Although I haven’t written one of these in a while, I have been able to see a lot of ECAC teams in action. Now that most of the non-conference slate is over, teams will start looking towards conference play with earnest and in need of points. Union, St. Lawrence and Harvard seem to be in good positions, I will talk about QU in a second. All three of those teams have looked like the dominant teams for much of the first half and I expect the second half to be the same. Based on what I have seen thus far, I expect Harvard to end up at the top by a healthy margin, but that is why they play the games. Cornell might also be in good position, because it will have games in hand, but we will see how those pan out. Make sure to check out the CHN standings page for all the info there.
One team in particular, Quinnipiac, needs points this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth on the road this week. Quinnipiac sits in third coming into the week, but is disadvantaged in the coming weeks. After this weekend, Cornell will have six games in hand and trail the Bobcats by just four points in the standings. SLU in second has a three point lead on QU, but will have a three game cushion. Clarkson is two points back and will have a possible eight points in hand. QU needs wins this weekend if it is to finish in the top four. Even Union, currently in first and four points up will have three. That said, my fifth place preseason prediction is feeling pretty comfortable right now, unless QU starts winning.
As far as the national picture is concerned, it is a slog unless teams at the top win a ton in conference. It isn’t impossible, but the ECAC tends to beat itself up.
Union’s game against BU tonight, should be interesting as the Terriers are missing seven to the US World Junior team that plays for gold tonight. Harvard’s Adam Fox also plays and it is conceivable that he misses the weekend, at least Friday night, but he may have a good consolation prize. Honestly, I am writing this from Montreal and am really looking forward to that game. Fox made the turnover that led to the Russian tying goal last night, but his team made amends by winning in the shootout, well Troy Terry did.
Union’s key loss to North Dakota, although promising for them regardless of what Bennett said postgame, will come back to bite. I will talk about this more below. Cornell’s loss to NCHC’s Colorado College will hurt and SLU’s loss to Vermont on Tuesday could all be painful, The ECAC currently has two, Harvard and Union, in the top eight of the Pairwise, while SLU, Quinnipiac and Cornell are all on the outside looking in barely in the top 20. Clarkson is a good case study going forward because it has decent non-conference wins and if it starts picking up conference wins, they could shoot up. Time will tell.
Now that the maintenance items are past, here are my thoughts for the week.
Union Looked the Part of a Good Team Against North Dakota
The Dutchmen went toe-to toe with the Fighting Hawks for much of the game and the difference was a goal just 11 seconds in. Honestly, although Bennett questioned his team’s toughness after the game, I thought Union proved a lot of doubters, like myself wrong. That is why I was so shocked when Bennett came in and gave the quotes that he did. It is not that I totally didn’t expect it, Bennett when he knows he has a good team always presses buttons. He did it in 2104 a few times and we know what happened that year. I think he knows that he is on to something this year.
North Dakota may be down and missing a couple of key players but they are still the same Fighting Hawks. Their interior defending has always been spot on, as it was on Saturday night against the dutchmen. Union had chances, but I felt it was more the long layoff that had them just a tick off. The 11 second goal will point to that and the lack of shooting accuracy would be another. The one concern was that Mike Vecchione had zero shots attempted, but that isn’t happening on 99.9 percent of nights.
The most promising thing to me though, was the Union defense holding North Dakota back and holding them to few chances. This has been the area of concern for me, as the Dutchmen have proven they can outscore just about anyone, but they haven’t proven that when the goings get tough they can stop anyone. Although they didn’t win against North Dakota on Saturday, I saw more positives than negatives. They look the part of a contender in the ECAC, maybe right behind Harvard.
See also: http://www.collegehockeynews.com/news/2017/01/01_unions_bennett_implores_team.php
SLU’s non-conference inconsistencies, injury woes and a midseason addition
SLU has a 7-1-2 record in the ECAC, but in non-conference play it has a 3-5-2 record. As I mentioned in my game story on Tuesday night, this has every chance to not matter if the Saints can continue their pace in the ECAC but they may have to win the league tournament for that to happen. Although, I think the Saints will continue winning in the league there are very few ‘great’ wins in the ECAC right now that will bolster the pairwise standing. SLU has a chance to even its record in non-conference play in a pair at Canisus and probably will and it has 11 ECAC games remaining. Odds are it will hit 20 wins before the ECAC tournament begins. SLU plays its next six games on the road, so they won’t be easy to come by.
The Saints are also hindered right now because of injuries. Jacob Pritchard, arguably its most potent offensive weapon, is out for a while, while playmaker Drew Smolcynski is as well and forward Michael Laidley is out for the year. The Saints are incredibly thin right now up front. On Tuesday two freshmen made their collegiate debuts in the lineup, as Sam Kauppila and Alex Gilmour each entered the lineup for the first time.
The injury woes up front, pushed Mark Morris and the Saints to bring in Gilmour mid season. He was put on the second line and didn’t seem to have much problem adjusting to the game. He also has size, at 6-5 and 210, so he may just be a commodity down the stretch to help wear down opponents.
The Saints are in a good spot in the league and their defense will keep at or near the top. Finding consistent scoring amongst their injuries will be the challenge.
See also: http://www.collegehockeynews.com/news/2017/01/04_shifting_tides_for_vermont.php
How will Princeton do in the Second Half
Princeton may just be the hottest commodity in the ECAC right now. Max Veronneau entered the break on fire and was rewarded this morning as the HCA National Player of the Month, the Tigers entered the break winners of six of their last eight games and it did so against mostly teams that will find itself in the hunt for the tournament.
The Tigers have proven they can score and the scoring is way up, led largely by a young core that will only get better. I expected Princeton to be better this year, but in recent weeks even they have surpassed the improvement that I thought they would show. The sweep of Quinnipiac was important to them, but the two wins are still two of three within the league. The Tigers will need to make a run if it will finish in the top half of the ECAC, which they have proven they probably can.
Princeton can continue to improve in certain areas and I think the break will do some good for Colton Phinney, who seemed to be struggling to some degree although his team was in the midst of a good run. Wins against Bemdji, Quinnipiac and Minnesota-State will only matter if they can use them for confidence heading back into the meat of their schedule. They also have a big Greater-Philadelphia matchup against Penn State at the end of the month, which is another test,
-Can RPI recover? This is a tough one, but everything has to get better. RPI has looked overmatched everywhere and has struggled to possess the puck. It is uphill, at best.
-Is Harvard really as dominant as some of there results show? Led by two young defenders, Adam Fox and John Marino, the Crimson are playing better than anyone in the ECAC right now and have looked the part of a Frozen Four team.
-Can Clarkson gain consistency? Big wins against Notre Dame, Vermont and Lowell look good but the Golden Knights have been largely inconsistent and have struggled at times in its own zone.
-Can Cornell continue its hot form? Take out the loss to Colorado College in the Florida College Classic and the Big Red had won five in a row and 7 of eight. The Big Red have the defense and a balanced offense this season, which should be taken as dangerous.
-Yale will just need to outscore everyone, its defense has been a real struggle this year.