Still with me? Great. Now that we’re through the “road trip quartet”, we move on to the middlers of the league. It’s a tight fit on the tables again this year, so remember: the teams are arranged by current position, not predicted playoff seed or any such nonsense.
• This has been a trying term for the Saints. It was the first time in 26 years that St. Lawrence opened a season without the iconic Joe Marsh behind the bench, as the omnipresent coach took a medical leave-of-absence that continues to date. The team returned a lot of skill and talent, but isn’t quite a “veteran” team that was capable of guiding and mediating itself out of the gate. As such, SLU dropped its first five contests (albeit against some very stiff competition) before finally bagging its first win against the catastrophically goal-starved Engineers. Results have been a mixed bag since then – a three-game and two two-game winning streaks, plus a four-L slide in the middle. It’s a sign of a team learning how to win and exactly what it takes to do so at this level.
• SLU has a young pattern of losing big, but winning tight. To whit, the Saints’ average loss this year has come by 2.5 goals. Their average winning margin is merely 1.43. (Granted, the Cantonites lost 10-3 to Michigan, but stats are stats.) One possible explanation for this phenomenon: SLU’s losses have come at the hands of Ferris State, Michigan, Union, Colgate, and Cornell, among others – all strong teams – and not all of those defeats were by wide margins, either. But you can’t expect inexperienced teams to hang tough with such foes early in a season, so perhaps fatigue and/or fatalism effected the outcome (SLU has allowed 22 goals in the third period, compared to 14 in the first and 17 in the second). The Skatin’ Saints are gradually coming around to the realities and expectations of a D-I, ECAC Hockey schedule, so as the wins begin to outnumber the losses, so too should arrive a bit of killer instinct and resilience that will swing the aforementioned stats into a more desirable place.
• Depth is keeping the Saints afloat. SLU has been spared cataclysmic injuries (see: Princeton, 2009-10) but is nonetheless suffering through a couple key losses in dynamic defenseman George Hughes and leading sniper Kyle Flanagan. The latter still leads the team in goals (six, tied with frosh Chris Martin) and points (13, outright) despite playing in only nine of the team’s 17 games. Hughes leads the Saints’ D corps in scoring (1-5–6) in a dozen appearances following his 4-17–21 statline last year and 5-18–23 line his rookie season. In the meantime, some old-reliables have teamed up with some surprise scorers to shoulder the load: sophomore Greg Carey has registered three goals and 11 points thus far; Martin, Jacob Drewiske and Kyle Essery (he of the “brutal hair”) are chipping in with goals; and only three players with games played – totaling 21 between them – are point-less at this juncture.
• David Leggio is back! Well, not really. But Paul Karpowich is allowing ‘Tech fans to relive the warm, fuzzy pleasure of having a truly stalwart talent tending the Green & Gold’s cage. The senior is having by far his best campaign to date, holding a .938 overall save percentage (second in D-I to Colgate’s Alex Evin) and 1.93 goals against average (ninth) in 20 games. His numbers get even better against conference foes, to the tune of .945/1.76 (best, and third-best in the league, respectively). He has played every goaltending minute of Clarkson’s season (1,210:24 so far, the most in the nation), but despite the workload he has only tossed four sub-.900 SvP games (in which the opposition scores on more than 10 percent of its shots). With his defense, Karpowich and Clarkson rank fifth in the country for stinginess (2.05 goals against per game as a team). Suffice to say, PaKo or Karpo or whatever you choose to call him has been arguably the league’s MVP to date.
• Corey Tamblyn: load-bearer? The senior center anchored the Knights’ top line with Jake Morley and Will Frederick in CCT’s last three outings, and is proving himself to be more than a mere secondary scorer. Tamblyn is, in fact, well on his way to having a career year with seven goals overall already and a team-leading six points in ECAC competition. Classmates Nick Tremblay (nine goals) and Louke Oakley (seven) and sophomore Allan McPherson (six) are lighting the lamp with some regularity as well, but Tamblyn’s production has been a true bonus: his best output to date had been an eight-goal, 16-point sophomore campaign that he looks all but assured of surpassing in this, his ultimate year of eligibility.
• Sexton’s return can’t come soon enough. Sure, the Knights have been able to scrape by since the sophomore’s October 29 injury – ‘Tech is 4-6-2 since then – but Ben Sexton’s presence in the lineup makes an absolutely critical difference to the nature and viability of the Golden Knight’s attack. Specifically, the team was 12 for 44 (27 percent) on the power play before losing Sexton to the DL; since then, the Knights have been a punchless 4/50 (eight percent). Despite appearing in only eight of his program’s 20 games this year, Sexton remains sixth on the team in overall scoring with three goals (all on the power play) and nine points.
• The Crimson have finally defeated gravity. It’s been four years since Harvard was last above .500 after ten games (or at the holiday break); the Cantabs were 6-3-1 late in the fall of 2007 (6-4-2 by Christmas) and ultimately finished 17-13-4 (12-7-3 ECAC, third place). That squad played for the tournament title in Albany, falling 4-1 to Princeton. Such a fate would be heartily welcomed in Cambridge, as three straight editions of Crimson icers have finished sub-.400 for the season. At this point, the Crimson are 4-3-3 with wins over Colgate, Clarkson, New Hampshire and Princeton. The next hurdle is a mighty one: not only is the team on the road for the next four games, but those contests are being played at North Dakota (twice), Union, and Rensselaer. The squad then returns home – hopefully with a few league points, if not more – to face Union once more, then Boston University… then on the road again for this year’s Brutal Road Trip at Colgate and Cornell. Through each of the last four winters, there have been massive, smoking craters in the Harvard schedule… if the boys are going for five in a row, here’s where you’ll stumble across the next blast site. If Harvard has any… and I mean any juice left for Yale on January 27, then you’ll have to like their odds down the home stretch.
• Harvard is swimming in the deep end. Not just schedule-wise, now, but production-wise as well. As I’ve pointed out before, the Crimson finally have some secondary scoring to complement Alex Killorn and Danny Biega. (Side note: Biega never should’ve been “complemented”; he’s a defenseman. That’s just how desperate past Harvard squads have been for offense.) Senior center Killorn leads the team with six goals overall, but he has nine other multi-goal scorers already, whereas last year’s roster featured only a dozen such “snipers” by season’s end. Rookie blue-liner Patrick McNally may be a complement to Biega after all, sitting at third on the team in scoring with three goals and a dozen points in 10 games overall; junior Alex Fallstrom is having a breakout year with three goals and six helpers in eight appearances.
• The jury is still out on Michalek. The freshman goalie was the heir-apparent to coach Ted Donato’s No. 1 spot, and he hasn’t lost it… but he hasn’t put a choke-hold on the thing, either. With sophomores Connor Riley (zero career appearances) and Raphael Girard (last year’s third-stringer) behind him, the well-regarded Minnesota Wild prospect has posted uninspiring numbers in his first semester of D-I action: .898/3.10 overall, .906/2.83 in league play. Nothing against Riley or Girard – the latter has excellent taste in artwork, for one thing – but maybe there’s really something to be said for winning your starts in practice. Michalek’s career is just beginning, but he would probably benefit quite a bit from some veteran competition.
• The Dutch aren’t afraid to play ’em tight… when they have to. Union has already played six overtime games in 17 total contests (and are 0-1-5 in OT), in addition to two more one-goal games (1-1)… and yet, the Schenectady squad is third in the nation in average scoring margin (+1.47). How does that happen? Well, in their eight other wins (excluding OT and one-goal victories), the Dutch won by an average of 3.63 goals. Factor in that they suffered only one “blowout” loss – 4-0 to Yale – and you’ve got yourself a pretty healthy differential.
• Hotel beds must put dorm beds to shame, or something. Somehow, the Dutchmen are 1-2-2 at Messa Rink, but 8-1-3 on the road (lone loss: a 2-1 OT decision at New Hampshire). Not sure how that happens, but coach Rick Bennett had better get that sorted out in a hurry: nine of the UC’s remaining 15 league games are at the Achilles Center. On the bright side, at least Union fans will worry less about the road factor as the team travels to Colorado later this month to tangle with Denver and Colorado College. The Dutch will be feeling great about their chances after stifling once-No. 1 Merrimack (now No. 7) in North Andover, Mass. last week.
• Union’s offense is big, broad, and bad. “Depth” is a term I’ve been using with some frequency this week, and Union exemplifies its application as well as anyone in the league. Jeremy Welsh is leading the team with a dozen goals and 17 points in 16 games, but he is way, waaay down the page at 45th in the nation with 1.06 points per game. However, Union’s power play is ninth in the country (23.6 percent). The offense is tied for 11th with 3.35 goals a game. That is all possible because Bennett has a stable of 10 different players who are averaging at least half a point per game, eight of whom are regular skaters. The defense is clearly a strength with four upperclassmen manning the blue line, and second-year goalie Troy Grosenick is making people forget about Keith Kinkaid very, very quickly: Grosenick’s save percentage is .932 overall, and he is holding both league and non-conference opponents to well under two goals a game on average.