Lake Placid, NY, has hosted the ECAC Semi-Finals and Final since 2014 and has seen entertaining matchups. This weekend promises more quality hockey from the East’s oldest college hockey conference. Let’s take a look at the matchups.
#1 Cornell University Big Red (25-4-2) vs #7 Princeton University Tigers (17-12-4)
Cornell has dominated the ECAC all season. They’re the 3rd ranked team nationally and are pegged by many as a favorite to reach the Frozen Four. The Big Red have ridden a talented young class to big success. 10 players are freshmen and the face of the program is in this class. Goaltender Matthew Galajda has been spectacular as the team’s starter in net. He leads the nation in GAA (1.45), winning percentage (.896), shutouts (9), and is high in most other categories. He is a potential Richter Award winner on his regular season alone. His playoff performance against Quinnipiac was also stellar, closing the series with a 2-0 victory and saving 97% of the shots he faced. While the goaltending and defense have been extraordinary, the Big Red also boast one of the best offenses in the ECAC. They rank 2nd in goals per game (3.23) and van score in a variety of ways. There is no offensive superstar, with the leading scorer only getting 26 points. But Anthony Angello, Trevor Yates, and Mitch Vanderlaan anchor the old guard and lead the scoring totals. Young players like Morgan Baron, Brandon Locke, and Alex Green provide varied scoring options and can terrify opponents with precise, fundamental hockey. Them being favorites in Lake Placid was not surprising.
Princeton, on the other hand, is maybe the biggest surprise of any semi-final team remaining in any conference tournament. The 7th seed features a deadly offense that can make minced meat out of the best opponents, averaging a conference-high 3.73 goals per game, a full half a goal higher than Cornell and third nationally. Max Veronneau is the leading scorer and the second leading scorer nationally with 53 points. Ryan Kuffner isn’t far behind at fourth nationally with 53 points. David Haillesly and Josh Teves also have more points than some team’s leading scorers. This team can throw waves of offense to overwhelm opponents, as they did against Brown and Union. The problem all season has been their defensive output. The Tigers rank ninth in goals against (3.15). They did play well defensively against Brown and Union in their defensive end. Ryan Ferland has gone through his freshman growing pains and appears in good playoff form ahead of Friday. Whether he can keep up his performance is anyone’s guess though.
If Ferland can slow down the Cornell offense and Galajda is less than perfect, then Princeton could pull a remarkable upset. I don’t see both things happening, so I’ll pick Cornell to reach their second consecutive ECAC Title game.
#3 Clarkson University Golden Knights (22-9-6) vs #4 Harvard University Crimson (15-13-4)
These teams have combined for entertaining matchups this season and promise more of the same on Friday night. Clarkson has been paced by Mike Richter contender Jake Kielly all season. The sophomore leads the country in save percentage (.946), and has solidified himself as a Richter Award contender. The team ranks second in Goals against (1.84) and boasts a physical blue line led by Kelly Summers and Terrence Amorosa.
The Golden Knights can hit and make life hard defensively, but they can also score. The Golden Knights have the 3rd best scoring offense behind Sheldon Rempal’s leading efforts. Nico Sturm and Devin Broussard join him to form a talented top line. Jack Jacome and Josh Dickson provide scoring from the freshmen class and a promising future for the Golden Knights. Unfortunately, recent momentum is not going Clarkson’s way. The Golden Knights are 3-5-3 since February began and scratched out a series victory against Colgate last weekend. They’ve got a hard fight against both Harvard and late season momentum to overcome.
The defending ECAC Champion Harvard Crimson have written an interesting story this season. After a brutal November and December schedule, the Crimson rode the stellar performance of Ryan Donato to another chance for the ECAC crown. The Junior from Scituate leads the ECAC in goals per game and is a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. While he was gone at the Olympics, other members of the team stepped up and got the Crimson’s offense to fourth in the ECAC. Jack Badini and Henry Bowlby performed well succeeding a senior class that left a high standard and playing time for this year’s freshmen. Lewis Zerter-Gossage and Ty Pelton-Byce showed veteran guile and skill to up the shots. And Adam Fox and John Marino can both quarterback a power play from the blue line. Wiley Sherman joins Fox and Marino on the blue line with size and force to give a physical edge to the Crimson. The goaltending, while not as stellar as 2017, has also been quality. Merrick Madsen is a money goaltender and the most experienced goalie in the tournament.
Both of these teams have star headliners that they lean on heavily. Clarkson is not headed in the right direction, though. The Golden Knights looked to be championship favorites, but the Crimson’s experience and recent performances are more promising. I’ll pick Harvard to reach another ECAC Title game and face Cornell.
In a hypothetical Harvard vs Cornell game, I’d pick Cornell to claim their first ECAC crown since 2010. The Big Red are deep, talented, defensively precise, and have topped Harvard twice this year already.