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This Week in the ECAC

College Hockey:
This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 15, 2009

Princeton and Cornell atop the standings? Who would’ve ever predicted … oh, wait. That’s not news.

The Blue Streak

But Yale is certainly newsworthy. The Bulldogs have won four straight, knocking off three ranked teams in the process: Minnesota State, Air Force and Dartmouth. (The Mavericks, while now mere vote recipients, were 17th when Yale edged them, 3-2.)

The Blue look to have things squared away nicely right now, allowing only seven goals in those four games while scoring 14. The power play may be a modest four-for-23 in that time, but the penalty kill has only given up a solitary goal in 17 shorthanded situations. The Eli are now ranked, 19th, for the first time all year, and feature three of the league’s top 10 goalscorers in Sean Backman (10), Broc Little (nine) and Mark Arcobello (eight) despite having played only 15 games due to the shorter Ivy schedule. League-leader Austin Smith of Colgate, by comparison, has scored 11 goals in 20 games. Even freshman winger Brian O’Neill already has six goals and six assists.

The long and short of it is, this team’s for real. It’s scoring darn near three and a half goals a game overall, even more in league play. They have a half-goal lead on ECAC Hockey’s second-hottest offense, Union. They blasted Dartmouth goaltender Jody O’Neill with 55 shots on Friday. They’ve pitched more two-goal, one-goal or shutout games than three-plus (nine of the former, six of the latter) and there are only two games keeping Yale’s numbers from being truly spectacular: a 5-2 loss to Union to end the first semester, and an 8-3 loss to Nebraska-Omaha to open the second.

It just goes to show that you never know what’s going to happen in the ECAC, but you can always count on something special.

Grin & Bear It

That would be the advice given to most goaltenders in Dan Rosen’s situation. But most goalies aren’t Dan Rosen.

Brown’s third-year starter hasn’t tasted much success with the Bears, but he has tasted a lot of rubber. And I mean a lot. In just shy of 700 minutes this season alone, Rosen has made 413 stops, equating to 36 saves a game. That’s not even shots; just the saves. All told, the junior backstop sees nearly 40 rips for every 60 minutes played … even if head coach Roger Grillo disagrees with the figures. (Scroll to “Coaches for Consistency”.)

This is up from last year, when Rosen went 6-14-4 and faced 34 shots per game … which is about the same number he saw each time out his freshman year (9-12-4). The funny thing is, you’d expect a goalie to tire and therefore allow more goals in a shooting gallery-type affair. But not Dan. Of his point-earning games this year, he faced 37 shots (tie), 38 (tie), 41 (win) and 51 (tie, with a career-high 50 saves). He’s allowing fewer than four goals a game in contests in which he faces more than 40 shots, which equates to a save percentage of .903. Not bad for a guy who is popping up and down more often than a Whack-A-Mole.

Now, Grillo refutes the idea that his ‘keeper is overworked. For starters, he doesn’t think much of league-wide shotkeeping, and he’s not afraid to say so. (“The shot chart was a joke. An absolute joke,” he said of Friday’s figures at Harvard, which gave the Crimson a 51-29 shot advantage.) But he also points out that he tries to give Rosen enough of a break to stay fresh and sharp.

“I don’t think his workload is that great. He hasn’t played all our games, he only played three of our last eight, and had a month off between starts [at the break],” the coach said.

Bruno will need to keep its ‘tender from being tenderized, because the team in front of him is still a mess.

“Our play is pretty similar [to our record],” lamented Grillo. “We’re good at times, but average or below average other times. I think we are in that [desperate] spot … we have a bunch of talented kids who are getting a little frustrated with not winning.”

With all due respect to the coach, it appears that the Bears’ position would be significantly improved by allowing fewer shots. Rosen’s save percentage this season is a palatable .908, but he and his squad have been beaten for four goals or more in nine of their 15 games. But a big problem with focusing on shut-down defense is the cost up front, and Brown can hardly afford to forsake any goals of their own with only 29 all season.

One positive eccentricity of the Bears’ season thus far is the power play, which is ranked ninth nationally at 20 percent, and has been even higher.

“We as a staff and as a team are trying to figure that out,” Grillo laughed. “We have a great power play, but it doesn’t seem to translate to five-on-five.”

The Providence Ivy has it’s goalie, and has its power-play. Can it make the rest of the pieces fit before time runs out? Crazier things have happened.

Rensselaer Rising?

The Engineers earned points in consecutive league games last weekend for the first time since November 2007, and manufactured a three-point weekend for the first time since January that year. Is this rumbling the precursor to a second-half earthquake at the ‘Tute?

“I guess we’re off,” said coach Seth Appert. “We’ll see how we play this weekend.”

Not surprisingly, Appert has seen this building over the past couple of months.

“We’ve liked how we’ve played for the majority of the last six weeks. I think we’ve played well … we’ve just had some inconsistencies” of 10-15 minute increments, he said.

Appert feels that blossoming maturity and leadership are slowly stabilizing the Engineers’ season, and that the upperclassmen “are holding themselves and their teammates responsible.”

RPI’s year-to-date hasn’t exactly rocked the hockey establishment, as the squad staggered along to a 3-15-1 record entering last weekend. “We knew we’d face some adversity,” said the coach, “but we faced more adversity than we would’ve liked.” Injuries prevented units from gelling, and lapses in focus and intensity allowed many close games to get out of hand.

Finally, though, the team is rounding into form both mentally and physically.

“We’re as healthy as we’ve been in the last month and a half,” said Appert. “[Tyler] Helfrich comes back this week; only [frosh defensemen Mike] Bergin and [junior defenseman Christian] Jensen are out,” and Jensen is merely ill, not injured.

“Sometimes it takes 15 or 20 games … or longer … to get the amount of preparation it takes to be successful at that level,” said the coach of elite teams. “We’re getting a better understanding of how hard we need to play. The upperclassmen are taking this team by the throat and demanding the [the best] of it,” sang the coach.

If Appert is confident with any part of his team, it’s his goaltending. Senior Mathias Lange is stopping 91 percent of his 34 shots a game, and despite allowing six goals three times this season, has only given up 27 in his remaining 12 appearances. Lange has already turned in 39-, 40- and 49-save performances, only seeing the red light six times in those three games.

“I think he’s the best goalie in our league, and I think the next 13 games will play that out,” proposed Appert. “He’s worked hard to make himself a better player, a better goaltender, and a better teammate.”

The team from Troy has a long road to hoe before we can consider them to be on equal footing with the better teams in the league. But every journey has to start somewhere, and knocking Princeton off on the road seems like as good a way to start a journey as any.

Clarkson Looking for Answers

There is no question that the Golden Knights have had a disappointing campaign so far. The team is 3-13-4, 0-2-0 against rival St. Lawrence (both non-conference games, fortunately), and hasn’t scored three goals in consecutive outings since the opening games of the season. The Knights tied then-top-ranked Colorado College on consecutive nights in late October, but coach George Roll is desperately hoping that he won’t have to hang his hat on a pair of late-autumn draws at the conclusion of the season.

“The work ethic is not consistent, not only game to game, but period to period,” said the frustrated helmsman. “We’re getting chances, but [when we do] we’re just not burying the opportunities.”

The coach still has a lot of faith in his charges, and is eagerly looking forward to the game where it all just comes together for the Green & Gold.

“All we have left is the league portion of the schedule. I still think this team — when we play to our capabilities — is a good hockey club.”

Injuries have wracked — and wrecked — any semblance of continuity in Roll’s lineups, and the team isn’t at 100 percent now, either. It’s a valid excuse, but for a team picked fourth in the preseason, it doesn’t fully explain how ‘Tech now finds itself alone in last place.

“I wish I could put a finger on why we’ve only won three games,” said Roll. “It’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you. [Considering our recent success,] I never envisioned this happening to this team.

“I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, but it comes with this business. In the end, I think we’ll be better for it, but it certainly hasn’t been easy.”

Shameless Plug

I wasn’t sure if it would be posted simultaneously with this column … so I didn’t delve into the subject this week … but my new feature about the nature of luck versus skill in close games will hopefully intrigue those of you with analytically inquisitive minds like me.

Snapshots

Brown sophomore forward Harry Zolnierczyk and junior forward Devin Timberlake are both injury scratches this weekend.

On a leave of absence for family reasons, Quinnipiac freshman Nick Pisellini is currently playing with his former USHL junior team, the Chicago Steel. Bobcat teammate Bryan Leitch continues to lead the nation in assists (23) and points (32).

Dartmouth freshman Jody O’Neill bested Dan Rosen’s career-high 50 saves against Harvard on Friday with 53 of his own the very same night against Yale.

St. Lawrence’s sweep of Clarkson was aided in part by the returns of previously injured Brock McBride and Aaron Bogosian, who each chipped in an assist on the weekend.

Senior Lane Caffaro set the Union career scoring record for defensemen with his 69th point, earned on an assist in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Quinnipiac.

USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.


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