2005-06 ECACHL Season Preview

The common theme sounded by coaches from around the ECAC at the league’s media day was the parity that exists among its teams. The coaches’ poll and the media poll both had four teams — Colgate, Dartmouth, Harvard, and St. Lawrence — predicted to finish from second to fifth and separated by only a handful of points.

Though the coaches and the media could not agree on the exact order of the four challengers, they did agree on one thing: the dominance of the Cornell. The Big Red garnered all 21 first-place votes in the media poll and scored 11 of 12 votes in the coaches’ poll; those 11 votes amount to a unanimous decision, given that coaches will generally not select their own team as the preseason favorite. Cornell also received national recognition, occupying the No. 4 spot in the USCHO.com/CSTV preseason poll.

But even Cornell coach Mike Schafer, who returns most of his key performers from a team that won the ECAC championship last season and took Minnesota into overtime of the NCAA West Regional before ultimately falling 2-1, emphasized the inability to assume any team will automatically build on last year’s success.

David McKee will get another shot at the Hobey Baker Memorial Award this season for the Big Red (photo: Melissa Wade).

David McKee will get another shot at the Hobey Baker Memorial Award this season for the Big Red (photo: Melissa Wade).

“You kind of have to start all over again [each season]; we found out after ’02-’03 — there’s no carry over; there really isn’t any carryover from team to team,” Schafer said. “We just expect the same kind of effort [as last year] to try and win hockey games, and to keep it that simple.”

Schafer is one of college hockey’s best coaches, and it’s almost a given that he will get the maximum effort out of his team. Given the level of talent returning for another season in Ithaca and the consistently high quality of Cornell’s recruiting classes, it’s only natural to assume that the Big Red will build on last year’s success in the ECAC and attempt to make further inroads towards an NCAA title. And that’s why Cornell claims the top spot in this season preview.

After that, though, the picture becomes a little less clear. Union coach Nate Leaman said he expects “another very tight year.”

“Cornell is picked to head our league this year, but anything can happen,” he added. “Anything can happen in this league; history has proven it. This is a league that anyone can win; it’s extremely competitive.”

The competition will be tight for the two through five spots, with Colgate and Dartmouth both likely to improve on last year’s finish. The Harvard Crimson will again be in the hunt for an ECAC title, despite graduation losses in goal and along the blue line. But the Crimson might find themselves knocked out of the first-round playoff bye that accompanies a top-four finish during the regular season by Joe Marsh’s St. Lawrence Saints. If the Saints can solidify the questions they have in net, they could well bump Colgate or Dartmouth out of a top-three finish.

Despite Leaman’s insistence that anyone can win the league, there is a difference between the teams bunched from two to five — Colgate, Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, and Harvard — and the teams fighting for the six through nine slots. Clarkson, Union, Brown, and Princeton all have talented players, but none has enough depth yet.

Beyond the ninth slot, Yale and Rensselaer will work to put last season’s failures behind them. Fans of Quinnipiac, whose inaugural season in the ECAC will be very challenging, will need to be patient as their team adjusts to a new league with a much different style of play.

Click on any team name at the top of the sections below for its individual season preview.

Cornell Big Red

Head Coach: Mike Schafer, entering his 11th season behind the bench. His career record is 199-103-34, all at Cornell.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 27-5-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 18-2-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: First
In Brief: Gone is a very talented forward in Shane Hynes, but the Big Red will have one of the nation’s best forwards, Matt Moulson, and its best goaltender, David McKee, to rely on. A first-place finish in the ECAC wouldn’t be surprising; nor would a No. 1 national ranking before the calendar turns to 2006.

Colgate Raiders

Head Coach: Don Vaughan, entering his 13th season behind the bench. His career record is 204-183-36, all at Colgate.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 25-11-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 14-5-3
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Second
In Brief: Steve Silverthorn was one of the best goaltenders in the league, and his replacement in net is one of the early-season questions for coach Don Vaughan. What isn’t questionable, though, is the crop of talented forwards that Colgate returns, including Jon Smyth and Tyler Burton. As long as the Raiders can produce solid defense and goaltending they should excel, because they have talent to outgun many teams. A return to the NCAA tournament is not out of the question.

Dartmouth Big Green

Head Coach: Bob Gaudet, entering his 1eighth season behind the bench, his ninth at Dartmouth. His career record is 207-253-63.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 20-13-2
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 14-8-0
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Third
In Brief: Dartmouth lost a skilled playmaker in Lee Stempniak, but the Big Green returns so much talent along the forward lines — especially Mike Ouellette and Nick Johnson — and along the blue line with Grant Lewis and Garret Overlock, that the only question is goaltending. Who will coach Bob Gaudet plug in between the pipes as a replacement to Dan Yacey? That person’s success or struggle will be indicative of his team’s fortunes.

St. Lawrence Saints

T.J. Trevelyan looks to lead SLU into the upper reaches of the ECACHL standings.

T.J. Trevelyan looks to lead SLU into the upper reaches of the ECACHL standings.

Head Coach: Joe Marsh, entering his 2first season behind the bench. His career record is 358-298-47, all at Saint Lawrence.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 17-19-2
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 9-12-1
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Fourth
In Brief: Like Colgate and Dartmouth before them, the Saints’ biggest worry comes between the pipes. Departed goaltender Mike McKenna provided solid play, and that’s all coach Joe Marsh will need out of his replacement because all-league selections T.J. Trevelyan and Mike Madill will lead a fleet of fast-skating forwards and a capable corps of defenders, respectively.

Harvard Crimson

Head Coach: Ted Donato, entering his second season behind the bench. Career record is 21-10-3, at all Harvard.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 21-10-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 15-5-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Fifth
In Brief: Stop me if this refrain is becoming familiar — Harvard has serious goaltending concerns after the departure of talented Dov Grumet-Morris. Where the Crimson differ from Dartmouth and St. Lawrence, however, is in the questions that also spring up with their forwards and defensemen. Coach Ted Donato feels like his sophomores and juniors can assume much of the departed offense, and that captain Peter Hafner and junior Dylan Reese can fill the substantial skates of departed defensemen Noah Welch and Ryan Lannon. If Donato is right, Harvard could find itself back in the ECAC championship battling Cornell. If he’s wrong, this fifth-place prediction might be a couple of spots too high.

Clarkson Golden Knights

Head Coach: George Roll, entering his ninth season behind the bench, and his third at Clarkson. His career record is 137-103-22.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 13-23-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 7-13-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Sixth
In Brief: After enjoying surprising success in the 2004 ECAC tournament, Clarkson came crashing down to earth a year ago. Almost nothing went right for the Golden Knights, and they struggled in almost every facet of the game. That being said, the Clarkson roster has tremendous talent; Coach George Roll and his assistants have brought in solid recruiting classes over the last few years. This is the year for the Golden Knights’ results to begin to catch up to their potential.

Union Dutchmen

Head Coach: Nate Leaman, entering his third season behind the bench. His career record is 27-39-7, all at Union.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 13-22-2
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 8-13-1
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Seventh
In Brief: Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and Union is a case in point. Nate Leaman’s Dutchmen do not have equal talent to many of their competitors, but their play at points last year showed that hard work and good coaching can help make up for a little less athleticism. Nowhere was this more apparent than during a three-game playoff loss to Clarkson, where all three games went into overtime.

Brown Bears

Adam D'Alba hopes to improve upon an already-impressive 2004-05 season (photo: Brown sports information).

Adam D’Alba hopes to improve upon an already-impressive 2004-05 season (photo: Brown sports information).

Head Coach: Roger Grillo, entering his ninth season behind the bench. His career record is 93-126-30, all at Brown.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 16-14-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 9-11-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Eighth
In Brief: Brown lost two talented forwards in Les Haggett and Brian Meech, but it has solid depth returning, led by Brian Ihnacak up front and Sean Hurley on defense. How much protection the defense provides to goaltender Adam D’Alba and D’Alba’s own ability to improve on last season’s performance are the major questions facing the Bears.

Princeton Tigers

Head Coach: Guy Gadowsky, entering his seventh season behind the bench, his second at Princeton. His career record is 76-109-25.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 8-20-3
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 6-14-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: Ninth
In Brief: The Tigers lost two scorers, and still have a roster with a number of holes. Coach Guy Gadowsky is betting that he can fill the skates of Dustin Sproat and Luc Paquin by committee, and the aggressive, up-tempo style of play that Gadowsky has brought to Hobey Baker Rink makes that possible. The Tigers will have success when they can run-and-gun; bigger and stronger teams like Cornell and Harvard will give the Tigers trouble.

Yale Bulldogs

Head Coach: Tim Taylor, entering his 2eighth season behind the bench. His career record is 332-413-52, all at Yale.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 5-25-2
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 3-18-1
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: 10th
In Brief: The Achilles’ heels for the Yalies were defense and goaltending last season; they ranked dead last in team defense and on the penalty kill. But they didn’t fare much better on offense (ninth in the league) or on the power play (11th). A talented recruiting class that includes Patrick Brosnihan and Brennan Turner will help on both fronts, but coach Tim Taylor’s team is still a few years away from being able to compete with his Ivy counterparts in Ithaca, Hanover, or Cambridge.

Rensselaer Engineers

Head Coach: Dan Fridgen, entering his 12th season behind the bench. His career record is 197-176-32, all at Rensselaer.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 14-22-2
2004-2005 ECAC Record: 6-15-1
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: 11th
In Brief: The 2004-2005 season was not kind to the Engineers; they lost 10 games by one goal and finished second to last in the league. Coach Dan Fridgen has talent returning, especially senior forwards Kevin Croxton and Kirk MacDonald (still recovering from cancer treatment), and he’ll need strong seasons out of both for Rensselaer to finish in the top half of the ECAC.

Quinnipiac Bobcats

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold, entering his 12th season behind the bench. His career record is 202-118-32, all at Quinnipiac.
2004-2005 Overall Record: 21-13-3
2004-2005 Atlantic Hockey Record: 16-6-2
2005-2006 Predicted ECAC Finish: 12th
In Brief: It’s hard to know what to expect out of newcomer Quinnipiac. Certainly Rand Pecknold’s Bobcats have had solid success in Atlantic Hockey, and junior defenseman Reid Cashman was a Hobey Baker finalist who might be the most talented defenseman in the ECAC. But how well will that success, both for the Bobcats in general and Cashman specifically, translate against the tougher, more talented teams in the league? The betting here is that Cashman proves he can play with anyone in college hockey, but that the Bobcats will need a longer adjustment period before they can experience the same success in the ECAC that they enjoyed in Atlantic Hockey.