The ECACHL tournament is down to its final four teams, and unsurprisingly the survivors were the four teams which secured first-round byes. That fact speaks to the importance of getting the bye, according to Colgate coach Don Vaughan.
Two of the remaining teams, Dartmouth and Cornell, swept their opponents last week — although Cornell’s pair of double-overtime games could hardly be termed easy. The other two, Colgate and Harvard, rebounded from sound beatings on Friday night to win back-to-back pressure-filled games before their tickets could be punched to Albany.
Dartmouth, which received a share of the league regular-season title for the first time ever, is the top overall seed and will host Harvard, the fourth seed, in the afternoon game on Friday; faceoff is set for 4:30 p.m. No. 3 Cornell will play No. 2 Colgate in the night game, with the drop of the puck set for 8 p.m.
The final four teams, as befits a league that seems to grow more competitive with each season, were very competitive in their head-to-head matchups this season. Harvard split with all three of its potential foes, as did the Big Green. Cornell and Colgate each split with Harvard and Dartmouth as well, but in the games between the New York travel partners Cornell had the upper hand.
The Big Red won solidly at Lynah on a Friday night, and the next evening in Hamilton, Cornell’s Mark McCutcheon scored a goal with less than 40 seconds left to give his team a 3-2 win. Cornell’s success during the regular season against Colgate won’t matter on Saturday, though, according to coach Mike Schafer.
“The games [between us] were very tight both nights,” he said. “You throw everything out the window — it means absolutely nothing to have won or lost two games [during the regular season].”
Still, the games between the two schools have taken on added importance over the last few seasons.
“For Colgate, it’s always been a pretty intense rivalry,” said Vaughan. “It’s maybe a little more intense over the last four or five years since the two programs have had some success.”
“Rivalries are increased by the success of the programs,” agreed Schafer. “It’s intensified; we’ve had great games against Colgate.”
Conversely, though the two teams have produced some very good rivalries over the years, Harvard and Dartmouth’s games this season were anything but intense. In the season opener for both schools at the Bright Hockey Center, Harvard scored five unanswered goals en route to a commanding 6-2 win. Just before the winter holiday break, Harvard traveled up to Dartmouth and was thoroughly outplayed by the Big Green. The final score was 5-1, but that was not fully indicative of how thoroughly Dartmouth controlled almost all facets of the game. That loss was likely Harvard’s worst performance of the season; the only game that seems comparable was Friday’s loss to St. Lawrence in the quarterfinals.
“Game 1 [against St. Lawrence] wasn’t indicative of our team,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato. “For whatever reason, we weren’t ready to play and made a bunch of mistakes.
“We were facing elimination against a very good St. Lawrence team,” he continued. “We had our backs to the wall and our guys responded very admirable [to the challenge].”
Having responded to that challenge and come back from elimination, Donato feels that his team in firing on all cylinders.
“We’ve survived a great series against a very tough St. Lawrence team,” he said. “I feel we’re playing our best hockey of the year now.”
By the same token, the Big Green is at the high point of its confidence, having started off the season with disappointing losses and then mounting a sustained comeback for the second half of the season that enabled Dartmouth to share the Cleary Cup with Colgate as co-champions of the regular season.
“We’re facing an excellent team in Harvard,” cautioned Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “We haven’t seen them recently, the last game we played was mid-December, but [we know] they are a really skilled team, and very well-coached.”
His counterpart, Donato, echoed the compliment, saying that, “Dartmouth’s a very talented team.
“They’ve gotten a lot better, and I feel we’ve gotten a lot better.”
All the coaches, whether their team is already a lock for the NCAA tournament (Harvard) or whether they must win the ECACHL’s autobid to makes the NCAAs (Dartmouth and Colgate), were clear that their focus and the focus of their teams will be on the games and the ECACHL championship, not on the potential impact for NCAA seeding.
“[Right now], you’re focusing on playing well, shift-to-shift,” said Vaughan. “[At the start of the season], our focus every year is to win the ECACHL tournament because that comes with the autobid.”
“We knew it was going to be a great battle to get to Albany and contend for a championship,” said Schafer. “But that’s what you play for all year.”
Later, Schafer added firmly: “You don’t come to Albany to qualify for NCAAs, you come here to win the championship!”
Still, Schafer’s team likely does not have to win a championship to make the NCAAs, but just that scenario is the one facing Colgate and Dartmouth. While Vaughan emphasized his team’s focus on playing shift-to-shift, he did admit that in the back of their minds, the players know to make the NCAA tournament they must collect a pair of wins in Albany.
“It looks like that may be a little added incentive,” he said.
And Dartmouth is in the exact same position, according to Gaudet.
“Our ability to make the national tournament is in doubt,” he said. “But that’s self-inflicted; we dropped some games.”
“If we have to go ahead and win [the title] to make [the NCAAs], that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
While Colgate and Dartmouth’s NCAA fates are dependent upon them winning the Whitelaw Trophy and the very slight possibility that Cornell does not make the NCAA Tournament is still alive, Harvard appears assured of an at-large berth. But that doesn’t make Donato or his team any less eager for a chance at the league title.
“We’re happy were not in the position [of worrying about making the tournament] and we look like we’re in good shape,” Donato said.
“We have two separate goals,” he said. “For NCAAs, we want to get as high a seed as possible to give ourselves the best chance [to advance]. And we want to be ECACHL champs — with the quality of teams in our league, that’s quite an accomplishment.”
The PairWise Rankings
Here is my brief weekly look at USCHO’s PairWise Rankings and the particular PairWise situations of the final four remaining ECACHL teams. This section of my weekly column is simply a broad overview. For more detailed information, make sure to read Jayson Moy’s Bracketology articles and Scott Brown’s PairWise Analyzed articles.
A quick explanatory note for those who are unfamiliar: The overall record of some ECACHL teams may not be the same as the team’s record on USCHO’s RPI and PWR calculators. This is due to that team’s (Cornell and St. Lawrence, for example) games against RIT. The Tigers are currently in their first season of play at the Division I level, and are not eligible for the NCAA tournament this season. As such, games played against RIT do not count towards a team’s RPI (and do not affect its PairWise Ranking).
For my analysis this week I will switch to the .003 Road, .002 Neutral, and .001 Home figures for calculating the RPI “bonus.” Using those numbers, here’s the situation report for the ECACHL’s final four.
PairWise Rank: 6th
RPI Rank: 8th
RPI Bonus: .0010 points for a home-ice win over Michigan State
Record Rank: 6th
Winning %: .7000
Strength of Schedule Rank: 35th
Strength of Schedule: .4987
Notes: As Scott noted in his PairWise Analyzed this week, there are still some combinations of outcomes where Cornell does not make the NCAAs. They are, admittedly, unlikely but all the Big Red has to do to guarantee itself a spot is to win one game this weekend — or it’s possible that a simple tie would ensure Cornell a ticket.
But Big Red fans don’t want to enter Albany thinking about outcomes that will help them avoid dropping out of an at-large bid; Cornell is the defending champion, after all. Before thoughts of a repeat can enter the heads of the Lynah faithful, though, Cornell must defeat a Colgate squad that it has already bested twice this season.
All of the remaining games for the ECACHL teams will be against TUCs, with Cornell receiving the biggest possible boost to its RPI if it manages to overcome Harvard in the championship game. That scenario — a win over Colgate and then a win over Harvard in the championship — provides Cornell with the greatest chance to become a No. 1 seed.
Scott noted that there are some teams — Michigan State, Miami, BU and North Dakota among them — whose success this weekend could keep Cornell out of a No. 1 seed even if the Big Red do win the ECACHL title. While the Hockey East and WCHA tournaments will surely be competitive, the CCHA is where Cornell could run into trouble.
I’m not an expert on the league by any stretch, but I think that Miami and Michigan State are two steps better than Michigan and Northern Michigan this year; it seems more than likely that the CCHA champion will be either the RedHawks or the Spartans, meaning wins by any of the other teams could prohibit Cornell from rising high enough to qualify for a No. 1 seed.
PairWise Rank: tied for 7th with North Dakota, 7th after tiebreaker
RPI Rank: 6th with an RPI of .5548
RPI Bonus: .0090 points for three quality road wins over Boston College, New Hampshire and North Dakota
Record Rank: 11th
Winning %: .6250
Strength of Schedule Rank: 13th
Strength of Schedule: .5193
Notes: With the 2-0 series sweeps by both Boston College and New Hampshire, both teams are now in the Top 15 of the RPI, and as such both provide Harvard with an RPI bonus for quality road wins. Using the 3-2-1 model, Harvard gets the highest bonus in the country at .0090; the next-highest team is Colorado College with .0080. The RPI bonus is a large part of the reason that Harvard’s RPI is so high, and it helps the Crimson win a number of PairWise comparisons.
The other two factors in Harvard’s favor — a strong record against TUCs (10-6-1) and a strong record against its Hockey East opponents — are helping the team win some of the Record versus Common Opponent comparisons against HEA teams (against BU and BC, but not UNH).
Harvard can secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs if it wins the ECACHL championship and some of the teams above the Crimson in the PairWise — Miami, Michigan State, BU, Wisconsin — falter. Conversely, the lowest possible seed that I could project the Crimson receiving is a No. 3 seed, 12th overall.
PairWise Rank: tied for 15th with Denver, 15th after tiebreaker
RPI Rank: 15th
RPI Bonus: None
Record Rank: 16th
Winning %: .6129
Strength of Schedule Rank: 25th
Strength of Schedule: .5099
Notes: Scott wrote pretty much all there is to write about Dartmouth and its NCAA hopes. The only scenario that anyone has come up with where the Big Green’s season will continue beyond this weekend is the one where Dartmouth hoists the Whitelaw Trophy in the Pepsi Arena. The autobid as ECACHL champion is the only way.
It will be a difficult row to hoe for the Big Green, but it has a very talented roster this season and was one of the strongest teams in the league down the stretch. Dartmouth also has the added confidence of having beaten each of its potential opponents once this season. But the team’s first and foremost thought this weekend must be on beating Harvard; the Crimson gave the Big Green fits in the 2003 and 2004 ECACHL semifinals, ultimately denying some of the most talented Dartmouth (the Jessiman and Stempniak years) squads a taste of the NCAA tournament.
PairWise Rank: tied for 25th with Lake Superior, 26th after tiebreaker
RPI Rank: 22nd
RPI Bonus: None
Record Rank: 13th
Winning %: .6216
Strength of Schedule Rank: 42nd
Strength of Schedule: .4889
Notes: Just like Dartmouth, the only chance Colgate has to return to NCAAs for the second straight season is to win the conference title. Last year’s route to the NCAAs — in which Colgate lost a double-overtime game to Harvard but came back to win the next night over Vermont and push itself into the NCAAs — is not open to Colgate this season because of the team’s low RPI and its struggles against nonconference opponents.
ECACHL Championship Broadcasts
Fans of ECACHL hockey who are not able to make it out to Albany for this weekend’s action can take solace in the fact that three of the four games will air live on CSTV. Both semifinals will be on the air on Friday night, with Harvard meeting Dartmouth at 4:30 p.m. and Cornell facing off against Colgate at 8 p.m.
While the consolation game will not air, Saturday night’s championship game will begin at 8 p.m. on CSTV.
Skills Showcase in Milwaukee
A new event will be held at this year’s Frozen Four in Milwaukee on the Friday between the semifinals and the national championship game. The event announced by the NCAA is a Frozen Four Skills Challenge that will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday following the announcement of the Hobey Baker Award winner and the recipient of the Hockey Humanitarian Award.
The Skills Challenge which will feature players competing in a race of the fastest skaters, a puck-control relay, a hardest-shot contest, a rapid-fire shooting contest, and a penalty shot contest. The format will be an East versus West match; each team will have an even number of players — six positional and two goaltenders — for both its men’s and women’s sides.
All the players are in their final year of NCAA eligibility and were nominated by their head coach for consideration by the American College Hockey Coaches Association and the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee.
There are three representatives from the ECACHL on the men’s East team — St. Lawrence forward T.J. Trevelyan, Cornell captain Matt Moulson, and Harvard netminder John Daigneau. The alternates include Josh Gartner of Yale, Dartmouth’s Mike Ouellette, Rensselaer’s Keith McWilliams, and Kyle Wilson of Colgate.
USCHO.com/CSTV Division I Men’s Poll
While I made a point in last week’s column of emphasizing the usefulness of the Top 20 poll for determining the mood of experts and for reflecting intangibles like blowout wins, emotional overtime losses, or something as simple as momentum, this week’s poll did its best to prove me wrong.
There was one change among ECACHL teams in this week’s poll, and that one was hardly worth noting as it involved Dartmouth’s inching up one spot to No. 15. In part, the lack of movement might be attributable to the fact that all the top four seeds advanced to Albany. The lack of movement might also be influenced by some of the upsets that occurred in other conferences, such as Denver’s loss in the WCHA tournament despite being the No. 2 seed.
In all honesty, I expected voters to penalize either Colgate or Harvard or both for being taken to three games. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe either team deserved to be penalized in the polls for winning their quarterfinal series two games to one. But as ECACHL correspondent, I felt sure that I had a higher impression of both St. Lawrence and of Quinnipiac than would the national voters.
And so, with few oddities or trends to analyze, here’s my brief review of the latest poll.
Top 20 Poll from March 13th
No. 7 Cornell — The highest ECACHL team in both the national polls and in the PairWise Rankings, Cornell is the No. 3 seed in the league tournament and is probably the favorite in the media to be hosting the Whitelaw Trophy as ECACHL champion on Saturday night.
Cornell will surely be challenged by Colgate on Friday, but Mike Schafer’s team has beaten Colgate twice this season and that success must engender some confidence in the team. If the Big Red can advance to the championship game, though, it will have to face a team that has beaten once this season — Dartmouth scored a 6-1 victory over Cornell early in the season in Hanover, and Harvard recorded a 4-3 win at Lynah on Senior Night.
No. 12 Harvard — While Cornell may be the favorite in the minds of media and the majority of fans, Harvard enters the weekend in the unusual position of being the lowest remaining seed but also the only ECACHL team to have apparently locked up a bid to the NCAA tournament. And that’s despite being lower in the PairWise than Cornell at the moment.
No. 15 Dartmouth — The Big Green moved up one spot in this week’s poll; I’m not sure if the sweep versus Yale and the two convincing victories impressed voters, but the sweep did provide the Big Green with an extra day of rest that its first round opponent, Harvard, is lacking after a grueling three-game series against St. Lawrence.
Despite being the No. 1 seed, the Big Green is not likely to be favored over Harvard until the team shows that it can beat the Crimson in a decisive playoff game (and avenge semifinal losses in 2003 and 2004).
No. 17 Colgate — Somewhat like Harvard, Colgate was caught flat-footed on Friday night against Quinnipiac and was shut out 3-0. But Don Vaughan’s team responded on Saturday to post a solid 5-3 win over the Bobcats, and then pitched an impressive 4-0 shutout in Sunday night’s decisive game.
Though Colgate is a fairly young team, the team has gained a lot of playoff experience over the past few seasons. Last year’s team lost in the semifinal to Harvard in double overtime and then came back the next night to win the consolation game and propel itself into the NCAA tournament. The Raiders’ nucleus of skilled leaders like Kyle Wilson and Jon Smyth should help the team prepare for the challenge of facing Cornell and then either Dartmouth or Harvard.
No ECACHL teams fell out of the poll this week.