Sports

Men’s hockey faces off versus struggling squads

Bruno’s weekend road trip will be last set of regular season games away from Meehan Auditorium

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 21, 2014

As the season winds to a close, the men’s hockey team is on the road at Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend, hoping to keep building momentum before the ECAC tournament in two weeks.

The Bears enter the weekend riding high after Saturday’s win over then-No. 4 Quinnipiac. But facing two of the bottom four teams in the conference may be more challenging than it sounds, especially since Bruno lost at home last weekend to last-place Princeton.

The Big Green are also on a roll, going 2-0-0 last weekend with road wins over St. Lawrence and fifth-place Clarkson. The Crimson was undefeated on their road weekend as well, tying the Saints and defeating the Golden Knights to move up to ninth place in the conference, one spot behind the Bears.

Bruno is now three points behind Rensselaer for seventh, so catching the Engineers looks unlikely. The best outcome from this weekend would be to widen the one-point lead the Bears hold over Harvard and St. Lawrence for eighth place — and home ice in the first round of the tournament.

 

Friday: Brown (10-12-3, 7-10-1 ECAC) at Dartmouth (6-16-3, 5-12-1)

The Big Green has been a conference doormat all season, trading last place with Princeton as it endured multiple five-plus game winless streaks. But Dartmouth looked like an entirely new team last weekend, traveling to New York and shellacking St. Lawrence 3-1 and Clarkson 6-1 in their own houses. It remains to be seen which Dartmouth team will show up Friday: the one that took the ice last weekend, or the one the Bears have already beaten twice this season.

After ranking 11th in the ECAC in goals per game headed into last weekend, Dartmouth has jumped all the way to eighth at 2.64, only 0.08 behind Brown. But the Big Green’s strong defensive weekend was not enough to dig them out of 11th place in goals against average, which now hangs at 3.51.

Dartmouth’s reasonably potent offense is led by junior forward Eric Neiley, who came alive this weekend, scoring two goals and adding three assists to boost his team-leading point total to 20. Sophomore goalie Charles Grant has played poorly overall, posting a .896 save percentage, but was a brick wall this weekend, stopping 63 of 65 shots for a .969 weekend save percentage.

Opponents outshot the Big Green in both its games last weekend, and as impressive as their wins were, there is no reason to believe this team has changed since it lost to Brown in October and December. Though the Bears squeaked by in overtime at Meehan, they should have a great shot to win in Hanover.

 

Saturday: Brown at Harvard (9-12-4, 5-9-4)

The Crimson has also been a bottom-feeder this season, keeping Dartmouth and Princeton company at the wrong end of the standings. And just like Dartmouth, Harvard posted two good road showings last weekend, though  in much less convincing fashion. The Crimson tied St. Lawrence 2-2 and beat Clarkson 1-0 in overtime for a total goal differential of plus-one, which pales in comparison to Dartmouth’s plus-seven. Harvard was also badly outshot in both games, returning home with a total shot deficit of 72-39. Teams rarely win games with such differentials, meaning Harvard’s good results are likely unsustainable.

Harvard’s offense is among the weakest in the conference, placing 11th in the ECAC with 2.48 goals per game. The Crimson’s lack of firepower is surprising, given that a remarkable six of Harvard’s forwards have been drafted by NHL teams, though two of those players have played a combined single game this season. Among these stars, sophomore Jimmy Vesey is the team’s leader with 22 points. Vesey was a third-round draft pick of the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.

The Crimson’s greatest strength comes on defense, which is also filled with pro prospects. Junior goalie and Minnesota Wild 2011 draft pick Steven Michalek leads the ECAC with a .927 save percentage, and sophomore Raphael Girard ­— with whom Michalek splits playing time — is not far behind at .923 for the season. Harvard’s lineup also features two drafted defensemen, helping explain why the team ranks sixth in the conference in goals against average at 2.52.

Harvard may be one of the most talented teams in the conference, but injuries and poor execution have sabotaged its hopes for this season. Taking on a talented team is difficult no matter what, and the Crimson is far from harmless, though it could not stand up to the Bears when they met in December. Bruno held a 32-18 advantage in shots on goal and put two past Girard to grab a 2-1 victory. The Bears should find a similar result in Cambridge if they hope to hold on to their spot in the standings.

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