Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The Quinnipiac/Princeton weekend, for the last few years, has become a study in contrasts. It cannot have been easy for the Tigers to face a team on Saturday nights that had just had to up their games to take on one of the very best teams in the nation - not when Princeton has been among the worst. The results kind of bear this out - the Tigers have won only two games on Saturday night of a regular league weekend in the last three years (Clarkson and Yale last year), but honestly, things have just been downright bad in New Jersey for a while now and it's hard to ascribe that futility to Quinnipiac's impact alone. Fortunately, things may be starting to turn in the other direction - slowly.

Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Ron Fogarty (3rd season)
2015-16 Record: 5-23-3 (3-16-3 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 67-33-11
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 20, 2016 (Troy, NY)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2016-17 games: December 3, 2016 (Princeton, NJ); February 17, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Tommy Davis, sr.; F Ben Foster, sr.; G Colton Phinney, sr.; D Quin Pompi, sr.; F Ryan Siiro, sr.; F Garrett Skrbich, sr.; D Joe Grabowski, jr.; F David Hallisey, jr.; D Matt Nelson, jr.; F Eric Robinson, jr.; F Ryan Kuffner, so.; F Alex Riche, so.; D Josh Teves, so.; F Max VĂ©ronneau, so.; F Jackson Cressey, fr.; D Derek Topatigh, fr.

Key losses: F Kyle Rankin, F Mike Ambrosia

Previous KYE installments:
In seven seasons at D-III Adrian, a program that Ron Fogarty started from the ground up, the Bulldogs lost a grand total of 23 times under the tutelage of their first head coach. In two seasons at Princeton, Fogarty has lost 23 times... in both seasons. That's against a grand total of 9 wins across those two campaigns. Things couldn't get more starkly different for the man behind the wheel at Baker Rink.

Princeton has been in the absolute basement of the ECAC for the last three seasons, finishing 8 points behind 11th place in 2014 (twice their point total), and 7 points behind 11th in 2015 (on a total of 6 points). 2016 saw an improvement of sorts, as the Tigers finished just 3 points behind 11th place Brown (on 9 total points), but that's pretty thin.

There is certainly room for hope that this year will be better - perhaps only marginally better, but better nonetheless. Rankin and Ambrosia combined for just 5 goals and 13 assists last year (6th and 7th on the team in scoring, respectively), so their contributions won't be that difficult to replace. Realistically, there's nowhere to go but up, and the lack of "losses" for the Tigers only reinforces that idea.

And there's no doubt that Fogarty's recruits are showing some promise. Kuffner became both the first freshman to lead Princeton in scoring and the first Tiger frosh to post a 20-point season since Andrew Calof did both in 2011. VĂ©ronneau's 11 goals were the most by a Princeton freshman since Brett Wilson in 2006. The two freshmen paced what little offense the Tigers were able to put up, followed by sophomores Robinson and Hallisey. This quartet is doing good things at a relatively young experience level, and if they can show more growth in the next season, that only improves Princeton's upward mobility.

This year, there's no one coming in that stands out as a sure thing injection into a team that still has a lot of gaps to fill, but Cressey at least qualifies as a player who's coming in off a very strong season, scoring well over a point per game with Coquitlam of the BCHL as the captain of the Express. Topatigh was also captain of his team in the OJHL, where he led Orangeville as a puck-moving defenseman. Notably, Fogarty's son Jordan also joins the program this year, giving the ECAC two sons playing for their fathers (Harvard's Ryan Donato being the other).

The Tigers' ace in the hole is Phinney, a player that would probably be earning far wider plaudits had he not been playing on the worst team in the league and being compared to guys like Alex Lyon, Kyle Hayton, Jason Kasdorf, and Michael Garteig at the same time. He's been Princeton's MVP practically since his arrival, and his numbers have only improved from year to year. 2.86 and .924 may look plain and average for most strong netminders, but on this team those are fairly impressive, especially the save percentage. He faces a ton of shots and manages to keep a lot of them out - 2,450 saves in three seasons. By way of comparison, Kasdorf made only 2,290 at RPI and had a career save percentage of .920 - below the mark Phinney had last year. That's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but it's at least illustrative that Phinney is better than he's usually given credit for.

It's hard to see Princeton making vast improvements over what they had last year to the tune of being super competitive in the ECAC this year, but they pieces are certainly in place to at least continue the progression. If Phinney can get any semblance of defensive capacity in front of him, he might be enough to push the Tigers toward a position where they could fight to nab one of the last home playoff spots in the first round, but it'll be a battle for sure. Princeton might be improving, but they're still not quite at the league average just yet. But Ron Fogarty does at least seem to have things moving in the right direction and this could be an entirely different conversation in a year, maybe two.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Well, that has to be the proverbial kick in the plums. For the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac was one of the last two teams standing in the nation. And for the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac had to watch someone else raise the national championship trophy, this time at least with the consolation that it wasn't their most hated rivals from literally down the road - and that they finally got to raise a trophy of their own three weeks earlier by finally winning their first ECAC championship.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2016
Coach: Rand Pecknold (23rd season)
2015-16 Record: 32-4-7 (16-1-5 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 12-6-9
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: February 19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: December 2, 2016 (Hamden, CT); February 18, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Connor Clifton, sr.; F Tim Clifton, sr.; F Tommy Schutt, sr.; D Derek Smith, sr.; F K.J. Tiefenwerth, sr.; F Tanner MacMaster, jr.; D Kevin McKernan, jr.; F Bo Pieper, jr.; F Landon Smith, jr.; F Andrew Taverner, jr.; F Tom Aldworth, so.; F Scott Davidson, so.; D Chase Priskie, so.; D Luke Shiplo, so.; D Karlis Cukste, fr.; G Andrew Shortridge, fr.

Key losses: F Sam Anas, F Travis St. Denis, D Devon Toews, G Michael Gartieg, D Alex Miner-Barron, F Soren Jonzzon

Previous KYE installments:
RPI came so frustratingly close to scoring a season sweep of Quinnipiac - two minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact. That's something no team has done since St. Lawrence and Cornell did it in 2012 - and as noted above, an individual win over the Bobcats by RPI hasn't been accomplished in over six years. Instead, the Engineers secured one measly point. That in and of itself speaks volumes of what the Q was capable of last season. It usually seemed like they were never out of any game they were in, no matter how dire things looked.

And they really weren't. Of their four losses on the season, two were by a single goal, and the other two were games that were within a goal heading into the third period. On Twitter, we started using the slogan "kill it with fire" when talking about the Bobcats, especially after they took a 5-2 deficit at Dartmouth with 15 minutes left and won in regulation (with an empty-netter for extra cushion). One certainly could be excused for giving Quinnipiac every potential to come back from a 4-1 third-period hole in the national championship game against North Dakota, but they'd finally met their match in terms of a defense that could withstand the comeback attempt.

In Anas, St. Denis, and Toews, the Bobcats lose three players that combined for 53 goals (more than Arizona State had all year) and 129 points last season. Jonzzon added another 10 goals. That's a lot of juice right there that's now out the door. A sizable part of the offense. But there's plenty returning - six players who tallied 20 or more points last year (both Cliftons, Landon Smith, Priskie, Tiefenwerth, and MacMaster), and 10 players who scored 5 or more goals. It's possible the Q won't be scoring at will as they were wont to do with some frequency last season, but they're not likely to be even remotely helpless up front.

And there's one other element about last year's Quinnipiac team that made them so good - depth. Shiplo in particular is a great example of that. He played in only 13 games last year and scored five goals in that time, but was frequently unable to crack the lineup despite solid play when he was out there. With Toews gone, expect him to get a lot more playing time this year in a similar role. Cukste comes in as Toews' direct replacement, a Baltic beast from Latvia with size and talent who could well compete for plenty of ice time himself. The depth that the Bobcats had among defensemen certainly is something that will play this year as well.

The situation in net is more unknown. In all likelihood, incoming freshman Shortridge is the favorite - he was the top choice goalie for the BCHL's Vernon Vipers last year, finishing 6th in the league with a .915 save percentage. The other options are junior-transfer Chris Truehl, who started at Air Force in 2014 as a sophomore before deciding that the military life wasn't for him (military service at the academies doesn't become a requirement until starting your junior year), and junior Sean Lawrence, whose numbers in limited appearances backing Garteig certainly leave the door open for the job to be someone else's.

Truehl's transfer to the Q is not unusual - part of what has made the Bobcats successful in recent years has been the ability to draw transfers from other programs. The third-leading scorer on the 2013 national championship game team was Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a transfer from Bowling Green. 2015's squad featured Justin Agosta, who transferred from UNH for one season in Hamden. Junior forward Kevin Duane transfers in this year from BU, and next season the Q gains junior-to-be defenseman John Furgele from UNH.

Quinnipiac looks an awful lot like Yale does coming into the 2017 season, only with far more depth along the blue line - plenty of offensive capacity, with questions between the pipes. If Shortridge, or whoever wins the starting job, is able to emulate the man they're replacing in Garteig, Quinnipiac is probably not going to skip much of a beat from last season - perhaps not quite as dominant after losing some very key forwards, but certainly still a force to be reckoned with. Even if the goaltending isn't as strong, this is still a team that would be shocking to see move outside of the top half of the league.

As mentioned above, Quinnipiac has been a serious bugaboo for the Engineers over the past several years, but RPI does seem to be close to solving that riddle. But there's no doubt at all that Jason Kasdorf's heroic play - he made 73 saves in the two games - was a big part of those games being close. Unless the Engineers get some similar goaltending exploits or manage to exploit differences in the Bobcats' last line of defense, the story may not change much from past experiences.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Know Your Enemy: St. Lawrence

In the X-Men saga, there's no greater arch-nemesis of the title group than Magneto. He's the perpetual enemy, so ubiquitous that he's been a part of pretty much every X-Men movie that's ever been made. Well known among supervillains that five years ago he topped an online ranking of the greatest comic book villains of all time - and yet, throughout the years, on occasion, he's been one of the X-Men's strongest allies, even at times a member of the team. And that kind of has to be the feeling in Canton right now. For 14 seasons and the beginning of a 15th, Mark Morris led the hated Clarkson Golden Knights, and 11 times over that stretch, he led them to a better finish in the league standings than the Saints - not to mention wins in the 1991 and 1999 ECAC Championship games over SLU. And now he's back - in the ECAC, in the North Country (where he grew up), and leading the charge at St. Lawrence, not Clarkson.

St. Lawrence
Nickname: Saints
Location: Canton, NY
Founded: 1856
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2007
Last Frozen Four: 2000
Coach: Mark Morris (1st season)
2015-16 Record: 19-14-4 (11-8-3 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: SLU leads, 81-57-6
First Game: January 3, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 6, 2015 (Canton, NY)
Last SLU win: February 5, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 12, 2016 (Troy, NY); January 27, 2017 (Canton, NY)

Key players: D Gavin Bayreuther, sr.; F Woody Hudson, sr.; D Ben Masella, sr.; F Drew Smolcynski, sr.; D Eric Sweetman, sr; D Nolan Gluchowski, jr; G Kyle Hayton, jr.; F Ryan Lough, jr.; F Mike Marnell, jr.; D Matt Purmal, jr.; F Joe Sullivan, jr.; F Michael Laidley, so.; F Jacob Pritchard, so.; F Taggart Corriveau, fr.; D Ben Finkelstein, fr.

Key losses: F Brian Ward, F Tommy Thompson, F Alex Hagen, F Sean McGovern, F Christian Horn

Previous KYE installments:
Morris was wildly successful at Clarkson. Never had a losing season in 14 years, with 11 20-win seasons, three ECAC titles, and seven NCAA appearances, including an appearance in the 1991 Frozen Four. And then an incident with a player at a practice in 2002 ended his career in Potsdam. He hasn't stopped coaching since then, stringing a gig at the Northwood School in Lake Placid (2004-06) into the head position with the then-AHL Manchester Monarchs. After eight seasons in Manchester (and seven playoff appearances), he became an assistant with the Florida Panthers, and spent last season as the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina's top AHL team. So he's still got that track record as a very successful coach.

He comes in replacing a St. Lawrence grad, Greg Carvel, who left Canton somewhat unexpectedly to become the new head coach at UMass in Hockey East. This, by far, is the biggest news at SLU from this off-season - but it obscures the fact that Morris is inheriting one of the best teams in the ECAC that still has plenty of punch.

With the departures of Alex Lyon, Jason Kasdorf, and Michael Garteig, one could make a very strong argument that Hayton is the best returning netminder in the conference - a guy who would probably could have been a shoo-in for all-ECAC honors in practically any other season given his resume from last year, but was ultimately behind all three of the aforementioned goalies at awards time.

On top of this, there's probably no more stacked blue line in the entire ECAC than at SLU. Three seniors and two juniors - Bayreuther, Masella, Sweetman, Gluchowski, and Purmal - return having played in every or nearly every game last season (Bayreuther and Sweetman in particular have dressed for all 112 games in the last three years). Finkelstein joins the fray as SLU's lone NHL draftee this season, but there are other likely options for the sixth D-man as well, including another senior in Mike Graham who has seen action in exactly half of SLU's games over the last three years. All of that is a combination of experience and talent that no one else in the league can boast.

In 2015, SLU found success with Hayton as the backstop and a balanced attack. The attack last year wasn't quite as effective as that - fewer 10+ point producers, fewer 5+ goal scorers, but not by much. The three leading point-getters, Bayreuther, Smolcynski, and Ward, were a bit more separate from the pack, but again, not by much - and seven of the top 12 scorers from last season return as either juniors and seniors, with another, Pritchard, clearly among the top young forwards in the ECAC heading into his sophomore season. Only two freshmen had as many or more points in league play as did Pritchard, and we've already sung both of their praises - Yale's Joe Snively and Brown's Tommy Marchin.

Ward and Thompson especially may stick out as solid losses for St. Lawrence, but their depth up front should be enough to absorb their absence. About the only area of concern for the Saints is the abysmal power play they had last season. If you thought RPI's power play was bad, you might have missed St. Lawrence, who connected at only 11.8% (against the Tute's almost-as-bad 12.3%) for the year, and crucially went 1-for-17 during a five-game losing streak in January that probably spiked any opportunity SLU had for earning an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

There's frequently a lot of questions that pop up about any team when they have turnover at the head coaching position, but there's almost no one that questions Morris' bonafides, and his constant success as a coach combined with the talent that has already been on display at Appleton Arena in the last couple of seasons leads one to believe there's probably not going to be much of a hiccup - though there's always some risk for a failure for even outstanding coaches to mesh with players he didn't bring in himself, it just feels unlikely here. There's just too much talent in place. The potential exists for bumps down the road, as a pair of SLU recruits have already decommitted (likely to follow Carvel to UMass), but unless Morris suddenly has issues adapting to the changes in the recruiting environment since he left Clarkson, that probably won't be much of an issue, either.

St. Lawrence now has all of the pieces in place and the requisite question marks at opposing schools to make a serious run at the very top of the ECAC, and there's little doubt that they should be among the pre-season favorites to finish atop the league, make a run to Lake Placid, and potentially make their first NCAA appearance in a decade.

It combines to make the North Country, for the first time in quite some time, the feared road-trip it traditionally always was. Give the Saints the slight edge thanks to their advantage in net - and perhaps, with their new ally behind the bench.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Quick - name the teams that never finished in the top four in the ECAC during the Obama administration. OK, you got Brown, that wasn't hard. You probably said Princeton, which is incorrect (2009). If you're not an RPI fan, you might have said RPI (2013, suckers!). And you probably missed Clarkson because... well, because they're Clarkson and that's abnormal. Really abnormal. They came close last year, missing out by just two points - but it's been eight straight seasons now, twice as long as their previous record for finishing outside the league's top four. That has the serious potential to change this coming season, and not because there's going to be a new occupant in the Oval Office.

Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 20-15-3 (10-9-3 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 88-50-11
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 8, 2015 (Potsdam, NY)
Last CU win: February 6, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 11, 2016 (Troy, NY); January 7, 2017 (Lake Placid, NY); January 28, 2017 (Potsdam, NY)

Key players: F Jordan Boucher, sr.; F Perry D'Arrisso, sr.; D James de Haas, sr.; F A.J. Fossen, sr.; F Troy Josephs, sr.; G Steve Perry, sr.; D Terrance Amorosa, jr.; F Ben Dalpe, jr.; F Brett Gervais, jr.; F Nic Pierog, jr.; D Kelly Summers, jr.; F Sam Vigneault, jr.; D Aaron Thow, so.; F Devin Brosseau, fr.; F Sheldon Rempal, fr.; D Jordan Schneider, fr.; F Nico Sturm, fr.

Key losses: F Jeff Di Nallo, G Greg Lewis, D Paul Geiger, D Kevin Tansey, F Pat Megannety, F Christian Powers

Previous KYE installments:
It's not that Clarkson isn't losing anyone significant from last season - a number of those key losses should be names that even casual ECAC fans should probably recognize. It's more a recognition that the Golden Knights return a solid roster of team players that put together a strong resume last year.

Vigneault led the team last year with 12 goals and 26 points, while Boucher (23 points) and Fossen (18) round out the top three scorers from last season, all returning. They are among 10 skaters returning that notched 10 or more points on the season last year, representative of a decent amount of balance to the Clarkson attack. The blue line boasts three NHL draftees (de Haas, Amorosa, and Summers), all of whom bring size and offensive capacity to the table.

And to all this, add an outstanding freshman class straight out of Don Lucia's nightmares. Seven of nine freshmen will be 21 when the season starts - and the other two will be 20. But they're not just older and more experienced, they've also produced some solid results this past season. Sturm was a top-line center for the USHL champions at Tri-City in addition to having played on Germany's World Junior team, and Schneider comes from a solid bloodline, a son of 20-year NHL veteran Mathieu Schneider who brings additional size and offensive strength to the table. But among the frosh, Rempal and Brosseau should be especially interesting to watch.

Linemates at Nanaimo in the goal-happy BCHL, they've been a package deal practically from the start as they committed to Clarkson on the same day in October 2013. Rempal finished second in the BCHL in scoring last season, and Brosseau was right there with him in fourth, with Brosseau typically feeding Rempal the puck for the finish. Both have really blossomed over the last couple of seasons, to the point that Rempal may be one of the best incoming freshmen in the entire ECAC with Brosseau not far behind. That they arrive with three seasons of chemistry already should give them a leg up in adapting to college play - perhaps practically giving Clarkson another quality scoring line overnight.

The one thing that's probably keeping Clarkson from looking like they're ready to stomp a complete mudhole in the ECAC is the lack of a proven lockdown goaltender. While Princeton over the last three seasons has proven that simply having a strong netminder and nothing else isn't quite a recipe for success, we've seen on several occasions over the last decade - including at RPI - that a big-time goalie can transform a team that's wanting in a few places into one of the better teams in the league, and it's practically a requirement for being at the very top.

Lewis last season more than fit the definition of "acceptable goaltending." His numbers (2.04, .925) didn't rank him amongst the top of the league, but they were enough to keep a strong team in front of him competitive, and that's all Clarkson really needed. Perry saw plenty of action in net last year (as in his first two years), but Lewis was the first-choice goalie, a guy who certainly displayed vast improvement from his freshman and sophomore years, the kind of development you like to see in your goaltenders.

Perry, or incoming freshman Jake Kielly, will need to improve on where Lewis was last season if Clarkson is going to be more reminiscent of the program that was perpetually dominant in the ECAC from the 1960s through the 1990s. Kielly played with Sturm last season and backstopped Tri-City's playoff run to the USHL title, so it wouldn't be unexpected if he gets some solid play right off the bat.

As far as RPI-Clarkson is concerned, the Golden Knights have taken 3 points from the Engineers in each of the last three seasons, a fact that is probably obscured slightly by the fact that RPI has won a playoff series in Potsdam twice in the last five seasons, something which hadn't even happened once before that. But make no mistake - Clarkson is likely to be one of the better teams in the ECAC this coming season, and it's going to make for three very tough wars to be fought in about two months' time. They may not be overwhelming at anything, but they're probably going to be pretty decent at most elements of their game.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Yale

After thrashing poor Princeton 6-0 on February 26, Yale was 19-5-4 and unbeaten in 16 of 17 with an eight-game winning streak. The next night's game against Quinnipiac would be difficult, of course, since their record and streaks were pretty similar, but the Bulldogs did look ready for deep ECAC and NCAA runs. They got neither, following a 4-1 road loss in Hamden, Yale limped to the end in getting swept by Dartmouth at home in the ECAC quarterfinals and falling in overtime to UMass-Lowell, ending their otherwise strong season with a regrettable four-game losing streak, their worst since a five-game streak in 2013 (which did end up an OK year for them, all things considered).

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (2013)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Keith Allain (11th season)
2015-16 Record: 19-9-4 (14-5-3 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 56-45-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: January 30, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

2016-17 games: November 5, 2016 (Troy, NY); December 9, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Frankie DiChiara, sr.; F Mike Doherty, sr.; F John Hayden, sr.; F Chris Izmirlian, sr.; G Patrick Spano, sr.; F Ryan Hitchcock, jr.; D Adam Larkin, jr.; D Nate Repensky, jr.; F Ted Hart, so.; F JM Piotrowski, so.; F Joe Snively, so.; G Sam Tucker, so.; D Anthony Walsh, so.; F Will D'Orsi, fr.; G Corbin Kaczperski, fr.; D Chandler Lindstrand, fr.; F Luke Stevens, fr.

Key losses: G Alex Lyon, D Rob O'Gara, F Stu Wilson, D Ryan Obuchowski, F Cody Learned, D Mitch Witek, F Carson Cooper

Previous KYE installments:
Ouch. That's a lot of important names that are gone, first and foremost Lyon, their all-everything goaltender. In a league that was brimming with some of the nation's top goaltenders, Lyon became the first-ever repeat winner of the ECAC's Ken Dryden Award, the aptly named title for the best netminder in the league. If not for the Hobey Baker season of Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, he would have been a very compelling candidate for ECAC Player of the Year as well. When he was on, Yale was practically impossible to beat. On top of five shutouts, he limited the opposition to just one goal on nine occasions. When you add in a team where 12 players reached double digits in points for the season, and that's a scary prospect to have to tangle with.

That's easily Yale's primary challenge for 2017 - defense. As we've said ad nauseum, a little goaltending can go a long way in the ECAC, and the Elis are moving from a sure thing to a bit of a tossup between the pipes. Kaczperski comes in as Lyon's immediate replacement, but Spano and Tucker will likely also be part of the mix. Spano has appeared in just nine games over three years - but to be fair, he was behind Lyon the whole time. Tucker made no appearances during his freshman season last year, and Kaczperski only just committed in February, likely when it became apparent that Lyon wasn't going to be sticking around. None of the three are obvious choices to either earn the top spot nor obvious to be serving in a backup role - perhaps a bit of a bonus for the Engineers, as they face Yale at home very early in the ECAC schedule, and it's a good bet the role won't be firmly hashed out by then.

The core of Yale's blue line group has been gutted as well with the loss of three seniors in O'Gara, Obuchowski, and Witek. Larkin and Repensky (the latter of which missed 16 games last season to injury) should be the new core, but they'll be leading a plenty young group of defensemen. Yale seems to always find ways to put up a fairly strong defensive front, but they'll be hard pressed to duplicate last year's national best team GAA (1.78) and penalty kill (94.4%) minus the outstanding quartet that they're losing.

The good news is that the Bulldogs still have a ton of offense to choose from. Hayden finally had a breakout season last year in leading Yale with 16 goals, and Snively, the ECAC Rookie of the Year, is a bonafide college star in the making, pacing Yale's balanced attack with 28 points as a freshman.

They do lose some important attacking ability with Wilson (who's already moved on to become the USHL's Director of Hockey Operations) and Learned, not to mention the offensive capacity of O'Gara and Obuchowski, who combined for 100 points for their careers from the blue line, but there are a multitude of options for the Bulldogs in the attacking zone. Six of the 12 who reached double digits in points are back (Snively, Hayden, DiChiara, Hitchcock, Izmirlian, and Doherty), plus it wouldn't be shocking if guys like Ted Hart, Piotrowski (now minus his flow), or NHL draftee Stevens (son of former NHLer Kevin Stevens) filled in the gaps in the attacking balance.

So Yale is probably still at least a little bit scary, but probably not 2013 or 2016 scary. They're in a better position than their travel partners because of their attacking depth, but they'll definitely look more like they're spinning tires by comparison to last season if they don't get a solid defensive front hammered down by the New Year. They could probably win a few track meets, but their traditional set up under Keith Allain has pretty much required defensive success to breed seasonal success.

That probably makes it a very good thing from RPI's perspective that both games against the Bulldogs will come before the New Year - in fact, both well before Christmas. These two squads usually link up for some pretty fun contests, and you have to give the edge to the winner of the battle between RPI's offense and Yale's defense, the expected weaker links coming into the season.