Seeing it has been some time since I have checked in with this, I figured I would get back in the swing of it just before the break. Now that we are almost at the holiday break, many trends have taken hold and there certainly seems like a few tiers have developed within the conference. Union and Clarkson sit at the top of the conference with 12 points, but the Golden Knights are unblemished at 6-0-0 in league play and have two games in hand on the Dutchmen. Union has been a surprise in the first half of the season and have gotten contributions from a lot of new faces. Cornell and Colgate also fit into the top tier, as the two have big wins and have just looked the part of being near the top. The Big Red are currently third with 10 points, while the Raiders are right behind with nine.
Brown has more wins in just 12 games this season than it did all of last year. It also has more ECAC wins, four, than it did last season. The Bears are tied for fifth with Harvard and Yale. The Crimson have been surprising, given the talent on the team and have a few tough losses. Another team I will mention is Princeton that has also largely underachieved.
If the NCAA tournament started today, the ECAC would have just two teams in it. Clarkson is third in the pairwise, while Cornell is fifth. Colgate is just outside the picture in 17th and Union is off the pace in 26th. This is largely caused by a poor inter-conference record by the league. Although the league has played a tough schedule, the .426 mark is hardly good for the coefficients. Clarkson and Cornell have largely been the best teams in non-conference play and both are reaping the benefits of it.
Without further ado here are my random thoughts of the last few weeks.
Below the break Clarkson’s young nucleus, Union’s New Charges, RPI fans should trust the process.
Clarkson is Getting Key Contributions from a Young Nucleus
People can question why Clarkson has been so good in the first half, but the reasons are right out in the open. Of course I wrote about sophomore goaltender Jake Kielly last week and he has been a big part. Kielly was the rock in the first say eight games, while the Golden Knights were gelling and learning how to play as a team. As I said in that feature and I will reiterate here, Kielly and his play allowed the Golden Knights to grow and to become the dominant team they are now.
Although Kielly has been good, the Golden Knights have a lot of youth that have come together quickly. As I mentioned above, Kielly is a sophomore and he is one of many underclassmen that have come to life this season. Sheldon Rempal, Devin Brosseau and Nico Sturm are also in their second year. We knew entering the year that three of them would be good, but just how good has been the surprise. Rempal is first in the nation in goals with 13, while Brosseau is eighth in the country in assists, with 14. Sturm also has 13 points and four goals on the season.
Those three have been a big part of the success this season, but it is a pair of freshmen that have really made a difference. Josh Dickinson’s 10 goals is first among rookies, nationally, while Jack Jacome’s 14 points is good for sixth in the country among freshmen. Dickinson was named ECAC player of the month, while Jacome was named the league’s rookie of the month. Dickinson struggled to start with just a lone point in his first eight games, but has been on fire with 10 goals in nine games.
It is this young core that has led the Golden Knights to a nine game winning streak and third in the pairwise. Undefeated and unblemished in its first six league games, the Green and Gold have a pair of games against rival St. Lawrence this weekend, looking to up its win streak to 11. It is clear to me that Clarkson is by far the team to beat in the ECAC and it is a legitimate contender, nationally. The scary part for the rest of the league, is that its core is comprised of sophomores and freshmen.
RPI’s Process is Getting There
The professionalism and close to the vest comments from Dave Smith last week in Belfast showed me that it was clearly a new era in Troy. Although, the Engineers have struggled to pick up wins, they have much more positive going on this year than last. They are largely in games and if not for a few bad minutes in games, it would have more wins.
Last week RPI could have swept its league slate. On Friday night, the Engineers scored a pair of power-play markers in a 2-1 win over Yale. On Saturday, they had a 4-1 lead with less than nine minutes to go against Brown but a three goal barrage late in the third was an undoing for a game that was trending in the right direction. Brown scored the game winner in overtime and left what was going to be a really successful weekend for RPI in somewhat of shambles.
One of the things I gathered last week in my chats with Smith, you can read my feature on RPI, was that the change in culture is largely been a bigger project than many may have imagined, but usually it is. I personally think the vibes around Rensselaer are much better this year, but these changes are going to take time.
Union’s New Charges
Like many, I figured that Union would falter from its lofty perch at the top of the ECAC. The Dutchmen lost a good portion of its scoring when Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo left, while it also lost its goaltender and key pieces on defense. Honestly, I felt pretty comfortable saying there would be a drop, but in a way I guess I discounted just how good of a coach Rick Bennett truly is. Instead of taking a deep fall, Union has lost just twice in its last 12 games after an 0-5-0 start to the year.
Despite the loss of Vecchione and Foo, the Dutchmen are still in the top 20 of scoring nationally and have only picked up steam in recent weeks. This has been in large part due to key pieces that have gelled and put together solid efforts. Many of the questions that surrounded the team in the preseason were whether guys like Ryan Scarfo, Brett Supinski, Sebastian Vidmar and Cole Maier would be able to score now that they would be trusted as the go-to-guys. Supinski has taken the added responsibility and has run with it. The junior leads the team with 21 points and is sixth in the country in scoring. Scarfo, Vidmar and Maier have also been good and each have greater than 13 points. Then there is Anthony Rinaldi, who has a team-leading 10 goals. The sophomore has also come out of nowhere to provide a big punch for an offense that had many question marks entering the season.
Although the offense was a big question coming into the season, the biggest questions were whether the Dutchmen would keep pucks out of the net. After graduating its goaltender, the time was slated to be given to Jake Kupsky who had struggled in limited time over the years. The junior lost his first five starts but has come alive in recent weeks going 3-1-1. In a pair of games at North Dakota, Kupsky stopped 61 of 64 shots he faced and led the Dutchmen to a surprise win and a draw. Darion Hanson, a freshman, has also seen time in the Union net and is an impressive 6-1-0 in seven starts. In those starts, the rookie has allowed just 12 goals and has a save percentage of .928. his only loss is to a red-hot Clarkson team that is still undefeated in the ECAC.
Union looks to have reloaded and has gotten impressive goaltending in the process. As I have admitted much of the first half, I may have just been a little wrong on the Dutchmen in preseason. A loss to Yale over the weekend is concerning but they are still having a solid season.