December 15, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: Crimson have turned on the power

By Dan Guttenplan

As ECAC Hockey teams head into their winter breaks, coaching staffs will undoubtedly use the time between games to regroup and scout conference foes. One unit that will undoubtedly be scrutinized, and then potentially emulated, is the Harvard power play.

The Crimson (4-3-3, 3-3-2 ECAC) have the nation's most efficient power play, converting at a rate of 32.1 percent. To put that in perspective, 14 of the team's 24 goals in ECAC play have come in power-play situations.

The conclusion most coaches will draw: If you want to beat the Crimson, stay out of the penalty box.

"We're excited about coming back from Christmas break," Harvard coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) said. "League standings and winning percentage can be tough to measure in the first semester due to the unbalanced number of games. We do know, though, we have the best power play in the nation."

The source of the power-play production stems from a pair of offensive-minded defensemen, junior Danny Biega (three goals, 11 assists) and freshman Patrick McNally (3-9-12). Biega and McNally rank second and third in the nation, respectively, in points per game for defensemen.

Last week, McNally earned ECAC Rookie of the Week after having a hand in three power-play goals in a 4-3 win at Princeton Saturday. Biega scored the game's third goal, the eventual game-winner.

"They're both very good, offensive defensemen," Donato said. "Throw (forward) Alex Killorn in the mix, and they're all in the top 25 in the nation in scoring. I think that first semester can be a real sampling of how things will play out, but there's a lot of hockey to be played."

For those teams preparing to match up with Harvard in the second semester, it would be wise to do so at even strength.

Game of the Week

Union at Merrimack, Saturday

On a weekend with a light ECAC schedule, this tilt includes a pair of top 20 teams. Union (8-3-5, 3-2-2 ECAC) is 3-0-2 in its last five contests, matching the Dutchmen's longest unbeaten streak of the season.

Merrimack (10-2-2, 7-2-1 Hockey East) skated to a 1-1 tie against Colgate Saturday at Starr Rink. The tie gives the Warriors a 3-0-1 mark against non-conference teams this year. The game will be televised by WBIN in the Boston area.

ECAC Hockey power rankings

1. Colgate (11-4-2, 6-2-0 ECAC): Colgate's 1-1 tie against Merrimack Saturday was a good result for the ECAC.

2. Cornell (7-3-1, 6-1-1): The Big Red will have had 26 days between games when they take the ice again Dec. 29.

3. Union (8-3-5, 3-2-2): The Dutchmen have three games remaining this calendar year: at Merrimack, at Denver and at Colorado College. Yikes.

4. Harvard (4-3-3, 3-3-2): The Crimson, who have the nation's top power play, must play at North Dakota twice, play a home-and-home with Union, and play at RPI before their Jan. 14 tilt with Boston University at Fenway. Maybe best not to look ahead.

5. Yale (6-5-1, 4-2-0): The Elis limped to the finish of their first semester with losses at Brown and UMass. It's a different year in New Haven, Conn.

6. Quinnipiac (11-6-3, 3-4-3): The Bobcats pushed to 8-1-2 at home after wins over Sacred Heart and Princeton last weekend.

7. Dartmouth (5-5-1, 3-3-1): The Big Green collected only five points in their last seven games before Christmas break.

8. St. Lawrence (6-10, 4-5): The Saints posted their first victory in the last five meetings with Clarkson on Saturday.

9. Clarkson (9-7-4, 3-4-2): Clarkson receives a much-deserved break until Dec. 29 after being one of two ECAC teams (Quinnipiac) to play 20 games in the first semester.

10. Brown (4-6-1, 3-3-0): We know Brown's ceiling after a first semester in which it posted wins against Cornell, Union and Yale.

11. Princeton (4-9-2, 3-7-1): Tough finish to the semester for the Tigers, who failed to pick up a point in a weekend series at home against Harvard and at Quinnipiac.

12. RPI (3-13-0, 1-6-0): When ECAC coaches size up the conference, they often say, "On any given night, any one of 11 teams are capable of beating any other ECAC team." RPI is the odd team out.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.