I have played my little brother in a lot of backyard sports over the years: basketball, wiffleball, street hockey. You name it and we played it. And it was always the same story. He would try his hardest every game, I would let him get close so he wouldn’t feel bad and in the end I would beat him just because I could. That happened pretty much every time we played.
Over the last few years, though, something different has happened. He’s grown up. Suddenly, those 0-2 curveballs aren’t hitting the lawn-chair-strike-zone anymore. Instead, they’re flying over my head and landing on the porch for home runs. And the old “fake one way and put it through his legs” move that worked every time? Now it’s being met with a stiff shoulder to the chest.
What’s my point? I cannot take him lightly anymore.
The ECAC Northeast conference will play the role of the growing little brother in 2001-2002. Something is happening in the ECAC Northeast. And guess what, folks? It is pretty good now.
Last season was a year in which the ECAC Northeast began to establish itself as a conference that should not be taken lightly. With the NCAA granting the league an automatic playoff berth, and with teams like Wentworth and UMass-Dartmouth chalking up victories or ties against some of the best Division III teams in the country, the conference is gaining respect. The coaches of the league are determined to make the Northeast legitimately competitive on the national level and they are moving closer as each year goes by.
This year, the Northeast should be competitive from top to bottom. One could not go so far as to say that there is parity, but the overall competitiveness is improving.
The likes of Lebanon Valley, Wentworth, UMass-Dartmouth, and Johnson and Wales are favorites to represent the league in the playoffs.
However, no team can be counted out. Look, for example, for Fitchburg State and Worcester State to make some noise. Each has some questions but each seems to be in good enough shape to answer them.
Some other teams could put a decent year together if everything falls into place as well. One such team is Stonehill, which returns legitimate players and has a coach who is really turning the program around.
Regardless of which team comes out of the Northeast, the league will send a worthy and respectable opponent to the NCAA tournament.
A word to the big brothers of college hockey out there: The Northeast has learned how to hit a curveball.
Having said all that, what follows is a team-by-team breakdown in alphabetical order. Others have organized their season previews by predicting the final standings. There is simply no way to do that in the Northeast, so I will not try. Anyone who is aware of what happened late season and in the playoffs last year can attest to this.
The bottom line is, if you can accurately predict what will happen in the Northeast with regularity, you should instantly retire and move to Vegas because you are a genius. I do not claim to be a genius.
On to the individual team outlooks.
“Things are looking real good,” said Assumption alumnus and head coach Keith Hughes, going into his fourth year as head coach of the Greyhounds.
With a decent recruiting class last year and a number of competent players in this year’s class, look for the Ice Dogs to be a tough team to beat.
After an abysmal first half last year, the Greyhounds finished the second half with some serious momentum, competing well with teams like Tufts, Saint Mike’s, Southern New Hampshire and Stonehill, all contenders for league supremacy. Look for the team to try and carry that momentum forward.
All of Assumption’s returning forwards saw a great deal of game action last year. Senior captain and ferocious penalty killer Brendan Norton will use his experience and leadership ability to put a charge into the Greyhounds this season. Junior captain Bob Reddish (8-12-20) should be an offensive force to be reckoned with. The Hounds will also look to experienced sophomores Sean Jackson (4-5-9) and the speedy Josh Tierney (7-4-11), along with senior Joe Marashio (8-2-10) to contribute to the offense. First-year forwards Jeff Ilvonen and Scott Hersom will see time as well.
Having lost only one regular defenseman to graduation last year, defense should be a strength for AC. On the blue line, the Ice Dogs will look to junior Thom McNamara and sophomore Mark Pettorini (2-8-10) to provide smart and steady defense. Incoming freshman Doug Griffith should also be in the mix.
In the net Hughes will rely on a pair of seasoned seniors. The experience of Dan Lupi (2-15-1, 5.33 GAA, 87%) and Louis J. Goldblatt (2-4, 5.54, 85%) will be depended on to keep the puck out of the Greyhound net.
Special teams will be a key for the Ice Dogs this year. If Assumption can improve on their previously anemic power play and continue their effective penalty killing, they will be okay. Also important for the team will be a good start. The team needs to do the opposite of last year and establish a winning identity early instead of late in the season.
“Getting going early is going to be big,” said Hughes. The goal for the Assumption College Greyhounds will be a top finish in the Northeast standings and a Division II crown. If all the pieces fall into place, look for the Ice Dogs to be smiling come March.
A few coaches around the league cited Curry as a darkhorse team this year. Yet, at the same time, they only garnered 40 points and were ranked ninth in the preseason poll. Go figure.
Second-year head coach Rob Davies looks to improve on last year’s four win season by relying upon a solid freshman class to mix with last year’s key players and contribute to the team right away.
The Colonels lost a few key players via graduation in rock solid defenseman Justin Delvecchio, defenseman Joe Amendola, and forwards Sean Whelan and Scott Tkachuk.
Curry will return the core of the offense and both goaltenders from last year. Joe Savioli (9-12-21), Jason Boyle (6-9-15), and Kevin Narciso (7-7-14) should lead the way amongst the returners offensively.
Curry returns a pair of sophomore goaltenders. Joe Snecinski (3-11-1, 5.26 GAA, 86%) and Phil Belmont (1-5, 4.28, 88%) look to provide the Colonels with competent goaltending this season.
Six players with significant playing time from last year return on defense, including Adam Levesque and Ryan Linehan. That is not all the Colonels will have this year, though.
What has people talking about Curry is the incoming freshmen. Something may be brewing in Milton, Mass. Word is that the Colonels have brought in a top-notch freshman class and, as mentioned, some are looking at them as possible contenders.
Davies is hesitant to call his team a contender.
“Let’s keep things in perspective,” he insisted. “I think making the playoffs will be realistic.”
But the injection of new blood can mean a new attitude and new life for a program that has struggled.
Assistant coach Bob Barich said, “We spent a lot of time last year recruiting and we feel we have a strong class,” adding that at least eight recruited players will play a significant role right away.
“We’re pretty excited about the incoming freshmen. These kids are not true freshmen,” he added, noting that most of them come out of a post-graduate year or the junior leagues. “One of our goals was to get players who could play right away.”
If the new players can live up to their hype and gel with the returning players, they could make a serious impact. Think Wentworth about four years ago.
Best-case scenario, according to Davies, is for the Colonels to grab the fifth playoff spot and make a run at the league. Regardless of the final standings, it sounds like this will be a turnaround season for Davies and his program.
Kudos to John Rolli for having the highest winning percentage amongst active coaches in college hockey. This is a man who has been coaching for 17 years, so it’s hardly a fluke. UMass-Dartmouth is a winning program.
However, as Rolli acknowledged, “There’s still a huge mountain to climb.”
That mountain is the rest of the ECAC Northeast, which only gets tougher every year. Having said that, it is not Mount Everest, and the Corsairs are experienced climbers.
UMass-Dartmouth bowed out to eventual league champion Lebanon Valley in last year’s ECAC Northeast Quarterfinals. There is no shame in that. The team finished with a very respectable 12-6-2 overall record and they were 10-5-2 in the conference. This year’s team looks to dramatically improve on that record. They lost only one senior to graduation, defenseman Nick Siciliano. With 10 seniors on this year’s roster, the Corsairs are set to challenge for a league title.
UMD returns all of their top scorers from a year ago. Senior forwards Tom Brown (19-12-31), Sean Young (15-13-28, 3 SHG, 4 GWG), Shawn Alles (9-14-23, 5 PPG), junior Jared Spencer (9-14-23), and sophomore Shawn Sheehan (10-14-24, 5 PPG) are returners who will lead the way offensively. A new face will make an appearance in the Corsair lineup in the person of Wally Siggins, a transfer from RPI. He should make an immediate impact and help to make the UMD offense difficult to stop.
A senior-laden defensive corps will provide solid depth along the blue line. Included in this group are seniors Jamie Carroll, Bruce Warren, Tim Dwyer, and Mike Knezacek. A sophomore, Matt Brown, and junior Mike Bill round out the blueliners. All saw a significant amount of game action last year.
The Corsairs should be strong in goal too. Senior Kim Clark was 4-1-1 and had a 4.03 GAA to go along with an 87.7 save percentage. Ryan Grant saw most of the time last year posting an 11-8-1 record, 3.11 GAA, and a respectable 90.7 save percentage. Grant should carry the load in the net in 2001-2.
Losing to eventual champs Lebanon Valley has to stick in the proverbial craw of the Corsairs. Look for them to skate through the season with one goal in mind: to capture the league title and earn a berth in the NCAA national tournament.
The Fitchburg State Falcons had a down year by their standards. A 9-7-1 conference record and an 11-13-2 overall record would be seen as successful by many teams, but coach Dean Fuller’s squads have been perennial regional powers over the years. A record that is barely above .500 is not a good season for the Falcons. Look for Fitchburg to come out on a mission in 2001-02.
Gone are Tony Cinquegrano (13-16-29) and his seven power-play goals, Mike Dubey (7-14-21), John Whittemore (5-8-17), and defenseman Dan Nietsche. Their contributions will be missed.
In years past, Fitchburg has combined a tough, hard hitting defense with an offense that is more than capable. This year should be no different. No less then seven defensemen who had significant playing time return from last year, including gritty and hard hitting senior Chris Sawyer. He personifies the tough, in your face attitude that Fitchburg brings to the rink every night and he should lead the way on the back line.
Offensively, the Falcons will be a threat with the likes of senior flash Jeff Brodeur (9-15-24), junior Greg Horan (12-11-23) and sophomore Shane Coleman (7-15-22). Brodeur is one of the most feared players in the league and will have to carry the load for the Falcons.
In goal, the Falcons should be okay with junior Jason Holt returning from a season in which he played 20 games, posting a record of 7-11-2. He had a 3.84 GAA while saving 88% of the shots he saw.
Fifth place in the preseason coaches poll has to hurt the Falcons collective pride tremendously. Look for them to use that as motivation heading into the bulk of their schedule. If their forwards can step it up and they are solid in goal, Fitchburg should be a very competitive team and, as always, a very tough team to beat. Look for the Falcons to reestablish themselves as a league power and make a run at a berth in the national tournament.
Tragically, the Framingham State Rams lost a member of their team to a car accident last spring. Freshman Ben Bradley was killed in a car crash on April 28th. Condolences go out to his family and his Framingham teammates.
New head coach Bob Lavin comes over to Framingham from Salve Regina, where he installed the building blocks of their program. The Seahawks finished last year on a high, knocking off some serious league contenders. Framingham hopes Lavin can bring some of that momentum with him.
Hockey-wise, Framingham was hurt by graduation as well, losing a total of eight players. The graduating seniors contributed 85 of the total 197 points of offense, their top goaltender, and a couple of key defensemen. The Rams went 6-18-0 with these players and will try to improve on that record this year. It may be a tall order, though.
It will be a challenge to improve on last year’s record as Framingham will go into the season with this year’s freshmen unknown to Lavin. Having taken the job halfway through this past summer, he was not able to do any of his own recruiting for Framingham and thus he is looking at this year as one to — in his words — “build on.”
The Rams will return six experienced defensemen, including senior John Stabile. Up front, Framingham has leading scorers Bill Burke (7-21-28) and Roger LeBlanc (14-13-27, 5 PPGs) returning. Seniors Steve Badera and Chris Pelley will battle for playing time in the twine for the Rams.
Framingham comes into the season ranked number eight. It looks like it could be a tough task, but coach Bob Lavin’s squad will try to improve on their 5-15 record from last year and finish in the top half of the league. However, if all the chips do not fall their way, Lavin may have said it best.
Coach Lou Izzi has built a solid program at Johnson and Wales. The Providence grad has a 52-46-4 record in his five years at the helm. Last year, the Wildcats were 18-7-2 overall, 14-2-1 in the conference, and lost to eventual conference champ Lebanon Valley in the playoffs. Pretty good season by most standards.
This season looks even brighter for the Wildcats. Izzi has scheduled some daunting nonconference games including the likes of Bowdoin, Colby, RIT, St. Thomas, Gustavus Adolphus, Oswego, and SUNY-Cortland. All are solid teams. The hope is that these nonconference games will toughen up the Wildcats for their conference games.
The Jacob twins, Tory and Scott, are a huge loss for the Wildcats. Tory contributed a great deal to the offense (13-27-40). Of his 13 goals last year, five were game-winners and five came on the power play. His brother Scott played all but three games between the pipes. Bill Saltzman and his 27 points (6 PPGs) will be missed as well. JWU will still be a team to be reckoned with though.
“This is the best class we’ve had,” Izzi said, speaking of the 2001-02 recruits, quite a statement considering that JWU is only a five-year-old varsity team and has been in contention for the league title for the last three years.
The team’s recruiting efforts appear to have been fruitful as Izzi and his assistants brought in kids from as far as Alaska and Canada. They brought in five forwards, three defensemen, and most importantly, two new goaltenders who should split time through the season.
In addition to the recruits, Johnson and Wales returns six defensemen who played 19 games or more. They should be a solid group.
The offensive corps looks to be prolific. Junior Scott Graham returns as last year’s leading goal scorer, posting a 21-19-40 line and popping five power-play goals. Add senior Dave Acetturo and his 13-20-33 line along with his six power-play goals, sophomore Chris Thunman (17-27-44), Scott Feeney (17-13-30), in addition to some recruits Izzi labeled as “pure snipers” and it is clear that the Wildcats will do more than hold their own offensively.
Look for Johnson and Wales to challenge for league supremacy this season.
“No team has repeated in four years,” notes Al MacCormack, Lebanon Valley’s third-year head coach.
The Dutchmen have been extraordinarily successful in their first few years of existence and have racked up a league title and numerous playoff appearances. And for those who are bettors (for entertainment purposes only, of course) and never bet against a streak, here is a word to the wise: Do not bet against LVC.
In only their third year of varsity competition, the Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen had a phenomenal season last year. They had to go through a hot Worcester State team, Johnson and Wales, and Wentworth to win the league championship and earn a berth in the national tournament. There, LVC ran into what was the first ranked team in the country, RIT. They lost, and despite having about as tough of a run as you can have, they represented the conference well. With another year of experience under their belt, this year’s squad looks to make it even further.
The Dutchmen lost only one senior, defenseman Dan Yingst, from last year’s team that made it to the ECACs. Scary. If you believe in the theory that you win with seniors, look no further than LVC. They have 12 on the roster.
Eleven players who had double figures in points return for this upcoming season including the smooth playmaking senior Greg Kutchma (19-11-30), junior scoring dynamo Brian Yingling (24-23-47), senior forward Jamie Taylor (8-21-29), and the power play presence of junior defenseman Tim Rink (6-23-29). Add Scott Schilling, who missed the second half of last season, to the mix and it is easy to see that the Dutchmen will be an offensively prolific team.
As mentioned, LVC only lost one defenseman to graduation. Tim Rink, Ben Kwon and Mike Sarro are all returners who are excellent defensemen. They should be rock solid on the blue line.
Kevin Block (9-6-1, .909%, 3.24 GAA) and Lincoln Matlock (9-3-1, .905%, 2.94 GAA) virtually split time in the pipes last year and each performed well. They should be able to handle this season’s duties with ease.
This team is a group of proven winners. The seniors are the foundation of what is shaping up to be a very competitive program and they have won consistently every year. Overall, the Dutchmen may be the deepest team in the conference and seemingly have no holes. Lebanon was one of the teams who every coach mentioned as a contender to win the league and no informed observer would argue otherwise. LVC should live up to their nickname this year as they should be flying high come tournament time.
What is in the past is in the past. That seems to be the prevailing attitude surrounding the Nichols College program. In his first year as a head coach, Mark Jago looks to turn around a struggling Nichols program.
Jago is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“[We’re] returning a lot of players from last years team,” he said. “We’ve seen improvement from some of the fringe guys.”
Nichols lost a number of close games last year and things could have gone either way with a bounce of the puck here and a bounce of the puck there. Jago expects those bounces to go his way this year.
“The kids are much better prepared [this year],” he said. “I’m a big believer in making your own breaks.”
The goal for Nichols is to make the playoffs. And it may happen. The Bison only lost three seniors to graduation. But the production of Jason Finoia (18-17-35), Bobby Frizzell (6-13-19) and Dave Foley (10-21-31) accounted for around 40 percent of Jago’s production; they will be missed.
However, the team had 19 freshmen on the roster last year and they have improved and, with a little more experience on their side, they should fare better in those close games.
Leading the way offensively will be a pair of sophomores. Mike Loftus (8-7-15) and Brett Urban (4-6-10) will look to provide some needed scoring punch.
“Defensively, we look pretty good,” said Jago. Look for sophomores Rob Erdmann, Mark Leahy, and Evan Dexter to play a good amount. Some freshman may be thrown into the mix as well and contribute right away.
Tending the goal for the Bison will be junior Adam Gray (2-10, 4.90 GAA, 88%) and Joe Agnelli, a transfer from Lebanon Valley.
“Gray has a year under his belt. Last year he played pretty solid,” said Jago. So the Bison should be okay in the pipes.
With such a young team, it will be tough for Nichols to compete for the league title this season. Nobody should take this team lightly though. Look for them to try and surprise some people and establish a turnaround type season that will pay dividends this season and down the road in years to come. A playoff appearance is not out of the question.
Chris Hudon, a Plymouth alumnus, takes the reins as head coach for the Panthers.
“[I’m] looking to bring stability to the program,” said Hudon, who also aims for a renewed sense of fun. “[The players] are excited about playing hockey again.”
The former Dracut (Mass.) High School coach is looking to do what he did in the prep ranks, where he took a program that had struggled and turned it into a playoff team. However, at least for the 2001-02 season, it may be a lot to ask for the team to challenge for the title or even to make the playoffs.
The Panthers lost three of their top scorers in Erik Nadeau (4-10-14) and Matt McPhee (4-9-13) along with gritty players like Tom Beaulieu to graduation. Only one of the top scorers from a year ago returns, in the person of senior John Hornor (7-7-14), who Hudon says has also been chipping in with his senior leadership, contributing to the positive attitude that is surrounding the PSC hockey program these days. They look to turn around the previously offensively-challenged Plymouth team.
On defense, the Panthers will look to senior Chris Tortorella (3-7-10) and junior David Moore (1-7-8) as leaders.
The strength of this year’s Plymouth squad is in goal. Larry Forgue is, perhaps, the most underrated goaltender in the league. He is small in stature but lightning quick and an exceptional positional goalie. Forgue played the bulk of the games a year ago, posting a 4-16-1 record along with a 4.46 GAA and an 89.2 save percentage. Those statistics are not overly impressive but Forgue is an above average goalie who will keep his team in games. Look for him to continue that type of play this year.
The Panthers may improve on their 4-17 record from a year ago. But unless they can put together some more offense than they did a year ago, they will likely go only as far as Forgue will take them.
The Seahawks had improved every year since Bob Lavin took over the team three years ago, but with Lavin gone this year, looking to fill his shoes is Chris MacPherson, who comes over from Skidmore, where he had been an assistant since 1997.
Last year, Salve finished with an overall record of 8-12 and capped off a decent season with a thrilling 6-5 upset victory over a strong Tufts team in the ECAC Northeast quarterfinals. With underdog victories over league powers UMass-Dartmouth, New Hampshire College, Fitchburg State and Tufts last season, Salve Regina established itself as a giant killer and a team that should never be taken lightly.
With Lavin gone to Framingham State, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Seahawks can carry over the upstart spirit of last year’s run at the title. But coach MacPherson is confident, saying that his hopes are that the Seahawks will attain home ice in the playoffs.
The Seahawks’ offense was hurt by graduation a bit. The loss of Brian Hannafin (20-16-36), Eddy Fletcher (10-12-22), Chris Pisani, and David Menditto takes away some significant firepower and veteran leadership. With only two seniors on the roster, goalie Matt Arnold and forward Jack Wallace, Salve will look to its youngsters, including several who will be “major contributors right away” to help reestablish the Seahawks as a league contender.
Up front, juniors Matt Hilberg (13-14-27) and Billy Baker (11-12-23), along with sophomores Ryan Park (7-9-16) and Frank Mingone (6-4-10), return as capable scorers. They will need some others to step up offensively in order for the team to have a potent offense.
On the blue line, aforementioned senior Wallace (3-13-16) and rocketeer junior Peter Marfione (5-4-9) provide some veteran leadership.
In goal, the Seahawks will look to a duo including solid Chris Burns. Last season, Burns posted a 10-7 record along with a 3.91 GAA and an 89.6 save percentage. Senior Matt Arnold (1-7, 5.55. 87.1%) may also provide some steady play.
Salve will not sneak up on anyone this year. The league is aware of the statement that this team made at the end of last season and nobody will take them lightly. But they are a gritty and experienced bunch who have gotten a taste of the playoffs in the last few years.
“They are focused and determined, a hardworking bunch of guys chomping at the bit to get going,” said MacPherson. Look for the Seahawks to try and prove themselves playoff worthy and make another run at the title.
New Hampshire College will now be known as Southern New Hampshire University. With the name change comes some added prestige, which should help in recruiting. Along with the change in name comes new uniforms and a team that should be drastically different in terms of style of play.
Offensively, the Penmen were decimated by graduation, and last year’s senior night must have been a trying time for coach Rene Leclerc. The Penmen lost seven seniors to graduation along with 55% of their total offense and 77% of their power-play goals. Needless to say, the team that posted a 13-7 record with those players will sorely miss those numbers.
But Leclerc said, “Defensively, we’re okay.”
They will rely on their defense to keep them in games so they will not need to be the high flying, run and shoot type of team they were in the past.
Leclerc will have a substantial number of players at tryouts this year and says there could be some players in that group.
The question that everyone is asking is, how will they score goals? seniors Nick Nugent (8-7-15) and Mike Cesere (8-16-14) hope to provide some answers. If some of the freshman are in fact “players” then the Penman could be decent in the scoring department.
On the backline SNHU will be very strong. The Penman return six defenseman who saw significant playing time last year, including Chris Wingren and Nick Ianiello. As coach Leclerc said, this will be the strength of the team.
In net, sophomore Brian Holland (10-3, 3.51 GAA, 87.1 %), seniors Nick Roussel (4-4-1, 88.2 %, 3.06 GAA) and Chris Vokes (3-1, 4.00 GAA, 83.9%) are being counted on to provide some solid tending.
It is tough to gauge how this Southern New Hampshire team will do in 2001-02. If their youngsters step up, they could be very good. If not, they could finish towards the middle of the league ladder.
Head coach Scott Harlow brought a new attitude to Stonehill College last year. The Chieftains played a tougher and grittier game than in years past under the first-year coach, a season Harlow characterized as a successful year. He is encouraged with the possibilities the upcoming season holds.
In his second year, the Chieftains will only get better. They did not lose very many real impact guys to graduation, and there will be some players returning from injuries and some freshmen who will be thrown into the mix to help shore up whatever holes there are.
“I should have four good lines that can play every day,” said coach Harlow. “For the first time in a few years, we can honestly say we’re shooting to win the Division II championship. I think we can do that this year.”
senior Dan Rahl (9-11-20), juniors Brendan Fleming (14-21-35) and Mike Ryan (15-15-30), and sophomores Rob Pascale (17-13-30) and Will O’Connell (12-14-26) will lead the way offensively for Stonehill. Like last year, the Chieftains will have no problem scoring goals.
Harlow spent most of his recruiting efforts on defense, a position he considered to be a bit of a weakness last year. Some players return from injury to give Stonehill five veteran players on the blue line including senior Derek McTomney (4-6-10). Harlow brought in five freshman defensemen as well.
“Any five of them can contribute,” according to Harlow.
Tending the twine for the Chieftains will be a pair of juniors. Phil Graves (7-7, 4.61 GAA, 85%) and David Mitchell (3-3-1, 5.20 GAA, 85%) should provide some solid goaltending.
The core of a winning team is definitely in place. If Harlow’s younger troops can step up their game and play some solid hockey for Stonehill, then the Chieftains should be able to advance a little further than last year’s team which couldn’t make it past the Division II semifinals. Look for the Chieftains to be contenders this year.
Suffolk barely missed the playoffs last year, finishing with a record of 6-11 in the conference and 9-12 overall. The loss of Evan Crockford (14-23-37), who some coaches consider to have been the best player in the league last year, along with high scoring Josh Wilcox (20-12-32), and defenseman Bob Bellenoit hurts the Rams. Brian Horan’s team will carry on however, with a good mixture of young veterans and six seniors to provide leadership.
Horan expects to be a team built on defense. “The defense will be strong. We’ve got the core back. We’ll be alright. We expect to be on the bubble [as far as playoff contention goes.]
The forwards will be lead by a trio of Sophomores in Ryan Cikacz (13-9-22), Ricky Morrell (5-11-16), and Dave Nuccitelli (5-6-11) along with the returning point leader in the person of Junior Paul Fuedo (10-13-23).
As Horan said, the defense will be the strength of this team. Defensemen like senior Michael Berien and sophomores Anthony Fantasia and Marc Coviello will be the foundation of the backliners.
The goaltending duties will be shared by Senior Matt Consentino, who saw the bulk of the work last year and posted a 6-10-1 record while saving 88% of the shots he faced and having 4.96 goals against him per game, and Junior Michael Sweeney (3-2, 4.69 GAA, 89%).
The question for Suffolk is, will they be able to count on their eighteen underclassmen to provide them with significant enough production to enable them to get over the playoff hump? The Rams’ six seniors and Horan hope the answer is yes.
Says head coach Bill Bowes, “Don’t put us down in your list of powerhouse hockey programs.”
Other coaches around the league beg to differ, at least in the Northeast where Wentworth has cemented itself as a team that leads the pack year in and year out.
To a man, every coach has mentioned Wentworth as one of the favorites to win the league and the coaches poll reflected that, as Wentworth finished second and received three first-place votes. The reason is that Bowes has garnered respect for his recruiting around the league and the feeling is that those players lost, while significant, will be replaced with players who are more than capable.
The Wentworth Institute of Technology had an outstanding season last year, making it to the conference championship and posting a tie with national power Middlebury, as well as convincing victories over traditional league powers Saint Michael’s and UMass-Dartmouth during the regular season. It was a good year, which — contrary to Bowes’ assertion — is becoming the norm around the Wentworth program.
The Leopards will certainly miss all of last year’s seniors. Power-play force Ivan Filipov, steady forward Tim Hebert, forward Jeramie Vaine, and three defensemen who played a regular shift — Andrew Gordon, Mike Pierce, and John Hourihan — are all gone. That is a great outgoing class. The Leopards are sad to see these players leave but they have to be excited about the returning players and their recruiting class who will, as Bowes put it, make an immediate impact.
Included in that group are six forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie. Most of the recruits played juniors in Canada and New England.
Walpole, Mass., scoring machine Tim Yakimowsky (26-18-44) had a league-leading 14 power-play goals last year, and five game-winners. He is back. Also returning up front are crafty junior centerman Jamie Weiss (12-20-32, 6 PPGs), junior forward Dave Zelasko (15-16-31), and sophomores Alex Marinkovich (10-12-22, 3 SHGs) and Ben Pierce (7-12-19).
On D the Leopards return four who played a significant amount, including sophomore Chris Hartly. Look for freshmen to fill the remaining slots.
Goaltending will be a strength this year, as it was last year. Wentworth has serious depth in net as both of their returning goaltenders saw a good amount of game action last season. Junior Jamie Vanek played 15 games and was 8-5. He had a 2.47 GAA along with a solid 92 save percentage. Just behind him in the games played column was Raj Bhangoo with 10 games played. He posted a gaudy 1.78 GAA and 93 save percentage while winning eight games, losing one and tying one. Newcomer Bryce McFadden could contend for the position as well.
Watch out for the Leopards. Though they lost some key performers, coach Bill Bowes is used to winning and they have enough depth in all positions to make another run at the league title. Look for them to go deep in the playoffs and win an invite to the ECAC championships.
New head coach Karl Enroth comes over from Amherst College where he was both a men’s assistant and the women’s head coach last year. He may have a tough task in front of him this year at WNEC.
The graduating senior class took with it over half of the team point production, three defensemen who played a regular shift and the goaltender who played most of the games for the Golden Bears.
However, Coach Enroth is hoping for a team that will be competitive in his first year. “We’re going to shoot to make the playoffs.”
Enroth also hopes to establish a team that “plays a well balanced and clean game,” he continued saying he thinks he has a team that has all the ingredients he looks for in a good team. WNEC will have “good speed up front and the team will hopefully be a team that transitions well [and] a team that moves the puck and moves it quickly.”
The biggest obstacle for WNEC will be playing solid defense. The Golden Bears allowed close to five goals a game last year and only four defensemen return. Brian Walachy and Bobby Foley will be counted on to step up their play on the blue line.
The goaltending situation is up in the air as the returnees are inexperienced, for the most part. Junior Chris Belden saw the most playing time last year posting a 1-2 record with a 5.03 GAA and a save percentage of 86. Senior Shaun Burke posted similar numbers (1-2, 5.74, 84%) and junior Michael Newall (2-1, 5.64, 86%) may see some time as well.
Scoring may also be a problem. Only four returners posted double digits in points last year. Senior Scott Rundlett (10-11-21) was third in scoring, and will be helped by sophomore Michael Woishinski (4-9-13) and juniors Shawn Haubner (5-5-10) and Ryan Ferrante (4-6-10).
Look for Suffolk to be one of those teams on the bubble come playoff time.
Worcester State enjoyed a successful season last year (9-7-1 ECACNE) including a upset victories over Tufts, Fitchburg, and UMass-Dartmouth. Gone from that team are the contributions of Fran Keefe (8-14-22) and Carlin Grenier (12-10-22) in the scoring department. In net, they will miss local product Paul Sundeen, who had to leave school.
But coach John Guiney expects good things this season.
“In my 12 years here,” he said, “I think this is the deepest [team we’ve had], talent-wise.”
Worcester State was picked to finish sixth in the coaches preseason poll. Guiney hopes the Lancers can finish in the top five and make some noise in the playoffs. With four or five recruits expected to contribute right away, and with talented transfer Matt Cruikshank in the mix, the Lancers should be a legitimate contender.
Back on the front line is ECAC Northeast Co-Rookie of The Year Justin Vallas (15-16-31) and his six PPGs and three GWGs. Senior forward Chris Susi (12-10-22) and junior Andy Hewitt (7-10-17) are also being looked to for contributions on offense. Scoring should not be a problem.
Worcester State’s defense will be very solid. The Lancers did not lose a single defenseman to graduation. Leading the way for that unit will be Mike Tomassetti (5-8-13). Expect the experience of the defense to produce good things for the Lancers this season.
As mentioned, the goaltender who played the bulk of the games last year is not back, which will the principal question mark on the team. Guiney hopes that one of a trio of goalies competing for the job will seize the opportunity in the early going and provide some solid play.
The coaches poll has them at sixth, which is middle of the pack but respectable, and in the playoffs. That sounds about right. With improved production from their returning leaders, look for Worcester State to go further in the playoffs than last year’s first-round bounce.