This Week in ECAC Hockey: Nov. 5, 2009

Boy, oh boy, it’s that time again … every team’s in the game, and every game’s a big one! Harvard kicked off the 2009-10 ECAC Hockey season with a statement win in Hanover, N.H., but there were plenty of other ECAC domestic disputes this weekend as well. Lots to look at, so let’s get down to business.

Yale Throttles Princeton in the Third

In the weekend’s most potent pairing, the visiting Bulldogs popped four third-period goals past Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba to rally for a 5-2 win at Hobey Baker Rink. That marked the second time in three games (dating back to last year’s NCAA tournament loss) that Kalemba surrendered five goals in a game; after that, you have to go all the way back to late December 2007 to find an outing of equal ignominy (a six-goal defeat at the hands of Minnesota State).

Junior Ryan Rondeau earned the 40-save victory for the Bulldogs, who are seeking a new No. 1 with the departure of Alec Richards.

Of the game’s seven goals, only one — to open the scoring — was earned during five-on-five play: three goals were scored on the power play, the eventual game-winner was scored short-handed, another came during a four-on-four play, and the evening’s final tally was buried into an empty net.

Harvard Upends Dartmouth With Wisdom, Youth

The Crimson kicked off its season-opening five-game road trip in style, toppling Dartmouth with a strong game from junior goalie Kyle Richter and balanced scoring from a young offensive corps.

“I think [the win] is important. We’re a young team, still trying to find our way,” said coach Ted Donato. “We had a little bit of an issue last year with winning on the road (0-7-5), so I think that it was important to get off to a good start and be a good team on the road. Let’s face it, our schedule is very difficult with five road games out of the gate, so it’s important to get off on the right foot.”

Richter, coming back after a year away from Cambridge, allowed a goal on only five shots in the first period, but bounced right back with 21 stops on 21 shots in the second frame.

“I thought Kyle played very well,” said Donato. “There were times when he handled some flurries very well; he looked composed and really gave our team a big boost at times. For a guy that’s been off for a year to kind of get thrown in the fire and have some real tense moments as well, I think there’s a lot of positives to come out of that.”

The Crimson posted five consecutive goals after trailing 1-0 at the first intermission, and a half-dozen different players had multi-point games — four of them underclassmen.

“As I went over the lineup the other night after the game, I think we dressed up front one senior forward, one junior forward, and [six] freshmen and [four] sophomores,” Donato said. “I think the kids played very well. Alex Killorn was exceptional, Louis Leblanc, Michael Biega — I thought we had a lot of guys that played very well, and we’re going to need that. I think we have a little more offensive depth than maybe we’ve had over the last couple years, and I think it’s important that we have different guys step up on different nights.”

Up next for the Bay State Ivy, the offensively awakening Colgate Raiders and archrival (and fifth-ranked) Cornell.

“We’ve got a real tough weekend: we’re playing a team that will be playing its eighth game, and a team that’s ranked in the top 10 in the country. It doesn’t get any easier for us, but I think it was a good start and we learned some things about our team.”

Bobcats Drop a Wild One

When was the last time a team logged 63 shots and lost?

Last weekend.

Quinnipiac pounded Robert Morris goaltender Eric Levine with 32 shots in the second period alone … and earned The Big Nada on the scoreboard for its troubles. In fact, the Colonials scored three second-period goals, despite being outshot 32-9.

RMU junior Nathan Longpre scored a school-record four goals (plus an assist, for good measure), and QU simply couldn’t break Levine and what was a thoroughly exhausted Robert Morris penalty-killing unit (3-for-10 on the advantage).

On the bright side, how often can a team possibly lose when asserting such dominance? Senior Eric Lampe and sophomore Scott Zurevinski have each scored four goals through five games, and offensive linchpin Brandon Wong has already accumulated nine points.

For the record, QU topped RMU 5-0 the previous evening, and more than doubled the Colonials in shots, 42-20.

Raiders Recall That Special Feeling

It’s been a while since Colgate scored four goals on consecutive nights, but it finally accomplished that feat once more last weekend.

For the first time since Oct. 17 and 24, 2008, the Raiders topped the trifecta in back-to-back games; this was the first time that they’d done so in a weekend since mid-February 2008.

The production was borne of a determined attack that resulted in a 74-45 shot advantage over Army and Niagara, including two 17-shot periods: the second against Army, and the third versus the Purple Eagles of NU.

As the Raiders heat up, look out for Austin Smith: The wily sophomore has four goals already, including both of his team’s game-winning goals thus far.

Don’t Call it a Letdown in Troy

While the Rensselaer Engineers notched a big come-from-behind win at neighboring Union College Friday night, many saw the ‘Tute’s home loss Saturday as a classic trap-game loss.

Coach Seth Appert disagrees.

“That game is a setup game, where you’re playing a big rival Friday. You win, it’s emotional, and then you’re playing against one of the toughest, most competitive teams in the country the next night,” he allowed, but continued, “I don’t think we were as good in the third period against Army as we wanted to be, but at the same time we may have overextended ourselves and had a little immaturity with [players] taking too long a shift in the first and second to try to create offense.”

“I think our [fatigue] in the third wasn’t so much due to lack of conditioning … we played so hard in the first two periods that we had the puck for a dramatic amount of time, and I think some of our forwards — especially some of our younger forwards — started overextending their shifts, and staying out for 50, 60 seconds, even 70 seconds sometimes to create offense because we had the puck in their zone. I know that tired us out a little bit in the third.

“I was impressed with our team, in how we prepared, how we came out, how good we were for the first 40 minutes. In the third, we made some mistakes. We certainly weren’t as good as I wanted us to be, but still at the end of the day we outshot them 14-7 in the third period. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your cap to your opponent, and certainly your opponent’s goaltender, but I thought our approach and our mind-set for that game was perfect.”

Whereas the Army contest featured a low-scoring total despite a number of shots (40 for RPI, 16 for the Cadets), Union was almost the exact opposite with seven combined goals on only 46 total shots.

“It’s weird, in the Union game, that as limited as the shot numbers were, the shot quality was high for both teams,” mused the coach. “It wasn’t one of those games where the score is 4-3 because the goalies were poor. I think the shot numbers were down because both teams played so hard. The game was physical, there were a lot of blocked shots for both teams, and so it wasn’t easy to penetrate and create that offense.”

Appert isn’t sweating young Bryce Merriam’s low save percentage against Army, either.

“He’s a freshman. He’s played two games, and given up four goals. I think that their winning goal is probably a goal that he’d like to have back, but at the same time, if Bryce can go through his career giving up two goals a game, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games. He still has a lot of things to work on, but we’re going to keep working on those things. At the end of the day, if your goaltender only gives up two goals — no matter how many shots they have — he’s giving you a good chance to win that game.”

Third-year striker Chase Polacek is right back where he belongs, atop the league scoring list with five goals and eight points in eight games played. Polacek accumulated three goals and an assist this weekend alone, and is getting a great jump on his career-best 11-21-32 line from last year.

“He is just strong as an ox on the puck. When he’s playing a really aggressive, attacking style, he certainly has a chance to be one of the premier players in our league,” Appert said.

North Country Notes

St. Lawrence is beginning to look an awful lot like … well, St. Lawrence, all of a sudden.

Sophomore defender Peter Child already has seven points in seven games, while senior blueliner Derek Keller has six. The Saints are designed to generate offense from their defense; if these fellas can keep up the pace, the drop-off from last year’s class will be of negligible concern.

Clarkson, on the other hand, is having some troubles. First and foremost, the Golden Knights are taking over 20 minutes of penalties a game. Combined with a soft 78 percent penalty-killing success rate, the Potsdam posse is giving up a miserable 3.57 goals a game so far, and are being out-scored 12-3 in the third period.

Quick Kudos

I haven’t done enough digging to develop a comprehensive perspective on this, but in looking at last year’s final attendance figures, I figured congratulations — and thanks — were in order for quite a few of ECAC Hockey’s members and their fans.

For starters, Dartmouth (4,203) and Cornell (4,191) ranked inside the top 20 for average attendance per game, beating Frozen Four finalist Vermont. Rensselaer (3,534) edged national runner-up Miami.

Who would’ve imagined, five years ago, that Yale would round out the top four in the league in attendance? It happened last year, as the Bulldogs, Quinnipiac and Clarkson all outdrew Notre Dame, which was a top-10 team all season long.

The remaining half of the league finished between 34th (Harvard) and 50th (Brown) nationally, but I’ll spare them the individual embarrassment of being called out in print.

Readers’ Poll

Not surprisingly, the Atlantic City poll generated a lot of feedback and a good number of votes. The most popular take on the matter by far would result in no change to Albany’s current situation: 21 of 49 respondents reported that they’ll go to A.C. if their program makes it that far, which is the same approach they’ve taken thus far vis-a-vis Albany.

More viewed the change in an unfavorable light than in an optimistic one, with 16 voters stating that they’re less likely to attend this year than in years past, but a half-dozen readers reported that the Jersey Shores will be an improvement.

Sadly, not a single person responded to the first option on the poll: that they will attend every year henceforth, because they always have.

On the second poll, most voters seemed to play the odds and picked the first option: an Ivy League team is likely to remain undefeated in ECAC Hockey play longer than any of the other options hold true.

The second most popular option was one that the team in question can control, in that Clarkson will maintain a 30 shot-per-game average. Unfortunately, the Knights only took 39 shots all weekend at Minnesota-Duluth. Also taking an immediate tumble was RPI’s home unbeaten streak, which Army promptly negated Saturday night.

Finally, it seems no one has much faith in Union or Quinnipiac. Consider it bulletin-board material, all ye Dutchmen and Bobcats.

This week, let’s address another dated yet still current issue: the shootout. I’m a moderate conservative when it comes to hockey — I like my nets four-by-six, my offsides whistled, and my hockey played to a decision. I think that in a team sport, the teams should determine the outcome … not single individuals representing the team.

But what do you think? The CCHA has implemented shootouts to decide league contests, as have multiple D-I women’s leagues. The NHL uses them, obviously, and as much as I hate to admit it, they do generate a thrill. Should the NCAA/ECAC Hockey adopt this recent gimmick too? Let’s hear it; vote here and be heard.

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