ECAC Hockey is stratifying in its final weeks

With three weeks (plus one game: Tuesday’s rescheduled Yale at Brown contest) to go, let’s take a look at how the annual spring scramble is shaping up.

Ten of the league’s dozen teams have played 16 games, and in 48 hours, so too will have Yale and Brown. Right now (and God knows how the tables will look in a week or two), there are a convenient three-ish different tiers of teams fighting for more favorable postseason position. That’s awfully agreeable, since each team will ultimately open the playoffs with a bye, or hosting a series, or on the road. Enhance!

Bye love

It would take a collapse of quick and cataclysmic proportions to keep Quinnipiac from the top seed and Cleary Cup, so let’s look at the other three spots.

Yale is alone in second place with 19 points, and has a tremendous opportunity to add to that cushion tomorrow night in Providence. Dartmouth, Princeton, and Rensselaer are nipping at the Bulldogs’ heels with identical 7-6-3 records (17 points); St. Lawrence and Union (both 6-6-4, 16 points) chase them, and Clarkson (15 points) is in the picture as well.

Yale should take advantage of every chance to accumulate points, as two of the next three weeks are doozies. The Bulldogs are on the road at Union, RPI, QU, and Princeton – all in the top half of the standings, and within range of the Blue – before finishing at Ingalls against Colgate and Cornell. In other words, Yale by no means has a bye in the bag.

Dartmouth is 6-1-0 at home in league play, and hosts four of its last six contests (Cornell, Colgate, Princeton, QU). The road games will be challenging of course, at Clarkson and St. Lawrence in two weeks. The Green are a mere 1-5-3 away from Thompson Arena.

Princeton – 6-3-0 in the new year – also hosts four of its last six regular season games, and plays a relatively balanced three top-half teams and three bottom-half. It will be interesting to see if the offense and defense will continue to complement each other so nicely down the stretch.

Winners of six straight league games, RPI is the second-hottest team in the league after Quinnipiac. The Engineers also host four more games, and four of their six opponents are in the bottom half of the standings. Things are looking good in Troy.

The North Country squads face the toughest road to a first-round bye, playing four of six away from home, taking on five top-half foes along the way. St. Lawrence has only lost once in eight games (5-1-2) and Clarkson is a lukewarm 3-2-2 in its last seven, but if I’m a fan of either program, I’d be happy with a fifth- or sixth-place finish.

Union separates SLU from ‘Tech in the standings, and has a fighting chance at a bye. Four home games, four bottom-half opponents, and shots at Yale, Clarkson, and SLU could narrow the margins. I think that at this point, the Dutchmen have a better chance at finishing in the top four than the Saints or Knights, but not necessarily than RPI or Princeton.

The long way home

After all that optimistic bye banter, it must be pointed out that four of those seven squads will not get a week off. The aforementioned teams have the edge on a home-ice series, but there are a couple crews gunning for a friendlier finish as well.

Should Brown upend Yale on Tuesday, the Bears will draw even with Clarkson in a tie for eighth. It would also, hypothetically, give them a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) and a bit of momentum against three straight catch-able opponents (RPI, Union, and Princeton). Those are all road games, but a little confidence can go a long way with a team as tenacious and tight-checking as Bruno.

Colgate, two points back of Clarkson, is sputtering in 2013 at 2-4-2 in its last eight games. Four road tilts don’t bode well for a home series, as the Raiders are 0-4-3 in league road games this year.

The dregs

Cornell and Harvard… 11th and 12th? This conference gets weirder and weirder every year, I swear. I don’t know how to explain what’s going on here; all I can say is that for everyone’s sake, I hope these teams have something left in the tank for the playoffs.

Bonus section!

  • Should Harvard lose to Boston University in Monday afternoon’s Beanpot consolation game, ECAC Hockey will once again finish with the worst intra-conference record against and among the “Big Four” leagues (ECAC, Hockey East, CCHA, WCHA). Overall, the league’s winning percentage is .561 against other conferences, second to the WCHA… but that number is a bit inflated by 30 games against Atlantic Hockey opponents. (The CCHA has played the second-most games against the AHA: 18.)
  • The latest USCHO Poll, due out early Monday afternoon, is drawing interest nation-wide: Will Quinnipiac – a winner at Cornell and Colgate this weekend – finally overtake top-ranked Minnesota, which split at No. 8 St. Cloud? My vote has been steady for weeks; time to see what those outside the ECAC think. (By the way, when QU slaughtered Yale in New Haven two weeks ago, guess where the Elis were ranked? Yep: No. 8.)