Another week and another great weekend of conference play, for some teams. Harvard swept in the North Country, doing so in fine fashion outscoring SLU and Clarkson by an aggregate of 11-5. Union also picked up a sweep of Princeton and Quinnipiac on the road. The loss by the Bobcats marked their first home loss, within ECAC play, since December 6, 2014 against Harvard. Princeton picked up a dramatic 6-5 win over RPI on Saturday night, in a game it trailed 4-1 and stormed back to win in overtime. It was the Tigers’ first ECAC win of the year and it bumped them up to ninth in the league standings.
Cornell picked up an impressive home sweep of Miami over the weekend, as it defeated the Red Hawks 4-1 on Friday night and a 2-1 victory on Saturday. The Big Red join a mess of ECAC teams in the Pairwise top 20. Five of the top 20 teams hail from the ECAC, as Harvard (4th), Union (14), Quinnpiac (15), Cornell (16) and St. Lawrence (18) all find a spot among the 20 best in college hockey, according to the numbers. Clarkson also sits on the outside looking in at 22 in those ratings. The interconference record of 33-33-9 is fourth among the other conferences, but in recent weeks that has been improving. There are many key games in upcoming weeks, that can change that and one can assume the progression of some teams will bode well for the non-conference window, which starts this weekend for many teams.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts of the week:
Alex Sakellaropoulos has been Quietly Consistent for Union
Honestly, I am surprised that Union has stayed up in the standings for as long as they have, but digging deeper it really shouldn’t be. On Saturday, the Dutchmen became the first ECAC team to defeat Quinnipiac at the Td Bank Sportscenter in the regular season, since Dec of 2014; a stretch of 21 games in which the Bobcats prayed on ECAC competetion. But to do so, Union needed an unwordly performance from its goaltender, Alex Sakellaropoulos and timely scoring on just 17 shots. Within those shots, the Dutchmen scored 5 times. They were outshot by a 54-17 margin in the game.
Sakellaropoulos made 52 saves in the win and in a sense saved the day for Union. It isn’t as though, Sakellaropoulos hasn’t been good all season because well he has been. On the season, the senior netminder from Illinois is 9-1-1, with a 2.62 GAA and .914 save percentage. Although the latter two numbers, which are oftentimes the looked upon ones for major awards, aren’t great, Sak is winning games and is giving his team a chance to win each night. Honestly, if a goalie can do this, regardless of numbers, any team is dangerous.
With the offense and top line that the Dutchmen have this year, Union is one of the strongest teams in the ECAC right now. To put Sakellaropoulos’ numbers in perspective, when he plays his team is 9-1-1, when he doesn’t the Dutch are just 1-2-1. I will take a goalie that wins, over a goalie that is lights out any day of the week. The fact that Sakellaropoulos stole a game over the weekend, should be scary for the rest of the ECAC. if he allows less than two goals a night, Union wins 90 percent of those game, because its offense is the ebst in the league. Look out for Union, I suppose. Do they continue the hot start? I still have no idea…
Cornell on a Five Game Winning Streak
Things that involve Cornell are usually not this quiet, but the Big Red are on a five game winning streak. Whether or not it means anything is irreverent, but a weekend sweep of Miami is impressive. Although the Red Hawks are struggling, they still play their hockey in the country’s best conference, the NCHC. That in itself will help the Big Red if it so happens to need an at large bid in the NCAA tournament. Speaking of the national tournament the current five game winning streak has put them back in the picutre for it, as they are now rated 16th in the Pairwise. The one concern is the fact they like the QWB points and are the only top 20 team that has a .000 QWB.
On paper, the Big Red’s defense is strong, but it isn’t the defense that has made the difference. The biggest deterrence for Cornell in recent seasons has been its anemic offense. Last yeay, the Big Red scored at a clip of 2.34 goals per game and the season before it was at 2.19 goals per game. This season, Cornell has been scoring at a rate of three per game. In todays, game .7 more goals are a big deal. The win rate is exponentially higher when you are able to pot home that third goal. Its defense is also along a quarter of a goal less than last year, so at the end of the day it is all translating to more wins.
The biggest reason for the new found offense, is that the Big Red have developed more weapons. It wasn’t unexpected that it would happen this way, mainly because it returned more than any other team in the ECAC, which usually equates to more depth in the charges. Nothing shows this more than the fact its offense has been improved without arguably its best offensive player, Jeff Kubiak, who led them in scoring last year. Cornell has 19 different players who have gained at least a point, have with more than six points in its 11 games and have eight skaters with multiple goals.
Mitch Vanderlaan and Anthony Angello are both sophomores. Both were great last year and the progression is seemingly up because the two have scored seven and four goals respectively. Patrick McCarron has also been a key piece on defense that has contributed to the offense. Everyone seems to be contributing, offensively, which was hardly the case last year when Cornell’s offense often sputtered and was based on the success of one line.
We should remember, the Big Red got off to a great start last year as well. They raced out of the gates, 8-1-2, but sputtered down the stretch. It will be interesting to see if they can keep the scoring up or whether it will fall off like last year. This year, the depth is noticeable and many more contributors are playing key roles.
RPI’s Finishing Continues to be Problematic
In two ECAC games this season, RPI has held a lead greater than two goals at some point in the third period. Against Yale last month, the Engineers led 2-0 with less than three minutes remaining. RPI lost that game in overtime, 3-2. On Saturday, it led at one point 4-1 and when Victor Liljegren scored midway through the third, he grew the lead to two again. But much like against Yale, the Engineers couldn’t hold on. Princeton scored with 5:39 remaining in the third to make it a 5-4 game and with the extra attacker, it was able to tie the game. A crucial penalty to Jared Wilson, in overtime ended up costing and RPI would fall again.
Last week I wrote about RPI’s overall issues, but the lack of finishing is also problematic. If it were able to hold those leads, it would be a more respectable 3-5-0 in conference play instead of the 1-7-0 it is now. That mark would put them in seventh place in the ECAC, which would be right in position to have a home series in the first round. Instead, the Engineers are now in last place in the ECAC, deservedly so.
When RPI needs a big goal it isn’t getting it. When they need a big stop the goalies aren’t giving it to them and the defending has been marginal at best. The lack of finishing points more to a lack of confidence than anything else. This group of Engineers seems to struggle with knowing how to win , along with the ability to pressure the puck. When the Engineers were up 4-1 on Saturday, the shots were relatively even when I checked. The shots finished, 54-22 in favor of the Tigers. In the third period and overtime, the Tigers outshot RPI, 30-3. Maybe we should give Princeton credit and RPI’s long week (Arizona State and UNH) part of the blame. But something just ain’t right, no team should be outshooting another that badly over 25 minutes of game action.It was much the same on Friday, as it gave up 25 shots to Quinnipiac in the third period. The trend is alarming to say the least if you are an RPI fan.