It is always hard to believe when the last week of the regular season arrives. Only three teams have a shot at the Cleary Cup and subsequently the top seed in the ECAC tournament. Union sits in the catbird seat at the top, but are just one point clear of Harvard hot on their heels. Cornell also has a way to the title, at only three points back. The Big Red and the Dutchmen play in a game that could decide the regular season title on Saturday night in Ithaca.
Union, Harvard and Cornell are the only three teams to clinch a first round bye and home-ice in the quarterfinals. St. Lawrence needs just a point to clinch the other spot in the top four. It faces Dartmouth on Friday and Harvard on Saturday. I was really hoping for a game to decide the title, but it seems as though we won’t get it directly.
The national picture is looking very good for the top three teams as well. Harvard is comfortably third in the pairwise and one of the top seeds, if the NCAA tournament started today. Union is seventh in said rankings and Cornell is tenth. A Big Red win on Saturday would be a huge boost. Union has a tad more leeway with a loss. All other league teams would need to win the Whitelaw cup to gain entrance into the NCAA’s.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts for the week…
Harvard’s Beanpot Win was a Long Time Coming and Will Propel Them Going Forward
If any team deserved to lift a specific trophy, it was Harvard and the Beanpot. The weeks leading up to the tournament were good for Harvard, I wrote about it before, the Crimson were just different this year. If I can describe it in a few words, I would call it business-like and professional. After a rough patch in mid-January, the Crimson continued on their path of being the best team in the ECAC and probably deserving of being in the talks of the top teams in the country. Of course I should also point out here, Harvard has the best winning percentage in the country and are right near the top in the offensive categories.
Every team has bad stretches and strings together a few losses, it just happens. I felt that stretch defined them for way too long, but thankfully the Beanpot fixed that. The Beanpot often propels the team on a long run and sends them deep in the NCAA tournament. We will see if Harvard gets that same postseason push, that so many winners have. I am expecting it in all honestly.
Because of my location, I see Harvard, know the staff well and realize what a quality program Ted Donato runs. One can wonder why and how they get some much talent in a conference that some times lacks it, but I think if you knew the ins and outs, you would realize why kids want to play there. Harvard hasn’t always performed well, hence it had been so long since it had even played a in a Beanpot final. 24 years was long enough for them and if any team deserved it this year, it would be them.
I remember sitting in the press box of the Bright Hockey Center in the early years of my covering the ECAC for CHN, yah I have been doing so for now six seasons (you don’t realize how much I enjoy that and the conference), I would be the only media member there on that night. Sometimes there would be a quiet student reporter, working for the Crimson, but usually it seemed like I was alone. Well, but anyways, I have watched that program bottom out, as a 12-seed in the ECAC tournament playing Dartmouth and losing 6-3 in a game three. That seemed like the bottom point for the program.
In recent years, I have seen the program continually grow and add talent. It always had the latter players, but struggled to put it together and find an identity. Winning the ECAC title a couple of seasons ago was a step, but it still hasn’t won an NCAA game. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy for Ted Donato. After all the years, he deserved and all of Harvard did. Couldn’t find a more classy program around, it went way too long between champions of Boston.
Both Princeton and Clarkson Have been Rather Inconsistent
If I look at league wins against quality non-conference oppontents, of course Harvard’s win against BU is a standout but other than that Princeton and Clarkson have the best wins. Even within the conference, the Tigers and Golden Knights have been the only lower end teams in the standings that have picked up wins against the top teams.
Princeton has a pair of wins against Bemidji State, two against Quinnipiac, a 6-1 victory against Minnesota State, a win against Penn State, as well as wins against SLU and Clarkson. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights have picked up wins against Vermont, Lowell, Union, Notre Dame, SLU and a pair of 3-3 ties against Cornell. Whatever it is, these teams struggle to find consistency from night to night and week to week.
Everytme each of these teams gets momentum it gets crushed quickly with a baffling loss or two. I look at both teams as equals. Both have talent, both have young cores of key players and both have the ability to be near the top of the standings. Clarkson is in sixth and Princeton ninth. We should remember Clarkson was a preseason favorite to get to Lake Placid. It has shown flashes of brilliance but it will need to find consistency in the ECAC tournament to advance. A cornell-Clarkson quarterfinal series would be quite special. For Princeton, a home ice first round series would be nice but it needs to get on a roll to do so. It has proven it can compete with teams above it.
Given the flashes of brilliance, I am sure these teams are the two the upper echelon teams would want to avoid.
Quinnipiac’s Struggles Against the Top 8 Have Been Marked
Since the start of December, Quinnipiac is 3-7-0 against the top 9 teams in the ECAC and 0-6-0 against the other teams in the top six. The Bobcats have needed to feast on the teams below it in the standings and has, except for the two losses to Princeton that probably can be pointed to as what started the spiral.
The Bobcats are 24th in the country in scoring, but that goes down to around two per game against the bettter teams in the conference. Against the top teams, only one team has scored less than four against QU and that was Cornell.
QU will be at home in the first round, unless it find an escape route into the top four and gets a bye. It could, but it would need to sweep and have SLU lose both of its games. The Bank is a tough place to play and a quarterfinal series there would be huge, it just seems unlikely. I am not sure I see a tournament run in this team, either, because of its recent run against upper echelon teams. Unlike Clarkson and Princeton, which have proven they can beat teams above them, QU has not. But the tournament could be funny, if anything the Bobcats have experience to look at.