ECAC East 2011-2012 preview: Norwich should rule again

It’s a new season and a whole new feel to the now free-standing ECAC East. No longer sharing an interlocking schedule with the NESCAC conference, the ECAC East is now looking at a two-game series with each league opponent in the regular season, with each team hosting one game. The good news is you get a second chance against everyone, and with some teams that might not be a bad thing. The level of competitiveness and rivalry may be ratcheted up a notch from what we have seen over past seasons.

Another aspect of the separated league is the earlier start for teams that in the past adhered to the timing of the NESCAC start on November 1. This year, we have seen exhibitions played in October, and the first real games are coming on the first weekend in November. What that means is the action will be heating up sooner, and that is exciting for all fans.

The slate is clean and a new era for schedules and rivalries will unfold this season. What else will unfold?  That’s where the fun and prognostication comes in. Here’s a preview for each of the 10 teams in the predicted order of finish.

Norwich Cadets
2010-11 conference record: 15-1-3 (first)
2010-11 0verall record: 22-6-3
USCHO predicted finish: first
Overview: In true military fashion, Mike McShane’s troops don’t retreat, they reload. Juniors Blake Forkey, Pier Olivier-Cotnoir, and Kyle Thomas spearhead a potent offense that is backed up by an experienced defensive corps and solid goaltending from Parker Carroll. Carroll, who came in at mid-season last year, didn’t experience a loss until the semifinal game of the Frozen Four. This team has the talent and experience to make another run at a national title, but first would like to continue their dominance of the conference.

Castleton Spartans
2010-11 conference record: 15-3-1 (second)
2010-11 overall record: 22-4-1
USCHO predicted finish: second
Overview: Last year’s conference player of the year Josh Harris is back for his junior season, and is looking to lead a strong group of returning players to challenge Norwich for the league title. The Spartans are deep from the goal crease out, and will be looking for some more balanced scoring to take the pressure off Harris and Justin Alonzo. Eric Cinotti and Seth McNary were very effective in goal for coach Alex Todd last season, so look for a quick start from Castleton, which plays eight of their first 10 games at home in Vermont.

Babson Beavers
2010-11 conference record: 7-9-3 (fifth)
2010-11 overall record: 11-14-3
USCHO predicted finish:  third
Overview: The Beavers were almost last year’s Cinderella team, losing a hard-fought championship game to Norwich following a challenging regular season. This year’s team will have plenty of leadership from Mike Hoban, Cody Carlson, and PT Donato to support a roster that has 10 sophomores looking to take the next step in improving their game. The goaltending should be a strong point for Jamie Rice’s squad, with senior Andrew Peabody and junior Zeke Testa back to share the load. The past few seasons have demonstrated Babson’s resilience in playing its best hockey when it counts the most. This squad has all of the makings of one of those teams.

Skidmore Thoroughbreds
2010-11 conference record: 8-8-3 (fourth)
2010-11 overall record: 9-14-3
USCHO predicted finish: fourth
Overview: Skidmore’s core strength this season may reside in its defensive unit, which brings both experience and skill. Jack Walsh, Nick Dupuis, and Zach Menard lead a mobile defensive corps that will need to be solid early in support of emerging talent upfront that comes from the freshman and sophomore classes. Colin Bessey has the game in goal to be a difference maker for the Thoroughbreds, and he will need to bring a higher level of consistency to his game for Skidmore to compete every night.

Massachusetts-Boston Beacons
2010-11 conference record: 10-9-0 (third)
2010-11 overall record: 22-6-3
USCHO predicted finish: fifth
Overview: Coach Peter Belisle may have his deepest team skating at Columbia Point this season, and based on last year’s winning record, expectations will be high for the Beacons. A strong senior class, including forwards Anthony Fitti, Kyle Tejchma, Bryan Albert, and Jimmy Ennis, lead a quick group of forwards that should provide balanced scoring. Since the departure of Ryan Donovan, the Beacons have been looking for a consistent number one netminder. Two freshmen will be competing with Kevin Bendel for the job, which may hold the key to Mass.-Boston’s overall success.

New England College Pilgrims
2010-11 conference record: 5-13-1 (ninth)
2010-11 overall record: 7-17-2
USCHO predicted finish: sixth
Overview: 19 of 36 players on the roster hail from Canada or Europe. In fact, this may be the most diverse roster in college hockey, with players coming from Sweden, Finland, Croatia, Quebec, Ontario, Russia, England, and the Czech Republic. I wonder if coach Tom Carroll does the Rosetta Stone thing. Two of last year’s bright spots lead this year’s team from the blue line, as  Aki Uola and Jarkko Leppanen bring their strong skating and offensive games to backstop a roster that has 13 freshmen. Goaltending will be a heavily-contested position and a key to the Pilgrims’ start to the season. A freshman, two sophomores, and a junior are all battling for playing time, starting with Babson on Friday night.

St. Anselm Hawks
2010-11 conference record: 7-10-2 (sixth)
2010-11 overall record: 13-11-2
USCHO predicted finish: seventh
Overview: The Hawks find a heavy dose of sophomores and juniors on their roster, which should lead to some good things this season if the consistency is found each game. Junior forwards Tucker Mullin and Tim King, along with senior defenseman Ryan Holley, lead this team, and if the rest of the cast matches their intensity, coach Ed Seney will have a formidable team this season. Robert Kang returns in goal and looks to build off a successful freshman season for the Hawks.

Southern Maine Huskies
2010-11 conference record: 5-11-3 (eighth)
2010-11 overall record: 8-13-5
USCHO predicted finish: eighth
Overview: Captain Dan Rautenberg is one of just three seniors skating for the Huskies this season, and his leadership will be a key to their success. Lots of young talent will be on display, including freshman forwards Sam Guimond, Matt Tucceri, and Ben Pearl. Both Mason St. Hilaire and Braely Torris return in goal for the Huskies, and they will need to stay healthy to help this young team develop to their full potential over the course of the season.

University of New England Nor’easters
2010-11 conference record: 3-16-0 (tenth)
2010-11 overall record: 6-19-0
USCHO predicted finish: ninth
Overview: As one would expect from a program entering just their third season at the varsity level, UNE has continued to improve, and comes into the season with a few veterans and a lot of new faces. Brad Holt’s team has been challenged scoring goals over the past two seasons, so look for veterans like Matt DelGiudice, Tyler Fleurent, and Sean Sullivan to show the freshmen the way in the offensive end of the ice. Goaltending is a key for every team, and the Nor’easters find themselves with four goaltenders battling for ice time. Look for several guys to get the chance to prove themselves early on.

St. Michael’s Purple Knights
2010-11 conference record: 6-12-1 (seventh)
2010-11 overall record: 11-15-1
USCHO predicted finish: tenth
Overview: St. Mike’s is led by a talented group of juniors, including Josh Geary, Mike Dizgun, Morgan Bell, and Dan Evarts. They will need to lead by example on and off the ice for a team that is likely to regularly dress six-to-seven freshmen per night.  The Purple Knights will get an early test on the road, as they open at Utica. The Pioneers have already upset Oswego this season, and will require St. Mike’s to bring their A-game early.

Every team is excited about their prospects for success this season. With the slates clean, optimism abounds on campus and in the locker rooms. The real test is but a few hours away. Let the games begin — drop the puck!



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