Monday, December 28, 2009

Breaking Down the ECAC: Exam Break Edition

After a long delay, we present our usual ECAC power rankings column. Since we skipped a couple of weeks, and since this is as close as we get to a natural halfway point, the only new wrinkle is that our key player will be from the entire season so far, not just from the previous week of play. We'll then take the top three players from this list for the top three players for this season so far, and also look at the top three games to watch for the upcoming holiday season.

With that in mind, here we go:

1. Union (8-3-5, 4-0-3)
Last Time Out- The Dutchmen, the only team yet to lose a conference game in the ECAC, have had impressive run this season, but also in recent weeks. Union hosted two top four teams in Colgate and Cornell, and were able to get three points from the weekend, beating Colgate 3-1 and Cornell 2-2. Union closed out their 2009 ECAC campaign with their second win over rival RPI, a 5-4 victory, the first league game between the foes that have met three times this season. Then, in an exhibition game against the US U-18 team, they became the first ECAC squad to beat the Americans. Shocking Statistic- Union has not lost a game since a 4-3 OT loss in a non-conference game to RPI on Oct. 30, but more shocking- Union has only lost one game in regulation all year, a 3-1 loss at St. Cloud State on Oct. 17.
Key Player- Mario Vallery-Trabucco leads the Dutchmen in scoring with 10 goals and 11 assists, for a team high 21 points.
Next Time Out- Union will be participating in the Toyota UConn Classic at Storrs, CT on Dec. 29 and 30. UMass will face Hockey East opponent UMass in the first round, and then face either UConn or Bentley, of Atlantic Hockey, in the final round. Union and Bentley were also in the RPI Holiday Tournament together, but did not meet.

2. Cornell (7-2-2, 6-2-1)
Last Time Out- Cornell faced the defending national champions Boston University in Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden, and the renewed rivalry game did not disappoint, as the teams skated to a 3-3 tie. Cornell then closed out 2009 ECAC play with a 3 point road weekend, beating RPI 2-1 and then tying Union 2-2.
Key Player- Blake Gallagher is averaging a goal per ECAC game, leading the team in conference points with 9 goals and 6 assists in 9 conference games. He also leads the conference in goals per game with a 0.91 GPG.
Next Time Out- Cornell travels down to Estero, Florida for the Florida College Classic on December 29 and 30. The #4 Big Red face the #3 Colorado College Tigers of the WCHA. Cornell will then face either ECAC and Ivy League opponent Princeton, or Hockey East opponent Maine in the final round.

3. Brown (5-7-1, 3-4-1)
Last Time Out- Brown, particularly looking at their record, seem like a bit of an odd choice to be this high in the power rankings, but power rankings heavily favor how a team has been playing lately- and Bruno has been flying high. The last loss for Brown came on Nov. 24. Since then, they have earned all 5 of their wins on the season. They started with an 8-1 win over UConn in non-conference play, then beat Harvard 4-1 with the aid of two empty-netters, swept Princeton and Quinnipiac at home 3-1 and 2-1 respectively, and knocked off American International 5-2 to close out 2009. After 0 wins in the first 8 games, Brendan Whittet's team might just be one of the hottest in the ECAC right now.
Key Player- Mike Clemente is third in the conference in save percentage and is the key cog in Brown's defensive system.
Next Time Out- Brown will have a tough test to continue their winning ways as they travel to St. Cloud State on Jan. 2 and 3 for a two game series.

4. Yale (7-3-2, 4-1-2)
Last Time Out- The Elis have not loss a conference game since dropping a 5-2 decision on the opening weekend of the year, facing RPI in the always difficult Black Friday game. Coming into the break, the Bulldogs knocked off two Atlantic Hockey teams in a big way, beating Sacred Heart 8-2 and then Holy Cross 7-3. After losing a 1-0 game against Hockey East opponent Vermont, Yale then swept a home series in the ECAC, beating first place Quinnipiac 7-4 and then beating Princeton 4-1.
Key Player- Broc Little is second in the ECAC in goals per game, having scored 10 goals in 12 games for a 0.83 GPG.
Next Time Out- Yale travels to Madison, WI on Jan. 2 and 3 for the Badger Hockey Classic, as #9 Yale will face #11 Ferris State of the CCHA, and then will face either Hockey East's Merrimack or the WCHA's #7 Wisconsin Badgers.

5. Quinnipiac (13-3-1, 7-2-0)
Last Time Out- It's maybe a little shocking to have the first place team this far down the power rankings, but they are down this far the same reason Brown is up this high- recent form. The Bobcats were cruising along, and had achieved their highest ever program ranking, #4 in the country, but then they were swept on a road trip to Yale and Brown. Quinnipiac lost to their Nutmeg State rivals 7-4 on Friday night, then traveled to Providence where they were beaten 2-1. The struggles continued, as they tied Atlantic Hockey opponent Holy Cross 1-1, before they got back to their winning ways with a 5-2 win over American International.
Key Player- Brandon Wong leads the Bobcats in scoring, placing second in the ECAC in points scoring and leading the ECAC in goals.
Next Time Out- Quinnipiac has one last ECAC game in 2009 as they take on the Harvard Crimson in Cambridge. They then take on travel partner Princeton at Hobey Baker Arena in the new year.

6. Colgate (7-6-4, 5-3-1)
Last Time Out- The Raiders are 1-3 in their last four games. Two of the losses were respectable, falling on the road to undefeated Union 3-1 and to rival Cornell on the road 4-2, but the Raiders also dropped a 7-6 OT game on the road to Canisius after a 15 day break. The one win for Colgate came on the road to RPI, 5-3.
Key Player- Austin Smith is tied for second in the ECAC in points scored with 24 points, including a league high 16 assists.
Next Time Out- Colgate is traveling out to Hoffman Estates, IL for the Shillelagh Tournament on Jan. 2 and 3. They will face the CCHA's Notre Dame in the opening round and then either the CHA's Niagara or the WCHA's North Dakota. If the Raiders face Niagara, it will be the third non-conference game between the two teams, and Colgate is 1-0-1 in those two games.

After the jump, we look at the bottom half of the ECAC.

7. St. Lawrence (8-7-2, 4-3-1)
Last Time Out- St. Lawrence did not have any good out of conference results after Thanksgiving, falling 10-1 to Maine of Hockey East in Portland, and then falling 3-0 to Hockey East opponent Vermont on Dec. 12. The ECAC play went better for the Saints however as they had a home and home series with North Country rival Clarkson, and the Saints earned 3 points, the most points of any ECAC weekend for them thus far. After a 3-3 tie at home against the Golden Knights, the Saints were able to grab a 4-3 win on the road.
Key Player- Mike McKenzie leads the Saints with 12 points, netting 4 goals and adding 8 tallies.
Next Time Out- The Saints travel out to Denver Colorado for the Denver Cup on Jan. 2 and 3. They will face Boston College of Hockey East in the first game, and then Nebraska-Omaha in the second game. 

8. RPI (9-9-1, 3-4)
Last Time Out- RPI spent the Thanksgiving Weekend at home, hosting their own holiday tournament. They opened the tournament with a win against Bentley of the AHA, before falling 5-4 in OT to league and capital district rival Union. That loss marked the beginning of a four game home and overall losing streak for the Engineers, who dropped three straight league games at Houston Fieldhouse, 2-1 to Cornell, 5-3 to Colgate, and 5-4 again to Union. RPI went into the break by snapping the overall losing streak by knocking off Boston University of Hockey East at Agganis Arena 5-3.
Key Player- Chase Polacek leads the league in points with 26, including 12 goals and 14 assists. He is also on a 13 game point scoring streak.
Next Time Out- RPI will be playing on December 29 and 30 at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, Michigan. The Engineers will play Michigan of the CCHA and then either the CCHA's Michigan State or WCHA's Michigan Tech in the final round.

9. Princeton (4-8-1, 2-6-1)
Last Time Out- The Tigers continued their road trip of 9 games away from Hobey Baker Rink, and of the six games played so far, Princeton is 1-6, including 1-4 in the stretch of play after Thanksgiving. Princeton fell on the road to their travel partners Quinnipiac 5-1, and then were beat by Brown 3-1 and Yale 4-1. They then traveled to Lowell to face UMass-Lowell of Hockey East in a two game series, and Princeton dropped the first game 4-1 but then snapped their losing streak with a 3-2 win the next night. Princeton has been held to one goal five times this season, and they are 1-4 in their stretch. All four losses were consecutive losses, and happened during this six game losing streak.
Key Player- Dan Bartlett has 8 points in 9 conference games to lead the Tigers in conference play, with 5 goals and 3 assists.
Next Time Out- The Tigers are the other ECAC representative at the Florida College Classic on December 29 and 30. They face Maine of Hockey East in the first round, and then either the WCHA's Colorado College, or Ivy League and ECAC rival Cornell in the second round. Princeton then finally gets to play a game in New Jersey again, facing travel partner Quinnipiac on January 4.

10. Clarkson (4-10-2, 1-5-2)
Last Time Out- Clarkson had three opportunities to end a rough stretch of play for them but earned only a tie, along with two losses, and the Golden Knights now have only one win in their last 11 games. First, Clarkson had their second consecutive game in Boston, as they faced the BC Eagles the week after facing Harvard on the road, and the Golden Knights fell to the Hockey East Eagles 6-5. Clarkson then grabbed a point with a 3-3 tie down the road in Canton against their North Country rivals St. Lawrence, but they then fell at home in the second game of the home and home series 4-3.
Key Player- Matt Beca leads the Golden Knights in point scoring with 8 goals and 8 assists for 16 points.
Next Time Out- Clarkson is heading out to Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 2 and 3 for the Dodge Holiday Classic. They will face the CCHA's Northern Michigan in the first round, and then either the WCHA's Minnesota or the CCHA's Bowling Green.

11. Dartmouth (3-8, 1-6)
Last Time Out- The Big Green earned their third straight win by beating Harvard on the road on November 29, but unfortunately for the Big Green, it was a non-conference game and won't count in the ECAC standings. Then Dartmouth dropped their next two non-conference games, losing to Sacred Heart of the AHA 4-1 at home, and then losing 4-3 on the road to Vermont of Hockey East.
Key Player- Adam Estoclet leads Dartmouth with 10 points, grabbing two goals and adding eight tallies.
Next Time Out- The Big Green will host the Ledyard Bank Tournament in Hanover on January 2 and 3. The Big Green will face Hockey East's Northeastern in the opening round and then either UMass-Lowell of Hockey East or Holy Cross of Atlantic Hockey.

12. Harvard (1-8-2, 1-5-2)
Last Time Out- The Crimson had four consecutive home games, all against rivals, since the last rankings but the Crimson were unable to get their first win since the first game of the season, all the way back on October 30. The Crimson fell 6-5 to crosstown rivals Boston University despite a four goal performance from rookie Conor Morrison, and then 6-2 to travel partner Dartmouth in a non-conference game to close out November. The Crimson opened up December with an ECAC game against their oldest rivals, Brown, and much like last year's playoffs, Bruno stonewalled the Johnnies, with Harvard falling 4-1. Then Harvard faced Boston College at the Bright Center, and fell to the crosstown Eagles 3-2.
Key Player-Michael Biega leads the Crimson with 12 points, grabbing 8 assists and tallying 4 goals for the Johnnies.
Next Time Out- Harvard will look to turn it around as they did last year post-exam break as they face the league leading Quinnipiac Bobcats at home on December 29.

Key Players of the Season (So Far)
1. Chase Polacek, RPI
2. Blake Gallagher, Cornell
3. Mike Clemente, Brown

Three Games to Watch
1. Cornell vs. Colorado College, Estero, Florida. Our non-conference game of the week features two top-five teams playing on a neutral site as the #4 Big Red face the #3 Tigers. This will be a big game for both of these teams in the national picture and could determine who travels where come NCAA tournament time.
2. Yale vs. Ferris State, Madison, WI. Our bonus non-conference game of the week (it's holiday tournament time, not a lot of conference games to work with) will feature two highly ranked teams as well with #9 Yale and #11 Ferris State in a Battle of the Bulldogs. The winner will also likely face #7 Wisconsin, so a win in this game could give the Elis a chance for two straight wins over ranked opponents, moving them up well in the national standings.
3. Quinnipiac at Harvard, Cambridge, MA. Our conference game of the week features two teams at the opposite ends of the standings, but it will be an important game for both teams. For the Bobcats, a win will prove that getting swept on the Yale-Brown trip was only a fluke, not that they have peaked in any way. For the Crimson, it is a chance to right the ship as they did last year after their exam break, and to earn a little revenge for their worst loss of the year, the 5-1 loss to Quinnipiac in Hamden.

We'll come back after the new year when the holiday tournaments have finished up.

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