The first round of college teams wrapped up their pre-exam games this past weekend, and our expectations of close, hard-fought games were completely crushed, especially on the east coast. The three eastern conferences featured a couple of shockers, a couple of blowouts, and only selected close games. Some games on the scoreboard were close, but, from reports trickling into the Excalibur email/news desk… not so. Let’s cut the chit-chat and dive right in, shall we?
-We start in Chestnut Hill with Boston College. BC’s been getting a bum rap because of all the heat the football and basketball programs are taking, but the hockey team has always been solid. As long as Jerry York is the head coach, there’s not a single doubt that this team can and will compete deep into the final weeks of play. But this year’s Eagles team has featured slight hiccups along their normally solid road to glory, and now there’s a goaltending controversy brewing. Parker Milner, who was the heir apparent to John Muse, seemingly lost the net to Brian Billett, who dominated BU two weeks ago. But Billett wasn’t tested against UMass and looked vulnerable at times this past weekend in a loss to UMass-Lowell. It’s possible Milner will start seeing some more action, but BC is off until the end of the year when they play at the Great Lakes Invitational. They’ll need to see who has the hot hand faster because they come out of the GLI with a home game against Merrimack. There’s no let up in the schedule at all for BC; that might play a role in a possible platoon.
-We continue the discussion up the road on Comm Ave. First, we stop at BU, where the Terriers are probably the weirdest team we’ve seen to date. BU is in second place in Hockey East, right behind BC by a point, but their 10-5-1 record places them in 9th in the national polls. That’s substantially behind a two-loss Merrimack team, who’s beaten everyone except for PC (more on that later). The Terriers need to depend on good Kieran Millan because bad Millan is really bad. Bad Millan gave up five goals on 22 shots against BC in two periods of play. Good Millan stopped 28 and 30 shots against UNH and Maine, repsectively. Guess which games BU won?
-After a stop at BU, we hit the highway and headed down I-95 to Rhode Island, where PC is making things very interesting. First, they swept Merrimack, right after the Warriors gained an albeit-dubious #1 ranking. They did it in convincing fashion, too, winning 2-1 in overtime before crushing MC, 6-1. PC has now beaten BU, UMass, and MACK; they tied Minnesota-Duluth. For a team that’s in the middle of the road in Hockey East right now (after being way down the brigade for the past few years), is there anyone that wants to face them? More importantly, how much of this should we attribute to head coach Nate Leaman, who is the man responsible for building the power at Union?
-Turning across the city of Providence, we find the enigma at Brown University and the ECAC. Brown is the most enigmatic team we’ve ever seen, which is fitting because we’re talking about exam breaks and Brown also has the most enigmatic curriculum we’ve ever seen for a college (i.e. – they don’t have one). Bruno is 3-3 in ECAC play, four points up on last place RPI, and they’re 4-6-1 overall. That means Brown went 1-3-1 in non-conference play. Normally, that’s not a bad thing, but then consider they have losses to American International and Holy Cross. Consider that one of their conference losses is the only conference win for RPI. Then consider they beat Cornell, Union, and put a six-goal hurting on Yale. None of this makes any sense. Nor does it make sense that Brown, without a pure goal scorer, has 12 guys who put the biscuit in the basket. Jack Maclellan, who is essentially captain everything for the Bears right now, leads the way with five, and Bobby Farnham has four. After that, it’s a mish-mash of people competing for ice time.
-Let’s continue down I-95 and head to New Haven. If you want a team that nobody can figure out, let’s talk about Yale. They lost to Brown, and they lost to arguably the worst team with a conference affiliation in Division I – Sacred Heart. They also gave up six goals to the Bears and seven to the Pioneers. This is a team that was a Top-10 team a year ago and is still 19th with a barely-above-.500 record. They’re a talented team that’s dropped off this year, and for our purposes, outside of the players they lost from last year’s team scoring-wise, we can’t really figure out why, especially given the popular opinion that the Elis could replace goal scorers with more scorers. Yale’s still a formidable opponent, but they’re vulnerable this year and clearly not the class of ECAC.
-After the exams, Yale’s off until December 28th, when they’ll play an exhibition game against the Russian Red Stars. In a case of poor scheduling, the Elis will host Bentley a few days later on New Year’s Day. This has to be one of the worst decisions, in hindsight, anyone could’ve made. They’ll play a good team from Russia (really…is there a bad Russian team?), then they’ll host one of the hottest teams on the planet right now. Bentley went stone cold against Mercyhurst and Niagara, but they rebounded with authority to beat UConn. The Falcons hung with Michigan, hung with pretty much everybody, and they smoked Sacred Heart, who beat UConn (although we don’t know how). Falcon goalie Brandon Komm essentially can stop any puck that’s thrown his way, and he’s fast becoming one of the best goalies in the nation. This went from being a head-scratcher for Bentley to a classsic trap game for UConn.
-That Atlantic Hockey is a funny conference. Air Force is clearly the class right now, but after them, it’s going to be a demolition derby to the finish. We wouldn’t bet against anything happening from Bentley and Holy Cross getting first round byes to RIT ending up in the first round to Mercyhurst finishing first in the conference. Anything is possible in this conference this year, and we came to a consensus that we can’t reflect or even fathom what’s going on. That, and we’re lazy, so we’re not going to speculate on the AHA for now.
-More observations coming as the weeks progress, and our timeless predictions for the second half. Until then, here’s to hoping we all get caught under some mistletoe with the ones we want to be stuck under there with.