A League Up and Coming
When is a preview not really a preview?
In this case it is when we take a look at the nation’s largest conference comprised of teams playing at both the D-II and D-III levels. Sixteen teams in all who have officially dropped the puck on the season but are very early in the season and are still finding who and what they have for the upcoming season.
For the past few years, this league has been a two horse race with a couple of dark horse candidates looking to spoil the party. Certainly Curry, UMass-Dartmouth, Wentworth and Fitchburg State have exhibited great consistency in competing at the top half of the playoff bracket for several years running but the gap between the top and bottom has been shrinking over the past couple of years. Throw in a different Cinderella team and four teams that aren’t eligible for the league title to play with a chip on their shoulder every year to stir things up a bit and you have a very interesting dynamic.
This year looks to be the same with some interesting bylines to pass along the way to the league title and NCAA autobid in February. Defending champ Curry has not lost a regular season contest in over two full seasons. Having lost significant talent to graduation, the Colonels look to stay at the top with a more complete game from a re-tooled roster. UMass-Dartmouth returns the nation’s leading scorer and league player of the year in Eric Frank as they look to return to the league title game and a better outcome this time around. Wentworth looks to rebound from an off-year with an infusion of some new talent and transfers to compete at the top of the standings.
The season is off and running and the competition has already been tight in the first league contests of the year. You can’t look past any team on the schedule anymore and every point will be a valuable one as last year’s playoff seedings were not decided until the very last games of the regular season.
So here is how this jet-lagged writer sees the positioning for the upcoming season including the 12 team D-III standings as well as the D-II contenders for the separate Northeast 10 crown:
1. Curry Colonels
2004-2005 Overall Record: 19-6-3
2004-2005 League Record: 14-0-1
2004-2005 League Finish: First
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: First
Team Overview: Unbeaten in the past two regular seasons and the current league champs, Curry finds itself looking to replace approximately 70 percent of its offense lost to graduation. For most coaches that would be a concern, but not for head coach Rob Davies, “We will be a different kind of team this year. No doubt we lost some great players with a lot of talent, but we have some strong guys returning and some newcomers who may be more complete hockey players than what we have had in the past.”
Leading the way will be captain Bret Adams and forward George Caderamatori in front of senior goaltender Lenny Mosca. Look for Providence transfer Luke Irwin to make an impact as well as some of the incoming freshmen. It will be tough to complete another undefeated league season especially with the difficult non-conference slate of games Davies has scheduled. The Colonels know what it takes to win and have their sites set on returning to the big dance in March.
2. UMass-Dartmouth Corsairs
2004-2005 Overall Record: 22-5-0
2004-2005 League Record: 14-1-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Second
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Second
Team Overview: John Rolli’s teams always compete hard. The Corsairs have talent and if they can adequately replace the solid goaltending of the graduated Kevin McGowan, they will be in the hunt at the end. Eric Frank broke out last year as an offensive force. He will be playing with some different talent this year but look for more solid numbers from one of the team’s leaders. Defensively, senior Dan Aucoin anchors a good unit and will need to be very supportive of freshman goalie Jon Dryjowicz-Burek who has become the starter. If the goaltending is consistent, this team can compete for the title and would certainly like another shot at Curry for the championship next spring.
3. Wentworth Leopards
2004-2005 Overall Record: 15-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 11-2-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Third
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Third
Team Overview: The Leopards are a very young team this season with 11 freshmen on the roster. How quickly they mature will have a lot to do with how this team competes down the stretch and into the playoffs. Leadership will come from the defensive corps which includes veterans Blayne Goodman, Mike Prsa and Curry transfer Phil Gabriele. If Adam Keeso can be solid in goal forwards like Jeff Oddleifson and Matt Koehler should score enough to have coach Jonathan Deptula’s team right in the hunt at the end.
4. Fitchburg State Falcons
2004-2005 Overall Record: 12-12-1
2004-2005 League Record: 8-6-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fifth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fourth
Team Overview: The Falcons’ Head coach Dean Fuller is another veteran coach in the conference. One thing you know when you face off against Fuller’s team is that you are in for a game. The Falcons are young but have some experience from a core group of returnees that will be competing to win home ice in the playoffs. The team has balanced scoring from the likes of forwards Greg Mailloux, Jason Ledo and Kevin Sullivan. The defense is anchored by junior Dave Kaloustian and goaltending looks to be strength with sophomore Devan McConnell. This team should get better as the season progresses and if they are playing their best hockey come February, they could surprise anyone in a one-game playoff format.
5. Plymouth State Panthers
2004-2005 Overall Record: 13-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 9-5-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fourth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fifth
Team Overview: Last season the Panthers-under head coach Brett Tryder-made great strides and used a late season flourish to secure a home-ice berth in the playoffs. Backed by freshman phenom Karl Helgesson in goal, Plymouth state used a disciplined style and opportunistic scoring to compete with the league’s best every night. Helgesson already appears to be in form, having picked up player of the week honors in the very first week of the season. The Panthers will need balanced scoring and increased production from a core group of players including seniors Rory Nickerson and Dennis Kane along with sophomores Topo Lacroix and Deni Bojadzic. If PSC can build on last year’s success, they will compete again for a home-ice berth but will need to survive an early season schedule that includes seven straight games on the road.
6. Nichols Bison
2004-2005 Overall Record: 4-17-2
2004-2005 League Record: 2-11-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Tenth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Sixth
Team Overview: Every year there seems to be one Cinderella team that surprises everyone by being predicted to finish near the bottom and qualifies for the playoffs. Two seasons ago it was Framingham State and last year it was Johnson & Wales. This year, Lou Izzi’s team gets to try on the glass slipper and make the playoffs-an elusive goal up to now. The key will be how 14 freshmen mature and grow together as a team. Coach Izzi has proven he can find talent and if the newcomers live up to billing other teams in the league should look out for the Bison. Goaltending will be a key and the job is in freshman Keith Fink’s hands. Youth abounds upfront with freshmen Eric Shottke, Anthony Monte, Jacob Kline and Derek Porter leading the way. Like the Cinderellas of the past, a good start is key so look for the Bison to come out flying.
7. Salve Regina Seahawks
2004-2005 Overall Record: 10-14-1
2004-2005 League Record: 7-7-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Seventh
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Seventh
Team Overview: The Seahawks will have to fill a big leadership hole on and off the ice with the graduation of Geno Binda, but have a large senior class ready to show the way to