Usual Suspects Begin To Pull Away

This weekend’s contests could play a major role in Harvard’s playoff picture

With just 22 days remaining on the ECAC’s schedule, one thing is for certain: Yale will not win the regular season title.

But there is still far more at stake than the Bulldogs’ battle with Princeton for second-to-last place.

While bands of schools have distanced themselves from one another, much jockeying for playoff position yet remains.

Those struggles begin in earnest this weekend not just across the Charles, where Harvard hosts Dartmouth, but—perhaps even more importantly—in Upstate New York as well, where first-place Cornell and second-place Colgate square off in a home-and-home series with the potential to establish either as the front runner from here on out.

“I realize that there are some games this weekend that will have an effect on us,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “[But] it’s important for us to really focus on what we can control and get our points.”

While the Crimson’s attention rests on the streaking Big Green and looming Beanpot, the clash of conference titans is not without its relevance for Harvard.

Despite an extra game under its belt, the Crimson sits two points out of first place and will require outside help to leapfrog the Big Red and the Raiders.

A Cornell-Colgate series split combined with a Harvard win would benefit the Crimson in two ways. First, Harvard would remain just two points out of first place. Second, and more importantly, the extra game in hand that the Big Red and the Raiders had would disappear, placing the Crimson on even footing the rest of the way.

Two wins for Cornell or Colgate, on the other hand, would leave the Crimson more than a game’s-worth of points behind, making a comeback in fewer than eight games not impossible, but certainly more difficult.

SAVE THE UNION

Believe it or not, Union once stood atop the ECAC leaderboard.

Undefeated through six conference games, the Dutchmen—under coach Nate Leaman’s tutelage—not only mirrored Vermont’s meteoric climb from the league’s basement, but they appeared poised to maintain their position as well. The Harvard-Union showdown on Dec. 3 at Bright Hockey Center, in fact, was billed as a genuine test for the Crimson, one which the home side could no longer count on emerging from with a ‘W.’

But this Tuesday, not two months after its hard fought 4-1 win over the Dutchmen, Harvard dominated Union in a laugher, 8-1, a margin of victory expected when the Crimson traveled to Princeton, but not Schenectady.

Between its losses at Harvard’s hands, the Dutchmen dropped eight of 10, punctuated by a six-game losing streak then made even worse by loss No. 7.

At the contest’s conclusion, Leaman locked the door to his dressing room, then addressed his squad for a full 64 minutes before returning to field questions from the media.

There can be no doubt that Union was overrated prior to its first matchup with the Crimson.

None of the six wins that inflated its record came against a team currently in fifth place or higher, and five of those victories were taken from programs that are now in ninth place or lower.

But even that, it would seem, doesn’t fully account for Tuesday’s meltdown.

The underlying cause does, however, likely spring from the weakness of the Dutchmen’s early schedule. In each of Union’s first six games, its offense scored at least three goals, masking a goaltending corps of marginal talent that allowed four goals or more three times during that span.

Against higher caliber defenses, those scoring numbers have precipitously declined, while goals-against have held steady.

“I also think they’re not getting any help from the goaltender,” Harvard captain Noah Welch said. “It’s evident—[against us] their starter got pulled quick. And it’s kind of tough when one of your go-to guys or your goalie gets pulled like that. And then their backup came in, and he didn’t do too much better. So I think goaltending’s an issue there, and it’s tough right now for them.”

ALONG THE BOARDS

The ECAC currently features three of the top four goaltenders in the country, according to two measures of backstopping prowess. Brown freshman Adam D’Alba and Harvard senior Dov Grumet-Morris are tied for first in the country in save percentage and third and fourth, respectively, in goals-against average (GAA). Cornell’s David McKee is tied for first in GAA, and ranks fourth in save percentage...Were the NCAA tournament to start today, three ECAC teams—Cornell, Harvard and Colgate—would qualify, according to the latest Pairwise Ranking, a projection that mirrors the process employed by the NCAA selection committee...Despite its continuing difficulties, Princeton surpassed its win total for all of last season with a 4-2 victory over Bentley on Jan. 25. The Tigers are now 6-14-1, an improvement upon their 5-24-2 mark a year ago.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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