical pounding it had absorbed in the quarterfinal game against RPI. Even though the Terriers destroyed the Engineers 11-0, in that game, and again won easily at Boston, 7.3, last month, they probably would prefer to play someone else if they could. RPI, who slipped into the seventh seed despite a mediocre record against a relatively undemanding schedule, does not have a reputation as an especially clean hockey team, and is probably aware that it has little, if any chance, of advancing very far in the tournament. Consequently, there is a decent chance of a repetition of the 1971 quarterfinal--both in terms of the score and the violence. The Terriers have not been playing impressively recently, losing hold of the top spot in the East with losses to Boston College and Cornell, and having to come from behind to beat Providence at Boston. They need an impressive victory to carry them into a semifinal grudge match with Harvard (presumably) with proper momentum. They should get it. RPI, like New Hampshire and Clarkson, usually has serious troubles on the road. It has lost consecutive away games to B.U., New Hampshire and Penn, and dropped a home game to Clarkson by three goals last week. RPI should leave the ECAC tournament the way it came in--by the back door, BOSTON UNIVERSITY, by 5.
CLARKSON at HARVARD: Certain teams around the ECAC appear to have hexes on certain others. B.U. can't beat Cornell. B.C., with rare exceptions, can't beat B.U. Northeastern can't beat anybody. And Clarkson, at least when it plays outside the Potsdam city limits, can't beat Harvard. Last year, the Golden Knights had a comfortable lead over the Crimson in the ECAC finals before Harvard rallied and skated away with a 7-4 victory. Last month, it was a tight game at Cambridge until Dave Hynes broke it open with four goals, and the Crimson went on to a 6-2 triumph. In all, Clarkson has lost seven of the last nine games between the two, and has not beaten Harvard in either Cambridge, Boston, or New York City since 1966. It would seem that Clarkson could save the air fare and play tonight's game by computer. Still, the Golden Knights are a troublesome team, and have done two things this year that Harvard has not--beaten Boston University by four goals, and defeated Cornell at Ithaca. That alone was probably enough to give them the sixth seed, despite a recent loss to Boston College. But Clarkson is not the team it was last year, and its seeding shows it. The Knights lost All-American goaltender Bruce Bullock and the best of their forwards, and have generally been the most inconsistent hockey team in Division this winter. True, they have been an ECAC finalist in each of the past two years, but each time they had home-ice advantage, something they lack tonight. And Cambridge is not the only place where they have trouble. The Knights have lost at Durham, Philadelphia and Canton, N.Y., this year, too. HARVARD, by 2 in a tight game.
NEW HAMPSHIRE at PENNSYLVANIA: Just two weeks ago, New Hampshire seemed assured of a comfortable quarterfinal game at Durham, and was even breathing on Harvard's neck for third seed. Now, after losing at Clarkson a week ago, the Wildcats are hitting the road, and it could mean that they'll have to wait yet another year to play at Boston Garden in the ECAC semifinals, Pennsylvania, once the laughingstock of Eastern hockey, has built a fast, deep squad with a nucleus of Canadian material, and it deserves a seed in the top four as much as anyone. The Quakers have beaten Harvard and Clarkson this winter, and are currently riding a four-game winning streak that includes victories over RPI, St. Lawrence, Princeton and Boston College. They clobbered New Hampshire last year, 7-2, when the Wildcats failed to make the playoffs, and shocked them, 4-1, at Durham this January. Penn is flying, and if goaltender John Marks can repeat the flashes of brilliance he has exhibited from time to time this winter, the Quakers could be the surprise of the tournament.
New Hampshire, though, played its best hockey in January, when it defeated Clarkson, St. Lawrence, and Harvard within four days at Durham, and has deteriorated considerably since. It will be hard pressed to return to form, especially at Philadelphia. The Quakers, who had a tough draw last year when they were forced to play at Clarkson, should use the home ice to their advantage. PENNSYLVANIA, by 1.