Friday, August 29, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Brown

Brown has quietly become a major player in the college hockey recruiting world. Now they just need to start hanging onto guys who they get initial commitments from. They had Kevin Roy, then he bolted for Northeastern where he's led the team in scoring his first two seasons with 80 points as a freshman and sophomore. Miles Wood, whose brother plays for Brown, was supposed to be their next big thing, but then he reneged and he's off to Boston College. They're not the only ones - and it makes Brown a team that's right on the cusp of being far better.

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 (6th season)
2013-14 Record: 11-17-3 (8-13-1 ECAC, 9th place)
Series: RPI leads, 59-24-7
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 28, 2014 (Providence, RI)
Last Brown win: March 17, 2013 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: December 6, 2014 (Providence, RI); February 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Joey de Concilys, sr.; F Matt Harlow, sr.; F Ryan Jacobson, sr.; F Massimo Lamacchia, sr.; F Matt Lorito, sr.; F Nick Lappin, jr.; F Mark Naclerio, jr.; D Brandon Pfeil, jr.; F Kyle Kramer, so.; F Davey Middleton, so.; F Matt Pryzbek, so.; G Tyler Steel, so.; D Tyler Wood, so.; F Tyler Bird, fr.; F Charlie Corcoran, fr.; F Max Willman, fr.

Key losses: D Dennis Robertson, D Matt Wahl, F Garnet Hathaway, F Mark Hourihan, D Jake Goldberg

Previous KYE installments:
The line of Lorito, Naclerio, and Lappin was easily one of the best scoring lines in the ECAC last season and it was quietly one of the best lines in the nation as well. Unfortunately, that was really the only line Brown could count on to score on a regular basis, as only Hathaway and Lamacchia claimed more than four goals and 10 points among the team's remaining forwards last season, the former of which is no longer on the team.

That makes Brown's task simple. They need a much more balanced attack, or at the very least, they need offensive output from their other three lines - because while having a lights-out combination on your top scoring line can make you a threat, not having any other serious prospects for scoring brings out the opposition's very best on defense. Shutting down the one dangerous line in effect shuts down the offense completely, making Brown the inverse of their travel partners offensively.

On defense, Steel established himself as the Bears' top choice last season, and his numbers compare favorably to those of Alex Lyon, his freshman counterpart at Brown's travel partner. But while Lyon had plenty of scoring in front of him at Yale, Steel wasn't getting much help when the L-N-L line was sitting on the bench, or otherwise being squelched by a solid defensive stand.

There is some help coming in the near future to Providence, as long as the top-end recruits that Whittet has landed don't jump ship the way the Roy brothers and Miles Wood did. That's a continuing element to watch with Brown, as they could well be on their way to a breakthrough on a level the program hasn't seen in nearly two decades - but they could still be a year out from realizing that breakthrough.

RPI's mastery of Brown in the regular season has been rivaled only by their shortcomings against them in the playoffs. In the last 10 seasons, Brown has beaten RPI in more playoff games - six - than they've managed ECAC points against the Engineers - five. Those six wins represent a quarter of Brown's total number of wins against RPI ever in over 60 years of matchups. If the Bears can't liven up their offense beyond the outstanding top three they've got, that mastery could well continue into the coming campaign.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Yale

The year after winning a national championship can sometimes be difficult to traverse. A team that's just won it all practically always has to deal with key components being gone the next season. The Bulldogs lost fewer of those elements than most teams, but they didn't really come close to repeating, anyway. Yale's trip around the sun as reigning national champs was a little bit of everything. It didn't end with more trophies or even a return to the NCAA tournament, but it wasn't terrible, either. It wasn't middling, but it wasn't exactly full of dread. It was simply a decent season without being much to write home about.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (2013)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Keith Allain (9th season)
2013-14 Record: 17-11-5 (10-8-4 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: RPI leads, 55-42-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 16, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: March 1, 2014 (New Haven, CT)

2014-15 games: December 5, 2014 (New Haven, CT); February 14, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Anthony Day, sr.; D Tommy Fallen, sr..; D Matt Killian, sr.; F Trent Ruffolo, sr.; F Carson Cooper, jr.; F Cody Learned, jr.; D Ryan Obuchowski, jr.; D Rob O'Gara, jr.; F Stu Wilson, jr.; D Mitch Witek, jr.; F Frankie DiChiara, so.; F Mike Doherty, so.; F John Hayden, so.; G Alex Lyon, so.; F Johnny Baiocco, fr.; F Ryan Hitchcock, fr.; D Nate Repensky, fr.

Key losses: F Jesse Root, F Kenny Agostino, D Gus Young

Previous KYE installments:
Going through an entire season where your longest winless streak is two is something most teams wouldn't mind enduring, but for Yale last year, it didn't result in much of anything when all was said and done. They didn't pick up the first-round bye in part because they just couldn't beat three of the four bye teams - Union, Quinnipiac, and Cornell, accounting for five of their eight league losses (they swept Colgate). 

And, as we mentioned last week, Quinnipiac became quite the bugaboo for the Bulldogs, who won ultimate glory over the local rival, but were swept out of the ECAC playoffs in Hamden after giving up 11 goals in two games, which was more than Yale had given up in their previous six games combined (eight).

Root and Agostino, two definite heroes of the national championship, have now graduated. Yale returns only one player who reached the 20 point mark, and that's Obuchowski, a defenseman, who managed exactly that total. Doherty's 9 goals and 9 assists is tops among returning forwards.

However, the crux of Yale's offense is a balanced attack. 11 returning players notched between 10 and 20 points last season. Only five returning Engineers fall into that range (although two others scored more than 20). It's the number of guys that can manage that level of output that frequently dictates success in distributing the offensive workload. When you've got that kind of team statistic, you're a team that can be dangerous no matter what line is out on the ice.

Yale's defense certainly ran hot and cold last season. Case in point - Union and Princeton scored the same number of goals against the Bulldogs. The aforementioned hot defensive streak at the end of the season destroyed by Quinnipiac. You're going to have that when you're trotting out freshmen goaltenders every night, as the Bulldogs did. Lyon won the starting role fairly quickly, and his numbers weren't awful at .918 and 2.41. As we've said pretty much every year of these Yale capsules, "not awful" is pretty much all Yale generally needs from their netminders.

There's not a lot to dislike about Yale. They've got a couple of go-to guys ready to replace Root and Agostino in Doherty and Hayden - if you want to kvetch about something there, they're both only sophomores. They've got scoring balance. Their power play is pretty solid. Their defense isn't nightmarish even if it could be a little more consistent. The only glaring issues on this team are a penalty kill that needs to be better than it was last year, and a core element that's still a little young.

Keith Allain got this team up to speed within two years of taking control, and other than a lackluster 2012 season where they finished with a .500 record in the very middle of the ECAC, his teams since then have been among the best in the league. While the Bulldogs aren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, they've got the chops to be contenders. Their open style of play is still fun to watch, and based on what we saw last season, they've certainly begun to figure out RPI. The Engineers are going to need to take a page from Yale's book and be more dangerous on multiple lines if they're going to run with them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

A season after falling short in the national championship game, Quinnipiac put together another solid performance and another NCAA tournament appearance, but this time couldn't replicate the magic that saw them basically cruise to the 2013 regular season title in the ECAC and assemble a convincing run to the season's final game. Two years removed from the Frozen Four now, most of the names that the college hockey world learned of from that run are now gone, but there's still plenty of talent around in Hamden to keep the Bobcats competitive.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Rand Pecknold (21st season)
2013-14 Record: 24-10-6 (12-6-4 ECAC, 3rd place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 9-6-8
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: January 11, 2014 (Hamden, CT)

2014-15 games: November 15, 2014 (Troy, NY); January 9, 2015 (Hamden, CT)

Key players: D Danny Federico, sr.; F Matthew Peca, sr.; D Alex Barron, jr.; G Michael Gartieg, jr.; F Travis St. Denis, jr.; F Sam Anas, so.; D Connor Clifton, so.; F Tim Clifton, so.; F Tommy Schutt, so.; D Derek Smith, so.; D Devon Toews, so.; F Tanner MacMaster, fr.; F Bo Pieper, fr.; F Canon Pieper, fr.; F Jonah Renouf, fr.; F Nathan Renouf, fr.; F Landon Smith, fr.; F Andrew Taverner, fr.

Key losses: F Kellen Jones, F Connor Jones, F Jordan Samuels-Thomas, D Zach Tolkinen, F Bryce Van Brabant, F Cory Hibbeler

Previous KYE installment:
Quinnipiac got some vengeance on their hated nemesis from down the road last season, beating them 4-0 in February to deal a blow to Yale's hopes of grabbing a first round bye, then ending the Bulldogs' season with a sweep in Hamden in the quarterfinals. In the last three seasons, the Bobcats are 7-1-2 against Yale. But oh that one...

While it's true that most of the firepower that led the Bobcats to the 2013 national championship game has now left the building, you'd be hard pressed to find a team in the ECAC that doesn't wish it had Peca and Anas up front and Gartieg between the pipes. However, the losses from 2014 are certainly more significant than the losses from the 2013 team with the exception of goaltending, so if the Q isn't quite as strong as they have been over the last two years, that won't be overly surprising, either.

The big thing with this iteration of the Bobcats: while the last two teams were laden with upperclassmen (and lost only 18 games in the last two seasons combined), this year's squad is centered more around younger players.

Anas (22 goals, 43 points), Peca (12 goals, 38 points) and St. Denis (15 goals, 28 points) are the top returning scorers, and the trio makes for a solid core upon which the team can rebuild from the loss of the Jones twins, Samuels-Thomas, and Van Brabant, each of whom potted 13 or more goals for the Bobcats last season. Peca and St. Denis played well together on the same line last year, the challenge for Anas will be to prove that he can replicate his success from last season without Kellen and Connor Jones to his right.

Quinnipiac is very high on this year's incoming class of freshmen, and it isn't hard to see why. MacMaster, who decommitted from Boston College before signing up for the Q, has been compared to Peca. Smith fielded offers from Denver and North Dakota before choosing Hamden. Taverner just put up 60+ points in Alberta. Even incoming goaltender Sean Lawrence was the MVP of the USPHL with the Boston Jr. Bruins - he projects to be starting in net eventually for Quinnipiac and should even see a decent amount of ice time this season.

Perhaps by design, with the Kellen twins graduating, Pecknold brings in a set of twin forwards to replace them in the Renoufs, but don't expect them to be at the same level right away. The same can be said for the Pieper brothers, who are a year apart in age but will arrive on campus at the same time.

Last year, the question was how well the Quinnipiac defense was going to hold up after losing the star goaltender and four senior defenseman. The answer? Just fine, thank you. The Bobcats had the nation's best defense in 2013 with a GAA at 1.67, and while that dropped to 2.02 in 2014, that was still good enough for second in the nation. This time around, only one senior is departing from the Q's defensive front.

As long as Quinnipiac can get the kind of offensive distribution they had from the talented players that have departed over the last two seasons from the new breed, they'll easily remain one of the ECAC's best teams, and a formidable opponent for the Engineers, whose winless streak against the Bobcats is longer than that of any other opponent in the conference. Last year's seniors graduated without tasting a win against the Q during their college careers, earning victories over every other ECAC team at least once since the start of calendar year 2013. Unless RPI's offense manages to put up a fight against Quinnipiac's rock-solid defense, more of the same lies in store.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The relative highs of the Guy Gadowsky era may as well be a distant memory at this point for Princeton. Now two helmsmen removed from one of the best coaches the Tigers have ever had in their long and frequently dismal history, Princeton is turning to an ECAC alum who worked magic in Division III by creating a varsity program from scratch and turning it immediately into a national powerhouse. While Princeton's 114-year hockey history certainly isn't scratch, the foundation of what Ron Fogarty is inheriting in New Jersey is almost as close to bare-bones as you can get.

Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Ron Fogarty (1st season)
2013-14 Record: 6-26-0 (4-18-0 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 64-33-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 7, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2014-15 games: November 14, 2014 (Troy, NY); January 10, 2015 (Princeton, NJ)

Key players: D Aaron Ave, sr.; F Tucker Brockett, sr.; F Aaron Kesselman, sr.; D Tom Kroshus, sr.; F Tyler Maugeri, sr.; F Mike Ambrosia, jr.; F Jonathan Liau, jr.; F Kyle Rankin, jr.; F Ben Foster, so.; G Colton Phinney, so.; D Quin Pompi, so.; F Ryan Siiro, so.; F Max Becker, fr.; F Ryan Berlin, fr.

Key losses: F Andrew Calof, F Andrew Ammon, F Jack Berger, G Sean Bonar, D Jeremy Goodwin, D Alec Rush

Previous KYE installments:
It's really quite difficult for a last-place team that managed just 8 league points to get worse, but it does appear on paper as though Princeton is doing just that. The departure of Calof, who managed the Herculean task of scoring better than a point per game in his career over the last four seasons, as well as Ammon, who was the only player on the team last season to score more than six goals (he had 11) is a tough hit for a team that's already reeling. Maugeri is Princeton's top returning goal scorer with all of five goals last year, and Liau is the top returning point getter with a whopping 13 points. (Don't laugh, RPI returns only two players that reached that lofty mark last season.)

Nationally last year, only Alabama-Huntsville was more inept at putting the puck in the net than Princeton. With just 60 goals in 32 games, the Tigers weren't even denting the twine twice a game, let alone the three that most teams need to find success. Defense was almost as dismal, with Princeton leading only American International, Army, and UAH, allowing almost four goals per game. The penalty kill was the third-worst in the nation, ahead of only St. Lawrence and poor UAH (who, if you missed last year and haven't figured it out by now, had an epically bad season - 2-35-1).

That leads to exactly what it looks like - a lot of blowouts. Princeton emerged victorious six times last year, none of them by more than a goal. 10 times the Tigers gave up five or more goals in a game. They won just twice in the rink that Hobey built: once in overtime against equally dismal Dartmouth, and once in January against an RPI team that Princeton inexplicably continues to find ways to beat (although their long unbeaten streak in Troy finally came to an end last season).

So there's no offense. There's no defense. The penalty kill doesn't exist. The power play was at least mediocre which makes it a bright spot on this team, and if nothing else Princeton does return its top two power play goal scorers from last year in Siiro (4) and Maugeri (3). Other than that, it's hard to see exactly what there is to get excited about with the Tigers. They aren't bringing in any especially sought after recruits to supplant their losses - in fact, there really hasn't been a marquee-level recruit in Princeton since Calof.

The one potential game changer is Fogarty. We've all seen before that a tactical change behind the bench can result in a team becoming more than the sum of its parts in the right situation, and Fogarty's found nothing but success as a head coach. The program he assembled at Adrian went from zero to national championship contender pretty much overnight. In seven seasons at the small school in eastern Michigan, Fogarty put up a total record of 167-23-10. The Bulldogs played in four NCAA tournaments, including the 2011 national championship game, and finished first in their league six times (they were second last year with a 14-1-3 NCHA record).

Time will tell if Ron Fogarty will be the erstwhile Gordon Bombay of the ECAC, turning a rag-tag team into real contenders, but beyond whatever magic he can muster, the mighty Tigers, on paper, appear set for another year in the doldrums of the league.