For most teams in the ECAC men’s hockey league this season, there has been no such thing as a comfortable position in the standings. Princeton learned that the hard way this weekend, sliding all the way from third place to seventh with two 3-2 home losses, but such large changes have been common in one of the wildest editions ever of the ECAC. Just look at a chart of every team’s standing after the last nine weekends of conference play:
Bear in mind, that crazy graph starts a full month into conference play, by which point every team had played 5-8 games and the standings should have stabilized a bit. Instead, they’ve only become more chaotic. Quinnipiac ran away with the league lead by winning its first 10 conference games, but five different teams, including Princeton, have held second place in the last two months.
Cornell opened the season ranked sixth nationally and was still in fourth place when the calendar turned; after a seven-game losing streak, it dropped to 11th within a month. Harvard was also nationally ranked as late as Dec. 17, five weeks before falling into the basement. On the other side, six straight victories propelled Rensselaer from 11th place to second in a three-week span, an almost unheard-of leap this late in the season.
Those jumps reflect a season of preposterous parity — every team can beat almost anyone, so the standings have formed a tight band right around .500. Entering Friday, the middle eight teams were separated by a mere four points, the difference between a good and bad weekend; even after a relatively orderly week, a four-point range still contains teams two through eight. “It seems like it’s always really tight [in past years], but this is pretty incredible,” head coach Bob Prier said.
If the ECAC Tournament had started last week, Princeton would have been the No. 3 seed, getting a first-round bye before playing a home game in the quarterfinals. If it started today, the Tigers would be seeded eighth, having to beat a solid Brown squad in the opening round for the right to visit national No. 1 Quinnipiac.
Of course, with the standings still so close, Princeton could bounce back as high as second place with a strong showing against Brown and Yale this weekend. With only four games remaining, every team except Harvard is still mathematically in the running for a top-four seed and first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament. “When that many teams are fighting for a bye that late in the season, these are really playoff-type games already,” Prier said.