Edit - As Without a Peer just pointed out to me, Joel Malchuk of RPI graduated, but has an extra year of eligibility and thus will still be on the roster for this year.
When the deadline for ECAC selections was coming up in early September, I was truly in the depths of confusion. It's hard enough to pick this league, but with wholesale changes going on, it seemed like the league would be even closer than last year. In the end, I came up with a quick system of how I was going to evaluate teams.
1. Amount of points returning last year - According to College Hockey, Inc., 18 of the 21 scorers in the NCAA last year were upperclassmen. While I didn't know that when I made this my first criterion, it reinforces the point- experience helps. Therefore, I looked at what teams had the most points returning from last season.
2. Who is back on the blue line - If there's anything an admirer of Ken Daneyko's style of play can tell you, it's that what good defensemen do doesn't always show up in the points statistics. Here I just looked at who was returning.
3. Goaltenders - A lot of the league is going to have new goaltenders, which are big question marks. The rest of the league has returning goaltenders. Some are good, some not so much. This is a pretty important part of the equation.
4. Status Trends Toward Quo - Meaning I try not to move teams too much from where they finished last year, unless they really deserve it. I probably broke this rule a lot more this year than last year though.
5. Gut Feeling - It's not all just numbers here. Sometimes when teams are close, you just have to go with your gut and always remember the mantra "You're probably going to be very wrong anyway, so why worry?"
What's Not Evaluated:
1. Incoming Freshmen - It's not that freshmen can't or don't have an impact. It's just that they are complete wildcards. Further, I don't know all the freshmen coming into the league equally, creating a huge artifact. So I just tend to ignore what freshmen are coming in.
A Note on My All-Conference Team: I tend to select players that did well statisically or stood out in my mind from the previous season. I also try to limit how many players from each team I pick. I also tweeted a 2nd team all-conference after my ballot went in. That's not something the media submits but I decided I would do it anyway.
With that, here was my media ballot for the 2011-12 ECAC Season. Full explanation is below the jump.
1. Union 2. Yale 3. Dartmouth 4. Cornell 5. Quinnipiac 6. Harvard 7. Princeton 8. Brown 9. RPI 10. St. Lawrence 11. Colgate 12. Clarkson
Preseason All-Conference Team: G: James Mello (Dartmouth); D: Danny Biega (Harvard) and Nick Bailen (RPI); F: Kelly Zajac (Union), Brian O'Neill (Yale) and Andrew Calof (Princeton)
Preseason All-Conference 2nd Team: G: Eric Hartzell (Quinnipiac); D: Connor Goggin (Dartmouth) and Braden Birch (Cornell); F: Andrew Miller (Yale), Greg Carey (St. Lawrence) and Jack Maclellan (Brown).
1. Union (Media: 2nd, Coaches: 2nd)
The Dutchmen have an immediately big concern and that is the man between the crease. Keith Kinkaid has moved down the road to the Times Union Center, having signed a pro contract with the New Jersey Devils after last season. Corey Milan leaves the team as well, meaning the Dutchmen will have a freshman goaltender. Even worse, one of Union's recruits for the position, Julien LaPlante, was ruled ineligible after playing 20 minutes in a CHL exhibition game and he has since transferred to Providence, where he will sit out a semester. Speaking of Providence, Union's second "problem" is that last year's bench boss, Nate Leaman, headed to the Hockey East school. Union promoted associate head coach Rick Bennett, who should provide continuity. On the bright side for "The U," they lose only 5 forwards and return 74.4% of the conference points scored last year, good for third in the conference in that statistic, and the best for the top half of the league last year. On defense, they only lose Brock Matheson, so the experience blue line should be able to help out the green goaltending.
Key Losses: Brock Matheson, Andrew Buote, John Simpson, Adam Presizniuk, Keith Kinkaid, Nate Leaman
Key Returners: Kelly Zajac, Wayne Simpson, Greg Coburn
2. Yale (Media: 1st, Coaches: 1st)
If ever the law of the status trending quo applied, it's probably in this pick. Everybody is feeling the Yale love this year, or so it seems. Personally, I think they lose a lot, but are helped out by the fact that everybody else around them loses a lot. Starting from the net out, graduating Ryan Rondeau had a 1.92 GAA last year and played over 90% of the team's minutes. That's going to be hard to replace but until Rondeau broke out last year, Yale had been winning despite inconsistencies in net. Part of that was a talented defensive corps but Yale graduates three top blueliners in Jimmy Martin, Mike Matczak and Ken Trentowski, with all three of them having played in every game last year. A less experience blueline could hurt Yale, especially without an experienced goaltender behind them. Offensively, Yale probably has the best 1-2 punch in Brian O'Neill and Andrew Miller but they also lose a lot of top scorers from last year, including Broc Little, Denny Kearney and Chris Cahill, Yale's 3-5 scorers last season. Yale returns only 58.8% of their scoring, down near the bottom of the league in that statistic. A big question remains about the Elis finding secondary scoring- if not, O'Neill and Miller might find themselves getting even more attention this year from opposing coaches.
Key Losses: Jimmy Martin, Mike Matczak, Broc Little, Chris Cahill, Ryan Rondeau
Key Returnees: Brian O'Neill, Andrew Miller, Kenny Agostino
3. Dartmouth (Media: 4th, Coaches: 5th)
As my preseason all-conference team might indicate, I think James Mello is the best returning goaltender in the league. The senior put up an impressive 1.93 GAA and a .938 SV% in conference play last season and will likely continue with those numbers. In front of him, he loses only two defensemen, though the top-two defensemen in Joe Stejskal and Evan Stephens. Manageable losses, especially with Connor Goggin ready to step into that role. It's up front that concerns about Dartmouth put them behind Union and Yale for me. The Big Green lose two lines worth of forwards, including two of their best forwards, Scott Fleming and Adam Estoclet. In all, they return only 60% of their conference scoring, just slightly ahead of Yale. What it came down to for me is that Yale's duo of O'Neill and Martin is better than Matt Lindblad and Doug Jones, the Big Green's top conference scorers last year.
Key Losses: Evan Stephens, Scott Fleming, Adam Estoclet
Key Returnees: James Mello, Matt Lindblad, Doug Jones
4. Cornell (Media: 3rd, Coaches: 3rd)
Starting from the net out, Andy Iles can very well make everyone regret naming James Mello the preseason goaltender of the year. That said, I don't think people recognize the loss of Mike Garman to early graduation enough. Iles had the better conference win record, going 7-4-1 to Garman's 4-5-1 but statistically, they were very similar. In fact, in both conference and non-conference play, Garman posted a better GAA (2.07 in conference to Iles' 2.23) and SV% (.931% in conference to Iles' .927%). That means Garman's record wasn't on him, nor was Iles', but on the team in front of them. That team in front of him looks markedly worse. Despite losing only 5 players (4 of whom were forwards), the Big Red return only 59.1% of the points scored in conference last season. To put it another way, 40% of Cornell's scoring last season came from just 5 people and they all are gone. I also wonder how Iles' will handle the whole season as the number 1 netminder but a strong defensive corps and Cornell's defensive system should help there.
Key Losses: Mike Garman, Joe Devin, Mike Devin, Tyler Roeszler
5. Quinnipiac (Media: 6th, Coaches: 6th)
This is a pick I debated over in my mind and I was tempted, very tempted, to place Quinnipiac in the top 4. This is a team that returns basically everybody from last year. Eric Hartzell returns in net with a 2.24 GAA and a .926 SV%. All five of their top scorers, all of whom were in double digits last season for points in the conference, return. In fact, Quinnipiac returns a gaudy 95.4% of their scoring from last season, with that 4.6% represented by one of the two defensemen graduating: Zach Hansen. The only other players gone besides Hansen are Sean Coughlin, a blueliner that played 3 games last season, and Pat McGann, who was the third and unused goaltender. That said, Quinnipiac may be experienced, but they didn't score a whole lot last year, so they'll need to improve as a group in order to get a bye. It's certainly doable though.
Key Losses: Zach Hansen
Key Returnees: Scott Zurevinski, Connor Jones, Kellen Jones, Loren Barron, Eric Hartzell
6. Harvard (Media: 12th, Coaches: 7th)
Alright, let's get this out of the way quickly. Anyone who thinks this is a homer pick should check out last year, when I accurately tabbed Harvard for 10th place. The biggest weakness for Harvard, is of course, goaltending. With the graduation of Ryan Carroll and Kyle Richter, the Crimson have 68 minutes of collegiate experience in net, in the form of Raphael Girard. That said, the only loss on the blue line is Chris Huxley. The Crimson return four twenty-plus game starters on defense, led by Biega and Ryan Grimshaw. On offense, they lose some defensive forwards, namely Michael Del Mauro and PO Michaud, as well as an offensive threat in Michael Biega. Harvard does return 71.1% of its scoring, albeit they didn't score much last season. I think the level of experience returning for Harvard is enough to make them a top-half team. This is the Crimson's most veteran team since they last went to the ECAC Championship in 2008 and I think the upperclassmen will pull them this high.
Key Losses: Michael Biega, Chris Huxley, Michael Del Mauro, Ryan Carroll
Key Returnees: Danny Biega, Alex Killorn, Ryan Grimshaw, Alex Fallstrom
7. Princeton (Media: 7th, Coaches: 8th)
It won't nearly be as profound, but this could very well be the Colgate pick of last year- the team I seriously overrated. Princeton returns the second-least amount of scoring in the league at 57.9% returned. They lose a very talented two-way blueliner in Taylor Fedun as well as two other experienced d-men, including Cam Ritchie and Matt Godlewski. Finally, head coach Guy Gadowski left to become the coach of Penn State's club team (and eventually, their varsity team, when they come into existence -not trying for a cheap shot) That said, the Tigers have a lot of potential to do well, so I'm going to stick with my prediction of 7th. Andrew Calof had a monstrous rookie campaign and should only get better. They have two talented goaltenders in Sean Bonar and Mike Condon, with the former putting up strong numbers in conference play as well. They are a young team and might hit a few bumps in the road but I think they have the talent to overcome.
Key Losses: Taylor Fedun, Cam Ritchie, Kevin Lohry, Mike Kramer, Guy Gadowski
Key Returnees: Sean Bonar, Mike Condon, Andrew Calof, Derrick Pallis, Michael Sdao
8. Brown (Media: 11th, Coaches: 12th)
Last season, Brown was actually a pretty good team. OK, 9th out of 12 teams isn't great but it does make me question what exactly everyone is seeing that leads them to believe Brown is heading for the basement. In terms of losses, Brown is not exactly hard-hit. Offensively, they lose a few double-digit point scorers in Harry Zolniercyzk and David Brownschidle, and we might as well include Jesse Fratkin and his nine points in that list. That still leaves them with Jack Maclellan, Chris Zaires, Dennis Robertson, and Garnet Hathaway as double-digit scorers from the last ECAC season, with Brown returning 77.8% of their scoring, second best in the league. Defensively, Brown doesn't lose a lot either, losing only Jeremy Russell. And in net, his non-conference play might not indicate so, nor his conference record, but Mike Clemente is a pretty decent goaltender, putting up a respectable 2.75 GAA and .907 SV% in ECAC play.
Key Losses: Harry Zolniercyzk, David Brownschidle, Jesse Fratkin, Jeremy Russell
Key Returnees: Jack Maclellan, Chris Zaires, Dennis Robertson, Mike Clemente
9. Rensselaer (Media: 5th, Coaches: 4th)
Well if the wisdom of the crowds, ie-the rest of the media and the coaches, are right, then this is going to be my Clarkson pick from last year- the team I vastly underrated. That said, has anyone noticed what this team is losing? I agree with Without a Peer, the RPI blog, which keeps tweeting (in a good way) that their offense last year wasn't just Chase Polacek. It was also Tyler Helfrich (21 points) and Bryan Brutlag (7 poinys), both of whom are graduated, along with two other forwards. As a result, RPI returns the least amount of scoring in the league, 56.7% of their scoring last year. It also means someone like Brock Higgs is going to see a lot more attention from defensive specialists. In net, Allen York left for a pro contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, leaving Bryce Merriam and his career 3.03 GAA. (To be fair to Merriam, he put up a 2.11 GAA in conference play last season. He also only started 3 conference games last year and has 11 starts total.) Defensively, RPI loses two top defensemen in John Kennedy and Jeff Foss. It's unclear to me that RPI can handle these across the board losses. In addition, while RPI were in a three-way tied] for 4th, that means they could have been as low as 6th had tiebreakers not gone their way. With all of these losses, is it really that hard to imagine them slipping a few spots to ninth? It isn't for me. That said, as the 3rd rule of the ECAC goes, never bet on RPI to win or lose.
Key Losses: Chase Polacek, Alenn York, Tyler Helfrich, John Kennedy, Jeff Foss
Key Returnees: Brock Higgs, Nick Bailen, Mike Bergin, CJ Lee
See edit at top of page. Also this probably throws the numbers off slightly but not enough for RPI to return more scoring than Yale, I think.
10. Saint Lawrence (Media: 8th, Coaches: 9th)
Saint Lawrence is being hurt somewhat by the law of status quo again. They do only return 69.7% of the team scoring from last season, yet also return both of their top scorers in Greg Carey and Kyle Flanagan. That said, the Saints have some big shoes to fill with the departure of Aaron Bogosian, Sean Flanagan, Jared Keller and Nick Pitsikoulis. Defensively, they lose Matt Raley, a workhorse on the blue line, and Bobby Torney, who only played in half the league games. Goaltending is an obvious concern. Despite having four goaltenders last season, none of them exactly inspire confidence for this season. The two main goaltenders were Matt Weninger (3.02 GAA, .894 SV%) and Robby Moss (3.05 GAA, .906 SV%) don't exactly inspire confidence with their numbers while neither of the other goaltenders really saw enough time to say anything about their stats. Despite keeping their top two goal scorers, I think the lack of secondary scoring and the struggles in net will keep St. Lawrence down.
Key Losses: Matt Raley, Sean Flanagan, Jared Keller, Aaron Bogosian, Nick Pitsikoulis
Key Returnees: Greg Carey, Kyle Flanagan, George Hughes
11. Colgate (Media: 10th, Coaches: 10th)
On the one hand, Colgate returns the fourth most scoring out of the league, with 73.5% of it coming back. On the other hand, they were really bad last year, playoffs in the Capital District not withstanding. They lose two of their top players in Francois Brisebois and Brian Day, so teams will be able to focus on Austin Day and Kurtis Bartliff more. On defense, they lose Wade Poplawski, but otherwise return a deep blue-lining corps. Their goaltending, though, is terrifying, and not for opposition scorers. In conference, their best goaltender was Eric Mihalik, with a 3.00 GAA and .894 SV%. He played in 15 games and was the only goaltender to record a win. His backups came close to breaking a 4 GAA. These are not numbers that scream to me that Colgate is getting out of the basement just yet.
Key Losses: Francois Brisebois, Brian Day, Wade Poplawski
Key Returnees: Austin Day, Kurtis Bartliff, Robbie Bourdon
12. Clarkson (Media: 9th, Coaches: 11th)
I, along with just about everyone in the known universe, picked Clarkson to finish dead last in the past season, and they went on to 7th place- oops. Now I'm going to do it again, so you're welcome Clarkson fans, and enjoy 7th place. The fact is, on the surface Clarkson looks like they should be a good team. They return the 5th most scoring in the conference, with 71.9% returning. That's .8% higher than Harvard returns and I moved Harvard up four spots from last season's finish. The reason for me dropping the Golden Knights, though, is that Clarkson loses a ton of defense. Four defensemen leave, including solid senior Bryan Rufenach, the dependable (when I saw him) Tom Pizzo, and Dan Reed. Also gone from the blue line is Mark Borowiecki, who left for a pro contract with the Ottawa Senators after his junior year, and who was arguably the best defenseman on the team along with Rufenach. This team losing four defensemen is, by the way, a team that had such difficulties finding defensemen to dress that forward Louke Oakley, saw some time on the blue line. That amount of a defensive loss means to me that the goaltending is going to be facing even more of the puck come this season. That's not really good news for the Golden Knights. I hate being too critical of any college hockey player but senior Paul Karpowich had a 3.28 GAA and a .910 SV% last season. That is not the level of goaltending you want when you lose four-plus defensemen. Not sure that they played enough to tell for sure, but it doesn't look like there's much in the way of backup behind him either. Oh, and Clarkson will be under a new head coach this season, former Cornell assistant Casey Jones. On the bright side, they only lose two of their top five scorers- though one of them was the team leader in scoring.
Key Losses: Brandon DeFazio, Scott Freeman, Lauri Tuohima, Tom Pizzo, Bryan Rufenach, Mark Borowiecki, George Roll
Key Returnees: Allan McPherson, Jake Morley, Nick Tremblay, Louke Oakley, Nik Pokulok
There are the selections. Feel free to come back and mock them in March. Frankly, I don't think I have a shot at repeating my top ten performance from last year, especially now that I just mentioned it.