ECAC Northeast Preview

A League Up and Coming

When is a preview not really a preview?

In this case it is when we take a look at the nation’s largest conference comprised of teams playing at both the D-II and D-III levels. Sixteen teams in all who have officially dropped the puck on the season but are very early in the season and are still finding who and what they have for the upcoming season.

For the past few years, this league has been a two horse race with a couple of dark horse candidates looking to spoil the party. Certainly Curry, UMass-Dartmouth, Wentworth and Fitchburg State have exhibited great consistency in competing at the top half of the playoff bracket for several years running but the gap between the top and bottom has been shrinking over the past couple of years. Throw in a different Cinderella team and four teams that aren’t eligible for the league title to play with a chip on their shoulder every year to stir things up a bit and you have a very interesting dynamic.

This year looks to be the same with some interesting bylines to pass along the way to the league title and NCAA autobid in February. Defending champ Curry has not lost a regular season contest in over two full seasons. Having lost significant talent to graduation, the Colonels look to stay at the top with a more complete game from a re-tooled roster. UMass-Dartmouth returns the nation’s leading scorer and league player of the year in Eric Frank as they look to return to the league title game and a better outcome this time around. Wentworth looks to rebound from an off-year with an infusion of some new talent and transfers to compete at the top of the standings.

The season is off and running and the competition has already been tight in the first league contests of the year. You can’t look past any team on the schedule anymore and every point will be a valuable one as last year’s playoff seedings were not decided until the very last games of the regular season.

So here is how this jet-lagged writer sees the positioning for the upcoming season including the 12 team D-III standings as well as the D-II contenders for the separate Northeast –10 crown:

1. Curry Colonels
2004-2005 Overall Record: 19-6-3
2004-2005 League Record: 14-0-1
2004-2005 League Finish: First
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: First

Team Overview: Unbeaten in the past two regular seasons and the current league champs, Curry finds itself looking to replace approximately 70 percent of its offense lost to graduation. For most coaches that would be a concern, but not for head coach Rob Davies, “We will be a different kind of team this year. No doubt we lost some great players with a lot of talent, but we have some strong guys returning and some newcomers who may be more complete hockey players than what we have had in the past.”

Leading the way will be captain Bret Adams and forward George Caderamatori in front of senior goaltender Lenny Mosca. Look for Providence transfer Luke Irwin to make an impact as well as some of the incoming freshmen. It will be tough to complete another undefeated league season especially with the difficult non-conference slate of games Davies has scheduled. The Colonels know what it takes to win and have their sites set on returning to the big dance in March.

2. UMass-Dartmouth Corsairs
2004-2005 Overall Record: 22-5-0
2004-2005 League Record: 14-1-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Second
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Second

Team Overview: John Rolli’s teams always compete hard. The Corsairs have talent and if they can adequately replace the solid goaltending of the graduated Kevin McGowan, they will be in the hunt at the end. Eric Frank broke out last year as an offensive force. He will be playing with some different talent this year but look for more solid numbers from one of the team’s leaders. Defensively, senior Dan Aucoin anchors a good unit and will need to be very supportive of freshman goalie Jon Dryjowicz-Burek who has become the starter. If the goaltending is consistent, this team can compete for the title and would certainly like another shot at Curry for the championship next spring.

3. Wentworth Leopards
2004-2005 Overall Record: 15-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 11-2-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Third
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Third

Team Overview: The Leopards are a very young team this season with 11 freshmen on the roster. How quickly they mature will have a lot to do with how this team competes down the stretch and into the playoffs. Leadership will come from the defensive corps which includes veterans Blayne Goodman, Mike Prsa and Curry transfer Phil Gabriele. If Adam Keeso can be solid in goal forwards like Jeff Oddleifson and Matt Koehler should score enough to have coach Jonathan Deptula’s team right in the hunt at the end.

4. Fitchburg State Falcons
2004-2005 Overall Record: 12-12-1
2004-2005 League Record: 8-6-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fifth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fourth

Team Overview: The Falcons’ Head coach Dean Fuller is another veteran coach in the conference. One thing you know when you face off against Fuller’s team is that you are in for a game. The Falcons are young but have some experience from a core group of returnees that will be competing to win home ice in the playoffs. The team has balanced scoring from the likes of forwards Greg Mailloux, Jason Ledo and Kevin Sullivan. The defense is anchored by junior Dave Kaloustian and goaltending looks to be strength with sophomore Devan McConnell. This team should get better as the season progresses and if they are playing their best hockey come February, they could surprise anyone in a one-game playoff format.

5. Plymouth State Panthers
2004-2005 Overall Record: 13-10-2
2004-2005 League Record: 9-5-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fourth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fifth

Team Overview: Last season the Panthers-under head coach Brett Tryder-made great strides and used a late season flourish to secure a home-ice berth in the playoffs. Backed by freshman phenom Karl Helgesson in goal, Plymouth state used a disciplined style and opportunistic scoring to compete with the league’s best every night. Helgesson already appears to be in form, having picked up player of the week honors in the very first week of the season. The Panthers will need balanced scoring and increased production from a core group of players including seniors Rory Nickerson and Dennis Kane along with sophomores Topo Lacroix and Deni Bojadzic. If PSC can build on last year’s success, they will compete again for a home-ice berth but will need to survive an early season schedule that includes seven straight games on the road.

6. Nichols Bison
2004-2005 Overall Record: 4-17-2
2004-2005 League Record: 2-11-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Tenth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Sixth

Team Overview: Every year there seems to be one Cinderella team that surprises everyone by being predicted to finish near the bottom and qualifies for the playoffs. Two seasons ago it was Framingham State and last year it was Johnson & Wales. This year, Lou Izzi’s team gets to try on the glass slipper and make the playoffs-an elusive goal up to now. The key will be how 14 freshmen mature and grow together as a team. Coach Izzi has proven he can find talent and if the newcomers live up to billing other teams in the league should look out for the Bison. Goaltending will be a key and the job is in freshman Keith Fink’s hands. Youth abounds upfront with freshmen Eric Shottke, Anthony Monte, Jacob Kline and Derek Porter leading the way. Like the Cinderellas of the past, a good start is key so look for the Bison to come out flying.

7. Salve Regina Seahawks
2004-2005 Overall Record: 10-14-1
2004-2005 League Record: 7-7-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Seventh
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Seventh

Team Overview: The Seahawks will have to fill a big leadership hole on and off the ice with the graduation of Geno Binda, but have a large senior class ready to show the way to a new crop of young players. This team is experienced and that will help when you have games against Curry and Johnson & Wales to start the season. Look for senior Joe Piekos to lead the offense while senior goaltender Michael O’Brien will compete with freshman Ryan Comerford to provide needed consistency in the net. Coach MacPherson’s team is always in the playoff hunt. Whether or not they can finish higher will depend on the legacy the seniors want to leave behind.

8. Johnson & Wales Wildcats
2004-2005 Overall Record: 9-15-2
2004-2005 League Record: 8-7-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Sixth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Eighth

Team Overview: Last year’s Cinderella team will find teams ready and waiting this year so it will be hard to sneak up on anyone a second time around. Eric Noack’s team was young and relatively inexperienced last year but they have built a solid base and know how to compete this second time around. Two young forwards in Ryan Lord and Ryan Jacobs look to improve on solid freshman seasons while fellow sophomore Charlie Bacon looks to improve his overall level of play in the net. The Wildcats have enough talent to make it the top eight again this season but they are going to have to do it by beating the teams they should win against.

9. Framingham State Rams
2004-2005 Overall Record: 6-15-2
2004-2005 League Record: 5-10-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Eighth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Ninth

Team Overview: New coach Chris Heaney takes over the helm at Framingham State this season so expect his enthusiasm and overall approach to help his young Rams start better than last year’s team. Depth is a question mark, as is goaltending, but somehow FSC always seems to be around the number eight spot at the right time of the season. Staying healthy and a quick maturation for the seven freshmen on the roster will help determine if they can challenge for a playoff berth this season.

10. Suffolk Rams
2004-2005 Overall Record: 4-16-2
2004-2005 League Record: 3-11-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Ninth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Tenth

Team Overview: Eleven freshmen and seven sophomores are part of the Suffolk roster this season. No doubt they will play with enthusiasm but also make some mistakes, so senior goaltender Greg Blais might have to shoulder a large burden relative to keeping pucks out of the Ram goal. The bulk of the scoring will have to come from the young guns including freshmen John Rocchio and Dan DeLuca.

2004-2005 Overall Record: 3-19-1
2004-2005 League Record: 2-12-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Twelfth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Eleventh

Team Overview: Head coach John Guiney says “we are very young.” But he also says it like it is a good thing. Nine freshmen are part of this team and will get a lot of opportunities to play and develop this year. Sophomore Nathan Perreault is a talent up front and the team will only go as far as their two freshman goaltenders will be able to shoulder the load. Probably not the year for a Cinderella story in Worcester, but a chance to build a solid nucleus for the future.

12. Western New England Golden Bears
2004-2005 overall Record: 5-16-3
2004-2005 League Record: 2-11-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Eleventh
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Twelfth

Team Overview: Another team carrying nine freshmen on the roster, WNEC will rely on some key upperclassmen to mentor the new players this year. Senior Brian Essig returns in goal and will have two sophomores as backup. The early schedule is not kind to the Golden Bears and the team will be looking to gain experience and confidence with a lot of young personnel. Coach Karl Enroth is likely to go to his young guys early to see what they have and may get surprised as the team matures through the season.

Northeast -10 Teams

While playing in a D-III conference, the four D-II schools along with St. Anselm’s and St. Michael’s from the ECAC East are ineligible to compete for their respective league titles. They do play an interlocking schedule where the results of the games played amongst the six teams are used to seed the teams for the post-season NE-10 championship. As the two East schools are stronger than the Northeast teams, I believe they will ultimately be ranked as the first and second seeds in the D-II bracket. The following profiles take a look at how the four Northeast schools will fare among themselves:

1. Southern New Hampshire Penmen
2004-2005 Overall Record: 18-7-3
2004-2005 League Record: 9-3-3
2004-2005 League Finish: First (D-II)
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: First

Team Overview: For Rene LeClerc’s team, this year’s success will largely focus on the ability to fill the shoes of their leading scorer last year, Pat Doherty and finding the solid and consistent goaltending required to win big games against quality opponents. The goal scoring is probably covered in forward Brandon Hammermeister who had an outstanding freshman year and looks to build on his point totals this season. Seniors Tim Fewster and Martin Stehl will push each other for playing time between the pipes as this team may contend for the NE-10 crown if they can tighten up the goals against totals.

2. Assumption Ice Dogs
2004-2005 Overall Record: 12-12-3
2004-2005 League Record: 8-5-2
2004-2005 League Finish: Second
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Second

Team Overview: Keith Zifcak replaces the retired Keith Hughes behind the bench for Assumption this season. The Ice Dogs had a strong finish last season and bring back an experienced core of players that are hungry to improve on last year’s .500 record. Senior forwards Jeff Ilvonen and Bobby Fanciullo lead the team both on and off the ice and fellow senior Mike Sweeney will be looked upon to provide consistent performance in the goal in order for Assumption to build on last year’s results and compete for the D-II title in the spring.

3. Stonehill Skyhawks
2004-2005 Overall Record: 8-15-0
2004-2005 League Record: 4-11-0
2004-2005 League Finish: Third
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Third

Team overview: Stonehill has a well-balanced team this year with a nucleus of players who got better as the season progressed last season. They will need to make another big step forward this year if they want to compete with the better teams in the conference. Senior defensemen Craig Pasquantonio and Andrew Joy will have to elevate their games while some new talent looks to improve the offense. One of three goalies on the roster needs to step up and take the job with solid play if the newly named Skyhawks are to soar this year.

4. Franklin Pierce Ravens
2004-2005 Overall Record: 6-16-2
2004-2005 League Record: 5-9-1
2004-2005 League Finish: Fourth
2005-2006 USCHO Prediction: Fourth

Team Overview: The Ravens program is still quite young as they enter their third season in the league. Each year they have shown great improvement and this year’s team has a large group of upperclassmen that have grown through it all. Jason Pierce and Matt Clemente provide the leadership and some offense along with some new talent looking to put more offense in the Ravens’ game. Two seniors, Dennis Millman and Robert Arduini, who have split most of the games during their career, will again look to improve their stats in goal. Continued improvement for this program to make the next step will be the focus of head coach Jay MacCormack and his staff. Anybody looking past the Ravens this year just might be surprised.

So that’s it. The final preview of the season covering 36 teams in D-II and D-III in New England is done. We start late here as the first games for two conferences start tonight but good things come to those who wait and we’ve waited long enough.

Drop the puck and let’s play some hockey!