The ECAC is a conference that often gets overlooked when compared with the top conferences in the NCAA, due to in part to the amount of games played by the Ivy league schools, and the size of some of the hockey programs at certain schools. But the ECAC has been a solid developmental league for the Montreal Canadiens over the last two years, as they have dipped into the ECAC, by adding five players to the organization and one past tryout in Hamilton. Management has shown they like the product that the ECAC is putting on the ice, and off the ice, as they seem to find solid players and intelligent individuals based the level of academics and All Academic Team honors from the respective schools and players.
It started two years back with the Canadiens trading up in the 2002 draft to grab forward Chris Higgins who was coming off a solid freshman year and world junior tournament. Higgins attended Yale, a school widely known for its academics and level of difficulty. While you saw what he could do on the ice in all situations, he also faced the student life at one of the top schools in North America. So far Higgins is showing just why the Canadiens wanted to draft him, with an excellent rookie season in the AHL and a solid showing in the NHL.
In 2003 the Canadiens went back to the ECAC in way when they selected Ryan O’Byrne out of the BCHL, before he was headed off to play for Cornell of the ECAC. O’Byrne would be getting solid defensive coaching, while playing on one of the tougher defensive programs to play against in the NCAA. Being in the Ivy league, O’Byrne won’t get to play as much as others due to the shorter schedule, but he will be getting a solid education along with the experience of playing for one of the top teams in the ECAC after winning the ECAC title again this year.
Later that year the Canadiens looked to the ECAC for a different reason. With the top goalie in the NCAA and one of the top three players in the league, the Canadiens added to their goaltending depth and signed free agent Yann Danis. With Danis they were able to go ahead and move goaltender Mathieu Garon to help improve the team, and they obtained a top notch goalie to restock the shelf. Dannis a two time All Academic Team member, showed he can carry an average team and still get outstanding grades at a great institution.
In addition to Danis, the Canadiens assistant general manager Andre Savard gave one of Danis’s teammates a chance to play for Hamilton of the AHL. Savard who overseas the Hamilton Bulldogs, signed Brent Robinson to a ATO contract to help the Bulldogs in their close finish to the winning their division. While Robinson was only able to see limited ice time, he was able to help the team a bit, and ended up getting himself a contract with the flyers.
That’s three players added to the organization from the ECAC over the last two years, but they weren’t done going to the ECAC well. In the 2004 draft the Canadiens selected one player from the ECAC and another player headed there. With James Wyman the Canadiens got a player from the USHS, the Blake school one of the better programs in the USHS, and he is headed to Dartmouth of the ECAC as well. While at Dartmouth, Wyman will join a solid group of incoming freshman and solid group of returnees from last season. Hugh Jessiman and Lee Stempnaik were a major part of Dartmouths success this year, and will be returning this season, which could put the team at the top of the ECAC and a shot at the frozen four if all goes well.
And finally the Canadiens grab Jon Gleed to make it the fifth player added to the organization from the ECAC since the 2002 draft. With Gleed they get a steady defensemen to add to the depth of the organization, as they know he has played in a solid defensive program while also getting a sound education. Gleed could end up with an increased role as a junior next year, with the loss of senior defensemen Ben Wallace, which would be great for his development down the road.