Colgate and Union have steamrolled out of the gate. The two are a combined 6-1 on the young season and have done nothing but impress. The two were expected to be good, picked first and second in preseason, so the success is hardly a surprise. Clarkson hit a rock over the weekend scoring just one goal in two games, while getting swept in a home and home by Vermont. St. Lawrence continues to surprise a bit, as the Saints were a goal away from sweeping the weekend against highly touted Ferris State. Instead, they picked up a win and a loss. Quinnipiac did little to impress me last weekend and I will discuss its struggles on Friday below.
The conference as a whole is looking good in terms of the inter-conference records, as the conference is 13-9-2 on the young season. It also has a winning record against Hockey East, which is always nice to see. With most of that action coming on the road against quality competition thus far it is so far so good in comparison to the other conferences.
The ECAC preview package was released late last week. Make sure to check out the team by team preview, the Watch List and my article on Union’s, Charlie Vasaturo. Without further ado here are the things I see as noteworthy for the week:
Quinnipiac’s defensive woes have returned
I wrote in my preview that Quinnipiac’s defense would be a year older, thus it should be much improved. On Friday night, Quinnipiac’s still young defense had a rough night against Lowell. It gave up six goals and in all honesty it looked just as bad, if not worse than it did last year. The issue wasn’t the younger guys because in some ways they played pretty consistent, but instead it was the guys that have experience that struggled. Dan Federico had an awful night, his mistakes led to three goals. Justin Agosta, a senior transfer from UNH, also made a clear mistake that led to a goal. Federico, a defender that some ECAC media had on the first team preseason poll, was on the ice for the first four goals on Friday and was a -4 on the weekend. Federico has been on the ice for seven of 12 opponent goals this season, hardly what a team would expect in three games from its top defender.
Last season, Quinnipiac dominated possession against its opponents. This often masked the underlying problems of below average goaltending and defensive breakdowns that cost them games later in the season. The possession was still there against Lowell, at times, but it didn’t dominate it by any means. It still held a good Lowell team 26 shots in that game, while it had 27. Last season, the possession domination led to league best 1.96 GAA but this year the slight advantage of possession has spelled trouble.
Quinnipiac has just two plus players on the season, Andrew Taverner and Justin Agosta. Taverner actually had a pretty goal coming down the left side on Friday, a beautiful snipe to the top corner but I suppose that’s to be talked about another time. Sam Anas, Matt Peca and Federico are combined -11 on the young season. I am not saying plus/minus is an overly important stat, but it does show trends that I feel are highly important to the game. To have your best players averaging -4 on the young season is very concerning. Those players will be seeing the best players all season long. Problems usually mount before they get better.
As porous as the Bobcat defense has been, its goaltending has been less than stellar as well. Giving up 12 goals over four games is hardly what we expect, but that is exactly what has happened. Michael Garteig was solid for most of last season, I would argue not stellar. This season he just hasn’t been there to bail his team out and it cost him his starting role on Saturday, when Sean Lawrence made the start at home against Lowell. Garteig has a 4.01 GAA in his two starts to go along with a downright awful, .810 save percentage. His replacement fared a tad better on Saturday with an .864 save percentage but still most teams look to average around .905. The numbers can prove two things, the defense has been consistent enough to keep possession and shot numbers down, but it also proves that the defense has let him down. Poor save percentage is often the product of defensive breakdowns more than it is a goalie’s performance. Based on what I saw Friday I would say it is 70/30 in favor of the defensive breakdowns.
Union’s Has Picked Up Right Where it Left Off
Growing up within the Hockey East circles and going to the University of Maine’s biggest rival, I have more respect for Maine’s Alfond Arena than anyone else. There is no atmosphere that compares to Orono and the Alfond Arena in the East, ya Cornell you’re close. For Union to go in there and dominate the Black Bears is something that really surprised me and shows the mettle of this Union team. Last season, Maine went 13-3-2 at the famed arena. It also dominated the best teams in the country, Boston College included. What Union did right was put them away early and that is impressive in itself.
It seems as though Union has picked up right where it left off last season, which is bad news for the rest of ECAC. Mike Vecchione has proved he is an elite player. To begin the year he sits atop the national scoring charts, with nine points. Daniel Ciampini is the dominant player he was last year, again, the defense is again looking strong, even without the two best defenders in the country and most importantly Colin Stevens is being his consistent self. So for Union, what is old is new again. The level of domination has yet to show a sign of dropping off either. In four games to begin the season, Union has outscored opponents 18-6. In two games against Maine, the Dutchmen outscored them 8-2.
This weekend will prove to be a barometer of how good the Dutchmen are, as it hosts highly touted St. Cloud for a pair of games in Schenectady. St. Cloud split with Colgate just two weeks ago at home and had last weekend off to prepare. I am guessing Union will pass the test with flying colors. Union boasts a 21 game unbeaten streak heading into this weekend, including a 16 game winning streak. It also hasn’t lost a home game since November 8th, 2013. All of these streaks are impressive, dominating streaks.
St. Lawrence Has Found a Goalie
St. Lawrence has struggled through inconsistent goaltending the last few years. Many, including myself, thought it would continue this season. Senior Matt Weninger graduated, which left a freshman and sophomore vying for the role of starter this season. Kyle Hayton has gotten the nod to begin the year and has done nothing but put himself on the map pretty quick. Over the weekend, Hayton was downright impressive bringing his Saints to within a goal of pulling off two pretty big upsets, and I hate this word, against Ferris State. Instead the Saints lost in overtime to Ferris on Friday and picked up its second victory of the season the next night in a 2-0 victory. The win came against a team that found itself in the CHN preseason Top 10.
St. Lawrence’s struggles in net and on defense last season were much written about. When the season was over, the Saints gave up 3.26 goals per game and its goalies had a collective save percentage of .875 on the year. Fast forward to 2014-2015, the Saints have given up 2.48 goals per game in its first four games and a paltry 1.66 in its last three games.
Hayton has been the reason for the resurgence. Last weekend against Ferris, Hayton stopped 77 of 80 shots that the Bulldogs sent his way. He made 44 out of 47 saves in a 3-2 overtime loss in the opener and he had an impressive 33 save shutout on Saturday night. The weekend was one that few goalies see consistently. His early season .925 save percentage is third among ECAC goalies and is a far cry from the .875 that St. Lawrence saw from its goalies last season. One has to think it continues but of course it is too early to know for sure. Take out the five goals scored by RIT in the opener, and Hayton has allowed just five goals in three games. That is about all one can ask for from a freshman netminder.
If Hayton’s play early continues it could have the rippling effect of improving St. Lawrence as a team. It has proven it still has some scorers and although the defense still has some holes, it has allowed 123 shots in four games, consistent goaltending can often lead to improved confidence up and down the lineup. A lot can be said about comfort and confidence in a goalie among the defense. Knowing a goalie can make a save is really a comforting thing for the defense. If this weekend was any indication, the Saints might just have found the consistent goaltender is badly has needed the past few seasons but four games really makes it difficult to know for sure.