ALBANY, N.Y. -- Expectations at Quinnipiac have reached the point where a season like last winter, when the Bobcats won 23 games and reached the ECAC Hockey semifinals, is viewed as a disappointment.

But that comes with the territory for a program that's fallen short of a national championship by one game twice in the past four years.

Heavy losses to graduation and early NHL defections were at the root of the Bobcats fifth-place finish last season, the first time since 2012 it failed to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

Expectations remain high as Quinnipiac prepares to open the new season with a Sunday exhibition against Saint Mary's of Nova Scotia. While several other programs recover from heavy losses due to graduation, transfers and pro signings, the Bobcats return nearly all key personnel while bringing in two high-end transfers and an outstanding recruiting class.

Quinnipiac is ranked second in the preseason conference coaches and media polls, released by ECAC Hockey on Monday at the Times-Union Center. Harvard, coming off a Frozen Four berth, is the consensus top pick.

Yale, which finished eighth in the standings last winter, is ranked seventh by the media and sixth in the coaches' poll.

Quinnipiac established a reputation as one of the nation's top defensive units over the past several seasons, due in part to a talented defensive core and top-notch goaltending. Goals will once again be tough to come by for any opponent.

Andrew Shortridge began last season as a freshman backup to Chris Truehl. He eventually won the job outright and led the league in goals-against average and save percentage during conference play.

Truehl is no longer in the picture. With little chance for playing time this winter, he gave up his final season of eligibility and signed a minor league contract. Keith Petruzzelli, a highly-regarded freshman from Wilbraham, Massachusetts, is will compete with Shortridge for playing time at season's onset.

Petruzzelli, at 6-foot-5, 190-pounds, was named USA Hockey's goaltender of the year and was taken by Detroit in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft in June.

Brandon Fortunato, a transfer from Boston University, and John Furgele, a transfer from New Hampshire, will both make immediate contributions at defenseman, joining a rotation that features two of the top defenders in the league in Chase Priskie and Brogan Rafferty.

If there's an area of concern it's scoring goals. Quinnipiac never recovered from the lost production of Sam Anas, Travis St. Denis and Devon Toews from the 2016 national runner-up team.

There's plenty of experience, led by seniors Landon Smith, Bo Pieper and Tanner MacMaster, along with junior Craig Martin. All will need to be more consistent and productive for the Bobcats to win a league title and reach the NCAAs.

At Yale, the main issue is dealing with the loss of senior John Hayden, who went straight from New Haven to the Chicago Blackhawks when last season ended. Hayden was a physical and talented forward who scored 21 goals.

Joe Snively returns as one of the league's best play-makers, evidenced by his 25 assists and 39 points. He'll get offensive help from senior captain Ryan Hitchcock, whose junior season ended early with a fractured leg, and junior Ted Hart, a speedy skater with a nice scoring touch.

Sam Tucker, a junior from Wilton, returns as starting goaltender. Freshman Nicholas McNab and sophomore Corbin Kaczperski are also in the mix. Anthony Walsh, Adam Larkin, Billy Sweezey and Charlie Curti were the heart of the defensive core, and all are back, with heralded freshman Phil Kemp set to make an immediate impact.

This article is written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.