Preview: Harvard Hits Another Home Run With Incoming Class
by Jasper Kozak-Miller/Recruiting Writer
We conclude our set of previews of this year's incoming recruiting classes with a look at the ECAC. As mentioned previously, these ‘rankings’ factor in both skill, as well as how well a team recruited to fill any needs. The ECAC always brings in an intriguing and talented mix of players, including in the past few years; Austin Smith (Colgate), Alex Killorn (Harvard), Louis Leblanc (Harvard) and goalie Andy Iles, just to name a few. This year is no different. While a few ECAC teams have brought in top notch recruiting classes lately, there’s a clear winner this year: the Harvard Crimson.
Top Recruiting Class
The Crimson resurgence is in full force now, and this class signals the second lights-out recruiting effort by coach Ted Donato and his staff. Last year’s class contributed from the get-go, with goaltender Steve Michalek, defensemen Max Everson and Pat McNally, as well as forward Colin Blackwell all having an instant impact on the roster. Harvard flipped a switch this year and kicked up their recruiting game again.
The class is led by prolific scorer and prep school player of the year Brian Hart (2nd round, Tampa Bay), who hails from Phillips Exeter Academy. The 6-foot-3 forward had 31 goals and 34 assists in just 29 games. Hart comes to the Crimson with about as much hype as previous Crimson forward Louis Leblanc did. Alongside Hart comes South Shore King (EJHL) Jimmy Vesey, who shattered EJHL defenses left and right last season, putting up an unprecedented 91 points in 45 games. Hart and Vesey are the big names, but it certainly doesn’t stop there. Forwards Greg Gozzo and Kyle Criscuolo were both standout forwards at prep powers Avon Old Farms and Choate Rosemary Hall, respectively, before moving on to have stellar seasons in the USHL as well. Brayden Jaw joins the squad from Surrey of the BCHL, after two years with the Nanaimo Clippers. All of the incoming forwards, in tandem with the returning offensive talent, could turn an above-average offense into an unstoppable one.
It should be noted that Harvard’s incoming classes in the next few years are already shaping up to be almost as potent as this one, if not better. The only question is being able to put all that talent together, something Donato seems more adept at now as he's grown on the job over the last eight years.
Tied for Second
The Yale Bulldogs bring in a strong class of their own. Ironically, their top incoming goal-scorer, New Jersey native Matt Beattie, outperformed Harvard’s top recruit, statistically, while playing on the same team. Beattie’s 39 goals in just 26 games got him a nod from the Canucks (7th round) in this year’s draft, and the 6-3 forward added another 34 assists, landing himself a spot on the All-New England First Team. Canadian forward Carson Cooper and New Jersey native Charles Orzetti both had their fair share of success at the junior level, while USHL alumnus Stu Wilson captained Cedar Rapids in his third year of play for the RoughRiders (USHL). On the blueline, Mitch Witek, standing at 6-1 and 205 pound, and Ryan Obuchowski join the squad after extremely successful USHL careers. Both should be in the fight for playing time right from the start. Closing out the class on a high-note is 2011 Bruins draftee (5th round) Rob O’Gara. The Milton Academy graduate won a New England championship in 2010-11 and only looks to achieve bigger and better things at the next level. O’Gara will be looked at to play legitimate minutes immediately, and what could be baptism-by-fire for the prep school alumnus might just turn him into a top-tier blueliner in all of college hockey.
Union looks to follow up its recent successes on the ice by continuing to reel in good talent. It got the best defensemen of this clas in Tim Boyle (4th round, Senators), and added another big pickup in Sebastien Gingras, both from very different hockey pedigrees. Boyle, the brother of former Boston College star and New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle, played for Nobles (New England Prep School) this past season, where he put together a solid showing and got himself a nod in this year’s draft. Gingras hails from Brockville of the CCHL where he put up a respectable 43 points in 58 games. High-tempo forward Nick Cruice comes from the South Shore Kings (EJHL), where he had 105 points in 87 games over two seasons. Cruice has a nice offensive eye for the game and should slot right into the line-up with the Dutchmen, who have really been on the upswing in the past few years. Matt Wilkins, of the Brooks Bandits (AJHL), led his league in scoring with 99 points in just 60 games, and should add some offense as well.
Cornell, following up last year's stellar class, has a compact but formidable freshmen group of its own. The class of 2016 consists of two defensemen and three forwards. Canadian blue-liner, 6-foot-4 Reece Wilcox (5th round, Flyers) from Merritt of the BCHL, leads the class. But Gavin Stoick, a 6-3 defenseman from the NTDP, should develop into a gem for the Big Red in his time there as well. Finnish forward Teemu Tiitinen (Lincoln, USHL) joins 6-6 Christian Hilbrich (Indiana, USHL) and John Knisley (Vernon, BCHL) as the incoming freshmen forward group, and in time, all project to be big contributors.
For Quinnipiac, returning senior Eric Hartzell will be joined by two new freshmen goaltenders. The number one goaltender of last year’s record-breaking Penticton Vees (BCHL), Michael Garteig, comes in highly regarded. Garteig’s backup from last season committed to Notre Dame this week, and Garteig’s steady play led his Vees to 41 wins in 45 games, posting a .927 save percentage and a 1.93 along the way. Granted, his Vees were absolutely loaded from top to bottom, but he was still "the man" for them. Alexandria Blizzard (NAHL) goaltender Jacob Meyers rounds out the netminding trio, posting a successful season as well. Meyers won 30 out of 42 games, and ended his year with an impressive .929. With those two additions, Quinnipiac significantly raised their stock in net this year. On defense, 6-foot-7 Tom Hilbrich (Pembroke Lumber Kings, CJHL) joins Waterloo (USHL) defenseman Alex Barron as the two new additions. Hilbrich is a Chicago Mission product and should bring an un-ignorable presence to the Bobcats while Barron brings in some skill that the Bobcats will put to work on the power play.
Last but not least
Clarkson, Colgate, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, and RPI, all bring in big freshmen classes.
Clarkson’s class is led by OJHL MVP Christian Finch (Stouffville Spirit), who had a league-high 67 assists and 104 points as the league’s leading point-scorer, and should instantly kick-start Clarkson’s offense. Paul Geiger, the OJHL’s best defenseman, should bring some size at 6-3, but also some serious offense from the back end as well, netting 41 of his 54 points last year as helpers. Freshmen goaltending tandem Andrew Hunt (Surrey, BCHL) and Greg Lewis (Wenatchee, NAHL) are nice gets, but the 6-2 Hunt will come in with the highest expectations, as the BCHL starter anchored his team through the regular season and through 12 playoff games, where he posted a .920 save percentage.
Colgate brings in two Colts (Cornwall, CCHL), Kyle Baun and Mike Borkowski, who both had great careers up there. Baun netted 103 points over two seasons, including 48 goals, while Borkowski led the entire CCHL in the postseason, posting 20 points, making it 116 points on the season for the prolific forward. CCHL defenseman of the year Ryan Johnston (Nepean) adds to the Raiders d-corps with an offensive penchant, while Kevin Lough, from the Cumberland Grads (CCHL) should add a more defensive presence. Freshman forward Darcy Murphy led his squad in goals with 52, setting a franchise (Wellington, OJHL) record and will hope to bury his offensive chances for the Dutchmen in the coming seasons as well. Lastly, the two Spinks, Tylor and Tyson, both come from Cornwall as well as Baun and Borkowski, where they posted over 500 points combined in their time with the Colts.
Dartmouth’s class is led by freshman EJHL standout Nick Bligh, who at 5-11 put on a clinic, scoring 85 points in 43 games for the South Shore Kings last season. Joining him is Jack Barre, of the New Jersey Hitmen (EJHL) who had 41 points in 35 games for the Hitmen and should bring some size for the Big Green, standing at 6-3. Freshman Forward Connor Dempsey from Westside (BCHL), led his team in scoring with 58 points, and should pitch in as well. On defense, Dartmouth pulls in two defensemen, Ryan Bullock and Geoff Ferguson, who like the incoming goalies, hail from Minnesota and a Maritime province, respectively.
St. Lawrence’s incoming class is small at a headcount of four, but they add some solid talent at all positions. Surrey (BCHL) forwards Alex Hagen and Sean McGovern both found some success in Surrey, coming off of stellar performances at the prep school level for Choate and Taft, respectively. On defense, Ross McMullen suited up for the Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL) after a year with the Springfield Pics (EJHL). The 6-5 defenseman might have a little way to go before he really makes an impact for the Saints, but the Las Vegas native certainly has the frame to do so.
RPI’s class is pretty big. The main highlight is certainly Des Moines Buccaneers goaltender Jason Kasdorg (Winnipeg, 6th round), who will push senior Bryce Merriam for the spot in the net this season. Slovakian forward Milos Bubela joins the Engineers from Dubuque (USHL), along with St. Thomas Academy (MN-HS) forward Andrew Commers, who captained his team this last season, and won two Class A state championships. Travis Fulton, from Vaughan (OJHL), and 6-2 Mike Zalewski (Vernon, BCHL) will pitch in some offense too, while 5-11 forward Mark Miller should bring some sandpaper and heart to the forward group, captaining Omaha (USHL) last year.
Princeton brings in five new Tigers this fall. Forward Michael Zajac was an offensive dynamo for Eagan (MN-HS) and a three-time MVP, and should slot into the line-up early even as a younger freshman. Forward Kyle Rankin led his Sioux Falls (USHL) team in scoring, while forward Jonathan Liau split parts of two seasons with Omaha and Youngstown of the USHL after a solid career at St. Paul’s (New England Prep School). Mike Ambrosia rounds out the forward class well, an in-state native who was prolific for Delbarton (NJ-HS) before spending a rookie year in Youngstown before this past season, where he broke out for 20 goals and 50 assists in 66 games.
The Brown Bears class is smaller than it was supposed to be, with the mid-summer departure of USHL star Kevin Roy, and his goaltender brother Derick, headed to Northeastern this fall instead. Their departure emphasizes a key issue for Ivy League teams, in that they don't allow recruits to sign letters of intent. As a result, the Roy's were able to bail out on their commitment and change schools at the last minute, something that undoubtedly ired head coach Brendan Whittet. Now they are moving on without them. Had they both ended up in the class this year, Brown would certainly have had one of the top classes in the ECAC, but nevertheless brings in a talented group. Defensemen Brandon Pfeil (Merritt, BCHL) brings some size to the line-up, standing at 6-2, and will likely be leaned on early to contribute some strong play in the Bears own zone.