Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

For RPI, it's finally reaching Lake Placid again. For Dartmouth, it's ending the longest active NCAA tournament drought. The long awaited goal, so often dangled like a raw meat bone in front of a starving dog, so close, and yet sometimes seeming so far away. It happened again to the Big Green last year, coming so close to that yearned for bid, but just barely missing out at the end. Due to Michigan Tech's appearance for the first time since 1981 this past season, Dartmouth's drought is now longer than any other team's by a full decade - Bowling Green hasn't been in the NCAAs since 1990, and the Falcons were the first team out last year.


Nickname: Big Green
Location: Hanover, NH
Founded: 1769
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1980
Last Frozen Four: 1980
Coach: Bob Gaudet (19th season)
2014-15 Record: 17-12-4 (12-8-2 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: RPI leads, 46-35-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 8, 2014 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: January 30, 2015 (Hanover, NH)

2015-16 games: December 4, 2015 (Troy, NY); February 13, 2016 (Hanover, NH)

Key players: F Jack Barre, sr.; D Ryan Bullock, sr.; D Geoff Ferguson, sr.; G James Kruger, sr.; F Brett Patterson, sr.; F Brad Schierhorn, sr.; F Grant Opperman, jr.; F Carl Hesler, so.; F Corey Kalk, so.; D Tim Shoup, so.; F John Ernsting, fr.; F Alex Jasiek, fr.; F Kevan Kilistoff, fr.; D Connor Yau, fr.

Key losses: F Eric Neiley, F Tyler Sikura, F Eric Robinson, F Brandon McNally, D Rick Pinkston, D Andy Simpson, F Jesse Beamish, F Charlie Mosey

Previous KYE installments:
From Dartmouth's perspective, the worst thing about last season was really pinpointing exactly where they went wrong, especially down the stretch. From January 23 through the end of the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the Big Green put together a record of 11-2-1 - and then their season ended at Colgate, swept but in two very hard fought games in which neither team ever had a serious edge on the other. The only thing one could really point to was their inability to beat Colgate (0-3-1) - a better record probably would have been enough to boost them into the place they needed to be in the PairWise Rankings to earn that elusive at-large bid - and of course, if it had happened in the playoffs, could have boosted them toward the automatic bid.

And if there was to be a season to break that unlucky streak, it does seem like last year would have been the one in which to do it. Overloaded with upperclassmen, Dartmouth was set up well both offensively and defensively, with an excellent combination of talent and experience that ended up making them one of the best teams in the conference. In the end, their resume just wasn't enough to overcome the strong league seasons of Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence, and Colgate especially (although they did manage a season split with the Bobcats, who they played very well).

Unfortunately, the Big Green were left with no hardware despite their outstanding campaign, and now they face life without several key cogs in the offensive machine, especially Neiley, Sikura, McNally, and Robinson - the latter of which they were fortunate to have for last season after a medical redshirt essentially moved his senior season down a year. They were all in the top six scorers from last season.

Schierhorn (10 goals, 12 assists) returns for his senior season as the team's leading scorer, enjoying a breakout junior campaign after being the playoff hero in Troy two seasons ago. Opperman (19 points), Patterson (14) and Barre (10) are the only returning forwards to hit double digits in points last season. That means there's plenty of room to be made up by underclassmen and freshmen, but they have some serious boots to fill, especially in Sikura and Neiley.

Defensively, Dartmouth should continue to be very sound. After a couple of seasons in a backup role, Kruger really came into his own last year and certainly seized the top job in the Big Green crease. A solid follow-up season to his 1.98, .926 showing would be good enough by itself, but they also return four regular defensemen from last season's squad as well.

A good defense, as we've been mentioning, is usually enough to boost you up a bit, so let's not expect the Big Green to turn into a bunch of pushovers overnight. They may not have the offensive bite that they had last season, but there's plenty there to make one believe that Dartmouth is going to more likely be on the top half of the ECAC table this season than on the bottom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Brown

The Engineers lost twice to Brown during the regular season last year, marking the first time since the 2001-02 season that the Bears had won the season series against RPI, and marking only the first time since 1995-96 that Brown had swept the Engineers during the regular season. That the games against RPI provided the Bears with 2/5 of their league wins and fully a quarter of their wins on the entire season underscore that the Brown series was one of the lowlights of last season for the Engineers. Every time the Bears start to look like they're ready to break out and vie for league honors, they seem to fall backwards with a season like they just finished.

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 (7th season)
2014-15 Record: 8-20-3 (5-14-3 ECAC, 11th place)
Series: RPI leads, 59-26-7
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 28, 2014 (Providence, RI)
Last Brown win: February 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)

2015-16 games: November 14, 2015 (Troy, NY); January 29, 2016 (Providence, RI)

Key players: F Nick Lappin, sr.; F Mark Naclerio, sr.; D Brandon Pfeil, sr.; G Tim Ernst, jr.; F Davey Middleton, jr.; G Tyler Steel, jr.; D Tyler Wood, jr.; F Tyler Bird, so.; F Sam Lafferty, so.; D Josh McArdle, so.; D Ben Tegtmeyer, so.; F Max Willman, so.; D Max Gottlieb, fr.; F Tommy Marchin, fr.

Key losses: F Matt Lorito, D Joey de Concilys, F Massimo Lamacchia, F Matt Harlow, F Ryan Jacobson

Previous KYE installments:
Truth be told, Brown had a pretty solid February, but that's about it. They carried a 4-16-1 overall record (1-12-1 in the ECAC - guess who the win was against) into the final month of the regular season, and that's where they rattled off a four-game win streak and six-game unbeaten streak, with the middle four games of that unbeaten streak all coming on the road. That was enough to draw separation between themselves and Princeton, as they'd basically shared the ECAC basement for nearly the entire season.

The Bears sputtered at home on the final weekend of the season, picking up just a point against Cornell and Colgate before being soundly defeated on the road at Harvard to conclude their otherwise miserable season.

There's just very little that Brown was able to do right last year. Along with Wisconsin and Lake Superior State, the Bears were one of three teams that finished in the bottom 10 nationally in all four major categories - offense, defense, power play, and penalty kill.

Brown had just six players reach double digits in points last year, and three of them - Lorito, de Concilys, and Lamacchia - have graduated. Lorito is an especially serious loss, as he was by far the best player on the team in the last three seasons, the glue that made the Bears' top line (and really, their only serious scoring line) cohesive. The other two members of the line the last two years, Naclerio and Nick Lappin, return as the team's best offensive hopes, but they'll need to add a new third element. But more to the point, the Bears aren't going to be that fearsome offensively until they broaden the appeal. Lorito and his linemates all collected point totals in the low 20s, they had the capacity to do a lot more than that but they were always facing the opposition's best defensive stand by a clear margin simply because the other lines just didn't produce at all.

The defense is in a tough spot as well. Steel has struggled in his first two seasons between the pipes for the Bears, and arguably he's lost his top spot to Ernst, who put up fairly weak numbers last season as well, just not as bad as Steel's. We've seen time and time again that a solid goaltender is usually enough to make a team competitive, and the first step for the Bears is going to have to be to get some separation, in a good way, between Ernst and Steel. Until one of them can step up and start keeping pucks out of the net (both had GAAs over 3 last season), Brown's offensive problem is actually pretty moot.

The core of the blueliners is still quite young, so unless one of the goalies starts standing on his head or the offense suddenly and unexpectedly explodes, don't expect Brown to be among the elite of the ECAC this coming season. That said, the fact that they were able to sweep the Engineers last season certainly doesn't make them a team RPI can just sleep on. We've seen Brown be dangerous - especially late in the season and in the playoffs. After a nearly 20-year streak of always taking at least a few points from Brown, it's time for the Engineers to start a new streak, and to do that, defense is going to have to take center stage. The Bears scored 10 goals against RPI last season, more than any other team (they scored just 44 in league play altogether, and 65 overall), including Harvard (9), against whom they played four games. A team that's struggling to score shouldn't be finding the seams against you if you want to succeed.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Yale

The name of the game in basically any sport is to always be a "hard out." When your opponent can beat you, as long as you're making it as difficult on them as you can, you're doing OK. In college hockey, a good way to measure that is to take a look at how many games you either emerged victorious from, managed a draw, or fell by just a single goal (taking out empty net margins if one prefers). Yale returned to the NCAA tournament on an at-large bid last season for the first time since winning the national championship, and in the process of doing so, played only three games all season in which they lost by more than one goal. That's a "hard out," and they aren't likely to get any easier to drop.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (2013)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Keith Allain (10th season)
2014-15 Record: 18-10-5 (12-6-4 ECAC, 3rd place)
Series: RPI leads, 55-44-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 16, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: February 14, 2015 (Troy, NY)

2015-16 games: November 13, 2015 (Troy, NY); January 30, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Carson Cooper, sr.; F Cody Learned, sr.; D Ryan Obuchowski, sr.; D Rob O'Gara, sr.; F Stu Wilson, sr.; D Mitch Witek, sr.; F Frankie DiChiara, jr.; F Mike Doherty, jr.; F John Hayden, jr.; G Alex Lyon, jr.; F Ryan Hitchcock, so.; D Adam Larkin, so.; D Nate Repensky, so.; F Ted Hart, fr.; F Joe Snively, fr.

Key losses: D Tommy Fallen, D Matt Killian, F Trent Ruffolo

Previous KYE installments:
Those three games? A 4-0 loss to St. Lawrence at home in early November at the very beginning of the season (Yale's only truly bad loss of the entire season, although Kyle Hayton had a lot to do with it, stopping 32 shots), a 3-1 loss at home to Union in early December (a game which was knotted at zero until two Daniel Ciampini goals at the end of the second period 39 seconds apart), and a 6-4 road loss at Dartmouth in early February.

30 other games were either winners, ties, or games where the Bulldogs were certainly right in it to the bitter end, including the 3-2 overtime loss to a championship game-bound BU squad in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that seemed eerily familiar to the Bulldogs' first round game against Minnesota in 2013 with the exception of the overtime winner going against them.

Yale has long proved the old axiom that defense wins championships, especially since they seem to always have solid offense over the last several campaigns. When they get good defense, they become a very, very good team, and that's just what they had last season - and this coming season - in Dryden Award winner Lyon and the ECAC's Best Defenseman winner in O'Gara. They anchor a defensive stand that has really now eclipsed the Bulldogs' offensive capacity. Yale was the top defensive team in the nation last year at a total team GAA of 1.64. That figure represented college hockey's stingiest defense in over a decade, since Cornell put up an incredible 1.29 team GAA in 2005.

Fallen and Killian were key elements as 1/3 of the blue line group (Fallen appeared in every game, Killian missed just one), but fully half of that corps are now seniors in O'Gara, Obuchowski, and Witek, three of the very best defensemen in the ECAC.

Lyon's 1.62 personal GAA and .939 save percentage were both tops in the nation, and while he didn't play, he was part of Team USA's World Championship team (not a junior team, mind you - essentially the national senior team) that won a bronze medal in the Czech Republic this past May. He backed former UMass-Lowell netminder Connor Hellebuyck, who was arguably the tournament's best goalie.

On offense, the Bulldogs aren't the same kind of team they were a few years ago when they were regularly at the top of the league and won their national championship. They don't have the one or two guys that are overpowering with the puck, guys like Jesse Root and Kenny Agostino who would just bury it so regularly that the rest of the team was, quite frankly, gravy. But Yale last year managed to get good balance, much like the North Country teams, and that perfectly complimented the great defense they tended to get on a night in, night out basis. The team's top eight scorers return from last year, and nine players return who had at least 10 points.

The stars seem to be aligning in New Haven to produce not only one of the best teams in the ECAC, but one of the best teams in the nation as well. There's a bit of untapped potential in Hayden, who arrived highly touted but has had a couple of fairly pedestrian seasons thus far, he could be ready for a breakout year. If that happens, and the Bulldogs get the same offensive balance and defensive dominance that they had last year, anything can happen.

RPI-Yale matchups have been a lot of fun for a number of years, but last year's two games broke the "close game and/or anyone can win" mold a bit. The Bulldogs dominated the Engineers twice last year in a pair of games in which RPI wasn't really even close. The Engineers will require a strong defensive front against Yale if they are to have a shot, and low-scoring contests are going to be the name of the game for any team that wants to beat the Bulldogs - the kind of game where a good bounce is going to be the difference maker.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Stop us if you've heard this one before - Clarkson starts the season off pretty much red hot, doing fairly well either in non-conference games, ECAC matchups, or both, and everyone's saying that the Knights are back. Then February rolls around and things just aren't looking that good anymore. Last year for Clarkson, it was early league success that had people buzzing about the Knights. But a dreadful February doomed them to an absolute freefall through the league table to just barely hang on for a home playoff series, and it was one they lost, yet another common recent occurrence.

Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (5th season)
2014-15 Record: 12-20-5 (8-11-3 ECAC, 8th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 87-50-10
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 8, 2015 (Potsdam, NY)
Last CU win: March 7, 2015 (Potsdam, NY)

2015-16 games: November 7, 2015 (Potsdam, NY); February 6, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Jeff DiNallo, sr,; D Paul Geiger, sr.; G Greg Lewis, sr.; F Pat Megannety, sr.; D Kevin Tansey, sr.; D James de Haas, jr.; F A.J. Fossen, jr.; F Troy Josephs, jr.; G Steve Perry, jr.; D Terrance Amorosa, so.; F Brett Gervais, so.; F Nic Pierog, so.; D Kelly Summers, so.; F Sam Vigneault, so.; F Marly Quince, fr.;  D Aaron Thow, fr.

Key losses: F Joe Zarbo, D James Howden

Previous KYE installments:
There's a major caveat to Clarkson's trials and tribulations: they were a young team last year. Like, really young. Zarbo and Howden were literally the only seniors on the squad last season, and only four juniors appeared in most of the games on the schedule. While losing Zarbo means losing far and away the team's top goal scorer (12, twice any other player on the team), there was a six-way tie for second place with six goals each, and all six of those players - DiNallo, de Haas, Vigneault, Megannety, Summers, and Jordan Boucher, who will be returning this year.

To some extent, Clarkson was able to mimic their nemeses from down the road in Canton when it came to distributing the burden of goal-scoring - not quite as well as the Saints, but certainly better on a holistic level than the Engineers when you examine the season in its entirety. The most glaring weakness was in net - Perry and Lewis platooned for the most part, achieving GAA turnouts of 2.10 and 2.19 respectively, which isn't bad, but they also had save percentages of .907 and .911 respectively, which would indicate more that the blueliners in front of them did a pretty decent job of limiting the number of shots, but that they weren't exactly lighting it up once the puck got through to them.

The Knights definitely ended up being a team that wasn't overly awful, but that needed some distinct improvement on both sides of the puck in order to be successful, and that's what they're going to need this coming year. The pressure is going to be on DiNallo and Megannety especially to step up a bit and provide power on offense, and the Knights are simply going to have to get better goaltending overall from their two very capable netminders - who, when they're on, are very good - in order to earn success in 2016.

Perry has had some success against RPI - he's shut out the Engineers twice, including in Game 2 of last year's first round playoff series - while Lewis has had some very noticeable struggles. That's not to say that Perry is impervious to RPI, given that in Game 3 last season he was torched for 3 goals on 10 shots before being yanked for Lewis, who stopped all 10 shots he faced in that game. So it can be a bit of a crap shoot no matter which goalie the Engineers face off against this coming season. The key for RPI against Clarkson recently has frequently been to jump on the Golden Knights as quickly as possible, and get them in a hole that seems too deep to climb out of. That, especially if RPI gets the defense they are expecting this season, can certainly put them in a superior position in this matchup.