Did You Know: The Clarkson Hockey program has amassed 10,001 goals since the 1920-21 season?

Friday, March 10, 2006

ECAC(HL) Men's 2nd Round Playoff Preview - Part 4

When I started seriously paying attention to Golden Knights hockey I was a senior in High School. I knew I would be attending Clarkson in the Fall. I had family connections through the university and I went to my first game at Cheel in the spring of 1998, a 5-2 victory over Princeton. When I attended the university that year, the team was coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Tigers in the 1998 ECAC finals. They used that game and rallied back to win the 1999 regular season and post-season championships. The clinching game for the regular season was at Lynah Rink. Clarkson won 4-1 and had a certain swagger about them the entire game. They knew that they were going to win and they proved it on the ice. Not one semester later at the same rink Cornell, and a group of freshmen with names like Baby, McRae, Murray and Paolini, blew the Knights out of the water 10-4. It was the worst Clarkson game I have attended, and that's when it started.

From that game on for the next four years, with only two exceptions, the Knights could not skate with the Big Red. At Cheel things were close, but Cornell could find ways to win. At Lynah, forget about it. Clarkson came into that rink and they looked scared, not Friday the 13th scared, but they would drop the puck to start the game and the score would already be Lynah 1 - Clarkson 0. Granted, the Knights had their chances, a close game in 2002, a bad break in '04, but in the regular season, Clarkson could not win at Lynah. Then late in 2004 something happened.

Clarkson knocked out Union on the road and traveled to Lynah for the quarterfinals. With Cornell riding in with a #2 seeding and coming off a trip to the previous year's Frozen Four, even the most resilient of Knight fans began to dread this series. A few brave souls, myself included, made it out to Lynah on Friday night to perhaps witness a small miracle. Instead, we saw a massacre. All the bad mistakes of the past came roaring back. Sloppy passes, bad turnovers, and that Lynah crowd bearing down on each one. The only solace that we could take was the fact that it would be over on Saturday. Even our brutish defenseman Matt Nickerson was defeated in the only fight I've seen in a college hockey game. However in this small defeat came a a victory. In an odd call Nickerson was not given a game disqualification, while Cornell's player was. Combine this with an injury to Cornell's captain and leading scorer, Ryan Vesce, and there was a glimmer of hope.

The next night Clarkson held on in a see-saw game and prevailed 5-4 setting the stage for a game three. Lost in all of this was the fact that Clarkson had won at Lynah for the first time in five years. The monkey was not entirely off their backs, but his grip had slipped a little. In game three Cornell did not expect a fierce Clarkson attack, and with the help of a few kind bounces Clarkson prevailed 5-1. The trumpets blared and Knights and Big Red fans reeled back in amazement. Clarkson won two consecutive games in the toughest arena in the ECAC, and probably the NCAA, and was moving on. The curse had been lifted.

However the next year, things were not as kind to the Golden Knights. The loss left a impression on the Big Red who used it as a rallying point and ended Clarkson's season in a sweep. However, for the first time since 1999, Clarkson was not intimidated by the arena, they were beaten by a better team, but the Lynah mystique did not rattle the Golden Knights.

Now Clarkson again travels to Lynah rink for a best of three quaterfinal matchup. In what could be the best series of the weekend across the country, Cornell and Clarkson have a grudge match that is truly up for grabs.

Why Cornell will win:
Cornell comes into the weekend with the #1 defense in the league allowing 2.17 goals per game. This is also good enough for fifth in the nation. Cornell has prided themselves on defense for the past six years and look to continue to use their D to advance to Albany. Their defense will be challenged by Clarkson's offense who is scoring just over three goals a game. Cornell will need Ryan O'Byrne, who is coming off an injury, and Sasha Pokulok to have solid weekends.

Behind the D comes the critical cog in Cornell's machine. David McKee is having an "off" year and has posted an 18-7-4 record, a .904 save percentage and a 2.14 GAA. Most teams dream of these kind of "off" years. McKee can steal a game and at home this year he is 10-3-2. Expect McKee to look to exact a little revenge on Clarkson for the game at Cheel, in which he was pulled after giving up a three goal first period. In Dave's defense he did have the flu and his team in front of him was not at the top of their game. Even with this in the back of McKee's mind, the advantage from the blue line back clearly sits with the Big Red.

Up front Cornell is led by senior captain Matt Moulson who has 33 points on 16 goals and 17 assists. 11 of these goals have come on the power play for Moulson, who is Cornell's biggest weapon with the man advantage. Moulson is surrounded by a sound group including the Abbot brothers, Topher Scott, and Byron Bitz who can score in big situations. These are all players the Big Red will need big performances from to advance. Cornell also has a talented freshman class who has chipped in big goals throughout the season. Clarkson can not lose focus and ignore these role players who can slip by defenses and win games.

This matchup features the top two penalty kills in the league with Cornell killing penalties 87 percent of the time and Clarkson killing penalties at an 86 percent clip. This is the X factor of the series as both teams will be hoping for a clean game and not allowing one team to take an advantage on the man up. On the power play, Cornell has slipped a little from it's usual perch at 1st or 2nd in the league to 5th. Clarkson is ranked #2. Cornell will look to take as few penalties as possible to try and keep the Knights at bay. If Cornell can stay out of the box and keep its kill fresh they have a great chance to take the series.

Why Clarkson will win:
Clarkson comes into this series with everything to gain and nothing to lose. Unlike the Big Red who hang precariously onto a final at large spot for the NCAA tournament, Clarkson has no other option but to win this series and the ECAC Championship to gain an invite to the big dance. Following a rough patch in January and February the Knights have been playing very well as of late going 5-2-1 in their last eight including the 3-1 victory over Cornell at Cheel. Clarkson played it's best game of the season last weekend in a 5-0 victory over Princeton. The Knight's look to ride this momentum into the games this weekend.

Clarkson is another team in which the success of the team hangs on the shoulders of the goaltender. David Leggio has keyed Clarkson to their 5-2-1 record after being named the starter following the Cornell weekend. Leggio has never played at Lynah and will surely be tested there. In the past 8eight games Leggio has only given up more than two goals only once and will be trying to continue his solid play. For the season Leggio has a 11-7-3 record with a 2.60 GAA and a .908 save percentage.

On offense Clarkson saw scoring from all four of its lines last weekend including a three goal performance from forward Mike Sullivan. To move on Clarkson needs to maintain it's balanced scoring and score timely goals from the top line of Dodge, Sullivan and Cayer. Look for Shea Guthrie to try and break out from his injury three weeks ago against the banged up defense of Cornell. Expect Chris Brekelmans to be back in action this weekend as well.

This is the first time in a while that the Cornell crowd has seemed a little bit nervous heading into a series in a while. While fans don't play the game, they can be a good barometer of how things are going on the ice. While I fully expect both Mike Schafer and George Roll to have their teams ready for the weekend I think Clarkson has a slight edge with their recent play. However any momentum going into Lynah can be quickly erased with a poor performance on Friday.

Clarkson takes the series, but it's 3 games and at least one goes to OT. This will be the best series in the country this weekend.
Clarkson 4 - Cornell 3
Cornell 4 - Clarkson 2
Clarkson 3 - Cornell 2 (OT)


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