The Harvard men’s hockey team won its biggest game of the season against ninth-place Union on Saturday night.
Sure, the Crimson has beaten tougher opponents throughout the course of the season, but no other game had as big of an impact on Harvard’s standing in the ECAC.
Here’s why. With the Crimson’s 4-0 victory, Harvard amazingly found itself back in a second-place tie with Clarkson and Dartmouth. The Crimson is now in good position to secure home-ice advantage for the first round of the ECAC playoffs with a strong showing next weekend at Princeton and Yale.
Not bad for a team that has gone only 2-6-1 in its nine games since exams.
On the flip side, a loss to Union would have left the Crimson in a sixth-place tie with Rensselaer. That would’ve put Harvard out of a home-ice position and put pressure on the Crimson to sweep next weekend’s games.
Even with Saturday’s win, Harvard can still finish anywhere from second to seventh in the league. So it goes in the parity-laden ECAC, where pretty much anything can happen.
In an attempt to make sense of this, here’s a look at the playoff scenarios for each team in the league.
1. Cornell (19-6-2, 15-3-2 ECAC)
The Big Red has already clinched the ECAC regular season title, but certainly has something to play for next weekend at Rensselaer and Union. Cornell is currently in eleventh place in the national PairWise Rankings, which usually determine at-large selections to the twelve-team NCAA tournament.
But because all teams from the MAAC and CHA—whose tournament champions will receive automatic bids—are below the Big Red in the rankings, Cornell is, in theory, one place out of an at-large bid. To advance to NCAAs, then, Cornell must either win the ECAC tournament and claim the automatic bid that goes along with it, or else bump its PairWise rankings up high enough to merit an at-large bid. Certainly, the ECAC as a whole would prefer the latter because it’s the only way the conference will get two teams into the NCAAs.
2. CLARKSON (13-13-6, 9-6-5)
DARTMOUTH (12-10-5, 9-6-5)
HARVARD (11-12-4, 10-7-3) (tie)
Don’t be fooled by their second-place position—these teams are much closer to seventh-place Rensselaer than Cornell. But each member of this trio has the luxury of controlling its own destiny—sweep next weekend and you’re home for the first round of the playoffs.
That might be a tall order for the Crimson, though, who has swept a Princeton-Yale weekend on the road only once since the 1993-94 season. Harvard owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with Dartmouth, but Clarkson has had the Crimson’s number this season, taking three of four possible points. The Big Green and Golden Knights tied in their only matchup so far this season, so Dartmouth’s visit to Clarkson next Saturday night looms large.
5. BROWN (14-11-2, 10-8-2)
COLGATE (13-15-2, 10-8-2) (tie)
What a difference a year makes. Both of these teams missed the playoffs last season, but have already clinched tournament berths this year and both have a good chance of earning home ice in the first round.
Brown might be the hottest team in the league right now. The Bears have won six straight games—including back-to-back shutout victories at St. Lawrence and Clarkson—and have surrendered more than two goals only once since Jan. 12.
The main reason for Brown’s recent success has been sophomore goaltender Yann Danis, who leads the ECAC with a microscopic 1.33 goals-against average and is a bona fide candidate for Player of the Year. Defense and goaltending often prevail in the playoffs, which certainly bodes well for Brown.
7. RENSSELAER (15-11-4, 9-8-3)
The Engineers round out the tier of teams competing for home ice advantage. RPI certainly has firepower with the league’s top two scorers in Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie. Rensselaer has really been coming on as of late with a 6-1-1 record over its past eight games. It might be tough for the Engineers to move up much in the standings, though, with visits from Cornell and Colgate on the docket for next weekend.
8. PRINCETON (9-16-2, 8-10-2)
9. UNION (12-12-6, 7-10-3)
The Tigers might be peaking at the right time, as they have lost only once in their past five games. The Skating Dutchmen, though, are going in the opposite direction. After going an impressive 5-2-2 during January, Union finished 2-5-1 this month. However, both teams still control their own playoff fate.
10. ST. LAWRENCE (9-19-2, 7-11-29)
11. YALE (8-17-2, 7-11-2)
St. Lawrence—the two-time defending ECAC tournament champion—is in a real dogfight for its playoff livelihood. The Saints won only twice during the month of February and have scored just eight goals over their past six games. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs played themselves back into the playoff race with a sweep of Vermont and Dartmouth last weekend after losing six straight.
12. VERMONT (3-24-2, 3-16-1)
There is no joy in Burlington. The Cats will miss the playoffs for only the third time during Mike Gilligan’s 18-year tenure.
So there you have it. There is only one regular season weekend left in the wild and wacky ECAC. And as is always the case with this league, the standings are subject to change.