ECAC Hockey Postseason Preview

Paul Kasabian and Jaime Heilbron

This year’s edition of the men’s hockey team is the best this school has seen in four years. Colgate finished in fourth place in the 12-team ECAC, which bodes well for the Raiders’ place in the ECAC Tournament. ‘Gate has obtained a first round bye plus home ice in the two-out-of-three game quarterfinal round in two weekends. If the Raiders win there, they will then head to Albany’s Times Union Center for a semifinal matchup on Friday, March 19. A Friday victory means a Saturday, March 20 finals matchup for the ECAC Championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Win there, and Colgate will have captured the ECAC for the first time since 1990, when the “Red” Raiders went to the NCAA Tournament Finals.

So what’s it going to take for the Raiders to repeat that feat? They’ll first have to first beat the highest seed remaining after the first round of play ends this weekend. There will be four best two-of-three game match-ups: No. 5 St. Lawrence hosts No. 12 Clarkson, No. 6 R.P.I. entertains No. 11 Brown, No. 7 Quinnipiac plays No. 10 Dartmouth, and No. 8 Princeton welcomes No. 9 Harvard to New Jersey. For those of you good at putting two and two together, Colgate will play St. Lawrence should they defeat North Country rival Clarkson, but that is definitely not a certainty. What is set in stone is that Colgate will play one of the teams ranked fifth through eighth. Before going into a breakdown of those teams, here’s a look at Colgate, alma mater.

No. 4 Colgate

Forwards: The number one reason for Colgate’s improvement from last year is the well-rounded scoring effort from the forwards. The Raiders average just under 3.5 goals per game, with six players scoring eight goals or more. Sophomore Austin Smith (15 goals, 25 assists), senior co-captain and All-ECAC Second Team David McIntyre (11 g, 26 a), junior assistant captain Brian Day (20 g, 14 a) and junior forward Francois Brisebois (15 g, 10 a) lead the way on the scoring sheet. Seniors Ethan Cox (5 g, 6 a) and Jason Williams (7 g, 8 a) form two-thirds of an aggressive and nasty checking line that runs opponents ragged. Sophomore Nick Prockow (8 g, 9 a) and first-year Robbie Bourdon (8 g, 15 a) have done well while staying out of the penalty box (only a combined eight penalties this year).

Defensemen: The raw talent of the blue liners cannot be denied, for three of the six NHL Draft picks are defensemen. Admittedly though, they have committed numerous turnovers in their own zone or neutral zone this season and sometimes have trouble clearing the puck in crucial situations, some of the reasons for giving up 113 goals this year.

However, as expected from a young and talented crew, the defensemen are saving their best hockey for the end of the season. The blueliners are playing excellent hockey now, clogging up shooting lanes, clearing pucks, killing penalties and committing fewer turnovers than before. Sophomore bruiser Corbin McPherson leads the blue liners with 44 blocks and a plus-5 rating, while first-year Thomas Larkin is first among defensemen and third on the team with 15 assists. First-year Jeremy Price has netted four goals this season and sports a deadly slap shot from the blue line.

Goaltending: Sophomore Alex Evin (9-7-3, .901 save percentage) will be Colgate’s backstopper this postseason. He came up with numerous big stops down the stretch in a 3-2 win over R.P.I. last Friday that helped give the Raiders the first-round bye. If called upon, senior Charles Long (6-5-2, .893) can get the job done, as he did with a 38-save performance against No. 15 Union last Saturday in a 5-2 win.

No. 5 St. Lawrence:

Strengths: The Saints have a well-balanced offense, lead by senior Travis Vermeulen, who has 17 goals and 20 assists. St. Lawrence proved that they can match the best offense in the league almost goal by goal a few weeks ago when they fell to Yale 7-5 on the road, a couple of weeks after defeating them 4-2 at home. If St. Lawrence finds a way to keep scoring they will be a threat to any team in the league.

Weakness: St. Lawrence only won one game in February, which means that they will be entering the playoffs with no momentum. Even though they did win their last regular season game, the previous seven games in the month could prove to be too heavy on their heads and cause them to fall.

Player to watch: Senior Travis Vermeulen. The Third Team All-ECAC member has had a breakout year for the Saints and leads an offense that can be potent when needed. In order to advance in the playoffs, St. Lawrence will need to score a lot and Vermeulen seems to be their go-to guy.

Colgate against St. Lawrence:

H: 3-2 L, A: 4-0 L

No. 6 Rensselaer

Strengths: Rensselaer’s offense is one of the most potent in the league; just ask top-seeded Yale, whom they swept in the season series. Lead by second leading scorer in the country junior Chase Polacek and first-years Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo, the Engineers’ offense can do some damage through their talented forwards. If given too much time with the puck, their opponents will not like the results.

Weakness: RPI’s defense itself is not very strong. The only reason they have not received many goals in ECAC play is due to excellent play from second team All-ECAC goaltender Allen York. If it were not for York, the Engineers would be allowing a lot more goals.

Player to watch: Junior Chase Polacek. The ECAC First-Teamer is second in the nation in scoring with 25 goals, 25 assists and a total of 50 points. If Polacek keeps scoring, the rest of his teammates will be given even more space, since most teams will concentrate on neutralizing Polacek, which could lead Rensselaer to success.

Colgate against Rensselaer:

H: 3-2 W, A: 5-3 W

No. 7 Quinnipiac:

Strengths: The Bobcats looked like the league’s juggernaut early on in the season when their offense was clicking. All of a sudden, Quinnipiac’s forwards stopped finding the back of the net and a 12-1 start transformed into a 5-14-2 slide to end the regular season. What does this say? When the Bobcats are scoring, they are incredibly hard to stop. When they are not, the Bobcats will not get anywhere.

Weakness: Sophomore Dan Clarke has been solid in net for the Bobcats throughout the year. He has, however, had his down nights, and when he has, there has been no one to replace him and pick the team up. Therefore, Quinnipiac’s main weakness is its lack of depth in the net. If Clarke has an off night, the Bobcats will succumb to whomever they face.

Player to watch: Senior Brandon Wong. Wong leads a dangerous Bobcat offense in goals with 17 and points with 37. If he and his teammates get on a roll, they could go as far as their scoring will take them, which could be well into the conference tournament.

Colgate against Quinnipiac:

H: 5-3 L, A: 2-0 L

No. 8 Princeton:

Strengths: Princeton’s key to success lies with its defense and more importantly with the man in the net. Senior Zane Kalemba has had an underachieving season to say the least. That is not to say, however, that he can suddenly return to old form throughout the playoffs and lead the Tigers to Albany and a possible ECAC Championship, as he has done before. Shades of the old Kalemba were felt a couple of weeks ago in Princeton’s thrashing of Rensselaer in Troy, where he posted a 7-0 shutout. If he is on, the Tigers could go as far as the moon.

Weakness: The Tigers’ main problem throughout the regular season was staying healthy. Princeton was dealing with injuries and sometimes playing with a short bench throughout the entire season. If the Tigers are still hurting from regular season ailments, then their postseason will be a short one.

Player to watch: Senior Zane Kalemba. Last year’s ECAC Player and Goaltender of the Year along with second team All-American has been a disappointment this year, as stated before. If he plays up to his potential, however, he and his teammates could be raising their second Whitelaw Trophy in three years.

Colgate against Princeton:

H: 5-4 W, A: 3-1 W

Should Colgate win the quarterfinals, they will then head to Albany. With four teams remaining, the highest seed plays the lowest seed in one semifinal, while the middle two seeds play each other. The Raiders will no doubt see at least one of the top three squads in ECAC, and here’s how they match up against them:

No. 1 Yale:

Strengths: 4.24 goals a game. Enough said, but we’ll go further. First-team All-ECAC senior Sean Backman (21 g, 14 a) and junior Broc Little (25 g, 13 a) lead the Bulldogs every night on the scoresheet. This team has the fastest set of forwards in the ECAC, and took a maniacal 54 shots on goal at Cornell last month (though Ben Scrivens made 52 saves in a 2-1 Yale win). They play an aggressive brand of hockey for sure. Senior and second-team ECAC Tom Dignard (5 g, 17 a) leads a solid blue line. If any game symbolizes Yale hockey, it is their 7-4 win over Princeton last Friday, when the Tigers took a 4-1 lead only to give up six straight goals.

Weaknesses: None of the goalies have a save percentage above .895. Senior Billy Blasé (6-0-0, .895) will probably get the call in net, but the Bulldogs have started four goalies at least four times this season. If Colgate is to defeat Yale, they need to gain possession and fire everything but the kitchen sink at the net.

Player to Watch: Billy Blasé. Everyone knows the Yale forward will score, but Blasé needs to maintain some sort of consistency in net for Yale to go far in the ECAC Tournament.

Colgate against Yale:

H: 6-3 L, A: 3-3 T

No. 2 Cornell:

Strengths: First-team All ECAC Ben Scrivens, a suffocating neutral zone trap led by behemoth blueliners, and a couple Colgate killers at forward have led the Big Red to a second-place finish. Scrivens (17-8-4, .931) has allowed less than two goals per game. Senior defenseman Brendan Nash (2 g, 16 a) landed on the first team as well, and fellow blueliner Nick D’Agostino (2 g, 13 a) is on the rookie squad. Senior Colin Greening (13 g, 17 a) and fellow senior Blake Gallagher (17 g, 17 a) are just pains in the neck.

Weaknesses: Cornell is big, but not very fast. They match up very poorly against Yale, a fast-as-lightning team. The Big Red also dropped a 3-0 decision to Quinnipiac, a fast team in their own right. If Colgate is to break the Cornell jinx dating back to 2007, they need to out-skate the Big Red in Albany and maintain possession of the puck.

Player to Watch: Colin Greening has seven goals and six assists all-time against Colgate. The Raiders need to keep all eyes on him to make sure he stays off the scoresheet should these two teams meet again.

Colgate against Cornell:

H: 6-2 L, A: 4-2 L

No. 3 Union:

Strengths: The Dutchmen boast the second best offense in the ECAC, averaging 3.68 goals per game in league play. They are lead by senior standout Mario Valery-Trabucco, who has 21 goals and 42 points on the season. Their scoring can also come from other players, however, such as Adam Presizniuk and Jason Walters. In order to beat Union, one will need to stop their offense first.

Weakness: Prior to last year, the Dutchmen had never won a playoff series. This is also only the second time ever that they receive a first-round bye. Union being one of the top teams is now for the team and the pressure of producing success on the ice, could potentially prove to be too much for a team that has not had much of it in its young history. It could also drive them to becoming complacent with what they have done.

Player to watch: Senior Mario Valery-Trabucco. As stated before, he leads the second strongest offense in the league and has been known to score the big goals when needed. When it comes to stopping the Dutchmen’s offense, he will be the first one needed to be neutralized.

Colgate against Union:

H: 5-2 W, A: 3-1 L

Buckle up. It’s going to be a fun ride. Game 1 of the quarterfinals will be on Friday, March 12, while Game 2 will be the following day. Game 3, if necessary, will take place Sunday the 14th. All games will start at 7 p.m.