Another week, another week and another mixed bag for ECAC teams in non-conference play. Quinnipiac dropped the game of the week at Boston University, SLU was swept by Providence and Lowell. Clarkson had a good weekend with a win and a tie at Providence and Lowell. Union swept Niagara and RIT, while RPI picked up a victory . For some teams it was a tough weekend and for others they are making noise, like Clarkson picking up a win and a tie on the road against two tournament quality teams.
The Ivies will begin play this weekend. Harvard will travel to Arizona State, COrnell to Merrimack, Dartmouth will host Michigan, Brown is at Holy Cross, Princeton goes to Michigan State and Yale has Sacred Heart at Ingalls. These games are often interesting because you have teams playing their first games that are playing teams that have already played six games this season. In the case of Dartmouth it will have its hand full with a new look Michigan team.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts of the week
Prognosticating the Ivies
Now that the Ivies are finally underway, I would like to remind everyone what I think of them in preseason. Although these are my own thoughts, there are trends. If you haven’t already read my full preview and watch list, but below find my quick thoughts on what each team brings to the table:
3. Cornell: The Big Red are my darkhorse this year to win the league title. Cornell returned more than any team in the ECAC up front. It may have lost its best defender to graduation, but Cornell will always have the system that makes them successful in the defensive end of the ice. It also returns goaltender Mitch Gillam who has a save percentage greater than .923 in his career. Look for Cornell near the top.
4. Harvard: The Crimson lost a bunch in the offseason and Jimmy Vesey but its defense looks better, more experienced and adds some talent. They should have been better last season, but that end of the ice cost them big time. Offensively, the Crimson are still the most talented team in the ECAC, by far, and although a player of Vesey’s caliber doesn’t get replaced, they should be able to find the back of the net regularly. It also has valuable commodity, Merrick Madsen in net. Madsen was one of the better goalies in the conference last year. Look for Harvard to again be near the top.
6. Yale: There are some that say that Yale’s offense will be really good, but I don’t buy it. Last year, the Elis defense was so good that its contributions on offense were large. This season, Yale’s daunted defense, that has been the best in college hockey the last two seasons,took a hit with the graduations of Rob O’Gara, Mitch Witek and Ryan Obuchowski. These three were the top three and also three of the better defensemen in the ECAC. Rob O’Gara was one of the best in college hockey the last two seasons in his own zone and will be tough to replace. It also lost goaltender Alex Lyon early, who also was one of the best in college hockey. Yale may score a bit more, but don’t count on it and the defense will probably give up more. Yale in some senses is a mystery.
8. Princeton: This looks like the year Princeton should get out of the basement of the conference. It returns all of its offense, Colton Phinney and it has also picked up some talent in its freshmen class. Although, its offense was improved last season it was still not where it needs to be, but improvements should be coming as all of its better scorers were either sophomores or freshmen. The Tigers will make a big jump this season and compete for a home-ice first round series.
10. Dartmouth: After a surprise run to Lake Placid in the spring, the Big Green enters the season with a new look. It lost ten seniors, including its top two goaltenders and three of its top five scorers. the Green should be able to find the net this year, with returning standouts Carl Hesler and Troy Crema returning. The defense also took a hit, losing two of its regulars. How quick the Big Green can find a goaltender, will be crucial on where they can finish. With all the inexperience, it is tough to see them making a run at a home-ice berth.
11. Brown: Bruno has become that team that I always have a hard time reading in the preseason. Although they have some talent, draft picks and players that should be performing, they never seem to. Entering the season, it is sans talented forwards Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin who both grduaated but it still has some skill up front that should find the back of the net. Tyler Bird, Max Willman and Sam Lafferty are all draft picks and juniors. These three if they make a jump could lead the Bears to the middle of the pack, but if they don’t it could be another struggle. Brown needs to be better defensively this season and should be. The goaltending though has been interesting the past few seasons, so I guess it is another year of wait and see what Brown has.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties, Everyone Gets a Penalty
The complaints and disdain of all the penalties being called has reached fever pitch . Check out this piece by CHN’s Mike McMahon that talks about what you are seeing and why these penalties are being called with such regularity. Although, there are some coaches who think it is a step in the right direction, there are some others who think it has gone too far and takes away from the ultimate goal of college hockey, to prepare and teach for the next level. I can see what the fans think, most of which think the shear amount has just become too much. I personally look at it from another angle to realize we are burning out specific players that play in these situations, while others aren’t able to get invested in the game because they aren’t playing.
22 power-plays, 14 of which for PC were called in St. Lawrence‘s visit to Schneider Arena on Saturday night. I am not sure I have ever seen a game that was as choppy and chippy as that one was. but at the end of the day all of the calls were made and were legitimate. Heck I cant even think of one that wasn’t a penalty or one I totally disagreed with. I think it was more the shear number that WERE called that made me laugh at certain times. But rules are rules, right?
Regardless of what fans and reporters think of the flow of the game, which has been downright trash this year, the adjustments need to be made by teams to curtail them. The innocent stick penalties that teams and players have gotten away with for years are going to be called, it has become truthfully obvious. At this point, we are waiting on teams to find the happy medium that they can get away with and the ones they won’t. There is a pattern so coaches that adjust the best will shine.
At the end of the day, the flow of the game is taking a hit. When games have 45 of the 60 minutes spent on the power play, taht leaves very little time for the five on five play to shine. A team like St. Lawrence, is good at five on five but its special teams have left things to be desired. Other teams, like Quinnipiac was last season, relish in the situations where games are played in odd-man situations.
There is another part of this that isn’t being talked about. Many teams are almost completely new this year. Teams like Colgate, Dartmouth and Quinnipiac had huge holes to fill with younger players. It isn’t just in the ECAC, it is everywhere. An example is PC, which has an almost new forward group this year after losing nine seniors. I promise it won’t be this way all season, but to bear with it. This happens in some regard every season, but lightens up. I assume this year will be the same.
Mike Vecchione and Union off to a Hot Start
Mike Vecchione struggled last season finding the net and had the worst season of his college career, at least scoring-wise. He found the back of the net just nine times, but had 21 assists on the year to give him 29 points. Now a senior, it was expected that Vecchione would find his rhythm and find it fast. If the early part of the season is any indication, he is staking his early claim on ECAC player of the year.
In just six games, so far, Vecchione has nine goals and 13 points. In both categories the center leads the country and his linemates Sebastian Vidmar and Spencer Foo are benefiting from his so far stellar play. As a line, the three have combined to score 15 goals in six games and have 31 points on the season. This type of production from the three of them has gotten Union out to a 4-1-1 record, which is the best of the six ECAC teams that have played thus far. Just last weekend, Vecchione scored six goals in two games against Niagara and RIT. On Saturday against Niagara,he scored four and added an assist.To say he is back in a big week is probably an understatement, just ask the Tigers. He was named ECAC player of the Week this morning.
The production will be hard to continue but in Vecchione, he came back as the best forward in the conference and he was first on my list of first team preseason all-ECAC team. Whether or not his production will continue into ECAC play is a big question, but a player with 126 career points and 50 goals in his career, already, is probably one that was going to find his production again. That is certainly happening this year.