At the top of the ECAC Northeast, Division II, where they have been for the majority of the year, is Southern New Hampshire University. Coach Rene LeClerc has ridden the roller coaster with the rest of his team this season.
“It’s been quite a ride this year. I thought we had a pretty good team, we started off at six and two, and then we went ‘oh for January.'”
The Penman certainly did start out strong winning their first three, and seven out of the first nine, but then a skid started on December 13th that saw them go winless in their next nine games, or more than six full weeks. This is not what LeClerc had in mind for his last season behind the bench.
“We were giving away games, taking stupid penalties. Now, we’ve gotten back to basics,” LeClerc said. “The last four games, we’ve played pretty well. The game against Worcester State [a 6-1 win on February 3rd] was our best effort, and we played well against St. Michael’s [a 7-4 non-conference loss on January 30th.]”
LeClerc is very pleased with the play of some of his younger players. “We’ve had some freshmen step up, and they’ve done things we would have expected the upperclassmen to do. John Frey, Ryan DiBartolomeo, Kent Honeyman, Matt Farley, they’ve all played great.”
Also getting accolades from the coach were three freshmen defensemen. “On defense there are some kids who’ve shown the desire to play. Mark Lodge, Phil LaCasse, and Nick Stevenson are just some of the kids who have stepped up and peformed well. They given me a nice problem to have, and that’s to have to think about who’s going to dress before each game.”
With games against Stonehill and Franklin Pierce coming up (on Feb. 10 and 13) LeClerc wants to see the end of the season close out much like it started, with wins. “If we play really well, we can win,” he stated, “but if we play really lousy, we’ll get blown out.”
Down in Massachusetts, Stonehill coach Scott Harlow is hoping his team settles down in the stretch run. “We’ve had a pretty inconsistent season this far. I can’t be unhappy with the work ethic, or the intensity, but we are making young mistakes and at the worst possible time in hockey games.”
With 17 players in either their freshman or sophomore year, Harlow does indeed have a young squad, and he realizes that some of the mistakes may be attributed to age. “We’ve been trying to get to a level of consistency over the last five to six games. If you look at some of the scores, as odd as it is, we played more consistently in the first semester than we have in the second semester, in which we’ve been all over the map. We have to get back to basics.”
The Skyhawks won their opener this year, but then proceeded to drop seven in a row. Those losses included two in overtime, and another pair of one goal losses. Since returning from the break, they have gone 4-3, but have established a pattern of a win followed by a loss, followed by a win, then a loss, etc.
Harlow knows that the remaining five games are crucial to the Northeast Ten playoff picture. “That St. Mike’s game [February 20th at home] is everything, we can clinch a home-ice berth and a first round bye. If we don’t, we could end up in fourth place and go on the road. It certainly is a game we can win, if we do the little things right and play like an older team.”
Harlow said the biggest surprise this year was the play of Matt Curran, a junior forward from Scarborough, Maine, who leads the team in goals with 17. “He’s the best player I’ve seen this year, all around. He kills penalties, and he may even be leading the league in scoring. What surprised me this year is his offense. He may be the best all-around player in the Northeast Ten.”
Curran does lead the league in scoring, with a goal-per-game average, and he is second overall in scoring at Stonehill, trailing only sophomore forward Brendan O’Brien, who leads the team with 7G-19A-26PTS. in 14 games played. Harlow is not surprised with O’Brien’s production. “With Brendan O’Brien, he’s Brendan O’Brien, he’s going to play that way all of the time. He’s doing it, though, with one or two guys on his back all night, plus he’s been hurt this year.”
A couple of sophomores that have pleased their coach are defensemen Billy Ninteau and Billy Florentino. The latter is fourth on the team in scoring, with 2G-12A-14PTS-18GP, and Ninteau has four goals, all on the power play. Harlow knows that with such youth, there comes the promise of the players maturing. “Look at our roster. I knew it would be an up and down battle. I know next year, though, we’ll be very strong. I just think we can be playing better now.”
At Assumption College, coach Kevin Zifcak is hoping to steal at least a couple of wins before the regular season ends. “We’re struggling to get into the win column, but we’ve been playing better as of late and scoring some goals. It’s just a matter of winning games.”
Last year the Greyhounds won five games overall, and currently are sitting on a 5-16-1 record. With three games remaining, against Nichols, Worcester State, and Curry; Zifcak feels there can be some more wins. “Obviously the way we’ve been playing, I think we can win any of those games. Curry’s tough, you have to play sixty minutes of hockey against them, which you have to do anyway, but especially against a team like Curry. They’re all winnable.”
In the Greyhounds game on Jan. 27 against Franklin Pierce, sophomore goalie Casey McNally got the start, which was the first of his career. “After the first period jitters,” Zifcak remarked, “he settled down and played well, and that got him a second start against Stonehill. He’s a good kid who’s stuck through for a year and a half.”
McNally, who played for Lunenberg (MA) High School, and then the New England Renegades prior to enrolling at Assumption, made 37 stops in the Franklin Pierce game, and then against Stonehill, he made 37 saves, which included two stellar saves in the overtime period of that game. He followed that game with another start versus Becker on February 7th, and despite giving up three goals on eight shots in the first period, he settled down and allowed only one more as Assumption cruised to an 8-4 win. McNally’s record now stands at 2-0-1.
In Rindge, N.H., Franklin Pierce coach Jay McCormack offered his opinions on how the season has gone, and what’s ahead. “We were just blown out by UMass Dartmouth, but it was a funny game. We came out hitting but weren’t backchecking, then we gave up three goals. They are a very impressive team.”
In that game earlier this month against UMass Dartmouth, the Ravens found themselves down in a 2-0 holes less than five minutes into the game, and would eventually lose it by a 7-0 score. The Ravens made things easy for UMass goalie Jeff Green, who only saw eleven shots all night, including just one in the third period.
With four games remaining, beginning on Feb. 10 against Stonehill, and the conclusion of the regular season seven days later, on Feb. 17 against SNHU, McCormack knows the importance of what lies ahead. “We’ve got a big stretch here, if we can do the basic things, we’ll be competitive. We have to skate, close gaps, and finish checks. If we don’t do those things, we give up seven or eight goals. We’re still working hard in practice, and we’re priming ourselves for the last few games.”
Despite a record of 5-19-2, McCormack feels positive about the program, and its’ future. “We’re relatively happy with how we’re progressing. We’re not satisfied with five wins. We’re happy, though, with our recruiting, although it’s going to be tough to replace our leading scorer, Brian DelSavio.” A senior, DelSavio leads the squad with 12 goals, with half of them coming on the power-play.