of writing a season preview is to tell you what you should expect
once the regular season begins in just a few days. Followers of
the ECAC Hockey League know that predicting the future in this league
is practically impossible. Recent seasons have seen ECACHL teams
move up and down the standings with great regularity. Nine of the
12 league members have advanced to the league’s championship
weekend over the last four years. This year, Cornell earned enough
points to finish first in the league’s preseason coaches’
poll, but only earned four of the 12 available first-place votes.
to say that pattern will continue this year. Some of the factors
that have made this league so hard to grasp over the past few years
are casting a shadow as the teams prepare for this go-around.
teams face the problems caused by star players leaving programs
through graduation and early departures for the professional ranks.
a year in which four new coaches stepped into the league, there’s
more coaching turnover. Guy Gadowsky is in charge at Princeton and
comes into the league as a truly new face after coaching Alaska-Fairbanks
in the CCHA for the last five years. Don Vaughan is back behind
the Colgate bench after stepping away last year to serve as the
university’s interim athletics director. Harvard’s got
a new coach too, but it’s a familiar face as former Crimson
captain and All-American Ted Donato makes his rookie foray into
coaching after a 13-year NHL playing career.
we might not be able to forecast the future, we can tell you all
about the issues that teams face and introduce you to the key characters
as we prepare to begin another exciting, unpredictable season.
returns its top three point-getters from last year, including
leading scorer Mac Faulkner.
started last March, and it’s almost unanimously believed that
Clarkson will continue its ascent back to national
prominence this season. The Golden Knights hired George Roll in
the spring of 2003, and he and assistant coaches Greg Drechsel and
J-F Houle put together a quality recruiting class in short order.
This year’s class is even better, ranked ninth in the nation
by INCH, and will help Clarkson build on last year’s momentum.
Knights finished ninth in the regular season standings before beating
Union and Cornell on the road and then knocking off Colgate in the
playoff semifinals. Harvard scored the game-winning goal in the
final minute of the championship game to end Clarkson’s run
for that season, but look for Clarkson to pick up where it left
off as this season begins.
FOR A FALL
of futility, the Brown Bears rode Yann Danis to
the upper reaches of the ECAC Hockey League standings. Danis is
gone, and so are Brent Robinson and Scott Ford. Robinson led the
team in scoring last year and Ford was named the conference’s
best defensive defenseman. Coach Roger Grillo’s recruiting
class included nine new faces, headlined by LA Kings draft pick
Paul Baier. With a young lineup and uncertainty in goal, Brown will
be hard-pressed to finish in the upper-half of the league standings,
as the Bears have done for three consecutive seasons.
In an era when
computer rankings are a large component of NCAA Tournament selection,
non-conference winning percentage is extremely
important in helping conferences secure at-large bids. The 12 ECACHL
teams can help one another gain NCAA berths by performing well in
the regular season against the big boys from the WCHA, CCHA, and
ACT TO FOLLOW
Don Vaughan looks over his shoulder, literally, he’ll
see Stan Moore standing at the other end of the bench. Moore stepped
in as interim head coach while Vaughan helped the athletic department
in another capacity. Moore said he was “borrowing the car”
but he took it on quite a ride, with Colgate winning the regular
season championship after being picked eighth in last year’s
returns the bulk of its personnel from last year and Vaughan returns
to the bench with high expectations surrounding this Raider team.
Vaughan and Moore are a team — there’s no internal competition
for the head coaching job — but Moore’s turn in the
driver’s seat will be tough to match..
Lee Stempniak is considered one of the early favorites for the
2005 Hobey Baker Award.
Before the 2003-04
season, a survey of ECAC coaches saw several outstanding players
mentioned in a discussion determining just who was the best overall
player. The last coach asked, Dartmouth’s Bob Gaudet, wasn’t
shy about stumping for then-junior forward Lee Stempniak,
who then went out and backed up his coach’s opinion by earning
first-team All-America honors last year. Stempiak’s back for
the Big Green and will captain the team as it seeks to fill a vacant
trophy case (see Burning Question No. 1 below).
In this space
last year we spoke about Clarkson defenseman Matt Nickerson, who
went on to annoy opponents for half of his freshman season and the
other half in the penalty box. His tenure at Clarkson ended when
he signed a professional contract with the Dallas Stars this summer.
Once again we’ll take a look at a Clarkson rookie as forward
Shawn Weller is the key piece in an excellent recruiting
class. Like Nickerson, Weller is big and strong and plays with an
edge. He’ll have to play with more discipline to make a more
positive impression on Clarkson’s fortunes.
In our A-to-Z
profiles at the end of the summer, we looked at several unsung
players bound to play an important role in their team’s fortunes
this year including Dartmouth’s Mike Oullette, Colgate’s
Mike Campaner, and Brown’s Les Haggett.
Harvard defenseman Ryan Lannon is another in that
mold as he shows up and does his job every night on the Harvard
blue line. Crimson coach Ted Donato has promised to open up the
offense a bit this season, which will put more pressure on Harvard’s
defensemen. Lannon is one of the backliners that Donato can count
on in the early going.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1.How will Dartmouth react to being favored to win the league?
The Big Green has never won the ECAC regular season or playoff championship.
A pair of second-place tournament finishes in 1979 and 1980 have
been Dartmouth’s best showing, and those are the most recent
years that the Big Green has qualified for the NCAA Tournament (they
were also runners-up in '48 and '49). With 90 percent of Dartmouth’s
point production returning and Dan Yacey’s steady play between
the pipes, the Big Green has a legitimate shot at ending the championship
drought this year
will pick up Brown’s goaltending duties with Yann Danis lost
to graduation? Like Michigan State’s Ryan Miller
and Cornell’s David LeNeveu before him, Yann Danis was one
of three “Hobey Hat Trick” finalists for the most prestigious
individual award in our sport. And Danis heard the same rumblings
from skeptics — were his gaudy stats a true reflection on
his ability, or a byproduct of a defensive-minded system? None of
that matters now that Danis is gone. Brown will look to senior Scott
Rowan, the most experienced netminder on the roster with just three
games played in his collegiate career. Junior Kevin Kliman and freshman
Adam D’Alba will push Rowan for playing time.
Kevin Croxton lead Rensselaer in scoring for the third straight
year? You may have read about Croxton in our A-to-Z profiles.
He’s probably the least-heralded of the league’s top
point-producers, but Croxton deserves to be mentioned in the same
breath as Hugh Jessiman, Matt Moulson, Tom Cavanagh, and T.J. Trevelyan.
RPI coach Dan Fridgen loves Croxton’s attitude and will need
a big year from the junior as the Engineers were particularly hard-hit
by graduation this year.
Five things you can take to the bank in the ECACHL this season
will be happier faces around Cambridge, Mass., this year now that
they’ve got one of their own leading the way. Ted
Donato is a Boston guy and a Harvard guy. Former coach Mark Mazzoleni’s
tenure at Harvard brought a measure of success, but he never really
fit in to the Beanpot scene.
2. Colgate was
picked to finish eighth in last year’s preseason polls but
several Raiders came through with career-type seasons. Forwards
Jon Smyth, Adam Mitchell, and Kyle Wilson and goaltender Steve Silverthorn
led the way. If that quartet can match last year’s production,
Colgate will be in the mix for the ECACHL championship
Lynah Faithful will love freshman Ray Sawada. No group
of fans shows greater appreciation for the dirty work along the
boards and in front of the net. Here’s what Sawada told INCH
after being selected by the Dallas Stars in the second round of
the NHL Entry Draft this past summer when asked if he's ready for
the transition from the wide-open British Columbia Hockey League
to the ECACHL: “I like to bang and grind and clutch and grab."
4. With a travel
partner scheduling system in place, it’s always fun to debate
which road trip is the toughest in the ECACHL. Heading into the
season it looks like the Cornell/Colgate trip takes the
cake in terms of overall strength. The other pairings feature
one “have” and one “have not.”
will be missed when the Catamount program leaves the ECACHL
and joins Hockey East after this season. Burlington and Gutterson
Arena make for one of the best road trips in the league. While the
team has struggled on the ice, the program’s history and enthusiastic
fan base are wonderful assets.
in place for the Big Green to win a first ECAC Hockey League
year’s surprise team won’t be able to sneak up on
anyone this year. Led by Silverthorn in goal, they won’t
in key places and youngsters contributing throughout the lineup
have the Golden Knights on track for a return to league and
talent base is still there, and an influx of Donato’s
enthusiasm should have the Crimson primed for a good season.
not going to allow many goals. They never do. But with Ryan
Vesce gone, they’re not going to score many either.
team would benefit more from the anticipated officiating emphasis
on open-ice play than the Bulldogs, especially high-flying junior
forwards Christian Jensen, Joe Zappala, and Jeff Hristovski.
top-eight scorers return for the Dutchmen, but they’ll
all need to pick up the pace as Union finished last year with
the fewest goals scored in conference play.
people are excited to see their kids in a cap and gown. Dan
Fridgen certainly wasn’t when Scott Basiuk and Nathan
Marsters walked across the stage.
Grillo led the U.S. Under-18 team earlier this fall, and members
of the team contracted food poisoning. It might have been a
good rehearsal. Grillo’s got another young team to lead
and it could produce an upset stomach.
Catamounts have plenty of star power with Jaime Sifers and Brady
Leisenring leading the way. Don’t expect charity from
the rest of the league on Vermont’s farewell tour.
the same story at SLU with T.J. Trevelyan, Drew Bagnall, and
Mike McKenna. Problem is, they don’t have much depth.
coach Guy Gadowsky raves about his new campus surroundings.
At least he’ll have that to enjoy as he undertakes a huge