This Week in ECAC Hockey: Jan. 21, 2010

Midseason Report

Every team in the league has now played at least 10 games of the ECAC Hockey variety, with a few having already passed the 11-game halfway point of their conference schedule. It’s time for a look back at the first half of the 2009-10 campaign.

Note: league stats are the focus, but overall figures will be listed in parentheses when pertinent.

Top Goaltender
Ben Scrivens, Cornell

The senior goalie is just doing his thing, stopping 93.6 percent of league shots (92.8 overall) and holding up his end of the bargain for a very talented Big Red brigade. His 1.71 (2.04) goals-against average is once again one of the best in the nation, and he gets the nod as much for his consistent presence as for his consistent performance: He is the only goalie in the league to have played every minute of his team’s netminding minutes.

Honorable Mention: Kain Tisi, St. Lawrence; Keith Kinkaid, Union

Tisi’s only shortcoming in this debate is his meager playing time when compared to Scrivens’ — the Big Red backstop way beyond doubled the SLU ‘keeper’s minutes in league play so far. Otherwise, the Saints senior’s 1.07 (1.99) GAA is better in both categories than Scrivens’ numbers, and his .957 save rate is 21 points better than his southern foe.

Props to Kinkaid in his rookie campaign as well, for posting a 2.12/.923 league half-season in seven games’ work.

Top Forward
Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union

This was in no way an easy decision. “MVT” doesn’t lead the league in points (though he is second, with 17), but he does lead the pack with 10 goals. What sets him this sliver above the competition, however, aren’t his raw numbers — it’s his numbers relative to his teammates’, and relative to his team’s success. Valery-Trabucco has accounted for over 27 percent of the Dutchmen’s goals this season, and second place on the team (senior classmate Jason Walters) has potted only four. These two players are also the only two under coach Nate Leaman who have achieved double-digit conference scoring this season, which is ridiculous when you consider that we are talking about the ECAC’s sole undefeated team right now.

Honorable Mention: Chase Polacek, Rensselaer

Cornell’s Blake Gallagher may also merit mention, but really, this fight was between Polacek and Valery-Trabucco. RPI’s slick-sniping junior leads the league with 19 points in 10 games, and has also scored more than a quarter of his team’s goals, with eight. Polacek leads the Engineers in every major offensive category, and he faces most of his opposition’s pressure on a nightly basis. The team’s other top players (Brandon Pirri, Jerry D’Amigo and Marty O’Grady) are all freshmen with four goals or fewer. The deciding factor, for better or worse, was that Union is atop the ECAC Hockey standings, while RPI is battling to pass the .500 mark.

Top Defenseman
Nick D’Agostino, Cornell

Freshman D’Agostino probably hasn’t turned your head if you’ve seen him play, because he’s not a flashy player — two goals and five assists aren’t exactly world-beating numbers, even from a defenseman. What the rookie may sacrifice in points he makes up for in absolutely rock-solid defending. The 6-foot-2 native of Bolton, Ontario, has registered a plus-10 rating through nine games, and hasn’t sat a single minute in the sin bin.

Honorable Mention: Peter Child, St. Lawrence; George Hughes, St. Lawrence; Mike Schreiber, Union

Child’s plus-8 in his sophomore year is enough to warrant his place on this list, while Hughes’ and Schreiber’s plus-6 ratings are too similar to separate — both also mustered nine points apiece in 10 league games, but kudos to Hughes for doing it in his rookie season. (Thomas Dignard’s league-leading 11 points from the rear are all well and good, but his pedestrian plus-1 on a stacked Yale team boots him from contention.)

Top Rookie
Louis Leblanc, Harvard

There was some significant early-season doubt as to the slope of this blue-chipper’s learning curve, with only four goals and 10 points in his first dozen NCAA games. (Not that those are bad numbers, but they didn’t meet expectations that many held for the first-round Montreal Canadiens draft pick — especially when paired with the Crimson’s dreadful 2-10-2 start.) Many doubts have been salved of late, though, as Leblanc buried four goals in his last two games to propel him up to eight for the year. The Montreal native is leading the conference in rookie goal- and point-scoring, doubling up second-place and aforementioned O’Grady of RPI in the goal department. Not to be ignored is Leblanc’s responsibility at both ends of the ice, sporting a nifty plus-9 to date.

Honorable Mention: Brandon Pirri, Rensselaer; Jerry D’Amigo, Rensselaer; George Hughes, St. Lawrence; Nick D’Agostino, Cornell

A lot of honorable names here: Pirri and D’Amigo have been absolutely essential elements to RPI’s recent surge, and D’Amigo’s big-stage, gold-medal performance at the World Junior Championship are certainly taken into consideration here.

Hughes and D’Agostino have already been mentioned above in the Top Defenseman category, and while each is doing his part in his own end, these two youngsters are also third and sixth in ECAC rookie scoring, respectively.

Top Coach
Nate Leaman, Union

It’s not that Leaman has coaxed a pack of troubled young misfits to Olympic gold or anything, but the fact that his squad remains the only team in the conference with a zero in the loss column is something worth celebrating. His skaters are seasoned by and large, and the fact that the Dutchmen are good really shouldn’t come as any surprise. With that said, the team was picked sixth in the Media and Coaches’ Polls (and seventh by yours truly), and … um … zero? That’s way beyond good. That’s almost perfect, by hockey standards.

Honorable Mention: Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence; Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac

In the preseason, the Saints were tagged for seventh, 10th or 11th depending on who you asked (the media, coaches, and myself), but are currently occupying the sixth spot with a 5-3-2 record. SLU is 5-1-3 at home, and is 4-2-3 since the start of 2010.

Slotted between eighth and 11th in preseason polling, Quinnipiac was sensational (12-1-0) off the bat but has hit a serious slick spot on the road to the postseason with a 1-8-1 overall record in its last 10. The mere fact that the Bobcats started 7-0-0 in league play, though, may be enough to land the team a first-round bye with a merely adequate second half.

Most Valuable Player
Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union

In addition to what I said about his offensive prowess, Valery-Trabucco is also extremely savvy defensively (plus-9 in league play so far) and has taken only two minor penalties. He has four power-play goals, a short-handed tally and a game-winner to boot, and ranks in the ECAC top-10 in six major categories: goals, power-play goals, points, plus/minus, short-handed goals, and shots.

Honorable Mention: Chase Polacek, Rensselaer; David McIntyre, Colgate

Before Cornell fans get all in a tizzy, I did consider Scrivens as a candidate, but couldn’t include him in good faith. This is because as I see it, the team is a compilation of very talented, versatile, strong, and well-coached parts, and the Big Red is — as a cohesive unit — greater than the sum of its parts. This makes each individual part look (statistically, at least) better than it probably is, in actuality.

On to those I do mention: Polacek, for obvious reasons, and McIntyre. Polacek is a solid plus-6 with only 10 penalty minutes, but both numbers lag when compared to Valery-Trabucco’s. (Polacek is also only top-10 in four categories: goals, assists, points, and short-handed goals.)

McIntyre has been the focal point for every opponent to play Colgate in the last two years, and for good reason — he’s an outstanding player. But with a “mere” 16 points in 11 games, “Mac” may be among the leaders, but he’s not actually carrying the flag. He’s a superb plus-9 on a middling team, and ranks in the top-10 in six ECAC categories, including penalty minutes, with 24.

Second-Half Predictions

Making a Move
Princeton

This pick is conditional on the Tigers successfully nursing themselves back to health. Currently 10th in the charts, Princeton has been all kinds of beat up, missing games from reliable producers like Cam MacIntyre, Matt Godlewski, Kevin Crane, Kevin Kaiser, Jody Pederson … the list goes on and on. With a team boasting merely moderate health, the Tigers ought to find themselves at home in the first round.

Honorable Mention: Dartmouth; Rensselaer

Dartmouth is just about a sure thing to improve. It’s fast, hard-working, very physical and simply a good team. It’s not nearly as bad as its 2-8-0 record, and the Big Green, too, should be fighting for a 4-8 spot when all is said and done.

RPI isn’t as safe a bet, but I will point out that the ‘Tute is a poor 0-4-0 in ECAC play in one-goal games. Odds say that number will improve over time.

Taking a Tumble
Union

Don’t get me wrong; I’m in no way hoping that the Dutchmen stumble … I just think that their pace is a bit too quick right now. For starters, the best finish by any ECAC team since the 1984-85 switch to the current 12-team, no-division format was ’84-85 RPI, at 20-1-0 … which is to say, nobody goes unbeaten in this league. Secondly, Union is 4-0-3 in one-goal conference games (including games where Union scored an empty-netter on top of what had been a one-goal difference). As I just pointed out one paragraph prior, one-goal games tend toward .500. Ergo, all probability suggests that the UC is due for a bit of a letdown.

Honorable Mention: Colgate

The Raiders don’t dress a goalie with a save percentage above .890, but at least they’ve got a productive offense this year. I’m concerned about their viability against teams that can match the Austin Smith-David McIntyre-Brian Day line, not to mention the stamina of that lethal trio. Finally, and this is a bit of a stretch, but the Raiders have been winning the close games this year as well, at 3-1-1. Success in one-goal games is not, statistically speaking, a repeatable skill.

Readers’ Poll

Last week’s question regarding league dominance didn’t deliver many surprises, though I’m sure most of us saw that coming: Eighteen of our 32 voters picked “none” when asked who ECAC Hockey’s dominant team is, with second place being an easy 11 votes for unbeaten Union.

This week’s question will be part history, and part future: As Cornell and Harvard ruled the league early in this millenium, who will be the next consistent ECAC Hockey power?

Yale and Princeton have been strong of late, while Cornell never took much of a step back from the podium. Quinnipiac has burst onto the scene in its few years in the league, while the other programs have certainly had their share of high notes in recent years. Have at it; can’t wait to read the responses.

Help Wanted

A repeat of last week’s note: if anyone is interested in writing recaps for home games at Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, or Yale, please contact us. Journalism experience is mandatory. The gigs are unpaid, but hey — free hockey, and valuable experience for media majors out there as well.

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