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Big Finish for Icemen

Clarkson, St. Lawrence Come to Bright in Final ECAC Weekend; NCAA, ECAC Seedings at Stake

By Jay K. Varma

There's a bit of history attached to the last weekend of the Harvard men's hockey team's regular season.

Harvard (for the last few years at least) plays Clarkson at St. Lawrence. These three perennial ECAC powers can usually be counted on to generate fireworks.

Two years ago, fifth-place Harvard did the remarkable: now - Boston Bruin Ted Donato '91 and unheralded Scott Barringer '91 led the Crimson to a sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence, then the top two teams in the league and Harvard took home ice in the playoffs.

Last year, first-place Harvard did the unthinkable, falling to Clarkson and then collapsing against St. Lawrence in upstate New York. Brown performed the Heimlich maneuver, though, edging out Clarkson that weekend to insure that choking Harvard retained first-place and the ECAC regular-season title.

This year, the scenario is less grand.

Harvard has the league title wrapped up, and unless you care about the shuffling of the ECAC playoffs, the weekend schedule looks about as exciting the North Dakota landscape.

Still Gotta Win

However, Harvard (19-3-2 overall, 16-2-2 ECAC) still needs to win these games and it is favored to do so. It slipped a few notches in the polls to sixth this past week after losing to Dartmouth and victories over 10th-ranked Clarkson (15-9-4, 11-6-3) and perennially strong St. Lawrence (16-9-3, 11-7-2) would help add a little glitter to the Crimson's tarnished reputation.

Harvard Coach Ronn Tomassoni insisted that his team is keeping its focus on sweeping the weekend.

"These games are just as important," Tomassoni said. "Every time we go on that ice we want to win, and they're big for that reason alone."

Make no mistake. As the ECAC and NCAA Tournaments--approach, these are "big" games.

"They're big from standpoint of wanting to play well going to playoffs," Tomassoni said. "And they're also big for looking down the road. We're not there yet, but you have to be mature about things and look at NCAA seedings. The two criteria for that are winning percentage and the record in your last ten games. Obviously winning these games would fall under those categories."

Wants Top Spot

Harvard is virtually guaranteed a spot to the 12-team post-season tournament, but it wants one of the top two spots in the East.

That would insure a first-round bye and the blessing of not having to play Maine--which is certain to be ranked first in the East--until the Final Four in Milwaukee.

The two North Country visitors are also eyeing the NCAA tournament, though their road is far rougher and rockier.

Sixth-place St. Lawrence is pursuing third or fourth in the league and the accompanying home-ice bid for the playoffs.

Its only chance of making the NCAAs is by winning the conference tournament, which would be far easier if the Saints open the ECAC playoffs in cozy Appleton Arena.

The Saints used to feature one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation, but have stumbled this year. Greg Carvel's 28 points (7 goals, 21 assists) have been the lone highlight. On defense, goalie Brady Giroux, who splits time with Paul Spagnoletti (whom Harvard shelled in a 10-4 win in January), is a rock. He posts a 2.87 goals-against-average, and .908 save percentage as the fifth best netminder in the league.

Golden Knights Surge

Clarkson is also making a late-season push to sneak into the tournament, though its chance to secure an at-large bid (rather than the automatic one that comes with the ECAC tournament title) are considerably greater than St. Lawrence's. The Golden Knights recently reappeared in the national rankings, having won nine of 10 since January 23.

Clarkson is certainly itching to prove itself to the national pollsters who ranked it highly in the pre-season, and the Golden Knights have the talent to back it up.

Strong senior (Steve Dubinsky and Hugo Belanger) and sophomore (Marko Tuomainen, Craig Marchant, Patrice Robitaille) classes have made this team the top offense in the ECAC with 91 total goals.

Consistency Needed

For Harvard, the biggest challenge will be playing with the consistency it showed before these past two weekends.

Last week, Tomassoni shuffled his lines after several below-par team performances to send the message to Harvard that talent without hard work will not win games.

He bumped junior Brian Farrell from the first to third line and seniors Steve Flomenhoft and Matt Mallgrave from second to fourth--a move which produced a convincing 3-1 win over Vermont.

Even though Tomassoni hasn't decided to what the lines will be for tonight's game, he trusts his message has been received.

"I want our kids focused on the games," Tomassoni said. "We need to play with a lot of intensity and emotion. If we do those two things, we're going to be fine."

****

Ticket Announcement: Student tickets for the ECAC playoff games at Bright Hockey Center will go on sale Monday, March 8, at 9 a.m.

Tickets are six dollars each, and the initial limit is two tickets per student coupon. The applicable coupons are #27, #28 and #29 for the March 12, 13 and 14 games, respectively.

If no game is played on Sunday, students can return tickets for a refund.

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