When George Roll returned to Potsdam last season after six years at Oswego, the former Clarkson assistant realized that life had changed a bit since the mid-1990s.
“Last year,” explained the Knights’ head coach, “I learned that the league had changed a lot and Clarkson had changed a lot since I was here. We had been a good offensive team, but we, and perhaps all of college hockey, had changed to a more defensive style.
“That’s not the game we want to play. We want to be good on defense, of course, but also put up numbers.”
Despite the team’s surprising run to the ECAC Championship Game, the Knights struggled to score on a consistent basis — even with breakout seasons by the returning Mac Faulkner (17-26-43), Chris Blight (19-20-39) and Jay Latulippe (14-17-31).
“It was a weakness,” Roll said, “so it became a focus for us in recruiting. And in Shawn Weller, Steve Zalewski, Nick Dodge and Matt Isbister, we expect all four to make an impact.
“Weller and Zalewski have great competitiveness. I had them on 17-team when I was a coach and I’ve seen them make unbelievable strides. Weller was in Ottawa’s camp and they were extremely impressed with his play. We think he can be a dominant player in a year or two.”
The Knights, for the first time in years, also reached up into Quebec for a creative offensive player. Following in the footsteps of Hugo Belanger and Patrice Robitaille will be David Cayer.
“We feel he will be high-end,” said Roll about another of his prized rookies. “We brought him in for his offense, especially on the power play and on special teams.”
It sounds like the Knights are prepared to take another step in their rebuilding process. But Roll tempers his excitement.
“Our work ethic and commitment changed down the stretch. The players are extremely excited, but we’re cautiously optimistic. We have more offense than in years past, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we were a ninth-place team last year.”
A young squad with only four seniors and three juniors, the Knights will rely on a sophomore class that, at times, stumbled through on-the-job training. For most of 2003-04, Clarkson skated five freshman defensemen, including the since-departed Matt Nickerson — he of the 179 penalty minutes.
“That’s a big difference for us this year,” said Roll. “We’ll only have one freshman on defense (in Grant Clitsome).
“We’ve definitely had a maturation process and the players are getting to know the three coaches. They understand that we are committed and hard working, and we like to think that some of it has rubbed off on the players.”
The Knights will put Roll’s perceptions to the test in the coming weeks as they open the season on October 8 at Providence before wrapping up a four-game road trip in time for Halloween weekend.