Sunday Morning’s ECAC Hockey Playoff Picture

For those who can’t wait for Thursday’s column, a quick update on the lay of the land. Yale is alone atop the pack with 30 points, thanks to Cornell’s blown lead at Dartmouth … here’s where everybody else stands.

• Yale is locked into a first-round bye and a top-three finish. Two more points clinches the top seed, three points claims the Cleary Cup alone.

• Union and Cornell are also assured top-three finishes and first-round byes, and play each other on Friday at Lynah. The squads tied in their Messa matchup, so their next game looms large.

• Rensselaer and Colgate are tied for fourth – the last bye – with 22 points apiece, and face off in Hamilton on Friday night. Colgate can finish as low as seventh, since Quinnipiac owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, while RPI can technically sink to sixth. Neither, however, can catch up to a third-place spot.

• St. Lawrence is in sixth place with 21 points at the moment, but can climb as high as fourth or fall as far as eighth. The Saints are at home this weekend, where they are 7-2-4 this year.

• Quinnipiac can finish anywhere between fifth and 11th, but bridging the three-point gap separating the Bobcats from the Saints will require a Herculean effort.

• Harvard, too, has a wide swing, able to finish between sixth and 11th. The Crimson possess an edge on the record-versus-top-four tiebreaker against sixth-place SLU, but to finish that high Harvard will have to sweep and the Saints will have to get swept.

• Princeton and Brown each lurk a point behind Harvard, and can finish between seventh and 11th. Both own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Crimson, and they play each other in ‘Jersey on Saturday … Brown won the first meeting.

• Dartmouth is in 11th right now and can fall no lower, but can climb as high as seventh.

• Clarkson is stuck in 12th.

Handicapping the Field

Yale hits the road against Princeton and Quinnipiac. You have to like the Bulldogs’ chances of hanging on to a co-championship at the very least, though Saturday’s edition of the War on Whitney will be a good test for the offensively gifted but defensively challenged Elis.

The winner of Friday’s Union-Cornell game will claim the head-to-head advantage, though both teams must certainly realize that they’re likely playing for second place, or at best a share of the regular-season title. With Cornell hosting the Dutchmen and bye-seeking RPI – and Union playing Colgate on Saturday, who is also seeking that final bye spot – neither team has anything remotely resembling an easy path this weekend.

Aforementioned Colgate and RPI are gunning for fourth place, with each team in control of its own destiny: win, and get a week off. St. Lawrence is hot on these squads’ tails – and holds the tiebreaker over each – but a one-point lead is like a one-goal lead: it’s yours to lose. Just like Cornell and Union, RPI plays at Colgate and Cornell this weekend while Colgate takes on Union on Saturday. No easy games, that’s for sure.

St. Lawrence may have the “easiest” challenge this weekend, hosting Dartmouth and Harvard with a very realistic shot at fourth place. The Saints have been great at home, and these Ivy travel partners haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire this year. As noted, the Saints hold head-to-head tiebreakers over both Colgate and RPI.

Quinnipiac should play for postseason momentum, not necessarily for sixth place: three points is a lot to make up in two games. Friday’s tilt against Brown may well be a first-round preview, with Brown in 10th and the Bobcats seventh. That preview bit holds true should QU slip, too … Brown would look good for ninth, while the ‘Cats would fall to eighth.

Harvard had a good chance to climb to seventh or higher going into last night’s game against Colgate, but a 4-2 loss leads the Crimson to look harder at the teams behind it than at those ahead. Brown and Princeton – both one point behind – hold the head-to-head over Harvard, and neither of them have to make Harvard’s grueling road trip to the North Country this weekend.

Princeton plays Brown at Hobey Baker Rink on Saturday, but first the Tigers tackle Yale while Bruno heads to Quinnipiac. Both teams have their eyes on stealing Harvard’s home-ice position, but doing so will probably require a three-point weekend.

Dartmouth has a shot at climbing the standings, but I don’t think that ranking is as important to the Big Green as momentum. Sure, a trip to Princeton is less desirable than – say – Boston, or the Capital District, but the picture is a bit muddy to try to play for an opponent.

And as for Clarkson? Well, the Golden Knights need to figure it out in a hurry, and are certainly praying that St. Lawrence finishes fifth – that would be the most fortuitous draw in history for a last-place team. A five-mile road trip for the North Country program? Yes please!