The Crimson are 2-3 in 2015 and played last Saturday’s game without eight injured players.
Well now … where do we begin?
Union, Colgate humbled at home
Perhaps the nation’s biggest headline from last weekend (OK, among headlines regarding college hockey) was No. 2 Union’s slip, stumble, and splat at the feet of Rensselaer in the Route 7 Rivalry series. The defending national champions were swept by an 8-2 aggregate score in the home-and-home affair, running their losing streak to three games — their longest since the end of the 2010-11 season and the Dutchmen’s longest regular-season slide since Janurary 2010. RPI scored six goals against Colin Stevens on 45 shots this weekend, and two more against Alex Sakellaropoulos on six shots on Friday night; the wins elevate the Engineers to the top of the ECAC Hockey standings at 2-0. Union has had the significant advantage in the series’ recent history: Rensselaer had not beaten Union on consecutive nights since January 2004.
In Hamilton, the fourth-ranked Raiders beat Mercyhurst 4-0 on Friday but were unable to carry the momentum over to Saturday, falling 2-1 for their first home loss — and indeed, first home goals-against — of the season. Colgate out-shot the visiting Lakers 40-21, but goalie Jimmy Sarjeant was up to the task with 39 saves to earn Mercyhurst its biggest win in program history.
Ivies hit the ice
The six Ivy League programs took to the ice last weekend for their first regular-season games of the season. The only ECAC Hockey action between them took place on Saturday, where Harvard defender Patrick McNally scored twice — including the game-tying goal midway through the third period — to salvage a 3-3 draw against visiting Dartmouth.
Elsewhere, Yale “beat” Princeton 2-2 (winning the shootout) in the late semifinal of the Liberty Hockey Invitational in Newark, N.J.; Yale edged Connecticut for the tournament title on Sunday while Princeton was manhandled by Merrimack in the consolation contest. Brown edged Army 4-2 in the Bears’ only game so far, while Cornell tied and lost at home to unranked Nebraska-Omaha.
With November upon us, the early leaders for postseason acclaim are working hard to stay ahead of the pack.
Union’s Mike Vecchione and Colgate’s Kyle Baun are tied atop the goal-scoring leaderboard with five goals in eight games apiece; Vecchione scored once this weekend, while Baun was held off the scoresheet.
Last year’s Rookie of the Year — Quinnipiac’s Sam Anas — has tallied six of his eight overall points on the power play, and he added two more helpers (including one on the advantage) in Sunday’s non-conference win over Northeastern. Teammate and early contender for ROTY Landon Smith has four goals and eight points through six games to lead all freshmen; playing with Anas and Matthew Peca hasn’t hurt, though he is making a name for himself on the second line now as well.
Finally, netminders Charlie Finn (Colgate) and Colin Stevens (Union) are holding down the fort, and then some. Finn boasts three shutouts already and a 1.26 GAA, to go with a .947 save percentage. Stevens is running the same path, holding a 1.84 GAA and .939 save rate along with one clean sheet.
Season record: 4-9
The schedule expands a bit this weekend, with the Ivy League teams playing their season openers and Union and Rensselaer facing off in the first conference game of the year.
All games are 7 p.m. unless noted
Union at Rensselaer
It’s hard to forget what happened the last time these teams met. But don’t count on any shenanigans this time around, and it will be nice to see the focus return to the game on the ice in one of the league’s better rivalries.
RPI is mired in a five-game losing skid while Union had its unbeaten streak snapped last weekend against St. Cloud. Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett and his players have said Union needs to play better, but I think they’ll have enough against RPI. Union wins
Mercyhurst at Colgate, 7:05 p.m.
The Raiders needed a pair of late rallies to sweep Sacred Heart on the road last week. Mercyhurst has scored 12 goals in four games, but allowed 14. Colgate’s deep offense should be able to take advantage of the Lakers’ subpar defense. Colgate wins
Omaha at Cornell
One of the downsides of hockey at the Ivy schools is later start to the season. Omaha is 3-1 with an impressive 15 goals thus far, while Cornell opens the regular season following a pair of 3-2 exhibition wins. It will be interesting to see who start in goal for the Big Red – sophomore Mitch Gilliam or freshman Hayden Stewart. Either one will have their hands full with what looks to be a potent Mavericks team in the early going. Omaha wins
Clarkson at St. Lawrence
The North Country matchup might be neck-in-neck with Yale/Harvard and Union/RPI as the conference’s top rivalry. Clarkson has struggled offensively thus far, and they’ll face a hot goalie in Saints rookie Kyle Hayton. This non-conference matchup should go to St. Lawrence. St. Lawrence wins
Yale vs. Princeton (Liberty Invitational, Newark NJ)
Head coach Ron Fogarty’s first game at Princeton is against the 2013 national champions. The Tigers will have the benefit of being on even footing with Yale in terms of games played, but the Bulldogs should be stingy this year and Princeton doesn’t have a ton of big names on offense. Check back Sunday for updated picks for the championship and third-place game. Yale wins
Brown at Army
Keep an eye on the Bears this year. Brown returns the trio of Mark Naclerio, Matt Larito and Nick Lappin, and adds talented freshman Tyler Bird, Max Willman and Sam Lafferty. Army has been up-and-down thus far (2-3-1). Brown wins
Saturday, Nov. 1
Northeastern at Quinnipiac
Northeastern gives up a large number of shots, while the Bobcats are one of the most trigger-happy teams in the nation. Quinnipiac hasn’t been great this season, but I think they’ll possess the puck enough for the win. Quinnipiac wins
Rensselaer at Union
I’m tempted to call a split, but the Dutchmen should complete the sweep. Union wins
Mercyhurst at Colgate, 7:05 p.m.
Colgate completes the sweep, continuing its best start since the 2004-05 team. Colgate wins
St. Lawrence at Clarkson
I’ll throw a dart (isn’t that what these picks really boil down to?) and predict a rebound at home for the Golden Knights. Clarkson wins
Omaha at Cornell
No way the Big Red get swept at home. Cornell wins
Dartmouth at Harvard, 7:30
The newly renovated Bright-Landry Hockey Center opens Saturday against the Big Green, Harvard’s travel partner. Based on last year, I like Dartmouth’s goaltending a little better than the Crimsons’, although if Harvard speed ever translates into goals, look out. Dartmouth wins
Sunday, Nov. 2
Merrimack vs. Princeton, 1 p.m. (Liberty Invitational third-place game)
The Tigers tied Yale 2-2 Friday, but the Bulldogs advanced to the championship game via a shootout. Freshmen David Hallisey and Erik Robinson scored for Princeton, while goalie Colton Phinney made 45 saves. I think first-year head coach Ron Fogarty gets his first win at Princeton. Princeton wins
Connecticut vs. Yale, 4 p.m. (Liberty Invitational championship)
Yale is 10-0 all-time against their in-state rivals, with the last meeting coming in 2011. Both teams advanced to the championship game via a shootout, with freshman Ryan Hitchcock scoring the game-winner for the Bulldogs. Yale played four freshman Friday night, but should have enough experience throughout the lineup and in goal to win the title. Yale wins
Northeastern at Quinnipiac, 4 p.m.
Huskies rebound for a split in what should be a high-scoring weekend. Northeastern wins
Both of Union’s streaks are over. The second-ranked Dutchmen lost to No. 9 St. Cloud 3-2 Saturday, snapping their 22-game unbeaten streak and 15-game home winning streak.
Union rolled over St. Cloud 5-1 Friday, but after that game head coach Rick Bennett warned the Dutchmen needed to play better or they’d lose Saturday.
That’s exactly what happened, as the Huskies outshot Union 39-24. The Dutchmen had only six shots in the first period and eight in the second. Sophomore goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos made 36 saves in his first start of the season, but a Union turnover deep in its own end set up the game-winning goal for the Huskies.
Union opens ECAC play this weekend against a Rensselaer team that has struggled mightily the last five games. Still, based on the post-game comments by Bennett and some of the Dutchmen players, it sounds like Union needs to tighten up its game if it’s going to be successful this season. Some of those inconsistencies likely have to do with youth – the Dutchmen played six freshman Saturday against St. Cloud.
Struggles continue for Rensselaer
RPI started the season on a high note, beating Notre Dame in the first round of the Ice Breaker tournament. But it’s been a steady downhill slide for the Engineers since then, as RPI extended its losing streak to five games with a pair of homes losses to Bentley.
The Engineers entered the series with a 4-1 record against the Falcons, but were outscored 9-2 on the weekend.
Offense has been the main culprit. Rensselaer has six goals in six games, and three of those came against the Irish. The Engineers have been shutout three times during their five-game skid, but after this weekend are giving up three-and-half goals per game as well. Jason Kasdorf and Scott Diebold have a combined .886 save percentage.
That number will likely go up dramatically as the season progresses, but the Engineers need to find some offense or it could be a long year in Troy.
Colgate pushed its winning streak to four games thanks to a pair of late rallies at Sacred Heart. The Raiders scored three third-period goals Friday, and then scored twice in the final 2:11 Saturday to break a 2-2 tie.
Sophomore Tim Harrison had three goals on the weekend after not scoring one in 34 games last season. Colgate finished the series with four power-play goals.
The wins came minus forward Tylor Spink, who has yet to play this season due to an injury. Twin brother Tyson Spink sat out Saturday’s game after scoring a goal in the series opener. Colgate held Sacred Heart to one shot in the third period Friday, and then outshot the Pioneers 38-12 Saturday.
Pioneers forward Zachary Luczyk , who played at Quinnipiac for the last two seasons, scored Sacred Heart’s first goal of the game on Saturday.
My record thus far: 7-3-0.
Friday, October 24
Bowling Green at Clarkson 7:00
The Falcons are a happy 3-1 to start the year, including a season-opening home-and-home split with Miami. Clarkson stepped into the season on the right foot, but stumbled with consecutive losses to former league-mate Vermont last weekend. The Knights have to establish their offense off of their defense, and that is not a simple task… BGSU can score, and this will be no cakewalk for Clarkson. Knights win the opener…
Bentley at Rensselaer 7:00
Provided the Engineers don’t try to look past the Falcons, this Bentley matchup may offer just what the doctor ordered for RPI. Bentley has been porous on the back end so far this fall, and RPI is dying for an offensive spark. That said, any lapse in focus or intensity could put the Engineers in a hole from which their offense can not dig out. RPI wins Friday.
Colgate at Sacred Heart 7:00
With all due respect to the Pioneers, this weekend ought to be a massive mis-match. SHU split series with Army and Bentley – scoring 13 goals, including games with five and six scored – but Sacred Heart is not playing at Colgate’s level at this time. Raiders romp.
St. Cloud State at Union 7:00
In much the same vein as the Colgate @ SCSU series a couple weeks back, this matchup should to be terrific. Union is slowly silencing the skeptics (myself included) one weekend sweep at a time; NCAA hopeful St. Cloud hits the road for the first time this year with a statement on its mind. Not much to say about the Huskies just yet – they’ve only played twice – but Union has got to be riding high, with a 21-game unbeaten run (20-0-1) and a 14-game home winning streak. Will the Dutchmen rise to the challenge? I’d like to say sweep for Union, but realistically, I’m leaning toward a split. UC takes Friday.
St. Lawrence at Miami 7:30
The Saints face an uphill climb in Oxford this weekend, squaring off against the 10th-ranked team in the nation on its home ice. Miami has only allowed seven goals in four games (two games each against Ohio State and Bowling Green) while scoring 12 of their own. SLU has shown flashes of offense – specifically in the 10-2 demolition of Niagara two weeks back – but the defense is suspect, allowing north of 33 shots on goal per game. Freshman goalie Kyle Hayton is off to a hot start, but it’ll take more than a good goaltender to take down the RedHawks. Miami on Friday…
Saturday, October 25
Colgate at Sacred Heart 3:00
Same song, different verse. No predictable reason for the Raiders to drop a game this weekend.
Bentley at Rensselaer 7:00
My gut tells me to be wary of Bentley, but by all metrics, RPI should be the favorite each night. RPI sweeps.
St. Cloud State at Union 7:00
… and SCSU ends Union’s streaks on Saturday.
Bowling Green at Clarkson 7:30
… but I don’t have faith in Clarkson’s defense to hold it together for both ends of the weekend series. Falcons take Game 2.
St. Lawrence at Miami 8:05
… and once more Saturday, for a Miami sweep.
UC, CU setting the pace
Leading the pack out of the gate, Union and… well… the ‘Gate are making convincing October arguments for national relevance.
Of the 53 active D-I programs (the six Ivies drop the puck on exhibition games next weekend), Union is one of ten remaining unbeatens (4-0) following this week’s 3-0 and 5-2 wins at Maine. Before Dutchmen fans begin planning a second parade, it’s worth noting that opponents American International, New Hampshire, and Maine are a combined 1-8-1. That said, wins are wins and the schedule is what it is. Union is on a 21-game, two-season unbeaten run and nobody can argue with that.
Up Hamilton way, the Raiders opened their home season with consecutive 3-0 snuffings of Northeastern. Sophomore goalie Charlie Finn earned both shutouts, doubling his career clean-sheet total and dropping his season GAA to 1.01. The offense has been diverse, with eight different goal-scorers – junior Kyle Baun (three goals) is the only player with more than one – but the biggest quantifiable difference between Colgate and its opponents so far is the Raiders’ 9.2 percent shooting percentage compared to foes’ 3.6, so there is a question of sustainability. Colgate will have an opportunity to match early 2008′s feat of three straight shutouts next weekend with two games at Sacred Heart.
Rivals Rensselaer and Clarkson suffering from the same malady
RPI opened the year with a surprising 3-2 win at Notre Dame, but has only scored once since. The Engineers suffered consecutive shutouts against No. 1 Minnesota and No. 16 Denver, then fell again to DU by a 4-1 score on Saturday. This is not necessarily an issue of small population size either, as RPI is being out-shot by an average of nearly 14 shots a game; suffice to say, this is no mere stretch of bad luck.
Up in Potsdam, Vermont beat Clarkson by a 5-1 aggregate in the weekend’s home-and-home series. Unlike RPI, the Golden Knights actually out-shot the Catamounts on the weekend (49-44), but were done in by an ineffective power play. Clarkson failed to convert on any of its nine PP opportunities (and is 1/15 this year), whereas UVM scored once in seven advantages. Sophomore goalie Steve Perry isn’t yet living up to last year’s standards, holding a pedestrian .910 save rate despite his 1.75 GAA.
Sophomores standing out
There was little doubt that Quinnipiac soph Sam Anas would be a force to be reckoned with again this fall, following a powerhouse 22-goal, 43-point rookie campaign. Six of QU’s 11 goals this season have been scored on the power-play, and Anas has accounted for half of that production (three goals, all PPGs). With two power-play assists as well, Anas leads the Bobcats in goals and points.
Perhaps more surprising, second-year Union forward Mike Vecchione is already a quarter of the way to his total freshman-year production. Vecchione’s three goals and nine points each lead the league, and his 2.25 points per game is the third-highest in the nation among skaters who have played at least two games. Vecchione notched 14 goals and 34 points last season centering a line with ’14 graduate Daniel Carr and current senior Daniel Ciampini; rookie Spencer Foo has filled Carr’s spot seamlessly with a point a game so far and the line has combined for seven goals in four games.
Six ECAC Hockey teams are in action Friday and Saturday, with each of them facing the same opponents both nights. Here’s a look at the matchups.
Northeastern at No. 6 Colgate
7 p.m. Friday/Saturday
The Raiders opened with a two-game split at St. Cloud State last weekend, while the Huskies lost to Vermont 6-2 Saturday. Northeastern lives and dies with goalie Clay Witt. He might be enough to steal one of the games this weekend, but I think Colgate is too deep for the Huskies and have a pretty solid goalie of their own in Charlie Finn. Colgate sweeps.
No. 2 Union at Maine
7:30 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday
Last weekend, Union once again displayed its quick-strike offense that was a staple of last year’s national championship team. The Dutchmen scored three goals in just under three minutes late in the second period to beat New Hampshire 3-1 after rallying for a 7-3 win over American International Friday. Maine has a mostly veteran team, but is relatively inexperienced in goal, while Union has senior Colin Stevens in net. Suspended Union forwards Matt Wilkins and Nick Cruice are eligible to return Friday. I’m tempted to pick the Dutchmen to sweep, but the Black Bears should be good for a win in their home-opening weekend. Union wins Friday; Maine wins Saturday.
No. 4 Ferris State at St. Lawrence
7 p.m. Friday/Saturday
Where did that come from? After losing much of its offensive production in the offseason, the Saints exploded for ten goals Saturday against Niagara. Don’t expect that to happen against Ferris State’s CJ Motte. St. Lawrence head coach Greg Carvel made it clear this season more about getting his young team to play the right way as opposed to winning; there should be some teachable moments this weekend, but I don’t see any wins for the Saints. Ferris State sweeps.
Clarkson vs. Vermont
At Vermont Friday; at Clarkson Saturday, both games are at 7 p.m.
Clarkson is looking for its first 3-0 start since 2006-07. The Golden Knights were tight defensively last weekend, only giving up 34 shots in two games. Even though Vermont scored six goals against Northeastern last weekend, I don’t expect there will be a lot of scoring in this series against former ECAC member UVM. Tie Friday; Clarkson wins Saturday.
No. 13 Quinnipiac vs. No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell
At Massachusetts-Lowell Friday, 7:15 p.m.; at Quinnipiac Saturday, 7 p.m.
The Riverhawks opened some eyes with a 5-2 thrashing of Boston College in the season opener for both teams. Quinnipiac scored five goals as well last Saturday in a win against Bentley, outshooting the Hawks 37-17. That’s the good news. The bad? QU goalie Michael Garteig let in three goals on those 17 shots. He’ll have to do better against a good River Hawks team. The Bobcats swept both early season games last year against UMass-Lowell, but this should be a split, with each team winning at home. Massachusetts-Lowell wins Friday; Quinnipiac wins Saturday.
Rensselaer at Denver
9:30 p.m. ET Friday; 9 p.m. ET Saturday
There are plenty of coaching connections amongst these two teams. RPI head coach Seth Appert was an assistant at Denver when the Pioneers won national titles in 2004 and 2005, while Engineer assistant Bryan Vines was a defenseman at Denver, captaining the team as a senior in 2001-02. Denver head coach Jim Montgomery was an assistant coach for Appert and the Engineers from 2006 to 2010. On the ice, RPI is 1-12-1 all-time against the Pioneers, the school’s worst mark against any Division I team. If RPI can play like they did last Friday against Notre Dame and support Jason Kasdorf, they should be able to come home with at least one win. Tie Friday; Rensselaer wins Saturday.
Tuesday, Oct. 21
Connecticut at Quinnipiac
7 p.m. – Webster Bank Arena (Bridgeport, CT)
This is a considered a home game for the Bobcats, even though it’s held roughly a half hour away in Bridgeport, where QU was eliminated by Providence in last year’s NCAA tournament. The Huskies are in a similar spot as Quinnipiac was a decade ago – moving up to a new conference in an attempt to strengthen the program. Connecticut should be competitive down the road, but a young Bobcats team is too much in this matchup. Quinnipiac wins.
The last time Union raised a banner at Messa Rink, things didn’t end so well for the Dutchmen. Union lost 4-1 to Merrimack on opening night two seasons ago.
It was a little better this time around, as the Dutchmen raised banners for the ECAC regular season title, postseason title, Frozen Four appearance, and national championship victory, and then overcame a slow start to beat American International College 7-3 Friday night.
The Dutchmen ripped 50 shots on goal, something even last year’s team never accomplished. Union was without forwards Max Novak, Nick Cruice, and Matt Wilkins, each whom was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Seven different players scored the Union against the Yellow Jackets, while the Dutchmen used two shorthanded goals Saturday to beat New Hampshire 3-1. Dating to last year, Union has won 18 games in a row as well as 14 straight at home.
It’s only one weekend, but the Dutchmen showed they have the ability to score in a number of different situations.
Golden Knights stingy
Clarkson head coach Casey Jones was excited about his defense entering this season, but admitted that his team would need players to step up to replace the offense the Golden Knights lost through graduation.
It was a positive in both of those areas this weekend for Clarkson, a six different players scored a goal while the Golden Knights gave up one goal to Niagara and RIT to start out 2-0 for the second straight season. Goalie Steve Perry only saw 32 combined shots in both games.
Clarkson plays Vermont in a home-and-home series this weekend, two games that should feature plenty of bumps and bruises on both sides.
Western trips productive for Colgate and Rensselaer
Offense might be hard to come by for RPI this season, but if goalie Jason Kasdorf plays like he did this weekend, the Engineers should be in a lot of games. Kasdorf stopped 31-of-33 shots Friday as RPI beat No. 12 Notre Dame in the second game of the Ice Breaker tournament before making 31 saves Sunday as the Engineers lost 3-0 to No.1 Minnesota. Two of the Gophers’ goals came on deflections from in front of the net.
Meanwhile, No. 6 Colgate split a series at No. 7 St. Cloud State, with each team taking a 3-1 win. Raiders goalie Charlie Finn stopped 55-of-59 shots on the weekend. Forward Tylor Spink, who was second on last year’s team in scoring, didn’t play in either game.
First week of D-I play for ECAC Hockey… time to take some random shots in the dark, and see what we hit!
Friday, October 10
Clarkson at Niagara 7:00
Niagara, like Clarkson, is picked around the middle of the pack in its respective league (Atlantic Hockey). It’s a young team with a couple legitimate goalies, up against a Clarkson team that is praying for someone to step up and deliver on offense. Real hard to pick between similar teams with no game experience, so I’ll just be a homer and say Clarkson.
St. Lawrence at RIT 7:00
Another similar matchup between teams picked to finish low in the standings. There’s not much knowledge to drop on ya that you couldn’t have learned yourself through our season previews (hint hint), but I will pick RIT in its opening game in the fancy new Polisseni Center.
Rensselaer at Notre Dame 7:30 IceBreaker tournament: South Bend, Ind.
This is an underdog game all the way for RPI, which has a lot to prove after a difficult 2013-14 and the departure of a slew of talent. Notre Dame wins.
American International at Union 8:00
AIC is tabbed to finish at the bottom of Atlantic Hockey, whereas Union is… wait, let me check this out… yep, they’re the defending national champions. And they’re playing at home. I predict a Union win, and a running clock in the third period.
Colgate at St. Cloud State 8:30
Big season-opening series for each team. The Raiders are battling extremely high expectations this year, and dropped both games against SCSU in Hamilton last fall. The Huskies have high hopes as well, and these may be the best games of the weekend when all is said and done. Colgate takes Game 1…
Saturday, October 11
St. Lawrence at Niagara 7:00
Ugh, another game between similarly mediocre (well, on paper at least) teams. Niagara bounces back with a Saturday night win; SLU left licking its wounds.
Bentley at Quinnipiac 7:00
Bentley is no slouch, returning a very experienced roster. Quinnipiac may be in for more than it bargained for, but I still like the Q-Cats to take the tilt.
Clarkson at RIT 7:00
Since we know so little about these teams, I’ll again tab RIT solely for its home-ice advantage.
New Hampshire at Union 7:30
UNH and Union each have a lot to prove this season, but for very different reasons. The Wildcats are without their top goaltender (Casey DeSmith, suspended indefinitely) and didn’t accomplish very much last season; Union has to establish “replacement parts” for all those it lost following its title run. Union ekes this one out.
Colgate at St. Cloud State 7:00
… but St. Cloud takes the second tilt.
Sunday, October 12
Minnesota/Minnesota Duluth vs. Rensselaer 12:00 IceBreaker Third Place/Championship: South Bend, Ind.
No matter who they play, RPI faces an uphill battle on Sunday: Minnesota is the top-ranked team in the nation, and Minnesota-Duluth is an experienced squad with some very big bodies. As much as I hate to type it, RPI goes down on Sunday.
First and foremost, congratulations to the Union College Dutchmen for their national championship. There is little more to be said about the program’s rise, the team’s resilience, the coaches’ influence, or the way the team played in Philadelphia and indeed all year long than what has been already said. Union is the only team to enter the offseason with a win (there hasn’t been just one such team in at least 15 years, if not longer), and becomes the 21st member of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Ice Hockey championship fraternity.
Yale staked the claim; Union builds the foundation
Around this time last season, I wrote an emotional, stream-of-consciousness, thoroughly sincere piece about ECAC Hockey’s title-game monopoly, and what it meant not only for the schools involved, but for the entire ECAC community after a 24-year championship drought.
Last April, Quinnipiac – 30-7-5 and the No. 1 team in the nation at the time – faced Yale (21-12-3), a team that stunned college hockey with upset wins over Minnesota, North Dakota, and UMass-Lowell on the road to the finale. QU hadn’t lost to Yale in two seasons (4-0-1), and nearly ended the Bulldogs’ season with a consolation-game win in Atlantic City three weeks prior.
We all know what happened next; there are some clever t-shirts out there that succinctly sum up Yale’s perspective on the matter. Yale had its first men’s hockey title, the greater New Haven hockey scene had a lot to crow about, and the ECAC had climbed itself out of the rut. Yet, there were detractors.
In a perfect world, I myself would prefer playoffs and championships to be decided in best-of series rather than one-and-done contests; there is too much opportunity for luck and circumstance to affect the outcome in the current format. Would Yale really have beaten Minny, UND or UML in best-of-threes, much less all three of them? Were the Bulldogs really the best team last year… or just the best (or luckiest) team on the ice in four late-March, early-April contests? Chances are about 100 percent that a lot of people out there are glumly nodding along with these rhetorical questions. Even if ECAC Hockey “deserved” (however you interpret that word in this context) the national crown last year, was Yale really the league member most worthy?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to take anything away from the 2012-13 Yale Bulldogs or the program as a whole. They played inspired hockey when it mattered most, and that’s all you can ever ask of a team. Heck, an ECAC team could theoretically finish a season with a national championship and a 10-34 overall record (since, as in many leagues, all teams make the playoffs), so criticizing Yale’s road to the top is at best a philosophical exercise; at worst, sour grapes.
Union’s championship vine, however, bears no foul fruit: The Dutchmen did not score any true upsets on their way up the podium. Union finished the season with the best winning percentage in D-I (.810, 54 points better than second-place Minnesota; last year, Yale finished seventh at .635), the most wins (32, three ahead of Ferris State), the fewest losses (6: Minnesota had 7, Boston College, 8), and a 17-game unbeaten streak (16-0-1). They boasted the country’s second-highest average scoring margin (+1.67; BC had +1.75), a top-five defense (2.14 goals-against per game, fourth), and its second-best offense (3.81; BC, again, was first at 4.10). Bluntly put, critics don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to this year’s D-I champs.
Despite some evidence to the contrary, this is not a compare-and-contrast bit. This is the milder-mannered sequel to last year’s aforementioned brag blog, in which I build upon my prior point:
ECAC Hockey is again the home of the national champion, and Union’s run should leave no doubt as to the veracity of the conference’s consistency and level of competition. In April 2013, the Yale Bulldogs fought for a plot on a plum piece of land that hadn’t seen an ECAC visitor in over a generation. The Blue & White planted the seeds, at least in the minds of many outside observers.
This year that land not only bore some exceptional fruit, but its resultant nectar spills light and effervescent into a crystalline flute. Cheers to the Dutchmen, and to all that was the 2013-14 college hockey season.
Playing in its own back yard, Quinnipiac draws Providence
The Bobcats will play the Friars for the second time this year, the teams tying 3-3 in Hamden in late November. After so much time, there will be little to glean from that result – it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, after all – but some things that were true then remain true now: The Bobcats will keep a close eye on 19-goal scorer Ross Mauermann and his top feeder Nick Saracino; and QU will have to play a hard-nosed, gritty game to get enough goals past sophomore star Jon Gillies.
Providence was shuffled out of the Hockey East tournament in the semifinals, losing 3-1 to New Hampshire in Boston. UNH effectively buried the Friars with three second-period goals; PC’s only score came in the third. Beyond Robert Morris – making its first-ever NCAA appearance – Providence is the program that had the longest NCAA drought among this year’s qualifiers, last dancing on the big stage in 2001.
The Bobcats watched the selection show from home after dropping Friday night’s ECAC semifinal against Colgate in heartbreaking fashion, as Raiders Kyle Baun popped a game-tying, extra-attacker rebound past Michael Garteig with 55.6 seconds to play in regulation. Tyson Spink then sent QU packing one minute into double-overtime, denying Quinnipiac a shot at the Whitelaw Cup with a loss in the semis for the second year in a row. To be sure, the Bobcats will rise to the occasion Friday in Bridgeport.
It’s a re-Union party in Bridgeport
As has been noted prolifically on social media, the East Regional in Bridgeport will feel awfully familiar to long-time Union fans: All four teams have coaches on staff who once (or currently) coached the Dutchmen.
First-round opponent Vermont is coached by Kevin Sneddon (Harvard ’92), who not only won a national championship with current Harvard coach Ted Donato, but also coached Union for the five years prior to Nate Leaman’s tenure. Sneddon has a good thing going in Vermont, going 167-188-56 in Burlington with seven winning seasons, two NCAA appearances and a Frozen Four appearance (2009). Sneddon went 50-99-18 in Schenectady.
Leaman’s coaching record at Providence topped the .500 mark this year with a 21-10-6 season, boosting the former Union head coach and Maine assistant to 52-44-17 in the Ocean State. An eight-year leader in Schenectady, Leaman posted a 138-127-35 record with the Dutch, culminating in the program’s first Division 1 NCAA appearance in the spring of 2011… with current Union head coach Rick Bennett, among others, on his staff.
Finally, Quinnipiac assistant coach Bill Riga served five years under Leaman at Union, and has worked the last six seasons for Rand Pecknold and the Bobcats. While stats are hard to drum up for assistants, it’s hard to ignore Riga’s influence as a top recruiter… everywhere he’s gone, NCAA bids have seemed to follow.
As far as Union’s matchup Friday goes, the Dutchmen will key on Catamounts forwards Chris McCarthy (No. 3) and Mario Puskarich (No. 21). The senior-freshman pair has combined for 35 goals and 75 points over UVM’s 37-game season. An 11-6-3 record in early January dissipated in a mediocre second-half fog for Vermont, which went 9-8 over its most recent 17 games.
Raiders face a familiar foe
Colgate’s draw is even more familiar than some of its ECAC opponents: The Raiders have played first-round opponent Ferris State three times already this year, winning twice and losing once. True, the teams haven’t met since Jan. 4, but there should be ample tape-and-tendency knowledge to build from in both camps this week.
The Raiders took a step forward as a program last weekend, making it back to the ECAC Hockey championship game for the first time in 24 years. They couldn’t overcome Union’s all-around excellence, but Colgate nonetheless impressed as a NCAA-worthy club in a scratch-and-claw comeback win over an undoubtably worthy Quinnipiac team on Friday.
FSU started the year red-hot, holding a 17-3-3 record as of Jan. 11… the Bulldogs had my top vote in the USCHO Poll for a little while, and others joined me for a week or two as well. Their second half hasn’t been quite as torrid – 11-7 since then – but that’s a pretty decent pace all the same. The Bulldogs feature six players with double-digit goals, 14 with double-digit points, and a team save percentage of .927.
That 2-1 record might be good for a dash of confidence, but boy, Ferris State is no chew toy.