When it comes to hockey, the Eastern College Athletic Conference has a reputation. ECAC teams typically play a hard-nosed, defensive game that upholds the proud traditions of their universities. This fits the culture of their six Ivy members — half of the conference’s 12 institutions — who have rarely changed their style, on or off the ice. Harvard, Cornell and Yale tend to be the better Ivy schools, while Quinnipiac typically leads the conference’s other members. As the 2016 ECAC slate begins this weekend for the majority of the league, let’s examine Cornell’s competition by predicted end-of-season standings.
As a dedicated Cornell hockey fan, it is very difficult to list archrivals Harvard first. Yet, the Crimson has earned respect over the last few seasons for consistently finishing near the top of the conference, and this could be the year the Crimson put it all together and finish first. While Jimmy Vesey graduated, a number of role players return on offense, and the team’s young defense should be much improved this season.
Rand Packnold, the Bobcats’ coach, claims that his team will struggle this year after the losses of Devon Toews, Sam Anas, Michael Garteig and others. While it might pale in comparison to last season’s excellent squad, Quinnipiac still has the talent to play at the top of the ECAC. Opponents wishing to beat Quinnipiac will need to exploit their likely Achilles’ heel, goaltending.
The Dutchmen are off to a 6-1-1 start and have showed they can play with some of the country’s better teams. Mike Vecchione is one of the best players in the conference and has 10 goals already. Many people think the Schenectady school is a long shot to earn a first-round bye by finishing in the top four places, but they are capable of keeping this pace up for the season’s duration.
Clarkson is always a tough team to predict, because while the school has had dominant teams in the past, it also has had several very disappointing seasons. This year, the Golden Knights should have a quality team; forwards AJ Fossen, Sam Vigneault and Jordan Boucher will pose trouble for the squad’s opposition.
Some league pundits, like College Hockey News’s Josh Seguin, predict Cornell could finish in the top four, yet a finish in the middle spots is more likely for the Red. While Cornell returns most of its talent from last season, Cornell’s improvement will be slight, not drastic. If Cornell were to finish fifth, that should be viewed as a positive season after seventh- and eighth-place finishes in the last two years.
6. Saint Lawrence
Again, I differ from many pundits here in selecting the Saints for a middle spot, as others have tabbed Saint Lawrence for a first-round bye. While the team also returns considerable talent, players have to learn new coach Mark Morris’s system, while every other ECAC team has the same coach as last season. Despite their excellent blue line trio of Nolan Gluchowski, Eric Sweetman, and Gavin Bayreuther, expect some growing pains in Canton
A seventh-place finish would be a very disappointing season for the Bulldogs. While Yale typically aspires for a top-four place, the loss of Alex Lyon in goal means that the Bulldogs’ defense will not be able to hide offensive weaknesses, like they did last season. Yale should be more of a middle-of-the-pack team this season.
RPI lost their talented senior goalkeeper Jason Kasdorf, but should have a better offense this season. Victor Liljegren, Riley Bourbonnais and Lou Nanne are improving each year and should prove threats up front for the Engineers.
Cornell opens its ECAC slate against the Green Friday night. Dartmouth faces a season of transition: the Green lost the most of any team to graduation, including both their top goalies. Dartmouth will need players to step up on both sides of the puck in order to make a run this season.
Surprise! The typically basement-dwelling Tigers should avoid a last-place finish this season. Many of their sophomores, like Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau, had impressive freshman campaigns and should produce this year. Opponents who fail to treat the Tigers as serious ECAC opponents may be handed a surprise defeat.
The Raiders have a lot of excitement around the program because of their new rink, the Class of 1965 Arena. However, the on-ice product might struggle to match the class of the new facility. Colgate simply lacks difference makers at every position.
Brown has made strides over the last few seasons, but the team will likely regress this time around. As productive forwards graduated, the Bears will be a low-scoring team that concedes goals often. That is never a formula for winning hockey, meaning the team should finish last in the ECAC this season.