ECAC Hockey picks: Championship weekend

Nate: Last week: 2-2

Overall (playoffs): 6-2

Three of the of the top four teams in the regular season standings meet in Atlantic City this weekend to decide this year’s ECAC champion.

No. 7 Brown is the only team out of the top four to make it to the finals weekend, although I wouldn’t call that an upset given the Bears’ play of late. Including the playoffs, Brown is 6-2-1 over the last month.

Two teams are seeking their first league title, although both Brown and Quinnipiac meet in Friday’s opening game, so a new champion isn’t guaranteed.  Union is looking for its second title in a row, while Yale is trying to make it two in three years after getting knocked out in the quarterfinals last season.

Arena reporter Brian Farrell and I will be at Boardwalk Hall for all four games, so be sure to check in for live coverage all weekend long.  All four games will be broadcast by Fox Sports Atlantic, and each game will also be streamed online.

Brian Sullivan: I, lamentably, will be missing the ECAC Championship Weekend for the first time in a long time… life intervenes, unfortunately. That said, I will be assisting Nate and Brian Farrell with coverage from afar, and I will even make some picks! Read on…

Friday, March 22

No. 7 Brown vs. No. 1 Quinnipiac, 4 p.m.

Season series: 0-0-2

Nate: This is the third year in a row these team have met in the postseason, although the two prior matchups where  first-round series in Hamden, both of which were won by the Bobcats.  I don’t buy the fact that  a double-overtime Game 3 was a sign that Quinnipiac is slumping at the finish line. Cornell entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the conference, and gave the Bobcats a good test, minus Game 2’s 10-0 shellacking.

Both games between the teams this year ended in a tie, with the Bobcats scoring a late second-period goal Feb. 1 in a 1-1 draw, and Brown rallying for two third-period goals  Feb. 23 for a 3-3 final.

I’ve got a sneaky feeling about Brown this weekend. Like Quinnipiac, the Bears emphasis defense first, and keep just about everything to the outside. It’s a toss up in goal between Brown’s Anthony Borelli and QU’s Eric Hartzell, both whom have been outstanding this year. With the exception of the Bears’ Matt Lorito, I think the Bobcats have the edge in offensive talent. I’m picking them to advance to the championship game, but it will be close. Quinnipiac wins

Brian: Brown is – as always – playing with house money, which is a doubly fitting metaphor given the venue. The Bears have made life difficult for most of their 2013 foes, and the Bobcats should be no exception. That said, QU has now battled through a top goaltending performance by Cornell’s Andy Iles in Game 3 last Sunday, so Borelli’s bag of tricks may frustrate, but are unlikely to deflate the top seed. Likewise, the Q will absolutely not be taking Brown for granted (if there were ever such a fear) given the regular-season results.

Bruno should be heartened by those draws, but if the Bobcats are really as good as their record indicates, they will ultimately bury Brown. I, too, pick Quinnipiac.

No. 4 Union vs. No. 3 Yale, 7:30 p.m.

Season series: Union, 1-0-1

Nate: Both these teams have been here before: Union won the title last season, while Yale beat Cornell in 6-0 in the 2011 championship. Dutchmen goalie Troy Grosenick has more big-game experience than his counterpart, Jeff Malcolm, who was the backup to Ryan Rondeau two seasons ago, although I’m not sure if that matters.  Still, the senior goalie’s importance to the Bulldogs can’t be understated: Malcolm is 16-4-2, while backups Connor Wilson and Nick Maricic are 2-6-1.  Yale has a lot of speed and can transition very well, while Union will pounce on any mistakes and convert them into opportunities (see last year’s opening game against Colgate). If the Dutchmen can do that, I think they’ll prevail. Union wins

Brian: I’m going to disagree with Nate on this one: I think that Yale is the second-best team in the league in talent and depth, if not in the standings… and that drop from second to third was due in large part to the sudden absence of Malcolm. Yale is a markedly, almost inexplicably better team with the senior in net, and not just because he’s the stronger netminder. The Bulldogs play significantly stronger, quicker, more confident hockey in front of Malcolm, and while both teams have a large group of experienced players, I like Yale’s jump and jam to defeat Union. Yale wins.

Saturday, March 23

Brian: I’m going to wimp out and make my Saturday picks on Friday night or Saturday morning, as incentives will change drastically after Friday’s games are in the books.

No.7 Brown vs. No. 3 Yale: Consolation game, 4 p.m.

Season series: 1-1

Nate: Depending on how things shake out, this could be a must-win for the Bulldogs if they want to make the NCAA tournament. That looks unlikely, although a victory would certainly help Yale’s seeding. I’m hesitant picking against Brown again, as it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Bears came away with at least one win this weekend. Still, I’m sticking with the Bulldogs. Yale wins

No. 4 Union vs. No.1 Quinnipiac: Championship game, 7 p.m.

Season series: Quinnipiac, 2-0

Nate: I think this game will be decided by special teams. The Bobcats went o-for-eight on the power play Sundayagainst Cornell, but their penalty kill is currently tops in the country, percentage points ahead of Canisius. Union’s power play (second) and penalty kill (seventh) have been among the nation’s best all season. The Bobcats can’t try and do too much against the Dutchmen, as any extra passes could result in turnovers the other way.  QU is one of the better neutral-zone teams in the league, so Union will need to work the puck deep and get their forecheck going.  Quinnipiac wins (OT)

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