It’s not often a new coach takes over with a team locked and loaded and ready to go, but that’s the situation first year head coach Craig Russell finds himself in at Plymouth State.
After serving as an assistant coach under Brett Tryder for seven years, following a four year playing career at Plymouth State, Russell inherits a program that went 17-9-1 last season, including a 12-5-1 mark in MASCAC play, which was good for third in the conference.
“I’m very happy about our team that we’ve put together for the upcoming season.” Russell said. “Our leadership has been great so far, and I look forward to seeing what that leads to in the near future. I think we have what it takes to win the MASCAC, but only time will tell if the willingness to sacrifice is there from everyone associated with the program.”
The Panthers return 26 players from last year, having only lost two seniors , but among that pair was forward Chris Chambers, the MASCAC Player of the Year, and Aaron Runner, who was the team’s go-to-goalie down the stretch and who Russell said the younger players really looked up to.
Leading the returners for this year is sophomore defender Richie Zobak (8-16), who was All-Conference team selection during his freshman year. Seniors Jake Curtin (3-5) and Dave Rose (4-2) are back and will “lead the way emotionally on the team and set the tone every night on the blue line,” Russell said.
Sophomore forward Alex Cottle (9-12) returns and is looking to bounce back from an injury that limited his playing time most of the first semester and prevented him from truly finding his game until midway through January, Russell said.
“I full expect him to center our first line and quarterback our first power-play unit all season,” Russell said.
Seniors Andrew Stewart (6-17)and Sean Buckley (11-21) will provide leadership and offense.
“[They] have proven to be dangerous in any situation,” Russell said. “They are extremely consistent players and can be depended upon to get the job done.
In net, Jack Astedt (3.37, .899) has the upper leg on the job.
“Goaltending was our biggest weakness last year, but Jack has done a lot of work in the off-season to get himself ready to be a workhorse for us.”
While the on the ice pieces are there, Russell is also excited about expanding the hockey culture during his first year at Plymouth State and getting a chance to open the school’s brand new arena, Hanaway Rink.
“I’m most looking forward to creating a culture within the university and the Plymouth area that will see an increase in the youth hockey numbers and will translate into some nice attendance records here in our new arena. We are already sold out for our home opener, which is a great start to our goals.”