With the varying exam and winter-break schedules of the ECACHL’s 12 teams, the coming weekend promises to be the quietest of the season, with only one league matchup and one nonconference game on the docket. That said, both games look to be entertaining ones and should tide fans over until the holiday hockey tournaments start up in the days before and after Christmas.
The weekend’s first contest has Dartmouth hosting Harvard in a rematch of the teams’ season opener, a 6-2 Harvard win that surprised some observers. That opening-night loss has lingered in Hanover; Dartmouth — which was predicted to finish in second and third place in the preseason coaches and media polls, respectively — has thus far not achieved its potential, struggling to a 4-7-0 overall record.
“Our team has a lot of respect for Dartmouth,” said Harvard captain Peter Hafner. “I think that they are a team that’s going to really have a strong second half and surprise some people.
“We know that the score of the first game isn’t indicative of the type of game we’re going to have with them this time around,” Hafner continued. “They’re a real dynamic team offensively that seems to be able to generate a lot of shots on net and will challenge us defensively.”
The key for Harvard during the opener was building up a lead; Harvard took a 3-2 lead with about five minutes left in the second period, then added another goal during the opening minutes of the third. Down two goals, Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet had no choice but to open up the offense, leaving the Big Green vulnerable to the Crimson’s counterattack.
Harvard, with its fast-skating forwards who can puckhandle effectively, is ideally suited to utilize a strong forecheck and quick transitions to exploit an offense that is pressing to score. And that’s just what Harvard did in extending its lead and securing the win.
Still, as Hafner noted, Dartmouth is a talented offensive team; the Big Green is led by senior forwards Mike Ouellette and Eric Przepiorka (14 points apiece) and has the second-highest scoring offense in league games, averaging nearly four goals. And the Dartmouth forwards do have a knack for getting shots on net; through 11 games, Dartmouth has put between 38 and 45 shots on the net six times.
The Big Green’s biggest weakness has been the team’s overall defense and its consistent struggle to find a decent solution in net. Both sophomore Mike Devine and junior Sean Samuel have had extended auditions at the position, and neither has been particularly impressive. Both have save percentages below .900 and Samuel’s goals against average is almost 4.50, though Devine’s is a respectable 2.75.
If one of those two players can step forward and, by virtue of his strong play, claim the position of starting goaltender, Dartmouth may be poised for a second-half run. The team will have played only a dozen games heading into its break, second-fewest in the ECACHL, and will have 17 games remaining during the second half. A win against Harvard, with which the team has developed an intensifying rivalry in the past few years, might go a long way towards sparking such a turnaround.
That rivalry, in turn, is also the strongest reason to believe that Harvard won’t be taking Dartmouth lightly on Friday despite the ease of its win in the opener.
“I think we’ve developed a real good rivalry with Dartmouth over the past several years and it seems like, with the exception of our first game this year, the games between us always seem to be one-goal games that go down to the wire,” Hafner said.
The weekend’s other contest features the traveling Saints of St. Lawrence against the Vermont Catamounts at Gutterson Field House in Burlington. It will be the third road game in a row for St. Lawrence, which will then be off until a January 7 contest against Clarkson in Ottawa at the Corel Centre.
Thus far, the Saints have played the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country at their home arenas, and the Catamounts will make lucky No. 3. Although that is a challenging nonconference schedule, Joe Marsh’s team has done fairly well on the road against ranked foes.
The Saints opened their season in Madison against current No. 1 Wisconsin, and took the Badgers to overtime twice. Wisconsin pulled out the first game 3-2 on an overtime goal by Jack Skille, but the Saints returned the favor the next night with a shorthander 10 seconds into the extra period off the stick of Kyle Rank.
Last weekend, St. Lawrence was on the road to take on the No. 2 Miami RedHawks, and the Saints rode a strong performance from their defense and goaltender Justin Pesony to a 1-1 tie.
Prior to last weekend’s action, Marsh emphasized the shift he thought his team needed to make in order to be successful on the road.
“Now we have to shift our focus and be a good smart road team,” he said before the team began its three-game road trip. “We need to be smarter, spend less time in the box, be more resilient.
“And we need to tighten up our defense,” he added. “We certainly don’t want to be getting into high-scoring shootouts on the road.”
That strategy served the Saints well against Miami, but the team was not as successful on Saturday during a 6-4 loss at Bowling Green. St. Lawrence allowed 27 shots on net while spending a modest 14 minutes in the box — but allowing Bowling Green to convert on two of its six power plays.
St. Lawrence will have to attempt to return to the cautious and smart style Marsh wants, but must do so against one of the nation’s best teams, one that is nearly as explosive as the Saints.
Both teams rank among the best in the nation offensively, with St. Lawrence averaging 3.67 goals per game and Vermont 3.40. The other side of the coin, though, is telling: while the Saints allow an average of 3.00 goals a game, the Catamounts have held opponents to 1.87.
It is that first set of numbers that leads Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon to think that there is the potential for both teams to put a lot of points on the scoreboard, even if Marsh is keen to avoid a high-scoring shootout on the road.
“First off, I expect a great college hockey game,” Sneddon said. “Knowing the styles of the two teams, I suspect it is going to be a very fast-paced, aggressive game.
“Certainly with a team like St. Lawrence that can score, when you have the opportunity to get the puck on net, you have to take advantage of that,” he continued. “We know we’re going to have to get the rebounds and the second chance opportunities.
“We’ll certainly have our hands full with St. Lawrence. It’s going to be a very important game for both teams going into the break.”
If you aren’t able to be in the stands to watch either of this weekend’s games in person, Friday’s matchup between Dartmouth and Harvard in Hanover, N.H., will be broadcast live on CSTV as the station’s Game of The Week. As a result, the drop of the puck has been pushed back until 8 p.m.
ECACHL Honor Roll
This week’s ECACHL’s Honor Roll reflects the fact that last weekend was not a very successful one for most of the teams that took the ice. Both Dartmouth and Union were swept, St. Lawrence took one point (albeit an impressive one), and Clarkson and Princeton both split on the weekend. And although Rensselaer won its only game, it was a fairly sloppy win that didn’t impress despite the high point totals for players like Kevin Croxton (three goals and two assists), Oren Eizenman.
Only one league team had a pair of wins last week, and as such Harvard has both the Goaltender of the Week and the Player of the Week on its roster this week. Princeton’s Brett Wilson was named the Rookie of the Week, the second Tiger in the last three weeks.
Player of the Week
It may have seemed odd to some that the team atop the ECACHL standings had not had a Player of the Week winner during the first nine weeks of the season. That fact may be attributable to Harvard’s balanced roster, which is filled with talented players who fit well together. Harvard’s first POTW this season, though, may be first among equals in the Bright Hockey Center locker room.
Junior forward Kevin Du was named Player of the Week after a three-point performance against Quinnipiac and New Hampshire. At home against the Bobcats, Du scored the game’s first goal and then assisted on the second. On the road at UNH, Du set up freshman defenseman Brian McCafferty for the game’s only goal.
This season he leads his team in assists and in total points, is a key playmaker for the Crimson on both ends of the ice, and occupies an important spot in both the power play and penalty kill.
“Kevin Du has been a key player for us this year,” said Hafner. “Five-on-five he’s been able to generate lot of chances on the rush, sometimes singlehandedly. On the power play, he’s been a key playmaker and shorthanded, he’s been a mainstay as well.”
“Just the fact that he’s playing in all the key situations for us shows his importance to our team,” he added.
Goaltender of the Week
Two weeks removed from seeing teammate Justin Tobe named Goaltender of the Week, Daigneau received his own recognition after a solid 3-2 home win over Quinnipiac and an impressive 1-0 shutout at New Hampshire.
Against Quinnipiac, Daigneau was solid in net and stopped 12 of 14 shots. Two nights later he was much stronger; on the road in front of a packed Whittemore Center crowd, he stopped all 32 shots sent on net by UNH.
“John is a goalie who has been getting better and better as the year has gone on,” said Hafner. “He has been gaining more and more confidence.
“In the first period of our UNH game,” Hafner continued. “He made some huge saves for us when we needed it and I think our team responded the next two periods and fed off of his confidence.”
Harvard coach Ted Donato agreed after last week’s game, observing that Daigneau “made a couple of incredible saves early.”
As was noted in last week’s league column, Daigneau was particularly challenged on a handful of shots that came as a result of turnovers committed by his defensemen in the Harvard zone near the faceoff circles. With little time to react to the quick shots, Daigneau did an excellent job positioning himself and cutting down angles.
“There were a couple of turnovers,” he admitted after last week’s win over New Hampshire. “I just tried to get out, get square, take up as much of the net as I could because [the turnovers] happened so quickly.”
Thus far this season, Daigneau is 8-2-1 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.33 goals-against average. Those marks place him in the top three ECACHL goaltenders in winning percentage (second), save percentage (third), and goals against average (second).
Rookie of the Week
Princeton freshman forward Brett Wilson was named Rookie of the Week after a three-point weekend that included his first multi-point game of the season. In Friday night’s 4-2 loss to Alabama-Huntsville, Wilson tallied both of his team’s goals on power plays in the first and second period. The next night Wilson added an assist on the power play in the Tigers’ 4-0 shutout of the Chargers.
“We probably played better on Friday night — we ended up getting about 50 shots on net,” said Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky. “Their goaltender was excellent.
“We played pretty well all weekend,” he continued. “It was capped off by Brett Wilson being named Rookie of the Week; he was just great.”
Though Friday was the first time Wilson has scored multiple points in a game, it is not nearly the first time he has put himself in the boxscore. After missing the first four games of the season, Wilson has points in eight of the team’s last 10 games and is tied for second on the team in goals with five and is second in points with nine.
Record Versus Nonconference Foes
It was not a pretty weekend for the ECACHL in games against nonleague foes, and since there were no league games last weekend, it was pretty ugly all around.
Harvard’s 1-0 road shutout of No. 12 New Hampshire was a bright spot, as was St. Lawrence’s 1-1 tie at No. 2 Miami and Clarkson’s win at Bowling Green. Princeton rebounded from a tough loss to Alabama-Huntsville on Friday night by shutting out the Chargers 4-0, and Rensselaer won a wild and penalty-filled 10-7 decision over RIT.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Dartmouth’s losses to BU and UMass-Lowell dropped the ECACHL’s record against Hockey East opponents to 11-8-1. And an Ohio road trip by Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Union ended badly, with those three teams finishing 1-4-1 against CCHA opponents.
In the coming weeks, though, the holiday tournaments will present plenty more nonconference contests. Harvard and Yale will both travel West for games against teams from the WCHA, and Princeton and Union will both play in holiday tournaments hosted by WCHA schools.
vs. AH 9-2-1 (Bentley, Sacred Heart, Connecticut, Army, American Int’l., Mercyhurst)
vs. CCHA 4-9-3 (Michigan, Lake Superior, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Miami)
vs. CHA 9-3-1 (Niagara, Air Force, Wayne State, Robert Morris, Alabama-Huntsville)
vs. Hockey East 11-8-1 (UMass-Lowell, Providence, Massachusetts, BU, BC)
vs. WCHA 2-6-1 (Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage)
vs. Independent 5-1-0 (RIT)
Commissioner’s Cup Update
The ECACHL won the inaugural Commissioners’ Cup Series a year ago, and through December 15 the league has a pretty good chance to repeat. The odds of repeating would have gone from very good to guaranteed, though, had Dartmouth been able to beat Massachusetts-Lowell on the road last Sunday. As it was, Dartmouth’s loss combined with Princeton’s home win over Alabama-Huntsville for a weekend split of Cup contests.
Through nine games, the ECACHL is 6-3-0 and alone in first place with 12 points. There are two games left to play in the series for the ECACHL; they are December 30, when Harvard skates at North Dakota and February 5 when Yale hosts UConn. Three other conferences have played nine games — the CHA, CCHA, and WCHA — while Atlantic Hockey and Hockey East have both played 10 games.
As it stands, Hockey East has no chance of winning this year’s Cup and all the other leagues’ chances depend on the final two ECACHL contests. If the league can win both games, or win one and tie the other, then it will repeat as Commissioners’ Cup champion. If, however, the ECACHL gets only one or perhaps even no points out of its last two games, then the door would be open.
Atlantic Hockey, which currently sits in second place with 10 points, would need the ECACHL to lose both games and have all the remaining games split (one win each for the CHA, CCHA, HEA, and WCHA) in order to finish in a tie with the ECACHL for first.
The CHA, tied for third place with nine points, needs two road wins plus two ECACHL losses to win it all. The CCHA, also tied for third, would need two home ice wins, plus two ECACHL losses to win it all. And the WCHA, which has eight points and is tied for last with Hockey East, would need one home and one road win, plus a UConn victory over Yale to finish at 12 points in a three-way tie with the AHA and ECACHL.
USCHO.com/CSTV Division I Men’s Poll (Dec. 12)
No. 8 Cornell — Inactive for the second week in a row, the Big Red still inched up one spot from last week’s poll thanks to the plummet from No. 5 to No. 10 that North Dakota took after a pair 4-3 home losses to Minnesota.
No. 11 Colgate — Just like the Big Red, the Raiders have been inactive for the last two weeks and despite the lack of recent results they moved up this week. Colgate jumped over New Hampshire at No. 12 and switched spots with last week’s No. 11 team, Denver.
No. 14 Harvard — The Crimson has played twice since last week’s poll, beating Quinnipiac 3-2 at Bright Hockey Center and then traveling to Durham and shutting out No. 12 UNH by the score of 1-0. Despite those wins, Harvard only moved up one slot, switching places with St. Lawrence. I found it a bit strange that Harvard didn’t move ahead of either Denver or, more likely, UNH.
No. 15 St. Lawrence — SLU had a moderately successful road trip, but dropped one spot. Forcing a tie against the No. 2 team in the nation in their own arena is pretty impressive, but the fact that the Saints stumbled the next night against a mediocre Bowling Green squad must not have impressed too many voters.
No. 16 Clarkson — The Golden Knights stayed steady after a road split. The win over Bowling Green was solid, but I was more impressed with Clarkson’s well-fought 2-1 loss at No. 2 Miami.
Once again, no ECACHL teams fell out of the Top 20 this week.