Archive for the 'Commentary' Category
Now that every team in the ECAC has played an equal amount of league games, the standings have finally started to take shape. One of the first things I noticed at first glance, was the top four teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack and those teams are only separated by a mere two points. Doesn’t it always seem that the races are close in the ECAC? Certainly the case this year.
Despite its loss to Harvard on Friday night, Union has the league lead at 27 points, Harvard is in second with 26, while Cornell and SLU each have 25. These teams seem to be in a drivers seat for the top four spots, as Quinnipiac is four points back with just four games to play. The Bobcats are still mathematically in the race for a bye but it would need some help. Six points back of the Cleary with just four to play seems quite the uphill battle for the Bobcats and with all the games left between the top teams, it is even more unlikely. (more…)
Heading into the final few weeks of the season, one has to wonder where the time has gone. Just four weeks are left in the regular season and it appears that the top three have, in a sense, pulled away from the pack. SLU picked up a huge win against Union to take the lead in the conference with 25 points, but the Dutchmen have two games in hand and trail by just two points. Harvard is also hot on the heels of the leaders with 22 points and could pounce with any slip-ups above them. Also look out for Cornell, who still has games in hand on fourth place Quinnipiac, Harvard and SLU. The Big Red could find themselves higher with big wins in the coming weeks. Cornell travels to Union on Friday night for an 8:30 contest that will be shown live on ASN.
The ECAC seems to be going as normal with interesting, surprising results across the board. On Saturday, Dartmouth went to Lynah Rink and defeated Cornell. A few years back, the Big Green had a similar result at Lynah as it seems the Big Red sometimes overlooks them after playing Harvard. It is one Cornell needed to bolster its national and league standing, but just couldn’t muster much out of it. The last couple years, Cornell has had a February and early winter swoon.One must wonder if it is happening again…
Unless SLU continues its hot play or Cornell goes on a run, the ECAC is seemingly a two-bid league into the NCAA as per-usual. Union sits in a comfortable position of sixth, while Harvard is also a two seed in eighth in the pairwise. SLU is in 14th and on the outside looking in, but obviously leading the conference could lead to a bid if they so win the conference title in Lake Placid. The Big Red are in 17th after their sweep at the hands of Harvard and Dartmouth. Without further ado here are some thoughts on the league (more…)
As the season goes along I try to find trends within how teams are playing and the form of each. Although I have seen the struggle of ECAC teams in non-conference play, I know that the quality of games in the league isn’t down. This season teams have been filling holes from last season, left and right, but as a league fans can point to the five ECAC teams in the top 18 of the Pairwise to realize maybe things aren’t so bad. The thing with that is, is the top teams have a ton of wins, while the bottom teams have struggled to pick up points against them. The top three (Union, SLU and Harvard) have a combined 22-3-4 record, while the bottom six are 12-37-5 in ECAC play this season.
One interesting stat that I have found, is that although defenses are struggling the offenses are still clicking at a high rate. In comparison to last year, most teams have a higher goals/game ratio. At this time last season, there were just two ECAC teams that were averaging north of three goals a game, Quinnipiac (3.78) and Harvard (3.93). The rest of the league was tightly bunched in a range from 22.214.171.124 goals a game.
This season the Crimson are off the charts at 4.58 goals scored a game, while Union (3.90), Yale (3.21), Clarkson (3.19), St. Lawrence (3.18) and Princeton (3.0) are each averaging higher than three. That realistically proves what many know, many teams are rebuilding defenses and the goaltending is a tad down from the last season. I suppose most fans like this kind of hockey and teams have adjusted to their strengths. Whatever it is most teams are scoring at higher rates.
Also read my thoughts on RPI’s Struggle this season, I feel they are an important case study of what can happen when things go seriously wrong.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts for the week… (more…)
When I wrote a feature in November on RPI it was just a struggling hockey team that was trying to find rhythm and momentum. I felt as though it would turn it around during the second half or late in the first semester. It had points where it seemed like that would be the case. Even then, the Engineers were in games until the end. There was a 3-2 loss against Ohio State, a 3-1 loss to St. Lawrence, it led by two against Yale, late, only to have the Bulldogs come roaring back to win in overtime and there was an overtime defeat on the road to Union. Albeit losses, they weren’t ones that would get anyone’s head shaking.
Unfortunately, the results since then have been downright embarrassing and things have gone from bad to worse. As a Program, it is also approaching some program low-marks if the current trends continue.
Since I wrote that feature, the Engineers have won just once, to Arizona State, have gone a paltry 1-8-0 and are on a current seven game losing streak. It isn’t as if the Engineers are just losing nail-biters in their current seven game losing streak, either. They have given up five or more goals in six of those games and six or more in four of them. During the skid, they had a three-goal lead against Princeton evaporate in a game it ended up losing in overtime. In the third period and overtime, the Engineers put four shots on goal, while the Tigers had 30. Other than that the closest game was against Quinnipiac, a 4-1 defeat that they were outshot 51-15 in.
On the season, the Engineers have a -2.09 goal margin, which is the worst in the ECAC (next worst Brown -1.64). That margin is also the second worst in the country, to Niagara’s 2.35 margin a game. During the seven game skid that I talked about above, that margin shoots to -3.43 per game (39-15 or 5.57-2.14 per gm). For perspective, by the way, 50 out of 60 teams in college hockey have a loss/win margin of less than 1.0 and another five teams have a better goal margin than 1.35. RPI and Niagara are outliers, as they are the only two that have margins of greater than 1.75.
These are not results that RPI or any team in a major conferences should be having. No team in the country should be consistently allowing six goals a night and no team should be losing by 3.14 over a period of nine games. In most of those games, the result isn’t inflated by empty-net goals.
Usually there is more to blame when a college hockey program falls from grace than just a coach or a coaching staff, but the onus in these circumstances always falls there. Teams with the history and backing like RPI usually have a quick trigger, but lets also remember Seth Appert is still under contract until 2020-21. Unless some alum steps forward a buyout would be pricey and probably unreasonable.
That contract was signed in 2013, a season after RPI had a second place finish. The best finish since was last year, when the Engineers finished in a tie for fifth. It bowed out in the quarterfinals, being outscored 13-4 over two nights. Honestly, this year I figured they would come close to that, but it hasn’t happened. There is always some responsibility at that level and based on RPI fans I have read and talked to there certainly is.
As I was digging through the RPI team history, the Engineers are on pace to have its second worst season in its DI hockey history, the worst by percentage was in 1965-66 when it went 3-19-0 (13.64 win pct.). The winning percentage this season, is at a paltry 15.2 percent and over the last few weeks has been falling quickly.
The 19 losses it currently has is already the ninth most, in a season, since it became a founding member of the ECAC, in 1961-62. With 14 more games left in this season there are many more that can be added. Of note, the largest loss total that the engineers have had in a season, is 27 in ’08-09 and 26 in ’14-15, each in the last decade under Appert.
The fewest wins in a season it has had in the ECAC is era is three (65-66) but teams only played 22 games then. This season, the Engineers are on pace for just five, after rounding up from 4.86. This would be astronomically low for the RPI program, considering only once since 1970 has it even been in the single-digits.
It is tough to point to what exactly has gone wrong, but it is clear that defensively there have been some problems, as I mentioned above. There also comes the fact the Engineers have been outshot by an average of 10 on goal per game and giving up an inflated 36.39 shots per game. They have a 43.7 percent corsi that is sixth worst in the country.
Usually when a team is under pressure as much as RPI is, there will be trouble, unless they have great goaltending and a good system in place that keeps those attempts to the outside. Even then at 37 shots allowed per game, a goalie would need to have a .95 save percentage just to allow just two goals and a .92 to keep it to three. This is what RPI has had in the recent past, but now those areas seem to be a trouble.
Whatever has happened to RPI in recent weeks, is something that shouldn’t happen to a team of RPI’s stature, in the ECAC. No program in the country is immune to these seasons, however, they happen. For a program like RPI’s, which has two national titles to its credit, this season has brought about a sad state of affairs. If things don’t turn quick, the blame has to go somewhere I suppose but is there really a sign it will? Lets just hope, it does turn around to some degree.
Three years ago, the last time Hockey East ran a Frozen Fenway, I wrote this column where I grumpily told you why outdoor hockey has lost its novelty, and in reality, it’s not fun or special anymore.
Now three years wiser, I’d like to take that column back. At least certain elements of it.
Truthfully, I mostly still feel the same way I did in 2014. To me, the novelty has worn off. To me, it’s growing old.
But the thing is, these games aren’t about me.
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: (more…)
Another great weekend and many standouts have started to take shape. Quinnipiac, Cornell and Clarkson all took home four points, while SLU continued its hot ECAC start picking up three. Although, it is too early to start making assumptions it appears that those four teams and Harvard are standouts. I will talk about why I included the Crimson in that list below. RPI, Colgate and Yale have struggled in the early season. Yale probably the biggest surprise in that list, but it seems like it should have been expected with all the losses it had in the offseason.
After defeating Yale at Ingalls rink on Friday night, Colgate struggled to find traction at Brown the next evening. The Bears picked up their first win of the season in the process and now only Princeton is without a win in the ECAC this year. I still feel as though Princeton is much improved and the possession stats in the early going will show that. It is always tough for a young Ivy team to find traction, I assume they are just off to a slow start. It held tough against Harvard on Friday night, until it fell off late. It picked up a tie against a Dartmouth team that has found some great results in the early going on Saturday and I feel as though the Tigers will still pick up more wins than the last few seasons. It will be interesting to see how they progress. RPI, Brown,Princeton and Colgate are a combined 5-22-6 on the season, with each having a similar possession problem that puts them under a ton of pressure.
Dartmouth slowed a bit in a loss and a tie to Quinnipiac and Princeton, respectively. The Big Green held an early lead against the Bobcats on Friday night, but key penalties cost them dearly. Once QU got the lead, Dartmouth struggled to find the early game rhythm. They ended up dropping that game, with Devin Buffalo making 48 saves in a 6-3 loss. Mike Vecchione’s unreal start slowed a bit over the weekend with just a pair of assists, but he has been really good and still leads the nation in both goals and points. Union had a tough weekend, but still lead the league, with a loss and a tie on the weekend. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.
Watch Out For Harvard
One of the things that have plagued Harvard over the years, has been the inability to move the puck through the neutral zone from the defensive end of the ice to the offense. Interestingly enough, the one year Patrick McNally provided that wrinkle, the Crimson won the ECAC championship. This season, along with the plethora of talent up front, the Crimson have added two pieces on the blue-line that have instantly made them better not only in the defensive end but also on offense, which makes Harvard extremely dangerous.
For 40 minutes, Harvard utterly dominated Quinnipiac on Saturday. In the first 13 or so minutes of the second period, QU probably had about a minute in the Harvard zone in that time frame. The Crimson sent many shots, 33 in fact towards the QU net but were just unable to bury it. It is very rare for any team to do that to the Bobcats and it has probably been Harvard’s biggest bane against them in recent seasons. It is much like they have done in many games in the early going, including a Colgate game which it sent over 90 shots towards the net. For Harvard, all this is an improvement and it is all because the defense is that much better.
It is rare, a defensive talent like Adam Fox comes into the league. As a freshman, he is well rounded. On Saturday, in a big game, he played first pair minutes played on the power play and killed penalties. Him and John Marino, have fit well into a team that struggled for consistency in its own zone the past couple of seasons.
Technically, on the sheet, Marino, was paired with Wiley Sherman on the top pair and Fox on the second with Jacob Olson. Fox and Olson played a ton on Saturday, both played really well and both were noticable. Marino did as well but Fox was clearly a standout, with the amount he was playing. Both freshmen can move the puck, with Fox being very confident at all aspects of his defensive game. This should only lead to a boom in posession, and it already has. The Crimson are fourth in the country in corsi for, at 58.5%. Last year Harvard was midpack and against decent hockey teams, it struggled mightily. This is mostly because the defense does better limiting chances, while it also does better on getting the puck to the neutral zone.
As I said above, Harvard has struggled to move the puck from defense to offense over the years, this season the fruits of this new found wealth will probably be a good thing. Despite losing to Quinnipiac, it was the better team. It was nice to see a Harvard team move the puck from defense to offense, despite the struggles to finish and get those opportunities late.
One should watch Harvard, they still have a ton of talent up front and Merrick Madsen in net. Madsen seemed a bit off on Saturday, but he will get out of the funk. Harvard is an extremely dangerous looking team and if anything fun to watch.
Cornell Finds its Way
I remember looking at the scores early Friday and at that point saying well maybe Cornell isn’t the team I thought they were. But I checked again about an hour later, to realize they had scored the next four goals against Brown to take a 4-1 lead. The Big Red held on to defeat the Bears 4-2, to pick up the first win of the young season. On Saturday, Cornell find its rhythm in a big way, scoring six times in a 6-3 win.
Although Yale seems down, scoring six against that system is a big positive for Cornell. There was always the question of where the scoring would come from for the Big Red but it had arguably the best first line returnig in college hockey. Although, Jeff Kubiak remains sidelined with an injury, Jake Weidner has been fitting in with Mitch Vanderlaan and Anthony Angello just fine. In Saturday’s game, Vanderlaan scored a hat- trick, which was the first one for Cornell in over five years.
Despite a slow start over the few weeks, I still felt the Big Red would turn a corner. It still has Mitch Gillam in net and its defense will always be good. It appears that the early season troubles have passed and if Cornell can continue to score like they did over they weekend, they too are a team to watch.
Given where Yale has been in the past five seasons, it probably would have been a shock that they would have started a season 1-3-0 in league play. But here we are as the Bulldogs were swept by Colgate and Cornell over the weekend. Even in its one win, it took a remarkable comeback against a struggling RPI team just to tie it and eventually win it. To say the Bulldogs have struggled defensively and in net would be an understatement.
Although the Elis have possessed the puck a ton and have taken many shots, they have struggled to keep the few chances out of its net. This is a common theme with most teams that struggled in situational defending and teams that have shaky goaltending. It is second in the country in corsi for at 61.3%, but it is 50th in the country in goals against per game played. It allows 3.60 per game, while its goaltender Patrick Spano has a 3.45 GAA and a .879 save percentage. Spano was never going to match the numbers of Alex Lyon, who departed in the offseason for the Flyers, but it was expected that he would hold the fort. It certainly doesn’t help him, Yale lost its top three defensemen to graduation and its fourth to a career ending injury. There was always going to be growing pains, but it is still surprising.
Yale has more talent up front this year than it has in recent seasons, but there are notable holes on the blueline. It is able to generate the pressure it has been able to, but it makes sense the defense wouldn’t be able to hold up to pressure the other way. The offense is scoring at the same rate it was last season and just a tick higher than it did the year prior. Everyone figured, Yale would be a top offense in the ECAC, but I didn’t think it would be. Everyone seems to have forgotten just how much offense, Yale’s defense contributed over the last few years. It has been a catalyst and now those pieces are gone the struggles will be there. So far, it is seventh in the ECAC in scoring with 2.80 per game. John Hayden has scored five goals in his first five games and has a been a big piece.
Although Yale has scored at the same rate this year, its goals against per game has skyrocketed. Last season the Elis led NCAA hockey, allowing just 1.78 goals per game. This year, that number has blossomed to 3.60 against per game. It is easy to pinpoint the troubles so far. They will probably continue, as the schedule gets even tougher. It is just interesting to see Yale in this position after two years of being the best in the nation.
Entering conference play with a clean slate is always a nice beginning to the season.We probably didn’t learn much over the weekend, because it is so early in the season and most teams are getting into their systems with new faces. While Harvard looked really good in both games, it only escaped the weekend with a win and a tie. Ditto to Dartmouth, that has surprisingly begun its season 2-0-1 overall and 1-0-1 in ECAC play. Cornell has struggled in its three games to begin its season, while SLU came up with a big weekend sweep of Quinnipiac and Princeton. For the Saints, it appears that its stalwart netminder, Kyle Hayton, has left his early season struggles behind him. Over the weekend Hayton had two shutouts, stopping everything the Tigers and Bobcats threw at his net. Hayton with the two shutouts, set the SLU program record for shutouts in his career, as the junior now has 10.
Union has rocketed out of the starting gate with a 4-0-0 record in ECAC play, while rival RPI is 1-3-0 after it defeated Brown on Friday night. Union is a tad of a surprise but they have, arguably, the best offense in the conference and right up there with Harvard. There will always be questions about its defense and goaltending, but at least so far it has been able to score enough goals, most nights to not have to worry about that. The Dutchmen have scored the most goals in college hockey, with 45, and scores more than four goals a game (4.09). Its top line, which I will write more about in a feature on Mike Vecchione this week, has been dynamite and has put itself into conversation of the best line in the country. The statistics can certainly prove that. If the Dutchmen can get better in its own zone, it will be a serious contender in the ECAC this year, but then again that will be deterrent. (more…)
The Ivy League schools began play over the weekend. For some, it proved to be a rough night. For others, there were moments that showed hey they may have something to add. For Dartmouth, the one game it played had to be a big momentum boost for the coming weeks heading towards ECAC play. All told, the Ivies had a 4-4-0 record on the weekend, including the Big Green’s win over Michigan on Saturday night.
Union swept RPI in the opening league games of the 2016 season, continuing their hot start. The Dutchmen are now 6-1-1 on the season. Their offense is led by rejuvenated senior Mike Vecchione, who has 10 goals on the year and the game-winner against the Engineers on Saturday. The only team that has defeated Rick Bennett’s charges this season was Michigan at Yost. They will play at Holy Cross tonight, which has a win against Providence and defeated Brown on Friday, 3-0.
The league has in some senses struggled this season in non-conference play, but it was probably never going to equal last year’s impressive non-conference season. So many teams are young and have players in new roles. Other than a 5-1-3 record against the Atlantic, the ECAC has a record of 13-19-4 against the BIG and Hockey East. It has been tough sledding in some games, but with the Ivies back I suspect it will all get better. I also totally expect Clarkson and SLU to break their respective slumps at some point. Both teams have a good number of talented players. Without further ado here are my thoughts of the week: (more…)