LAKE PLACID - After a 12-year hiatus, the Eastern College Athletic Conference men's ice hockey championships are back in Lake Placid.
Holding true to form, the top four seeded teams are the squads that will be playing at the Olympic Center this weekend for the title, as well as the automatic berth in the NCAA championship tournament that comes along with the coveted crown.
The skaters from Union College, Quinnipiac University, Cornell University and Colgate University all survived last weekend's quarterfinal playoff round to earn trips to Lake Placid. Each team will take the ice Friday in semifinal action.
Photo provided by Cornell University
Cornell forward Brian Ferlin skates toward the net as Zach Tolkinen of Quinnipac looks on during a regular season ECAC game earlier this season. Quinnipiac won the first meeting 3-0 on Nov. 2 in Ithaca, but Cornell avenged the loss with a 2-1 victory Feb. 21 in Connecticut.
In the opening game, which starts at 4 p.m., regular-season champion and top-seed Union will face off against Cornell, with the Quinnipiac and Colgate contest scheduled to follow at 7:30 p.m.
Union College is the only team of the four that has played in the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena since the ECAC championship tournament was last played in Lake Placid in 2002. The Dutchmen defeated rival Renssalaer 5-2 on Dec. 10 at the Festivus Faceoff, and return as the tourney's top seed as well as the second-ranked team in the nation according to the USCHO poll.
Union head coach Rick Bennett, who is in his third season leading the team, said he watched the Miracle on Ice game from the Lake Placid 1980 Olympics when he was young, and recalled that actually was one of the inspirations that kept him continuing in game of hockey. Bennett said his players are excited to be coming to Lake Placid with a title on the line.
"Being an American, we are going to the best site and playing in the best site as far as hockey is concerned," said Bennett, whose Dutchmen are the defending ECAC champions. "That game back in the Olympics, that's one of the reasons I got into hockey. Our guys haven't really talked about it, but I'm sure when they are in the locker room it will come up."
Bennett's Dutchmen the the ECAC regular season champions and bring a 26-6-4 record to Lake Placid. They swept Cornell by 3-0 and 4-1 scores during conference play.
The Dutchmen are a high-scoring team, averaging 3.6 goals per game. Union is led by senior forward Daniel Carr, who has 20 goals and 20 assists and 40 points so far this season. Junior Daniel Clampini is second in scoring with 18 goals, 15 assists and 33 points, and freshman Mike Vecchione and senior Matt Bodie are tied for third with 29 points each.
Junior Colin Stevens, who hails from Niskayuna, anchors Union on defense between the pipes. He has appeared in 30 games and has a 22-4-2 record. He has allowed an average of 1.95 goals against per game while compiling a .931 save percentage.
In a way, this weekend's ECACs in Lake Placid mark the return of Cornell head coach Mike Schafer to his roots leading the Big Red. Currently in his 19th season, Schafer won his first ECAC coaching title here in 1996, and also led Cornell to the championship the following year and in 2000. The ECACs left Lake Placid the following season.
"For the team, playing in Lake Placid is going to be a new experience for our guys," said Schafer, who holds the record for most wins coaching Cornell. "But as a coaching staff, we've run the gamut: Lake Placid, Albany, Atlantic City and back to Lake Placid. For me, it all started in Lake Placid with my first title in 1996. It's a great hockey town."
Despite falling twice to Union, Schafer said he expects his Big Red to give the Dutchmen a battle.
"They did a good job against us on their rink and we played solid at our place," Schafer said. "I think we match up well against them. They are a great hockey team, there are really no chinks in their armor. I think it's going to come down to capitalizing on scoring chances."
Cornell earned its trip to Lake Placid by topping Clarkson 2-1 in a hard-fought, best-of-three series. The Big Red won 1-0 in overtime in the deciding game on Sunday.
"We do a good job taking care of our defensive end. We have one of the better goaltenders in the nation in Andy Iles, and if we don't put a lot of pucks in the net, we can still find ways to win games," Schafer said.
Iles, a senior from Ithaca, has given up an average of 2.19 goals per game and has a .919 save percentage. Three juniors lead Cornell in scoring. Brian Ferlin tops the list with 12 goals, 14 assists and 26 points. Joel Lowry and John McCarron are tied for second, both with seven goals, 17 assists and 24 points.
Cornell enters the championship tournament with a 17-9-5 record and is ranked 13th in the nation.
After getting shut out 4-0 against Yale in last year's NCAA Division I national championship game, Quinnipiac hopes to move further into the postseason by capturing the title in Lake Placid. The Bobcats swept the Bulldogs 6-2 and 5-3 in quarterfinal action last weekend to reach the semifinal round.
The Bobcats enter the tournament as the second seed and are ranked fifth in the nation in the USCHO standings. They have a 24-6-8 record.
Quinnipiac University is located in Hamden, Conn. and is the lone team from outside New York state competing here this weekend.
The Bobcats have generated plenty of offense this season and have been equally as stingy in their own end of the run. A total of eight players on the team have recorded 20 or more points.
Sam Anas, a freshman, leads Quinnipiac in scoring with 21 goals and 21 assists and 42 points. Senior forward Kellen Jones is next with 18 goals and 23 assists and 41 points, and Connor Jones and Matthew Peca are next, both with 37 points.
The Bobcats are anchored in goal by Michael Garteig. The sophomore has appeared in every game for the team this year while compiling a 24-6-8 record. He has allowed an average of 1.93 goals per game and has a save percentage of .912.
The Colgate Raiders split during their two meetings with Quinnipiac this season, falling 7-2 in Hamden and winning 3-1 in their barn. Colgate heads into the weekend with a 19-12-5 record and is ranked 14th in the nation.
The Raiders advanced to Lake Placid after sweeping St. Lawrence University in two games that were each decided by a single goal.
When it comes to key players, Colgate has been led by a slew of underclassmen. Its leading five scorers are all sophomores, and its top goaltender Charlie Finn is a freshman. Finn, who hails from North Vancouver, British Columbia, has a 15-6-4 record. He has given up an average of 2.38 goals per game and has a save percentage of .918.
Twin brothers Tyson and Tylor Spink are Colgate's top two scorers. Tyson leads the team with 31 points, which includes 22 assists. Tylor has 14 goals, 15 assists and 29 points. Mike Borkowski is third in scoring with 28 points, and Darcy Murphy is next with 27 points, including a team-high 18 goals.