URL for this frameset: http://www.elynah.com/tbrw/tbrw.cgi?1998/ecac.980311.shtml
(scores are linked to box scores and recaps on US College Hockey Online, which is not affiliated with The Big Red What? or Joe Schlobotnik)
The final weekend of the ECAC regular season saw four sweeps; three of them were essential in procuring teams a desired seed in the league playoffs, while the fourth was rendered irrelevant only by one of the first three.
St. Lawrence needed a sweep just to make the playoffs, and so when they found themselves tied 2-2 with Cornell in the last minute of overtime, with the Red skating shorthanded due to a too many men on the ice penalty, they pulled goaltender Eric Heffler with 30 seconds remaining to gain the 6-to-4 skating advantage. There was a faceoff in the Cornell zone with 5 seconds to play; Paul DiFrancesco won the draw, the puck went back to John Poapst at the point, and the SLU Junior fired home the gamewinner with one second left on the clock for the 3-2 victory. The following night the Saints rolled to a 5-3 win over Colgate and then waited for the outcome of the Harvard-Dartmouth game to see if their season would continue.
Clarkson had to gain just one point on Yale to take the regular season crown, and after cruising to a 6-1 victory over Colgate, they played a Saturday afternoon game with their old rivals Cornell on the Empire Sports Network ECAC Game of the Week. With the game tied at two halfway through the second, the incredible string of Big Red injuries extended to head coach Mike Schafer, who suffered a concussion when he was hit in the head with a puck. Inspired by the loss of their leader, the Red soon scored a 5-on-3 goal to go up 3-2. But the Knights tied the contest in the third and then scored 12 seconds into overtime to prevail 4-3. In the four games since goaltender Jason Elliott was injured, Cornell have suffered four one-goal losses. Clarkson, meanwhile, have now won seven straight.
Clarkson's effort turned out to be for naught, however, as the Yale Elis hung onto the top spot with a weekend sweep of their own. They outshot Union 44-22 Friday, but only scored the gamewinner in the last four minutes, then added the empty-net score for the 4-2 victory. Saturday at Rensselaer, knowing they needed a win to take the title, the Bulldogs managed to go up 2-1 late in the second, and held off the Engineers for the third period, using another empty-netter to cement the 3-1 triumph. Princeton fell 4-2 to RPI as the Engineers wrapped up third place. Saturday night the Tigers faced a Union team playing only for pride. The Dutchmen scored on the power play late in the third to take a 3-2 lead, but Princeton answered with a man-up marker of their own to tie the score with just over a minute left in regulation, and the game ended in a 3-3 tie.
The final weekend sweep came from Harvard, who got out to a 6-1 lead at Vermont in the first and managed to hold on for the 7-6 win. Their game against Dartmouth Saturday ran long, so they had the luxury of learning of Princeton's tie and losses by Cornell and Colgate which meant the 4-1 gave them the final home ice playoff spot. Finally, Brown used a 4-2 win Friday over Dartmouth to wrap up fourth place and coasted to a 1-1 tie with Vermont that allowed the Catamounts to make the playoffs.
Here are the final regular season records in the ECAC, compared with the preseason Coaches' Poll and the predictions of The Big Red What?'s statistical formula:
1997-98 results Coaches' Poll TBRW Pred W- L-T PF-PA Pct Rank Pts FPV Rank Pts 1 Yale 17- 4-1 35- 9 .795 10 37 9 17 2 Clarkson 16- 4-2 34-10 .773 2 132 3 1 39 3 RPI 11- 7-4 26-18 .591 1 137 9 2 35 4 Brown 11- 9-2 24-20 .545 12 28 10 14 5 Harvard 10-11-1 21-23 .477 5 92 5 24 6 Colgate 9-10-3 21-23 .477 6 80 7 21 7 Princeton 7- 9-6 20-24 .455 4 100 4 26 8 Cornell 9-12-1 19-25 .432 3 115 3 28 9 Vermont 7-11-4 18-26 .409 7 71 8 18 10 St. Lawrence 8-12-2 18-26 .409 8 67 12 9 11 Dartmouth 7-12-3 17-27 .386 9 47 11 11 12 Union 4-15-3 11-33 .250 11 30 6 22
Harvard claim fifth place, and the last home-ice slot, from Colgate by virtue of a season sweep. Vermont and St. Lawrence split their season series, but a 3-4-1 record against the top four, as opposed to 1-7 for the Saints, gives the Catamounts the ninth spot.
Yale obviously were the biggest overacheivers, finishing nine spots higher than the coaches prognisticated and eight above where the statistical analysis placed them. Brown also exceeded expectations, finishing eight places above their poll rating and six above their statistical ranking. A slew of injuries and a four-game season-ending losing streak dropped the Big Red of Cornell five spots below expectations. That made them the largest underacheivers according to the coaches' poll, but they were exceeded according to the statistical measure by Union. In Trevor Koenig's final season, the Dutchmen finished a full six places below the statistical prediction, but the coaches seemed to know something the numbers didn't, as their preseason ranking for Union was only off by one.
With no tiebreakers and no playoffs, the Ivy League race is over, and Yale finished at the top of those standings as well:
W-L-T PF-PA Pct 1 Yale 7-2-1 15- 5 .750 2 Cornell 6-4-0 12- 8 .600 3 Brown 5-5-0 10-10 .500 4 Princeton 4-5-1 9-11 .450 Harvard 4-5-1 9-11 .450 6 Dartmouth 2-7-1 5-15 .250
Yale step back up from seventh to sixth in the US College Hockey Online Poll, while Clarkson remain at eighth. RPI received the ECAC's other vote in the poll. Clarkson's continued roll has finally lifted them past Yale in the Ratings Percentage Index and pairwise rankings, based on the NCAA selection criteria:
Team RPI Rk PWR Rk Clarkson .570 #7 14 #5 Yale .565 #8 13 #7 RPI .509 #19 2 #18 Colgate .496 #24 1 #19 Princeton .491 #26 0 #20 Brown .491 #27 Harvard .488 #28 Cornell .479 #29 Dartmouth .455 #33 Vermont .447 #34 St Lawrence .445 #35 Union .383 #42
We now know that Yale will receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, their first in over 45 years, as the ECAC regular season champion. Clarkson would qualify as an at-large representative if the season ended today, and would in fact obtain a first-round bye as the second-seeded team in the East. That position is hardly secure, however, as New Hampshire are breathing down the Knights' necks. Also, Yale will snag an automatic bye if they get an ECAC tournament championship to go with their regular season title.
It's time for the ECAC playoffs. Thanks to the new playoff format, all ten teams go to straight to weekend series, with the winners advancing to the ECAC final five in Lake Placid. Each of these is a three point series: the teams play regulation games Friday and Saturday nights, with up to five minutes of overtime. If one team wins both games, or wins one and ties the other, they advance. If the teams split or tie the first two games, there is a knock-down, drag-out battle royale Sunday night to settle the series.
The battle between the ECAC's surprise regular season champion and a team that had to fight just to make the playoffs. Both teams come off of weekend sweeps, but the Elis thrashed St. Lawrence 7-2 in Canton just a few weeks ago, and blanked them 3-0 in New Haven the opening weekend of the season.
The battle of the Green and Golds has gome the way of the Golden Knights this year, with a 5-2 win in Potsdam earlier this month and squeaker in Burlington in January when both teams were starting their late-season runss. Since that game, Clarkson has gone 10-2-1. UVM's two losses to Clarkson came during a five-game losing streak, but since then they're 4-3-2, and 3-1-2 in the last three weeks.
The battle of the Big Reds saw another season sweep for the higher seed, but the recent 4-3 triumph of Cherry over Carnellian at Lynah required a three-goal third-period Engineer comeback. The contest in Troy back in December saw Cornell close a 5-1 gap to 6-5 before falling 7-5 on the empty-netter.
These two teams split their season series, with Brown winning 4-1 on the road in February, but falling 6-5 in overtime during their rocky start in November. Overtime of course featured prominently in the last two-game series between these teams, the 1995 quarterfinals, when seventh-seeded Princeton eliminated second-place Brown in the second overtime of game three after the teams had split a pair of one-goal games.
These two teams finished tied in the standings this year, and it was Harvard's season sweep, 6-5 in Hamilton the first weekend of the season and 6-1 at Bright last month, that led to this game being played in the greater Cambridge area.