ECAC Hockey: Thoughts After One Month

Belated Thoughts From the Ivy Shootout

This is the second year that it included four Ivy schools (previously it was Yale, Brown, and Princeton plus a Canadian team). I have been both times, last season at Yale and this time at Dartmouth, and each time the afternoon games have been played in front of near empty buildings. It just does not make sense for the teams from an energy standpoint or a financial one, particularly since it is not played in a tournament format meaning there is no need to have all teams in the same place. The fans of the traveling teams just don’t care enough about these early games to make the trip and the home fans know they are going to get to see the teams in the early game later in the year anyway. Maybe if Yale had played the early game Saturday instead of Friday when everyone was still working, more people would have come to see them play, but they didn’t schedule it that way.

Consider Princeton this time around, who had the rough draw of both 4 p.m. starts and had to travel well into New Hampshire to play neutral-site games against Yale and Brown. They probably would have rather just gone to New Haven and Providence. The Tigers bused back to Jersey through the snow last weekend only to go back this Saturday, this time to actually play Dartmouth. So, if anything, they should know the rink and any of its idiosyncrasies as good as any by now.

So, that’s why it appears that the schools are going to change the format starting next year and move it to two sites, eliminating the neutral afternoon games. Yale Senior Associate Athletic Director Wayne Dean said the exact schedule was still being worked out, but based on Yale and Dartmouth having hosted the last two seasons, it would probably make sense for Princeton and Brown to host next year.

Brown Not To Be Overlooked

Just based on what my expectations were of each team coming in and how they actually performed, I found Yale a little unimpressive, Princeton and Dartmouth about as I expected, and Brown quite impressive.

To start, I clearly had higher expectations for Brown than most. They finished dead last in the coaches’ preseason poll and 11th in the media poll, and that’s only because I picked them fourth. I know that pick was a bit aggressive, but I think it’s even more crazy to still look at them as perennial basement-dweller. The Bears have improved their league position in each season so far under Brendan Whittet since finishing at least tied for last in Roger Grillo’s final two seasons. Last season, they were a point away from home ice. Maybe others saw that too, but then Harry Zolnierczyk graduated and everyone thought, “Oh well, last place team again.”

That just does not make sense to me. The whole program has been improving. It wasn’t all just about HZ. Whittet is just hitting his stride as a coach and leader in developing a program mentality. The seniors on this team are not even his own recruits. And wouldn’t you think the attention brought to the program by the vast improvement of players like HZ and Jack Maclellan under Whittet over the past two seasons might have helped to land an incoming class the likes of which has not come to Meehan in quite some time? Given the fact that @HarryZ87 is sure to tweet me after each Brown game I am at to keep tabs on “the boys” there is little doubt he is also doing what he can to advocate for the program himself as its most visible alum.

So, I saw no reason to think the Bears would not continue to climb and I am more than optimistic based on what I have seen. The Bears’ 2-1 loss to Dartmouth on Friday was as close a game as they come and easily could have gone either way. Given the high expectations for the Green and the fact they were playing at home, that’s a pretty good sign. Had either team been able to do anything on the power play (both went 0×6), they would have won the game. The next night, Brown figured out the power play, scoring twice with an extra skater, and was in control throughout against Princeton.

Two things stood out which made the performance by Brown even more impressive. The first is that Jack Maclellan was a complete non-factor all weekend and in fact repeatedly shot himself in the foot by trying to do way too much by himself. He may very likely have led the team in turnovers, though I do not have a stat on that. Maybe he was listening to everyone who said he was all that was left to carry the team with HZ gone because that is certainly the way he played. You know that the coaches will quickly correct the problem and with Maclellan then contributing the right way, the team will only improve.

The other thing that stood out was Brown’s depth, an area where they have definitely been far behind most of the league for some time. Even last year, they were a team with a young, shaky third line and a fourth line that would never see the ice in the third. They now have three forward lines capable of scoring consistently, thanks to the immediate impact shown by freshmen Massimo Lamacchia and Ryan Jacobson and the maturation of sophomores Garnet Hathaway, Michael Juola, and Mark Hourihan.

There are many candidates poised for a breakout year like HZ had his junior year and Maclellan had his sophomore year. The Bears also look like they have at least eight capable defensemen as freshmen Joey De Concilys and Kyle Quick had no issue against Princeton Saturday. That is a big change as Bruno had only seven total defensemen on last season’s roster and will help Mike Clemente be more consistent in net, which Whittet says is the goal for his netminder.

If you would like to watch video interviews from the Shootout, you can view them at the bottom of this story.

Feels Like Quinnipiac is This Year’s Yale

I really just do not understand early season rankings. They anger me because they show that no one who votes in them is actually paying attention to the league. If so, how could they be overlooking Quinnipiac so much? The Bobcats are no higher than fifth among ECAC squads in any of the three most popular polls (though INCH isn’t a poll per se). Two weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on the first two weeks in ECAC Hockey involving the non-Ivies and gave power rankings based on my perception of the game performances I had seen. I had the Q second among those six at the time, but I can’t find a reason not to put them number one overall in the league at the moment.

If you were to put Union or Yale ahead of them, I wouldn’t really argue with you. But ranking Colgate, Cornell, or Dartmouth ahead of the Q after what we have seen is a little ridiculous. And to put Clarkson ahead of them (let alone Union) is downright ridiculous. Just compare those two teams’ results against Bentley.

Although they only officially received two of the three, the case could easily be made that the Q had the ECAC’s best overall player, best rookie, and best goalie in October. Jeremy Langlois, Matt Peca, and Dan Clarke are the names if you haven’t been paying attention. Add in Jeremy Langlois with his eight goals, Scott Zurevinski with his steady passing, and the Jones twins seeming all grown up and the Q’s top two lines have been more consistently impressive than any in the league. Austin Smith has given Langlois a run for his money for most impressive offensive performances in early non-conference action, but his supporting cast at Colgate isn’t quite as skilled as QU’s top five forwards.

Based on seeing Yale play two games, I can say they also have nothing on the Cats right now offensively. Brian O’Neill and Andrew Miller have better chemistry than any two players in the league since they were together at Chicago in the USHL before even coming to Yale, and Nick Weberg looked like a solid linemate but even O’Neill admitted the Elis have some chemistry-building to do. The style of offense they play in particular requires the forwards to be very comfortable with their linemates and they need more than two games to get there.

If Dan Clarke can continue his early success into conference play and the Bobcats experienced defense can reverse the perception of the Q being a one-dimensional team, there is no reason they can’t replicate the success Yale has had the last three seasons.

Harvard’s Unique Schedule

This is a tough weekend for the Crimson as they are the only team in ECAC Hockey that have yet to play an official game. They defeated Western Ontario in their only exhibition before dropping an informal scrimmage at Brown by a 3-2 score two weekends ago, but that is no different that what every team does. Personally, having seen four other Ivy teams just play both their first and second real games that count, I feel like that one game makes all the difference in shaking off the rust.

It’s like this every season with Harvard choosing to play five of their seven non-conference games roughly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s before the Beanpot in February. They regularly schedule the toughest non-conference slate in the ECAC (UNH, UMass, NoDak x2, BU, and the ‘Pot this season) and seem to have the strategy that they will have a much better chance at beating the nation’s top programs after going through the first semester league schedule.

It wasn’t always a bad strategy as the Crimson used to open every season against their equally untested Ivy travel partner, currently Dartmouth and formerly Brown, in a one-game weekend to get their feet wet before playing the rest of the league. That avenue is no longer open to Harvard as Dartmouth elected to begin playing in the Ivy Shootout last season with Yale, Princeton, and Brown. If that arrangement continues between those four Ivies into the future (though likely in a new, two-site format), it might make sense for Harvard to either begin scheduling at least one early non-conference warm-up or try to broker a deal with Cornell to open the ECAC season against each other since the Big Red also do not take part in the Shootout.

For the record, Harvard has lost each of the two season openers they played over the last decade against teams other than Dartmouth and Brown, who were also playing their first game. Both were 2-1 losses, at Clarkson in 2007 and hosting Union last year. Both those teams went on the win the Cleary Cup those respective seasons for what it’s worth. And finally, Harvard won the next night both times, against SLU and RPI.

Surprises in Goal For Three Teams

Keith Allain never said who his likely starter would be this season. He never will. He never has. Still, many pegged Nick Maricic as the most likely choice. Almost expectedly, Allain threw a wrench in that prognostication not by splitting Maricic with fellow junior Jeff Malcolm in the Ivy Shootout, but by starting Malcolm in both games. That was particularly a shock given Malcolm’s dismal performance against Princeton Friday afternoon, when he looked extremely uncomfortable and could not control any rebounds. One on goal that sailed in from the blue line, it looked like he wasn’t even paying attention. It’s hard to fault a goalie in a 2-2 tie, but he did not look good at all.

Malcolm was a completely different goalie in a 2-1 win over Dartmouth the next night. Everything he was doing wrong the night before seemed to be corrected and he played a near flawless game. Why did Allain choose Malcolm? He won’t say. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Maricic in a game this weekend anyway. It’s plausible Allain planned to split them but then wanted to give Malcolm the chance to redeem himself and get his confidence back up. One can ponder all they want but goaltending at Yale may forever be a mystery.

Elsewhere, two seniors may have successfully wrestled their starting jobs back from some underclassmen with impressive stats in non-conference play. One, QU’s Dan Clarke, has already been touched on and seems to be the guy Rand Pecknold is going to ride for the time being. He has far outperformed Eric Hartzell so far.

The same is true for Alex Evin at Colgate who has likewise slightly bested the younger Eric Mihalik, most recently allowing four fewer goals on the same number of shots against Niagara. It remains to be seen what Don Vaughan thinks about the situation though. Mihalik also beat Omaha and Miami, so it’s not fair to count him out. Evin has certainly earned a chance to stay hot though.

One other goalie competition which could heat up is the one between Bryce Merriam and Scott Diebold at RPI. Merriam has in no way underperformed (his stats are actually quite good), but Diebold has been superb in his two starts which were separated by a few weeks so Seth Appert might have something to think about.

Non-Ivy Power Rankings, Lot to Prove in the North Country
It’s still too soon to combine the Ivies and non-Ivies until after this first weekend. Also no point in doing the Ivies separately since they’ve only played each other. There are a lot of games this weekend that should help to sort out where all 12 teams stand at the moment. For now, very little movement since two weeks ago for the six non-Ivies:
1. Quinnipiac – Did not play a tough schedule, but have had most impressive offense and only real stumble came without Clarke in net at RMU. The convincing win at Princeton gives them top spot. Bobcats have a great chance at a sweep this weekend as well visiting Dartmouth and Harvard, both with significantly less game action.
2. Union – No big wins, no bad losses, and some ties they would like back. Inconsistent offense has been the problem for the Dutchmen.  They need a North Country sweep to help find their groove.
3. Colgate – Had great start against Omaha and Miami, but stumbled last two weeks against Army and Niagara and don’t have offensive depth of QU and UC. Questions in goal as well. Tough road series coming against Brown and Yale gives Raiders a shot to really impress.
T4. Clarkson – Most unproven 5-1-2 team in D1 particularly given last weekend at Bentley. Knights need a W against RPI at least to quiet critics.
T4. RPI – Best 1-6-0 team in D1, close losses to ND, CCx2 with key injuries, but need a W this weekend to avoid serious hit to morale.
6. SLU – Hopefully the practice has paid off for the Saints. Tough weekend coming up. See above. These last three teams all have a lot to prove in the NC this weekend.

ECAC Injury Report

Clarkson – Ben Sexton (unknown injury) is out this weekend, Jake Morley will return to lineup.

RPI – Marty O’Grady (concussion) and Brock Higgs (broken finger) probable to return, Jacob Laliberte (right hand) and Matt Neal (ankle) remain questionable.

Union – Matt Hatch (lower body) is doubtful for the North Country weekend. Mike Ingoldsby remains out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

Yale – Kevin Peel (broken foot) returns to the lineup. He was walking around in regular sneakers and without the aid of any crutches last weekend at Dartmouth while traveling with the team.

TV Game

This Friday’s game at Ingalls Rink between Cornell and Yale will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network. Game time is 7:30 pm.

IH’s ECAC Games of the Week: Cornell @ Yale, Fri. 7:30 pm; Cornell @ Brown, Sat. 7 pm

This weekend I will get my first look at the Big Red, leaving Clarkson and Harvard the only teams I have not seen, though my first impressions are probably near expiration as the season matures and league play begins.

Jason Klump has covered ECAC men’s ice hockey for three seasons, first for USCHO, then for CHN, and now for Inside Hockey. Follow him on Twitter @Jason_Klump or reach him via email at jmklump@gmail.com.

 

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2 Responses to “ECAC Hockey: Thoughts After One Month”

  1. Jason Klump
    November 4, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    The link to the videos was not embedded for some reason. You can find them all here: http://www.youtube.com/user/jmklump33?feature=mhee#p/u

  2. ECACHF
    November 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    I think the reason QU is being “overlooked” is cause they really haven’t beat anyone, playing through a cupcake schedule, which probably hurt them last night. They’ll probably beat Harvard today, but that was an unimpressive finish last evening. You can say all you want about how Dartmouth might be the class of the ECAC this year, but QU has at least 6 games of experience on them this year and the Green looked like the team with a month under their belts.