2009-10 ECAC Men’s Hockey Preview

Paul Kasabian and Jaime Heilbron

Every single expert is picking Cornell, Yale, Harvard and Princeton to finish in the top four of the league this season. However, a top four berth in the ECAC Tournament does not put a team on the fast track to the NCAA Tournament. In 1998, seventh-place Princeton finished 7-9-6 in the regular season and then went on an amazing run en route to winning the conference tournament. Two sixth-place teams, RPI in 1995 and Harvard in 2004, won the ECAC’s automatic bid to college hockey’s Big Dance as well. In essence, anything can happen in March, which is why a look at all 12 teams in the mix is necessary.

Although parity in ECAC Hockey makes predictions nearly impossible, here is a inside look at the 12 conference teams. The parentheses contain last year’s records and postseason finish.

Yale (15-5-2, NCAA Tournament First Round): The defending champs are poised to repeat, as they return their top 10 scorers. More importantly though, they return the quartet of Second Team All-American and First Team All-ECAC senior Mark Arcobello, Second Team All-ECAC senior Sean Backman, Third Team All-ECAC junior Broc Little and All-Rookie sophomore Brian O’Neill. The four combined for 64 goals and powered the Bulldogs to the top of the league. Yale’s top blue liners will also be back. The only potential question mark the Bulldogs might have this year is goaltending, as they graduated Third Team All-ECAC Alec Richards. Sophomore goaltender Ryan Rondeau, however, proved himself more than able to fill in Richards’ footsteps by making 40 saves in a 5-2 win over Princeton last Saturday.

Cornell (13-6-3, NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final): The Big Red returns their top three scorers in First Team All-ECAC junior Riley Nash, Second Team All-ECAC senior Colin Greening and senior Blake Gallagher. The three combined for 35 goals last year and are expected to increase their production this year. Cornell has always thrived by banking on a defensive system of play and this year it will be no different than in the past. The Big Red returns five defensemen led by seniors Brendon Nash and Justin Krueger, along with All-Rookie Keir Ross. More importantly, they return Second Team All-ECAC goaltender Ben Scrivens, who finished among the top goalies in the nation in all the statistical categories.

Princeton (14-8-0, NCAA Tournament First Round): The Tigers return two of their top four scorers in Dan Bartlett and Mark Magnowski, who combined for 27 goals. Scoring has not been Princeton’s key to success the past two years, however; defense has. Princeton returns its entire defensive corps, of which three will be seniors, four will be juniors, and one will be a sophomore, meaning that they will have plenty of experience and probably will be extremely hard to score on. Their most important asset, however, will be senior goaltender Zane Kalemba, a Second Team All-American, First Team All-ECAC, last year’s Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year Award winner and ECAC Player of the Year.

St. Lawrence (11-7-4, ECAC Frozen Four): With all due respect to U2 and Green Day, the Saints are not coming this year, as most of them entered the professional ranks. St. Lawrence lost four of its top five scorers, and three solid defensemen. First-year center Kyle Flanagan and senior Mike McKenzie will carry the punch. Goalie Alex Petizian should have another solid year in net, and Head Coach Joe Marsh is one of the best in the business, so we don’t buy into the theory that the Saints will take a Tower of Terror drop in the rankings, although it is unlikely they will finish as high as fourth.

Harvard (9-7-6, ECAC First Round): The Crimson returns their top seven scorers, all of who are expected to increase their production immensely. On defense, they will be led by Third Team All-ECAC defenseman Alex Biega. They return seven defensemen who played last year, in addition to senior Jack Christian, who returns to Cambridge after taking a year off. Harvard’s keys to success will be the performance of junior goaltender Kyle Richter, the 2007-2008 Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year Award winner, and the impact of a highly-touted freshman class, led by first round NHL Draft Pick Louis Leblanc, the top first-year forward in the country.

Dartmouth (11-9-2, ECAC First Round): The Big Green return top four scorers, three of which will be juniors and All-Rookie forward sophomore Doug Jones. In defense, the Hanover skaters return all but one of their skaters from last year, which means that they will have experience in the backend. Dartmouth’s chances of a first-round bye in the playoffs will depend for the most part on one player: sophomore goaltender Jody O’Neill. O’Neill was an All-Rookie goaltender and the ECAC Rookie of the Year last year and will play a huge role in his team’s success this year.

Quinnipiac (9-10-3, ECAC Quarterfinals): The Q-Cats lose top scorers Bryan Leitch and David Marshall, and senior goalie Bud Fisher. Q-Pac has one of the more tenuous goaltending situations in the league, and they just gave up 8 goals to Robert Morris. Forward Brandon Wong was hurt last year and had a down season, so look for him to rebound. Jean-Marc Beaudoin should also provide some punch, but besides that, the Q-Cats, or should we say Q-Kittens, will not make it past the first round.

Union (9-11-2, ECAC Quarterfinals): The Dutchmen’s defense this season will be as leaky as a broken dam in the Netherlands, as Union loses stalwart defensemen Lane Caffaro and Brandon Milnamow, their top blue-liners. Forward Matt Cook and defenseman Mike Harr are also gone, but the Dutchmen do return their top four scorers, all of whom posted at least 10 goals last season. Oddly enough, Milan has a 2.57 GAA and .907 save percentage thus far, which were his stats at the end of last season. But his defensemen scored for him last year; while this year’s blue liners will have trouble in that regard. In essence, the Dutchmen’s forwards are pretty solid but the rest is not good enough for Union to be in the top half of the league.

Clarkson (8-10-4, ECAC First Round): Second-best in Potsdam (or so the Pep Band chant goes), and in our opinions, second-worst in the ECAC. The formula for winning in the ECAC is tough defense and goaltending, and Clarkson has neither. This isn’t your older brother’s Golden Knights from two years ago. Senior Matt Beca and sophomore Louie Oakley will probably be the standout point producers this season, but the Golden Knights have chemistry, off-the-ice, and defensive issues that will prevent this team from having a good year. Furthermore, a replacement for former ECAC Goaltender of the Year David Leggio has not been found.

Colgate (6-11-5, ECAC First Round): The Raiders are coming off one of the most bizarre seasons in their history. While the Raiders finished six games below .500, they played in an NCAA-record 19 overtime games and a total of 25 games decided by one goal or less. The Raiders’ offense will be their strongest point this year, since they return their top four scorers from last year. Leading the pack will be senior co-captain David McIntyre, a First-Team All-American and ECAC, as well as a Hobey Baker finalist last year as a junior. McIntyre finished his junior year with 21 goals and 22 assists, good for 43 points, which was the highest single-season point total by a Raider since current St. Louis Blues first line center Andy McDonald ’00 did it in the 1999-2000 season. Sophomore Austin Smith had the most productive rookie campaign by a Raider in five years with 17 goals and 14 assists. Juniors Brian Day and François Brisebois both increased their point production from their first year to their second; thus it would only be natural and expected for them to do the same this year. The blue line will have an almost complete makeover. Sophomore Corbin McPherson was the only defenseman to have played a full season last year, but junior Wade Poplawski and sophomore redshirt Kevin McNamara, both returning from season-ending injuries showed great promise in their first-year campaigns and are expected along with McPherson to provide experience this year. NHL Draft picks Jeremy Price and Thomas Larkin should provide excellent depth in that position as well. In goal there will be a three-way battle between senior Charles Long and sophomores Alex Evin and Bryan Bessette for the starting position. Even though Long won the starting position with his strong play towards the end of last year, it is still a young season and nothing has been set in stone.

RPI (6-15-1, ECAC Quarterfinals): NHL draft picks Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri will be dominating Troy until they leave for their respective pro teams, but this team is very shaky otherwise and doesn’t have much depth at forward. First-year goaltender Bryce Merriam was brought in to challenge incumbent Allen York, but neither is performing to task thus far. Defenseman Mike Bergin returns from injury, and fellow blue liner and captain John Kennedy is still around, but this team also gave up four goals or more 18 times last year. If its and buts were candy and nuts, RPI would have a merry Christmas. But with all due respect to Dandy Don Meredith, ifs and buts don’t lead a team to Albany. RPI is getting coal in its stocking, which they deserve for being the dirtiest team in the conference.

Brown (3-15-4, ECAC Quarterfinals): Goalie Mike Clemente is the league’s best net minder not named Richter, Scrivens or Kalemba. He will keep Brown in games they otherwise shouldn’t be in. Still, Brown is in rebuilding mode and will stay in the basement with the door upstairs double-locked. Head Coach Brendan Whittet returns to his alma mater for his first season behind the bench as the leading man of a program. All the best luck to him; he needs it. Only two returning players scored five or more goals last season for the Bears.