The Bobcats just couldn’t keep the wheels on the track last year. First, the typically explosive offense went AWOL as the Q suffered through nearly 195 minutes without a goal in three consecutive shutouts … all in league play. Then, standout freshman goalie Nick Pisellini (.948 save percentage) had to leave the team at the semester break in order to spend time with his family, and did not return. Finally, just as Hamden hockey appeared to be back on the rails with a 6-2-1 start to the second half, Mr. Everything Brandon Wong went down with a team-turbulating injury. The team edged Colgate in a tight three-game, first-round series, but folded in consecutive 5-3 losses at St. Lawrence in the quarterfinals.
Departed forwards David Marshall and Bryan Leitch led the ‘Cats in scoring, but the next five names on the list all come back to southern Connecticut this fall. Bud Fisher eventually wrested the starting goaltender position in his senior season, but he finished with sub-standard numbers.
Four prolific scorers return to the fold in seniors Jean-Marc Beaudoin, Eric Lampe and Brandon Wong, along with second-year sniper Scott Zurevinski. Sophomore Dan Clarke played 11 games in net last year after a first-half injury kept him out of action, and will get a chance to prove himself against an evenly matched field this fall.
The team will have to redefine itself in the wake of an eight-graduate exodus — not to mention Pisellini and junior defender Jake Bauer’s departures. Among last year’s senior octet were one goalie (Fisher), three defensemen and four forwards.
“We lost a lot to graduation, and we lost a couple kids to injuries and can no longer play,” said longtime Bobcat head coach Rand Pecknold. “Jake Bauer played only 14 games as a freshman, and last year we thought we’d get him back, but unfortunately his career is over … he hasn’t been able to play because of post-concussion syndrome. Bauer was a big loss for us; he got hurt around Christmas of his freshman year, and thought by September of his sophomore year — and that’s nine months — that he’d be recovered, but he was a big loss for us. We didn’t have him, but we’d planned on having him. Nick Pisellini, he’s not coming back. He’s going to spend a year at home with his family in Chicago playing juniors, and then go to Western Michigan.”
Among the program’s newest alumni, it wasn’t a big lamp-lighter that Pecknold tabbed as the biggest loss.
“There’s a couple losses, but a big loss for us is Dan Henningson,” mused the coach. “He was a two-year MVP for us the last two years, just a great two-way hockey player, so we’re going to have to find a way to offset the loss of Henny. He was great on the power play, a phenomenal penalty-killer and a great defensive defenseman, so we’re going to have to find a way to bounce back. Offensively, our power play was first in the ECAC for a reason: David Marshall and Bryan Leitch were very good from an offensive standpoint, so we’re going to have to find some guys to step up and take their roles.”
On defense, the coach knows that he’s picking from a mixed bag in the early going.
“We’ve got four returners from last season and we’ve got five freshmen, so we do have a little bit of experience back there, but we’re certainly going to be young. We’re happy with the talent that we have back there, but again, we’re going to be a little bit young so we’re going to have to see how that plays out.”
Pecknold takes a pragmatic approach to what will inevitably be a new-look offense.
“We definitely lost some very good forwards, but that happens all the time and we’re going to have to find a way to replace (them), from returning guys stepping up or … with some of the [freshmen] stepping in,” he said. “You look at David Marshall, he was a very good player for us for three years, and then he basically stepped up and had his best year for us as a senior with the loss of Jamie Bates and Ben Nelson. So we’ll have to see if someone from within does it, or like I said, we still have some freshmen that we like a lot.”
Pecknold provided a thorough run-down of his newest charges, as well.
“It’s a very good class. [Forward Jeremy] Langlois was player of the year in the Eastern Junior league, [forward Reese] Rolheiser led [the Alberta league] in scoring, and [forward D'Arcy] Oakes led [the British Columbia league] in scoring so there’s some guys with some good numbers,” Pecknold said. “Through and through it’s a very good class, and I think you’re going to have to wait until we start playing some games before we can tell who the best players are out of the group. We definitely won some recruiting battles among the kids we got.
“Certainly with our new facility, as high-end as it is, and we’ve got a nice campus and great academics, we are starting to win more and more battles. I don’t really want to get into specifics on what we did or who we went against, but we’ve definitely moved up the food chain over the last few years and we’ve got a great product here. It sells itself.”
The coach is prepared to step back and let his goalies determine their own pecking order.
“Clarke and [junior Pat] McGann are back. Clarke was injured in the first half of the season … but in his first two starts he beat Air Force and Dartmouth, who were nationally ranked teams. He struggled a little bit toward the end of the year, but he’s back. I have no idea who our starting goalie is going to be. They’re going to have to battle it out to start the season, and hopefully one of them will step up and take the job.”
Pecknold knows that this is a new year, and a different team than the one he struggled to guide last time out. That said, he is perfectly aware of the Bobcats’ recent tendencies, and he knows that his squad has some work to do before shedding some of its less desirable stigmas.
“Every year we score a ton of goals and our power play is great, and every year we seem to need to get better defensively, so I think that’s what we’re going to strive for again this year,” he said. “We always find a way to score goals, but we need to become a better team on the defensive end and we need better discipline. I think we took some bad penalties last year that hurt us on a consistent basis, so those are some things we need to focus on.”