As ECAC Hockey teams jockey for position in the closing
weeks, one team that has to scare coaches as a potential
first-round opponent is Brown.
The Bears (9-9-5 overall, 5-6-5 ECAC) have climbed back to .500 in recent weeks by playing the best hockey of any team in the conference – besides Quinnipiac, of course – in the month of February. Brown is 3-0-1 in its last four games, including a 1-0-1 mark against the league's top two teams, Quinnipiac and Yale.
The Bears are getting lights-out goaltending from senior Anthony Borelli at the perfect time of year. The net minder stopped 44 shots in a 1-0 victory over the Bulldogs February 12.
It's been a gradual ascent for Brown since Brendan Whittet's hire before the start of the 2009-10 season. The Bears finished in last place in the league standings last year, and looked as if they might be destined for a similar fate this season after starting 3-6-4 in their first 13 games.
Brown has since climbed to seventh in the league standings, only two points out of third place. Associate captain Garnet Hathaway (Kennebunkport, Me.) believes the coaching staff of Whittet, Mark White and Mike Souza has led the team into a new era of Brown hockey.
“Once they brought in Coach Whittet, we had someone with an emotional connection to the school,” Hathaway says. “He went here, and he knows what it used to be. The coaches got us all on the same wavelength. We're going to be up there at the end of the year; there's no reason why we shouldn't be.”
Hathaway says the biggest difference in the team's recent stretch of success has been the defensive philosophy. The coaching staff has made adjustments to the back-check, making sure each player understands his positional responsibility.
“The game plan has changed a bit,” Hathaway says. “It was necessary for everyone to buy into it. This year, everybody has. This system lets our defensemen take the rush and see what's happening. The focus is on our forwards playing back in the defensive zone with lots of communication.”
The good news for Brown is that if it wants to make a move in the ECAC standings, it will have plenty of opportunities. The Bears' next four opponents – RPI, Union, Princeton and Quinnipiac – all sit ahead of them in the league standings. Perhaps when all is said and done, coaches won't have to be worried about facing Brown in the opening round of the ECAC tournament. The Bears could have a bye.
“Right now, we're on a roll,” Hathaway says. “I don't see us slowing down. Everybody has the same goals, and we all believe in everyone else in the room.”
Game of the week
Yale at RPI
Saturday, Feb. 16 (7 p.m., Houston Field House)
Yale was unbeaten in five games in January, but has fallen on hard times in February. The Bulldogs have lost three of their last four games, and dropped a 1-0 decision to Brown Tuesday night. RPI has won four in a row and six of seven, climbing all the way into a tie for third in the ECAC standings. The Engineers have outscored their last four opponents by a combined score of 16-5.
Player of the week
Mike Condon, Princeton University
The Needham, Mass., native posted road victories over Colgate and Cornell last weekend. The two wins boosted Princeton from sixth to third place in the ECAC standings. Condon posted a 1.00 GAA and a save percentage of .974. He made 75 saves of 77 shots.