Tuesday, December 4, 2012

ECAC Power Rankings - November

Every year we release our power rankings for the ECAC following the months of November, December, and January. We skip October because the Ivy League's delayed start doesn't allow us to get a very good handle on half the league, and we skip February because by the time March rolls around, the league's standings are the effective power rankings. For other months, we factor in non-conference and conference games to determine who's hot and who's not.

As November closes, the league is certainly creating a great deal of buzz. Arguably, a good 2/3 of the league has at least something to be happy with at this point, and there are three teams currently in the top 10 in KRACH and seven in the top 20. That's pretty amazing, although we expect things to calm significantly as the league season kicks into high gear in January. Still, early prospects have the league with a strong likelihood of landing three bids to the NCAA tournament this year - four if the league can land an upset tournament champion, which bodes well for the future.

Without further ado, the league as we see it after the second month of the season..

1. Dartmouth (6-2-2) - The Big Green have practically no pimples on their record. They went unbeaten in their first six contests, lost to Colgate by one goal in a game they led 4-1 in the third period, and lost to the defending national champions, Boston College, in a game that was tied heading into the third period. Other than the last 12 minutes of the Colgate game, the Big Green have very little to be disappointed with at all this season. Their penalty kill is a ridiculous 97.2%, best in the nation by over a percentage point having given up just one power play goal all year long (November 2 against Yale). Just three home non-conference games on tap for Dartmouth in December, and one is huge - a showdown with #1 New Hampshire on December 30. That's must see TV.

2. Yale (6-2-1) - If not for a 1-0 stumble at home against Clarkson in early November, the Bulldogs' record is almost equally spotless as Dartmouth's. The main point of separation is Yale's other loss, a 7-4 defeat in Hanover. Otherwise, a pair of impressive overtime victories in Colorado against Denver and Colorado College have vaulted Yale back into the national discussion after last year's tough season. The Clarkson loss came on a goal in the last three minutes of regulation, marring an otherwise decent outing, but if Yale has one weakness it's that they've been in a lot of close games - only their loss to Dartmouth and a 5-1 win at Harvard were outside the two-goal margin. Yale has ECAC contests at home against RPI and Union this coming weekend, a home game against UMass the following weekend, then hosts the Russian Red Stars in an exhibition after Christmas before traveling to Holy Cross on December 30.

3. Quinnipiac (10-3-2) - Tough to put the undefeated league leaders this far down, but when third is considered low, that's pretty decent. The Bobcats had a far more difficult October than they probably drew up. They won at Maine to start the season before anyone realized Maine was beyond awful. They fell 4-0 against Robert Morris at home, and 5-1 to Colgate on Cape Cod. They bottomed out at the beginning of November with a 2-1 loss to American International, something no team should ever be in a position to need to make excuses for. But ever since that AIC loss, the Q has been on a tear, unbeaten in eight straight with six big ECAC victories. We knew the Bobcats would be good and that appears to be coming true in spades, they boast the nation's top defense. After their home-and-home with travel partners Princeton this weekend, they host Nebraska-Omaha after Christmas as a check on how far they've come as a program.

4. Cornell (6-3-2) - Five-game winless and three-game losing streaks are pretty rare in Ithaca, and the Big Red had to endure just that during November, albeit against some decent competition. After taking three points from Colgate in the yearly home-and-home to start the season, Cornell lost three in a row to Princeton, Quinnipiac, and Harvard before bouncing back with a big tie at home with Dartmouth, a 5-1 demolition of a bad Michigan team at Madison Square Garden, and an important home sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence last weekend, which should have the Big Red back on track. They'll look to add to their unbeaten non-conference record after Christmas in the annual Florida College Classic, facing Ferris State and then either Minnesota-Duluth or Maine.

5. Union (8-3-2) - One bad weekend can be all it takes to slip a bit, and that's why Union's down here in fifth. The Dutchmen had an OK November after a very good October. They fell at Dartmouth after beating up on Harvard the previous night, then swept first-year Penn State at home before a rough outing last weekend, picking up just one point against Quinnipiac and Princeton. Truth is, all of Union's non-conference wins and ties are against teams in the bottom 2/3 of KRACH. Their signature win thus far is over Harvard, and the second best team they've beaten is... RPI, who's almost in that bottom 2/3 themselves. So while the record is strong, the schedule certainly isn't and when challenged by Dartmouth and Quinnipiac, the Dutch were not up to the task. An important weekend at Brown and Yale beckons this weekend, followed by Vermont and a rematch with Merrimack in the Catamount Cup after Christmas.

6. Harvard (4-3-0) - Yeah, you're reading that correctly. Harvard has just seven games under their belt, less than half that of Quinnipiac (15). They took the last two weeks of November off, but the Crimson are off to an OK start otherwise. They lost big in back to back games with Yale and Union, then stomped RPI and Cornell in back to back contests, so they aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they're still decent. It's tough to compare Harvard to the rest of the league with such a light resume to date, but all indications point to a very, very talented freshman group that is already pitching in to make the Crimson a dangerous team to play against. Harvard's layover ends on Friday when they visit Merrimack, followed by a home game against UMass-Lowell on Monday of next week. They're then off 19 more days before a home game with Beanpot rivals Northeastern, so in all likelihood we're not going to learn much more about this group until the league schedule in January.

7. St. Lawrence (7-5-2) - Inconsistency crept into the works in November for St. Lawrence after a torrid start to the season, continuing the up-and-down trend from last year. 5-1-0 to start the year, SLU is 2-4-2 since ECAC play got underway and struggling to keep their heads above water on the league table. At the end of the day, they've only lost to teams ahead of them in these power rankings, and they've either beaten or tied the teams below them, so this position certainly makes sense. In hindsight, the hot October was definitely assisted by some weak opponents (Maine, Alabama-Huntsville), but a split at Western Michigan doesn't suck, that's for sure. This is still a team with a great deal of potential and despite some tough losses they, could work their way back into the thick of things sooner rather than later. Tomorrow night they host rivals Clarkson in an ECAC contest, and on Saturday they throw down with the Golden Knights again in a non-conference game in Lake Placid. They finish out December with a home game against Vermont on the 15th.

8. Colgate (7-7-2) - Difficult to put a seven-win team this far down after November, but inconsistency has reigned in Hamilton. Despite a non-conference win over Quinnipiac at the end of October and league wins over Dartmouth and Harvard in the middle of November, the Raiders have generally been all over the map since the beginning of the season. They needed overtime to beat Clarkson last weekend, couldn't match up with Cornell in the yearly home-and-home, and has losses to Bowling Green and Princeton on their record. Both offense and defense, it seems, are either on or off on any given night, creating unpredictability, but Colgate is admirably at a .500 record despite it all. A weekend series at UMass this coming weekend will be their only outing in December, and they kick off January with a home weekend series against last-in-KRACH Sacred Heart.

9. Princeton (3-4-3) - November was semi-kind to the Tigers after a rough first two weeks of their season in October. Princeton lost a pair of exhibitions and lost twice in the Ivy Shootout to start the year, but a 3-2-3 record since then has buoyed the Tigers in the ECAC standings, which is certainly important. They submitted real stinkers against Clarkson (7-2) and UMass-Lowell (3-1), but they've generally hung tough in ECAC games, though they blew the opportunity for a four-point weekend in the Capital District last weekend, losing third-period leads against both RPI and Union to settle for a pair of draws. Still, their home sweep of Colgate and Cornell at the beginning of the month got them off on the right foot, and if they can squeeze points from the home-and-home with Quinnipiac this weekend, the Tigers might certainly be onto something. They join Union at the Catamount Cup in Burlington after Christmas, facing Merrimack and then Vermont to close out the month.

10. Brown (3-5-2) - Brown is a team still in search of a signature victory. The Bears have won the two games against Atlantic Hockey programs that they need to win, and picked up a season-opening 2-1 win over Princeton, but that's where the good news ends. While they've been competitive in every league game they've been in, they haven't been able to get over the hump, with three one-goal losses and two ties in league play - they get the edge on RPI thanks to these close contests. Tack on blowout non-conference losses to Dartmouth and Providence, and there you have Brown. They host Union and RPI this coming weekend, then participate in the UConn Hockey Classic after Christmas with games against Minnesota State and either UConn or AIC, the latter of which they should be able to do well in.

11. RPI (3-6-3) - The Engineers can be thankful they're not last here even if they're certainly last in the ECAC right now. A somewhat more difficult schedule than the other bottom feeders props up the Engineers here, but even that isn't a very good excuse for their poor record, and this past weekend's travails against Princeton and Quinnipiac are a microcosm of the problems they've faced. The weekend sweep of Mercyhurst is fairly unimpressive compared to the rest of the league, with their opening weekend against Ferris State the only really shining element of the team's record. To be fair, they've played most of the top teams in the ECAC already, but with their only point coming against Princeton, it's easy to see that they aren't among the best of what's around.

12. Clarkson (2-7-5) - The Golden Knights are fairly aimless at the present. They have two big wins on their record, the first being a 7-2 home destruction of Princeton and the latter the last-minute win over Yale, but it's difficult to ignore the rest of their schedule, especially the 0-2-4 record against Atlantic Hockey. To their credit, their two wins have come in league play, but defensively Clarkson has been a mess, giving up 3.21 goals per game, taxing a young offense which, with the exception of the Princeton game, hasn't been able to generate the goals necessary to keep pace. The two games with St. Lawrence in the next four days make up the heart of Clarkson's December schedule, a home game against Mercyhurst on the 15th rounds it out.

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