In all honesty, I have no idea where the time went. The best time of the year is upon us, as eight teams will play this weekend for a chance to advance to the quarterfinal round, where Union, Colgate, Quinnipiac and Cornell wait in the wings with byes. I will have a more complete preview of the ECAC first round later this week.
The last weekend, showed the true grit of playoff hockey. Union, despite not playing for much, was locked into a battle with Brown on Saturday. On Friday night the Bears and RPI were locked into a playoff hockey game. Some teams flourish in the environment and it will be very interesting to see who that team is this season. Last season it was Brown, but this season there are a few teams that could be that team.
I am going to a highlight some things below and give some opinions on to who I think will go forward in the tournament. I don’t give much in the way of an opinion in the preview, so this is a much better avenue to do so. All in all, I could see 11 of the 12 teams going to Lake Placid, as the league is so strong. Right now the two favorites among readers seems to be Quinnipiac and a really gritty Union team, I would agree with them. Because of the way this season has gone, there is always thought that the clear-cut favorites wont make it and a team that no one expects will be there, I will say that probably will happen.
Union is Primed to Win A Third Whitelaw in a Row
I hate to say Union had nothing to play for on Saturday, but in comparison to Brown it really did not. I am always impressed with that program when this time of the year comes around, because it seems as though Rick Bennett has found a formula that gets his players to work and play hard every night. Saturday night against Brown was no different.
Going into the tournament, the Dutchmen have the nation’s longest unbeaten streak going. That should not be a cause for concern among fans saying that maybe they need to lose a game along the way, they do not. There are some teams around the country that would get complacent. ECAC fans should not worry about Union in that light because no team is as mentally tough in the country. The reason why Union is so good is because they are well coached and those kids get great guidance in how to be successful. When asked about the performance in light of maybe little stakes for Union, Rick Bennett said,”We have a lot to play for.”
Staying on a roll is tough, but Union is primed to keep the streak alive throughout the tournament. Situationally, Union is as good as I have seen this season around the country. It never seems to panic, it always gets the better of the play and when it gets opportunities to find the back of the net it does so. A lot can be said of great defensemen. One allows success in College Hockey, but Union has two in Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere, which makes them ever dangerous going into the tournament. Union has had injuries but its proven that it has depth.
Is there any team more prepared for the ECAC tournament and the NCAA tournament from the ECAC? I would argue not, look for Union to make runs through both tournaments.
Rensselaer Has the Chance to Make Amends
Rensselaer was my pick in the preseason to win the Cleary, but they find themselves entering the tournament as a seven seed. The offense that was supposed to be the best in the ECAC has just not arrived. Jason Kasdorf went down early and has missed the entirety of the season but Scott Diebold has been ever capable, and his numbers have proven that.
Seth Appert talked throughout our interview on Friday night, about how he has been preparing his team for the playoffs since January. A lot can be said of realizing the fate early and preparing for the next step. Ryan Haggerty and Brock Higgs have had great seasons but other guys need to find the back of the net for the Engineers to be successful. Scott Diebold looked solid as a rock on Friday night against Brown, and quite frankly he needed to be and was the reason RPI won that game. But then again, Rensselaer needs consistent scoring, that it should have, to go anywhere in this tournament.
The only way this team goes to the NCAA tournament is by winning the ECAC tournament. It wouldn’t be impossible with the talent, but the mindset has to be there. We have to remember, Rensselaer is one of three teams this half to beat Union. It was a non-conference but it was a rivalry contest. Rensselaer didn’t crack on Friday under the pressure, but it did on Saturday. Rensselaer can advance, but just needs to gain consistency and gain it fast. It has a chance in the tournament to make amends for its dreadful at times season. Brown was a seven seed last year, could RPI make it two years in a row that a seven seed makes it to the ECAC championship game? It is not far fetched.
Brown Just Bit the Bullet Over the Weekend
One of the reasons I enjoy talking with Brendan Whittet is because he is probably the most honest coach in the league. On Saturday night he was brutally honest in saying that his team had to get better and it needed to do so fast. For a team that has arguably the best top line in the ECAC, the Bears just struggle with little aspects of the game that costs them games. Twice over the weekend the Bears had the point that it needed to clinch home ice, as in both games it entered the third period tied at zero with its opponent, but twice Bruno just faltered.
It is tough to say that Brown blew an opportunity, but it did. Hypothetically, Brown had every chance to gain a point in either of the two games last weekend but it just wilted away and got soft in the third period. Both Union and RPI, were mentally tougher in the third period, hence they both ran away with the games.
Brown has some good results this season, as it beat Denver, tied Boston College and defeated Quinnipiac just two weeks ago. But for every good game, there is another head scratcher, a loss to Princeton comes to mind. The Bears needed just one point in two home games, they failed to score a goal in either. But its not like we couldn’t predict this was going to happen, as it also struggled at the end of the first half.
The Bears need to find a scoring touch and some mental toughness really fast or its exit from the ECAC tournament will be really fast. It is still pretty young, yes, but Nick Lappin, Matt Lorito and Mark Naclerio are super talented. The Bears are the same team statistically as last but the only difference, has been the goaltending and edge. Brown has a knack in the tournament, but it needs to right ship really quickly to break its longtime NCAA drought.
A fourth thought? Why not, Tournament Predictions
9. Brown vs 8. St. Lawrence: St. Lawrence wins 2-0
I would love to see Bruno make a run again this year and make it to Lake Placid. The team I saw last weekend, will not win tournament games. St. Lawrence is pretty bad defensively, but then again it has had its moments of impressive defense lately, minus its debacles against Union and Quinnipiac. Look for St. Lawrence to find the back of the net often. Brown just does not have the ability to keep up this weekend.
10. Dartmouth vs 7. RPI: Dartmouth wins in 3
This seems to be the upset pick to me. Dartmouth has been playing lights out in recent weeks, recently having five game unbeaten streak snapped. Look for Dartmouth to win in three.
11. Harvard vs 6. Yale: Yale wins in 2
Harvard probably didn’t want this matchup, because Yale matches up really well in it. If Harvard, can get scoring it will be fine but it hasn’t shown the ability to do so all year. Yale probably wins both going away, because Yale has blown out its Ivy Rivaly already this half.
12. Princeton vs. 5. Clarkson: Clarkson in 3
I probably would have picked Tech to lose against any other opponent. The Golden Knights have proven a lot this year and Casey Jones has this program going in the right direction. Princeton is in a league of its own this year in terms of struggle. I give them a game in this series, I probably shouldn’t, Clarkson should sweep.
Those would lead to these matchups in the Quarters
1. Union vs. 10. Dartmouth: Union in 3
This would be quite the turnaround for Dartmouth to make it this far, but Union is just too strong and mentally tough to drop a series to them.
2. Colgate Vs. 8. St. Lawrence: SLU in 3
SLU might be the only team that can keep up with Colgate in scoring. If this series happens, it could be really a fun one to watch. Colgate is young, but so is SLU. I just feel as though it is go big or go home for Gate. They should make it to the final four in all honesty, but there will be an upset going into Lake Placid. I think this is it.
3. Quinnipiac vs. 6 Yale: QU in 3
Ya this matchup would be fun now wouldn’t it? Nice little rematch of the ECAC consolation game last year, and oh ya the National Title game. The stakes aren’t nearly as high, as the latter game but for Yale if it wants to defend its title, it needs to win this series. I just don’t see it happening.
4. Cornell vs 5. Clarkson: Cornell in 3
This could be a tough series, and wow the hits will be hard. The longtime NY rivals would make for a fun series. This is a safe bet to happen, in my opinion. Look for Cornell to find some magic against a team that has been largely inconsistent this half.
Lake Placid semis and finals:
1. Union vs. 8. SLU: Union 5-2
3. QU vs. 4. Cornell: QU 3-2
Final: 3. QU vs 1. Union: QU 4-3
It has been a fun season for me covering the ECAC in three things this year, and hope you continue to look for game blogs in the first couple of rounds. Until then watch for the preview later in the week, which has more detailed info on each team. Follow me on twitter: @JoshSeguin24 for live game updates and other thoughts. Thanks again for a great season! Hopefully I will get the chance to write great things for many weeks to come on your team!