With the drop of the puck finally here, the ECAC Northeast Division III conference is comprised of teams that improve each year, not only on the ice, but off the ice, with more aggressive recruiting efforts.
Pre-season polls have the league’s coaches choosing Curry College as the 2006-07 favorite, with UMass Dartmouth second. These are the two teams that went to last year’s finals, with the latter winning. Nichols College, Plymouth State University, Fitchburg State College, and Wentworth Institute of Technology round out the top six. Wentworth goes into the year with a new coaching staff.
Salve Regina University and Johnson & Wales University ranked seventh and eighth, with just three votes separating the two teams in the pre-season poll, followed by Suffolk University, Western New England College, Framingham State University, and Worcester State College rounding out the league.
Rob Davies, head coach of Curry, pondered a question about his team’s strengths. “I think team speed, and the fact that I don’t think we have any special players in any one zone, but above average players in all three zones. I think we have some strengths on the blue line, too.”
Davies has two new goalies on the scene this year, Zach Cardella, a veteran of two seasons in the BCHL, and Andrew Lisi, who played in the EJHL. “That’s a good one-two combo for us.” Cardella comes to Curry from the BCHL, where he played for Spokane the past two years, and Lisi comes via the Boston Harbor Wolves of the EJHL.
On defense, senior Bobby Sequiera is back, and will be the team captain, and his alternate captain will be junior Nate Robie. Sophomore Jason Tarbell will be counted on to out his 6’2″, 210 lb. Frame to good use in his own zone, also. Senior Jonathan Whitham will also be back this year, after sitting out last season. Donnie Rankin and Jarrett Souza, transfers from Merrimack College, will bolster the blueline corps even further.
Down in southeastern Massachusetts, coach John Rolli of UMass Dartmouth is getting ready to do something he’s done for the past 22 years — coach his hockey team. Rolli has a career record of 441-116-19, making him one of the nation’s most successful coaches, but he would rather discuss his team. “I think our strength will be the continuation of our program from the last two years. We only gave up 39 goals, and we had a penalty killing percentage of .916, and we hope to carry that over into this year.”
Despite losing seven players from last year, Rolli will be counting on his leader scorer, Kyle McCullough, to not only score a lot of goals, but a lot of important goals. He’ll be joined on the first line by Jeff grant, and the year’s captain, Jim Foley. Up front, the Corsairs will be relying on Pete Lender, Ray Kirby, and Kailo Vairig, who missed last year because of medical issues.
On defense, the lone senior coming back is Paul Carr, and he’ll be counted on the provide leadership in his own zone. Jeff Green is expected to be the main man in the net, especially with Jon Dryjowicz-Burek’s transfer to UMass Lowell. Green gained valuable experience last year when during a stretch of six games he played in, he won all six, wityh a .995 save percentage and three shut-outs.
Lou Izzi at Nichols is feeling optimistic. “All of our key guys are back. We’re pretty solid all the way around.” One of the key players Izzi will rely on is sophomore goalie Keith Fink. As a freshman, Fink recorded school records for wins (16) and saves (762) and posted a .902 save percentage, while logging heavy minutes. This year Fink probably won’t see as many minutes with the addition of freshmen Matt Gassman (Boulder, Colo./Helena Bighorns) and Donny Wynia (Minneapolis, Minn./Wisconsin Mustangs.) Both goalies also offer insurance in net, and assure that Fink can be fresh late in the season. Izzi feels that Gassman may even compete for the number one job.
Izzi says the strength of his team lies clearly in the defense. “As a group of six, they’ve got to be one of the best groups in the conference. They’re big, fast, physical, and they handle the puck well.” Big could be an understatement, with all of the blueliners at least 6’1″, and averaging 201 lbs. Leading the blueliners is the biggest defenseman, senior Mark Malone, who at 6’4″, 220 lbs. is also fast, and can be dangerous on the power play. Sophomore Jeff Beiber hopes to build on his rookie season, in which he led all ECAC defensemen in scoring, with 28 points in 27 games. Izzi feels that while his defense is improved over last year, his offense is deeper. “Our depth at forward is better, it’s like we have an extra line.”
The Bison offense will be led by sophomore Tony Monte, who Izzi says “had a phenomenal freshman year. He’s got good instincts.” Monte led the league with 23 goals and 42 points, and will have a lot of help up front. He’ll be joined by sophomores Kevin Cook and Ryan Gervais, both of whom netted 17 goals last year. Izzi says of this line “they’re all little guys who can fly and create a lot of offense.”
The Bison will also count on freshmen Colby Jones, a forward out of the NAHL, and defenseman Mark Baker, as well Ian O’Connell, a freshman forward who played defense last year when asked to do so for the New Jersey Rockets. Freshman forward Eric Cremer has plenty of destinations he could have chosen, and Izzi is delighted he chose Nichols. “It’s refreshing at this point that he’s a natural freshman. He’s got great speed, and unbelievable offensive instincts.”
One player to keep an eye on is freshman Kris Kranzsky, a 6’4″ from California who grew up playing roller hockey, and has only been playing ice hockey for four years. Last year Kranzky racked up 90 points in the NORPAC.
Up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Plymouth State coach Brett Tryder is coming off of two strong years. He has nine of twelve forwards returning, meaning three full lines will be intact. Senior Goose Lacroix will be counted on to at least equal his more than point a game average from last year, and he’ll be helped by fellow senior Mykul Haun, who will be asked to put the puck in the net, as well as keeping it in the opponents zone. Junior Chris Cadieux, always dangerous in shorthanded situations, will need to come up big, as well as junior Deni Bojadzic, who led the team with five power play goals last year. Two key additions will come in the way of Chris Chambers (Boston Bulldogs/EJHL) and big (6’4″, 230 lbs.) Giovanni DiGiacomo (Boston Bulldogs/AJHL.)
On defense, only two players return. Junior Bobby Dashner and sophomore Pat Turcotte will see plenty of ice time this year. Behind the defense, though, lies a question mark. “Our goalie, Karl Helgesson, left to go to Plattsburgh State. Right now we’ve got a battle going on for the starting goaltender’s position.” Last years’ back-up, Brendan Fahy, is back, and has been coming on strong in pre-season. Also vying for the nod in net is returning junior Trevor Cherry, and Mick Fitzpatrick.
At Fitchburg State, Dean Fuller has an experienced squad to work with this year. “We have a lot of seniors, maybe seven, coming back, and we’ll have pretty good depth at all positions. If we can stay healthy with our seniors, we’ll be all right.”
Last year’s four top scorers are back, and they’re all seniors. Mike Dryer (16G 24A 40pts in 25 games) and Stefan Schofield (13G 24A 37pts in 25 games) led the way, and along with Jason Ledo (11G 17A 28pts in 26 games) this trio accounted for more than half of the Falcon’s power play production. Greg Mailloux led the team with 19 goals overall, and Fuller expects more of the same from him. On the blue line, senior Dave Kaloustian returns, and he’ll also be the team captain this year. Junior Devan McConnell is expected to see the bulk of time between the pipes.
In Boston, R.J. Tolan is preparing for his rookie season behind the Wentworth bench. He seems pleased so far by what he’s seen. “Our depth up front will be our strength. We’ve got Matt Koehler returning, and he was our leading scorer last year, and we’re just going to find out how things go, as they go along!”
Along with the sophomore Koehler, and his lofty stats (16G 11A 27 pts. in 25 games) he’ll have help from senior Ryan Singer and sophomore Joey Sides. These three are extremely effective on the power play, and Tolan wants to see more of that.
On defense, senior Phil Gabriele returns, along with sophomores Greg Demerjian and Rob Pagani. Senior Alan Keeso is back again for the Leopards, and his experience last year, in which he played the bulk of the minutes, should be beneficial not only to himself, but his teammates as well.
Tolan knows that the league he is joining is one that is continually evolving. “Over the past few years it’s become very competitive. The coaches have done a great job recruiting.” Tolan will be assisted by new coaches Michael Bertoni and Kevin Crowder, both of whom played college hockey, at UMass Boston, and Northeastern University, respectively.
In Rhode Island, Chris MacPherson is getting his squad ready at Salve Regina, and he knows what he’s got so far. “We have some pretty good speed and a pretty solid defensive corps, but a young team overall, with a lot of freshman and sophomores.”
Amongst the returning players, junior defenseman Brian Goodwin will be leaned on heavily. He’ll be joined by fellow junior Mike Kravchuk, and sophomore Zach Sufilka. A three-way battle is ensuing for the starting goaltender’s slot between sophomore Ryan Comerford, and juniors Steve Belle-Isle and Chase Goodrich.
Pacing the offense will be seniors Ryan Doyle and Travis Hampton. Last year they accounted for 9 out of the team’s 25 power plays goals. Sophomore Conor McCahill and junior and Mike Mallette are expected to contribute as well.
Also in Rhode Island, Erik Noack knows where his Johnson & Wales team is strong. “Our strength is in our forwards, like Dave Notartomaso and Matt McGilvary. We also have forwards who have played college hockey for a couple of years.” McGilvary, a sophomore, led the team in scoring last year, and Notartomaso is a redshirt freshman of whom big things are expected. Sophomores Ryan Jacobs, Shawn Roach, and Adam Frew are three players that Noack will be relying on this year, as well. Three new impact players will be junior hockey will be DJ McNaughton, Shane Poulin and Kevin Marchesi.
Noack realizes that his defense is “a little young” he will expect sophomore Mike O’Malley to log a lot of ice time this year. Fellow sophomore Jakub Kubrack and senior John Curley will also be counted on to lead the Wildcats defense. Two veterans return in goal, with sophomore Charlie Bacon and Brian Noiles splitting the time in the early going.
Chris Glionna, entering his third year behind the Suffolk University bench, is excited about his team’s chances this year, and especially about a return to the playoffs. “We’ve only been there once since 1992, and I’d like to make the jump this year. Offensively, we can score with anybody. John Rocchio is one of the best in the league.” Rocchio led the team in scoring last year as a freshman, despite missing two games late in the year, and amassed 15G-16A-31pts. along the way. He’ll skate on a line with Dan Pencinger, a sophomore, and junior John Barbosa. Pencinger led the team in assists last year with 17, while Barbosa led way the on the power play, with 4 goals. Glionna feels that this line can be as strong as any line in the league.
Between the pipes, Greg Blais and his .890 save percentage have graduated, and Blais is now playing in Europe. Transfers Kevin Adam, from Salem State, and Sean Bertoni from UMass Boston will be counted on this season. Both started for their respective teams last season, and will be counted on the provide stability deep in their own end. ]
The Rams will be leaning on three other transfers who they hope will add leadership. Mitch Sabo (Lawrence University) will join Brian Meyers (Morrisville State College) and defenseman Tim Recio (UMass Boston.)
One absence that will be felt is the temporary loss of perhaps the Rams best two-way player, Alex Holson, who is sitting out the first semester.
First-year coach Chris Bernard is excited about taking over at Western New England College, and he feels his troops are, as well. “We have a really competitive group who’ll play an up-tempo, physical style of play. We’re really bolstered by a big, strong sophomore class.”
Some of the sophomores include last year’s leading scorer Mike Majesty, Hank Levin, Phil Lamy, and Jason Remsbecker. Bernard foresees this group being the foundation of the program, and he’s fortunate to have a senior class that’s trying to help change the climate for future classes. “guys like our captain, Mike Amato, and Tyler Cambell are helping the sophomores buy into the program.”
Bernard, a former goalie himself at Clarkson University (1994-1998) is happy to have junior Brandon Gervais back as the incumbent in goal, and is expecting big things from him. Gervais will also have Glen McAffrey and Brian Zagenello competing for ice time.
“One of the big things we have to do is to be enthusiastic,” Bernard said, “and challenge ourselves every night to give each team our best effort.”
At Framingham State, “We had a very thorough try out process. We saw kids multiple times in every aspect,” coach Chris Heaney said. He also realizes they were one of the worst teams in the country last year, a fact that he knows “they can’t escape.”
Heaney will have several freshmen in the lineup, producing a situation in which he feels his staff will have to do as much coaching as teaching. He realizes that he needs “the right kid in the locker room. They either want to be in the program or not. They need to believe in the direction of the program.”
One believer is senior Ben Colby. With seven new defensemen, Colby, who is also the only senior, may start on the blueline, but he’s versatile enough to play forward as well. Colby is very highly regarded off the ice, as well. Framingham State is featuring him in their brochure, and he is also an honors student. Junior forwards Nick Glum, and Steve Boudreau will also be counted on. Pat Sampson is Framingham’s go-to in guy in goal, and some feel he has the potential to be one of the top netminders in the conference.
A little further west, Worcester State coach John Guiney sees his team coming along. “We’re getting a little more mature as far as experience, and we’ve brought in new players.” Fourteen new players, to be precise, and they will join fourteen returning players. “We would get behind a lot last year by a goal or two, and that just gets old. The new kids, though, know nothing about that, they’re just here to play, and they’ll get every opportunity.”
Guiney feels goaltending is one of his team’s strong points, with sophomore Jason Richardson returning, but he’s concerned about depth on defense, which is one reason that senior captain Josh McLellan, normally a forward may go back to defense this season. Junior Dan McLaughlin returns, and he provides a touch of offense to his game.
Up front, the Lancers should roll out three solid lines each night, led by newcomer Mark Rintal. “He’s a big, tough, strong kid; and he probably will be our best player day in and day out,” according to Guiney. He’ll get plenty of help up from Tom Ford and Dan Drinkwater. Don Morgan and Matt Allwater will be counted on as well to provide offense.
Overall in the league, each program has made solid efforts to improve. This is something Rob Davies took note of. “You like to see other teams get better, but not better than you!” Teams are putting together stronger non-conference schedules, and recruiting efforts have gotten more aggressive. All of the coaches seem to concur with the fact that from top to bottom, the league is stronger now than it ever has been.
Still to come, a look at the D-II teams which compete for the Northeast-10 Championship.