Oh where, oh where have the super teams gone?
We have just come to the semester break for the holidays and just take a look at the league standings and USCHO Poll – where are the juggernauts this year?
Sure, there are a lot of the usual names up top, like Oswego, St. Norbert and Norwich, but take a good look at the numbers in the loss column; there are very, very few clean slates this season, which speaks volumes about the level of competition across each and every conference.
In the interlocking schedule of the ECAC East and NESCAC, there are only three teams without a loss in league play to date: Norwich (4-0-1), Amherst (3-0-1) and Williams (4-0-0) haven’t posted an “L” in conference play yet and only Williams (7-0-1) goes into the break without a loss this season. In fact, the way the Ephs are playing, they qualify as THE juggernaut this year.
Williams has dominated opponents this year outscoring the opposition by a 38-8 margin overall and 23-2 in conference play. That’s right, a miniscule half a goal against average per game in league play. On Sunday night, a Nichols team that has already scored 51 goals in their first 10 games was shutdown in Williamstown by a 3-1 score – a game decided by an empty-net goal. It showed the Ephs can play it uptempo, defensive or any other style that will drive opponents nuts. With Ryan Purdy posting a .957 save percentage and 0.99 GAA, the rest of the team has to be supremely confident about the opportunity to win games without scoring a lot of goals. That takes a lot of pressure off the offense, but Williams will still need to improve on it’s 12.5 percent power play conversion rate heading into the New Year.
Another team coming off a rare sweep of the home-and-home intrastate rivalry with Colby is the Bowdoin Polar Bears. Bowdoin’s only loss is a 7-6 OT thriller at Skidmore, where the Polar Bears scored four unanswered goals in the third period, including an EAG with 50 seconds remaining to force overtime. Skidmore got the game winner halfway through the extra stanza, but Bowdoin has demonstrated it can score goals and is led by senior defenseman Kyle Shearer-Hardy with 13 points in the first seven games.
In the ECAC East, Norwich sits alone atop the conference standings, having taken last week’s travel partner matchup from St. Michael’s. Last year’s national tournament star Pierre-Olivier-Cotnoir had four goals and an assist while Scott Schroeder did him one point better with a goal and five assists in the 8-1 romp. Over the weekend, Norwich played a nonconference game against a familiar league opponent in Castleton and found themselves on the short end of a 3-2 overtime loss.
Castleton my be one of the surprise teams this year. Currently only 3-2-0 in league play, the Spartans are 6-2-0 overall and their significant improvement in special teams play may be a big reason for the early season success.
The Spartans power play unit was 3-for-3 against Norwich on Saturday night, scoring twice in the third period and once in overtime to upset the Cadets on their home ice. In fact, team leader Stuart Stefan, with four power-play goals, had only one assist against Norwich, showing the Spartans’ depth upfront. Moreover, the penalty killing group gave up nothing to the Cadets on five chances, showing the effort that the team has put into the special teams this season. Through Saturday, Castleton was holding opponents to 11 percent on the penalty kill while scoring at 35 percent on the power play; that will help you win a lot of games.
So it sounds like there are some juggernauts in the making this season and maybe, just maybe, some of the teams have names we might not often associate with the top of the league standings on a regular basis. A quick look at both conferences shows that there is a lot of balance and the teams that play with consistency and get on a solid run can move up quickly in the standings.
As we head into the break, the ECAC East has four teams with winning records, three with losing records and three at .500 for the season. Just two points, one win, separate the second place team from the eighth place team in the league.
On the NESCAC front, five teams have winning records heading into the break, four have losing records and one team is at .500. Only four points separate fourth place from the bottom of the standings, and it would seem unlikely that teams like Middlebury, Trinity and Colby won’t play better in the second half.
So enjoy the holidays, hope that Santa delivers that missing ingredient your team needs most to have a great New Year and get ready for what will be one of the most interesting seasons in recent memory. If the first half has shown anything, it’s that anything can and will happen in these conferences this year and anybody has a chance to win it all.
Speaking of winning it all, my prognostications finally got above .500 after this last weekend. Having gone 6-3-0, I head into the break at 34-33-6 (.507) overall and hopefully on an upswing. While the teams have started to show what they are about this year, I am not guaranteeing the second half is going to be any easier to predict, but I am sure it will be fun trying.
Happy Holidays to All!