This Week in New England D-III: Nov. 4, 2004

ECAC Northeast Preview, Part I

Quick! Name the only D-III conference other than the always strong NCHA to place two teams into the NCAA tournament’s quarterfinal round last spring. Hear the “Jeopardy” music playing in the background? OK, time’s up. For many it may hard to believe that the ECAC Northeast had both Curry and Wentworth seeded in the East bracket. And while neither team advanced beyond the quarterfinals, both teams are poised to make another run at some national tournament play come next March.

The nation’s largest hockey conference will likely again play out an interesting rivalry and dynamic that finds Curry in search of its first conference championship in many years, Wentworth looking to extend its current three-year reign as champions and fourteen other improved programs looking to upset the balance of power. With Lebanon Valley moving over to the ECAC West this season, the league loses a perennial playoff performer but also opens up a spot in the top eight for a new contender in the increasingly competitive Northeast.

Senior captain Brian Doherty looks to lead Curry towards league title.

Senior captain Brian Doherty looks to lead Curry towards league title.

Clearly, the top two contenders are last season’s conference finalists. Wentworth’s 5-4 victory was the only blemish on Curry’s 18-0 conference win streak — a 16-0 regular season plus two playoff wins — a point not missed by Curry coach Rob Davies or his players. “We had a wonderful season when you look at the record (24-4-1) but what do we have to show for it? We didn’t win our league and we lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Our kids are motivated to improve on last season. We have almost all of our guys returning and have added a couple of key players including Providence College transfer Kevin Brooks and Lebanon Valley’s Kiernan Joyce.”

The defending champion Wentworth squad begins its first full season under head coach Jonathan Deptula, who replaced Bill Bowes in February. Like Curry, the Leopards return a seasoned core of players on offense and defense but begin life after the departure of Raj Bhangoo, the All-American goaltender who was the backbone of three championship teams. “We will have great speed to go with a physical presence; that’s our style,” notes Deptula. “Bryce McFadden has played some solid games for us with good results, and we have brought in a pair of freshmen in Alan Keeso and Ryan Van Schoick to help solidify the position. Our senior kids only know winning titles and would love to cap their careers with a fourth.”

Junior defenseman Blayne Goodman sets the tempo for Wentworth's physical play.

Junior defenseman Blayne Goodman sets the tempo for Wentworth’s physical play.

The rest of the league remains extremely competitive. All of the remaining ten D-III schools eligible for the playoffs have a shot at the top eight this year and are optimistic about their chances. Nichols coach Lou Izzi takes over at a school that has never been in the post-season, but feels his squad has the makings of a contender this year. “Obviously you have to talk about Curry and Wentworth at the top of the standings, but there are other teams that will compete hard every night. We look like we could be pretty solid in back with the return of Ryan Davis in goal and the addition of a couple of solid defensemen including transfer Bob McDonald from Wisconsin-Stout. We have some good forwards coming in and hopefully we can significantly improve our offense over last year’s squad that produced just 55 goals.”

Other contenders for first round home ice in the playoffs include perennial playoff teams Fitchburg State, Salve Regina and UMass-Dartmouth as well as last year’s Cinderella story, Framingham State and upstart Suffolk.

Here’s a look at the projected top eight teams in the conference. Next week’s Part II will focus on the remaining eight teams, including the battle for D-II seeding.

1. Curry Colonels

2003-2004 Overall Record: 24-4-1
2003-2004 League Record: 16-0-0
2003-2004 League Finish: First
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: First
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: First

Team Overview: Last year’s offensive juggernaut returns virtually every weapon in its arsenal and adds Man’u Mau’u back to his customary forward spot from his defensive post last year. Defense and goaltending should be improved and the Colonels are motivated for success with strong senior leadership.

2. Wentworth Institute of Technology Leopards

2003-2004 Overall Record: 16-9-4
2003-2004 League Record: 12-2-2
2003-2004 League Finish: Third
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Second
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Second

Team Overview: Success starts on the blueline led by juniors Blayne Goodman and Mike Prsa who create turnovers and opportunities for a veteran offensive group led by Brad Carpenter and Shawn Metheral. Goaltending will need to be proven for team to repeat as champions.

3. UMass-Dartmouth Corsairs

2003-2004 Overall Record: 18-8-1
2003-2004 League Record: 11-4-1
2003-2004 League Finish: Fifth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Third
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Third

Team Overview: Always in the hunt, Coach John Rolli’s team returns a solid nucleus with size including captain Brandon Koziara and Dan Aucoin. Need consistent goaltending from Kevin McGowan and solid work ethic from a balanced group of forwards.

4. Fitchburg State Falcons

2003-2004 Overall Record: 9-13-3
2003-2004 League Record: 7-6-3
2003-2004 League Finish: Sixth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Fourth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Fourth

Team Overview: Like Coach Rolli, Dean Fuller gets the most out of his teams so expect the Falcons to fly a bit higher this season. Great senior leadership from Chad Fletcher, Matt Cunha and Lucas Colburn should help a young team develop quickly.

5. Suffolk University Rams

2003-2004 Overall Record: 10-12-2
2003-2004 League Record: 6-8-2
2003-2004 League Finish: Seventh (tie)
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Sixth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Fifth

Team Overview: Chris Glionna and Brian Horan swap coaching titles and focus on nurturing the most talented squad at Suffolk in several years. Much will be expected from captain Kevin Coakley and his younger brother Ryan. Goaltending should be a team strength and keep the Rams in a lot of games early.

6. Framingham State College Rams

2003-2004 Overall Record: 12-11-2
2003-2004 League Record: 11-3-2
2003-2004 League Finish: Fourth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Sixth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Sixth

Team Overview: Coach Chris Coogins’ squad saw the biggest turnaround in D-III last season with 12 wins as compared with 1 the previous season. Last year’s Goaltender of the Year Paul Morgan is gone so the Rams will look to some young talent to backstop the team. Won’t sneak up on anyone this year so home ice may be tough to reach.

7. Salve Regina College Seahawks

2003-2004 Overall Record: 8-12-2
2003-2004 League Record: 6-7-2
2003-2004 League Finish: Seventh (tie)
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Seventh
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Seventh

Team Overview: A perennial playoff team, Coach MacPherson’s squad is young and will look to senior captain Gino Binda to rebound from last year’s season and provide solid leadership and a strong presence on the blueline. Group of seven freshmen will need to mature quickly with difficult non-conference schedule before the holidays.

8. Nichols College Bison

2003-2004 Overall Record: 6-16-1
2003-2004 League Record: 5-10-1
2003-2004 League Finish: Ninth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction: Eighth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction: Eighth

Team Overview: Coach Lou Izzi takes over a team in search of offense. Strong defense and consistent goaltending from sophomore Ryan Davis should reduce the pressure to score in bunches but to make their playoff run, the Bison will need to do better than last season’s 2.4 GPG average.