It seems that this season in ECAC play there is a real separation at the top. With Quinnipiac seemingly miles ahead of everyone many can presumably already give them the Cleary Cup, as they currently have an 11-0-1 conference record. That puts them a full eight points ahead of second place Yale in the standings. While the Bobcats do have a substantial advantage in points there is always room for error. However at this point there really is only minimal room at the top of the league.
The case for the Cleary:
Qunnipiac (18-3-3, 11-0-1)- This team has played to its strengths throughout the season thus far. A hardnosed approach from head coach Rand Pecknold has really shown in the character of his team. Goaltender Hartzell is absolutely crucial for this team. The senior is hands down the best goalie in the ECAC this season and without him they would not be sitting so pretty.
The Bobcats have had some solid offensive play from senior Jeremy Langlois with 23 points on the season. The rest of the team has spread out the offensive production amongst themselves. It may not be the most productive offense, but combined with one of the best defenses in the nation it gets the job done.
Obstacles do remain for this team, as the bulk of ECAC play looms. Match ups against Yale and away at Dartmouth could go against the Bobcats. Everyone knows how unpredictable league play can be, especially against bottom teams hungry for a good playoff seed.
Quinnipiac has had some real head scratching results this season. A November home loss to AIC certainly highlights that. The strength of the Bobcats non-conference schedule is very weak and if they lose a couple games things could get bleak. It is important for the team to stay the course.
Yale (11-4-3, 7-3-1) The Bulldogs are really bouncing back from an awkward start to the season and surprising many. Goaltending looked to be an issue last season, but it seems head coach Keith Allain has really found a solid number one goaltender in Jeff Malcolm. With a 10-3-2 record this year, the senior is having a great final season.
This shift in defensive hockey has made Yale look very good since November, aside from a dismal loss against Holy Cross after returning back from winter break. Yet a 3-3 tie with Boston College and a recent win over Dartmouth certainly gives this team a leg to stand on in the argument for the best team in the ECAC.
Offensively Antoine Laganiere and Kenny Agostino have been impressive, with each earning 23 points so far this season. The upperclassman of this team have really put the team on their shoulders this season and many can look to that as an advantage come playoff time.
The bulk of the ECAC schedule looms for Yale and they look to have quite a few interesting contests. Notably two games against Quinnipiac that could really shake up the top of the standings if the Bulldogs win.
Dartmouth (10-6-2, 6-4-1) - There is a lot of promise for the future of this team. The Big Green still have a chance of winning the Cleary, but a lot of things have to go its way. Head coach Bob Gaudet really would like to make the national tournament this year and they likely have a better at large chance than anyone because of a very strong strength of schedule.
Offensively the top line of Tyler Sikura, Matt Lindblad, and Eric Neiley are on par with anyone in the country. Yet staying healthy has been an issue for Dartmouth in the past. Dustin Walsh was making a good comeback, but it seems that he comeback has been stunted with another injury.
The youth of this team is tremendous and they will certainly have one of the best chances at taking the Cleary next season if they fail to do so this year. Dartmouth will only graduate three seniors and that has to scare many coaches around the league.
The team seems to be in a funk this month with only two wins out of five. It will be crucial for Dartmouth to buckle down and grind out results, so that they can stay near the top of the league ahead of the playoffs. In terms of pairwise they currently sit in 9th and would be a third seed in the tournament. If things stay steady for this team there really is a good chance they finally make it in.
I know that the standings put both Union and Princeton tied in points and actually ahead of Dartmouth. There just doesn’t seem to be that much consistency with both teams. As most know that means pretty much nothing in this league, but I think it is a stretch to say that either of these teams could make a run at the Cleary. Perhaps they could move up in the standings though.
Princeton is having a really good season for the program and it will be important for head coach Bob Prier to build from that. On the other hand Union is having the post Frozen Four hangover kind of year. None of this matters when the playoffs start and you can bet Dutchman head coach Rick Bennett is banking on that.