Around the ECAC: Men's Hockey Enters League Tournament as Clear Favorite

Thirty Seconds to Meaghers

Top Seed
Co-captain Alexander Kerfoot and the Crimson enter this month’s ECAC tournament as the top overall seed. With a first-round bye in hand, Harvard begins postseason play next week.

People love to bet on sports, particularly in March.

In fact, just one year ago, the American Gaming Association—the face of the U.S. casino industry—forecasted that more than $9 billion worth of bets would be placed on the 2016 edition of March Madness alone.

Now, there’s a number of collegiate athletic tournaments held in March which loosely label themselves as part of this yearly madness. But the AGA of course was referring to the spring cash cow for the NCAA, casinos, and undercover bookies alike—college’s men’s basketball tournament.

Degenerates, don’t be discouraged. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you have plenty more outlets to let your money ride on college athletics. And as The Crimson’s resident expert on all things men’s hockey, I’m writing this for you, hockey handicappers.

Before going any further, I’ll enter my disclaimer here. Please don’t let a student journalist convince you to “let your money ride” on college hockey games simply because he has a passion for following spreads. Said journalist by no means condones any form of illegal gambling. And for what it’s worth, said journalist does not even possess the funds to practice what he pretends to preach.

Anyway, once the NCAA men’s hockey tournament rolls around, several sportsbooks will release championship odds for each of the field’s 16 participants. For instance, after cracking the Big Dance as a three-seed last season, the Harvard men’s hockey team had 12/1 odds of winning it all according to Bovada, the king of all online books.

But with conference tournament season upon us, the people deserve more. So without further ado, I now present to you a handful of (fictional) odds explaining who is most likely to take home the Whitelaw Cup as king of the ECAC.

1) HARVARD - 2/1

Harvard Hockey
The Crimson enters the ECAC tournament unbeaten in its last 12 games.

I cover the Crimson icemen fairly and objectively, not as a Harvard homer. But no matter how you peer through the looking glass, it’s hard to come up with a determination that the Crimson (22-5-2, 16-4-2), now ranked second in the country, is anything but the clear favorite.

Since undergoing a temporary nose-dive in the PairWise over winter break, Harvard has won 10 straight contests and has yet to lose a game in more than six weeks. Goaltender Merrick Madsen is rolling, the bottom two forward lines are becoming regular contributors, and Lines 1A and 1B, as coach Ted Donato ’91 likes to call them, haven’t missed a beat.

As one of four teams with a first-round bye, the Crimson will need four wins—two at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center next weekend and two more in Lake Placid—to capture its second Whitelaw Cup in three seasons. And while there are a handful of teams that can give Harvard a run for its money, the Crimson won’t match up with any of them as the underdog.

2) UNION - 6/1

Two for Foo
In 34 games this season, Union forward Spencer Foo has logged 56 points—three off the leading mark in the country. His linemate, Mike Vecchione, has 58.

After practically leading the league from start to finish, the Dutchmen (23-8-3, 16-4-2) were 5:01 away from wrapping up the top seed for the fourth time in seven seasons Saturday night inside Lynah Rink. But one Mitch Vanderlaan equalizer later, Cornell pulled out a tie, and Union’s road to a championship is now only that much harder.

As the two-seed, the Dutchmen—ranked sixth in the nation—may have to go through both the Big Red and the Crimson should they get to Lake Placid, rather than letting the two old rivals duke it out for themselves in the semis and awaiting the winner in the championship.

That said, the Dutchmen carry a top line capable of winning a title almost on its own. Union’s scoring offense ranks fifth in the country, largely thanks to Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo, who sit just one and three points off the pace of the nation’s leading scorer, respectively.

3) CORNELL - 8/1

Defense Turns To Offense
Cornell dropped each of its two meetings with the Crimson this year, including this one at Lynah Rink in January.

If Cornell and Harvard were to meet in the championship game, think there’d be fish? In a few week’s time, there’s a reasonable chance we find out. But the Big Red (18-6-5, 13-4-5) can’t be thinking that far ahead. Ranked 10th in the PairWise, Cornell should be a lock for the NCAA tournament as long as it takes care of business at home next weekend in the quarterfinals.

A perfect February (6-0-3) put the Big Red in this position. It’s also worth noting that two of those games came against Union, whom Cornell will likely need to beat again in order to reach the championship game.

4) ST. LAWRENCE - 20/1

Fight Night
Sophomore forward Michael Floodstrand jaws with St. Lawrence's Joe Sullivan during Harvard's 6-3 win over the Saints on Saturday.

Once the ECAC’s defensive stalwart, St. Lawrence (16-11-7, 12-6-4) at one time looked like the real deal. These days, not so much. The Saints went 1-4-1 during the month of February, just barely edging out Quinnipiac for the final first-round bye. However, once the Bobcats—who I’d give 16/1 odds to win the tournament—dispose of Brown this weekend, the Saints could be in trouble inside their own building.

THE REST

Beginning next Friday, the four teams above will host best-of-three sets against the four teams who survive the tournament’s opening weekend. Speaking of which, it’s time for some picks—featuring game odds (not series odds) concocted by a real sportsbook.

12) BROWN at 5) QUINNIPIAC

This Quinnipiac team is a far cry from either of the school’s star-studded squads from the last two seasons. But even so, the Bobcats (-1095) could turn this into a bloodbath.

Brown (+565) is effectively the worst team in college hockey, second only to the Purple Eagles of Niagara University, who have no business being any good. The Bears haven’t won in over a month and they’re on their way to their worst season in almost 30 years.

But fear not, Brown fans, because Bears’ forward Charlie Corcoran recently told The Brown Daily Herald that one of Bruno’s last two losses “definitely” served as a “wake-up call.” So you better forget about those 23 defeats. Anything can happen come playoff time. Well, almost anything.

Pick: Quinnipiac in two

11) RPI at 6) CLARKSON

Ever the optimist, RPI coach Seth Appert has proven to be an absurdly positive thinker. So much so that after an 8-2 loss to Harvard last March—one that knocked the Engineers from the postseason—Appert put reporters on their heels.

“I thought we were really good,” he said. “Really good, as crazy as that sounds. I think we probably carried the play and we probably had the better scoring chances.”

Then after RPI dropped to 3-17-1 following a 5-1 loss at Harvard earlier this season, Appert was at it again. The coach rattled off three surefire keys to make the Engineers contenders—ones that have been uttered by just about every coach ever: staying positive, staying together, and staying focused.

“We believe that if we do those things, we’re going to give ourselves a great chance to win in March and earn a trip to Lake Placid,” Appert said.

Shockingly enough, I do think RPI (+365) steals a game against Clarkson (-555). Thankfully, that means we’ll get one extra set of quotes from the Appert of our eye. But no more than that.

Pick: Clarkson in three

10) COLGATE at 7) PRINCETON

Chasing its first winning season in six years, Princeton has played some quality hockey on its way to the finish line. If it weren’t for a pair of tight road losses to RPI and Union over one weekend, the Tigers would have an unblemished record over their final 10 games.

Meanwhile, when Colgate’s not playing in its shiny new rink—home to the loudest, and presumably the only, train horn in all of college hockey—the Raiders are a meager 2-11-3.

Nonetheless, Princeton (-385) hasn’t beaten Colgate (+265) in any of its last eight tries. On the road, the Raiders might just extend that streak to nine, but their run dies before hitting double digits.

Pick: Princeton in three

9) DARTMOUTH at 8) YALE

A year ago, Dartmouth stunned second-seeded Yale in consecutive games at Ingalls Rink to reach Lake Placid. This season, the two sides meet in the same venue one round earlier, much to the dismay of Eli supporters.

Barring an impressive tournament run, the Bulldogs look to be on their way to their first sub-500 season in 10 years. Yet in two games against Dartmouth (+170), Yale (-230) won by a combined margin of 11-0. This time, expect the margin to shrink, and from the perspective of a Harvard fan, the results to stink.

Pick: Yale in two

—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at jake.meagher@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.

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