Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Brown

It's time to get down to brass tacks with Brown. They are the only team in the ECAC that has finished in the bottom four in both of the last two seasons, but it's far worse than that. There hasn't been an ECAC playoff game in Providence since... 2005. That's not to say that the Bears haven't had their high moments in the last seven years (RPI fans will wince at the memory of 2010 specifically), but there haven't been many.

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 (4th season)
2011-12 Record: 9-18-5 (5-13-4 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 55-22-6
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 20, 2012 (Providence, RI)
Last Brown win: March 7, 2010 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: December 8, 2012 (Providence, RI); February 15, 2013 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Richie Crowley, sr.; F Chris Zaires, sr.; G Marco DeFilippo, jr.; F Garnet Hathaway, jr.; D Dennis Robertson, jr.; D Matt Wahl, jr.; F Ryan Jacobson, so.; F Massimo Lamacchia, so.; F Matt Lorito, so.; F Nick Lappin, fr.

Key losses: D Jeff Buvinow, F Jack Maclellan, F Bobby Farnham, G Mike Clemente, F Jarred Smith

Previous KYE installments:
That last year outside of the bottom four of the league also coincides with the last winning season Brown has had, and with seven losing campaigns in a row, the Bears are second (along with Bowling Green) for the longest such streak in the nation outside of Atlantic Hockey (Alaska-Anchorage has not had a winning season since 1993, their last year as an independent).

For whatever reason, even though Brendan Whittet has basically had two decent recruit classes in a row, it hasn't translated into success on the ice for the Bears, though the school is certainly becoming known as a breeding ground for tough guys, with recent grads Aaron Volpatti and Harry Zolnierczyk seeing NHL time in the last couple of seasons. And despite solid careers from Buvinow, Maclellan, and Farnham, Brown has continued to be cellar dwellers.

This season, the Bears could well be at least a minor force to be reckoned with offensively. Jacobson's freshman year was a very bright point in a difficult season, and Lorito developed nicely as an assist leader as well. Lappin, who led the USHL's Tri-City in scoring last season, comes in to add to the youth movement in Providence, but the discussion on Brown's freshman class will surely revolve around how good it could have been with Kevin Roy, the USHL's Player of the Year and 4th-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Roy was expected to be one of the ECAC's top rookies, but he decommitted from Brown in July. His older brother, Derick, was also supposed to be arriving as a goaltender, but he decommitted at the same time. Both are now bound for Northeastern instead.

The loss of Buvinow and Clemente means the Bears essentially start from scratch on defense, with Buvinow consistently considered among the better defensemen in the ECAC and Clemente more or less being the team's top choice goaltender for four straight years (he split time with Dan Rosen his freshman year). DeFilippo saw a limited amount of action last year and was not sharp when he was in net (including the game against RPI in Providence). Still, there is some talent with Robertson and Wahl especially, but the Bears are going to need some people to stand up in a big way to bolster what was already one of the nation's weaker defenses.

Elements of Brown's freshman class that have shown up on campus at least arrive with decent backgrounds, mostly coming from the USHL and the BCHL, the top junior leagues in North America, but they're going to have a tall task in front of them. Kevin Roy could have been a major shot in the arm for this team, but his defection certainly represented a major blow for a program that continues to struggle to climb out of the league's depths. Unless Bruno can parlay their reputation for toughness into a cohesive unit capable of putting up good defense against the rest of the ECAC, it's likely to be another long season in Providence.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Yale

We've mentioned the surprise that was Dartmouth's falling off which dovetailed almost exactly with RPI's own struggles last year, but one of the other major negative surprises of the season was definitely at Yale. The Bulldogs had been the favorites to win the ECAC despite a number of losses up front, but after a promising start the wheels came off in late November, and the team that had been one of the most dominant in the league for several seasons in a row needed a burst of energy in February just to ensure home ice for the first round.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1952
Coach: Keith Allain (7th season)
2011-12 Record: 16-16-3 (10-10-2 ECAC, 6th place)
Series: RPI leads, 53-40-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 21, 2012 (New Haven, CT)
Last YU win: November 11, 2011 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: December 7, 2012 (New Haven, CT); February 16, 2013 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Colin Dueck, sr.; F Antoine Laganiere, sr.; G Jeff Malcolm, sr.; G Nick Maricic, sr.; F Andrew Miller, sr.; F Kenny Agostino, jr.; F Clinton Bourbonais, jr.; F Jesse Root, jr.; D Gus Young, jr.; D Timothy Fallen, so.; D Matt Killian, so.; F Matt Beattie, fr.; F Carson Cooper, fr.; D Rob O'Gara, fr.; F Charles Orzetti, fr.; F Stu Wilson, fr.

Key losses: F Brian O'Neill, D Kevin Peel, F Chad Ziegler, D Nick Jaskowiak, F Kevin Limbert, F Charles Brockett

Previous KYE installments:
Defensively, Yale appeared unstoppable early in the season, especially when Malcolm managed to rattle off not just three shutouts in a row, but three shutouts in a row in the ECAC, including blankings of high-powered Colgate and Union (and RPI, but come on, the Engineers couldn't score on an empty net in November last year). However, things unraveled quickly, especially after a shocking 7-6 loss to Sacred Heart, and not only did the Bulldogs fail to shut out a single game after that, they were regularly giving up 3, 4, and 5 goals a game for most of the remainder of the season.

The goaltending question with Yale is one that just never quite seems to go away. It was present at the start of the season two years ago (and answered with Ryan Rondeau), it was there last year (Malcolm appeared to be the answer early, then things fell apart and ultimately Yale allowed 12 goals in their last two games against Harvard), and now it's still there this year, although the potential answers are basically the same as they were last year.

In front of whoever ends up in net for Eli is a relatively young defensive contingent. Dueck and Young stand out as the only upperclassmen on the incoming roster, which will add an anticipated talent in O'Gara but will still consist of at least four freshmen and sophomores on any given night (though one of them will be Fallen, who had a very solid freshman year and put up 20 points from the blue line). That combined with the uncertainty in net makes Yale questionable on defense coming into the season, they'll need to be strong early.

O'Neill represents a sizable loss for the Bulldogs, as he netted 21 goals and scored 46 points to pace the team last year, but the cupboard is not bare by a longshot - Miller, the team's assist leader three years running, is back for his senior year, and Laganiere (19 goals) and Agostino (14 goals) dented the twine with regularity as well. Throw in a bevy of solid scoring talents led by late draft pick Beattie and Yale probably won't have too much of a problem putting the puck in the net.

Over the last several seasons, RPI/Yale has been an absolute treat to watch no matter who the players have been, where the games have been played, or what the records were because both teams try to play an uptempo game. There have been defensive battles and offensive track meets but the teams have gone a few seasons now without really turning out a stinker of a contest. Look for that to continue this season, and if you want to watch some fun hockey, be sure to turn out for this year's clashes between the Engineers and the Bulldogs.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Olympic Sized

It's official... the ECAC tournament is making its way back to Lake Placid, where it will be held in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Will that end the long battle over its location that has raged for the last decade, practically ever since the tournament moved to Albany in 2003?

Probably not.

The move out of Atlantic City makes sense. The league saw dollar signs a few years back and made the plunge because Albany wasn't doing enough to market the tournament - and managed to only make things worse. So it was that fans began to look elsewhere once again.

Many viewed Lake Placid as a panacea for the league, a guaranteed return to greatness. Others bounced more fanciful ideas or even loathsome ones, desperate for anything else. We actually proposed a rotating schedule which would include a number of different locations (we suggested Lake Placid, Albany, Syracuse, Providence, and Bridgeport).

If you're a believer in divine providence, perhaps the move back to Lake Placid will benefit RPI. After all, the Engineers are currently on the longest active drought of missing the tournament - by a solid five years, with the next longest droughts being Quinnipiac and Clarkson, who faced off in the 2007 championship but have not been back. The last time RPI reached the ECAC semis was 2002, the final season in Lake Placid during the original run.

There's one important thing that worked about Lake Placid, besides its relatively smaller size making it easier to fill the building - the teams that played there practically always had a large fan base to help fill the joint.

1993 - Brown, Clarkson, Harvard, RPI
1994 - Brown, Clarkson, Harvard, RPI
1995 - Clarkson, Colgate, Princeton, RPI
1996 - Clarkson, Cornell, Harvard, Vermont
1997 - Clarkson, Cornell, Princeton, RPI
1998 - Clarkson, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale
1999 - Clarkson, Colgate, Princeton, RPI, St. Lawrence
2000 - Clarkson, Cornell, Colgate, RPI, St. Lawrence
2001 - Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, St. Lawrence, Vermont
2002 - Clarkson, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, RPI

There's no question that it was a tremendous run by the teams with the top traveling fan bases in the league. Early on, Harvard was still drawing fairly well, and later in the tenure, a relative local team with a halfway decent traveling fan base was there in SLU. Every single season the tournament was held in Lake Placid, it featured at least two teams that travel well, sometimes three, and in 2000 it landed four. It always had at least one local team since one or both of the North Country teams reached every season.

There was something magic about the tournament back then. Like the Frozen Four today, it was a place where you tried to go every year, and you'd see old friends and old rivals, and it had the added bonus of taking place in a building that is an absolute mecca when it comes to American hockey. I was just a kid when I started going to see the Engineers play there, but I always got chills walking into 1980 Rink. Just thinking about it gives me chills.

The league's luck changed as soon as the tournament left the Adirondacks.

2003 - Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard
2004 - Clarkson, Colgate, Dartmouth, Harvard
2005 - Colgate, Cornell, Harvard, Vermont
2006 - Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard
2007 - Clarkson, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence
2008 - Colgate, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton
2009 - Cornell, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Yale
2010 - Brown, Cornell, St. Lawrence, Union
2011 - Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Yale
2012 - Colgate, Cornell, Harvard, Union

These last ten tournaments simply haven't been able to cobble together any solid turnouts in part because the teams that have been going don't have as big of a following on the road. That's not the only problem - Albany and Atlantic City were poor draws as locations - but it has an impact. No RPI at all, and Cornell and Clarkson never have made it in the same season. The closest thing the league ever got was in 2010 with Cornell and a local team in Union, and that's it.

Bottom line? Well, the bottom line for us seems to be that RPI needs to start holding up its end of the bargain - Clarkson too, for that matter. When the tournament moved to Albany in 2003, the league probably had hoped to see continued visits by the Engineers - something which never panned out. As a result, the attendance and the atmosphere at the tournament slowly began to dwindle until we reached a point that the tournament itself is no longer a "destination" the way it is in the Big Three leagues today.

The ECAC isn't unique in having teams it needs to succeed in order to have a flourishing tournament. The WCHA, for instance, long has relied on Minnesota to reach the Final Five in order to ensure that the Xcel Energy Center is basically full. When the Gophers missed out in 2010 and 2011, the tournament still drew fairly well, but not as much as it usually did. The CCHA has been reliant on Michigan's participation to draw in Detroit - and Boston has never lacked a local team or a member of its "Big Four" for Hockey East's finale.

And of course, you've got Atlantic Hockey in Rochester, which is pretty self-explanatory. Fortunately, even with RIT in the AHA title game the last three years, the ECAC is still outdrawing that league - but not by much.

It has its drawbacks. One of the other reasons the league left Lake Placid was the Olympic-sized ice surface. Once again, a league with 10 teams who play on NHL-sized ice will compete for the league championship on larger ice (Dartmouth and Harvard are both slightly bigger than the NHL's 200x85, but still closer to NHL-size). It's still isolated and tough to get to or from in inclement weather. It's still not a cheap place to find a room. But for now, it's home again.

For the ECAC, the move back to Lake Placid may in part be an admission that it's not going to be easy to fill large arenas for the tournament even if the right teams are there. The 2014 tournament may draw in more casual fans than usual - the ones like me who remember the league's glory days in the 1990s when Lake Placid provided heart-stopping games before packed crowds - but unless the right teams are there once again, the novelty will fade. If that happens, even Herb Brooks Arena will start to look a little empty.

But I'll be there in 2014. Perhaps the magic is ready to return.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Quick. Besides Union, what was the only other ECAC team to make it to 20 wins last season? OK, you've already seen the title and the logo below tends to draw your eye's attention right away, so you've already figured out the answer, but would you have said Quinnipiac before opening this page? Probably not, but they're it - Cornell and Colgate topped out at 19 wins each. They're a team that tends to quietly surpass expectations, and they did it again last season, especially outside the conference.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2002
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Rand Pecknold (19th season)
2011-12 Record: 20-14-6 (9-8-5 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 7-6-6
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: February 17, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: December 1, 2012 (Troy, NY); January 11, 2013 (Hamden, CT)

Key players: D Loren Barron, sr.; D Zack Currie, sr.; D Mike Dalhuisen, sr.; D Zach Davies, sr.; G Eric Hartzell, sr.; F Jeremy Langlois, sr.; F Connor Jones, jr.; F Kellen Jones, jr.; F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, jr.; D Zach Tolkinen, jr.; F Matthew Peca, so.; G Michael Gartieg, fr.; F Zach Luczyk, fr.; F Travis St. Denis, fr.

Key losses: F Scott Zurevinski, D Mike Glaicar, F Yuri Bouharevich, F Spencer Heichman

Previous KYE installment:
The Bobcats survived a bit of a scare last month when it was reported that Pecknold, the guy who practically built Quinnipiac hockey from scratch, was offered the vacant head coaching position at UMass. The school threw together what was termed an "aggressive counter-offer" and Pecknold will stay in Hamden earning a little extra dough. As UMass fans can tell you, July (and for the Q, it surely would have been into August) is not the time to be looking for a new head coach - especially considering what there is to work with at "The Bank."

One of the most striking features of Quinnipiac last year was their ability to strike from just about anywhere. As a matter of fact, every single forward on the team, and all but two defensemen, had at least two goals on the season last year. That's impressive just by itself. Then throw in the fact that the Bobcats' top five point producers (any of which would have led the Engineers in scoring last year) are all returning this season, and you've got some good mojo. The attack is led by the Jones twins (Kellen with 14 goals and Connor with 13), Langlois (17 goals), and Peca (8 goals and 31 assists).

Meanwhile, their defense returns almost entirely intact with the exception of the defensive-minded and tough Glaicar. Hartzell had another solid year in net for the Bobcats, and now holds down the fort for his senior season with four classmates in front of him on the blue line and, speaking to the future, plays mentor to a prospect in Gartieg who is coming off a season in which he was the first-choice goaltender for a Penticton Vees team in the BCHL that put together a flat-out moronic record of 54-4-0-2 last season on their way to the Canadian national junior championship, the Royal Bank Cup.

The Bobcats get to tap not only Penticton's goaltending but also their scoring prowess, as St. Denis was one of Gartieg's teammates last season, finishing fourth on the Vees in scoring. He adds to an already dangerous lineup, and the Q also brings in Samuels-Thomas, a Winnipeg Jets draftee who returns to his home state after two seasons at Bowling Green (2010 and 2011) in which he led the Falcons in scoring - you may remember him from the final RPI tournament in 2010, where he was named to the All-Tournament Team.

How does it all add up? This team is ready to rock. They're absolutely stacked offensively and they should at the very least be competent on defense and probably more. Given that the team tied for fourth place in the standings last year and ended up hosting a first round game on fewer league wins (for the second time), anything less than the program's first ever first-round bye has got to be viewed as a failure this year, and if there's one team that comes in with the bonafides to chase down Union, it may well be the Bobcats.

As far as the Engineers are concerned, they lost a heart-breaker to the Q last year in Hamden when Bouharevich scored with 2 seconds left in regulation, then got out worked in Troy. Quinnipiac are the likely favorites when they face each other this season, but the relatively short turnaround time of just over a month could be a little advantageous - less time for injuries to heal means both sides will probably see largely the same team they faced off with in December once they see each other in Connecticut. Also, it should be pointed out, if Quinnipiac lands that bye this year and RPI doesn't, it'll leave the Engineers as the only team never to claim it since the league expanded to a 12-team playoff in 2003. Something to chew on.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The post-Gadowsky era in New Jersey did not exactly start off with a bang, more resembling the doormat Tigers team of the early 2000s than the power contenders that the now-Penn State head coach turned them into by the end of that decade. Still, Gadowsky himself started off slowly at Old Nassau, so Bob Prier certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Bob Prier (2nd season)
2011-12 Record: 9-16-7 (6-12-4 ECAC, 11th place)
Series: RPI leads, 63-31-9
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 5, 2011 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: February 18, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2012-13 games: November 30, 2012 (Troy, NY); January 12, 2013 (Princeton, NJ)

Key players: G Mike Condon, sr.; F Rob Kleebaum, sr.; F Will MacDonald, sr.; F Eric Meland, sr.; D Michael Sdao, sr.; F Jack Berger, jr.; G Sean Bonar, jr.; F Andrew Calof, jr.; D Jeremy Goodwin, jr.; D Kevin Ross, jr.; F Aaron Kesselman, so.; F Michael Ambrosia, fr.; D Kevin Liss, fr.; F Kyle Rankin, fr.; F Michael Zajac, fr.

Key losses: D Derrick Pallis, F Marc Hagel

Previous KYE installments:
The number one element in Princeton's struggles last season was by and large their youth - those two key losses that you see represent 2/3 of the Tigers' entire graduating class, and besides Pallis' defensive ability, there's not much going by the wayside for the upcoming season.

For RPI, Princeton's struggles last year are largely irrelevant, because despite the weak record, two of those nine wins came against the Engineers, and they were in games that were not terribly close. The first was a 5-3 loss at Princeton in which the Tigers' scoring duo of Calof and Berger notched a pair of goals each, and the second was a 6-2 implosion on Senior Night in Troy that continued Princeton's domination in the Collar City and another two goals for Calof.

Princeton has not lost in Troy since November 3, 2006, which gives them five straight wins, which came at a combined difference of 25-6, including two shutouts. So no matter how well the Tigers are doing, the Engineers had better come ready for a street fight on the last day of November.

As to the team itself, Calof was not a revelation last year, essentially repeating his solid freshman year with a great sophomore season, leading his team in scoring for a second straight year. Berger, on the other hand, was vastly improved from a slow freshman season. Kleebaum and Sdao were the team's other scoring threats, the latter bringing the heat from the blue line.

As talented as those guys were, Calof led the team with only 31 points and the scoring was very bunched up at the top. Defense was largely an issue as well, as the Tigers were near the very bottom nationally - 50th - in keeping the puck out of the net. Bonar and Condon split time in net, neither putting up numbers that they had put up in previous years.

The bottom line? Princeton needs to improve at spreading the wealth when it comes to scoring, and they've got to be much better defensively. That is going to have to come largely from the returning players, but as a bonus, there won't be a great many freshmen to assimilate into the program. There's something to be said for an already established team cohesiveness, even if that team struggled last year. If another year older makes the Tigers another year stronger, they could put themselves into the hunt for home ice in the first round. If they rely too much on points from Calof and Berger, they're going to do little more than tread water.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

Yes, Virginia, you can manage to win only 8 games out of 22 on the ECAC schedule and pick up a first-round bye - something that might bring some smiles to an RPI team that managed 7 last year and was on the road in the first round. That's just what the Harvard Crimson managed to pull off last season, however, finishing ahead of no less than six teams that had 8 or more wins in league play (hint: the 9 ties had an awful lot to do with it).


Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2006
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (9th season)
2011-12 Record: 13-10-11 (8-5-9 ECAC, 3rd place)
Series: Harvard leads, 46-35-5
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 21, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: November 6, 2010 (Boston, MA)

2012-13 games: November 10, 2012 (Boston, MA); February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Danny Biega, sr.; F Marshall Everson, sr.; F Alex Fallstrom, sr.; F Conor Morrison, sr.; D Brendan Rempel, sr.; D Dan Ford, jr.; G Raphael Girard, jr.; F Colin Blackwell, so.; D Max Everson, so.; F Patrick McNally, so.; G Steven Michalek, so.; F Kyle Criscuolo, fr.; F Brian Hart, fr.; F Brayden Jaw, fr.; F Jimmy Vesey, fr.

Key losses: F Alex Killorn, D Ryan Grimshaw, F Eric Kroshus, F Daniel Moriarty, F Colin Moore

Previous KYE installments:
Befitting the fact that Harvard tied an awful lot of games - setting an NCAA record for ties in a season, with the truncated Ivy League schedule, no less - the Crimson tied both of their games against RPI.

We mentioned frequently last season that the number of ties Harvard put up last year indicated that they were a tough team to put away, but also that they were still somewhat lacking offensively to put their opponents away. The Crimson relied largely on four players to put points on the board last season - Killorn, Biega, Fallstrom, and Marshall Everson. Killorn finished a very solid career at Harvard with a 46-point season, but the other three return with a number of good candidates that could potentially help the team offensively. That list includes Hart, a 2nd round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Vesey, who went in the 3rd round to the Nashville Predators. The duo were the first two ECAC players selected in this year's draft.

Defensively, Michalek got more time between the posts last season but it was Girard who had the better stats and it was Girard who the team leaned on down the stretch as the Crimson took a post-Beanpot run at the NCAA tournament, putting together a 5-3-1 record after their 3rd place showing at the Garden.

The Crimson survived Yale in the quarterfinals and dispatched Cornell 6-1 in the semis before falling to Union in the ECAC championship - a game in which Harvard scored the first goal of the game early in the third period, but held the lead for all of 37 seconds. Still, the showing definitely highlighted a Harvard team that was clearly hitting its stride at the right time, especially considering that they outscored their opponents 14-3 in the two games immediately preceding the matchup with the Dutchmen.

Coming into last year, Harvard seemed to be the team with the hottest hot seat for its coach, but the school's first winning season in four years, a solid playoff run, and a much anticipated class of freshmen is certainly enough for now to keep Ted Donato in Cambridge. Killorn is the biggest loss, but there's enough coming in to expect that the Crimson will certainly be in the hunt for a first-round bye this season, and if things land just right, they could well be among the teams offering a challenge at the top.