The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Despite all the news in New England about new conference alignments coming next year and University of New England’s departure to the newly formed CCC next year, as well as St. Anselm in Division II exploring the move to D-III across their entire athletic department, the action on the ice in the ECAC East has seen a repeated theme among the regular season and conference tournament champions.
For the past few years the title in ECAC East has exchanged hands between Norwich and Babson. While the Cadets have never lost the regular-season crown, the Beavers have certainly proved their ability to match the Cadets on their home ice with conference tournament wins in two of the past five years. In fact, no other school in the conference has won the conference tournament since it became separated from the interlock schedule with NESCAC. Last season, the Cadets won both the regular season title and the conference tournament on their way to the NCAA tournament.
So what is different this season? Not much as the two rivals are likely candidates to battle it out once again for conference supremacy, while others in the conference strive to keep up with competition at the top.
Norwich returns a solid nucleus of players from last year’s conference-winning roster including three of their leading scorers William Pelletier, Dean Niezgoda and Tyler Piacentini. In goal, both Ty Reichenbach and Braeden Ostepchuk return so the only question may be on the blue line.
“We lost three guys that played a lot of minutes for us on defense,” Norwich coach Mike McShane said. “We think we brought in some good guys, but we will need some time to come together on defense. I really like our group of forwards and particularly, the depth of our scoring. We should have four pretty good lines that all can score some goals.”
For the Beavers, it starts in goal with the return of senior All-American Jamie Murray and defenseman Mike Vollmin. Seven of the top forwards from last season return with greater experience and the schedule starting with ECAC West stalwart Hobart will test Babson early.
“We are about to enter that tunnel that is the season,” said Babson coach Jamie Rice. “We really have some great kids here playing for Babson who continue to build on the traditions we have built here over the past decade. We have some challenges with our schedule from the very first game that should keep us focused on playing the best hockey we can.”
The Dark Horse
Massachusetts-Boston finished as runner-up during the regular season last year, but has not been able to translate regular season success into the playoffs. Coach Peter Belisle faces the challenge of replacing ten seniors and the departure of Peter McIntyre to the professional ranks, so a core group of young players and newcomers will have to create the offense in front of two solid goaltenders in Billy Faust and Zack Andrews.
“We definitely have to replace some big players,” said Belisle. “[Stephen] Buco, McIntyre and [Michael] Kuhn had a lot of points for us last year, so we are going to need our returning core and some of the newcomers to make up those points as a group.”
Players to Watch
Babson: Jamie Murray – goaltender; Mike Vollmin – defenseman
Castleton: Patrick Thornton – defenseman
UMass-Boston: Tyler Bishop – defenseman; Billy Faust – goaltender
New England College: Cheyne Matheson – forward
University of New England: Kevin Swallow – coach; Trevor Fleurent – forward
Norwich: William Pelletier – forward; Tyler Piacentini – forward
St. Anselm: Bryan Sullivan – forward
St. Michael’s: Kevin Altidor – forward
Skidmore: Rob Hutchison – coach; Anthony Bird – forward
Southern Maine: Chad O’Brien – forward
USCHO.com predicted finish
5. New England College
6. St. Anselm
8. University of New England
9. Southern Maine
10. St. Michael’s
New coaches at Skidmore and UNE will be looking to create their culture with their programs with rosters they inherited from the previous coaching staff. Southern Maine’s Ed Harding looks to build on the 16 games behind the bench last season as a mid-season replacement for the Huskies.
All the teams have begun their first practices and enthusiasm across the conference is high with games on the horizon just a couple of weekends away – drop the puck.