When the men's hockey team travels to New York this weekend, it will face two opponents that started the season in the same place but have since taken divergent paths. The reasons for winning will be different, but the intensity the same as Clarkson and St. Lawrence both try to prevent Princeton from scrambling back up the league standings.
Picked to finish in the top two spots in the Eastern College Athletic Conference in preseason polls, the two travelling partners from upstate New York usually provide a difficult doubleheader for opposing teams. St. Lawrence (13-6-2 overall, 8-2-1 ECAC) has held up its end of the bargain — the Saints sit atop the ECAC, percentage points ahead of Colgate — but Clarkson (7-11-3, 2-6-3) has struggled to a disappointing tenth place.
The Tigers can take neither team lightly, however, as St. Lawrence will battle to stay atop the league and the Golden Knights will try to turn their season around.
"We're going to try to sustain a high level of play against two very strong teams," head coach Don Cahoon said. "[Clarkson] is a difficult place for any team to win."
St. Lawrence combines a strong attack with consistent goaltending — a lethal combination for any of its opponents. With three of the league's top ten scorers, the Saints have not been at a loss for firepower. Forward Brandon Dietrich leads the team with 16 ECAC points, while forward Al Fyfe and center Erik Anderson both have 13.
The Saints also have an unstoppable trio in net. After losing goalkeeper Eric Heffler — last year's ECAC Player of the Year and an All-American — to graduation, St. Lawrence suffered a void in net. The hole was quickly filled by the corps of Derek Gustafson, Sean Coakley and Jeremy Symington — a triumvirate that averages a .929 save percentage and allows only 2.45 goals a game.
"Those three guys have come in after Heffler and gotten the job done with a great deal of confidence," Cahoon said.
Before worrying about the top dogs, Princeton must first face a physical Golden Knight team.
"Physically, [Clarkson] is a very strong team," Cahoon said. "They deny activity in front of the net, much like controlling the boards in basketball or controlling the line of scrimmage in football."
This means the Tigers will need to work harder in front of the net for second-chance shots. If Princeton can concentrate on being quick and alert, the Tigers should be able to put the puck past a group of goaltenders that has struggled this season.
Much akin to its travelling partner, Clarkson's offense mirrors its defense in effectiveness, or in this case, ineffectiveness. The Golden Knights have been unable to counteract porous goaltending with high scoring, as forward Erik Cole — the team's leading scorer with 11 points — stands only fifteenth in the league.
"[Clarkson] is searching for an identity, trying to find its way," Cahoon said.
Princeton finds itself in a similar situation, as it attempts to rebound from three straight losses, including two ECAC defeats. Clarkson — hoping to move up — and St. Lawrence — trying to stay up — will do their best to keep the Tigers in a tailspin.