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College Hockey:
Clarkson looking for wholesale improvement after down year

Last year

Clarkson started the season 3-2-0, despite a pair of tough road losses at Michigan State to open. Then the Potsdam crew hit a bit of a pothole, dropping 18 of 23 and falling to 5-20-3 by early February. Clarkson failed to hit the three-goal mark in 20 of 37 outings, going a predictable 1-18-1 in those games while managing an 8-6-3 record when potting three or more.

The 2008-09 season was ruined, in a broad sense, by poor chemistry; last year, coach George Roll had no such explanation for the Knights’ dismal play.

The assets

Clarkson graduated a mere three seniors last year, only one of whom — Matt Beca — did much of anything on the score sheet (20 goals, 38 points). The other two (plus freshman forward Markus Piispanen, who left the program) accounted for a lot of playing time, but that’s replaceable.

Goaltender Paul Karpowich had a down year statistically, as is to be expected behind a team that is constantly pressing for offense, but his performance in his freshman campaign demonstrated that he can handle the workload in this league.

“I think we need to be better in all areas. I think our goaltending will be better — I feel much better about it now, given what happened at the end of last year,” Roll said. “I think our team defense … with our returning guys should be very solid. I think there will be a lot of improvement in all areas, which is what I’m hoping for, because obviously we weren’t very good in a lot of areas last year.”

One of Roll’s biggest causes for optimism was in his team’s heroic spirit despite its seemingly endless string of depressing results.

“They never gave up, and it would’ve been easy to do that,” he said.

The weak links

Beca scored eight more goals than the team’s second-leading lamp-lighter (DeFazio) last season, and a dozen more than anyone else. That’s a lot of production, especially when you know that the opposition was hammering him every single night. It’s also a huge loss of ability, the response to which Roll has no obvious answer.

“We struggled to score — we were the lowest-scoring team in the league last year — and we feel that we have players that can change that, but they’re going to obviously have to prove that,” he said.

The Knights featured only three players who averaged at least half-a-point per game in league contests. That number will have to increase dramatically for Clarkson to enjoy a successful season.

Prediction

The amount of talent in the program right now is considerable, but it has never been consistent. As Roll said, the team will have to improve in all areas of the game in order to make noise this fall … but really, when you’re at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. This feels like a bit of a retribution run in the making, but only a bit: It’s a team that will battle to play at home in the first round.


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