ECACHL Media Day Notebook

Sept. 25, 2006

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on
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ALBANY, N.Y. - The way coaches talk about how little polls mean, one might think that the announcement of the ECAC Hockey League's preseason polls on Monday during the league's Media Day at Pepsi Arena was a mere concession to Albany County Executive Michael Breslin and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who addressed the assembled group as part of the afternoon's program.


Coming off of its second Cleary Cup in three years as the ECACHL's regular-season champion, Colgate emerged as the favorite for the coming season. The Raiders garnered 222 of a possible 240 points in the league's preseason media poll - including 11 of 20 first-place votes - and 108 of a possible 144 points from the leagues coaches, including three first-place votes.


"Polls are polls," Raiders head coach Don Vaughan said, "but it's great recognition for our guys who have worked very hard. I think it's a little bit of the `crystal ball' thing, but we worked hard last year, we probably overachieved a little bit, and I think based on that, people may be looking at our program as one that might be taking that next step."


Vaughan was quick to point out, though, that the Raiders have work yet to do to take that "next step."  While Colgate has won or shared two of the last three Cleary Cups, the Raiders have yet to win the league tournament at Pepsi Arena, and neither Cleary Cup campaign saw the Raiders go on to the NCAA tournament (the Raiders did make the NCAA tournament in 2005, losing to Colorado College in the first round).


"That's something we can't be afraid of or shy away from," Vaughan said. "The one thing we know for sure is that we're going to see everybody's best game. I think we've got a team that'll be ready for that challenge, and we all know that it's the ECAC Hockey League, so anything can happen."




While Colgate, Harvard and Dartmouth have lately joined Cornell as the class of the league over the past few seasons, the North Country may be on the verge of a comeback, especially as far as Clarkson is concerned. The Golden Knights, who last won the Cleary Cup in 2001, finished eighth in the ECACHL in 2005-06, but tied Harvard for second in the preseason coaches' poll, amassing 101 points with five first place votes. Head coach George Roll appreciated the respect, as he continues to revitalize the Clarkson program, but directed the credit to assistant coaches Greg Dreschel and Jean-Francois Houle, and their efforts on the recruiting trail


"I think Greg and J-F have done a very good job on the recruiting path," Roll said, "and we've been patient with it. We've been through some tough times at Clarkson the past couple of years, but certainly thought we made a lot of strides last year. This is the year for us to make those big strides, and obviously we've got the respect of the coaches, but what matters is where you are at the end of the year."


One of those recruits that has helped the Golden Knights earn their respect is junior forward Nick Dodge. The Carolina Hurricanes draftee notched 41 points (16g, 25a) last season, and was named to the coaches' and media's preseason All-League teams.


"I thought he made a huge jump last year," Roll said of Dodge. "We knew he was a special player when we got him, but last year, Nick was so valuable in so many areas, not just on the scoresheet, but with his leadership in the locker room, his work ethic, and his commitment to the program."




Quinnipiac entered the ECACHL to little fanfare before the 2005-06 season, as the Bobcats were picked to finish last by both the coaches and the media. After a season that saw the Bobcats finish tied for ninth, then upset sixth-place Rensselaer in the first round of the league playoffs, the Bobcats aren't being taken nearly as lightly entering the 2006-07 campaign.  The media pegged the Bobcats to finish sixth, while Rand Pecknold's team was tabbed seventh by the league's coaches.


"The preseason poll, I don't put a lot of stock in," Pecknold said. "Last year, we were picked 12th, and I knew that we weren't going to finish there. I don't worry too much about it. Certainly, it's an interesting jump to go from 12th to sixth in one year in our second year in the league.


"We want to keep improving as a program. We're extremely excited about the opening of our new facility in January. I think that's going to be a huge shot in the arm for our program and the future of Quinnipiac Hockey."


One big reason for the Bobcats' respect is former Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist Reid Cashman.  The helper-happy defenseman is entering his senior year, and was named to the preseason All-League team by both the coaches (who made him a unanimous selection) and the media.


"Reid's been a great player for us, and will be again this year," Pecknold said. "Certainly, we want to do everything to be successful for him, and vice versa. Ultimately, I think we have a great group of guys, a great locker room, and a lot of character in the locker room, and we want to have an extremely successful season and build off of last year."




There are plenty of reasons to pick Colgate tops overall. Three of the Raiders' top four scorers return, including preseason All-League selection Tyler Burton and top assist man Marc Fulton. However, the biggest reason for Colgate's projected success may be between the pipes.


Harvard and Cornell said goodbye to their top netminders this past spring, as Crimson keeper John Daigneau graduated and Big Red goalie David McKee signed with the Anaheim Ducks, forgoing his senior year of eligibility.  Meanwhile, the goaltending situations at Dartmouth and St. Lawrence were, at best, unsettled in 2005-06.  However, Colgate has the ECACHL's reigning Goaltender of the Year, junior Mark Dekanich, returning between the pipes, giving Vaughan's team a major leg up on other top programs.


"That's a big part of it, obviously," Vaughan said. "He was a big part of our success last year, and goaltending is such a big part of the game today. To have a guy like Mark back, especially with the kind of year he had last year, is a great start for our program. We expect him, after being drafted last year, to want to continue to prove himself, and do everything he can to prepare himself to play at the next level.  But to have a guy like that backstopping your team, it's just a great place to start a program from."


Harvard coach Ted Donato, whose Crimson were picked second in both the coaches' and media polls, and Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, who saw his Big Green picked to finish in fourth (tied with Cornell) and third, respectively, acknowledged the challenges that await them in net, but were both confident that their keepers would get the job done.


"We're inexperienced there," Donato said of the goaltending position. "That doesn't mean we're not talented in that position. Last year, we felt that we had inexperience at that position, but we had talent to fill it, and I think we feel that way this year. In fact, Justin Tobe probably has more experience than John Daigneau had starting the year last year. You never know until the puck is dropped what you're going to get, but we feel that we're going to be a very competitive team."


"This year, compared to coming into last year, it's much more stable," Gaudet said of his goalie situation. "Mike Devine played a lot of hockey for us last year, and we're hoping that he continue on and use the experience that he had last year and be even better this year. And, we have even more depth there, so we'll cross our fingers."




While new Yale head coach Keith Allain and new Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert were nicely welcomed several times from the podium on Monday, their welcome in the polls was significantly less kind.  Allain's Bulldogs were picked to finish 11th in the league by both the coaches and the media, while Appert's Engineers are the ninth-place pick in both polls. Neither coach, however, is taking the slight too harshly.


"I really don't pay much attention to it," Allain said. "I don't know the league yet. I don't know my team. We'll see what we do the first night and take it from there. I really want to get to know my players, so that I can put them in a position to be successful.


Based on what he's seen so far from his team, Allain has high hopes for the first night and beyond


"I know that they've come back to school in great shape," Allain said. "They've all tested well. They're working out. We're doing some team-building activities. All the things that can be done to make us better have been done up to this point, so that's all a positive."


Appert, meanwhile, acknowledged the familiarity of the media, speaking just a stone's throw from RPI's campus in Troy, but expressed his confidence in the Engineers' prospects for the upcoming season.


"People probably know our team better than I do," Appert said. "That's where they think we sit in the pecking order, but as a staff, I know we don't concern ourselves with this. I'm sure our players will use it for motivation and bulletin board fodder, but the thing that really matters is what the 26 guys in our locker room think of each other, so we're really going to focus on that."



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