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2014 ECAC Hockey Tournament First Round Preview

RPI senior forward Brock Higgs
RPI senior forward Brock Higgs
Mick Neal

With the 2014 ECAC Hockey Tournament returning to Lake Placid for the first time since 2002, the quest to make it to 1980 Rink at Herb Brooks Arena begins this weekend. The bottom eight teams in the league will fight it out for a chance to advance to next weekend's quarterfinals.

Yale, the sixth seed, is the defending NCAA Champion and has to be considered dangerous moving forward. Another team that is worthy of keeping an eye on is Rensselaer. The Engineers have some dynamic offensive players and they looked dominant at times in the first month of the season. Can that magic return to Seth Appert's team?

Here's a look at all four first round matchups in the ECAC Hockey Tournament.

No. 12 Princeton @ No. 5 Clarkson

Princeton has certainly had a very disappointing season, compounded in difficulty by the magnitude of injuries the team has suffered. Senior leader Andrew Calof missed 10 games, but he has been solid since returning, putting up 15 points in 14 games.

Bob Prier's team can take some confidence heading to the tournament, knowing it can compete with upper echelon teams on any given night. One of the Tigers' five wins came in November against Quinnipiac.

Clarkson swept the season series, 4-3 and 3-1, including last Friday night's game. The Golden Knights started the season guns blazing, but have since fallen back somewhat. Casey Jones' team holds the statistical advantage in every meaningful category, and anything short of a sweep in this series would be disappointing for the Potsdam faithful.

Princeton Clarkson
Head Coach Bob Prier Casey Jones
Record 5-24-0 (4-18-0) 18-14-4 (11-9-2)
Home/Away Split 2-11-0 (Away) 10-5-2 (Home)
Goals Per Game 2.00 (T-11th) 2.59 (T-6th)
Goals Against Per Game 4.14 (12th) 2.91 (9th)
Power Play Percentage 16.9 (6th) 20.2 (4th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 76.5 (11th) 79.8 (T-8th)
Top Scorer Andrew Ammon (20) Allan McPherson (26)
Leading Goal Scorer Andrew Ammon (10) Allan McPherson (12)
Assists Leader Andrew Calof (15) Ben Sexton (17)
Projected Starting Goalie Colton Phinney (3.85/.895) Steve Perry (2.31/.907)

No. 11 Harvard @ No. 6 Yale

It might not be "The Game" as it is called when the two schools meet on the gridiron, but this will be a series that will give the winning team bragging rights for the offseason. Yale led the season series, 2-0-1, having played the Crimson in a nonconference game at Madison Square Garden in addition to the ECAC games.

Keith Allain's team will need to win this weekend and most likely again next weekend in order to make the field of 16 in hopes of repeating as national champion. Seniors Kenny Agostino and Jesse Root lead the offense for the Bulldogs while freshman goaltender Alex Lyon holds down the fort in their own end. Gus Young is the blue liner that most people recognize because of his ability in the offensive zone, but big bruising sophomore Rob O'Gara, a Boston Bruins prospect, is the most reliable defender in the backend.

It might seem like a broken record, but it has to be said again. Another disappointing and underachieving season for the Crimson has come and gone. Every year Ted Donato brings in highly touted recruiting classes and for the past several seasons, the wins have not come in the number expected.

Two sophomore and two freshmen, Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo Sean Malone and Alex Kerfoot, lead an anemic offense. There is talent, and individually they look pretty good, but the cohesion isn't there on a consistent basis.

Going in Harvard's favor this weekend is two very reliable and dependable veteran goaltenders. Expect Steve Michalek to be between the pipes for the series opener, but senior Raphael Girard has stolen more than one game this season.

Harvard Yale
Head Coach Ted Donato Keith Allain
Record 10-25-4 (6-12-4) 15-9-5 (10-8-4)
Home/Away Split 4-5-3 (Away) 8-4-2 (Home)
Goals Per Game 2.00 (T-11th) 3.23 (4th)
Goals Against Per Game 2.36 (4th) 2.55 (5th)
Power Play Percentage 15.3 (10th) 21.5 (3rd)
Penalty Kill Percentage 87.0 (2nd) 81.4 (6th)
Top Scorer Jimmy Vesey (22) Jesse Root (31)
Leading Goal Scorer Jimmy Vesey (13) Root/Agostino (13)
Assists Leader Sean Malone (13) Jesse Root (18)
Projected Starting Goalie Steve Michalek (2.35/.924) Alex Lyon (2.37/.919)

No. 10 Dartmouth @ No. 7 Rensselaer

RPI was clicking on all cylinders to start the season, jumping out to a 4-1-1 start, including wins over New Hampshire and Boston University of Hockey East, but inconsistency struck and it's been an uphill climb for Seth Appert's team since then.

Ryan Haggerty and Brock Higgs are the offensive leaders, as the two have combined for 38 goals on the season. An under appreciated player is sophomore Mike Zalewski who might be one of the best penalty kill specialists and physical wingers along the boards in college hockey.

The disappointing season surely can't be blamed on junior goaltender Scott Diebold whose numbers are more than adequate, but a major turning point in the season was the injury to last season's ECAC Rookie of the Year, Jason Kasdorf.

This RPI team has the talent necessary to make a run in this tournament, and having seen them several times, this writer finds it hard to believe that the Engineers don't have some good hockey left in the tank.

Dartmouth is another team that underachieved this season, but the Big Green come into the postseason on a roll. Bob Gaudet's team was 4-0-1 in its last five before a 2-1 loss in the regular season finale.

Junior Eric Neiley paced the offense with 13 goals and 10 assists, but there are some other players that are capable of more production. That is certainly true in regards to junior Tyler Sikura who had just three goals and seven assists this season after putting up 12 and 20 a year ago.

Sophomore goaltender Charles Grant is a major factor in the team's recent success. The Berwick, Nova Scotia native was 4-1-1 with a 1.32 goals against average and a .959 save percentage during the last six games of the regular season.

Dartmouth Rensselaer
Head Coach Bob Gaudet Seth Appert
Record 8-17-4 (7-13-2) 14-14-6 (8-9-5)
Home/Away Split 5-7-1 (Away) 6-4-5 (Home)
Goals Per Game 2.32 (T-8th) 2.59 (T-6th)
Goals Against Per Game 3.27 (10th) 2.59 (6th)
Power Play Percentage 16.5 (7th) 18.9 (5th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 79.8 (T-8th) 80.9 (7th)
Top Scorer Eric Neiley (23) Ryan Haggerty (38)
Leading Goal Scorer Drew George (13) Ryan Haggerty (24)
Assists Leader Brandon McNally (12) Jacob Laliberte (18)
Projected Starting Goalie Charles Grant (3.01/.908) Scott Diebold (2.45/.916)

No. 9 Brown @ No. 8 St. Lawrence

This series features two of the best duos in ECAC Hockey. Greg and Matt Carey lead St. Lawrence's offense while Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin counter for the Brown Bears.

Special teams could be a big factor in this series as St. Lawrence has the most potent power play in the conference while Brown's penalty kill ranks 10th. SLU's big weakness, its penalty kill, will be going up against an equally poor power play.

Brown has the benefit of being able to trot out two very reliable goaltenders while St. Lawrence will have to hope for the best with a lackluster goaltending situation. Senior Matt Weninger looked good at times, including wins over Union and Quinnipiac, but he has a .874 save percentage for the season.

In a statistical oddity, SLU is better on the road than they are at home, but Greg Carvel's team will take the home cooking this weekend against a Brown team that has struggled away from Meehan Auditorium.

Brown St. Lawrence
Head Coach Brendan Whittet Greg Carvel
Record 11-15-3 (8-11-3) 13-17-4 (7-11-4)
Home/Away Split 4-10-1 (Away) 5-10-1 (Home)
Goals Per Game 2.18 (10th) 3.18 (5th)
Goals Against Per Game 2.82 (8th) 3.55 (11th)
Power Play Percentage 14.8 (12th) 27.7 (1st)
Penalty Kill Percentage 76.7 (10th) 69.4 (12th)
Top Scorer Mark Naclerio (34) Greg Carey (53)
Leading Goal Scorer Mark Naclerio (16) Matt Carey (13)
Assists Leader Lorito/Lappin (19) Greg Carey (18)
Projected Starting Goalie Tyler Steel (2.69/.910) Matt Weninger (3.44/.874)

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.