Brown was no worst-to-first fairytale under rookie coach Brendan Whittet last year, but the Bears made strides nonetheless.
The former Dartmouth assistant and Brown letterwinner guided his alma mater to a six-point improvement over its 2008-09 finish, and stunned the field in a Cinderella sprint into the league tournament’s final four in Albany.
“The fact that we had 13 wins was a major accomplishment. The fact that we had a winning record at home was a major accomplishment,” Whittet said of last year’s team.
The Ocean State icers collected 20 more goals in league play than they had in Roger Grillo’s final season behind the bench (64, tied for seventh in the conference), but were also blistered for 13 more goals-against (95 total), which marked the worst defense in ECAC Hockey. The minus-31 goal differential was the second-worst in the league as well, so it was no surprise that the Bears finished 11th on the table.
Brown returns its top, second-, fourth-, sixth-, and eighth-highest overall point-producers, as well as 15 of 21 players who appeared in at least 20 games last year. The graduating seniors accounted for four defenders (of whom three were regular starters), one goalie (Dan Rosen, who played in only seven games his senior season), and three forwards, so this fall’s squad shouldn’t have to suffer from unreasonable inexperience at any given position.
“We’re going to be a team that plays very hard and is in your face,” Whittet said. “That’s a major strength, in terms of philosophy of play.”
Senior Harry Zolnierczyk (11-14–25 in ECAC play) and junior Jack Maclellan (9-14–23) were the Bears’ big guns up front last time out, but they got a big boost from goal-minded blueliner Jeff Buvinow, who topped a 17-point freshman campaign with a 25-pointer last year. Forward Chris Zaires led Brown’s freshman class in goals and points last year with nine and 24 overall, respectively.
“Maclellan’s one of the best scorers in the league,” Whittet said. “He’s a guy we’re going to lean on.”
The weak links
Out of 29 rostered Bears, 10 are mere cubbies.
“We’re going to be really young,” Whittet said. “We have 10 freshmen, of whom many will be playing every night. We’re going to have to grown and learn as a team. It’s a new team with 10 new hockey players. We have to get those guys to believe in themselves and in their teammates, and that’s hard to do.”
Whittet has 11 upperclassmen in his locker room, composed of six seniors and five juniors. It’s a young team, and its ability to maintain an even keel through a rough-and-tumble ECAC campaign remains to be seen.
Scoring may be an issue for the Bears, as Volpatti and his classmates accounted for over a third of Brown’s goals last year, but Whittet’s biggest concern will be right in his wheelhouse: the defense. The former assistant in charge of Dartmouth’s D corps has his work cut out for him, but with a year of experience together, the coach and his young charges should see significant improvement over last year’s red-light extravaganza. I’m not expecting a big jump for Bruno, but I wouldn’t rush to the optometrist if I saw a playoff game in Providence on the books this spring.