Just for something a little bit different, the Hosts decided to show up and throw their weight around this week. The home sides went 5-4-2 for only their third victorious column update of the season.
St. Lawrence (2-0), Colgate (1-0) and Cornell (1-0) were perfect on friendly ice, while Clarkson (1-0-1) and Quinnipiac (0-0-1) escaped unbeaten. Yale and Brown, on the other hand, each resumed Monday classes with their heads hung low after 0-2 showings in front of their classmates.
As further demonstration of the incomparable parity of the league, 10 of the 11 ECACHL games last weekend were effectively undecided until just before the final buzzer. Two games ended in ties, five were decided by a single goal, and four were only put on ice with empty-net goals by the victors.
Harvard was the leader of the tough-break teams, losing two games in the North Country in the final minute and a half, and having a potential game-winning goal waved off in a tie with Quinnipiac.
For the running tally once more, the Visitors still lead 40-32-13. St. Lawrence has bucked the leaguewide trend by going 8-1-0 at home, and Quinnipiac is 4-1-2 between the Northford Ice Pavilion and its brand spankin’ new TD Banknorth Sports Center.
Colgate, despite its early-season struggles, is 4-2-1 in league games at Starr Rink, while Cornell is eking out a 3-2-2 record at Lynah. Clarkson is a surprising 2-2-3 on home ice, leaving only four teams with positive home records through the end of January.
Polling for Amateurs
In what I hope will be a moderately interesting development, I’ve taken it upon myself to email the league’s coaches with weekly short-answer questions.
This week, I posed two inquiries: what is the toughest road game in the league, and who/what is the biggest surprise so far in the ECACHL?
The answers, to nobody’s surprise, were quite varied.
Cornell and St. Lawrence were each tagged most frequently as the toughest road games, which really can’t be that surprising.
Lynah Rink’s status as an intimidation factory is legendary: since opening in 1957, the facility has housed two national champions, 16 NCAA tournament teams (four in the last five years), seven consecutive winning seasons, and 19 ECACHL regular-season or tournament-winning squads. Seating fewer than 4,000 occupants, the atmosphere is positively feral as the players and fanatics have fed off each other’s passion for 50 wild years.
St. Lawrence’s Appleton Arena may not have the nationwide reputation that Lynah has bred, but the long, hard drive to the nation’s northern border is only the beginning of the suffering for most visiting opponents. As aforementioned, in Canton this year the Saints are 8-1-0 against the league, and currently reside atop the overall standings in both points and winning percentage.
Appleton predates even venerable Lynah, and since 1951 has witnessed streaks of eight and 13 years of winning seasons. The Saints have iced 15 national-tournament teams in that time, eight of which made the Frozen Four. True, part of the dread of playing in the North Country includes having to play high-powered Clarkson as well, but when the Knights are only .500 at their own Cheel Arena, there’s something more at work here than mere luck of the draw.
Dartmouth and Clarkson were also mentioned as difficult destinations. Dartmouth’s monstrous lineup in recent years has had the potential to decimate opponents on the ice and on the scoreboard, while Clarkson — as just noted — is one heck of a drive, followed by one heck of a team.
A couple respondents noted that sometimes the toughest places to play aren’t home to the loudest fans or toughest teams, but rather the ones where, as one coach said, “you have to create your own noise.” As much as they may evade admitting it, sometimes a team can feed more off antagonistic fans than off no fans at all.
As far as surprises go, the Saints were once again the big winners. Drawing praise for their success despite graduating such players as T.J. Trevelyan and John Zeiler, the Saints were named “biggest surprise” ahead of Quinnipiac (and Brandon Wong) and Brown’s Dan Rosen.
QU has, of course, made quite the splash since joining the ECACHL just last season. The ‘Cats lead the league in scoring and are second in defense (behind SLU), and feature some of the most exciting players in the league in Wong, David Marshall, Bryan Leitch (freshman, sophomore, sophomore, for the record), and All-American assist guru Reid Cashman (18 assists in 25 games).
For more on Dan Rosen, well, you shouldn’t really need any more info if you’ve been reading my previous columns.
One coach mentioned the change in officiating as the most surprising thing to him this year, noting how the refs eased up on the most ticky-tack of calls around the winter break. It is clear that the ECACHL style of officiating is now much more in line with the other leagues in the NCAA.
Finally, the simple and overwhelming parity of the league merited a response, as there are only two points between the league’s top three teams, and only five separate the “bottom” nine.
Bruno bearing down
Roger Grillo and the Brown Bears know that time is running out, but also that it’s anybody’s game right now in the EC’.
After two close losses at Union and RPI last weekend — and only three points in their last seven games — the Bears are at a crossroads.
“It’s about getting everything on the same page … it’s a very fine line in this league [between winning and losing],” said Grillo.
“We have to tighten up the special teams [10 percent on the power play, 80.6 percent on the ‘kill] … and it’s like, when the offense is rolling, the defense has to be solid.
“It’s been either/or for us all year.”
As for goaltender Rosen, Grillo assessed as much: “He’s been better, and he can be better [than he was last weekend]. If we score three goals, we should be winning games … but part of his stats [both good and bad] come from the guys playing in front of him.”
Grillo indicated a restrained optimism about his team, a team that has lost by one goal in seven of its eight defeats this season. By contrast, two of Brown’s four wins have come by three goals.
“We’ve played everybody now,” said the coach. “We know we can beat anybody, and can be beaten by anybody.”
The key, said the 10th-year boss, is “getting back to who we are.”
“We’re good from the back end out,” he said, noting Rosen’s sterling season and the strong experience and work ethic of his blueliners.
“We have a team that can compete for the ECAC championship,” he concluded.
RPI on the move
The Engineers took four points on the road from Yale and Brown last weekend, and hit Dartmouth and Harvard this week to conclude a four-game road trip.
“Our attention to detail is becoming a lot better,” said coach Seth Appert of his team’s newfound confidence. “We had trouble earlier on with our physical intensity and our execution … sometimes we’d be too intense [and make aggressive mistakes] and not execute.”
Appert will stick with his rotation of Mathias Lange and Jordan Alford, content with the results so far.
“Jordan had two big road wins [at Union and Yale] … and Lange had a tough win on the road against Brown.”
Catalysts of the team’s success have been senior defenseman Jake Luthi and redshirt senior Kirk MacDonald. Luthi leads the team in points (22) and assists (19), while MacDonald has been “everything we’d want in a player this year.”
“His leadership and passion are infectious,” said Appert of his captain.
As far as this weekend is concerned, “Harvard and Dartmouth put a whoopin’ on us [at home],” said Appert. “They embarrassed us on our home ice … and dominated both games.”
While the coach wouldn’t go so far as to call it a chance at redemption, the weekend’s results will go a long way in indicating exactly what kind of team — and what kind of tenacity — Rensselaer really has this season.
Bulldogs are toughest in the fight
Yale head coach Keith Allain has seen mixed results from his squad this year, but likes the trends so far.
“We’ve had an up-and-down season, but we’re taking a step in the right direction. Our shots-against totals are way down from last year … and the scoring opportunities against are as well,” he said.
Alec Richards has been a reliable asset for the Eli, holding a goals-against average under three and a save percentage that is perpetually flirting with .900.
“He brings a consistent game night-in and night-out,” said his coach.
Allain worries about the state of his special teams, however.
“The penalty kill is okay, but could be better,” he began. “The power play has a ways to go. It comes down to personnel and execution. Personnel is what it is, so it comes down to execution,” he said.
In describing the need for a more productive offense, Allain diagnosed that his team has generated a lot of chances “off the grind.” However, frequently posed with a size deficiency, Allain hazards that his forwards might be fatigued by the time they get the puck to the front of the net.
“We go pretty hard, so maybe we want to back off a bit,” he said. “The problem is, our guys like to go hard.”
Allain is pleased with the efforts and development of freshman defenseman Tom Dignard. In 21 games, the 5-foot-10 native of Reading, Mass., has potted four goals with seven assists, good for fourth on the team in scoring.
“He’s a smart, poised hockey player,” said Allain. “He’s the team leader in plus/minus … his play selection is right on the money.”
Crimson in the thick of it
As mentioned last week, the Cambridge crew is in the midst of a jam-packed schedule including 12 games in 30 days.
The first quarter, as it were, didn’t go exactly as planned.
“Overall, I’m happy with our effort [at Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac],” said head coach Ted Donato.
“Unfortunately, we made some key mistakes at major times of the game. We could’ve come out of the North Country with three or four points” but instead left winless.
In a 2-2 draw in Hamden, Conn., Donato was pleased with how hard his Crimson worked. Despite not putting more pucks in the net, the team’s 41 shots were indicative of a dominant effort in a hostile environment. (Harvard was QU’s first-ever ECACHL opponent in the Bobcats’ new arena.)
Looking ahead to the Beanpot on Monday night, Donato said that the team perspective was a bit different than in years past.
“It’s slightly different … in relation to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “This year, we’re [simply] looking to play our best game and win the Beanpot,” rather than concerning themselves with RPI/PairWise points.
“We’re probably in a position where we have to win the ECAC tournament” to qualify for the NCAAs, said Donato, whose team is more focused on the league points to be had than the teams-under-consideration points remaining on the schedule.
When it comes to the big BC looming just past Union and Rensselaer — a team Harvard dismantled 4-0 earlier this season — Donato is all business.
“We’ve had success against BC … with three regular-season wins in three years,” he pointed out. “It’s our opportunity to make a statement … to send out a warning [to everyone else].”
Brown will be without senior forward and team captain Sean Dersch for three to six weeks, according to the coaching staff, after he suffered a significant knee injury.
Rensselaer junior forward Tyler Eaves is making his way back into playing shape after missing two months of the season. While cleared to skate, Appert is content to wait for Eaves to return to his pre-injury conditioning levels before putting him back in the lineup.
David Germain has been cleared to play for Yale, but Allain, too, wants to see his third-year forward return to game shape before subjecting him to actual game conditions.
In a big surprise for just about everybody, Quinnipiac assistant captain Michael Bordieri returned to action Tuesday night against Harvard. Long thought finished with his collegiate career after a major incident against RPI in the fall, Bordieri is back on the ice for the Bobcats. He will skate on a line this weekend with Marshall and Chris Myers.
What questions would you ask of the ECACHL coaching fraternity? In order to be considered, the inquiries can’t be negative or seek responses from specific coaches/teams … all responses are anonymous, unless the coach elects to waive that right. I’m back with a new attitude and the same old email! [email protected]. Do it.