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.