Who are the Contenders...
Let's face it: the ECAC could very well be the best college hockey conference in the nation. After sweeping the Big Three last year--Best Team (Harvard), Best Player (Hobey Baker Winner Lane MacDonald) and Best Coach (AHCA Coach of the Year Joe Marsh of St. Lawrence)--those teams from the East should once again prove that it rules college hockey. No other conference has so much depth. We're not talking Michigan State against Ferris State, here, folks.
This year's favorite is NCAA champion Harvard (see team preview, page 4). Even without MacDonald and Allen Bourbeau, the Crimson still has the talent and the tradition. That alone should propel Harvard to the top of the ECAC standings.
But like any other 12-team league, there are many contenders, especially since the ECAC expanded its post-season tournament to a 10-team format. Here is a look at the other 11 squads vying to topple pre-season favorite Harvard:
Last Year: 6-15-1
Coach Rob Riley
Okay, so the Cadets won't be doing much toppling this year.
The biggest problem for Coach Rob Riley is finding a replacement for star junior forward Rob Tobin, who has withdrawn from West Point. Top candidate is Co-Captain Rich Sheridan, who collected 41 points last year.
But Sheridan cannot carry the offensive load all by himself. And if the Cadets want to march into the playoffs, they'll need some more firepower.
Last Year: 1-21
Coach Bob Gaudet
So the Bruins (or Bears) aren't of the toppling type either. However, second-year Coach Bob Gaudet's squad should improve from last season, when it lost 25 straight games. The only way is up, right?
Gaudet once again has recruited just about every hockey player in the East. The Bruins will be young and eager, but that alone will not propel them to the middle of the ECAC pack.
If Brown wants to make some noise this season, it will have to stop the puck from going into its net. Last year, the Bruins allowed an average of 3.68 goals per game. Ouch.
Last Year: 13-7-2
Coach Mark Morris
Coach Mark Morris is perhaps the most quotable bard in the ECAC. The league should consider awarding the Golden Knights a few extra victories just for having Morris behind the bench.
Yet the Knights will need more than Morris' humor to earn another home-ice slot for the ECAC playoffs. Now that Jarmo Kekalainen skipped his final year to join the Boston Bruins, Clarkson will have some problems to figure out on offense.
The Knights will hope that senior goalie John Fletcher (.890 save percentage) has saved his best for his last season between the pipes.
Last Year: 15-6-1
Coach Terry Slater
Meet the team with the fifth-place sign on its uniform. Sure, the Red Raiders are tough at their own Starr Rink, but on the road, they're a different squad.
Coach Terry Slater will sell his house to find replacements for All-ECAC defenseman Scott Young (and you thought Kevan Melrose was tough) and Mike Bishop. If there are no takers, then Colgate will slip down a few notches in the standings this year.
The front line, however, is a different story. With returning forwards Shawn Lillie, Craig Woodcroft and Steve Spott, Colgate should score some goals this year. But will the Red Raiders win more games? Probably not.
Last Year: 13-9
Coach Brian McCutcheon
Coach Brian McCutcheon has no excuses this year. Last season, the Big Red made the ECAC semifinals, but youth proved to be its downfall. This season, Cornell has it all--especially a solid corps of young defensemen, led by All-Rookie selection Dan Ratushny.
Goalie Corrie D'Alessio (3.41 goals-against average) is one of the top netminders in the league this year, but the Red will be dead if it doesn't score goals.
Look for Casey Jones and Trent Andison to spark the Cornell scoring attack.
Last Year: 7-14-1
Coach Brian Mason
The Big Green just wants to finish ahead of RPI this year. For the past two seasons, Dartmouth missed the playoffs by one point, and the Engineers notched the final post-season spot.
One thing Coach Brian Mason can brag about is the return of ALL-ECAC defender Dave Williams, the only first-team selection from last year not to graduate.
Senior goalie Steve Laurin should keep the Green in a lot of games. Too bad you have to score goals in hockey and not just defend them. Dartmouth desperately needs offense.
Last Year: 4-17-1
Coach Jim Higgins
The Tigers should stick to playing football and basketball.
The biggest loss is the graduation of John Messuri, the school's career leading scorer. Coach Jim Higgins hopes 1989 ECAC Rookie of the Year Andre Faust becomes the next Messuri.
But even if Faust does fulfill Higgins' wish, the Tigers will still have to deny the puck. Last year, Princeton was ranked 11th in team defense. The brightest spot behind the blue line is All-Rookie selection Mike McKee.
Last Year: 8-12-2
Coach Buddy Powers
Don't be surprised if the Tigers slip down to the ECAC cellar this year.
Perhaps no other team is more on a mission to improve than the Engineers. After ex-Coach Mike Addesa left the school amid controversy last spring, B.U. alumnus and former RIT Coach Buddy Powers was hired for one sole purpose: to return the Engineers to the glory days of the 1980s.
Powers will have to wait a another year or two. Yes, the Engineers do have junior Joey Juneau (80 points in the last two seasons) and a solid group of forwards.
But where's the defense? Gone are Rob Schena, Steve Moore and Ryan Kummu. Thatshould give Powers some headaches throughout theseason.
Last Year: 18-4
Coach Joe Marsh
Remember, these guys actually won the ECACchampionship for the second year in a row. TheSaints look ready to do it again.
SLU's top three scorers--Andy Pritchard, DougMurray and Rob White--will anchor the offense. JoeDay also has rebounded from last season's brokenleg to bolster the Saint attack even more.
On defense, Marsh still has four of six regularblueliners from last year. Top defender is RobWhite, while steady Les Kuntar will guard thenets.
Forget Cornell. SLU is fast becoming Harvard'snewest ECAC rival. This year, it's no different.
Last Year: 13-9
Coach Mike Gilligan
What will Coach Mike Gilligan do now? Elevenlettermen, including Kyle McDonough and Ian Boyce,are gone. A lot of new faces will be skating forthe Catamounts.
Sophomore Jim Larkin (16 goals, 19 assists, 35points) is the top returning UVM scorer. Theproblem for Gilligan is depth. He has somejuniors, but that's about it. Expect to see somefirst-year players seeing a lot of ice time.
Vermont is the only ECAC team to defeat Harvardmore than two times in the last two years.Probably because the Cats had the talent to equalthe Crimson. This year, they won't.
Last Year: 10-12
Coach Tim Taylor
Coach Tim Taylor is the reason why the Elis area mediocre team and not a perennialcellar-dweller.
Taylor, however, can't skate for the Bulldogs.The loss of leading scorer and standout defensemanDave Basseggio and All-ECAC goalie Mike O'Neilltells it all for Yale.
Who's going to take control of this squad?All-Rookie selections Jeff Blaeser and JohnFerguson look like the top candidates.