Senior weekend marks the final regular season games at Appleton for 2016-17

It’s hard to believe that this weekend marks the final regular season contests at Appleton for this season. The Saints host 9th-ranked Quinnipiac on Saturday night and take on Princeton, ranked tenth, for senior day on Sunday afternoon. These are huge games for SLU, and in fact, the four games taking place in the North Country these weekend feature four teams in the top ten of the USCHO poll, all of whom are competing for a spot in the top four of the ECAC and a bid to the national tournament.

Statistically, these teams are markedly similar. Tied at 24 points in the ECAC, both teams have an 11-5-2 record in conference play. Princeton’s goal differential is 56-25, while Quinnipiac is 57-26.  With two tough opponents coming to town, the Saints have their task set this weekend.

It’s been a down year but Quinnipiac standards in terms of offensive production, with TT Cianfarano leading the way with 24 points. In 30 games, that isn’t meager production, but considering Cianfarano finished last season with 52 points, something isn’t quite right in Hamden this season.

Perhaps it’s the departure of Nicole Connery, Nicole Kostka and Nicole Brow, seniors who all provided significant scoring for the Bobcats. Sydney Rossman’s numbers are down as well, but her incredible season last year was always going to be hard to follow. The power play and penalty kill are both worse and they’ve already allowed 8 more goals this season than last year, with at least six total games remaining.

Where Quinnipiac has been pretty good this season has been in conference play. Last season, a year in which the Bobcats went 30-5-5, they scored 3.18 goals per game in conference play, and they nearly matched that this season, finding the twine 3.17 times per game. But they’re allowing more than half a goal more to opponents per game. 

In my best estimation, Quinnipiac isn’t a significantly weaker team than it has been in years past. They’re in a noticeable tougher conference than they were two years ago, St. Lawrence, Princeton and Colgate all seeing their programs surge in the past two years. This is a Bobcat team that knows how to win, and has still done a fair bit of that this season.

Cianfarano is dangerous, as is second leading scorer Melissa Samoskevich, and Taryn Baumgardt is one of the more underrated puck-moving defenders in the ECAC. Quinnipiac is solid defensively, well coached, and the Saints can’t underestimate them.

SLU dug deep for a 1-0 win against the Bobcats in Hamden back in early November, and they’ll need to dig deep again to sweep the season series. Quinnipiac likes close, low-scoring games, and has had a fair amount of success in them this season. They also like to score the first goal and play with lead, so putting plenty of pucks on Rossman and getting one past her early is key for the Saints. Do that, and they should be able to take down the Bobcats before an emotional day on Sunday.

Sunday will mark senior day and brings with it the Princeton Tigers. Quinnipiac and Princeton are fairly similar teams statistically, but Princeton has a game-breaking player who can make all the difference.  Karlie Lund has 38 points in 25 games for the Tigers, including 3 game-winning goals and 3 power play goals. She’s also only taken one penalty all season, which means she’s on the ice quite a bit for Princeton. She requires attention at all times when on the ice, but she’s not the only one.

Molly Contini, Carly Bullock and Cassidy Tucker are all above the 20-point plateau, and Kelsey Koelzer is arguably the best defender in the ECAC, with 22 points in 25 games from the blue line. Alysia DaSilva and Steph Neatby have split time between the pipes, but Neatby has the better statistics and has been on fire of late, garnering the first ever HCA National rookie of the month award for January. Expect the rookie to be in net on Sunday,

Princeton had hopes of an ECAC championship last season before the Saints went on the road and defeated the Tigers in the playoffs in a tightly contested 3-game series. After a slow start to this season, they’ve started to play better and have clawed their way back into the polls. They split last weekend against Yale and Brown, losing to the Bulldogs, but other than that blemish, the Tigers are owners of an 10-1-2 record since being swept by BU to finish November. They’re averaging 3.84 goals per game over the span while allowing only 1.38 goals to their opposition each contest.

Princeton is deserving of their spot in the poll, but their 11th place ranking in the PairWise makes this game a must-win for Princeton, and I would expect their play to reflect that. This is going to be an aggressive Princeton team that knows it is playing well, and needs to continue to do so. To beat the Tigers, SLU needs to be on top of their game defensively and in goal, but nothing that we’ve seen so far this year would suggest that the Saints would be ready. The offense has shown that it will deliver on pretty much a game-to-game basis, and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday.

Two wins and four points will guarantee St. Lawrence a third place finish at the very least, but that is pretty much already a given. Cornell is four points back of the Saints, who sit just one point behind Clarkson. All ECAC teams have played 18 games, and with just two weekends left, the ECAC playoff picture is getting clearer. Cornell, SLU and Clarkson have all essentially guaranteed their position in the top four, and first place has basically been narrowed to a race between the Route 11 rivals. A weekend sweep and a little help puts the regular season title firmly in the Saints hands heading into the final weekend.