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Men's hockey faces crucial ECAC games despite injuries

When the final weeks of a season roll around, every team hopes to be firing on all cylinders going into the postseason.

With just six games left before the Eastern College Athletic Conference playoffs begin, the men's hockey team is missing a few cylinders.

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Princeton (12-7-4 overall, 6-7-3 ECAC) will limp – both literally and figuratively – to upstate New York this weekend. The Tigers travel to Canton to face St. Lawrence (6-17-1, 5-10-1) today and will play Clarkson (14-7-3, 10-4-2) Saturday in Potsdam.

Princeton is hurting, both in the standings and on the ice. The Tigers last had a three-point weekend Jan. 2 and 3. Additionally, the wear and tear of the season has led to a recent rash of injuries.

By splitting the last two weekends, Princeton has missed two opportunities to pull itself out of the sixth-place position it has occupied for much of the latter part of the season. These two losses have come to fifth-place Cornell and sixth-place Brown, both by three-goal margins. The Tigers played each of the teams to one-goal games in their first meetings – a 2-1 loss in Ithaca, N.Y. and a 6-5 victory at Brown.

Princeton is virtually assured a playoff spot but now has more important concerns than just its postseason seeding. It has to make sure it has players to put on the ice in those playoff games.

"It's going to be a rough trip," head coach Don Cahoon said. "We just have to find a way to compete. We are trying to stay a grade above respectable."

Defensemen needed

Perhaps the most depleted position on the team is along the blueline, or rather the black-and-blue line. Junior Michael Acosta is spending his third consecutive week out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury. Sophomore Darren Yopyk left Friday's game against Harvard's big, physical forwards with a severely swollen arm.

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"Yopyk has had to miss practice this week so that he can play in the games," Cahoon said.

Despite the rest, Yopyk's status for this weekend still remains uncertain.

The injuries have left Cahoon only four experienced defensemen with which to compete. He must either employ a physically exhausting four-man defensive rotation or play freshman Jason Dillow, who has played in only three games this year.

The loss of senior right wing Casson Masters – the team's fourth-leading scorer – from Princeton's top scoring line has left a gaping hole in the team's offensive production. Although the Tigers exploded for seven goals against Harvard after Masters went down, the next night the team lacked any offensive rhythm. Sophomore Benoit Morin will be skating in place of Masters this weekend, but he is still suffering from back spasms.

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And this weekend's matchups don't help matters. Second-place Clarkson plays a physical game that could present problems for the undermanned Tigers.

"Clarkson is the most physical team in the league," Cahoon said. "I give all the respect in the world to (first-place) Yale for what they've done this year, but Clarkson is the best team in this league."

St. Lawrence has also been playing well of late and is lead by center Paul DiFrancesco, whose 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) makes him an All-America candidate.

Princeton needs to beat the league's poorer teams, like tenth-place St. Lawrence, in order to buoy the team until some of its major contributors stop limping.

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