ECAC Hockey Season Preview: Even with slew of NHL departures, league striving to be ‘the best it can possibly be’

Darion Hanson (34 - Union) (2019 Omar Phillips)
Sophomore Darion Hanson looks to start the new season as Union’s No. 1 goaltender (photo: Omar Phillips).

For a league that’s had some of the top defensive teams in the country over the last few years, questions on the back end are at the forefront for several ECAC Hockey contenders as the conference enters the new season.

Start at the top with co-regular season champions Cornell and Quinnipiac. The Big Red returns goaltenders Austin McGrath and Matthew Galajda, but graduated three important defensemen in Matthew Nuttle, Alec McCrea and Brendan Smith.

“We have four talented freshmen that are coming in that have real good skating ability and good long reach with their size,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “Over the course of time, those guys will get up to speed rather quickly. I think there’s no question in my mind that they’ll turn one of the biggest question marks into a big strength for our hockey team.”

Hobey Baker candidate Chase Priskie is a major loss for Quinnipiac, but the graduated senior is just one of three defensemen who won’t return this season. Brandon Forunato graduated, while Brogan Rafferty gave up his final year of college eligibility to sign an NHL contract with Vancouver. Goalie Andrew Shortridge also left school early to sign a professional contract with San Jose last spring.

“If you’re going to have a good year at this level, you’re going to lose players to the NHL,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said.

But the Bobcats have junior goalie and Detroit draft pick Keith Petruzzelli returning along with a group of talented young forwards that should keep them in contention this season.

Clarkson and Harvard, who joined the Big Red and Bobcats in the top four of the league standings last season, also took a hit on the back end.

Harvard lost goalie Michael Lackey and defensemen Adam Baughman and Jacob Olson to graduation and defensemen Adam Fox and John Marino each left the school a year early to sign professional contracts. But returners Reilly Walsh and Jack Rathbone are both dynamic playmakers on the back end, while senior Cameron Gornet filled in admirably when Lackey was injured last season.

Golden Knights goalie Jake Kielly gave up his final season of eligibility when he signed with Vancouver. Also gone are senior defenseman Aaron Thow, and junior Nico Sturm, the winner of the league’s top defensive forward award a year ago, who gave up his final year of college eligibility when he signed with Minnesota.

The defending Cleary Cup champions have a three-way competition in goal between returning junior Nicholas Latinovich and transfers Kris Oldham and Frank Marotte. Whoever wins the starting role will be backed by a talented and veteran lineup.

Also gone for Clarkson is assistant coach Brent Brekke, who was named head coach at rival St. Lawrence in May following the dismissal of Mark Morris.

Those changes are nothing new in a sport that is filled with them, but one constant in the league has been Dartmouth’s Bob Gaudet.

The Big Green coach is entering his 23rd year with Dartmouth after spending nine seasons as the head coach at Brown. Gaudet enters this season having coached in 987 games and is poised to become the first league coach to surpass 1,000 games coached.

“I’ve seen all kind of changes,” said Gaudet, a former Big Green goalie. “The speed of the game now is just incredible. Sometimes I look from the bench and wonder how I ever played the game at this level because it is just going back and forth so quickly.”

Gaudet said the traditions in the league have remained the same through the years and it’s special to get a chance to know the coaches over the years.

“I love the way the league has developed and the closeness of our group,” Gaudet said. “We fight fiercely on the ice back and forth but with support to make our league the best it can possibly be.

“It’s been a blessing to be involved in it.”

Here’s a look at the twelve league teams heading into the new ECAC Hockey season. The regular season begins Oct. 5 when Union and Colgate each open play with a nonconference home game.

Dartmouth head coach, Bob Gaudet. (Shelley M. Szwast)
Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet is entering his 23rd season behind the bench with the Big Green in 2019-20 (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).


HEAD COACH: Brendan Whittet, entering his 11th season at Brown.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 15-14-5 (8-9-5 ECAC Hockey, eighth).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior defenseman Zach Giuttari (7-13-26), senior goalie Gavin Nieto (11-6-1, 2.38 GAA, .909 SV%), senior forward Brent Beaudoin (8-11-19), senior forward Chris Berger (8-11-19).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Tommy Marchin (11-15-26), defenseman Max Gottlieb (5-11-16).

KEY ADDITIONS: Defenseman Luke Krys (Salisbury, New England prep school), forward Bradley Cocca (Merritt, BCHL), forward Matty Holmes (Chilliwack, BCHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: Things are looking up after the second winning season of Brendan Whittet’s tenure, earning the veteran coach a contract extension. The Bears’ chances of keeping the positive momentum going are enhanced by the return of many of last year’s key players, including goalie Gavin Nieto and defenseman Zach Giuttari. If Brown can find a way to improve its power play (57th in the country), they could get to 15 wins again.

Mark’s pick: 7th
Nate’s pick: 6th


HEAD COACH: Casey Jones, entering his ninth season at Clarkson.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 26-11-2 (13-7-2 ECAC Hockey, third).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Haralds Egle (19-21-40), grad student, forward Devin Brosseau (14-15-29), sophomore forward Josh Dunne (14-9-23).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Niko Sturm (14-31-45), goaltender Jake Kielly (26-11-2, 1.91 GAA, .929 SV%), defenseman Aaron Thow (8-18-26).

KEY ADDITIONS: Defenseman Dustyn McFaul (Pickering, OJHL), forward Anthony Romano (Sioux Falls, USHL), goalie Frank Marotte (grad student, Robert Morris).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: Despite losing their top two players in Niko Sturm and Jake Kielly, Clarkson returns a strong, experienced team. They won the ECAC playoff championship last season, have finished third in the ECAC for the last two regular seasons and in the top half of the league for the last four. Look for them to be near the top again this season.

Mark’s pick: 3rd
Nate’s pick: 4th


HEAD COACH: Don Vaughan, entering his 27th season at Colgate

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 10-23-3 (7-12-3 ECAC Hockey, 10th).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sophomore goalie Mitch Benson (9-21-3, 2.76 GAA, .911 SV%), senior forward Bobby McMann (8-15-23), senior forward Jared Cockrell (1-1-2).

KEY LOSS: Forward Adam Dauda (5-6-11).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Arnaud Vachon (Brooks, AJHL), forward Ethan Manderville (Ottawa, CCHL), forward Matthew Verboon (Salmon Arm, BCHL), forward Colton Young (Canmore, AJHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: After scoring only 55 goals in 34 games last season (only Alaska Anchorage with 40 scored fewer), any strides Colgate makes this season will be because they find ways to score. If they can’t do that, then it will be another long season for the Raiders.

Mark’s pick: 9th
Nate’s pick: 10th


HEAD COACH: Mike Schafer, entering his 25th season at Cornell.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 21-11-4 (13-5-4 ECAC Hockey, tied for first)

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior goalie Matthew Galajda, (16-8-3, 1.85 GAA, .921 SV%) senior defenseman Yanni Kaldis (4-24-28), junior forward Morgan Barron (15-19-34), junior forward Cam Donaldson (12-13-25).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Mitch Vanderlaan, defenseman Matthew Nuttle, defenseman Alec McCrea.

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Matt Stienburg (St. Andrew’s College), forward Jack Malone (Youngstown, USHL), forward Ben Berard (Powell River, BCHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: The Big Red lost three defensemen off last year’s team. Replacing them appears to be their only question mark. Cornell has made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament while recording at least 21 wins each time. Expect more of the same this season.

Mark’s pick: 1st
Nate’s pick: 1st


HEAD COACH: Bob Gaudet, entering his 23rd season at Dartmouth.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 13-17-4 (10-9-3 ECAC Hockey, tied for fifth).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior forward Quin Foreman (13-15-28), sophomore forward Drew O’Connor (17-9-26), senior forward Will Graber (10-15-25), senior goalie Adrian Clark (13-15-4, 2.31 GAA, .910 SV%).

KEY LOSSES: Defenseman Connor Yau (2-14-16), forward Alex Jasiek (9-10-19).

KEY ADDITIONS: Defenseman Brock Paul (Waterloo, USHL), defenseman Jack Cameron (Coquitlam, BCHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: The bad news for the Big Green is that three players scored almost half of their total of 87 goals last season. The good news is that Drew O’Connor (17 goals), Quin Foreman (13) and Will Graber (10) return this season. If the big three equal last year’s totals and the Big Green can figure out a way to squeeze more goals out of the rest of the roster, they have a chance to match or improve on last season’s finish.

Mark’s pick: 4th
Nate’s pick: 5th


HEAD COACH: Ted Donato, entering his 16th season at Harvard.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 19-11-3 (13-7-2 ECAC Hockey, tied for third).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior defenseman Reilly Walsh (7-13-20), sophomore defenseman Jack Rathbone, sophomore forward Jack Drury, sophomore forward Casey Dornbach.

KEY LOSSES: Defenseman Adam Fox, defenseman John Marino, goalie Michael Lackey, forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage.

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Nick Abruzzese (Chicago, USHL), defenseman Henry Thrun, (USNTDP), forward John Farinacci (Dexter, New England prep school).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: The Crimson took a sizable hit when defensemen Adam Fox, who ran the nation’s second-most potent power play, and John Marino left early to sign NHL contracts, but there is still some significant talent on the roster, both returning players and highly touted newcomers. Harvard should be in the thick of the race for a first-round bye when the postseason rolls around.

Mark’s pick: 5th
Nate’s pick: 3rd


HEAD COACH: Ron Fogarty, entering his sixth season at Princeton

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 10-18-3 (8-12-2 ECAC Hockey, ninth)

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Jackson Cressley (6-17-23), junior goaltender Ryan Ferland (6-16-1, 3.08 GAA, .904 SV%).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Max Véronneau (13-24-37), forward Ryan Kuffner (22-22-44), defenseman Josh Teves (3-17-20), forward Alex Riche (11-15-26).

KEY ADDITIONS: Goalie Aidan Porter (Vernon, BCHL), forward Liam Gorman (St. Sebastian’s, New England prep school), forward Adam Robbins (Chicago, USHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: With two touted NHL free agents in Veronneau and Kuffner leading the way, the Tigers headed into last season with high expectations, then underperformed in a big way. They were a one-line team last season and now that line is gone, this looks like a rebuilding year.

Mark’s pick: 10th
Nate’s pick: 11th


HEAD COACH: Rand Pecknold, entering his 26th season at Quinnipiac.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 26-10-2 (14-6-2 ECAC Hockey, tied for first).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sophomore forward Odeen Tufto (15-27-42), sophomore defenseman Peter DiLiberatore (3-16-19), senior forward Alex Whelan (13-12-25), junior forward Ethan de Jong (10-15-25).

KEY LOSSES: Defenseman Chase Priskie (11-14-25), forward Craig Martin (11-19-30), goalie Andrew Shortridge (18-7-2, 1.51 GAA, .940 SV%), defenseman Brandon Fortunato (5-23-28).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Guus Van Nes (redshirt freshman), defenseman C.J. McGee (Shreveport, NAHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: After their first sub-.500 season in two decades in 2017-18, the Bobcats rebounded last year with 26 wins, a share of the ECAC regular-season title and a return to the national tournament. Despite a pair of early departures to the NHL, the Bobcats have plenty left. If they get solid goaltending, Quinnipiac should be at or near the top of the ECAC again.

Mark’s pick: 2nd
Nate’s pick: 2nd


HEAD COACH: Dave Smith, entering his third season at RPI.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 10-23-3 (7-13-2 ECAC Hockey, 11th).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior defenseman Will Reilly (5-13-18), sophomore goalie Owen Savory (5-15-3, 2.46 GAA, .926 SV%), sophomore forward Ottoville Leppanen (4-15-19), senior forward Chase Zieky (8-6-14).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Jacob Hayhurst (3-20-23), forward Brady Wiffen (8-5-13).

KEY ADDITIONS: Defenseman Mason Klee (Sioux Falls, USHL), defenseman Simon Kjellberg (Dubuque, USHL), forward Ryan Mahshie (Brooks, AJHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: After improving from six wins two seasons ago to 10 last season, the arrow is pointing in the right direction for Engineers. They had a devil of a time putting the puck in the net last season – no one on the roster hit double figures and their shooting percentage was 7.5 percent, 55th in the country. That will need to improve if RPI is to make any progress.

Mark’s pick: 11th
Nate’s pick: 8th


HEAD COACH: Brent Brekke, entering his first season at St. Lawrence.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 6-29-2 (3-17-2 ECAC Hockey, 12th).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Carson Gicewicz (4-15-19), sophomore forward Zach Risteau (7-11-18), junior defenseman Bo Hanson (4-13-17).

KEY LOSS: Forward Michael Ederer (6-8-14).

KEY ADDITIONS: Goalie Francis Boisvert (Ottawa, CCHL), forward Aleksi Peltonen (Omaha, USHL), forward Cameron Buhl (Minnesota Magicians, NAHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: After a season that included a nine-game losing streak, an 0-8-1 stretch and ended with an 8-0 loss, the Saints can only hope they bottomed out. Under new coach Brent Brekke, the road back to respectability starts now.

Mark’s pick: 12th
Nate’s pick: 12th


HEAD COACH: Rick Bennett, entering his ninth season at Union.

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 20-13-6 (10-10-2 ECAC Hockey, seventh).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sophomore goalie Darion Hanson (13-9-5, 2.33 GAA, .919 SV%), senior forward Anthony Rinaldi (11-12-23), junior defenseman Brandon Estes (5-16-21).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Cole Maier (9-23-32), forward Sebastian Vidmar (10-12-22), forward Liam Morgan (14-12-26), forward Ryan Walker (15-14-29).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Gabriel Seger (Amarillo, NAHL), goalie Garrett Nieto (Janesville, NAHL), defenseman Dylan Anhorn (Prince George, BCHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: The Dutchmen will pay a price for a pair of big hits over the summer. Jack Adams tore up his knee at Detroit Red Wings development camp in June and will miss the season and Liam Morgan left school in July to sign with the Belfast Giants. After two straight seasons of at least 20 wins, look for Union to take a step back this year.

Mark’s pick: 8th
Nate’s pick: 9th


HEAD COACH: Keith Allain, entering his 14th season at Yale

2018-19 OVERALL RECORD: 15-15-3 (11-10-1 ECAC Hockey, tied for fifth)

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Evan Smith (5-10-15), sophomore forward Justin Pearson (6-11-17), sophomore defenseman Jack St. Ivany (6-8-14), junior defenseman Phil Kemp (3-5-8).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Joe Snively (15-21-36), goalie Sam Tucker (7-10-1, 2.53 GAA, .917 SV%), forward Robbie DeMontis (7-11-18).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Teddy Wooding (Vernon, BCHL), defenseman Brandon Tabakin (Sioux Falls, USHL), forward Quinton Ong (Canmore, AJHL), goalie Connor Hopkins (West Kelowna, BCHL).

2019-20 PREDICTIONS: Despite losing their best player and leading scorer in Joe Snively to graduation and their top goalie in Sam Tucker, who will play at Boston University as a grad student, Yale returns a solid nucleus, including several young players with upside. They should be in hunt for home ice in the first round.

Mark’s pick: 6th
Nate’s pick: 7th