As we head into the final weekend of the regular season, we’ve been treated to a fascinating stretch drive. As to be expected in this conference, much remains unsettled as it relates to playoff positioning, which means we’ll be evaluating scenarios and calculating potential tiebreakers right through Saturday’s final buzzers.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
To prepare for what lies ahead over the next few days, this week’s column takes a statistical look at a variety of areas. For starters, let’s look at the playoff picture.
There are a few certainties at this point. Cornell, Colgate and Harvard have each clinched a first-round bye. Since the Raiders can finish no higher than second, a new regular-season champion will be crowned. The Big Red and the Crimson are the only two possibilities for the top spot.
Expect Cornell to wrap up the title, though, as Harvard would need to win both of its games (possible, but difficult) and the Big Red would need to lose both of its North Country games. That’s not as likely as a Crimson sweep because Cornell has not lost back-to-back games since last year’s playoffs and has not been swept in a weekend series since January 2004.
We also know that Brown is the only team that has clinched home ice for the first round of the postseason next weekend, while Princeton and Yale are assured of starting on the road. All else is up for grabs.
Here are the possibilities based on potential points earned this weekend:
• Finishes first with one or more points
• Finishes first or second with no points
• first or second with four points
• second or third with three points or fewer
• second or third with one or more points
• third with no points
• fourth with three or more points
• fourth or fifth with two points or fewer
• fourth or fifth with two or more points
• fifth with one point or fewer
• sixth with two or more points
• sixth or seventh with one point or fewer
• sixth or seventh with three or more points
• seventh with two points
• seventh or eighth with one point
• seventh, eighth or ninth with no points
• seventh or eighth with three or more points
• eighth or ninth with one or two points
• eighth, ninth or 10th with no points
• seventh, eighth or ninth with four points
• eighth or ninth with two or three points
• eighth, ninth or 10th with one point
• ninth or 10th with no points
• eighth, ninth or 10th with four points
• 10th or 11th with two or three points
• 11th with one point
• 11th or 12th with no points
• ninth or 10th with three or four points
• 10th or 11th with one or two points
• 11th or 12th with no points
• 11th or 12th with four points
• 12th with three points or fewer
(Special thanks to Tim Danehy at CollegeHockeyStats.com for coming up with all of the scenarios.)
How’d We Get Here?
To figure out how we arrived at this point in the standings, let’s take a look at how each team has fared this month. We’ll list the teams in order of their February strength of schedules, which was determined by the winning percentages of a team’s remaining opponents at the beginning of the month. The teams are ranked from toughest strength of schedule (SOS) to easiest.
Clarkson Golden Knights
SOS: 93-70-14, .565
Feb. Record: 3-3-0
Notes: The month began with a three-game winning streak including a victory over Vermont … The final six games of the season were against the top half of the conference and the Knights are 1-4-0 thus far, including three straight losses … Have been outscored 17-6 against teams with a .500 record or better this month … End the season at home, where they are 6-5-2.
St. Lawrence Saints
SOS: 93-70-14, .565
Feb. Record: 1-4-1
Notes: Began the month with a tough home weekend in which it tied Princeton and allowed four third-period goals in a loss to Yale … Snapped a three-game losing streak with one of its best performances in a shutout win at Brown … The Saints have been outscored 20-7 in their four losses this month and are 1-3-0 against teams above .500 … End the season in Appleton Arena, where they are 7-5-1.
SOS: 79-60-14, .562
Feb. Record: 2-3-0
Notes: Posted an 8-4 non-conference win over Holy Cross to start the month, but have lost three of four since … Defeated Brown for its only win in the last six ECACHL games … Outscored only 13-11 in the month, but have been shutout in all three losses … Has not faced a team with a losing record since January 22 (Clarkson) … Finish the regular season at home, where the Engineers are 7-10-0.
SOS: 66-55-12, .541
Feb. Record: 1-4-0
Notes: A 4-2 win over Holy Cross on February 4 is its only victory since January 8 … Has lost three in a row and been outscored 18-3 in the losses this month … Has not faced a team with a record below .500 since January 21 (Clarkson) … The Dutchmen have failed to score more than one goal in each of its last six ECACHL games … End the season at home, where they sport a 6-8-0 mark.
SOS: 102-89-13, .532
Feb. Record: 1-4-1
Notes: Started the month with a comeback tie at SLU and posted its lone win at Dartmouth last weekend to sweep season series … Outscored 15-3 in losses this month … Has not held opponents to fewer than three goals in back-to-back games since November (Dartmouth and Brown) … Has beaten only one team (Dartmouth) with a record above .500 since November … Wrap up regular season on the road, where the Tigers are 2-9-1.
SOS: 102-89-13, .532
Feb. Record: 1-4-1
Notes: Posted five goals in come-from-behind win at SLU, but have just five since then … Shutout twice in February, including 0-0 tie against Colgate … Outscored 15-5 on current three-game losing streak … Has beaten only one team with a record above .500 all season … End league play on the road, where Elis are 1-10-1.
SOS: 81-83-13, .494
Feb. Record: 3-4-0
Notes: Has lost three of the last four by a combined score of 11-7 … 1-2-0 against teams over .500 this month … Shutout twice in the last three contests … Outscored opponents 11-3 in wins in February … Finish regular season campaign on the road, where Bears are 8-5-0.
SOS: 78-80-17, .494
Feb. Record: 6-2-0
Notes: 6-0-0 in conference action this month as both losses came at the Beanpot … Has posted three shutouts this month, including in two of the last three games … Outscored opponents 26-4 in February victories … 2-1-0 in games against teams with a .500 record or better this month … End regular season on the road, where Crimson is 6-6-2.
Dartmouth Big Green
SOS: 54-70-10, .440
Feb. Record: 4-2-0
Notes: Has won four of the last five games and eight of the last 11 in ECACHL play … In four wins this month, the Big Green has outscored opponents 19-7 … Just 2-2-0 on the road in February … Has beaten only one team with a record better than .500 this month (Brown) … Wrap up regular season at home, where the Big Green is 8-5-2.
SOS: 54-70-10, .440
Feb. Record: 3-2-0
Notes: Began the month with back-to-back losses, but has won the last three games … Has not beaten a team with a record over .500 since December 19 (Dartmouth) … Outscored opponents 13-2 in last three games and 16-8 this month … Has not allowed more than three goals in a game since January 21 (Colgate) … Finish the regular season at Gutterson Fieldhouse, where Catamounts are 10-5-1.
Cornell Big Red
SOS: 70-99-8, .418
Notes: 1-0-1 against teams above .500 this month (Colgate) … Has won four in a row and is 11-0-1 since January 8 loss (Harvard) … The Big Red has posted three shutouts in February and has outscored opponents 20-5 over the same span … Has not allowed more than two goals in a game in 2005 … Ends the season on the road, where Cornell is 7-4-2.
SOS: 66-96-10, .413
Feb. Record: 3-1-2
Notes: Loss and tie to Cornell to begin the month cost the Raiders a chance to repeat as regular season champs … Have won three in a row after starting February with a 0-1-2 mark … Shutout twice this month, including 0-0 tie at Yale … Outscored opponents 7-2 on recent win streak … Wrap up the regular season on the road, where they are 9-3-2.
Interestingly, every team that entered February with an SOS above .500 has posted a losing record, except Clarkson’s 3-3-0 mark. But, as we have seen, two of the Knights’ three wins this month have come against teams under .500. On the flip side, every team that entered the month with a SOS below .500 has posted a winning record, except Brown’s 3-4-0 performance thus far.
Realistically, by this point in the season, teams will play to their records. That is to say, if you’re a .500 team, you’ll likely play .500 hockey. This doesn’t mean that a team can’t pull off a postseason run from out of nowhere — last year’s ECAC title game pitted the low-seeded Crimson and Golden Knights — it’s just that teams tend to settle into their skin.
This month is a good example. The top four teams in the league headed into this weekend — Cornell, Harvard, Colgate and Vermont — have a combined February record of 17-5-3. The middle four teams — Dartmouth, Brown, St. Lawrence and Clarkson — are 11-13-1 this month. Meanwhile, the bottom four teams in the conference — Union, Princeton, Rensselaer and Yale — are a combined 5-15-2.
This isn’t the ECACHL we’ve come to know over the last five campaigns. No, this season, the league has looked more like it did in the 1990s.
Back then, it was typical for the ECAC to have more than one team in the NCAA tournament. In fact, it was assumed that the strong play of clubs like Cornell, Clarkson, Vermont, Harvard and Rensselaer would lead to multiple teams and repeat appearances in the tourney.
There is much hockey left to play, certainly, but we’d all be lying if we pretended that it was too early for NCAA talk. Teams have been thinking ahead for weeks now. You hear it often in postgame comments when coaches and players reference the importance of nonconference wins and the PairWise Rankings (PWR).
There’s good reason for all the talk. This season, the ECACHL heads into its final weekend with three clubs ranked in the Top 15 — No. 2 Cornell, No. 11 Harvard and No. 13 Colgate.
If you look at the PWR, then you can add Dartmouth to the mix of possible NCAA clubs. The Big Red are tied for third in the PWR, the Crimson are 11th and the Raiders and Big Green are knotted at 13th. Vermont, at 19th, is the next closest ECACHL squad.
The improvement of the conference as a whole can also be seen in other ways.
The dominating play of netminders like Cornell’s David McKee, Harvard’s Dov Grumet-Morris, Colgate’s Steve Silverthorn, Vermont’s Joe Fallon and Brown’s Adam D’Alba have helped put the conference back on the map.
Remember, it was a mere 12 months ago that the Raiders captured the regular-season title with 30 points — the lowest total for a league champ since the Hockey East clubs broke free from the ECAC in 1984.
But this season, three teams already have 30 or more points and a fourth — UVM — can reach that total with a sweep this weekend. In addition, overall records are another indicator of the significant improvement made in just one season.
In 2003-04, two teams ended the year with 22 victories, Colgate and RPI. It took three postseason victories for each club, however, in order to reach the 20-win plateau.
With two games in the 2004-05 regular season, two teams — Cornell and Colgate — have already hit 20 wins and two more — Harvard and Vermont — have 18. Of course, since the Crimson and Catamounts play each other Saturday night, only one of the two would be able to earn the sweep needed to reach 20 wins prior to the playoffs.
If you factor in the postseason, then both Harvard and UVM could reach 20 victories, as could Dartmouth, Brown, SLU or RPI.
So, that made this writer wonder what the high point has been for the ECACHL in terms of 20-win teams in regular-season play and when you add in postseason action.
According to Laura Stange, the conference’s assistant commissioner, it appears that we’d have to go back to pre-split days to find as successful a regular season as we have before us.
In the 1983-84 campaign, the final season before the split, seven clubs posted 20 wins or more with five of them doing it in the regular season (RS). Those teams were Boston College (24 RS wins/26 total), Boston University (25/28), Providence (20/21), RPI (28/32) and Colgate (20/20).
There were other instances of 20-plus total wins (including the postseason) before the split as well:
• 1982-83: Providence (33), Harvard (23), SLU (23) and New Hampshire (22)
• 1981-82: Clarkson (26), Northeastern (25), UNH (22) and Providence (20)
• 1980-81: Clarkson (26), Maine (23), Colgate (21) and BC (20)
• 1979-80: BC (25), UVM (23), Clarkson (21) and Providence (21)
The above seasons were when the ECAC was divided into three regions: East, West and Ivy. Before the regional configuration began in 1979-80 there were four additional seasons of four teams hitting the 20-win plateau:
• 1976-77: UNH (27), Clarkson (26), BU (22) and Cornell (20)
• 1974-75: BU (26), UVM (24), Harvard (23) and UNH (21)
• 1971-72: BU (26), Cornell (23), Clarkson (20) and UNH (20)
• 1970-71: BU (28), Clarkson (28), Cornell (22) and UNH (20)
Back when there were 28, yes, 28 teams in the ECAC, only the 1962-63 season produced four 20-win campaigns: BC (22), Harvard (21), Clarkson (20) and SLU (20).
After the split, with just a dozen teams left, there have been four seasons where four clubs finished with over 20 wins after the playoffs. No year has produced more than four.
• 1998-99: Clarkson (25), SLU (23), RPI (23) and Princeton (20)
• 1996-97: Clarkson (27), UVM (22), Cornell (21), RPI (20)
• 1995-96: UVM (27), Clarkson (25), Cornell (21), SLU (20)
• 1985-86: Harvard (25), Cornell (21), Yale (20), RPI (20)
Not So Pretty
On the flip side of this successful ECACHL season, it is worth noting that two teams — Union and Yale — have at least 20 losses already. What’s worse is that four other teams are within reach of losing 20: Clarkson, RPI, Princeton and SLU.
That’s a possible six 20-loss teams this season with the Saints and Engineers in the odd position of still being able to win or lose 20.
Just two years ago, five ECAC squads lost 20 or more: Princeton (26), RPI (25), SLU (21), UVM (20) and Clarkson (20).
Interestingly, from 1961-62 through 1968-69 no team had more than 19 losses. Since then, there have been five additional seasons with no 20-loss teams: 1972-73, 1973-74, 1984-85, 1985-86 and 1994-95.
In Case You Missed It …
• With at least five games left, Brown’s senior class is assured of finishing with a career winning record. Currently, they stand at 59-49-15 and are the first class since 1996 to finish with a record over .500.
• Clarkson has struggled in second periods over the last four games, getting outshot 51-24 and outscored 9-0.
• Colgate head coach Don Vaughan captured his 200th career win with a victory over Union last Friday. He’s just the second Raiders’ coach to reach the milestone. Terry Slater won 263 from 1977 to 1992.
• Colgate’s Adam Mitchell set a school record for career games played (145) and goaltender Steve Silverthorn set a mark for career shutouts (seven).
• Cornell lowered its goals allowed per game to 1.33, which would be the best single-season mark in the post-Depression era.
• The Big Red owns the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 11-0-1 and set a school mark for most consecutive games holding opponents to under three goals (14).
• Cornell’s David McKee has allowed just one even-strength goal (against Union) in his last seven games.
• Dartmouth senior Chris Snizek posted career highs with two goals and three points in a win over Yale.
• Last weekend was the first time the Big Green had not allowed a power-play goal over both games. Overall, the Big Green is 9-2-2 when not allowing a power-play tally.
• Harvard’s sweep over Clarkson was its first since 1988-89 and the first time the Crimson blanked the Knights since 1986-87.
• Netminder Dov Grumet-Morris’ shutout over Brown on Tuesday set a school record for a career (10).
• Princeton’s victory over Dartmouth Friday night gave the Tigers their first sweep of the Big Green since 1998-99.
• RPI was blanked in both games last weekend, the first time that’s happened to the Engineers since last March 13-14, in the ECAC quarterfinals against Dartmouth. Saturday’s blanking set a single-season school record (six).
• With his first save in the third period of St. Lawrence’s win over Brown, netminder Mike McKenna set a career saves record. Against Harvard, he set a record for career minutes.
• SLU’s T.J. Trevelyan became the first junior since Paul DiFrancesco to record 100 points in three seasons.
• Union is 1-for-41 on the power play over the last seven games.
• UVM’s Joe Fallon set the single-season record (five) for shutouts while his team’s six also set a school mark a season.
• Yale’s much-maligned penalty-kill held UVM 0-for-7, including turning aside a 5-on-3 advantage.