This Week in ECAC Hockey: Dec. 10, 2009

I should probably keep this to myself, but I’ll just say it: Only six teams are playing this weekend (including Union’s exhibition against the kids), so my readership will likely be a bit lighter. I’ve been out of the country all week (for pleasure rather than business, I’ll admit), and between study period, finals, early winter breaks, and roaming charges in Canada, I just haven’t been able to wrangle any coaches for interviews this week.

So let’s get down to what we’ve got this week.

This Six is on Fire

I’m a sucker for topical puns.

Bull market

Yale is finally feeling its oats, organizing a spiffy little five-of-six affair. Apart from a deflating 1-0 loss up in Burlington, Vt., the Bulldogs have won five out of six overall and are 4-0-2 in league games since their ECAC-opening loss at RPI.

The Elis have also jumped to the top of the conference in offense, scoring 4.14 league goals a game and 4.33 overall. That’s in spite of a sub-par power play unit that is only producing on 14 percent of its ECAC opportunities (but is 13 points more effective out of conference).

Third-year Broc Little leads the team with 10 goals in 12 games, but 14 of his teammates have scored as well this year — 11 of them with multiple tallies. Freshman Andrew Miller has 13 points in his dozen outings, while classmates Antoine Laganiere and Josh Balch each have a half-dozen points as well. Even goalie Nick Maricic (more on him in a moment) has two assists, putting him 115th in the league in overall scoring.

Yale’s primary point of concern has got to be goaltending, as four different ‘tenders have eaten minutes in the Bulldog crease already. Senior Billy Blase — a 27-game starter only two years back — has played only 12 minutes of NCAA action this fall, while rookie Maricic has seen more time than classmate Jeff Malcolm or junior Ryan Rondeau, playing 309 minutes in five starts. The mega-rotation isn’t due to injuries or illness, but merely inconsistency on the individual level.

The Big O

In sports, it’s generally not so good to have too many zeros attached to your season, and Union has carried its share of undesirable goose-eggs over the years. But this year’s donut is a null of a different nature.

Mario Valery-Trabucco scored five goals with two helpers in the Dutchmen’s three-game weekend, leading the team to two wins and a draw as Union remained the last undefeated team in ECAC Hockey.

The senior’s sizzling stick helped him double his goal production for the season, but more importantly it helped Union stun Capital District rival Rensselaer on Wednesday night.

Down by 3-1 and 4-3 margins at RPI’s Houston Field House, it was “V-T”‘s hat trick (accounting for Union’s first three goals) that laid the brickwork for Jason Walters’ game-tying extra-attacker goal with 51 seconds remaining … and then Mike Schreiber’s game-winner 32 seconds later.

It’s a shame that the mid-week game fell during RPI’s study period and Union’s early holiday break, as only a half-capacity crowd was on hand to witness the Dutch extend their unbeaten streak to nine games in such thrilling fashion.

Fittingly enough, this game somehow managed to top Nov. 28’s UC-RPI tilt, in which it was the Engineers who potted two late goals (including the equalizer with one second remaining) to send the non-conference game to overtime before Walters eventually won it for UC. That game was more exciting than the programs’ first non-con meeting of the year (yep, they played two non-league games), which featured three lead changes and another late game-tying goal by RPI. That led to the ‘Tute’s only win over Union in three tries so far this year.

There’s still one more chance to see how this rivalry could escalate any further, as the Albany-area neighbors clash again on Jan. 16 at Union’s Messa Rink.

Brown is good now. No, seriously.

The Brown Bears are good. Scary good.

Read that a few more times if you must.

Bruno, fresh off a 0-7-1 start in which they were out-scored 31-17 and shut out twice, is on a five-game winning streak — the second-longest in the nation, one behind Mercyhurst. The winning streak is the program’s longest since early 2004, when Yann Danis backstopped the Bears to five consecutive Ws and a six-game unbeaten streak.

The Providence Ivy scored 22 goals in those five games, allowing six (including four one-goal games). The run began with an 8-1 blasting of visiting Connecticut, followed by suffocations of Harvard (4-1), Princeton (3-1) and red-hot Quinnipiac (2-1) in firing-squad succession. As of this writing, American International was the Bears’ latest victim, falling 5-2 Tuesday night.

I’ll admit that last week, after winning two games, I figured it was a good time to strike while the iron was hot and feature Brown in the weekly column. Who knows when they’ll be a feel-good story again, I pondered … good to cover them while the coach is happy and there’s something positive to post.

Little did I know that not only would Bruno keep right on rolling, but they’d do it without smoke and mirrors; just good old-fashioned work. Since surrendering 43 shots in the victory at Harvard — a topic that was discussed by coach Brendan Whittet last week — the Bears have followed up with efforts of 37, 23 and 26 shots-against in the Princeton, QU and AIC games, respectively.

Brown’s power play needs some major attention, scoring barely once per nine advantages, but the penalty kill is solid: 86 percent successful on the whole, and 21 for 22 on the win streak. Goaltender Mike Clemente has upped his save percentage to .916 by saving over 96 percent of the shots he’s faced in these last five games, and sophomore Jack Maclellan has scored five goals (with four assists) in his last six outings.

Sometimes all it takes is for a spark of confidence to ignite a hard-working team, and I for one fully support yet another team that make my predictions look downright stupid.

What’s going on up there?

I touched on it in the “What They’re Saying About … ” section of last week’s column, but didn’t actually mention any specifics: Dartmouth, like Brown, appears to be rising from the dead.

That’s not to say that they were six feet under, but merely that some had decided to declare the teams lifeless a bit prematurely.

The Big Green take on Sacred Heart and Vermont in single-game weekends over the next two weeks, and didn’t play last weekend. Whether this proves to be a much-needed rest for the young squad or puts a damper on its surging momentum, we’ll have to see. What we do know is that the team has won three in a row after a 0-6-0 start, and did in one game what they had failed to do in any stretch of three previous contests combined: score six goals.

That outburst capped the trifecta run, as the Green hammered Harvard 6-2 in Cambridge nearly two weeks ago. Dartmouth allowed exactly two goals in each of its three triumphs, which also set a new bar for the season, since the team held only one previous opponent — Princeton — to that mark.

Sophomore goalie Jody O’Neill is saving nearly 19 of 20 shots on the streak, finally dragging his overall save rate above the .900 mark. His goals-against average is still 3.29, but at least he’s got it moving in the right direction.

A pair of juniors — Scott Fleming and Adam Estoclet — currently lead the team with 10 points apiece, but it’s Fleming doing the red-light work with seven of the team’s 24 goals.

Route 11 revisited

St. Lawrence took this edition of the Route 11 Rivalry, as the Saints claimed three of four points from the rival Golden Knights of Clarkson.

The points eased SLU out of the shortest of all losing streaks — two games — and put it back in the middle of the league standings, though Joe Marsh and the rest of the Appleton faithful can’t be too happy about settling for a home-ice tie on Friday night. Down 3-1 with under nine minutes to play, the Knights scored two of their three power play goals to wrestle a point from the jaws of defeat. Sophomore Corey Tamblyn’s extra-attacker, 6-on-4 marker with 30 seconds to play all but erased Clarkson’s embarrassing one-shot second period from memory, and sent SLU goalie Robby Moss home with a real shiner on his stat sheet: three goals on 17 shots.

Saturday’s tilt in front of nearly 3,400 at Cheel was one to remember, featuring three lead changes, three combined power play goals, and a comeback-capping goal with the man-advantage and 1:44 on the clock to seal the win for the Saints.

This time it was Clarkson goalie Paul Karpowich’s turn to feel the shame, surrendering four goals on 18 shots, while Alex Petizian denied an admittedly sub-par 21 of 24 on the other end of the North Country shootout.

The Knights are now 1-8-2 in their last 11 and 1-5-2 in their last eight ECAC Hockey contests. Defense has been a major concern, as ‘Tech has felt the red light’s burn 43 times in those 11 games, and has only held opponents under three goals thrice all year. The second big worry is, well, the second: Clarkson is scoring at the same pace as its foes in the first and third periods, but is getting blown out 29-11 in the middle frame this season.

Nine miles down the road (though it feels much, much farther in the snow, I can assure you), St. Lawrence has been winning more than it has been losing, but the team has failed to string together any significant streaks. The Saints are 3-1-1 in their last five ECAC games, and are 4-1-2 at home, but in order to be factored into the contender discussion will probably have to a) pick this year’s hot goalie from their current and underwhelming three-man rotation, b) figure out how to kill better than 70 percent of their penalties, c) get off to quicker starts and d) realize that while many players scoring is good, a few of them scoring more consistently is better.

With one more game on the docket for 2009, a win or tie at Vermont would equal SLU’s longest unbeaten string of the season — three games — just in time for a brand new year.

Red hitting all greens

The Big Red hid in Quinnipiac’s shadow during the Bobcats’ searing run, but now it’s possible to see Cornell’s hockey team for what it really is: consistent, and consistently good.

The Red have lost only twice all year, and those L’s came at the hands of QU and Yale. The team is on a four-game unbeaten streak, and for the record, Cornell hasn’t gone two games without a win yet this autumn: every loss or tie is followed by a win, no exceptions. For you NFL fans, think of recent Patriots teams — they never have two off games in a row.

Ben Scrivens is still Ben Scrivens, holding a save rate near 93 percent. He hasn’t allowed more than three goals in an outing, and has had only two games with a sub-90 save percentage.

Oh yeah, and Blake Gallagher is doing all right as well. The senior has 10 goals in 11 games, and has gone pointless only twice. He has already surpassed his career high for goals in a season, has accounted for a full quarter of the Big Red’s goals to date, and is doubling his nearest competition in the locker room — classmate Colin Greening, who has five.

Nick D’Agostino is leading a somewhat quiet freshman class with two goals and four assists, though fellow forwards John Esposito and Greg Miller have both seen ice time in all 11 games this year.

Slip-Sliding Away

This has been the autumn of their discontent for Harvard and Princeton. Two Ivies, disparate in culture, region, style and schedule, have nonetheless encountered the same fate as we approach the inter-annal divide.

“It’s been a rough fall,” summed Harvard’s Ted Donato. “We’re doing enough things to have some positives, but we’re not doing enough good things to push us over the top. I actually think we’ve improved quite a bit over the past month or so, but we haven’t seen the results in the wins and losses. We’ve had pretty good efforts, but not complete efforts.”

The Crimson have withered under the weight of four L’s in a row, and have now gone 10 games without a win. Defense and goaltending have been huge problems, with the Cantabs suffering over four goals against per game and finding their goaltending stable devoid of a .900-plus save guy. The defense seems to wilt as the game progresses as well, allowing 10, 14 and 21 goals in the first, second and third periods, respectively (though to be fair, four were empty-net goals).

The offense is only as good as the defense, but it’s not strictly one facet of Harvard’s game that is in tatters. More correctly, the Crimson suffer from widespread inconsistency: Donato pointed out that when a team is rolling along, it is frequently thanks to role players chipping in with big plays at opportunistic moments. The same thing, he said, happens in reverse to a struggling team — good players disappear at the wrong times, and weaker elements of your game are exposed night after night.

The team discovered a whole new weakness Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to Boston College.

“We were missing quite a few guys,” the coach explained. “You could make a case that those were five or six guys that, if fully healthy … would be in the lineup. We had a little bit of food poisoning going on … so we had no [defenseman Ryan] Grimshaw, no [defenseman Ian] Tallett, no [forward and captain Doug] Rogers, no [forward Matt] McCollem, no [forward Marshall] Everson.”

Despite a strong effort in which the host Crimson out-shot the Eagles and pitched a solid game on special teams (1-for-3 on the power play, 3-for-3 killing penalties), a couple of soft goals against one-time Dryden Award-winner Kyle Richter put Harvard behind the 8-ball.

“As a staff, as a group, as a team, we’re frustrated, there’s no doubt,” Donato said.

Down south, Princeton is suffering through its own personality dilemma. A top contender on both the ECAC Hockey and the national stage, the Tigers are swooning to the tune of a five-game losing streak and a six-game winless slide.

Whereas Harvard could look at its tough five-game season-opening road swing as a setback to its development and record, Princeton was in an opposite situation: the Stripes started with six games at Hobey Baker Rink, and are two games removed from the end of a seven-game road trip … not including two Florida College Classic games on the other side of the holidays.

From the outside, it looks as though a blow-for-blow heavyweight bout at Colgate on Nov. 21 may have sent the Tigs into a spiral. Princeton blew three different leads in that game, and actually had to score last to force overtime … only to lose two minutes into the extra session despite a 47-27 advantage in shots.

Another Dryden Award winner, Zane Kalemba, may be experiencing his own crisis of confidence. The man with the .932 save percentage last year is all the way down to .891 this time around, and has already had four bad outings if you look at save rates. That’s not to say that he wasn’t hung out to dry in any of those games, but in hockey’s great scheme, a goalie below about 91 percent simply won’t cut it.

The one thing that Princeton is good at — and has, under coach Guy Gadowsky, always been good at — is a high-octane attack rooted in shots, shots, shots. The Tigers are popping over 37 pucks goalward each game, but unlike in years past, the goals just aren’t coming quite as frequently. Dan Bartlett leads the team with five, but with Mike Kramer and Cam MacIntyre is one of only three players on the team with more than two.

Readers’ Poll

Last week’s poll was a little more time-sensitive than my others have been, but the results still stand: Princeton was thought to have the most to prove last weekend, and in losing both games at Yale and Brown, is looking further and further removed from recent editions of the Garden State Goal-Machines. Quinnipiac may have lost both as well — who would’ve thunk it? — but it had a little wiggle room, given the quality (and quantity) of its previous victories.

This week’s question: Which team has impressed you most in the first half? Cornell, for quietly Cornell-ing just about everybody it’s played? QU, for obvious reasons … or Union, for that second-column zed? What about Yale, which — despite a hot-and-cold start — is nonetheless 4-1-2 in league and 7-3-2 overall? Have at it!


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