October 20, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Watch List

by Geoffrey Thompson and Justin Churchill/CHN Reporter

A look at what to watch for in the ECAC this season.

Will Union be Successful Under Rick Bennett?

Last year Union was the talk of the league, winning the Cleary Cup and making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. However many are questioning if the team can repeat that success given that the team lost head coach Nate Leamen to Providence in the offseason. Rick Bennett, one of Leaman's long-time assistants, has taken over at head coach.

Bennett will have a strong team at the start of this season, as Union returns a lot of talent all over the ice. Yet the loss of All-American Goaltender Keith Kinkaid (already getting a cup of coffee with the New Jersey Devils) will be difficult for the first-year coach to deal with. Kinkaid was a rock between the pipes last season.

Bennett's success relies on his ability to find a suitable replacement for Kinkaid. So far it seems that Bennett will start sophmore Troy Grosenick at the start of the season. Grosenick only appeared in three contests last season so experience may be hard to come by.

How Many Teams will make the NCAA Tournament?

Last season the ECAC almost had four teams make the NCAAs in Yale, Union, RPI and Dartmouth (which was the last team left out). This season may see another three teams in there, but don't expect one as dominant as Yale, which had the top overall seed a year ago.

Who Will Make It?

Yale - What can you say about Yale? Over the course of the last three years the Bulldogs have been unstoppable in the ECAC. Head coach Keith Allain still has a strong team this year despite the loss of a great senior class featuring the likes of Denny Kearney, Broc Little and goaltender Ryan Rondeau. With preseason all-conference forwards Brian O'Neill and Andrew Miller, and a strong recruiting class, the Bulldogs still return some firepower. Yale should make the NCAAs once again under Allain.

Dartmouth - Okay, this is the year, Right? Last Season Dartmouth was once again so very close to earning an at large bid to the NCAAs, something that has barely eluded the Big Green numerous times in Bob Gaudet's tenure. In fact they were the last team left out. Gaudet has a very complete team this season. Preseason all-conference goaltender James Mello had a fantastic season last season and will look to finally led his team into the NCAAs.

Union - The Dutchman made the tournament for the first time last year, but the offseason was not kind to them. Nate Leaman left for Providence and Union lost First Team All-American Goaltender Keith Kinkaid to the NHL. Union still seems to be a top team in the conference despite all the offseason losses, because most of its firepower is back. So there's no reason why it can't return.

Last In?

Cornell - It seemed that last year was a building year for the Big Red. Somehow the team earned a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs despite a very poor start to the season. Head coach Mike Schafer got his group of kids to play some tough hockey and the team ended up one win away from winning the ECAC tournament. Look for Cornell to keep building and possibly make the big dance, especially with a big recruiting class coming in.

St. Lawrence Will Be Playing Without Marsh

St Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh has taken a medical leave of absence this season. It marks the first time in 27 seasons that Marsh will not be behind the bench. Coaching the Saints this season will be associate head coaches Mike Hurlbut and Greg Carvel. The duo will be tasked with improving the team's place in the standings.

Last season the Saints finished the season with 13-22-5 record. Despite that there were many positive outcomes towards the end of the year, including a playoff series upset over Princeton.

“We are obviously looking to improve on last year's season, the record we had was a little bit deceiving,” Hurlbut said.

In order for St. Lawrence to improve, it will have to finish games down the stretch. Sophomore Greg Carey will be a key to any success the Saints will have this season. The forward scored 40 points last season to rank among the best freshmen in the country.

“We're hoping to see a repeat of last year's totals, but Greg is an all-around good player,” Hurlbut said.

Will Colgate Surprise Many?

Colgate was the surprise of the ECAC tournament last season. The team made an impressive march through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating RPI and Union to earn its way to Atlantic City. While there was no fairy tale ending for the Raiders, head coach Don Vaughan has to have a bit of confidence in his team following its resurgence.

The Raiders return much of their team this season, a team that was expected to do fairly well last season before the collapse. Offensively Chris Wagner, Austin Smith and Robbie Bourdon should all have good seasons. While on the defensive front, work needs to be done, the team lost the services of Wade Poplawski who graduated, and there was not much of a cohesivness to the Raider blue line last year.

Certainly, so far, Colgate is showing that it has surprises in store, with two wins at the Maverick Stampede and a home win over Miami. But you could already see this coming and the bet here is that it's not just an early season flash in the pan.

If Vaughan can sure up his defense and use his team's early season start time to his advantage, Colgate could earn home ice or even a first-round bye this season in the ECAC.

Five Games To Watch

11/4 Cornell @ Yale – This game will be the first bout between two strong teams in the conference.

11/5 Princeton @ Dartmouth – Always a fun game to watch, look out for the tennis balls.

11/12 Yale @ Union – The top two ECAC teams last season, meet in an early-season match up.

11/15 Union @ RPI – Local rivalry of two really good teams.

11/25 Harvard @ Dartmouth – Another good rivalry that should tell everyone where each team stands.

5 Players to Watch

J.D. Carrabino – Freshman – Clarkson – Defense – 6-foot-5, 220 lbs.

An incoming freshman, Carrabino brings a wealth of size to Clarkson’s blueline. Carrabino spent the past two years plying his trade in the USHL for both the Youngstown Phantoms and Omaha Lancers, and enters the ECAC as a 20-year old. Expect Clarkson to rely on Carrabino to anchor the defense with his size and mean streak, using his frame to clear opposing forwards from the front of the net. A defensive defenseman, don’t expect a strong offensive output, but expect Carrabino to help Clarkson close their goal differential of minus-20 from last year.

Brian O’Neill – Senior – Yale – Forward – 5-9, 170 lbs.

A rising senior forward on Yale’s roster, O’Neill will be relied upon to continue the scoring prowess he displayed throughout the 2010-11 season. O’Neill, now a captain, finished second in scoring in the ECAC last year with 45 points in 35 games, helping carry Yale to a league best 84 goals. Gone are teammates Broc Little and Denny Kearney, which will further force O’Neill into the prominent scoring role. At 5-9 and 170 lbs., O’Neill has used his head and speed to work through opposing defenses, and will need to continue to outsmart his opponents to lead Yale’s offense.

Andy Iles – Sophomore – Cornell – Goaltender – 5-9, 180 lbs.

A small goalie, Iles will need to play large for Cornell after a disappointing loss to Yale in the ECAC Championship. Iles was pulled in the final game after allowing five goals on 15 shots as Cornell fell to Yale 6-0. With Mike Garman gone, the workload will fall to Iles for Cornell throughout the regular season. It will be fun to watch the USNTDP graduate grow into his own as Cornell’s last line of defense, and improve on a nightmare end to the 2010-11 season.

Charlie Vasaturo – Freshman – Union – Defense – 6-2, 203 lbs.

Vasaturo will step in to help fill a Union blueline that lost a bit of its star power after the 2010-11 season. Gone is top defenseman Brock Matheson and his plus-27 rating, which ranked No. 2 in the ECAC. The loss of Matheson presses Vasaturo into what many hope will be a starting role on Union’s backline. “Charlie will provide size and a physical presence to our blue line,” coach Rick Bennett said. “He was well-liked by his teammates at Salmon Arm and will be a solid team guy here at Union.” Union allowed 43 goals against last year, best in the ECAC. With many vital pieces gone from that powerhouse roster, Vasaturo will have a great chance to earn himself pivotal minutes for a contender.

Greg Carey – Sophomore – St. Lawrence – Forward – 5-11, 195 lbs.

Carey was a great contributor for St. Lawrence last year, posting 39 points in 39 games for a team that finished second to last in the ECAC. Even more impressive than Carey’s point per game average was his shooting percentage, registering a 20 percent success rate with a high volume of shots, 112. Was last season an aberration, or does Carey have the scorer's touch? If St. Lawrence is to find its way out of the bottom of the pack, a finisher like Carey will need to continue his contributions to pull the Saints ahead.

Projected Order of Finish

St. Lawrence

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