Men's Hockey Readies for ECAC Stretch Run
Seven teams within seven points of first place in tight race
Imagine a pair of race horses entering the final stretch. The outcome becomes more and more ambiguous with each stride and to the chagrin of ticket holders in the grandstands, the winner remains a mystery until the final moment.
This season horse racing has seemingly loaned out its nail-biting characteristics to ECAC hockey. With 12 games down and only 10 more league contests to go, a mere seven points separate the top seven teams. With no team breaking away from the pack, parity has become not only the trite watchword of the ECAC, but it has also become a clear reminder to all teams that the 1997-98 league title is still very much up for grabs. That is a concept which is a rarity in a league that has traditionally been dominated by one or two powerhouses.
To make the picture even more perplexing is the fact that Yale, who was picked to finish 10th in the preseason coach's poll, is still atop the leader board with a 9-2-0 record, and is ranked No. 10 in the nation. Tim Taylor and his Bulldogs have won eight of their last 10 games, thanks in part to its power-play unit which is clicking at a league-leading 25.5-percent clip.
Following closely at its heels, however, is the recently surging Clarkson squad. Despite the ravaging ice storms which have overtaken much of the upstate New York area, the Golden Knights have rebounded from a disappointing 0-2 start, with wins in eight of their last 10 contests. The burst has moved Clarkson into the league's second-place slot, trailing Yale by a mere three points. Mark Morris' squad could steal the top spot this coming weekend with a pair of wins and a Yale loss. Unfortunately for Clarkson, that feat may prove to be difficult considering that it must lock horns with the team which sits right below it in the standings, Colgate.
The Red Raiders are yet another team which has chosen the New Year to play some of its most consistent hockey. Much like Clarkson, after a dismal start which saw the Red Raiders quickly lose its pre-season national number nine ranking, Colgate has been victorious in four of its last five league games. Its most recent loss came on Monday night in overtime against its traveling partner, Cornell.
The Big Red, last year's ECAC Tournament Champions, sputtered through the early part of the season, but a plethora of non-league and exhibition contests awoke Mike Shafer's troops and a 3-2 win over Colgate is a testament to that fact. Although Cornell and its mediocre 5-4-1 league record is currently stuck in the burrows of sixth place, it is only seven points back from Yale.
Harvard and RPI are the two teams that have edged the Big Red out of the top five. The Engineers have just one loss in their last six games and have moved to within a point of the Crimson. RPI came into the season as the ECAC favorite, but inconsistency has marred its play, as it has averaged 4.75 goals-per-game in its wins and only 1.28 in its loss.
Harvard was in second place on January 10 when it pulled out a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win over Union, and without even taking to the ice since that time, has dropped to fourth place. Exam break indeed took a toll on the 5-4-2 Crimson squad that finally gets back into the hockey mode on Monday against Boston College in the first round of the annual Beanpot Tournament.
With the return of injured junior Craig Adams and sophomore goaltender J.R. Prestifilippo, Harvard looks to make a run at the top spot in the month of February as it plays 10 games in 28 days.
Filling out the rest of the league standing are the ever-dangerous cellar dwellers. Princeton is tied with Cornell for sixth place, but those two teams must keep an eye behind them as Brown, Vermont, St. Lawrence, and Dartmouth are all within two points.
At this point, no one is picking a winner just yet. The race has become so jumbled and ambiguous that each weekend causes the proverbial hands to be tossed in the air.
One thing is for sure, though. The race has become tighter than ever as 12 teams make the far turn and head down the home stretch of the ECAC schedule. HOCKEY ECAC LEAGUE STANDINGS
Team Conf Pts Overall GF