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Each year, the story seems to be the same in the ECAC: Harvard and Dartmouth vie for the early season favorite while the rest of the pack show that they are closing the gap on the top two squads.
This year, though, some of the rest of the pack might have finally caught up.
“It’s a different year in college hockey,” Harvard coach Katey Stone said. “Not just with [Ruggiero’s] graduation, but there were a lot of kids that graduated that were real impact players.”
“We’re not going to beat teams by 10 goals anymore, and that’s a good thing,” senior Ashley Banfield said. “It forces every team to show up with their ‘A’ game no matter who their opponent is.”
In addition to Ruggiero ’02-’04—the anchor of Harvard’s defense last season—many other teams have lost star seniors: St. Lawrence’s goalie Rachael Barrie—who led her team into the Frozen Four last season—and Minnesota-Duluth’s Jennie Potter—one of the keys to her team’s three national championships during her tenure there.
In the ECAC, preseason-ranked No. 1 Dartmouth holds the most experienced threats with the returns of juniors Gillian Apps and Cherrie Piper.
Additionally, the Big Green did not graduate any of its main weapons, but did lose a large number of seniors.
“Dartmouth is very good. I don’t think they have a lot of depth, but they are good,” Stone said. “We went to the Frozen Four with 17 players and it didn’t hurt us a bit. Goaltending might be a question mark for them. I don’t know, we never got to the goalie the other day [in our scrimmage].”
Although Dartmouth has remained Harvard’s fiercest ECAC rival—with games often deciding the ECAC crown—this year there are a number of teams that could spoil the two powerhouses’ hopes.
St. Lawrence, who earned a Frozen Four berth last season, took a big hit when it graduated its two best players—Barrie and Gina Kingsbury—but remains dangerous.
“They are still extremely deep in forwards and defense with a lot of up-and-coming national team players, many of whom I have had the opportunity to play with in Canadian National Team development teams and camps,” tri-captain Nicole Corriero said
Another possible spoiler in the league this season will be Brown, who did not graduate any of its main players and returns last year’s captain Jessica Link, who gave her team an incredible near-upset of Harvard in the ECAC semifinals.
Over the course of last season, Link racked up 48 points to lead her team as a junior captain.
“Brown is always a tough game for us,” junior tri-captain Julie Chu said. “They have a clutch-and-grab style of play that always leads to a good battle. I definitely think they’ll be good contenders this year in the ECAC, and I expect a couple great games against them this season.”
Another team that pushed Harvard to the limit last year was Yale—who returns star goalie Sarah Love.
Love held the Crimson scoreless for almost an entire game before Corriero scored with just seven seconds remaining to win it for Harvard.
Yale also returns its top two scorers—who were both freshmen last year.
These top five teams will not see much competition from the rest of the league for the top spots in the ECAC—with Union just in its second year in Division I and the other teams still looking to get their programs on solid ground.
Nevertheless, with the influx of new talent in freshmen and the constant changing of collegiate sports, the Crimson and the other top teams are not taking these opponents lightly.
“Colgate is going to be good. They are going to give us a huge show next Friday night. That’s going to be a tough game to open up with,” Stone said. “Particularly, because any time you play your first game, there are just nerves—and that’s a tough thing for us to start out with. They have good goaltending, and they compete hard.”
The first real look around the league arrives at Bright Hockey Center Friday night.
—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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