This Week in ECAC Hockey: Feb. 11, 2010

Well now, last week’s column was close to 4,000 words … let’s pair that with a bit of brevity this week. There are — believe it or not — only three weekends left in the ECAC Hockey regular season, so let’s waste no time in getting down to business.

Myths & Legends

In what is ultimately a “how well do you know your opposition?”-style bit, I’ll address some of the most commonly held perceptions of each ECAC Hockey team, and tell you why they’re wrong.

Brown
The Bears are lightly talented and thus play dull, trap-happy hockey.

Sophomore Jack Maclellan is doubtlessly the least-known of the league’s 20 point-per-game scorers, with nine goals and 13 assists in 22 games so far. He’s not loading up on non-conference hors d’oeuvres, either: six of his goals and 10 of his helpers are of the ECAC persuasion, keeping him on that point-a-game pace. Junior forward Harry Zolnierczyk is in that discussion as well, sporting an 8-10–18 line in 16 ECAC contests.

Overall, Brown has three nine-goal scorers and four others with five or more. Believe it or not, Bruno’s tied for fifth in the league in goals … the argument probably could have begun and ended right there, in fact.

Clarkson
The Golden Knights are in completely over their heads this season.

While a minus-37 goal differential is not pretty, it doesn’t tell much of the story. Clarkson has lost six games by four goals or more, accounting for a minus-31 differential all by themselves. The Knights are 2-8 in one-goal games, and have scored at least three goals in a dozen of their 28 games. They hit the road for major road trips at Michigan State, Minnesota-Duluth and Boston College, all of whom are ranked within the top 13 in this week’s poll.

What is currently a 5-20-3 team ought, with any kind of good fortune at all, to be an eight- to 10-win team. As the saying goes, if they didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.

Colgate
The Raiders are a one-line, one-dimensional team.

Just to beat all you Hamiltonians to the punch, I’ll come right out and admit that I’ve used this line before. But can you blame me? It’s tough to get a feel for Colgate … it goes about its business relatively quietly, not to mention in the shadows of bigger-market teams and its own travel partner, Cornell. But here’s the simple truth: there’s more to Colgate than David McIntyre, Austin Smith and Brian Day … and no, they’re not on the same line anymore (but they have been, at times).

True, Day (9), Mac’ (8) and Smith (6) lead the team in conference goal-scoring, but they haven’t had to carry the load alone. Junior Francois Brisebois has 10 goals in 27 overall games this year and five in 15 league appearances; rookies Robbie Bourdon and Thomas Larkin have combined for seven goals and 10 assists in conference play as well, despite Larkin missing three games late in 2009. Goaltender Alex Evin’s overall numbers aren’t anything extraordinary, but he’s currently riding a seven-game hot streak in which he’s stopping 90 percent of his shots or better in every outing.

Quiet? Yes. Simple? Well, convince your coach to treat ’em that way, and see where you end up.

Cornell
The Big Red are what they always are: big, slow, rough and boring.

Cornell may as well trademark the phrase “Big Red Hockey,” as it has come to signify strong, relentless, 100 percent responsible defensive-zone play in front of an international-caliber goaltender. But if that’s the case, how do you explain its third-ranked league offense, scoring 50 goals in 15 games? Or the fact that Cornell is all the way down at 37th nationally in penalty minutes per game?

Blake Gallagher is a forward that any good WCHA club would be proud to call its own, scoring 14 goals with 14 helpers in 22 overall games (11-12-23 in league play). As if that’s not enough, senior classmate Colin Greening is putting up better than a point a game in ECAC action as well, with six goals and 10 assists. Joe Devin (13), Brendon Nash (11) and Riley Nash (10) each have double-digit league scoring, as well.

Senior goaltender Ben Scrivens’ goals-against average is 1.86 and his save rate is .930. So I guess the “mis”-perception isn’t all wrong: he makes games very rough and boring if you’re wearing any color but red.

Dartmouth
The Big Green’s success last year was a fluke.

The meteoric rise and fall of this Dartmouth team leaves us all scratching our heads: Who are they, really? Who is Jody O’Neill, and exactly how good — or bad — is the DC offense? Well here’s what we know for sure: 2.75 league goals per game aren’t enough, 3.5 goals against are too many, and yet Bob Gaudet’s roster includes five double-digit conference scorers and one — Adam Estoclet — who is over a point a game.

What’s that spell? Lack of depth. What’s that mean, given Dartmouth’s unexpected success last year? You guessed it: graduations hurt. A mere two players — Rob Pritchard and Connor Shields — accounted for almost a quarter of the Green’s scoring last year, notching 15 of 63 league goals. Most of us didn’t imagine that those two losses would weigh so heavily on the program, but there you have it … Shields and Pritchard left, and no one has been able to pick up where they left off.

Harvard
The Crimson are over-rated and ceaselessly average.

It’s no secret that Harvard has struggled this year, but what’s the source of all this Cambridge consternation? I may have railed against ECAC Hockey members for their poor showings in non-conference games, but you can’t fault Ted Donato and Harvard for their schedule. It’s one of the significant reasons behind the Crimson’s 6-14-3 record this year, but if you can’t win ’em all, at least you’re taking bites out of the best.

Harvard’s non-league slate is consistently one of the toughest in the league — if not the toughest, year-in and year-out. With only seven out-of-conference dates available, the Crimson annually devote four of those games to Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern: BU and BC get regular-season games, and then Harvard will play two of those three in the Beanpot as well. What has Donato done with his other three non-conference openings this year? Oh, merely a deuce at Minnesota and an intra-Ivy tilt against Dartmouth. Only Cornell has had a similar challenge (BU, Colorado College, Princeton, New Hampshire, and two with North Dakota), and even the Big Red opened with Niagara.

Don’t forget, Harvard played for the league title two years ago in Albany, and won it as recently as 2006. The Crimson aren’t exactly bringing up the rear on an annual basis here.

Princeton
The team, and goalie Zane Kalemba in particular, aren’t very impressive this year.

Well, you know, it’s hard to be in peak form when you are skating a player short and have no healthy scratches with which to run an effective practice. The first half of the season was like an episode of ER, with the Tiger triage unit seeing a steady rotation of banged, bruised and busted players who had to miss significant time due to injury. Guy Gadowsky was forced to use some players when he would’ve preferred to rest them, and he most certainly had to play a number of guys out of position just to fill the roster. With tattered Tigers all over the place, is it any wonder that defending Dryden-winner Kalemba suffered?

The holiday break and ensuing exam period gave Gadowsky’s troops some much-needed R&R, and the team has responded with a 7-3-1 record in its last 11 games. The young defense is still a little out of sorts, but the scoring swagger is back in Hobey Baker Rink as the Stripes have scored five-plus in three of their last five games. Don’t overlook these sleeping Tigers; they’ve only begun to stir.

Quinnipiac
The 12-1-0 first-half run was a fluke.

Well, yes and no. It was never going to be sustainable — not in this league, and not across a holiday break — but the Bobcats aren’t playing half as badly as their recent record would indicate, either. The team that was scoring in bunches and defending as well as it has in years is looking decidedly more mortal, but by no means dead in the water.

The biggest sign of life is, of all places, in the back as sophomore goaltender Dan Clarke has separated himself from his peers. The 22-outing ‘tender has only surrendered as many as four goals twice in his last dozen games, over which span he’s held opponents to two goals or fewer seven times. On the other end of the ice, the ‘Cats have outshot their foes in six consecutive games, generally by wide margins. It’s all about those pesky bounces, and QU isn’t getting those lately, whereas they were all over them in the fall.

Rensselaer
The Engineers are a three-man team.

It’s hard not to be dazzled by the performances of Chase Polacek (18 goals, 23 assists in 30 games and a strong Hobey candidate), Brandon Pirri (8 goals, 27 assists) and Jerry D’Amigo (8-15-23), but don’t be fooled into thinking that they are the only offensive catalysts for the ‘Tute.

Senior Paul Kerins leads his class and is second on the team in goals (11; 6 in ECAC play) and frosh Marty O’Grady is tied with Kerins for league goals. Third-year forward Tyler Helfrich has been producing nicely all year, as has sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet and junior blue-liner Bryan Brutlag. In all, 17 different Engineers have scored goals this year, with that number shrinking only minimally — to 14 — when examining league action.

Oh, and don’t look now, but Allen York is quietly putting together a super sophomore season, stopping over 92 percent of the league’s rubber and holding a 2.17 ECAC goals-against average.

St. Lawrence
The Saints are currently overachieving.

To which I counter, at what point is a team accurately defined by its record? Princeton, maybe not yet — injuries to critical components elicit a stay of judgment — but St. Lawrence is not only the fourth-ranked team in the league with nearly four-fifths of the season in the books, it’s doing it in spite of some significant losses.

Seniors Travis Vermeulen, Alex Curran and Mike McKenzie are leading the brigade with a combined 18 goals and 23 assists in league action, sophomore forward Brandon Bollig has stepped up with a dozen points of his own, and Joe Marsh’s always-active defense features the team’s fifth-, seventh-, ninth-, 10th- and 12th-leading scorers in ECAC play. (Is any other team’s fifth defensive scorer as high as 12th on the team? I haven’t checked, but I doubt it.)

The Saints may be tied for seventh in the league in scoring, but they’re currently sitting in a first-round-bye position thanks to the play of senior Kain Tisi. The native of Mississauga, Ontario, holds a league goals-against average of 1.85 and a save percentage of .934 — his save rate is the best, and he trails Cornell’s Scrivens by 23 ten-thousandths of a point in GAA.

Union
Union won’t have the stamina to keep pace with the other top teams in the league.

Last time I checked, eight of 11 ECAC Hockey weekends were behind us, and Union’s still in a three-way tangle for first place. Is any of that wrong? The league’s second-place offense (nearly 3.7 goals a game) and third-ranked defense (2.44 goals-against per game) didn’t get there by accident.

It may be true that Union fell on a difficult two-week period in which it went 0-3-1 against Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale and Brown, but the Dutchmen bounced back with a stunning 11-2, nationally-televised romp over visiting Clarkson on Friday, then doubled up a fellow top-four squad in St. Lawrence on Saturday, 4-2.

The Dutch get a chance at revenge at the Crimson and Big Green this weekend, and Union is 8-2-2 on the road overall this season (5-1-1 in league). They then finish up with Princeton, Quinnipiac, at Cornell and at Colgate … and as of this moment, among those teams only the Big Red are higher than sixth in the standings. Union’s remaining six opponents have a combined league record of 42-44-8.

Yale
The Bulldogs are good, but not as good as they were last year.

Last year the Elis were 17-5-1 overall (12-3-1 in ECAC Hockey) at this precise point of the season, having scored 80 goals overall while surrendering 54. Right now, the Blue & White are 14-6-3 (10-4-2), with 93 total goals and 66 allowed. So it seems to me that three points in the standings and about a half-a-goal against are significant, but against whom?

This year, the Bulldogs tacked Princeton, Massachusetts, Vermont, Ferris State and Wisconsin to their out-of-conference schedule — four of those teams are currently in ranked, and Princeton was still healthy when Yale played there. Last year, the only “big names” on that docket were Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota State and Air Force. Only AFA was ranked in the poll at this time last year (20th), and they had all fallen out by the Feb. 16 edition. Only the Academy returned to the last poll of the 2008-09 season, though it obviously remains to be seen where this year’s opponents (currently 18th, 17th, 14th and third, respectively) will end up.

What We Know

Yep, it’s that time of year again! It starts off easy:

• Clarkson (4 points) can finish no higher than seventh.
• Dartmouth (9 points) can finish no higher than fourth.

Tiebreakers

These are all of the head-to-head variety at this point, from the top of the standings on down.

• Cornell beats Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
• Yale beats Brown, Dartmouth and Union.
• Union beats Clarkson, Rensselaer and St. Lawrence.
• St. Lawrence beats Clarkson, Colgate and Rensselaer.
• Rensselaer beats Clarkson and Yale.
• Colgate beats Clarkson and Princeton.
• Quinnipiac beats Colgate.
• Harvard beats Dartmouth.
• Princeton beats Dartmouth and Harvard.
• Brown holds no tiebreaker advantages.
• Dartmouth beats Brown.
• Clarkson holds no tiebreaker advantages.

Tiebreakers on the line this weekend: Quinnipiac can beat Clarkson and/or St. Lawrence on this North Country trip, having defeated each team earlier this year. Two ties (or better), two tiebreakers for the Bobcats.

Princeton can take the ‘breaker against Clarkson with a tie or win, but St. Lawrence can win the edge over the Tigers with a tie or win on Saturday.

Cornell and Colgate both have wins over Brown already, so both can claim the advantage with a point this weekend. Yale tied Colgate previously, so the Bulldogs need a win to take that tiebreaker; Yale beat Cornell already, thus only needs a tie.

Rensselaer is in line for two new tiebreakers if the Engineers can tie Dartmouth and defeat Harvard on the road. The Crimson and Big Green can wrest their own advantages over Union, however, as the Dutchmen fell to the two Ivies earlier this season. Ties win the Union matchup for Harvard and Dartmouth.

In Tuesday’s game, Cornell only needs a tie to beat Colgate in the head-to-head.

Readers’ Poll

Last week, I inquired about ECAC Hockey’s non-conference performance. To tell you the truth, I was surprised by how many of you agreed with me: 25 of 33 voters believe that the league needs to strengthen its out-of-conference slate as a whole, while only four thought the situation is being overblown. Four of you were ambivalent.

This week, I want to know what you think of the league playoff system. Do all 12 teams really deserve to make it? Sound off!

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