ECAC 2011-12 season preview, Part 2 (Ivy League)

By DJ Powers

Photo: Nick D’Agostino (PIT) is a steady, two-way defenseman entering his third season with Cornell. (Photo courtesy of Ian Altenbaugh/HF)

Part two of Hockey’s Future’s ECAC Preview takes a look at the six Ivy League schools, whose 2011-12 regular seasons get underway this weekend. Part one can be found here.

Yale University
NHL prospects: 3

The reigning Ivy League and ECAC Tournament champions will look to successfully defend their crowns when they open their 2011-12 season on October 28th facing off against Princeton in the Ivy Shootout in Hanover, NH.

Last season, Yale was one of the nation’s most prolific and well-balanced teams. The Bulldogs (aka Elis) were one of only two teams (North Dakota was the other) in the nation that averaged more than four goals per game. The 151 totals that they scored ranked third in the nation. With the exception of defenseman Gus Young (COL), every skater on the team’s roster posted at least one goal last season.

Equally as good was Yale’s defense. The Elis allowed just 74 goals and allowed an average of 2.06 goals per game, both of which led the nation.

Coming into this season however, those numbers defensive could be a challenge to match or better.

The biggest issue facing Yale entering the 2011-12 campaign is in goal. Last season’s top netminder Ryan Rondeau has graduated. The Carvel, AB native appeared in 33 games last season, posting a 26-5-1 record that included a nation-tying six shutouts.

The Elis return their two backup netminders in juniors Jeff Malcolm and Nick Maricic. The duo combined for one win in five appearances last season. Challenging the veterans is newcomer Connor Wilson. How Yale fares this season will depend largely on their consistency in net.

With the uncertainty in goal, the Elis will be relying on their blue line to stabilize things on the back end. Yale graduated three of their top six defensemen in Jimmy Martin, Mike Matczak, and Ken Trentkowski. Despite those losses, the Elis look very strong on defense coming into this season. Seniors Kevin Peel and Nick Jaskowiak anchor the Yale blue line. Sophomore Gus Young, who saw limited action in just five games last season, could see an expanded role and significant more ice time this season.

The Elis greatest strength once again looks to be in their explosive forward lines. While Yale has graduated five forwards, including 40-plus point producers Broc Little and Denny Kearney, it is shaping up to be another immensely deep group this season.

Senior Brian O’Neill leads the Elis’ offensive charge this season. The Yardley, PA native led Yale with 45 points (20 goals, 25 assists) in 35 games last season. O’Neill, who was selected to the All-ECAC First team, also led the Elis with 10 power play goals and co-led the team with a plus-25. The 5’9, 170 pound right winger was part of a terrific line for Yale that also featured junior Andrew Miller and the now-graduated Chris Cahill. O’Neill is a quick, elusive winger with really nice hands. He is equally good at both finishing and setting up plays.

One returning player that is poised to have an excellent year this season is sophomore Ken Agostino (PIT). The Flanders, NJ native led all Elis rookies with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) in 30 games last season and in the process established himself as one of the most promising young wingers coming out of the ECAC. Two things that made Agostino so successful last season were in how he utilized his tremendous speed and his ability to get shots off quickly. His success at the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp this summer should greatly benefit his Yale team this season. As head coach Keith Allain explains, Agostino’s commitment and focus have not only contributed greatly to his adjustment to the collegiate game, but will allow him to become a more dominant player in years to come as well.

"Kenny’s worked extremely hard to make the jump from prep school to college hockey, and has continued working to improve upon his freshman year. His gains are a direct result of his focus and commitment level. He has increased his strength and overall fitness level, has worked to become a more efficient skater, but most importantly he has improved upon the quickness of his play. He can both physically and mentally operate at a much higher tempo than he could a year ago."

In addition to the returning veterans, Yale also welcomes nine newcomers to his season. One player to keep an eye on is defenseman Matt Killian. The Basking Ridge, NJ native is an excellent skating, puck-moving rearguard with size (6’1, 200lbs).

Brown University
NHL prospects: 1

The Bears open their 2011-12 season on October 28th facing off against host Dartmouth in the Ivy Shootout in Hanover, NH.

Despite going 3-2-1 in their last six regular season games last season, Brown was bounced from the ECAC Tournament in the first round by Quinnipiac. This season, the Bears will look to change that.

One area where Brown struggled mightily last season was on defense. The team allowed an average of 3.45 goals per game, which ranked 50th in the nation. The 107 total goals that the Bears allowed were the most of any Ivy League team. This season, those numbers should significantly improve.

Brown returns all three of their goaltenders and will be looking for more consistency out of them this season. Senior Mike Clemente, who played in the majority of games last season, will be the Bears starter this season. The Great Falls, VA native appeared in 26 games last season, posting an 8-12-5 record. Junior Anthony Borelli and sophomore Marco De Filippo will be challenging Clemente.

The Bears blue line, dominated by underclassmen again this season, will be a more experienced group. Among those leading the defensive corps is sophomore Dennis Robertson. Robertson, a sixth round (173rd overall) selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs in this past June’s Draft, led the team in defensemen scoring last season with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 29 games. Robertson, along with fellow sophomore Matt Wahl, made up Brown’s outstanding top defensive pairing last season that logged upwards of 25-30 minutes of ice time per game. The Fort St. John, BC native is an excellent puck-moving defenseman that possesses a very heavy shot. One attribute that made Robertson such a valuable part of the Bears’ defensive corps last season was his decision-making. It wasn’t often that he could be found making glaring mistakes either with or without the puck. As head coach Brendan Whittet explains, Robertson may have been a freshman last season, but he didn’t look like one.

"Dennis played a lot of minutes for us last season because he has the capacity to do that. He’ll do that again this year. Dennis didn’t look like a freshman last year. He didn’t get beat a lot in one-on-one situations and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Dennis has become a very reliable and steady defenseman for us. He’s a powerful kid that skates well and has great lateral ability. We were all real happy for Dennis when he got drafted because he has a high upside and potential."

Brown suffered most of their losses upfront, and none were more significant than the Ivy League’s Player of the Year in Harry Zolnierczyk. The Toronto, ONT native co-led the Bears with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 29 games last season. Zolnierczyk, who eventually signed with the Philadelphia Flyers at season’s end, was one of the most highly-sought after collegiate free agents last season.

Senior Jack Maclellan, who centered the Bears’ excellent top line with Zolnierczyk and returning junior Chris Zaires last season, has generated quite a bit of buzz around the NHL scouting community. The Calgary, AB native co-led the team with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 25 games last season. Maclellan, who was offered an NHL contract at the end of last season, opted to return to Brown this season. In addition to being a top collegiate free agent once again, Maclellan is also a potential candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award as well. What makes Maclellan such a great player is his abilities to dictate the tempo of a game and make those around him better. As the Bears’ team captain this season, Maclellan already possesses strong leadership qualities and how he goes, so goes Brown.

"Jack is a very, very creative player with a high skill level," Whittet said of Maclellan. "He can create offense with his hands and vision. Jack is a guy that also has done a lot of the little things that have allowed him to have a real shot at playing at the pro level too. He’s constantly on the ice working on his game and he does everything the right way. Jack is a very intelligent, mature player that is a wonderful representative of Brown and we’ll be relying on him a lot this season."

In addition to their returning veterans, Brown also welcomes nine newcomers. One player to watch is center Matt Harlow. The Bridgewater, MA native is the son of former Boston College All-American Scott Harlow. The younger Harlow is noted for his outstanding play around the net, vision, and compete level.

"Matt has good bloodlines and really understands the game," said Whittet. "He’s very crafty and sees the ice well. I’m expecting some good things out of Matt as he develops and adjusts to this level."

Cornell University
NHL prospects: 7

The Big Red open their 2011-12 season on October 29th hosting Mercyhurst.

A strong defense has always been a cornerstone of Cornell hockey and that was the case last season. The Big Red made it all the way to the ECAC tournament championship game behind a defense that allowed an average of 2.59 goals per game, which ranked 18th nationally. Where Cornell was especially dangerous was on the penalty kill. The Big Red posted an efficiency rating of 84.8 percent on the penalty kill last season, which ranked ninth in the nation. With an excellent defensive group returning, Cornell could match or better those numbers this season.

Although the Big Red graduated Mike Garman, the team will be in good hands in net with the return of outstanding sophomore Andy Iles. An Ithaca, NY native, Iles split duties with Garman last season, giving Cornell one of the best goaltending tandems in all of college hockey. Iles, who won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2011 World Junior Championships, appeared in 18 games last season and posted an 8-7-2 record. He capped his strong freshman campaign with a selection to the ECAC All-Rookie team. He is a goaltender that possesses great athleticism and composure. A 1992-born player, Iles was passed over in last June’s Draft, but will be eligible again in 2012.

Supporting Iles on the back end is an excellent group of returning veterans and promising newcomers on the blue line. Among those leading the Big Red defense is junior Nick D’Agostino (PIT). The Bolton, ONT native led all Cornell rearguards with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 32 games. Of D’Agostino’s 17 points, seven (two goals, five assists) came in the team’s nine Ivy League games. His seven points ranked second among all Ivy League defensemen and earned him a spot on the All-Ivy League Second team. D’Agostino is an offensive defenseman with size (6’2, 181 lbs) that possesses a terrific shot. He has also become a mainstay on the team’s power play and moves the puck exceedingly well.

"Nick has continued to produce offense for us," head coach Mike Shafer said of D’Agostino. "He jumps into the play and creates five-on-five goals as well as plays on our power play. Since he’s been here, Nick has become more of a defensive defenseman as well, by going up against the top opposing players. He had a bit of rough start last year, but by the end of the year, Nick got much better technically. I think as he gets better defensively, the more offensive chances he’s going to get. In a league like the ECAC that has some pretty good offensive defensemen, I think Nick will be right up there with them."

Five of the seven players that the Big Red graduated last spring were forwards, including their top two goal scorers in Joe Devin and Tyler Roeszler. The duo, who posted 17 and 12 goals respectively, were the only players on the Cornell roster last season to net 10 or more goals.

One returning player that the Big Red will be relying on to step up his offensive production is senior Sean Collins (CBJ). The Saskatoon, SK native, one of just three seniors on this season’s roster, posted 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in 34 games last season. Collins slightly bettered his 10 points from two seasons ago, but he has made great strides in his ability to create scoring opportunities. Where this was particularly noticeable was in his more frequent and harder drives to net, and willingness to go into the difficult areas. Collins’ 6’2 205 pound frame was utilized quite effectively in front of the opposing team’s net as well.

"I think Sean put some much pressure on himself early last year that he struggled offensively," said Shafer. "He ended up putting up seven goals for us, but they all came in the second half. I think Sean was able to finally score because he focused on the process and not the result. We’re hoping that he’ll be able to carry that over and have maybe a 12 to 16-goal year for us. If Sean can do that, it’ll be very good for us."

In addition to their returning group, Cornell will also be looking to their stellar 10-member incoming class to help boost their numbers this season. The one player to watch is Joel Lowry. Lowry, a fifth round (140th overall) selection of the Los Angeles Kings, is the eldest son of former NHLer Dave Lowry. The younger Lowry is noted for his superb hockey sense and vision. Lowry also plays equally well at both ends of the ice.

Dartmouth College
NHL prospects: 3

The Big Green open their 2011-12 season on October 28th hosting Brown in the Ivy Shootout in Hanover, NH.

Dartmouth quietly established itself as one of the nation’s most balanced teams last season. The Big Green ranked in the top 20 nationally on offense, defense and special teams. Dartmouth also got point production throughout their lineup, which included seven players with 20 or more points. While the Big Green graduated some key components from last season’s squad, the team looks poised for another strong run for the ECAC crown this season.

Dartmouth graduated their top two scorers from last season in Scott Fleming and Adam Estoclet. Fleming, an All-Ivy League Second team selection, led the Big Green with 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 32 games last season. Estoclet, who signed with the AHL‘s Grand Rapids Griffins in the off-season, led Dartmouth with 16 goals and finished with 29 points playing in all 34 games.

Among the players leading the Big Green upfront this season are sophomore Matt Lindblad and junior Dustin Walsh (MON). Lindblad, the co-Ivy League Rookie of the Year, led all Dartmouth freshmen with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 33 games. The Winnetka, Ill native centered an outstanding line that also featured wingers Dustin Walsh and Kyle Reeds for much of last season. Lindblad is an excellent playmaking center that can make things happen whenever he’s on the ice. His strong play along the boards and around the net enables him to not only set up plays but finish them as well.

Lindblad’s linemate Walsh is coming off of a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him not only double his point total from his freshman season, but stay healthy as well. The Shannonville, ONT posted 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) playing in all 34 games. Walsh has added some size and strength to his 6’3, 190 pound frame and that greatly enhanced his ability to move with and protect the puck. In addition, it has added power to his long, fluid strides as well. That, in turn, has improved his skating overall.

Junior Matt Goggin (BOS) will make a return to Dartmouth’s lineup after missing all of the 2010-11 season due to injuries. Goggin, who played in 21 games as a freshman two seasons ago, will be able to add some very good depth to the Big Green’s offense this season.

Part of what made Dartmouth so successful last season was their goaltending. Returning senior James Mello established himself as the Big Green’s main man between the pipes and didn’t disappoint. The Rehoboth, MA native appeared in 30 games, posting a 17-9-3 record that included two shutouts. His .926 save percentage ranked sixth in the nation, while his 2.21 goals against average ranked 12th. As good as Mello was in ECAC play, he was even better in Ivy League play. He led all Ivy League netminders with a 1.89 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. Mello’s outstanding performance earned him a spot on the All-Ivy League First team and he was the only player that was selected unanimously.

Two of Dartmouth’s key off-season losses were on the blue line with stalwart Joe Stejskal (MON) and top-scoring defenseman Evan Stephens having graduated. While the loss of Stejskal and Stephens are significant, the Big Green’s defense is shaping up to be an outstanding one heading into this season. Senior Connor Goggin returns as Dartmouth’s top defenseman after a rock solid junior campaign that saw him post 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) playing in all 34 games.

Senior transfer Dan Nycholat, who previously played at Northeastern and sat out all of last season under NCAA transfer rules, will be a terrific addition to the Big Green’s defensive corps. In addition to collegiate experience, the Calgary, AB native has size (6’2, 190lbs), excellent skating ability and moves the puck quite well. Nycholat’s ability to generate offense could also see him possibly playing on Dartmouth’s power play as well.

Joining the Big Green this season are nine newcomers. One player to watch is Brian Ward. The 6’1, 195 lbs. native of Haverhill, MA is a left wing with great scoring prowess that can also make plays as well. One of his most notable assets is his hard shot. Ward, a highly-regarded player that was passed over in last June’s NHL Draft, will be eligible again in 2012.

Harvard University
NHL prospects: 7

The Crimson open their 2011-12 season on November 4th hosting Princeton.

Despite winning just four games in the first three months of last season, Harvard finished the 2010-11 campaign winning eight of their last 14 games in the months of February and March. The Crimson will look to build on that this season.

The biggest factor that contributed to Harvard’s demise last season was their lack of offensive production. The Crimson averaged 2.26 goals per game, which ranked 54th in the nation. Their 77 total goals scored were the fewest in the ECAC and fifth-fewest nationally. Interestingly, Harvard was quite successful on their power play last season. The Crimson’s 19.4 percent efficiency rating on the man-advantage ranked tied for 18th nationally.

Harvard’s roster last season featured just three players that posted 10 or more goals and 20 or more points. Two of the three, junior defenseman Danny Biega (CAR) and senior Alex Killorn (TB), both return this season. The other was graduate Michael Biega. The trio accounted for a whopping 48 percent of the team’s goal scoring last season.

Danny Biega returns to Harvard after leading the team with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) playing in all 34 games. The Montreal, QC native was the only ECAC rearguard and one of only three in the nation to lead their team in scoring last season. Biega’s successful sophomore campaign can be attributed in part to his continued physical development. His added strength greatly enhanced his speed, which was particularly noticeable in transition. He capped the year with selections to the All-Ivy League First team and the All-ECAC Second team. While Biega had the opportunity to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes this past off-season, he chose to return to Harvard this season.

"When I think of Danny playing at his best, I think of him as an all-around defenseman," head coach Ted Donato said of Biega. "He’s not just an offensive dynamo. I think he takes a lot of pride in his defense and as he became comfortable with that, Danny was able to add some more things offensively. His decision-making and offensive instincts continue to improve. He is a threat with and without the puck, and has been a real catalyst for us offensively. Danny had an outstanding year and we expect him to be able to follow that up this season."

Killorn returns as Harvard’s top scoring forward after leading the team with 15 goals and finishing with 29 points in 34 games. Like Biega, Killorn was also a clutch goal-scorer. He led the Crimson with six power play tallies, co-led with three game-winners and added a shorthanded goal. One change that really benefitted Killorn last season was his move from center to wing. Although he did play some center last season, it was playing on the wing that really enabled Killorn to boost his point production.

"Alex has set a great path of development here in the fact that his offense has continued to improve," said Donato. "He’s created more ways to be effective offensively. Alex has learned how to utilize his strengths, size, positioning and shot to become a more well-rounded offensive player. Last year, when we moved him from center to wing, it really established his all-around play. Alex became a very sound and competitive player in all situations and that was a key ingredient for us down the stretch. He had kind of breakout season last year and we’re hoping that Alex will be able to have that kind of season all year long this season."

In addition to increasing offensive production throughout their lineup, another issue that the Crimson has to contend with heading into this season is in goal. Harvard graduated their top two netminders in Ryan Carroll and Kyle Richter. The only returning netminder that saw action last season was sophomore Raphael Girard. He appeared in just two games, posting a loss. The other returning netminder, sophomore Connor Riley did not play.

Challenging Girard and Riley this season is highly-touted newcomer Steven Michalek (pronounced "Michael-leck"). Michalek, a sixth round (161st overall) selection of the Minnesota Wild this past June, is part of Harvard’s stellar freshman class that is among the nation’s best. Michalek is has size (6’2, 196lbs) and is noted for his mental toughness.

With a very young and inexperienced group in net, the Crimson will be looking to their outstanding blue line to stabilize things defensively. The defensive corps, led by Biega, looks to be Harvard’s strongest position heading into the season with a nice mix of veterans and a trio of talented freshmen.

Princeton University
NHL prospects: 1

The Tigers open their 2011-12 season on October 28th facing off against Yale in the Ivy Shootout in Hanover, NH.

This season marks a new era in Princeton hockey with a new man at the helm. Head coach Guy Gadowsky, the architect behind the resurging Tigers program over the previous seven seasons, has moved on to take the same position at Penn State, who will make their Division I debut in the fall of 2013. Bob Prier, the former St. Lawrence associate head coach, was named as Gadowsky’s successor.

Prier takes over a Princeton team that is shaping up to be a strong contender in the ECAC once again. However, the Tigers will be looking to fill some significant holes left by their eight graduates.

The losses will be particularly felt on their blueline. Princeton lost three of their top six defensemen, including Taylor Fedun (EDM). The Edmonton, AB native was among the nation’s best rearguards last season. Fedun co-led all Tigers defensemen with 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 29 games. He was especially dangerous on the Princeton power play, where seven of his 10 goals were scored. His outstanding senior campaign was capped with a selection to All-ECAC and All-Ivy League First teams. Fedun was also the lone Ivy League player named to the All-America team as well.

This season, senior Derrick Pallis and junior Michael Sdao (OTT) lead the Tigers predominantly young defensive corps. Pallis, who was Fedun’s defensive partner last season, finished tied with Fedun in leading the team in defenseman scoring with 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) playing in all 32 games. Pallis is a superb puck-moving defenseman who has become a mainstay on the Princeton power play.

Sdao played in 27 games last season, posting 10 points (three goals, seven assists). One area where Sdao has begun to make strides in his development is on the offensive side. While Sdao will likely never be among college hockey’s top scoring defensemen, he has shown some good offensive capabilities.

With a very young blue line heading into this season, the Tigers will be relying on their returning top tandem of sophomore Sean Bonar and junior Mike Condon to help stabilize things on the back end. Bonar, who played in 15 games last season, is one to keep an eye on. The Delta, BC native posted an 8-6-1 record that included one shutout. His 2.20 goals against average ranked 10th in the nation last season. Bonar, who attended the Philadelphia Flyers prospects camp this past summer, is a goaltender with great athleticism. He possesses quick reflexes and moves well laterally.

One area where Princeton should be quite good again this season is upfront. The Tigers averaged 3.28 goals per game, which ranked 18th in the nation. And where they were particularly dangerous was on the power play, which ranked ninth nationally with a 22.8 percent efficiency rating. While Princeton did lose last season’s top goal scorers Mike Kramer and Kevin Lohry, they’ll have a nice mix of seasoned veterans and some promising newcomers that should be able to fill the void left by the departed players.

Sophomores Andrew Calof and Andrew Ammon will be among those leading the Tigers offensive charge this season. Calof led Princeton with 33 points (nine goals, 24 assists) playing in all 32 games. The Nepean, ONT native was one of only two ECAC freshmen to lead their team in scoring last season. As good as Calof was in ECAC play, he was even better in Ivy League play. He posted 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 10 Ivy League games en route to being named co-Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Calof is a center that possesses superb puck skills. One attribute that made him so successful last season was his ability to find and get pucks to his teammates. He can make really nice tape-to-tape passes, even in high traffic areas.

Ammon returns as the Tigers’ top goal scorer after finishing his freshman campaign with 10 goals and 17 points in 26 games. The Aldie, VA native developed a knack for scoring timely last season. Of his 10 goals, three came on the power play, two came shorthanded and two were game-winners. Ammon is a winger that possesses a good burst of speed and is very aggressive in his puck pursuits. This past summer, he was invited to the Washington Capitals prospects camp but did not attend due to injury rehab.