It would be somewhat easy for me to take a look at last year’s preview of the NESCAC conference and repeat many of the comments brought forth by the league coaches there are a lot of similar themes. Like last year the defending league and national champions are coming out of Middlebury and everyone has them picked as the consensus number one in conference and beyond based on their recent run of success. But go ahead and ask how does the rest of the league shape up in terms of challengers and what will be the finish order and you also get a consensus of a different kind — it’s really a wide open league.
“As we have seen in the past few seasons, you can be in a home ice position coming into the last games of the season and be out in just one weekend — that’s how small the gap is among these teams,” said Williams head coach Bill Kangas. “We finished second last year and ended up with Trinity in the first round where we lost so anything can happen with the caliber of teams in this conference.”
Another theme for the upcoming season, which also contributes to the ambiguity in coaches picking an order in the standings, is that youth will be served this season. Several teams including Bowdoin, Conn College, Trinity, Hamilton and even Middlebury are all going to be young squads where freshmen and sophomores make up a large portion of the roster and will see a lot of ice time. Youth has some advantages — just ask coach Bill Beaney from Middlebury.
“We really only had one senior that played regularly on last year’s team and the young guys had a big impact on the season,” Beaney noted. “This year we have a great group of seniors who have an opportunity to do something really unique and special here and our young guys have been through this before so the expectations are different.”
Many of the coaches in the league hope that their young squads will find that special chemistry and come together quickly to play some great hockey in a league where every point is important in the standings. Most teams play an up tempo style so the hockey should be fun to watch and of course, special teams will play a big role in teams success as we look towards this year’s predictions for how the NESCAC conference will shape up. Here’s my shot at looking into the crystal ball including some notes of interest regarding the schedules for these teams:
NESCAC In Predicted Order Of Finish
Click on a team name in the section below to view that team’s preview
1. Middlebury Panthers
2005-2006 Overall Record: 26-2-2
2005-2006 League Record: 16-2-1
2005-2006 League Finish: First
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: First
Outlook: There’s a reason, actually several why the Panthers keep winning — defense, goaltending, timely scoring, great special teams and an attitude about winning. A chance to do something special this year is not lost on this team. Look for the Panthers to play with purpose right into March.
2. Colby Mules
2005-2006 Overall Record: 15-9-1
2005-2006 League Record: 11-7-1
2005-2006 League Finish: Third (tied)
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Second
Outlook: A strong junior class and a senior goalie who knows the value of a big save will help Colby to the upper echelon of the league this season.
3. Bowdoin Polar Bears
2005-2006 Overall Record: 17-7-3
2005-2006 League Record: 10-6-3
2005-2006 League Finish: Third (tied)
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Third
Outlook: Terry Meagher’s teams are always in the hunt so expect this year’s edition to be right there when the young guys get the system and they find the next great goaltender to play in Brunswick.
4. Williams Ephs
2005-2006 Overall Record: 14-7-3
2005-2006 League Record: 13-3-3
2005-2006 League Finish: Second
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Fourth
Outlook: Team speed and a young squad that grew together last year on both sides of the Atlantic will have Williams playing for home ice again this season.
5. Wesleyan Cardinals
2005-2006 Overall Record: 7-13-4
2005-2006 League Record: 6-9-4
2005-2006 League Finish: Eighth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction Fifth
Outlook: Continued improvement over the past couple of seasons has the Cardinals reaching for lofty status this season. They need to score more but aren’t going to give up much which should help them play for a potential home ice berth in February.
6. Amherst Lord Jeffs
2005-2006 Overall Record: 12-12-1
2005-2006 League Record: 9-9-1
2005-2006 League Finish: Sixth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Sixth
Outlook: The ability to play down the stretch will make the difference for this year’s edition at Amherst. All the players expected to have big seasons will need to do so for the team to challenge at the top.
7. Trinity Bantams
2005-2006 Overall Record: 13-10-3
2005-2006 League Record: 9-7-3
2005-2006 League Finish: Fifth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Seventh
Outlook: How much of a difference can the new arena make? It already has in the recruiting game and if the new arrivals can have a solid impact don’t be surprised if you see Trinity skating again at a league final four.
8. Hamilton Continentals
2005-2006 Overall Record: 11-12-3
2005-2006 League Record: 8-9-2
2005-2006 League Finish: Seventh
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Eighth
Outlook: The Continentals will lead from the blue line and if the new corps of forwards to can show the depth and balance Phil Grady is looking for, they will compete every night. Early part of the season will tell a lot about the chemistry and acclimation of the young players to league play.
9. Tufts Jumbos
2005-2006 Overall Record: 9-12-3
2005-2006 League Record: 6-11-2
2005-2006 League Finish: Ninth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Ninth
Outlook: Staying healthy will be a key for Tufts as last year’s fade was primarily based on not enough bodies on the ice to translate effort into results. Special teams are a difference maker and Tufts has the talent to surprise some teams if they are not ready.
10. Connecticut College Camels
2005-2006 Overall Record: 4-19-1
2005-2006 League Record: 3-15-1
2005-2006 League Finish: Tenth
2006-2007 USCHO Prediction: Tenth
Outlook: The Camels will need to improve in all areas but consistent offense will be a must to get points in the tight games Conn College found themselves on the short end of the scoreboard last season.