On big runs, big slides, and big surges

Two’s company, three’s a crowd… five is a logjam. There is currently a quintet of competitors tied with 13 points in the standings: Clarkson, Colgate, Princeton, and Rensselaer each have eight games remaining to work out their differences; Brown has seven left before the postseason. It’s another “all things are possible” kind of year in ECAC Hockey, as nine points separate second-place Yale from 11th-place Cornell, and eight of the league’s dozen teams are within three points of each other with one month to go.

Compulsory Quinnipiac coverage

The Bobcats are still demanding attention, peeling off three more points with a tie at Brown and a blowout (albeit a come-from-behind blowout) at Yale.

The Bobcats now (and still) boast the longest unbeaten streak in the nation this year and the longest in program history: 19 games (16-0-3). QU is guaranteed to finish in the league’s top 10 seven – per Steven Burek’s excellent analysis – and only needs a .500 record in its final eight games to win the Cleary Cup as the ECAC’s regular-season champion. The ‘Cats are certainly gunning for the best conference record in recent memory, though that is by no means assured: Cornell finished the regular docket with a 19-2-1 record in ’02-03, so there is little room for error should QU hope to match (or surpass) that mark.

We’ll have to wait and see, but there is a very good chance that this afternoon will harken Quinnipiac’s first-ever No. 1 ranking in the USCHO D-I Poll. Defending No. 1 Minnesota was idle this weekend, and QU didn’t fall short of the top spot by much last week. The three-point weekend – especially the victory over local rival, eighth-ranked, and sixth-in-the-PairWise Yale – is likely to make up the difference between the Bobcats and Gophers. Should the Q pull ahead, it will be the first time in just over two years that an ECAC Hockey team led the poll: Yale earned top billing on Jan. 24, 2011.

Gravitational forces

Once combatants for the Cleary Cup and more, Ivy foes Cornell and Harvard have found themselves in free-fall in 2013.

The Big Red are baffled by their first five-game losing streak since the fall of 1999, which was also the last time the program failed to finish at .500 in either league play or overall. The Ithacans are 1-8-0 in their last nine games, and 2-8-0 since the holiday break. Opponents out-scored the Red 32-15 in those eight losses (37-23 in all games since the holidays), landing Cornell in 11th place with a 4-8-2 league record. Only Harvard has scored fewer goals in ECAC competition than the Big Red.

On that note: Harvard. The Crimson are on a well-documented 1-12-1 drop since starting the season 4-2-0. They have been shut out four times (including a 3-0 loss at RPI on Friday in which Harvard only mustered 11 shots on goal). Harvard has been out-scored 55-22 in those last 14 games, and that includes a 6-5 overtime win at BU. With Boston College looming in tonight’s late Beanpot semifinal, things aren’t likely to get better for the Crimson before they get worse.

A third Ivy is struggling in this new year, but is by no means cratering. Dartmouth – 4-6-1 since the break – was the last undefeated team in the nation in early November, but has struggled with consistency since the holidays. Still in fourth place by dint of their strong start, the Big Green play four of their remaining seven regular-season games at home, and only play one currently ranked opponent (Quinnipiac, on March 2 in Hanover).

Plucky seven

In an entirely intra-conference weekend, how did more than half of the participants manage to escape without a loss?

Oh yeah, ties.

Seven teams – Clarkson, St. Lawrence, RPI, Union, Colgate, QU, and Brown – held steady in the L column between Thursday and Sunday, making for an exciting surge in the middle of the standings.

Clarkson both blew leads and mounted comebacks in a wild 4-4 draw with Colgate Friday night, and rode a 3/7 power play to victory over Cornell the following evening. The Raiders dug deep for another comeback Saturday at St. Lawrence, scoring twice in the third period to force the stalemate. The Saints had just come off a dismissal of Cornell as well, with their own big third period: Three Saints scored in the final frame to double up the Big Red. The wins extended SLU’s unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2); the Saints are 5-2-2 since Christmas.

In Troy, the Engineers notched consecutive 3-0 shutouts, first topping hapless Harvard and then dispatching disappointed Dartmouth. The back-to-back clean sheets are the first for the program since January 2004 (both pitched by Nathan Marsters), but dishing donuts on consecutive nights hadn’t been done since October ’02, by Kevin Kurk against Iona and Army. The victories were RPI’s third and fourth straight league wins, boosting the ‘Tute into the aforementioned five-way tie for sixth.

Across town, Union tied Dartmouth on national television in its only game of the weekend, and down in Providence, Brown fought Quinnipiac to a 1-1 Friday-night draw before dismantling Princeton, 5-1.

Beanpot time!

No matter your allegiances (or lack thereof), there is no better tournament in college hockey than the Beanpot. Ignore the records, because these games are strictly played on emotion.

Boston University and Northeastern will tangle at 4:30, while Harvard will have its hands full with BC at 8. Both games will be televised live on NESN.