ECAC Hockey picks: Feb. 27-28

Last time: 6-4-2

Overall: 46-55-13

My season record for picks this year is pretty much shot, but there’s still a lot at stake in the final weekend of the regular season in ECAC Hockey. Only three teams are locked into a specific place in the standings and five teams  are still competing for the last two first-round byes.

I broke down the standings and the ensuing possibilities earlier this week. Here’s a look at how the regular season concludes this weekend.

All games are 7 p.m. unless noted.

Friday, Feb. 27

Cornell at Brown

Brown is the hottest team in the league, as the Bears are on a 4-0-1 run heading into the final weekend, while Cornell has a shot at finishing in the top-four.  This should be a pretty physical game, one that that I think Brown should win. Brown wins

Princeton at Dartmouth

This looks like a mismatch, as I don’t think the Tigers have the offense to keep up with the Big Green. Dartmouth wins

Clarkson at Rensselaer

Don’t expect a ton of scoring; neither school has a 10-goal scorer, while both the Engineers and Golden Knights are averaging just under four goals a game – combined.  I think the difference is Clarkson’s defense and goaltending, which has been pretty solid this season. Clarkson wins

St. Lawrence at Union

There’s not a lot to play for in this game except for seeding. St. Lawrence has already clinched a first-round bye, while the Dutchmen are guaranteed to be on the road for the first round. With that being said, look for the Saints to take advantage of a shaky Union defense. St. Lawrence wins

Colgate at Yale

The Raiders and Bulldogs have been known for offense over the years, but both have played outstanding defense this season. Colgate has a shot at a first-round bye despite an inconsistent season marked by plenty of injuries, but I think Yale’s defense and goalie Alex Lyon are too tough to overcome. Yale wins

Quinnipiac at Harvard

With the top overall seed and a share of the Cleary Cup already wrapped up, the Bobcats have nothing to play for this weekend. Quinnipiac was in this situation two years ago, and coach Rand Pecknold opted to keep his top players in the lineup. I’d expect the same this weekend against a Harvard team that’s desperately seeking some momentum heading into the playoffs. Quinnipiac wins

Saturday, Feb. 28

Colgate at Brown, 4 p.m.

Yes, the Bears are on a hot streak, as mentioned above. But something tells me that comes to an end Saturday against a Colgate team that’s in the hunt for a first-round bye. Colgate wins

Quinnipiac at Dartmouth

These teams went to overtime last time they met, with the Bobcats winning 2-1 on Dec. 5. The Big Green are playing for a first-round bye, and would seem to have more incentive than Quinnipiac, who will be looking to end the night healthy for the quarterfinals in two weeks. Dartmouth wins

Princeton at Harvard

The Crimson may be in a free-fall, but it would take a massive upset for the Tigers to pull off the win. It’s possible, especially if goalie Colton Phinney and the Princeton defense can contain Harvard’s scoring threats, but I don’t see that happening. Harvard wins

St. Lawrence at Rensselaer

Again, this looks like a mismatch, as the Saints are excellent defensively and have a balanced offense, while RPI is getting outscored by nearly a goal-and-a-half per game. Still, it could be close, if only for the fact that Saints can’t move from their spot in the standings and could look to rest some players. St. Lawrence wins

Clarkson at Union

The Golden Knights can’t score, while the Dutchmen can’t keep goals out of their own net. But lately, Union has had trouble scoring as well, getting shutout in three straight games before scoring once against Cornell Saturday. Clarkson wins

Cornell at Yale

If either one of these teams could find some offense, look out. The Bulldogs and the Big Red are first and third in the nation, respectively, in defense. While goals will be hard to come by, I like the way the Bulldogs are playing right now. Yale wins



Bobcats clinch the Cleary, but plenty to decide in the ECAC’s final weekend

Despite not getting a win over the weekend, Quinnipiac clinched its second regular-season title in three years Saturday night.

The Bobcats tied Brown 2-2, but that one point was enough to give Quinnipiac a four-point lead over St. Lawrence entering the final weekend. The Bobcats swept the season series with the Saints, giving them the tiebreaker should St. Lawrence manage to pull even in the standings over the final two games.

At 15-2-3, Quinnipiac has a chance to match its conference record from 2012-13, when it went 17-2-3, winning the regular season title and advancing to the program’s first Frozen Four.

Where the rest of the league stands

Here’s a rundown of where the rest of the ECAC stands entering the season’s final weekend.

St. Lawrence has clinched second place  and the accompanying first-round bye. The final two top-four spots are down to Yale, Colgate, Harvard, Dartmouth, and Cornell. Yale and Harvard each control its own destiny for the final two spots.

The Bulldogs Cornell and Colgate this weekend, while Dartmouth and Harvard host Quinnipiac and Princeton. The Crimson will play in the Beanpot consolation Monday at 4 p.m. against Boston College. The game was postponed two weeks due to a snowstorm in Boston.

Clarkson is currently in eighth place and holds the final home-ice spot in the first round; however, the Golden Knights could slip to ninth and be on the road for the playoffs.

Rensselaer and Union are likely to be on the road in the first round. Regardless of what happens, it’s the second straight season the defending national champions have opened postseason play in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. Yale swept Harvard in the opening round last year before falling to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals.

Princeton and Brown are guaranteed to be heading on the road in the first round. The Tigers have locked up last place, while the suddenly hot Bears can move up from its current eleventh-place position.

Per the ECAC, here are the official tie-breaking procedures for the league standings:

Seeding for championship competition is based on total points accumulated during league contests. In the event teams are tied in the final regular-season standings, the following tiebreakers (listed in order of application) shall be used to determine seeding. (Note: Only league games apply):

1. Comparison of game results between tied teams (head to head).

2.  Wins.

3.  Comparison of results of games against the top four teams.

4.  Comparison of results of games against the top eight teams.

5. Goal differential in head-to-head competition.

6.  Goal differential in games against the top four teams.

7. Goal differential in games against the top eight teams.

In the case of ties among three or more schools, the criteria will be used in order until a team, or teams, is separated from the pack. At that point, the process will begin anew to break the “new” tie. In other words, when a four-way tie becomes a three-way tie, the three-way tie is treated as a “new” tie and the process begins with the first criterion.

Bears ending on a positive note

It had been a miserable season for Brown entering February. But the Bears have turned it around in the last month, and entering the final weekend on a five-game unbeaten streak. Much of that has been due to an improved defense and goalie Tim Ernst: the Bears have allowed seven goals over that five-game stretch.

Brown hasn’t scored prolifically this season, but the Bears have plenty of skilled players. If the defense keeps playing the way it has the last few weeks, Brown could be a tough first-round opponent.



ECAC Hockey picks: Feb. 20-23

Season predictions: 53-33-5 (.610). That could be good enough to get me into the NCAA’s…

As always, all games begin at 7:00 unless otherwise noted.

Friday, February 20

Harvard at St. Lawrence
The Crimson mustered their first loss-less weekend of the new year against Colgate (win) and Cornell (tie) last weekend, and the team is finally getting healthier. The Saints saw their odds of a first Cleary Cup since 2007 increase exponentially with a loss and tie at Quinnipiac and Princeton, respectively. Harvard probably has a little more at stake in this game, stuck in the middle of a tight pack around the fourth-place line; SLU is six points short of first-place QU but three clear of third-place Yale. Kyle Hayton has been arguably the best goaltender in the country this season, but the offense will have to score more than once to beat the high-powered Crimson. Edge: Harvard.

Dartmouth at Clarkson
Clarkson is 2-4 in its last six, scoring just one goal in each of its four losses and eking out a 1-0 win as well. Suffice to say, scoring is not the Knights’ strong suit these days. Colgate snapped Dartmouth’s six-game winning streak with a 3-0 shutout last Saturday, but otherwise the Big Green are rolling: The Green scored 26 goals in those six wins, allowing 14. I have been waiting all season for Dartmouth’s experience to shine through, and that time may finally be upon us. Green win.

Union at Colgate
Things have been better in Schenectady. Union was shut out on consecutive nights for the first time since late 2007; even worse, the defeats both occurred within the friendly confines of Messa Rink. The Dutchmen are 1-4 in their last five and are now guaranteed to follow up a national-championship campaign with a bottom-four finish to this regular season. The Raiders are sputtering lately, following a 5-1-1 run out of the holidays with their current 2-4-1 slump. Fortunately for Colgate, Union is in an even worse state. Colgate wins.

Rensselaer at Cornell
When a five-game losing streak is only your third-longest of the season, you know you’re having a year worth forgetting. That’s the type of campaign RPI is enduring, having lost five in a row early in the year, nine straight straddling the holiday break, and now six more and counting. The special teams have been terrible. The defense has been terrible. To call the offense anemic is a compliment. The goaltending… well, you get the picture. Meanwhile, the Big Red will have to pass three teams to claim a first-round bye, but are all but assured of playing their first playoff game at home regardless of the round. There isn’t much more analysis worth doing, really… Cornell should not lose this game.

Brown at Princeton
These two cellar-dwellers are a combined 4-0-1 in their last five… Ishn’t dat veerd? Princeton is hardly racking-’em-up, knocking-’em-down – both of last weekend’s results were tight – but anything besides an “L” looks good in the Garden State these days. Brown isn’t blowing people away either; six goals against RPI is nothing to crow about this season, but the Bears’ four goals allowed in their last three games are the fewest in such a stretch all year. All hail sophomore goalie Tim Ernst, he of the three straight wins and .909 save percentage. Brown wins another squeaker.

Yale at Quinnipiac
In the rematch of an incredibly entertaining first round, Yale has far more to play for… though a home crowd and a rivalry atmosphere will certainly give QU plenty of incentive to bury the Bulldogs on York Hill. Throw out the stats; while another tie wouldn’t surprise me a bit, I’ll pick Yale to dig up crucial points.

Saturday, February 21

Dartmouth at St. Lawrence
Should be a terrific game between two of the league’s northernmost programs. SLU aims to regain its footing after a tumble out of first-place contention, while Dartmouth needs points to solidify a first-round bye. The Big Green are good on the road – 5-2-2 in other ECAC buildings this season – but the Saints are 6-3 at home as well. No clear favorite here: Advantage home team. SLU wins.

Harvard at Clarkson
Harvard can be beaten by defense – see the Yale games, or last weekend’s loss to Brown – but it’s a tall task when you can’t balance it with a credible offensive threat. Clarkson does not have a credible offensive threat. Harvard will likely take this one as well.

Rensselaer at Colgate
Nothing cures your ills this season like a home deuce against the Capital District. Colgate wins.

Union at Cornell
Cornell’s offense is spotty, but Union’s attack can barely say that much. Cornell at home, for the win.

Yale at Princeton
It’s no longer a Brown Rule application, but this appears to be a mis-match in every conceivable way. Yale wins.

Brown at Quinnipiac
Bruno has given the Bobcats fits in the past – then again, Brown has frustrated everyone at one point or another – but this is not an evenly matched game on paper. The wild card will be desire: Can QU get up for the unimpressive Bears? Will Brown make an honest effort against a team so far from it in the standings? Some games are tough to call because they are so tantalizingly even… this one goes the other way. Tough call because there is not a lot of tangible incentive for either team to play its best game. QU wins… I guess?

Monday, February 23

Harvard vs. Boston College 4:30; Beanpot Consolation Game: TD Garden – Boston, Mass.
The Harvard Crimson: Heating up for the playoffs, or piddling away its remaining inertia? We shall see on Monday. BC is 11-3-2 since the start of December; it’s time to put up or shut up for the Crimson. BC wins.

Two weeks left, and little has been decided

Bobcats claw closer to Cleary

The biggest story of the weekend was Quinnipiac’s home sweep of the North Country, which – when paired with St. Lawrence’s loss and tie at QU and Princeton – earned the Bobcats a six-point cushion on first place. With just four games remaining in the regular season, the Q-Cats have all but wrapped up their second Cleary Cup. Quinnipiac is enjoying the spoils of a 9-0-1 run in league play, a streak in which it has out-scored opponents 29-14 and vaulted into a 10th-place tie in the PairWise Rankings.

This is the team that esteemed colleague Nate Owen and the rest of the media picked to finish third in the preseason; the coaches tabbed Quinnipiac fifth, and I had them way down at ninth. This is the team whose coach, Rand Pecknold, never neglected to point out that its 27-man roster included nine freshmen and eight sophomores. The Bobcats are exceptional for their success despite youth, and their league success despite non-conference mediocrity. There is no telling what the postseason may bring for QU, but it has certainly done terrific work to maximize its odds.

Brown, Princeton bound for the busses

Perhaps it was already a foregone conclusion, but stratification of the league became clearer this weekend for a number of teams. For Brown and Princeton, it was not a welcome development.

Despite a win and tie – its best two-game result of the season – Princeton is destined to play a first-round road series, and odds are good (though by no means likely) that it will be a long roadie: Clarkson and Dartmouth each hover around the fifth-place spot.

Brown is on a hot streak of its own, winning its third in a row (3-1-1 in its last five), scoring a season-high six goals in a 6-3 win at Rensselaer and tying its season high for goals in a weekend (seven) with Saturday’s 1-0 squeaker at Union. Despite all that, Bruno is road-bound for the first round: At nine points, the Bears cannot catch the eighth-place spot, currently occupied by either Cornell or Clarkson (18 points each).

Six in the mix

Like underclassmen in a phone booth (do phone booths even exist anymore? Anywhere?), half of the league is uncomfortably close to each other around the first-round-bye line.

Yale (22 points), Harvard (21), Dartmouth (20), Colgate (19), Clarkson and Cornell (18 each) are a couple good – or bad – games away from each other. Yale is currently alone in third place, while Clarkson and Cornell are tied for seventh and looking over their shoulders at RPI and Union, four and five points back respectively.

Each team in the league has two home games and two road games remaining, and with even Princeton and Brown heating up, it’s all but pointless to attempt to handicap the home stretch. Harvard, Clarkson, and Colgate have struggled lately and will have to right the ship to wrest one of those top four spots; Yale, Dartmouth, and Cornell have fared pretty well of late, and aim to stay on that track.

ECAC Hockey picks: Feb. 13 and 14

Last time:  3-5-3

Overall: 40-51-11

With three weeks left in the regular season, one point separates third through eighth place in ECAC Hockey, but the highlight of this weekend is Friday’s matchup of St. Lawrence at Quinnipiac. The Saints have won seven in a row and could close to one point of the Bobcats with a win. Here’s a look at that game, along with the 11 others scheduled for this weekend. All games start at 7 p.m.

Friday, February 13

Cornell at Dartmouth

A veteran Big Green team seems to be putting it together at the right time, as Dartmouth has won five in a row heading into the weekend. Cornell scored four goals last time out against Princeton, but the Big Red have continued its offensively challenged ways throughout much of the second half. I think Dartmouth has the more balanced team. Dartmouth wins

Colgate at Harvard

Both these teams are looking for some consistency in the lineup down the stretch, as each has dealt with several key injuries. Harvard forward Sean Malone and Alexander Kerfoot appear to be healthy, while Colgate forward Mike Borkowski returned last weekend after it was originally thought he would be out for the season. I was leaning towards the Raiders, but the school announced late Thursday that starting goalie Charlie Finn was out for the weekend with an upper-body injury, meaning backup Zac Hamilton is in line to get the start. Harvard wins

Clarkson at Princeton

The Golden Knights are in position for a first-round bye, and can’t afford to let any points slip away. Princeton, meanwhile, is trying to stay out of the basement and has only won a single league game this year – in November. Clarkson wins

Brown at Rensselaer

RPI has lost four in a row, but shouldn’t have a problem taking care of the slumping Bears.  Rensselaer wins

Yale at Union

The Dutchmen are in a funk following Saturday’s 7-1 loss against St. Lawrence. Union seems to have a hard time carrying momentum from a Friday win into Saturday,  but I’m not sure they’ll have that chance against a stingy Bulldog team that still ranks first in the nation in team defense despite allowing six goals to Dartmouth last weekend. Yale wins

St. Lawrence at Quinnipiac

The marquee matchup of the weekend features two of the hotter teams in the league, as the Saints (seven-game winning streak) and the Bobcats (four-game unbeaten streak) meet in Hamden, with Quinnipiac holding a three-point lead over the Saints for first place.  St. Lawrence’s overall play has finally caught up to freshman goalie Kyle Hayton, who should be in the discussion for several major awards at the end of the season. The Bobcats have some dangerous forwards, but I think the Saints’ defense and Hayton should be able to shut them down. St. Lawrence wins

Saturday, Feb. 14

Colgate at Dartmouth

If this game was several weeks ago, I would have taken Colgate. But as mentioned earlier, the Big Green are in the midst of an impressive run, and should be able to get past the Raiders, especially with goalie Charlie Finn out. Dartmouth wins

Cornell at Harvard

The Crimson have been scuffling lately, and while Cornell struggles offensively, its defense has given plenty of opponents problems lately. Cornell wins

St. Lawrence at Princeton

Saints freshman Kyle Hayton’s  .940 save percentage and 1.91 goals-against-average are impressive, and should only get better when you consider the Tigers are scoring 1.35 goals per-game and opposing goalies have a save percentage of .946 against Princeton. St. Lawrence wins

Clarkson at Quinnipiac

Both teams are good at limiting their opponents’ shots, as each is allowing less than 25 shots a game. Quinnipiac might be as dominant possession-wise as it was in the past, but the Bobcats should have enough finishers on offense to beat the Golden Knights. Quinnipiac wins

Yale at  Rensselaer

The Engineers gave Yale plenty of trouble during the Bulldogs’ stretch of NCAA tournament appearances several years ago. If RPI can stick to its gritty, unselfish style that’s led to some success the last few years, the Engineers could have a chance. But I think Yale is simply too strong from the net out. Yale wins          

Brown at Union

As much as Union is scuffling, it’s been worse for the Bears. Union wins


Dutchmen, Crimson falling; Big Green, Saints and Bobcats rising

With three weeks left in the regular season, one point separates third place through eighth place in ECAC hockey. There’s still a lot to be determined, but last weekend helped give an indication of where several teams might end up.

Trending up: Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, Quinnipiac

A five-game winning streak has pushed Dartmouth into the picture for a first-round bye. The Big Green have averaged 4.6 goals a game during that stretch, and are tied  with Clarkson, Harvard, and Yale in the standings.  Dartmouth seemed poised for better things following a disappointing season last year; now that looks to be coming together.

As for Quinnipiac, the Bobcats quietly continued its dominance in league play, pushing its conference record to 13-2-1 with two wins over the weekend.  That sets up a big matchup Friday night when second-place St. Lawrence takes its seven-game winning streak to Hamden.  A few more wins could push the Saints into the top-16 in the Pairwise; St. Lawrence is currently sitting at 17th.

Trending down: Harvard, Union

What a second-half tumble its been for the Crimson. First in the PairWise not long ago, Harvard is currently 16th and out of the NCAA tournament, thanks to the auto-bid from Atlantic Hockey. The Crimson lost to Yale Friday, and then fell 2-1  Saturday to  a Brown team that is currently 54th in the PairWise.

Harvard is 2-7 in 2015, and starts a tough stretch to end the year with Boston College Monday in the Beanpot consolation, a game that could have PairWise implications for both teams. From there, the Crimson host Cornell and Colgate, travel to St. Lawrence and Clarkson, and then host Quinnipiac and Princeton to conclude the regular season. The good news for Harvard is that forwards Sean Malone and Alexander Kerfoot have played in each of the last three games after missing time with injuries.

As for Union, the past weekend seemed to be a death blow in what has been an inconsistent season for the defending national champions. The Dutchmen beat Clarkson 4-1 Friday, but were blown out by St. Lawrence 7-1 on Saturday. That loss makes it likely that Union will be on the road for the opening round of the playoffs, while a bye seems virtually impossible at this point.

Following Saturday’s loss, Union coach Rick Bennett told Ken Schott of The Daily Gazette that the Dutchmen “are a part-time team and our record shows it.” The Dutchmen haven’t put together a four-point weekend in ECAC play, thanks in part to a defense that ranks41st in the country.

An unexpected return

Colgate forward Mike Borkowski was expected to be out for the regular season following a knee injury in November. But the Raiders junior returned Friday night against Princeton, contributing an assist in a 2-0 win over the Tigers. His return helps deepen the Colgate lineup, and gives the Raiders its top forwards playing together for the first time this season.

At 7-6-3, Colgate is in the thick of teams stuck together in the middle of the standings. The Raiders are still missing defenseman Spiro Goulakos, but Borkowski’s return show help down the stretch.


ECAC Hockey picks: Feb. 6-9

Season record: 44-30-5. Meh.

Friday, February 6

Dartmouth at Brown
How fitting that the two Brown Ruled teams – Brown and Princeton – tied last Saturday, in their first meeting of the year? Doesn’t matter; Brown is still playing under its eponymous Rule. Dartmouth wins.

Union at Clarkson
Clarkson’s offense looked pretty decent for a hot minute there… and then, not so much. The Golden Knights haven’t scored goals (meaning the plurality of goal) in either of its last two games, winning 1-0 and losing 2-1. Union’s hot-and-cold act continues as well, with neither Dutchmen goalie holding a conference save rate of .900. Toss-up; edge goes to the defensive-minded home team. Clarkson wins.

Princeton at Colgate
Apart from Army (6-18-2; 0-4 out of conference) and the Russian Red Stars, Princeton hasn’t won since the day after Thanksgiving. No reason to expect another win now, unfortunately. Raiders roll.

Quinnipiac at Cornell
Enticing matchup: Cornell is 4-2-1 in its last seven, while QU is 5-0-1 in its last six league contests. The advantage definitely rests with the Bobcats however, as Cornell’s offense – with nine goals in its last five games – is about as reliable as a pre-owned Mini Cooper. QU wins.

Rensselaer at St. Lawrence
Just as things were looking up in Troy, on came the Mayors Cup… and we’ll spare you the rehash of that particular debacle. RPI is 2-5 on the road at ECAC opponents, with wins at Union (in OT) and Princeton. SLU is not exactly dominant at home – 4-3 against the league foes at Appleton – but the Saints are on a 6-1 run, having not allowed more than two goals in a game since January 3 in a 4-2 loss at Northeastern. This is a game that SLU should win.

Harvard at Yale
Well hmm, last time these teams met – at Madison Square Garden – I posited that a strong, one-loss team like Harvard couldn’t possibly lose to the same team twice. I was wrong, and Harvard is 2-5 since I made that prediction. Could the Crimson, who played such a promising opening 30 minutes against BU on Tuesday, tumble once more to the hated Bulldogs? Precedent says yes, and fatigue would be a factor… I’m almost definitely going to be proven wrong, but I can’t think of any good reason why Yale should lose to a team that it’s already defeated twice this season. Bulldogs win.

Saturday, February 7

Harvard at Brown 4:00
Brown Rule. Is it lazy? Yes. Is it right? Also yes. Harvard wins.

Rensselaer at Clarkson
Was RPI’s three-win run a dead-cat bounce, or a ray of sunshine peeking through after the 0-9 storm? This weekend will be a good indicator of one or the other. My gut says Clarkson… but – to steal a phrase – I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have **** for brains. (500 imaginary points if you can name the film**.) Knights win.

Quinnipiac at Colgate
The Bobcats have demonstrated remarkable consistency insofar as their ability to take at least two points from each ECAC weekend this season. This is no easy deuce, but Quinnipiac has the Cleary Cup in its sights, and that’s a pretty good incentive. QU wins.

Princeton at Cornell
Brown Rule, Cornell wins.

Union at St. Lawrence
The Dutchmen have struggled to win on the second night of consecutive games, going 0-3 in such situations in 2015. Maybe this is a meaningless stat, but maybe it indicates an issue with fatigue in all or some of Union’s game. Goaltender Colin Stevens is 2-4 in his last six starts, allowing 20 goals in just under 330 minutes for a 3.7 GAA and .883 save percentage. Perhaps it’s time to ride sophomore Alex Sakellaropoulos? He has allowed just 11 goals in almost exactly the same amount of playing time since the holiday break; he also has .907 save rate. Beyond all that, SLU is rolling and I’m not sure Union is in the right place to stop the surging Saints. SLU wins.

Dartmouth at Yale
Don’t look now, but Dartmouth is unbeaten in its last four (3-0-1), out-scoring those victims 13-7. That said, I’m not sold on the Big Green’s superiority over the vastly more consistent Bulldogs at this point in time… especially at Ingalls, where the Blue are 5-1-1 since early November. Yale wins.

Monday, February 9**

Harvard vs. Boston College Beanpot Consolation; 4:30
Gah, do I seriously have to do this? Harvard could not be more frustrating this season. If they’re healthy, they can definitely win… if not, the Crimson will absolutely lose… I don’t know. Whatever. BC wins, because why not.

* – High Fidelity, you philistine.
** – weather permitting?

Quinnipiac accelerating toward second Cleary Cup; SLU surging; Harvard slipping

There are now four weeks left in the ECAC Hockey regular season, and – for the first time since early in the fall – every team is even in games played (14). This makes the standings a lot easier to assess. On that note…

Bobcats preying on ECAC foes

At 11-2-1 in league play, QU poses a formidable challenge for the rest of the ECAC. The Bobcats are three points clear of second-place St. Lawrence (QU beat SLU once, and they meet again in Hamden in two weeks) and seven points ahead of fifth-place Clarkson or Yale (tied for fourth).

And it’s a good thing Quinnipiac has been so strong in league play, because outside the ECAC, QU is… not so good. Just 5-6-1 against the rest of Division 1, QU currently ranks a surprisingly soft 15th in the PairWise Rankings. The Q-Cats will definitely have to maintain their intra-conference edge if they hope to qualify for a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance: Of QU’s eight remaining opponents, six have a winning record in ECAC play.

Saints on longest winning streak in three years

With a gritty 2-1 win at Clarkson Saturday night, St. Lawrence extended its winning streak to five games – the longest since winter 2012 – and climbed ahead of Harvard for sole custody of second place in ECAC Hockey. The run (as well as Northeastern’s change of fortunes) has soothed the wounds suffered in early January’s tie and loss at Northeastern; SLU has not allowed more than two goals in a game since Jan. 3, eight games back. Meanwhile, the offense has scored 21 times in those seven games since (6-1), the power play has maintained an adequate 17 percent success rate with five goals in 28 opportunities, and the penalty kill – already a strong point at 89.2 percent successful for the season – has been outstanding with 23 kills in 24 tries.

On paper, SLU is in a pretty sweet situation with four weekends remaining: Four of the Saints’ remaining eight games are against the mediocre Capital District tandem; road games at Quinnipiac and Princeton and home dates with Harvard and Dartmouth come in between.

Crimson crumbling?

Harvard has been having a 2015 to forget, already dropping from second in the PairWise to a tie for 9th thanks to a 2-4 record in the new year.

Injuries are clearly an issue, but so too is the play of senior and No. 1 goaltender Steve Michalek: In seven games since the holiday break, Michalek’s save percentage was .894, a full 50 points beneath his season save rate prior. The goaltender has failed to stop 90 percent of shots on goal in four of his last five outings, including a three-goal, six-save, 14-minute nightmare against SLU two weekends back.

Obviously, you can’t tell the whole story from one measly stat line… but in the absence of harder evidence, it is a trend worth noting. Unless Michalek and goaltending coach Brian Eklund can ditch the glitch – or rookie and Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Merrick Madsen up and becomes the next in a long series of unexpected Beanpot legends – Harvard is in for a long and embarrassing evening against Boston University (5-1-2 since Christmas) Tuesday night.

ECAC Hockey picks: Jan. 30 – Feb. 2

Last time: 4-8

Overall: 37-46-8

As colleague Brian Sullivan noted in this week’s column, the final month of the season is rapidly approaching. Here’s a look at this weekend, which ends with Harvard taking on Boston University in the opening game of the Beanpot Monday. All games are 7 p.m. unless noted.

Quinnipiac at Brown

The Bobcats return to action after a break last weekend,  due to travel partner Princeton taking time off for exams. The time off came at a good time for Quinnipiac, as Chip Malafronte of the New Haven Register reports starting goalie Michael Garteig should return this weekend after getting injured against Merrimack on Jan. 16. Brown looked decent two Fridays ago against Yale, but has been outscored 16-3 in three games since then. The Bears have given QU trouble in Providence, but there’s no way I’m picking against the Bobcats. Quinnipiac wins

Cornell at Colgate

The Raiders are 11-1 when scoring at least three goals this season, while the Big Red have only given up three or more goals six times this season. Two of those occurrences have come in Cornell’s last three games, including a season-high five goals allowed in a loss to Dartmouth last Saturday. I think the Raiders are good enough on both ends of the ice to get past the Big Red. Colgate wins

Rensselaer at Dartmouth

The Engineers looked to be picking it up, winning three straight entering last Saturday’s Mayor’s Cup against Union. And then the third period happened, as RPI surrendered six goals to turn a 3-2 lead into an 8-3 blowout. Dartmouth has been shaky in January; last Saturday’s win at Cornell was the Big Green’s first  in over a month. Neither team scores goals in bunches, but I like Dartmouth’s top line and goaltending, and that should given them the edge. Dartmouth wins

Union at Harvard

I seem to have a hard time putting a finger on the pulse of the Dutchmen this year – they lose when I predict them to win, and win when I forecast a loss. Harvard has shown some signs of mortality the last few weeks – thanks in part to several key injuries. Crimson coach Ted Donato said he hopes to have some of his injured players back “soon.” Whether that’s this weekend or not remains to be seen, but Harvard has put in a stronger body of work overall compared to Union. Harvard wins

Princeton at Yale

Even with rival Quinnipiac coming in the next night, I don’t think this is a so-called “trap game,” as the Bulldogs should handle Princeton without much of a problem. Yale wins

Saturday, Jan. 31

Princeton at Brown, 4 p.m.

It’s a battle of last place teams, as the Bears and Tigers each enter the weekend with a 1-11 record in league play. There’s not a lot of positives to pull from either team to date, although Princeton sophomore Colton Phinney is averaging 32 saves a game. I’m throwing a dart and taking the Bears, if only because they’re at home. Brown wins

St. Lawrence at Clarkson

St. Lawrence hasn’t won a season series against Clarkson since the 2008-09 season, and has never won two games in Potsdam. If its going to accomplish both those feats, the Saints will  have to beat a rock-solid Golden Knights defense and goalie Greg Lewis, who entered the weekend with a shutout streak of 147 minutes and 45 seconds. Clarkson wins

Colgate at Cornell

The Raiders have fought injuries and inconsistency, but I still think they can be in position to do some damage at the end of the season. But not against the Big Red and a tough crowd at Lynah Rink. Cornell wins

Union at Dartmouth

While Union has been inconsistent, the Big Green have downright struggled of late, as mentioned above. I’ll take a shot on the Dutchmen. Union wins

Quinnipiac at Yale

It’s the first meeting of the year between these in-state rivals. Both have put together solid years, but are far from locks for the NCAA tournament. Some of the big names from past games may be gone, but expect a packed Ingalls Rink to be boisterous on Saturday. Yale wins

Monday, Feb. 2

Harvard vs. Boston University, 5 p.m. (Beanpot opening game)

It might be unfair to the Crimson, but this game could help define the rest of the season. A win would put Harvard in the Beanpot final for the first time since 2008, while giving them a win on a big stage this year. Harvard has already beaten Boston University once (and likely championship game opponent Boston College). It will be tight, but I think the Crimson can squeak out the win. Harvard wins

A weekend sweep for the North Country teams

It was a good weekend for both North Country teams, as Clarkson and St. Lawrence each posted home sweeps against Brown and Yale.

The Golden Knights tied a season high with six goals in Friday’s shutout of the Bears, and then posted another shutout with a 1-0 win over Yale Saturday. Greg Lewis made 52 saves on the weekend and hasn’t given up a goal in 147 minutes and 45 seconds.

Lewis made his first start of the season Jan. 17 against Dartmouth, but the Golden Knights have won each of his three starts to put together its first three-game winning streak of the season.

The junior got his chance after Ville Runola allowed five goals to Harvard last Friday.  Starting goalie Steve Perry has missed the last five games with a lower-body injury, according to the Watertown Daily Times.

Offense had been a problem most of the season for Clarkson, but the Golden Knights have scored twelve goals during their three-game winning streak.

As for St. Lawrence, the Saints got another solid weekend from freshman goalie Kyle Hayton, who stopped 58-of-61 shots.  The Saints also had another balanced scoring attack, getting eight goals from six different players.

Shots on goal totals aren’t always the be all and end all, but St. Lawrence outshot both its opponents after getting outshot in three straight games entering the weekend.

Union rallies for Mayor’s Cup win

It hasn’t been an easy season for the defending national champion Dutchmen, but Union showed flashes of last year’s quick-strike attack Saturday, scoring six third-period goals to defeat Rensselaer 8-3 in the non-conference Mayor’s Cup game at the Times Union Center. The loss snapped a three-game losing streak for the Dutchmen.

Union forward Daniel Ciampini had a hat trick, and leads the nation with 20 goals and 37 points this season. The senior also had three assists against the Engineers, as his six points tied the school record set by Jason Ralph against Colgate on Nov. 5, 1999.

The Dutchmen only have conference games remaining until the end of the regular season. Union has some work to do if it wants to avoid playing in the first round of the league playoffs for the first time since the 2008-09 season, as the Dutchmen are currently in tenth place with a 4-7-1 record in ECAC play.

Big Red strike late to beat Harvard

Their style of play couldn’t be much more different, but Cornell and Yale have one thing in common this year; both have beaten Harvard.

Eric Freschi’s third goal of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 40.5 seconds remaining Friday at a sold out Lynah Rink, giving the Big Red the win over Harvard in one of college hockey’s oldest rivalries.

Cornell couldn’t carry any momentum over to Saturday, as it allowed a season-high five goals in a loss to Dartmouth.  The Big Red are one of several teams clumped in the middle of the league standings, a quagmire that should sort itself out in the coming weeks as conference play intensifies.

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