Quinnipiac beat Colgate who beat Yale who beat Quinnipiac. Clarkson smoked Harvard 5-0, who beat Cornell, who smoked Clarkson 8-1. Who will be left standing when the game of musical chairs is complete?
Adding to the confusion is there being a bigger variety in games played team to team. Since the ECAC teams travel in pairs and swap opponents each weekend, you can’t really have one team take the weekend off and play an out of conference series or rest. This season they’ve kind of wung it though and it’s left us with a lot of questions and only answers not to be trusted.
I think the questions can mostly be distilled down into three main ones:
- Who is the best team?
- Who else is good?
- Who is going to make the ECAC tournament?
Who is the best team?
There are three candidates: Quinnipiac, Colgate, and Yale. The head to heads
- Quinnipiac over Colgate, 3-0
- Yale over Quinnipiac, 4-2
- Colgate over Yale 5-3
Those scores are a bit misleading though, take away the empty netters and they’re all one-goal games. Beyond that, the biggest difference in shot totals was 3, when Quinnipiac outshot Yale 23-20. Quinnipiac outshot Colgate 27-24 and Yale also outshot Colgate 32-31.
The relative shots metric, which tracks how many shots a team takes relative to the strength of their opponent suggests Quinnipiac (average shots per game 38.3-18.2, +17.54% rel) and Colgate (37.1-21.5, +17.38%) are pretty close with Yale a bit further back (32.7-27.9, +9.70%).
Relative goals, which does the same thing for goals suggests that Quinnipiac is out in front (+2.9 goal differential per game, +30.52%) and Colgate (+1.9, +22.63%) and Yale (+1.2, +21.74%) are pretty close. This is mostly due to Quinnipiac’s goaltending (.958) outpacing that of Colgate (.922) or Yale (.943) but all three teams are above the national average of .914.
All this to say that the numbers suggest that Quinnipiac is the better team, with Colgate being closest to them in terms of possessing the puck and Yale being closest to them in terms of scoring and preventing goals.
Who else is good?
We’ll look at the next four teams although I think only two of them are capable of playing with the top three: Cornell, Clarkson, Princeton, and St. Lawrence. Clarkson has the least bad conference loss with their three coming to the current top three in points, 5-0 to Quinnipiac, 2-1 to Colgate, and 8-1 to Cornell. In the first game they were at no point in the game, and in the last, they let in a couple poor goals and just snowballed.
Cornell has probably looked the best overall among the four, but their 2-0 loss to Harvard is a bit mystifying. They’ve also played a couple wild games, a 7-6 win over St. Lawrence where the biggest lead was 3-1 Cornell and a 6-5 win over Dartmouth where they came back from 4-1 down.
Having watched the Big Red a few times, my read on them is they have a lot of very good shooters (2nd as a team at 12.1%), but make some truly baffling plays in their own end. If they can get the latter part figured out they could be formidable.
Clarkson, meanwhile, has taken some time to mesh as a team. While transfer Darcie Lappan and second year transfer Anne Cherkowski have gotten off to a blistering pace with Gabrielle David (David and Lappan are tied for second in the nation in points), I felt Clarkson’s freshman and sophomore classes were a bit slow off the block. And once again we are left wondering what a healthy Clarkson team might look like. Harvard transfer Dominque Petrie (30g, 41a in 76 games) and sophomore Laurence Frenette (6g, 6a as a freshman) would probably have slotted onto the second line, giving Clarkson an even deeper roster than they already have.
So far the Knights have been carried by Lappan, David, and Cherkowski, though sophomores Haley Winn and Jenna Goodwin and freshman Sara Swiderski have all had their best games in recent weeks. If that can continue, Clarkson is a threat to Cornell for the 4th seed in the conference.
St. Lawrence only has 3 wins and they’re all against teams outside the top eight. Their worst loss came this past weekend to Harvard, but they also dropped a game to Princeton and are 0-3 in nonconference games against Clarkson. The Saints aren’t elite at anything, but don’t really do anything poorly either. They’re well coached and aren’t going to beat themselves, but they just don’t have the firepower of some other teams.
And then there’s Princeton. The Tigers have the possession numbers of a team bordering on elite and the shooting numbers of the worst team in the country. That’s not hyperbole, at 4.8% they have the lowest (when I started this, now second-lowest) shooting percentage in the nation. Only one player (Emerson O’Leary) is shooting over 10%. There are 7 entire teams shooting over 10%. Only 7 Tigers have scored goals. They have 20 goals in 11 games, which comes out to a per game average of BAD. And they have two of the better goal scorers in the country in Sarah Fillier and Maggie Connors.
Their schedule has been pretty tough in terms of the teams they’ve played, but not so much the goaltending. Syracuse, Brown, Cornell, and St. Lawrence all have below nation-average team save percentages. They scored 4, 1, 3, 1, and 1 goals in games against them and recently dropped a 4-1 game to Union in which they outshot the Dutchwomen 57-15. They did at least end their power play drought against RPI this weekend. Always good to score your first power play goal in the 11th game of the season.
Annie Kuehl has had to play defense for the Tigers due to injuries but should be moving back to forward soon. She had 18 goals and 13 assists in 64 games prior to this season and that offense boost could be the key that gets everything else going.
Who is going to make the ECAC tournament?
This is unfortunately the last year we can ask this question with all 12 teams entering the tournament starting next season. Before the year, Quinnipiac, Colgate, Yale, Cornell, Clarkson, SLU, Princeton, and Harvard looked as penciled in as teams could ever be into that top eight. Now the question is a bit murky.
Union and Brown have both gotten much better, and they both already have results against top-eight teams with Union beating Princeton and tying Harvard and Brown beating Harvard as well. This question is more a matter of logistics than statistics. Either one will need to clean up in points against the bottom two teams, and Union has already dropped two with overtime wins against Dartmouth and RPI. They’ll probably need to sweep the other as well and they might be too evenly matched for that. Harvard has helped them out with a tie against RPI, but that’s the only dropped points by them, SLU, or Princeton against the bottom two.
With 3 playoff spots available to Harvard, Princeton, SLU, Union, and Brown, I’d put their playoff odds thusly: Princeton & SLU: 90%, Harvard: 60:, Union 40%, Brown 20%. (3 spots means this should add up to 300%.)
Princeton and St. Lawrence are both good enough that neither should have any difficulty making the ECAC tournament, even if Princeton never figures out the scoring. Harvard is right there in the mix with Brown and Union though. Possession metrics have the Crimson (-4.25% rel shots) slightly worse than Brown (-3.24%) and a bit better than Union (-7.46%) and relative goal differential (-8.28%) has them worse than Brown (-5.22%) and better than Union (-10.09%) again, owing largely to an underwhelming 6.7% shooting percentage. Both Brown (7.9%) and Union (8.6%) have a better shooting percentage and Union has a better save percentage as well (92.4% to 91.0%).
If Union makes the ECAC tournament this season, all current teams will have made the tournament in the elimination era though Brown hasn’t made it since 2006. Clarkson and St. Lawrence are the only two teams to have never missed the tournament.