As the start of the 2017-18 quickly approaches, ECAC Hockey could be one of the more hotly contested conferences in college hockey.
Starting with reigning ECAC Champs and Frozen Four participant, the Harvard Crimson. Led by Ted Donato, the Crimson finished 3rd in the nation's final Pairwise Rankings and made a nice tournament run that was shorted in the frozen four by national runner up and powerhouse Minnesota-Duluth. Harvard suffered some key losses this year with senior captain Alex Kerfoot heading to the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, Tyler Moy, Sean Malone, Clay Anderson, Victor Newell, Luke Esposito, Phil Zielonka and Devin Tringale. Malone, Kerfoot, Moy and Esposito all had big roles on last year’s team so these losses will be felt. Harvard will rely heavily on rising junior forward and Boston Bruins draft pick Ryan Donato. The 6’1, 181-pound native of Scituate, Massachusetts is poised to step into a bigger role after a breakout sophomore campaign. A 21-19-40 stat line in 40 games for a young Donato last season was impressive, but he will be looked on to carry a stronger role both on and off the ice. They will also look to Calgary Flames draft pick Adam Fox to be a huge factor along with Wiley Sherman. If Harvard gets good production out of these three, a few young guys to step in and find a good role and good goaltending from Merrick Madsen in his final year, Harvard has a very good chance to repeat as ECAC champs.
Moving on to Quinnipiac who had a disappointing year finishing 21st in the Pairwise Rankings. One year removed from a trip to the frozen four had the Bobcats going through some growing pains after losing star power to the NHL in Sam Anas, Devon Toews, Travis St. Denis and Michael Garteig. Quinnipiac did make a little noise in the ECAC tournament, making it to the semifinals before ultimately losing to Harvard. With some key loses in both Clifton brothers, Tim and Corey, Derek Smith and Tommy Schutt, the Bobcats will have to find new faces to step in and provide the physical style that these players brought along with offensive upside. Forward Alex Whelan worked his way up from being a fourth line winger to finishing the year on the team’s top unit. If he can mold a path for some of the younger guys on the team, that could be beneficial. Junior captain Chase Priskie looks to lead a young yet talented group on the back end this year, with many returning players such as Karlis Cukste, Brogan Rafferty and Luke Shiplo. The addition of BU transfer Brandon Fortunato should make for a solid defensive core. The biggest addition that Rand Pecknold and his Bobcats welcome to Hamden this fall is Detroit Red Wings draft pick Keith Petruzzelli. The 6’6 goaltender from Wilbraham, Mass. comes off a fantastic year with Muskegon in the USHL and a 3rd round selection in this summer’s NHL entry draft. The play of Sophomore Andrew Shortridge and the addition of Petruzzelli will make Quinnipiac a team to watch this year. They will be at the top of the National and ECAC standings all season.
The Union Dutchmen are coming off huge losses to graduation and the NHL. With Spencer Foo signing with Calgary a year early and Mike Vecchione graduating and heading to the Flyers, Union is going to be in need of both top line and secondary scoring to make an impact in the ECAC this year. Rick Bennett will bring in some firepower up front and also have some gritty, under the radar players eager to make that big leap on the depth chart this upcoming fall. Union isn’t as re-tooled as other teams nationally and in conference, so a finish outside the top 20 could be more likely for them this season.
The Yale Bulldogs are coming off a 13-15-5 campaign in 2016-17 with a 7-11-4 record against ECAC opponents. They also suffered a huge loss with senior captain John Hayden, who had a nice finish to his season with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. They also lost Reading, Massachusetts native Mike Doherty up front, who also provided some nice numbers on the stat sheet. Look for rising junior defenseman Chalrie Curti to have a big impact on the back end, as he is a very under-looked prospect in the ECAC. He is a great two-way defenseman who skates very well and is smart with the puck. The Bulldogs also welcome freshman forward Kevin O’neil, who split last season with Madison and Fargo in the USHL. The former Albany Academy standout turned his game around in the USHL last season after a rough first half and really showed he can play against top division one talent. On the smaller side at 5’11, 170 pounds, O’Neil still looks like a great get for Yale and is expected to play a large roll this upcoming season.
These are some teams to look for this upcoming year out of the ECAC. Expect at least three to four teams from the ECAC represented in the NCAA Tournament in the spring of 2018. Last year only three, Harvard, Union and Cornell, represented the conference, but there are a lot of new faces that could help a team make it to the dance.