ECAC: The First Two Weeks

As ECAC Hockey’s only well-traveled league-wide reporter, I have been able to catch all but one of the non-Ivies in action through the first two weekends of the season. You can’t blame me for not having seen Clarkson, as they opened outside the contiguous 48 and then brought only Sacred Heart into Cheel Arena to open the home slate on a weekend that my other options were Colgate-Miami and Union-Western. So, without further ado, here are my….

ECAC Hockey Non-Ivy Power Rankings (games I saw in bold):

  1. Union (1-0-2); 8-1 W vs Army, 2-2 T and 3-3 T with WMU
  2. Quinnipiac (5-1-0); 2-1 L/4-3 W @ OSU, 5-3 W vs HC, 7-1 W/4-0W vs Canisius, 6-1 W vs Bentley
  3. Colgate (3-1-0); 3-1 W vs RMU, 4-3 W @ UNO, 4-3L/3-2(ot) W vs Miami
  4. RPI (1-3-0); 1-0 L/4-1 W vs MinnSt, 4-0 L/2-0 L @ FSU
  5. Clarkson (2-1-1); 4-4 T @ UAA, 3-1 L vs Alaska, 3-0 W/5-2 W vs SHU
  6. SLU (0-4-0); 4-2 L/5-1 L vs FSU, 10-3 L @ Mich, 6-5(ot) L @ RIT

That’s how I see it at this point. Disagree? Make your own rankings and post them as a comment below…

St. Lawrence in Need of Divine Intervention

The game I saw St. Lawrence play was the epitome of ugly. The Saints were undisciplined, taking penalties for being overaggressive and hot-headed, leaving their goalie to twist in the wind, and producing nothing at all on offense outside flashes from Greg Carey and Kyle Flanagan. Going into the third period against Ferris down 3-1 after a two-goal loss the night before that should have left them hungry to prove something, they basically gave up.

Then, they went to Ann Arbor to face Michigan where all three of their goaltenders got demoralizingly spanked in a lopsided 10-3 final where the Wolverines only had a 34-32 shot advantage. And the kicker was then nearly putting together an ugly but needed victory in the challenging atmosphere of an unfriendly Blue Cross Arena only to allow the tying goal with nine seconds left in regulation and the game winner 14 seconds into overtime.

The word from Canton was the Saints were working on a new offensive system this season, but they might want to remember how to defend their own net first. This looks like a team lost without not only its coach in Joe Marsh, but also his long time right-hand Bob Prier who is the one that stepped in last season when Marsh was unable to be with the team.

With all due respect to Mike Hurlbutt and Greg Carvel, who I am sure are very talented coaches, we are talking about someone who was previously the second assistant along with a complete newcomer being asked to fill in for the longest-tenured head coach in the league. Not easy. At least they now have two weeks off without the stress of learning another unfamiliar opponent to focus on cleaning house.

Clarkson and Quinnipiac Taking the Atlantic Hockey Challenge (Not RPI Though)

Even had I seen them,  it would still have been tough to get a great read on the Golden Knights, because both garnering only a point after a trip across the continent and then sweeping a low-level Atlantic Hockey team that drove seven hours to the North Country are both highly predictable results.

I don’t like to comment on teams or games I have not seen, which is why I am not one to post my own preseason predictions, but just looking at the box scores from Potsdam this weekend shows the games were very close in shots, Clarkson actually took more penalties that Sacred Heart (although they killed all 14 PPs on the weekend), and the Knights were outshot in the third each night.

By comparison, Quinnipiac welcomed another historically weaker Atlantic Hockey team to the Bank for a pair in Canisius and ceremoniously spanked them by a combined 11-1 score over two games, outshooting the Griffins 81-23 over the weekend set. The game I was at was actually the closer 4-0 score on Sunday afternoon and it was a thoroughly dominating performance in which Bobcat goalie Dan Clarke stopped 14 shots but was never once tested. But for the Jones twins having an off-night in the odd-man rush department, the score could have been closer to Friday’s 7-1 margin.

“I was very concerned going into today,” QU coach Rand Pecknold said of the early start right after a big win the night before. “We talked about it last night but I was very concerned with what our intensity would be and the guys really impressed me today. They were ready to roll and it was one of the best 60-minute games we’ve played in a long time.”

What is even more impressive is knowing that the Q went into Ohio State the week before and split a pair of one-goal games, the loss seemingly a game stolen by OSU goalie Cal Heeter, with a Buckeye team which then went into Notre Dame and defeated the then-No. 2 ranked Irish in their final game at the Joyce Center.

What concerns me about both Clarkson and Quinnipiac is that although both started with some tough road contests, each is then following that up with six straight games against Atlantic Hockey (each four at home and two away) before heading right into the tough ECAC conference schedule for the three weeks heading into Thanksgiving.  Not to take anything away from Atlantic Hockey or suggest no one should play them, but six of your eight non-conference games at the beginning of the season seems well, a little Mickey Mouse.

The Q at least will have played a game with Holy Cross and two at Robert Morris, two of the historically stronger programs that currently make up college hockey’s fifth conference. But Clarkson will follow the Sacred Heart series with two games each against American International and Bentley, arguably the three most unsuccessful programs in that conference. Yeah someone has to play them, but no one has to play all three of them in a row.

Casey Jones didn’t schedule those games of course so the blame isn’t on him, but how are those six games helping the team prepare for the tough league schedule ahead? One has to wonder if scheduling like that is one of the reasons alumni drove George Roll out of town.

Compare those two schedules with that of RPI, who will head into the ECAC slate after games with Minnesota State (2), Ferris State (2), Notre Dame, and Colorado College (2).  Say what you want about the Engineers inability to finish so far, but at least they will have played games against the right teams and in the right atmospheres to be prepared for what lies ahead. That’s what gives them the edge over Clarkson in my rankings anyway. Yes, the Knights have two wins, but the Engineers would probably have three had they been the ones who just played a pair with Sacred Heart.

Colgate vs Reilly Smith

Colgate will now close out the early non-con schedule against Army in their 2nd annual Cape Cod Classic game in Hyannis followed by a pair with Niagara, but they have already more than proven what they are capable of on the road in Omaha and at home against recent national power Miami, who they outshot 63-37 in another split of one-goal games. It was not goalie Cody Reichard that stole the game from the Raiders that I saw Friday, but one-man RedHawk show Reilly Smith, who scored three goals and assisted on the fourth to pull Miami to an opportunistic comeback victory. Put that sure Hobey Baker finalist on any roster and they’d have a shot against almost anyone, but aside from him being a man among boys, the ‘Gate had Miami overmatched.

“I thought we did a lot of really good things tonight,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughn. “Probably could have deserved a little bit better, but they’re a really good team and when you make a couple mistakes in our own end like we did in the third, they’re going to capitalize. Especially when you look up and Reilly Smith has  got the puck on his stick, it’s just a scary thing to see.”

Personally, I didn’t even think goalie Eric Mihalik looked all that impressive in that first game, getting routinely beat top shelf on each RedHawk goal, and would somewhat pin that loss on him. “I’m not going to hold any of those against him,” Vaughn disagreed, adding he thought Mihalik played great, “but he might like to have some of them back.”

The next night must not have been Smith’s night as his one goal wasn’t enough to prevent the Raiders’ OT triumph. Maybe that is the way it will go for Miami this season after the loss of two All-Americans, but it also highlights the difference between their offense and Colgate’s, which appeared the epitome of a balanced, hard-nosed lineup that will not rely on any superstars. That included two newcomers who looked very impressive and who Vaughn clearly has a lot of confidence in: defenseman Spiro Goulakos, who he had on the point of the top power play unit, and forward John Lidgett, who provided a spark each time on the ice as the most intense player out there.

New Coach, New Goalie, New Day, Same Old U

That leaves only, and by all accounts unanimous, preseason non-Ivy favorite Union to discuss. While everyone was saying it was hard to judge the Dutchmen’s 8-1 defeat of Army, I was quietly laughing. Sure, Army, like some of the other teams I have already discussed, isn’t a stellar program. However, with the condition those guys are in, they are about as tough an opening-game opponent as a team can have. And how many goals do you have to score to prove you are still the team from last year? Never mind the fact that exactly ZERO of those eight goals were score by the members of Union’s insane top PP unit of Jeremy Welsh, Daniel Carr, Josh Jooris, Kelly Zajac, and Mat Bodie. When Union played Army mid-season last year, guess what the score was? 6-2. Enough said.

That brings us to what has been the marquee matchup of the early non-conference season so far in both the ECAC and the CCHA: Union-Western. I can tell you that the 3-3 tie I saw in the series closer did not disappoint. In fact, it shined brightly as the best game of the five I have seen. And by all accounts, it bore striking similarity to the 2-2 draw the night before. With all due respect to Miami, Western looked like a superior and more complete team. I commented to both Ken Schott of the Schenectady Daily Gazette and Sean Martin of the Albany Times-Union that the Broncos and Dutchmen looked in mid-season form compared to every other team I had seen, including the other visiting opponents from the Midwest. (This was before I saw Quinnipiac the next afternoon, who looked just as good albeit in a game less evenly matched.)

I knew it wasn’t only myself that thought as much when Western coach Andy Murray basically sought the press corp’s approval of the performance afterward. “Union’s got a great team,” he said. “They’re going to beat a lot of teams this year. I think the fans that were here were very entertained. It was just for this early in the season it was great intensity and just high quality level of hockey. Do you guys agree?”

“We have a lot of respect for Western Michigan,” echoed Union junior forward Jeremy Welsh, who netted a hat trick in the tie. “They’re kind of on the same progression as we are I think as a program. They’re a really hard working team, they got a great coach, they’re detailed. I think it was just really good games both nights with two well disciplined teams. It’s going to be tight like that. It’s somewhat of a positive, you know? We got the lead and kind of let off in the third, but that’s something we have to learn as a team, but last year I don’t think we learned that ’til late December/January when we started taking over third periods, so it’s a learning curve.”

Quinnipiac’s Top Six Forwards Will Rival Those of Yale and Union

Truly, I cannot say enough about how impressed I was with the new line made up of Scott Zurevinski, Jeremy Langlois, and Matthew Peca. They only connected for one goal in Sunday’s game, but it was on a beautifully effortless set-up orchestrated by the freshman Peca and ended with an indefensible back door goal off a no-look feed from Zurevinski. What’s more, it was only the second game the line ever played together (Langlois skated on a different line at Ohio State) and they had already been a part of four goals in their opening performance. Last night against Bentley, they notched three more. Langlois has gotten most of the goals so far as he appears the natural finisher, but the passing and skating of the others is what is setting him up to make it look easy.

When you throw in a second line that includes the Jones twins, it is not a stretch to think Quinnipiac can give Yale and Union’s top two lines and power play units a run for their money this season.

Goaltending Trends

Clarkson was the only non-Ivy team that came in completely solidified at the goaltender position with Paul Karpowich returning for his senior year after being the clear starter for the last three seasons.

Union and RPI seemingly had Troy Grosenick and Bryce Merriam poised to step in as full-time first-year starters to replace Keith Kinkaid and Allen York, but coaches Rick Bennett and Seth Appert had both hinted that freshmen Colin Stevens and Scott Diebold might get a start last weekend. As it turned out though, both Bennett and Appert decided to start their top guy back to back for the first time to solidify their roll and get them used to that.

The same was true for Colgate and SLU, where there was slightly more question as to who the starters were. In Hamilton, there has been a trend of young guns stepping over veterans at the goaltending position since the graduation of Mark Dekanich in 2008. Senior Alex Evin did it to then-senior Charles Long two years ago only to have Eric Mihalik do the same thing to him at the end of last year as the Raiders struggled to turn their disappointing season around. Evin and Mihalik split the first weekend this season in Omaha, with Evin allowing only one goal in his chance against Robert Morris, but Vaughn ultimately decided to give Mihalik the nod in both games with Miami.

Last season in Canton, Matt Weninger came in hot and looked like he had the job outright at the beginning of his freshman year but he cooled off and ended up in a rotation with now-senior Robby Moss (until the playoffs that is, when he capitalized on a rough start for Moss in game 1 of the conference playoffs and played the next five games.) Weninger and Moss split the opening weekend against Ferris State at home, but Hurlbutt like the other coaches elected to start him against RIT after the debacle against Michgan. Unlike with Mihalik, it didn’t work out quite so well though so this could still be an open competition moving forward.

That brings us to the situation in Hamden. Junior Eric Hartzell emerged to grab the job from Dan Clarke a season ago, but with Clarke coming back as a senior, Luke Devoe of the QU blog “From the NIP to the Bank” felt Pecknold would give him every chance to earn the right to play. And, so far, he has. Actually, Pecknold did the opposite of every other non-Ivy coach. He started Hartzell back-to-back in the opening weekend and then after giving Clarke a mid-week contest with Holy Cross, a 21-save 5-3 win that got his feet wet, split the pair against Canisius. Clarke’s 13-save shutout, the fifth of his career, on Sunday afternoon was apparently enough to put him back between the pipes yesterday against Bentley, another fine outing.

“It’s hard for a goalie when they don’t get a lot of work,” Pecknold said of the recent games for both his netminders Sunday. “[Clarke] was good tonight and [Eric Hartzell] was good last night. I think we have two kids that have both been number ones at different times in their careers here and we’re going to let it play out and eventually if both play great, we’ll split ‘em and if one guy gets hot, then we’ll ride the hot guy.”

Random Quotes and Tweets

It has been said that with all the restructuring in college hockey in an effort to win the recruiting wars and make more money, much has been said about how the more power programs from the major conferences will be less likely to schedule non-conference road games against smaller programs like those in the ECAC. Miami, a school that strikes a balance between being a national power and also being a small school that plays in a small building, has always made an effort to schedule games with the ECAC where they reciprocate travel. Here is what head coach Rico Blasi had to say:

“You know, it depends what happens down the road,” said Blasi, referencing the undetermined number of games that the NCHC will have in its regular season schedule come 2013. “Hopefully, we can play enough non-conference games where we can go out and play more in the ECAC. Right now, we’re limited with how many non-conference games we have. I’ve always been a big proponent of playing everybody in the East, whether it’s Hockey East or ECAC. We’ve played Clarkson, St. Lawrence, RPI, now Colgate, Vermont back in the day, so I think it’s important for college hockey that everybody gets a chance to play in everyone’s rink. And I like it. It’s a great environment, it’s tough to play, and kids grow and mature from situations like this.”

Oct. 14 Tweets-Miami @ Colgate

One thing is for sure: The #MiamiU radio guy likes to shout into the mic, unlike the smooth sounds of @JohnMcGrawPBP

Some Colgate SID intern has an open copy of “Neorealism and Its Critics” in front of her. #ECACHockey

PA guy just announced that someone is pointing a light in Reichards face and if it happens again, #ColgateU will take a minor.#ECACHockey

Despite loss, very impressive effort tonight by Colgate who could have won, but for couple near misses and Reilly Smith being on other team.

Oct.15 Tweets-Western Michigan @ Union

Zajac-Carr-Jooris-Welsh-Bodie.Tell me that doesn’t sound deadly. And Wayne Simpson isn’t even out there. Or Presizniuk. #Union #ECACHockey

#Union pinched down so far on the PP it looked like a 5×3. Literally cut the zone in half. #ECACHockey

Through 4 games, it looks like #ECACHockey linesmen have gotten a lot better at calling hybrid icing this year. Much more decisive.

Linesman Dan Taggart took a wicked hard dump in slapper off the quad and didn’t skip a beat. Guy is a beast. New Marty Demers. #ECACHockey

Welsh’s hat trick is the 2nd of the night in #ECACHockey after Jeremy Langlois scored a natural hat trick this afternoon for Quinnipiac.

Bryan Hicks has been under the radar pretty much so far tonight, but he now makes awful HFB call on Carr. Julseth-White takes exception.

It was a tie in the truest sense. Not much else to say other than Union is clearly the best of the non-Ivies in#ECACHockey

Oct. 16 Tweets-Canisius @ Quinnipiac

It is a beautiful day for a hike up Sleeping Giant. Certainly more people doing that than watching this hockey game. #ECACHockey

Langlois and #SLU‘s Kyle Flanagan came in as #ECACHockey‘s only 2 PPG players. Both had 5-3-8. Langlois leads nation in goals. #ECACHockey

This is 2nd start for Dan Clarke in 5 games for QU. Hartzell started both against OhioSt but has been well below career numbers with .870sv%

5-0-2 vs #ECACHockey RT@SchlossmanGF: Crazy stat. RT@INCH: Michigan State hockey: 1-3-0. The state’s six other DI teams combined: 21-0-3.

Upcoming Weekend

IH’s ECAC Games of the Week: Colgate vs. Army, Sat. 7 pm; Waterloo @ Brown, Sun. 2 pm

This weekend I will stay closer to my home on Cape Cod with few if any big games to speak of around the league. Very close in fact as Colgate and Army faceoff for the second year in a row in the Cape Cod Classic in Hyannis on Saturday. I will then get a look at Brown Sunday afternoon as they host Waterloo in exhibition action.

I will also make a sojourn into Hockey East country Friday to see former Union head coach Nate Leaman both continue his strong start at Providence and avenge his former Dutchmen charges when the Friars welcome defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, which ended Union’s season, and also Leaman’s tenure there, in the national tournament. You can see my one-on-one interview earlier this week with Coach Leaman by clicking here.

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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5 Responses to “ECAC: The First Two Weeks”

  1. Puckfan
    October 20, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    1. Colgate
    2. Union
    3. Quinnipiac
    4. RPI
    5. Clarkson
    6. SLU

    RPI and Clarkson could be almost a tie. Union got the equivalent of a split at home vs. Western 1+1= 2, so it was a split, despite not losing a game. Qpac split with OSU then roared through a cupcake schedule. Had it been RIT and Niagara instead of Canisius and Bentley, I may have considered them higher.

  2. Jason Klump
    October 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm #

    And what is your explanation for Colgate being on top? They split with Miami, who I am telling you had nothing on Western.

  3. Jason Klump
    October 20, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Solid and respectable picks, by the way. Just wondering because you kind of explained everything else. I kind of agree about RPI and Clarkson.

  4. RANKING
    October 21, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    I agree with Puckfan.

    You give credit to QPAC for beating up on the bottom of the AHA, mostly at home. Ohio State is not a good team for their road win.

    Union tied a team that had to travel to their building for 2 games last weekend. Their only win is over Army.

    Colgate wins 2 on the road, 1 of them against the #14 team in Omaha in a tournament that UNO hasn’t lost in 5 years. Then comes home to split with the #4 team in the country and out shoot them by 25 plus shots on the weekend.

    I know it’s early, but based on the results against the level of competition and travel, early nod has to go to Colgate.

  5. Jason Klump
    October 21, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Ranking:

    How is Ohio State not a good team for a road win? You can’t just say something and make it so. I explained why that was a good win, you need to explain why it isn’t. Ohio State played two tight games with Notre Dame on the road, winning one, so I would love to know how they are “not a good team.”

    You talk about “Union tied a team that had to travel to their building.” Yeah, so did Colgate. A win and a loss equals two ties. And, I am telling you that Western was the tougher competition. And Union played better as well. This is based on my own eyewitness perception. You seem to think I am going on results alone where the most important part is what I actually saw.

    I have a problem with you trying to discredit Ohio State (who I have no love lost for as a Wisconsin grad) and Western, while making Omaha and Miami out to be some prize. I’m not buying that.