October 10, 2016 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Watch List, 2016-17

Cornell goaltender Mitch Gillam (photo: Robert Dungan)

Cornell goaltender Mitch Gillam (photo: Robert Dungan)

by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer

The ECAC continues to do well on a national stage in recent years, but this year could be one of transition.

5 Things to Watch

Can Clarkson Finally Get Over the Hump?

If there was a year that Clarkson should be ready to jump into the national picture and make a run to Lake Placid again, it would be this year. Sam Vigneault, Jordan Boucher and AJ Fossen return to lead an offense that should be near the top of the ECAC. All told, six of the top seven scorers from last season return. It also should be able to boast a more mobile, scoring threat from the blue line with smooth skaters such as Kelly Summers and Terrence Amorosa returning.

"You cannot win our league without good upperclassmen," Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. "We have a bunch of guys heading into critical years, as sophomores, juniors, seniors that I think will help us make that step."

As the season wore on last year, the Golden Knights only got better, largely because their goaltending improved. Although Greg Lewis graduated, the addition of Jake Kielly might just provide the piece that the Knights have needed for the past few seasons. He is highly touted out of juniors, coming in off a successful campaign with Tri City, where he boasted a 2.33 GAA and .919 save percentage. In the playoffs those numbers got better, with a 1.64 GAA and .950 save percentage.

It is clear that Casey Jones has Clarkson heading in the right direction. A year after ending the season as one of the hottest teams in the nation, it adds a piece that it has needed for a while and it returns a core that has had consistent Corsi numbers for now two seasons.

"Obviously we are coming in here with a veteran team," Jones said. "You build towards things and it is a year we are excited about our schedule, because it is an exciting time for our program (hosting UNH, Vermont, Minnesota, Wisconsin). With the group that has been around with our coaching staff for multiple seasons, now, we think we have as deep of team as we have had, at least since I have been at Clarkson. We are excited to get going."

Clarkson looked OK in a split with Vermont to open the season. We'll see where it goes from here.

Old Glory Returning?

Looking at the teams that could make some noise this season, it appears like we should go back to the '90s when the New York teams had the upper hand. Cornell, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and RPI all look improved coming into the season, while others have fallen off a bit from recent glory. Add Harvard and it certainly could be fun if you remember the league back in the day.

Cornell, is a dark horse to win the ECAC season. It will always have its defensive systems, but its offense returns more than any other team. The JAM line of Jeff Kubiak, Anthony Angello and Mitch Vanderlaan have great chemistry. Each of them had a good midway portion of the season but fell off near the end. Whether or not those guys will lead a strong offense is up in the air, but the Big Red also return 10 of its top 12 scorers and a goalie that has a career .926 save percentage in Mitch Gillam.

St. Lawrence was picked second in both of the league's preseason polls and returns arguably one of the strongest defensive units in the country. Gavin Bayreuther, Eric Sweetman and Nolan Gluchowski are all good puck moving defensmen. Bayreuther was a preseason All-CHN first team selection as a defenseman and Kyle Hayton is one of the better goaltenders in the country and was an All-CHN preseason second team selection. But will the defense be enough?

"It is a good situation to come into," new SLU coach Mark Morris said. "We have three senior defensemen and there is really some quality guys back there. Those guys can contribute offensively and they all skate well. It is a good start. I am looking forward to working with those guys and having them generate a lot of our offense from the back end."

Year of the New for Colgate

Not only does Colgate have a new rink, but its roster will again be one of the youngest in the ECAC. The Raiders enter the season as an unknown because all of their top scorers are gone and they have experienced a large turnover in the last few seasons that might be hard to recover from.

There were two things that plagued the Raiders last season, defense and depth. It had only one loss on the back end coming into the year, which means there is experience there. Most of the turnover was up front and finding scorers and players in new roles may prove to be a challenge, but it will be necessary if the Raiders want to improve.

Quinnipiac Able to Rebuild, Again?

One of the hallmarks of Quinnipiac's rise has been its ability to rebuild after big-time players leave. But the challenge that is presented to Rand Pecknold this year will be his biggest. In the past, Pecknold and the Bobcats have dealt with heavy planned losses because of large graduations, but this season it has to deal with not only graduations, but in the early departures of Sam Anas and Devon Toews.

"We certainly lost some really good players coming into the year," Pecknold said. "I feel as though all this stuff will work itself out as the year goes along."

Although the core has been depleted, Connor Clifton, Tim Clifton and Landon Smith, among others, return. The cupboard is not bare, by any means but it certainly isn't as full as it was last year when Quinnipiac dominated the ECAC. Connor Clifton is one of the better defenders in the ECAC, ditto Derek Smith and Chase Priskie while Tim Clifton and Smith bring to the lineup 80 combined points from last year. The Bobcats looked pretty good in a win/tie weekend with Northeastern to open the season.

The pieces lost are large but QU and Pecknold should be respected for what they have done restocking the cupboard before.

Harvard Able to Replace Vesey?

Jimmy Vesey's importance to Harvard hockey in the past few seasons has been paramount. Now that he is gone, the Crimson will need to look to others to lead the offense. A player of Vesey's talents is difficult to replace, but if any team in the ECAC has the ability to do so, it is Harvard.

The Crimson are still the most talented offensive unit in the league and the names among its forward lines are more than capable of picking up the lost production. Alexander Kerfoot, Sean Malone, Ryan Donato, Tyler Moy and Luke Esposito all have been consistent contributors over their careers at some point, while others could be poised for a breakout.

One of the things that plagued Harvard at times last season, was its reliance on Vesey to create offense while others became pedestrians. This season, those talents have to come out in earnest and it will.

"The goals are always set high for us," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "This is still a group that has played in the NCAA tournament and been to two ECAC championship game, so I think they have a lot of internal goals, but it is really about improving day to day."

5 Players to Watch

John Hayden, Yale

There has never been a question whether Hayden is talented enough, but there has been questions when the production would come from the talented winger. Last season there were flashes of brilliance, especially in the goal-scoring department, but there were still inconsistencies in his game.

This season, Yale's offense will need to score more and Hayden will be the centerpiece of that. Hayden scored 16 goals last year, seventh in the ECAC and is the second best returner among league scorers. Now a senior, this should be the breakout year for Hayden.

Mike Vecchione, Union

Mike Vecchione has had a good career at Union but he still has room for more. Vecchione enters the year with 113 points in three seasons, with 42 goals. Last season was Vecchione's lowest production year in his college career, so it should be interesting to see if he can attain past production or whether or not it flatlines back to what it was last year.

"From Mike this year, first and foremost we are looking for him to be the captain and leader of the team," Union coach Rick Bennett said. "We expect him to play the 200-foot game we constantly preach at Union. Mike, really bought into the two-way game last year and his points may have gone down because of that. But that is OK, because we feel he became a better player."

Wiley Sherman, Harvard

The Bruins draft pick was mightily important on the Harvard blueline last year. He will again be tasked with carrying a large load on the defense. Sherman showed flashes and he was the one bright spot on defense for Harvard in 2015-16. To be successful this year, Harvard will need to be more consistent on the blueline, which includes Sherman who is big and talented, a commodity in college hockey.

Tim Clifton, Quinnipiac

Tim Clifton's production last season came out of nowhere to put him near the top of the leaderboard in both goals and points. The Bobcats will need that production to continue this year, if it wishes to be near the top of the league again.

Clifton largely benefited from a deep offensive unit, often times playing on the third line but his production on the power play was also important. Clifton was second in the country in power play goals, with 10, and 12th in power play points.His 43 overall points and 19 goals last year is tops among all returning ECAC skaters this year. Whether or not the production can be found again this season, as the responsibility will probably be more on him, is something that is still a mystery. If it wasn't just an outlier season, Quinnipiac's offense should again be strong. Otherwise, there may be some growing pains to find production.

Cam Hackett, Rensselaer

Losing Jason Kasdorf was never going to be easy for RPI, but it was eventually going to happen. Kasdorf was the heart and sole of the Engineers over the last few seasons, but now a new goalie will have to take the reins of the program and that man will be Cam Hackett.

Hackett played a lot last season, with Kasdorf injured at times. All told, Hackett started 10 games and went 6-3-1. The last of those losses, an 8-2 loss to Harvard in the ECAC quarterfinals, proved that the unexpected lofty stage may have been too much for the freshman. Before that start, Hackett's numbers were consistently good and he had given the Engineers a chance to win every game. He had a 2.35 GAA and a .932 save percentage before allowing the eight against Harvard. For a player that probably didnt expect to start much last season, Hackett proved he can take the reins in net.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. St. Lawrence
2. Clarkson
3. Cornell
4. Harvard
5. Quinnipiac
6. Yale
7. RPI
8. Princeton
9. Union
10. Dartmouth
11. Brown
12. Colgate

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