Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

We round out 2015's Know Your Enemy series with last year's top team from November through February. For the second time in three years, Quinnipiac didn't just finish first in the ECAC standings, they dominated the perch. While the Bobcats weren't quite as dominant last season as they were in 2013 when they advanced all the way to the national championship game, the Q still made clear that they were the league's top program during the regular season. The real goals - hardware - have remained elusive.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Rand Pecknold (22nd season)
2014-15 Record: 23-12-4 (16-3-3 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 11-6-8
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: January 9, 2015 (Hamden, CT)

2015-16 games: January 21, 2016 (Hamden, CT); February 19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Alex Miner-Barron, sr.; G Michael Gartieg, sr.; F Soren Jonzzon, sr.;  F Travis St. Denis, sr.; F Sam Anas, jr.; D Connor Clifton, jr.; F Tim Clifton, jr.; F Tommy Schutt, jr.; D Derek Smith, jr.; D Devon Toews, jr.; F Tanner MacMaster, so.; F Bo Pieper, so.; F Landon Smith, so.; F Andrew Taverner, so.; F Tom Aldworth, fr.; D Daniel Fritz, fr.

Key losses: F Matthew Peca, D Justin Agosta, D Danny Federico

Previous KYE installment:
For the third straight season, the Bobcats were present at the ECAC semifinals (after surviving an all out war with Union in the quarterfinals) and for the third straight season, they got nothing out of the experience. Many pointed to the injury loss of Anas for the weekend in Lake Placid as a major contributing factor to Quinnipiac's failure to follow up their regular season dominance with their first ECAC title, but his return to the lineup didn't help the Q repeat their magical 2013 run through the NCAA tournament either as they fell decisively to North Dakota - although playing in Fargo essentially made them the road team in what normally would have been a neutral-site matchup.

Among Quinnipiac's losses, Peca's will be felt the most intensely, as he put together a 143-point career in Hamden, but when it comes to offense, there's plenty left to like about the Bobcats. Anas' return for his junior season is cause for optimism enough, but St. Denis and Landon Smith are both crucial offensive elements from last season's squad who will be back as well. Throw in a defense loaded up with upperclassmen who have proven themselves more than up to the task - now with a senior netminder to boot - and you've got a program that's ready to take another crack at the upper echelon.

Overlooked compared to such stacked squads as Yale and Harvard in the preseason polling, it's tough to forget that this is a team which won the ECAC regular season by six points last year, practically running the table. With the exception of a home-and-home series against Merrimack, there wasn't a game weekend on the entire schedule last year in which the Bobcats failed to garner at least at tie - and on every single ECAC weekend, the Bobcats picked up at least two points.

They've been a tough out for years - witness that the Engineers have beaten every other team in the ECAC twice since the last time they beat Quinnipiac (and every other team besides Harvard at least four times). If RPI can't manage a win against the Bobcats on the road in January, it will have been six full calendar years since they've managed the feat by the time the Q comes up to Troy. So until that changes, you've got to pick out the Bobcats as favorites against the Engineers.

But make no mistake about it - the rest of the league sleeps on Quinnipiac to their own despair, too. With the amount of talent that the Bobcats return from what was already a very successful team, a repeat of 2013 - and better - certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

The Class of 2016 at Colgate has been one of the most dynamic and powerful single recruiting classes in the ECAC in a number of seasons when you consider their overall team impact and just how much of an engine they have been for the Raiders. The names are familiar by now. Baun. Borkowski. Murphy. The Spinks. All well known across the league for their abilities with the puck. Defensemen Lough and Johnston have been a key components for the Raiders on the blue line. But a quick look at the calendar shows that this outstanding group of classmates is running low on time - and that may have Colgate among the most urgent of the "win now" squads in the league.

Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (23rd season)
2013-14 Record: 22-12-4 (11-7-4 ECAC, 4th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 61-57-4
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: January 16, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 21, 2015 (Hamilton, NY)

2014-15 games: January 16, 2016 (Troy, NY); February 26, 2016 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Michael Borkowski, sr.; D Kevin Lough, sr.; F Darcy Murphy, sr.; F Tylor Spink, sr.; F Tyson Spink, sr.; D Brett Corkey, jr.; G Charlie Finn, jr.; F Tim Harrison, jr.; D Jake Kulevich, jr.; F Mike Panowyk, so.; D Kenny Citron, fr.; D Rory McGuire, fr.;  F Hunter Racine, fr.

Key losses: F Kyle Baun, F Joe Wilson, D Spiro Goulakos, F John Lidgett, D Brendan Corcoran, D Ryan Johnston, F Daniel Gentzler

Previous KYE installments:
Colgate's uber-talented senior class will be lighter this season by two - Baun signed with Chicago in March (appearing in 3 NHL games) after a third consecutive stellar season in Hamilton, and Johnston signed with Montreal in July after impressing the Habs at their annual prospect camp. Baun's departure was mostly expected, while Johnston's defection was a bit of a surprise and may ultimately hurt the Raiders more in the short term (for a similar RPI example, see the Haggerty and Zalewski departures in 2014).

Those losses don't leave the motor pool empty for Colgate's offense at all, really. Baun was the team's second leading scorer last season, but Tyson Spink and Murphy were first and third with 31 and 26 points respectively, and assuming Borkowski and Tylor Spink can stay healthy this season, one should expect the Raiders' attack to be pretty strong once again, even when factoring in the loss of the graduated Wilson (24 points).

The defensive losses are a bit more grating, especially considering that Johnston's loss was relatively late. Goulakos and Corcoran alone were big blows, but the loss of a third regular starter makes Colgate's defensive picture look a bit more tenuous. The deferral of recruit Adam Dauda, a strong two-way defenseman from Slovakia, hurts a bit, too (he suffered an undisclosed injury and will arrive in a year). Fortunately, the three returning blue liners are upperclassmen all, which should make for at least a little bit of continuity, and Finn backed up his solid freshman campaign in the nets with an even better one as a sophomore.

But in terms of strength, the Raiders may not get themselves back to where they are now for a couple of seasons at least following the graduation of their remarkable seniors. For all of their accomplishments on the ice, the sum total of their hardware consists of a Mariucci Classic title in 2013 and a Three Rivers Classic title in 2014. They've been to two straight ECAC championship games, losing both.  They've played in one NCAA tournament game, being shut out 1-0 by Ferris State in 2014. They've got all the motivation they need to put together a strong final act even before considering the institutional motivation to strike while the iron is hot.

As long as the defensive turnover doesn't sting too much, Colgate should still find itself among the elite of the conference. They may not be as deep as teams like Yale and Quinnipiac or as well rounded as teams like St. Lawrence, but they've got enough pep offensively to be a threat every time they take the ice. As with several different ECAC teams in the last few years, the Raiders had a summer tour of Europe this year, playing three games in Switzerland and Italy last month.

With all that Colgate's seniors have done for the Raiders, they haven't had an awful lot of success against the Engineers, holding just a 1-4-1 record against RPI, the lone win coming in the last game between the teams at Starr Rink this past February. So in the recent past, Colgate has been kind of a sneaky avenue for "extra points," given how well the Raiders have done in the last two years. But there's certainly no guarantee that the trend is necessarily going to continue; expect two very hard fought games, especially for the season finale in Hamilton, which will be the final regular season game in Starr Rink.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Cornell

Six weeks in a row we've done Ivy League teams - just how the schedule plays out this season. We conclude our three fortnight look into the "upper crust" with a program that is really in a state of flux right now. The Big Red are encountering a locally difficult stretch statistically. Usually one of the top teams in the conference, they've fallen on rough times in the last few seasons, having completed a third-straight season outside of the league's Top 3 for the first time since the 2000-01 season. That's not a horrible stat for most teams, but it has the Lynah Faithful uncomfortable.

Nickname: Big Red
Location: Ithaca, NY
Founded: 1865
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 2 (1967, 1970)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Mike Schafer (21st season)
2014-15 Record: 11-14-6 (9-9-4 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: Cornell leads, 60-35-9
First Game: January 31, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 17. 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 22, 2013 (Ithaca, NY)

2015-16 games: January 15, 2016 (Troy, NY); February 27, 2016 (Ithaca, NY)

Key players: F Christian Hilbrich, sr.; F John Knisley, sr.; D Reece Willcox, sr.; F Matt Buckles, jr.; F Eric Freschi, jr.; G Mitch Gillam, jr.; F Jeff Kubiak, jr.; D Patrick McCarron, jr.; F Jake Weidner, jr.; D Ryan Bliss, so.; F Jared Fiegl, so.; F Dwyer Tschantz, so.; D Dan Wedman, so.; F Anthony Angello, fr.; D Alec McCrea, fr.; F Beau Starrett, fr.

Key losses: F Cole Bardreau, F Joel Lowry, D Joakim Ryan, F John McCarron, D Jacob MacDonald,  F Madison Dias

Previous KYE installments:
Your eyes are not deceiving you. The next time the Engineers and Big Red face off at Houston Field House, it will have been almost a month shy of three full years since Cornell last defeated RPI. The Engineers are unbeaten in the last four matchups (2-0-2) and have suffered just one loss to the Big Red in the last four seasons (4-1-3).

Two years ago, games involving the Big Red averaged about 4.72 goals, which was second fewest in all of college hockey. Last season, that dropped off to 4.03, the fewest of any team in the nation by a solid margin. The reason? They got stingier on defense - but they also dropped off on offense. They were both allowing and scoring fewer goals.

This isn't altogether strange for Cornell. For many years, the Big Red has relied heavily on their defense to get them by, and usually they're able to at least scrape together enough goals to pick up points in the lion's share of their games. But these last couple of seasons, while the defense has been there, the offense hasn't been strong enough to make that strong defense hold up as regularly as Cornell is used to. It's turning what had been wins into ties, and what had been ties into losses.

Last week, we mentioned that Princeton was shut out nine times. Cornell walked off with donuts seven times (don't laugh, it happened to RPI eight times, albeit over a longer schedule than either of the Ivies here). It's a light illustration of the offensive struggles the Big Red endured during the 2014-15 year. They swept just one ECAC weekend all year - at home against Yale and Brown in November. They swept season series against only two opponents, Clarkson and Union (huzzah!).

The end of the season was considerably ignoble: losing a home playoff series for the first time in eight years when they were brutally ejected from the playoffs by a Union team that looked dead on its skates just a couple of weeks prior, falling in two games by a combined 11-2 score to the defending ECAC and national champions.

Hilbrich (10 goals) and Buckles (8) were the team's leading goal scorers last season, and they return as important elements of the Cornell attack, but they need to be able to cast a much wider net. Those two players last season accounted for 31% of the Big Red's total goal tally, an awfully big chunk to lay on only two players. Part of this can be blamed on injury: Lowry missed most of his senior season to a back injury, and he had been counted on to play a significant role for Cornell's attack (even in just 11 games, he still finished 5th on the team in goal scoring). But when Lowry went down, there wasn't enough left to pick up the slack - and of the seven shutouts the Big Red suffered, six of them were after Lowry had to be shelved during the December break.

There is some hope in the additions of Angello and Starrett, NHL draft selections both, although neither can be considered a sure thing. Angello did have 35 points in 54 games last year in the USHL, but those numbers may not translate to an immediate impact in the ECAC. With Starrett, Cornell brings in the talent of a third-round draft pick, but with the questions that surround any player - as with Evan Tironese at RPI this season - who missed most of their final junior campaign to injury.

Ryan and MacDonald aren't insignificant losses on the blue line, but if Cornell has shown a propensity for anything during the Schafer era, it's continuity on defense, and there's plenty there to suggest that they're still going to be a difficult team to score upon. With six NHL draft picks on the roster, this is a talented team, but unless they find a way to start burying pucks in the net at a pace that allows them to take a little more pressure off that defense, the Big Red will be treading water somewhere in the middle of the ECAC table for the third time in four years.

If this sounds familiar, RPI may have similar problems this year - solid defense, questions as to where the offense will be coming from (not to mention, rebounding injury woes from last season). With the RPI-Cornell games not coming until late in the schedule, it's hard to make projections, but based on what we're coming into the season with, whichever team can better remedy its offensive issues is going to have a giant advantage.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

It probably didn't take Ron Fogarty long to realize that Princeton wasn't exactly going to be the same as Adrian, the Division III school he'd come from, the program he'd built from the ground up that never had problems scoring wins. His first year at Old Nassau probably wasn't an awful lot of fun - 4-win seasons typically don't provide a whole lot of cheer. His second season doesn't seem to be shaking up to be a whole lot better, but on the bright side, it honestly can't get much worse.

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 (2nd season)
2014-15 Record: 4-23-3 (2-18-2 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 66-33-10
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 10, 2015 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2015-16 games: January 7, 2016 (Princeton, NJ); February 20, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Mike Ambrosia, sr.; F Jonathan Liau, sr.; F Kyle Rankin, sr.; F Michael Zajac, sr.; D Tommy Davis, jr.; F Ben Foster, jr.; G Colton Phinney, jr.; D Quin Pompi, jr.; F Ryan Siiro, jr.; D Joe Grabowski, so.; D Matt Nelson, so.; F Eric Robinson, so.; F Ryan Kuffner, fr.; F Alex Riche, fr.; D Josh Teves, fr.; F Max Veronneau, fr.

Key losses: F Tucker Brockett, D Aaron Ave, D Tom Kroshus, F Aaron Kesselman

Previous KYE installments:
If it wasn't for RPI and Union starting out the ECAC schedule against each other the previous weekend, Princeton could have been in first place for a night. They actually won their league opener, at home against Cornell on November 7th, making them 1-0-0 in the league right out of the gate. Their next league point wouldn't come until January 31st in a road draw with Brown. The Tigers lost 12 league games in a row between those contests.

For all the bellyaching we did about the Engineers and their struggles to score three goals in a game, Princeton reached that lofty tally only three times all year, and finished the season without reaching three in each of their last 12 games, scoring just 13 goals in that stretch. They were shut out an incredible nine times. No team that could score at least twice against the Tigers failed to skate away without at least a tie.

Much as with cellar-mates Brown, pretty much nothing worked for Princeton last season. The offense as you might imagine was dead last in the nation at 1.30 per game, the fourth worst scoring season in the nation by any team over the last decade. They scored just 39 goals on the season, 60 fewer than they gave up. They do bring back the top three scorers - the only three to reach double digits in points - with Liau, Foster, and Rankin, but honestly, the entire team needs some kind of spark offensively, because there's almost nothing there at all.

Defense for Princeton is all about their goaltender. Phinney's numbers weren't anything close to what you'd consider elite, but without him things could have been a whole lot worse than they ended up being. A lack of support pretty much forced him to have to stand on his head at all times, and often if not for his play, losses could have become complete blowouts quickly.

And that's more or less it. The Tigers had expected to be bringing in a game-changer on offense this season with the planned addition of forward Neil Doef. Unfortunately, back in December, Doef was checked awkwardly into the boards during an all-star competition and was paralyzed from the waist down. He'll be at Princeton next year as a student, just not in the capacity anyone had hoped. In his stead, the Tigers will hope to get at least some injection of life from Kuffner, Riche, and Veronneau.

Even if Princeton does manage to produce better results than they did last season, it's going to be a chore for Phinney to keep pucks out of the net with the number he's likely to see again this year, and there's still no obvious answer as to where the goal scoring is going to come from. Those better results probably aren't going to include a rise even up out of the bottom four, to say nothing of challenging the very elite of the league.

From the RPI perspective, it's kind of a bummer that the Engineers don't see the Tigers until after the new year. After all, a team that struggled as much as Princeton did is usually at least good for gaining some early confidence. By January, both teams should know exactly where they stand. That's not to say that RPI probably shouldn't be favored to sweep the series with Princeton for the second year in a row, which believe it or not would be the first time that has happened since the mid-1980s.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

Long seated on one of the toastiest coaching seats in the ECAC, Ted Donato finally got the ship righted in Cambridge last season. It wasn't easy - the team did have to fight through a significant amount of adversity during the regular season - but it ended with the Crimson winning their 9th ECAC championship. Still, this is a team that will come into the next season with something still left to prove, and a leading senior who's going to have a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove it.


Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (12th season)
2014-15 Record: 21-13-3 (11-8-3 ECAC, 6th place)
Series: Harvard leads, 50-36-6
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: December 30, 2014 (Boston, MA)

2015-16 games: November 28, 2015 (South Bend, IN - possible); December 5, 2015 (Troy, NY); February 12, 2015 (Boston, MA)

Key players: D Desmond Bergin, sr.; F Colin Blackwell, sr.; F Kyle Criscuolo, sr.; F Brayden Jaw, sr.; F Jimmy Vesey, sr.; D Clay Anderson, jr.; F Luke Esposito, jr.; F Alexander Kerfoot, jr.; F Sean Malone, jr.; F Tyler Moy, jr.; F Devin Tringale, jr.; F Eddie Ellis, so.; F Seb Lloyd, so.; G Merrick Madsen, so.; D Wiley Sherman, so.; F Ryan Donato, fr.; F Mike Floodstrand, fr.; D Jacob Olson, fr.

Key losses: D Patrick McNally, F Brian Hart, D Max Everson, G Steve Michalek

Previous KYE installments:
If there was one player on the Crimson last season who was more or less indispensable, that would be McNally. His injury mid-season left Harvard in a pretty bad place, and upon his return to the lineup, it was like flipping a switch, and the Crimson were again a force to be reckoned with.

After easily dispatching Brown in the first round of the ECAC playoffs, Harvard faced off against arch-rivals Yale in a battle royale that ended with a goal from Vesey in the second overtime of Game 3, sending the Crimson to Lake Placid, where they knocked off favorites Quinnipiac and Colgate to claim the championship and sending Harvard to the NCAAs for the first time in nearly a decade. There they fell to eventual Frozen Four participants Omaha, but the seed had certainly been sowed - Harvard were no longer pushovers.

Coming into this season, it had been possible that Harvard wasn't going to be losing anyone at all. McNally, Everson, and Michalek missed the vast majority of their sophomore seasons after getting caught up in the 2012 cheating scandal at the school, their applications for a waiver to compete again this coming year were denied. Hart, meanwhile, leaves Harvard for the NHL with one year of eligibility remaining. Those are four important losses for the Crimson, but there's no denying the strength of what does return, along with the possible strength of what should be one of the most talented incoming freshman classes in the ECAC.

Vesey was a Hobey Baker finalist last season, the only one from the Hobey Hat Trick that will be returning to campus this year after BU's Jack Eichel and North Dakota's Zane McIntyre both signed NHL deals. Vesey, a Nashville draft pick, seemed likely to follow the other two members of the Hobey trifecta out the door, but he quickly made the decision that he would return for his senior season. His 32 goals led the entire nation in that category last season, and his 58 points is by far the most of any returning player in the country.

Criscuolo, Moy, and Kerfoot all return as major point producers as well, each notching over 25 points last season, and added to the mix are Floodstrand and Donato - the latter the coach's son - who should both be solid contributors right out of the gate. There's not a lot to dislike for Harvard on offense.

The question comes more on defense, where the Crimson have a pair of options in net. Madsen saw just 43 minutes of playing time last season, but the Flyers draft pick may have some serious competition in Michael Lackey, the freshman goaltender arriving from being a top choice for the USNTDP U-18 team last year. The losses of McNally and Everson on the blue line are also slightly troublesome, but there remains some solid upperclass leadership in the back with Bergin and Anderson, and expect Olson to provide a boost as well.

Overall, Harvard isn't necessarily a team that's going to be an obvious choice to be tops in the ECAC, but they absolutely have got to be a part of the discussion. They do a lot of things very well, especially when it comes to physical play. Their ability to adequately replace the four key losses from last season will dictate how competitive the Crimson are even more than how much superstar Vesey will bring back to the table.

The last couple of seasons, RPI has had to play Harvard pretty much right out of the ECAC gate, playing both games relatively early in the schedule. This time around, they won't meet up until December unless they get to preview each other on the second night of the Shillelagh Tournament in Indiana (although that game won't likely matter for a great deal unless it's the championship). The way things are lining up, the RPI defense is going to have to come to play against Harvard or it isn't going to matter whether the Crimson defense is up to snuff. Finding ways to contain probably the best player in the country and keep the puck out of the net will be paramount to success no matter what.