The Lake Effect

And so, much like the annually premature appearance of tank-tops and flip-flops on campuses across the Northeast, so too does it feel like hockey season is moving too fast, trimming teams too soon. ECAC Hockey is down to four: Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Harvard.

Is Harvard back?

While it was somewhat shocking to see senior defenseman and adroit puck-mover Pat McNally back in the Crimson lineup Friday night, it was therefore predetermined that the Vancouver Canucks prospect would have a hand in Harvard’s do-or-die series. Less than a month removed from knee surgery and visibly cautious on the ice, McNally nonetheless made smart plays with the pucks that found him on Friday (win) and Saturday (loss); he then capped his grand return with the game-tying, season-saving goal on Sunday with 3:34 remaining in regulation and earned the first assist on Jimmy Vesey’s double-OT winner.

Second-line winger Colin Blackwell returned to form this weekend as well, though he missed the end of Sunday’s game with cramps. Overall, the Crimson are on the mend and looking to reassert themselves as a viable national contender despite an absolutely disastrous winter. Senior goaltender Steve Michalek was outstanding on the weekend with 79 saves against 84 shots (.940 save rate), and he is getting ample support in Harvard’s 21 goals over its last six games (5-1-0).

With the lines back in November form, Yale’s monkey off its back, and health improving by the day, Harvard could – could – ultimately prove to be one of the best six-seeds in ECAC history. The Crimson will take on Quinnipiac on Friday afternoon.

Union takes QU to the brink

Lesson from the three games in Hamden this weekend: Don’t ever count Rick Bennett’s team out, especially in the playoffs.

The Dutchmen took the host Bobcats to the edge with three straight one-goal games (including Sunday’s empty-netter). Union out-shot QU 38-25 in the rubber match, but junior Michael Garteig was equal to the task with 37 stops. The drama hit a glass-shattering pitch with 96 seconds to play in regulation and QU up 2-1: Bobcats freshman forward Andrew Taverner was whistled for hooking, and Union pulled Colin Stevens for a last-ditch six-on-four.

Matthew Peca found the puck, a lane, and the net to send Quinnipiac on to its third straight ECAC semifinals appearance. QU is the only team in the league to win a postseason series every season since its entrance to the conference in 2005-06, and is in a good position to make the NCAAs for the third consecutive year as well.

Empire State represented

What with Rensselaer and St. Lawrence facing off in the quarterfinals, the league was assured that at least one New York program would advance to LP; this year, there are two.

The Saints smothered the Engineers in 1-0 and 5-1 wins to sweep the series, while further south, Colgate won a pair of squeakers against Dartmouth to move on. Three of the league’s top four advanced to the semifinals, with only Yale bowing out in the quarters.

Attendance at Herb Brooks Arena will be a curiosity: SLU will be the default home team, playing about an hour from home, but how many fans the other three will bring remains to be seen. Pack the house, Raiders/Bobcats/Crimson peeps; following years of personal skepticism, I will happily admit that a hockey weekend in Lake Placid is worth the trip.

ECAC Hockey picks: March 13-15

It’s down to eight teams as ECAC Hockey moves on to the quarterfinals. The only two league teams currently in the top sixteen of the PairWise are Quinnipiac and Yale, meaning everyone else will have to win this weekend if they want to move on. However, the Bobcats and Bulldogs are tied for twelfth in the PairWise, meaning a series loss this weekend might put them in an uncomfortable position in regards to making the NCAA tournament.

All series are best-of-three, and each game starts at 7 p.m., with the exception of a possible Game 3 Sunday between Union and Quinnipiac, which would start at 4 p.m.

No. 5 Dartmouth at No. 4 Colgate

Season series, 1-0-1

The Big Green and Raiders each finished with 26 points in the league standings, with Colgate getting the final first-round bye thanks to a 1-0-1 head-to-head record against Dartmouth this season. The Big Green dispatched No. 12 Princeton last weekend in two games, and has been solid offensively in the second half, scoring at least three goals in 11 of its last 13 games. Colgate’s offense hasn’t been the high-scoring juggernaut many thought it would be prior to the year, largely due to a myriad of injuries. But a return to health has helped, as Colgate has been skating its regular forward lines and continued its strong defensive play en route to ending the regular season on a 4-0-1 run. An X-factor in this series could be Raiders defenseman Spiro Goulakos, who has been out since January but could possibly return for this weekend. Either way, I see this series going the distance, as both teams play with plenty of speed and should matchup nicely. I think the Raiders have the edge, though. Colgate in three

No. 6 Harvard at No. 3 Yale

Season series: Yale, 3-0

To say Yale is on a roll against its Ivy League rivals would be an understatement. The Bulldogs have gone 9-0-1 against the Crimson since getting knocked out in the 2012 quarterfinals by Harvard. Yale was 3-0 against Harvard this season, outscoring the Crimson 9-2 in the process. The Bulldogs haven’t been the offensive juggernaut from seasons past, but have the No. 1 defense in the country, thanks in part to goalie Alex Lyon, who leads the nation in save percentage and is tied for the lead with shutouts. Harvard’s Steve Michalek is no slouch and the Crimson have plenty of offensive threats, but Yale has arguably been the most consistent team in the ECAC this season outside of Quinnipiac, making it hard to pick against them. Yale in two

No. 9 Rensselaer at No. 2 St. Lawrence

Season series: 1-1

RPI joined travel partner Union as the two road teams to pull off series wins last weekend. The Engineers were also the only team that needed three games, as RPI won an ECAC playoff series for the first time since 2012. St. Lawrence stumbled a bit in the final weekend of the regular season, getting swept by the Engineers and the Dutchmen after a scorching second half elevated them to second in the standings. Freshman goalie Kyle Hayton gets a lot of credit for the Saints’ success, but St. Lawrence has gotten balanced scoring and defensive play throughout it s lineup. It was a frustrating regular season for the Engineers, but if goalie Jason Kasdorf can string together a solid weekend and the Engineers can negate St. Lawrence’s speed, RPI could pull off the upset. But that’s going to be tough, as I see the Saints advancing to the league’s final weekend for the first time since 2010. St. Lawrence in two

No. 10 Union at No.1 Quinnipiac

Season series, 2-0 Quinnipiac

This isn’t a typical No.1 vs. No. 10 matchup. Union is defending ECAC and national champions, and outscored a defensively sound Cornell team 11-2 in a sweep at Lynah Rink last weekend. But this is now, and Quinnipiac has been pretty darn impressive the second half of the season, going 11-4-3 since the holiday break. This might go three games (even thought I picked a QU sweep earlier), but I think the Bobcats should advance to Lake Placid for the second straight season, even with the Dutchmen’s impressive showing in the first round. Quinnipiac in three

On to the quarterfinals

Dartmouth, Harvard and Union each swept its opening-round playoff series, with Rensselaer beating Clarkson in three games. That sets up the following matchups in the quarterfinals this weekend:

No. 10 Union at No. 1 Quinnipiac (Season series: Quinnipiac, 2-0)

No. 9 Rensselaer at No. 2 St. Lawrence (Season series: 1-1)

No. 6 Harvard at No.3 Yale (Season series: Yale, 3-0)

No. 5 Dartmouth at No. 4 Colgate (Season series: Colgate, 1-0-1)

Union explodes at Lynah Rink

The Dutchmen joined travel partner RPI as the two road teams to win last weekend, sweeping Cornell by an aggregate score of 11-2.

After losing the opening game 4-2, Big Red head coach Mike Schafer started backup goaltender Hayden Stewart Saturday for the first time since Jan. 24. That move backfired, as Cornell allowed a season-high seven goals, with Stewart giving up three goals on eight shots before getting replaced by Mitch Gilliam for the last two periods.

“It unraveled,” Schafer told the Ithaca Journal. “Everything that could possibly go wrong in this hockey game went wrong for us.

The shutout was the eleventh of Union’s Colin Stevens’ career, tying Kris Mayotte for the school record. The win also improved Dutchmen head coach Rick Bennett’s postseason record to 21-2, including 14-0 in the ECAC playoffs. It was the seventh time Cornell has been shutout this season. The Big Red averaged 1.81 goals per game this year.

Cornell finished 11-14-6, the second time in three seasons it has finished below .500. The Big Red have finished with a sub-.500 record four times in Schafer’s twenty seasons in Ithaca. It’s also the first time Cornell has been knocked out before the ECAC quarterfinals since the 1998-99 season.

Harvard gets another chance at Yale

During the early part of the season when the Crimson were the No. 1 team in the country, Ivy League rival Yale was the only team that had its number. The Crimson had two losses through Jan. 16 – both to the Bulldogs. Since then, Harvard has gone 6-9-1, including the sweep of Brown last weekend. The Crimson’s scored ten goals in the series against the Bears, but played Game 2 without top center Alexander Kerfoot, who was injured during Friday’s game.

However, Harvard’s Colin Blackwell, who missed all of last season and much of this with concussion-related symptoms, scored three goals last weekend. Brian Hart took Kerfoot’s place with Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo on the Crimson’s top line, which scored three-first period goals in Saturday’s 4-3 win.  It’s the first time Harvard won an ECAC playoff series since 2012.

Engineers advance with Game 3 road win

Like Harvard, RPI hadn’t won a playoff series since 2012. That came to an end Sunday night, as the Engineers beat Clarkson 3-1 to knock off the Knights in three games. RPI’s last playoff-series win also game on the road against Clarkson. With the win, the Engineers will head back to the North Country next weekend to face St. Lawrence for the first time in the playoffs since the 2000 ECAC championship game.

RPI goalie Jason Kasdorf had a solid bounce-back effort Sunday after getting pulled in a 5-0 loss in Game 2 that sent the series to the distance. The junior stopped 33-of-34 shots to help RPI advance.

ECAC Hockey first round picks: March 6-8

12 Princeton at 5 Dartmouth

Princeton did not win a single game outside of Hobey Baker Rink this season, going 0-10-1 on the road in league play and 0-12-2 away from home overall. The Tigers only scored three goals or more three times all season, and only once in 2015 (in a 4-1 win – at home, of course – over Army). Meanwhile, the Big Green are 9-2-1 in their last dozen outings, only losing to ECAC top-fours Colgate and St. Lawrence. Dartmouth scored 38 goals in its last 11 games; Princeton, 15… including the Army win.

Prediction: Dartmouth sweeps.

11 Brown at 6 Harvard

Brown has been riding a well-documented late-season surge, going 4-1-2 over its last seven and outscoring foes 20-14. Harvard, of course, is just 5-10-1 in 2015, but finished a mediocre 3-3-1. Some are picking this as the most intriguing first-round series as Brown has never been an easy out, and the Crimson are watching their season wither and die before their eyes. That said, it’s hard to imagine the Bears pulling out two tight wins like their Feb. 7 victory against a struggling but potent side like Harvard’s.

Prediction: Nothing about this league surprises me anymore, but I’m predicting Harvard sweeps.

10 Union at 7 Cornell

Scholar and gentleman Nate Owen may spy Harvard-Brown as the most likely upset of the round; I think it’s this one. Neither squad has been terribly impressive this year, with defending champion Union suffering three-, five-, and six-game winless skids during the regular season and Cornell never really busting free of the .500 mark. Union earned an impressive home sweep of the North Country teams last weekend while Cornell tied at Brown and lost at Yale. Very tough call, but last weekend aside, Cornell has been incrementally more productive than Union.

Prediction: Cornell in three.

9 Rensselaer at 8 Clarkson

Clarkson has one win in its last nine games (1-7-1), but RPI’s 1-7-2 record in its last 10 is hardly impressive in its own right. Clarkson has had a tough time scoring over the past month, but the Engineers’ defense has been cataclysmic, so it will be a matter of what gives first. Another not-easy call here.

Prediction: Clarkson in three.

ECAC Hockey’s opportunists and squanderers

First-round matchups

•12 Princeton at 5 Dartmouth: Dartmouth swept the series, 2-0-0, by a 7-3 aggregate score.
•11 Brown at 6 Harvard: The teams split the series, 1-1-0, with each team winning at home; Harvard out-scored Brown by a 7-3 aggregate.
•10 Union at 7 Cornell: Cornell swept the series, 2-0-0, by a 7-2 aggregate score.
•9 Rensselaer at 8 Clarkson: Clarkson won the series, 1-0-1, by an 8-5 aggregate score.
•Byes: 1 Quinnipiac, 2 St. Lawrence, 3 Yale, 4 Colgate

Made their move

Every team had something to play for this weekend, whether that incentive be a visible improvement in their postseason seed, playoff readiness, or pure pride… but some teams had a bit more at stake than others.

Yale earned three tough home points against Colgate (2-2 tie Friday) and Cornell (4-0 win Saturday) to lock up the third-place spot and secure that ever-important week off. The Bulldogs roll into the playoffs on a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and are 6-1-3 in their last 10.

Colgate, as mentioned, matched Yale on Friday before downing Brown in Providence Saturday afternoon. The win took a lot of the drama out of Saturday’s scoreboard watching, it must be said, as it secured the final bye for the Raiders before any would-be competitors had even dropped the puck. The Raiders are 4-0-1 in their last five with two shutouts and six total goals against.

Dartmouth may have seen its week off disappear in the chilly Rhode Island night, but you can’t fault the Big Green for putting forth their best effort. Dartmouth swept Princeton and Cleary Cup-winner Quinnipiac in Hanover by twin 3-1 scores, running the Big Green’s record to 9-2-1 in their last dozen games.

Fated and deflated

Meanwhile, some teams fell flat in the face of opportunity.

Cornell only mustered one point at Brown and Yale this weekend, and while another couple points wouldn’t have mattered in the end, it was not an optimistic conclusion to the Big Red’s regular season. Cornell ends regulation with a 1-2-3 record in its last six; 2-3-3 in eight.

Clarkson, like Cornell, will not be happy with the Weekend That Was. Also like Cornell, the points surrendered wouldn’t have mattered in the end, but taking just one point from the Capital District should not be considered forgivable circumstances for a team with higher aspirations. The Golden Knights are 0-5-1 in their last six and have just one win in their last nine (1-7-1).

Harvard may have smoked Princeton 5-0 on Saturday, but that 5-2 home loss to Quinnipiac on Friday sure does smart. In the end, those two points would have vaulted the Crimson past Dartmouth and Colgate and into the final bye position. But then, 2015 has been anything but friendly to Harvard (5-10-1 this year).

ECAC Hockey seeding scenarios: One day left

This is exactly what it says; here is where ECAC Hockey stands with one day left.

Quinnipiac (33 points): First place secured
St. Lawrence (29 points): Second place secured
Yale (26 points): Win/tie or Dartmouth tie/loss secures third place; first-round bye secured (Yale holds tiebreaker over Colgate)
Colgate (24 points): Win secures fourth place and first-round bye (Colgate holds tiebreaker over Dartmouth)
Dartmouth (24 points): Win and Colgate tie/loss secures fourth place and first-round bye
Harvard (23 points): Win and Colgate tie/loss and Dartmouth tie/loss secures fourth place and first-round bye (Harvard holds tiebreakers over Dartmouth and Colgate)
Cornell (22 points): Win and Harvard tie/loss or tie and Harvard loss secures sixth place; seventh place and first-round home series secured (Cornell holds tiebreaker over Harvard)
Clarkson (19 points): Eighth place and first-round home series secured
Rensselaer (16 points): Win/tie secures ninth place (RPI holds tiebreaker over Union)
Union (15 points): Win and RPI loss secures ninth place
Brown (12 points): 11th place secured
Princeton (6 points): 12th place secured

UPDATE: In case of multi-team ties –

If Yale, Colgate, and Dartmouth tie with 26 points:
• Yale finishes third
• Colgate finishes fourth
• Dartmouth finishes fifth

If Colgate, Dartmouth, and Harvard tie with 24 or 25 points:
• Harvard finishes fourth
• Colgate finishes fifth
• Dartmouth finishes sixth

If Dartmouth, Harvard, and Cornell tie with 24 points:
• Dartmouth finishes fifth
• Cornell finishes sixth
• Harvard finishes seventh

If Colgate, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Cornell tie with 24 points:
• Harvard finishes fourth
• Dartmouth finishes fifth
• Cornell finishes sixth
• Colgate finishes seventh

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.

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