Friday, March 12, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: The Quarterfinals

OK, enough procrastination. This is certainly less fun without the Engineers in action this weekend, but the quarterfinal slate does hold a number of interesting series, not the least of which is the exciting series which will take place up Route 7.

Let's go.

#11 Brown at #1 Yale
(Yale won season series, 6-5 in overtime in Providence on 11/21, 8-5 in New Haven on 1/16)

The big question mark for Yale (19-7-3, 15-5-2 ECAC) will be how well they will be able to function with All-ECAC first team selection Sean Backman out for the season after he broke his foot screwing around in a closed pool on campus last week. Backman was the top goal scorer on a line that included freshman Andrew Miller (4 G, 22 A) and sophomore Brian O'Neill (12 G, 24 A). Without Backman, the pressure will be on O'Neill to provide offensive output. Otherwise, Brown will be able to focus its attention on shutting down the line anchored by Yale's other All-ECAC first teamer, junior Broc Little (25 G, 13 A).

As we saw last weekend, Brown (10-18-4, 6-12-4 ECAC) can be a pain to deal despite their lack of talented scorers with with their forechecking and neutral zone trap combined with a physical game designed to get good players off their game. As in Troy, Brown does have the bonus of being able to play with a little more reckless abandon, but the Bulldogs probably won't be gripping the sticks as hard as RPI was - their season won't end this weekend no matter what happens.

We said it last week, and at the risk of sounding stale, we still think Brown shouldn't have the chops to go any farther in this tournament, especially against a legitimate national contender like Yale.

Prediction: Yale in two

#9 Harvard at #2 Cornell
(Cornell won season series, 6-3 in Ithaca on 11/7, 3-0 in Boston on 2/19)

The one opponent with the ability to get Cornell's robotic fans to start frothing at the mouth, the "Lynah Faithful" would like nothing better than to end Harvard's quixotic playoff journey, and given that the Big Red (17-8-4, 14-5-3 ECAC) seem to always be up for the Crimson (9-19-3, 7-12-3 ECAC) regardless of how good either team is, this one probably shouldn't be close.

Cornell's particular brand of defense may not lead to an especially exciting hockey game, but at least this year they do have legitimate scoring threats to make their system less boring - in this case, senior duo Colin Greening (13 G, 17 A) and Blake Gallagher (17 G, 17 A). The Big Red have a few other good scoring threats on other lines, like Riley Nash (9 G, 18 A) and Joe Devin (8 G, 12 A). If it wasn't for Yale's speed and solid passing, Cornell would probably be the runaway favorite in this tournament.

Harvard succeeded last week by going back to former Dryden Award winner Kyle Richter, who upstaged last year's Dryden winner, Zane Kalemba, in allowing only two goals in two games, while the Crimson got goals from lines other than their top scoring group of Michael Biega, Louis Leblanc, and Alex Killorn. If they can do that again this weekend, they'll have a shot, but Ben Scrivens, THIS year's runaway Dryden Award winner to be, will present a much greater challenge.

Yes, we picked Harvard to lose in two last week and they won in two instead. They aren't a bad team, they just seem to have run into a pair of series that conventional wisdom says they should be the heavy underdogs in.

Prediction: Cornell in two

#7 Quinnipiac at #3 Union
(Union won season series, 2-1 in overtime in Hamden on 1/9, 7-3 in Schenectady on 2/20)

This really should be the most entertaining and exciting series of the entire weekend. Both of these teams can score goals in bunches and also have goaltenders who have been known to play out of their minds at times.

The Dutchmen (18-10-6, 12-6-4 ECAC) finally got the monkey off their back last season, winning their first ever ECAC playoff series in their 18th season in the league. They're still the only team in the league that's never been to the semifinal round, but that may change this season, which has been without question the best in the history of the program. Freshman Keith Kincaid is the standard in net for Union, while the line of Mario Valery-Trabucco (21 G, 21 A) and Jason Walters (16 G, 22 A) is one of the best in the league.

As we mentioned last week, Quinnipiac (19-16-2, 11-11-0 ECAC) has been wildly erratic this season and it's difficult to know what team you're going to get, but when they're good, they're very, very good. Dan Clarke can steal a game on his own, and Union will have to focus on shutting down Brandon Wong, Eric Lampe, and Jean-Marc Beaudoin in order to be successful.

Will Union choke again on the cusp of Albany? It's possible, but we don't think it'll happen. This program is finally on its way out the doldrums, and Quinnipiac just isn't as put together as they're going to need to be to earn two wins this weekend. A Bobcat victory wouldn't be completely unexpected, we just don't think it's in the cards. That'll leave RPI as the only team out of 13 (that includes former ECAC member Vermont) that never made it to Albany in the 8 years the tournament was held there. That's depressing even if Union doesn't win.

Prediction: Union in three

#5 St. Lawrence at #4 Colgate
(St. Lawrence won season series, 4-0 in Canton on 1/15, 3-2 in overtime in Hamilton on 1/30)

After an all out war with Clarkson, the Saints (17-14-7, 9-8-5 ECAC) come into Starr Rink with a little momentum against a Colgate team that still boasts only 3 wins all season against teams with a .500 record or better (two coming against RPI).

While St. Lawrence's last series was certainly affected by the rivalry aspect (which created a three-game series in which every game was won by a single goal, two in overtime), this weekend it's back to straight up business for the Saints.

There's something about Colgate (15-13-6, 12-8-2 ECAC) that just doesn't sit right. They do have four players who reached double digits in both goals and assists - sophomore Austin Smith, senior David McIntyre, juniors Brian Day and Francois Brisebois - but their defense leaves something to be desired. Sophomore Alex Evin largely displaced senior Charles Long in net late in the season, but didn't put up numbers that makes one believe that he would be able to steal a game on his own - in fact, in the last RPI-Colgate game, we saw Evin bailed out by his teammates on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence's Mike McKenzie seems to have broken out of his late season funk, and despite his struggles late in the season, Kain Tisi showed in Game 3 last weekend that he was ready to be a big game goaltender. Alex Petizian, who Tisi largely displaced for most of the season, lifted SLU into the #5 seed on the last day of the regular season and hung tough in the first two games last weekend. Honestly, we like either of these guys, especially with the defense in front of them, over what the Raiders will show defensively.

This matchup is all about the Colgate offense against the St. Lawrence defense, and despite the missteps that the latter dealt with down the stretch, we'll go with St. Lawrence to become the only first round team to advance to Albany. Give Colgate a game thanks to their home ice advantage.

Prediction: St. Lawrence in three

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