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.

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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

Wesleyan’s 2016-17 roster posted

Wesleyan posted its 28-member roster today, with no real surprises. The roster includes 20 returning veterans, with only seldom used forward Kevin Hill missing form the list of expected returnees. All 8 of the recruits in our database are listed on the roster.

There are still four rosters outstanding–Amherst, Conn College, Trinity, and Tufts–even as opening night draws ever nearer (this Friday).

Wesleyan roster posted

Two down and eight to go as the first game draws ever closer . .

The 30-member Wesleyan roster includes 19 veterans and 11 freshmen. Missing from the list of returning players are: junior forward Elliott Vorel, whose career began with much promise as a high-scoring freshman (he ranked no. 4 in points in the league with 15 as a freshman) but was plagued by injury in his sophomore year; and junior d-man Nick Malone. The 11 freshmen include the 10 in our recruits database plus forward Eliot Plour, a Florida native and a light-scoring graduate of Choate.

NESCAC roster no. 2: Wesleyan

Just 10 days to go to the first NESCAC game of the season and only two teams have posted their rosters. Wesleyan has released its 24-member roster for the 2014-15 season, which appears to be straightforward. The six new players listed in our recruits database are all on the roster as are 18 of the 19 members of last year’s team who did not graduate and were expected to return for another season. The only missing veteran is d-man Dylan Niehoff, who should be a senior this year and played in 10 games last year.

first-round play-off results-March 1, 2014

Three of four games are in the books, with the lone hold out being Amherst-Conn College and its 7:00PM start. The results were largely according to form as Bowdoin’s win over Middlebury is truly surprising only to Polar Bear Fan and Middlebury’s diehard, oblivious-to-reality fan base in Northfield, Vt. The real surprise was how decisive the wins were in all three games, with one game a blow-out win and the other two easy wins:

Trinity 9 Wesleyan 1: Frosh Dawson Sprigings picked a bad day to have a rare off-day, giving up 6 goals on 27 shots, with several them being in the junker category; he was replaced before the end of the second perdiod by Nolan Daley; two of the Bantam assassins had 6-point afternoons (Jackson Brewer and Mike Hawkrigg, with Brewer making the Trinity record books with the most asssits in a season (42) and in a game (6)); Brewer and Hawkrigg lead the nation in scoring with 56 and 52 points respectively; Keith Buehler scored Wesleyan’s lone goal late in the third appearance in his last appearance in a Card uniform; sad to see that there are so few fans for this extraordinary Trinity team; with the win, the site for next weekend’s semifinals and finals is set for Hartford in the Koeppel Center, with match-ups awaiting the outocme of the Amherst-Conn College game; Trinity moved the camera to mid-ice but it is still behind the protective netting that enshrouds the rink, making for a webcast that is somewhat hard on the eyes

Williams 7 Colby 3: Colby scored first in the first period but Williams quickly matched that goalie and then pulled ahead as Colby goalie Sam Parker could not duplicate his earlier performances against Williams (a 1-1 tie and a 2-1 win for Colby); write-up of the game from the local newspaper (Berkshire Eagle); Parker saved 34 of 41 shots before giving way to freshman Ben Csiernik in the third period; the box score shows that SoGs were 50-43 in favor of Colby-the Mules did seem to fire a lot of shots at Sean Dougherty so perhaps those numbers are correct

Bowdoin 6 Middlebury 3: Middlebury tied the game at 2-2 early in the secnd period but it was all Bowdoin after that with a decisive edge in SOGs (31-20, with the gap even greater in the first two periods, especially the second period) and a great goal by Kyle Lockwood in the third period to deep six any notion of a Panther comeback; here’s video of all six Bowdoin goals; members of Bowdoin’s fine senior class delivered 4 of the 6 goals (2 each for Colin Downey and Kyle Lockwood; fellow senior Harry Matheson also contributed 2 assists); only real surprise was that Max Fenkell got the start in net over Steve Messina; Louis Belisle closed at his career as a Panther with 2 PP goals; HC Beaney tired of Liam Moorfield-Yee in net after two periods and replaced him with senior Nick BonDurant; this should have been a much better season for Middlebury than it turned out to be as it has lots of talent, especially on the offensive end; this is the first time since 1989 that Middlebury has not had a winning season (that’s 25 years) and the fourth mediocre year in a row; Bowdoin’s been inconsistent this year but it does have a winner’s pedigree, which tends to bubble to the surface at crunch time

First round preview and predictions

OVERVIEW

In the age of NESCAC parity, only Trinity has stood out in the last 10 games of the regular season. In fact, Trinity’s 9-1 record in that period sticks out like a sore thumb at 90%. The very real existence of parity became all-too apparent in the second half of the season for the rest of the league when the teams played each other for the second time, with results balancing out in a way that did not occur in the old ECAC East-NESCAC interlock, with its unbalanced format, and leaving no contender with a clear-cut or obvious advantage going into the post season.

After Trinity and its 90% winning percentage in the last 10 games, the remaining seven play-off teams are clustered around 50%, with four on the positive side (Amherst and Conn College (tied), Bowdoin, and Middlebury in that order) and three on the negative side (Williams and Wesleyan (tied) and Colby). Specifically, no. 7 Conn College and no. 2 Amherst’s records over their last 10 games were 65% (6-3-1 and 5-2-3, respectively), no. 5 Bowdoin was at 60% (6-4), and no. 4 Middlebury was at 55% (5-4-1). Following up at the rear with sub .500 records were no. 3 Williams and no. 8 Wesleyan at 45% (both at 4-5-1) and no. 6 Colby at 40% (4-6-0).

One real oddity of the first round match-ups is that each of the four pairings involves two teams that are at roughly the same place in terms of how they closed out the season: no. 7 Conn College plays no. 2 Amherst but both have the exact same winning percentage in the last 10 games (65%); only five percentage points separate no. 5 Bowdoin (60%) and no. 4 Middlebury (55%), with Bowdoin having the edge; and only five percentage points separate the two teams that dragged themselves into the post season (no. 3 Williams at 45% and no. 6 Colby at 40%), with Williams having the advantage.

The bottom line is that anything could happen in the first round and there are no clear favorites other than Trinity. And of course, even Trinity is vulnerable in a one-game elimination round.  We can see that, with the exception of Trinity, all of the play-off-bound teams settled into a pound-pound routine as the season wound down that left none of them in any thing like a break-out mode. It is not a season where it would be wise to assume that the top four seeds are a lock to advance to the semifinals, except that all four host teams played better on home ice than they did on the road, with the difference being the most significant for Middlebury (72% at home versus 38% on the road) and Williams (75% versus 50%). So visiting Bowdoin and Colby will have to bring it in both cases but they have proven they can do so with early season ties on the road at Middlebury and Williams, respectively.

Also noteworthy is that the number 5 seed has defeated the number 4 seed for three straight years (Middlebury over Amherst in 2013; Williams over Tufts in 2012; Bowdoin over Amherst in 2011). The last season that was truly topsy-turvy was 2011, the freshman year for this year’s crop of seniors. In that year, no. 8 Wesleyan defeated no. 1 Hamilton, no. 6 Colby defeated no. 3 Middlebury, and no. 5 Bowdoin defeated no. 4 Amherst in the first round. Of the top four seeds, only no. 2 Williams survived the first round but it too eventually fell in the championship game to no. 5 Bowdoin.

So we make predictions only because we humans are wired to make predictions. And let us not forget that no. 5 Bowdoin won it all in 2011 and no. 6 Trinity won it all in 2008. So when we speculate about first round upsets, we are not contemplating something that is far fetched or unlikely . .

THE GAMES

No. 8 Wesleyan at no. 1 Trinity

Season series: 2-0-0 for Trinity (a 2-0 win for Trinity in Hartford on Feb. 21 and an 8-5 win for Trinity in Middletown on Feb. 22)

Trinity has nine wins in its last 10 games, with the only loss in that period a 3-2 loss to Amherst. Wesleyan has been up and down in that same period, assembling a 4-5-1 record (45%), with two of its five losses coming at the hands of Trinity.

It is hard to detect many weaknesses in Trinity’s game, with an outstanding 15-3 record in conference play, an excellent offense (77 goals for), and a solid defense (45 goals against or third best in the league). It has the best PP in the league, with a 25.8% efficiency rating. Trinity even manages to stay out of the penalty box, being second to Williams as the least penalized NESCAC team. The most obvious weakness in the Trinity game is a surprisingly poor PK (78.1%; only Hamilton and Wesleyan had weaker PKs). Also goalie Ben Coulthard has not been quite as good this year as last year when he was the first team all-NESCAC goalie. His save percentage went from the best in the league (.944) to tied for the third best (.929) and his GAA went from 2.02 (third) to 2.31 (fourth). These are still good numbers (we’re nitpicking!) so not a weakness in the grand scheme of things. And the Trinity O is so dynamic and explosive that a defensive lapse can usually be overcome in short order.

Wesleyan has a vulnerable defense (only Hamilton and Tufts’ defenses gave up more goals) but has some firepower and has developed a superb young goalie in freshman Dawson Sprigings, who has the ability to steal a game or two. Sprigings stood on his head in the first regular season game with Trinity, saving 46 of 47 shots, and then did not play in the second game where Trinity scored 8 goals. Wesleyan is very bad on the PK (even worse than Trinity), finishing dead last in the league with a paltry 69.9% kill rate, so it will be a battle of the ineffective PKs with Wesleyan advised to work really hard on staying out of the sin bin.

This one should be good one since this a “rivalry” game between two very different schools that are within close proximity and do not have a lot of use for each other.

Injuries: Both teams appear to be in good health

Prediction: Trinity is the clear favorite

No. 7 Conn College at no. 2 Amherst

Season series: 1-0-1 for Amherst (a 4-2 Amherst win in New London on Jan. 17 and a 1-1 tie on Feb. 15 in Amherst).

Amherst won only five of its last 10 games but can take consolation in the fact that there were also three ties during that period, making for a 5-2-3 record and a 65% winning percentage. Conn College won six of its last 10 games for a stretch run record of 6-3-1, which is identical to Amherst’s in percentage terms.

Amherst struggled a bit in closing out the season but managed to hold onto second place due to Williams’ season-ending slump. Amherst has great goaltending in sophomore Dave Cunningham (second in the league in GAA at 1.94 and tied for third in save percentage at .929), an opportunistic offense, and excellent team defense (second best in the league at a paltry 1.94 GA). Amherst has no glaring weaknesses but does have a few soft spots. It has the best PK in the league, with a 90% kill ratio, which is a good thing since Amherst is chippy and penalty prone, with only play-off bystanders Hamilton and Tufts having wracked up more PIMs. Another vulnerability is an anemic PP, with only a 15.6% efficiency rate, placing the PP fourth from the bottom in the league.

Most noteworthy for the Camels in their strong stretch has been the blossoming of senior Mike Petchonka into an excellent NESCAC goalie. He closed out the regular season as the second best goalie in save percentage (at .930).  Conn College also has the second best PP in the league, with a 23.3% success rate. It is generally middle-of-the-pack in most other statistical categories, indicating no particular advantage or disadvantage in any major statistical category.

When these two teams last met in Amherst (just a little more than two weeks ago), the game ended in a 1-1 tie, with the Camels having a slight edge in SOGs (20-16) so an upset would not be outside the realm of possibility.

Injuries: Amherst forward Brendan Burke missed the last two games while Conn College’s senior d-man Kevin Reich was injured in the Amherst game on Feb 15 and has not played since.

Prediction: Amherst squeaks by Conn College

No. 6 Colby at no. 3 Williams

Season series: 1-0-1 for Colby (a 1-1 tie in Williamstown in the season opener on Nov. 16 and a 2-1 Colby win in Waterville on Jan. 24).

Williams closed out the season in mediocre fashion, with a 4-5-1 record in its last 10 games for a 45% win percentage. It was much worse in the last six games, with a poor record of 1-4-1. Colby was 4-6-0 in the last 10 games (40% winning percentage) and 2-4-0 in its last six games so, in a weird way, these two teams are evenly matched in the way that they stumbled through to the end of their seasons.

Colby and Williams both lack scoring punch, with anemic offenses (Colby is no. 7 in the league with 45 goals while Williams logged in at no. 8 with 44 goals). Where Williams shines is on defense and in goal, with the best scoring defense and the strongest goalie in statistical terms in Sean Dougherty (a .939 save percentage). The same cannot be said of Colby’s defense, which has a mediocre scoring defense (no. 7 in the league) and a struggling goalie in junior Sam Parker, whose save percentage has slumped to .893 due to several poor performances in recent weeks. As with Bowdoin’s Steve Messina, Parker is nonetheless capable of a strong performance as he ably demonstrated in the two regular season games with Williams, giving up a grand total of two goals, and in last season’s quarterfinal game when no. 2 Williams had all it could do to fend off Colby (and Parker) in a 2-1 game.

The intangible for Colby is the very strong senior class, who collectively have produced more than 50% of Colby’s points and provide the top-four scorers on the team in Ben Chwick, Nick Lanza, Jackie Bartlett, and Brendan Cosgrove. Expect them to not want their somewhat turbulent careers to quietly end in Williamstown without a real battle.

Injuries: Williams has no had no obvious injuries (except for the season-long absence of Peter Mistretta). Colby blue liner Alex Walsh has been missing from the line up for several games.

Prediction: Williams stumbles into the semifinals

No. 5 Bowdoin at no. 4 Middlebury

Season series: 1-0-1 for Bowdoin (5-4 OT win on Jan. 24 in Brunswick and a 2-2 tie in the season opener on Nov. 16 in Middlebury)

Both teams have four losses in their last 10 games but Bowdoin had a marginally better record at 6-4 (60%) versus Middlebury’s 5-4-1 (55%). There are a couple of factors that tilt things slightly in Middlebury’s direction on the momentum front.

First, Middlebury closed the season with three straight wins, including a 5-2 win in a must-win game with Hamilton on the last day of the regular season. Bowdoin, in contrast, did not get it done on the last weekend of the season, starting with great promise on Friday with a solid 5-1 defeat of Conn College but then did not deliver the knock-out punch against last-place Tufts on Saturday, taking a 4-3 loss when a tie or a win would have secured fourth place and home ice for Bowdoin. But those who assumed Bowdoin played poorly in the Tufts game did not actually pay attention to the game as Bowdoin out shot Tufts by a hefty margin of 45-25. So the loss was likely a case of running into a hot goaltender in Tufts Greg Jenkins, who did close out the season and his career strongly for the Jumbos. So, yes, Middlebury has a slight edge on the momentum front coming out of this weekend but it is hardly the cavernous gap that it is being made out to be.

Second, Middlebury and Bowdoin appear to be headed in opposite directions on the goaltending front, with Middlebury gaining stability and consistency in goal while goaltending has become a bit of a liability for Bowdoin. Liam Moorfield-Yee became the no. 1 goalie for Middlebury eight games ago after a 16-round game of musical chairs in net and has been rock solid ever since, rising to third in the league in GAA with a nice 2.09. Bowdoin ended its season-long two-goalie rotation system four games ago after a poor outing by junior Max Fenkell against Amherst and made Steve Messina its number one goalie. Messina’s record in those four games has been 2-2, with stretches of good work in the mix but capped off by giving up 4 goals on 25 shots to a weak Tufts team in a must-win game on the last day of Bowdoin’s regular season. Still, Messina has excellent play-off experience and can be superb, having back stopped Bowdoin to the NESCAC championship from the same no. 5 seed in 2011 as a freshman so don’t be foolish enough to count him out despite his inconsistency. 

Other indicators are a wash, with Bowdoin having the no. 3 offense in the league and Middlebury the no. 4 while the order is reversed on defense, with Middlebury at no. 4 and Bowdoin at no. 6. Middlebury is slightly better than Bowdoin on the PK and the PP but Bowdoin makes up the difference by being freakishly good in scoring short-handed goals (8 SHGs in league play; no other team comes even vaguely close).

Injuries: For Middlebury, d-men Connor Frick and Cam Romoff missed both weekend games, with Frick last playing on Jan. 25 versus Colby. For Bowdoin, last year’s leading scorer, Ollie Koo, has not played since Bowdoin’s Jan. 25 game against Williams. He’s missed most of the season but did register the tying goal against Middlebury in Brunswick on Jan. 24.

Prediction: Middlebury edges Bowdoin but just barely