Looking East

One – New Season
Two – New Coaches
Three – Ranked Teams in the USCHO Pre-season Poll
… And Away We Go!!!!

The new season is upon us as practice began officially on November 1 for the 10 teams in the ECAC East this week. But before we look ahead to the great hockey yet to come, it may help the preview to take a quick look back.

Norwich, last year’s regular season champion, couldn’t take advantage of home ice in the conference playoffs and saw their season end in the semifinals against resurgent New England College.

Babson, under first year coach Jamie Rice, hit the 20 win plateau for the first time in many years but also fell in the conference final to Tom Carroll’s Pilgrims.

New England College found the magic of great team chemistry, a hot goalie and the belief they could win and carried it all the way to the Frozen Four where they eventually lost out to the defending champions from Middlebury.

So why the recap? A long off-season and the main players haven’t changed much in the hierarchy of the league but a couple of last year’s surprise teams will continue to look to make advances while three programs seek a new start with a couple of new coaches and a renewed view of the upcoming season.

So let’s take a look at how things could shake out in the ECAC East this season. Here are the team previews for the ’05-’06 season in order of my predicted finish-nothing like getting the year off to a flying start on the old prediction scale.

1. Babson Beavers
2004-2005 Overall Record: 20-5-3
2004-2005 League Record: 13-3-3
2004-2005 League Finish: Second
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: First

Team Overview: Back for his second season at the helm for Babson, coach Jamie Rice returns a solid, if not spectacular core in all three key areas. Led by senior defenseman and captain Tom Sullivan, the Beavers have a strong offense centered around Johnny Kim and can keep things tight with last year’s conference Goaltender of the Year Craig Weiner. The rest of the supporting cast is strong and experienced and will look to take the next step and win the conference championship after falling just one game short each of the past two seasons.

2. Norwich Cadets
2004-2005 Overall Record: 18-5-3
2004-2005 League Record: 15-2-2
2004-2005 League Finish: First
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Second

Team Overview: How do you replace the leading goal scorer in school history and the College Player of the Year in Kurtis McLean who graduated last spring? You don’t do it with one guy. “We’ve got some good numbers, good depth and talent,” stated head coach Mike McShane. “This may be the best depth we’ve had here and we could have four lines that are threats to score some goals not just two.” The Cadets will also look to senior defenseman Brian Mullally to rebound from an off year and senior goaltender Mike Boudreau to backstop an improved defensive corp. Early feedback on the freshmen has been good so look for the opener of the Primelink tournament against Middlebury to be a barometer for the young Cadets.

3. New England College Pilgrims
2004-2005 Overall Record: 18-12-0
2004-2005 League Record: 11-8-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Fourth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Third

Team Overview: Winning the league and placing third in the national championship tournament has the Pilgrims looking for more this season. “We’re very proud of what we accomplished last season,” commented head coach Tom Carroll. “We want to take the next step and the kids understand what it takes to earn a chance to play in those games at the end of the season.” Two key performers from last year’s terrific run include sophomore center Mike Carmody and goaltender Scott Gray, who finished last year with a 15-5-0 record. “Both guys are driven to be better,” noted Carroll. “They’ve focused on getting better and understand they are going to get some attention this year based on the results from last season.” The Pilgrims always open with a tough schedule and this year is no different with Colby and Bowdoin starting things off later this month. Look for a better first half that should keep NEC right in the chase.

4. Southern Maine Huskies
2004-2005 Overall Record: 15-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 11-7-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Third
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fourth

Team Overview: Last year’s surprise team, the Huskies finished strong including a win over cross-state rival Bowdoin to grab the third seed in the conference playoffs. Gone is defenseman Jon Lounsbury, whose leadership on and off the ice will be missed, but head coach Jeff Beaney is excited about what he has coming back. “We have four lines up front, three solid defensemen and three good returning goalies. We’ll probably have nine freshman on the roster and expect a couple to step up on the blue line,” noted Beaney. David Beckles and Ryan Sullivan should push each other for the starting job in goal and if they can duplicate last year’s consistent play, the Huskies may have a few more surprises in store for the rest of the league this season.

5. St. Anselm Hawks
2004-2005 Overall Record: 18-10-1
2004-2005 League Record: 10-8-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fifth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fifth

Team Overview: The Hawks continue to face the dilemma of being a D-II team in a D-III league. While they are the reigning NE-10 champions (end of year tournament for D-II schools), their focus is to win the ECAC East. Coach Ed Seney’s team returns a veteran group up front led by leading scorer Josh Hechter and a pair of defensive standouts in Brian Dobler and Brett Smith. Expect Smith and Dobler to see lots of ice time as the Hawks look to find a replacement for departed goaltender Jim Merola, who played virtually every game for St. A’s over the past couple of seasons. This is a team with something to prove so motivation isn’t an issue. Look for St. Anselm’s to build on last year’s success if they can survive a brutal stretch in January against the NESCAC schools.

6. Salem State Vikings
2004-2005 Overall Record: 11-12-3
2004-2005 League Record: 6-10-3
2004-2005 League Finish: Sixth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Sixth

Team Overview: Bill O’Neill’s squad may be the most experienced in the league with over 10 seniors in the lineup. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Vikings, who return virtually all of their offensive weapons from last season including Andrew O’Neill, Drew Madeiros, Sean Ferguson and Jim Cashins. Defense and goaltending will be the key for the Vikings if they want to challenge for the upper half of the conference. Junior goaltender Kevin Adam, who played the majority of the team’s games last season, will be play a key role in consistently shutting down the opponent’s offense. Three games in five nights to open the season against Norwich, St. Michael’s and Southern Maine should speak volumes about this team’s potential this season.

7. St. Michael’s Purple Knights
2004-2005 Overall Record: 8-16-2
2004-2005 League Record: 3-14-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Seventh
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Sixth

Team Overview: Just how popular is hockey in Winooski, Vermont? How about 74 kids on the ice for tryouts this week for excitement? Assistant coach Chris Davidson thinks there are a lot of positives for the team this season. “We have a solid core group as we only lost 4 o5 players from last year,” said Davidson. “There is great senior leadership, strong team chemistry and maybe the best freshman class we have had here in quite awhile. Our two captains have been outstanding in getting everyone on the same page and really lead by example.” Defenseman Jonathan Perez and forward Alex Watts will need to keep this team focused as the blue line corps and goaltenders establish themselves early in the season.

8. Skidmore Thoroughbreds
2004-2005 Overall Record: 6-19-1
2004-2005 League Record: 5-13-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Sixth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Eighth

Team Overview: How much can one program go through and survive? Apparently a lot as evidenced by the Skidmore program which has survived a threatened cancellation of the program by the school two seasons ago and a pre-season hazing incident last year that didn’t help the Thoroughbreds get out of the gate very well. This year, the school has a new AD and a new coach who is very familiar to the ECAC East and NESCAC schools. Neil Sinclair takes over the helm from Paul Dion who retired over the summer. “Coach Dion really set things up well before he left,” noted Sinclair. “We have 14 freshman out for the team this week… a really good group of dedicated guys back. I have been impressed with the commitment and work ethic exhibited so far and we will need that to compete against the teams in this league.” Leading scorer Rob Hutchinson is back, as are the goaltending tandem of Ted Levine and assistant captain Mike Mansfield. Look for the Thoroughbreds to open things up on the big ice at home as they convert to an up-tempo style.

9. UMass-Boston Beacons
2004-2005 Overall Record: 4-19-1
2004-2005 League Record: 2-16-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Ninth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Ninth

Team Overview: Head coach Mike Bertoni has instilled a new attitude to go with a re-vamped roster for the upcoming season and is lining up a new era for the Beacons. “We will be very young this year, mostly freshman and sophomores,” stated Bertoni. “We are very optimistic but know this is a tough league. I have been impressed by the work ethic and discipline and we will do a little team building during a retreat this weekend to one of the Boston Harbor islands for Project Adventure.” Leadership will be provided by a core group of sophomores including forward Dave Baczkowski and defensemen Andrew Ward and Tim Recio. If attitude counts-and it does most nights-the Beacons will certainly be more competitive and may surprise teams looking past them.

10. Castleton State Spartans
2004-2005 Overall Record: 0-19-0
2004-2005 League Record: 0-25-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Tenth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Tenth

Team Overview: For new head coach Alex Todd, his first job at the top of his own program is a captivating place to be. “This is really exciting,” stated the newcomer from the ECAC West. “We really do not have any expectations or any fear of our record as we try and build this program form the ground floor. I have seen a lot of hard work in our new weight room and now we will see how those big biceps translate to ability and impact on the ice in our new arena. The kids really have taken to our new facilities and now we want to build on that energy and enthusiasm and improve every time we step on the ice.” After a winless inaugural campaign in 2004-05, the Spartans have no place to go but up. Expect a more competitive squad, fewer goals against and another first this season-some wins.