The ‘Gate Hockey Fan’s Guide to the ECAC Tourney

The 1989-1990 men’s hockey team was picked to finish fifth in the ECAC during the preseason. Months later, Colgate stood at 18-3-1 in the ECAC en route to winning both the regular season and postseason titles and finishing as an NCAA finalist. This year, Colgate was slated to finish sixth. Although the Raiders failed to meet expectations, finishing eighth overall in the conference, it is not out of the question for Colgate to match the 1990 team’s greatness and win the ECAC tournament for the second time in school history. How will the Raiders be able to accomplish that? Here’s ‘Gate’s road map to glory with a detailed summary of the first-round match-up between the Raiders and St. Lawrence and brief overviews of the top-five ECAC finishers, some of which Colgate will need to knock off in order to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years.

The Raiders begin their quest for an ECAC title against ninth-place St. Lawrence. Colgate swept its three meetings with SLU during the regular season, but Head Coach Don Vaughan was quick to praise the Saints.

“It doesn’t matter who you face at this time of year,” he said. “You better be playing your best hockey, because knowing [Saints Head Coach] Joe Marsh, they will bring a lot of emotion and passion. They want to be in your face and attack. We have a good understanding of them from the previous games, so we need to stick to our game by doing things like staying underneath the puck defensively and supporting the forwards.”

As they have for most of their time at Colgate, seniors Tyler Burton (18-16-34) and Jesse Winchester (8-26-34) will lead the Raider attack this weekend. Further down the line, junior Peter Bogdanich (6-14-20), sophomore David McIntyre (11-16-27) and first-year standout Brian Day (9-10-19) have all delivered some timely passes and goals this season.

“Tyler and Jesse will be marked men,” Vaughan said, “but at home, we get the last change, so we’ll try to get them favorable matchups when we can. Still, each line has to contribute, whether by scoring a goal or creating energy.”

Juniors Brock McBride (12-18-30) and Kevin DeVergilio (8-15-23) are St. Lawrence’s best forwards. Both starred in last year’s run to the NCAA Tournament, which included a sweep of Colgate in the ECAC quarterfinals (DeVergilio had two goals and two assists in that series). Classmate Casey Parenteau (10-7-17) and sophomore Mike McKenzie (7-12-19) offer further offensive threats.

Fortunately, the Raiders have senior Mark Dekanich in goal. Although the Raiders gave up at least three goals in each of the last four games, he comes into the playoffs following a spectacular regular season. Dekanich is 14-12-6 with a 2.11 GAA and .924 save percentage. Most impressively, he recorded six shutouts, including a 217:16 stretch that set Colgate and ECAC records and ranks as the seventh-longest mark in NCAA history. The Raiders defensemen have certainly helped Dekanich do his job. Five of them finished the regular-season with plus/minus ratings exceeding plus-five. Senior Matt Torti (1-2-3, 34 blocks), as well as juniors Jason Fredericks (2-3-5, 41 blocks) and Nick St. Pierre (1-6-7, 43 blocks) make the right play nearly every time. First-years Wade Poplawski, Kevin McNamara and Francois Brisebois also helped squash countless attacks. Vaughan also said he expected Colgate’s forwards, particularly those on the checking line, to support the defensive effort.

Special teams might be a factor in this series. The Raider power play has struggled mightily, converting just 11% of its chances.

“I thought our movement improved last weekend, but we need to score to improve our chances of winning,” Vaughan said.

Notwithstanding four Dartmouth power play goals on Saturday, Colgate’s penalty kill has been somewhat consistent at 82.3%. St. Lawrence’s power play connects at 14.4%, while it kills 81.8% of its shorthanded situations.

If Colgate beats St. Lawrence, the Raiders will enter a best two-out-of three quarterfinal series on the road against one of the top-four ECAC teams. A Raiders win there will enter the squad into a single-elimination, four-team tournament at the Times Union Center in Albany to determine the ECAC Champion. Here is a list of the top-five finishers in league play this season with their strengths, weaknesses and Coach Vaughan’s thoughts on each team.

First-place Clarkson

Strengths: Clarkson sports four players that have scored 10 goals or more this season, and seven of their players have been drafted by NHL franchises. Stephen Zalewski (19-11-30) leads the league in goals scored, and sophomore superstar Matt Beca leads the team in points (10-22-32). Defenseman Grant Clitsome has an obscene plus/minus rating of +20, better than any other ECAC bluelinesman. He, his teammates and 2006-07 Ken Dryden Award winner David Leggio (20-9-4, 2.26 GAA) are the reasons why this team has given up the second-fewest amount of goals in league play.

Weaknesses: Clarkson has not cracked Colgate’s code this season. The Golden Knights have tied Colgate twice this season and haven’t looked great in either game.

Coach Vaughan’s Take: “Coming into the league, [Clarkson] was the favorites so they answered the bell there. To sum it up, they are probably the most complete team in the league.”

Second-place Princeton

Strengths: Princeton, one of two Division-I teams that does not have a tie (Bowling Green is the other), has a whopping 14 players with 10 points or more, and they lead the league in goals scored. Forward Lee Jubinville (11-26-37) leads the league in points scored, and Mike Moore(5-13-18) and Joey Pederson (3-13-16) are two of the top-10 scoring defensemen in the league. Also, this squad has Colgate’s number this season, outscoring Colgate, 9-2 in two games.

Weaknesses: All of the defenseman except one are underclassmen, so a lack of tournament experience may hurt them? Furthermore, the team went 3-3 down the stretch.

Coach Vaughan’s Take: “They play a very hard, up-tempo,

attacking game. Also, I would not be surprised if Jubinville wins ECAC Player of the Year.”

Third-place Harvard

Strengths: The Crimson enter the tournament guns blazing having gone 6-0-1 in their last seven ECAC games. Harvard’s biggest strength is sophomore goalie Kyle Richter (14-11-4, 2.18 GAA). He is first in the league in goals against average and save percentage in conference games. Harvard has a great deal of offensive depth, with four players getting nine or more goals this season. Furthermore, they have the best penalty kill percentage in the league at 86.9 %. The Crimson has allowed the fewest goals against in league play with 41, two ahead of Cornell.

Weaknesses: Although Harvard has great offensive depth, it lacks a dominant offensive scorer, which may hinder them in the playoffs.

Coach Vaughan’s Take: “[Harvard] plays a very good game in front of Richter. They take care of the slot area effectively. They are a very dangerous club and can do some damage in this tournament.”

Fourth-place Union

Strengths: The key to this team is the improved play of the defensemen. Juniors Lane Caffaro(2-13-15) and Brandon Milnamow (2-7-9) are big and tough bluelinesmen that are tough nuts to crack, and their fellow teammates are stellar as well. Also, Head Coach Nate Leaman is a favorite to win Coach of the Year after leading his team to a first-round bye after it finished tweltfh last season.

Weaknesses: Forward Matt Cook has 10 goals, but no other member of the team is double digits in scoring. Also, smoke and mirrors have played a small part in the Dutchmen’s success this season, as Union is the only top-four team that has let up more goals than it allowed in league play (57-50).

Coach Vaughan’s Take: “You got to give Nate Leaman and his team credit. They were picked to finish 12th in the conference. They seem to dominate in their own barn, too.”

Fifth-place Cornell

Strengths: Sophomore forward Colin Greening (12-13-25) and first-year Riley Nash(11-14-25) have both scored game-winning goals against Colgate this season, so Raider fans know to be wary of those two on the offensive end. The defense and goaltending are absolutely superb. Sophomore Brendon Nash (0-11-11) and junior Jared Seminoff(1-4-5) have plus-seven ratings. Goalie Ben Scrivens (14-10-3, 2.01 GAA) is second in the ECAC in goals against average and save percentage in conference games, and he has only allowed six goals in four starts against Colgate.

Weaknesses: Although Greening and Nash get offensive help from forward Topher Scott (9-15-24) and Michael Kennedy (9-10-19), will it be enough offense to propel this team to Albany?

Coach Vaughan’s Take: “Cornell is big, strong and very stingy defensively. They are a lesson in consistency, and they have arguably the best freshman in the country in Riley Nash.”

Despite all these scouting reports, the one team that Colgate has to worry about the most is itself. If the Raiders keep playing inconsistent hockey, Colgate’s season will end in a flash. However, if Colgate finds a way to play consistently down the stretch, it is capable of mowing down every conference opponent on its way to NCAA glory, as any ECAC team can take the title this season.

“I don’t think any coach is sitting in their office saying that I hope we get this team,” Vaughan said. “All of the teams and coaches in this league feel they have a chance to win this thing, and I’m not just saying that.”

Will the Dexshow tour in Albany this year? We’ll find out starting Friday at 7 p.m. with game one of the ECAC first-round playoffs between Colgate and SLU at Starr Rink. Game two is the next night at 7 p.m. If necessary, game three will be played on Sunday night at 7 p.m. See you there!