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Men’s Hockey: 2016-17 ECAC Preview

It’s that time of year again — after two weekends of largely inconsequential tune-up games, the Big Red men’s hockey team is gearing up for its first round of ECAC play when it travels to New England to face off against Dartmouth and Harvard. It seems that every team in this league is trending upward, and the competitiveness of the conference will once again provide some of the best hockey in the nation. After sending a representative to the Frozen Four in three of the last four years, the ECAC has solidified itself as a college hockey powerhouse. Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming league schedule and predictions for how Cornell will fare.

The Favorites

When writing a similar article ahead of last year’s ECAC season, I noted that Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence were the two teams to watch for in the 2015-16 season. Indeed, the Bobcats were NCAA finalists and the Saints made it to the final weekend of the ECAC playoffs. Therefore, I will begin this preview by discussing these two teams once again.

Quinnipiac has emerged as one of the preeminent programs in the country. Since 2012, the Bobcats have recorded an unbelievable 109-34-22 record under head coach Rand Pecknold. However, t­his team is not the one from last year that fell a few goals short of a national championship. Sam Anas and Devon Toews left the program early to join the pros, while outstanding seniors Michael Garteig and Travis St. Denis graduated in the spring. The trio of Anas, Toews, and St. Denis alone accounted for 53 goals and 129 points last year. In addition, Garteig was also very strong, earning third team All-League honors. ­­This level of production will be difficult to replace, and this tall task will be up to the Clifton brothers, seniors Tim and Connor, to return Quinnipiac to glory.

On the other hand, St. Lawrence returns the majority of its squad that made it to Lake Placid last spring. Highlighted by junior Preseason All-League goalie Kyle Hayton, the group that new head coach Mark Morris inherits is extremely deep. Unlike last year, the Saints are becoming recognized for their past success, as the team was ranked second in both the preseason coaches and media polls. Overall, Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence should finish in the top three of the league.

The Champion

Despite these two programs pushing to make a splash this season, the ECAC will be won by Harvard. The obvious storyline for the Crimson is the loss of Hobey Baker Award winner, Jimmy Vesey. Although he is now suiting up for the New York Rangers, he leaves his alma mater in the enviable position of great depth. Coach Donato still has a number of lethal offensive weapons in Preseason All-ECAC forward Alexander Kerfoot and son Ryan Donato. Although the team is losing its most lethal weapon, it maintains the same structure of a group that made it to the league finals and NCAA regional semifinals. Despite Vesey’s departure, the Crimson have enough to take home the league title.

The Big Red

Going into the 2016-17 season, many of the big ECAC names are gone: Vesey, Anas, Lyons, Garteig, Toews, and Spink. As a result, Cornell has an opportunity to make a big leap from last year’s finish. Unlike many of the other top programs in the conference, the Big Red brings back the core of its team that finished eighth in he standings last season before falling to Quinnipiac in the league quarterfinals.

Despite losing key players in Reese Wilcox and Christian Hilbrich, many Cornell underclassmen sit in a great position to fill the gaps left by these outgoing seniors. In fact, the team’s top five scorers will be returning to Lynah, as well as the majority of the defense. The Big Red’s top scoring line of Jeff Kubiak, Anthony Angello, and Mitch Vanderlaan will reunite to lead the squad. This “JAM” line accounted for an outstanding +37 rating as a unit.

The key for Cornell will be finding a second source of scoring to follow this top line. Coach Shaffer will surely look to seniors Jake Weidner, Matt Buckles, and Eric Freschi to fill this role. The Big Red will also need injury-prone power forwards, such as Trevor Yates, Dwyer Tschantz, and Beau Starett, to make a big leap.

On the back line, Cornell is in a terrific spot. Despite a few early season injuries, Ryan Bliss and Alex McCrea will anchor this very deep defense. As was the case for the last two seasons, the same core group of goalies remains intact. Senior Mitch Gillam will need to be one of the nation’s best netminders once again in order for this team to thrive.

Therefore, the Big Red possesses all of the tools to be a contender in this very competitive ECAC landscape. Cornell’s combination of experienced underclassmen and quality goaltending could put this team on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble for the first time since 2012.

The Prediction:

  1. Harvard

  2. St Lawrence

  3. QU

  4. Cornell

  5. Clarkson

  6. Yale

  7. Union

  8. Dartmouth

  9. RPI

  10. Princeton

  11. Colgate

  12. Brown

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