The East Coast Conference title race is expected to be tight. The Pioneers won the regular season title but fell short in its quest for a third consecutive tournament title as they were knocked off by NYIT in the championship game. But LIU avenged that loss in the NCAA tournament before falling the Elite Eight to national runner-up Charleston.
Duplicating that success won’t be easy but the Pioneers certainly have the talent to get the job done. NYIT, Dowling, the District of Columbia and Molloy are all contenders as well.
Below are a look at some of the big games that will help shape the conference championship race.
The Pioneers know their hopes for staying on top of the conference hinge heavily on this game. The Pioneers have the preseason offensive player of the year in the conference in Per Forgaard, who came through with eight goals and nine assists last year. He will give LIU a chance to win any game it plays. The Pioneers are also set in goal with the return of Jesper Malmstrom, who led the ECC in shutouts with eight. The standout from Sweden fashioned a goals against average of 0.86.
The Bears feature ECC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Gonzalo Barroso. He won the honor last season and earned a spot on the All-American team. Alex Barbosa is back to help lead the offense after coming through with nine goals a season ago.
These two teams battled to a 1-1 tie in the regular season a year ago and another close game should be on tap this time around. The winner stays in the driver’s seat for the ECC crown.
The Bears defeated Dowling 2-1 in last year’s meeting and another close battle is expected when these two teams hook up in a crucial showdown.
Dowling will be looking to make a statement against the defending conference champs and a win would serve as a huge boost of confidence in the Golden Lions’ quest for a championship.
The Golden Lions have a great deal of experience as 12 players are back. Sixteen newcomers are on the team as well. Mike Gronenthal will play a key role in Dowling’s success after coming through with eight goals last year.
This matchup will no doubt be one of the most intriguing of the year, and while it is early, it will carry a lot of weight in the long run in a conference race that probably won’t feature a lot of separation between the top three or four teams.
LIU and Dowling played twice last season, with the Pioneers earning a 2-1 win in the regular season before knocking the Bears out of the ECC tournament with a 4-1 win.
This is a game where Dowling will look to prove it belongs in the championship discussion and having the game at home is a huge help.
Both teams are solid on both sides of the ball and the team that is on top of its game defensively is going to prevail.
The Golden Lions prevailed in the meeting last season, earning a 2-1 victory at home over the Purple Knights. Bridgeport is tied for fourth with the District of Columbia in the preseason poll but there is no question it has an opportunity to finish much higher than that in the final standings.
Luka Ivanovic is back for Bridgeport after racking up three goals and three assists last year. The good thing for the Purple Knights is they will host the showdown this time around and winning a championship in college athletics requires being able to take care of business at home.
Another close game is likely and the winner will stay in the hunt for the title. The losing team will more than likely have to settle for a finish somewhere between second and fourth.
District of Columbia at Molloy on Oct. 21
Molloy is picked to finish sixth in the conference but received one first-place vote, which means it could certainly end up being a surprise team in the league this season.
The District of Columbia is picked to finish in a tie for fourth with Bridgeport, the the Firebirds are eager to take a big step forward this year after going 5-5 in league play last season.
DC returns goalie Louis Connor, who started 14 games last season and recorded two shutouts. His experience will be vital to the Firebirds’ hopes for success this year.
The Lions have a great deal of experience back, including redshirt seniors George Sinacore and Lester Franco. Anthony Posillico and Stephen Polimeni also return to hep fuel the offense.
Molloy only managed 14 goals last year. If it can be more productive offensively this season, it has a chance to be one of the better teams in the league. The Lions lost last year’s game by a 2-1 score and will be hungry for a little payback.
LIU favored to win championship
NYIT picked second and won conference title game. Played in NCAA tournament.