On a Sunday night in Potsdam last March, the regular-season ECAC champions found themselves out of the hunt for the playoff title, not en route to Lake Placid for the first time since the championships have been held there.
A 3-2 loss to Vermont in overtime of the first round gave the Cats the 2-1 series win and in the process, knocked the Golden Knights of Clarkson out of NCAA contention.
“Reflecting back on the season, we played extremely well in the second half and that was encouraging,” said head coach Mark Morris. “Ending the season on the note it [did] was tough to swallow, but that also acts as incentive for us to play extremely determined this season. The chain of events that led to us being left out on the outside looking in, left a nasty taste in our mouth and we want to make things right.”
The Knights were voted first by the ECAC media in this season’s poll, not an uncommon sight.
“Polls are insignificant; it’s nice that people think that highly of our program, but we still have lots of work to do to see that through,” said Morris. “It’s a long season, there are plenty of good teams in our league and we’re not taking anything for granted. It’s not a situation we haven’t been in before, so we have to focus on the job at hand.
“We also realize that it’s been a two-year hiatus that we’ve had a chance to return to the national tournament and we really want to up our goals for the year. You’re only as good as your last game.”
The Knights lose Hobey Baker finalist Kent Huskins, but return 20 athletes this season, with a huge concentration of returning defensemen.
“It looks as if the strength of our team is from the blue line back,” said Morris. “Kent Huskins is a tough guy to replace. He might rank as one of the top defenseman we’ve had in my time here. He’s one of the irreplaceable guys.
“Our hope is that guys like [Chris] Bahen and [Dave] Reid, [Ian] Manzano, [Joe] Carosa and [Kerry] Ellis-Toddington will help to fill in some of those gaps, and we’ve added Ken Scuderi and Randy Jones and Brendan Farrell. And then [Mike] Nagai, who played forward last season, so there’s always that possibility that if need be he can move back in a defenseman’s role.”
The strong corps of defensemen will support junior Mike Walsh, named to the second team All-ECAC squad last season with a GAA of 1.81 and a save percentage of .924.
“He grew leaps and bounds from mid-year,” said Morris. “His confidence shot up significantly and made all the difference in the world for how much success we had that led to our league championship.”
Up front the Knights return Matt Poapst (17-19–36), a second-team All-ECAC selection, and David Evans (12-19–31). ECAC Rookie of the Year Rob McFeeters (15-15–30) and Kevin O’Flaherty (8-20–28) also return to provide scoring punch.
“We don’t have anybody that really jumps off the sheets at you numbers-wise,” said Morris. “But our biggest challenge this year is to get some of our middleclassmen to step forward and give us the depth it will take to compete against the better teams in our league.
“Don Smith, his leadership will be missed up front, and Murray Kuntz’ scoring as well. We’ve added Max Faulkner, who is a solid two-way player, and will remind people of the work ethic of a J.F. Houle. Chris Blight is a young forward with a knack to score goals and if he matures physically he’ll be able to pick up some of the scoring slack.
“Jay Latulippe is a very nifty forward and he plays a Craig Janney style — he’s got a great eye for finding the open guy. Matt Syroczynski looks to be a guy that will provide us with a physical presence. He’s a big body and a guy that has the tools that gives us the size and tools to play against the grittier teams.”
The Knights look to repeat last year’s success in winning the regular-season championship, but are also looking to get back to Lake Placid to recapture the Scotty Whitelaw Trophy.
“We’ve got a number of returning veterans that won’t soon forget how things unfolded in the series against Vermont, and I would expect that we’ll be very focused this season,” said Morris.