It was a tough season last year for the Clarkson Golden Knights. Under intense heat as the number-one preseason pick in the ECAC Coaches Poll, the Knights didn’t get out of the gate very quickly.
In the end, the Knights posted their 25th straight winning season and advanced to Lake Placid, remaining the only ECAC team to do so every year the ECAC Championships have been held there. This season, the Knights were picked fourth by the coaches.
“It’s nice to be the hunter instead of the hunted,” said head coach Mark Morris. “We’re really looking forward to this season. Off-ice things that happened with our program, we’ve decided not to talk about, and instead we’re going to look ahead.
“Some unforeseen obstacles got in the way of a promising season last year, but we learned a great deal about our personnel and the strengths and weaknesses of our program. This year we need improved goaltending, steady defensive play, and we hope to be a more creative offensive threat.
“Our returning players are really looking forward to the upcoming season. They see this as an opportunity to bounce back from a less than banner season. Our team endured a lot of scrutiny and criticism last year and I think that will only act as motivation for this year’s team to excel.”
Morris mentioned that improved goaltending will be a must this season, and he has two goaltenders to compete for the position: Shawn Grant, who tended the Knights’ nets to the ECAC Championship two years ago, and Karl Mattson, a promising goalie who came in during last season.
“In his freshman year, Shawn was a very steadying influence on our team, and we need for him to return to that role this season,” said Morris. “It will be important for him to maintain a good, sound, positive focus and to keep his confidence at a level where he can steal some games for us.
“Mattson came into a tough situation and when the goaltending was 90 percent, we won most games. Any time you have solid defense, the puck is not going to be in your zone very long. He’s a goaltender that’s played more games and he’s more comfortable and ready for the season.
“So far, he’s probably our strongest competitor in the net; watching the dry land [training], you can tell that he’s prepared and that he’s confident.”
On the blue line, the Knights are led by First Team All-ECAC performer Kent Huskins.
“Kent Huskins is very underrated, in my opinion,” said Morris. “He’s a great passer and has great offensive skills and defensively he seldom gets beat. With the confidence level that he has now, he’ll be jumping into the play more often….He and Kerry Ellis-Toddington pair up very well. They’re like fric and frac out there.
“Mike Nagai is a smaller but quick defenseman and Ian Manzano looks a lot like Kevin Lowe when he played. He’s not a guy that stands out a whole lot, but he does everything very well. Brendan Farrell is a 6-4 guy that is still filling out and I think there is a ton of potential there.”
Up front, the Knights will deal with the loss of leading scorer Erik Cole, who signed with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, and promising freshman Mikko Ruutu, who signed professionally in Finland. But the Knights return David Evans, Matt Poapst and Murray Kuntz.
“I think that those three guys jump out as guys that we are going to lean on,” said Morris. “Rob McFeeters is a tremendous addition to our team. And then a couple of other guys, Jean Desrochers and Tristan Lush. Trevor Edwards will add some speed for us and our young guys are going to play a lot. I think that those guys are going to be thrown right in the fire.
— Clarkson head coach Mark Morris
“It will take a total effort up front for us. Don Smith and Adam Campana will have to play well for us. I think we have a better skating team than we did last year. We don’t have the same attitude — everyone kind of looked to Erik Cole to do things last year and I don’t think there were a lot of other quick skaters to complement him. Others will have to step up.”
This season’s schedule will play a large role for these Knights as well.
“Everyone realizes that we have a lot of expectations in our program year in and year out. Everyone expects us to be there,” said Morris. “This year our schedule will be conducive to helping our newcomers learn and to progress at a normal rate, and that was purposely done. Our slow starts have been attributed to biting off a little more than we chew. Clarkson looks to be one of the teams to compete with every team and the expectations aren’t quite as high as they have been in recent years.”
This season may be different for the Knights. It could be a year of adjusting, or the Knights could well be back on top of the ECAC.
“I’m really looking forward to this year because in years past it’s not [been] nice to be pushed under the bus, and we’re carrying this huge weight on our backs, and now someone else can run around with it,” said Morris. “We’re looking to improve and get better and one of the best things about our profession is teaching things to people.
“It will be a great year for us to do some coaching. Sometimes when you have potential pros as underclassmen, it can be a distraction. Our long-term plans got rocked by pro hockey. It’s a double-edged sword. You bring a kid along and right after year one or two, they’re plucked from your program and you’re left never seeing the finished product.
“We’ve got an outstanding group of guys that are going to be our defensive corps, and our starting goaltender will in all likelihood be Karl Mattson. And up front we’ll have a lot of new faces. We’ve had a lot of turnover….We’d sure like to have Erik Cole and Willie Mitchell, but that’s the way it is going to be.”