Looks like the Polar Express up just ahead and that just might be Tom Hanks playing the conductor, or maybe the engineer, or one of many other employees on the train to the North Pole to see you know who!
Anyway it looks like a lot of D-III coaches from New England are jumping onboard the train hoping to get some last minute gift requests for their team into the “Big Man up North.” Certainly there have been a lot of surprises and very interesting results from the league this year in the first half of the season — it’s really setting up to be a great season and a strong second half with some surprise newcomers contending in both leagues.
Let’s see what the wish list looks like for the teams as they head into the break and look to come out in the second half with a strong start to get some momentum on their side heading towards the playoffs.
ECAC East (in alphabetical order because Santa is a little meticulous when it comes to organizing and checking his lists)
Babson: 4-3-0 Overall Record — 3-2-0 Conference Record
What Jamie Rice wouldn’t give for a little more offense, a better power play and a little tighter penalty kill. The Beavers are a young bunch and their going to need more production from players other than Brad Baldelli and John Geverd who have five goals apiece or just about 20% of the team’s total output. Freshman Jason Schneider has shown some early promise with four goals and three assists for seven points in the first seven games. The goaltending has been OK and an improvement in that area would certainly help the Beavers contend in the second half.
Castleton State: 5-2-2 Overall Record — 1-1-2 Conference Record
In your first nine games of the season, you already have surpassed last year’s win total for the season but the Spartans aren’t resting on any laurels despite their strong start. They continue to get great production and leadership from Joe Hutchko (3-4-7) but a couple of young guys have added some offensive punch to the line-up. Freshmen Kirk Bolduc (0-10-10) and Steve Culbertson (5-6-11) lead the team in scoring to support some strong goaltending from Jeff Swanson and Jay Seals. If the Spartans can cut down on the penalties and improve the power play a bit, they will compete with everyone, every night.
New England College: 4-3-0 Overall Record — 3-2-0 Conference Record
Coach Carroll has to be delighted that his team had a real strong showing headed into the break with a decisive win over travel partner St. Anselm’s. That could be the kind of boost the team is looking to build on after the holidays. Freshman goaltender Matthew Lyon has some great numbers and could be the consistent netminder the team is looking for moving into 2007. A healthy Mike Carmody would also add to the offensive production as the all-star forward has only played in three games in the first half. Continued success on the power play is also something that Coach Carroll would like to find in his stocking as the Pilgrims have scored 13 power play goals this season of their 22 total tallies.
Norwich: 5-2-0 Overall Record — 2-2-0 Conference Record
The Cadets hope to come out in the second half starting at the Times-Argus tournament with renewed enthusiasm. Certainly, the tragedy that befell former captain Mike Serba has to have had an impact on the Cadets and here’s hoping they can play with his spirit in 2007. offensively Norwich has been potent with four players having double-digit point totals in the first seven games of the season. What will make the second half better will be return to health and form for Chance Gieni to support the efforts of David Thompson in goal and a number of defensemen to step up every night from the rotation of eight that Coach McShane has played already this season. The Cadets have depth and experience and will no doubt contend strongly to retain their league title.
St. Anselm’s: 3-2-1 Overall Record — 3-2-1 Conference Record
Closing out the first half with a loss at NEC is not what Coach Seney had in mind for his team headed into the break. This team is a very talented bunch led by a strong senior class who will need to bring a consistent effort to every contest if the results are going to be better in the second half. Jason Rafuse will need to continue his steady play in goal and the Hawks should look to see what it is like to play with a lead as they have demonstrated their resilience in coming from behind already on multiple occasions this season. Senior Brett Smith (3-6-9) leads the Hawks in points including two power play goals and one short-handed goal — two of the three goals were game winners. Smith is a special player and he will need to stay healthy and productive to lead the hawks in the second half.
St. Michael’s: 2-4-0 Overall Record — 1-4-0 Conference Record
The Purple Knights need to cut down on the goals against with some better team defense and stronger goaltending from the senior tandem of Derek Jackson and Erik Smith. Thirty goals against in the first half of the season are five a game for the opposition and that’s tough for any team to overcome on a regular basis. Senior Jared Silver continues to impress on offense but he needs some help and junior Tim Dancey seems to be helping in that area with a team leading four goals in the first six games.
Salem State: 3-5-0 Overall Record — 1-4-0 Conference Record
The Vikings have had going all for them or all against them with some lopsided wins and losses on both sides of the record. Fifty percent of the team’s offense has come on the power play so more production from 5-on-5 play. Sophomore Ryan Hatch has seen action in every game so far and has posted some respectable numbers including 230 saves in just the first eight games. The Vikings will need to cut down on the opponents averaging over thirty shots a game to help out their goaltender. Sophomores Zach Doyon (6-2-8) and David Passaglia (1-9-10) lead the team in scoring and they will need some help form veterans Andrew O’Neill and Sean Ferguson to move up in the conference standings in the second half.
Skidmore: 4-1-2 Overall Record — 2-0-2 Conference Record
Coach Neil Sinclair’s team believes in the system and more importantly believe in each other. They got out of the gates strong and up until a loss at Geneseo in the final game of the first half, had an unblemished record. The Thoroughbreds are stingy on defense giving up just two goals a game and their freshmen goaltenders have been outstanding to start the season. DJ Delbuono and Jimmy Santacroce both have save percentages over.919 percent and have come up with the big save that the team has needed in some tight games. Offensively, Coach Sinclair hopes to see the continued maturation of his freshmen including scorer Matt Czerkowicz (4-6-10) and Anthony Ferri (4-2-6). Skidmore hopes a trip to the Codfish Bowl will get 2007 off to a rousing start and that the focus continues to be on getting better every shift, every day, and every game.
Southern Maine: 5-4-0 Overall Record — 4-1-0 Conference Record
Yup, that’s the Huskies at the top of the table at the end of the first half. A far cry from last year’s start, Coach Beaney probably is asking Santa that his team play with the intensity and have the results against all his opponents that seem to occur when he matches up against NESCAC teams. A disappointing loss to Suffolk ended the first half but historically Southern Maine plays their best after the break and if that holds true, the Huskies might not move far from their current slot. Mark Carragher (7-7-14) as expected leads the team in points and fellow senior Chris Sparkes has chipped in with eleven points including a four goal game against Colby. David Beckles will need to continue to his consistent play if the Huskies want to stay at the top.
UMass-Boston: 1-6-1 Overall Record — 0-5-0 Conference Record
The Beacons broke into the win column before the break which was a big event for the team having not won a single contest last season and it rewarded the efforts of a very young team that has been very competitive under first year coach Peter Belisle. The challenges for this team are still found in finding some more offense and stopping opposing teams from scoring. Freshman Ryan Donovan has great numbers in his first seven games including a 2.91 GAA and .933 save percentage while facing almost three hundred shots — that’s about forty-two biscuits a game at the UMB net which is way too many. Offensively the team has just 13 goals but the leading scorers are all freshmen which bodes well if they can maintain their confidence and level of play starting with their own Codfish Bowl tournament after Christmas.
NESCAC (in alphabetical order because Santa is a little meticulous when it comes to organizing and checking his lists and after all NESCAC comes after ECAC East)
Amherst: 6-0-1 Overall Record — 3-0-1 Conference Record
One of just a handful of unbeaten teams in the first half, the Lord Jeffs have been a pleasant surprise in the NESCAC conference. They have received great leadership from their captain Sean Ellis, balanced scoring led by sophomore Joel Covelli (2-12-14), solid goaltending from Josh Fillman and great special teams. So why is Jack Arena on this train anyway? He’ looking for the continuation of great special teams where his power play has been at the top of the charts in the nation most of the season and continued strong play from his defensive corps including sophomores Rylan Burns and Jeff Landers. Amherst has all of the ingredients to contend in the second half.
Bowdoin: 4-0-3 Overall Record — 3-0-2 Conference Record
The Polar Bears are also unbeaten through the first half of the season and have brought together a young team balanced by some key veterans in improving their play from the first drop of the puck. Goaltender Nick Smith (.935 SP) has been very solid in replacing George Papchristopoulos giving the Bowdoin team a chance to win every night. Special teams have been good overall but Coach Meagher would like to see the offense score a few more goals from the quality chances they are getting. Continued strong play from freshmen Mike Corbelle (4-3-7) and Mitch Dillon (4-1-5) will help this team grow to their potential in the New year.
Colby: 3-3-2 Overall Record — 2-2-1 Conference Record
The White Mules got off to a fast start but had some mixed results coming into the break. Their juniors and seniors have led the team as expected with a great power play and some strong offensive numbers especially from Joe Rothwell (4-8-12), TJ Kelley (4-7-11), Josh Reber (2-9-11) and Arthur Fritch (4-5-9). The goaltending from senior Ben Grandjean has been steady but the team could use more production and improved play from their younger players in the second half of the season. Look for Mike Policinski, Michael Belliveau, Eric Simmons and Jared Crittenden to add more to the Colby results in 2007.
Conn College: 4-4-0 Overall Record — 3-2-0 Conference Record
The Camels are another of the pleasant surprise teams in the first half. Conn College finished the first part of the season on a high note knocking off then unbeaten and 12th ranked UMass-Dartmouth in a stirring come from behind 4-3 win. The team is very young but has growing confidence in front of freshman goalie Greg Parker (.952 save percentage) who has been outstanding. The offense has had some balance and Coach Ward would like to see that improve in the second half to support the consistent production of senior Rob Campbell (4-5-9) and freshman, Trevor Bradley (4-4-8). It’s been a long time since the Camels could think about the conference playoffs but if they stay healthy and continue to play hard, the results that showed in the first half can certainly arrive in 2007. Look for a good showing at the Plattsburgh holiday tournament after the break.
Hamilton: 3-2-1 Overall Record — 3-0-1 Conference Record
The rivalry match-up games with Utica to end the first half were not completely representative of how this team has competed overall. The Continentals are still unbeaten in the conference and have shown they can play well on the road as well as at home early in the season. Not surprisingly, John Gordon (3-7-10), Kyle Roulston (2-4-6) and Casey Leak (7-3-10) have supplied great production and leadership that this young team needed to start the season. Goaltending has been solid from sophomore Matt Crowson but he is still seeing too many shots to Coach Grady’s liking so a little tighter team defense would be nice to find in his Christmas stocking.
Middlebury: 5-2-0 Overall Record — 3-1-0 Conference Record
The Panthers were defending champions entering the season and with that comes certain expectations for a team that returned a large portion of the title team. The strength of the team is still found in its defensive play and goaltending which has been good but not spectacular as there have been more odd-man rushes for the opposition early in the year than usual. Junior Ross Cherry and sophomore Doug Raeder will give the team a chance to win every night and usually come up with the big saves when needed so the offense needs to go to the next level behind team captain Mickey Gilchrist(5-4-9) and newcomer John Sullivan (4-0-4). Most importantly, Coach Beaney would probably like to be healthy as his team has been short several key contributors in the early going. Look for a renewed start in the second half starting with their own Holiday tournament and potential match-ups with St. Anselm’s and Hobart to ring in the New Year.
Trinity: 2-3-1 Overall Record — 1-2-1 Conference Record
Some good, some bad pretty much sums up the front end for the Bantams who opened their beautiful new on-campus arena this season. The Bantams need to get more offensive production from their shots on goal as they have outshot almost every opponent this season in every period. Trinity has had a ton of chances but have not converted enough to put them on the positive end of the scoreboard. Defensively, a young group, in fact new group of defensemen is still coming together and some more consistent goaltending from freshman David Murison and senior Drew Barber will help this team compete in the second half.
Tufts: 2-6-0 Overall Record — 0-5-0 Conference Record
Tufts would probably like to forget the first half especially a 7-0 loss at Conn College. The Jumbos aren’t scoring much and their power play has not been as effective for them as it has been in past seasons. More importantly they are giving up a lot of goals — an average of five per game which makes things tough for any team that is struggling offensively. Coach Murphy is surely looking for more consistent play in 2007 and some spirited and disciplined play to jump start the Jumbos if they want to have a chance at getting back into the playoff picture.
Wesleyan: 3-3-2 Overall Record — 1-2-1 Conference Record
The Cardinals are still looking for consistency overall in some aspects of their game. Senior Will Bennett (3-11-14) and freshman David Layne (7-4-11) lead the scoring but more production is needed across the board where the power play has been effective at almost twenty percent efficiency. The strength of the Cardinals game was defense and goaltending last season so they will need to tighten things up and look for a return to last season’s form by senior Dave Scardella who is off to a slow start. Sophomore Mike Palladino has played well in his four games going 2-1-1 with a .923 save percentage so look for Coach Potter to tighten things up after their return from a European trip over the break.
Williams: 2-5-0 Overall Record — 2-2-0 Conference Record
The Ephs have been banged up which for most coaches is a bad news scenario. Coach Bill Kangas has found the positive in that some younger players have been getting opportunities to play in situations they might not have if everyone was healthy and he knows that will help his team in the second half when they get everyone back in the line-up. A return by junior Brandon Jackmuff would help immensely particularly on the power play where Williams has just two goals with the man advantage. Moreover opposing teams are scoring with almost 20% efficiency against Williams so the penalty kill will need to be better in 2007.
So that’s the first half summary and wish list; everyone has reason to be optimistic in the second half of the season as things are already tight in the two conferences and the key match-ups within the league are all ahead of us. Just like the boy on the Polar Express who shakes his reindeer bell and can hear it ringing, the teams all need to believe they can compete to play in some meaningful hockey games in February and March.
Happy Holidays to All and may your team get want it wants for Christmas!