UPDATED: March 22, 2016 at 2:30 a.m.
No one likes a post hoc prediction.
But considering post hoc is just short for postseason hockey, I’m going to make one anyway.
To get you up to speed, the No. 1/1 Quinnipiac men’s hockey team dethroned Harvard as champion of the ECAC on Saturday, knocking off the No. 10/9 Crimson by a 4-1 margin at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Yes, “the” Herb Brooks Arena. Right under the roof where Johnson and Eruzione became household names one fateful night in February of 1980. And where names like Vesey and Blackwell capped an improbable championship run of their own 35 years later.
Last season, after overcoming a midseason crisis of massive proportions, sixth-seeded Harvard knocked off Quinnipiac, then Colgate, at the world-famous rink to secure the 2015 ECAC championship—the ninth in program history.
This year, however, the Crimson was stopped in its tracks by an opponent that arrived in New York’s hockey paradise just as hot as Harvard was a season ago. The only difference between the two championship-winning squads? The Crimson had to rally for trophy season. The Bobcats started hot, they continued hot, and they finished hot.
Quinnipiac is the best team in the ECAC. Plain and simple. Sure, the Crimson has the talent to beat the Bobcats on any given night, but Harvard’s resume pales in comparison to that of the boys from Hamden, Conn. Offense, defense, power play, penalty kill—you name it; each respective Quinnipiac unit ranks among the top six in the nation.
The Bobcats deserved to lift that Whitelaw Cup. And that’s why I picked them.
Now hold your fire. Forget for just a second how detestable a mode of journalism it is to publicize your picks retroactively, then proceed to write about being correct. After all, I’m no clairvoyant. If I was, Denzel Valentine and the Michigan State Spartans would be cutting down the nets in just a few weeks’ time.
The point is, I’m not writing this column to boast about being right, even if that’s an area where you might expect your stereotypical Harvard student journalist to specialize. After all, picking a team with a 29-3-7 record to win a game is a far cry from a hot take. If you ask me, it’s not even lukewarm.
But regardless of where the mercury stops on your theoretical thermometer, it’s a take nonetheless—one that wound up being right for all the wrong reasons.
Here’s where I went wrong: I thought the Quinnipiac offense was ready to explode on Saturday. In fact, I was fully convinced.
Everyone and their mother have seemed to scrutinize the Bobcats at one point or another for their lack of success in the ECAC postseason over the years. Despite sustained regular season success, Quinnipiac entered this year with just one appearance in the conference championship game since joining the league in 2005.
As the top seed in the conference, the Bobcats had a prime chance to get there last year. Standing in their way, however, was the Crimson, who rolled into the final with heads held high after connecting three times in the opening period in Lake Placid. All the more reason why an even stronger Quinnipiac team felt poised to strike on Saturday.
And three days ago, I would have told you the Harvard blue line wasn’t ready for the Quinnipiac storm that was brewing. The state of the Crimson blue line at this stage of the season? Not great. 6’7” big man Wiley Sherman suffered an upper body injury in the ECAC quarterfinals that knocked him out of the tournament. His replacement, sophomore Thomas Aiken, gives up about a foot, as he’s listed at 5’8”.
Nonetheless, optimism emanated from the arena Friday night. With big skates to fill, Aiken held his own in the semifinals against St. Lawrence, as did the rest of his companions in the back. In fact, if it weren’t for Clay Anderson’s late-game gaffe, Harvard probably would have pitched a shutout.
Optimism alone was never going to beat the Bobcats, however. All signs pointed to a big night for the Quinnipiac attack, and surely enough, the final score line provided no reason to blink.
But somehow, even in a 4-1 defeat, the Crimson defensive unit exceeded expectations. Harvard held the Bobcats to 25 shots—10 below Quinnipiac’s season average—and was never beat at full strength, winning that battle, 1-0.
What did the Crimson in was special teams. The Bobcats struck three times on the power play with penalty-killers Sean Malone and Luke Esposito missing from the ice for long stretches of time, the former a gametime scratch and the latter the culprit who put Harvard in the hole in the first place. As for Quinnipiac’s fourth goal? An empty-netter.
Would the game have been different had the Bobcats not piled on three consecutive goals in the second period? Of course. Had the game remained 0-0 for a while, would Quinnipiac have eventually solved the Crimson defense at full strength? Probably.
But what-ifs are useless, almost as much as post hoc predictions. My final two conclusions stem only from the 60 minutes of hockey that 4,626 people got to watch at Herb Brooks.
Harvard’s defense might be alright after all. And Quinnipiac finally has the trophy it deserves.
—Staff writer Jake Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherTHC.
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