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Season Preview

College Hockey:
2002-03 ECAC West Season Preview

Stability. Plain old, simple stability. That is the key word this year in the ECAC West. For the first time in five years, the same teams will be entering the new season with the same coaches.

What an extraordinary event.

The instability started following the 1997-98 season, when Canisius and Niagara left the ECAC West to move up to Division I play. Mercyhurst followed suit a year later. Fortunately for the ECAC West, Manhattanville joined to prevent the league from collapsing completely.

The 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons were played with only four teams. Then last season Utica and Neumann joined to expand the league back to a reasonably-prolific six teams.

The ECAC West is no longer on the brink of extinction, and the coaches have the opportunity to truly improve the league.

The position of head coach within the league hasn’t been any more stable over the last four years than the membership has been. All of the longtime coaches resigned or were replaced with newcomers: Eric Hoffberg after 10 seasons with RIT, Glenn Thomaris after 14 seasons with Elmira, and Bill Greer after 16 years with Hobart.

The longest-tenured coaches in the ECAC West now are Keith Levinthal with Manhattanville of Wayne Wilson of RIT. Both are entering their fourth year with those teams.

This year, everything is different. The dust appears to have finally settled. The same six teams that completed last season are all returning to compete again this year, with the same six head coaches. Truly remarkable, indeed.

With that comes the ability to grow as a league. Many of the coaches had long conversations over the summer exchanging creative ideas on how to improve the league. The ECAC West is no longer on the brink of extinction, and the coaches have the opportunity to truly improve the league, both in how things operate internally and also to make more visible improvements that the casual fan might notice.

Some of those efforts have already been in the news. The recent athletic directors’ meeting considered a proposal to alter the league schedule to include each team playing the others three times per year. That was voted down, but it is a taste of some of the efforts occurring behind the scenes. Stay tuned for more as the season progresses.

The Picks

On to the preview of the season. This year, it was very hard to make prognostications for the finishing order; the top three teams are very close, and even Hobart and Utica are breathing down the necks of the contenders. Below are the final picks, in order of predicted finish. Click on any team name to read its individual season preview.

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Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers
Coach: Wayne Wilson, fourth season, 72-10-4
2001-02 Overall Record: 23-2-2, NCAA Quarterfinals
2001-02 League Record: 9-1, regular-season champion, playoff champion
Quick Hit: RIT brings in its largest class of recruits in years. The Tigers also will enjoy their most home games since the 1980s. Will the friendly confines of Ritter Arena help the freshmen settle in? The majority of the offense returned, and All-American Tyler Euverman is still in net, so the Tigers retained the target on their back with the No. 1 pick.

Elmira Soaring Eagles
Coach: Tim Ceglarski, second season, 18-9
2001-02 Overall Record: 18-9
2001-02 League Record: 8-2
Quick Hit: Elmira’s biggest worry this season is squarely inside its defensive zone. The Soaring Eagles lost their top two goaltenders to graduation, and struggled at times last year on the breakout. Ceglarski and assistant Aaron Saul are renowned recruiters, but did they work their magic again this season?

Manhattanville Valiants
Coach: Keith Levinthal, fourth season, 38-35-6
2001-02 Overall Record: 16-7-3
2001-02 League Record: 5-4-1
Quick Hit: This is the swing year for Manhattanville. Levinthal now has four full classes playing for him, and the Valiants are ready to shake off the moniker of being a “building” program. I originally had the Valiants picked in the No. 2 slot. But the loss in September of Jon Peczka and Lee Stubbs dropped them to No. 3 in my book. The questions in goal and the loss of their fastest skater put a lot of pressure on the freshmen.

Hobart Statesmen
Coach: Mark Taylor, third season, 16-31-4
2001-02 Overall Record: 10-16
2001-02 League Record: 5-5
Quick Hit: The Statesmen only lost one senior from last year’s team; goaltender Adam Lavelle was a stud in every game. Those two factors give Hobart a slight — and I repeat, slight — edge over Utica to gain the fourth spot.

Utica Pioneers
Coach: Gary Heenan, second season, 10-12-3
2001-02 Overall Record: 10-12-3
2001-02 League Record: 2-7-1
Quick Hit: Utica surprised many last season with a successful opening campaign. Expectations are now high as Heenan begins the second year in his scripted program of building the Pioneers into a contender. They will press Hobart right up to the end of the season for the fourth and final playoff position.

Neumann Knights
Coach: Nick Russo, fifth season, 16-70-2
2001-02 Overall Record: 2-23
2001-02 League Record: 0-10
Quick Hit: Last season was an unmitigated disaster for the Knights. Not only did they lose all ten league contests, they weren’t competitive in many of the matches. The college has re-emphasized its commitment to the program, and Russo has recruited the best players he can find to start the program back toward respectability.


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