This Week in New England D-III: Nov. 18, 2004

Saving the best for last? Maybe. Though the calendar and league rules are the reason why these two D-III conferences begin the season last among all others, it is hard to argue with the fact that eight of the past ten national champions have come out of these two leagues — Norwich in 2000 and 2003 and defending champion Middlebury in 1995-1999 and 2004. What’s more intriguing is that a discussion of one league has to include conversation about the other. Their interlocking schedule creates that necessity.

Moving into this weekend, both conferences begin play where they get one shot at all other teams in both leagues that count towards their individual league standings. As Hamilton coach Phil Grady noted, “It’s not like you can hope to get a team again later in the year. We play everyone once so every game is important.” What makes the interlocking schedule even more interesting is the two games each week are played within 24 hours on a Friday night and Saturday afternoon. “There are no breaks or nights off with this schedule. The parity in these leagues is something else. The playoff seeding will probably come down to the final weekend just like it has the past couple of seasons,” added Grady.

Yes, parity in college hockey. No, the NFL does not have a monopoly on parity and, yes, it does bring interest to every match-up on the schedule something the ECAC East and NESCAC are quite familiar with. “Every year we talk about the teams getting tighter and tighter,” said Bowdoin coach Terry Meagher. “This year looks to be no different as teams have gone out and brought in student athletes to improve their teams. It should be a lot of fun this year with such a close competitive balance among the teams.”

Yes, it should be fun — particularly for the fans of great hockey in New England. Perhaps not so fun for some of us setting out to make some predictions and figure out who might finish where come playoff time in late February of next year. Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, here is a breakdown of the two leagues, team by team and some thoughts on where things just might end up come next spring.


With the addition of Castleton State, the league is back to a full complement of ten teams, two of which will vie for the D-II crown with four other schools playing in the ECAC Northeast. The remaining eight schools qualify for the playoffs, so no more first-round bye for the top seeded team finishing first in the regular season.

Any discussion of top dog in the conference usually begins with Norwich and this year is no different. The Cadets return Player of the Year candidate Kurtis McLean along with defensive stalwart Brian Mullally and two solid goaltenders in Kevin Schieve and Mike Boudreau. Coach Mike McShane has a lot to replace due to graduation and injury but likes his core returnees as a solid base to build on. “We are going to have to see what develops with some of our new guys, stated McShane. Even Kurtis is going to have to get used to some new guys as Paul (Mattucci) graduated and Mario (Chinelli) is out with a back injury for the start of the season. With all of the other teams getting better, things are going to be tight.”

All schools are reflected in the league standings, regardless of division, and so too are my prognostications for the upcoming season.

Here are the team capsules and their predicted order of finish:

Norwich captain Kurtis McLean looks to lead Cadets to top of league standings.

Norwich captain Kurtis McLean looks to lead Cadets to top of league standings.

1. Norwich University Cadets
2003-2004 Overall Record 24-4-0
2003-2004 League Record 16-2-0
2003-2004 League Finish First
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction First
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction First
Team Overview: Cadets will need some eight freshmen to pitch in and support solid core of upperclassmen including Kurtis McLean on offense, Brian Mullally on defense and two proven goaltenders. Solid senior leadership should help young team to gel early while being tested in the Primelink and Times Argus tournaments.

2. Babson College Beavers
2003-2004 Overall Record 17-10-1
2003-2004 League Record 9-8-1
2003-2004 League Finish Fourth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Third
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Second
Team Overview: New coach Jamie Rice inherits a solid nucleus that should be able to build on last season’s one goal loss in the conference championship game. Rookie phenoms John Sterbling (Goal) and Ryan Farrell (Forward) will need to continue their excellent play and junior Jamas LaFreniere can help the offense with a return to numbers from his freshman season.

3. New England College Pilgrims
2003-2004 Overall Record 19-6-2
2003-2004 League Record 12-4-2
2003-2004 League Finish Second
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Second
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Third
Team Overview: Tom Carroll’s team has a uniquely European flavor with several players from Sweden and Slovakia. Team will rely on consistent goaltending from Michael Shimek and solid defensive play from senior Nick Fouts. Co-captains Jeff Vandyke and Nick Warriner will lead the offense in search of replacing the offense from the departed Travis Banga.

4. Salem State College Vikings
2003-2004 Overall Record 12-11-3
2003-2004 League Record 7-9-2
2003-2004 League Finish Fifth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Fifth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Fourth
Team Overview: Team is very experienced returning 14 juniors and 4 seniors. Will need sophomore goalie Kevin Adam to build on his solid freshman season along with offensive production from last year’s team leaders Drew Madeiros and captain Paul Knight. Coach Bill O’Neill’s teams are always competitive and veteran group could surprise teams looking past them.

5. St. Anselm College Hawks
2003-2004 Overall Record 20-7-0
2003-2004 League Record 12-6-0
2003-2004 League Finish Third
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Fourth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Fifth
Team Overview: Coach Ed Seney’s Hawks surprised many last season with their solid play and reaching the 20 win plateau. Team will rely heavily on senior goalie Jim Merola and league all-star Brett Smith on defense while offense emerges from a young group of newcomers and second year players. Won’t sneak up on anyone this year but have talent to compete for a D-II title that eluded them last year.

6. St. Michael’s College Purple Knights
2003-2004 Overall Record 11-16-0
2003-2004 League Record 4-14-0
2003-2004 League Finish Eighth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Seventh
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Sixth
Team Overview: For Head Coach Lou DiMasi, balance will be the key to the Purple Knights’ success. Need goaltender Andy Joy to return to form from sophomore season and continued offensive development from Alex Watts. Team will look for solid contributions from three different brother tandems in Dan & Matt Anctil, Tim & Nick Dancey and Spencer & Quentin Williams.

7. Southern Maine University Huskies
2003-2004 Overall Record 11-14-1
2003-2004 League Record 6-11-1
2003-2004 League Finish Sixth
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Sixth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Seventh
Team Overview: Senior Jon Lounsbury will provide leadership on both ends of the ice for Coach Jeff Beaney’s team. Will need one of three goaltenders to step up as a solid backstop — potentially transfer David Beckles from Fredonia — and continued development from a core group of nine sophomores.

8. Skidmore College Thoroughbreds
2003-2004 Overall Record 8-17-1
2003-2004 League Record 5-12-1
2003-2004 League Finish Seventh
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Eighth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Eighth
Team Overview: Skidmore’s program has gone through a lot in just one year with the announcement of dropping hockey; to its being saved by alumni and supporters; to a pre-season “hazing situation” that leaves Coach Dion’s team short some of its veteran leadership. Look for the emergence of the freshmen, as eight will start the season on the roster.

9. University of Massachusetts-Boston Beacons
2003-2004 Overall Record 3-23-0
2003-2004 League Record 0-18-0
2003-2004 League Finish Ninth
2004-2005 Coaches Prediction Ninth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Ninth
Team Overview: The Beacons enter their first full season under Head Coach Mike Bertoni who replaced Jack Foley midway through last season. The Beacons will rely on senior forward Pat Donlan and sophomore Steve Kelleher while seeing what 12 freshmen have to offer. Goaltending will have to improve from Sean Bertoni or Sacred Heart transfer, Matt Bourgeois with the loss of all-league defenseman, Brian Sullivan.

10. Castleton State College Spartans
2003-2004 Overall Record 0-19-0
2003-2004 League Record played as independent
2003-2004 League Finish played as independent
2004-2005 Coaches’ Prediction Tenth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Tenth
Team Overview: The new kids on the block are exactly that — new. Over twenty of the players on Coach Greg Stone’s roster are freshmen or sophomores. Not a lot of experience but a lot of enthusiasm entering their first year in the league. Open schedule with Williams and Middlebury on the road where the baptism of fire begins.


Voted by the fans on a recent USCHO survey as the most competitive league from top to bottom, the NESCAC conference coaches echo the sentiment. “Every year we talk about how much closer the teams are getting to each other and every year it does get tighter,” said Amherst head coach Jack Arena. You have to put Middlebury at the top of the list but after that everyone will be jockeying for position right up to the last game trying to secure a playoff spot or home ice for the first round. Every game matters and there are no easy games on the schedule.”

Colby coach Jim Tortorella stated, “you have to play them one at a time. You can go 2-0 or 1-1 or even 0-2 on a weekend, which you don’t want to do, but you can’t look ahead to the next opponent or you can get beat.”

All signs point to a very competitive conference and the defending national champions have no intentions on giving up their preferred spot in the league standings. Despite the loss of POTY Kevin Cooper, John Dawson, Adam Foote and Marc Scheuer, Middlebury returns a solid backline led by captain Brian Phinney and Levi Doria. Goalie Yen-I Chen returns to his starting role in support of team that will look for contributions form a number of forwards including Eric Lafreniere, Darwin Hunt and Evgeny Saidachev. “We will be solid in the back, commented coach Bill Beaney, and have probably improved our team speed. We’ll certainly look for contributions from some of our freshmen as well as our sophomores who saw a lot of playing time last year.”

The Panthers won’t have an easy road as everyone will be looking to knock them off and a number of teams may have the talent to challenge this year for the top spot in the league.

Here are the team capsules and their predicted order of finish (note at time the column was written no coaches poll was available):

Captain Brian Phinney leads Panther hunt for repeat title.

Captain Brian Phinney leads Panther hunt for repeat title.

1. Middlebury College Panthers
2003-2004 Overall Record 27-3-0
2003-2004 League Record 15-3-0
2003-2004 League Finish First
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction First
Team Overview: The Panthers return a veteran corps on the blueline including Captain Brian Phinney, Levi Doria and Patrick Nugent. Need to offset departure of 30-goal scorer Kevin Cooper and will look to group of speedy forwards to provide balanced scoring. Team lacks size but makes up for it in abundance of speed. Team used to success looking to christen new installment of players.

2. Trinity College Bantams
2003-2004 Overall Record 16-9-1
2003-2004 League Record 12-5-1
2003-2004 League Finish Second
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Second
Team Overview: The only team to beat Middlebury for the conference title in 2003, the Bantams stumbled out of the blocks last season before closing with a flourish. Team will look to senior leadership from forwards Joseph Ori, Ryan Stevens and Jeff Natale in support of all-American candidate Doug Kiselius in goal. If Trinity breaks out hot, they can contend for title.

3. Bowdoin College Polar Bears
2003-2004 Overall Record 16-8-0
2003-2004 League Record 12-6-0
2003-2004 League Finish Third (tie)
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Third
Team Overview: The Polar Bears return a strong nucleus including junior forward Adam Dann who led the team in goal scoring last season. George Papachristopoulos brings his size and strong second half of the season to backstop Coach Meagher’s squad. Look for Bobby Cavanaugh to emerge as a top player this season.

4. Hamilton College Continentals
2003-2004 Overall Record 15-9-2
2003-2004 League Record 10-6-2
2003-2004 League Finish Sixth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Fourth
Team Overview: Led by the strong goalie duo of Gabe Tash and Rob MacNeil, Phil Grady’s squad will contend for home ice. Forwards Erik Kallio and Gus Katsuras supply the offensive punch for team largely made up of sophomores and juniors.

5. Colby College White Mules
2003-2004 Overall Record 14-7-4
2003-2004 League Record 10-4-4
2003-2004 League Finish Third (tie)
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Fifth
Team Overview: Strong senior group leads Coach Tortorella’s team with All-American candidate Patrick Walsh a stalwart on the blueline. Look for big seasons form the Bayley brothers, Nick and Jake but for Colby to contend they will need strong goaltending form either Chris Ries or Ben Grandjean.

6. Williams College Ephs
2003-2004 Overall Record 12-9-3
2003-2004 League Record 11-6-1
2003-2004 League Finish Fifth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Sixth
Team Overview: Head Coach Bill Kangas will be surprised if one player dominates statistically for his squad. He expects to see great balance in his team’s offensive production. Expect sizable contributions from Devon O’Rourke, Dennis Kim and Fumimasa Fox. Team speed and less clutching and grabbing could help Ephs sneak into home ice slot by season’s end.

7. Amherst College Lord Jeffs
2003-2004 Overall Record 11-11-3
2003-2004 League Record 6-10-2
2003-2004 League Finish Eighth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Seventh
Team Overview: Senior Beau Kretzman returns healthy for his senior year looking to conclude his career at Amherst on a high note. Supporting cast, especially goaltending, will need to step it up in order for Amherst to contend for higher position.

8. Wesleyan University Cardinals
2003-2004 Overall Record 9-10-4
2003-2004 League Record 7-8-3
2003-2004 League Finish Seventh
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Eighth
Team Overview: Second year coach Chris Potter graduated a number of seniors, none more valuable than departing goalie Jim Pancyzkowski. Steve Binswanger needs to play solidly behind a young but improved group including NESCAC Rookie of the Year Will Bennett. No mention of Wesleyan would be complete without Ryan and Kevin Hendrickson — cousins playing for the first time together who hope to help repeat last year’s playoff positioning.

9. Tufts University Jumbos
2003-2004 Overall Record 8-15-1
2003-2004 League Record 4-13-1
2003-2004 League Finish Ninth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Ninth
Team Overview: Jumbos look to senior captains John Hurd and Ken Cleary for leadership and scoring punch. Goaltending looks to be an open competition between three players including two freshmen. Team has balance of experience and new players so gelling process will determine whether or not Tufts can sneak into a playoff spot.

10. Connecticut College Camels
2003-2004 Overall Record 6-17-1
2003-2004 League Record 2-15-1
2003-2004 League Finish Tenth
2004-2005 USCHO Prediction Tenth
Team Overview: Second year Coach Jim Ward continues to look for improvement from his team, which, despite their record was very competitive. Team will need senior goalie Steve Oven to return to form from his sophomore season along with offensive contributions from senior Dave Moccia and junior Julian Madden who led the team in points last season.

The last of the conferences start play this weekend so officially the season has begun — let the fun begin!