In ECAC Hockey’s second half, look for improvement from Colgate, Union

Alex Sakellaropoulos’ steady play could help Union rebound from a rough first half (photo: Melissa Wade).

The unofficial second half of the ECAC Hockey season started with a bang Monday, as Cornell handed defending national champion Providence its first loss of the season, although the Big Red were less impressive Tuesday in a blowout loss to Ohio State.

Here are some predictions and things to watch out for over the last two months of the regular season:

Look for a better second half from Colgate and Union

It can’t get much worse for the Raiders, who were 5-11-1 in the first half. Yes, Colgate lost 7-5 to Brown on Tuesday but did get some good news in the form of freshman forward Adam Dauda, who joined the Raiders after sitting out the first half due to health reasons. The school had announced in the fall that Dauda would sit out the whole year.

While he had impressive numbers in junior hockey and should bolster the Colgate offense, Dauda’s arrival also added much-needed depth to a Raiders team that had only 20 skaters listed on the roster in the first half.

If Colgate can sort out its defensive issues, then the Raiders should be hosting a playoff game come March.

As for the Dutchmen, Union sits in 10th place with a 2-5-1 record in ECAC play, but did so with a number of freshmen playing important roles during the first half. I don’t think Union will end the season in the top four, but improvement from the underclassmen and continued steady play from goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos (.927 save percentage) should benefit the Dutchmen in the coming weeks.

ECAC Hockey will have a Hobey Hat Trick finalist for the second straight season

Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey has eight goals in 10 games this season (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

It’s a good bet that Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey will make the final three for the second straight season; the senior is close to his 32-goal pace from a year ago through the Crimson’s first 10 games.

If Vesey gets injured or stuck in a slump, the ECAC has another candidate in Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig.

The senior has six shutouts in 18 games to go along with a 1.18 GAA and a .950 save percentage. Those last two numbers are virtually identical to Ryan Miller’s statistics from the 2000-01 season, the last time a goalie won college hockey’s top award.

Keep an eye on these second-half games

Yale will become the first ECAC team to travel to Arizona State when the Bulldogs head west to take part in the Desert Hockey Classic on Jan. 8 and 10.

Union and Rensselaer meet once again for the Mayor’s Cup on Jan. 23, while Harvard meets Boston College in the opening game of the Beanpot on Feb. 1.

Southern Connecticut will live up to its hockey haven nickname on the weekend of Feb. 5 and 6, as Cornell and Quinnipiac meet in Hamden Friday night, while Harvard and Yale play in New Haven on Saturday.

And how’s this for the final night of the regular season: The current top six teams (Quinnipiac, Cornell, Harvard, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence and Yale) are set to play among each other.

No second-half slump for Harvard

At 6-1-3, Harvard isn’t far off its 9-1-1 first half from last year. However, the injuries mounted in the second half and the Crimson tailed off before making a run in the postseason. Assuming Harvard can stay healthy, the Crimson join Cornell as one of two teams that look to have a legitimate chance of knocking Quinnipiac out of first place.

The Crimson will need to stay healthy, as they have a daunting second-half schedule that includes nonconference opponents Boston University and Boston College, as well as two games against St. Lawrence, Cornell and solo games against Quinnipiac and Yale.

With a deep group of forwards, and stability in net thanks to sophomore Merrick Madsen (.966 save percentage), Harvard should have enough to be a force in the second half.

Don’t expect a ton of upsets come playoff time

It hasn’t been uncommon for a lower-seeded team to make a run to the league’s championship weekend. However, I don’t think that will be the case this year, as the current top six teams in the standings all appear to have a legitimate chance of getting a first-round bye. I think this upper echelon of the league is pretty well separated from the other half.

While things can always change, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the top four seeds in the regular season all make it to Lake Placid in March.