This Week in ECAC Hockey: Nov. 19, 2009

‘Gate Crashing

Colgate University. You remember it, right? Hamilton, N.Y., … the Raiders. They used to win stuff back in the day.

Bulletin: The Raiders are back, and big-time.

The Maroon & Gray are 5-2-4, but more pertinently, they’re 3-0-1 in ECAC Hockey and riding the nation’s second-longest unbeaten streak (six, one behind Michigan State).

“We’ve found a way to win a couple games here; you probably wouldn’t have said that [we were having a good season] three weeks ago,” coach Don Vaughan said. “We found a way to turn some things around after a couple of tough losses. We stuck to the task, guys kept working. … With the young guys, we knew there were going to be some growing pains, so they’re learning. It’s a bit of a baptism by fire, but we’ve steadily improved.”

Colgate’s primary bugaboo in recent years has been a painfully mild-mannered offense: show up, skate around quietly, and offer the opposition a point or two in a doggy bag at the final buzzer. Last year’s Raiders mustered 2.4 goals a game, and barely 2.0 in league play. That was down from 2.6 goals per game the previous year, but the 2009-10 Raiders are looking to make all of that ancient history.

“It’s a maturity thing. Guys are starting to develop a little bit,” said Vaughan, whose boys have three goals or more in seven straight games, and nine of the season’s 11. “We’ve got some nice production out of Robbie Bourdon. He’s got four goals, but he’s probably had as many Grade-A chances so he could easily have a couple more.

“Guys like [junior Francois] Brisebois — you expect the [David] McIntyres and the [Brian] Days to show up, they did it last year and in previous years — but you get Brisebois to step up, chip in a couple; [Nick] Prockow’s got a couple, Jason Williams has got a couple, so we’ve spread it around and that’s been nice.”

An early gut-check moment found Colgate down 4-1 at the second intermission, the visiting Harvard Crimson romping despite a 26-19 Raider advantage on the shot board. The 1,350 populating Starr’s stands were not pleased.

That sure changed in a hurry, though. McIntyre scored and added two assists, Smith scored twice with one helper, and Bourdon popped one in as well to lead the Raiders back in a four-goal thunderstorm of a third period.

It was a huge 5-4 win for Vaughan and his team.

“I think that in terms of our own psyche, to come back against Harvard was really important for some of our guys. It’s something we haven’t done a lot; to come back against a team like that was really important for our mind-set. It gave a number of guys that extra boost of confidence. I think some of that carried over into the next couple games.”

McIntyre, a Hobey Baker candidate last year, has had an understandably tougher road to hoe this time out. What he’s lacked in the goal department, though, he’s made up for with well-rounded, end-to-end play.

“David’s getting a lot of attention, as you might expect,” said his coach. “We anticipated that coming into the season: He’s a premier player in the country, and his reputation’s going to precede him into every building that we play in. He’s handled it very well, and even with the added attention he’s been able to stay focused and stick to his game.

“He hasn’t scored as much as I know he would like,” Vaughan said, alluding to McIntyre’s two goals and nine assists, “but I can tell you that he’s certainly had chances. We always say in this game that as long as you’re getting those opportunities, eventually they’ll start to go in. I think he’s been playing very well. You look and he’s got two goals, but he could easily have seven or eight. He’s working on some other aspects of his game, and that’s been a huge contribution to our success.”

As for the aforementioned freshman Bourdon, Vaughan admitted that the youngster has surprised him and his staff so far.

“He has. We knew he had a lot of skill, but he brings some other things to our team as well. He’s not a big guy, but he plays physical. He’s not afraid to mix it up, and he’s got an incredible release — he can shoot a puck as well as anybody on our team. He can really get it off. He’s very comfortable, for lack of a better way of putting it. For freshmen, it sometimes takes them a while to adapt, and I just haven’t seen it in him as much as in some others.”

Vaughan’s major concern at the moment is how to address a young and often leaky defense.

“We’ve made some mistakes that have really cost us in some really important games. Some of that is youth, but it’s coming from a good place — I think they’re trying to make plays, and I encourage them to do that because in the long run that will make us better. Some of the young guys have yet to grasp the pace and the speed of the game, and sometimes they’re a half-step slow … or forcing it through traffic. It’s also a situation where even some of our older guys are anxious to get going the other way, and getting ahead of the puck. It’s a collective problem, not just our defensemen and our goaltenders.”

The coach specifically praised senior goalie Charles Long, who played a protagonist’s role in last weekend’s win over Brown and tie against Yale.

All of a sudden, this week’s ECAC Hockey spotlight is shining on Hamilton once again, as the Raiders get a power-or-poseur opportunity at home against Princeton and Quinnipiac.

A Tale of Two Ivies

Harvard and Princeton have been going at it for generations. The institutions’ most storied rivalries have occurred on the gridiron, in the Capitol, or in the broad realm of academia, but let there be no bones about it: Whenever the H and P get together, the stakes are higher.

The Garden State skaters have held a clear achievement advantage over their New England rival in recent years, but you’d never know it from their bouts. Harvard has held firm against Princeton, splitting the season series in each of the last three years despite ultimately disappointing campaigns.

Last weekend marked the programs’ first intersection of the new season, and to no one’s surprise, it was a tight one. Junior Michael Biega planted one behind Princeton’s Zane Kalemba in the final minute of regulation to earn Harvard a 3-3 draw, ending two long streaks as well: Harvard’s season-opening five-game road swing, and Princeton’s six-game homestand.

Harvard limps home 1-3-1, but if it’s any consolation, the Crimson’s losses came at the hands of Colgate, Cornell and Quinnipiac — the top three teams in the league early on. The Cambridge club won’t pack its bags again until a pair at Minnesota, nearly two months, a holiday break and six games away.

Princeton, meanwhile, is 3-2-1 with losses to Yale and St. Lawrence. The Stripe’d Ones might not have a glimmering record, but they do boast the nation’s second-best penalty kill (93.1 percent effectiveness) and seventh-ranked power play (25.9 percent).

Playing in Harvard’s parallel universe, the Tigers don’t play at Hobey Rink again until Jan. 4, with seven road games and two neutral-site tournament tilts (at the Florida College Classic) in between.

Following the (Other) Leaders

Quinnipiac

The Bobcats are in first place two weeks into the league season, but this is no two-week fluke. Through nine games this fall, QU has yet to score fewer than three goals in a game, and has only given up three or more goals once.

Those are some elite trends right there.

In fact, the perennially prolific Q-Cat offense hasn’t put together such a consistent streak since early 2006, when it surpassed two goals in 11 consecutive games. Hamden’s high-fliers are a perfect 5-0-0 at home, they’re second in the nation in offense with 4.22 goals a game, and third in goal differential (scoring 2.00 more goals per game than their opposition). Their 38 goals are the most they’ve scored to open a season since ’02-03 (when they blitzed all comers with 48).

All of this has come together to get the Bobcats off to the best nine-game start in their Division I history, matching 1998-99’s achievement. (That team started 15-1-0, if the ‘Cats still need something to shoot for.)

Unfortunately, while the Q is certainly a big deal right now, its searing start isn’t setting any league records: Princeton started 8-1-0 just last year, and Cornell did it in ’02-03. And speaking of the Big Red …

Cornell

In case you skipped right over the Quinnipiac note, the Bobcats are second in the country in scoring with nearly four and a quarter goals per game.

Cornell, however, is first.

The Big Red Machine, so mythically renowned for its steel-trap defense and Kevlar goaltending, has opened it up in a big way with almost four and a half goals a game so far. Seniors Colin Greening and Blake Gallagher lead Division I in points-per-game, the power play is still shredding opponents at a 34.5 percent clip, and remember how I said that QU is third in the nation in goal differential? Yeah, Cornell’s first (plus-2.40).

You know what that means: There ain’t no Big Red without the Big.

Iconoclastic though the offense may be, the party-sized defense is sticking with tradition: hit ’em hard, clean, and often. The D ranks eighth nationally at 2.00 goals against per game, and goalie Ben Scrivens — in his last year in Ithaca — is back to snapping up shots at a furious pace.

While Colgate is worth a hard look this weekend, don’t forget that the CU’s travel together: Colgate welcomes Quinnipiac and Princeton this week; Cornell will see the same powerful partners in reverse.

Do You Remember …

… three years ago? One of my first columns for this distinguished source had me scratching my head over the backwards home-ice winning percentages in this loopy league.

My, but how things change.

This autumn, league hosts are already off to a 30-12-7 jump on their road-weary guests, while ECAC Hockey members are 11-25-7 when dressing in the visitors’ locker rooms. (The league is 2-2-0 at neutral sites overall.)

The top four teams in the league — Quinnipiac, Colgate, Cornell and Rensselaer (with all due respect to Union, RPI has an extra win) — are an accumulated 16-2-2 at home, while a much more modest 7-5-3 elsewhere. The Engineers are 5-1-0 at Houston Field House, but 2-4-1 away. St. Lawrence is 4-1-1 at Appleton Arena, and 2-3-0 when out. Even Clarkson, which can’t seem to catch a break, is 3-2-0 at Cheel … and a miserable 0-6-0 everywhere else.

The Notebook

Nope, not going to make an external film reference on this one. Not that I’d have any idea what I was talking about anyway, obviously …

• Quinnipiac’s Eric Lampe, Cornell’s Blake Gallagher and Yale’s Broc Little are all averaging a goal per game.

• Dartmouth is the last team in the nation without a “point” … which is to say, without a win or tie. (“Point” is in quotes because Alabama-Huntsville and Clarkson are also technically point-less, since points are only awarded in league games.)

• Brown has come close, but is still seeking its first win in the Brendan Whittet Era.

• Clarkson was once 3-2-0; the Golden Knights are now 3-8-0. You can do the math.

Readers’ Poll

A look back: Remember this poll?

Guess what? Every Ivy sports an L-shaped blemish already, only four games in. So much for you 13 would-be prognosticators. Clarkson? The Knights are close to that 30-shot mark, but they’re on the wrong side of it for seven of you with 28.6 per game. Rensselaer lost to Army a mere three days after the poll went up, so that’s another four guesses out the window, and Colgate’s special teams have evened out: the penalty kill has stumbled moderately, but the power play has warmed up as well.

Three of you are still in line for bragging rights, as Saints frosh Kyle Flanagan remains tied for the team lead with 11 points … despite being invisible on the scoresheet in his last two games, and missing Saturday’s win over RPI with an injury.

Finally, there were two trends that nobody figured would hold: Union outscoring its opponents by a 3-1 ratio in the third period, and Quinnipiac boasting three goalies with sub-2.25 goals-against averages. Union’s dominance in the final frame has waned, but don’t look now … the Bobcats’ twine-tending trifecta is still spectacular. Rookie Mathieu Cadieux (1.98 GAA), classmate Eric Harzell (2.01) and sophomore Dan Clarke (2.20) are rock-solid behind the ‘Cats’ newfound defense.

As for last week’s poll, I think that in retrospect I asked the wrong question. I should’ve known that just about every fan boos the opposition, and it was silly of me not to jump right past that and into what I’d hoped would be the heart of the matter: is it ever acceptable to boo one of your own players? I’ll put this one up as poll 1A for the week.

Question 1B is this: Which of the league’s high-profile players would you most want to build a team around? I’m not going to specify whether your theoretical squad would be a pro or college program, so ponder freely.

Just for argument’s sake, I’m adding an “other” category for players I didn’t select, but I’m also adding an option to vote more than once … so if (and only if) you vote “other,” please select a favorite from those listed as well. For the benefit of the poll, of course.

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