As if the Yale men’s hockey team needed any more confidence heading into their upcoming season, the Bulldogs were picked to finish first in the 2009-’10 ECAC hockey standings in a pair of preseason polls released this week.

The ECAC Hockey Coaches Preseason Poll and the ECAC Hockey Writers and Broadcasters Association Preseason Poll each had Yale set to repeat as ECAC regular season champions after its second-ever title last season. Yale was also selected 11th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine national poll.

This is the first time that the Elis have ever been preseason favorites to win the ECAC. The highest-ever prediction for a Yale squad prior to this year was a predicted fifth-place finish in 2003.

Yale received seven of 12 first-place votes in the coaches’ poll and 15 of 25 first place votes in the writers’ poll. Coaches cannot project their own team as first-place finishers.

“It is nice to see that people are beginning to recognize the program we have here and the strides that we have been making over the past few years to get to where we are now,” captain and defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 said.

Yet Donald was quick to downplay the relevance of preseason polls.

“I think that we have come to understand that these rankings don’t win you games and that we still have to work as hard as we have been to be successful,” he added. “Last year we were in the middle of the preseason rankings and ended up having a great year, so it is clear to us that these rankings don’t give anyone an advantage.”

Head coach Keith Allain said of the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine projections, “It’s a poll. The poll is just the way people think. Our guys understand that championships aren’t won in the polls, they’re won over the summer, on the track, on the ice, and in the weight room.”

The Bulldogs won both the ECAC regular season and Tournament championships in the record-breaking 2008-’09 season despite being predicted to finish seventh in the preseason.

“Since every team makes the [ECAC Hockey Championship Tournament] playoffs, each team can make a decent run in the league,” center Mark Arcobello ’10 said. “That’s why we play the season.”

Perennial ECAC powerhouses Cornell and Princeton were picked second and third in both of this year’s polls, respectively.

The Elis split a pair of games with the Tigers last season, while sweeping the Big Red in all three games, including a 4–2 victory to clinch their first regular-season conference title since the 1997–’98 season on Feb. 27, and an emphatic March 21 5–0 victory on their way to their first-ever ECAC Tournament championship.

Arcobello admitted that last year’s successes and the preseason number one ranking will make the Bulldogs a target come conference play.

“I’m sure teams have done their homework,” he said. “They know we’ve only lost four guys, [goaltender Alec] Richards ’09 being the biggest loss. Like every top team in the league, every team you play against is going to get especially ready for that [game].”

The Elis finished with a total of 117 points in the coaches’ poll, four ahead of Cornell and 14 ahead of Princeton. The Crimson, who were picked to finish fourth in both polls, earned a total of 87 points from the coaches.

The Big Red were a mere three points behind Yale’s 278 in the media poll, with Princeton earning 253 and Harvard mustering 224.

Among Yale’s honors, Arcobello, who received second-team All-America and first-team All-ECAC honors last season, was named ECACHWBA Preseason All-Conference. Fellow forwards David McIntyre of Colgate and Riley Nash of Cornell, defensemen Alex Biega of Harvard and Brendon Nash of Cornell, and Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba rounded out the Preseason All-Conference Team.

Right winger Sean Backman ’10, a second-team All-ECAC selection last season, was named by coaches to the preseason all-conference team.

Cornell and Princeton were ranked higher than the Bulldogs, though, in the USA Today poll. The Big Red were given a preseason ranking of No. 7 in the nation with 254 points compared to Yale’s 149, while the Tigers were ranked ninth with 223. First-place vote getters Miami (Ohio) had 457 points.

Allain said he did not feel slighted by the lower ranking, and understood how programs with more recent national success might have been given more respect in the rankings.

“They’re both very, very good,” he said, referring to Cornell and Princeton. “I think we are kind of the new kids on the block. Cornell won a game in the national tournament last season and they didn’t graduate very much either. And Princeton has been to the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. It all depends on what people are looking for. You could make a case for any of the scenarios.”