It seems like it has been forever since I have done one of these, because well it has been. I hope everyone had a great holiday and was able to check out some of the great hockey over the last two weekends. I was in the UK the week before the Friendship Four and for the people that crossed the pond for the SLU/Quinnipiac visit to Belfast, I am sure that was a great experience because Europe is such a great place to visit, no matter where you are.
In watching the games the last few weekends, there seems to be a big divide between the top half of the league and the bottom half. Struggling teams such as Yale, Brown, RPI and Princeton seem to be struggling to keep up with the offense of teams like SLU, Harvard, Quinnipiac, Union, Cornell and Clarkson. SLU and Clarkson are unbeaten in a combined 16 games, with the Saints unbeaten in nine and the Golden Knights without a loss in seven games. Quinnipiac is unbeaten in five league games, but dropped a 5-1 decision to Vermont on Saturday in Belfast.
To speak to this lack of parity so far, one can look at the records of the top teams in comparison to the bottom of the league. SLU, Quinnipiac, Clarkson and Union are a combined 18-3-6 in ECAC play thus far, with the Saints still undefeated approaching the halfway mark. SLU already has an 11 point lead on the bottom team in the league, Princeton, and a nine point lead on ninth place, Yale. One team near the bottom will make a run, it always happens but the difference between top and bottom certainly seems larger then normal.
Without further ado here are my thoughts for the week, which includes St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Princeton.
Princeton Weekend Sweep of Bemidji State Proves How Far it has Come
Talking to folks around the league and looking at box scores this year, it was clear that Princeton was better this year, by leaps and bounds, they were just struggling to get results. They entered the weekend 0-6-1 and 0-5-1 in ECAC hockey play. Inside those results there were some great efforts that came up short, but Princeton wasn’t able to pick up that win. It appeared to be headed towards its fourth consecutive season of less than six wins, overall. It has taken awhile for Ron FOgarty to build the coffers up, but this years young group seemed different and I thought they would make a big jump this year. Until this weekend, it hasn’t but all thoughts on the Tigers changed over the weekend.
Princeton has some nice pieces up front, a strong goaltender in Colton Phinney and a young nucleus that should be getting better. This weekend, they proved that may indeed be the case. The Tigers came up with an impressive sweep of the Pairwise number 3 team entering the weekend and all seems like the progression under Ron Fogarty is in high gear.
On Friday night, the Tigers hung in a scoreless game until late in the second period, doing exactly what an underdog needed to do. With 4:15 left in the period, they made the move. Ryan Kuffner scored the first of his two to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. Three minutes later, Princeton took a 2-0 lead. After, the Beavers got within one on a power play, Max Becker responded minutes later to restore the two goal lead. The night was impressive, as it showed it could stay with and pull away with a team the caliber of Bemidji. Phinney made 35 saves in the game, with 27 of those being in the final two periods.
On Saturday night, Bemidji took a 1-0 lead late in the first period, but Princeton came roaring back in the second period. David Hallisey scored twice in a five minute stretch in the second to give Princeton a 2-1 lead. The lead was all Princeton junior goaltender, Ben Halford needed to hang on. The youngster made 43 saves on the night, saving 32 of 32 in the second and third periods. Not bad for a season debut, for the sparsely used guy.
The fact that two goaltenders had good nights, proves how much the defending has improved for Princeton. The Tigers have allowed over three goals per game this year, but signs of improvement have been everywhere and in the last five games it has allowed just 12 goals. The biggest area of improvement, however, is the forwards and offensive pressure. Over the last few seasons, Princeton has lacked any offensive firepower. Two seasons ago, the Tigers averaged a mesely goal per game and had a season number in the 30s. Last year, they were more respectable at 1.94 goals scored per game, but still that won’t win hockey games. This year, Princeton has scored 2.22 per game and over the weekend it picked it seven in two games against a really good defensive team, in Bemidji. Entering the weekend, BSU allowed 1.36 a game and the Tigers scored seven.
Everything aside, Princeton picked up two of the most impressive wins of the ECAC thus far. They deserve credit, because Bemidji was a good team. Hopefully, they can use the momentum to enter league play on a high and to pick up some wins. I think they will, we should rememer how young they are… Things are really getting better for the league’s lone New Jersey school. Maybe we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves, but I am totally expecting the Tigers to improve upon this weekend in the future and to continue the upward trend.
Clarkson Molding into what I Thought They Would Be
When I put together my preseason rankings in the ECAC, I had a different list than what I had in my preview article. I changed to SLU last minute, but I felt as though Clarkson would be the team to beat in the league this year. A few weeks ago, my second place selection for them seemed to be a bit off. But at this point, the Golden Knights are now on a six game unbeaten streak, 4-1-1 in the ECAC and have the three best non-conference wins among league teams. They seem to be molding into the team, I thought they would be.
Over the weekend, the Golden Knights picked up an in-season tournament title for the first time since 2006. It picked a tie and shootout win against Yale on Friday night in SOuth Bend. On Saturday night, they picked u a 2-0 win against host Notre Dame. The win was quite impressive, as the Knights stood tall and played well defensively in front of freshman netminder Jake Kielly. Kielly though, stole the show late and proved why he was highly touted in the early. It seems as though, looking at his career mark and his performance over the weekend, that the bigger the game the more focussed he is. He was, rightfully, ECAC goalie of the week this weekend and his play was solid.
It isn’t just a freshman goaltender that is leading his team to victory, but young players throughout the lineup that are producing. Sam Vignault, Jordan Boucher and Troy Josephs were expected to be good. Those three seem to be coming alive, while the young players have become the scoring leaders. One should expect some of the older players to start scoring and the younger one to continue that pace. The depth is ultimately something I thought would be a big advantage this season and it certainly is turning out to be that one.
Wins at UMass-Lowell, a tie at Providence, a victory at Vermont and another road win at Notre Dame will certainly help the national picture in the future. With these wins and good depth, Clarkson seems to be right where I thought they would be. They seem to be primed for a run to a bye in the second half. Whether that happens, probably is something that we will have to wait to see.
St. Lawrence’s Long Unbeaten Streak Has Been Impressive
Sitting at 5-0-1 in the ECAC and on a nine game unbeaten streak, the Saints have certainly recovered from a struggle in the first three weeks of the season. With a big game against Harvard on Friday, it will be sans top three defender, Nolan Gluchowski. If the Saints can get through the weekend undefeated in league play, it will be an impressive feat but it certainly will be difficult considering how important the junior defender is.
St. Lawrence has been the most consistent team in the league defensively and that is certainly expected. They might not be as flashy as a Quinnipiac or Harvard, but it gets the job done. Everyone knows how much, I like the defense and goaltending there in Canton and it is probably the best sacred seven in the country. Gavin Bayreuther, Eric Sweetman and Gluchowski are arguably, in my eyes, the three best defenders in the league. Ben Finkelstein, a freshman, has also looked great in what I have seen of him.
SLU has allowed just nine goals in its last eight games and 11 during its nine game unbeaten streak. Kyle Hayton also has three shutouts in that time frame, after his struggles early in the season that were written about extensively. The Saints have three games left before the break, two of which are huge games. They play Harvard on Friday, in a game against a skilled, fast Crimson team that has given them fitsin the last calendar year. Harvard has won the last three meetings between the schools, including an overtime win in the ECAC semifinals in March. It plays Dartmouth on Saturday and next Saturday it plays the rivaly game at home against Clarkson.
It should be an interesting two weeks in the North Country for SLU. Once it gets past these two weeks, it has a favorable schedule with lone games against Clarkson and Harvard, while its season series with Quinnipiac is over with a 1-0-1 record. Seems as though, the Saints are at the top to stay…