T.J. Manastersky has pondered and plotted and gone through all of the motions, both in his head and on the ice. What to do at even strength, on the power play, on the penalty kill, trailing in the game, leading in the game, you name it.
It’s understandable, of course. Manastersky, named the coach at Curry College in August, is about to make his debut in the ECAC Northeast on Saturday, and you can forgive him if he might be a little, let’s say, overprepared.
Keep in mind, this is no ordinary coaching job. Manastersky, a native of Oakville, Ont., and a former assistant coach at SUNY Fredonia, is not at the helm of a major rebuilding project or a new program of any kind. The Colonels have a tradition and culture of hockey — winning hockey, at that — and he now has the multi-pronged task of not only upholding that proud image among college hockey circles, but also putting his fingerprint on it, as well.
That’s a daunting task.
“Obviously, it’s a program that’s been successful, in particular in the last decade,” Manastersky said. “They’ve always had a strong program, and so to be a head coach here is incredibly exciting for me. For us, moving forward, we look at this program as wanting to be successful at the national stage, not just in the region. We want to make progress every day, even just a little bit, and to get better at something all the time. If we do that, and stick to it, we’ll get there.
“But that’s all long range. Right now, my biggest concern is how to beat Becker on Saturday.”
Manastersky, who replaced Rob Davies, indeed will debut on Saturday afternoon against the Hawks, and a new era of Colonels Hockey will begin. Curry is coming off a 14-11-2 season that ended in the ECAC Northeast championship game. So as Manastersky shapes the program and develops his brand, he does have several veterans accustomed to winning that he can rely on.
“Everything for us will go as our seniors go,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. Brett Kaneshiro, a defenseman and our captain, has been unbelievable as we get started here, with the maturity he brings. He’s very focused. Casey Brugman brings a lot of energy and grit to the ice for us as well, and Ian DeLong is going to bring the skill and speed game, and hopefully some points. And Connor Hendry, he’s a heart and soul guy. He will go through a wall for us.
“That group is the engine. We’ll travel at the pace they make us travel. If they can do that, maybe we’ll have a chance to do some things.”
The league’s preseason poll certainly thinks so. Curry, in fact, received one first-place vote this season, and 48 points overall, good for third behind Western New England (50) and Wentworth (62). It will not be an easy trek for anyone in the conference this season. Though it may sound like typical coachspeak, from top to bottom, the ECAC Northeast has depth and skill, and even a little more parity than normal.
Look no further than the start to the season for Suffolk. The Rams, who finished dead last a year ago with a 1-13 league mark and who were picked last again in this preseason poll, are already 2-0 with seven goals as they prepare to open conference play Saturday against Johnson and Wales.
“In this league, when the players get here, most of them are a little older, and they’re staying the duration to get their degrees,” said Wentworth coach R.J. Tolan, who fell to Western New England, 3-2, in the league opener for both teams on Thursday. “That helps the talent level, the competition level, and the rivalries. You develop more of a sense of the other teams over time, and it means that much more when you beat them.”
Curry went 1-2 vs. Wentworth last season, and the two losses came in the last four games of the year. Without question, a heartbreaking 1-0 overtime loss to the Leopards in the title game last season pushed the Colonels through the summer, through the coaching transition, and through training camp.
Manastersky, like any good coach, wants the players to be fueled by the loss, to spin a positive out of a negative, but it cannot bog them down when there are so many other challenges present.
“With a transition at head coach, all of the players had a long summer of uncertainty,” he said. “Early on, it’s natural not to know one another and where everyone’s head is at. We were still getting to know each other. But now, it’s about moving on. Last year is in the rear view mirror. We don’t talk about it, we don’t think it. What we want is this senior class to be ready, to lead us, and get us back there.
“They want to get back to that game. That’s our goal. We want to put ourselves there.”
They’ll have a good sense of just who they are over the course of the first four games. Three of those four are in conference play — they meet Western New England and Nichols next after Becker — and all four are in Massachusetts.
“This won’t be easy; there are a lot of teams with the same thoughts,” Manastersky said of the title game. “And they’re all going to work just as hard to get there. For us, and this experienced group, if they’re bringing anything over from last year, it’s the thought process that they want to get back there and have a chance to win the title.”
Either way, it appears the tradition and culture of Curry Hockey is in quite capable hands.