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As another October matures and the temperatures drop along with the leaves, a mood begins to overtake college campuses thruout New York, New Jersey and New England: ECAC hockey season is almost here!
While the league schedule won't get underway until November 7, last year's regular season champions Clarkson will see action this weekend in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Madison. They take on host school Wisconsin of the WCHA Friday night, with the other semifinal pitting Hockey East's Boston University and Michigan State from the CCHA. Consolation and championship games will be played on Saturday. Radio broadcasts of both of Saturday's games will be carried live on the internet via Real Audio on the AudioNet web site.
The Golden Knights emerged from last years ECAC's late-season dogfight to wrap up the regular season title with a 3-1 win at Cornell on the final weekend. The Big Red would get their revenge two weeks later in Lake Placid, though, upsetting Clarkson 2-1 in the ECAC championship game. On the national front, the Knights finished the season ranked second in the nation, but were shocked in the NCAA East Regional by Colorado College, who got out to a 4-0 lead in the first, and held on for the 5-4 upset win. Another WCHA at large team, Denver, had eliminated the ECAC's third-place finisher Vermont 6-3 the night before. Cornell, playing as the bottom seed in the West Regional, got the ECAC's only victory in the tournament, defeating the CCHA's Miami University 4-2 in the first round before falling 6-2 to WCHA and eventual national champions North Dakota.
There were a couple of changes in the off-season, starting with ECAC Commissioner of Hockey Joe Bertagna's departure to head the Hockey East conference. Jeff Fanter takes Bertagna's place as the head of ECAC hockey. Dartmouth head coach Roger Demment is out, replaced by Brown's Bob Gaudet; Gaudet is in turn replaced by well-regarded Vermont assistant coact Roger Grillo. And in a controversial move, the ECAC has announced a change to its playoff structure. Ten of the league's twelve teams will still make the postseason, but the Tuesday night premilinary games among the bottom four teams, which narrowed the field to eight for the quarterfinal series, are out. Instead the league is following the WCHA's lead, with five first-round series and a five-team conference tournament. The bottom two seeds in the ECACs will now play Thursday night in Lake Placid for entrance to Friday's conference semifinals. Fans, players and coaches are debating the pros and cons, but the biggest impact on the regular season race should be the fight to finish in the top three and avoid the Thursday-night play-in.
Far-flung fans of ECAC hockey will get to see more action on their satellite dishes or at their local sports bars this season; this year's ECAC Game of the Week package is expanded to eight regular season games, four produced by Empire Sports Network of Buffalo and four by the New England Sports Network. This year's conference TV schedule kicks off on NESN November 29 with Harvard visiting Brown.
Finally, the season's first US College Hockey Online Poll was released this week, and RPI at #10 is the only ECAC team to be nationally ranked, although Clarkson and Cornell do top the "others receiving votes" category.
Next week, we'll have a preview of this year's ECAC race; until then, this is Joe Schlobotnik with the ECAC hockey report.