October 17, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Watch List

by Jill Saftel/CHN Reporter

For the first time since the 1989-90 season, the ECAC is home to the defending national champion. Yale's run through the NCAA tournament a season ago made it clear the league is not to be ignored when discussing the nation's best conferences.

Even the Bulldogs' rivals celebrated their success, along with Quinnipiac's, since it helped solidify the ECAC's status nationally. Entering the season, there is even more opportunity for ECAC teams and players to make an impact regionally and beyond.

5 Things to Watch

Connecticut success

Last season, two powerhouses emerged from a state not particularly known for college hockey dominance — Connecticut.

Yale and Quinnipiac duked it out all the way from the ECAC regular season to the national championship in Pittsburgh. The teams' successes this season, or lack thereof, will show whether the push from the state was a one-time fluke or here to stay. The proximity of the two schools made for a great storyline as the 2012-13 season came to a close, and the rivalry can continue to build traction this year if the talent level remains the same.

Both clubs have major holes to fill even as they return some of the league and nation's best players. Additionally, the remaining clubs in the ECAC have plenty of motivation to take down their rivals after such successful seasons. Union figures to be a strong side again, while others made improvements that will make it even harder for Yale and Quinnipiac to achieve results similar to last season's.

Harvard's recruiting class

They're stacked once again. After finishing last in the ECAC standings, a new crop of freshmen were brought in to return Harvard's program to glory, or something like it. Prospects like Sean Malone and Alex Kerfoot were brought in to give the Crimson a much-needed boost, but nine freshmen in total grace this season's roster.

The question for Harvard, as always, is whether it can put all this talent together. Coach Ted Donato has had mixed success in accomplishing that. It will help that the four players who were suspended midway through last season for academic dishonesty, also return. That group includes stud defenseman Patrick McNally.

Donato and his staff always have plenty of talent. It's yet to manifest itself in legitimate success throughout a season, though. The Crimson finished dead last in the ECAC a season ago. It's difficult to expect much of them this year even with a talented roster.

RPI offensive power

Chosen to win the conference this year by the media, RPI is loaded up front. The team has depth when it comes to scorers. Matt Neal had eight goals and 22 assists in his sophomore season. Jacob Laliberte had 11 goals and 17 assists, Ryan Haggerty had 12 goals and 14 assists, Mike Zalewski had 12 goals and nine assists, Milos Bubela had eight goals and 11 assists, and the list goes on. Expect big numbers from them this season.

Losing Nick Bailen and his influence at both ends of the rink means goalie Jason Kasdorf and the other RPI blueliners must further their game once again. Offensively, the Engineers will score with anyone, but the league's overall depth up front means teams that succeed in keeping the puck out of their nets are likely to get more wins.

Top Four

It'll likely be a tough fight for the bottom half ECAC teams to break through their stockpile at the top. The talent in the ECAC is as strong as ever. The league's best teams shouldn't come as much of a surprise as the season progresses. However, there's opportunity for others to make runs if their rosters' talent comes together on the ice.

Will St. Lawrence flounder without Flanagan?

When it came to St. Lawrence hockey last season, there were two names we heard last season over and over — Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey. They were rarely mentioned without the other. The two forwards stayed in the top echelon of scorers in the NCAA and were the two scoring leaders for their own team. St. Lawrence did have others producing, but Carey had 51 points and Flanagan was on his heels with 47. The dropoff after that is steep. George Hughes had 37 points and Jeremy Wick recorded 28. It'll be interesting to see Carey's numbers this season without his high-scoring counterpart.

5 Players to Watch

Alex Lyon, Freshman, Goaltender, Yale ... Lyon posted .916 and .910 save percentages in his two seasons with the Omaha Lancers (USHL). He'll be replacing Jeff Malcolm at Yale, no small shoes to fill after a national championship, but Lyon is one of the best incoming goaltenders and should be more than solid in net for the Bulldogs.

Yale certainly lost a lot from last year's team. However, Lyon's transition into college hockey is aided by a deep defensive corps, led by senior Gus Young. It's inevitable that Lyon will experience some struggles, especially in the season's first few weeks, but the Bulldogs learned last year that the finish is a bit more important than the start.

Alexander Kerfoot, Freshman, Forward, Harvard ... Drafted in 2012 by the New Jersey Devils, Kerfoot comes to Harvard after three seasons with the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL. There, he tallied 33 goals and 55 assists for 88 points. He'll likely lead the large incoming group of freshmen brought in by Harvard to revitalize the program.

Kerfoot is hardly the first highly-talented player to land in Cambridge in recent years. Harvard coach Ted Donato and his staff have assembled some strong recruiting classes. The results on the ice haven't come yet. Kerfoot, like many freshman defenseman, has a lot to learn, but the talented blue liner should help the Crimson overcome the struggles that plagued them a year ago.

Jason Kasdorf, Sophomore, Goaltender, Rensselaer ... Chosen by both media and coaches as the goaltender on their all-conference teams, Kasdorf was one of the best goaltenders in the conference last season for RPI. He had a 1.62 GAA, .935 save percentage and a .714 win percentage. With Eric Hartzell and Troy Grosenick gone, Kasdorf could establish himself as the ECAC's best in net. Unfortunately, Kasdorf was injured this week and is out indefinitely. So eyes are on him now in different ways, watching to see when he'll be able to return.

Kenny Agostino, Senior, Forward, Yale ... Agostino stands to continue pulling big numbers following Yale's national championship. He recorded 41 points and scored 17 goals last season. He was one of the forwards chosen by both the media and coaches for the All-Conference preseason team. Life without Andrew Miller and Antoine Laganiere means Yale needs to replace a good amount of scoring prowess. Agostino's final year in New Haven comes with even more expectations than his first three.

Greg Carey, Senior, Forward, St. Lawrence ... Carey is one of the most exciting players to watch in college hockey. He topped the conference with 51 points and 28 goals last season, and was tied for fourth in scoring among all Division I skaters. Keep an eye on Carey's numbers without Kyle Flanagan on his line for St. Lawrence, but he may be able to keep it going on his own.

Carey's transformation as a junior didn't surprise those that knew his overall talent. SLU coach Greg Carvel knew Carey was capable of scoring goals at the Division I level. His commitment to the game finally caught up with his ability last season. Life without Flanagan will make things a bit more difficult for Carey. Still, his goal-scoring talent is on par with anyone in the nation.

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