January 4, 2013

ECAC Journal: Quinnipiac way out in front of pack

By Dan Guttenplan

It's not often an ECAC team takes the suspense out of the regular-season conference championship race before the start of the second semester. 

But that's exactly what Quinnipiac has done as it strings together win after win after win. The Bobcats currently have the longest unbeaten streak in the NCAA this season at 12 games. With a perfect 8-0-0 mark in the ECAC, they have a seven-point lead in the standings over second-place Dartmouth (4-1-1). With the exception of Quinnipiac, all other ECAC teams have between 4 and 9 points.

The Bobcats have been absolutely dominant in their own defensive end. They average an ECAC-best 1.51 goals-against, more than a half goal better than second-place Union (2.08). Senior goalie Eric Hartzell was named ECAC Goaltender of the Month for December, after going 5-0-0 with a .941 save percentage.

The unpredictable part of Quinnipiac's start has been the balanced scoring. Last year's top scoring line of Connor Jones, Matthew Peca and Kellen Jones has been relatively quiet thus far. After combined to tally 116 points last season, they have been held to 24 points this season due to various injuries.

As the top line has struggled, other players have filled the void. Senior forward Ben Arnt did his part last weekend, earning ECAC Player of the Week honors by netting four points in a weekend sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.

“I feel like we've been prepared as a team,” Arnt says. “Everybody comes in to work hard every day. I think a lot of guys made a big step in hockey over the past year.”

Quinnipiac had a decent season last year, earning the fifth seed in the ECAC tournament after falling short on a tie-break with Colgate for a first-round bye. The Bobcats entered this season with 11 seniors, determined to earn a bye.

“We have goals for doing well in the ECAC and the nation,” Arnt says. “I don't think we set new goals. It's still the same; conference play is big. We lost the tie-breaker last year and had to go on the road that second weekend. We don't want to have to do that again.”

Quinnipiac has proved its mettle against the nation's top teams. The Bobcats are 6-0-0 against ranked opponents. The second semester will provide Quinnipiac plenty of opportunity to pull away in its quest for the top seed in the ECAC tournament. Only one of the team's final 15 games is against a team outside the ECAC.

“We know Dartmouth is doing well right now,” Arnt says. “We feel like a lot of teams in the league could make a run. The first seed can lose to the last seed any year. There are always great teams like Cornell, Union and Yale. We have plenty of work left to do.”

Game of the Week

Dartmouth at Quinnipiac, Jan. 4 (7 p.m.) at High Point Solutions Arena

The top two teams in the ECAC will meet for the first time this season. Quinnipiac enters with a 12-game unbeaten streak, fresh off a two-game sweep of another ranked opponent, Nebraska-Omaha. Dartmouth is also a top-10 team, which may be bad news for the Big Green. The Bobcats are 6-0-0 against ranked opponents this season. The game will be broadcast throughout New England on NESN.

Player of the Week

Ben Arnt, senior, Quinnipiac

Arnt had two goals and an assist in a two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend. The senior tallied a goal and an assist in a 5-4 win Dec. 29 before following up with a goal in a 3-1 victory Dec. 30. Arnt now has four goals and four assists on the season. 

Power Rankings

1. Quinnipiac (14-3-2, 8-0-0): The Bobcats have the longest unbeaten streak (12 games) in college hockey this season, they are 6-0-0 against nationally ranked teams, and they have the highest winning percentage of any Division 1 team. Yes, they are the real deal.

2. Dartmouth (8-3-2, 4-1-1): The Big Green pulled off their biggest win of the season when they knocked off UNH, then ranked No. 2 in the nation, Dec. 30. They followed it up with a loss to UMass the next night, but not before jumping into the top 10 in most national polls.

3. Cornell (7-4-2, 3-3-2): The Big Red won a rematch against the team that eliminated them from last year's NCAA Tournament – Ferris State – on Dec. 28. The Big Red have been streaky this season. They won three in a row to start the year, then went winless in their next five, only to win the next four, before falling to Maine Dec. 29.

4. Union (9-4-4, 3-2-3): Union coach Rick Bennett questioned his team's work ethic after a loss to Vermont over the holiday vacation. A team that played in the NCAA championship game will need to raise its level of play in the second semester.

5. Yale (7-4-2, 3-3-1): The Bulldogs came out flat against Holy Cross Dec. 30, falling behind 3-0 in their first official game in 19 days. They suffered a bad 5-4 loss, but it can be explained by the Crusaders' four special teams goals.

6. Harvard (4-5-1, 3-3-0): The Crimson are simply not the same team after the departure of four players involved in the Harvard cheating scandal in December. They lost to Northeastern 5-1 Dec. 29, and this was supposed to be a year in which they competed for a Beanpot title.

7. Colgate (9-7-2, 3-4-1): The Raiders were perfect in the month of December, although they only played three games. We'll see in the weeks to come whether that light schedule gave the squad fresh legs or unwanted rust.

8. Brown (4-6-4, 0-3-4): The Bears have this weekend off, but they are certainly a squad trending in the right direction. They have the look of a team that could make a second-semester charge and host a first-round ECAC tournament series.

9. RPI (6-7-4, 1-5-2): The Engineers are 5-2-2 outside of the ECAC, but that number figures to take a hit this weekend when they visit BU and UNH.

10. Princeton (3-7-4, 2-3-3): The Tigers are winless in their last seven games, a stretch that dates back to Nov. 23. Sean Bonar appears to have taken over the starting goaltending position from Mike Condon (Needham, Mass.).

11. Clarkson (4-8-5, 3-3-1): The Knights are just 1-4-1 at home this season, but they have a chance to improve upon that record with nine of the next 11 games in Potsdam. After this weekend’s series against UMass Lowell, the Knights have only ECAC Hockey games remaining on the schedule.

12. St. Lawrence (7-8-2, 1-4-2): The Saints started the season 5-1-0, but have since gone 2-6-2. They have two home games against RIT this weekend to potentially right the ship.

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