Season Preview

College Hockey:
Numerous personnel losses have Jones, Clarkson filling big shoes

It appears that the Joneses may be the ones trying to keep up this year.

With the commencement of the Casey Jones era in Clarkson hockey comes a season of long odds and immediate challenges. The Golden Knights lost more than just their seniors last spring, as top-tandem blueliner Mark Borowiecki also bid adieu to Potsdam with a year of eligibility still remaining. Combined with the graduation of Bryan Rufenach, the Knights are out an elite defensive pairing. Add to that the departure of snipers Brandon DeFazio (with his team-leading 14 goals) and Scott Freeman (second, with 10) — who alone combined for nearly a quarter of Clarkson’s goals last year — and you’ve got some pretty sizeable roles to fill.

“Obviously, from the outside looking in, there are some pieces of the puzzle that left last year,” said Jones, who took over for George Roll following three years under Cornell coach Mike Schafer. “Some of our scorers, some of our defensemen, obviously that would cause some concern. I think our strength will be our team speed, but, again, from the outside looking in, we might see a limitation that we’re going to have to develop our defensive corps. But overall, I’m excited about where we’re at right now.”

The one area of continuity for ‘Tech will be in goal, as senior goaltender Paul Karpowich hopes to play a little more like he did last fall, and less like he did last winter. Karpowich won six straight games to close out the 2010 calendar year (as the team as a whole won six of seven), but he — and the Knights — won only five more times following the holiday break.

Clarkson’s top returning forwards include seniors Jake Morley (6-15–21) and Nick Tremblay (9-11–20) as well as sophomore Allan McPherson (8-15–23). Far from slowing the game down as his defense matures, though, Jones anticipates a quick, high-pressure, and dynamic style for his new team.

“We’re going to be a puck-pressure team and we’re going to play an up-tempo style. I’ve been really impressed with our skating skills. We certainly want to use our speed,” he said. “Our guys have been responding very well in the preseason here, for what our coaching staff has asked of them. We have some nice pieces of the puzzle in place.”

As for that young defense, Jones said, “I think it’s a development spot for us, I want to clarify that. We have some veteran guys back there that are going to have to be mainstays for us, in [junior] Nik Pokulok and [sophomores] Alex Boak and David Pratt. They played a lot of minutes for us and bring a lot of experience … and it’s going to be important for them to hit the ground running.”

Look for a man of miniature stature to make some enormous contributions on the back end, too. Five-foot-7, 182-pound rookie defenseman Sam Labrecque was pegged as perhaps the most “game-ready” of Jones’ incoming class.

“Sam Labrecque is probably the most ready of our group to play a role,” Jones said. “With his stick skills and his vision, you probably have the most influential impact initially. He’ll have the opportunity to play in some special-teams situations as a freshman; we feel strongly about that. I think coming out of the gate, he’s done it before so I think that will transpire. For the most part, his skating skills and puck skills are at a high level, so it seems like the game has slowed down immediately for him here.”

New coaches have made powerful impressions in recent years — see Gadowsky, Allain, Whittet, and Appert — and Jones has the pedigree to know what’s what. How soon he can imprint his players with that knowledge is what will determine Clarkson’s immediate future.

About the Golden Knights

2010-11 overall record: 15-19-2

2010-11 ECAC record: 9-12-1 (seventh)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 11th

Key losses: F Brandon DeFazio, F Scott Freeman, D Bryan Rufenach, D Tom Pizzo, D Mark Borowiecki (jr.)

Players to watch: Senior G Paul Karpowich, senior F Jake Morley, senior F Nick Tremblay, sophomore F Allan McPherson

Impact rookie: Sam Labrecque

Why the Golden Knights will finish higher than the coaches poll: Karpowich will steady the ship right away, the defense will mature early and the offense will play as fast as hoped.

Why the Golden Knights will finish lower than the coaches poll: No one will emerge to replace Rufenach and Borowiecki, leading to quick team and goaltender fatigue.

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