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College Hockey:
ECAC Hockey’s strength-of-schedule at the break

Inspired in part by years of curiosity, and more recently by the Cornell hockey blog “WAFT” (Where Angels Fear to Tread), I gathered a novella of league standings and schedules and went to work on breaking down exactly how tough ECAC Hockey’s teams have had it in the first half.

The method

Not being a diploma-holding statistician, I did not do backflips through standardized deviations to arrive at deeper truths. I simply compiled the overall records for each ECAC team’s respective opponents so far, and used that to calculate a winning percentage. The higher the percentage, the tougher the schedule, presumably.

However, since most teams enjoy streaks and suffer skids, I thought it would be equally fascinating to find out how well opponents had fared at the time of the game. Boston College opened the season with a loss to Northeastern: Chances are good that the Eagles’ second opponent (Massachusetts) was facing a team in a much different mindset on October 19 than it did on November 4, after BC had reeled off five straight wins. Early-season games are a crapshoot, and I’m not sure that Northeastern’s win over the Eagles on opening night is worth as much as it would be now. Therefore, along with total opponents’ win percentage, I also tabulated opponents’ records entering each respective game against ECAC programs. Let’s see what shakes out.

By the numbers

First, here are the current ECAC Hockey standings, by win percentage:

.765 – Quinnipiac
.727 – Dartmouth
.667 – Union
.667 – Yale
.636 – Cornell
.556 – Colgate
.500 – Harvard
.471 – St. Lawrence
.429 – Rensselaer
.417 – Brown
.382 – Clarkson
.375 – Princeton

…and here are the cumulative opposition winning percentages for each of those respective teams:

.582 – Rensselaer
.550 – Dartmouth
.544 – Clarkson
.540 – Brown
.533 – Colgate
.524 – Harvard
.522 – Princeton
.509 – Cornell
.500 – Yale
.482 – Quinnipiac
.464 – Union
.454 – St. Lawrence

Depending on your affiliations, some glances look understandable, some are a bit more baffling. QU and Union have each faced a relatively light schedule, and are succeeding for it. RPI took on the toughest gauntlet in the league, by these numbers, and has the bruises to show for it. Ditto Clarkson.

Then there are the outliers. St. Lawrence started hot, but cooled with the temperature this fall: One of the softer (again, in an admittedly simplistic assessment) schedules has not translated into victories of late for the struggling Saints. On the other end of the spectrum, Dartmouth has played some of the best teams in the nation (BC, plus two games against Yale and one each versus Union and Cornell) but remains one of the nation’s top teams, performance-wise.

Would this be easier to follow with a visual representation? Well have I got the chart for you!

current wpct2 ECAC Hockeys strength of schedule at the break

Being in the upper-right quadrant is ideal: It means that you’re succeeding against tough competition (i.e. Dartmouth, Colgate, and Cornell). Being in the lower-left, however, is bad news – these teams are playing theoretically easier schedules, but still coming up short in the win category (St. Lawrence).

Quinnipiac, Union, and Yale are keeping their heads above water against middling to decent competition (by this metric, at least), while Harvard, RPI, Brown, Clarkson and Princeton are struggling against tougher foes.

Foes at the faceoff

As aforementioned, you can’t necessarily judge the quality of October’s opponent by its record today. I was surprised to see a relatively small difference between overall opponent win percentages and their win rates at the time of the puck-drop; the biggest gap between the numbers was .094 for Union: The Dutchmen’s opponents have a .464 overall win pct now, but boasted a .558 win rate at the time of each of their respective games.

Here are the opposition’s win percentages at game time, for each of the league’s dozen teams:

.605 – Rensselaer
.578 – Brown
.558 – Union
.554 – Yale
.542 – Cornell
.542 – Princeton
.541 – Dartmouth
.509 – Colgate
.504 – Quinnipiac
.485 – Harvard
.476 – Clarkson
.402 – St. Lawrence

As we can see here, all but three squads have played winning teams, on average… just like the overall results, but stronger. RPI’s task to date looks even tougher in this light, as the Engineers’ average opponent at the drop of the puck was sporting a .605 winning percentage. (That said, SLU and Clarkson would rather not glance at this chart.)

game time wpct ECAC Hockeys strength of schedule at the break

So what?

What’s to be made of these two sets of data? There’s much to be speculated, but I’m not sure how much can be truly ascertained through comparison. Are some opponents going into slumps or soaring into streaks before or just after playing some of the ECAC sides? Perhaps. Which chart is more pertinent? Depends on your point of view, I suppose: There are big strengths and flaws to each set.

The potential drawbacks to looking at current standings have been addressed, at least in part. There are just as many holes in the “current percentages” info: Playing an elite team early in the year won’t be worth as much of a boost on the latter graph as it would on the former.

So what’s it worth? I suppose that’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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