In the preseason, just about every I talked to mentioned their top contenders for the league as including Wentworth, Johnson and Wales and Lebanon Valley. In fact, I don’t remember any of them not mentioning those teams. The ECAC Northeast preseason coaches poll reflected this as well, as LVC garnered the top spot followed closely by Wentworth, UMass-Dartmouth and Johnson and Wales.
Now that we are a few weeks into the season, we can take a look at who is making noise, and who is dead silent.
While UMD has been less then spectacular, the rest of the prognosticators’ choices are right where they should be. Wentworth and JWU are undefeated and LVC is undefeated in the league. I guess the coaches knew what they were talking about.
As for the rest of the league, everything is pretty much up in the air.
Another point a number of coaches made in the preseason was that there are the top three or four teams, and then you can throw everyone else in a hat. We are seeing that come into fruition in these first few weeks. Some of the younger teams are working out an identity for themselves. Some have been more successful than others thus far. One success is Curry, which began on a winning note at its own tournament. Assumption is more or less happy with where it is, but is also young. And then we have a team like Fitchburg, which seems to be experiencing some growing pains, perhaps trying too hard to find its niche.
Let’s take a team-by-team look at what is going on in the ECAC Northeast.
Johnson and Wales
The Wildcats of Johnson and Wales are off to a spectacular start. They are not only winning their games, they are destroying the competition. Head coach Lou Izzi is understandably pleased with his squad thus far.
“We’re really happy, particularly with the freshman class. They’re playing major roles and they’ve come through.”
Part of that freshman class is the goaltending tandem of Nick Lacroix (2-0-0, 2.50, .915%) and Bobby Doran (2-0-0, 3.00, .880%). The two were named Northeast Co-Rookies of The Week by the ECAC in their first week of action.
“Goaltending has been fantastic,” said Izzi of his freshman duo. “For the first time in our five year history we have depth at the goaltending position. They are a good 1-2 punch. I look at both of them as number-one goalies.”
Goaltending is not the only thing clicking on all cylinders for JWU. The offense has been tremendous, averaging 7.5 goals a game in their first four contests.
“We’re rolling four lines that can score every game,” said Izzi. He also mentioned that, with four injuries in Tuesday night’s shellacking of Framingham State, the fifth line stepped right in and the team didn’t miss a beat.
“That is a tribute to our depth,” added Izzi.
Izzi points to the team’s ability to score in bunches as a major reason why they are winning so handily.
“We have the ability to explode and we’ve done that in the first four games.” Those explosions include multiple four- and five-goal periods in the first four games.
When you throw up four or five unanswered goals in a period, and when your power play is clicking at an astounding 40%, there is not much hope for the trailing team. At 4-0-0, the Wildcats look like a ferocious bunch. If you don’t come to play against these guys they are going to embarrass you.
JWU takes itsshow on the road this week as they will visit upstate New York for tilts at Cortland on Saturday and Utica on Sunday.
Head coach Chris MacPherson was happy to get a 6-0 win at Suffolk after starting out the season 0-2-1 with some tough losses
“Last night was good for us. We finally broke the ice.”
MacPherson made mention of the solid play he received out of Adam Asselin and Billy Baker. Both players had a 1-2–3 line on the night. And junior Matt Hillberg, who leads the team in scoring (4-1–5), continued to be a positive presence as he contributed a goal in the winning effort.
Junior goalkeeper Chris Burns, who has been exceptional in the early going, got what McPherson identified as the first shutout in school history in the effort.
“He has definitely stepped up as the number-one guy,” said the coach. “He’s seeing the puck very well right now.”
The Paine Webber Faceoff Classic games that the Seahawks lost in the opening were games that just barely got away.
“We have to take those in stride,” said MacPherson. “Players were getting used to systems. We walked out of that building with our heads up.”
Salve Regina is in decent shape with an overall record of 1-2-1, but the 1-0 league record is what counts for MacPherson.
“We’re happy with where we are at right now. We’re 1-0 in the league and the league is what really matters.”
Salve hosts Plymouth State on Friday night in what should be an exciting league matchup.
“[Plymouth] is a real tough team. They remind me a little bit of us.”
Assumption is 3-1-1, a record that has already tripled the first half of last year’s win total. They began the season by winning the tournament they hosted and they are 1-1-1 since then, with the only loss coming to an excellent Johnson and Wales squad that has torn up the competition. Not a bad start.
The schedule is heating up for the Hounds, though. Assumption is approaching what should be the toughest part of the schedule, three consecutive tilts with some excellent hockey teams: at Wentworth, home against St. Mike’s, and at St. Anselm. Assumption is happy to be 3-1-1, but not content.
Senior co-captain Brendan Norton said, “I think we’re showing a lot of improvement for such a young team. We’re finding ways to win games.”
He was wary of the upcoming games, though, saying, “It’s a tough stretch, toughest of the season definitely. I think this could show us a lot about the character of our team.”
Junior co-captain Bob Reddish is carrying the load offensively for the Ice Dogs. His 3-6–9 line in the first four games is eye popping.
But the Assumption offense is suffering big time from a lack of production on the power play. Only one conversion in 17 attempts has to have Assumption wishing it could begin declining penalties. On the positive side of the special teams is the penalty kill, which is a very steady 85%.
As mentioned, Assumption will be traveling to Wentworth Saturday in its next game action.
Curry opened the season with a bang, winning its own tournament and doing so easily. With a 7-4 win over Suffolk and a 7-3 win over Western New England College, the Colonels look like they are living up to their preseason hype thus far.
Most of that hype was due to the impressive freshman class that the coaches brought in. And indeed, the freshmen are contributing heavily. Eight of the twelve point-getters on the team are in the freshman class.
Leading the way for the freshmen and the team is Brian Doherty, whose five-goal effort in the first two games earned him USCHO D-III Offensive Player of the Week and ECAC Northeast Player of The Week honors. Doherty is 5-1–6 in his first two career games.
Not to be overlooked in the forward ranks are the contributions of senior Jason Boyle (2-4–6) and fellow freshmen Joseph Chiasson (2-2–4) and Mike Melanson (0-4–4). Their contributions on the score sheet are a big part of the wins as well.
The goaltending duties have been split by sophomore Phil Belmont (1-0-0, 4.00, .879) and senior Ryan Wood (1-0-0, 3.00, .900) and with two wins who could complain?
Curry goes on the road traveling to Brockport Saturday and Hobart Sunday. This is a bold scheduling move by the coaches, but we will see how it works out.
The Flying Dutchmen were winless in two games heading into last week’s action but did anyone really think that the 0-2 record was an accurate reflection of the team? Well, after wins of 9-1, 6-1 and 9-0 I don’t think so.
Junior Scott Schilling has been a key player in his return to the team. He has two multiple goal games and has at least a point in every game except for one so far. His 6-4–10 line in the five games is leading the team. Senior Jamie Taylor is right behind with a 5-3–8 line. Brian Yingling (0-7–7) has had at least on assist in each game but he has yet to light the lamp. Yingling is a kid who scored 24 goals last year so they will surely begin to flow soon.
On defense, Ben Kwon (3-4–7) is contributing to the offense heavily.
The goaltending duties have been split by a pair of seniors, Lincoln Matlock (2-1-0, 1.50 GAA, .915 SV%) and Kevin Block (1-1-0, 2.52, .898). They are alternating starts in the early going.
LVC will be at Geneseo State on Friday night at 7pm.
The wins have not come easy for the Leopards but they have come and that is all that is important. Wentworth is 3-0.
Wednesday night saw Wentworth travel to Worcester for a difficult tilt against the Lancers of Worcester State. Special teams were the story as Dave Zelasko (5-0–5, hat trick against Stonehill) scored a power-play goal in the first and, surprise, surprise, Tim Yakimowsky (4-0–4) scored the shorthanded game-winner with just under five minutes remaining. He had five winners last season.
Freshman Brad Carpenter is making an offensive impact for Wentworth as well, with a 1-3–4 line in the first three games.
Before the season, Bill Bowes talked about goaltending as a major strength for Wentworth this season. He also said that they would most likely use a rotation throughout the year. With two quality goaltenders, sophomore Raj Bhangoo (1-0-0, 3.00 GAA, .900) and junior Jamie Vanek (1-0-0, 1.00, .958), the rotation makes sense and it has been beneficial thus far.
Keith Hughes, who played under Bowes when he was at Assumption, will travel to Matthews Arena to take on the Leopards on Saturday. Wentworth will then host Suffolk on Tuesday.
Worcester State is another team with a bit of a misleading record at 1-2-2. The two losses came to Assumption and Wentworth, who are not slouches, and both were one-goal games that came down to the wire. Who knows, with a couple of bounces of the puck the Lancers could be undefeated.
But, as Bill Parcells once said, “You are what you are.” The Lancers need to start pulling out those close ones to be successful.
Senior Chris Susi (3-2–5), UMass-Dartmouth junior transfer Matt Cruikshank (1-4–5) and sophomore Dan Marshall (3-1–4) are leading the Lancers in scoring.
Freshman Jon Coderre has been a pleasant surprise for Worcester State. Goaltending was a question mark going into the season and Coderre has done his best to put those questions to rest. He has played in every game thus far and has posted some pretty outstanding numbers. Coderre is 1-2-3 with an exceptional .923 save percentage. His 2.52 GAA is also above par.
Worcester State is off this weekend but will travel to UMass-Dartmouth next Tuesday in what should be an excellent game.
The good news for the Falcons is that they are getting contributions from the young guys. Freshman Robert Zapf leads the team in scoring with three goals in the first four games. Sophomore Shane Coleman (1-2–3) and Freshman Sebastien Corbeil (1-1–2) have chipped in as well. They will undoubtedly improve as the season wears on.
The bad news? Fitchburg State is 1-2-1 overall and 0-2 in the conference. Plus, the special teams are not exactly lighting it up.
This is a team that was only picked fifth in the preseason coaches poll, but most coaches mentioned them as probable contenders for the league title. Thus far, they have not lived up to that billing, but let’s not throw the towel in this early in the season.
Fitchburg is young and has played some very good teams in Worcester State, Salve, Stonehill and Johnson and Wales. That said, for the Falcons to be there in the end, they will have to grow as a team and start beating some of those good teams more often.
Senior stalwart Jeff Brodeur (1-3–4) is second on the team in scoring and he should heat up as the season moves along, especially as he settles in with his two new linemates this season. Big things should be expected of him and, should he heat up and do what he’s done in the past, the offense will begin to click for sure.
Fitchburg State will host WNEC on Saturday at 7pm.
New head coach Bob Lavin came into this job during the summer and did not have a chance to bring in a recruiting class. Framingham lost a ton of players off of last year’s team as well. Those are not excuses. They are just facts. And Lavin’s thought in the preseason that this will be a year to build on seems to be a good one.
Framingham (0-3) has taken its lumps in the early going, being outscored 24-7 in losing its first three official games, and also losing a tough exhibition to Westfield State, 6-4. The Rams have also used four goaltenders, never a good sign.
The schedule only gets tougher, too. A stretch of at Southern New Hampshire, at Babson, home against Tufts, and at Stonehill in their next four games looks to be treacherous. But hey, the old saying “That’s why they play the games” applies here. You never know what could happen.
At 1-1-1 going into Thursday night’s game with Assumption, the Corsairs are not in bad shape. Other than a 6-1 on the road pounding by LVC, UMass-Dartmouth has played well thus far.
They need to get more scoring out of their offense though. Only one player has multiple points, sophomore Chris Dussault (1-1–2). On the positive side, that means that the Corsairs are getting balanced scoring. Their five goals have been scored by five different guys.
UMass-Dartmouth is another team that was picked to be contenders by the preseason prognosticators. 1-1-1 is not great but it also is not horrible and it does not really tell us much about where this team is and where it will be. LVC is their only loss and the tie came against an underrated Salve team. That said, UMD is a notoriously tough, hard working team that will not be counted out. Look for them to put together a string of wins soon.
The Corsairs will host Plymouth State on Saturday and Worcester State next Tuesday.
At 2-2-0, Nichols looks like they are in pretty good shape right now. The Bison have already doubled their first half win total from last year and are only two wins away from last season’s total wins. A playoff run looks like it could be a realistic goal right now.
Last Sunday’s 10-4 drubbing of Nichols was highlighted by a four goal third period which put the proverbial nail in the coffin, showing that Nichols has a little bit of firepower and the ability to put teams away when they are down. They will need that if they want to be successful this season.
Eight different forwards have scored goals for Nichols. Sophomores Mike Loftus (3-4–7) and Dan Torti (4-2–6), as expected, are the top point scorers for the Bison.
On defense Dave Abramo has chipped in with four assists and Paul Brady (2-1–3) has scored a power play and a game winning overtime goal against Framingham State in the early going.
Junior goaltender Adam Gray has played the bulk of the time in the nets for Nichols. He is 2-2-0 with a 4.74 GAA and a save percentage of .857.
Nichols is off until Tuesday, November 27 when they travel to Stonehill in hopes of getting above the .500 mark.
Stonehill has had, without argument, the toughest opening schedule in the Northeast. Wentworth, JWU and Fitchburg were their first three games and they are 1-2-0 with their losses coming to Wentworth and JWU.
Scott Harlow was not happy about the early schedule but he was not intimidated by it either, saying that you have to play everyone at some point so you might as well play them early.
Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over Fitchburg was a good one. Brendan Ready opened the scoring in the third period, just 1:50 in. Six minutes later an FSC penalty put Stonehill on the power play and the Chieftains capitalized, scoring on a Mike Ryan shot. Will O’Connell was credited with the assist. Fitchburg pulled their goalie with 0:54 on the clock but freshman Jared Waimon shut the door, icing the Falcons for Stonehill’s first win of the season.
Speaking of Waimon, he was runner up in the USCHO DIII Defensive Player of The Week voting. Waimon’s first career game was the Fitchburg win. He is 1-0 with a .963 save percentage and a 1.00 GAA. Waimon was Stonehill’s third goalie used in as many games. Freshman Billy Whitfield and junior Phil Graves were the other tenders who have seen game action thus far.
Sophomore Rob Pascale and senior Jeff Rowe are off to good starts. Pascale is 2-3–5 in the first three games and Rowe, who led the team in scoring last year with 42 points, has a 2-2–4 line so far.
The early season scheduling does not get any kinder for the Chieftains. Stonehill will go on the worst single-night road trip in the league when they travel to the Waterville Valley Ice Arena next Tuesday for a 7pm tilt against Plymouth State.
Generally, I like to be positive when taking a look at a team. I would rather leave the negative stuff for the coaches to work out. But Suffolk is suffering big time right now and it is hard to find a positive in there.
The 0-3 Rams have been outscored 23-8 in their three games. And all statistical analysis points to Suffolk needing to play better team defense. Two goalies have combined for a save percentage of .780 which is, to be kind, atrocious. Their penalty kill has allowed six goals against already and they are floundering at only 73.9%. To put those numbers in perspective, most teams are hovering around 85% on the kill right now.
Even if you score a ton of points, you will lose more than your fair share of games with those kind of defensive numbers. This has to be turned around for Suffolk to contend for a playoff spot. If not, it could be a long season.
Wentworth will host Suffolk on Tuesday at 7:15pm.
Western New England College
WNEC has faired pretty well in the early going. Sure they would like to be better than 1-3-0 but their losses have been close and their win over Nichols is encouraging.
Their penalty kill is excellent thus far, clicking at 95.2%. But on the other side of the special teams, they aren’t so hot at 12% on the power play.
The Golden Bears are being led offensively by junior LW Ron Ferrante (2-2–4) and Michael Szmeiter (1-2–3). WNEC is another team that has benefited from balanced scoring as seven different Bears have put the puck in the net.
Mike Newall has played all the minutes in the twine for WNEC. His numbers (.907, 3.51) point to him playing well thus far.
WNEC will look to steal a win at Fitchburg on Saturday. The game is at 7pm.
Opening Weekend for Two Teams
Plymouth State will embark on a new era when Plymouth alumnus Chris Hudon mans the bench Friday night at Salve Regina in the Panthers’ first game of the season.
Southern New Hampshire University, formerly New Hampshire College, will also begin a new era. The Penman will don new uniforms and a new school name, not to mention an almost completely revamped offense, in their opening night game against Framingham State on Saturday.
Good luck to both teams.
Things That Keep Me Up At Night
All lame attempts at comedy will be put on the shelf this week because I want to talk about something that literally did keep me up the other night.
In the words of host Bob Lobel: “Wow. How good is that?” And let me tell you, after watching that video, that is the very definition of a rhetorical question. I highly recommend anyone who is a Boston sports fan, and any single male over the age of 21, to visit “The Place” some night. They play the video once a night and it is every emotional adjective you can think of all rolled into one. Some thoughts came to me after watching it — and here they are…
“Bobby Orr skated without socks.”
Case closed. I would never wear socks under my skates again. That was in the mid-eighties and that gives you an idea of the profound impact Bobby Orr has had on New England hockey. I didn’t even question it. Bobby Orr did it? I’ll do it.
And then, 30-plus years later, a direct quote from a rosy-cheeked Phil Esposito after the video was played.
“I did wake up on my lawn. The sprinkler system woke me up. I didn’t know where I was, but I had the Stanley Cup.”