2007-08 ECAC Hockey Preview
and aspiration are big points of discussion at this time of
the year. Players, coaches, and programs talk about what they
want to accomplish and how they plan to do so. A scan of the
membership of ECAC Hockey reveals a common theme: Taking Steps
For Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the teams that
won ECAC Hockey hardware and qualified for the NCAA Tournament, the next step is to win a game in the national tournament.
For Dartmouth and Quinnipiac, who narrowly missed
the NCAAs, they're looking to find a way to win that extra
game or extra series during the season and earn a place among
the last 16 teams in the nation.
For Cornell, Harvard, and Colgate those steps
lead toward a return to the top of the conference standings
and a place among the nation's elite programs.
For others, those steps are for a first-round
playoff series at home and a chance to play in Albany at the
ECAC Hockey Championship Weekend.
All of these things can be accomplished by making
steps forward in more specific areas, such as improving consistency,
playing better team defense, getting balanced scoring, and
having a stronger work ethic. The remainder of this preview
will give you an overview on what teams will need to do take
steps forward this season.
forward Jonathan Ornelas is one of the veteran players
that coach Seth Appert lauded for his conditioning work
in the offseason.
Following a year of transition that saw some
lofty successes and disappointing failures, Rensselaer has
a better idea of what it will take to sustain success this
year. A surprising 4-1-3 start included a win at Denver and
against Colgate and ties against Boston University and Quinnipiac.
The first eight games were followed by a 1-9-3 stretch that
lasted until mid-January and put the Engineers in last place
in the ECAC Hockey standings.
With another year of experience, a boost in
talent from a strong recruiting class (including forward Tyler
Helfrich and defenseman Bryan Brutlag), and a greater understanding
of the work ethic that the coaching staff demands, Rensselaer
could move into the top half of the standings and contend
for a first-round bye in the conference playoffs.
"Last year we had a good start and when
things got hard our players didn't react well. We wanted to
make changes in the program, we wanted to be at a higher level
last year, but I don’t know that we were quite ready
to be," coach Seth Appert said. "When things were
good at the start of the year I think our players thought,
'This is going to be easy. The three coaches come from winning
programs and here we go.'
"It's never easy. It's very difficult to
win, and to win at a high level. We struggled in December
and early-January and it took us too long to pull out of it.
You're going to have struggles, but it can't be a month. I
think our players are prepared for the challenges that they're
going to face."
Appert praised the offseason work that his team
did and said that they have a much better foundation to build
on relative to this time last year.
PRIMED FOR A FALL
Last year's biggest surprise, St. Lawrence,
won a slew (pun intended) of close games and rode the leadership
and outstanding play from senior co-captains Drew Bagnall
and Kyle Rank and senior forward Max Taylor. Bagnall was
an All-American defenseman who logged tons of ice time and
finished tied for fourth in team scoring with 25 points. Rank
was voted as ECAC Hockey's Best Defensive Forward and led
the Saints in scoring with 33 points. Taylor had 31 points.
Those key losses will be felt, especially early in the season.
"We only lost four guys, but we lost three
real, real good ones in Bagnall and Taylor and Rank. Those
are intangibles as well as tangible qualities too because
they comprised a great deal of the leadership, both vocal
and non-vocal in the room," St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
sophomore defenseman Brendon Nash, a preseason all-league
selection, won't play until after Christmas while he recovers
from an injury.
Cornell's returning defensemen — senior Doug
Krantz, sophomore Justin Krueger, and junior Jared Seminoff
— bring experience after enjoying breakout seasons last year.
They'll be under pressure to have strong seasons this year,
especially in the first half of the season, as standout sophomore
Brendon Nash will miss the first three months of the season
due to injury. Nash was named to the preseason all-league
team by ECAC Hockey coaches and will be missed in the Big
Red defense corps.
"It's going to hurt us, obviously, not
having him around for a while and that will put more emphasis
again on younger players to step up," Cornell coach Mike
TOUGHEST ACT TO FOLLOW
The questions surrounding Clarkson at this
time last year involved goaltending. Would one of the returning
players, David Leggio or Kyle McNulty, take over the duties?
Or would freshman Matt Smith emerge as the answer between
David Leggio won the job and turned in one of
the great goaltending campaigns in Clarkson history, with
24 wins, a .930 save percentage and 2.16 goals-against average.
He was named as the best goaltender in ECAC Hockey last year,
receiving the Ken Dryden Award and was also named as his team's
most valuable player after setting school records for total
saves and save percentage.
That standout season will be difficult to duplicate.
If he even comes close to posting those numbers this year,
Clarkson will have an excellent chance of winning ECAC Hockey
titles and making it to the Frozen Four.
Clarkson captain Nick Dodge was saluted in this
spot last year and went on to be a major part of the Golden
Knights' success. He didn't finish as his team's leading scorer,
but held that distinction for much of the year even though
he was often asked to match up against and shut down the opposing
team's top line. His overall work ethic, determination, hockey
sense, and skill are not measurable. Appropriately, Dodge
is a Carolina Hurricanes property, because he is college hockey's
answer to Rod Brind'Amour.
"Nick has been a key reason why Clarkson
is back in the national spotlight," Clarkson head coach
George Roll said in the team's prospectus. "I can't say
enough good things about him and what he has meant to the
program. Nick's importance is not measured by the number of
points he gets. He is a complete leader and a difference-maker
who is used in every critical situation. He excels at both
ends of the ice, wins key draws, and is great on specialty
teams. The more you watch Nick play, the more you appreciate
the impact he has on the game."
Dartmouth freshman defenseman Joe Stejskal doesn't
enter his collegiate career with the lofty junior-hockey credentials
or early-round draft status of other players such as forwards
Riley Nash (Cornell), Scott Freeman (Clarkson), or Tyler Helfrich
(Rensselaer), but Stejskal gets the nod in this category because
of what he'll be asked to do right away for the Big Green.
Stejskal brings size, tenacity, and skill to
the blue line. He's drawn comparisons to former Dartmouth
defenseman Grant Lewis, but has a more physical presence.
He'll play in all situations for Dartmouth and will have a
steep learning curve. The graduation of Ben Lovejoy, Grant
Lewis, and Mike Hartwick meant that 338 combined games of
experience are gone.
He gained some experience playing against top-level
competition at the Montreal Canadiens' summer rookie camp,
after the Habs drafted him in the fifth round of the NHL Entry
Draft in June in Columbus, Ohio
"It's going to be interesting to see how
he adjusts. Minnesota does a great job in terms of development,
but he's coming from high-school hockey. You can't forget
that," Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said. "He's
18 years old, so much like Grant Lewis who came from midget
hockey, you have to live with some mistakes. My hope is that
Joe will be a veteran player after Christmas time. That's
been kind of our goal with some of those good, young defensemen."
Based on his team's overall record in recent
seasons, Brown senior forward Jeff Prough hasn't received
as much attention as he's deserved. He's putting together
one of the great careers in Brown hockey history and will
very likely surpass the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus before
the calendar turns to 2008. When he reaches those milestone
numbers, he'll be the first Brown player to achieve those
statistics in 10 years.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS
1. Which Quinnipiac
defensemen will improve to help account for the voids left
when Reid Cashman graduated?
Four freshmen defensemen join Quinnipiac's roster
and coach Rand Pecknold is looking for them to step up and
make an immediate impact. The favorable part of Quinnipiac's
schedule is that the Bobcats begin the season with an exhibition
game and four non-league contests. That will give the coaching
staff time to try new personnel in assorted places, especially
on special-teams units.
"It's an interesting year when you lose
a player like Reid Cashman. So many things change, and he
did so much for us. He was our catalyst and he was more than
just our captain, he really did a lot on and off the ice,"
2. Can Mike Devine sustain Dartmouth
while new faces on the blue line adjust to college hockey?
We mentioned the losses of Lewis, Lovejoy, and
Hartwick earlier in this preview and one of the ways that
Dartmouth can relieve pressure on those young players is for
senior goalie Mike Devine to get off to a good start.
"He's going to be really important to us,
but I don't want to put the onus on him. I don't want him
out there having to stop 50 shots a night," Gaudet said.
3. Will Yale's upperclassmen forwards
contribute enough scoring to complement sophomores Sean Backman
and Marc Arcobello?
"We had that great freshman class last
year and a couple of guys that led our team in scoring, so
it's easy to say those guys are going to be better, and I
think they will," Yale head coach Keith Allain said.
"We have some seniors on our team this year that didn't
have the type of years that I thought they could have, guys
like J-F Boucher, Will Engasser, Blair Yaworski, and I think
they have the talent to really raise the level of the whole
hockey team. If we can get those guys to play up to their
level, we'll be a better hockey team."
MARK IT DOWN
Five things you can take to the bank in ECAC Hockey this season
1. The eyes of college hockey fans from
across the country will be on Cheel Arena on Jan. 5.
Boston College visits Clarkson for a high-profile non-league
contest that could feature two of the top-five teams in the
2. The appointment of Paul Stewart as
ECAC Hockey Director of Officiating will give all of the league's
zebras better credibility. Stewart, who played college
hockey in the ECAC while at Penn, officiated for 17 years
in the NHL and was a supervisor/coach in the NHL Officials
3. Harvard's overall success will be
based on how it starts the season. The Crimson made
mistakes last year that led to losses and a sub.-500 record
for the first time in seven years. If they get off to a good
start and build confidence with some early-season wins, they've
got enough talent to make a run at an exciting postseason.
4. Teams will continue to find creative
solutions to scheduling problems. Princeton and Quinnipiac
and St. Lawrence and Clarkson are playing non-league games
against one another this season, and the Citizens Bank Governor's
Cup pits St. Lawrence, Colgate, Union and Rensselaer in an
5. Colgate will be better.
The Raiders had a disappointing season in 2006-07, which started
with them being picked to finish first in the league standings.
Colgate finished the season with a 15-21-4 overall record
and a 7-12-3 league mark. With at least four potential all-league
players and eight seniors, they'll be back in the top half
of the league standings this year.
||Clarkson's depth at forward makes
them one of the most difficult opponents on any opponent's
||Over the summer, head coach Rand Pecknold
signed a contract extension that lasts through the 2011-12
||The Big Red will play Boston University
at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 24.
||Nick St. Pierre is one of the underrated
players in the league, but folks around Starr Rink know
how important he is to their defense.
||The Crimson found ways to lose games
last year. Those lessons should help them find ways to
win games this year.
||Eyes will be on Nick Johnson. Can he continue to pile
up points without long-time linemate David Jones on the
||The Saints' best players and leaders
are juniors. It might take another year before they get
back into the top four.
||Guy Gadowsky is seeing improvement in his team and is
getting players to play an up-tempo style.
||We'll see if Mathias Lange or Jordan
Alford can develop enough consistency to claim the starting
job in the crease for the Engineers.
||Junior defenseman Mike Stuart is back on the Bears'
blue line after missing most of last season with a knee
||The Bulldogs won six of their first
seven games last year. They would like to get off to a
similarly strong start this year, but maintain that momentum
into the last three quarters of the season.
||Josh Coyle, Matt Cook, Jason Walters, and Mario Valery-Trabucco
will be asked to pick up some of the scoring after T.J.
Fox signed a professional contact and left college hockey
after his sophomore year.