Thursday, January 3, 2013

ECAC Power Rankings - December

Apologies for the relative lateness of these rankings... travel, RPI's odd Thursday/Friday/Monday schedule, and a return to work delayed the weekend recap.

December is a quirky month in college hockey - a lot of teams take most of the month off for the holidays, yet pretty much everyone ends up playing some meaningful games during this transitional period. Despite the low number of games, our power rankings jumbled pretty good, with just one team retaining the same position we had them in after November.

Without further ado, the league as we see it after the third month of the season. Last month's ranking is in parentheses, records are their overall mark followed by the team's record during our December rating period (Saturday, December 1 was counted for November).

1 (3). Quinnipiac (14-3-2 - 4-0-0) - After sweeping Nebraska-Omaha and extending their national-best unbeaten streak to 11 straight games, it's time to put the Bobcats on top. They're ranked fifth in the nation, possess the country's top winning percentage, have five more wins than anyone else in the conference, and they still have a perfect ECAC record after sweeping their travel partners, Princeton. They've set the standard, and they're more than halfway to the 26 points or so history tells us should be good enough for a first round bye. They've got to be on top until proven otherwise at this point. What's more, the Bobcats are at home for all five of their January games, including four ECAC contests. That's a recipe for more success.

2 (1). Dartmouth (8-3-2 - 3-1-0) - Really tough to move the Big Green down here especially after a win over New Hampshire, and it's neck and neck at the top, but it's hard to argue against an 11-game unbeaten streak and an undefeated and untied league record. Nevertheless, good times are largely still underway in Hanover. Dartmouth did fall to UMass in the championship game of their own tournament, but that has been the only home blemish for the league's turnaround team of the year to date. The move down is more about Quinnipiac being good than Dartmouth doing anything wrong, but we'll find out tomorrow if the Big Green can recapture top billing when they travel to face the Bobcats. With nothing but ECAC games left in front of them, it's time for Dartmouth to shine if they want to break their long NCAA drought.

3 (4). Cornell (7-4-2 - 1-1-0) - There's a bit of a gulf between second and third right now, and Cornell's move up in the rankings is the inverse of Dartmouth's move down - it's largely because there was another team that had a rougher December. Granted, the Big Red only played two games, and picked up a win over fading Ferris State, but the loss to a Maine team that doubled its season's win total in Florida and still hasn't won at home doesn't stand out in the "good" column. Nevertheless, the opportunity exists for Cornell to prove its mettle this weekend with a series at Denver before closing out January with four ECAC games - games they will need to excel in if they want to return to their usual "bye favored" status after their early season stumbles.

4 (2). Yale (7-4-2 - 1-2-1) - The Bulldogs certainly had a "blah" December. After being trounced by last place RPI, they needed to come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie Union. A 4-2 win over UMass provided a pick-me-up heading into the holiday break, but a 5-4 loss to Holy Cross that was probably worse than the final score (the Crusaders led 3-0 at one point) provided a bad result bookend to the month. The good news for Yale is that they've still got a solid overall record heading into tomorrow's game at a Boston College team missing Johnny Gaudreau, who will be playing for gold at the World Juniors instead, but they certainly need to better establish themselves to get out of the murky middle of the ECAC when their league schedule picks back up next weekend in the North Country.

5 (8). Colgate (9-7-2 - 2-0-0) - The Raiders tied for the lightest schedule of all in December, but sweeping UMass on the road is fairly impressive, especially considering that the Minutemen later beat Dartmouth. As well, their earlier wins over Niagara (which was a blowout) and Quinnipiac are now looking much better through the lens of the present. Colgate has just one loss in their last seven games, and will tune up for the heart of the ECAC schedule with what should be a pair of home beatings of Sacred Heart this weekend. If their fab frosh can keep up the high scoring pace they've set - and which they needed following the massive loss of offense in the offseason - the Raiders can put themselves in good position to repeat last year's top four finish, something which looked iffy at the start of the year.

6 (5). Union (9-4-4 - 1-1-2) - A combination of a weak schedule and a weak December showing has the Dutchmen slipping down to the middle of the power rankings. After a torrid start to the season against some poor teams, Union has just one win in their last six games, a 4-1 win against Merrimack in Vermont that avenged their 4-1 loss at home to start the season. They lost a night before to a suddenly surging Catamounts squad, but three ties in their last three ECAC games helped stall out an otherwise impressive start to the season. The Dutchmen are still in an OK place to put together a run that would lead them to their fourth straight top three finish (if not necessarily their third straight regular season crown), but the truth is, it's hard to know if they're capable of it based on the teams they've played.

7 (11). RPI (6-7-4 - 3-1-1) - Surging at just the right time, the Engineers still have to dig their way out of the ECAC basement, something their December record shows them as capable of doing, but capacity and result have frequently been different things with RPI in the past. Their thrashing of Yale and their road split with St. Cloud State has them on the cusp of getting back to .500 for the first time since October, but the path back could be difficult. The Engineers have a 5-2-2 non-conference record heading into tough games at Boston University and New Hampshire, but their ECAC record is abysmal, which puts them behind the eight-ball heading into January. While a top four finish is almost certainly going to be too heavy a lift for this team, if they can parlay their recent play into league points in the next few weeks, home ice for the playoffs isn't that far off.

8 (6). Harvard (4-5-1 - 0-2-1) - Only three games in December for a team already light in the "games played" category, the Crimson certainly underwhelmed in basically all three. With the team's roster now squeezed by players leaving school due in all likelihood to the academic dishonesty scandal that swept campus last year, a 2-2 tie at Merrimack proved to be Harvard's best performance of the month. That was very much overshadowed by a combined 10-1 showing at home against UMass-Lowell and Northeastern. Since beating Cornell on November 16 to place their record at 4-2-0, the Crimson have been outscored 13-3 in the last four games, an offensive and defensive outage that the team will have to solve this weekend without their top freshman scorer, Jimmy Vesey, who is in Russia at the World Juniors.

9 (7). St. Lawrence (7-8-2 - 0-3-0) - It looks like the rollercoaster that St. Lawrence was on last year simply continued into this season, only with bigger peaks and lower valleys. Much as with Harvard, the Saints are suffering from a combined inability to score goals or to stop them on the other side, and in December that manifested itself twice in four days in twin losses against Clarkson, as well as a thrashing a week later against a resurgent Vermont. Otherwise, the Saints are developing the same problem Union has - they've got the wins, but except for the season opener at Western Michigan and the team's last win over Colgate on November 30, few of them came against decent teams. Two home games against a downtrodden RIT this weekend will be crucial for SLU to reverse the trend and get themselves back on track for the remainder of the ECAC schedule, where they'll need to get themselves out of the cellar.

10 (10). Brown (4-6-4 - 1-1-2) - The Bears are an odd team to figure out. They win the games they're supposed to win - all four came in non-conference play, three of them against Atlantic Hockey opponents - and they hang in there against pretty much everyone else, but that ability to stick around hasn't turned into wins yet. Their December consisted of come from behind ties against Union and RPI, an empty-netter loss to nationally ranked Minnesota State, and blowing the doors off of usually hopeless AIC, which is apparently only less hopeless than usual this season. There's absolutely a lot of potential for this team to avoid finishing in last place for the second straight year, but they're a bit hampered in being the only team in the ECAC without a league win yet. The four ties at least has them hanging in there, but they need a breakthrough and soon. January is make or break time for Bruno.

11 (12). Clarkson (4-8-5 - 2-1-0) - Any Clarkson alum or even just run of the mill fan will tell you that two wins over St. Lawrence is enough to brighten any year, let alone month... or week, as the case was in December. But when the Golden Knights lost to Mercyhurst at home a week later to complete their Atlantic Hockey-heavy first half with a record of 0-3-4 against that conference, the bloom was certainly off the rose a little. A home series against UMass-Lowell this weekend isn't likely to help matters much, but at least Clarkson can thank their lucky stars for three ECAC wins, which at least gives them somewhere to start if they can make a second half run. Five straight home games to start January (including the Lowell contests) doesn't hurt, either, especially since Brown and St. Lawrence are among the other teams coming to Potsdam.

12 (9). Princeton (3-7-4 - 0-3-1) - Sure, two of the losses were against Quinnipiac, but with the winless streak now at seven straight and the only win since a shock home sweep of Cornell and Colgate a one-goal victory at Sacred Heart, the Tigers are a floundering side. Like their travel partners on the opposite end of the spectrum, they've got the opportunity to feast on five consecutive home games. The only thing they've got going for them is their power play, which is outstanding at 23.5% on the season - their penalty killing isn't half bad, either. Unfortunately, the defense is rough at best when the game's at even strength, and that's what's dragging Princeton down. If they can't get things turned around on this upcoming homestand, it's probably a lost cause for the Tigers.

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