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ECAC Hockey 2014-15 Season Preview

Colgate sophomore goaltender Charlie Finn
Colgate sophomore goaltender Charlie Finn
Jim Rosvold (Colgate Athletics)

The ECAC was the butt of many jokes around college hockey circles for over two decades, but not anymore. Yale and Union have won NCAA Championships in consecutive seasons, meaning the national crown can stay in ECAC land for another season.

Colgate is the team most likely to hold the championship trophy this season come April in Boston, but there are a slew of Ivy League schools that are poised for a breakthrough season. This prognosticator expects Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard to all exceed expectations in 2014-15.

Here's a breakdown of the ECAC by predicted order of finish.

1. Colgate

Head Coach: Don Vaughan

2013-14 Record: 20-14-5, 13-6-3 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 1

Preseason Media Poll: 1

Key Returning Players: Forwards Tyson Spink, Tylor Spink, Darcy Murphy, Kyle Baun; Defensemen Spiro Goulakos, Kevin Lough, Ryan Johnston; Goaltender Charlie Finn

Top Newcomers: Forwards Mike Panowyk, Sebastian Weberg, Evan Peterson; Goaltender Bruce Racine

Captains: Spiro Goulakos, Joe Wilson

What's not to like about Colgate? All but one starter returns from last season's second place and NCAA Tournament squad including a loaded junior class that has Don Vaughan's program poised for success it hasn't reached in over two decades.

There is balance across the board with the return of four double digit goal scorers, an entire defense returning and a sophomore goaltender that shined as a freshman. Colgate is an exciting team to watch and the thing that sticks out most is the skating ability from the top of the lineup to the bottom.

This writer predicts Colgate to lift some trophies in Lake Placid come March, but if Charlie Finn can be a difference maker in goal, this team has the very real possibility of at the very least advancing to Boston for the 2015 Frozen Four.

2. Union

Head Coach: Rick Bennett

2013-14 Record: 32-6-4, 18-3-1 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 2

Preseason Media Poll: 2

Key Returning Players: Forwards Daniel Ciampini, Mike Vecchione, Max Novak, Michael Pontarelli; Defensemen Jeff Taylor, Charlie Vasaturo, Sebastian Gingras; Goaltender Colin Stevens

Top Newcomers: Forwards Spencer Foo, Tyler Hynes, Roman Ammirato; Defensemen Nick DeSimone, Connor Light, J.C. Brassard

Captains: Charlie Vasaturo

There is plenty of uncertainty in Schenectady, but there is no better coaching staff in ECAC Hockey to overcome such adversity. Shayne Gostisbehere is on to the NHL a year early while fellow stars Mat Bodie and Daniel Carr graduated. Significant role players Kevin Sullivan, Matt Hatch and Cole Ikkala all graduated as well.

So, how can the Dutchmen be pegged in the second position? One major reason is the man in the crease. Colin Stevens really became a top notch Division I goaltender last season. Granted, he had an incredible defense in front of him, but don't let that fool you. He let in some soft goals from time to time, but overall he was very good and clutch when called upon.

The Dutchmen return four double digit goal scorers and several other players like Eli Lichtenwald and Matt Wilkins could be poised for an increase in production. Mike Vecchione was one of the best all-around centers in college hockey last season as a freshman.

The biggest potential downfall for the Dutchmen is on the blue line. Union will have to replace Gostisbehere and Bodie who were not just great defensemen, but the duo logged a ton of minutes. Captain Charlie Vasaturo and sophomore Jeff Taylor should lead the way in attempting to fill that void. Three freshmen blue liners should also see significant playing time right off the bat.

3. Quinnipiac

Head Coach: Rand Pecknold

2013-14 Record: 24-10-6, 12-6-4 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 5

Preseason Media Poll: 3

Key Returning Players: Forwards Sam Anas, Matthew Peca, Travis St. Denis; Defensemen Connor Clifton, Devon Toews, Danny Federico; Goaltender Michael Garteig

Top Newcomers: Forwards Tanner MacMaster, Jonah Renouf, Nathan Renouf, Bo Pieper, Canon Pieper; Defensemen Kevin McKernan, Justin Agosta; Goaltender Sean Lawrence

Captains: Danny Federico, Matthew Peca

The Bobcats lost a ton of offensive production to graduation and early defections to the pro ranks, but the Bobcats have some nice building blocks to rebuild as well as some incoming freshmen with high expectations. Matthew Peca and Sam Anas lead a group of returners that will pace the offense, but a large group of rookie forwards led by former BC commit Tanner MacMaster should contribute right away.

The defense should be stout as usual led by Danny Federico and Connor Clifton. Michael Garteig played admirably in his first year as a starter even if he didn't completely fill the skates of the departed former Hobey Baker Finalist in Eric Hartzell. Freshman Sean Lawrence out of the Junior Bruins organization could push Garteig for playing time in net.

The Bobcats will finish third because there are less question marks on the blue line and in goal than some of the teams just below.

4. Brown

Head Coach: Brendan Whittet

2013-14 Record: 11-17-3, 8-13-1 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 7

Preseason Media Poll: 7

Key Returning Players: Forwards Mark Naclerio, Matt Lorito, Nick Lappin; Defenseman Brandon Pfeil; Goaltender Tyler Steel

Top Newcomers: Forwards Sam Lafferty, Tyler Bird, Max Willman, Tim Lappin; Defensemen Dane Cooper, Josh McArdle; Goaltender Connor Maher

Captains: Matt Lorito, Mark Naclerio, Nick Lappin

This is a stretch that some people will mock, but there is a lot to like about this version of the Brown Bears. Offensively, there might not be a better top six forwards in ECAC Hockey between the returners and the rookies. The big question mark is on the defensive side of the ice. Brendan Whittet's team lost all-conference defender Dennis Robertson and have some shoes to fill on the back end, but this columnist predicts the offense will outscore the opposition enough nights to give the Bears a bye into the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals.

5. Dartmouth

Head Coach: Bob Gaudet

2013-14 Record: 10-20-4, 7-13-2 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 6

Preseason Media Poll: 6

Key Returning Players: Forwards Eric Neiley, Brandon McNally, Tyler Sikura; Defensemen Andy Simpson, Ryan Bullock; Goaltender Charles Grant

Top Newcomers: Forwards Carl Hesler, Kevin Neily, Cory Kalk; Defensemen Tim Shoup, River Rymsha

Captains: Tyler Sikura, Eric Neiley, Eric Robinson

There was perhaps no team in college hockey that went from totally inept in the first half of the season to finishing respectably. Bob Gaudet's team went 7-5-1 to close out the 2014-15 campaign including an upset series victory over RPI in the first round of the ECAC Tournament. The Big Green were ousted by eventual national champion Union in the quarterfinals.

Dartmouth had some trouble dealing with injuries last season including to star forward Tyler Sikura. The Big Green graduated just two defensemen and the entire offense is back. Charles Grant appears ready to take over full-time in the crease.

6. Harvard

Head Coach: Ted Donato

2013-14 Record: 10-17-4, 6-12-4 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 9

Preseason Media Poll: 10

Key Returning Players: Forwards Jimmy Vesey, Kyle Criscuolo, Sean Malone, Alex Kerfoot; Defensemen Victor Newell, Patrick McNally, Max Everson; Goaltender Steve Michalek

Top Newcomers: Forwards Eddie Ellis, Joe Caffrey, Seb Lloyd; Defensemen Jake Horton, Wiley Sherman; Goaltender Merrick Madsen

Captains: Max Everson, Kyle Criscuolo

This writer hasn't been the only one burned by over-hyped recruiting classes and under-performing seasons out of the boys from Cambridge, but this year's version of the Crimson has no excuse to not finish sixth or higher.

As usual, Teddy Donato's roster is loaded with NHL Draft picks, but can they gel together and produce nightly? This writer is betting on senior Steve Michalek or freshman Merrick Madsen or a combination of both performing well enough in goal to keep the Crimson in every game.

The offense, led by NHL Draft picks Jimmy Vesey, Alex Kerfoot and Sean Malone and undrafted free agent Kyle Criscuolo, could be dynamic.

The potential is there, but will the Crimson live up to the hype?

7. Yale

Head Coach: Keith Allain

2013-14 Record: 17-11-5, 10-8-4 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 4

Preseason Media Poll: 5

Key Returning Players: Forwards Mike Doherty, John Hayden, Frank DiChiara; Defensemen Rob O'Gara, Tommy Fallen, Ryan Obuchowski; Goaltender Alex Lyon

Top Newcomers: Forwards Henry Hart, Ryan Hitchcock; Defensemen Adam Larkin

Captain: Tommy Fallen

There is a lot to like about the top of Yale's depth chart, but are there enough reinforcements to bring the Bulldogs any higher in the standings? Rising sophomores Mike Doherty and John Hayden will be counted on to step up with the loss of Jesse Root and Kenny Agostino. Freshmen Ryan Hitchcock and Henry Hart could have an impact right away.

The key to the Bulldogs season could be how strong the defense can be. Captain Tommy Fallen, Ryan Obuchowski and Boston Bruins draft pick Rob O'Gara will lead Keith Allain's defense. Sophomore Alex Lyon emerged as a dependable number one goaltender as his rookie campaign went on.

Seventh seems reasonable for the Bulldogs considering their lack of experience up front, but Allain's club could finish higher if the defense can carry the weight.

8. Clarkson

Head Coach: Casey Jones

2013-14 Record: 21-17-4, 11-9-2 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 8

Preseason Media Poll: 8

Key Returning Players: Forwards Jeff DiNallo, Joe Zarbo; Defensemen Paul Geiger, Kevin Tansey, James de Haas; Goaltender Steve Perry

Top Newcomers: Forwards Ben Dalpe, Dylan Gareau, Nic Pierog; Defensemen Kelly Summers, Terrance Amorosa

Captains: Paul Geiger, Jeff DiNallo, James Howden

The Golden Knights lose four of the top five scorers from last year's team which is certainly a recipe for a rebuilding season this year. Expect Casey Jones' club to focus more on the defensive end of the ice this season which is an area of strength for this coaching staff.

The defense returns five of six defensemen including captains Paul Geiger and James Howden as well as James de Haas and Kevin Tansey. Freshmen Kelly Summers and Terrance Amarosa both come to Potsdam as NHL Draft prospects.

A large freshman class will be counted on offensively with junior Jeff DiNallo leading the way among returnees. The alternate captain had a big jump in production last year after a slow rookie season.

Freshman Steve Perry emerged as a reliable top goaltender among three rookies vying for time in the crease. If Perry continues to strive, he could be a key component to the Golden Knights this season.

9. Cornell

Head Coach: Mike Schafer

2013-14 Record: 17-10-5, 11-7-4 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 3

Preseason Media Poll: 4

Key Returning Players: Forwards John McCarron, Joel Lowry, Cole Bardreau, Christian Hilbrich; Defensemen Joakim Ryan, Patrick McCarron; Goaltender Mitch Gillam

Top Newcomers: Forwards Jared Fiegl, Dwyer Tschantz, Trevor Yates; Defensemen Ryan Bliss, Dan Wedman; Goaltender Hayden Stewart

Captains: John McCarron, Cole Bardreau, Joakim Ryan

There are lots of question marks surrounding the Big Red's season, but none more so than in goal where Mike Schafer's team has to replace the graduated Andy Iles. There is other uncertainty in Ithaca, but Cornell's style of play allows them to stay in most games.

The defense will have to be the strong point for the Big Red led by senior Joakim Ryan, a mobile, two-way defender. Freshman Ryan Bliss has high expectations placed upon him.

Could Cornell finish higher than ninth? Sure, but there are enough holes in the lineup for this columnist to feel comfortable ranking them as high as the coaches and the rest of the media.

10. RPI

Head Coach: Seth Alpert

2013-14 Record: 15-16-6, 8-9-5 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 10

Preseason Media Poll: 9

Key Returning Players: Forwards Matt Neal, Jacob Laliberte; Defensemen Luke Curadi, Chris Bradley; Goaltenders Jason Kasdorf, Scott Diebold

Top Newcomers: Forwards Kenny Gillespie, Lou Nanne, Drew Melanson; Defensemen Mike Prapavessis, Jared Wilson

Captains: Luke Curadi, Matt Neal, Curtis Leonard, Mark McGowan

A lot of offense departed Troy after a season that fell far short of expectations. Leading goal scorer Ryan Haggerty left a year early for the NHL and Brock Higgs graduated. There remains pieces in place for success at RPI this season, but there will be a lot of bumps in the road.

Possibly the biggest addition to the Engineers lineup will be in the form of goaltender Jason Kasdorf, the 2012-13 ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year, who missed most of last season with a lower body injury.

The defense should be solid, led by seniors Luke Curadi and Curtis Leonard and junior Chris Bradley. Sophomore Parker Reno could take a step forward after coming to college as a young freshman. Many around the program have high hopes for freshman Mike Prapavessis.

11. St. Lawrence

Head Coach: Greg Carvel

2013-14 Record: 15-19-4, 7-11-4 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 11

Preseason Media Poll: 11

Key Returning Players: Forwards Gunnar Hughes, Patrick Doherty, Brian Ward; Defensemen Gavin Bayreuther, Eric Sweetman; Goaltender Tyler Parks

Top Newcomers: Forwards Mike Marnell, Joe Sullivan, Ryan Lough, Christian Horn *; Defensemen Matt Purmal, Mitch Eden; Goaltender Kyle Hayton

Captains: Gunnar Hughes, Patrick Doherty, Brian Ward

Greg Carvel's team went as its offense went in 2013-14. Led by the Carey brothers, the Saints had to rely on offensive production to bail out a sub-par defense and inept goaltending. With the Carey brothers gone to pro hockey, St. Lawrence could be in for a serious rebuilding year.

There are some nice additions up front including freshman Mike Marnell and Minnesota transfer Christian Horn, but neither are expected to come even close to offsetting the loss of Greg and Matt Cary.

The goaltending position will have to be a lot better this season for SLU to have any chance of finishing any higher than 11th place. It could be an ugly year at the bottom of the ECAC standings for the Saints and Princeton.

12. Princeton

Head Coach: Ron Fogarty

2013-14 Record: 6-26-0, 4-18-0 ECAC

Preseason Coaches' Poll: 12

Preseason Media Poll: 12

Key Returning Players: Forwards Johnathan Liau, Ryan Siiro; Defensemen Quin Pompi, Hayden Anderson; Goaltender Colton Phiney

Top Newcomers: Forwards Connor McLaren, Eric Robinson; Defensemen Matt Nelson, Joe Grabowski; Goaltender Ben Halford

Captains: Tyler Maguri

Bob Prier was relieved of his duties following an abysmal season and in comes Ron Fogarty, who built Adrian College into a perennial power in Division III. A whole new staff at Princeton will have its work cut out and there is little hope of anything better than a last place finish in 2014-15.

The Tigers staff have been hitting the recruiting trail hard, but a serious lack of talent will leave Princeton in some precarious situations this winter.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.