This Week in ECAC Hockey: Dec. 6, 2007

Gettin’ Blased

Billy Blase has played some pretty frustrating hockey for Yale so far.

Frustrating, if you’re in Alec Richards’ position.

Now I’m not insinuating that there’s anything but the finest camaraderie between the two netminders. But with the way Blase has been playing, it’s suddenly up to the former incumbent Richards to earn starting time tending the twine.

Hailing from the hockey hotbed that is Santa Monica, Calif., Blase has made the most of his opportunity this year, rocking a .935 save percentage and a 1.75 goals-against average in eight and a half games played.

While the Yale defense has been strong, Blase has nonetheless been called upon to stop upwards of 25 shots a game, and is a huge reason why Yale’s penalty kill is currently second-best in the nation (94.4 percent, 34 kills in 36 tries).

The six-foot sophomore stopped 23 of 26 in a 3-3 tie with Harvard a week and a half ago. I wonder who his sister was rooting for in The Game (on Ice)…she captained the Crimson women’s varsity fencing squad between 2002-04.

Let’s just presume strong and healthy relationships all around, shall we? There’s no evidence to support that Billy’s life is any more stressful than we already know it to be.

Red Storm Rising

Sorry Cornell, but it’s not always about you.

Seth Appert has Rensselaer rolling right now, though you may not suspect it at first glance.

“We’ve had a chance to win in every game we’ve played,” said the second-year Trojan. “We’ve had a chance to win in every third period we’ve played,” he added, almost incredulous at his team�s misfortune in translating effort into victories.

Appert pointed out that of the Engineers’ five overall losses, four were to highly ranked opponents (Minnesota, Boston College, Harvard and Notre Dame). The fifth loss was at highly potent and highly regarded Quinnipiac, who has fallen short of preseason expectations thus far.

However, it looks like the ‘Tute might finally be seeing some results to match their improved play.

With a 4-2 win over Harvard in the rearview, Appert was positively impressed with his charges’ game.

“It was probably our best effort of the season…as a combination of skill, execution, and physical intensity,” he said.

Putting four pucks past Kyle Richter should count as a victory in and of itself this season, but RPI made sure to take care of business on both ends of the ice to earn the true W.

“We got traffic to the net…where we were settling for fadeaway jumpers [before],” he said, to use a basketball analogy. “Part of the reason we were able to beat Harvard on Tuesday was playing BC, playing Minnesota, and coming close but not close enough.”

“There were more guys on the team who wanted the puck against Harvard and Princeton than there ever were against Minnesota and BC…they all wanted to sit back and wait out the win [back then].”

“It’s too early to say that we’ve turned the corner, but the signs are there that we’re taking the proper steps,” said Appert.

The End of ECAC Hockey

…well, until January 4th, at least.

Brown visits Yale on Friday in the final league game of 2007, and the standings are indicating a strong chance of continuing parity in 2008.

Clarkson’s still atop the rankings, like everyone figured they’d be, but head coach George Roll doesn’t think the team has played to its potential just yet.

Union earned its first league win last weekend, but Nate Leaman is certain that his team is better than its results.

Harvard’s played one more ECAC game (nine) than anyone else so far, and Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Colgate are dead sure that they’ve been delivered somebody else’s records by mistake.

Upon Further Review

It’s once in a blue moon that I get to report breaking news.

This isn’t one of those times…but wasn’t that an appealing image?

So instead, I try to justify my exorbitant USCHO paycheck by poking around in the quiet, forgotten corners of hockey, inquiring about parts of the game that often go unnoticed or unappreciated. The topic of this week’s Minutiae Minute:

Video scouting.

Unbeknownst to even myself, until recently, the NCAA specifically limits each hockey program’s staff to one head coach, two assistants, and a volunteer (e.g. a goalie coach).

Given the scholastic, strategic, recruiting, media, and personal demands already clamoring for priority in that office, there is no way that any program can afford to assign an assistant to full-time advanced scouting. Sure, coaches are free to take in another team’s game if they have a night off, but this is by far the exception to the rule.

Therefore, there are tape exchanges. Each league is free to govern itself — non-conference protocol falls under the category of “gentlemen’s agreement” — and ECAC Hockey dictates that each team provide its opponent with a tape no fewer than two weeks prior to the game. What any given staff likes to do with the footage is totally subjective.

However, it is fair to say that most coaches key in on a few universal concepts: the opposition’s forecheck, power play, and faceoffs.

“Every team does certain things,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold, a bit of an old hand at this whole coaching thing.

For example, “Princeton does a great job on the power play of getting pucks to the net. There are not a lot of passes…they make one or two, and do a great job crashing the net [looking for rebounds],” he said.

(Indeed, while the Tigers only went two-for-12 on the man-advantage last weekend, they still mustered 17 shots on net and 37 attempts in barely under 16 minutes of power-play time.)

“We try to pick up on overall tendencies,” said Leaman, like how aggressively a team will forecheck, or if an opponent prefers to play up the middle of the ice versus around the boards.

Faceoffs are a facet of the game that is frequently undervalued by those in the stands.

“A lot of teams run plays off offensive-zone faceoffs,” said Appert. “It’s the one play in hockey that is like football: the player will start off in formations, and will run set plays off those formations.

“[We analyze] for tendencies,” like where players will usually end up if aligned in a particular fashion.

But it’s not just about one team in one game. Where ECAC institutions are steeped in tradition and history, many of the league’s coaching staffs seem as enduring and emblematic as the university seals etched into the nameplates on their desks. Half of ECAC Hockey’s current head coaches have been so for 10 years or more.

“I’ve been in the league for 10 years now, and I’ve seen a lot of coaches’ tendencies,” Leaman hinted.

Some coaches prefer to dig a bit deeper in the tape, looking for weaknesses and mis-matches in such areas as goaltending (if the goalie likes to play out of the crease, make more lateral passes; if he stays deep, shoot for rebounds and look for screens) and key players. But one thing all the coaches agreed on is that you can’t arrange a successful game plan around a mere game tape.

“There’s always that risk of over-coaching,” said Princeton’s Guy Gadowksy. Elaborating, he said that it’s important to absorb most of the video material as a coach, but to only ingrain in the players the bare necessities about how the other side likes to play.

“There’s such a thing as too much information,” Gadowsky stated.

Midseason Mulligan

I’m not too stubborn to admit when I messed up.

Thanks to a couple of prompt emails from alert readers, I must hereby come clean: some of the figures used in the “Congrats and Encouragement” portion of last week’s column were regrettably misinformed.

Specifically, it appears my assessments of Cornell and Quinnipiac were off the mark.

For the quick-fix: the Lynah Faithful were lauded for drawing a remarkable 109.3 percent capacity average to the Big Red’s three home games so far. This should’ve struck me as odd, and for good reason…Lynah holds a lot more people this year than it did in years past.

During this past summer, Cornell renovated the 50-year-old arena by adding, among other things, approximately 450 new seats. So while the Faithful are still putting the rest of the league to shame, they’re doing it at a more reasonable 98.9 percent rate.

Thanks to Michael Madar, I now see that Quinnipiac’s seemingly lackluster attendance is likely due to the fact that the Bobcats have played on some undesirable dates. QU’s first two home games were each on Tuesday nights, and against Atlantic Hockey opposition at that.

Tilts with Clarkson and St. Lawrence each drew around 3,400 to the sub-3,300-seat TD BankNorth Center, but the following two home games — both on Saturdays against Princeton — sandwiched Thanksgiving, and drew poorly.

Fortunately for all concerned, the ‘Cats drew over 3,100 both nights last weekend. Perhaps things in Hamden aren’t as depressing as all that after all.