ECAC Hockey 2021-22 Season Preview: After many teams miss ’20-21 season, conference ‘starting over and building from the ground up again’

Clarkson and Quinnipiac games this season should be a measuring stick as to how the ECAC Hockey standings will shake out (photo: Gary Mikel).

While change is inevitable in college hockey, there’s never been an offseason quite as tumultuous or long for many of the teams in ECAC Hockey.

Eight of the 12 conference teams didn’t play last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving Quinnipiac, Clarkson, Colgate, and St. Lawrence to string together a makeshift season that ended with the Saints beating the Bobcats in the league championship game last spring.

It might take some time for the schools that didn’t play to get up to speed, as graduations and numerous transfers means that many of those teams will be almost unrecognizable from the last time they played.

“I really feel like we’re starting over and building from the ground up again,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer, who enters his 26th season in Ithaca 19 wins shy of 500. The Big Red have 17 players who have never played in a college hockey game.

Even with all the changes, and despite the fact that the pandemic is far from over, there should be more of a sense of normalcy this year with all twelve teams back in action. While not every school has announced its attendance policy, the expectation is that there should be few limitations, with the exception of Rensselaer, which is only allowing students, faculty, and staff to its home games.

“The reality is the pandemic forced us to have a new perspective and new appreciation for how lucky we are to be involved in college hockey,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “I think all of us missed the opportunity to be around our team and be around the game.”

The top of the conference should again be strong this season. Quinnipiac and Clarkson return plenty of talent and each bolstered their rosters will several graduate transfers. Harvard and Cornell has a lot of question marks after not playing in a year and a half, but it’s tough to write those schools off given the history of both programs. The Crimson have 11 NHL draft picks on its roster, tied with Denver for the fourth most in men’s Division I hockey.

While it hasn’t been finalized, the league expects to continue to have its championship weekend at Lake Placid. However, there will be one change, the games will now be played on an NHL-sized rink at Herb Brooks Arena as opposed to an Olympic sheet.

“That’s always the big thing for me, having to change your whole game for the most important time of the year,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “It was always a great destination. But to have them take that step was wonderful.”

Vaughan is now the longest tenured coach in the league after the retirement of Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet in the spring of 2020. Former Quinnipiac defenseman and assistant coach Reid Cashman is the new head coach of the Big Green and finally gets to see his team in action more than a year after his hiring.

The league has already started play this season, as Colgate beat RIT 5-2 last Saturday on opening day in men’s college hockey. Several other conference teams open their seasons this weekend, while the Ivy League gets underway with its traditional late October start.

“We remind our guys every day that weren’t not promised anything,” Yale coach Keith Allain said. “Every chance that we get to be on the ice together is an opportunity that we have to take with great weight because we’ve learned that it can be taken away from you in a heartbeat.”

Brown has 16 players on the 2021-22 roster with college hockey experience (photo: Brown Athletics).

BROWN

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

LAST SEASON: Did not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 8-21-2 (8-12-2, ninth in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Graduate goalie Luke Kania (1-3-0, 3.11, .905); senior forward Justin Jallen (9-4-13); junior forward Bradley Cocca (5-5-10).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Brent Beaudoin (7-7-14); defenseman Zach Giuttari (4-11-15); defenseman Tony Stillwell (1-9-10); goalie Gavin Nieto (7-18-2, 2.42, .914).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Thomas Manty (Aberdeen Wings/NAHL); forward Matt Sutton (Omaha Lancers/USHL); forward Jordan Tonelli (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders/USHL); defenseman Brent Bliss (Surrey Eagles/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: Despite not playing last season, Brown returns 16 players with college hockey experience, including Kania in goal. He’ll have to be on his game most nights, as the Bears finished tied for last nationally in goals per game two years ago. Brown made it to Lake Placid in the 2018-19 season, but it will need a big jump in its offensive production if it’s going to make another run in the playoffs. Entering the season, the Bears look more like the team that lost 21 games in 2019-2020 as opposed to the one that made it to the conference semifinals.

PREDICTED FINISH: 11th

Ethan Haider won seven games last season as a freshman for Clarkson (photo: Gary Mikel).

CLARKSON

HEAD COACH: Casey Jones, entering his 11th season at Clarkson.

LAST SEASON: 11-7-4 (6-4-4, second in ECAC Hockey)

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Graduate forward Zach Tsekos (4-14-18); graduate forward Jack Jacome (4-11-15); sophomore forward Alex Campbell (4-13-17); sophomore goalie Ethan Haider (7-5-4, 2.00 .921).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Josh Dunne (2-3-5); Forward Grant Cooper (8-6-14); defenseman Connor McCarthy (3-5-8).

KEY ADDITIONS: Graduate forward Luke Santerno (Bentley); forward Ayrton Martino (Omaha Lancers/USHL) Graduate defenseman Lukas Kaelble (Lake Superior State).

2021-22 PREDICTION: A promising season that included a potential NCAA tournament berth came to an end last spring when Clarkson cancelled the rest of its season after several players violated the university’s COVID-19 policy. The Golden Knights might not have the firepower of Harvard or Quinnipiac, but Clarkson has a deep group of forwards led by returners Tsekos and Jacome, while Santerno had 105 points over four season at Bentley. Clarkson has plenty of experience on the backend and another strong season by Haider in goal should give the Golden Knights a complete team that will be competing for a league title and national tournament appearance this spring.

PREDICTED FINISH: Second

Carter Gylander looks to be Colgate’s No. 1 netminder this season (photo: Justin Wolford).

COLGATE

HEAD COACH: Don Vaughan, entering his 29th season at Colgate.

LAST SEASON: 6-11-5, (5-9-4, fourth in ECAC Hockey).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Graduate forward Josh McKechney (7-6-13); sophomore forward Alex Young (6-7-13); graduate defenseman Paul McAvoy (3-2-5); sophomore defenseman Pierson Brandon (0-10-10); sophomore goalie Carter Gylander (6-9-4, 2.69; .901).

KEY LOSSES: Defenseman Nick Austin (1-5-6); defenseman Trevor Cosgrove (3-1-4).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Alex DiPaolo (Victoria Grizzlies/BCHL); forward Ben Raymond (Powell River Kings/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: The results weren’t there last season for Colgate, but the Raiders return an experienced team that should be better this season. Gylander was average in goal as a freshman last season, but Colgate has two proven seniors in Andrew Farrier and Mitch Benson, the latter of whom missed all of last season with an injury. The defense should be solid with the return of McAvoy for a fifth year. Once again, the question with Colgate is offense, although the Raiders did score five goals in their season opener against RIT Saturday. This spot feels a little too low, but if Colgate can even manage a respectable offensive output this season, it should finish much higher.

PREDICTED FINISH: Eighth

Cornell fifth-year defenseman Cody Haiskanen will provide a spark to the Big Red this season (photo: Cornell Athletics).

CORNELL

HEAD COACH: Mike Schafer, entering his 26th season Cornell

LAST SEASON: Did not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 23-2-4 (18-2-2, first in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Graduate forward Kyle Betts (3-7-10); graduate forward Brenden Locke (8-18-26); senior forward Max Andreev (5-15-20); junior defenseman Travis Mitchell (2-10-12); graduate defenseman Cody Haiskanen (0-3-3)

KEY LOSSES: Forward Morgan Barron (14-18-32); forward Tristan Mullin (9-13-22); forward Michael Regush (11-7-18); defenseman Yanni Kaldis (5-19-24); goalie Matthew Galajda (23-2-4, 1.56, .931).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Justin Ertel (Summerside Western Capitals/Maritime Junior A Hockey League); forward Sullivan Mack (Salmon Arm Silverbacks/BCHL); defenseman Hank Kempf (Muskegon Lumberjacks/USHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: The Big Bed were one of the most dominant teams in the country when the pandemic prematurely ended the hockey season in March 2020. But it’s a different team now, as 17 of Cornell’s 30 skaters haven’t played in a collegiate hockey game, including all three of the Big Red goalies. But the Ivy League’s one-year exception to fifth-year players is beneficial to Cornell, as it returns a trio of captains in Betts, Locke, and Haiskanen. There are a lot of questions with this team, but while Cornell won’t be the dominate force of two years ago, it should compete for a top-four spot in the conference.

PREDICTED FINISH: Fourth

Jeff Losurdo posted 15 points in 30 games during the 2019-20 season (photo: Doug Austin).

DARTMOUTH

HEAD COACH: Reid Cashman, entering his first season at Dartmouth

LAST SEASON: Did not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 13-14-4 (10-10-2, sixth in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Jeff Losurdo (6-9-15); senior forward Sam Hesler (3-9-12); junior defenseman Tanner Palocsik (5-19-24).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Drew O’Connor (21-12-33); forward Wil Graber (11-16-27); forward Quin Foreman (11-14-25); forward Matt Baker (6-18-24).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Matt Hubbarde (Langley Rivermen/BCHL); Brady MacDonald (Victoria Grizzlies/BCHL); forward Nick Unruh (Salmon Arm Silverbacks/BCHL); goalie Clay Stevenson (Coquitlam Express/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: More than a year after being named head coach at Dartmouth, Reid Cashman will finally get to see his team take the ice. Like several of their counterparts who didn’t play last season, the Big Green enter this year with inexperience in goal. Senior Justin Ferguson (four games) is the only goalie with collegiate experience on the roster, although Stevenson led the BCHL in save percentage during the 2019-20 season. With a new coaching staff and so many new players, Cashman said he and his staff will have to be patient when implementing their systems. There are a lot of unknowns, but if everything goes right, Dartmouth should host a playoff series this spring.

PREDICTED FINISH: Seventh

Casey Dornbach is back for his senior season with Harvard (photo: Harvard Athletics).

HARVARD

HEAD COACH: Ted Donato, entering his 18th season at Harvard.

LAST SEASON: Did not compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 15-10-6 (11-6-5, fifth in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Casey Dornbach (12-24-36); junior forward Nick Abruzzese (14-30-44); junior defensemen Henry Thrun (3-18-21); junior goalie Mitchell Gibson (11-8-3, 2.61, .916)

KEY LOSSES: Forward Jack Drury (20-19-39); defenseman Jack Rathbone (7-24-31); defenseman Reilly Walsh (8-19-27).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Matthew Coronato (Chicago Steel/USHL); (Des Moines/USHL); forward Alex Laferriere; forward Sean Farrell (Chicago Steel/USHL) defenseman Ian Moore (Chicago Steel/USHL)

2021-22 PREDICTION: It’s tough to judge a team that hasn’t played since February 2020, but Harvard looks loaded heading into this season. The Crimson have eleven NHL draft picks on its roster, led by incoming freshman Coronato, who was selected 13th overall by Calgary in the 2021 NHL draft. It’s hard to tell how that all that talent will mesh for Harvard, but offense shouldn’t be a problem this season. The big question mark for the Crimson heading into the season is defense; Harvard only has four defensemen who have played in a collegiate game and there is little experience behind Gibson in goal. If the backend can come together, Harvard should push for a national tournament berth; if not, the Crimson will be forced to win a ton of shootouts, which isn’t a path to success in ECAC Hockey.

PREDICTED FINISH: Third

Jeremie Forget starts the 2021-22 season as Princeton’s starting goalie (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

PRINCETON

HEAD COACH: Ron Fogarty, entering his eighth season at Princeton.

LAST SEASON: Did not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 6-20-5 (2-16-4, 11th in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Corey Andonovski (6-13-19); junior forward Spencer Kersten (5-7-12); senior goalie Jeremie Forget (5-10-2, 2.79, .912).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Jackson Cressey (6-16-22); forward Luke Keenan (7-11-18); goalie Ryan Ferland (1-7-2, 3.40, .887).

KEY ADDITIONS: Defenseman Nick Carabin (Coquitlam Express/BCHL); defenseman Noah de la Durantaye (Coquitlam Express/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: Despite a large roster turnover, the Tigers return four defenseman who played at least 20 games in 2019-20 and added several players who should push for playing time on the backend. With Forget in goal, Princeton should be solid defensively this season, but it might not be enough to overcome a lack of offensive production. There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s likely the Tigers finish in the bottom of the league again this season.

PREDICTED FINISH: 12th

Quinnipiac’s Ty Smilanic looks to build on his 14-goal freshman season in 2021-22 (photo: Rob Rasmussen).

QUINNIPIAC

HEAD COACH: Rand Pecknold, entering his 28th season at Quinnipiac.

LAST SEASON: 17-8-4 (10-4-4, first in ECAC Hockey).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Ethan de Jong (14-15-29); senior forward Wyatt Bongiovanni (5-3-8); sophomore forward Ty Smilanic (14-7-21); senior defenseman Zach Metsa (5-21-26).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Odeen Tufto (8-39-47); defenseman Peter DiLiberatore (6-14-20); goalie Keith Petruzzelli (17-8-4, 1.89, .926).

KEY ADDITIONS: Forward Oliver Chau (Massachusetts); defenseman Griffin Mendel (Denver); defenseman Brendan Less (Dartmouth); defenseman Tony Stillwell (Brown); goalie Dylan St. Cyr (Notre Dame).

2021-22 PREDICTION: Quinnipiac lost some big names in Tufto, DiLiberatore, and Petruzzelli, but the addition of five transfer players gives the Bobcats one of the deepest teams in the league. Less and Stillwell are rare in-conference transfers in ECAC Hockey and should bolster Quinnipiac’s defense, while Chau won a national championship with Massachusetts last season. St. Cyr is a solid pickup to replace Petruzzelli in goal, while sophomore Yaniv Perets could also push for playing time. The Bobcats should be one of the top teams in the conference and a top-10 team nationally this season.

PREDICTED FINISH: First

Ture Linden is RPI’s top returning scorer (photo: Liz Brady).

RENSSEALER

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

LAST SEASON: Did not compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 17-15-1 (13-8-1, fourth in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Ture Linden (6-15-21); senior forward Tristan Ashbrook (9-4-13); junior defenseman Cory Babichuk (4-12-16); junior defenseman Simon Kjellberg (5-6-11); graduate goalie Linden Marshall (3-3-0, 2.90, .904).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Chase Zieky (7-16-23); forward Todd Burgess (14-6-20); forward Patrick Polini (11-8-19); defensemen Will Reilly (8-14-22); goalie Owen Savory (13-9-2, 2.06, .932).

KEY ADDITIONS: Graduate forward Shane Sellar (Dartmouth); graduate forward Justin Addamo (Robert Morris); graduate defenseman Anthony Baxter (UMass Lowell).

2021-22 PREDICTION: Much like Harvard and Cornell, the Engineers are attempting to return to the top of the ECAC amidst a major roster turnover. RPI enters this season with 18 new players, including six transfers. The Engineers ended 2019-20 on a hot streak and earned a first-round bye in the league playoffs for the first time since 2013. Smith has never been shy about taking in transfers, and that’s especially true this season. Sellar has plenty of experience with Dartmouth, while Baxter is one of four former Hockey East players on RPI’s roster this season. Those veteran additions should help ease the transition to a new roster. It might be tough for the Engineers to keep up with the top four teams in the conference, but this is a team that should be hosting a playoff series come March.

PREDICTED FINISH: Fifth

Emil Zetterquist helped St. Lawrence to the 2021 ECAC Hockey postseason title (photo: C A Hill Photo).

ST. LAWRENCE

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

LAST SEASON: 6-8-4 (4-8-3, third in ECAC Hockey).

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward David Jankowski (4-8-12); senior forward Kayden Pickering (7-4-11); junior forward Cameron Bul (5-10-15); sophomore forward Greg Lapoint (4-5-9); senior goalie Emil Zetterquist (6-7-3, 2.40, .926).

KEY LOSSES: Senior defenseman Philip Aftberg (1-4-5); senior defenseman Dylan Woolf (1-2-3).

KEY ADDITIONS: Junior forward Josh Boyer (Omaha); freshman forward Oak Macleod (Jersey Hitmen/USPHL); freshman defenseman Mason Waite (Prince George Spruce Kings/BCHL); freshman defenseman Drake Burgin (Cranbrook Bucks/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: St. Lawrence made massive strides in Brekke’s second season as coach and recovered from a midseason slump to win the league title in an abbreviated league year. The Saints didn’t lose much from last season’s team and last year’s run was a valuable learning experience for a team that only has four seniors. The presence of Zetterquist in net should allow St. Lawrence to stay competitive and host a playoff series this year. The Saints could challenge for a higher spot if they can find a way to generate more offense this season; St. Lawrence hasn’t had a player finish with double-digit goals since 2018.

PREDICTED FINISH: Sixth

Dylan Anhorn is back to lead the Union back end (photo: Ross LaDue).

UNION

HEAD COACH: Rick Bennett, entering his 11th season at Union.

LAST SEASON: Did not play due to the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 8-25-4 (5-15-2, 10th in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Junior forward Gabriel Seger (7-15-22); junior forward Chaz Smedsrud (6-4-10); senior defenseman Brandon Estes (3-6-9); junior defenseman Dylan Anhorn (6-10-16)

KEY LOSSES: Forward Anthony Rinaldi (9-20-29); defenseman Vas Kolias (2-11-13); goalie Darion Hanson (7-24-4, 2.79, .910).

KEY ADDITIONS: Junior goalie Connor Murphy (Northeastern); forward Michael Hodge (Fort McMurray Oil Barons/AJHL)

2021-22 PREDICTION: The Dutchmen had won at least 20 games three seasons in a row before the bottom fell out in 2019-20. Union finished 8-25-4 before the season was shut down and then did not play last year. Hanson transferred to Connecticut, but the Dutchmen should be fine with Northeastern transfer Murphy in goal. But Union needs to improve an offense that averaged less than two goals per game when it last played. That might be a tough task with all the new faces the Dutchmen will be working into the lineup this season. If all goes right, Union could host a playoff series but it’s more likely the Dutchmen are on the road for the postseason.

PREDICTED FINISH: 10th

Graham Lillibridge will serve as Yale’s captain for the 2021-22 season (photo: Lukas Flippo).

YALE

HEAD COACH: Keith Allain, entering his 15th season at Yale.

LAST SEASON: Did not play due the COVID-19 pandemic; finished 15-15-2 (10-10-2, seventh in ECAC Hockey) in 2019-20.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior forward Justin Pierson (14-10-24); senior defenseman Graham Lillibridge (1-7-8); junior goalie Connor Hopkins (did not play, injured).

KEY LOSSES: Forward Curtis Hall (17-10-27): forward Tyler Welsh (8-1523); defenseman Jack St. Ivany (1-15-16); defenseman Phil Kemp (3-8-11).

KEY ADDITIONS: Junior defenseman Ryan Carmichael (Notre Dame); forward William Dineen (Sioux Falls Stampede/USHL); defenseman Kieran O’Hearn (Surrey Eagles/BCHL).

2021-22 PREDICTION: While most of the Ivy League teams were gutted by graduations and transfers, Yale seems to have been hit especially hard. The Bulldogs only return three of their top 15 scorers from 2019-20, and none of their goalies have appeared in a collegiate game. Allain said that Hopkins, who missed his freshman year with an injury, will the No. 1 goalie entering this season. There will be a lot of lineup spots up for grabs this season, so at the very least, the Bulldogs should have competitive practices. But it’s looking like a long year in New Haven; Yale was slotted here as a nod to its 2019-20 finish, but the Bulldogs might have a hard time getting out of the bottom of the standings this season.

PREDICTED FINISH: Ninth

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