Departures don’t equal weakness for ECAC Hockey in 2014-15

Colin Stevens and Union are back to defend their league and national titles (photo: Melissa Wade).

Before the start of last season, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold described the Bobcats as “getting cleaned out pretty good,” referring to the 11 seniors who graduated after his team advanced to the program’s first national championship game that April.

That might be an appropriate description for several ECAC Hockey teams entering the 2014-15 season. Six ECAC players left early to sign professional contracts in the offseason — more than the previous two years combined. Recent contenders Union, Quinnipiac, Cornell and Yale have newcomers in several key spots, while mid-tier teams like Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Rensselaer also lost valuable production in the offseason.

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St. Lawrence



Don’t mistake all the departures as a sign of weakness in the league. As a whole, the ECAC is in the midst of arguably one of its strongest stretches in conference history. Union’s 7-4 win over Minnesota in the national championship game April 11 gave the conference back-to-back title winners for the first time in over 40 years.

In addition, four players who played last season — Yale’s Kenny Agostino, Quinnipiac’s Bryce Van Brabant, St. Lawrence’s Matt Carey and Rensselaer’s Mike Zalewski — made their NHL debuts, with Agostino and Carey each scoring a goal.

“I think there are people out there that are going to believe whatever they’re going to believe,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said when asked about the strength of the league. “Hockey people and people that follow the game closely have realized the strength of the league the last few years.”

Schafer’s Big Red have traditionally been one of the ECAC’s stronger teams, and needed just one more win or tie to make the national tournament last year after struggling during the 2012-13 season. Cornell graduated starting goalie Andy Iles, who Schafer repeatedly praised for his consistency, and saw leading scorer Brian Ferlin forgo his senior year to sign a professional contract with Boston.

But Cornell should be solid this season and join more recent competitors Union, Quinnipiac and Yale near the top of the standings once again.

Union lost six players from last year’s national title team, including leading scorer Dan Carr and playmaking defensemen Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere. Quinnipiac graduated twins Connor and Kellen Jones, each of whom scored over 100 points in his college career. Yale is without leading scorers Agostino and Jesse Root, in addition to defenseman Gus Young.

Teams in the middle of the standings last year will need to replace numerous key players as well. Clarkson and St. Lawrence both lost four of their top five scorers, while RPI lost three of its top four points leaders and two defensemen.

The good news for the Engineers is that goalie Jason Kasdorf, the league’s rookie of the year two seasons ago, is at full strength after missing most of last year due to a right shoulder injury. He and senior Scott Diebold should give RPI one of the best goaltending combinations in the league.

On the other hand, teams like Dartmouth and Colgate return virtually all of their production from last season. The Big Green graduated defensemen Taylor Boldt and Nick Lovejoy, while the Raiders are missing only forward Mike McCann and backup goalie Eric Mihalik from last year’s NCAA tournament team.

“This is the first time in 22 years where, basically, we get the entire team back from the previous season. That doesn’t happen very often in this sport,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “Probably of all the teams in our league, this team has the fewest potentials for surprises or secret weapons or unknowns. It’s probably as well-known as any team in the country.”

The same isn’t true for Dartmouth. Was last season’s horrendous first half an aberration, or were the Big Green closer to the team that picked it up down the stretch, winning a first-round playoff series at RPI before losing to Union in the next round?

Coach Bob Gaudet pointed to his team’s strong nonleague schedule this year as a potential factor for NCAA tournament implications. Dartmouth faces Boston University, Denver and Boston College at home, and will also travel to in-state rival New Hampshire.

Keep an eye on Brown, too. Always a tough team to play against, the Bears have a dynamic trio in forwards Matt Lorito, Mark Naclerio and Nick Lappin, in addition to three incoming freshman who were NHL draft picks.

The ECAC features some of the longest-tenured coaches in college hockey but will have a newcomer this season, as former Colgate player and assistant coach Ron Fogarty takes over at Princeton following Bob Prier’s resignation in May.

Fogarty, who was also an assistant at Clarkson, will have plenty of work to do, as the Tigers were an abysmal 6-26 last season and graduated their top two scorers.

“I’m not surprised at the recent success of the league,” Fogarty said. “There’s a great fraternity of coaches in the ECAC. I don’t think [winning championships] is going to be a one-time thing; it’s going to be a majority-of-the-time thing.”

Here’s the predicted standings based on the league’s media poll; our predictions are below. Click on each team for more information.

1. Colgate

There’s not much to dislike about the Raiders. Will they live up to the scrutiny this season?

2. Union

The defending national champions likely will have some rough spots this year, but don’t count them out.

3. Quinnipiac

For the second year in a row, the Bobcats lose a number of big-name players. Will they respond with a third straight NCAA tournament appearance?

4. Cornell

Goalie Andy Iles and leading scorer Brian Ferlin are gone, but the Big Red should be in contention once again this season.

5. Yale

The Bulldogs might not have a big-name scorer like in years past, but a deep lineup and solid defense and goaltending should prove beneficial.

6. Dartmouth

Outside of Colgate, no team returns more than the Big Green. But it remains to be seen if that will lead to better results for Dartmouth.

7. Brown

Matt Lorito, Nick Lappin and Mark Naclerio are some of the top forwards in the league, and Brown has several promising newcomers. The Bears could be a surprise this season.

8. Clarkson

Four of the Golden Knights’ top five scorers are gone, but a veteran defense should carry Clarkson this season.

9. Rensselaer

Goalie Jason Kasdorf is fully healthy. The big question is whether the Engineers will replace the offensive production they lost from last year.

10. Harvard

The Crimson have plenty of talent and speed, but those have yet to equal a contender. Will it finally come together this season?

11. St. Lawrence

Like North Country rival Clarkson, the Saints lost four of their top five scorers. Unlike the Golden Knights, St. Lawrence will have to work in new faces in goal and on defense.

12. Princeton

New coach Ron Fogarty should bring an up-tempo pace to the Tigers, but it might be another long season for Princeton.

Nate Owen’s picks

1. Union
2. Colgate
3. Quinnipiac
4. Yale
5. Cornell
6. Brown
7. Dartmouth
8. Clarkson
9. Rensselaer
10. Harvard
11. St. Lawrence
12. Princeton

Brian Sullivan’s picks

1. Colgate
2. Dartmouth
3. Harvard
4. Cornell
5. Brown
6. Yale
7. Union
8. Clarkson
9. Quinnipiac
10. Rensselaer
11. St. Lawrence
12. Princeton