Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ivy Hockey

You may have noticed that the Ivy League recently announced its year-end awards for the 2008-09 men’s hockey season. You also may have noticed that Yale won the 2009 Ivy League championship in men’s hockey with a 9-1 record. Then again, you may not have.

Ivy League hockey has long been one of the things that TigerBlog just hasn’t completely gotten its hands around. Sure, there’s a lot of tradition. An Ivy League champion has been awarded to the top men’s team since 1934 and the top women’s team since 1976. But these days, what does winning an Ivy League championship mean?

The answer is not much, other than bragging rights, a trophy and a banner. While it is nice add the Ivy League Championship feather to any seasons cap, it is hard to given credence to a championship that is awarded based on a subset of games that occur within another league’s season. All six Ivy League teams that compete in hockey are also members of the ECAC, a 12-team conference that also includes Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence and Union.

The last couple of years, it has worked out. This year, Yale was the ECAC Champion and the Ivy League Champion. Last year, Princeton was second in the ECAC and the Ivy League champion. But look at the 2006-07 season. Yale went 6-3-1 in Ivy games to win the Ivy championship, but was 8-13-1 in the ECAC and finished 10th. Conversely Princeton was fifth in the Ivy League with a 3-5-2 record, but sixth in the ECAC at 10-10-2. Also, lets' look at Princeton this year and last. Both year's the Tigers were 14-8 in the ECAC, but last year Princeton was 9-1 in the Ivy League, this year the Tigers were 5-5.

A league championship is something that you fight for throughout the league season. Ask any player and they know exactly where they sit in the ECAC standings as the playoffs approach. They know how many points they need to clinch a first-round bye and they know what they need to clinch home ice. Do they know what they need to do in the Ivy race, other than just win? That’s a good question. All TigerBlog knows is that while it pours over the ECAC standings almost daily, it hasn’t checked the Ivy League standings once this year, except to write this entry.

The same goes for the Ivy League individual awards. TigerBlog knows where to find them, but finding the Ivy only stats of which the Ivy year-end awards are based on isn’t exactly easy. If you go to the Ivy League website to find, them it links you to the stats maintained by the ECAC.

Over the years, TigerBlog has seen some interesting things in the final weekend of the season. One year TigerBlog witnessed Union pull its goalie in overtime of a tie game in the final game of the season. The reason, a win would put them in the final home ice playoff spot, while a tie would not.

Now here’s the problem. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to clinch a bye in the ECAC playoffs assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to get the final home ice playoff spot for the first round assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to win the Ivy League title assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. But would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to win the Ivy League title assuming the loss could hurt his team’s ECAC playoff positioning? No.

How a team does in the ECAC season determines how the teams are seeded for the playoffs and the ECAC tournament is what determines the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. While its true at this point that three Ivy League teams are in position for at-large bids if the season ended today, simply winning the Ivy League doesn’t translate into the postseason, while winning the ECAC does.

All that said, congrats to Yale on its 2009 Ivy League championship. Congrats to Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba on being named the Ivy League Player of the Year, and congrats to Jody Pederson and Brett Wilson for receiving all-league honors.

Also the ECAC playoffs are going on this weekend with three of the series already over. #12 Brown swept #5 Harvard with wins of 1-0 and 2-0, #11 RPI swept #6 Dartmouth with a 3-2 overtime win and a 3-1 win in regulation, and #8 Union swept #9 Clarkson with wins of 5-3 and 7-2.

#7 Quinnipiac and #10 Colgate are knotted up a 1-1 with a third game scheduled for Sunday night. If Quinnipiac wins, Princeton will host Union in next weekend's ECAC quarterfinal series at Hobey Baker Rink. Should Colgate win, the Tigers would host the Raiders.

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