ECAC East Season Preview

FINALLY!!! Let’s 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 anyone’s schedule.”

The league’s 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 year’s 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 here’s 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:

Norwich Cadets

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.

Sophomore David Thompson looks to backstop the Cadets back to the top in the ECAC East.

Sophomore David Thompson looks to backstop the Cadets back to the top in the ECAC East.

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.

Babson Beavers

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 year’s squad and return their top 10 scorers which indicates the Beavers should have good balanced scoring.

Senior captain John Geverd is among the team’s 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 year’s 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 team’s practices and figures to be one three freshmen that could be an impact player for the Beavers.

Summary: Last year’s Babson squad reached heights only two other teams in school history have reached. This year’s 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 can’t 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 we’ll 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 Pouliot (8-13-21 in 17 games) and Mike Carmody (10-10-20 in 22 games) which has the team looking very strong up the middle.

Sophomore Ron Baia and freshman Aaron Harvey will backstop the Pilgrims in goal and both will benefit greatly from the play of sophomore defenseman Trevor Turner who had an outstanding freshman year for New England College.

Special Teams: With 36 power play goals last season, the Pilgrims were effective but look for improvement based on healthy seasons from Carmody and Pouliot as well as bigger contributions from Mark Ehl and Mike Mullen.

Player to Watch: Senior Mickey Serra (13-7-20) played in every game last year and was a key player for NEC’s offense including 5 power-play goals and two game winners.

Summary: With no in-season tournament a revamped schedule, NEC should have a stronger start to the season and with a second half like last year could find themselves again playing in the championship game.

Southern Maine Huskies

2006-2007 Overall Record: 15-9-2
2006-2007 League Record: 12-5-2
2006-2007 League Finish: Fourth
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Sixth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Fifth

Team Overview: Coach Jeff Beaney’s team did lose some key contributors to last year’s team and will be looking for other players to pick up the slack. Starting with the goaltending, senior Ryan Sullivan (2-0-0 last season) will need to play like his all-rookie goalie year.

Transfers Dan Gordon (forward) and Jamie Gilbert (goalie) bring a D-I presence to the roster and expectations are high for their play with Southern Maine this season.

Special Teams: Two-thirds of the big three on the power play unit have graduated leaving senior Dane Marshall (3-15-18) to quarterback a new unit. Different players will be needed to step up and help the Huskies’ offensive production.

Players to Watch: Sophomore Chris Travis (4-11-15) and senior Mike Stevens (4-22-26) will need to create excitement on the ice for the Huskies.

Summary: If the goaltending is there and the balance up front produces, the Huskies will continue to make noise come playoff time.

Skidmore Thoroughbreds

2006-2007 Overall Record: 16-8-12
2006-2007 League Record: 12-5-2
2006-2007 League Finish: Third
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Fifth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Sixth

Team Overview: Coach Neil Sinclair’s Thoroughbreds have a team befitting of their mascot. They play on a big ice surface at home and really like to push the tempo of the game.

Sophomore goalie DJ Delbuono (13-7-2) returns to backstop Skidmore with his .922 save percentage and three shutouts from last season.

Up front junior captain Teddy Gowan (9-10-19) and sophomore Matt Czerkowicz (11-17-28) will be expected to provide leadership and improve an offense that scored just 89 goals last season.

Special Teams: With only a 13 percent success rate last season, Skidmore will be looking for more production on the power play unit from their more experienced players.

Player to Watch: Sophomore Anthony Ferri (10-8-18) also added five power play goals and four game winners for Skidmore in his freshman season. Look for improved numbers the second time around.

Summary: A big jump last year includes the loss of some key senior leadership. If the younger players fill-in those roles and continue to produce Skidmore can ride a hot goaltender into March.

St. Anselm Hawks

2006-2007 Overall Record: 13-12-3
2006-2007 League Record: 8-8-3
2006-2007 League Finish: Seventh
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Eighth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Seventh

Team Overview: “We’ve got 13 freshmen,” noted Hawk’s head coach Ed Seney. “We’ll probably use seven to eight freshmen every weekend. There are a lot of unknown in terms of expectations for this year’s team but we will see what unfolds.”

“We should be pretty good on the blue line and we have Jason (Zuck) back in goal so we should be competitive.”

Seniors Pat Forshner (11-14-25) and Colin Fitzpatrick (9-15-24) will need to step up and add to their point totals in support of fellow senior and last year’s leading scorer, Mike Foley (13-13-26).

Special Teams: Penalty killing was strength for this team last season and figures to be again this year with the return of a solid defensive corps and goaltender. Captain Mike Foley is going to need some help on the power play as he is likely to get a lot of attention having netted 10 power play goals last season.

Player to Watch: Sophomore goalie Jason Zuck (10-5-2) posted a strong 2.27 goals against average last season and will need to be strong this season while the team gels with the younger talent early in the season.

Summary: The Hawks are very young and inexperienced up front and their success will depend entirely upon their maturation as a team quickly in a very competitive conference.

Salem State Vikings

2006-2007 Overall Record: 9-17-0
2006-2007 League Record: 5-14-0
2006-2007 League Finish: Eighth
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Seventh
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Eighth

Team Overview: “We will see what we have when we start playing guys with different colored jerseys,” commented head coach Bill O’Neill. We have brought in some new guys and we are putting the pieces together and we’ll see how we can compete in this league.”

Junior Ryan Hatch (9-15-0, 3.01 GAA) returns in net to support a team that will need to improve its offensive output beyond the 69 goals scored last season.

Special Teams: Salem State will need to improve on both sides of special teams in order to see more success on the scoreboard. Their 15 percent power play rate last year produced only 23 goals and their 80 percent penalty kill surrendered 33 to the opposition.

Player to Watch: Junior Zach Doyen (10-5-15) was the team’s leading scorer last season and looks to improve on his double-digit goal output this season.

Summary: A strong recruiting class should help the Vikings compete but all of the pieces may not be there yet to challenge in the top half of the league yet.

UMass-Boston Beacons

2006-2007 Overall Record: 5-20-1
2006-2007 League Record: 3-16-0
2006-2007 League Finish: Ninth
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Ninth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Ninth

Team Overview: “We’re very excited about the kids coming in this year and adding to what we started last year,” noted head coach Peter Belisle. “No doubt we will be quicker and stronger and hopefully better equipped to compete in this league — it’s so tough every night.”

While most of the roster is new, sophomore goalie Ryan Donovan (.906 SP on almost 1000 shots) returns and has competition from freshman Ray Monroe. The Beacons will need to severely cut down the number of chances in order to protect their goalie and get points in the standings.

Special Teams: Better talent up front and on the blue line in support of a solid goaltender should see marked improvement for the special teams at UMass-Boston this season. Thirty-eight percent of the team’s total goals came from the power play last season but more even strength goals will help take the pressure off the power play unit.

Player to Watch: Freshman Dennis Zak brings an offensive presence to this goal-starved team. Look for him to lead a new Beacon’s front line and improve the offense this season.

Summary: The roster has seen significant changes from last year’s squad and may take some time to come together as a group. Better depth and more overall talent should have Coach Belisle’s squad competitive every night but the win total will still be a challenge.

St. Michael’s Purple Knights

2006-2007 Overall Record: 6-20-0
2006-2007 League Record: 2-17-0
2006-2007 League Finish: Tenth
2007-2008 Coaches’ Pick: Tenth
2007-2008 USCHO Prediction: Tenth

Team Overview: New head coach Chris Davidson takes over for the retired Lou DiMasi this season and hopes to jump start a program that fell to the bottom of the league last season.

“I like our depth and balance, noted coach Davidson. We go 10 deep on defense and 15 deep at forward so we should be able to put out a solid line-up on the ice.”

Senior Adam Sullivan is back for his senior year in goal having played in just six games prior to this season. Tyler Bilton, a transfer from Finlandia also looks to get some playing time for the Purple Knights this season.

Seniors Matt Hall and Erik Caron will be relied upon to provide leadership for this team this season and also make bigger contributions on the ice.

Special Teams: The Purple Knights will look to improve on both special teams in order to be competitive in the league. A sub-80 percent penalty kill rate like last year is going to make things tough on a team already challenged offensively.

Player to Watch: Junior Ryan Mero (10-15-25 in just 19 games) will look to take his game to the next level and support an offense that will need score more than the 72 goals produced last season.

Summary: Some of the pieces are there but it is coach Davidson’s first season so expect a lot of energy and development with this team in transition.

The games begin this weekend so drop the puck!