We've got a vote in the ECAC media poll. Every year we release our ballot so people can know what our mindset is on things. This year was far more belabored than most - lots of times, there's a pretty clear-cut #1, a pretty clear-cut #2, and then a murky middle. True for 2014-15, but the murky middle has rarely been this murky.
1. Colgate - When it comes to laying out who the top team in the league is, the driving force has got to be deciding which team has the fewest question marks coming into the season. That has to be the Raiders. They've got an outstanding young netminder in Charlie Finn, a talented core of juniors on offense, excellent leadership, and a veteran coaching staff. This is a team primed for great things this season not just in the ECAC, but as a dark horse contender to make the rest of the college hockey world continue to pay attention to the league.
2. Quinnipiac - We're starting to get to the point where Rand Pecknold and company are just reloading every year instead of rebuilding, and once again, the Bobcats continue to find ways to finish their season on a higher level than most thought possible at the beginning of years. The young talent that came in last year following the Q's trip to the Frozen Four supplemented the returning veterans nicely, and they've got another good group of youngsters joining the fray. Michael Gartieg is legit, so as long as the blueliners do an acceptable job in front of him, this is a team that still has very few flaws and could only get better in the coming years.
3. Union - The first team to sweep the ECAC regular season, ECAC tournament, and national championship since RPI in 1985, the Dutchmen still have plenty in the tank. While some would demand that Union has top be at the top until proven otherwise because of their accolades last season, we'd prefer to look at what they've got instead of what they had. That said, Union's still full of outstanding talent and will be pretty good on both sides of the puck still, so they aren't sliding very far.
4. Cornell - In some ways, this is just a "you can't ever pick Cornell too low" selection, but there's a good reason for that meme in the first place. The Big Red do need to get more out of their offense than they've produced in the last couple of seasons, but no matter who the personnel are in Ithaca, you can rest assured that the defense, 14 times out of 15, is going to get the job done - and they do have the talent on their roster to get that much needed offensive bump.
5. RPI - Is this optimistic? It might be. It could also be pessimistic from our perspective. Getting Jason Kasdorf back in the net is likely to be huge for the Engineers, and his presence during the 2012-13 season had a "rising tide raises all ships" effect on other parts of RPI's game. The Engineers should have a very solid defense, and if that rising tide comes back this year to help out the questionable but capable offense. That said, this is also a team capable of sliding quickly to the very bottom if they don't establish a good rhythm.
6. Dartmouth - The Big Green should be at least better than their miserable finish in last year's ECAC table, especially given the glimpse of excellence they displayed from February on to becoming the only road team to win a league playoff series. They lose practically nobody from a team that began hitting its stride late, but the real question is whether Dartmouth was showing massive improvement or simply was getting on a roll at the right time. The answer's probably somewhere in the middle, which helps lead them to the middle of the league on this ballot.
7. Yale - This feels far too low, and yet I can't find a better place to put the Bulldogs. Bearing in mind that the separation between three or four spots in the final standings is often razor-thin, I'm putting Yale 7th in part because their season last year was almost as frustratingly difficult as the Engineers' campaign. Many of their very best players are now on the underclass side of things after graduating some of the most important elements of their national championship run, and it's hard to put a lot of stock in those guys carrying the team to bigger and better things without a known rock between the pipes.
8. Clarkson - The Knights are another team that has the potential to do a lot of damage, and they're very comparable in a lot of ways to the Engineers - a good, solid defensive core, but a definite need to find scoring somewhere. They're here in part because I'm not as big on Clarkson's goaltending duo as I am with RPI's, and the Engineers have more potential answers to the offensive question than the Golden Knights have. But much like RPI, this is a team that has the ability to finish a lot higher in the standings if they can get themselves into a groove and stay there, especially if they can spread the scoring out among a number of players.
9. Harvard - Hard to place a team that has this much talent this far down the chart, but the startling lack of consistency across the board with the Crimson for the last couple of seasons makes it difficult to trust Harvard. Based on the recent track record alone, this could well be a team that should be even lower than this, and this ranking is more of a belief in the individual abilities of players like Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot, and Kyle Criscuolo, but until they get themselves situated like a team out on the ice, their climb up the rankings from their recent dismal showings isn't going far.
10. Brown - Taking a "show me first" attitude with Brown. It's hard to find a single scoring line in the league that compares with Lorito-Naclerio-Lappin, but outside of that trio, the Bears haven't proven that they have the chops to run with the rest of the league. I maintain that this team is just one or two players away from being among the very best in the entire ECAC, and those players may well be coming in the near future, but for now Brown still looks too one-dimensional to play a major role in the way things will shake out this season.
11. St. Lawrence - This seems to have all the makings of a "start over" season for the Saints. A lot of good young players but growing pains definitely appear to be in the offing. It's very difficult for any team to lose the core of its scoring prowess, but the Saints had pretty much everything that was good about last year's team leave, and everything that was bad about last year's team return. They've got a new goaltender and there's almost no way their offense can be as strong as it was with the Carey brothers.
12. Princeton - Buh. There's really not much of anything to like here. The sole source of optimism seems to be the addition of Ron Fogarty behind the bench, but much as with Brown, the one bright light, by itself, isn't enough to warrant anything higher than the bottom third of the league, and in the Tigers' case, the absolute cellar. Some teams do a lot of things well, and some teams even have one or two bright spots. There really isn't that with Princeton - what little they had going for them last season (basically, Andrew Calof) is gone, and it's not a sure thing that what they have is ready for prime time.
We were asked to select an all-ECAC team as well, and these were my picks:
G - Jason Kasdorf, RPI: Go ahead. Call it a homer pick. Rant and rave about how last year's top goaltender is back. I don't care. Jason Kasdorf, in his freshman year, played better and lifted his team more than any returning netminder in the league from last season. He doesn't lose that status because he got hurt last season - he only loses it if someone rises to a level above him.
D - Gavin Bayreuther, SLU: If I could take any one player from around the league and put him on the Engineers, it would be Bayreuther. His season last year was quite an eye-opener, coming practically from out of nowhere, playing well enough right out of the gate to almost earn a spot on the US World Junior team. Now, in only his sophomore season, he's already a player opposing teams have to account for and plan around on both sides of the ice.
D - Spiro Goulakos, COL: There are few players in the league who can match the defensive ability on the ice that Goulakos has with the leadership he also brings to the table. As the captain for a second season on this year's best team in the league (on paper, anyway), he's an important asset for the Raiders defensively, giving the team's very talented offense the ability to perform with the knowledge that he's back there on patrol. That he does all this after beating lymphoma is even more impressive.
F - Matthew Peca, QU: The league's top returning scorer has to be a part of this list practically by default, but in Peca's case he's been one of the driving elements of the Bobcats offense since he arrived in Hamden, and is one of the last remaining stars from Quinnipiac's Frozen Four team two seasons ago. With the departure of the Carey brothers, he's officially the league's most dangerous attacker.
F - Daniel Ciampini, UC: Here's a guy who has frequently gotten lost in the mix in terms of accolades at Union these last couple of years, but he's always been more than just a cog in the machine. Playing a vital role in the Dutchmen's offensive prowess basically since he arrived in Schenectady, he's now the man offensively and he's a big reason why Union will still be one of the league's best teams.
F - Matt Lorito, BRN: Possibly the best overall forward in the league, and he gets overlooked by a lot of people because the team around him is relatively weak, making his numbers less gaudy than they could be because the opposition can get away with devoting a significant chunk of its defensive strategy to keeping him out of the net.
Even though there wasn't a second team, here's a second team, because these are all guys who warrant first-team looks as well (and some of them were on the actual first-team).
G - Colin Stevens, UC
D - Joakim Ryan, COR
D - Gus Young, YU
F - Sam Anas, QU
F - Eric Neiley, DC
F - Tylor Spink, COL