Union clinches; Raiders on the rise

For the third time in four seasons, Union is the ECAC Hockey regular season champion.

The Dutchmen wrapped up the league title with a 6-2 throttling of St. Lawrence on Saturday. Union is on a seven-game unbeaten streak and has lost only three times since Nov. 9.

It will be interesting to see how head coach Rick Bennett and his coaching staff handle the final weekend of the season.  The Dutchmen are third in the PairWise Rankings but have had several injuries to key players throughout the second half.

I’d imagine most of Union’s regulars will play if healthy, but Bennett and his staff could cut back on some of their minutes, like they did with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who didn’t play the final period Saturday against the Saints.

Raiders on the rise

Colgate closed last year with one win over the season’s final month. Head coach Don Vaughan said at the time it was a matter of a young team wearing down as the year progressed.

It’s been a different story for the Raiders this time around. Colgate swept Princeton and Quinnipiac on the road this weekend to move ahead of the Bobcats into sole possession of second place entering the final weekend. The Raiders are 9-2-3 in the second half, with one of those ties a shootout “win” over Minnesota in the opening game of the Mariucci Classic on Jan. 3. They followed that with a win over Ferris State in the tournament championship the next night.

“This certainly has a lot to do with maturity,” Vaughan said. “The start of the second half was really important for us in terms of confidence, when you can go on the road to Minnesota and beat the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country. And then guys just settled into their roles. In terms of chemistry, I can’t remember a team like this one that I’ve had in a long, long time. There are no egos in the locker room; they just get along so well.”

Tyson and Tylor Spink combined for five goals on the weekend, with Tyson getting his first collegiate hat trick Friday at Princeton. That 6-1 win snapped a three-game losing streak at Hobey Baker Rink for the Raiders, who enter the last weekend of the regular season on a five-game unbeaten streak.

Meanwhile, Quinnipiac has lost three league games in a row for the first time since November 2012. The injury-riddled Bobcats, who played this weekend without forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas and then lost defenseman Dan Federico against Colgate Saturday, head to Clarkson and St. Lawrence to close out the regular season.

Four teams and two spots

With Union and Colgate each locking up a first-round bye, that leaves four teams in contention for the final two top-four spots. Quinnipiac and Cornell are currently third and fourth, respectively, with Yale and Clarkson on the outside looking in.

A complete set of scenarios can be found here, but the Bobcats and Big Red each control their own destiny for their current spots.