Entering holiday break, ECAC Hockey teams looking to regroup, keep momentum going for second half

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 26: Matt Foley #4 of the Yale Bulldogs skates against the Boston College Eagles during NCAA men's hockey at Kelley Rink on November 26, 2019 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. The Eagles won 6-2. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/USCHO) (Rich Gagnon)
Yale senior defenseman Matt Foley has been steady on the back end for the Bulldogs and has racked up three assists so far this season (photo: Rich Gagnon).

What a difference a year makes.

After limping into last year’s holiday break with a myriad of injuries, Cornell roared through the first half en route to the program’s best start in 50 years.

But a 2-1 loss to Dartmouth last Saturday denied Cornell the chance to enter the break as the only unbeaten team in the country.

That blemish doesn’t dismiss a great first half for Cornell. The Big Red isn’t the only ECAC Hockey team playing well as the first half winds down. Travel partner Colgate enters the break on a 5-1 stretch, while Dartmouth (4-1) and Clarkson (4-0) are each on impressive streaks entering their final weekend of play before the break.

Here’s a look at each of the league’s teams and where they stand entering the break. The teams are listed with their league records and in order of the current standings.

Cornell (7-1-0)

Despite the loss to Dartmouth, Cornell enters the holiday break as one of the top teams in the country.

Junior Morgan Barron has established himself as one of the top forwards in the conference, while the Big Red have size and skill throughout the lineup.

Junior goalie Matthew Galajda (.941) is having the best season of his career, while the Big Red have largely avoided the injuries that plagued them at this point last year.

“Our guys remember that,” Big Red coach Mike Schafer said of last season’s injuries. “We always say it’s never easy. Last year was something I hope I never experience as a coach again.”

Last year’s bevy of injuries is unlikely to happen again, but the Big Red have the depth to withstand any bumps and bruises in the second half. This is a team that should push for a league title and a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Clarkson (6-1-0)

Clarkson might not be on the same level of Cornell, but the Golden Knights aren’t far behind. Devin Brosseau, Haralds Egle, and Josh Dunne are one of the top lines in the league, while goalie Frank Marotte has been among the best in the country in the early going.

Clarkson will end the first half having played seven of its 17 games at home, but the Golden Knights play eight of their first ten games at Cheel Arena following the break. Clarkson also ends the regular season at Cornell, a game that could have major implications on the standings.

Even if the Golden Knights aren’t able to catch the Big Red, Clarkson should have a firm hold on a first-round bye for the conference tournament and will likely make a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance in the spring.

Harvard (6-2-0)

For much of the first half, Harvard matched Ivy League counterpart Cornell stride for stride, starting the season 6-0. But the Crimson have lost four in a row heading into the holiday break, including a 4-3 overtime loss to Colgate Saturday.

Harvard might have the deepest group of forwards in the conference, but the Crimson have been held to two or fewer goals in three of the last four games.

The offense should pick back up, and the Crimson have a pair of solid goalies in Mitchell Gibson and Cameron Gornet. Depth issues on defense might be the only issue for this team down the stretch, but Harvard should finish near the top of the league and push for an NCAA tournament berth.

Colgate (5-2-0)

Cornell, Clarkson, and Harvard are clearly the top three teams in the league. There is some drop off after that, but the Raiders are looking more and more like a team that could push for the final top-four spot after finishing tenth last season.

Colgate’s recent surge has been fueled by two underclassmen. Freshman Colton Young leads the team with seven goals, while sophomore Andrew Farrier has started five straight games in goal and has a .943 save percentage this season.

The Raiders ended the first half by scoring nine goals in a 2-0 weekend at Dartmouth and Harvard. That’s a good sign for a team that has struggled to score for much of the season. If Colgate can improve on a power a play that is 4 for 69 this season, worst in the country, the Raiders should be in good position to finish with a first-round bye.

Dartmouth (4-2-1)

A three-game winless streak to start the season has turned into a solid first half for the Big Green, who beat previously undefeated Cornell on Saturday. Dartmouth ends its pre-holiday schedule with two non-conference games this week.

Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Big Red could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the season for Dartmouth. “We didn’t sacrifice on our offensive opportunities just because we played so well in our own end,” coach Bob Gaudet said.

Playing well defensively will be important for the Big Green. While sophomore Drew O’Connor is one of the league’s better forwards, Dartmouth doesn’t have the offensive depth outside of its top two lines to get into high-scoring shootouts.

Dartmouth could end the season with a first-round bye if everything falls right in the second half, but as worst the Big Green should be hosting a playoff series in March.

Yale (4-6-0)

The Bulldogs closed a dismal first half with three straight wins, allowing two goals during that stretch. Prior to that, Yale’s defense was giving up more than four goals a game. That’s an unfathomable number considering Yale’s talent on the back end, which includes NHL draft picks Phil Kemp and Jack St. Ivany.

The goaltending has been much better, as senior Corbin Kaczperski and junior Nicholas McNabb have combined for a .887 save percentage. But Kaczperski, who has played well in the past, was named the league’s goalie of the week after allowing one goal in two games over the weekend.

Generating offense might be a problem for the Bulldogs, but this team is too talented defensively to continue playing the way it did for much of the first half. The only thing hurting the Bulldogs is that they are tied with travel partner Brown for the most league games played, meaning Yale has little margin for error in the second half.

Rensselaer (3-5-1)

After finishing last season as one of the worst offensive teams in the country, the Engineers have been respectable offensively this season. Unfortunately, the defense and goaltending have taken a step backwards, as sophomore goalie Owen Savory (.887) has been unable to match his strong freshmen season thus far.

It’s been a rough stretch lately for the Engineers, who only had one win over their last seven games prior to beating Brown Saturday. If Savory and the defense can turn it around, RPI could host a playoff series come March.

If not, the Engineers will be on the road for the fourth straight season.

Union (3-5-0)

Once one of the league’s top teams, the Dutchmen have had a rough go of it this season.

Union has scored 26 goals in 16 games, a far cry from the Dutchmen’s relentless offensive teams of the past. Much of that has to do with opportunity; Union is only averaging 22 shots per game, second to last in the country.

Goalie Darion Hanson and the penalty kill have been decent this season, especially in conference play, but Union’s offensive struggles look to have the Dutchmen heading on the road for the playoffs.

Brown (3-7-0)

Like Union, Brown has had respectable goaltending and penalty killing this season, and virtually no offensive production.

“The margin between winning and losing becomes very hard when you score one goal,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet said.

Outside of Tommy Marchin, last year’s Brown team didn’t have a lot of big scorers throughout the lineup, instead relying on its depth. That was enough to help the Bears make it to the league’s championship weekend for the first time since 2013.

That hasn’t been the case this season, as leading scorer Justin Jallen has seven of the team’s 21 goals. Unless Brown can string together some more goals, it’s likely the Bears will be on the road for the playoffs.

Quinnipiac (2-3-1)

Like Union, it seems hard to believe that the Bobcats will end the first half among the bottom dwellers of the league.

After losing its starting goalie and several defensemen in the offseason, Quinnipiac looked like a team that would win based on the strength of its forwards. But the Bobcats are averaging just over two goals per game, despite averaging a respectable 30 shots on goal per game.

The good news is that junior goalie Keith Petruzzelli has been playing better lately. With an improved offensive performance, Quinnipiac should be able to improve upon its current position in the standings, but getting a first-round bye might be a challenge.

Princeton (0-4-2)

Princeton started out the season with a bang, scoring ten goals in two games at St. Cloud State. But the offense has dried up for the Tigers, who have scored 15 goals in 11 games since then.

Sophomore goalie Jeremie Forget, who came on strong at the end of last season, has played well over the last two games after seeing little action throughout the first half.

But regardless of who is in goal, it’s going to be hard for Princeton to move out of the bottom of the league if the offense doesn’t should drastic improvement.

St. Lawrence (1-6-0)

The Saints are on pace to finish in the bottom of the league again, but at least they’ve been competitive under first-year coach Brent Brekke.

Overall, St. Lawrence has lost nine games by two goals or less, not including extra-attacker goals. Sophomore Zach Risteau has emerged as an offensive threat that the Saints were lacking last season, while senior Daniel Mannella has played well in goal.

Despite that, St. Lawrence will likely be heading on the road for the playoffs again, but the program appears to be heading in the right direction after a rough couple of seasons.