October 31, 2003

Men's Hockey ECAC Preview

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Last season saw a renaissance of sorts in the ECAC. For the second year in a row, two teams — Cornell and Harvard — advanced to the NCAA tournament, with one of those squads, the Red, making it to the Frozen Four. During the regular season, those two teams dominated their conference rivals, going a combined 36-6-2, and swept their ways through the ECAC tournament to an epic final won by Cornell, 3-2, in overtime. This season, both Cornell and Harvard are again ranked among the nation’s best. The question is whether any of the other 10 teams in the conference will join them.

1. Cornell Red

Last Year’s Record: 30-5-1, 19-2-1 ECAC, 1st

See pages 3-5 for the scoop on the defending ECAC champs.

2. Harvard Crimson

Last Year’s Record: 22-10-2, 17-4-1 ECAC, 2nd

Everyone and their mother have pegged the Crimson as the preseason conference favorites. Harvard’s only significant losses to graduation were forwards Dominic Moore, Brent Nowak, and Aaron Kim. And so, the experts claim, this is the year that the Crimson will overtake a Cornell team that lost seven seniors and statistically the best goalie in college hockey history. Those pundits, however, have failed to realize the gaping hole that was left in Cambridge with Moore’s departure. With all due respect to the other forwards of the ECAC, Moore was the most dangerous player in the conference with the puck on his stick, leading the Crimson with 51 points on 24 goals and 27 assists in just 34 games.

That isn’t to say that Harvard is going to struggle to light the lamp, though. Senior forwards Tim Pettit and Tyler Kolarik will return to anchor a deep and dangerous Harvard offense that was tops in the league, while All-ECAC defenseman Noah Welch steadies the blueline. Meanwhile, goalie Dov Grumet-Morris returns to net after posting a remarkable .925 save percentage and 2.38 goals against average.

In order for the Crimson to be taken seriously, though, it must improve upon the 0-6-1 mark it held against top-15 teams last season. Until it does, Harvard remains glued to No. 2.

3. Dartmouth Green

Last Year’s Record: 20-13-1, 13-9-0 ECAC, Tied-3rd

Last season saw Dartmouth accomplish something that it hadn’t done in 50 years — win 20 games in a single season. Led by a trio of talented forwards — Lee Stempniak, Hugh Jessiman, and Mike Ouelette — the Green simply overpowered its opponents with its offensive firepower. Stempniak led the Green in both goals (28) and points (49), and was the ECAC’s sixth leading scorer. Jessiman, a first-round selection of the New York Rangers in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, returns for his sophomore campaign after garnering the ECAC’s Rookie of the Year Award and registering 23 goals and 47 points.

The Green, however, will be hurt by the loss of several key blueliners. Trevor Byrne, P.J. Martin, and Pete Summerfelt are gone, as is goalie Nick Boucher. That isn’t good news for a team that struggled to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard last season. Brian Van Abel and Sean Offers, a member of the last season’s ECAC All-Rookie Team, will attempt to anchor the defense, while Darren Gastrock and Dan Yacey will split time in goal.

4. Brown Bears

Last Year’s Record: 16-14-5, 10-8-4 ECAC, 5th

Brown is one of the ECAC teams that could jump to the top of the conference and knock off Cornell and Harvard. But to do so, goalie Yann Danis will have to carry the Bears on his broad shoulders and take them there. If past performance is any indication, however, Danis is more than capable of doing just that. There isn’t a player in the conference that is more valuable to his team than Danis is to Brown. A second-team All-ECAC and second-team All-American last year, Danis was one of the top two or three netminders in the country.

The Bears, who had the third best defense in the ECAC last season, will return a strong defensive unit again this year, including defenseman Paul Esdale, one of the league’s biggest threats from the blueline. The problem that has plagued Brown for the past several years and will continue to trouble the Bears is their lack of offensive punch. Forward Brent Robinson leads the Bears after posting 15 goals, 23 assists, and 38 points last season. But he won’t get too much help.

Then again, Brown won’t need much scoring. Danis will be in net.

5. Clarkson Golden Knights

Last Year’s Record: 12-20-3, 9-10-3 ECAC, Tied-7th

For years, Clarkson was one of the top teams in the conference. Then, last season, amongst a coaching controversy, the team grossly underachieved, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans in Potsdam. Enter new head coach George Roll, who replaces longtime head coach Mark Morris, who was unceremoniously dismissed after being accused of striking a player during practice.

Roll can’t turn around Clarkson by himself, but he has some pieces to work with. The defense, which has been the trademark for the Golden Knights, was again solid last season. However, All-ECAC defenseman Randy Jones opted for the professional ranks after just two seasons at Clarkson. The Golden Knights also have a huge question mark in goal, with sophomore Dustin Traylen taking over for the departed Matt Walsh.

Roll’s most important task may be to rein in his players. Clarkson was one of the most penalized teams in the nation last year, averaging over 21 penalty minutes per contest. Although it was also one of the best penalty killing teams in the conference at 85.6 percent, Clarkson will have to keep guys out of the box to compete. It’s just not good enough to win with four skaters.

6. Union Dutchmen

Last Year’s Record: 14-18-4, 10-10-2 ECAC, 6th

New coach Nate Leamen replaces Kevin Sneddon, who decided to relocate to Vermont. Leamen will have big shoes to fill, considering that Sneddon brought the Dutchmen from one of the conference’s bottom feeders to a middle-of-the-pack team.

Union returns leading scorers Jordan Webb and Joel Beal, each of whom scored 37 points last season. Webb lit the lamp 17 times last year, while Beal was the team’s top playmaker with 29 assists.

The Dutchmen were one of the more balanced teams in the conference last season, finishing fifth in goals and fifth in goals against average.

Sophomore Kris Mayotte, who was shaky in net last season, will be counted on to improve upon his 2.73 GAA.

7. Colgate Raiders

Last Year’s Record: 17-19-4, 9-10-3 ECAC, Tied-7th

The Raiders are another of the ECAC teams that have participated in the coaching carousel. Over the summer, head coach Don Vaughan decided to accept the University’s interim athletic director position, leaving a vacancy behind the Raiders’ bench. That hole will be filled by assistant Stan Moore, who has assumed the title of interim head coach.

Moore and Colgate will have a tough road ahead of them if they want to match their success from a season ago. They simply have a hard time scoring. Last season, the Raiders were one of the conference’s worst offensive teams, averaging just 2.40 goals per contest. To make matters worse, Colgate’s only legitimate threats, Scooter Smith and P.J. Yedon, were lost to graduation, leaving fans to wonder where the goals will come from.

The massive Joey Mormina will lead a Colgate defensive corps that allowed 3.23 goals per game during conference play. Meanwhile, the duo of Steve Silverthorn and David Cann will try to keep pucks out of the Colgate net.

8. Yale Bulldogs

Last Year’s Record: 18-14-0, 13-9-0
ECAC, Tied-3rd

The Bulldogs were one of the most feared teams heading into last season, finishing third behind Cornell and Harvard. They’ll be hard pressed to match that performance this season, though, after losing Hobey Baker Finalist and ECAC co-Player of the Year Chris Higgins. Higgins’ departure for the Montreal Canadiens’ farm system leaves a big hole in the potent Yale attack.

Unfortunately for Tim Taylor’s gang, Higgins wasn’t the only skater to leave New Haven. High scorers Evan Wax and Nick Deschenes, as well as defenders Stacey Bauman, Greg Boucher, and Bryan Freeman, are also gone.

Seniors Ryan Steeves and Vin Hellemeyer will be counted on to improve upon their combined 79 points from a season ago, while preseason All-ECAC defenseman Jeff Dwyer will have to steady the Bulldogs defense.

In goal, the Bulldogs might have the brightest prospect in the conference, with sophomore Josh Gartner, son of former NHL player Mike Gartner, stopping the pucks.

9. Vermont Catamounts

Last Year’s Record: 13-20-3, 8-14-0 ECAC, 10th

After bringing some respectability to the Union program, Kevin Sneddon looks to do the same with the Catamounts. He’ll have some talent to work with, as the team’s top two scorers, Jeff Miles and Brady Leisenring return. Miles led the Catamounts with 19 goals and 36 points last year, while Leisenring pitched in 27 points.

Sophomore Jaime Sifers, who returns after an ECAC All-Rookie Team nod, will anchor the Vermont blueline.

10. St. Lawrence Saints

Last Year’s Record: 11-21-5, 7-12-3 ECAC, 9th

Before Cornell made its big run over the last two years, it was the Saints that ruled the ECAC. St. Lawrence was the conference’s representative to the NCAA tournament in both 2000 and 2001. However, the program has since floundered.

The Saints were horrible on offense and defense last season. Opponents scored 3.60 goals per game against St. Lawrence, whose special teams play was poor. The Saints converted just 14 percent of their man-advantage situations.

Forward Rich Peverley was the lone bright spot for the Saints, scoring 38 points last year. Unfortunately for him, there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight.

11. Rensselaer Engineers

Last Year’s Record: 12-25-3, 4-15-3 ECAC, 11th

RPI returns seven defensemen and its goalie tandem from a year ago. Here’s the problem: the team allowed 3.80 goals per game last season, while scoring the second fewest.

The Engineers have some talent up front, with senior Ben Barr providing leadership and dangerous speed. Kevin Croxton was one of the young bright stars in the league last season, earning ECAC All-Rookie status after a 30-point freshman campaign.

But unless RPI can shore up a penalty kill that ceded goals 22 percent of the time, it’ll be another long year in Troy, N.Y.

12. Princeton Tigers

Last Year’s Record: 3-26-2, 2-18-2 ECAC, 12th

You can almost count on one thing: Princeton can’t possibly be as bad as it was last year. The Tigers were arguably the worst team in Division I hockey last season, winning just three games.

Chris Owen and Mike Patton are Princeton’s most dangerous weapons, accounting for 23 points each last year. But the anemic offense as a whole averaged only two goals per game. Meanwhile, the defense gave up an astounding 4.50 goals.

Princeton won’t be moving up far in the standings anytime soon, but it will scare teams, as evidenced by its 2-1 win over Harvard and 2-0 loss to Cornell last season.

Archived article by Alex Ip