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This Week in ECAC Hockey: With one month left in regular season, conference quartet emerging as teams to beat – College Hockey


Union goalie Connor Murphy has taken the reins as the No. 1 netminder for the Dutchmen (photo: Michael Mason).

With a month left in the regular season, the top four teams in ECAC Hockey have started to pull away from the rest of the pack.

Quinnipiac, Clarkson, Harvard and Cornell are clearly the top dogs in what has been a mostly underwhelming year for the conference. It would be an upset if any of those four teams did not finish the regular season with a first-round bye for the conference tournament. But after those teams, the race is wide open for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Rivals Rensselaer and Union enter the stretch run narrowly leading the rest of the pack in the race for home ice. A big reason for that has been the production that both schools are getting from their respective goaltenders.

Junior Connor Murphy has started all 25 games for the Dutchmen this season after transferring from Northeastern in the offseason. It’s been a homecoming for Murphy, who grew up in Hudson Falls, NY, just under an hour from Union’s campus in Schenectady.

“It was more of a decision based on the hockey side of things,” Murphy told the Schenectady Daily Gazette prior to the start of the season. “I just felt like things were not going to go my way at Northeastern this year. I just kind of felt I needed a fresh start to keep the ball rolling instead of having some setbacks that I thought I was going to have. ”

It’s been a good match. Murphy has three shutouts and a .922 save percentage and has gotten playing time he probably wouldn’t have gotten with the Huskies, where freshman Devon Levi has been one of the best goalies in Division I men’s hockey.

“Murph’s been the backbone,” Union coach John Ronan told the Daily Gazette after Murphy had 33 saves in Saturday’s 2-0 Mayor’s Cup win over RPI. “He’s a guy that showed up every night.”

Murphy’s counterpart in net that game was RPI freshman Jack Watson, who has only recently taken over as the Engineers’ starting goalie after graduate student Linden Marshall missed time due to COVID-19 protocols. Watson has started RPI’s last six games and has three shutouts during that stretch, including a 39-save effort at Harvard and a 41-save game against St. Louis. Lawrence.

Watson was quick to credit his teammates for his success in net.

“The guys were just working so hard, keeping a lot of the shots coming from the perimeter,” Watson said of his shutouts against the Crimson and the Saints. “And they were clearing every rebound… the guys were great for me.”

RPI coach Dave Smith also likes the way his team is playing right now. After several COVID-19 related postponements last month, Smith thinks the Engineers are starting to hit their stride.

“This is a great stretch right now,” he said. “We’re fine tuning and we’re a hell of a lot better than we were a week ago. If we keep doing that, good things will happen. ”

Both Watson and Murphy should have their hands full this weekend when RPI and Union head on the road to play against Quinnipiac and Princeton. The Bobcats have been one of the top teams in the country this season, while the Tigers have struggled overall, but are fifth in the conference in scoring during league play.



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