The 2004-05 season for Providence may have blown up in May when goaltender Bobby Goepfert was dismissed from the school because of academic violations. The Friars were already losing All-American defenseman Stephen Wood, fellow blueliner Jason Platt, and three of their five forwards who had totaled at least 20 points.
With no graduations from the goaltender ranks, PC wasn’t really looking at recruiting a goaltender. And then the disaster struck, eliminating one of the most talented goaltenders in the league from the Friar roster at a time when it isn’t easy to recruit a replacement.
Perhaps grit, character and numerous players rising to the occasion will fill all the holes, but this looks like a rebuilding year.
Not, however, in the eyes of coach Paul Pooley.
“We lost our goalie and our All-American defenseman so I know that people are going to say that we’re in a transition phase,” Pooley says. “They’ll ask, ‘Who is going to be able to step up to run their power play and who is going to play net for them?’
“I look at us as a team that has to play good together, be a team, and play as one. But in terms of what this team is capable of, I think we’re going to continue to get better and better like we did last year.
“We could be ahead of where we were last year in terms of overall play. The specialty teams are going to play a huge part. The one thing that held us back the first half of last year was our penalty kill. We basically lost games because our PK wasn’t very good. Our power play finished fourth in the country; our penalty kill over the last half of the year was very, very good. It gave us a chance to win games.
“People can’t measure on paper somebody’s character, execution and heart. People are looking for us to not have a very good team. We’ve got 17 freshmen and sophomores out of our 27 guys, but that doesn’t matter. Our sophomores and even some of our freshmen are willing and ready to play significant minutes for us and our kids are motivated by the fact that people aren’t going to give us much credit.”
The goaltender who will be looking to make Friar fans forget about Goepfert is David Cacciola, who stunned many observers last year, including this writer, who had consigned the senior to career backup status. Cacciola (1-5-4, 2.06 GAA, .933 Sv%) gave Goepfert a surprisingly tough challenge for time between the pipes. Can he rise to yet one more challenge? Tyler Sims, a late recruit following Goepfert’s departure, will challenge Cacciola, but comes in as a clear number two.
“It’s really early, but right now David is the guy who we’re counting on to play the majority of our games,” Pooley says. “David progressed very well last year and we feel he is really ready to step up and backbone our team given what he did last year.
“So he’s the guy were looking at to play well, but as any coach would say, it’s whoever plays well that is going to play. Right now David is the guy, but Tyler Sims is a player who has ability. Things have a way of working out because we’ve only been on the ice with him a little bit due to the NCAA rules and regulations, but he’s going to be a really good goaltender.”
On the blue line, Wood and Platt leave major holes to fill, but senior Eric Lundberg, juniors James Pemberton and Luke Irwin, and sophomore Dinos Stamoulis all played in over 30 games last year so there’s plenty of experience. The questions will be assuming Wood’s major role, especially on the power play, and filling in the five and six slots on the depth chart. Opportunity abounds for the four freshmen defensemen.
“Woodie was a big part of our offensive game the way he could join [the rush] and the way he ran our power play,” Pooley says. “[But] I look at guys like Eric Lundberg, who has been in everybody’s shadow for three years as a stay-at-home D. He has assumed some leadership back there just by his actions, his commitment level over the summer and his whole personality coming into this year. I look at him as one player who is really going to come out and show people what he’s all about.
“Jay Pemberton is a player who needs to fill some of the void. We’ve got kids like Luke Irwin, who is steady, and Matt Mannina and Dinos Stamoulis, who has made major strides since last year just by what he’s done over the summer.
“The freshman who has really showed that he’s ready to do a lot is Trevor Ludwig. We take them in groups of four and he has looked very good from what he’s done in the skill sessions.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of character back on defense and play a tight defensive game of in-your-face. It’s going to be a solid point for us.”
Up front, Chris Chaput and Torry Gajda lead the returning scorers. Transfer Jamie Carroll compiled a 14-13–27 scoring line as a sophomore at Iona, so he’ll contribute along with freshman Jon Rheault.
“Our leading scorer, Chris Chaput, is back,” Pooley says. “He had a very good year last year, but there’s more in him that he’s capable of and he’s well aware of that. He’s another player who was very committed this summer in his workouts. I know he’s going to have a very good year for us.
“Colin McDonald finished the year very strong and has taken steps to improve and will be a key factor for us. Tory Gajda is a player who really started fast his two years and really has an ability to put the puck in the net.
“We don’t have any one guy who is going to come [and carry the offense] but I look at Chase Watson, Billy McCreary and Jon Rheault, for example. All can certainly contribute offensively to what we’re doing.
“We lost a lot of character, but I think we’re faster this year than we were last year. I look at having two real good lines and two lines that can go out and check and grind it out and be physical. I know we’re going to be more physical up front than we were last year. We have kids who are big and strong and we’re going to play that way.
“We may not have any superstars, but I’ve got five lines that I can interchange at any given time. I really like our forwards from a combative, competitive [point of view] and an ability to check and create turnovers and be aggressive but also get back.”
Hardly the stuff of expecting a rebuilding year.
“Our main focus is to make it very difficult to play Providence College,” Pooley says. “We’re going to play three guys back and be in your face. We want to use our defense to build the counterattack. We want to be in hard on the forecheck, but we also want guys who are in position so that when a turnover is created we’re in position to counter back on a team. That’ll be the key to our team, how quickly we can counterattack after creating a turnover.
“We’ve changed some things in what we’re doing in order to be a good transition team. We’re a little more structured. That’s the mindset.”