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ECAC Hockey Riding High Coming Off Terrific 2012-13 Campaign

ECAC coaches were enthusiastic about the state of the conference at the 2013 ECAC Hockey Media Day.

Justin K. Aller

Coming off arguably the best season the ECAC has had in quite some time, the league coaches are looking to keep the momentum swinging in their favor.

Yale won the conference's first NCAA Championship since Harvard in 1989. In-state rival Quinnipiac joined Yale in the all-ECAC title game. Union, the ECAC Tournament champions, upset Hockey East power Boston College in the first round of the national tournament. The impressive performance by the three ECAC teams in the 2013 NCAA Tournament was not lost on other league coaches at the annual media day last week in Lake Placid.

"It's not the fact that Yale won the championship. It's how Union, Quinnipiac, and Yale dominated the national tournament. They didn't just go in and win it. It's the fashion they won it," said Cornell coach Mike Schafer. "As a coach in this conference for 19 years, I'm very proud to see the teams have success," added Schafer.

The ECAC had the best out-of-conference record of any conference in college hockey last season, according to Commissioner Steve Hagwell. The ECAC went 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament with the only two losses coming to each other.

"We've known for a long time that this was a great league. This has been an outstanding league from top to bottom and the league has been unbelievably competitive. We have great traditions and obviously a huge academic component. It was awesome to have Yale win the national championship so it's exciting for our league," said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet.

The ECAC is arguably the strongest it has been in over 20 years. "It has to be," said Schafer when asked whether he thought the league was the best it's been since the early 90s.

The ECAC looks to be in a great position for continued success. With much of the college hockey landscape changing, the ECAC isn't losing or adding any teams. The conference also boasts some of the best coaches in the business.

"The league is in a really good place. I think a lot of that credit has to go to the coaches. I think we have some of the finest coaches in the country," said Colgate coach Don Vaughn.

"The level of competition in our league is phenomenal right now," said Schafer. "The coaches in our league know how good our teams are."

A good number of ECAC alums have enjoyed success in the National Hockey League especially in the past few seasons. Moving players on to the next level gives the league recognition and increased visibility.

"A great number of programs in our league are represented in the National Hockey League," said Harvard coach Ted Donato, an NHL veteran.

League coaches are also quick to promote the universities they represent as great academic institutions.

"Our players are also represented in all different fields as we have some great schools. The ECAC provides a great opportunity to not only play in the NHL, but to guarantee yourself a certain opportunity for success because we have some great universities in our league," said Donato.

"Not only are we fine hockey programs, but we have outstanding universities in our league. Our league more than any other league, hockey is the signature sport on our campuses. It's an environment that our student-athletes love to play in," said Yale coach Keith Allain.

"Many of [our players] will go on to play in the National Hockey League, but many of our graduates will make far more money in their chosen field outside of hockey because of the tremendous education they receive at our universities," added Allain.

This year the ECAC doesn't appear to have a team destined to be a powerhouse nationally during the regular season such as Quinnipiac last season. Then again, no one saw the Bobcats being the number one team in the Pairwise Rankings prior to the start of last season.There are several teams that should be vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament come March.

Yale and RPI split the top honors in the preseason coaches and media polls. The Bulldogs were the favorite of the coaches while the media pegged the Engineers.

One of the trademarks of the ECAC is the always-tight final standings. There always seems to be very few points separating teams that receive a bye in the first round to teams that travel on the road for the first round.

"It's going to be a tough year of night-in-and-night-out competition," added Schafer.

The college hockey season starts this weekend. Colgate hosts Ferris State of the WCHA and Clarkson travels to Niagara of the Atlantic Hockey Association. Several other teams play exhibition contests and the Ivy League teams in the league will start up in the next few weeks.

Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.