ECAC Hockey Preview, Part I
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
First half of our look at the ECAC season, which starts today.
Coach: George Roll
2007-08 Record: 22-13-4 (15-4-3 ECAC)
How they finished: The Knights finished the regular-season strong, as usual, but lost a best-of-3 playoff series to Colgate, leaving Clarkson fans wondering if the team would ever make noise again in the NCAAs. But finally, after losing an OT game to UMass the season before, the Knights nonetheless made the NCAAs, and defeated St. Cloud State in the first round, before bowing out to Michigan. It was the first NCAA win for coach George Roll since taking over in 2003-04.
Changes: A talented class led by stalwart defender Grant Clitsome, forwards Nick Dodge and Steve Zalewski, and long-time starting goaltender David Leggio, have graduated. But three NHL draft picks enter the fray, including goaltender Paul Karpowich, who has stepped right in admirably.
Strengths: Clarkson is still left with plenty of solid players, and after two straight NCAA berths, there's no reason it can't go back. The team has depth up front and on defense, led by senior blueliners Philippe Pacquet and Tyrell Mason, who Roll caused "excellent" leaders. There is balanced scoring across the classes, with senior Chris D'Alvise and sophomore Lauri Tuohimaa leading the way. Freshman Mark Borowiecki has looked strong defensively so far.
Weakness: The team lost outstanding forward Shea Guthrie to a broken wrist that will leave him out for a while. "We must improve specialty teams particularly our PP," said Roll. Goaltending was also a question mark, but Karpowich has been excellent so far.
Outlook: It says here that Clarkson doesn't take the dip that others were expected. We had them taking first again in the ECAC before media day in September, and following two home ties to No. 1-ranked Colorado College at home, there's no reason to change our minds now.
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 1st
Coach: Guy Gadowsky
2007-08 Record: 21-14-0 (14-8-0 ECAC)
How they finished: Princeton had a strong run to the finish, capped by its second ECAC tournament championship. That meant, obviously, its second NCAA tournament appearance as well. The Tigers ran into some bad luck early, hung with North Dakota for a while, but ultimately fell. That did nothing, however, to take away from Princeton's accomplishment, finally coming back from the depths and returning to the type of competitive level it enjoyed in the latter half of Don Cahoon's run as coach in the late '90s.
Changes: The Tigers only lost 25 points from the forwards that graduated, 13 of those from Rhodes Scholar winner Landis Stankievech.
Strengths: The Tigers return most everyone, including the entire top line intact, of Hobey finalist Lee Jubinville, Brett Wilson and Cam MacIntyre. The latter made the big leap last year from 13 to 31 points. The defense is experienced with Tyler Fedun, Cam Ritchie and Jody Pederson. And goalie Zane Kalemba, who emerged last season as a true No. 1, is back and is only a junior.
Weakness: Finding enough players to consistently score after the top line is always a challenge for a team like Princeton. And the loss of Mike Moore on defense means someone has to step into his power play quarterback role.
Outlook: Like all of the Ivies, the late start usually hurts the Tigers. But if Gadowsky can pull the right strings until December, the team could go on another roll like last year, and there's no reason why the NCAAs couldn't be in the cards again — ECAC tournament title or not.
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 2nd
Coach: Ted Donato
2007-08 Record: 17-13-4 (12-7-3 ECAC)
How they finished: The Crimson just missed a Beanpot title, losing in OT to Boston College. Later, it endured a weird three-game playoff series with Quinnipiac, before moving onto the ECAC semis, where it defeated Cornell for the third time last season. Harvard then lost to Princeton in the ECAC final, and fell short of another NCAA bid.
Changes: A big senior class graduated, including tough defenseman Dave MacDonald; and forwards Jon Pelle, David Watters and Mike Taylor. The team also suffered a blow when goaltender Kyle Richter decided to take the entire season off for personal reasons. Then 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior defenseman Jack Christian also needed to take the year off for post-concussion issues.
Strengths: Harvard led the league in scoring from defensemen, and five of the top seven 'D' from last year are back — including Alex Biega and Brian McCafferty. "We feel that one of our biggest strengths is that we return the core guys from our power play and penalty kill units that were around the tops in our league last year. ... Up front we feel we will have two lines that will score consistently (led by Doug Rogers) and a very solid shut down type of defensive line anchored by Jim Fraser."
Weakness: "Certainly our lack of experience in the net is a great concern but we feel we have some talent at the position and are hopeful that the team is sound defensively in the short term as we allow that position to become more comfortable." Mike Coskren, Ryan Carroll, Matt Hoyle and John Riley will compete at goaltender, and they have seen action in three NCAA games between them, with no starts.
Outlook: "We feel that we have a young team but we like our overall talent level and feel there's a great opportunity for improvement during the season which should allow for us to be very competitive going into the stretch run of the season."
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 5th
Coach: Keith Allain
2007-08 Record: 16-14-4 (9-9-4 ECAC)
How they finished: Yale has a propensity for postseason overtimes — thought nothing tops the 2007 five OT battle with Union — and last year played two OT games in the first round, winning both over RPI. It then extended Princeton to three games in the second round, before falling.
Changes: Draftees Will Engasser and Robert Page are gone, as is Jean-Francois Boucher, a talented player who never lived up to his 13-goal sophomore season (he only had three last year).
Strengths: Scoring was a big problem last year, but most of the top scorers are back at least, led by junior Sean Backman. Brian O'Neill, a small but dynamic and shifty offensive player, who was All-Rookie in the USHL last season, is a nice recruit up front. Everyone but Page returns on the backline.
Weakness: Alec Richards, a 6-foot-4 senior goalie, lost his No. 1 job to Billy Blase last year. The whole position remains a question mark. Sophomore Ryan Rondeau could also play.
Outlook: Yale could improve a lot, but it's such a tight pack, that it's hard to know where the Bulldogs will land.
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 8th
Coach: Bob Gaudet
2007-08 Record: 12-16-4 (6-13-3 ECAC)
How they finished: It was a tough rebuilding season for the Big Green, though it had six non-league wins along the way, including against Boston University, New Hampshire and Northern Michigan. It won a game in the best-of-3 with Cornell in the first round of the ECAC tournament, but lost Game 3 6-0.
Changes: Three of the team's top four scorers have graduated, including Nick Johnson (35 pts.), strong two-way man J.T. Wyman (30, and a team-high plus-15 rating), and Jon Grecu (21). Also graduated is goaltender Mike Devine, leaving a hole there in what is seemingly a question mark for the Green every season.
Strengths: "We have a very good skill level throughout our lineup and depth at every position," said Gaudet. "What we lack in marquee names with big reputations, we more than make up for in guys that compete and, I believe, will excel given the additional ice time and responsibility."
Weakness: Dartmouth has had some outstanding blue chippers over the late decade, thanks to the recruiting prowess of its coaching staff — which is, all things considered, one of the best in the country. But that well has temporarily run dry. The abundant and talented freshman and sophomore classes nevertheless lacks that big name like a Stempniak, Jessiman, Nick Johnson, etc... "Our youth and inexperience (9 freshmen; 9 sophomores) could be seen as a weakness, but I like the energy and focus that this group brings to workouts each and every day," Gaudet said.
Outlook: "This is going to be a fun team to work with. We have an excellent nucleus to rely on for the next few years. ... Selfless teamwork is going to play a large role in our success this season. We have a game plan in place to bring this group together and to create an atmosphere of everyone being on the same page. Our foreign trip to Sweden in mid December will be a great bonding and learning experience for our young team."
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 9th
Coach: Don Vaughan
2007-08 Record: 18-18-6 (8-9-5 ECAC)
How they finished: Colgate's up and down season was highlighted by a postseason in which it — again — knocked off St. Lawrence in a three-game first-round ECAC playoff series; then knocked off top-seeded Clarkson in three games, the last one coming in double overtime. The Raiders' run ended with a 3-0 loss to Princeton in the ECAC semifinal.
Changes: The class that leaves was the first following the ability to award full scholarships, and it was a very talented group. It was led by Tyler Burton up front, the very first scholarship player at Colgate, and goaltender Mark Dekanich. Other forwards like Dustin Gillanders and Jesse Winchester leave a gaping hole for the Raiders. Cleveland native Charles Long, a junior, expects to get the bulk of the time in net, but he has very little experience.
Strengths: "Five returning and experienced defensemen should give us some stability on the back end," said Vaughan. These are seniors Mark Anderson, Joe DeBello, Jason Fredricks, David Sloane and Nike St. Pierre; and sophomores Wade Poplawski and Kevin McNamara each played over 40 games last season on the backline.
Weakness: "We need to do a much better job finishing on our power play chances. Other guys are going to get a chance this year so competition for power play spots could make it better. Two or three power-play goals at critical times last year could have turned two or three of the five league ties into wins. That's huge in this league," Vaughan said.
Outlook: We could easily see Colgate finishing somewhere like sixth, since the middle of the ECAC is so tightly packed. But we've got them here until we see how the players get adjusted to new roles, and if the goaltending holds up.
CHN Predicted Order of Finish: 10th