ECAC Hockey back on the national stage

Playing in its own back yard, Quinnipiac draws Providence

The Bobcats will play the Friars for the second time this year, the teams tying 3-3 in Hamden in late November. After so much time, there will be little to glean from that result – it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, after all – but some things that were true then remain true now: The Bobcats will keep a close eye on 19-goal scorer Ross Mauermann and his top feeder Nick Saracino; and QU will have to play a hard-nosed, gritty game to get enough goals past sophomore star Jon Gillies.

Providence was shuffled out of the Hockey East tournament in the semifinals, losing 3-1 to New Hampshire in Boston. UNH effectively buried the Friars with three second-period goals; PC’s only score came in the third. Beyond Robert Morris – making its first-ever NCAA appearance – Providence is the program that had the longest NCAA drought among this year’s qualifiers, last dancing on the big stage in 2001.

The Bobcats watched the selection show from home after dropping Friday night’s ECAC semifinal against Colgate in heartbreaking fashion, as Raiders Kyle Baun popped a game-tying, extra-attacker rebound past Michael Garteig with 55.6 seconds to play in regulation. Tyson Spink then sent QU packing one minute into double-overtime, denying Quinnipiac a shot at the Whitelaw Cup with a loss in the semis for the second year in a row. To be sure, the Bobcats will rise to the occasion Friday in Bridgeport.

It’s a re-Union party in Bridgeport

As has been noted prolifically on social media, the East Regional in Bridgeport will feel awfully familiar to long-time Union fans: All four teams have coaches on staff who once (or currently) coached the Dutchmen.

First-round opponent Vermont is coached by Kevin Sneddon (Harvard ’92), who not only won a national championship with current Harvard coach Ted Donato, but also coached Union for the five years prior to Nate Leaman’s tenure. Sneddon has a good thing going in Vermont, going 167-188-56 in Burlington with seven winning seasons, two NCAA appearances and a Frozen Four appearance (2009). Sneddon went 50-99-18 in Schenectady.

Leaman’s coaching record at Providence topped the .500 mark this year with a 21-10-6 season, boosting the former Union head coach and Maine assistant to 52-44-17 in the Ocean State. An eight-year leader in Schenectady, Leaman posted a 138-127-35 record with the Dutch, culminating in the program’s first Division 1 NCAA appearance in the spring of 2011… with current Union head coach Rick Bennett, among others, on his staff.

Finally, Quinnipiac assistant coach Bill Riga served five years under Leaman at Union, and has worked the last six seasons for Rand Pecknold and the Bobcats. While stats are hard to drum up for assistants, it’s hard to ignore Riga’s influence as a top recruiter… everywhere he’s gone, NCAA bids have seemed to follow.

As far as Union’s matchup Friday goes, the Dutchmen will key on Catamounts forwards Chris McCarthy (No. 3) and Mario Puskarich (No. 21). The senior-freshman pair has combined for 35 goals and 75 points over UVM’s 37-game season. An 11-6-3 record in early January dissipated in a mediocre second-half fog for Vermont, which went 9-8 over its most recent 17 games.

Raiders face a familiar foe

Colgate’s draw is even more familiar than some of its ECAC opponents: The Raiders have played first-round opponent Ferris State three times already this year, winning twice and losing once. True, the teams haven’t met since Jan. 4, but there should be ample tape-and-tendency knowledge to build from in both camps this week.

The Raiders took a step forward as a program last weekend, making it back to the ECAC Hockey championship game for the first time in 24 years. They couldn’t overcome Union’s all-around excellence, but Colgate nonetheless impressed as a NCAA-worthy club in a scratch-and-claw comeback win over an undoubtably worthy Quinnipiac team on Friday.

FSU started the year red-hot, holding a 17-3-3 record as of Jan. 11… the Bulldogs had my top vote in the USCHO Poll for a little while, and others joined me for a week or two as well. Their second half hasn’t been quite as torrid – 11-7 since then – but that’s a pretty decent pace all the same. The Bulldogs feature six players with double-digit goals, 14 with double-digit points, and a team save percentage of .927.

That 2-1 record might be good for a dash of confidence, but boy, Ferris State is no chew toy.