ECAC Hockey Report, Week of 1998 March 23

© 1998, Joe Schlobotnik (archives)

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Recent Action: ECAC Tournament

(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)

And now, an eyewitness report on the first ever ECAC Final Five from our fearless leader:

The Princeton Tigers are a skilled hockey team, and they needed those skills to win the 1998 ECAC Championship. Just why was this the squad to emerge from a log jam of teams which, separated by just 4 points, ranked from fifth through eleventh in the regular season? Great strategy, great execution, and a little bit of luck.

Princeton 6, Cornell 2

On the tourney's first evening, Princeton met Cornell in the inaugural ECAC play-in game -- the winner would advance to the semifinals and face #1 seed and RS champion Yale. As if the additional effort of the play in game, coming on the heels of an emotional three game QF at Brown, was not enough, the Yale SF was also scheduled as the 4 p.m. game the next day.

Under these conditions, the game plan was to grab a lead and then run out the clock, and the Tigers managed this quite neatly -- the second time they tried to do it.

From the opening faceoff, Cornell was sluggish and tentative, and indeed the Tigers would see almost no resistance from their opponent through the first period. Princeton applied a steady pressure in the Big Red's end, and it paid off when Syl Apps was simply handed the puck by Cornell defenseman Rick Sacchetti. Apps eluded Sacchetti, faked out a sprawling Jason Elliott, and deposited the game's first goal. Four minutes later, the Tigers set up the game's second goal on the power play, with eventual tourney MVP Jeff Halpern beating Elliott from the top of the circle.

Princeton then commenced a pattern which was to characterize the entire weekend. Gumming up center ice as best they could, they continually hounded the Cornell forwards into poor passes and ill-conceived 1-on-2 rushes, while on offense the Tigers were quite content to hold a maximum of manpower in reserve at the red line. Cornell's Jeff Oates poked a hole through this net in the final minute of the first period, but his goal marked just the second SOG of the entire period for the Big Red.

In period two, Princeton survived the only sustained pressure they would face until the final game. The Tigers suddenly found themselves being beaten to the puck and outworked in the corners, and after several near misses Cornell finally tied the game up after leading scorer Doug Stienstra fed Darren Tymchyshyn from behind the net. Having steadily worked harder and harder, the Tigers felt themselves slipping behind in the play, and might have been pressured to give up a game plan which till then had seemed optimal.

But off of the next face off, Casson Masters blew by the Cornell defense and broke its back with a spectacular breakaway goal -- the second-most important goal in the tourney. The Tigers again resumed their hard-working defensive style, a goal in the final seconds of the period rebuilt the two goal margin, and this time they did not relinquish it. In the critical third period, the Tigers held Cornell to just 6 SOG.

Princeton 2, Yale 1

Second verse. Same as the first. Yale held a brief lead in the semifinal, as Keith McCullough scored at the 8 minute mark, but after that Princeton began again to wear down their opponent. Halpern and Apps gave the Tigers the lead with a couple of neat shots (the second goal was actually credited to Benoit Morin on the rebound). Apps then knocked Yale out of the tournament by knocking leading scorer Jeff Hamilton out of the game.

Although there was no scoring in the remainder of the game, it was a textbook of how the Tigers not only defeated their first two opponents but also stayed fresh enough to survive the final the next night. The Tigers worked hard, but they did not overskate or overwork. Their style enabled them to slow the pace of the game down, but the presence of two outstanding speed demons on the first line: Halpern and Masters, cowed both Cornell and Yale into a tentative, looking-over-your-shoulder attack.

To some extent, that came to an end on the final night when Princeton finally met a team who had come to play.

Clarkson 6, Harvard 2

The Golden Knights went out and blew away Harvard in their semifinal, although the Crimson did recover somewhat and in fact held the momentum for a surprising amount of time in the latter two periods. The Crimson were only able to tally on the man advantage, but they continued to check hard even after the game was all but lost (and certainly drove home their point by obliterating Yale in the consy, in a game not even remotely as close as the 4-1 final score).

Princeton 5, Clarkson 4 (2 OT)

The final began, and Princeton quickly realized that the guys in the green and gold were not fooling around. Clarkson had been narrowly nosed out of the RS title despite a late season rush, and their upper class remembered well being knocked out of the tournament in the two previous seasons by squads they felt they should have beaten. The Knights went up 1-0 on a PPG by the interestingly-named Mikko Ollila (made more so by the fact that the Clarkson uni font renders i's and l's indistinguishable...). Then the Tigers' secret weapon -- the speed of Masters and Halpern -- struck to even the score at 1-1, when Halpern sprung his linemate for a breakaway goal.

Late in the period, Clarkson had no trouble converting only a few seconds into a two man advantage, and thus took a 2-1 lead into the lockerroom. This seemed about was everybody would have expected. What happened next, however, was completely unexpected.

The Tigers owned the next period. Steve Shirreffs tied the game just a few minutes in, and for the first time all weekend there was actually a buzz in the lack luster, unenergetic crowd. A second Tiger flurry then resulted in a Clarkson player closing his glove over the puck in the crease. No, no, no -- that is not legal. Beloved referee Mike Noeth sent Halpern out to center ice for the penalty shot, and the Tigers' leading goal scorer knew just what to do. For the record, he did not skate over the puck and kick it up to his stick, a la Youngblood. But he still delivered in style, bringing the crowd to its feet, and presenting the Tigers with their first lead.

Only a few minutes later, it was the Tigers again, and if it wasn't Halpern or Apps it must have been... that's right, Masters. This time the Master's goal was not a gorgeous odd man rush but just blue collar digging around the net -- suddenly the light was on, Mark Morris was mad at his goalie, at the lead was 4-2, almost exactly (9:57) midway through the game. What the heck, were the Tigers really going to win this thing?

Great strategy, great execution, and a little bit of luck. Princeton moved back into its strong defensive style, effectively re-asking the riddle they had asked of two previous opponents: now that we have the lead, how are you going to solve us? Unlike Cornell and Yale, Clarkson had an answer -- with pure power and skill. The Golden Knights showed their traditional poise and toughness down the stretch, continuing to set up chances. They caught a break when Willie Mitchell's famous slap-shot missed Erasmo Saltarelli's head and halved the deficit, then continued to dig and push all the way through until Matt Reid rewarded their efforts with the tying goal. As the game continued and play evened out, both teams looked fresh and determined, and the final ten minutes of the third period had all the tension and excitement of overtime.

And then we got overtime anyway. Twice.

Just to give an idea of how well played and exciting this end game was, the teams combined for 19 shots in the overtimes, plus probably about 12 or 13 shots after the tying goal had been scored in the third. The shots and the play were even -- so, each goaltender made about 15 saves in a situation in which a misstep would have been the end. Even Apps' game winner was a yeoman effort by Dan Murphy. Hung out to dry as Apps found an open channel, Murphy actually got most of Apps' slap shot -- the deflection took just enough off the puck that it fluttered down beneath the crossbar to end the contest.

Great strategy, great execution, and a little bit of luck. For all these reasons, Princeton will fly their first ECAC title banner at Baker Rink -- an honor as entirely earned as it was improbable. Congratulations to the Princeton Tigers for their first title, their first NCAA appearance, and their determined and exhilarating run through the ECAC playoffs.

The National Scene

The final US College Hockey Online Poll of the season was released this weekend, and both ECAC teams slipped, Clarkson finishing the season down two spots to sixth and Yale down three to tenth. Princeton also received a few votes. Those three teams are also atop the ECAC statistically in the Ratings Percentage Index and pairwise rankings, based on the NCAA selection criteria:

 Team           RPI  Rk  PWR  Rk
Clarkson       .570  #6   11  #7
Yale           .543 #11    8 #11
Princeton      .518 #16    7 #12
Harvard        .507 #20 
RPI            .498 #23    0 #19
Brown          .488 #26 
Cornell        .483 #28 
Colgate        .480 #29 
Dartmouth      .454 #33 
St Lawrence    .451 #34 
Vermont        .442 #36 
Union          .382 #42 

Yale and Princeton received automatic bids to the NCAA tournament as regular season and tournament champions of the ECAC, while Clarkson received an at-large bid. Clarkson was edged out by Hockey East champion Boston College for the second Eastern bye. A detailed discussion of how the tournament was seeded can be found here.

Upcoming Games

Three teams move on to the NCAA tournament. Yale and Princeton will play in the West regional in Ann Arbor, where the Elis will face CCHA tournament runners-up Ohio State at 5pm EST Friday, followed at 8:30 by Princeton's battle with the #2 team in the CCHA regular season, regional host Michigan. Clarkson will see action in the East Regional at The Arena Formerly Known as Knickerbocker in Albany, taking on WCHA at-large team Colorado College in a noontime tilt Saturday. That night, if the Ivies survive their Friday night contests, they'll fight for a trip to the Frozen Four, Yale at 2 against CCHA champion Michigan State and Princeton at 4 against North Dakota, winner of the WCHA's McNaughton Cup. Sunday afternoon, Clarkson has a 2pm date with Boston College. The Knights will need to win Saturday to make the the appointment, while the Eagles have earned a free ride along with their Hockey East tournament title.

All eight games in both regionals are being televised on pay-per-view to subscribers of DirecTV and the Dish Network, and some will also make it onto assorted broadcast and cable outlets. In addition to that and the on-line radio broadcasts by some of the teams, the four East Regional games are being broadcast via RealAudio by WRPI.

Last Modified: 2019 July 24

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