ECAC 2010-11 season preview part one

By DJ Powers

The always-unpredictable ECAC is shaping up to be an exciting division to watch again. This season, the ECAC features 35 players drafted by NHL teams.

The 35 NHL prospects represent nine of the 12 conference teams. The lone ECAC teams without an NHL prospect on their rosters are Brown, St. Lawrence and Union College. Clarkson and Colgate lead all conference teams with seven prospects apiece, followed by Cornell, Dartmouth and Harvard with four each. In this first of two-parts, Hockey’s Future takes closer look at each non-Ivy League member school. All noted start dates are for non-exhibition, regular season games.

Clarkson University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 7

The 2009-10 season proved to be a forgettable for the Golden Knights. One reason for the team’s demise can be attributed to the myriad of injuries that decimated the team last season. Clarkson had only four players on the roster that played in all 37 games. In addition, a lack of offensive production and their numerous defensive struggles help them finish in the ECAC basement.

The good news coming into the season for Clarkson is that nearly the entire team returns intact and are healthy.

Nowhere was Clarkson’s weakness last season more evident than in their defensive game. The team ranked 54th in the nation, surrendering an average of 3.68 goals per game. The 136 total goals against were the most of any ECAC team. Equally as horrendous was their penalty-kill, which ranked 53rd with an efficiency rating of 76.9 percent. But this season, those numbers should vastly improve.

Among the Golden Knights defensive leaders this season is senior Bryan Rufenach (DET). The Barrie, ONT native was one of the few bright spots for Clarkson last season. One notable area where he made quite an impact was on the offensive side. Rufenach led all Golden Knights blueliners with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 34 games.

“We felt that Bryan had a strong year offensively for us,” noted head coach George Roll. “He’s also continued to improve on his defensive game too. We feel really good about our defense. I think that it’ll be one of our strengths this year and Bryan will be a big part of that.”

Another area that should improve this season is in goal. Clarkson returns the trio of juniors Paul Karpowich (STL) and Richie LaVeau, and sophomore Cody Rosen (NYI). While Karpowich will most likely be this year’s starter after appearing in 31 games and going 8-19-4 last season, the battle behind him will be the one to watch.

Rosen was one of the surprise selections at the 2010 NHL Draft this past June. The New York Islanders selected the Kingston, ONT native in the seventh round (185th overall), despite playing just 20 minutes last season. As Roll explains, Rosen will certainly be challenging for more playing time this season.

“I was certainly surprised that Cody was taken (in the draft), but I will tell you that he’s worked extremely hard. Of our three goaltenders, I think Cody has made the biggest improvement from last year to this year. I think Cody’s conditioning is much improved and it shows on the ice. He has clearly made some marked improvements. He’s much quicker, more agile and he’s much stronger through his core. So Cody is headed in the right direction. I’m proud of the way he came back and he’s given himself a chance to play some more minutes this year.”

One of Clarkson’s strength this season will be the depth in their forwards lines, which should help to boost their ECAC-low 92-goal output of last season. The Golden Knights return a good mix of veterans and add some outstanding newcomers to the mix.

The one to keep an eye on is Ben Sexton (BOS). The Kanata, ONT native is one of the youngest Golden Knights and could make an immediate impact on the team this season.

“Ben is a guy that certainly should be able to make impact for us,” said Roll. “He’s a physical, in-your-face type of player with a real good touch around the net. Ben can also make plays too. He’s one of those guys that competes at a high level and brings it in every shift. We feel that Ben can step in and be a force for us.”

Colgate University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 7

Colgate will be looking to build on a strong 2009-10 campaign when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 9 versus Army in Hyannis, MA.

The Raiders fought to fourth-place finish in the ECAC last season. And as good as they were last season; Colgate looks to be even better this season. The Raiders lost seven players in the off-season, but with an excellent returning group of veterans and a stellar freshman class, Colgate is also shaping up to be one of the most well-balanced teams in the ECAC as well.

Defense looks to be one of the Raiders strengths. Colgate returns their predominantly young blue line intact, which should bode well in improving their defensive numbers. The Raiders ranked 45th in the nation last season with a defense that surrendered an average of 3.31 goals per game.

One returning defenseman to watch is sophomore Jeremy Price (VAN). The outstanding puck-moving defenseman made great strides in his development over the course of the 2009-10 season, and it is certain to pay off for the Raiders this season. The Milton, ONT native is the younger sibling of former Boston College standout Matt Price. The younger Price appeared in 35 games last season, posting 14 points (six goals, eight assists). As head coach Don Vaughan explains, Price has only just begun to show what he is capable of.

“Jeremy was thrown into the fire right out of the gate and began to hit his stride in the second half for us. He is just really solid all the way around. Jeremy played in all situations for us last season and will continue to do that this year. One of the things that we tried to get Jeremy to do last season was to get more involved. He’s the kind of kid that can simplify the game and make the right plays, but he’s also got the ability to get up the ice too. So we’ve been trying to encourage him to do more of that as well as shoot the puck more. He’s got a great shot. We think Jeremy has a future in the game and has all of the tools to be a real good pro.”

All but one of Colgate’s off-season losses came up front. The most notable was David McIntyre (SJ). The Pefferlaw, ONT native led the Raiders with 28 assists and finished second with 39 points in 35 games. He also led Colgate with 60 penalty minutes. McIntyre capped the year with being named to the All-ECAC Second Team.

Despite the loss of McIntyre and five other forwards from last season, Colgate will be quite deep on their forward lines this season. Leading the Raiders offensive attack are junior Austin Smith (DAL) and senior Brian Day (NYI). Smith led Colgate with 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) in all 36 games last season. Day finished third on the team with 36 points (21 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. Where Day was particularly dangerous was on the Raiders power play where seven of his goals were scored.

Adding depth to the team’s forward lines this season is a quintet of talented newcomers. The one to keep an eye is Chris Wagner. The Walpole, MA native created a lot of buzz around the scouting community before he was taken in the fifth round (122nd overall) by the Anaheim Ducks this past June. He’s a small but tenacious player who is quite good around the net. As Vaughan explains, the buzz that Wagner created is almost certain to carry over this season.

“Chris comes in with great credentials, and from what I’ve seen early on, he doesn’t play like a freshman. Obviously, Anaheim saw something in Chris and we’re seeing now. He’s a strong kid with great awareness on the ice and likes to play in the high traffic areas. So Chris a keeper for us and we’re excited about having him.”

Quinnipiac University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 2

After a red-hot start, the Bobcats ended up finishing seventh in the ECAC last season. This season, Quinnipiac will look to have a better finish in hopes of capturing the ECAC title and getting to the NCAA Tournament.

Quinnipiac was one of the ECAC’s most offensively explosive teams last season. And the Bobcats did it with great production throughout their lineup, averaging 3.08 goals per game. The 123 total goals scored were the third most of any ECAC team behind only Yale and Union College. Coming into this season however, Quinnipiac will face quite a challenge to match or better those numbers.

The Bobcats suffered all of their off-season losses at forward, which includes four of their top five scorers graduating in Brandon Wong, Eric Lampe, Jean-Marc Beaudoin and Greg Holt. The quartet accounted for 43 percent of Quinnipiac’s entire offensive production last season. Wong, now a member of the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack, led the Bobcats with 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) playing in 40 games last season. Where he proved to be particularly dangerous was on the power play. Wong’s 14 power play tallies ranked second in the nation. Lampe, now a member of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, finished second with 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) also in 40 games. Beaudoin finished third with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists) in 38 games, and Holt rounds out the group with 30 points (ten goals, 20 assists) in 39 games.

Despite the losses, the Quinnipiac forward lines are shaping up to be quite good this season. In addition to a terrific returning group of veterans, the Bobcats also bring in a very solid freshman class. And the one newcomer to watch is Kellen Jones. The Montrose, BC native was a seventh-round (202nd overall) selection of the Edmonton Oilers this past June. As head coach Rand Pecknold explains, Jones will bring a lot skill and excitement to Quinnipiac this season.

“I was very shocked that Kellen lasted until the seventh round. He has great hockey sense, but I would say that his number one skill is his motor. His intensity is off the chart. He just goes, goes, goes. It is phenomenal. He’s a good skater and just a really good, honest player. He never takes a shift off. As a freshman, he is already on our top line. Kellen does still need to learn and adapt to how to play defense at this level, but I think he’ll be an excellent two-way player once he does that.”

Goaltending looks to be Quinnipiac’s strongest position coming into this season. They return all four of their goaltenders this season led by junior Dan Clarke. The Belleville, ONT native was solid in net for the Bobcats last season, posting 15-15-2 record that included two shutouts to go along with a 2.52 goals against average and .913 save percentage.

One area where Quinnipiac proved to be especially lethal last season was on special teams. The Bobcats were the only ECAC team to rank in the top 20 nationally on both the power play and penalty-kill. Quinnipiac ranked fifth with a power play that clicked at 84.5 percent. Their equally effective penalty-kill ranked 12th with a 21.9 percent efficiency rating.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 3

Few teams in the ECAC lost more impact players this off-season than RPI. And how the returning players and newcomers fare this season will determine where the Engineers will finish.

Nowhere was RPI hit harder than up front. Two of the Engineers premier players in Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri have opted to forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibilities to sign with Toronto and Chicago respectively. D’Amigo, the ECAC Rookie of the Year, enjoyed a sensational year both with RPI and Team USA’s WJC squad last season. He finished third on the Engineers roster with 34 points (ten goals, 24 assists) in 35 games. Pirri enjoyed an equally sensational year, joining D’Amigo on the ECAC All-Rookie team. He led RPI in rookie scoring with 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) playing in all 39 games. Pirri’s 43 points also ranked second in the nation in rookie scoring, while his 32 assists tied him for tenth overall.

Despite the losses of D’Amigo and Pirri, the RPI forward lines are shaping up to be very good this season. Leading the Engineers offensive attack is returning senior sensation Chase Polacek. The Edina, MN native is coming off of a magnificent junior campaign that saw him garner the ECAC Player of the Year honor as well as being named a Hobey Baker Top Ten finalist and selected to the All-America East First Team. He is also a potential candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award. The dynamic Polacek led the Engineers with 52 points (26 goals, 26 assists) playing in all 39 games. His 52 points ranked tied for sixth in the nation. Polacek’s stellar year hasn’t gone unnoticed by NHL teams either. He is poised to be one of the top free agents at season’s end.

Goaltending looks to be RPI’s strongest position coming into the season. And with some significant losses on the blue line this off-season, the Engineers goaltending will be relied on to help solidify their defense. RPI’s main to-go guy between the pipes is junior Allen York. The Wetaskiwin, AB native was brilliant in goal last season, posting a 14-13-4 record that included one shutout in 33 appearances. He also posted a .910 save percentage and a 2.54 goals against average and capped the year with a selection to the All-ECAC Second Team.

One area where RPI has continually improved since the arrival of head coach Seth Appert five years ago has been in their recruiting. This season, the Engineers bring a very good group of freshman that includes four defensemen. The one to watch is Patrick Koudys. The Smithville, ONT native, who is eligible for the 2011 Draft, has already drawn considerable NHL interest. This summer, he participated in the NHL’s Research, Development and Orientation (RDO) camp. Koudys is a terrific puck-moving defenseman with size that thinks the game really well and can add some scoring punch from the blue line.

St. Lawrence University
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

The Saints finished fifth in the ECAC last season, reaching the conference semi-finals. Repeating last season’s strong finish will be a challenge coming into this season.

St. Lawrence lost 11 players in the off-season. And nowhere were they hit harder than in goal. The excellent tandem of Kain Tisi and Alex Petizian has graduated. So solidifying their goaltending situation as quickly as possible will be a top priority for St. Lawrence this season. Tisi, who saw the bulk of the work, appeared in 27 games, posting an 11-9-3 record that included one shutout. Petizian appeared in 14 contests, posting a 5-6-3 record. Junior Robby Moss returns as the Saints only experienced netminder, but he only played in seven games last season, posting a 3-1-1 record. He’ll get some competition from fellow junior Joe Spadaccini, who did not play last season, and newcomer Matt Weninger.

Defense looks to be St. Lawrence’s strongest position heading into this season and will be relied upon to help stabilize their goaltending. One rearguard to keep an eye on is sophomore George Hughes. The Westwood, MA native is a superb puck-moving defenseman that has become a mainstay on the Saints power play. Hughes enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign, leading the team in defenseman scoring with 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 41 games, and capping the year with a selection to the ECAC All-Rookie Team. Hughes has also garnered some NHL interest after having attended the Dallas Stars prospects camp this summer.

Another area where St. Lawrence took some key hits was up front, losing three of their top four scorers. Top two scorers Travis Vermeulen and Mike McKenzie both graduated. Top scoring sophomore Brandon Bollig opted to forego the remainder of his collegiate eligibility to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks. Vermeulen led the Saints last season with 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) playing in all 42 games. McKenzie finished second with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) in 41 games. Bollig finished fourth with 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 42 games.

St. Lawrence’s top returning scorer is sophomore Kyle Flanagan. The Canton, NY native finished third on the team with 28 points (five goals, 23 assists) in 32 appearances.

Union College
Number of NHL prospects on roster: 0

Union College will look to build on a successful 2009-10 campaign when they open their 2010-11 season on Oct. 8 hosting Sacred Heart.

The Dutchmen were one of the best stories coming out of the ECAC last season. Union reached the ECAC Championship game this past spring and fell just short of winning it, falling to Cornell 0-3. This season, the Dutchmen are poised to be one of the top contenders for this year’s title.

Union was arguably the ECAC’s most balanced team in 2009-10. The Dutchmen were the only conference team that ranked in the top 20 nationally in both offense and defense. Union ranked eighth in the nation with an offense that averaged 3.44 goals per game. The team’s 134 total goals were the second most in the ECAC. Only Yale scored more goals. Their equally excellent defense ranked 14th, surrendering an average of 2.56 goals per game. The 100 total goals allowed were the fewest in the ECAC behind only Cornell.

Union graduated eight players this off-season. The most notable were forwards Mario Valery-Trabucco and Jason Walters, and top defenseman Mike Schreiber. The trio comprised three of the Dutchmen’s top four scorers last season. Valery-Trabucco, an All-ECAC Second Team selection, led Union with 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games. Walters finished second with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) also in 38 games. Schreiber, one of the ECAC’s best defensemen in last season, led all Union blueliners with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) playing in all 39 games.

Despite the loss of the three aforementioned players, Union looks to be quite balanced again this season. While the Dutchmen didn’t have many prolific goal-scorers last season, the team did an outstanding job of getting offensive production throughout their lineup. And that’s not likely to change much this season.

Leading Union’s offensive attack is senior Adam Presizniuk. The Calgary, AB native is the top returning scorer after posting 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 38 games last season. Presizniuk, who has also drawn some NHL interest, is blessed with great hands and playmaking ability that is strong on the puck.

Goaltending is shaping up to be Union’s strongest position coming into the season. The excellent tandem of sophomore Keith Kinkaid and senior Cory Milan have returned. Kincaid enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign that earned him a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie team and is one player well worth watching. The Farmingville, NY native appeared in 25 games last season, posting a 12-8-4 record that included one shutout. Kincaid also has garnered NHL interest after having attended the New York Rangers prospects camp this summer. Milan played equally well between the Union pipes last season. He appeared in 17 games, posting a 9-4-3 record that included one shutout. His 2.06 goals against average ranked fifth in the nation, while his .917 save percentage ranked tied for 14th in the nation.