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It’s the Final Four… of the first half review. Sexy. Here’s three things apiece on each of the league’s current vanguards.

Yale

It’s a new year and a new team, so Yale is finding new ways to win. If the dominant Elis of the past few years were something akin to a multi-headed hydra, the new breed of Big Blue victor may as well be a tsunami. There were a few very, very good players on each of Yale’s recent NCAA qualifiers, but this year’s team is – if anything – devoid of superstars. Second-year forward Kenny Agostino is the side’s only point-per-game player so far (4-6–10 in 10 games), and the Bulldogs’ leading goal-scorers through a dozen games – senior Brian O’Neill and junior Antoine Laganiere – sport only five snipes apiece. Keith Allain’s charges are succeeding with sheer, impersonal offensive volume. Opponents may as well forget about keying in on O’Neill, Laganiere, Agostino, senior Chad Ziegler or junior Andrew Miller; the Bulldogs stat sheet names a mere four skaters who haven’t notched a point yet this year, and they’ve only combined for 10 games played.

The Blue boast 18 strong, all year long. Allain has had to do incredibly little roster-juggling between contests thanks to a very healthy and consistent autumn. While he admits that this is a rebuilding year, he has been able – and elected – to play the same 18 skaters game after game. The four point-less skaters mentioned above constitute the quartet who has seen just the barest bit of game-worn ice, bridging brief gaps when injury or the rare healthy scratch muddles the coaches’ plans. It is quite simply one of the least variable college lineups I’ve ever seen.

Jeff Malcolm has answered the bell. Beyond the Blue’s question marks up front, perhaps Yale’s greatest concern entering this season (stop me if this sounds familiar) was in net. Junior Jeff Malcolm has promptly stepped up and staked his claim to the No. 1 spot with gusto, silencing critics and worrywarts alike with a .925 overall save rate and 2.50 goals against average. His numbers are even more imposing in six league starts, at .941/2.19, bolstered by three straight ECAC shutouts in early November. Classmate Nick Maricic has mopped up a little bit, but has yet to start. If there’s any weakness on the back end, it might be with the three underclassmen (two frosh, one soph) defensemen, who have been prone to commit nasty turnovers and lose track of crashing strikers every now and again. Growing pains, though… they happen.

Quinnipiac

Just call ’em serial killers. I originally wrote a fairly long, (ostensibly) entertaining bit on how Quinnipiac is in third place, but should be eighth based on goal differential. Then I noticed the somewhat more obvious fact that QU has played more games than most of its leaguemates, and has the eighth-seed’s winning percentage. So that mystery was solved pretty quickly (though it’s nice that the goal differential and winning percentage match up. Very tidy). Instead, I’ll focus on a facet of the game that the Bobcats have damn near perfected: the penalty kill. It’s not a sexy role, covering for teammates’ mistakes, but it is a positively integral part of any successful operation: when you get penalized (and you will), you have to have an escape plan. The ‘Cats have executed such missions over 89 percent of the time, and have killed nearly 95 percent of penalties in league play. QU surrendered one PPG apiece to Harvard and Cornell, and that’s all she wrote… 0.20 PPG against per game. That’s a stellar figure.

The big ‘Cats have been muzzled in conference action. Jeremy Langlois (12-7–19 overall), Connor Jones (5-12–17), Matthew Peca and Scott Zurevinski (4-11–15 each), Kellen Jones (5-9–14) and Yuri Bouharevich (4-8–12) did a lot of non-con damage (34-58–92 combined). Whither the league legwork? Rand Pecknold’s top six scoring threats have only broken through 10 times in those 10 games, and while that’s not a lot of goals, it’s still good enough to account for nearly half of the Bobcats’ 21 ECAC tallies. Junior goalie Eric Hartzell deserves better from his teammates: the QU ‘keeper is stopping over 93 percent of shots on goal in league play, and has held ECAC foes to well under two goals a game (1.65). And yet, he’s a mere 2-2-3 in applicable action.

Bobcats are money in the Bank. About 2,200 people per game are finding out what there is room for another 900 folks to learn: Quinnipiac is dynamite at home. QU is 8-1-2 within the friendly confines of High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center, with the only defeat being a 1-0 thriller againt St. Lawrence in mid-November. The Bobcats are an uninspiring 3-5-1 on the road, but the greater Hamden hockey community has apparently missed the memo that the boys in blue (or white, or bright bright yellow) have out-scored their guests 41-16 and are a sure-fire hit on home ice.

Colgate

I can finally stop banging this particular drum: Austin Smith is not, finally, the only offensive thoroughbred in the Raiders’ stable. The nation’s leading scorer (by points per game) and goal-scorer (outright) is still more than doubling any of his teammates in goals (18, 11 in league) and holds a decent edge on the rest of the Raiders in points (28/15). But his “supporting cast” is starting to break through a bit: sophomore Chris Wagner and junior Jeremy Price each have at least a point per game against ECAC opponents, and while Smith still counts for over a third of the team’s league goals (28), his total points are a much less influential fifth of the team’s ECAC production (72 total points on the roster). Smith is undeniably crucial to Colgate’s continued success this year – he’s scored a point in every game but one, the 2-0 loss at Yale – but at least he doesn’t have to do everything every game anymore.

Colgate has learned from last season. That’s a pretty broad, imprecise statement, so at least I know no one can disagree with it. But what I’m referring to most specifically is that where the 2010-11 Raiders could not figure out how to dig themselves out of a hole, the current iteration of Hamilton Hockey has rebounded from every loss with a win. Last year’s squad was 6-20-1 in games immediately following a defeat. This time? 4-0-0, scoring at least three goals in each of those victories and winning by an aggregate score of 15-6.

Is there a goaltending controversy brewing? Senior Alex Evin leads the country in goals against average (1.48) and save percentage (.948), and by some relatively significant margins, too… and yet, while he’s played enough minutes to qualify for the leaderboard (364:09, or just north of 35 percent of Colgate’s season to date), he is not the Raiders’ No. 1. Sophomore Eric Mihalik holds that title despite a 2.52 GAA (2.02 ECAC) and .911/.933 save rates. Don’t get me wrong, he’s played well and those are not underwhelming figures, but it’s hard not to wonder why Evin isn’t getting a little more time tending the twine.

Cornell

Brian Ferlin is pretty good. The high-profile freshman is second on the Big Red in scoring (5-7–12 in 11 games), and even leads Cornell in league production (5-6–11). I’m not going to crown him Rookie of the Year quite yet – Harvard’s Patrick McNally is keeping things interesting – but Ferlin (a Boston Bruins prospect) is tied for second in the league in ECAC scoring overall and has delivered a lot of horsepower to what had appeared to be a lightweight Cornell attack entering the year.

Andy Iles is a Cornell goaltender. Do I even need to explain that? He’s a rock. He’s ultra-dependable, compact and technically efficient, and he’s playing in such a way that non-Cornell fans will invariably credit Mike Schafer’s system and diminish what Iles’ talent and effort have contributed to the equation. He’s a Cornell goaltender; that’s what that means. I took a curious poke at the veracity of his Cornell-ness early in the year when he surrendered 14 goals in his first four outings (five each to Mercyhurst and Brown, no less). Since that time though, Iles has absolutely shut it down with four goals against in seven games. In his last 390:01 of playing time – dating back to a November 12 win at Dartmouth – Iles has given up two goals and notched five shutouts. Five clean sheets in six games. His save percentage over those six games is .9851. I’m not sure if or how his early-season stumbles may have informed his recent play, but he sure is making October’s big GAA seem like a figment of the imagination.

Cornell is playing a Cornell defense. Is there a pattern here? Cornell is playing like Cornell? Well if you’ve read any of my stuff over the past few years, you won’t require further explanation. But if not: the Big Red are allowing, on average, 23.4 shots per game against the league. The league average for shots in a game is 28.7. That five-shot/game difference would equate to 40 more bids by league foes this year if the Big Red weren’t, well, the Big Red. Iles’ recent Zen-masterhood aside, with his .930 overall save percentage, the extra shots would equate to roughly three more goals against by now. Put those three goals to use in strategic spots – say, Cornell’s 0-0 draw with Clarkson, 1-0 win over St. Lawrence, and 3-2 W at Dartmouth – and all of a sudden the Big Red are 4-2-2 instead of 6-1-1. Good work, D.