Listening closely to the movers and shakers around the ECAC, three themes are heard again and again.
The first deals with the ECAC on a national level. The ECAC champion St. Lawrence Saints made an appearance in the Frozen Four, a welcome emotional boost for the league’s pride.
Indeed, that pride echoed throughout the league as the Saints took it to the third period against Boston College and fell just short of the national championship game. This season, there is a lot more optimism and a lot of talk about the ECAC and the national perspective.
“The league has strengthened as a whole, and building on the great performance of what (St. Lawrence) did on the national landscape last year, the ECAC is poised to really make some noise nationally,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor.
The second is the effect that professional hockey has had on some of the league’s peak performers.
Juniors Erik Cole and Brad Tapper, sophomore Brandon Dietrich and freshman Derek Gustafson all signed professional contracts during the offseason, giving up their collegiate eligibility.
In fact, looking at last season’s All-ECAC team, four of the 12 members graduated (Andy McDonald, Joel Laing, Brian Pothier and Justin Harney) and the four mentioned above left early for the pros. That leaves four returning for this season (seniors Kent Huskins, Cory Murphy, Kirk Lamb and Erik Anderson).
Not only were the All-Stars signing early, European skaters were returning to their home countries and signing pro contracts. Mikko Ruutu and Erkki Rajamaki are two examples.
— Colgate head coach Don Vaughan
“Pro hockey has wreaked havoc with our program and in Division I,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “It seems that if you land anyone over six foot, then you have a chance of playing for a living, so money talks right now and it’s tough to keep your players.”
The last theme running rampant involves the word parity. To some it’s ugly, to others beautiful. To each his own, we guess.
Last year, you couldn’t help but put that label on the ECAC. Going into the final weekend, there were four teams tied for third place and six teams within one and a half games of third place. Now that is parity.
Heading into this season, there’s little reason to believe that things will change, as ECAC coaches agree.
“They have to challenge themselves and play the iron out there, and there’s a lot of iron in our league,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh.
“We’ll have another strong season with a lot of parity. Every night you have to come to play,” added Rensselaer head coach Dan Fridgen.
“Our league is tremendous,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “There are a lot of close games and there will be a lot of one-goal games.”
“In our league it’s so difficult to pick who is going to win,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “[The ECAC] will have great parity again.”
Each ECAC team has its strengths, weaknesses, sureties and questions, and each thinks — or at least hopes — it has what it takes to raise the Scotty Whitelaw Trophy in Lake Placid on March 17, 2001.
Only time will tell.
A drum roll please. Our grand predictions for the ECAC’s 2000-2001 version are here. You can laugh, you can scoff and as always, no wagering on our predictions.
1. St. Lawrence Saints
Despite the losses of Dietrich and Gustafson, the Saints remain the favorite in the ECAC. An experienced defense and great depth point towards a second straight ECAC Championship.
2. Dartmouth Big Green
Remember that this team was tied for third place going into the last weekend of the season and played two games per weekend when their opponents played one. Some losses, but the core of the team is back. We say “watch out.”
3. Cornell Big Red
Depth is certainly no problem as the Big Red sport a consistent collection of players that should produce every game: that’s what Mike Schafer has assembled in Ithaca. The Big Red are going to make waves.
4. Colgate Red Raiders
The Red Raiders return a lot of offense, but life will be different without Andy McDonald. One major question is whether or not a young defense can keep the Red Raiders from getting outscored.
5. Rensselaer Engineers
The Engineers lost scoring and goaltending, and until the young offense gels, for once people may be talking about how good a defensive team they are.
6. Clarkson Golden Knights
A mystery here. Will the Knights get goaltending, and will they find scoring? Who knows, but the Knights always seem to reload rather than rebuild.
7. Vermont Catamounts
Though last season’s abrupt finish remains in everyone’s mind, this team can be a wild card. The Cats return 21 players, but remember that this team was 5-9-3 when the season ended.
8. Harvard Crimson
We’ve been hearing it for a while. Harvard has the talent: they will go somewhere. The team is still young, the offense is set, but are the defense and goaltending enough? Maybe not this year.
9. Yale Bulldogs
Jeff Hamilton is back, so Yale should score more, but until this young team finds another sniper, teams will focus on Hamilton. If he is stopped, it could be a long year for the Bulldogs.
10. Union Skating Dutchmen
You read it here first: the Dutchmen will get into the playoffs, though not by much. Count on Union to play tough each night, but the talent level is not quite there yet.
11. Princeton Tigers
This Tiger squad will be tough, but in the end, youth may do them in. Inconsistency could make the first year for head coach Len Quesnelle could be a tough one.
12. Brown Bears
Last year, the Bears suffered through a season of plain misery. Unless there are some surprises awaiting us in the forms of Brown’s 10 freshmen, this season could be more of the same for Roger Grillo and his Bears.