Entering conference play with a clean slate is always a nice beginning to the season.We probably didn’t learn much over the weekend, because it is so early in the season and most teams are getting into their systems with new faces. While Harvard looked really good in both games, it only escaped the weekend with a win and a tie. Ditto to Dartmouth, that has surprisingly begun its season 2-0-1 overall and 1-0-1 in ECAC play. Cornell has struggled in its three games to begin its season, while SLU came up with a big weekend sweep of Quinnipiac and Princeton. For the Saints, it appears that its stalwart netminder, Kyle Hayton, has left his early season struggles behind him. Over the weekend Hayton had two shutouts, stopping everything the Tigers and Bobcats threw at his net. Hayton with the two shutouts, set the SLU program record for shutouts in his career, as the junior now has 10.
Union has rocketed out of the starting gate with a 4-0-0 record in ECAC play, while rival RPI is 1-3-0 after it defeated Brown on Friday night. Union is a tad of a surprise but they have, arguably, the best offense in the conference and right up there with Harvard. There will always be questions about its defense and goaltending, but at least so far it has been able to score enough goals, most nights to not have to worry about that. The Dutchmen have scored the most goals in college hockey, with 45, and scores more than four goals a game (4.09). Its top line, which I will write more about in a feature on Mike Vecchione this week, has been dynamite and has put itself into conversation of the best line in the country. The statistics can certainly prove that. If the Dutchmen can get better in its own zone, it will be a serious contender in the ECAC this year, but then again that will be deterrent.
John Hayden’s Big Minute
Yale looked to be headed to an 0-2-0 record in ECAC conference games late in its road matchup against RPI on Saturday. It trailed 2-0 with three minutes to go and a goal by Frankie DiChiara got the Bulldogs within one. WIth 19 seconds left, Hayden took an innocent wrister from the top of the left faceoff circle that found its way in and moments later, 19 seconds into overtime, Hayden got a greasy one in front of the net where he was able to backhand it home to send the Elis home 1-1-0 in conference play. The two goals were a big moment for the now senior and could prove a pivotal moment for the confidence of the very talented winger, which has struggled to find a groove since his arrival in college hockey.
It is moments like these, Yale fans have been expecting from Hayden since he stepped on their campus, but in most cases they have been disappointed. In the preseason, I picked Hayden for the ECAC media first team and honestly, he was the first name on my sheet. He came on midway through last season and returned this season as the leading returning goal scorer in the conference. I believe that these type goals will continue this season and Hayden will finally live up to the promise that we have expected from him all along.
I picked him there, because I figured he had a lot to prove and he would make a jump. He has the size the NHL likes and he has a decent shot. He probably could have left early, going to the pros but he decided to come back. He is probably the most talented forward in the conference that came back, save maybe Mike Vecchione and a couple Harvard forwards. This season, he will be pushed more than ever, as Yale will need to score more goals to stay afloat. Its defense took large losses in the offseason. It just means more of the talent Yale has up front will be allowed to do so.
He may not score the prettiest goals, which can be seen in the highlights of that game but he is talented enough to score goals in bunches. Whether or not he is a talented playmaker is probably up in the air, because that has hardly been proven in his time with the Bulldogs. Could these goals be the start of a stellar campaign for the player that came in with such promise? I guess we will find out, I think it will be…
Charlie Finn Keeping Raiders in Games
One of the things that will go unwritten about the weekend, was just how good Charlie Finn was against Harvard and Dartmouth. On Friday night, Colgate was heavily outshot and outplayed by the Crimson. Finn came to the rescue with 41 fantastic saves, including 28, yes 28!!!, grade-A saves that found his crease. In regulation, Gate had only 12 shots on goal the whole game and in overtime Finn came up big again making four saves to steal a road point. Somehow, the Raiders escaped the night with a point despite being out-attempted 93-29 and having a corsi of just 24%.
The next night at Dartmouth, Finn was in fine form again. Although, he wasn’t as heavily tested on that night it was evident why he has been playing so well. In the four years I have covered him, I have never seen him as in the zone as he was that night. Everything he saw, he gobbled up and kept it out of the net. Once in the third period, a Dartmouth skater got alone in the slot and somehow Finn was able to get his pad on the shot to push it wide. That will arguably be one of the better saves of the season in my eyes. Even on others, it was evident that he was seeing the puck as well as he has in his four seasons at Gate. One the one that beat him, he had no chance as Troy Crema blasted it to the top right-gloveside corner of the net. He came close to getting that one too.
It all seemed to turn around for him in the tournament last year against the Big Green. That series was great and Finn’s fine form has continued into this season. The Raiders have struggled to win games this season, but that is hardly on goaltending. Finn has a .943 save percentage the last two weekends, which it has a lone loss against Dartmouth, two ties and a win against Maine. He has also has a 1.68 GAA in those three games. He is keeping a young team in games, while they come around to learn the systems and gain confidence. This could be a big thing for Colgate …
Dartmouth Might Have Lost A Lot but Gaudet Has This Team in Good Shape
I wrote something similar last week, but after seeing the Big Green over the weekend I feel as though they might end up in the top half of the league come seasons end. I know it is early, but the Green seem to have more structure in its own zone and the young players that Gaudet has brought in seem to be fitting into the system. In three games so far, Dartmouth has allowed just three goals. Devin Buffalo picked up the shutout against Colgate on Saturday, including a few testers in the third that gave his team the chance to pick up a late win, which it did on a late goal by Troy Crema.
Although we always write about how much of a deterrent the Ivies starting early is, a team that lost as much as the Green did probably is at an advantage because it has a few extra weeks of practice before the season than say a team that started weeks ago that didn’t have that time. Watching everything that was transpiring on the ice shows me that Dartmouth’s system will generate offense and shots at a high pace. Although the offense has only scored six goals on the year, it has started a surprising 2-0-1. Considering everything that was lost in the offseason, that would be deemed as surprising.
As positive as the early season is, it is still early. Whether or not the defensive systems hold up and the goaltending of Devin Buffalo continues to be good will be the question that is required to be answered. It may, based on what I saw but then again it could just be an early season mirage. Some food for thought however, the Big Green are usually the slowest starting teams among the Ivies so this year might just be the best start in some time. Now with a good start, what will happen?