Welcome back to all the fans who love D-II/III hockey in New England!
Better late than never as the ECAC East and NESCAC schools are last to officially step on to the ice for real practices and the start of games in mid-November. I actually prefer to think of the late start as a good thing coming to those who can wait. Without question the level of play in the ECAC East is as competitive as any conference in the country and there are truly some elite teams that year-in and year-out have challenged for league and national recognition. So what’s up with this season?
The big difference looks like the improvement of the teams at the bottom half of the league that will strengthen the overall conference and make it extremely difficult for any team to take any night off.
“You know that Norwich, New England, St. A’s and Southern Maine are going to be up there,” said Babson head coach Jamie Rice. “What’s going to be interesting is the level of improvement we see at Skidmore and Castleton as those new coaches bring in new and talented players to help their program. And now with Peter Belisle coming in at UMass-Boston, there will be some improvement there that will make them more competitive. The gap between the top and the bottom continues to close which will make for some great hockey during the season.”
By consensus among the league’s coaches, Norwich will be the team that everyone will be gunning for at the top of the standings. But behind the Cadets is where things get interesting. Lots of teams will be introducing a lot of new players into their system and playing younger less experienced squads.
“We know we are going to be younger,” said New England College head coach Tom Carroll. “That’s going to make the first weeks of practice and our first semester games important in terms of coming together as a team and determining how we can best utilize the players we have on this year’s roster.”
In the past the pre-season prognostications have seen some mixed results. But that will not deter this writer from once again reaching out to challenge the conventional wisdom and “coach speak” so prevalent at this time of the season when everyone is 0-0 and boundless enthusiasm prevails at each school regarding their chances for success in the upcoming season. So without further ado — here’s my ranking for the ECAC East in the 2006-07 season which includes some interesting schedule notes as well as a look into special teams play which is quickly becoming a difference maker in the outcomes of college hockey games:
ECAC East (in order of predicted finish)
Click on the team name at the top of each section to see that team’s individual preview
1. Norwich Cadets
2005-2006 Overall Record: 22-5-2
2005-2006 League Record: 15-2-2
2005-2006 League Finish: First
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: First
Summary: Look for the Cadets to get off to a good start and compete on the national stage come spring time.
2. Babson Beavers
2005-2006 Overall Record: 17-10-0
2005-2006 League Record: 14-5-0
2005-2006 League Finish: Second
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Second
Summary: Babson will be right in the thick of the race and if the Beavers can improve their offensive output may reach the 20-win mark.
3. St. Anselm Hawks
2005-2006 Overall Record: 17-8-2
2005-2006 League Record: 14-7-2
2005-2006 League Finish: Fourth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Third
Summary: The Hawks are seasoned and hungry to prove themselves in the ECAC East. Strong senior leadership will help them showcase how good they are against the rest of the league.
4. New England College Pilgrims
2005-2006 Overall Record: 19-6-3
2005-2006 League Record: 11-5-3
2005-2006 League Finish: Third
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Fourth
Summary: As coach Tom Carroll says, “the opening games will be important — it will be important to have a good first semester.” How quickly this team comes together will impact where they will end up in the conference.
5. Southern Maine Huskies
2005-2006 Overall Record: 12-13-2
2005-2006 League Record: 9-8-2
2005-2006 League Finish: Fifth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Fifth
Summary: Get out of the blocks well and play like they have in the second half during the past two seasons and Southern Maine may challenge for a higher home-ice seed in the playoffs.
6. Salem State Vikings
2005-2006 Overall Record: 11-11-4
2005-2006 League Record: 7-8-4
2005-2006 League Finish: Sixth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Sixth
Summary: Like most teams that look to be short on experience, the early season schedule and how quickly things come together will greatly impact the Vikings’ chances for success in the league. Improved specialty teams and solid goaltending will be important against several quality opponents to start the season.
7. Skidmore Thoroughbreds
2005-2006 Overall Record: 6-18-1
2005-2006 League Record: 5-13-1
2005-2006 League Finish: Eighth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Seventh
Summary: It’s year two of building a program so the building blocks are being put in place. Look for heavy contributions from the freshman class and if the goaltending is solid, significant improvement ove last years six win total.
8. St. Michael’s Purple Knights
2005-2006 Overall Record: 9-14-4
2005-2006 League Record: 3-12-4
2005-2006 League Finish: Seventh
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Eighth
Summary: St. Michael’s opens the season with a number of key D-II match-ups that should help them get out of the gates quickly. The Purple Knights host their own tournament this year which includes Assumption, Hamline and Johnson & Wales. A good start is really needed to set the tone for league play coming out of the holiday break.
9. Castleton State Spartans
2005-2006 Overall Record: 4-19-3
2005-2006 League Record: 1-15-3
2005-2006 League Finish: Tenth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Ninth
Summary: For sure the Spartans will continue to improve and earn the respect of their opponents as they move through the season. Added scoring and balance in the line-up will help them to compete every game and with some improved team defense, they might move into the top eight.
10. UMass-Boston Beacons
2004-2005 Overall Record: 0-23-3
2004-2005 League Record: 0-17-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Ninth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Ninth
Summary: A new start with a promising young coach will have this team playing consistently hard every night. Expect to see some wins for the Beacons this season especially with their non-league schedule.