With the ECAC hockey tournament set to drop the puck for the semi-finals this afternoon, we talked with USCHO.com’s Nate Owen who gives us the scoop on the four teams who are vying for a championship this weekend.
#7 seeded Brown Bears
1. As the “cinderella” of this tournament after beating RPI up in their building, they’ll need to win it all just to make the NCAA’s. Does this make them the most dangerous team?
Nate Owen: It could, although I’d argue that Union needs at least one win to put itself in position for an at-large. Brown has always been a tough opponent- they were the only league team to sweep Union last year. They’ve started to put it together, and more importantly, gotten healthier as the year has gone on. While the Bears know they need to win out, every other team is aiming for a league title as well, so I’d says there’s really no extra motivation this weekend. I think there might be s a scenario where Brown could lose and still make it. The PairWise, which mimics the selection criteria used by the NCAA tournament committee, is always very volatile at this time of year. You can go crazy trying to crunch the numbers, but the best solution is simple: win.
2. They’ve really turned it on in the second half of the year, what is the catalyst for the turnaround?
NO: As I said above, they’ve gotten healthier, and have eliminated some of the mistakes that plagued them earlier. Even when they were losing, they weren’t getting blown out. They’d be in games, but be a mistake or two away from winning. For example, I saw a game in mid-January where they were on the power play in a tied game, and coughed up a turnover at the blue line for a shorthanded goal. Maybe the biggest reason is senior goalie Anthony Borelli, who is third in the nation in save percentage. He’s had an outstanding year after not playing in a game for two years. He took over the job in December when starter Marco DeFilippo got hurt and ran with it. Borelli sees a lot of shots a game, but does a good job preventing second chances.
3. Who is their top player? Can you say a bit about him?
NO: Matt Lorito has 20 goals for a team that has no one else with more than seven. He’s turned it on lately after switching from center to wing in an effort to snap a slump he went through last month, and he’s scored a goal in six straight games entering the weekend. But defenseman Dennis Robertson has played a huge role for the Bears this year, especially with all the injuries they went through on defense. His offensive numbers (2-16) are solid, and he plays in virtually any situation. Head coach Brendan Whittet was very complimentary of him earlier in the year, saying he had the potential to play every other shift. Freshman Mark Naclerio centers Lorito’s line and is excellent on faceoffs.
4. How can Brown win this tournament?
NO: Lorito and Borelli are the big names, but Brown will need to continue to play well defensively, and keep play to the outside. If they do that and have some other players contribute offensively, they should be right in the mix this weekend.
#1 seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats (#2 national ranking)
1. They got pushed to the brink by Cornell, do you think that they’ve possibly peaked too early, or do you think in the long run that series and the OT win will make them a better team?
NO: Cornell went through an awful stretch that basically ruined their season, but entered the postseason playing very well. Quinnipiac lost in overtime to Harvard on the last Friday of the regular season, but bounced back with a win against a Dartmouth team looking for a first-round bye. Don’t forget they rolled over Cornell 10-0 Saturday, although those games happen once every decade. I think getting taken to the brink can only get them ready for anything they’ll this weekend.
2. QU looks to be a #1 seed, but how motivated do you think they are to get this trophy and roll into the NCAA tournament?
NO: The PairWise is pretty volatile this time of year, but I think the Bobcats have basically locked up the top seed in the tournament. Quinnipiac lost to Clarkson in the program’s only league title game back in 2007, so I’m sure they’ll be motivated entering the weekend.
3. Who is their best player and can you talk a bit about him?
NO: It starts in net with Eric Hartzell. The senior goalie is having a career year, and should be in the discussion for the Hobey Baker award, which is college hockey’s version of the Heisman. But this team hasn’t had one dominant player this season, as they’ve been pretty balanced through the lineup and arguably have had the best team defense in program history thanks to an experienced group on the blue line. Connecticut native Jordan Samuels-Thomas is in his first season with Quinnipiac after transferring from Bowling Green, and has had several big goals this season. Forwards Matthew Peca, Jeremy Langlois, and twins Connor and Kellen Jones are all key parts too.
4. How can Quinnipiac win this tournament?
NO: Focus on this weekend and worry about the NCAA tournament when the time comes. I’ve sometimes seen Quinnipiac try to get too pretty and make the perfect pass. Just put some shots on goal and go to the net.
#4 seeded Union Dutchmen (#18 national ranking)
1. Union has had four convincing wins coming into the semi-finals. Are they peaking at the right time?
NO: It looks that way. The Dutchmen went through a frustrating spell that started after Thanksgiving and continued into the second half. I think this team really missed three key players from last year: forward Jeremy Welsh, who has played in several games for Carolina this season, forward Kelly Zajac, brother of Travis, who is currently playing for the Albany Devils, and defenseman Nolan Julseth-White, who is playing in the minors this year as well. They’ve struggled to score at even strength at times, although special teams has been a strong point for Union.
2. They’re a fringe NCAA team that will greatly benefit from at least making it to the finals, do you think that’s going to drive them?
NO: I’d have to imagine so. There are a number of scenarios where they could make it without winning the tournament, but at least one win this weekend would help them a lot. Head coach Rick Bennett constantly talked about “sticking to the process” during last year’s run, so this is a proven team that arguably has some of the most big game experience this weekend.
3. Who is their best player and can you talk a bit about him?
NO: I haven’t seen Union play since October, but they have several talented forwards, led by Dan Carr and Wayne Simpson, who actually had somewhat down years by their usual standards. The Dutchmen also have some offensive –minded defenseman, led by Shayne Gostisbehere, a third-round pick of the Flyers last summer, Greg Coburn, brother of Philadelphia’s Braydon Coburn, and Mat Bodie, whose older brother Kyle is one of Union’s leading scorer. There’s also goalie Troy Grosenick, who has been hampered by injuries at times this year, but looks to be healthy heading into the weekend.
4. How can Union win this tournament?
NO: Special teams have carried Union this season, especially as the Dutchmen struggled scoring at even strength, although that looks to have improved in recent weeks. Brown and Quinnipiac are both defensive-minded teams, while Yale will jump on any turnovers, so taking care of the puck is going to be important as well.
#3 seeded Yale Bulldogs (#11 national ranking)
1. They hit a lull there for a bit, but they’re hot again. How good is Yale when they’re on their game?
NO: The Bulldogs lost starting goalie Jeff Malcolm for five games last month, and lost all five of those games. Yale is probably the most aggressive of the four teams this weekend, and their offense has picked up after going into a slump in Malcolm’s absence. When Yale is on, they’ve gone on the road and stacked up against some of the country’s top teams.
2. Yale looks like they’ll make the NCAA tournament regardless of how they do this weekend, do you think that might be a bit of a disadvantage? Or are they looking to get a possible 2 seed if they’re able to win this?
NO: I don’t think this is any sort of disadvantage. First, they’re playing for a league championship and I don’t see how you can’t get fired up for that. Second, getting a higher seed means staying in New England for the NCAA tournament, as opposed to flying out west. That could be huge. It’s not impossible that the Bulldogs could end the weekend out of the NCAA tournament, but that looks unlikely.
3. When Jeff Malcolm was out, the Bulldogs struggled, now that he’s back and playing well, how much of a difference does that make for them?
NO: I asked Yale head coach Keith Allain about this following a loss at Quinnipiac last month, and he said Malcolm’s injury and Yale’s losing streak could just be “circumstantial evidence.” Still, from my amateur perspective, the Bulldogs looked much more tentative without Malcolm in net.
4. Who is their best player (other than malcolm) can you talk a bit about him?
NO: Andrew Miller is a senior captain who has a lot of speed and playmaking ability. He’s a little bit on the smaller size, but is an excellent skater and can make things happen on the ice. Kenny Agostino and Antoine Laganiere are two of their better scorers as well. Freshman Stu Wilson plays in a lot of special teams situations, while Tommy Fallen adds some scoring punch from the blue line.
4. How can Yale win this tournament?
NO: Yale has always had a group of dynamic offensive players. The key for them is to have balance through the lineup. Allain often splits his scorers up in an attempt to attain this scoring balance. Union head coach Rick Bennett said Yale is one of the best transition teams in the league, so if they can continue that against the Dutchmen, they can convert some turnovers into goals. Also, Malcolm needs to stay healthy and on his game, because last month showed Yale simply doesn’t have another goalie capable of filling his shoes if he goes down.
Alright, it’s time to make some picks. Jeff serves as one of the Princeton hockey commentators and Dave has followed the ECAC and covered the Quinnipiac Bobcats as a student in 2007 and 2008.
Quinnipiac vs. Brown – Quinnipiac 3-2
Brown has been playing well and they’re the only team that QU didn’t beat during the regular season, but in the end I think Eric Hartzell will do enough to give the Bobcats the win in a close game.
Union vs. Yale – Yale 4-2
Yale looks dangerous with Jeff Malcolm in net. I know Union has the playoff experience from their Frozen Four run last year, but I think Yale’s offense will find their way into a few goals and Malcolm will do enough to give the Bulldogs the win.
Yale vs. Quinnipiac – Yale 3-2
This is a great rivalry that has become one of the premiere sporting events in the state of Connecticut when these two teams clash. For some reason I just think that Yale is a different team right now and they can find themselves as a #2 seed in the NCAA’s with a win. I think they’ll score a late goal to take home the title.
Quinnipiac vs. Brown – Quinnipiac 4-1
While this is a tight conference, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few wide open games in terms of scoring gap over the weekend. I think Quinnipiac is on a mission and there’s a revenge factor there between these two teams considering what happened in the regular season.
Union vs. Yale – Union 3-2 OT
I got to see Union play up close and in person this year and boy are they fast up front. Their forecheck can be frustrating which can often lead to great scoring chances. I think they’ll hold the lead for most of the game before Yale scratches and claws into a tie before Union takes it at the end of the first overtime.
Quinnipiac vs. Union – Quinnipiac 2-1
As I said before, I think this team is on a path of destiny. They’ve had too good of a year all across the board to be denied in this tournament. While it won’t come easy, this Quinnipiac team will get it done and proceed to make a run in the NCAA tournament. They beat Union twice this year, including an impressive shutout road win. Make it three times this season.
A special thanks to Nate Owen along with Brian Sullivan from USCHO.com for helping us out with some sensational answers. You can follow their ECAC Hockey Blog here.