The Brown Bears began last season on a torrid pace, only to flame out in the ECAC quarterfinals, falling to travel partner and eventual tournament winner Harvard. After rising quickly to the top of the league with a 6-1-1 start, head coach Roger Grillo’s club managed only one victory in its final eight contests.
“Last year, we had a pretty decent year,” said Grillo. “I think we were in first place in our league for almost 90 percent of the season. So we were disappointed with the way it ended. It left a bitter taste in the mouths of the returning guys.”
Despite the disappointment at the end of the campaign, the Bears treated fans to an unbelievable season, which heralded signs of a team no longer content with the lower echelon of the league.
“It was nice to have our program get recognition last year and move up in the rankings, both in our league and in the nation,” added Grillo, whose team cracked the national polls in early December.
One of the biggest reasons for the Bears’ success, goaltender Yann Danis, graduated in the spring and moved up to join the Montreal Canadiens’ organization. The Hobey Baker finalist posted impressive numbers to cap off an equally impressive career, turning aside 94.6 percent of the shots he faced while allowing only 1.81 goals per game.
With the dominating presence of Danis gone from between the Brown pipes, many are looking past the team from Providence this year. But Grillo believes that many of his returning skaters played an equal part in boosting the Bears to fourth in the conference last year, and he thinks that senior goalie Scott Rowan can fill the void left by the departing Danis.
“Scott is someone who no one really talks about but who we think the world of,” said Grillo. “A lot of people are discounting us this year because Yann is gone. He was an unbelievable kid, but there are a lot of good players on this team that will make us just as tough this season.”
Rookie sensation Brian Ihnacak looks to improve upon a 10-goal, 30-point season, and will team with captain Les Haggett to spur an offense that proved sporadic in 2003-04. The loss of Scott Ford and Vince Macri leaves the Brown blueline light, but provides rising seniors Paul Crosty and Gerry Burke an opportunity to shine.
Meanwhile, a large freshman class of nine should get plenty of chances to give the Bears yet another ECAC Rookie of the Year.
“We have three young defensemen who will probably have a shot to play right away,” said Grillo about Paul Baier, Sean Hurley and David Robertson. “Guys like Brian McNary, Jeff Prough, Chris Poli and Seth Seidman are forwards who we think also have a shot to step up and make an impact on this club.
“Overall I’m excited about this season. I’m looking forward to showing what we can do.”
The Bears open the 2004-05 season with their annual game against Harvard on October 29.