Yale validated its excellent 2008-09 season with another first-place finish in ECAC Hockey and held off big challenges from the likes of Cornell and Union. St. Lawrence and Colgate outperformed expectations and Princeton and Clarkson fell way back in the standings after being two of the league’s stronger programs over the last five years. Quinnipiac’s magical start, a renewed energy at Brown and a dynamic campaign from some of RPI’s talented players also held the interest of fans around the league. Harvard showed some promise at times but again struggled outside of the league and Dartmouth finished its season with some classic games.
As is the case in championship boxing, in order to take the title, you’ve got to defeat the current holder. That’s why we’ll go with Yale as the favorite to repeat as tournament champions. They won the regular season and tournament titles in 2009 and backed that up with another first-place finish this year. A recent injury to leading scorer Sean Backman might raise some red flags, but there’s enough offensive depth with the likes of Mark Arcobello, Denny Kearney, Broc Little and Brian O’Neill to expect Yale to retain both trophies. Yale was 3-0-1 in its four regular season games against Cornell and Union.
THE GATE CRASHER
St. Lawrence is a team that chased a top-four spot in the standings throughout the season before eventually finishing in fifth place, after being picked to finish 10th in the league in the preseason coaches’ poll. They rallied late in Sunday’s deciding game of the opening-round series against Clarkson and now head on the road to face fourth-place Colgate, a team they defeated in both regular-season meetings this year. While a win in this series would only be considered a mild upset, the bigger picture is that very few people truly thought the Saints would make an appearance in Albany.
INCH’s ALL-ECAC HOCKEY TEAM
F – Sean Backman, Yale
One of the league’s most dangerous goal-scorers is a repeat selection on this team. His 21 goals and 35 points were among the league’s best and he scored nine power-play goals, and four game-winners as the Bulldogs backed up last year’s excellent year with a very strong 2009-10 campaign.
F – Mario Valery-Trabucco, Union
Union has a number of forwards that can hurt an opponent and their depth is what makes them so difficult to control, but Valery-Trabucco stands out most nights for the Dutchmen. He doesn’t need much time or space to make plays, and those plays often make a difference in the game.
F – Chase Polacek, Rensselaer
A breakthrough junior season for Polacek saw him post 26 goals and 26 assists for 52 points. He was one of the early recruits that were brought in to provide some punch up front for the Engineers and really blossomed this season after totaling 60 points over his first two years combined.
D – Justin Krueger, Cornell
It’s hard to measure just how good Krueger is on a nightly basis for the Big Red and that’s probably why he was left off the All-ECAC Hockey and All-Ivy teams that were announced last week. No such oversight here. Krueger is one of the best in the league in all three zones, and had a terrific year in helping his freshman defense partner Braden Birch most of the season
D – Derek Keller, St. Lawrence
Defense was the question mark that saddled the Saints with low expectations in the preseason, but Keller was a senior that stepped into a bigger role and delivered St. Lawrence to a very good season so far. He logged tons of minutes and chipped in with nine goals from the blue line.
G – Ben Scrivens, Cornell
Scrivens displayed greater consistency in his senior year, had four shutouts and played some of his best hockey in the team’s biggest games. He currently owns a 1.99 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Strictly based on the standings, the 2008-09 season was a bit of a hiccup for Union’s hockey program. One year after finishing tied for fourth, the Dutchmen finished to eighth. Despite slipping in the standings, watching the Dutchmen showed that Union was trending in the right direction. This year the results showed up and Union and head coach Nate Leaman finished in third place in one of the best seasons in Union’s Division I hockey history. Among the noteable milestones were a 10-game unbeaten streak, the longest in program history, and a 7-0-3 start to conference play, the best Union start since joining ECAC Hockey. One more milestone is well within reach. Two wins this weekend will send the Dutchmen to the league’s championship weekend for the first time.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
There are so many talented forwards scattered about the league and all of them make a tremendous impact on their team’s success, but there’s not a lot of separation. When comparing the league’s best goaltenders, it’s a different story. Cornell’s Ben Scrivens was the best in the league this year. In addition to the stats we mentioned above, Scrivens also carried a greater amount of confidence and limited some of the lapses in decision making and puck handling that were evident in his first three years.
CO-FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR
It was a great year for ECAC Hockey rookies and it’s tough to choose just one. No offense to the likes of Louis Leblanc (Harvard), George Hughes (St. Lawrence), and Keith Kinkaid (Union). We’ll choose RPI’s forward tandem of Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo as co-honorees. They came into their college seasons as NHL draft picks and garnered lots of attention. Each lived up to the hype. Pirri was second on the team in scoring with 43 points in 39 games and had a team-high 32 assists. D’Amigo missed four games while away at World Junior (and was one of USA’s best players) and had 34 points in 35 games.
St. Lawrence senior Travis Vermeulen had his best college season and was a big part of the Saints’ success this year. He led the Saints in goals (17), assists (23) and points (40) – all of which were career-best totals, and he’s one of the best defensive forwards in the league. Vermeulen had 42 points total in his first three years.