A Real Nail-Biter

Those arriving early at the Garden for the Harvard-Clarkson ECAC men's hockey semifinal tonight will find a bonus for their $12 admission fee.

After the Crimson's late-season successes--including a 7-3 win over and a 3-3 tie to Rensselaer which swept Harvard into the tournament's semis--it is hard to remember that other college squads also are fighting to advance in the NCAAs.

For Harvard, the major "other" contest in the second night of Hockeyfest '91 features what promises to be an up-tempo, hard-hitting game between St. Lawrence and Cornell. The two will square off at 5 p.m. tonight in the first ECAC semifinal.

And it should be a nail-biter. The Saints and Big Red are evenly matched in nearly every category and have jockeyed for the league lead all season.

Averaging more than 4.5 goals a game (fourth in total offense in the ECAC), the third-seeded Saints can light up the scoreboard. But they are also a very streaky team that scores in spurts. After trouncing Vermont, 8-2, last Friday, St. Lawrence fell to the Catamounts by 3-1 the next evening. The Saints were the only team to advance to tonight's semis by winning a tiebreaking 10-minute mini-game.

St. Lawrence (20-12-1 overall, 15-6-1 ECAC) skates two of collegiate hockey's most prolific scorers, Mike Lappin and Andy Pritchard.

Lappin (26-39--65), a speedy 5-ft. 10-in., 190-lb. senior center, is fourth on the ECAC's scoring leaderboard. He scored the game-winning goal 1:16 into the mini-game that allowed the Saints to advance to this round.

Pritchard, a powerful 5-ft. 11-in., 185-lb. left wing has been the league's hottest forward of late, with 18 goals and 18 assists in his last 12 contests. Skating together on the Saints' top line, Pritchard (27-34--61) and Lappin both netted over 60 points--the first time a St. Lawrence duo has done that in the school's history.

Less well known but equally dangerous scoring threats are right wing Martin LaCroix (15-25--40) and Dan LaPerriere (6-27--33), a 6-ft. 1-in., 200 lb. left defender with a hard shot from the point.

Cornell's league-leading defense will have to stop them. The Big Red, who surrender only 3.10 goals on average, hope that Co-Captain Dan Ratushny and Tim Vanini will be able to thwart the powerful Saints attack.

Either Corrie D'Alessio (3.32 goals-against-average, .876 save percentage)--who finished fifth in the league in goals-against-average--or Jim Crozier (2.45, .892) will mind the Big Red twines. Cornell Coach Brian McCutcheon declined to say at press time which will be in goal.

"St. Lawrence has some fine, very good skating forwards," McCutcheon said. "And they have that kid Dan LaPerriere, who moves the puck around well. They like to play a high-tempo game. But we're capable of playing that kind of game as well."

Cornell (17-8-3 overall, 14-5-3 ECAC), the tourney's second seed, led the league for most of the season before surrendering the top spot with three losses--to Brown, Rensselaer and Vermont--in the final two weekends. But the Big Red bounced back in Ithaca, N.Y. last weekend, amassing 18 goals in 10-3 and 8-1 blowouts of Colgate in its quarterfinal-round action to earn its trip to the big city.

While the Big Red scores less per game on average (4.18 gpg during the regular season) than its western opponent, Cornell has an equally dangerous and balanced scoring attack.

Co-Captain Doug Derraugh (25-32--57), a feisty 5-ft. 10-in., 180-lb. wing, and Ryan Hughes (18-29--47), a swift 6-ft. 1 in., 186-lb. sophomore center, lead the attack. Kent Manderville (14-13--27)--a Calgary Flames second-round pick in 1989--and Trent Andison (19-23--42) will keep LaPerriere and Co.'s hands full.

"We've got to get on the score-board early against these guys," St. Lawrence Coach Joe Marsh said. "We didn't do a good job with that last time. They check well, and in a small building like the Garden, we have to get to net before they do."

Marsh is giving the nod to goalie Les Kuntar (3.20, .897)--who is tops in the ECAC in wins (18) and third in goals-against-average--to play against the Big Red.

As for injuries, the only serious one is to the Saints' defender Ted Dent, who has a broken wrist, but "will be in there" for tonight's contest, according to Marsh.