This Week in ECAC Hockey: Feb. 21, 2008

What We Know, Vol. II

What a difference a week makes

While there is still much to be determined, the league is beginning to shake itself out now with two weeks to go.

Brown, Dartmouth or Rensselaer — with 11 points apiece — could potentially replace Colgate as the eighth seed, and more importantly, claim the final home-ice spot for the first round. (The head-to-head tiebreakers are all draws so far, with the Green visiting Hamilton for the last game of the regular season, having tied back in November.) However, Colgate is seven points ahead with four games remaining. Good luck, fellas.

St. Lawrence, with 12 points, can put itself into a four-way tie with Colgate, Harvard and Union with 20 points, but can fare no better than that. Should it come down to it, the Saints lost the head-to-head against Colgate, but split the series with both the Crimson and Dutch. If the Saints win out, there will be a 20-point team playing on the road to open the playoffs, no two ways about it.

Despite tying the Golden Knights in each of their meetings this season, Colgate loses the tiebreaker with fewer wins. Same goes for the Princeton tiebreaker: no matter what, the Raiders can’t match the Tigers for wins. That said, the ‘Gate can still leapfrog Princeton for second place.

Harvard, Union and Yale — with 20 points each — can finish anywhere between first and ninth. Tiebreaker scenarios run amok.

Cornell has home ice wrapped up at least; the Big Red can’t finish lower than eighth, and obviously still have a shot at first place. Same for Quinnipiac and Princeton.

Clarkson’s cellar is seventh, and three points secure a first-round bye.

Relevant head-to-head tiebreakers:
HH = Head-to-Head; W = Wins

• Clarkson beats Colgate (HH), Yale (W), Union (W), Harvard (HH) and Cornell (HH)
• Princeton beats Colgate (W) and Yale (HH)
• Quinnipiac beats Yale (HH)
• Cornell beats Colgate (HH) and Yale (HH)
• Harvard beats Union (HH) and Quinnipiac (HH)
• Union beats Quinnipiac (HH) and Cornell (HH)
• Yale beats St. Lawrence (HH), Colgate (HH)
• Colgate beats Rensselaer (HH) and St. Lawrence (HH)
• St. Lawrence does not hold a head-to-head tiebreaker so far.
• Brown beats St. Lawrence (HH)
• Rensselaer beats Dartmouth (HH)
• Dartmouth does not hold a head-to-head tiebreaker so far.

Rex Dex

… which is to say, King Dekanich.

I touched on it a couple weeks back, but the Colgate senior has liquified goal creases all over the Northeast with his hot play of late.

Goal-judging behind Dekanich has been the easiest of money over the past few weeks, as he rides a 212:26 shutout streak over four games. Prior to shutting out Clarkson, Rensselaer and Union, Dekanich allowed a single goal — at 12:34 of the second period — in a win over St. Lawrence.

The North Vancouver, B.C., netminder would probably be getting even more recognition if he had a consistent offense at his aid. Dekanich is only 11-7-4 when allowing two goals or fewer, and his record falls to a pitiful 6-7-3 when allowing only one or two goals against. (His six shutouts don’t even treat him well: the 0-0 tie with Clarkson on February 9 mars his otherwise perfect 5-0-1 record when posting the goose-egg.)

Dex’s 1.88 goals-against average is fifth-best in the nation, while his league-best GAA in ECAC contests is a paltry 1.61. He has even taken over national leadership in save percentage with a .932 overall rate, and leads the league as well with .941. Tell me when this pattern gets old: Dekanich leads the nation with six overall shutouts, and leads ECAC Hockey with five.

He is doubtlessly in the running to become the first-ever multiple Dryden Award-winner, after taking home the title in 2006. Dex was named to the first team All-League that year, and was a second-team honoree last season. Might as well pencil him in for three years in a row there, as well.

Game of the Week

Yale @ Harvard: Friday, 7 p.m.

Even if you ignore the fact that this is The Game On Ice (and anything that ends with “On Ice” has gotta be good … right …?), this is a matchup of two teams vying for home ice and a potential first-round bye.

The Crimson and Bulldogs are even at 20 points apiece, and considering the clubs tied 3-3 in the first tilt of the season, this one is the rubber match for the head-to-head tiebreaker.

“The game has obvious playoff ramifications,” said Harvard head coach Ted Donato. “Yale is certainly Harvard’s rival, in all sports, and hockey’s no different … [and given the circumstances] this game takes even more importance.”

Both sides will lace up at Bright with hot streaks on the line. The Crimson have won four of five and five of seven, and swept front-running Princeton and Quinnipiac in Boston last weekend. Yale is 5-3-1 in its last nine, and also enjoyed the comforts of home in taking four points from Clarkson and St. Lawrence last week.

Harvard is led by the scoring trio of Doug Rogers, Mike Taylor and Jon Pelle, who have combined for 14 goals and 24 assists in league games. Kyle Richter started the season as hot as Mark Dekanich seems to be finishing it, but were it not for two goal-heavy losses to Boston College, his numbers now would be much more representative. (As it stands, his .934 league save percentage is second to Dex, and he is second in GAA as well with a 1.89.)

The Crimson are only scoring two and a half goals a game in ECAC play, but allowing the league’s fewest at 1.94. Donato’s crew doesn’t take many penalties, and boasts the second-best power play and penalty-kill percentages in the conference. It may not be wide-open hockey all the time, but at least they save the best for last: nearly half of the total goals scored in Harvard games are coming in the third period.

Yale is once again led by sophomore snipers Sean Backman and Mark Arcobello, who have teamed up to pot 16 goals with 14 helpers against ECAC goalies. Newcomer Denny Kearney is making a name for himself as well with eight goals and 10 assists overall, and a half-dozen apiece in league play. The frosh out of Hanover, N.H. is second on the Eli in goals scored.

Billy Blase has started the vast majority of Yale’s games thus far, with 22 appearances and a 2.31/.917 league GAA/SvP. Unlike Dekanich and Kearney, Blase has had his name in the papers a fair amount this season. After playing in only two games last year, the sophomore started the season with a shutout of Brown and has played even-if-not-stellar hockey ever since.

As a team, the Bulldogs are burying close to three goals a game against the rest of the ECAC, and surrendering about two and a half. Their 13.7 penalty minutes each game put them in the more infraction-prone half of the league, but one of the best penalty kills in the nation (90.7 overall, best in the country, and a league-best 91.9) certainly helps compensate for the occasional lack of composure.

It would be tempting, given the attention thus far, to foresee a goalie battle Friday night. Not so fast, my friend. Given the intensity of the rivalry and the parity in the standings, I’m looking toward the special-teams units as the game’s true determining factors.

Crucial Weekend

Cornell: @ Quinnipiac & Princeton

The Big Red (fourth place, 21 points) hit the road to battle the Bobcats (third, 22 points) and Tigers (second, 24).

See why this might be the week’s Crucial Weekend?

Mike Schafer’s team finally went double-digits in the league win column on Saturday, after enduring three straight losses in which the Red struggled to score goals.

Following defeat at the hands of Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Union in which Cornell scored only five goals, the Red dumped Rensselaer 7-1 to get back on the right track. Despite going four-for-22 on the power play in the three losses, the Ithacans managed only one five-on-five marker, and allowed four goals in 14 shorthanded opportunities (including the Saints going three-for-five).

The Tigers beat the Red 3-2 at Lynah to open the league schedule, but Cornell rebounded with a 5-3 victory over the Bobcats the following night. Sophomore Ben Scrivens has played in 24 of the Red’s 25 games thus far, but has been lifted thrice. The sophomore has impressive numbers nonetheless, with a league GAA just under 2.00 and a SvP of .929. The Albertan netminder has started 15 games in a row for Schafer, and is 8-5-2 over that stretch with nine sub-three (goals against) games.

Underclassmen Colin Greening (frosh) and Riley Nash (soph) are leading the team in league scoring, with eight and seven goals respectively and ten assists each. Senior Topher Scott is still a leader, scoring seven goals with eight assists as well.

Cornell is averaging 2.72 goals a game against the rest of the conference, and only giving up an even 2.00. While the Red are the second-most penalized team in the league (15.4 minutes a game, behind only RPI’s 15.5), they also feature the fourth-best kill (86.6) and the foremost power play (19.6) in the EC’.

The Big Red had better hope that the Lucky Seven they pegged on RPI was indicative of more than mere puck-luck and a young ‘Tute defense. Goal-starved Cornell is about to take on Dan Henningson and Mike Moore along with the rest of their squads, and these two are as good as they come among ECAC blueliners.

QU is coming off a You Got Served weekend, complete with predictable drama (refs, dancing street thugs) and a terrible score (Timbaland featuring Magoo and Fat Man Scoop, 7-2 loss at Dartmouth). By the end of the decisive 4-1 loss to Harvard on Saturday, the Bobcats had fallen to third place behind Clarkson and Princeton.

Like Cornell in its skid, the ‘Cats still went three-for-six on the man advantage last weekend, but the Ivies were two-for-nine. Not to mention, obviously, that QU was spanked (and blanked) in even-up play.

The Bobcats are a middle-of-the-road team defensively, the special teams are only slightly above average, and they clearly live and die by the production of their mortifyingly talented offense. Brandon Wong has made up for a slow start to lead the team in league and overall scoring, with the usual suspects backing him up in Jamie Bates, Dan Henningson, Bryan Leitch, Jean-Marc Beaudoin, Ben Nelson and Dan Travis. (Each of these players has achieved double-digits in league points.)

Once a three-way rotation, the goaltending duties are solidly on the shoulders of Bud Fisher once again. The junior workhorse has a 2.26 GAA in ECAC play and a .917 SvP to match.

While Princeton may have lost at Harvard last weekend as well, the Tigers are a robust 10-2-0 in their last dozen games. The league’s most productive offense scored at least four goals in eight of those 12 games, and is really heating up after having accomplished that feat only three times prior this season.

The Tigers are roaring along with close to three and a half goals a game in ECAC Hockey, a fact that easily compensates for a league-median defense. Guy Gadowsky’s boys have really cut down on the rough stuff, serving only a dozen minutes a game in the box, and the scary thing is that the special teams should only be getting better: the power play is sauntering along at a pedestrian 15.4 percent, while the ‘kill is a sub-standard 83.1.

Junior forward Lee Jubinville (who?) is one of the nation’s top scorers, and leads the league with 24 points and 17 assists. Classmate Brett Wilson’s 10 goals are pleasingly symmetrical to his 10 assists, and the duo gets a lot of set-up support from the likes of soph Cam McIntyre and senior captain Mike Moore (11 helpers apiece).

Somehow, Zane Kalemba has successfully evaded head-turning stats. The second-year starter has a goals-against of 2.40 and a save rate of .915, neither of which stand out, especially on such a victorious team. That said, Kalemba’s got all the right numbers where it counts: a .733 winning percentage (11-4-0) and two shutouts against the remainder of the conference.