ECAC Tournament Preview
The college hockey regular season is done, which means the schools must now look forward into tournament play. For #2 Cornell, who has clinched its firsts Cleary Cup since 2005, the expectations are sky-high, as the team that has looked like the class of the ECAC all season long entered the postseason as clear favorites. After a first-round bye, Lynah Rink will be home to quarterfinals action from May 9-11 as Cornell will get its real season started.
For the teams ranked 5th though 12th in the ECAC this year, however, the postseason starts this coming weekend with first-round matches to determine who will continue on to those quarterfinals. Using the power of advanced stats, I will predict who is most likely to be winners this weekend, and what we could expect moving forward in the ECAC tournament.
I will look at each series individually, but to start, here’s a quick reminder as to what the major advanced stats I will be looking at are and what they measure:
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”
All of these stats come from the website collegehockeynews.com
#12 St. Lawrence at #5 Dartmouth
St. Lawrence: 5v5 Corsi = 43.6%; PDO = 98.9
Dartmouth: 5v5 Corsi = 48.7%; PDO = 98.5
As one would expect, this is not a terribly difficult series to predict. St. Lawrence has one of the worst Corsi values in the country, as that 43.6% indicates that they spend the majority of the time in its own defensive zone. Dartmouth’s Corsi, while nothing special either, is significantly better than St. Lawrence’s, and they should be expected to comfortable dominate. Both teams have been getting somewhat unlucky over the course of the year, mostly due to shoddy goaltending, but because of that I am quite comfortable in picking Dartmouth to move on to the quarterfinals.
#11 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at #6 Colgate
RPI: 5v5 Corsi = 44.9%; PDO = 96.1
Colgate 5v5 Corsi = 45.2%; PDO = 101.3
RPI’s shock upset of Cornell earlier this season remains one of the most perplexing outcomes in recent memory. As evidence by its advanced stats, the team is simply not a good one, and has been showing quite poor goaltending/unlucky results over the course of the year. However, if that outcome taught us anything, it is that this team is capable of stealing a game, and RPI would be hard-pressed to find a better matchup in this regard than Colgate. Colgate has been riding insane goaltending to a high PDO/luck value all year, meaning it is drastically over-performing its level of play. If the RPI goaltender happens to go on a hot streak, or the Colgate goaltender goes cold, RPI has a great chance to squeak through into the quarterfinals. Overall, however, in a three-game series I have to give the advantage to the home team, meaning Colgate will move on.
#10 Brown at #7 Princeton
Brown: 5v5 Corsi = 50.9%; PDO = 97.7
Princeton: 5v5 Corsi = 51.5%; PDO =100
Brown is a very interesting team; it played Cornell very tough over the course of the year, and its Corsi indicates the team is better than the record may show. In fact, much of the struggles this year could probably be attributed to its NCAA-wide second-worse shooting percentage. Princeton should be very wary of this matchup, because Brown could be due for an uptick in scoring. Overall, however, Princeton is still a better team, producing at a strong 51.5% Corsi, and its PDO indicates it is is performing exactly as it should be. Brown might steal a game, but I would expect Princeton to be moving on after this weekend.
#9 Quinnipiac at #8 Yale
Quinnipiac: 5v5 Corsi = 56.5%; PDO = 97.8
Yale: 5v5 Corsi = 55.8%; PDO = 99.1
This is gonna be awesome, easily the series of the weekend. As should be expected based on respective rankings, these are two very evenly-matched teams, but what might be overlooked is just how good these two really are. In general, a Corsi above 53% indicates an extremely strong team, a title-contender perhaps. Both of the squads in this series have Corsis over 55% and are in the top five in the country in that regard! That is absolutely insane for a first-round ECAC tournament match. Add to this this fact that neither team has been all that lucky this season, and this could be some of the best hockey we see all year with a potential to be a series for the ages. I genuinely have no idea who to choose — it is that much of a coin flip. Gun to my head, I would have to go with the home team, Yale, but it could easily go to Quinnipiac. Either way, however, Cornell should be praying for an upset elsewhere, as a series against either team would be absolutely brutal.
Overall, however, it seems as if the luck that has accompanied Cornell on ice (PDO = 104.6!) may not have followed them off of it, as barring a major upset the team seems destined to have the toughest quarterfinals matchup this year. Bear in mind that Cornell was just an above-average team in terms of Corsi this year (51.5%) and that its success can pretty much be chalked up to very high shooting and save percentages. Now, I don’t think its PDO here shows the whole story, as Cornell takes a lot of high-quality shots from around the crease area, but it needs Matthew Galajda to continue his strong play, as an off-weekend for him could mean lights-out for the team. As a Cornell fan, the main series to keep an eye on would be the RPI-Colgate game, which has high upset potential, and Quinnipiac-Yale, which should have some very high quality hockey, in addition to yielding Cornell’s most-likely challenger.
If my predictions are correct, the quarterfinals would see #8 Yale at #1 Cornell, #7 Princeton at #2 Union, #6 Colgate at #3 Clarkson, and #5 Dartmouth at #4 Harvard. I will leave you with quick predictions for the rest of the tournament, which I will revisit before the semifinals and finals begin in two weeks.
#8 Yale at #1 Cornell: Cornell in 3
#7 Princeton at #2 Union (5v5 Corsi = 50.3%; PDO = 101.1): Princeton in 3
#6 Colgate at #3 Clarkson (5v5 Corsi = 51.4%; PDO = 103.2): Clarkson in 2
#5 Dartmouth at #4 Harvard (5v5 Corsi = 53.9%; PDO = 100): Harvard in 2
Semifinals/Finals (3/16/18 – 1/17/18)
#7 Princeton vs #1 Cornell: Cornell
#4 Harvard vs. #3 Clarkson: Harvard
#4 Harvard vs. #1 Cornell: Cornell (like I’d say anything else…)
So, there you have it. It should be quite the interesting tournament, as the ECAC has many strong teams who may have underperformed over the regular season, meaning this could be a tough few weeks for Cornell and the other top seeds. Overall, I would predict Cornell going over Harvard in the finals in lake Placid, but would recommend keeping a close eye on Princeton, Quinnipiac, Yale and the other top seeds (Clarkson and Union), all of whom are capable of winning this tournament.
Enjoy the action and stay tuned for updates as the tournament progresses, hopefully with Cornell right in the thick of it.