Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Well, that has to be the proverbial kick in the plums. For the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac was one of the last two teams standing in the nation. And for the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac had to watch someone else raise the national championship trophy, this time at least with the consolation that it wasn't their most hated rivals from literally down the road - and that they finally got to raise a trophy of their own three weeks earlier by finally winning their first ECAC championship.

Quinnipiac
Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2016
Coach: Rand Pecknold (23rd season)
2015-16 Record: 32-4-7 (16-1-5 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 12-6-9
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: February 19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: December 2, 2016 (Hamden, CT); February 18, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Connor Clifton, sr.; F Tim Clifton, sr.; F Tommy Schutt, sr.; D Derek Smith, sr.; F K.J. Tiefenwerth, sr.; F Tanner MacMaster, jr.; D Kevin McKernan, jr.; F Bo Pieper, jr.; F Landon Smith, jr.; F Andrew Taverner, jr.; F Tom Aldworth, so.; F Scott Davidson, so.; D Chase Priskie, so.; D Luke Shiplo, so.; D Karlis Cukste, fr.; G Andrew Shortridge, fr.

Key losses: F Sam Anas, F Travis St. Denis, D Devon Toews, G Michael Gartieg, D Alex Miner-Barron, F Soren Jonzzon

Previous KYE installments:
RPI came so frustratingly close to scoring a season sweep of Quinnipiac - two minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact. That's something no team has done since St. Lawrence and Cornell did it in 2012 - and as noted above, an individual win over the Bobcats by RPI hasn't been accomplished in over six years. Instead, the Engineers secured one measly point. That in and of itself speaks volumes of what the Q was capable of last season. It usually seemed like they were never out of any game they were in, no matter how dire things looked.

And they really weren't. Of their four losses on the season, two were by a single goal, and the other two were games that were within a goal heading into the third period. On Twitter, we started using the slogan "kill it with fire" when talking about the Bobcats, especially after they took a 5-2 deficit at Dartmouth with 15 minutes left and won in regulation (with an empty-netter for extra cushion). One certainly could be excused for giving Quinnipiac every potential to come back from a 4-1 third-period hole in the national championship game against North Dakota, but they'd finally met their match in terms of a defense that could withstand the comeback attempt.

In Anas, St. Denis, and Toews, the Bobcats lose three players that combined for 53 goals (more than Arizona State had all year) and 129 points last season. Jonzzon added another 10 goals. That's a lot of juice right there that's now out the door. A sizable part of the offense. But there's plenty returning - six players who tallied 20 or more points last year (both Cliftons, Landon Smith, Priskie, Tiefenwerth, and MacMaster), and 10 players who scored 5 or more goals. It's possible the Q won't be scoring at will as they were wont to do with some frequency last season, but they're not likely to be even remotely helpless up front.

And there's one other element about last year's Quinnipiac team that made them so good - depth. Shiplo in particular is a great example of that. He played in only 13 games last year and scored five goals in that time, but was frequently unable to crack the lineup despite solid play when he was out there. With Toews gone, expect him to get a lot more playing time this year in a similar role. Cukste comes in as Toews' direct replacement, a Baltic beast from Latvia with size and talent who could well compete for plenty of ice time himself. The depth that the Bobcats had among defensemen certainly is something that will play this year as well.

The situation in net is more unknown. In all likelihood, incoming freshman Shortridge is the favorite - he was the top choice goalie for the BCHL's Vernon Vipers last year, finishing 6th in the league with a .915 save percentage. The other options are junior-transfer Chris Truehl, who started at Air Force in 2014 as a sophomore before deciding that the military life wasn't for him (military service at the academies doesn't become a requirement until starting your junior year), and junior Sean Lawrence, whose numbers in limited appearances backing Garteig certainly leave the door open for the job to be someone else's.

Truehl's transfer to the Q is not unusual - part of what has made the Bobcats successful in recent years has been the ability to draw transfers from other programs. The third-leading scorer on the 2013 national championship game team was Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a transfer from Bowling Green. 2015's squad featured Justin Agosta, who transferred from UNH for one season in Hamden. Junior forward Kevin Duane transfers in this year from BU, and next season the Q gains junior-to-be defenseman John Furgele from UNH.

Quinnipiac looks an awful lot like Yale does coming into the 2017 season, only with far more depth along the blue line - plenty of offensive capacity, with questions between the pipes. If Shortridge, or whoever wins the starting job, is able to emulate the man they're replacing in Garteig, Quinnipiac is probably not going to skip much of a beat from last season - perhaps not quite as dominant after losing some very key forwards, but certainly still a force to be reckoned with. Even if the goaltending isn't as strong, this is still a team that would be shocking to see move outside of the top half of the league.

As mentioned above, Quinnipiac has been a serious bugaboo for the Engineers over the past several years, but RPI does seem to be close to solving that riddle. But there's no doubt at all that Jason Kasdorf's heroic play - he made 73 saves in the two games - was a big part of those games being close. Unless the Engineers get some similar goaltending exploits or manage to exploit differences in the Bobcats' last line of defense, the story may not change much from past experiences.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Know Your Enemy: St. Lawrence

In the X-Men saga, there's no greater arch-nemesis of the title group than Magneto. He's the perpetual enemy, so ubiquitous that he's been a part of pretty much every X-Men movie that's ever been made. Well known among supervillains that five years ago he topped an online ranking of the greatest comic book villains of all time - and yet, throughout the years, on occasion, he's been one of the X-Men's strongest allies, even at times a member of the team. And that kind of has to be the feeling in Canton right now. For 14 seasons and the beginning of a 15th, Mark Morris led the hated Clarkson Golden Knights, and 11 times over that stretch, he led them to a better finish in the league standings than the Saints - not to mention wins in the 1991 and 1999 ECAC Championship games over SLU. And now he's back - in the ECAC, in the North Country (where he grew up), and leading the charge at St. Lawrence, not Clarkson.

St. Lawrence
Nickname: Saints
Location: Canton, NY
Founded: 1856
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2007
Last Frozen Four: 2000
Coach: Mark Morris (1st season)
2015-16 Record: 19-14-4 (11-8-3 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: SLU leads, 81-57-6
First Game: January 3, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 6, 2015 (Canton, NY)
Last SLU win: February 5, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 12, 2016 (Troy, NY); January 27, 2017 (Canton, NY)

Key players: D Gavin Bayreuther, sr.; F Woody Hudson, sr.; D Ben Masella, sr.; F Drew Smolcynski, sr.; D Eric Sweetman, sr; D Nolan Gluchowski, jr; G Kyle Hayton, jr.; F Ryan Lough, jr.; F Mike Marnell, jr.; D Matt Purmal, jr.; F Joe Sullivan, jr.; F Michael Laidley, so.; F Jacob Pritchard, so.; F Taggart Corriveau, fr.; D Ben Finkelstein, fr.

Key losses: F Brian Ward, F Tommy Thompson, F Alex Hagen, F Sean McGovern, F Christian Horn

Previous KYE installments:
Morris was wildly successful at Clarkson. Never had a losing season in 14 years, with 11 20-win seasons, three ECAC titles, and seven NCAA appearances, including an appearance in the 1991 Frozen Four. And then an incident with a player at a practice in 2002 ended his career in Potsdam. He hasn't stopped coaching since then, stringing a gig at the Northwood School in Lake Placid (2004-06) into the head position with the then-AHL Manchester Monarchs. After eight seasons in Manchester (and seven playoff appearances), he became an assistant with the Florida Panthers, and spent last season as the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina's top AHL team. So he's still got that track record as a very successful coach.

He comes in replacing a St. Lawrence grad, Greg Carvel, who left Canton somewhat unexpectedly to become the new head coach at UMass in Hockey East. This, by far, is the biggest news at SLU from this off-season - but it obscures the fact that Morris is inheriting one of the best teams in the ECAC that still has plenty of punch.

With the departures of Alex Lyon, Jason Kasdorf, and Michael Garteig, one could make a very strong argument that Hayton is the best returning netminder in the conference - a guy who would probably could have been a shoo-in for all-ECAC honors in practically any other season given his resume from last year, but was ultimately behind all three of the aforementioned goalies at awards time.

On top of this, there's probably no more stacked blue line in the entire ECAC than at SLU. Three seniors and two juniors - Bayreuther, Masella, Sweetman, Gluchowski, and Purmal - return having played in every or nearly every game last season (Bayreuther and Sweetman in particular have dressed for all 112 games in the last three years). Finkelstein joins the fray as SLU's lone NHL draftee this season, but there are other likely options for the sixth D-man as well, including another senior in Mike Graham who has seen action in exactly half of SLU's games over the last three years. All of that is a combination of experience and talent that no one else in the league can boast.

In 2015, SLU found success with Hayton as the backstop and a balanced attack. The attack last year wasn't quite as effective as that - fewer 10+ point producers, fewer 5+ goal scorers, but not by much. The three leading point-getters, Bayreuther, Smolcynski, and Ward, were a bit more separate from the pack, but again, not by much - and seven of the top 12 scorers from last season return as either juniors and seniors, with another, Pritchard, clearly among the top young forwards in the ECAC heading into his sophomore season. Only two freshmen had as many or more points in league play as did Pritchard, and we've already sung both of their praises - Yale's Joe Snively and Brown's Tommy Marchin.

Ward and Thompson especially may stick out as solid losses for St. Lawrence, but their depth up front should be enough to absorb their absence. About the only area of concern for the Saints is the abysmal power play they had last season. If you thought RPI's power play was bad, you might have missed St. Lawrence, who connected at only 11.8% (against the Tute's almost-as-bad 12.3%) for the year, and crucially went 1-for-17 during a five-game losing streak in January that probably spiked any opportunity SLU had for earning an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

There's frequently a lot of questions that pop up about any team when they have turnover at the head coaching position, but there's almost no one that questions Morris' bonafides, and his constant success as a coach combined with the talent that has already been on display at Appleton Arena in the last couple of seasons leads one to believe there's probably not going to be much of a hiccup - though there's always some risk for a failure for even outstanding coaches to mesh with players he didn't bring in himself, it just feels unlikely here. There's just too much talent in place. The potential exists for bumps down the road, as a pair of SLU recruits have already decommitted (likely to follow Carvel to UMass), but unless Morris suddenly has issues adapting to the changes in the recruiting environment since he left Clarkson, that probably won't be much of an issue, either.

St. Lawrence now has all of the pieces in place and the requisite question marks at opposing schools to make a serious run at the very top of the ECAC, and there's little doubt that they should be among the pre-season favorites to finish atop the league, make a run to Lake Placid, and potentially make their first NCAA appearance in a decade.

It combines to make the North Country, for the first time in quite some time, the feared road-trip it traditionally always was. Give the Saints the slight edge thanks to their advantage in net - and perhaps, with their new ally behind the bench.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Quick - name the teams that never finished in the top four in the ECAC during the Obama administration. OK, you got Brown, that wasn't hard. You probably said Princeton, which is incorrect (2009). If you're not an RPI fan, you might have said RPI (2013, suckers!). And you probably missed Clarkson because... well, because they're Clarkson and that's abnormal. Really abnormal. They came close last year, missing out by just two points - but it's been eight straight seasons now, twice as long as their previous record for finishing outside the league's top four. That has the serious potential to change this coming season, and not because there's going to be a new occupant in the Oval Office.

Clarkson
Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 20-15-3 (10-9-3 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 88-50-11
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 8, 2015 (Potsdam, NY)
Last CU win: February 6, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 11, 2016 (Troy, NY); January 7, 2017 (Lake Placid, NY); January 28, 2017 (Potsdam, NY)

Key players: F Jordan Boucher, sr.; F Perry D'Arrisso, sr.; D James de Haas, sr.; F A.J. Fossen, sr.; F Troy Josephs, sr.; G Steve Perry, sr.; D Terrance Amorosa, jr.; F Ben Dalpe, jr.; F Brett Gervais, jr.; F Nic Pierog, jr.; D Kelly Summers, jr.; F Sam Vigneault, jr.; D Aaron Thow, so.; F Devin Brosseau, fr.; F Sheldon Rempal, fr.; D Jordan Schneider, fr.; F Nico Sturm, fr.

Key losses: F Jeff Di Nallo, G Greg Lewis, D Paul Geiger, D Kevin Tansey, F Pat Megannety, F Christian Powers

Previous KYE installments:
It's not that Clarkson isn't losing anyone significant from last season - a number of those key losses should be names that even casual ECAC fans should probably recognize. It's more a recognition that the Golden Knights return a solid roster of team players that put together a strong resume last year.

Vigneault led the team last year with 12 goals and 26 points, while Boucher (23 points) and Fossen (18) round out the top three scorers from last season, all returning. They are among 10 skaters returning that notched 10 or more points on the season last year, representative of a decent amount of balance to the Clarkson attack. The blue line boasts three NHL draftees (de Haas, Amorosa, and Summers), all of whom bring size and offensive capacity to the table.

And to all this, add an outstanding freshman class straight out of Don Lucia's nightmares. Seven of nine freshmen will be 21 when the season starts - and the other two will be 20. But they're not just older and more experienced, they've also produced some solid results this past season. Sturm was a top-line center for the USHL champions at Tri-City in addition to having played on Germany's World Junior team, and Schneider comes from a solid bloodline, a son of 20-year NHL veteran Mathieu Schneider who brings additional size and offensive strength to the table. But among the frosh, Rempal and Brosseau should be especially interesting to watch.

Linemates at Nanaimo in the goal-happy BCHL, they've been a package deal practically from the start as they committed to Clarkson on the same day in October 2013. Rempal finished second in the BCHL in scoring last season, and Brosseau was right there with him in fourth, with Brosseau typically feeding Rempal the puck for the finish. Both have really blossomed over the last couple of seasons, to the point that Rempal may be one of the best incoming freshmen in the entire ECAC with Brosseau not far behind. That they arrive with three seasons of chemistry already should give them a leg up in adapting to college play - perhaps practically giving Clarkson another quality scoring line overnight.

The one thing that's probably keeping Clarkson from looking like they're ready to stomp a complete mudhole in the ECAC is the lack of a proven lockdown goaltender. While Princeton over the last three seasons has proven that simply having a strong netminder and nothing else isn't quite a recipe for success, we've seen on several occasions over the last decade - including at RPI - that a big-time goalie can transform a team that's wanting in a few places into one of the better teams in the league, and it's practically a requirement for being at the very top.

Lewis last season more than fit the definition of "acceptable goaltending." His numbers (2.04, .925) didn't rank him amongst the top of the league, but they were enough to keep a strong team in front of him competitive, and that's all Clarkson really needed. Perry saw plenty of action in net last year (as in his first two years), but Lewis was the first-choice goalie, a guy who certainly displayed vast improvement from his freshman and sophomore years, the kind of development you like to see in your goaltenders.

Perry, or incoming freshman Jake Kielly, will need to improve on where Lewis was last season if Clarkson is going to be more reminiscent of the program that was perpetually dominant in the ECAC from the 1960s through the 1990s. Kielly played with Sturm last season and backstopped Tri-City's playoff run to the USHL title, so it wouldn't be unexpected if he gets some solid play right off the bat.

As far as RPI-Clarkson is concerned, the Golden Knights have taken 3 points from the Engineers in each of the last three seasons, a fact that is probably obscured slightly by the fact that RPI has won a playoff series in Potsdam twice in the last five seasons, something which hadn't even happened once before that. But make no mistake - Clarkson is likely to be one of the better teams in the ECAC this coming season, and it's going to make for three very tough wars to be fought in about two months' time. They may not be overwhelming at anything, but they're probably going to be pretty decent at most elements of their game.


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Yale

After thrashing poor Princeton 6-0 on February 26, Yale was 19-5-4 and unbeaten in 16 of 17 with an eight-game winning streak. The next night's game against Quinnipiac would be difficult, of course, since their record and streaks were pretty similar, but the Bulldogs did look ready for deep ECAC and NCAA runs. They got neither, following a 4-1 road loss in Hamden, Yale limped to the end in getting swept by Dartmouth at home in the ECAC quarterfinals and falling in overtime to UMass-Lowell, ending their otherwise strong season with a regrettable four-game losing streak, their worst since a five-game streak in 2013 (which did end up an OK year for them, all things considered).

Yale
Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (2013)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Keith Allain (11th season)
2015-16 Record: 19-9-4 (14-5-3 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 56-45-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: January 30, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

2016-17 games: November 5, 2016 (Troy, NY); December 9, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Frankie DiChiara, sr.; F Mike Doherty, sr.; F John Hayden, sr.; F Chris Izmirlian, sr.; G Patrick Spano, sr.; F Ryan Hitchcock, jr.; D Adam Larkin, jr.; D Nate Repensky, jr.; F Ted Hart, so.; F JM Piotrowski, so.; F Joe Snively, so.; G Sam Tucker, so.; D Anthony Walsh, so.; F Will D'Orsi, fr.; G Corbin Kaczperski, fr.; D Chandler Lindstrand, fr.; F Luke Stevens, fr.

Key losses: G Alex Lyon, D Rob O'Gara, F Stu Wilson, D Ryan Obuchowski, F Cody Learned, D Mitch Witek, F Carson Cooper

Previous KYE installments:
Ouch. That's a lot of important names that are gone, first and foremost Lyon, their all-everything goaltender. In a league that was brimming with some of the nation's top goaltenders, Lyon became the first-ever repeat winner of the ECAC's Ken Dryden Award, the aptly named title for the best netminder in the league. If not for the Hobey Baker season of Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, he would have been a very compelling candidate for ECAC Player of the Year as well. When he was on, Yale was practically impossible to beat. On top of five shutouts, he limited the opposition to just one goal on nine occasions. When you add in a team where 12 players reached double digits in points for the season, and that's a scary prospect to have to tangle with.

That's easily Yale's primary challenge for 2017 - defense. As we've said ad nauseum, a little goaltending can go a long way in the ECAC, and the Elis are moving from a sure thing to a bit of a tossup between the pipes. Kaczperski comes in as Lyon's immediate replacement, but Spano and Tucker will likely also be part of the mix. Spano has appeared in just nine games over three years - but to be fair, he was behind Lyon the whole time. Tucker made no appearances during his freshman season last year, and Kaczperski only just committed in February, likely when it became apparent that Lyon wasn't going to be sticking around. None of the three are obvious choices to either earn the top spot nor obvious to be serving in a backup role - perhaps a bit of a bonus for the Engineers, as they face Yale at home very early in the ECAC schedule, and it's a good bet the role won't be firmly hashed out by then.

The core of Yale's blue line group has been gutted as well with the loss of three seniors in O'Gara, Obuchowski, and Witek. Larkin and Repensky (the latter of which missed 16 games last season to injury) should be the new core, but they'll be leading a plenty young group of defensemen. Yale seems to always find ways to put up a fairly strong defensive front, but they'll be hard pressed to duplicate last year's national best team GAA (1.78) and penalty kill (94.4%) minus the outstanding quartet that they're losing.

The good news is that the Bulldogs still have a ton of offense to choose from. Hayden finally had a breakout season last year in leading Yale with 16 goals, and Snively, the ECAC Rookie of the Year, is a bonafide college star in the making, pacing Yale's balanced attack with 28 points as a freshman.

They do lose some important attacking ability with Wilson (who's already moved on to become the USHL's Director of Hockey Operations) and Learned, not to mention the offensive capacity of O'Gara and Obuchowski, who combined for 100 points for their careers from the blue line, but there are a multitude of options for the Bulldogs in the attacking zone. Six of the 12 who reached double digits in points are back (Snively, Hayden, DiChiara, Hitchcock, Izmirlian, and Doherty), plus it wouldn't be shocking if guys like Ted Hart, Piotrowski (now minus his flow), or NHL draftee Stevens (son of former NHLer Kevin Stevens) filled in the gaps in the attacking balance.

So Yale is probably still at least a little bit scary, but probably not 2013 or 2016 scary. They're in a better position than their travel partners because of their attacking depth, but they'll definitely look more like they're spinning tires by comparison to last season if they don't get a solid defensive front hammered down by the New Year. They could probably win a few track meets, but their traditional set up under Keith Allain has pretty much required defensive success to breed seasonal success.

That probably makes it a very good thing from RPI's perspective that both games against the Bulldogs will come before the New Year - in fact, both well before Christmas. These two squads usually link up for some pretty fun contests, and you have to give the edge to the winner of the battle between RPI's offense and Yale's defense, the expected weaker links coming into the season.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Brown

Sometimes it feels like Groundhog Day when talking about Brown, because in many ways, the scouting report doesn't seem to change - they find a little success when they can get goaltending, they generally play a physical game, and they've got one or two scorers that are worth looking out for leading a fairly thin attack otherwise. A lot of that does seem to still be true, only the names have changed.

Brown
Nickname: Bears
Location: Providence, RI
Founded: 1764
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1993
Last Frozen Four: 1976
Coach: Brendan Whittet (8th season)
2015-16 Record: 5-19-7 (3-13-6 ECAC, 11th place)
Series: RPI leads, 62-26-8
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 5, 2016 (Troy, NY)
Last Brown win: February 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 4, 2016 (Troy, NY); December 10, 2016 (Providence, RI)

Key players: G Tim Ernst, sr.; F Davey Middleton, sr.; F Zack Pryzbek, sr.; D Tyler Wood, sr.; F Tyler Bird, jr.; F Charlie Corcoran, jr.; F Sam Lafferty, jr.; D Josh McArdle, jr.; D Ben Tegtmeyer, jr.; F Max Willman, jr.; F Alex Brink, so.; D Max Gottlieb, so.; F Tommy Marchin, so.; D Brady Schoo, so.; D Zach Giuttari, fr.; G Gavin Nieto, fr.

Key losses: F Nick Lappin, F Mark Naclerio, D Brandon Pfeil, F Joe Prescott

Previous KYE installments:
Brown having a bad season can sometimes fly under the radar - they have a lot of bad seasons. This past one was particularly bad on paper - the Bears won only five games for the first time since 2009, Roger Grillo's final season before his resignation and Brendan Whittet's hiring. The Bears' seven ties helped keep them from a second-consecutive 20-loss season, a mark of a truly terrible season for any Ivy League team (which have shorter schedules than the rest of the nation). They still haven't finished with a winning record in ECAC play since 2004.

The RPI-Brown series last year was rather incredible in many ways. Prior to last season, the Engineers had not come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a game in over a decade. They did it twice last year against Brown - first in the game in Providence, as the Bears went up 3-0 after 32 minutes, with RPI taking the lead for good less than 20 minutes later. Then it would happen again in what would prove to be Brown's final game of the season - a 3-0 first intermission lead evaporated over the final 40 minutes as the Engineers eliminated the Bears.

That was a cathartic series for RPI on two levels - first, it finally got that home playoff series monkey off their back, and second, it's worth remembering that Brown was partially responsible for the growth of that monkey with a pair of playoff series wins in Troy (2010, 2013). When Brown took that 3-0 lead in Game 2, the feeling around the Field House was very "oh, here we go again." But what followed was very, very indicative of the kind of season the Bears had - they simply could not hold leads.

Brown lost their first three games of the season to Holy Cross, Dartmouth, and Harvard - all games in which the Bears led at some point. They held a lead in each of their first five games of the season (including a game at RPI) and were 1-3-1 after those five games. For the entire season, the Bears lost seven games in which they had a lead at one point or another. Tack on the seven ties that they had as well, and you can see that they were more than game with some regularity, but they just couldn't get the job done by the final horn.

And they're losing a serious amount of talent and leadership. Lappin and Naclerio were major contributors to this team offensively throughout their college careers, both graduated as members of Brown's century club. Pfeil was just as important as a key defensive element for four years (although he rarely got enough help).

Putting this bluntly, Marchin is returning for his sophomore season as Brown's leading scorer for his active career with only 27 points - a fairly low bar that none of his teammates, even the rising seniors and juniors, have been able to attain in two or three full college seasons. By way of comparison, the Engineers have had their noteworthy struggles to score goals over the last few season, and five of them return this season with 27 or more points for their career. Marchin is a legitimate budding star in the ECAC - but in a lot of ways, he draws comparisons with guys like Matt Lorito, who graduated in 2015. When one player is the best guy on the team by far, or one line the best line by far, the opposition will find it fairly easy to focus their defensive efforts exclusively on them, daring the rest of the squad to pick up the slack. When they don't, the best players will look slightly more pedestrian.

Can Marchin get some help? There are possibilities around. Willman reportedly turned heads in a very positive way at the Buffalo Sabres' development camp this offseason. His classmates, Bird and Lafferty, are the other two NHL draftees at Brown, and all three have struggled to live up to their potential. We'll likely see one or two of these guys alongside Marchin this season (since Marchin usually paired with Naclerio and Lappin last year), and that could boost their output, but the one-line wonder problem will persist.

In net, Ernst and classmate Tyler Steel have split time across their three years in Providence, but Ernst was the clear starter last season. Neither have produced numbers that would have them even approaching the league median - which should honestly give Nieto, who comes in having just won an NAHL championship in Fairbanks alongside RPI's Todd Burgess, the opportunity to compete for the starting job right away unless one of the seniors can really step up their game. Good goaltending can make a mediocre team into a very respectable team, and the Bears are in desperate need of at least that.

The physical game that Brown typically plays was not always visible last season. In fact, the Bears were the least penalized team in the entire nation last year - not always something to brag about (although given that they also had the third-worst penalty kill in the country, it probably helped a bit). We'll have to see if this trend continues into the coming season. Historically, Brown has been a lot more successful when they're muscling the other team off the puck efficiently and effectively. Doing that well almost always means pushing the envelope on what's a penalty and what's legal, which is why it might be a little alarming that the Bears had so few PIMs.

Brendan Whittet has some definite tools in his toolbox to work with, especially with sophomores Marchin and Gottlieb at his disposal. These guys would be easy starters on any team in the league. But if Brown is going to buck the trend and have success this year, the Bears are going to have to be a lot more than the sum of all of its parts, especially if Ernst, Steel, or Nieto can't provide that big spark they need in the crease.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Union

The tables have most undoubtedly turned in the Route 7 Rivalry, and they turned rather quickly. Season after season over the last decade-plus, it was Union getting the better of the Engineers with regularity. And now, here we stand, two years removed from the Dutchmen's national championship, and RPI can now claim six wins in the past seven games with their bitter rivals from Schenectady, including four consecutive ECAC victories and two Mayor's Cup titles. Will that continue this season? Who knows. While RPI has finished ahead of Union in the final standings of the last two ECAC seasons, it still seems like all of that can basically be thrown out the window when these sides square off.

Union
Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 1 (2014)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Rick Bennett (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 13-14-9 (6-10-6 ECAC, 9th place)
Series: RPI leads, 51-34-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 23, 2016 (Albany, NY)
Last UC win: January 24, 2015 (Albany, NY)

2016-17 games: October 28, 2016 (Troy, NY); October 29, 2016 (Schenectady, NY); January 19, 2017 (Albany, NY)

Key players: F Eli Lichtenwald, sr.; F Michael Pontarelli, sr.; G Alex Sakellaropoulos, sr.; D Jeff Taylor, sr.; F Mike Vecchione, sr.; D JC Brassard, jr.; D Nick DeSimone, jr.; F Spencer Foo, jr.; F Ryan Scarfo, jr.; D Greg Campbell, so.; F Brett Supinski, so.; F Brendan Taylor, so.; F Sebastian Vidmar, so.; F Ryan Burton, fr.; D Vas Kolias, fr.; D Ben Newhouse, fr.

Key losses: F Matt Wilkins, D Sebastien Gingras, D Noah Henry

Previous KYE installments:
The ECAC tends to have some pretty distinct tiers of teams and they typically group together somewhere in the middle. Whenever there's a tier of one, it's frequently at the top (like Quinnipiac last season) or at the bottom (like Princeton in 2014 and 2015). Union, unusually, had a very firm grip on 9th place for much of the late run of the season - not close to catching a home playoff spot, yet not likely to fall even lower.

That was indicative of a team that had at least a little bit of capacity to it, but wasn't terribly strong at anything. 36th in the nation on offense (2.53 GPG), 27th in defense (2.67 GAA), 31st in power play (17.5%), 38th in penalty kill (80.8%) - pretty much perfectly average all around when put up against the rest of the country, within eight spots from the national median in each category. Not so bad any anything, not so great either.

The Dutchmen were a fairly streaky team at times. Unbeaten in their first five games (all at home, 2-0-3), they then proceeded to drop four straight (including the home-and-home with RPI) and six out of seven in a row overall. That was followed by a seven game unbeaten stretch (6-0-1), but after the first weekend of 2016, the Dutchmen won just four games the rest of the season.

The best news Union got this offseason was that Vecchione, the team's leading scorer, would return for his senior season, spurning NHL offers for the second consecutive off-season to finish up his career in Schenectady. He will be a key offensive element on a team that returns 10 of its top 11 scorers from last season, including Scarfo and Foo, who tied for the team lead in goals with 12 each. Union certainly isn't scoring goals at anywhere near the pace they had when they won the national championship in 2014, but they aren't even remotely helpless in this part of the game.

The biggest issue for the Dutchmen to overcome this coming year is in becoming more consistent. Too often, they were either getting good offense for long stretches without getting defensive support, or vice versa. For instance, in their final three games last season, Union managed to keep the opposition away from that "magic" three-goal total, but they dropped all three games while scoring only twice at Colgate and Cornell. Similarly, in six of the team's nine ties, they themselves scored three or more goals but couldn't produce a victory.

The ECAC was so deep in goaltending last season that the uneven offensive outputs can certainly be forgiven to a significant degree. Netminders stole games with such regularity last season that it's hard to fault what appears to still be a decent enough attack. What Union needs more of is stability in its own crease. Sakellaropoulos has yet to put up numbers that would rank him among the top-half of the league in net and while he's a proven, capable Division I goaltender, he hasn't been among the elite and that has been a hindrance to Union's success in the last two seasons.

But again, as we say every year when it comes to analyzing Union up against RPI, none of this even remotely matters. We've seen far superior Union teams taken down by plainly inferior RPI squads and vice versa throughout the last 15+ years. RPI-Union has reached a point where guts, heart, and attitude go farther than anything else in determining a winner - which is a reason many of their games can get chippy, since both try to bring all three in spades. The only thing that RPI's streak of six wins in seven contests means is that the Engineers know they can win these games, a serious reversal from the previous 14 out of 15 won by the Dutchmen.

There are certainly enough questions with both of these squads heading into this season that "anything goes" remains a very viable statement. It's exceptionally easy to see either of these teams being able to sweep all three games this year - or anything inbetween. In terms of Union's standing in the ECAC, however, expect at least a little bit of a bump just on experience alone, as the team was light on seniors last year. But unless they can find some more consistency, especially on defense, the possibility of continued tire-spinning is there as well.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Know Your Enemy: UMass-Lowell

The final non-conference opponent of the season for the Engineers is a team that, a few years back, looked to be having a boomlet of success to the casual observer. But with some of Hockey East's power teams going thorough prolonged periods of struggle, there's naturally going to be someone there to take their place - nature abhors a vacuum and all. Enter the River Hawks. Their sustained successes under Norm Bazin have left no doubt that they are now a program to be reckoned with on a year in, year out basis.

UMass-Lowell
Nickname: River Hawks
Location: Lowell, MA
Founded: 1894
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 3 (1979, 1981, 1982 - all Division II)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Norm Bazin (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 25-10-5 (12-6-4 HEA, 4th place)
Series: UML leads, 12-10-1
First Game: December 30, 1982 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 16, 2006 (Troy, NY)
Last UML win: October 9, 2015 (Lowell, MA)

2016-17 game: January 3, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Evan Campbell, sr.; F Joe Gambardella, sr.; D Michael Kapla, sr.; D Dylan Zink, sr.; F John Edwardh, jr.; D Chris Forney, jr.; D Tyler Mueller, jr.; D Tommy Panico, jr. F C.J. Smith, jr.; F Ryan Dmowski, so.; D Niklas Folin, so.; F Nick Master, so.; F Guillaume Leclerc, fr.; F Ryan Lohin, fr.; G Garrett Metcalf, fr.; G Tyler Wall, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
2016 represented the fourth time in five seasons that UML reached the NCAA tournament (they were the first team out in 2015) and their fifth consecutive 20-win season. This is truly the best stretch of seasons in Lowell's Division I history, and their best overall run since they were beasts of Division II in the late 70s and early 80s.

Last season, UML rode their strong defense to fourth in a stacked Hockey East table, then swept Boston University in the league quarterfinals and survived a 3OT marathon with defending champions Providence in the semis before falling to Northeastern in the league championship game. In the NCAA tournament, Lowell had to tangle with the best two teams in Connecticut playing in the Eastern Regional in Albany. The River Hawks dispatched Yale in overtime in a measure of revenge for the Bulldogs' 2013 Frozen Four triumph, but could not overcome a championship game-bound Quinnipiac, falling 4-1.

On defense, Lowell will be looking to replace Kevin Boyle between the pipes, and they have a pair of incoming freshmen in Metcalf and Wall who are both NHL draftees that are the likely options. But in front of their young netminder, whoever that ends up being, the core of the remainder of the defense that brought UML within a game of their second Frozen Four in four seasons will be almost entirely untouched - and chock full of experience.

All six regular defensemen return from last year's team. Five are juniors and seniors, and as a group they missed a total of nine games last year, five of which were missed by Folin in his freshman season. In front of Boyle, they established the fourth-stingiest defense in the nation last year with a team GAA of 1.88. No doubt their return will help ease the transition in net.

The River Hawks didn't light the planet ablaze offensively last season but it was far beyond adequate at a rate of 3.02 goals per game, certainly enough to win most of time. UML lost just twice last season when reaching three goals - both times on the road in December. Of the five players who recorded 10 or more goals last season, three (Gambardella, Zink, and Smith) return this year, and all three repeated the feat from a season prior. Campbell, who missed the last 11 games of the season to an injury, will also be back in the lineup - he cracked double-digits along with his three teammates in 2015.

At the final accounting, 11 players on this year's team had 10 or more points last season, including four defensemen. Bazin's men have plenty of options for scoring, no doubt. On first glance, UML doesn't have any individual scoring option that will necessarily be striking fear in the hearts of opponents, but they have plenty of outstanding options collectively that will likely make again for a strong enough attack to make the River Hawks dangerous in any game.

That adds up to a difficult final non-conference opponent, even at the Field House, for the Engineers, who have lost four of the last five games against Lowell. RPI's loss last year at Tsongas Center to kick off the season was really one of the Engineers' worst performances of the entire season, but it wasn't entirely their fault - UML also looked very, very good, every inch one of the best teams in the nation. Give them the edge in this year's matchup, although with RPI being at home and likely being improved offensively compared to what they had early in last season, it should at least be a little bit closer, an excellent test at a time when the Engineers will be heading into the meatiest part of their ECAC schedule.