October 5, 2012 by Casey Hart
As with my preseason top 20, I have always had an opinion on how I would vote in the ECAC Hockey preseason poll but didn’t have the forum or permission to share my picks. No longer!
The big question is at the top of the standings. I really think this could be the year Harvard ends its ECAC regular-season title drought. I think my Bright buddies have the talent, leadership and big-game experience to get it done, but I’m going to leave it to them to prove they can perform as consistently as a Union squad that is 43-13-10 in league play over the last three seasons. (And maybe, just maybe, I want to shelter myself from accusations of always wearing Crimson-tinted glasses.)
Whether or not the Crimson takes back the Cleary Cup to its namesake’s home rink, I see the team at least threatening for the trophy and, along the way, vaulting back into the national picture and competing for a berth in the NCAA tournament. Cornell certainly looks like a title contender as well. In fact, I think each of the top four teams on this list could still be skating in late March. A fifth, Yale, has the firepower to join that conversation if it can return to the level of defensive play it reached in 2010-11.
Here are the picks:
2011-12 finish: champion, 14-4-4
What’s to like? The Dutchmen—the defending ECAC regular-season and tournament champion and Frozen Four qualifier—led ECAC Hockey in scoring offense (3.45 goals per league game) and defense (1.73 goals against per league game). Union returns first-team all-league performers in goal and on the blue line in Troy Grosenick and Mat Bodie, and Daniel Carr scored more league points (12-10-22) than any other returning forward. That trio made Union one of two schools, along with Boston College, that placed a forward, defenseman and goaltender on U.S. College Hockey Online’s preseason top-10 position lists. There’s plenty of depth and experience behind them.
What’s not to like? Union lost its top two scorers in Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac. (However, as RPI fan blog Without a Peer points out, the Dutchmen still return more goals per league game than any other ECAC team.)
2011-12 finish: third, 8-5-9
What’s to like? The Crimson converted on the power play at a higher rate in league play (27 percent) than any ECAC team since Colgate in 2000-01. Four-fifths of the top man-advantage unit (Danny Biega, Marshall Everson, Alex Fallstrom and Patrick McNally) is back, with the oh-so-notable exception of All-American Alex Killorn. Each member of that foursome put up big individual numbers last season. I expect them to more than make up for any step back in power-play production with increased even-strength scoring. The Crimson added scoring depth during its run to the ECAC title game and welcomes some serious offensive additions from recruiting and Conor Morrison’s return from injury. The other key to Harvard’s late-season spurt was defensive improvement. Led by Biega, the ECAC Best Defensive Defenseman honoree who also scored 23 league points (8-15-23) to pace all returning players, is one of six returning defensemen who played in every game last year and/or has 50 career games to his credit.
What’s not to like? Thanks to an unbelievable resiliency, Harvard rarely lost last season but, with an NCAA-record 11 ties, did not take advantage of all its opportunities to win. The Crimson will need perform for 60 minutes every night, like it did late in the season.
2011-12 finish: second, 12-4-6
Tournament third-place finisher
What’s to like? The Big Red, led by goaltender Andy Iles, ranked second to Union in ECAC scoring defense last season at 2.09 goals against per league game, a half-goal better than third-place Quinnipiac. Cornell also ranks second to Union in returning goal-scoring, having made up for a lack of big overall numbers from its top individuals last season by getting strong scoring depth from its young offense. Greg Miller scored 10 ECAC goals, and Brian Ferlin’s 17 points (7-10-17) came in 19 league games.
What’s not to like? No one on the team ranked among the league’s top 20 ECAC scorers last season, and only one double-digit goal-scorer returns.
2011-12 finish: fourth (tie), 9-8-5
What’s to like? The Connor Jones-Kellen Jones-Matthew Peca line was one of ECAC Hockey’s best, and Eric Hartzell posted a 1.99 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in league games. Most of the roster returns, with transfer Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a two-time 20-point scorer at Bowling Green, slated to join the ranks. Ranking the Bobcats “just” fourth says more about the teams above them. I think Cornell will be too solid, Harvard too explosive and Union too strong all-around to rank behind Quinnipiac.
What’s not to like? In a word: inconsistency. Quinnipiac did not string together three games without a loss at any point after Christmas last season.
2011-12 finish: sixth (tie), 10-10-2
What’s to like? After stumbling through midseason, the Bulldogs finished the year on a much more Yale-like 6-3-1 mark in its final 10 games. Brian O’Neill has graduated, but plenty of big guns remain, most notably Andrew Miller, Antoine Laganiere and Kenny Agostino.
What’s not to like? This team will score a lot but not at the 2009-10 level that allowed the Elis to overcome a high goals-against average. Yale will need to play more like the squad that surrendered two goals per game over the final two weekends of the regular season (and throughout 2010-11) than the one that averaged nearly four scores allowed in six playoff contests.
6. St. Lawrence
2011-12 finish: eighth, 10-11-1
What’s to like? Greg Carey and Kyle Flanagan each earned preseason all-league honors, Carey from the media and Flanagan from the coaches. They shared the team lead with 37 total points last season and have averaged a point per game over their careers. In all, the top four scorers are back for a streaky SLU team that won six of its final eight regular-season games—before surrendering 10 goals in a playoff sweep at the hands of Dartmouth. St. Lawrence graduated just one defenseman.
What’s not to like? The rest of the Saints need to step up their offensive production after the squad ranked 11th in league scoring at 2.27 goals per game in 2011-12.
2011-12 finish: 11th, 6-12-4
What’s to like? The Tigers bring back their top four scorers, including Andrew Calof, who transitioned from setup man to sniper in the team’s first year under Bob Prier. Calof sidekick Jack Berger captains the team as a junior, and Michael Sdao provides a towering presence on both ends of the ice. As Without a Peer pointed out, only Rensselaer lost less goal-scoring from last year.
What’s not to like? Only one defenseman graduated, but there is work to do on defense after surrendering 3.22 goals per game in the league and overall. Princeton’s experience lifts it above Dartmouth here.
2011-12 finish: ninth, 8-11-3
What’s to like? Five of the Big Green’s top six scorers are back, and those players were all freshmen and sophomores last year. Rookie Tyler Sikura shared the team’s overall scoring lead with 25 points, and Matt Lindblad registered 28 points as a freshman in 2010-11. That duo led Dartmouth to a notable playoff performance in two of ECAC Hockey’s most imposing venues, a sweep at St. Lawrence and a pair of narrow losses at Cornell.
What’s not to like? Dartmouth allowed 3.36 goals per league game and will rely on an inexperienced cast to improve on that number after losing its top two goalies and three regular defensemen to graduation.
2011-12 finish: 10th, 7-12-3
What’s to like? It’s easy to like a team that started 3-16-0 but kept at it and went 9-8-3 the rest of the year, won a road playoff series and played rival Union close on the road in the league quarterfinals. The key was an emerging offense. The Engineers scored three or more goals just three times and were shut out four times in their first 20 games but scored three in seven of their final 19 games, with no shutouts against. Seven seniors graduated, but the top four scorers are back, including offensive defenseman Nick Bailen. Starting netminder Bryce Merriam (.908 save percentage, 2.36 goals-against average) also returns.
What’s not to like? Rensselaer lost less goal-scoring than any other ECAC team, in part because it scored less. Puckman needs more offense.
2011-12 finish: fourth (tie), 11-10-1
Tournament fourth-place finisher
What’s to like? The Raiders were good last year, and there’s a great deal to be said for winning experience. Jeremy Price, one of three ’Gate captains, registered 18 league points from the blue line last season.
What’s not to like? Colgate lost nine players, including a pair of 50-point men in Hobey-snubbed Austin Smith and early departure Chris Wagner. Raiders will have to step up on both ends to account for that loss of offense.
2011-12 finish: sixth (tie), 9-9-4
What’s to like? Pop quiz: Who is the returning leader in ECAC Hockey points per game? It’s Clarkson’s injury-plagued Ben Sexton, who put up 2-14-16 totals in 13 league contests for 1.23 points per game. Only Smith, Wagner and O’Neill averaged more. The Golden Knights, in their first season under Casey Jones, exceeded expectations to finish .500 in the league.
What’s not to like? The Golden Knights graduated their top two scorers and five of their top nine as well as their top two goaltenders. Four-year starter Paul Karpowich may have been more important to his team than any player in the league. Cody Rosen is a senior and New York Islanders draft pick. He and/or Clarkson’s freshman goaltenders have big skates to fill.
2011-12 finish: 12th, 5-13-4
What’s to like? Pop quiz No. 2: What is the only ECAC school to sweep a season series from Union over the last two seasons. Brown in 2011-12, of course! The Bears also defeated the likes of Cornell, New Hampshire and Yale last season. Ryan Jacobson netted 12 goals and totaled 21 points in a solid rookie season, and Dennis Robertson provided offense from the blue line in each of his first two years.
What’s not to like? After their second upset of the Dutchmen, the Bears sat at .500 in the league and overall, but they surrendered six goals the next game at Dartmouth, starting a 10-game winless skid to end the regular season. Perhaps a fresh start is exactly what Brown needs.