Thursday, January 31, 2013

ECAC Power Rankings - January

Here it is, the third and final edition of the monthly ECAC Power Rankings. As mentioned before, we skip October since the Ivies don't get their seasons fully underway until the end of the month, and we skip February because by the end of the month, all that really matters is the standings.

1 (1). Quinnipiac (18-3-3 -- 4-0-1) - Duh. I mean, name me another team on a 17-game unbeaten streak that has lost precisely never in league play heading into February. They're six points up on second place Yale, with a game in hand. They've got ten more games to play, and they've already clinched home ice for the playoffs, and they're about two points away from the number that, historically, is enough to nab the first round bye. Their only blemish on the month was a tie to RPI, still the only point they've lost in ECAC play. They're ranked #1 in the country pretty much everywhere but the human polls, where they're #2 instead. They still have to play Yale twice and Dartmouth once, but the rest of their schedule looks pretty OK from where they're standing, especially given their serious cushion at the top.

2 (4). Yale (12-5-3 -- 5-1-1) - It's a solid bounce back for the Bulldogs, who struggled in December but certainly picked themselves back up in January. If not for Quinnipiac's insane run, Yale would have more buzz nationally, but as it is they're instead a firm second choice right now in the ECAC. Five league wins in a row after tying Boston College to kick off the 2013 has the Bulldogs right back up where they want to be. They'll need to fend off challenges from Dartmouth and Union below them in the standings, and their schedule going forward is not easy by any stretch, but Yale has certainly found their offense again. Defense continues to be a point of contention, which means the offense has got to stay hot.

3 (2). Dartmouth (11-7-2 -- 3-4-0) - A disappointing January has the Big Green back down to earth and back in a maddeningly familiar spot over the last several years - on the NCAA bubble. This time a month ago, Dartmouth was looking very good to break their 33 year national tournament appearance drought, but now they have some work to do after a tough go of things to start 2013. They mostly won the games they needed to win - although losses to St. Lawrence and Princeton were less than optimal - but the Big Green fell to Quinnipiac and Yale in a couple of games they needed points in if they were going to prove their mettle as national contenders. Fortunately, there's still time for Dartmouth to get things turned around and headed back in the right direction so they can avoid biting their fingernails come March.

4 (6). Union (13-8-4 -- 4-4-0) - Union at the start of January and Union at the end of January are basically night and day, although they do have a little more work to do before they can pull themselves back toward the top of the league discussion. The start of January couldn't have been much worse, with a horrifyingly bad outing at Lake Superior State followed up with two losses in their next three league games. One was to Quinnipiac, but the other was to a Cornell team that had no other wins this month. They toughed out a win over Colgate and then squashed a hapless Harvard - then the best thing you can say about their game against RPI is that they found a way to win. Still, that's three in a row, and that's what you want heading into the end of the season. The top spot might be out of their grasp this year, but the Dutchmen still moving in the right direction at this point.

5 (5). Colgate (13-9-2 -- 4-2-0) - Besides a disappointing trip to the Capital District that featured a pair of one goal losses, the Raiders are still pretty much all systems go, at least when it comes to playing at home. They demolished Sacred Heart twice to start the month, then finished things with an impressive sweep of Yale and Brown. Colgate has played very well at home, but when they hit the road things have been a bit more dicey. Other than their December sweep at UMass, the Raiders are 0-4-2 away from Starr Rink since the beginning of November, all but one of which were league games. With five weekends left, only two are at home and both are against some tough opponents, so if  Colgate's going to make a play for a bye, they're going to need to be come road warriors.

6 (7). RPI (8-11-5 -- 2-4-1) - The Engineers continue to slog through what has been the most difficult schedule in the league to date, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Of their five non-wins in January, only one (Princeton) was not a nationally ranked team. Losses to Union and Princeton were certainly let downs, but only the latter counted against them in the ECAC standings, and they did draw blood against Quinnipiac, which is beyond what anyone else has done this year. For RPI, the way forward is much easier than the path behind, with only two more games all year against teams that are currently ranked (Dartmouth on Saturday, Yale in two weeks). They're still sitting down in 11th place, but they have to feel good about their chances of getting home ice as long as they execute down the stretch.

7 (3). Cornell (8-9-2 -- 1-5-0) - January was certainly one of the worst months for the Big Red in recent memory, so bad that they've tumbled from the upper reaches of the league where they're usually found, and it's going to be an uphill battle if they are going to finish in fourth or better for a 14th consecutive year. They had some tough competition, to be sure, having to go out to Denver and then visiting the Capital District, but they finished the month by being swept at home against a team they needed to beat (Yale) and one they should have beat (Brown). Having now played the entire league once (save Colgate, who they've played twice), Cornell is going to need an above average February if they're going to compete for a bye, and that means the return of their usually ballyhooed defense, which seems to have gone missing for the time being.

8 (9). St. Lawrence (11-10-3 -- 4-2-1) - The rollercoaster ride continues in Canton, where the month of January was certainly an up slope, although the Saints probably wish it had been a little steeper. Still, with just one loss in their last six (4-1-1), St. Lawrence is oriented in the right direction and they've got a key four-game league homestand to start February after picking up a huge road sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard. If they want to peg themselves as home ice favorites, it's going to be in the next two weeks against Central New York and the Capital District, teams that, while tough, can be vulnerable, especially in the North Country. That makes these next four games make or break, because after that it's two of their last three weekends on the road, including games at Quinnipiac and the Capital District.

9 (12). Princeton (7-8-4 -- 4-1-0) - The Tigers are on a mini-rollercoaster ride of their own. Couldn't buy a win in October, did well in November, couldn't finish in December, and then got back in the winning ways in January. Playing five games in a row at home will do that for a team, but now it's time to pay the piper as Princeton hits the road for the next two weekends. In many ways, the Tigers are like the anti-RPI - they've played decently in league this season but not so hot outside. That leaves them in a decent position for the stretch run, including a shot at a first round bye if they win on the road like they have at home, but they're going to need to step up their play considerably with two games against Yale and another with Dartmouth on the horizon.

10 (10). Brown (7-9-4 -- 3-3-0) - Still middling, and still 10th for the third consecutive month, the Bears aren't the league's worst team anymore, but they still have work to do if they're going to be mentioned as one of the better teams. They beat Clarkson and Harvard, but those are teams they should beat at this point. The Bears picked up a very impressive win last week at Cornell, but losses to St. Lawrence on the road and Dartmouth at home stung a little. This is a team right on the cusp of being very dangerous, and they're continuing to prove that they're dangerous enough in any single game - the problem is, they need to finish those games better. It won't be easy (especially not with two games against Quinnipiac in the next month), but should those finishes start coming, Brown could be an interesting team to play against come playoff time.

11 (11). Clarkson (5-13-6 -- 1-5-1) - Like Princeton, Clarkson has themselves in a place where they can salvage a difficult season with a decent ECAC finish, but like their travel partners from St. Lawrence, they're going to need to strike now while they're at home over the next two weeks. But besides stomping Harvard and tying St. Lawrence, January was still unkind to the Golden Knights. They have just three wins in 13 games since Thanksgiving, and with the exception of the Harvard game, offense has been hard to come by. Still, if they can muster some goals, the defense has been good enough to get points - since November, the Knights are 4-1-4 when they get to three goals. That is what they need to capitalize on their position in the standings, which is, at this point, still a home ice spot.

12 (8). Harvard (5-13-1 -- 1-8-0) - This is a team in utter freefall right now. Sure, two of their losses in January were in overtime, but so was their only win (albeit, against Boston University on national television). When the epitaph is written for the Crimson, it's going to have a lot to say about the players who had to leave school due to the academic scandal that swept up many other athletic teams as well. Harvard is in a very bad way. Not only are they in last place with three points separating them from everyone else, they also have played a game or two more than everyone else, leaving them with less of an opportunity to get back into things. Harvard has lost nine straight league games, six games in a row overall and 10 of the last 11. Toss in a Beanpot against three solid Hockey East teams coming up, and the future is not looking good.

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