The coaches said this was going to be the case, long before the season started. As they embarked on another season in the ECAC Northeast, they were quick to point out just how even things were going to be. How anyone could beat anyone on any given night, and how no one would be surprised to see the standings flip flop from one week to the next.
They were right.
“There’s talent here, and it’s truly spread out,” Wentworth coach R.J. Tolan said of the league. “When things play out, and the league really starts to take shape, I don’t think anyone will be surprised to see anyone at the top.”
Truer words were never spoken, as we hit Week 3 of the season. With the exception of Becker, every school had at least one victory in conference, and every program had at least three wins overall.
“We all should get used to that,” Suffolk coach Chris Glionna said. “There’s parity here, for sure. Maybe the most parity that I’ve seen in this league, which is great to see.”
He’s accurate. All told, it’s only good news for the conference. Perhaps these teams will beat up on each other as the schedule rolls on. Perhaps it may hurt the league from a national perspective because many teams will have many losses. But you have to play with the hand you’re dealt in college hockey, and to have a lot of good teams in one league, hey, that’s not such a bad thing.
“As an outsider, you see that the league is changing in terms of respect elsewhere, on the national level,” Curry coach T.J. Manastersky said. “This is a league that is definitely on the rise, and the parity is getting stronger. It’s not a one or two-horse race like maybe it was a few years ago. Everyone has a shot. And everyone knows it.”
Including Curry. Taking the reins of a difficult job — leading a program built on a tradition and a culture of winning — Manastersky has begun to put his imprints on the Colonels while not losing a beat along the way. Headed into the weekend, Curry was 2-1 in the league with 11 goals scored. He realizes the place his program has in this conference. And he’s doing everything he can — in a crowded, talented market — to keep it going.
“It’s exciting to be here, and it’s a good time to be here,” he said. “There’s some new blood, and that means energy and excitement. A lot of coaches in this league are hungry, they want to win and they want to beat each other. But we also want to see the league grow in terms of exposure and success.”
They’re well on their way. In league games alone, there are four players with at least five points, including sophomore forward Brandon Stroud, who has paced Western New England’s hot start with three goals and seven points. The Golden Bears are 4-2 overall, 3-0 in the league, and are anchored by an underrated defense. Western has allowed just six goals in league play, has vaulted into first place, and made a pronouncement to the conference early on that it was a force to be reckoned with, when it beat Wentworth, the defending league champion, 3-2, on Nov. 8.
Tolan, who coaches the league’s preseason choice to win it all, knows he has the target on his back. He knows Wentworth is the standard for success in this league. But he also knows that anything can happen.
“Teams get used to each other, and players get used to each other, and it’s concentrated in one area,” he said. “There are rivalries that develop, and it all makes for good hockey.”
“We’re in a good time for this league,” Glionna said. “There’s talent, there’s good competition, and there’s going to be a race. You can talk about every team here, and what it does well. There’s no question, in my mind, that the race for the playoffs here is going to come down to the last weekend.”
Like any other team, Suffolk, with just three wins last year, wants to be a part of that equation at the end of the year. And no one is telling the Rams that they can’t. At 3-2-1, with 22 goals scored, Glionna has already maximized this early part of the season, and the Rams already have a league win before December hits.
“This won’t be easy … for anyone,” Manastersky said. “We want to have a shot at winning this league here at Curry, but there are a lot of teams with the same thoughts. And they’re all going to work just as hard to get there.”
Less than a month into the season, that couldn’t be more evident.