Offense: Fortunately for the Brown Bears, Brian McNary was the only top-four scorer lost from last season, as the six-goal, 18-assist junior elected to focus entirely on academics in his final year in school. Senior Jeff Prough led the squad with 33 points last year, while Sean Hurley was one of the league’s best offensive defensemen with 10 goals and 24 points in 32 games. Surprisingly, the oft-maligned Bears were seventh in the league in goals scored with 65, and tallied an even three per game overall (96 goals, 32 games).
“You’ve got to be well-rounded,” said Roger Grillo of his charges, “and you’ve got to put up some numbers [to win today]. You can’t win every game 1-0. Our power plays and penalty kills have gotta be better than they were last year.”
Bruno restocked the stables with four more forwards out of five new recruits, including six-footer Jesse Fratkin out of Prince George of the BCHL. The 20-year-old winger notched 26 goals and 74 points last season and 54 points the previous outing … in 60 and 53 games played, respectively. Coming on board with him is Harry Zolnierczyk from Alberni Valley of the same league. Zolnierczyk (ZOHL-nerr-CHIK) cashed out with 20-18–38 in 47 games, with a nifty 85 penalty minutes to boot.
That said, the BC has a well-deserved reputation as a league that buys goal lights in bulk, if you know what I mean: Fratkin’s prodigious production only merited top-25 status last year; the league’s top scorer (Victoria’s Tyler Bozak, bound for the University of Denver) racked up 128 points in 59 games. Yeah.
Winger Tyler Fernandez out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League scored 14 goals to pair with his 14 assists in 37 games last year, and mucked it up with the best of ’em as well, serving 89 minutes of shame, as Denis Lemieux might say. His stats are a probably a bit more representative of his capabilities than the BCHL kids’ are.
Defense: At ninth in the ECAC with 69 goals against, it just doesn’t seem fair that Grillo’s guys finished 11th in the standings. Overall, the D allowed one fewer goal than the team scored, and the Bears didn’t lose a single blueliner this offseason.
“It’s a group that struggled a bit last year,” Grillo said. “We couldn’t get on the other side of some close games.”
Incoming is bruising 20-year-old Sean Connauton, who found enough time to pot eight goals and 20 assists last year between 222 staggering minutes of penalties with Fort Saskatchewan of the Alberta Junior league. (That’s a 59-minute improvement … if you elect to look at it that way … on the previous season’s 163 minutes, in 57 games apiece.) Connauton cuts an imposing figure, as you might imagine, at 6-foot-2, 200, making him the fourth-tallest player on the ice for Brown. When he’s on the ice, that is.
Hurley, sophomore Jeremy Russell, junior Matt Palmer, and seniors Paul Baier and David Robertson each played at least 29 games on the Bruno blue line last season, signifying some solid experience entering this campaign.
Goaltending: Fabu-frosh Dan Rosen gives way to what he hopes is a super-soph-worthy season. After taking the reins early last season, Rosen went on a significant tear, saving 90 percent or better in each of his first 10 appearances. Whether he got burned out or the odds caught up with him, Rosen allowed four-plus goals in seven of his final dozen outings.
The starting job is his to lose; how far he can go toward recapturing last winter’s magic is as much up to his improved defense as it is to Rosen himself.
Outlook: The ’07-08 Brown Bears are an experienced and dangerous bunch … but who isn’t dangerous in the ECACHL these days? And there’s the rub: Bruno, like anyone else, could be a dark-horse candidate in this league, winning brutal, defensive, low-scoring and opportunistic contests. But on paper — which is all we have to work with so far — the Bears don’t quite stack up with the Clarksons, Colgates and Quinnipiacs of ECAC Hockey.