Preview of the 2017-18 NESCAC season: Part II

[This is the second installment of our four-installment preview, covering the four top-tier teams (Trinity, Hamilton, Amherst, and Wesleyan)]

Here is the team-by-team assessment. Point totals and goalie stats (only data from regular season NESCAC games is included to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons) for returning players for the 2016-17 season are included in parentheses to provide additional context and detail for these predictions:

TOP TIER

TRINITY

Coach: Matt Greason: 7th season (112-41-10) (.732% winning percentage)

Team history: 1 NCAA championship (2015); 1 NCAA final (2017); 1 NCAA semifinal (2005); 2 NCAA quarterfinals (2008 & 2016); 3 NESCAC championships (2008, 2016, 2017)

2016-17 NESCAC record: 11-5-2 (3rd place; play-offs: defeated no. 6 Tufts 4-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals, no. 4 Williams 4-2 in the semifinals, and no. 1 Hamilton in the NESCAC championship game 3-2 (OT)) (overall record: 21-7-3)

2016-17 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 65 (no. 1)
goals scored per game: 3.61
PP: 17.2% (no. 5)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 35 (no. 2)
goals allowed per game: 1.94
PK: 86.8% (no. 4)
special teams net: +5 (no. 2-T)
PIMs: 12 (no. 8)

Captains: Anthony Sabitsky (F) (Sr), Conor Hegarty (D) (Sr), and Griffyn Martin (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Tyler Whitney (Sr) (9-13-22), Anthony Sabitsky (Sr) (12-8-20) (NESCAC first team in 2017; NESCAC second team in 2016), Barclay Gammill (So) (6-4-10)

Defense: Liam Feeney (So) (1-10-11), Griffyn Martin (Sr) (0-7-7), Michael O’Brien (J) (1-1-2), Connor Hegarty (Sr) (2-1-3)

Goalie: Alex Morin (Sr) (.931 save percentage in 1073 minutes)

Key losses: Ryan Cole (F) (all-American first team, NESCAC first team, and NESCAC PoY in 2015; NESCAC first team and NESCAC RoY in 2014; NESCAC second team in 2016), Sean Orlando (F) (NESCAC first team and all-American third team in 2016; NESCAC second team in 2017), Ethan Holdaway (F), Brandon Cole (F), Will Sleeper (F), T.J. Sherman (D), Sam Johnson (D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 2): James Callahan (D), Michael Grande (D), D1 transfer Nick Fiorentino (D), Blake Carrick (F), Nick Polsinelli (F), and Sam Kany (G)

Strengths: Trinity had the no. 1 offense in the league in 2016-17 (3.61 GPG) although the Bantams’ power play had a down year (a 17.2 % success rate or fifth in the NESCAC). In a year of solid defensive performances for the top-tier NESCAC teams, Trinity was second on the defensive front, giving up just 1.94 GPG. Trinity is no. 8 in the league in terms of game experience but amazingly returns more offensive production than any other team (98 points versus runner-up Wesleyan’s 94) although its returning goal production is modest at just 37 (fifth in the league but just 4 goals behind the no. 1 goal returner (Hamilton)). The Bantams have two of the league’s tops forwards returning in Tyler Whitney (no. 2 NESCAC scorer) and NESCAC first teamer Anthony Sabitsky (no. 4 scorer in the NESCAC). Trinity has a strong group of returning D and the best incoming class on the blue line with several outstanding prospects. Goalie Alex Morin is an excellent goalie who established himself as Trinity’s no. 1 netminder in 2016-17 and a big game performer. The Bantams have an excellent class of recruits (we rate the class no. 2 in the NESCAC). Trinity’s Matt Greason has established himself as a premier D3 hockey coach, entering his 7th season, with back-to-back NESCAC championships in 2016 and 2017 and 3 trips to the NCAAs in the last 4 years, including a championship in 2015 and a trip to the NCAA finals in 2017.

Weaknesses/question marks: In truth, Trinity’s weaknesses are few, it having quickly rebuilt its blue line in 2015-16 after losing a lot to graduation in its national championship year (2015). It will have to rebuild its leadership cadre, having lost an extraordinary group of seniors to graduation in 2017, including the Cole brothers, forwards Seann Orlando, Ethan Holdaway, and Will Sleeper, and 2 excellent d-men in TJ Sherman and Sam Johnson. Its chief fault last year was a lack of consistency during the regular season (5 losses and 2 ties) that resulted in a 3rd plae regular-season finish and a road trip for the final four weekend. Defensive weaknesses that have troubled the Bantams include a fondness for the sin bin (Trinity was the next-to-the-most-penalized team in the league in 2015-16 and the third-most-penalized team in 2016-17). Otherwise, it is hard work to find meaningful flaws in the Trinity team as we enter the 2017-18 season. Continue reading

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Hamilton roster posted!!!

Defending regular season champion Hamilton has posted its 28-member roster consisting of 10 newcomers (7 freshmen and 3 transfers) and 18 veteran players.  All of the recruits listed in our database are on the roster and all 18 veteran players returned for another season. So a perfect record for the Continentals on the attrition front (as in no attrition).

Hamilton begins the season this Friday (Nov. 17) with a road trip to travel partner Amherst fir  7pm game and then returns to Clinton to host visiting Stevenson on Sunday afternoon (3pm). The Hamilton-Amherst face-off on Friday should be one of the better games of the weekend . .

We are still missing rosters for half the NESCAC teams: Amherst, Conn College, Middlebury, Trinity, and Wesleyan.

NCAA preview: Hamilton v. Oswego State

Hamilton at Oswego (7:00 pm)

Oswego is an offensive juggernaut with a deep and experienced line-up, scoring at a 4.74 GPG clip and the third most potent offense in all of D3. The Lakers’ top 4 scorers and 9 of its 10 top scorers are all seniors, likely aiming to extend their college careers for another couple of weeks and to end with a flourish.

Laker forwards to watch include Kenny Neil (19-25-44 and the no. 7 scorer in D3); Shawn Hulshof (13-27-40 (tied for no. 14 in D3); and Matt Galati (13-17-30). Oswego is a veteran team, including 12 seniors and 4 D1 transfers, and with every single player being a product of junior hockey. Hulshof and Neil  are both members of the all-SUNYAC first team as is d-man Stephen Johnson.

Hamilton, in contrast, has a less showy but steady and opportunistic offense (producing goals at a 3.22 GPG pace (tied for 34th in the country). What it lacks in punch on the offensive end, it more than makes up on the defensive end, with the third-ranked defense in D3 (giving up just 1.74 GPG and featuring Evan Buitenhuis in net, who is one of the nation’s premier D3 goalies and the NESCAC PoY, and a stalwart group of experienced d-men).

In comparing stats, it is important to keep in mind that Oswego plays in a top-heavy conference where the top 3 teams are very good (Oswego, Plattsburgh, and Geneseo) and do very well in the post-season while the remaining 6 teams are middling to poor. Because the bottom 6 teams often do not pose much of a challenge to the top 3, the stats for the top 3 teams tend to be inflated by the weak competition. Stats in the NESCAC, in contrast, are depressed by parity, with very few opportunities to roll up numbers, making a statistical comparison between a SUNYAC team and a NESCAC team not necessarily determinative of the 2 teams’ relative strengths.

Continue reading

NESCAC Semifinals Preview

We are guaranteed at least one first: one of the two teams playing for the NESCAC championship on Sunday will be a championship virgin. All 4 of this weekend’s participants (no. 1 Hamilton, no. 3 Trinity, no. 4 Williams, and no. 7 Wesleyan) have made it to the semifinals at least once but only two (Trinity and Williams) have survived the Saturday game, with Trinity advancing to the finals 5 times and Williams 4 times and the Bantams going on to win the championship on 3 occasions while the Ephs have failed to capture the crown on all 4 occasions. So we will be looking at a first-time finalist on Sunday and, unless Trinity prevails in both games this weekend, we could also be looking at a new first-time NESCAC champion.

Hamilton is a strong performer on home ice, with just one loss on home ice (5-1-3 in the NECAC; 9-1-3 overall) and none if its visitors has an impressive road record, with Trinity having a losing NESCAC record on the road and Williams an overall losing record on the road:

Trinity: 3-4-2; 5-4-3
Wesleyan: 3-3-3; 6-4-3
Williams: 5-4; 6-7

Statistics and history do not decide games but Hamilton has an important advantage this year, having successfully navigated the regular season and the quarterfinals to nail down that all-important home ice for the first-time ever. The open question is whether Hamilton will be writing a new chapter of NESCAC history this weekend by joining that small circle of NESCAC champions (Middlebury (8) and 3 each for Amherst, Bowdoin and Trinity) and expanding the number of members in that exclusive club from 4 to 5.

Continue reading

NESCAC Quarterfinals Preview

The quarterfinal games are evenly split between 1 pm and 3 pm start times, with the early start times for 2 of the 4 games (Bowdoin at Hamilton and Tufts at Trinity) due to the host team also hosting a women’s quarterfinal game on Saturday. In 3 of the 4 games, the higher seed (Hamilton, Colby, Trinity) has a clear edge in momentum, making the home team the clear favorite.  In the fourth game (no. 5 Amherst at no. 4 Williams), neither team has any real momentum going into the quarterfinals but Williams has a slight edge due to the home ice advantage and Amherst’s struggles on the road.

So from our vantage point, we may be looking at something shocking in the NESCAC – an upset-free set of quarterfinal games. That last happened 8 years ago in the 2009 play-offs (it almost also happened in 2012 and 2013 but for the no. 5 seed defeating the no. 4 seed in each of those years). Predictions are just predictions, of course, and anything can happen on the ice, especially in this era of parity where narrow statistical analyses do not determine the actual outcome of games. Continue reading

NCAA has released its first regional rankings

Three NESCAC teams — Williams (6th), Hamilton (7th), and Amherst (10th) — are rated in the top ten (east) by the NCAA committee. These are the rankings used by the NCAA to establish the seeds and the pool C (at-large) qualifiers for the NCAA play-offs. Norwich is ranked no. 1, followed by upstart Endicott in the no. 2 spot and then a string of the usual suspects (Oswego (no. 3), Hobart (no. 4), and Babson (no. 5)).

We won’t invent the wheel because Matt Webb of D3hockey has become a great expert in all things related to the D3 NCAA play-offs and can explain very completely and accurately what these rankings mean in terms of who will make the play-offs and how each team will be seeded. To be really simple, in the case of the NESCAC, these rankings likely mean that only one NESCAC team will make the NCAA play-offs — the winner of the NESCAC playoffs. For purposes of this set of seeds, Webb assumes that the NESCAC’s no. 1 team — Williams — will win the NESCAC play-offs and make the play-offs as the automatic qualifier. The remaining two ranked teams — Hamilton and Amherst — are ranked too low to leap frog over the teams ahead of them in the rankings so likely will not be invited to the play-offs as a pool C at-large qualifier. The perils of parity . .

The NCAA will release two more sets of regional rankings on Feb. 21 and 28 before making its final selections on March 5 when  the NCAA will release its selections and brackets for the play-offs but not the final rankings on which those selections were based. There will likely to be more movement in the rankings in the next couple of weeks (Williams plays both Hamilton and Amherst this weekend, for example) and there are almost always upsets in the NESCAC play-offs as the no. 1 ranked team can attest for the past 3 years.

Hamilton’s 2016-17 roster posted

Hamilton has posted its 27-member roster, with no major surprises.  The one surprise is the absence of junior goalie Tim Nowacki, who has been a solid back up for all-NESCAC goalie Evan Buitenhuis for the past 2 years, especially when Buitenhuis was injured during his freshman year. The roster includes the 5 recruits in our database plus a new back-up goalie in Chris Browne,  New Jersey boy and recent graduate of the Pingry School.

Hamilton joins Colby and Williams in posting its rooster. We anxiously await word from the remaining 7 NESCACs as to who will be on each of their teams . .