Ivy grows on ECAC
Senior defenseman Doug Murray and Cornell
lead a group of four Ivy League teams into the ECAC
courtesy Cornell Sports Information)
Record: 26-4-1 (19-2-1)
Big Red fact: Cornell has won the
ECAC Tournament nine times, more than any other school.
The Big Red have been runner-up each of the last two
years and seek their first title since 1997.
How Cornell wins: Play the dominant
physical game that got them this far. It's no fluke
that Big Red players earned the conferences best defensive
defenseman, defensive forward and goaltender honors.
With some timely goals, especially in the semifinals
against Yann Danis, Cornell will do fine.
Harvard: 21-8-2 (17-4-1)
Crimson fact: Harvard and Cornell had
identical 17-2-1 records against the rest of the ECAC,
but the Big Red swept the Crimson in their season series.
How Harvard wins: Last weekend offered
a pretty good recipe: the Crimson jumped on Vermont
early (scoring less than four minutes into each game),
had a great power play (five-for-13) and got good goaltending
(.947 save percentage).
Record: 19-12-1 (13-9-0)
Big Green fact: Hugh Jessiman's 31
points in league play were the most by a Dartmouth player
since former all-name team star Dion Del Monte posted
33 in 1994-95.
How Dartmouth wins: Slow down Harvard's
big guns in the semifinals, since the Crimson burned
Dartmouth for nine goals in two meetings this year.
Then hope to meet Cornell in the title game and regain
the magic they had vs. the Big Red prior to Dartmouth's
6-1 loss at Lynah on Feb. 6.
Record: 16-12-5 (10-8-4)
Bear fact: Brown enters this weekend
on a 6-2-3 roll, with only a pair of one-goal losses
in that time (on the road at Dartmouth and Yale).
How Brown wins: Goaltender Yann Danis
needs to be the key, as he always is. The Bears can't
match up with the other four finalists offensively,
but in Danis, they've got an outstanding equalizer.
– Capsules by Nate Ewell
in the ECAC Tournament has changed and with it, the balance
of power in the league has officially shifted.
starters, the surroundings are quite different. After 10
years in the picturesque Adirondack Mountains, skating on
the famed 1980 Olympic Arena ice in Lake Placid, the ECAC
shifted to a more centralized location, the Pepsi Arena
in Albany, N.Y. Home to the AHL’s Albany River Rats,
the ECAC has gone from the “Miracle on Ice”
to images of the Hudson River’s finest inhabitants.
importantly, though, is the field of four awaiting Friday’s
action. For the first time in ECAC Tournament history, all
four semifinal teams are Ivy League programs.
In 1997-98, when
the ECAC expanded its championship weekend to five teams,
four were Ivies, but only three of the semifinalists. Over
the last two seasons, Cornell, Harvard and Dartmouth have
made it to the final five, with Harvard winning the title
a year ago.
trio is back for more this weekend and a resurgent Brown
squad has joined them.
This is no fluke,
top five teams in the ECAC's regular season were Ivy League
schools, two Ivies are the lone league representatives in
the national top 15 (No. 2 Cornell, No. 12 Harvard), and
an Ivy will obviously win the tournament and head to the
NCAAs (where two Ivies may actually represent the ECAC).
may be the four best teams in our league,” says Harvard
coach Mark Mazzoleni, “but that’s good. The
final four games should be tough.”
And they will
There is no Cinderella
team this weekend, although Brown is an admitted underdog
against Cornell in the semis. No, this weekend is about
showcasing the impressive rebuilding projects that have
taken place on each campus.
makes these completed tasks all the more impressive is not
just the massive change in attitude that has happened –
out with the negativity that comes with losing, in with
a winning outlook – but also the perceived, and in
some cases realistic, competitive disadvantages Ivy League
are higher than at many other institutions and Ivies cannot
offer athletic scholarships. Any aid the schools provide
must be need-based.
aid can be a big issue with families,” says Brown
coach Roger Grillo. “My first year, we didn’t
do a good job of gauging the family’s focus on it.
It’s a major issue and we’re much better now
to understand how many siblings there are. How old they
are. You really need to get to know a family’s situation.”
Bob Gaudet, in his second rebuilding project after dramatically
turning things around at Brown in the early- to mid-1990s,
very different having to compete against early commitments
and implied scholarships. You can’t tell [the kids]
they’ll get in or how much the cost will be. These
days, kids can do a lot of research online and get a ballpark
figure from the school’s financial aid site, so they
have some sense of the cost.
lot of it has to be about trust and the commitment by the
family to go through the process and not jump at an early
offer from another school.”
Along those lines,
there’s also been a major shift in recruiting decisions,
with kids committing to schools earlier than ever before.
ago,” says Gaudet, “you could watch a kid in
his senior year in high school. That doesn’t happen
no fewer than 65 players have committed to programs nationwide
for the fall of 2004. Another two have already made their
decisions for 2005, including future BU Terrier Chris Bourque
(yes, that Bourque), who committed in August of
last year but who is trying to accelerate his schoolwork
in time for 2004.
lot of kids are committing in grade 10,” explains
Mazzoleni. “We can’t respond to that because
the earliest we can get a student-athlete is October 1 of
his senior year.”
As a result,
Mazzoleni says the approach to recruiting at Harvard has
to be different than at non-Ivies.
to be more broad-based in recruiting. There are only so
many kids that can get into Harvard and make an impact on
the ice. If we targeted one area and there were no true
students there, we’d be in big trouble.”
no trouble to be found among the four coaches and teams
in Albany, however. Mazzoleni, Grillo, Gaudet and Cornell’s
Mike Schafer have each done an excellent job at building
successful programs. In their eyes, the disadvantages of
being within the Ivy system are actually recruiting bonuses.
school has its challenges,” says Grillo. “There
are positives and negatives no matter what school you’re
at. At an Ivy, though, these challenges are offset by the
reality of what the academics can do for you in the real
world … competing in the job market after graduation.
no question people are more aware of what the education
can do for them later in life. All these guys understand
that if their athletic goals or dreams fall short, they
have something to fall back on.”
academics are a great advantage," agrees Mazzoleni.
"The kids realize there is no compromising on academic
standards. They know that they are not getting in here because
they are hockey players, but because they can succeed in
this academic setting.
know that when we get a kid in here, he’s a committed
student-athlete. He’s very focused and probably sacrificed
some social things along the way. Because of that, we don’t
have the academic issues that some others do and it’s
wonderful, as a coach, not to have to worry about whether
the kids are doing well in their classes.”
I look at it as a ‘glass being half-full’ opportunity,”
adds Gaudet. “This is an excellent academic situation
that for the rest of their lives will be opening doors for
complain about an admissions decision if I submit a kid
who isn’t admitted. My job is to find the highest
caliber student-athletes who will represent the college
in a good light and who have an attribute that will help
us on the ice.”
each team and coaching staff enters the tournament at a
different stage of their rebuilding process.
has seen the most success thus far, with Schafer having
already led the Big Red to back-to-back ECAC Tournament
titles, two regular-season crowns and three trips to the
NCAAs. Over that time, Cornell is a combined 152-87-25,
with four 20-plus-win seasons.
is looking to repeat as tourney champs for the first time
in the school's history. Mazzoleni, who took over the Crimson
in 1999, has led them to an overall record of 63-55-10,
with a tournament title and NCAA berth. This year’s
squad has the most wins in a season (21) since 1993-94.
is seeking its first-ever tourney championship, but has
shown solid progress each season since Gaudet’s arrival
in 1997. Over that time, the Big Green are 79-86-21, including
three consecutive winning seasons – a first since
the early 1970s.
Brown, which is getting the least notice of the four, is
looking for its first tournament title and fifth NCAA appearance.
Grillo has compiled a 62-99-22 mark and, this season, has
more wins (16) than any Bear team since the 1992-93 squad.
Not bad for programs
that were considered in major trouble in the not too distant
need to realize that it really takes about five years to
judge someone properly,” says Mazzoleni with regard
to rebuilding coaches. “When you’re down, the
first class is tough to recruit so you really need to roll
other coaches and staff have gone in with their own game
plan on how to build a program and they’re all now
reaping the benefits. Cornell has already taken it to that
next level, but that’s because Schafer has been there
for a bit longer.”
however, “these things go in cycles. The Ivies have
it pretty good right now with being competitive in the league
and outside of it, but other programs can turn things around
so quickly. It’s such a fine line.
thing about the ECAC, though, is that all the coaches like
one another and we’re all pulling in the same direction.
We’re very supportive of each other. Overall, this
gives us more credibility.”