If it's possible for a defending conference tournament champion to fly under the radar heading into a season, Union held that distinction in October.
Yale is the defending national champion. Quinnipiac has been on a steady rise to national prominence over the last three seasons; last year's team fell to Yale in the title game. Meanwhile, Union ho-hummed its way to an ECAC championship three years ago, a Frozen Four appearance two years ago, and another ECAC title last year.
Once again, here we are on the first weekend of 2014, and Union is atop the ECAC Hockey standings with an 8-0-1 conference record and a 9-0-1 overall record in its last 10 games. The Dutchmen were honored accordingly after a 5-0-1 month of December, sweeping the monthly conference awards.
Senior forward Daniel Carr was named ECAC Hockey Player of the Month after finishing the month tied for fourth in scoring nationally with eight points. Freshman forward Eli Lichtenwald was named National Rookie of the Month after logging a five-game points streak, which included games against nationally ranked foes like Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State. Junior goaltender Colin Stevens earned ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Month after logging a 3-0-1 record, including a win over Quinnipiac and a tie against St. Cloud State.
Union's biggest win of December came on the 14th when backup goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulus got the start in place of Stevens, and the Dutchmen beat No. 1 ranked St. Cloud State 4-1 -- their ninth straight win. Union improved to 6-0-1 on the road, despite it being its first game on the Olympic-sized sheet.
The start of Union's streak can be traced to a loss to Colgate on Nov. 8. After that game, coach Rick Bennett (Springfield, Mass.) criticized junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere for taking a penalty that turned the game. Gostisbehere responded by earning ECAC Hockey Player of the Week the next weekend. The Dutchmen haven't lost since.
Player of the Week
Eric Neiley, Dartmouth College
Neiley scored twice and added an assist in the Big Green's 8-8 tie against Northeastern Monday night at the Ledyard Classic. He now has nine goals and four assists for 13 points in 14 games, which leads Dartmouth. The junior forward was named to the All-Tournament Team.
1. Union (12-3-3; 8-1-0): The Dutchmen had a record of 25-12-4 in the 2013 calendar year, which included an ECAC Hockey tournament championship. By comparison, Quinnipiac was the only ECAC Hockey team better at 30-8-7. Defending national champion Yale was 22-11-4.
2. Quinnipiac (14-3-4; 6-2-2): Quinnipiac captured its first UConn Hockey Classic Championship since 2008 with a 5-0 win against Sacred Heart on Monday.
3. Clarkson (12-5-1, 6-2-0): The Golden Knights' promising start to the season took a hit with two losses in the year-ending Catamount Cup in Vermont. Clarkson fell to Vermont and UMass Lowell by a combined score of 8-3.
4. Yale (7-3-3; 3-2-3): The defending national champions closed out 2013 in style with a 4-1 victory over Holy Cross Sunday. The Bulldogs have done nothing to raise any doubt that they could contend for another national title in 2014.
5. Cornell (8-4-3; 4-3-2): Cornell collected a holiday championship in the 14th annual Florida College shootout with a 2-1 shootout victory over Maine in the title game. Checking-line forward Rodger Craig buried the game-winner in the ninth round of the shootout.
6. RPI (8-6-4; 3-3-3): The Engineers will play in one of the most competitive holiday tournaments in the nation in the Mariucci Classic this weekend at the University of Minnesota. The tournament includes the nation's top-two ranked teams in Ferris State and Minnesota, respectively, as well as ECAC foe Colgate.
7. Colgate (7-9-2; 5-3-1): The Raiders, who are allowing 3.3 goals per game, may benefit from a trip to Minnesota for the Mariucci Classic. The Raiders are 3-7-0 in 10 games at home.
8. Brown (5-6-1; 3-4-1): The Browns have a tough stretch when they take the ice for the first time in nearly a month this weekend. Their first three games of 2014 will be played at Denver, at Colorado College, and home against BC.
9. St. Lawrence (8-9-2; 2-4-2): The Saints will carry a four-game losing streak into 2014. Senior captain and returning All-American Greg Carey, who has 13 goals and 23 assists in 19 games, will likely be in the discussion for the Hobey Baker Award.
10. Harvard (4-7-2; 2-6-2): Sophomore Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) had a hat trick and an assist in Harvard's 9-3 victory over the Russian Red Stars Sunday. The Crimson return to the ice Saturday when they host Boston University.
11. Dartmouth (2-11-1, 2-8-0): The Big Green played to an 8-8 tie with Northeastern Monday afternoon in the consolation game of the 2013 Ledyard Classic. That marked Northeastern's second game against Hockey East opponents in a five-game stretch.
12. Princeton (3-14-0; 2-8-0): The Tigers failed to collect a point in the Florida College Hockey Classic with losses to Maine and UNH. The good news: The Tigers' top playmaker Andrew Calof returned after missing 10 games due to injury.