Parity hits ECAC East

Tori Gianformaggio of Nichols (Tim Brule)
Tori Gianformaggio of Nichols (Nichols Athletics)

University of Southern Maine coach John Lauziere doesn’t require a detailed statistical analysis to realize that “the times they are a changin'” in the sphere of ECAC East hockey.

Evidence states that indeed, they have. As the impending break nears, a handful of high-profile clubs in the conference have been on the negative side of what has historically ended in success for them.

“I really feel that in the last few years, the middle group of teams in the ECAC East, Salve, Castleton, UMass.-Boston, and USM have won some big games; we just haven’t been able to be consistent about it,” said Lauziere. “The league and women’s hockey has grown so much that the separation of talent is not as significant as it was four or five years ago. Every team in our league can beat anyone or lose to anyone, which includes the power teams in our league.”

Lauziere’s comments were cemented soon after last weekend’s top shocker, as unheralded Nichols toppled oft-nationally ranked Manhattanville on the Valiants home surface.

“First win against Manhattanville, what a great accomplishment for our program,” said an ecstatic Bisons first year coach Will Brown in the midst of his school’s arguably most competitive weekend in history. The Bisons staged a stunning comeback in Purchase, N.Y., garnering a strong 4-3 triumph in the process. The following night on their own ice surface, the Bisons once again provided the powerful Valiants all they could handle in a 1-0 tightly skated loss. Brown’s team is already a victory away from their three-win season of a year ago.

Since 2008-09, the Bison have fashioned a 22-105-7 record. Brown believes the team’s competitiveness is gaining momentum, not only by what took place in the win against Manhattanville, but league-wide as well.

“We’ve started putting the pieces together that make us competitive against teams like Manhattanville,” said Brown, who took on the role as captain of the men’s ice hockey team for two seasons starting in 2011-12. “Important facets of the game, like communication among our ‘D’ pairings for example. Plus we’ve been getting outstanding goaltending. I sense that every coach in the league would say that parity is becoming more prevalent in our conference.”

“There’s no doubt that there is greater parity in the league,” said Lauziere. “The coaches are all strong, and it shows in the each program’s improvement. You can look at the scores; even the NESCAC is losing to ECAC East teams more. Hopefully, we can continue this upward trend.”

As Lauziere mentioned, teams hailing from the perpetually strong NESCAC have also taken hits in nonconference matchups against their ECAC East counterparts.

Surprisingly, enigmatic Colby felt the sting of Massachusetts-Boston, which was 1-6-1 overall before coming into the early December tilt with the Mules. The Beacons currently reside in ninth place in the ECAC East; their last winning campaign came in 2010-11.

Although each club has its own unique identity, which may result in the significant upset, Lauziere believes there is a common thread that weaves throughout the ECAC.

“The big X factor with all the teams is goaltending. We all have solid goaltending that covers up those mistakes we make. That provides us that chance for the upset.”

Lauziere’s team has not been immune to the trend either, having been on both sides of the equation. Fourth-ranked in the conference, the Huskies also fell to Mass.-Boston and split with Colby. In yet another trap game gone awry, St. Anselm’s lone loss of the season came at the hands of a struggling Neumann squad that has a 1-5-0 slate in the ECAC West and a less-than-stellar 2-8-0 mark overall.

Valiants coach David Turco has seen the talent shift materialize over a short time block as well; this is his third season behind the bench for Manhattanville.

“We lost significant senior leadership,” said Turco, who lost 13 letter winners from last season’s 18-9-1 unit. “As such, we can’t just come in and win games based on our past. The teams in our conference are considerably better all around. From my standpoint, talent is spreading throughout the conference. In that sense, parity is a good thing.”