FINALLY!!! Lets play some hockey.
Last season saw dramatic improvement from a number of programs that had every fan wondering what the scores would be from virtually every match up. The league was so tight that going into the last weekend of the regular season only three points separated the top five teams in the standings. Ultimately the sixth place team in the regular season, Babson, ended up taking the league title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
I expect the league is going to be even more competitive this year, stated Southern Maine head coach Jeff Beaney. I look at who teams have returning and everyone is returning a lot of players from last year to go with adding some talent from the recruiting classes. This year should be just as close as last year and everyone better have their teams ready to play every night because there are no easy or automatic wins on anyones schedule.
The leagues coaches believe that Norwich will be the team that everyone will be chasing at the top of the standings. But right behind the Cadets is last years champion Babson and it only gets more interesting from there. Lots of teams will be building on successful campaigns from a last season with experienced squads.
We know we have had success and a year of valuable experience under our belts, noted Castleton State head coach Alex Todd. The kids have put a lot of time and effort into their off-ice training programs so we will be stronger and bit faster but now we need to stay committed to the things that made us successful last year and build on those things this year.
Last season, the pre-season prognostications saw some mixed results in what was truly a rollercoaster ride of a season. That will not deter this intrepid writer from once again challenging the coaches own choices and their pre-season uncertainties when everyone has yet to play a single game. So heres my ranking for the ECAC East in the 2007-08 season which will surely make each and every week an exciting one for all who enjoy the games and hope that this year is the year for their favorite team:
2006-2007 Overall Record: 20-8-0
2006-2007 League Record: 14-5-0
2006-2007 League Finish: First
2007-2008 Coaches Pick: First
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: First
Team Overview: Norwich has a lot of balance returning in their scoring and expect to see a lot of appearances on the score sheet by Rick Cleaver (24-20-44), Eric Lauriault (11-27-38), Nikita Kashirsky (17-9-26) and Captain Raphael Robitaille (11-15-26).
Goaltending should again be strong with the return of junior Chance Gieni and sophomore David Thompson who played in 25 games last season with Gieni hurt. Look for both to play early and push each other for ice time.
Special Teams: Coach Mike McShane would like to see some improvement in his power play production and believes he has the firepower to see better results. Look for newcomer Sylvain Messier to help quarterback the power play and contribute from his position on the blue line.
Player to Watch: Junior Rico Piatelli (5-7-12) is a player Coach McShane thinks can be a bigger contributor for the Cadets this season.
He is a good two-way player and a solid checker. If he could finish a little stronger around the goal that five goals could be ten this season.
Summary: Look for the Cadets to showcase their talent early and often. If the defense and goaltending hold up, this team will be a strong competitor in March on the national stage.
2006-2007 Overall Record: 18-10-1
2006-2007 League Record: 11-7-1
2006-2007 League Finish: Sixth
2007-2008 Coaches Pick: Second
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Second
Team Overview: The defending ECAC champions only lost one player from last years squad and return their top 10 scorers which indicates the Beavers should have good balanced scoring.
Senior captain John Geverd is among the teams leading returning scorers having posted 16 goals and eight assists for 24 points last season including seven power play goals and four game winning tallies. Junior Brad Baldelli (16-20-36) and sophomores Shane Farrell (10-15-25) and Jason Schneider (14-12-26) return with greater expectations for this season.
Skylar Nipps returns for his junior season with solid experience and as a veteran presence on this years roster that also includes freshmen Travis Clark and Dustin Zenner. Coach Rice has already seen a very competitive goalie situation based on his prior three seasons and believes his team will be solid in goal.
Special Teams: Babson scored almost 37 percent of its goals on the power play which is an area where Coach Rice would like to see continued success. Look for improvement on the 85 percent penalty kill rate from last season.
Players to Watch: Junior Pat McLaughlin (6-14-20) finished the second half of the season strong last year and is poised to step it up this year.
Freshman Terry Woods has looked good early in the teams practices and figures to be one three freshmen that could be an impact player for the Beavers.
Summary: Last years Babson squad reached heights only two other teams in school history have reached. This years squad has the talent to repeat and once again play on the national stage in the spring.
Castleton State Spartans
2006-2007 Overall Record: 17-6-4
2006-2007 League Record: 11-4-4
2006-2007 League Finish: Fifth
2007-2008 Coaches Pick: Fourth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Third
Team Overview: Coach Alex Todd clearly has the Spartans headed in the right direction and looks to continue their success from last year into this season with many of the key pieces already in place.
Strong goaltending returns in juniors Jeff Swanson (11-5-3) and Jay Seals (6-1-1) and they are supported by a strong defensive corps including junior Jared Lavender and senior Travis Martell.
Junior captain Brandon Heck (14-19-33) and sophomore Steve Culbertson (17-13-30) are back to lead the offense that averaged over four goals a game last season.
Special Teams: Two strong power play combinations are what Coach Todd hopes to find during this upcoming season.
With so much emphasis on the special teams you cant just rely on one group of players to always be available to produce in every situation. If we are going to make teams pay for taking penalties then well need a strong second power play unit to contribute.
Player to Watch: Defenseman Travis Martell has proven to be a force in both ends of the ice having posted seven goals and twenty assists last season for the Spartans. Look for the big defender to be an impact player in his senior season.
Summary: The physical talent is present for this team to challenge the league leaders. Having tasted success last season they will need to play within themselves and mentally prepare to be challenged every night as no one will take them lightly.
New England College Pilgrims
2006-2007 Overall Record: 17-10-1
2006-2007 League Record: 13-5-1
2006-2007 League Finish: Second
2007-2008 Coaches Pick: Third
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Fourth
Team Overview: The Pilgrims will be returning a solid nucleus of players including seniors Brian Po