Well, we’re still no more than halfway through the season — nothing’s happened to the ECAC since my latest blog updates — but in the spirit of the coming new year, let’s stop looking back, and being looking forward. Though I can’t promise unbridled optimism at every turn, I can promise unfettered original content from the comfort of San Diego, Calif.
I just wish it wasn’t so chilly; I had to wear pants while golfing today.
Union: The Dutchmen have 17 regular season games remaining. Following this weekend’s games in Colorado (at Denver and Colorado College, chronologically), Union will face only league opponents, and grapple most of them at home.
Nine of the Dutchmen’s 17 remaining contests are at Messa Rink — which means that nine of the 15 ECAC games they have left will be in front of friendly crowds. The toughest stretch left on Union’s docket — against Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Colgate and Cornell, Jan. 27 through Feb. 4 — will be played entirely at the Achilles Center as well.
Following a run of 13 road games out of 16 contests (a streak that ends with their return from the Centennial State), the Dutchmen will not have to play more than two consecutive road games for the rest of the scheduled slate.
Toughest row to hoe
Harvard: The Crimson opened the campaign with four straight home games, and that may be the most they’ll get all year if they fail to secure a home playoff series.
Harvard plays 11 of its remaining 19 scheduled games away from home (including two neutral-site Beanpot games), eight of its next nine games are against teams currently boasting winning records, and 14 of the Crimson’s 19 future opponents hold winning percentages at .500 or better at this moment.
Prove me right
Dartmouth: I shouldn’t need to remind you that — or why — I tabbed Dartmouth a solid contender for the league title entering the season. Substantial veteran leadership, proven goaltending, ample returning productivity. Blah blah blah.
But apparently my expectations were too unwieldy for the Big Green, who have struggled mightily in the consistency department. Too elaborate briefly, scoring and goaltending have been unreliable, and five straight road games to open the new year (following the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover) will be a big test for this once-proven-yet-apparently-unproven squad.
Prove me wrong
Clarkson: Hmm. Apparently I didn’t think much of Clarkson in early October. I had my reasons, but this is a pretty good example of why I think predictions and polls are stupid: because I’m bad at them. The Golden Knights have hung tough with eight points in nine conference games, and maintain a 6-3-2 non-conference record as well.
‘Tech may have beat up on some of the weaker sisters of Division I hockey, but jeez, at least they’re beating them! (That’s an unfair barb I’ll admit, but not unreasonably unfair, in my opinion.)
Workhorse goalie Paul Karpowich is — I’ll say it again — a very viable MVP (or, in this case, “MOP” … whatever) candidate, and I’m not sure I’d vote for anyone over him at this juncture. Two games in Florida this weekend lead into one last non-conference game in Winnipeg, Manitoba (get your sun in while you can, boys), and by that point we will probably have a good idea about whether the Knights are for real this year.
Rensselaer: No newsflash here: RPI’s season is a disaster so far. The Engineers are easily at or beyond four-dozen man-games lost due to injury, including all four regular centers missing time simultaneously. The goalies have done their job, the defense has done its duty by and large, but it can be quite challenging to score when you don’t have anyone who can win a faceoff, run a power-play or anchor an attack.
Credit to coach Seth Appert for vehemently denying any and all excuses — he shoulders the blame for failing to adequately establish a successful attitude and approach in his charges — but it’s easy to see how wins might be scarce given not only who the ‘Tute has lost in recent years (Allan York, Brandon Pirri, Jerry D’Amigo), but who it’s lost this year as well.
Yale: As I also mentioned in the blog, the Bulldogs and coach Keith Allain have been remarkably fortunate in their health and productivity this year. It’s a rebuilding year in New Haven — Allain has said as much — yet the Blue are right there in the mix for a top-third finish, if not better.
That has been thanks to goalie Jeff Malcolm, of course, but also to a run of good luck and good chemistry: Yale has iced a set 18-man lineup with tremendous consistency, only rotating in four other skaters on very rare occasions.
Among the regular dozen-and-a-half that constitute the Elis’ regular roster, there are some surprising contributors: senior Doug Otto has played in all 12 of Yale’s games this year — his first games of his career, no less — and has potted two goals. Junior Antoine Laganiere is having his most productive season of his career by far; sophomore Kenny Agostino has been a revelation; and all told, 16 different Bulldogs have celebrated a goal already this year.
Drive for show …
Quinnipiac: The Bobcats aren’t getting the most consistent results in the league, but they consistently play the most exciting games of any team in ECAC Hockey. Of QU’s six losses, five were by one goal (including an empty-netter scored by Colgate in the Raiders’ 3-1 win). The ‘Cats are 11-1-3 otherwise, and 8-1-2 at home. They have a five-game win streak, a five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1), and only have one losing streak all year (0-3-0 in mid-November).
QU has scored four goals or more 11 times (in 20 games!), and did so nine games in a row to boot. Junior Eric Hartzell is allowing just 1.65 goals against per game in league play, with a save percentage of .934. This is a wildly fun team to watch, no doubt about it.
… Putt for dough
Cornell: The Big Red scored three goals in their last four games. They finished that quartet 2-1-1. That tells you just about everything you need to know about Cornell. But just in case you love numbers as much as I do, they also average 2.91 goals a game, but still boast a 1.27 average scoring margin this year, good for fourth in the nation. That’s some serious shutdown defense, baby.
Princeton: You may not have the Princeton game circled on your calendar yet, but I’d wager that you will in the near future. Even if the Tigers fail to mature by crunch time this season, the production of their young and broadly talented roster means that they will once again be a team to be reckoned with in the years to come.
First-year coach Bob Prier will lose only three seniors this season, only one of whom currently holds a spot among the team’s top 10 overall scorers (Derrick Pallis, fifth, 0-7–7). Goalies Sean Bonar and Mike Condon are struggling a bit this year, but combined for a solid platoon last season and therefore have the potential to do so again.
Jack Berger, Andrew Calof, Michael Sdao and Rob Kleebaum have combined for 21 goals and 37 points in 15 games, and remember this is, so far, a down year in the Garden State. But at this rate, the Tigers won’t be down for long.
St. Lawrence: Why are the Saints underrated? Because they’re 7-10-0, with a minus-17 overall goal differential, that’s why. But that doesn’t make sense, you say! Sure it does, and I’ll explain it to you: SLU is 7-5-0 in its last 12, with a minus-1 differential.
The latter isn’t a great figure, but the former is, and indications are that the Saints are finding their stride — albeit belatedly — in the unexpected absence of institutional coach Joe Marsh. The Saints’ next two league games are at home, against Brown and Yale, and precede road tilts at Clarkson and Rensselaer. If St. Lawrence can take five points or more from that quartet, it will be in very good shape moving forward.
Colgate: Senior Austin Smith is a bona fide star, but he’s no longer a Lone Star. (Well, OK, he’s still from Texas, but that’s not what I meant.) The Raiders’ leading scorer has earned plenty of ink already and will doubtlessly deserve plenty more, but he’s finally getting some help from burgeoning headliners like sophomore Chris Wagner and juniors Jeremy Price, Robbie Bourdon and Thomas Larkin. Wagner, especially, is glowing around the edges with seven goals and 20 points in 16 games.
Even the goalies are getting in the act, as Eric Mihalik and Alex Evin are wrestling for the netminding spotlight, each sporting superior stats.
Brown: Bruno is behaving better than it did last year (penalties are down by a full five minutes a game), but the Bears are still bumping and grinding like the bullies coach Brendan Whittet encourages them to be. The victories have been sporadic and the success inconsistent this season, but the work ethic is never in question with this bunch.
Jack Maclellan, Bobby Farnham, Matt Wahl and Ryan Jacobson set the pace on the score sheet, but the Bears look to veterans like Jeff Buvinow, Mike Wolff and Chris Zaires, too, to set the tone on and off the ice. The effort has paid off, too, in the form of big upset wins over Cornell, Union and Yale: all top-10 teams at some point this season, and all currently ranked as well.