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ECAC Tournament: Lake Placid Preview

After a fun and entertaining first two rounds, the ECAC tournament is nearing its climax, which will take place next weekend at the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. This past weekend saw some high quality hockey, especially at Lynah Rink, where Cornell swept Quinnipiac (throwing in a 9-1 destruction to boot) en route to the tournament rounds. Elsewhere, Princeton swept Union on the road, and Clarkson and Harvard won respective three-game series at home.

I’ll start by wrapping up the predictions I made two weeks ago, before the first round had started. As you can see, these were more accurate than even I would have imagined; I went seven for eight in predictions, the only misstep being the Yale-Quinnipiac series, which I said was pretty much a toss-up in my mind. I even aced the final four teams, which included Princeton’s upset of Union. Overall, I would say this was a pretty good start for the advanced statistics.

Now, why did Cornell win the series? The team obviously scored a lot more goals than Quinnipiac, but does that tell the whole story? If you read back on the advanced stats I analyze, I mentioned how Quinnipiac tends to dominate play, but suffers from poor goaltending. This was certainly the story of Game Two, with Quinnipiac absolutely destroying Cornell in terms of shooting and shot attempts, but goaltending miscues at the wrong times led to the loss. In Game One, however, which saw Cornell winning 9-1, not only did Quinnipiac get poor goaltending, Cornell also dominated play, completely out-shooting, out-possessing, out-everything-ing Quinnipiac. The score was probably not entirely reflective of the teams’ relative levels of play, but the takeaway was clear: if Cornell can play as well as it did in Game One on a consistent basis, it can beat any team in the country.

With the wrap-up out of the way, we can now turn to next weekend’s ECAC action. The ante is certainly upped from here on out, as every game from now on is a single-elimination situation, meaning one bad game from Galajda can spell disaster for the Big Red. This means that advanced stats are less effective than usual, since there is a very small sample size for them to be applied to, but we can still make some predictions based on how the teams have played so far and how we could reasonably expect them to perform next weekend. Again, here is a quick review of the advanced stats I look at:

          Corsi: the percentage of total shot attempts in a game taken by one team, considered to be the best predictor of future offensive output

          PDO: the sum of a team’s shooting percentage and save percentage, considered to be the best quantitative measurement of “luck”

#7 Princeton vs. #1 Cornell

Princeton: 5v5 Corsi = 51.2%; PDO – 101.3

Cornell: 5v5 Corsi = 50.7%; PDO = 105.5 (!!!)

That PDO for Cornell just jumps right out, and may be a cause for concern for the Big Red. Cornell is carrying frankly unsustainable shooting and save percentages right now, and an off-game for Galajda or running into a hot goaltender would be a disaster for a team that tends to play close games instead of dominating. That being said, while Princeton has been on a good run so far, my view was always that it is a better team than Union, so its run has not been a surprise to me. Overall, Cornell and Princeton have very comparable levels of play, meaning this will come down to who has better goaltending. After what happened all year, there is no reason to bet against Galajda, so I will choose Cornell, but caution that Galajda must remain hot for Cornell to win this.

#4 Harvard vs. #3 Clarkson

Harvard: 5v5 Corsi = 54.3%; PDO = 100.2

Clarkson: 5v5 Corsi = 52.3%; PDO = 103.3

Both of these teams are coming off scares where each lost the first games Friday night before coming back to get two dominant home victories. There are also two very good teams, both of whom gave Cornell fits this year. In fact, Clarkson is the only team in the country Cornell is yet to have a win against, and another meeting between the two would be extremely nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, that is there I see this going. If you read my previous article, you would see that originally I had Harvard wining to move on, based primarily on its extremely good Corsi. But, the more I think about it, the more I lean towards Clarkson. This will be a very close series, as Harvard as the clear advantage in offensive output while Clarkson is one of the most underrated defensive teams in the country. In fact, its starting goaltender, Jake Kielly, has had an absolutely great year, and is a Top 10 goaltender. In that vein, Clarkson is a lot like Cornell, just with a slightly better offense and facing up against a better team. Overall, though, as long as Kielly plays like he has so far, Clarkson should move on.

This brings us to the finals, and while I have predicted Cornell-Clarkson above, I will cover my bases and analyze the two potential final matches for Cornell. Obviously, should Cornell lose on Friday, the rest of this article is moot.

#4 Harvard vs. #1 Cornell

Cornell has won both games against its arch-rival this year, including an emotional 3-2 win at home last November. Given the stakes of this potential final, I would not expect this match to be any different. I could see this going a lot like the Quinnipiac series, with one major exception: Harvard has significantly better goaltending. If Cornell performs like it did in Game Two, Harvard would have the clear advantage and would likely become the victor. If Cornell puts in a Game One-esque performance, however, it will win, and while if will be close, it will be convincing nonetheless. Overall, I would have to go with Cornell in this one, with the usual caveats (goaltending lapses, etc.) in mind.

#3 Clarkson vs. #1 Cornell

Take everything I said about the potential Harvard matchup and up it; that is what we could get with this matchup. Clarkson is Cornell’s worst nightmare: a team with a better offense and comparable defense. There is no surprise Clarkson went 1-0-1 against Cornell this year, the only team Cornell has not beaten during the regular season. I hate to say it, but I find it highly unlikely Cornell could win this scenario. Again, it comes down to the effort it puts in on offense; if it performs like it did in Game One against Quinnipiac, it would have a chance, but it certainly would not be a 9-1 shellacking. Anything less than that, however, and I would unfortunately have to choose Clarkson to win the 2018 ECAC tournament.

We will see how this weekend’s games turn out, and with the NCAA tournament right around the corner, the ECAC tournament would be a fantastic prize en route to the biggest stage of them all. Let’s hope that Cornell can perform like we know it can to capture its first Whitelaw Cup since 2010.

I will be back with analysis and a preview of the NCAA tournament once that bracket is released. Until then, enjoy the hockey, folks.

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