2014-15 ECAC Preview, Part 1: Union begins defense of national title

By DJ Powers
Connor Clifton - Quinnipiac University

Photo: Quinnipiac University defenseman and Arizona Coyotes prospect Connor Clifton will be a part of a younger Bobcats’ squad that is coming off of two consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (courtesy of David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

 

This season, the non-Ivy League members of the ECAC feature a combined 12 NHL prospects representing five of the six schools. St. Lawrence is the only non-Ivy League team without a prospect on its roster. Clarkson leads the group with four prospects, followed by Quinnipiac and RPI with three apiece.

The first part of this NCAA season preview focuses on Union, Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, RPI, and St. Lawrence. Part 2 will focus on the Ivy League schools.

Union College
NHL prospects: 1

The defending National Champions will look to successfully defend their crown, having opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus American International.

With the dawning of a new season and several key departures from last season’s squad, Union College will certainly have a new look. But as head coach Rick Bennett explains, the process of continuing to build the program remains the same.

“Our focus is to build on what we’ve accomplished and continue the process,” said Bennett. “We want to get better every day. We have a new team this year, they’re trying to establish its own identity.”

Nowhere were the Dutchmen hit harder with key losses than on defense with the departures of All-American defenders Mat Bodie (NYR) and Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). While those losses are significant, the Dutchmen’s blueline is shaping up to be an outstanding, albeit predominantly young one this season.

Among those anchoring Union College’s defensive corps is the team’s lone NHL prospect in sophomore Jeff Taylor (PIT). The Clifton Park, NY native is coming off of an excellent freshman campaign where he posted 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) in 41 games. Taylor played nearly all of last season with Gostisbehere and that experience began to pay dividends for the Dutchmen as the season wore on. This season, Taylor will see an even bigger role on the team.

“Jeff will be one of our go-to guys this year,” Bennett said of Taylor. “I think he and Shayne really complemented each other last year and that experience helped Jeff. I think where he really took a step was in the defensive zone. He did a good job of getting his stick on pucks and controlling players. I wasn’t surprised that Jeff was drafted because I knew there were some (NHL) teams interested in him and Pittsburgh was one of them.”

Among Union College’s seven newcomers this season is the towering Connor Light. At 6’5” and 200 pounds, he will certainly add size to the Dutchmen’s blueline. The Sudbury, MA native is noted for his remarkable mobility and heavy shot. Light is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft.

Leading the Dutchmen’s offensive attack this season is senior alternate captain Daniel Ciampini. The Concord, ON native is coming off of a terrific junior campaign where he led Union College with 23 goals and finished with 41 points in 41 games. Last season, Ciampini established himself as a player who can score clutch goals, as evidenced by his team-leading five game-winners.

“I thought where Daniel was really good for us last season was his ability to produce at the crucial times,” Bennett said of Ciampini. “Players that want to be big-time players step up when you need them to and Daniel did that for us.”

Another of the Dutchmen’s strengths this season is in goal with the return of senior starter and All-American, Colin Stevens. The Niskayuna, NY native is coming off a phenomenal junior campaign where he posted a 28-4-2 record that included six shutouts in 36 appearances, earning him the ECAC’s Dryden Award as the conference’s top goaltender.

Clarkson University
NHL prospects: 4

The Golden Knights opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at Niagara.

2013-14 marked the first year that Clarkson posted 20 or more wins since 2007-08. In the ECAC standings, the Golden Knights finished tied for fifth. This season, Clarkson will look to build on those successes but will have some issues to address, as well.

The most pressing need is to increase their overall point production, but the task of boosting their offensive output is made even more difficult with the loss of four of last season’s five top scorers.

One returning veteran that the Golden Knights will look to for increased offense is sophomore Troy Josephs (PIT). The Whitby, ON native is coming off of a solid but injury-shortened freshman campaign where he posted five points (two goals, three assists) in 33 games. Josephs played primarily in a defensive role for Clarkson last season. But as head coach Casey Jones notes, Josephs will have an expanded role this season that includes being in more offensive situations.

“Because we had a lot of veteran centers, Troy didn’t get in a lot of offensive roles for us last year’” said Jones. “He played a lot of defensive roles for us and I think that allowed us to prepare him for this season. We wanted to bring him along in a lot of roles and wanted him to learn how to play in the defensive zone. He’ll be put into a bit more of an offensive role as well. So we’re excited to watch Troy’s progression, and we’re hoping that he’ll add some pop for us, too.”

Defense is shaping up to be the Golden Knights’ strongest position this season with their defensive corps returning nearly intact. Among those patrolling the blueline this season is sophomore James de Haas (DET). The Mississauga, ON native is coming off of an impressive freshman campaign where he posted 13 points (six goals, seven assists) in 38 games. Where de Haas really made his mark last season was on the power play where three of his six goals were scored.

“Jimmy, like all freshmen, struggled with some consistency last year,” stated Jones. “I think where he grew was in his confidence level and on the offensive side. He’s begun to understand that he can generate offense without a lot of risk by being smarter and taking his time. I think all those things will allow Jimmy to take that next step in his (developmental) progression and be in a top-four role for us.”

Of Clarkson’s nine newcomers this season, two are NHL prospects in defensemen Terrance Amorosa (PHI) and Kelly Summers (OTT).

“I think Terrence and Kelly will add depth to our blueline, and they’re going to give our veterans some competition for ice time,” Jones said of his two defensive recruits. “Both of them are big, smart, and have a high compete level. And I think they can make our team better.”

The goaltending tandem of sophomore Steve Perry and junior Greg Lewis return this season, giving the Golden Knights a very good one-two punch in net.

Colgate University
NHL prospects: 1

The Raiders opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at St. Cloud State.

Colgate is coming off a stellar 2013-14 campaign, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years. But, as good as the Raiders were last season, they are poised to be even better this season.

Of Colgate’s three off-season losses, two were goaltenders, but the Raiders do return their starter, sophomore Charlie Finn. The North Vancouver, BC native is coming off a fantastic freshman campaign where he posted a 16-8-4 record that included one shutout in 29 appearances.

“The big thing about Charlie is his incredible compete level,” head coach Don Vaughan said of Finn. “He also has this great calming effect that has really helped our team, too. Charlie had a great camp with the New Jersey Devils this summer and I think that gave him more confidence coming in this year.”

Colgate’s defense returns intact this season and it’s shaping up to be an excellent one led by senior captain Spiro Goulakos. The Montreal, QC native is coming off of an excellent junior campaign where he led all Raiders defensemen with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 39 games. Goulakos’ greatest attribute is his inspirational leadership. Simply put, Goulakos leads by example and can make the players around him better.

One of Colgate’s strengths this season is their tremendous depth up front led by their dynamic top line of juniors Kyle Baun and the Spink twins (Tyson and Tylor). While the trio leads Colgate’s offense, the team also has other forwards that are poised to be big contributors.

Among them is sophomore Tim Harrison (CGY). The Duxbury, MA native is the lone NHL prospect on the Raiders’ roster. Harrison is coming off of a strong rookie campaign where he played in 34 games and finished with five points (all assists). Harrison is a physical, shutdown winger who has really thrived in that role.

“Tim is a big, strong guy that can skate and we need that on our team,” Vaughan said of Harrison. “He also brings some physicality to our game, too. Tim’s not afraid to play that role. We had him in that role last year, and he’ll start in a similar type of role this year.”

Among Colgate’s five newcomers this season is center Mike Panowyk. The Whitby, ON native is the youngest player on the Raiders’ roster and is eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft. Vaughan believes that Panowyk has the potential to be a real impact player for his squad.

“We think Mike is a pretty special player,” said Jones. “He’s got great offensive instincts and unbelievable hands. With the depth that we already have up front, I think for Mike it’s going to be a matter of getting that opportunity. But I do think that in time, Mike can be an impact player for our team.”

Quinnipiac University
NHL prospects: 3

The Bobcats opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 11th versus Bentley.

Quinnipiac is coming off of another excellent campaign in 2013-14 that saw them make the second of back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which included their first-ever trip to the Frozen Four in 2013. This season, the team will be a much younger team. Nine players from last year’s squad have departed including Jordan Samuels-Thomas (BUF) and Bryce Van Brabant (CGY).

Leading Quinnipiac’s offensive charge this season is senior co-captain Matthew Peca (TBL). The Petawawa, ON native is coming off of a terrific junior campaign where he led the Bobcats with 26 assists and finished tied for third on the team with 38 points in 40 games. Peca has developed into one of the nation’s most complete players. He is equally at home playing both ends of the ice. Furthermore, Peca can and has played all three forward positions.

One of the Bobcats strengths this season is their stingy defense. Quinnipiac finished second nationally last season with a defense that allowed an average of 2.02 goals per game. While the defensive corps will still be quite young, they will also be more experienced.

Among the veterans patrolling on defense this season are sophomores Connor Clifton (ARZ) and Devon Toews (NYI).

Clifton is coming off of a very good freshman campaign where he posted nine points (five goals, four assists) in 36 games. The Matawan, NJ native also finished second nationally behind now-former teammate Van Brabant with a whopping 106 penalty minutes. Although he’s only 5’11’’ and 180 pounds, Clifton is remarkably strong. He’s a hard-nosed, shutdown defenseman who brings a physical element to his game, and it’s a role that he has flourished in.

Like Clifton, Toews is also on the smaller side (5’11”, 175 lbs.). But unlike his teammate, Toews is a more offensive-minded defenseman who moves well with the puck. The Abbotsford, BC native is coming off of a strong freshman campaign where he led Quinnipiac in rookie defensive scoring with 17 points (one goal, 16 assists) in 37 games.

Another of the Bobcats’ strengths this season is in goal. Junior starter Michael Garteig is coming off of a fantastic sophomore campaign where he posted a 24-10-6 record that included six shutouts. Over the summer, Garteig participated in the Vancouver Canucks‘ prospect camp.

In addition to the returning veterans, the Bobcats will welcome eleven newcomers. One freshman to keep an eye on is Tanner MacMaster. The Calgary, AB native is noted for his great hands and scoring prowess. McMaster is the youngest player on Quinnipiac’s roster this season, and after being passed over in the 2014 NHL Draft, he is eligible again in 2015.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
NHL prospects: 3

The Engineers opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th versus Notre Dame in the Icebreaker Tournament in South Bend, IN.

Last season, RPI finished seventh in the ECAC and are poised to be an even better team this season if they can fill some holes in the lineup.

The best news for the Engineers heading into the season is the long-awaited return of junior goaltender, Jason Kasdorf (WPG). The Winnipeg, MB native missed virtually all of last season due to a season-ending shoulder injury. Senior Scott Diebold performed remarkably well in place of Kasdorf last season, finishing with a 14-15-6 record that included one shutout in 36 games. While Kasdorf is likely to be the starter this season, he’ll also get some fierce competition from Diebold.

Kasdorf and Diebold will also have a defensive corps that is shaping up to be an excellent one in front of them this season. One notable aspect of RPI’s blueline this season is their sheer size. All but one of the Engineers defensemen are 6’1” or taller.

The biggest of them all is senior alternate captain Luke Curadi. The Cheshire, CT native is coming off of an outstanding junior campaign where he posted five points (two goals, three assists) in 36 games. At 6’5” and 265 pounds, it’s hard to miss Curadi. In addition to his strong, towering frame, he’s also a physical presence on RPI’s blueline. Not surprisingly, Curadi has also drawn the attention of NHL teams, among them the New York Rangers, whose prospect camp Curadi attended over the summer.

Of RPI’s seven newcomers this season, three are defensemen, including Mike Prapavessis (DAL). The Oakville, ON native is one of only two Dallas Stars prospects playing in the NCAA this season. Prapavessis is a 6’1”, 185-pound rearguard noted for his excellent stick and decision-making.

The biggest question mark for the Engineers is where the goals will come from, due to the fact that RPI lost three of their top scorers from last season in Brock Higgs, Mike Zalewski (VAN) and All-American Ryan Haggerty (NYR). The trio accounted for a whopping 49 percent of the team’s goals last season.

Junior alternate captain Matt Neal is the Engineers’ top returning scorer this season. The Minesing, ON is coming off of an excellent sophomore campaign where he posted 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 37 games. Neal established himself as a clutch scorer for RPI last season and was particularly good on the Engineers’ power play, where four of his 10 goals were scored.

St. Lawrence University
NHL prospects: 0

The Saints opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 10th at RIT.

St. Lawrence is one of three ECAC teams, and the only non-Ivy League team, without an NHL prospect on their roster this season.

Last season, St. Lawrence possessed one of nation’s top offenses, averaging 3.21 goals per game which was good for 12th in the nation. The Saints were especially lethal on their NCAA-best power play that clicked at 27.2 percent. But with a number of key players from last year’s squad now gone, St. Lawrence will not only have a new look, but will face some daunting challenges, as well.

The biggest hurdle is replacing the scoring that left with Matt Carey (CHI), Jeremy Wick, defenseman Justin Baker, and Hobey Hat Trick finalist Greg Carey (ARZ). The quartet accounted for 46 percent of the team’s points and half of the team’s goals last season.

With so much of the offense now gone, the monumental task of replacing that this season will have to come by committee. Among the players that the Saints will be relying on for stepped up production is senior assistant captain Patrick Doherty. The Hamilton, NY native is coming off of a very good junior campaign where he finished with 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 38 games. Last season, Doherty established himself as a clutch scorer who can score in any situation.

Another area where the Saints lost a key player was in goal when starter Matt Weninger graduated. Competing this season to fill his role are sophomore Tyler Parks, junior Kyle MacDonald and newcomer Kyle Hayton. Parks and MacDonald played a combined 11 games for St. Lawrence last season. Parks finished with a 2-1-0 record in seven games, while MacDonald finished with a 0-2-0 record in four games.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Saints will be looking to their defensive corps to help stabilize things on the back end. But, as is the case in goal, St. Lawrence will also be predominantly young on defense with just one upperclassman patrolling the blueline.

Anchoring the Saints defensive corps is sophomore Gavin Bayreuther. The Canaan, NH native is coming off of a sensational freshman campaign where he led all St. Lawrence rearguards with 36 points (nine goals, 27 assists) in 38 games and was named to the ECAC’s All-Rookie and All-Third teams. His 36 points also finished third among all NCAA defensemen. After being passed over in his final year of draft eligibility in 2014, Bayreuther could potentially be among the most highly sought-after free agents available at season’s end.

In addition to their returning veterans, the Saints also welcome eight newcomers this season. One player well worth watching is defenseman Matt Purmal. The Merrill, WI native is a 6’3”, 205-pound defensive defenseman who is noted for his hard-nosed, shutdown style.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF