May 10, 2011

From NEHJ: Yale still seeking to take final steps

By Phil Perry

For Yale, the 2010-11 season was about taking the next step. 

Junior forward Brian O'Neill helped Yale lead the nation in scoring again. (photo: Yale Athletics)

Junior forward Brian O'Neill helped Yale lead the nation in scoring again. (photo: Yale Athletics)

The Bulldogs won an ECAC title two seasons ago in 2009. Last season, they led the nation in scoring and got their first NCAA tournament win since 1952.

It was clear they were evolving as one of the nation’s best offensive teams, but there was room for improvement, especially in their own zone. This season, the Bulldogs set out to take the next step, to improve their defensive game and go from being known as one of the nation’s best offensive teams to one of the nation’s best teams.

Little did anyone know just how much they would improve defensively. This season, the Bulldogs jumped from the 33rd-ranked defense in the country in 2009-10 (3.09 goals per game) to the nation’s top-ranked defense (2.06).

They quickly became recognized as one of college hockey’s best all-around teams. They ran up an 11-game win streak early in the season and were ranked No. 1 by both polls.

Yale was edged out by Union for the ECAC regular-season crown, but the Bulldogs rolled through the conference tournament and won the championship in Atlantic City, earning the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Because of the play of first-team All-ECAC forwards junior Brian O’Neill and sophomore Andrew Miller along with seniors Denny Kearney (Hanover, N.H.) and Broc Little (Rindge, N.H.), the team led the nation in scoring once again (4.19 goals per game). But with the surprising play of senior goaltender Ryan Rondeau, who was the No. 1 guy for the first time in his career and was named the ECAC tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Yale had its eyes on the program’s first-ever Frozen Four.

After a first-round win over Air Force, a game misconduct penalty sent O’Neill out of the regional final against Minnesota-Duluth and played a big role in Yale losing in a regional final for the second consecutive year, 5-3.

O’Neill will be back next season, along with Miller and coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.). And despite the program’s meteoric rise over the last few seasons, they aren’t satisfied. They will be determined to get deeper in the tournament and compete for the ultimate prize: a national championship.

It would be just another big step for a team constantly looking toward the next one.

BROWN

The Good: Senior Harry Zolnierczyk took home Ivy League Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in league play with eight goals and tying for first with 11 points. He is just the fourth player in school history to receive the award. The Bears also were the first to beat then-No. 1 Yale, ending the Bulldogs’ 11-game win streak in January.

The Bad: Brown had trouble stopping opponents all season long. The Bears finished last in ECAC, allowing 3.45 goals per game. One season after upsetting Yale in the ECAC tournament, the Bears were swept by Quinnipiac in the first round. They lost their two games by a combined score of 8-0.

The Future: Assistant captain Jack McClellan — who shared the team lead for points (31) with Zolnierczyk — will be back for his senior season. Freshman defenseman Dennis Robertson is poised for another big season after being named to the ECAC All-Rookie team and All-Ivy League second team.

CLARKSON

The Good: Clarkson earned its first home-ice advantage in the ECAC tournament since 2008 after going 9-12-1 in conference play. The Golden Knights’ biggest win came when goalie Paul Karpowich made 43 saves to beat No. 18-ranked Dartmouth, 4-1, in the final weekend.

The Bad: After a seventh-place finish, George Roll was fired after eight seasons as head coach. The Golden Knights couldn’t keep themselves out of the penalty box. They racked up 660 penalty minutes — more than 100 minutes more than the next closest ECAC team, Cornell (557). Clarkson was also anemic on the power play, scoring on an ECAC-worst 12 percent of its chances.

The Future: Clarkson made significant strides one year after finishing at the bottom of the conference, but there’s still plenty of room to grow. With the core of the team returning — Karpowich, captain Mark Borowieki and assistant Jake Morley — they’re on the right track.

COLGATE

The Good: The 12th-seeded Red Raiders came from basement of the ECAC to win two rounds of the conference tournament and make it to the semifinals in Atlantic City. First, they eliminated RPI in double-overtime of Game 3. Then they took down the league’s top team, Union, in overtime of Game 3. The magic ended when they met Yale in the semifinals.

The Bad: For everything that was Colgate’s postseason run — unpredictable, dramatic, successful — its regular season was the opposite. They went 4-15-3 in the conference, which was easily the league’s worst record. Compared with other ECAC clubs, Colgate’s goals-against average was worse only than Brown’s, and its save percentage (.898) was tied for last in the conference.

The Future: Losing senior forward Brian Day (Danvers, Mass.) hurts, but the Raiders have to garner some positive feelings for the 2011-12 season after their improbable postseason run. They seem to have found their goalie of the future in freshman Eric Mihalik. He became the first rookie goaltender in school history to win two playoff series.

CORNELL

The Good: The Big Red rode the strength of its defense to an appearance in the ECAC championship game against Yale. Cornell allowed just four goals in its final four games before the final. Their defense was strong during the regular season as well, allowing just 2.59 goals per game and placing ninth in the country in the penalty kill.

The Bad: Their 6-0 defeat to Yale in the title game was an abrupt end to what had been a strong finish of the season.

The Future: With the graduation of Joe and Mike Devin (Scituate, Mass.), the Big Red lose a great deal of leadership — and not to mention skill — at both ends of the ice. They do return both of their goaltenders, junior Mike Garman and freshman Andy Iles, who combined for a .921 save percentage this season.

DARTMOUTH

The Good: The Big Green made a big jump in the standings after last season, when they finished 10th in the conference. Junior goalie James Mello (Rehoboth, Mass.) took his place between the pipes and helped carry Dartmouth to the ECAC semifinals. He finished sixth in the nation in save percentage (.926) and 12th in goals against (2.21).

The Bad: The Big Green fell to Yale in the conference semifinals, limping their way through to that point. Coach Bob Gaudet’s boys lost five of their last eight before winning the third-place consolation game over Colgate, 5-3.

The Future: Dartmouth graduates half of its top 12 scorers, but Ivy League co-Rookie of the Year Matt Lindblad (28 points) and junior Doug Jones (29 points) return to give the team a solid 1-2 scoring punch. With Mello back as well, Dartmouth may be looking forward to a second consecutive trip to Atlantic City in 2012.

HARVARD

The Good: No one was hotter to finish the regular season than the Crimson. After beating Boston University in the Beanpot consolation game, something clicked and Harvard went unbeaten for nine consecutive games. Not bad for a team that finished 12-21-1 overall. The Crimson stayed hot, sweeping Clarkson at home in the first round of the tournament.

The Bad: As Harvard found out quickly, you can’t win if you can’t score. They had trouble scoring most of the season, averaging an ECAC-worst 2.26 goals per game this season (2.23 per game in conference).

The Future: Sophomore defenseman Danny Biega is Harvard’s biggest returning piece. The team’s leading scorer and third in the lineage of Biega brothers to pass through Cambridge was an All-League second-team honoree after leading ECAC defensemen in points (21), goals (nine) and game-winning goals (three). If he can help the Crimson bottle whatever momentum they scrounged up at the end of this season, watch out.

PRINCETON

The Good: The Tigers finished in a three-way tie for fourth in ECAC but featured one of the most balanced teams in the country on paper. They were top-25 in the country in both goals (3.28) and goals against (2.75) per game. Freshman Sean Bonar was 10th in the country in goals against (2.20), and they had the ninth best power play in the nation without a single player in the top 30 in power-play goals.

The Bad: Princeton lost to No. 11 seed St. Lawrence in the first round of the ECAC tournament and lost seven of their last 11 games of the season. Partly to blame? Their ECAC-worst 74.2 percent penalty kill in conference play.

The Future: The loss of senior defenseman and captain Taylor Fedun should be eased as Derrick Pallis (Medfield, Mass.) comes back for his senior year. The Tigers have ECAC co-Rookie of the Year forward Andrew Calof primed to take an even bigger role and their goalies — freshman Sean Bonar and sophomore Mike Condon — should only be better as they gain experience.

QUINNIPIAC

The Good: The Bobcats beat Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament, making them the only team to win a playoff series every season since 2005-06. They also were the best team in the conference at staying out of the penalty box, amassing just 235 minutes on the year.

The Bad: Jeremy Langlois, Quinnipiac’s top scorer in conference play, was only the 50th best scorer in conference action (13 points). Its offense was tied with Harvard for worst in the league in conference play (2.23 goals per game).

The Future: Quinnipiac loses just two seniors who scored goals this season to graduation. The team’s top seven scorers, including Langlois, Scott Zurivinski and Connor and Kellen Jones will all be back to try to take the Bobcats past the second round of the ECAC tournament.

RENSSELAER

The Good: Chase Polacek was recognized as the cream of the ECAC crop once again. He earned ECAC Player of the Year honors for the second year in a row after scoring 21 goals — including an NCAA-best nine game-winners — and tallying 27 assists. Defenseman Nick Bailen was named to the All-ECAC first team along with Polacek, while goalie Allen York received third-team honors.

The Bad: Though the Engineers’ season was good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament, they fell to No. 12 seed Colgate in the first round of the conference tournament. They went just 3-3 against ECAC’s three worst teams (Harvard, St. Lawrence, Colgate), and they went 3-6 in games decided by one goal.

The Future: RPI loses its top two scorers in Polacek and senior Tyler Helfrich, but Bailen (36 points) will make his way back as a junior. York signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets, likely leaving goaltending duties to sophomore Bruce Merriam.

ST. LAWRENCE

The Good: The Saints shocked Princeton in the first round of the ECAC tournament, beating the Tigers in three games. Princeton was one of the league’s best power play teams, but the Saints were the conference’s best penalty-killing group in league play (87.4 percent).

The Bad: The Saints finished ninth in the conference in scoring and 10th in team defense, allowing 3.14 goals per game.

The Future: A pair of returning underclassmen forwards — freshman Greg Carey and sophomore Kyle Flanagan — combined for a total of 75 points. Carey was named to the ECAC All-Rookie team, leading the team with 23 goals. That tied him for 13th-most scores in the country and his 11 power play goals were sixth-best in the nation.

UNION

The Good: The Dutchmen finished up their most successful season in school history by winning the ECAC regular-season title and earning their first berth in the Division 1 NCAA tournament. Coach Nate Leaman was named Div. 1 Coach of the Year after Union finished seventh in the country in team offense (3.60 goals per game) and second in team defense (2.10).

The Bad: Union ran into the buzz saw that was Colgate during the second round of the ECAC tournament. They were upset by the No. 12 seed Raiders, 4-3, in overtime of Game 3.

The Future: Leaman took the leap to Hockey East, accepting the Providence head coaching job. Goalie Keith Kinkaid opted to sign with the New Jersey Devils in April, forgoing his junior and senior seasons, which means Union’s defense may suffer. Offensively, the return of freshman Daniel Carr and sophomore Wayne Simpson (Boxboro, Mass.) should allow the Dutchmen’s power play — ranked No. 1 in the nation (29.48 percent) — to remain a threat. Carr and Simpson combined for 21 power play goals this season.

YALE

The Good: The Bulldogs were voted the No. 1 team in the country in both polls for the first time in school history. They won the ECAC tournament — another first, and they returned to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. The Bulldogs finished first in the country in team offense (4.19 goals per game) and team defense (2.06).

The Bad: Second-leading scorer Brian O’Neill was sent off the ice with a game misconduct for a check to the head in the East Regional final of the NCAA tournament against Minnesota-Duluth. Yale allowed two goals as they tried to kill the penalty and eventually lost for the second consecutive year in the regional final, 5-3.

The Future: Yale graduates five seniors who began pro careers soon after the season ended, but the Bulldogs return two first-team All-ECAC forwards in O’Neill and Andrew Miller, which should help the Bulldogs survive the offensive production leaving with seniors Broc Little (Rindge, N.H.), Chris Cahill (North Andover, Mass.) and Denny Kearney (Hanover, N.H.).

Phil Perry can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com