2003-04 ECAC Preview
One year ago,
the Cornell Big Red brought the ECAC to the national spotlight by
finishing the regular season as the number-one team in the nation
and representing the league at the Frozen Four. Mike Schafer's veteran-laden
team became just the second ECAC team to make it to the Frozen since
1996. The Big Red were loaded with experience (seven seniors) and
motivated by falling one win short of the Frozen in 2001.
used a step-by-step process to become one of the country's top teams,
and one of the Big Red's fiercest rivals is using the same blueprint
to build its case as one of the nation's elite teams.
In 2003, the
Harvard Crimson have the talent (12 NHL draft picks), experience
(22 returning players), and drive (two straight first-round losses
in the NCAA Tournament). Harvard is the consensus preseason favorite
to win the ECAC and would like nothing more than to play in front
of a hometown Boston-crowd at the Frozen Four in mid-April.
took this thing four years ago I knew there was going to be a transition,"
head coach Mark Mazzoleni said, "and we've made the progressive
steps from a seventh place team to climbing the food chain. I don't
think that in any high level of collegiate sports you don't go from
here to there without taking the progressive steps."
surround the Harvard program, and the players understand that it's
their turn to step into the national spotlight.
that they're in a position to do some special things," Mazzoleni
Slowly but surely,
the Vermont Catamounts are taking the aforementioned steps toward
getting back to the upper-half of the ECAC. One big step came over
the summer when Kevin Sneddon was hired to take over for retired
head coach Mike Gilligan. At just 33 years old, Sneddon is one of
the game's top young coaches. He takes over a proud program in Burlington
that has fallen on tough times since the mid-1990s. While forward
Jeff Miles and defenseman Jaime Sifers won't leave a legacy like
Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin, the tandem will have a big say
in Vermont's fortunes this year. With 34 points Miles will move
into the top-20 in all-time scoring at UVM, and Sifers was an ECAC
All-Rookie performer last year and was named preseason All-ECAC
by the media. The Catamounts are seeking their first winning season
FOR A FALL
In 2002-03, the
Union Dutchmen finished with a .500 record in the ECAC regular season
for just the third time in 12 years of conference play. They finished
sixth at 10-10-2, but just six points separated Union from 10th-place
Vermont, and Union was knocked out of the playoffs in the first
round by Rensselaer. Nate Leaman takes over as head coach for the
departed Sneddon. He brings experience from Harvard where he was
in charge of game-planning for each opponent as an assistant under
Mark Mazzoleni. Union's players will be well-prepared each weekend,
but will be hard-pressed to stay in the top half of the league standings.
Not very long
ago, the Brown Bears were permanent residents of the league's lower
half. They finished last season with a winning record and advanced
to the playoff semifinals in Albany. Coach Roger Grillo, in his
seventh season, is seeing good things happening in Providence. He's
got the league's best goalie in Yann Danis, and a recently renovated
home rink at Meehan Auditorium.
that we had in place to make the program stronger and better is
starting to come to fruition and we're excited about it. It's a
great situation we're in," Grillo said. "Getting to Albany
last year was a great step for us, but we felt that we didn't play
our best when we got up here and we'd like to come back here and
get the job done."
ACT TO FOLLOW
Hobey Baker finalist and All-American goaltender David LeNeveu for
a minute (if that's possible). Cornell lost a senior class of seven
heart-and-soul players including co-captains Doug Murray and Stephen
Bâby, 2003 Humanitarian Award winner Sam Paolini, and consistent
contributors Travis Bell, Mark McRae, Matt McRae and Shane Palahicky.
in a highly-touted recruiting class that in four years time could
achieve the same iconic status of the Class of 2003. "We recruited
the type of players that will play well within the type of mold
that we want to play in," Schafer said, which means they'll
be big and aggressive up front. Super-sized forwards Byron Bitz
at 6-foot-4 and Kevin McLeod at 6-foot-3 join Colorado Avalanche
draft pick Mark McCutcheon. Defensemen Ryan O'Byrne (Montreal draft
pick) and Dan Glover (New Jersey) are very capable with good size
all heard coaches heap praise on their own players, and Mark Mazzoleni
wasn't shy about stumping on the "Noah Welch for Hobey"
Noah Welch could be the best player in the country. He's got all
of the ingredients. The thing about Noah is that he can really affect
the game on both sides of the ice. He's not like some people that
are just a gifted offensive defenseman. He can really generate offense,
but he plays excellent in his own zone and he's got a real nasty
streak to him," Mazzoleni said.
our team more – and he even did this last year – more
than anyone on our team, even Dominic Moore."
praise, but 'Mazz' is not alone in voicing that opinion. In an INCH
survey of ECAC coaches, Welch was voted the league's best one-on-one
defenseman as well as the best power-play quarterback (the latter
along with Yale's Jeff Dwyer).
When Randy Jones
decided to leave Clarkson University and sign a free-agent contract
with the Philadelphia Flyers, it left a big hole on the Golden Knights'
blue line. However, it also opened up a scholarship, and helped
Matt Nickerson make a decision on where he wanted to play. Nickerson
verbally committed to Michigan, but opted for Clarkson in mid-summer.
He'll be an anchor on the Golden Knights' blue line as a freshman
and George Roll's only concern after watching this 6-foot-2 standout
during pre-season workouts will be managing his ice time. The third-round
pick of the Dallas Stars will help fill the void left by Jones,
but only if he stays out of the penalty box. Nickerson racked up
277 penalty minutes in 47 NAHL games last season.
got all of the headlines last year. He was named Rookie of the Year
in the ECAC and was selected with the 12th overall pick in the NHL
Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. But Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet
says another one of his players, junior forward Lee Stempniak, is
overlooked when the great players in the ECAC are discussed.
Check the numbers.
Stempniak's stats over the last two years – 70 points in 66
games – compare favorably with anyone, including Chris Higgins,
Dominic Moore, and Ryan Vesce.
1. Was David
LeNeveu the reason that Cornell allowed the fewest goals in the
country last year, or were his Hobey Baker-worthy numbers a product
of the Red's commitment to team defense? The next six months should
give us an answer to that question. Todd Marr acquitted himself
very nicely for the Big Red last season while LeNeveu was at the
World Junior Championships. He'll battle freshman David McKee for
the number-one goaltending spot in Ithaca.
2. Harvard and Cornell have been to the NCAA tournament for two
straight seasons, but is there any real depth to the ECAC? We'll
find out in non-conference play. ECAC teams will play a total of
17 games against the best teams in Hockey East – New Hampshire
(8), Boston University (5), and Boston College (4) – with
more games possible in regular-season tournaments.
3. How much
will Chris Higgins be missed at Yale? Higgins had 21 goals and 41
points last season and was named ECAC co-Player of the Year, but
signed with the Montreal Canadiens over the summer. Coach Tim Taylor
is counting on the entire roster to fill the void left by one of
the nation's best players. "I think it's going to be easier
for us as a team to find a way, through team chemistry and our approach
to the games, to replace him rather than to find an individual that's
going to step up and score 40 points or 50 points for us this year,"
Five things you can take to the bank in the ECAC this season
will win more than three games. Last year's Tigers team went 3-26-2
and was outscored 140-62. Len Quesnelle has been able to assemble
two recruiting classes since Don Cahoon headed to Massachusetts
and is especially high on senior Chris Owen, junior Mike Patton,
sophomore Dustin Sproat and freshmen Grant Goeckner-Zoeller and
2. Don Vaughan
will return to the Colgate bench next season. Stan Moore cleared
up any doubts about a permanent appointment as Red Raiders' bench
boss. "I think it was as specified as it could be with the
term 'interim' used. The understanding from Don's perspective is
that he's doing this for the greater good of the university. I'm
very pleased that he felt comfortable in having me step in as the
interim during the time he's helping the university in a different
3. At least two players from the conference will be among the 10
finalists for the Hobey Baker award. INCH asked several ECAC coaches
to name the best player in the league, and the responses yielded
seven different names. Pettit, Welch, Vesce, Jessiman, are the names
at the top of the list, but guys like Danis, Dwyer, Sifers, Steeves,
and Stempniak give the league plenty of star power.
4. The last
weekend of conference play will have plenty of impact on the regular-season
standings and playoff matchups. Last year, five points in the standings
meant the difference between third and eighth place. The biggest
games will be played at the Bright Center and Meehan Auditorium
as Vermont and Dartmouth visit Harvard and Brown to close out the
5. During the
league's championship weekend in Albany, fans will gather for a
few cold ones at the Bayou Café or Jillian's, recall the
assorted preseason predictions and wonder what the heck people were
thinking. In last year's ECAC Coaches Poll, Clarkson was picked
to finish third and ended up seventh. Dartmouth was tabbed for ninth
and wound up in third. Every year there are teams that exceed expectations
and others that underachieve.
with talent and experience, the Crimson have championships on
their minds. The ECAC title and Beanpot title are at stake in
the regular season, but teams are remembered by what they accomplish
in the post-season.
year's champion and Frozen Four participant would like to retain
their status at the top of the league, and keeping the title
away from hated Harvard would please the Lynah Faithful.
Gaudet has the Green on an upswing. He's got two of the league's
best players in Lee Stempniak and Hugh Jessiman creating quite
a stir in Hanover.
Danis is the best goalie in the league, and we all know what
good goaltending means to a team. The Bears also return last
year's top-two scorers in Brett Robinson and Les Haggett.
Higgins is gone, but Ryan Steeves returns. This year he'll be
the focus of more attention defensively, but we think he'll
put up big numbers again.
Roll built his coaching reputation as a great recruiter, and
assembled a group of newcomers that should help the Golden Knights
right away. Just how much help they'll provide will determine
Sneddon led Union to a sixth-place finish in the league last
year. His next magic trick is to propel the Catamounts up the
standings and make memories of the last four years in Burlington
Joel Beal and Jordan Webb will miss linemate Nathan Gillies,
but they'll be counted on to replicate their 37-point seasons
of a year ago.
Saints play seven NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago, which
should keep them sharp for conference contests.
of the Engineers’ top-five scorers return, including sophomore
Kevin Croxton, who led the team in both goals and assists last
Don Vaughan sidekick Stan Moore is in charge on an interim basis.
The defensive expert will need to be at his best, as the Red
Raiders could struggle to score goals.
at the bottom of the heap, but a few good weekends in conference
play are the difference between 9th and 12th in the tightly-bunched
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