It always seems to come quick, but now that week three has gone and passed the Ivy League teams will finally join the fray. The early season has been interesting in terms of the league, but a few things are becoming quite clear: Quinnipiac might be a different team in terms of style than we expected, Clarkson has picked up some great wins behind goaltending from Jake Kielly, RPI is much improved, and St. Lawrence has been unable to catch steam with a brutal schedule.
Clarkson has led the way in the early non-conference play at 4-1-1, while Quinnipiac has gone 3-1-0. Union got off to an 0-5-0 start but swept its weekend against Niagara and RIT to improve to 2-5-0. Overall the conference has had tough sledding in the early non-conference period, but many of the teams have played tough schedules, like SLU. So far ECAC teams are 12-16-6.
Below the break I will discuss Clarkson’s hot start, SLU’s poor run of form and RPI’s boost in energy in the early going.
Clarkson is riding the coat-tails of sophomore goaltender Jake Kielly
I put Jake Kielly on my ECAC Watch list to begin the year and he has only delivered on the ice. The Golden Knights had a tough run of games to begin the year and they will enter a series against Minnesota this weekend, 4-1-1. They have wins against Penn State, Michigan, Western Michigan and Providence in the first three weekends and have looked good in the process.
Kielly, though, has been at center-stage in those games as the now sophomore has started each of them, has a 1.85 GAA and has the second best save percentage in the country at .958. The save percentage is especially catching to the eye, because of the sample size we have seen. Kielly has a pair of shutouts, one against Michigan and another on Saturday against Providence. His consistency has been important because he has given up more than two goals just once, which was the 3-1 loss to Lowell.
Whether or not Kielly can keep this up is another question but it is clear that him and the Golden Knights have a chance to take another step under coach Casey Jones, who picked up his 100th career Clarkson win on Saturday. This weekend’s series at Minnesota should be an interesting one and should tell us a bunch about what we should expect from Tech heading towards conference play.
RPI’s Early Season Results are Encouraging
Rensselaer struggled to gain traction last season and went a paltry 8-28-1; a year that ultimately cost Seth Appert his job. The Engineer defense, which gave up 3.75 goals per game, was the main culprit and was ranked 56th out of 60 DI teams. This season under new coach Dave Smith the early results have been encouraging.
Over the past few seasons, the RPI offense and possession has struggled to the point that it has been near the bottom in most advanced stats. The defense And goaltending were usually solid enough to get by pushing it to a mid-table ECAC finish or even higher, like in 2015-16 when it was in the race late in the season and struggled down the stretch to a fifth place finish. So when the defense and goaltending weren’t up to snuff last year, it was an obvious struggle.
The signs in the early going have brought about much to be encouraged about in Troy. First, the Engineers have just one loss in four games, a last second of overtime, gutting loss at Niagara on Friday night. Second, in those four games they have allowed just eight goals or two per game. Third, the possession seems a bit improved, which has helped all aspects of the game. And finally fourth, 11 goals over the weekend will certainly help the confidence.
Beginning the year with two 1-all ties against Ohio State was a positive start. Although Friday night was a let down, in that it lost, there was some positive. It trailed by three heading to the third, fought the adversity to tie it and lost on a buzzer-beater. Saturday there was even more positive as RPI scored eight goals for the first time in 12 years in an 8-3 win over RIT. The offensive output should be a spark of some sort.
I predicted the Engineers higher than most pundits did and preseason. This weekend’s series’ against Union may tell us a lot about them. I am certainly interested to see how it goes.
A poor start from SLU was expected, but the level of struggle is surprising
Starting the season against the likes of Penn State, Michigan, North Dakota, Providence and UMass-Lowell was always going to be challenging but seeing any team 0-6-0 at this point is quite surprising. In fact, the Saints are the only team that has played thus far in DI hockey that doesn’t have a result (a win or tie).
Of course, delving into the facts we must realize that SLU had an exodus on defense, in the offseason. Gavin Bayreuther, Eric Sweetman, Mike Graham and Ben Masella all graduated and with them 472 games of experience went away. coach Mark Morris said to me in the preseason, “Nothing can replace experience.”
It sure seems the Saints are struggling to find consistency on the back-end but it hasn’t been helped with the departure of Kyle Hayton, either. Hayton could have provided a lot in the way of experience in net, but his shock grad transfer to Wisconsin has set the Saints back. Admittedly, I figured the Saints would find a way in multiple games in the early going, but a trip to Wisconsin for a pair has SLU in grave danger of falling to 0-8-0 before the conference season even starts. My experience, is that teams that get behind in non-conference slates with a tough schedule early, usually struggle going forward. Interesting to see if that happens here.
Power Rankings Week 3
- Harvard (0-0-0): They haven’t played yet, so they haven’t proved they don’t deserve this ranking. Still the team to beat, talent-wise, in the ECAC. This week: Sun vs Dartmouth
- Clarkson (4-1-1): Three big wins against Penn State, Western Michigan and Providence moved them up. A setback against Lowell, who is a good team in its own right, doesn’t hurt much. Keilly and Clarkson is a team to watch. This week: Fri/Sat. at Minnesota
- Quinnipiac(3-1-1): Started the season 0-1-1 against the likes of Boston College and Boston University. Now having won three straight, the Bobcats appear on the right track going forward. This week: Off
- Princeton (0-0-0): See Harvard above. We don’t have anything to judge them on, but because of good starts from QU/Clarkson a drop is in order. This week: vs Holy Cross
- Cornell (0-0-0): Ivy, same as above. No need to change without knowing. This week: Fri/Sat vs Alabama Huntsville
- Brown (0-0-0): Ivy. This week: Fri at Yale, Sat vs Yale
- Yale (0-0-0): Move up because of others struggling. This week: Fri vs Brown, Sat at Brown
- RPI (1-1-2): Two 1-1 draws against Ohio State will be good results to begin the year. The defense has been pretty good and the offense scored eight goals against RIT on Saturday. Its one loss, was in overtime and in the last second. This week: Fri at Union, Sat vs Union
- Colgate (2-2-2): Wins against Merrimack and Niagara to start the year. Their two losses are to a red hot UNH team that looks to be good, which they didn’t have starter Colton Point. This Week: Fri/Sat vs Arizona State
- Union: A 2-5-0 record seems like rough sledding, but really the only concerning loss was to UMass. The Dutchmen started with five straight losses but recovered this weekend with a pair of blowout wins against RIT and Niagara. This week: Fri vs RPI, Sat at RPI
- Dartmouth (0-0-0): Idle, this week: Fri at Holy Cross, Sun at Harvard
- St. Lawrence (0-6-0): SLU has struggled to solve a bunch of really good teams, all of which will probably be in the NCAA tourney at the end of the season. But the Saints are still 0-6. This week: Fri/Sat at Wisconsin
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