The ECAC Hockey League had a banner year during the 2012-13 college hockey season, highlighted by Yale taking home the conference's first NCAA Championship since 1989. More successful years are in store for the ECAC if the 2013 recruiting season is any indication. There were several terrific recruiting classes, but Harvard's group of freshmen stands atop the field.
2013 ECAC Recruiting Class Rankings
Harvard brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country to help return the Crimson hockey program to the NCAA Tournament after a seven-year hiatus. There is no shortage of talent with this group of freshmen, especially up front. New Jersey draft pick Alex Kerfoot and Buffalo prospect Sean Malone highlight the group, but Luke Esposito, Devin Tringale and Phil Zielonka are names that fans will get used to seeing in the box scores. Clay Anderson, Victor Newell and Kevin Guiltinan are three defensemen who will push for ice time.
John Hayden, a third round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 NHL Draft, is certainly the prized recruit in this class, but there are other players that will become household names in the ECAC. Goaltender Alex Lyon could actually end up being an upgrade between the pipes from the departed Jeff Malcolm. Forwards Mike Doherty and Franky DiChiara are two players who can find the score sheet while Dan O'Keefe is a big stay-at-home defender.
Most observers will look to 2013 NHL Draft picks Connor Clifton and Peter Quenneville when analyzing the Bobcats recruiting class. Those two are certainly good players, but forward Sam Anas could have a positive impact up front. Defenseman Joe Fiala could be the best of the five freshmen blueliners and that includes Clifton. A scary thought for ECAC foes is that Quinnipiac continues to upgrade its talent level even after making its first Frozen Four appearance in program history.
Dynamic scoring threats Michael Pontarelli and Mike Vecchione highlight Rick Bennett's recruiting class, but four freshmen defensemen were also brought in. Vecchione, originally a UNH commit, and Pontarelli proved at the high school and junior level they can score. This group is solid, but lacks the big names of the top three classes.
Matt Buckles, a fourth round selection of the Florida Panthers, is the top freshman for Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. Buckles' junior teammate, Patrick McCarron, is a very solid prospect on the blue line. Goaltender Mitch Gillam could be the replacement to Andy Iles down the line or could push the senior for playing time as early as this season.
Rensselaer coach Seth Appert's team lost just three regulars to graduation so the Engineers have a small freshmen class. Forward Riley Bourbonnais and defenseman Parker Reno are the top two players in the class. One interesting tidbit is all three freshmen forwards all played for the Lincoln Stars in the USHL last season.
The 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes are looking to be even better than this one for Brown coach Brendan Whittet. The Bears are starting to bring some top New England talent to Meehan Auditorium. Brown returns its top five scorers from a season ago so the biggest need was in goal to replace the graduated Anthony Borelli. Whittet's staff brought in two Canadian born goalies in Tim Ernst and Tyler Steel. Both have solid resumes and should be the future between the pipes.
Ben Foster is the scoring threat in this year's freshmen class for the Tigers while prep school defenseman Quin Pompi is a solid pro prospect on the blue line. The biggest acquisition of the class might be goaltender Colton Phinney. The former Delbarton (NJ) backstop played a year of juniors for Sean Tremblay's Middlesex Islanders last season. Phinney along with senior Sean Bonar will have the unenviable task of trying to fill the skates of Mike Condon who is now in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Calgary draft pick Tim Harrison is the most well known name of Don Vaughn's freshmen class, but it is a big group arriving in Hamilton. Nine rookies will be on the Red Raiders roster this season. Harrison has NHL size and the Flames must like his potential, but Andrew Black will be the freshman most likely to contribute to the scoring.
10. St. Lawrence
The headliner of this year's freshmen class is Matt Carey, the younger brother of senior forward Greg, a returning Hobey Baker Award finalist. Carey sat out last season due to an NCAA eligibility issue, but will have four years remaining starting in October. Defenseman Gavin Bayreuther could be the other player in this class to keep an eye on.
The Golden Knights are bringing in two NHL Draft picks in this year's class, but both are bigger prospects that might be better suited for the pro game. The most important player in the class might be Finnish-born goaltender Ville Runola. A name that ECAC fans might learn to despise is Alex Fossen. An enforcer on last year's USHL Clark Cup Championship winning Dubuque Fighting Saints, he is one of those players you want on your team, but you don't like him if he's on the other team.
Grant Opperman was a scoring machine in Minnesota high school hockey, but the gem of Bob Gaudet's class is young Troy Crema of Toronto. He scored 61 points in 47 games in the OJHL last year as a 17 year-old.
Top 12 Freshmen Forwards
1. Alex Kerfoot, Harvard
2. John Hayden, Yale
3. Matt Buckles, Cornell
4. Mike Vecchione, Union
5. Sam Anas, Quinnipiac
6. Sean Malone, Harvard
7. Michael Pontarelli, Union
8. Luke Esposito, Harvard
9. Troy Crema, Dartmouth
10. Peter Quenneville, Quinnipiac
11. Mike Doherty, Yale
12. Phil Zielonka, Harvard
Top 6 Freshmen Defensemen
1. Joe Fiala, Quinnipiac
2. Patrick McCarron, Cornell
3. Connor Clifton, Quinnipiac
4. Victor Newell, Harvard
5. Parker Reno, RPI
6. Dan O'Keefe, Yale
Top 3 Freshmen Goaltenders
1. Alex Lyon, Yale
2. Colton Phinney, Princeton
3. Tyler Steel, Brown
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.