The inducement for this model is anecdotal. Teams that play their "best hockey" at the right time of the season are the ones expected to win when games have the steepest stakes. Games played in October through February are the appetizers for the main courses that constitute March and April. So, who's dishing hot and who's dishing cold?
The model is simple. Games played in February directly abut those played in the playoffs. Teams that find their form in the final weeks of the regular season are those that logically seem best positioned to continue their tears or upset host teams that are cooling. The latter implies why using this model in conjunction with real standings provides the most accurate picture of ECAC Hockey when the puck drops on the East's postseason.
Very poor performances early in a season can trap a team in the lower rungs of conference standings no matter how hot it becomes. A team very hot in February still can be relied upon to go on a run in March even if stuck as the last seed. The starkest example of this is Colgate in the 2011 ECAC Hockey tournament. Those 12th-seeded Raiders earned no conference wins before February. In the year's second month, Colgate earned a 0.563 winning percentage. This drastic improvement foretold the road upsets that Colgate unleashed in March against fifth-seeded RPI and first-seeded Union. The Raiders made ECAC Hockey's biggest weekend after earning only four regular-season conference wins. The opposite can be true.
Tremendous performances early may so bury the needle and solidify a team's status that defects remain masked. The most recent example of this is Quinnipiac in 2013. The Bobcats that season took two-thirds of their conference ties and all of their conference losses in February. In the playoffs, ninth-seeded Cornell took Quinnipiac to double overtime and but for three calls favorable to the home team, the Big Red might have upset the Bobcats in extra time on their own ice. Rand Pecknold's team ran out of luck in Atlantic City as the Bears of Brown exacted a humiliating four-goal shutout. February's performance for those Bobcats predicted that the Mount-Carmel natives would not appear in their second Eastern title game.
These anecdotes invite the application of February performances in predicting postseason outcomes and viability. However, one needs to reduce subjective performance into an objective metric for comparison. The simplest metric, the one that this writer uses to measure heating and chilling, is the ratio of February to November-through-January performances.
One must calculate a team's in-conference rate of earning conference points per game or winning percentage, the two are proportionate, for the first three months of the regular season. Then, one calculates the same rate for a given team in February. The latter is then divided by the former. If the result is greater than one, the team is "heating up" as it is earning more conference points per game in February than it was in the three previous regular-season months. If the result is less than one, the team is "chilling" as its results are less favorable than they were during the first three months of conference play.
This writer scaled all changes to a percent by multiplying all ratios by 100. Those teams that have the highest percent are heating the most and are arranged in order descending to those that have the smallest percent. For example, at the midpoint of February, the hottest team is Yale and the coolest team is Princeton. The Bulldogs are earning points at 165% the rate that they were before February. The Tigers are earning points at 0.00% the rate that they were in November through January.
For those curious, the North Country is almost identically as hot as Yale. St. Lawrence is winning at 164% and Clarkson is winning at 162% of their pre-February forms. Quinnipiac's chilling may be overwrought because but for sweeps it is nearly impossible to keep pace with its incredible rate of earning 1.79 conference points per game before February. Colgate's heating may be exaggerated as they are still earning less than one conference point per game even in February.
The final addendum to the thermometer readings is one of clarity. If a team is earning conference points in February at the exact same rate that it was earning points in November through January, a ratio equivalent to 100% results. This value is the threshold between "heating" and "chilling." It is represented clearly on the above thermometers with the bold black line. Fans, readers, and Lynah Faithful can use that line to determine how much warmer or cooler a team's performance in February has been from what one would have expected relying on previous months's performances.
Where Angels Fear to Tread will continue measuring the temperatures of each program in the conference over the second half of the East's penultimate month with brief discussion each week.
Will we see a repeat of Colgate '11, Quinnipiac '13, or even Cornell '80? Will Yale keep up appearances of invincibility? Who will need to be put on upset alert? This writer will give predictions with this model as best as possible.