The puck drops on the 2019-20 NCAA season when Union College hosts Boston University at the Achilles Center in Schenectady, NY on Saturday, October 5.
The ECAC begins to stir from their summer slumber as Union and Colgate represent the conference this first weekend of the season. The Dutchmen host Boston U. before traveling to West Point, NY to take on the Army Cadets on Sunday. For their part the Red Raiders host R.I.T. in Hamilton, NY on Saturday. Colgate then makes their way to Big Rapids, MI. for a Thursday tilt vs. Ferris St. then it’s back home to host Boston College on Sunday (10/13) for their third game in nine days.
Last year’s co-Cleary Cup winners Quinnipiac start their season with a home and home vs Atlantic Hockey upstarts American International College on October 11/12. The ECAC tournament Champions, Clarkson Golden Knights travel to historic Yost Arena to play the Michigan Wolverines. Union will host a talented Northeastern Huskies squad for two games, while Capitol Region rival RPI splits road games at National Champion runner-up Massachusetts on Friday and Connecticut on Saturday.
St. Lawrence and first-year coach, Brent Brekke, kick off their campaign when they host Providence on October 18th and the Vermont Catamounts on the 19th. RPI hosts UConn and Canisius. QU will have the Maine Black Bears on campus for two. Union will visit Massachusetts.
The conferences’ first league tilt will be the aforementioned rivalry as RPI takes on Union in a home and home series. The Ivy League schools don’t join in the fun until the following weekend as Cornell travels to Michigan State and Princetonheads to St. Cloud St. Brown and Yale get right to business with a home and home, and Dartmouth travels to Harvard.
Last season four teams qualified for the NCAA tournament as Harvard and Clarkson were both eliminated in the first round of the Northeast Regional. Quinnipiac and Cornell advanced to the Regional Finals of their respective regions but lost those games. The former to eventual Champion Minnesota-Duluth and the latter to Providence. It was the second straight year the ECAC wasn’t represented at the Frozen Four.
The ECAC is as competitive as any conference in the country, it’s come down to the wire in each of the last few seasons for a champ to be crowned. This year should be no different. Some of the traditional powers have questions that could linger all season, while some are poised to dominate from the opening drop. It’s hard to predict where teams will finish, but they have to slot in somewhere. Here’s my take.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Dartmouth The Big Green finished fifth last season behind the steady goaltending of Adrian Clark, who broke a 99-year-old school record with six shutouts. Dartmouth returns their top three scorers Quin Foreman, Drew O’Connor, and Will Graber. The biggest question facing the Hanover, NH. squad will be on defense, where graduation took some of the leadership and maturity. However, the Big Green do still have a talented core in Harrison Markell, Joey Matthews, Brendan Less, and Brendan Demler. Coach Bob Gaudet, in his 23rd year behind the Dartmouth bench, has a strong incoming freshman class led by Tanner Palocsik, Jack Cameron, Brock Paul, and Tyler Campbell. Palocsik, Cameron, and Paul all look to make an impact on the Dartmouth blue line. Campbell has been a winner at all levels of competition and will likely add scoring depth. “It’s my hope,” said Gaudet, “that we can start at a higher level right out of the gate. With this group, it’s a veteran group. A lot of experience. The guys know what they’re in for, they want to do well.” This squad is the dark horse to win the conference. They have all the pieces to make a special season.
- Cornell The Big Red had a great season last year, splitting the regular-season title and losing in the ECAC final. In the NCAA tournament, the team fell short with back-up goalie Austin McGrath manning the crease. Junior goalie Matthew Galajda is healthy again, giving Cornell solid depth between the pipes. Coach Mike Schafer likes his depth up front, where the team returns Morgan Barron, Cam Donaldson, and Tristan Mullin. “I like the depth coming back,” said Schafer. “I like the influx of new talent which will hopefully give us the balance we need.” Schafer thinks any one of his nine freshmen will be a big part of this year’s squad. “I’m fully convinced that we’ll get good contributions out of that group, I just don’t know which guys it’s going to be, but there’s enough depth in there that those guys will step in and eat up a lot of minutes.” Peter Muzyka, Sebastian Dirven, Travis Mitchelland Sam Malinski are four freshman defensemen looking to crack the blue line line-up. A group that includes pre-season All-American Yanni Kaldis, Alex Green, Matt Cairns, and Cody Haikanen.
- Harvard The Crimson had a young but talented squad last year and managed to qualify for both ECAC and NCAA tournaments. Graduation and the NHL depleted coach Ted Donato’s ranks, as top scorer Adam Fox departed early for the New York Rangers and Lewis Zerter-Gossage graduated. However pre-season All-American Reilly Walsh and his 31 points return, as do sophomores Casey Dornbach, Jack Drury, Jack Rathbone, and junior Jack Badini. The Crimson offense will still be formidable, while the defense may struggle a bit out of the gate, Walsh and Rathbone will integrate with junior Benjamin Foley and sophomore Marshal Rifai. Fortunately, there’s a solid incoming class with Henry Thrun, Ryan Siedem and Jace Foskey looking to step in. The biggest question facing Harvard is in goal, where Cam Gornet has the most experience with just a few games under his belt. He filled in last season down the stretch and played well for the Crimson. Derek Schaedig and Mitchell Gibson will look to challenge for the starting position.
- Quinnipiac The Hamden, CT. club is looking to integrate 10 freshmen into a squad that finished in the top 10 last season. Despite tying for the regular-season conference title, the Bobcats lost to Brown in the ECAC playoffs. They didn’t live up to the expectations that have been growing for the school the last few years in the NCAA tourney by losing in the NCAAs to Champions Minnesota-Duluth. Coach Rand Pecknold has a returning squad that boasts upperclassmen Alex Whalen and Odeen Tufto at forward, Karlis Cukste on defense and Keith Petruzzelli in goal. A plethora of sophomore talent is looking to build from last year, the likes of Michael Lombardi, Ethan De Jong, Wyatt Bongiovanni and William Fallstrom who had 9, 25, 23 and 21 points. The incoming crop of freshmen will add to the excitement. “We’re going to be young,” said Pecknold. “This year will be interesting with the youth, we like a lot of the guys we have coming back. We expect (Keith) Petruzzelli to have a big jump for us and take over the net. He had a good year last year and we’re looking to him to carry the mail for us this year.”
- Clarkson The Golden Knights won the ECAC tournament last year but fell in the opening round of the NCAA tourney again. Losing both Nico Sturm and Jake Keilly a year early hurts but coach Casey Jones is confident. “We’re returning what we feel is a veteran roster,” said the ninth year bench boss. “I think we’re pretty layered and we like the pieces that we have.” Those pieces are pre-season All-American Haralds Egles, Devin Brosseau, Jack Jacome, and Josh Dunne. Despite Keilly’s stranglehold on net the last few seasons, Jones feels that his three goalies will benefit from healthy competition. Two of those keepers are transfer students, one, Frank Marotte, is Robert Morris’ all-time wins leader (50) and the other, Kris Oldham, started 16 games at Omaha. Junior Nicholas Latinovich has a 1.76 GAA in 5 games for a 1-0-0 record. The Potsdam, NY school has a solid backline that should benefit whichever goalie wins the starting nod. The defense has five upperclassmen with loads of experience. Seniors Greg Moro, Jordan Schneider, and Shane Kozmeski will use their big frames to carry the load, as all seven defensemen on the roster are above 6’-0”.
- Union The Dutchmen enter the season with a minimalist approach. “Our outlook is very simple this season,” says coach Rick Bennett. “We’re going to focus on today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. And that’s just the basic outline of how we’re going to approach it this year as a staff.” Bennett’s team has a challenging first month of non-league play to kick things off. “We’re just looking to get better from each weekend,” said Bennett. “Each weekend is an absolute test. That’s just the way we’ve always tried to schedule it here. We’ve always had kind of tough Octobers. Hopefully, that teaches us some pretty good lessons going forward into November and December. That’s the focus.” Anthony Rinaldi, Brandon Estes, Vas Kolias, and Parker Foo will be asked to build off of last season’s production while Jack Adams rehabs from injury. In goal, the job is junior Darion Hanson’s to lose but he will be pushed by incoming freshmen Garrett Nieto and Merek Pipes. Coach Bennett liked what he’s seen from senior Zach Emelifeonwu and junior Sean Harrison this off-season and through the early practice sessions.
- Yale “We’ve been mired in .500 seasons and that’s not a place where we want to be,” said Bulldogs coach Keith Allain. “I think are guys are focused and committed to breaking out of that mold. I know the league is tough, it’s going to be tough, but that’s how you get better.” Yale lost Joe Snively and his 36 points from last season, Allain doesn’t think it will fall to one player to pick up the difference. “We have lots of guys that are capable of scoring,” said Allain, “We’re going to be expecting offense from (Robbie) DeMontis, both (Evan and Mitchell) Smith(s), Curtis Hall and Justin Pearson. Then I think we’re going to be relying on our defense to produce offense as well. I think it’s an area we can improve on, we have the abilities back there and I think it will really help us a hockey team.” In net, it appears to be senior Corbin Kaczperski’s job to lose due to having experience. Allain expects junior Nicholas McNabb to challenge for playing time, while they are high on freshman Connor Hopkins, he thinks the battle will be fierce.
- Colgate Don Vaughan and the Red Raiders should improve on last season’s 10th place finish. Offense was hard to come by last year, so the emphasis early on this year has been skill development. “We know we have to find ways to manufacture some goals,” said Vaughan. The return to full health of seniors John Snodgrass and Jared Cockrell should help with that. He thinks highly of his incoming freshman class. “Most of them are probably going to play here sooner rather than later so that’s lit a fire under some of our returning guys.” Players like Arnaud Vachon, Matt Verboon, Colton Young and Ethan Manderville are expected “to make an impact immediately.” Sophomore Mitch Benson carried most of the load last season in goal. He put up solid numbers, but as Vaughan stressed that wasn’t the team’s issue. “Goaltending wasn’t our problem last year, our numbers were ok, it’s tough on the goaltenders when you’re only putting up one or two goals a night. We’re confident in our goaltending.”
- Brown The Bears turned it on late last year knocking off Princeton and Quinnipiac to qualify for the ECAC Semi-Final in Lake Placid, before bowing out to Cornell. Coach Brendan Whittet’s squad looks to keep that momentum going this year. “We did end on a good note last year,” said Whittet. “We return a majority of our players off that team last year that did have some relative success. Our goal is to continue to build off that forward progress we had last year.” Some of those players like Zach Guittari, Chris Berger, Brent Beaudoin, and Tristan Crozier will be counted on to keep their progression going. In goal, the Bears have a solid rotation with junior Luke Kania and senior Gavin Nieto splitting time. “I like where our goaltending is moving into this year, in terms of development piece and the strides the guys were able to take last year,” said Whittet. He added that sophomore Gabriel Vinal is also in the mix thus far.
- RPI “We feel really good about our team chemistry,” said coach Dave Smith. “We have a lot to prove. We want to be approaching the top half of the standings. I think that’s a reasonable goal, and we know how challenging it is on a night to night basis within the ECAC.” Things are looking up in Troy for the Engineers, Smith has a talented, balanced roster in place. Ottoville Leppanen, Todd Burgess, Chase Zieky will be looked to put points on the board. “That class is really important,” said Smith of his incoming freshman. “Our program is still at a phase where we’re counting on those guys to be contributors.” Tristan Ashbrook, Zach Dubinsky, and Simon Kjellberg are three players that Smith said: “will be asked to do a lot in their own roles.” He added that all 13 incoming players will be complementary players.
- Princeton The Tigers lost a ton of firepower from last year’s team. This year will be a struggle for coach Ron Fogerty’s squad, and it will start right from their first games against St. Cloud St. on the road. It will be the Huskies sixth and seventh games of the season. Junior goalie Ryan Ferland carried the Tigers load last year, but Fogerty did categorize the goalie situation as “wide-open” this year as sophomore Jeremie Forget and freshman Aidan Porter look to get their reps in as well. The offense will be paced by Jackson Cressey, Jake Paganelli, Corey Andronovski, Liam Grande, and Christian O’Neill. The defense will be led by Derek Topatigh, Matthew Thom, Mark Paolini, and Matt Kellenberger.
- St. Lawrence The re-build, literally and figuratively, continues in Canton, NY. as first-year coach Brent Brekkelooks to turn around a struggling Saints program. The renovations to Appleton Arena have been hit with delays. The team will play home games at SUNY Canton until work is completed. However, there are pieces in place to build on like top scorers Carson Gicewicz, David Jankowski, Bo Hanson, Cade Gleekel and Zach Risteau. “There’s a nice mix,” said Brekke about his incoming class. “Cam Buhl’s looked good, Timmy Makowski, Francis Boisvert, Ashton Fry, there’s a number of them that have done a good job in the skills sessions that we’ve had.” Positivity abounds in the Saints locker room after a tumultuous tenure under a previous coach coupled with renovations on the arena. “We told them right from the start we have no preconceived notions for any players coming in. ‘Your opportunity’s there, go earn it and prove who you are as a player.’ They’ve approached it in that manner,” said Brekke.