Time for a run: ECAC heating up with two weeks to go

Haves and have-nots

This weekend’s action saw five teams play without losing, and four more get swept. It’s not exactly how I would have imagined events to occur, given the tightness of the league, but here we are.

Rensselaer beat Brown and Yale in Troy, extending their season-long winning streak to six games, and making it eight straight league victories. The team, which was 6-10-5 on Jan. 13, is now tied for 17th in the PairWise Rankings and is alone in second place in the league with Cornell, Colgate (both on the road), Clarkson, and St. Lawrence (home) to go.

SLU played itself right back into bye consideration, taking down No. 1 Quinnipiac (more on that later) and Princeton on the road. The Saints are 8-2-2 since early January and 7-1-2 in their last 10, the offense is back with at least three goals in 11 of their last 12 games, and junior goalie Matt Weninger and his defense are playing superbly together. One odd quirk of the streak: The Saints have been out-shot in each of their last five games (including 32-14 at QU), in which they are 3-1-1.

The Dutchmen vaulted themselves into a third-place tie with SLU, passing Dartmouth and Yale with wins over Yale and Brown. At 5-2-1 in its last eight, Union has the same remaining schedule as RPI (what with being travel-partners and all) and has only allowed more than two goals in a game once in those eight recent outings.

Finally, both Cornell and Harvard (10th and 12th in the standings, respectively) took three points from the weekend: Cornell edged Dartmouth on Friday while Harvard was erasing Colgate, then the arch-rivals tied – 2-2 – against each other on Saturday. The Big Red ended a seven-game losing skid and remain within four points of a first-round home series with four games to go; Harvard is almost assured of going on the road for the first round and beyond, but has put together its first legitimate streak of the season: The Crimson are unbeaten in four straight (2-0-2).

On the other end of the scale, Brown, Colgate, Princeton, and Yale each stumbled out of the weekend wondering where all the points went. Bruno only managed one goal while getting swept in the Capital District, ending a four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1). The Raiders’ streaky play continues, as the young squad has now lost four in a row following two ties and two wins. The team practically embodies “streakiness”… here’s the Colgate season to date: Win, three losses, three wins, four games winless, three unbeaten, loss, five wins, two losses, four unbeaten, four losses.

Princeton and Yale each lost their grips on top-four spots, and are now on the outside looking in on the race for a bye. The Tigers fell at home to Clarkson and St. Lawrence in twin 3-2 nail-biters, while Yale lost its third and fourth straight without goalie Jeff Malcolm. The Bulldogs have only topped two goals in a game once in their last half-dozen outings (a 4-2 win over Princeton, in which Malcolm was injured).

Bobcats stumble into the Cleary Cup

Ironically, the night of Quinnipiac’s first loss in over three months – Friday, at home to St. Lawrence – was also the night on which the Bobcats secured their first-ever Cleary Cup as regular-season champions.

The odd turn of events came about by dint of Yale’s 4-2 loss at Union, insuring that the Bulldogs – nor anyone else – could catch the Bobcats before the regular season runs out in two weeks. The Bobcats rebounded with a tight 2-1 victory over Clarkson on Saturday, but Friday’s loss may well have cost QU its No. 1 ranking in the USCHO D-I Poll. For what (little) it’s worth, I kept the ‘Cats atop my ballot, since No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Miami each lost on Sunday in the Hockey City Classic, to No. 18 Wisconsin and No. 12 Notre Dame, respectively.

The Bobcats are still on top of the PairWise Rankings, which is really all that matters: A few more wins, and fewer losses, should secure QU the top seed in the NCAA tournament next month.

Looking ahead

Thanks to some dynamite work on the USCHO Fan Forum by Steven Burek and “FlagDUDE08” (get me your name, I’ll get you your credit!), we get an excellent breakdown of who can finish where. Feel free to check out the thread; here are the salient points:

  • 28 points locks up a bye; 27 may meet the threshold but does not guarantee the bye.
  • 24 points insures a home-ice series.
  • Quinnipiac has locked up the top seed.
  • Rensselaer can finish anywhere between second and 10th.
  • St. Lawrence, Union, Yale, and Dartmouth can finish between second and 11th.
  • Clarkson, Princeton, and Brown can finish between second and 12th.
  • Cornell can finish as high as third, and as low as 12th.
  • Colgate can go up to fourth, or down to 12th, or anywhere in between.
  • Harvard has an outside shot at seventh place and a home-ice series, but can’t go higher.

PairWise notes:

  • QU, as noted, is solidly No. 1 in the PairWise.
  • There is a big gap, then Yale registers again for ECAC Hockey in a 12th-place tie.
  • Union, tied for 14th, would be the only other ECAC team in the tourney if the season ended right now.
  • RPI (t-17) and Dartmouth (19) are on the bubble, and a few beneficial results could find them back inside that wonderful, tenuous sphere.
  • SLU (23) and Colgate (29) would need quite a run and a fair amount of help to earn an at-large bid.