2013-14 ECAC season preview, part 1

By DJ Powers
Kellen Jones - Quinnipiac University

Photo: Quinnipiac University forward and Edmonton Oilers prospect Kellen Jones will be one of the main cogs in the Bobcats’ offensive attack in 2013-14 (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

 

The ECAC is one of two NCAA conferences that remain intact this season. And there are no changes to the membership in the foreseeable future.

In the first of two parts, Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the six non-Ivy League programs in the ECAC that will feature 11 NHL prospects spread among five of the teams. Quinnipiac leads all non-Ivies with five, followed by Clarkson with three. St. Lawrence is the only non-Ivy league program without an NHL prospect on their roster this season.

Quinnipiac University
NHL prospects: 5

The defending ECAC regular season champions will look to defend their crown when they open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th versus host Alaska-Anchorage in the Kendall Hockey Classic.

The Bobcats were one of the best stories emerging from the NCAA last season. Quinnipiac lost just five regular season games en route to capturing their first-ever ECAC regular season title. From there, the Bobcats made it all the way to the National Championship game, falling to intrastate foe Yale. Duplicating that magical year this season will be a challenge for Quinnipiac with a much younger team. A number of key players have graduated, and nowhere were the losses felt more than on the back end.

Now-graduated Eric Hartzell (PIT) was phenomenal in goal last season. The White Bear Lake, MN native was the backbone of the nation’s stingiest defense last season and earned numerous honors including being named both a Hobey Hat Trick finalist and to the All-America East First Team, as well as garnering the ECAC Goaltender and Player of the Year honors.

This season, sophomores Michael Garteig and Jacob Meyers, and newcomer Brady Rouleau will have the daunting task of trying to fill the enormous hole that Hartzell leaves. Garteig could likely be tapped as the starter. Despite appearing in only five games, Garteig played very well as Hartzell’s backup last season. The Prince George, BC native posted just one decision, a loss, and a 2.03 goals against average. He’s a goaltender that moves well and is an exceedingly good puck-handler. This summer, Garteig attended the New York Islanders' prospect camp.

With four of last season’s seven regulars having graduated, the Bobcats blueline will have a very different look and be predominantly younger this season. One of the anchors of Quinnipiac’s defensive corps is junior Dan Federico. The Acton MA native posted 11 points (all assists) in 42 games last season. He also led the nation among defensemen with a plus-22. Federico is a 6’1”, 205-pound rearguard who is very sound in his own zone. His game is simple yet smart and very effective.

Of the four rookie defensemen on the Bobcats roster this season, the one many will be watching is Connor Clifton. The Matawan, NJ native was a fifth round selection (133rd overall) of the Phoenix Coyotes in this past June’s NHL Draft. What Clifton lacks in size (5’11”, 165 lbs.) he makes up for with his excellent skating, tenacity and strong defensive play.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty on the defensive side for Quinnipiac heading into the season, the same can’t be said of their offensive side. Despite graduating five regulars, including top scorer Jeremy Langlois, Quinnipiac will again sport a very deep and talented group up front – and it will be one of their strengths this season, as well.

The motors driving the Bobcats offensive machine once again is their exciting top line of junior Matthew Peca (TBL) and senior twins Connor and Kellen Jones (EDM).

Peca returns as Quinnipiac’s top scorer after finishing his stellar sophomore campaign with 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 39 games. As good as Peca was last season, he could be even better this season. The Petawawa, ON native has rounded out his game nicely and that has made him a more effective player at both ends of the rink. Peca is as lethal defensively as he is offensively. His quickness and tremendous hockey sense are two assets that make Peca dangerous whenever and wherever he is on the ice.

The Jones twins have been equally good. Kellen and Connor finished with 27 and 26 points respectively last season. Kellen played in all 43 games, while Connor played in 37. While the twins are noted for their dynamic offensive side, it’s the growth of their defensive side that is notable here. The twins made tremendous strides in their development with their play away from the puck and in areas such as penalty killing, balancing those areas of their game quite effectively with their offensive side.

Senior Jordan Samuels-Thomas (WPG) returns as Quinnipiac’s top goal scorer after leading the team with 17 last season. The West Hartford, CT native finished third on the team with 29 points in 43 games. Samuels-Thomas’ combination of size, strength, physicality and offensive prowess have paid big dividends for the Bobcats and should continue to do so this season.

Clarkson University
NHL prospects: 3

The Golden Knights opened their 2013-14 season on Oct. 5th at Niagara.

2012-13 proved to be a very difficult season for Clarkson. The team struggled mightily with a myriad of injuries, especially in the first half of the season, and never really found their groove. The Golden Knights will look to get things back on track this season, but there are a number of issues that they’ll need to address to have a successful year.

The biggest hurdle is their defense. Clarkson finished 48th nationally last season with a defense that surrendered an average of 3.14 goals per game. The 113 total goals they allowed were the most of any ECAC team.

Of the three goaltenders on the Golden Knights roster last season, only starter Greg Lewis returns. The sophomore workhorse from Mars, PA posted a 9-18-6 record that included two shutouts in 34 games last season. Lewis struggled with consistency throughout last season, but the lack of defensive support certainly didn’t help his cause. While Lewis is likely to carry a heavy load for the Golden Knights again this season, he will also get competition for playing time from two newcomers in Steven Perry and Ville Runola.

Despite the loss of graduates Andrew Himmelson and Nik Pokulok, the defensive corps is shaping up to be much better this season. Among those expected to step up this season is sophomore Paul Geiger. The Stouffville, ON native led all Golden Knights defensemen with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists), earning a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. He was one of only four players to play in all 36 games last season. Geiger is an offensive defenseman with size (6’3”, 207 lbs.) and outstanding offensive skills. This summer, Geiger attended the Vancouver Canucks' prospect camp.

One rearguard that many be will be watching this season is newcomer James De Haas. The Mississauga, ON native was a sixth round selection (170th overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in 2012. At 6’3” and 205 pounds, de Haas will certainly add size to Clarkson’s blueline this season. He is noted for his skating and strong puck-moving skills.

Another area that the Golden Knights will need to address this season is getting increased offensive production throughout their lineup. Clarkson finished 41st nationally last season, averaging 2.47 goals per game. The 89 total goals that they racked up were the fewest among all non-Ivy League ECAC teams. The good news is the Golden Knights return all of their top scorers from last season.

Leading Clarkson’s offensive attack this season are seniors Allan McPherson and Ben Sexton (BOS). McPherson is coming off of an outstanding junior campaign where he led the Golden Knights in both assists (16) and points (25) in 34 games last season. McPherson is an excellent playmaking center who transitions exceedingly well. He possesses a good burst of speed and has a very quick shot.

Sexton, who will serve as team captain this season, is coming off of an injury-shortened junior season that limited him to 28 games and 20 points (five goals, 15 assists).  Although Sexton has played most of his collegiate career at center, he did see some time on wing last season. The Kanata, ON native is one of the catalysts of Clarkson’s offense and he does a very good job of setting the tempo of a game. While Sexton has always been a tenacious competitor, he has learned how to balance that with smart decisions, making him not only more of an offensive threat but also an effective leader.

In addition to the returning veterans, the Golden Knights will have also feature four freshman forwards, including Troy Josephs (PIT). The Whitby, ON native is a versatile center in that he can play wing equally well. Josephs is noted for his competitiveness and offensive skills, particularly on the power-play.

Colgate University
NHL prospects: 1

The Raiders opened their 2013-14 season on Oct. 5th hosting Ferris State.

For the first four months of last season, Colgate looked like a team that was poised for a serious run at the ECAC regular season title. But, that all changed in February and March, when the Raiders won just one game. This season, Colgate hopes to change that.

One area where the Raiders were hit hard by departures was on the blueline. Three of their top defensemen in Jeremy Price, Thomas Larkin (CBJ) and Nathan Sinz have all graduated. And while Colgate will be predominantly young on the blueline, there is some very good news heading into the season.

Junior Spiro Goulakos makes his much-anticipated return to the Raiders lineup this season. The rearguard from Montreal, QC left the team in January after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. With the cancer now in remission, Goulakos’ return is a real positive for Colgate’s defense in more ways than one. He has been named team captain and will provide both experience and stability on the blueline this season. Prior to his departure last season, Goulakos played in 26 games, posting 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists). He is also a mainstay on the Raiders power-play. Of his seven goals, four came on the man-advantage. Goulakos is a smooth skating defenseman that has size (6’2”, 185 ibs.) and moves the puck extremely well.

One returning defenseman that is poised to have a big year this season is sophomore Kevin Lough. The Kanata, ON native is coming off of an outstanding rookie campaign where he posted five points (one goal, four assists) in 36 games last season. Lough was paired much of the year with Larkin and logged upwards of 20-25 minutes per game. That experience, along with his skating and superb puck-moving ability, will make him a more valuable commodity on the Raiders blueline this season. Over the summer, Lough attended the Vancouver Canucks' prospect camp.

With a predominantly young defensive corps, Colgate will be looking to their netminders for added stability this season. The tandem of senior Eric Mihalik and sophomore Spencer Finney both return this season after very solid campaigns last season. Finney saw slightly more time, playing in 23 games, posting an 8-11-3 record that included one shutout. Mihalik posted a 6-7-1 record that included one shutout in 19 games. Despite posting losing records, both netminders posted save percentages above .900 last season. Challenging the two veterans for playing time this season is newcomer Charlie Finn.

Another area where Colgate suffered some significant losses was to their forward lines. The Raiders graduated four forwards, including one of last season’s top team scorers, Robbie Bourdon. And while those graduates will be missed, the Raiders forward lines are shaping up to be quite good again this season. The main reason for the optimism was the stellar play of the freshmen last season. Colgate’s rookie forwards accounted for 40% of the team’s total point production and all of them return this season.

Leading the group are the Spink twins. Tylor and Tyson Spink finished first and tied for second respectively in points last season. Tylor Spink returns as the team’s top scorer after posting 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 36 games. He was also one of two Raiders named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Tyson Spink led Colgate with 20 assists and finished with 27 points in 35 games. The Spink twins are fun to watch and play almost an identical game. Both are excellent skaters with good speed, and they are very creative with the puck. Tylor has established himself as more of a finisher, while Tyson is more of a playmaker.

Six of the Raiders’ ten newcomers this season are forwards, including the team’s only NHL prospect, Tim Harrison. The Duxbury, MA native was a sixth round selection (157th overall) of the Calgary Flames at the 2013 NHL Draft. Harrison is a 6’3”, 193-pound power forward who is noted for his physicality and strong puck skills.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
NHL prospects: 1

The Engineers open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 12th versus Sacred Heart.

RPI enjoyed a strong finish to their 2012-13 season, winning 12 of their final 16 games. With most of last season’s players returning along with a small and talented incoming group, the Engineers are in a good position to potentially win the ECAC crown this season. But as head coach Seth Appert explains, there’s still plenty of work to be done before reaching that point.

“We had a pretty strong second half last year and we return a good chunk of our team,” said Appert. “We certainly lost some leadership and some talent, but we like the team that we’re returning. We have the opportunity to get off to a good start and put ourselves in a good position to have a good season, but we also know that we do have a lot of work ahead of us.”

RPI graduated just five players and no loss was more significant than that of Nick Bailen. The Fredonia, NY native was the only defenseman in the NCAA to lead his team in scoring last season, posting 31 points (12 goals, 19 assists) in 35 games. While it’s difficult to replace a player of Bailen’s caliber, the Engineers will be looking to their returning veterans to fill at least part of the enormous hole that he leaves.

Among them is junior Curtis Leonard. The Napanee, ON native finished second on the team in defensive scoring last season with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 36 games. While Leonard isn’t likely to become the scorer that Bailen did, he can put up some good numbers. He has size (6’3”, 195 lbs.), is poised and patient with the puck, and has a blistering shot. This summer, Leonard attended the Calgary Flames' prospect camp.

Last season, RPI sported the nation’s 12th-ranked defense that allowed just 2.38 goals per game. The main reason for those numbers was the brilliant play of sophomore goaltender Jason Kasdorf (WPG). The Winnipeg, MB native posted a 14-5-2 record that included three shutouts in 23 appearances, a performance that earned Kasdorf the ECAC Rookie of the Year award. Kasdorf’s 1.62 goals-against average finished fourth nationally while his .935 save percentage finished seventh. Appert attributes Kasdorf’s success to his tremendous work ethic and focus.

“I think Jason has improved in many areas,” said Appert of his goaltender. “He’s learning how to play a more controlled, calmer game. He’s got a good work ethic and I think that’s what eventually won him the starting job and endeared him to his teammates, as well, because he works so hard. When Jason wasn’t playing, he simply went about his business of trying to get better and help our team win. I think when players do that and their focus is on those things as well as trying to buy into what we’re all about and what we’re working on, great things can happen both individually and collectively. I think Jason did a very good job of that last year. He does have some things that he needs to continue to work on, but the focus will be very similar. It needs to be so that he can put himself and our team in a position to have success.”

Competing with Kasdorf for playing time this season are junior Scott Diebold and freshman Jake Soffer. Diebold appeared in seven games last season, posting a 2-4-1 record.

With all of their top scoring forwards returning this season, the Engineers will have great depth throughout their lines, which should help boost their overall offensive numbers.

Junior Matt Neal returns as RPI’s top scorer. The Minesing, ON native led the Engineers with 22 assists and finished second on the team with 30 points in 34 games last season. Neal also finished his excellent sophomore campaign without accumulating any penalties minutes.

One returning veteran who is poised to take a significant step this season is sophomore Mike Zalewski. The New Hartford, NY native finished tied for first on the team with 12 goals and finished fifth with 21 points in 36 games. Zalewski is the younger sibling of former San Jose Sharks draft pick and Clarkson standout, Steve Zalewski. The younger Zalewski has good size (6’2”, 210 lbs.), is fiercely competitive, and uses those attributes well in battles for loose pucks.

RPI welcomes five newcomers this season and one to keep an eye on is Parker Reno. The Edina, MN native is a 6’1”, 205-pound defensive defenseman who is noted for making smart decisions and controlling his gaps well. After being passed over in this past June’s NHL Draft, Reno will be eligible again in 2014.

St. Lawrence University
NHL prospects: 0

The Saints open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th hosting Maine.

Last season, St. Lawrence featured three of the most dynamic players in all of college hockey. But two of them, Kyle Flanagan and defenseman George Hughes, have graduated. They, along with returning senior Greg Carey, accounted for a whopping 45% of the team’s entire point production last season. This season, the Saints will look to their returning veterans and large incoming class to pick up the slack left by Flanagan and Hughes. But with Carey returning, much of the focus this season will be on him.

The Hamilton, ON native returns after a sensational junior campaign where he led the nation in both goal scoring (28) and power-play goals (14). Carey finished tied for fourth nationally with 51 points in 38 games. He, along with Flanagan, were named Hobey Baker top ten finalists last season. St. Lawrence was one of only two schools to accomplish such a feat. As head coach Greg Carvel explains, opposing teams won’t be the only ones targeting Carey this season.

“I think Greg was a one-dimensional player for a couple of years here,” said Carvel of Carey. “We’ve been working with Greg to round out his game and make him better along the wall and being defensively responsible there. He’s come back in the best shape of his life because he’s going to be one of the top free agents in college hockey at the end of the season. He’s much quicker on the ice and I think that’s going to be scary for other teams because he’s going to be able to separate and get more shots on net. I think the thing that I’m most excited about with Greg is that he’s really shown the commitment necessary to go on to play professional hockey and, with the way he scores goals, I think NHL teams will have to give Greg a long, hard look. They did that last year and I don’t think that they felt that his game was fully developed enough. So I’m really excited that Greg’s going to take another big step forward this year.”

One of St. Lawrence’s strengths this season will be in goal. Senior Matt Weninger is coming off a record-setting junior season, posting an 18-16-4 record that included two shutouts. He finished second among all ECAC goaltenders in games (38) and minutes played (2259:28). Weninger played all but 67:73 minutes last season. He also set numerous school careers records, including games (98) and minutes played (5660:28). Weninger’s maturity can be seen in his calming presence and improved ability to keep his team in games each night, both of which will be especially crucial to the Saints success this season.

“As a coach, I think it’s pretty comforting to have that kind of veteran presence in your net because Matt’s seen a lot,” stated Carvel. “The thing I like about Matt is that he’s a very even-keeled, mature kid. He’s had to play in all situations. Matt started every game last year and I don’t know if that’s always the best thing. I think he needs to have a little bit of competition and he’ll get that. Hopefully with what Matt has learned from Kris (Mayotte), the experience that he has and the competition that he’ll get this year, he’ll continue to be that backbone for our team.”

Weninger’s ability to help stabilize the back end will be key for St. Lawrence this season because the blueline will be considerably younger. In addition to losing George Hughes, the Saints also graduated stalwarts Jordan Dewey, Mac Stratford and Matt Dyer.

Leading the defensive corps this season is senior Justin Baker. The Toronto, ON native finished second on the team in defensive scoring last season with 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 38 games. All of his five goals came on the power-play. Baker is a smooth skating, 6’2” and 190-pound defenseman who moves the puck really well and possesses a very hard shot.

Of the ten freshmen on St. Lawrence’s roster this season, four are defensemen. The one to watch is Gavin Bayreuther. The Canaan, NH is the youngest player on this season’s team. He’s noted for his strong skating and superb puck-moving skills. After being passed over in the 2013 NHL Draft, Bayreuther will be eligible again in 2014.

“Gavin is one of our blue chip prospects that could play right away,” said Carvel. “He’s an offensive defenseman and we’re expecting him to be one of the guys that will fill the role that George [Hughes] left. Gavin skates well, he’s got good puck skills and a good shot. Gavin is still pretty raw and I don’t think it’ll be a real easy transition for him, but once he figures out where he needs to be at the collegiate level, I think he’s going to be a very good defenseman.”

Union College
NHL prospects: 1

The defending ECAC Tournament champions open their 2013-14 season on Oct. 11th hosting Bowling Green.

Union College is coming off of another terrific season that saw them make their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. If the Dutchmen hope to continue that trend this season, they will have several issues that will need to be addressed first.

One of the most pressing is replacing the offense that left with four of last season’s top five scorers moving on. Wayne Simpson, Kyle Bodie and defenseman Greg Coburn have all graduated, while Josh Jooris opted to forego his senior year in late July to sign with the Calgary Flames. The group accounted for 38% of the team’s scoring last season. The good news coming into this season is that the Dutchmen have an outstanding group of returning veterans and some talented newcomers that could help replenish the aforementioned losses.

Senior Daniel Carr returns as Union College’s top scorer. The Sherwood Park, AB native co-led the Dutchmen with 16 goals and six power-play goals. He finished third on the team with 32 points in 40 games en route to earning a spot on the All-ECAC Third Team.

One returning veteran that is poised to have a very good year this season is junior Daniel Ciampini. The Concord, ON native is coming off of an outstanding sophomore campaign where he recorded 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 36 games last season. Ciampini excelled playing alongside Simpson and Kyle Bodie on Union College’s top line last season. His main weapon is quickness, and he uses that to his advantage, particularly when driving to the net. Head coach Rick Bennett notes that driving to the net was where his young winger made the greatest strides last season.

“Daniel was given every opportunity on the first line and on the power-play to produce points and that’s exactly what he did,” said Bennett. “One area that we felt Daniel made a huge jump in was going to the net. If you’re willing to go to the net and pay the price, you’re usually rewarded for that. And he did that.”

Another issue for the Dutchmen heading into the season is in goal. Former All-American Troy Grosenick opted to forego his senior season to sign with the San Jose Sharks. Junior Colin Stevens will be competing with newcomer Alex Sakellaropoulos for the starting job this season. Stevens, who was Grosenick’s backup last season and played remarkably well, appeared in 12 games and finished with a 5-3-0 record that included three shutouts. Also in the mix is sophomore Dillon Pieri, who appeared in one game in relief but did not get a decision.

Defensively, Union College is shaping up to be quite good once again this season, but they will be younger, too. Stalwarts Coburn, Shawn Stuart and Ryan Forgaard have all graduated. The Dutchmen also lost Tim Boyle (OTT), who left the program to play in the USPHL this season.

Anchoring Union College’s blueline this season is junior Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). The Margate, FL native emerged as one of the nation’s top defensemen last season. He finished his terrific sophomore campaign with 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in 36 games. Gostisbehere’s time with the gold medal-winning USA squad at the World Junior Championship paid big dividends for the Dutchmen in the second half. He returned with a renewed sense of confidence and played with a bit more of an edge. Gostisbehere also began to use his tools more advantageously. This was especially noticeable in his footwork. That, along with his superb hands, allowed Gostisbehere to be more elusive in tight areas.

“I thought the biggest things that Shayne brought back from the World Juniors that helped us were his overall confidence and just being level headed,” Bennett said of top defender. “He came back as a more confident player. You could see it right away. Shayne has tremendous hockey sense. That, along with the way he competes I think are his biggest attributes. And those things, especially the way he competes, has made Shayne so much better. The one thing that we want Shayne to do this year is to be able to make those five-foot passes, keep it simple and get rid of those “sir mix-a-lot” hands. And it’s something that we’ve been working with him on for the past few years. We want Shayne to find a balance where he uses those great hands of his, but at the same time not have the “sir mix-a-lot” hands. I think if Shayne can do that, it can make him even better and help our team.”

In addition to returning veterans, Union College will also welcome nine newcomers to the fold this season. One to keep an eye on is forward Alex Goyne. The New Canaan, CT native is noted for his speed, great hands and offensive prowess. Goyne is eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF