A wild ECAC Division One hockey season comes to a close this week, with eight teams vying for Eastern supremacy. The battle begins tonight at four different college rinks in three states as the opening round of the ECAC tournament gets underway.
The division's number-one seed, New Hampshire, hosts the eighth-seeded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute squad in Durham, N.H.; Harvard entertains seventh-seeded Providence in Watson Rink; Boston University and Dartmouth slug it out in Walter Brown Memorial Rink; and fifth-ranked St. Lawrence travels to nearby Ithaca, N.Y., to take on Cornell.
For Harvard, this marks the first meeting this season with Providence. The Crimson icemen have seen five of the other six tourney teams, losing to UNH in the season opener, downing St. Lawrence and splitting a pair with B.U., Dartmouth and Cornell. Harvard and RPI have not met this year.
The Friars stand at a mere .500 in the division with a 9-9-1 slate, but Crimson mentor Bill Cleary isn't taking them lightly. "They [Providence] upset New Hampshire and beat St. Lawrence up there," he said yesterday, "so they've gotta have something on the ball."
What the Friars have that has helped them pull of such wins is a solid defense, led by a highly sought-after freshman named Ron Wilson. Wilson, the "Bobby Orr" of Providence, is what you might call an offensively-minded defenseman. He is tied for the team lead in scoring with sophomore winger Dan Kennedy, notching 14 goals and 23 assists this season.
Wilson is paired with senior John Martin, who has six goals and 16 assists. The second defensive pairing consists of junior Jeff Nixon and senior Mike Marvell, while senior Mike Zyburra (3.67 goals-against average) should be tending nets tonight.
Young Friar Squad
Marvell, Martin and Zyburra are the only three seniors on the young Friar squad. The top line is made up of sophomore center Steve Heggison, Kennedy and junior Ken Richardson. Heggison missed most of the season with a broken wrist, but in 14 games played, he has racked up 14 points on five goals and nine assists.
Providence employs a so-called "checking line" of three juniors, Pete Valenti, Rich Cabalka and Rich Cusack. Among them the line has scored only 17 goals. The third Friar line has a bit more scoring punch with freshman John McMorrow, junior Dave Kelly and sophomore Tim Whisler combining for 21 goals and 32 total assists.
The Friars' best games this year have been low scoring. The team dropped its last three division contests to Brown, 7-2, and to B.U. and B.C., both by 6-3 margins. Providence is not a high-scoring team and as a result has had to rely on good defensive efforts as in their victories over UNH (2-1) and RPI (3-2).
Harvard, on the other hand, has had a much more explosive offensive unit this season with junior Randy Roth the scoring leader (45 points on 18 goals and 27 assists). Tonight should herald the return of another high scorer, sophomore Kevin Carr. Carr has been sidelined with a shoulder injury since the Northeastern game two weeks ago.
Paul Haley is the only doubful starter tonight. Haley suffered a leg injury Saturday against Yale and may not play. Everyone else appears healthy and ready to begin the assault on the East's best teams.
Cleary is confident, as always. "We'll be in there battling," he said yesterday, "which is what we've been doing all season."