ECAC Hockey prepares for another crazy ride in 2010-11

The whole point of a playoff series, as opposed to individual games, is to insure — to a certain extent — that the better team actually wins, right? It’s a solid attempt to diminish the number of “fluke” advancements by teams that simply got lucky.

So how does one explain Team A, at 8-17-4, upending Team B (17-15-4) in three games on the road? Or, for that matter, Team C (10-18-4) downing Team D (19-7-3), also at Team D’s joint? What about Team E, with only three wins and 21 losses on the year, taking to the road and sweeping anybody?

Rensselaer returns Hobey Baker Award finalist Chase Polacek, but other key departures could make offense a challenge for the Engineers (photo: Melissa Wade).

Rensselaer returns Hobey Baker Award finalist Chase Polacek, but other key departures could make offense a challenge for the Engineers (photo: Melissa Wade).

If you hadn’t already figured it out, Team A, Team C, and Team E are all the same team: the Brown Bears. And to answer the question of how does this happen?

Why, elementary, my dear reader. This is ECAC Hockey.

One-time (and in some cases long-time) bottom-dwellers like Union, Brown, Yale and Princeton are making noise. Harvard, Dartmouth and Clarkson have seen better days. It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there, and it is my distinct pleasure to join you once again on this crazy ride that we call the college hockey season.

Must be this tall » to ride. Please keep your hands inside the car at all times; not recommended for the pregnant or fragile. All aboard! Next stop, Atlantic City!

Teams are listed in order of predicted finish. Click on a team’s name to see its individual preview.

1. Yale

Nickname: Bulldogs
Head coach: Keith Allain (72-49-12 in four years at Yale)
2009-10 record: 21-10-3 (15-5-2, first)
Departed: F Mark Arcobello, F Sean Backman, G Billy Blase, D Thomas Dignard
Back for more: Sr F Denny Kearney, Sr F Broc Little, Jr F Brian O’Neill
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 1st
2010-11 media poll: 1st
Why: The Bulldogs don’t lose much, their goaltending can only improve, and even a significant step down from last year’s output would still be monstrously frightening.

2. Colgate

Nickname: Raiders
Head coach: Don Vaughan (284-268-65 in 17 years at Colgate)
2009-10 record: 15-15-6 (12-8-2, fourth)
Departed: F David McIntyre, F Jason Williams, F Ethan Cox
Back for more: Sr F Francois Brisebois, Sr F Brian Day, Jr G Alex Evin, Jr F Austin Smith, So F Robbie Bourdon
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 5th
2010-11 media poll: 4th
Why: If the goaltending holds, the Colgate offense could really let loose. Think Yale Lite.

3. Union

Nickname: Dutchmen
Head coach: Nate Leaman (112-117-31 in seven years at Union)
2009-10 record: 21-12-6 (12-6-4, third)
Departed: D Mike Schreiber, F Mario Valery-Trabucco, F Jason Walters
Back for more: Sr G Corey Milan, Sr F Adam Presizniuk, Jr F Kelly Zajac, So G Keith Kinkaid, So F Jeremy Welsh
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 3rd
2010-11 media poll: 3rd
Why: This is a tough one, because the graduated players were critical. That said, this is still a developing program, which equates to gradual but consistent improvement.

4. Dartmouth

Nickname: Big Green
Head coach: Bob Gaudet (187-184-47 in 13 years at Dartmouth, 280-326-78 in 22 years overall)
2009-10 record: 10-19-3 (7-12-3, 10th)
Departed: D Peter Boldt, F Joe Gaudet
Back for more: Sr F Adam Estoclet, Sr F Scott Fleming, Sr D Evan Stephens, Jr G Jody O’Neill, So G James Mello
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 6th
2010-11 media poll: 6th
Why: I believe that the young fifth-place team we saw two years ago is what this team should have been last year, too. Great potential is maturing in Hanover, and it’s time for the Green to get on board or get out of line.

5. Cornell

Nickname: Big Red
Head coach: Mike Schafer (297-158-53 in 15 years at Cornell)
2009-10 record: 21-9-4 (14-5-3, second)
Departed: F Blake Gallagher, F Colin Greening, D Justin Krueger, D Brendon Nash, G Ben Scrivens, F Riley Nash (Sr)
Back for more: Sr F Joe Devin, Sr F Patrick Kennedy, So D Nick D’Agostino
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 2nd
2010-11 media poll: 2nd
Why: Where will the offense come from? How close can the new goalies come to filling Scrivens’ sizable shoes? But that said, this is Cornell: “Mediocre” isn’t in the vocabulary.

6. Rensselaer

Nickname: Engineers
Head coach: Seth Appert (49-85-18 in four years at Rensselaer)
2009-10 record: 18-17-4 (10-9-3, sixth)
Departed: D Erik Burgdoerfer, F Paul Kerins, F Jerry D’Amigo (So), F Brandon Pirri (So)
Back for more: Sr D Bryan Brutlag, Sr F Chase Polacek, Jr G Allen York, So F Marty O’Grady
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 4th
2010-11 media poll: 5th
Why: Rensselaer looks to be another program on the rise, but this year may mark a hiccup in its natural progression of improvement. There’s a big, big void where some scorers used to be, and replacing offense is no easy task at this level.

7. Harvard

Nickname: Crimson
Head coach: Ted Donato (91-89-20 in six years at Harvard)
2009-10 record: 9-21-3 (7-12-3, ninth)
Departed: D Alex Biega, D Chad Morin, F Doug Rogers, F Louis Leblanc (So)
Back for more: Sr F Michael Biega, Sr G Ryan Carroll, Sr G Kyle Richter, Jr F Alex Killorn, So F Conor Morrison
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 7th
2010-11 media poll: 10th
Why: Harvard always has talent, and so I always pick them high. This year, I’m not jumping the other direction … I’m just feeling a little more cautious. This is the supreme “middle-of-the-pack” team, that could go hard in any direction. Ergo, I pick the safest route, and pick them to finish around the league average.

8. Clarkson

Nickname: Golden Knights
Head coach: George Roll (115-123-31 in seven years at Clarkson, 221-185-45 in 13 years overall)
2009-10 record: 9-24-4 (4-15-3, 12th)
Departed: F Matt Beca, F Jeremiah Crowe, F Tim Marks
Back for more: Sr F Brandon DeFazio, Sr F Scott Freeman, Jr D Mark Borowiecki, Jr G Paul Karpowich, So F Adam Pawlick
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 12th
2010-11 media poll: 12th
Why: The team still has a lot of talent, but it’s been utterly stifled by two down years. This year could mark the rebirth of the Golden Knights, if they can keep their wobbly legs beneath them out of the gate.

9. Princeton

Nickname: Tigers
Head coach: Guy Gadowsky (88-96-13 in six years at Princeton, 156-185-35 in 11 years overall)
2009-10 record: 12-16-3 (8-12-2, eighth)
Departed: F Dan Bartlett, G Zane Kalemba, F Cam MacIntyre, F Mark Magnowski, D Jody Pederson
Back for more: Sr F Matt Arhontas, Sr D Taylor Fedun, Sr F Mike Kramer, Jr F Marc Hagel
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 10th
2010-11 media poll: 9th
Why: Last year’s team struggled mightily with injuries, but this year’s team likely will come out of the gate struggling with confidence. The stalwart goalie is gone, and there is little resemblance to the NCAA contender of two years back.

10. Brown

Nickname: Bears
Head coach: Brendan Whittet (13-20-4 in one year at Brown)
2009-10 record: 13-20-4 (6-12-4, 11th)
Departed: D Sean McMonagle, F Jordan Pietrus, G Dan Rosen, F Devin Timberlake, F Aaron Volpatti
Back for more: Sr F Harry Zolnierczyk, Jr D Jeff Buvinow, Jr G Mike Clemente, Jr F Jack Maclellan, So F Chris Zaires
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 11th
2010-11 media poll: 11th
Why: Baby steps turned to thunderous stomps through the ECAC playoffs last spring; can the Bears build on it and reach double-digit wins?

11. Quinnipiac

Nickname: Bobcats
Head coach: Rand Pecknold (301-201-47 in 16 years at Quinnipiac)
2009-10 record: 20-18-2 (11-11-0, seventh)
Departed: F Mike Atkinson, F Jean-Marc Beaudoin, F Greg Holt, F Eric Lampe, F Brandon Wong
Back for more: Jr G Dan Clarke, Jr D Zach Hansen, Jr F Scott Zurevinski, So F Jeremy Langlois
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 8th
2010-11 media poll: 8th
Why: If Clarke can hold firm and the defense can win some low-scoring games early, this prediction may wind up looking positively idiotic. That said, QU has never been a defense-first team, so my pick is ultra-cautious.

12. St. Lawrence

Nickname: Saints
Head coach: Joe Marsh (455-377-67 in 25 years at St. Lawrence)
2009-10 record: 19-16-7 (9-8-5, fifth)
Departed: D Jeff Caister, D Derek Keller, F Mike McKenzie, G Alex Petizian, G Kain Tisi, F Travis Vermeulen, F Brandon Bollig (Jr)
Back for more: Sr F Aaron Bogosian, So F Kyle Flanagan, So D George Hughes
2010-11 coaches’ poll: 9th
2010-11 media poll: 7th
Why: With all due respect to Marsh, the program and its fans, this summer marked a disastrous flight of talent out of Canton. It’s a long road to hoe for the Saints.