We have reached the midway point of men’s ECAC Hockey season, so it’s time to start thinking about positioning for the ECACH tournament.
The top four teams seem to be set. Quinnipiac leads the conference with 30 points with 11 ECACH games left. Clarkson is in second place with 27 points, and it has 10 conference games remaining. Cornell is in third place with 23 points and 11 ECACH games left, and Harvard occupies fourth place with 23 points and 10 conference games to play.
Barring a major collapse, those four teams will earn first-round byes and host the best-of-three quarterfinals starting March 11. It’s only a matter of where the teams will finish in the top four.
The intriguing battle is for home ice in the first round of the tournament. That best-of-three series begins March 4.
Union is in the mix for home ice. The Dutchmen are in a three-way tie for fifth with St. Lawrence and RPI. All three teams have 15 points. Union has played 13 games, one less than both St. Lawrence and RPI.
The Dutchmen helped their postseason positioning with a four-point weekend. They earned three points with a 3-1 win over Brown on Friday, and got a point for their 3-2 overtime loss to Yale on Saturday.
The race for the four first-round home-ice spots is tight. Brown, thanks to getting three points after beating RPI 3-2 on Saturday, is in eighth place, the final home ice spot, with 13 points. Close behind are Colgate and Yale, tied for ninth with 12 points, and 10th-place Princeton, which upset eighth-ranked Cornell 5-4 on Friday, with 11 points. Brown and Colgate have 11 games left, and Yale has 10 remaining. Princeton has the most games left among the 12 ECACH teams with 13.
“Every point is important,” Union defenseman Brandon Estes said. “Clearly, you can’t move up the standings without any points, or keep your place [in the standings]. Every point matters, obviously. That’s what we need.”
The Dutchmen are excited to be in the hunt for home ice in the first round. They know it’s important to accumulate as many points as they can, especially when there are three points available each game. The three-point system, which was instituted last year, awards the winning team in regulation three points, two points for the overtime/shootout winner, one point for the OT/shootout loser and no points for the regulation loser.
“It’s huge, especially with the point structure in the ECAC this year,” said Union assistant coach John Ronan, who is running the team while head coach Rick Bennett is on paid administrative leave while the college investigates a complaint that was filed against him on Wednesday. “Those three points are valuable. We discussed that [Saturday]. … We wanted a six-point weekend after the win [Friday] night.”
Union goalie Connor Murphy stopped the first shot of overtime — with his mask.
Justin Pearson took a wrist shot from the right circle 16 seconds into OT. It hit the Hudson Falls native on the top of his mask. The force of the shot unbuckled one of the straps, and that should have brought an immediate whistle to stop play. However, play continued for a few more seconds before Yale was called for offsides
“That hurt a little bit,” Murphy said. “That was a hard shot. It popped the clips off. I was trying to get a whistle from the ref. He didn’t get it in time. Luckily, there was an offsides call. I was able to get a whistle on that one.”
Saturday’s game marked the 14th time a Union-Yale game has needed overtime, and it was the second in a row.
In the last meeting between the two teams, Yale took a 2-1 double-overtime victory in the deciding game of the ECACH tournament best-of-three first-round series on March 8, 2020, at Ingalls Rink in New Haven, Connecticut. That would be the final game for both teams because they sat out last season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The most memorable overtime game between the teams was in Game 2 of the ECACH tournament first round on March 4, 2006, at Messa Rink. David Meckler scored a shorthanded goal 1:35 into the fifth OT to give Yale a series-clinching 3-2 victory.
The oddest overtime game took place March 1, 1997, at Ingalls. Already assured of the 10th and final playoff spot (only 10 teams made the postseason at that time), Yale coach Tim Taylor was looking to improve the team’s playoff positioning. With the score tied 5-5, Taylor pulled goalie Dan Choquette for an extra attacker in the final minute of OT. But the move backfired when Chris Ford scored with 36 seconds left to give Union a 6-5 win.
Union is 3-5-6 in OT against Yale.
Union has received a commitment for next season from Colby MacArthur from the Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior Hockey League.
The 20-year-old MacArthur is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound center. He has 13 goals and 31 assists in 26 games this season. His 44 points are second most in the league, five behind teammate Josh MacDonald. MacArthur has seven power-play goals, second-most in the MJHL. MacArthur had a season-high five-point game (two goals, three assists) in a 7-6 overtime victory over the Miramichi Timberwolves on Nov. 5. He scored his second goal of the game, a power-play tally, with 2:09 left in regulation to tie the score 6-6 and send the game into overtime.
MacArthur is in his fourth season with the Capitals. He has 34 goals and 76 assists in 107 career games.