Whoever said there’s two sides to every story would love to be a season-ticket holder for Brown this year. On one side, Brown is the last-place team in ECAC Hockey, mired in a six-game losing streak and ranked among the bottom-15 teams in the country in scoring offense, scoring defense and power-play efficiency. On the other side, it’s a team that has twice beaten Union, knocked off Cornell and Yale, and posted wins on the road against New Hampshire and Providence.
“We’ve beaten some really good teams, that’s been a positive. There’s games that I look at our team and I see the makings of a pretty good hockey team and a program for the future. Then there’s other games where we don’t look very good,” Brown head coach Brendan Whittet said.
“I don’t think we handle the downs very well. Some of that has to do with the youngness of our hockey team. That’s not an excuse, but when you’re playing eight freshmen regularly you’re going to have mistakes and growing pains. What you need is a group of older guys that can lead those younger guys, and I think we’re a little short in numbers of guys who play in those upper classes.”
There are some bright spots among those younger players, specifically freshman winger Ryan Jacobson, who is second on the team in goals (10) and points (18).
“He’s another one of those young pups that’s running around for us. He’s a freshman, he’s got a nose for the net and he plays the game hard. He has good footspeed and plays a pretty tenacious game,” Whittet said of Jacobson, who only trails senior forward Jack Maclellan on the Brown scoring charts.
Maclellan is putting up another all-league worthy campaign with 27 points in 25 games. Some of the other freshmen that have made an impact include Matt Lorito and Massimo Lamacchia. That means there’s optimism for the extended future, and Whittet is excited about the potential of the incoming recruiting class. For now, the third-year head coach is dealing with some frustration in the pace in which progress is achieved.
“It’s a longer process than I would have ever anticipated, I’ll tell you that. I came in my first year and there were some good players that were left by Roger Grillo and his staff, and I felt we were able to get the most out of that team. Last year, I thought we took a step back in a lot of aspects. This year we’ve kind of continued on that same track, a lot of highs and lows. We’ve just got to maximize the highs and minimize the lows, and right now we’re in a pretty low spot.”
The fragile psyche of a team that has experienced highs and lows has been on display lately. Two weeks ago, Brown built a 3-0 lead in a game against St. Lawrence before yielding the final five goals of the game on home ice. The next time out, at Cornell’s Lynah Rink, Brown scored in the last minute of the first period and opening minute of the second period, but again closed the game by allowing five straight goals to its opponent.
There have been high points too. After getting a tie and win at Clarkson and St. Lawrence in mid-January, Brown was 4-4-2 in ECAC Hockey and well within range for a first-round home-ice playoff series. Since then, the Bears are just 1-7-0 in their last eight and have fallen to the bottom of the standings. Another stumbling block for the Bears is that they haven’t been very good on home ice, with a 3-6-1 record at Meehan Auditorium.
“There’s times where we look very dynamic and we look like a team that’s cohesive and on top of it. And there’s other games we just look like we’ve never played. Some of it is understanding how to win, the will to win that it takes,” Whittet said. “I think, unfortunately, when you lose it breeds losing and when you win it breeds winning. Right now we’re not in a good place, so we’re trying to work our way out of it.
Brown still controls its ability to move into the fifth-through-eighth place tier in the standings with a couple of strong weekends to close the regular season. The Bears have head-to-head games against Dartmouth, Quinnipiac and Princeton, teams that it can realistically catch in the standings chase. More importantly for Brown, is to get some confidence back and get ready for the playoffs. It’s a team that has proven it can beat the elite teams in the league, and a young lineup will have a full season of experience. Senior Mike Clemente has proven he can be a tough puzzle to solve in the postseason, and the Bears only have to look at last year’s playoff results to know that they can make a deep run.
We’ll just have to wait and see which side of the story is told.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Blah, blah, blah, there’s coachspeak and cliché about how close the league is and how tight the games are every weekend. Every team can win on a given night, etc. You’ve heard and read it all before. So we give full marks to Mike Schafer for putting it in perspective earlier this week. I asked him if he thought there was some stratification in the league, and that Union, Cornell and Colgate might have separated themselves a little bit. His answer:
“It doesn’t feel that way. Every night you play against a team, and if the fans didn’t know and there was no program and no media, I think the fans would have a hard time telling you who the best team that they’ve seen this year, that’s a visiting team in our rink. I think you would get a lot of different answers on that question,” Schafer said. “I think points-wise the league has kind of shaped itself out, but I really don’t believe it has in a game-in, game-out basis this year. It’s really difficult.”
• Austin Smith moved to the top spot in the latest edition of our Hobey Tracker, and I used the term “realistic optimism” to describe thoughts about him potentially getting to the 40-goal mark. Smith has 32 goals. With four regular-season games remaining and two playoff games guaranteed, an extended postseason run for the Raiders would certainly make those chances more likely. How rare would that achievement be? The last college player to score 40 or more goals in a season was Dean Fedorchuk of Alaska-Fairbanks. He totaled 42 goals in the 1993-94 season.
• A note on Harvard’s 10 ties this season: It might bring good news. With an assist from our friends at College Hockey Inc., two other teams have qualified for the NCAAs with 10 ties in a season since the field expanded to 16 teams. Last year, a 19-12-10 Western Michigan team made the field, and Minnesota State pulled off the feat in the 2003 tournament with a 20-10-10 record. The 2008-09 Colorado College Tigers weren’t as fortunate. They ended the year 16-12-10 and didn’t get an NCAA invitation.
• It’s Friday night, which means there’s college hockey on NBC Sports Network, and this week it’s an ECAC Hockey matchup as Dartmouth visits Yale. It’s a 7:30 p.m. start in New Haven.