Greetings from Bangkok, Thailand.
Seriously, this week’s column originates from Southeast Asia–not necessarily the hotbed of D-III hockey! They do have one ice arena here in Thailand and the No. 128 ranked team in the world so maybe someday we might see a player come out of this part of the world and play hockey in the U.S. Somehow I don’t see the recruiting trail passing this way but you never know as coaches look for talent anywhere and everywhere…
In what many coaches and fans believe to be the most competitive conference in the country, as recently evidenced in our own USCHO question of the week, NESCAC once again opens the new season with the defending national champions and lots of contenders for the league title ready to give chase and challenge Middlebury. Two conference teams represented the East in the Frozen Four last Spring and the talent and experience can be found among a number of teams in the conference that would like their shot at the top and to compete for league and national glory this year.
While some people consider parity a dirty word, consider this. Last year in NESCAC play only and excluding the crossover scheduling with the ECAC East which counts in the league standings, Middlebury finished with a 4-4-1 record in the conference and utilized their timely best play of the season and overall conference record to gain a number two seed in the league playoffs before winning the league tournament title and NCAA title. Coach Terry Meagher of Bowdoin prefers to refer to the overall excellence of the league as balance and the substance of the differing styles of play each of the teams brings to the rink each night. ” I think parity in some cases implies mediocrity and this league truly has teams performing at an outstanding level throughout the season. It’s why some terrific student athletes choose NESCAC schools to play hockey when they may have other choices. There is a mutual respect amongst the players to bring their best games every night and with the variety of coaching styles and strategies played here you see different things all of the time–this is not a trap league; it is very exciting hockey each and every night.”
Well the pucks drop in a bout a week for real so let’s take a look at what the NESCAC conference may have in store for us this season. Here are the pre-season picks in what is sure to be a last weekend of the season jockeying for playoff position.
1. Middlebury Panthers
2004-2005 Overall Record: 23-4-3
2004-2005 League Record: 13-4-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Second
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: First
Team Overview: At the end of the day there are just some things that you can’t go against. Yes, the Panthers lost some key leadership in the departed All-American Brian Phinney and Levi Doria but last year’s team excelled oin the basis of the maturing of some young players including goaltender Ross Cherry, forward Mickey Gilchrist and defenseman Tom Maldonado. Coach Beaney’s teams win with defense and goaltending and this team is experienced enough to avoid last year’s mid-season swoon and build off last year’s success in February and March. To beat the champ, you have to beat the champ–not many have accomplished that against the Panthers recently.
2. Bowdoin Polar Bears
2004-2005 Overall Record: 17-6-3
2004-2005 League Record: 11-5-3
2004-2005 League Finish: Third (tied)
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Second
Team Overview: The Polar Bears are this year what Colby was last year – a very experienced team with a solid senior class who understands what it takes to compete at the highest level each weekend. Backed by George Papachristopoulos and led offensively by last year’s leading scorer, Adam Dann, Bowdoin is strong in all facets of the game and should challenge Middlebury for the top spot in the conference. “There is a lot to really like about this team, commented head coach Terry Meagher. We have a very experienced group that understands what it takes to compete which will take a lot of pressure off our younger guys.” Bowdoin sees rival Babson on the opening weekend and has a home and home with Colby in early December that should speak volumes about this team’s competitiveness.
3. Trinity Bantams
2004-2005 Overall Record: 21-4-2
2004-2005 League Record: 15-2-2
2004-2005 League Finish: First
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Third
Team Overview: Last season’s regular conference champions and Frozen Four participant have some big shoes to fill with the departures of All-Americans Doug Kiselius and Joseph Ori. Up front the Bantams have enough firepower to compete each and every night led by sniper Cameron Finch. Brendan Timmins leads a solid defensive core in support of either Henry Breslin or Drew Barber who will assume the goaltending chores this season. If the goaltending proves to be anywhere near the great stats put up by Kiselius the past three seasons, don’t be surprised if Trinity can compete for a repeat spot at the top of the league standings.
4. Hamilton Continentals
2004-2005 Overall Record: 9-12-4
2004-2005 League Record: 8-8-3
2004-2005 League Finish: Seventh
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fourth
Team Overview: “Like a good baseball team, you want to be strong up the middle, noted head coach Phil Grady. We have maybe one of the best forwards in the country who makes other players around him better, solid defense and a strong goaltender who will be the go-to guy this year with the departure of Robbie MacNeil.” There is a lot to like about any team that sees Gus Katsuras and his 100-plus points supplying the offense on specialty teams as well as even-strength. John Gordon provides the leadership on the blue line and Gabe Tash assumes the starting role recovering from wrist surgery. Fighting for a home-ice spot will be a goal for the Continentals this season.
5. Williams Ephs
2004-2005 Overall Record: 11-12-2
2004-2005 League Record: 11-7-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Sixth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fifth
Team Overview: The Ephs return a solid nucleus of players including last season’s surprise star in goal, Brad Shirley. Forwards Kevin Child, Brandon Jackmuff and Devon O’Rourke headline a group of experienced and speedy offensive players that can challenge any team in the league with their speed and ability move the puck up ice quickly. Shirley will need to be solid if the Ephs are to compete for home–ice in the league playoffs next spring.
6. Colby White Mules
2004-2005 Overall Record: 15-8-2
2004-2005 League Record: 12-6-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Third (tied)
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Sixth
Team Overview: The White Mules enter this season having graduated a big senior class with a lot of talent and leadership characteristics. That being said, coach Jim Tortorella believes that the team this year may have the best leadership he has seen in quite some time at Colby. “This team really has come together under the leadership we have and our efforts this year are really going to be focused on the specialty teams in a way to be a difference maker in games beyond the 5-on-5 play.” Look for leadership from senior Jake Bayley and maturation from sophomore Arthur Fritsch who will anchor a strong defensive corps for the Mules.
7. Amherst Lord Jeffs
2004-2005 Overall Record: 13-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 11-6-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Fifth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Seventh
Team Overview: Amherst enters the season minus the offensive talent and leadership of Beau Kretzman and looks to its young nucleus to carry the team forward this year. “We have a strong recruiting class this year, stated head coach Jack Arena. While it is heavily populated with defensemen, that is our major need and we will focus on where the goals will come from as we improve through the season.” Both Kyle Schoppel and AJ Greco will be expected to provide some offensive firepower for the young Lord Jeffs who will surely improve as the season progresses. They will need to continually improve as the end of the season brings some very tough road games at a crucial time of the year.
8. Tufts Jumbos
2004-2005 Overall Record: 12-12-1
2004-2005 League Record: 8-10-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Eighth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Eighth
Team Overview: Beyond qualifying for the playoffs last season, the Jumbos had some impressive wins last season including Amherst, Hamilton and Colby within the league. Goalie James Kalec had a standout freshman campaign and will need to follow-up his first season with similar stats for the Jumbos to improve on last season’s .500 record. A strong nucleus is ready to move to the next level for coach Brian Murphy and a strong recruiting class may have much to do with overall improvement in the league standings for Tufts.
9. Connecticut College Camels
2004-2005 Overall Record: 7-16-1
2004-2005 League Record: 5-13-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Ninth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Ninth
Team Overview: The Camels will be led by senior forward Julian Madden in coach Jim Ward’s re-vamped line-up. Goaltending will be tested with the departure of Steve Oven who played virtually every game last season for Conn College. Four of the team’s top five scorers return for the upcoming campaign with a focus on improving the overall offensive production while continuing coach Ward’s emphasis on strong defense and limited mistakes in the defensive zone. This team will need significant contributions form the incoming freshmen in order to compete for a playoff spot this season.
10. Wesleyan Cardinals
2004-2005 Overall Record: 4-18-2
2004-2005 League Record: 4-13-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Tenth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction Tenth
Team Overview: For head coach Chris Potter, the Wesleyan hockey team this year will be focused on regaining the position they attained two seasons ago in reaching the playoffs for the first time in several years. Goaltending, scoring and avoiding key injuries will be of great impact to the Wesleyan team as they look to regain the form and capability of any new activity.