ECAC HOCKEY

1.Cornell

The cries of "Thank you Schafer" should once again below in the confines of Lynah Rink. With his top three scorers back for another year, including last season's Ivy League Player of the Year Kyle Knopp (32 points), Cornell Coach Mike Schafer will most likely collect his third-straight ECAC Championship Trophy come March.

Fifth-year senior Vinnie Auger obviously hasn't had his share of collegiate hockey just yet and is back to cause trouble for opponent's power play. Auger tallied a team-high six goals with a man advantage.

The one suspect area will be the defensive corps, which lost three skaters who logged a combined 352 games over four years. Captain Jason Dailey (21 points) and junior Jeff Burgoyne (15 points) are back, however, and when you place them in front of potential Hobey Baker candidate Jason Elliot, your defense doesn't look so bad. Elliot, whose 2.73 goals-against-average was the sixth-best in the country, won his second consecutive ECAC tournament MVP award last season.

2. Clarkson

It's a team that you neither hate nor love. It's not flashy nor incredibly boring, but Clarkson is unfailingly solid and should be once again this year.

Granted the loss of Hobey Baker finalist Todd White (47 points) and Jean-Francois Houle (36 points) will wreak havoc on early scoring production, but when you return one of the best goalies in the nation (senior Dan Murphy), things can't be that bad.

Murphy, who logged more than 1,100 minutes (second to only Vermont's Tim Thomas), collected 17 wins and a .919 save percentage last year. He should feel extremely comfortable this season considering that the majority of his defensive group is returning.

So deep are the Golden Knight blueliners that Coach Mark Morris bumped Buddy Wallace up to forward. Then again, with only three seniors returning up front, youth will indeed be the watchword of the Clarkson offense. Chris Clark, who tallied a respectable 34 points last year, will be forced to shoulder the majority of the offensive burden.

3. RPI

It would be hard not to place the Engineers somewhere up at the top of the ECAC. How could you not when they are returning every single one of their players?

The last time something like this happened was in 1993-94 when the team lost only two players and subsequently cruised through the regular season en route to the NCAA playoffs.

Is that an omen? It indeed could be such, especially in light of the fire power that it possesses. Look no farther than the Engineer's first line. On one wing you have Matt Garver (44 points), who will be centered by Alain St. Hillaire (44 points). And don't forget the other wing, which is taken up by last year's ECAC leading scorer and All-American Eric Healey (56 points). In essence, RPI possessed what could be considered the nation's most potent line.

The one element which could hinder this offensive juggernaut will be its composure. Boston University had no trouble ratting RPI earlier this year with a 6-0 blowout. The Engineers are too talented to be defeated in such embarrassing fashion, even if it is B.U.

4. Colgate