By Dan Rubin
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. – The Little Engine that Could
March 7, 2009. Brown University completes a playoff shutout of the Harvard Crimson. It’s the first time in Harvard’s history they’ve ever been shutout over an entire playoff series. Harvard hockey dates back to the 1800s. Brown entered the series on the heels of a [5-23-5] season, one of the worst ever in its history. They are the 12th seed out of 12 teams. This is considered one of the biggest upsets in ECAC playoff history. When Brown is swept the next weekend at top-seeded Yale, nobody is upset, especially since both were two-goal games.
March 7, 2010. Exactly one year after they upset Harvard, Brown does it again, this time upending an RPI team boasting Hobey Baker contender Chase Polacek and Jerry D’Amigo. D’Amigo played for the USA at the World Junior Championships. Brown is the 11-seed, mildly improved at [13-20-4] in Brendan Whittet’s first year at the helm. It’s a shocker because Brown did not match up well with the Engineers. Once again, it’s onto Yale.
March 14 2010. After a shocking upset of the #6-nationally ranked Bulldogs in Game 1 of the best-of-three, Brown is coming off a Game 2 slaughterhouse defeat. Losing 6-3 in Game 2, they managed to keep it competitive, even though Yale took a lead they’d never surrender just 30 seconds into the first period. Yale is an offensive juggernaut, averaging close to five goals a game. Even though they lack superstar Sean Backman, they have the ability to score at will. When Jack Maclellan hits a shorthanded, breakaway goal at the 9:21 mark, none of the standing-room-only 2,300 fans (including yours truly) think it will hold. But Mike Clemente makes 44 saves, including 19 in the final frame, as Brown shocks the college hockey world with a 1-0 win. Brown finishes the season by winning the consolation game in Albany. The loss plummeted Yale to the three seed in the NCAA tournament’s Group Of Death. They’re denied the Frozen Four when they lose to Boston College in the regional final.
March, 2011. To be determined.
#9 Brown Bears at #8 Quinnipiac Bobcats
Head to head: 11/5/10 at Brown – tie 3-3; 2/19/11 at Quinnipiac – tie 2-2
Tale of the Tape: It doesn’t matter who the opponent is – Brown comes to play. They are one of the most blue-collar teams in the nation. They have the ability to stand toe-to-toe with every team in Division I. They beat Yale at home, 3-2. They dominated Boston University on neutral ice, 6-1, and they tied BU at Agganis Arena in a game Bruno should’ve won, 4-4. Brown should’ve beaten UNH on the road, but two late goals cost them a 5-5 tie. They also swept Cornell and Colgate for the first time…ever. They’re tough, physical, and emotional. This is a matchup problem for a Bobcat team lost to Yale, 6-1 and 5-1, didn’t play the same caliber of out of conference opponent as Bruno, and hasn’t won a game since January 28. In their first meeting, Qpac choked away a two goal, third period lead. In their second game, the Cats led 2-0 after one before Brown came back with goals in the 2nd and 3rd to tie it up.
Brown is led by Harry Zolnierczyk’s 16 goals and 15 assists. He was joined by Maclellan until an injury felled him late in the year. Dennis Robertson is setting Brown rookie defenseman records; the freshman has six goals and 11 assists. Quinnipiac counters with Jeremy Langlois’s 15 goals and Scott Zurevinski’s 12. Five players for the Bobcats have double-digit assist totals. Brown’s power play was better (17% to 15%), but Quinnipiac’s penalty kill was better (80% to 78%). Pretty even stuff.
In net, Eric Hartzell saw the majority of time this year for Qpac, going [10-6-6] with one shutout. He’s boasting a 92% save percentage over his 25 games. Clemente is still there for Brown, and he plays his best when the stakes are highest. He made 31 stops to lead Brown over Cornell late in the year, the first time the Bears swept Cornell (not including Colgate in this stat) since Bill Clinton’s first term. He stopped 41 in the win over BU, and he stopped 39 in the road tie over these Bobcats. Plus don’t forget what he can do in the playoffs. If he warms up, he goes into a pain free zone.
X-Factor: Can the Young D step it up? Brown is skating a lot of youngsters back on that defensive unit, especially now with the absence of Jeff Buvinow. Buvinow went down hurt, and the pressure now falls on Robertson, Matt Wahl, Mike Wolff, and Marc-Antoine Carrier. Brown pretty much is dressing as many defensemen as they have on the roster. Can they carry that load?
Can Zolnierczyk Put Up Volpatti Minutes? Last year, Aaron Volpatti was on the ice in the playoffs more than any other player on the Brown squad. He logged more ice time than the last two lines combined, or at least it seemed that way if you watched them. Without Maclellan, Zolnierczyk is that guy. That requires him to stay out of the penalty box…which is harder than it sounds. Zolnierczyk had 126 PIM, 87 of which were in conference play. That’s a lot of time to “feel shame,” as the old adage said.
Can Lines 2 and 3 Score? Last year, they skated the top line pretty much every other shift or every third shift. They’ll need something different since the scoring is more spaced out, especially without Maclellan.
Can Clemente Do It Again? If he gets warmed up, get your Maalox ready.
Prediction: Despite being on the road and the lower seed, Brown has lots to be thankful for. They’re not at home, but it sure as heck beats going to Clarkson. Also, it’s a favorable matchup for the Bears. People following the Brown team have learned to NEVER count the Bears out when the stakes get their highest. They played down to a few teams this year in the dog days of the season, lost some games they probably should’ve won, and really shot themselves in the foot by losing to Harvard in a makeup game during the last week of the season. But Coach Whittet is the master motivator, the fiery coach that can get the most out of the least amount of talent. So I have no idea how this is going to go. I’m calling it a split in the first two games, and you judge the final game. Brown’s the most unpredictable team I’ve ever seen. Throw all caution to the wind.
Fast fact to close out on… the last time Brown lost in the first round it was at Quinnipiac.
As a reminder, if you can’t make it to Hamden, Connecticut because gas prices are astronomical these days, free audio is available at www.brownbears.com. Just go the Multimedia tab and click down to Audio/Video.