October 10, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

ECAC Watch List, 2017-18

by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer (@JoshSeguin24)

5 Things to Watch

Princeton Made a Big Jump Last Year, How High Can it Go This Year?

Princeton went from a consistent last place finisher in the ECAC to one that on any night could have beaten anyone. It finished seventh in the league and advanced to the ECAC quarterfinals. It also defeated respected teams like Bemidji State, Minnesota State, Penn State, St. Lawrence and Clarkson. It also swept Quinnipiac in a pair in early December.

It was pretty simple to see how they made a five spot jump in the standings; it was led by its young forwards that led a huge uptick in offense. Princeton scored 103 goals, which was 43 more than the season prior. In 2014-15, it hit a low point of 39 goals scored. With what is coming back for the upcoming season, that number should only be higher.

One of the things that Ron Fogarty has done is that he has brought in talented kids and has quickly acclimated them to the college game. Max Veronneau is a top player in the ECAC who will be a junior this year. Ryan Kuffner, who led the Tigers in points (36) and goals (19), will be right there with him. And in any other year Jackson Cressey probably would have been ECAC Rookie of the Year with his 33 points. Princeton returns its top nine scorers, 11 of its top 12 and 92 of its 103 goals.

"We need to continue playing and practicing in a day-by-day (mentality)," Fogarty said. "Last year, we were an under-.500 team, so the next step would be to be over that this year. We have to make sure we keep living in the moment, keep practicing to the best of our ability and get better everyday. If we can do that, everything else will take care of itself."

How high they go will depend on defense and goaltending, which was markedly better mainly because it had more possession, but it was still an issue. It will replace two defensemen that were stalwarts on the blue line in Tommy Davis and Quin Pompi.

Is Harvard a National Contender to Stay?

Harvard making a play on the national stage was unforeseen just a half decade ago, when coach Ted Donato was unable to get his usually-talented roster to mesh. But then it all changed with a few more great recruiting classes and finally finding the right mix. It culminated in last year's Beanpot title and Frozen Four appearance.

This year should be a much different one than the last couple of years. It is led by probably the three best players at their respective positions in the ECAC. Adam Fox became a dominant defenseman as a freshman, Ryan Donato also grew into one of the most talented forwards in the league, and goaltender Merrick Madsen carried the team to the ECAC title and the Frozen Four. Fox and Donato should be legitimate Hobey candidates this year.

"(The run last year) will be helpful in the sense that there are a lot of guys that will want to get back and another opportunity at it,"  Donato said. "Each year is different, but there is certainly is a benefit of having your players play in big games, big venues. You just don't want to forget all the hard work and preparation. It was a nice run, but we have to start from scratch like everyone else."

Who Will Score For Quinnipiac?

Quinnipiac will still be one of the better teams in the ECAC this season, but the one question that the Bobcats left last year with is the same one they enter this season: Who will provide the scoring? Against good teams the Bobcats struggled to find the back of the net on a consistent basis and their poor record against top ECAC teams would tell just that.

The Bobcats' top scorer last season, Landon Smith, had just 29 points. Their top goal scorer was a tie for 13 between Tim Clifton and Bo Pieper. Pieper is probably a player to watch and see whether his production continues, but Clifton's scoring over the past two years is a big loss. Quinnipiac does return six of its top eight scorers and one should assume someone will step up, but who? A lot could come from its defense, which isn't a bad thing, but is it enough to return QU to the elite?

How Far will Union Drop?

Losing players with the quality of Spencer Foo and Mike Vecchione was always going to be tough on Union. The two did it all for Dutchmen last year and were in the top four nationally in both points and goals. The biggest beneficiaries of playing with Vecchione and Foo last season were linemates Brett Supinski and Sebastian Vidmar. Now they have to show they can do it on their own. When they were on a line with them they scored in bunches and when they weren't, they struggled.

Last season the Dutchmen had some struggles on the back end, which was expected, but no one expected it to be tempered like it was. It was one of the reasons that Union came out of nowhere to be co-Cleary Cup champions. But this year without the two-way exploits of Foo and Vecchione, not to mention the early departure of Nick DeSimone, one should expect there to be growing pains in that department as well.

With all these question marks, just how far does Union drop this year? The coaching of Rick Bennett should help them steady the ship quickly, but there may certainly be growing pains going into the year, as evident by its 0-3 start.

Goaltending

Over the last few years, one of the things the ECAC has been known for is its goaltending. Arguably, it might be the biggest reason why the ECAC has been brought back to such prominance over the last decade. But this year looks to be different as a good portion of league teams are either in transition at the position or had struggles last year.

Kyle Hayton leaving SLU as a grad transfer was the biggest and most unexpected departure, while Cornell, Union and Princeton are all dealing with a graduation at the position of a solid goalie. Brown, Yale, Dartmouth, Colgate and RPI all struggled at times last year between the pipes, which will make those schools interesting case studies coming into the new season.

Quinnipiac has a wealth of riches at the position — Andrew Shortridge had a solid campaign last year and it adds Detroit third-round pick Keith Petruzzelli. Cornell should be fine at the position, it always is. Hayden Stewart has played well in relief of the graduated Mitch Gillam over the years and will most likely be the guy early in the season. Harvard has Merrick Madsen who proved his talent in the NCAA and ECAC tournaments last season, while Clarkson has sophomore Jake KIelly, who should be solid.

It will certainly be interesting to see how goaltending plays out league-wide. A surprise, and a team might come out of nowhere to be near the top of the table. Look at Princeton to see what happens there. One of the reasons the preseason ECAC polls have them so low is goaltending. Replacing Colton Phinney will be tough but the Tigers look to be solid everywhere else.

5 Players to Watch

Adam Fox, D, Soph., Harvard

Fox had the biggest impact of an ECAC freshman in quite some time and he only looks to have gotten stronger in the offseason. He was an integral piece to a Harvard team that went to the Frozen Four. Fox finished the season as the national leader among defensemen in points with 40 and points per game (1.14). Fox's production should continue this season and it will have to because Harvard lost some key pieces to its forward ranks.

Jake Kielly, G, Soph., Clarkson

Clarkson is one of the teams that should be set in goal and Kielly could be poised for a breakout year. Kielly had a decent freshman year with a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage but at times the consistency waned. It was mainly caused by inconsistent in-zone defending by a young defense corps that should be better this year. Kielly was highly-touted coming into Clarkson and was a winner in junior hockey.

Kielly has already been good early, with season-opening wins against Penn State and Michigan. The schedule continues to be tough early on, with two at Western Michigan, home games against Providence/Mass.-Lowell, then two more on the road against Minnesota, all in the first month.

Ryan Kuffner, F, Jr., Princeton

Princeton has a few players that could be on this list and it was difficult to choose which one. Kuffner had a quiet ascendency to the top of the ECAC scoring charts and makes the list, mainly because his scoring touch became aparent throughout the year. Kuffner's 19 goals last year is second best among returning league players and his 36 points was third among that same group.

Considering he had just five goals in his freshman year, Kuffner made a huge jump last season and one should expect another going into his junior year. He is a good-sized forward that has the knack of finding himself in good scoring positions. He also came alive in some of the Tigers' biggest games. He had a pair of goals in a weekend sweep of Quinnipiac, three in a split with Minnesota State and a pair against Bemidji State.

Mike Marnell, F, Sr., St. Lawrence

If he had remained healthy for the entirety of the season, Mike Marnell would have had an impressive ECAC campaign. Despite playing in just 12 of 22 league games, Marnell finished fourth in the ECAC in goals scored with 11. The senior scored an impressive 0.92 goals per game, which was by far the best in the league. If Marnell can stay healthy he will be an intregral part of a new-look St. Lawrence team that had large losses in the offseason.

"We are expecting a big year from Mike," SLU coach Mark Morris said. "He is a very talented, speedy forward and extremely creative. We missed him when we he was out last year. He is great on the penalty kill, he's great on the power play, makes everyone around him better and plays at a high level. He looks in good shape now and keeping him healthy will be a big part of our season."

Ryan Hitchcock, F, Sr., Yale

At the time of his injury, Ryan Hitchcock was doing everything for Yale and was its leading scorer. His injury set the Bulldogs' season back a notch, after it had just gained momentum. Despite playing just 17 games, he ended up fourth on the Bulldogs in scoring with 19 points. If he can stay healthy, it is conceivable that Hitchcock could be a Player of the Year candidate. He is the playmaker the Bulldogs missed while he was gone.

“When Ryan got injured he was our first-line center and was leading our team in scoring,” Yale coach Keith Allain said. “He is one of those guys that plays on the power play, the penalty kill and he took key draws for us. Losing Ryan was a blow for us. He comes back for us after a great summer, he is our captain and if he can stay healthy he will make a big difference to our hockey team.”

Predicted Order of Finish

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

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