Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

This week's Know Your Enemy is probably the most enigmatic in the entire conference when it comes to RPI. Princeton hasn't lost in Troy since the 2006-07 season, extending the unbeaten streak to six (although dropping a winning streak) with a 2-2 tie this past season. The game in New Jersey then featured utter domination by the Engineers for the final 40 minutes - and a 4-1 Tigers win (thanks in part to a pair of empty-netters). Whatever they do against RPI, they continue to do it right.

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 (3rd season)
2012-13 Record: 10-16-5 (8-10-4 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 63-32-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 5, 2011 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: January 12, 2013 (Princeton, NJ)

2013-14 games: December 7, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

Key players: F Andrew Ammon, sr.; F Jack Berger, sr.; G Sean Bonar, sr.; F Andrew Calof, sr.; D Jeremy Goodwin, sr.; D Alec Rush, sr.; D Aaron Ave, jr.; F Aaron Kesselman, jr.; D Tom Kroshus, jr.; F Tyler Maugeri, jr.; F Mike Ambrosia, so.; F Kyle Rankin, so.; F Michael Zajac, so.; D Tommy Davis, fr.; F Ben Foster, fr.

Key losses: D Michael Sdao, G Mike Condon, D Eric Meland, F Rob Kleebaum, F Will MacDonald

Previous KYE installments:
Princeton was essentially the anti-RPI last season. They got out of the gate very well in league play and racked up some notable wins early on to position themselves near the front of the league table. A dreadful February which saw the Tigers go 2-6-0 in league play (the two wins completing a season sweep at Colgate and Cornell) almost saw them fall into the bottom four. They were saved by two skin-of-your-teeth performances on the last weekend of the season, tying Dartmouth and then scoring late in overtime to beat Harvard, but still went out quietly at home against a resurgent Cornell in two games.

That represents a boost in performance over Bob Prier's first season at Hobey's home, but the problems that have plagued the team on both sides of the puck have yet to dissipate. About the only element of Princeton's game that was worth writing home about was the penalty kill, 10th best in the nation at 85.5%. The power play wasn't horrendous, but overall scoring was at just 2.32 goals per game, just outside the nation's bottom 10, while the defense closed in on three goals allowed per game, also not stellar.

What little offense Princeton had does at least return, and that consists largely of Calof, Maugeri, and Ammon, not surprisingly linemates for much of the season. Calof is a bonafide star capable of scoring from just about anywhere and can make plays just as well as he scores goals (he was 8th in the nation in scoring last year, and was 4th among returning players), but his supporting cast just isn't there. Berger had a solid sophomore outing, but his junior year last season was rough - the Tigers will need him to be more of a factor if they are going to improve on last year's results.

On defense, dropping the starting goaltender and two seniors isn't easy, but Bonar has plenty of game experience and should easily pick the role up again - he split time with Condon in each of his first three seasons. Four starting juniors and seniors along the blue line can't hurt, but again, we're talking about returning players from a defense that struggled for large parts of the season last year. They have much to prove.

All things being equal, Princeton should go into its games with RPI as the underdog this season, but as mentioned above, all things somehow are not equal when it comes to this matchup, at least across the last several seasons. The focus will be on Calof - who, it should be pointed out, is good enough to put up 14 goals and 24 assists during a season where all teams focused on shutting him down - and if RPI's defense can contain him, they should find themselves in a very good position.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Heartbreaking. There's really not much of a better way to put the way the greatest season, by far, in Quinnipiac's hockey history ended. To get as far as they did only to come up short against your most hated, damned, despised rivals who've never seemed to give you the respect you feel you've earned... it has to be extremely gut-wrenching. Go ahead. Imagine losing the national championship to Clarkson or Union in a season where the Engineers previously smoked them three times. Sorry about that mental image, but it's a perfect comparison to what happened to the Bobcats last season. There are literally 57 other teams they probably would have preferred to lose to, if that was to be their fate.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Rand Pecknold (20th season)
2012-13 Record: 30-8-5 (17-2-3 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 8-6-7
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: December 1, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: December 6, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 11, 2014 (Hamden, CT)

Key players: F Cory Hibbeler, sr.; F Connor Jones, sr.; F Kellen Jones, sr.; F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, sr.; D Zach Tolkinen, sr.; D Danny Federico, jr.; F Matthew Peca, jr.; F Bryce Van Brabant, jr.; D Alex Barron, so.; G Michael Gartieg, so.; F Travis St. Denis, so.; F Sam Anas, fr.; D Connor Clifton, fr.; F Tim Clifton, fr.; F Peter Quenneville, fr.; D Brayden Sherbinin, fr.; F Jason Stephanik, fr.; D Devon Toews, fr.

Key losses: G Eric Hartzell, F Jeremy Langlois, F Ben Arnt, F Clay Harvey, D Zach Davies, D Mike Dalhuisen, D Loren Barron, F Russell Goodman, D Zach Currie

Previous KYE installment:
Last season, we openly queried how Quinnipiac could surpass expectations (which we noted was an every-year thing for them) in a season where we expected them to be one of the best teams in the league. Well, they certainly managed to accomplish the task by running away with the ECAC regular season title, functionally wrapping up the #1 seed in January and finishing with more league points than any team in the last eight years.

Along the way, they put together a mighty impressive 21-game unbeaten streak between November 9 and February 9 that propelled them to the top ranked team in the country. During that 18-0-3 stretch, opposing teams pierced the magic three-goal mark only once - Nebraska-Omaha in a 5-4 Quinnipiac victory. That contributed to the Bobcats putting together the top defense in the entire country last year one of only two with a team goals against average under 2.00.

Befitting a team that wins that many games, the offense was as dialed in as the defense for much of the season. Five different players scored 12 or more goals last season, and an additional seven scored five or more. That's diversity in where your goals are coming from, always a good thing for any team.

That combination only served to make the team's two most painful losses of the season - twin 4-0 losses to Brown and Yale that deprived the Bobcats of the ECAC championship and the national championship respectively - that much more difficult to handle for the QU faithful.

The Yale loss was the ultimate stab in the chest. In three earlier games against their hated southern Connecticut rivals - two regular season games and the ECAC consolation game - the Bobcats had won all of them by a combined 13-3 tally, including a 4-1 triumph on national television at home. Then, with all the marbles on the line, in front of over 18,000 fans in Pittsburgh, the offense went silent, and the defense that held so well for nearly the entire season and 40 minutes of a pressure-cooker final game cracked.

You've gotta feel for them. But don't feel too bad, because the party's probably not entirely over in Hamden. Of the five double-digit goal scorers, four of them return: Samuels-Thomas, who led the team with 17, Peca, who blitzed Union with a first-period natural hat trick to help lift the Q to the Frozen Four, and the Jones twins, who by now should need no introduction. The Bobcats have plenty of young talent when it comes to scoring goals as well. Their offense alone means they're going to continue to be an impressively dangerous team. Adding to that firepower especially will be Anas and Quenneville, who were among the top scorers in the USHL last season. The Q remains loaded for bear offensively.

The biggest change, as with Union, is going to be on defense. Losing Hartzell, a Hobey Baker finalist, and a group of four senior defensemen who missed a combined total of two games last year (out of a potential 172) means we're going to see an almost completely different look for the Bobcats when they don't have the puck. In net, we're likely to see Gartieg, who had impressive bonafides from the BCHL when he came to campus last year but got almost no playing time behind the best goaltender in the country. His one start of the season came in the infamous loss to American International, in which he stopped 13 of 15 shots and really wasn't the reason Quinnipiac lost the game. Otherwise, his appearances were mop-up in nature.

Two of the incoming freshman defensemen, Toews and Clifton, are blue-chip recruits who appear ready to be solid contributors from the start, but the mere fact that the defensive makeup is going to be radically different from last year is the key issue. This unit is likely to require more time than last year's did to really gel.

The defense is the question, but the offense is beyond question. There's enough firepower at the Q that even a shadow of the defense this team put up last season would be enough to make them contenders in ECAC play. Union, before Josh Jooris' late departure, was the only team that could claim as much firepower among its seniors, but the Bobcats seem more well-rounded and diverse offensively. The Engineers were one of the few teams last season that had the chops to run with Quinnipiac in the midst of their streak - that boneheaded mistake that led to the late 3-on-5 goal pushed them over in Troy, while the Tute picked up one of the three ties of the streak in Hamden. It's entirely possible that with the strengths RPI brings to the table, Quinnipiac's defense is going to need to be hearty in order to withstand, even with the offensive strengths.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Union

The Route 7 rivalry is no longer just the top rivalry for both of the teams involved - as both teams approach the top of the ECAC standings together for the first time, it's slowly evolving into one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. It doesn't have the historical precedence of Clarkson-St. Lawrence, or the aristocratic hatred of Cornell-Harvard, but when both teams are good and hate each other, that's when it starts to get good.

Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Rick Bennett (3rd season)
2012-13 Record: 22-13-5 (10-8-4 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-31-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last UC win: January 26, 2013 (Albany, NY)

2013-14 games: November 15, 2013 (Schenectady, NY); November 16, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 25, 2014 (Albany, NY)

Key players: D Mat Bodie, sr.; F Daniel Carr, sr.; F Matt Hatch, sr.; F Cole Ikkala, sr.; F Kevin Sullivan, sr.; F Daniel Ciampini, jr.; D Shayne Gostisbehere, jr.; F Max Novak, jr.; G Colin Stevens, jr.; D Sebastian Gingras, so.; F David Roy, so.; F Matt Wilkins, so.; D Griff Martin, fr.; D Jeff Taylor, fr.; F Mike Vecchione, fr.

Key losses: F Wayne Simpson, F Kyle Bodie, D Greg Coburn, D Shawn Stuart, D Ryan Forgaard, G Troy Grosenick, F Josh Jooris

Previous KYE installments:
The series between RPI and Union used to be incredibly lopsided in the Engineers' favor, but with the increased number of games the teams have been playing of late - now including the "Mayor's Cup" game in Albany, plus a playoff series in 2012 - combined with the winning streak the Dutchmen have put together, and RPI retains "only" a 14-win edge over the Dutch. Three full calendar years will have passed since the last time the Engineers put together a victory over their Route 7 rivals by the time they get another crack at what has become the team's biggest rivalry.

RPI fans can take heart that this isn't going to be the Union team of two years ago that went to the Frozen Four, but if you're expecting the (no longer) "normal" Union to return, that isn't in the cards this year either - probably ever, considering how long Union was considered the joke of the conference. They've found a metric for sustained success in Schenectady that was missing for quite some time, but there are fewer weapons in the arsenal than we've seen in recent seasons.

One of the most successful classes in Union history (if not the most successful) reaches their senior season this year, though they do it without their goaltender, Grosenick, who after two seasons as an outstanding top-choice netminder at UC followed his predecessor's lead by jumping early for an NHL contract. That leaves defense as the top concern for the Dutchmen moving forward, especially after graduating three seniors last year. The class also moves on without Jooris, who signed with the Calgary Flames in late July.

Stevens, a Niskayuna native, got to see a bit of action last season while Grosenick was injured. He had three shutouts in seven starts (albeit against AIC, Penn State, and the March version of Clarkson) and had some decent overall numbers (better than Grosenick's, in fact), although there are a few warning signs - a save percentage near .900 in league play last season, for instance.

Mat Bodie and Gostisbehere are two blue-line stalwarts who return to the mix, but with the exception of Gingras, who had some tough moments as a freshman, there are no other returning defensemen who played more than half of the team's games last year. That opens up options for a number of Union d-men, but the defensive unit that was 7th in the nation last season is going to look very different this year.

But even if Union's defense ends up being weaker than last year - no sure thing - the core of the offense that has boosted the Dutchmen's fortunes these last two seasons are the senior forwards, Carr and Hatch especially. This is a group that has clicked well together ever since their arrival on campus, and Ciampini and Novak add additional experienced goal-scorers just a year back. It's tough to say what kind of impact Jooris' departure will have on his classmates, but they are plenty talented on their own.

That said, Jooris' late departure seals a situation in which Union loses four of its top five scorers last year, which means more will be expected of names like Wilkins and Sullivan, but also on incoming freshman Vecchione, one of the top scorers in the USHL last year.

Although there's not a great deal of buzz about Union's freshman class outside of Vecchione, the upperclassmen are strong enough to carry Union to another successful season this coming year. They've found a tremendous amount of success against RPI and whatever the team's losses from last season, they remain a formidable threat. As we've mentioned in the past, that bodes well for the Engineers for much of the year, since having a strong travel partner is usually considered a good thing in the ECAC, but it's going to make for three tough games similar to what we've seen recently. The major difference is that RPI now has a team that should be good enough to go directly toe-to-toe with Union, especially after having finished ahead of them in the ECAC standings for the first time in five years.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

When your team is powered by freshmen - and you're not a Minnesota or North Dakota - chances are pretty good you're in for a tough season. Colgate last year looked like they were defying that logic during the first four months of the season, but February can be very hard on teams without a lot of crunch-time experience, and the Raiders petered out in a hurry. From where we are now, however, it's more of a building block than a stumbling block going forward.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2005
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (21st season)
2012-13 Record: 14-18-4 (6-13-3 ECAC, 11th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 59-56-3 
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: February 23, 2013 (Hamilton, NY)
Last CU win: February 4, 2012 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: November 9, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 4, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN - possible); February 14, 2014 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Mike McCann, sr.; G Eric Mihalik, sr.; F John Lidgett, jr.; F Joe Wilson, jr.; D Spiro Goulakos, jr.; F Kyle Baun, so.; F Michael Borkowski, so.; G Spencer Finney, so.; D Ryan Johnston, so.; D Kevin Lough, so.; F Darcy Murphy, so.; F Tylor Spink, so.; F Tyson Spink, so.; F Emilio Audi, fr.; F Andrew Black, fr.; F Tim Harrison, fr.

Key losses: F Robbie Bourdon, D Jeremy Price, F Kurtis Bartliff, D Thomas Larkin, D Nathan Sinz

Previous KYE installments:
At 13-9-2 when January ended, Colgate's season was looking like a qualified success - they weren't near the upper reaches of the league, but considering the very young forwards who were called upon to lead the team, things were looking pretty decent overall.

Then, on January 29, Spiro Goulakos left the team and the school to begin chemotherapy treatment to battle Hodgkin's lymphoma - a battle, thankfully, it appears he is winning, especially since he was able to make a return to the team on February 16, having missed only five games.

There's probably no direct causality here, but after Goulakos left the team, the Raiders went 1-9-2 to finish out February and March - late in the season certainly looking distinctly like a team that had thrown in the towel prematurely. They had their close calls - beating Union and taking highly-ranked RPI and Yale to overtime in the last two weeks of the season - but they were outscored 13-4 in the final three games of the season, including two playoff games at St. Lawrence.

Ignoring the ignoble end, however, there's plenty to look forward to in the future when it comes to Colgate. The dynamic Spink twins combined for 58 points playing on the same line, with Tylor leading the team in points, Tyson in assists, and linemate/classmate Baun in goals. Raider fans have to be salivating at the prospect of that impressive line staying around for three more seasons.

The trio were not even the only solid freshman forwards - Murphy scored 10 goals as well in his freshman year, while Borkowski picked up 14 assists working for much of the year with Bourdon, the top senior scorer on the team. All told, 12 players reached double-digits in points last season, 8 of which are back this season, another year wiser.

Defense is the place where Colgate still needs to improve, and losing three senior starters is not going to be helpful there. For much of the season, Finney was part of the success of the youth movement, though the Raiders turned to Mihalik, who Finney had displaced, down the stretch as the difficulties mounted. Finney's numbers were certainly acceptable for a freshman, Mihalik's needed to be better. Whichever goaltender the Raiders decide to ride this season will need to turn in better numbers for the team to be successful. Goulakos returns as the team's captain, but he's also the team's most experienced defenseman as a junior - sophomore Lough has the second most college games under his belt on the blueline after appearing in all 36 games his freshman year.

This is still a very young team, and Colgate could still be a year out from being competitive at the very top - although a run like RPI made last year isn't out of the question, since, with the exception of the goaltending situation, this team is probably going to be led by its sophomores (though RPI had a more solid freshman class last year than Colgate appears to be gaining this year). As early last season proved, the Raiders can be a dangerous team to contend with when the top forwards are clicking. Scoring early is going to be key against this team for anyone, including RPI.

Monday, August 5, 2013

From the Intriguing Stats Department

Check this out.

Over the last couple of years, we've put out a statistic of "returning offense" for ECAC teams in conference games. It's fairly easy to calculate - take the total number of goals scored by the team in the last completed season, subtract out graduated and otherwise departed players, and bam - returning offense. For the most part, these figures are frequently between a quarter of a goal to a goal and a half per game less than the total goals per game for that season, depending on how heavily the team relied on players who are not returning in the upcoming season.

So, mostly, what you're left with is the output from the soon-to-be seniors, juniors and sophomores. It's something of a baseline figure, since you're looking at usual improvement in returning classes and added output from freshmen (which is hard to pin down before the season starts), and the final goals-per-game figure at the end of the year tells you just what the improvements/freshmen contributed.

Here's how each team improved in 2013 on what they brought back from 2012 - each figure represents the total increase in goals-per-game from the baseline 2012 return.

Colgate: 1.31
Clarkson: 1.23
RPI: 1.13
Brown: 1.00
Quinnipiac: 1.00
St. Lawrence: 0.91
Yale: 0.78
Dartmouth: 0.46
Union: 0.41
Harvard: 0.10
Princeton: 0.09
Cornell: -0.13

Looking at the figures, one thing sticks out more than any at first - holy cow, Cornell managed to lose goals from their baseline last year. That underscores just how rough things were - not only did the freshman class not provide a major boost, returning players had a decrease in output from the previous year.

What about the high numbers? Well, Colgate's top total is attributable in part to a freshman class with a high amount of output (which we're going to touch on in a few days), and being tops in the league for added offense didn't help them finish high in the standings, in part because even adding the most goals from the baseline (1.05, lowest in the league) didn't get them back to were they had been in 2012 (3.27 GPG). Clarkson was in a similar boat, starting out at 1.41, second lowest in the league. Quite simply, these teams had voids that had to be filled by someone.

So this statistic by itself doesn't relate to overall success last year, but it does at least tell us a little about what to expect in coming years offensively. The teams ranked higher on this list got more out of their freshmen and more development from their upperclassmen last season.

The teams that surpassed their 2012 total offensive output in 2013 were RPI, Quinnipiac, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence, while Brown's was exactly equal.

Now, take a quick gander at this year's returning offense (lost goals-per-game is in parentheses):

Clarkson - 2.45 (-0.19)
RPI - 2.23 (-0.54)
St. Lawrence - 2.18 (-0.60)
Quinnipiac - 1.86 (-1.46)
Yale - 1.86 (-0.87)
Dartmouth - 1.86 (-0.69)
Brown - 1.86 (-0.59)
Union - 1.77 (-1.14)
Princeton - 1.72 (-0.64)
Colgate - 1.63 (-0.73)
Harvard - 1.22 (-0.83)
Cornell - 1.18 (-1.05)

As an aside, the effect on Union of Josh Jooris signing with Calgary was to drop them from 4th to 8th on this list, and also moved them into the position of having the second most offense lost behind Quinnipiac, who were previously tops by a country mile. That illustrates the margins a bit.

Bear in mind that teams don't have to score a lot of goals to be successful - but it helps. Cornell, for instance, seems to rely more heavily on their defense year in and year out, so just because they're at the bottom of both of these lists means relatively little other than that they have some work to do considering last year's finish. Yale, on the other hand, as long relied on offense to keep them afloat.

In some ways, being farther down the list simply means that those offenses have more room for returning players to fill in gaps where they were unable to contribute in the past simply because others were doing the team's scoring.

The question that must be asked when viewing this list is simple - what capacity does each team have for expanding on what returns? Food for thought.