With temperatures still relatively high in Ithaca, the Cornell men’s hockey season is sneaking up on students and townies. Cornell still has more than a week until its first exhibition, let alone regular season game, due to the Ivy League’s late start.
However, many of Cornell’s ECAC opponents outside of the Ancient Eight played exhibitions or even regular season contests this past weekend, offering a first scouting opportunity ahead of the 2017-18 season.
Let’s rank the ECAC contenders going into the season, judging each team’s strength off their losses to graduation, incoming freshman class and likelihood of team improvement.
Entering the season, most ECAC pundits agree that Harvard will claim the regular season title for the second year in a row. The defending regular season and postseason conference champions return some of the best players at each position in the ECAC, including forward Ryan Donato, defenseman Adam Fox and one of the stingiest goaltenders Merrick Madsen — all three of whom were selected to the preseason all-conference team. The Crimson starts off the season as the team to beat in the ECAC.
Quinnipiac finished fifth last season, which would classify as a down year for the Bobcats. They should be back with a vengeance this year and should finish second. Quinnipiac brings in another talented freshman class, and their defense, led by Chase Priskie, and goaltending will be strengths.
Cornell should repeat its third-place finish. Despite significant losses to graduation and question marks at goalie, the Red returns a number of high-scoring forwards and welcomes a strong freshman class. A strong start to the year for potential starting goalie Hayden Stewart will be important.
St. Lawrence finished fourth last season, but many league commentators predict a fall in the rankings for the Saints. Mark Morris enters his second season as head coach in Canton, and the North Country squad still has talented contributors throughout the lineup. The big loss is goaltender Kyle Hayton, who transferred to Wisconsin, but the Saints will not go marching down the rankings right away because of his departure.
St. Lawrence’s major rival, Clarkson, is well-positioned to climb one place and finish fifth this season. Some around the league say they could leapfrog St. Lawrence, but fifth is a more likely finish for the Golden Knights. Clarkson has a core of young forwards that are improving, and sophomore Jake Kielly had an impressive freshman season in net.
For years, Princeton has been the perennial doormat of the ECAC. Last year, they shocked many, as a number of underclassmen stepped up on offense and the Tigers recorded some memorable wins, including sweeps of then No. 10 Bemidji State and then-No. 7 Quinnipiac. Eric Robinson, Ryan Kuffner and Max Veronneau return up front, but there are question marks in goal after Colton Phinney’s graduation. Still, the Tigers are capable of finishing sixth to record their best ECAC finish in recent memory.
Union had the most severe losses to graduation and the NHL, as leading forwards Mike Vecchione and Spencer Foo, as well as goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos, departed. Still, Jake Kupsky looks ready to start in net, and some contributors from last season will step up and score more goals.
Dartmouth is poised to finish eighth and secure the last playoff place. Senior Devin Buffalo returns in goal, and Dartmouth has an underrated young core that will help them improve on last season’s ninth-place finish.
Colgate will have a stronger season in their second year in its new Class of ’65 Arena than last year. They were a young team last year and have more experience this season, but Colton Point will have to step in and fill the skates of graduated goalie Charlie Finn.
Just a few years back, Yale was one of the conference’s top teams. Forward Joe Snively is elite, but few other members of this Yale team look capable of returning the team to the upper echelon of the ECAC. In fact, they could fall as low as 10th place this season.
RPI fired coach Seth Appert after another disappointing season, and there will be some growing pains under new coach Dave Smith. There are some bright talents on the squad, but do not expect a first-round home series for this edition of the Engineers.
Since Princeton’s improvement last season, Brown has solidified their place at the basement of the ECAC. Any finish better than 12th would represent a quality season for the Bears from Providence, as this team simply is not as skilled as the rest of the conference.
While some teams have already been giving fans a sneak peek at the upcoming year, Cornell does not kick off the season until Oct. 27 with a two-game series against Alabama-Huntsville at Lynah Rink. The ECAC portion of the schedule starts Nov. 3 on the road against Quinnipiac.