This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 31, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: Goalie Edition

As promised last week, some goalie love … in a roundabout sort of way.

Many of you will recall my prodigious praise for Brown’s Dan Rosen last season, as he went all brick-wall on us for a few months in a row to start his collegiate career. He introduced himself to the NCAA by saving better than nine out of 10 shots in each of his first 10 appearances, including nine straight complete games. While he did not accomplish such a feat in nine games of the 27, he did stop 95 percent of shots on net in eight outings.

Heck, he allowed a single goal in games with 36, 38, 47, and 48 shots against.

Even after his hot streak subsided, he still finished his frosh campaign with a .920 save percentage and 2.74 goals-against in 27 games — all without a single shutout.

This season, Rosen has (understandably) failed to live up to his near-mythical performance of ’06-07. He started the season with four consecutive .900-plus games, and has six in total so far, but also admits to a 3.51 goals-against average and an overall save percentage 25 points off last season’s.

There are as many potential explanations for Rosen’s fall-off as there have been shots on net (427 in 13 games, for the record). First, there’s the workload. Facing 33 shots a game will burn you out, no matter who you are. You think Marty Brodeur would still be playing 97 games a year if he hadn’t stood behind Stevens, Niedermayer and Daneyko for all those seasons? Even if you have a respectable d-corps in front of you, sometimes too much ice too soon can prove lethal. Just ask Blaine Lacher.

Perhaps the team in front of him changed in ways that made a repeat performance unlikely. The Bears’ top four rear-guards are juniors and seniors, but it’s not just the defense; are the forwards backchecking as hard as they did last season? Is the penalty-kill as effective? Can the defense clear rebounds, block shots and give Rosen clear looks as well as last year?

No one would admit to it, but maybe the sophomore figured that success would come as quickly and easily this year as it did before. After all, since he put up ridiculous figures in his first 10 games, wouldn’t the 10, 20, 30 following be even easier, even more second-nature?

And of course, there’s the opposition variable. Even if you play the same guys the same way you did last year, that has no bearing on how well the opponents will play.

Throw in a splash of potential health or personal issues, puck-luck, or the incremental difference in Jupiter’s gravitational pull since last winter, and you get a discrepancy.

Believe it or not, this section isn’t all about Dan Rosen. He’s just an example of how some goalies can light up like a supernova for a series, a month, a season, the playoffs, and then fade away before they’re even tagged with a decent nickname.

It happens to other players, of course, but never as spectacularly as with goalies. And in the ECAC, goalies are everything. So who’s pulling a Rosen this season (and furthermore, is it a Rookie-Rosen or a Rebound-Rosen?) And who is in it for the long haul, the four-year Brodeurs and Roys, who will always be there for you? Away we go

Yale’s Billy Blase is one to watch; he’s a Rookie-Rosen at least. His overall goals-against is 15 points better (at 1.86) than anyone else in the conference, and his .928 save rate is three thousandths of a point behind Cornell’s Ben Scrivens. The sophomore only made two appearances last year, but has only surrendered more than two goals in five of the 16 games he’s started this year (three three-goal games, two with four against).

Scrivens might have the makings of a Mr. Dependable. Despite playing in what can be a distracting rotation last season, he still wrapped up the year with a 2.30/.911 line in a dozen appearances. This season, the sophomore commanded the reins with a 2.01 goals-against and .931 save percentage in 18 games overall. He’s had some hiccups (coughing up five to Boston University, three goals on seven shots against Clarkson, and leaving after one goal and one save against UMass-Lowell), but by and large he has been a steady presence behind a sufficient-though-fallible defensive line.

Clarkson senior David Leggio’s value should go without saying. The defending Dryden Award winner has been better than .910/2.60 since filling Tech’s number-one role as a sophomore, and his numbers just keep getting better. While only saving at a .908 rate in limited play as a frosh, Leggio jumped to .913 as a sophomore. Then .930 last year … and this season, he’s within reach of beating that mark, at .926 through 23 games. He has three shutouts and three more one-goal performances to his name already this season; indubitably, more shall follow.

Mark Dekanich, too. The Colgate senior’s save rate is .924, following last year’s .923 and his sophomore season’s .924. Talk about consistency And even though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at the standings, Dex’s goals-against average is better than it’s ever been as a starter at 2.17. Dekanich matches Leggio in shutouts too, with a trio. Let’s face it: should the trend hold (and he’s already played 22 games), Dekanich might be in the midst of his best season to date. ECAC, take notice, because this show is worth the price of admission.

Without getting into too much detail, Saints soph Alex Petizian is in Rebound-Rosen mode, along with the rest of his team (and Rosen himself). He’s sub-.900 and 84 points short of last year’s finish, and is hovering around 3.5 goals-against per game.

Jury’s out: Princeton’s Zane Kalemba. Is this the beginning of his ascent, or is he a middling ‘tender with a powerful offense? Union’s Justin Mrazek and Dartmouth’s Mike Devine are having somewhat anomalous seasons (Mrazek, good; Devine, not so much), but they’re both seniors, so analysis is probably moot.

Game of the Week

I’m going to try rolling out a couple of new sections in the column, where I tag both a specific game and a team’s overall weekend as being the most pivotal such events on the docket.

Princeton @ Rensselaer: Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s the Big Red Freakout! It’s also the meeting of one of the league’s top teams, Princeton, and one that’s under more teams than it’s on top of, in Rensselaer.

The programs are surprising in opposite ways thus far. The Tigers were picked to finish eighth by the coaches and media (and seventh by yours truly) in the preseason poll, and yet were in possession of first place as of two weeks ago. RPI, well, the Engineers were picked low, but I doubt even their heartiest detractors expected the Engineers to suffer a 10-game losing streak midseason.

It’s the second game of the weekend for each team, and RPI hasn’t lost a Freakout! game in decades.

“The fans at RPI are with you through thick and thin,” said volunteer assistant coach (and former Engineer captain) Ben Barr. But the Big Red Freakout! is an entirely different beast.

“You can be there an hour before the game, and the place is packed; it’s electric. It’s one of those things that seems to be sold out before tickets even go on sale.”

RPI head coach Seth Appert deferred to Barr on the Freakout!, as Appert has only experienced one so far, and none as a player.

Early each February for the past quarter-century, the school’s Alumni Weekend has corresponded with an otherwise everyday hockey game. It’s not a Homecoming game; there is no traditional pageantry or pomp to accompany the game. It is as though an arbitrary contest were picked off the calendar, but everyone in Troy knows when it is and where to be.

“You kinda get goosebumps as you walk out” to the ice, said Barr. “You don’t want to let your community down, or your school.” The energy is raw, dynamic, and contagious.

Barr noted a couple of contests from his playing days, in which rival Clarkson had come to town for the Freakout! “You can get jacked up, and let the moment control you a bit and get you running around,” Barr said of some of the undesirable side effects.

While that happened against ‘Tech, it didn’t sink the ‘Tute.

“We came back from down 3-0 [in 2002] and 2-0 [2004] late to win. It’s not the way you want to do it, but the fans loved it,” Barr recalled.

“Right now, this is one of the toughest weeks of the season,” said Appert, whose team draws Quinnipiac on Friday before the big fiesta on Saturday. “The power play’s taken a step in the right direction [2-for-6 last weekend] … Quinnipiac has one of the most dynamic offenses in our league.”

Appert and the team are focused first and foremost on Friday. But if you feel a little extra buzz around the Capital District on Saturday evening, now you know why.

Crucial Weekend

Union, vs. Princeton & Quinnipiac

Union’s on the rise, or so it appears. The Dutchmen host the Tigers and Bobcats this weekend, and — let’s face it — Nate Leaman is psyched.

“Obviously we’re excited about it. Princeton’s a very formidable opponent; well-coached, and playing very well this year,” said Union’s man at the helm.

“When you watch them on tape, you see, they’re not a fluke. They really get their forwards out of the [defensive] zone early … it’s important that you keep them in front of you at all times. We’ve had some problems with that.”

Princeton edged the UC by a goal in the Garden State back in the fall, but Union beat Quinnipiac by the same 4-3 score the previous night. Both sets of Cats are in the top four of the league; QU is a point ahead of Union, while Princeton is up a mere deuce.

“[Quinnipiac] is very similar to Princeton, with a lot of dangerous forwards,” Leaman said.

The Dutch are 7-1-3 at home this season, which means a lot to Leaman. However, he was sure to point out that home games aren’t easy points.

“We obviously play with a lot of confidence at home, but so do most teams in this league.”

Both games are at 7 p.m. at the Achilles.

Beanpot Banter

Harvard hasn’t claimed Boston’s coveted Beanpot in 15 years, a drought only five years shorter than crosstown Northeastern’s. While last year looked as promising as any for the Ivy to break its dry spell, instead the Crimson found themselves finishing last for the 18th time in the tournament’s history.

This season, Harvard limps into the fabled tourney 7-9-3, having just bookended a nine-game winless streak with wins over Dartmouth — one on December 1, one on January 26. The team takes on Brown Friday night before the ‘Pot on Monday.

“It’s been a little bit of a frustrating season so far,” said fourth-year Crimson coach and Harvard grad Ted Donato. “We rose as far as 11th in the entire country … but then had a tough January.”

The unique characteristic of the Beanpot when compared to other tournaments is obviously that it involves the same exclusive quartet year-in and year-out, for the past 56 seasons. It may not, therefore, always get teams enjoying their best years, but what it occasionally lacks in star power it makes up for in sheer loathing.

The Beanpot is a two-week, four-game, four-team grudge match unlike any other in the sport.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in records [in this tournament],” Donato continued in his address to the Beanpot Luncheon crowd on Tuesday. “It’s one night, one game. There are a lot of players in this room who [can take over a game].”

“The Beanpot always has importance, but this year it happens at a very good time for us,” said Donato. “We had a nice start [to the season], but have hit a tough stretch. This is a chance to prove to ourselves — and to prove to the rest of the country — that we’re a tough team.”