Postseason plans

It’s the last week of play in the ECAC Northeast, but there’s still much to be decided. With each team having two games left, here’s a breakdown of where things stands.

What We Know
Curry, Johnson and Wales, and Wentworth have all clinched somewhere among the top three seeds, although the order has yet to be determined. The top two seeds will earn byes in the opening round. With the new playoff format, only six teams will make the postseason, already putting an end to Salve Regina’s playoff chances. Here’s a breakdown of where each team stands.

1. Curry
Games Left:
at Johnson and Wales, vs. Wentworth.
It’s not going to be an easy road for the Colonels, the defending league champions. They’ll face the two teams directly below them in the standings  in JWU and Wentworth. A win at JWU Thursday night would essentially clinch the league title, as Curry owns a 1-0 advantage in the season series.

2. Johnson and Wales
Games Left:
vs. Curry, at Nichols.
The Wildcats can make things easy by winning out. Should they tie Curry for the season series with a win Thursday, they’d clinch the top spot based on league wins. A tie would set up a showdown for first place heading into the season’s final day.

3. Wentworth
Games Left:
vs. Salve Regina, at Curry.
It’s looking likely that the Leopards will wind up in third place, but they could move into the second spot if they run the table and JWU or Curry fails to record any points over their last two games. At this point, it’s virtually impossible for the Leopards to sneak into first.

4. Becker
Games Left:
at Suffolk, vs. Salve Regina.
Trailing Wentworth by four points, and ahead of Nichols by three, there’s a good chance the Hawks will stay where they are. Should they tie Wentworth in points, the Leopards own the tiebreaker based on the head-to-head matchup.  Becker swept the season series against Nichols, so it would take a two-game losing streak coupled with the Bisons winning out for the Hawks to drop to fifth.

5. Nichols
Games Left:
vs. Western New England, vs. Johnson and Wales
A four-game losing streak has Nichols currently sitting in fifth. They’ve split the season series with sixth place Suffolk, so the tiebreaker would be based on league wins, which the Bisons currently hold an edge in. In order to fall out of fifth,Nichols would need to lose their last two,  or lose and tie and have the Rams win out.

6. Suffolk
Games Left:
vs. Becker, at Western New England.
While there’s a slim chance Suffolk could overtake Nichols, the Rams need to be focused on their back end, where Western New England is only two points behind them and hosts the sixth place Rams to close out the regular season Saturday. The Rams lost to WNEC in the only game of the season between the two on Jan. 20. A WNEC loss and Suffolk win would seal the playoffs for the Rams prior to this weekend’s meeting.

7. Western New England
Games Left:
at Nichols, vs. Suffolk.
Currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs, the Golden Bears need to hope for a Suffolk loss or tie Wednesday and a win over Nichols to set up a duel for the last playoff spot Saturday. If Suffolk  gets any sort of points  and WNEC loses, the Rams will be in.

8. Salve Regina
Games Left:
at Wentworth, at Becker.
The Seahawks are eliminated from the playoffs, but can mess with the seeding of two playoff bound teams in Wentworth and Becker.

Calling the experts
Fans of the show “Pawn Stars” are familiar with the routine. Pawn shop owner Rick Harrison has seen it all in his years in the business, but even he can be stumped at times. Enter his network of experts, individuals brought in to analyze a signature or determine whether that musket is simply a well-designed movie prop or a true piece of history that dates back several hundred years.

I haven’t been in the business of covering hockey for nearly as long as Rick has owned his shop, so needless to say, there’s still a lot for me to learn. So when comparing the scoring numbers  of the last two years in both the ECAC Northeast and MASCAC, I decided to e-mail a few of my own “experts” to help explain these trends.

While I think numbers can only tell so much, it seemed like scoring was up in the ECAC Northeast this season compared to last. So I added the numbers and found that it was up by over a goal a game in conference play entering Wednesday (6.7 to 7.9).For the heck of it, I took a glance at the MASCAC, where scoring had actually dropped (7.9 last year to 6.2 this season).

Not surprisingly, a lot of this can be tied to the goaltending in each conference.

“Each team in our conference has a goalie that’s capable of stealing a game,” Plymouth State coach Craig Russell said. “You look at at a team like Fitchburg that essentially has two No. 1s [Robert Vorse and Bobby Leiser] and that makes them more dangerous.”

Russell knows first hand how a hot goalie can stymie an offense. Over the past few weeks, the Panthers ran into Massachusetts-Darmouth’s Collin Tracy, who has been one of the conference’s best for most of the year, and freshman Eddie Davey at Westfield State, who turned away 27 shots in the Owls’ 4-0 upset win.

“[They] simply took over the game when they needed to,” Russell said of Davey and Tracy. “That makes  special teams even more important, because goalies have to be your best penalty killer. If the opposing goalie is able to make some nice saves on the PK, that makes your power play try and be a little too fine with their shots and passes, making them out of sync.”

On the flip side, the Northeast has seen a rise in scoring, partly due to the decline of the conference’s goaltending.

“To be honest, I don’t think we have any dominant goaltenders in our  conference,” Nichols coach Lou Izzi said. “The problem plaguing goalies in our conference this year is too many of them are letting up bad goals.”

Case in point, last year’s top two returning netminders in terms of minutes played (Jeff Rose of Suffolk and Jake Rosenthal of Becker) have seen their numbers inflate this year. Rose was voted the conference’s top goalies last season, but his struggles this year are a big reason for Suffolk’s dip in the standings.

There are other reasons as well. WNEC coach Greg Heffernan cited the NCAA’s new rule regarding icing (remember the reaction to that last summer?) While the short-handed icing rule was discarded, the NCAA uses a  “hybrid” icing system, where officials determine whether icing should be waived off based on who would reach the puck first.

“The truth is that we’ve had a number of goals scored against us with guys getting stuck on the ice not able to change,” Heffernan said. “I know that we have generated offense with the new icing rule… maybe that’s the reason… or maybe it’s just a random year with some coincidences.”

Of course, an influx of talent doesn’t hurt. Eight freshman are currently averaging a point or better a game.

“I just think there are more quality players on all of the rosters that are putting up some good numbers,” JWU coach Erik Noack said. “Overall, I think the league is more offensive this year as opposed to other years. On any given night any team in this league can score five or more goals.”

There doesn’t seem to be one specific reason for the fluctuations in scoring across the MASCAC and ECAC Northeast. Who knows, next year, the MASCAC could be churning out 5-4 games while the Northeast features tidy 2-1 scores.

ECAC Northeast Weekly Honors

Player of the Week: Jeremiah Ketts, Johnson and Wales. Ketts scored a goal and added two assists in the Wildcats’ 6-4 victory against Becker. He followed that with three goals and three assists in the 10-3 win against Western New England College. In the victory against WNEC, he tallied his 100th career point.

Goalie of the Week: Chris Azzano, Wentworth. Azzano backboned the Leopards to a 2-0 week, playing all 120 minutes and allowing three goals on 47 shots for a 1.50 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. He made 15 saves in a 5-1 win over Suffolk and turned aside 19 of 21 shots in a 4-2 win over Becker.

Rookie of the Week: Michael Lopez, Curry. Lopez finished the week with five total points. He had one goal in a 6-1 win over Nichols and four points in an 8-1 win over Salve Regina University with one goal and three assists.

Loose Pucks
Check back next week for a rundown of the MASCAC’s final weekend. The finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award were announced, and Salve Regina’s Isaiah Carlson wasn’t among those chosen from the original group of nominees.