R.J. Tolan’s been through it all before. As the Wentworth coach set out on his seventh season at the helm of the Leopards last month, another cloud full of expectations hovered over him.
Such is life when you run the ECAC Northeast’s marquee program, one that has a culture and an identity synonymous with winning, and one that — surprise, surprise — was the preseason choice to win the league once again.
“We try not to look too far into the future here; there’s really no time for that,” Tolan said. “It sounds boring, but we really try to take it day by day. We prepare the players to compete in the classroom, to compete in practice, to bond with each other, and to make the most of our opportunities.”
So far, so good. In Tolan’s first six seasons, Wentworth has finished over .500 in all but one, and he took a 100-52-11 mark into last month’s opener. Last year, as the Leopards went 21-7-1, he was named the conference Coach of the Year.
In this year’s preseason poll, Wentworth snared 62 points, including seven first-place votes. Curry, which had 48 points, was the only other school to grab a first-place marker.
“Our big focus here, is do what you need to do to compete. How you compete is often the key to how successful you are,” Tolan said. “By doing that every day, having that as your mindset, you’re always taking those little steps. And eventually, when it comes time to be on the ice, you’ve put yourself in the best position possible.”
Wentworth got a jump on the season by playing three games before the league opener vs. Western New England on Thursday night. A 2-2 tie vs. Fitchburg State on Nov. 2, was followed by a 7-2 defeat of Worcester State the following day, and a 3-2 victory over Salem State on Wednesday.
Or, in other words, business as usual.
“I don’t know that we have any one single guy to rely on to get us started, to get us into the flow of the season,” Tolan said. “We have tremendous leadership from our four seniors, and they really help to create that culture in how we do things, and they pass that down.”
Those four are Shaun Jameson and Reed Rushing on defense, and Joel Vastl and Craig Cardone up front. That pair of blueliners truly sets the tone for the Leopards. They combined for 27 points last season, and already had three points overall as they took on Western New England Thursday. And Vastl (two goals, four points) and Cardone (one goal, three points) got the start they needed as well in those three early games, especially after scoring just five combined times last season.
“These are the guys that help to make it fun for us, and I think that’s actually why all of us do it at this level, to be a part of a competitive, fun, team-first atmosphere,” Tolan said. “With so many kids playing junior and prep hockey these days, there are so many good players out there. And so when they get here to this league — in my seven years, at least — you learn pretty fast that there are no easy games.
“We expect that this year, certainly. Nothing at this level is ever easy. So you just want them to enjoy it, to make the most of it, and maybe win some hockey games along the way, too.”
A closer look at the ECAC Northeast, and a predicted order of finish:
Projected finish: First
Previous season: 11-2-1 (21-7-1 overall)
Key departures: Skylur Jameson, Casey Shade, Mike Paglino
Arrivals: Mike Cox, Adam Frank, Devin Cobbold, Jake Diamond, Joel Miller
Key players: Mike Domsodi (14-8-22), Shaun Jameson (4-12-16), Andrew Yarber (6-8-14), Kevin Crowe (6-6-12), Reed Rushing (1-10-11), Joel Vastl (3-3-6), Craig Cardone (2-0-2), Alex Peck (9-0-1, .917 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: Another season, another boatload of expectations for the Leopards. The only conference team to top 20 wins last season, Wentworth even notched an NCAA first-round victory — a 3-1 win over Plymouth State — and that should keep motivation and inspiration high in Boston. Though the loss of Skylur Jameson (23 points last season) will be felt, Wentworth still has plenty of depth, some scoring punch highlighted by Mike Domsodi, and the only goaltender with notable playing time last season to go unbeaten in conference in Alex Peck. The Leopards will hover around the top 15 all season, and are clearly the team to beat in the ECAC NE.
Projected finish: Second
Previous season: 11-3-0 (14-11-2 overall)
Key departures: Ryan Barlock, Payden Benning, John Williams, Mike Kavanagh
Arrivals: Coach T.J. Manastersky, Shane Harrington, Ryan Gay, Ben Bauer, Brian White, Nicholas Coppola, Joe Bianchi, Dominic Puntillo, Jared Henderson, Alex Milhouse, Brandon Gilmore, Patrick LeBeau, Charles White, Ryan Patsch.
Key players: Ian DeLong (11-15-26), Jordan Reed (7-10-17), Joshua Pineiro (3-11-14), Casey Brugman (8-4-12), Connor Hendry (3-7-10), Derek Mohney (8-3-0, .918 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: New coach T.J. Manastersky inherits a program with plenty of upside. The Colonels return three players with at least seven goals from last season, and will carry the memories of a bitter 1-0 overtime loss to Wentworth in the title game last season with them all year. The key for Manastersky is, can he keep Curry focused against everyone else? After all, the Colonels went 1-2 vs. Wentworth last season, and the two losses came in the last four games of the year. Keeping their heads clear and their eyes on the prize are key factors. They will get their chance to get back at Wentworth, but they need to take care of business elsewhere, too.
Western New England University
Projected finish: Third
Previous season: 8-5-1 (14-12-1 overall)
Key departures: Mike Kaselouskas
Arrivals: Assistant coach Greg Haney, Ryan Taylor, Chris Lembo, Ethan Belisle, William Preston
Key players: Brandon Stroud (10-8-18), Dan Monahan (10-7-17), John Kelly (4-9-13), Brian Prost (2-11-13), Chris Connors (6-7-13), Eric Sorenson (7-5-0, .902 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: Haney will work with the defensemen, and that should help a unit that allowed 3.19 goals per game last season. The Golden Bears have goal scorers in Brandon Stroud and Dan Monahan though, so they may be comfortable in run-and-gun games, should the blueliners struggle in the early going. What’s important for Western New England is to make hay close to home and early in the season. Get some wins, and get themselves comfortable. After all, the Golden Bears’ first six games will be in Massachusetts. A solid start can go a long way toward a quality season for a program eager to break free from the middle of the league. Headed into the league opener vs. Wentworth, the Golden Bears were 1-1, including a 5-1 win over Worcester State.
Johnson and Wales
Projected finish: Fourth
Previous season: 7-5-2 (13-10-3 overall)
Key departures: Jeremiah Ketts, Domenic Recchia
Arrivals: Daniel Chang, Brett Kangas, Luke Nickels, Cameron Hoffman, Josh Obregon, Cody Sarmiento, Patrick Avery, Aaron Arm, Luc Kilgore, Vincent Stalletti
Key players: Danny Kaufmann (7-14-21), Jason Pietrasiak (12-4-16), Ian DePasquale (4-9-13), Alex Porrier (7-5-12), Erick Vos (6-5-11), Trevor Jewell (5-5-10), Matt Cooper (6-6-2, .920 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: The Wildcats were the misleading team of the year last season. Great numbers, not-so-great results. A fifth-place finish didn’t do justice to a defense that finished third overall (2.87 goals a game) and an offense that finished second overall (4.53). Those standings alone should have led to more than seven wins, but that — if nothing else — may help light a spark for this season. We think it will. Jason Pietrasiak is an ace on special teams, and led the league with seven power-play goals last season, while Trevor Jewell had four. If they are able to draw penalties this season, expect more of the same and a better overall finish. The Wildcats are the ECAC NE sleeper team of the year, but they need to shake an early-season slump. Headed into the league opener vs. Suffolk on Saturday, the Wildcats were 0-2, allowing 13 goals combined to Stonehill and Franklin Pierce.
Projected finish: Fifth
Previous season: 9-4-1 (12-13-2 overall)
Key departures: Louie Educate, Zach Hendrickson, Andrew Letellier, Andrew Ella, Jacob Rinn
Arrivals: Coach Kevin Swallow, Tyler Beasley, Daniel Bufis, Frank Butler, Zach Cappelli, Colin Edwards, Sean Fleming, Joseph Fowkes, Alex Larson, Steve Lecey, Michael Marchionda, Barry O’Neil, Paul Prescott, Patrick Salkind, Andrew Serpico, Ryan Thompson, Jordi Van Gaal
Key players: Zach Kohn (2-14-16), Joe Sposit (11-5-16), Danny Greiner (4-7-11), Dylan Woodring (0-2, .832 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: Interesting that two of the top five teams in the league have new coaches, but that only means they’re stepping into quality situations. There’s plenty of talent here, but coach Kevin Swallow will not be able to rely on Louie Educate (18-11-29), who transferred. It’s tough to replace that kind of offense. Another concern is in net, where Jacob Rinn went 10-4-1 with a .912 save percentage last season. Junior Dylan Woodring and sophomore David Lamb will try to fill Rinn’s skates but it will not be easy. That said, a hot start out of the box could go a long way toward finding that solution, so make no mistake: Two wins to start the season — 8-1 over Assumption and 6-1 over Stonehill — headed into the conference opener Saturday vs. Salve Regina was just what the doctor ordered. Dylan Woodring notched both wins, and looked confident.
Projected finish: Sixth
Previous season: 4-9-1 (9-15-2 overall)
Key departures: Jake Rosenthal
Arrivals: David Kann, Jacob Horst, Nate Jose, Matt Reno, P.J. Hefferin, Gerald Owen, Brittan Morris, Tyler Auricchio, Dallas Tucker, Brandon Weise, Gregg Hussey, Nick Salvaggio
Key players: Korby Anderson (7-13-20), Dan Kane (4-13-17), David Graham (9-6-15), Branden Parkhouse (3-6-9), Shaun Millerick (2-3-0, .906 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: Jake Rosenthal lacked great statistics (2-7-1, .904 save percentage), but he was experienced in the pipes and that will be missed. Shaun Millerick though, did win as many games as Rosenthal, and even posted a shutout, so the potential is there. The key area of concern for coach Steve Hoar and the Hawks though, is scoring. They finished sixth overall in team offense last season (2.93 goals a game), and do not return a single player who reached double digits in tallies this season. Becker ended last season with consecutive losses, so a solid November would be a good way to bust that slump. Clearly, defeating Worcester State, 3-2, on Nov. 2, and Fitchburg State, 4-3, on Nov. 3, was a great way to start. How big was it? Well, it’s the program’s first-ever 2-0 start, and David Graham won ECAC NE Player of the Week honors, along the way, for his two goals. Millerick posted one of the wins.
Projected finish: Seventh
Previous season: 2-12-0 (6-19-0 overall)
Key departures: Adam Barragan, Isaiah Carlson, Henry DeSimone
Arrivals: Shaun Altshuller, Marc Biggs, Alec Butler, Liam Centrella, David Chiokadze, Cameron Gaudet, Peter Gintoli, Michael Messuri, Lucas Sousa, Zakerie Thompson, Samuel Valentine
Key players: John Scorcia (5-12-17), Michael Naso (2-7-9), Mike McDonald (2-11-0, .850 save percentage)
Outlook/prognosis: The Seahawks will be led by youth, which will be great for the long-term future of the program, but might mean some tough times ahead in the short term. Sophomores Scott McMenimen and John Scorcia are the new captains, after combining to play 50 games as freshmen. Scorcia was Salve Regina’s leading scorer as well, and finished in the league’s top five in assists. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play defense, and that’s where the Seahawks truly need an upgrade. Mike McDonald finished seventh in conference save percentage, and only Suffolk prevented Salve Regina from being dead-last in total defense. As it was, they allowed 5.79 goals per game, and that needs to change soon. Salve Regina is 2-1 as it approaches the league opener vs. Nichols on Saturday.
Projected finish: Eighth
Previous season: 1-13-0 (3-21-0 overall)
Key departures: Joe Greene
Arrivals: Assistant coach Bernard Sandford, Brandon Smolarek, Steve Colomey, David Lazaro, Carmen Mastrangelo, Tyler Murray, Mike Pantano, Hayden Voss, Connor McCarthy, Adam Conway, Mike Cherpak, Zack Capozza, Mike Rockwell, Tyler Heineman, John Sugrue
Key players: Charlie McGinnis (6-5-11), Tim Sprague (3-3-6)
Outlook/prognosis: Bernard Sandford was an assistant at Maine, played at Norwich, and if nothing else, will breathe some new life into the program. The Rams can use some after a season in which they finished dead last in total offense (2.07) and defense (6.36). An average of 29.36 penalty minutes per game did not help, either. Three road contests in the first four games to open this season won’t be easy on this crew, but the Rams do not seem fazed yet. In fact, they opened 2-0 — defeating Assumption, 5-2, on Nov. 2, and Franklin Pierce, 2-1, on Wednesday in overtime — and they can also cling to this: Charlie McGinnis had four points in the regular-season finale last year, and Suffolk skated off with an impressive 8-4 victory over Becker. Perhaps that spills over to this year. Perhaps it already has, especially for goaltender Brett Roman, who notched both wins.