ECAC Northeast Season Preview (Part II)

Click here for part one.

This week we’ll continue with the previews of the ECAC NE, when coaches feel good about their squad’s chances and can’t wait for that first puck to be dropped.

Curry College

Curry College coach Rob Davies has seen the league improve greatly over the last three to four years, and he couldn’t be happier about it.

“I like the idea of other teams strengthening the league from the bottom up. This should be a good season with a lot of parity.”

Davies feels the strength of his team clearly lies with the goalies.

“We’ve got a sophomore, Zach Cardella, coming back, and he played the bulk of the games last year. We also have Steve Jakiel, a transfer from the University of Michigan. We these two in the mix it gives us a very nice situation. It’s one we’ve never had, and I really believe they’ll be the backbone of our hockey club.”

Both goalies certainly have size. Cardella is listed at 6’2”, 200 lbs., and went 11-7-1 last year. Jakiel, also a sophomore, specs are 6’4” and 210 lbs.; he was projected as a third-string goalie for Red Berenson’s squad.

Up front, offense should not be a concern for Davies. Returning is Ross Enmark, a sophomore who averaged 1.13 points per game is his first college season. He also scored 23 goals in 26 games, and had five game winners and eight power-play goals included.
He’ll have a complement up front with St. Norbert’s transfer Jeff Hazelwood. Last year, the junior was one of St. Norbert’s leading scorers, and Davies certainly hopes he keeps that up for the Colonels.

“I’m so comfortable with six or seven forwards we have that can put up impressive numbers,” Davies said. Some of those other forwards include juniors James Pentecost and Jeremy Hmura, and freshman Jason Yuel, a 6’, 190 lb. right handed shot. “He’s big, strong, and gets pucks to the net,” his coach said of the Winnipeg, MN, native. Senior Trevor Speridi will also be counted on this season.

“I don’t think scoring goals will be a big problem. We’ve got some firepower up front,” Davies said. Behind the blue line, the Colonels have a younger crew, but expect to see them anchored by sophomore Donald Rankin, who’s not afraid to rush the puck, and juniors Jason Tarbell and Jarrett Souza. Davies also expects significant contributions from senior Nate Robie.

Becker College

“We want to make continuous, measurable improvement,” were the first words out of mouth of Becker College coach Steve Hoar when asked about his team. “We want to make a good showing in our first year. We didn’t get any respect last year, and duly noted. We didn’t deserve it. Hopefully with freshmen and sophomores, being a brand new program, we’ll make some improvements.”

The newest team to the ECAC NE will also undoubtedly be the youngest team, with only sophomores and freshmen. One of those sophomores is Tony Stoehr, a Wisconsin native who already has a year of collegiate hockey under his chest protector after seeing very limited duty last year at Wisconsin-River Falls.

Also vying for playing time will be freshman Billy Dillon, out of Scituate, MA., and possibly the best goalie from the seaside town since Andy Marhoffer, who played at the former North Adams State College from 1980-1983.

Another freshman, Anthony Libonati, certainly brings size to the Hawks. The 6’2”, 220 lb. forward spent the last two seasons with the Blind River Beavers of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) where he was lauded not only for his point (plus) per game average, but his leadership skills, on and off the ice. Libonati will be joined by another NOJHL alum, defenseman Peter Landem, last since helping the Soo Indians win the league title.

Also expected to contribute to Becker’s efforts are freshman forward Mark Persic, and sophomore defenseman Brad Jones. Both players are coming out of junior programs.

Suffolk University

“I’m really excited. For the most part, we have everybody back from last year, and they’re all a year older and more mature.” Coach Chris Glionna sounds genuine when describing his team, which has improved their win totals in each of his first three years behind the bench.

“We have two of the better players in the league, in Dan Pencinger, who’s one of the fastest kids in the league, and John Rocchio, who wasn’t an All-Star last year but was nominated for being one of the top three players in division three.”

Rocchio, who led the Rams in scoring last year with 13 goals and 30 assists in 23 games, was a semi-finalist for the Joe Concannon Award, given by the Gridiron Club, which honors New England’s best American-born Division II/III college hockey player.

Glionna will also be looking for a pair of forwards who transferred to contribute to the offense. Kyle Cook, a junior who played at Nichols College last year, has proven that he can put the puck in the net. Tim Dancey is a senior who spent an injury-riddled year at St. Michael’s College in 2006-07, appearing in less than half of the Purple Knight’s games.

On defense, Glionna is happy.

“We’re pretty excited. Last year we played a lot of newcomers. They’re all back, led by Nick Sabo, who’s strong, offensive-minded, and a threat on the powerplay. He’s a definite workhorse. We also have Nick Davis, who was our freshmen of the year last year, and he looks even better with a year under his belt.”

In goal, that may be a question mark for Suffolk.

“Last year we lost about seven or eight one-goal games,” Glionna recalled. We didn’t get great goaltending last year.”

Glionna will look to freshman Jeff Rose, who he feels could be “one of the better goalies in the league.” Bill Gilbert and Mark Grigon will also see action between the pipes.

Hoping to see his team’s win total improve once again, Glionna knows it won’t be easy.

“The league gets better by the day. There are no easy games anymore, and anyone can make the playoffs.”

Wentworth University

RJ Tolan returns for his second year as coach at Wentworth, and feels this year should be a little easier for him.

“I can feel my way around the school a little better, and the recruiting helped with this year. I just try to communicate and get the most out of the each kid.”

Tolan must have done something right in his rookie year as coach, for he was named Coach of the Year last year in the ECAC NE.

One thing Tolan is happy about is the experience some of his players got last year.

“One strength of our team is that I have quite a few kids that got playoff experience last year. We have most of the role guys we had last year. It was a younger team last year, and some of the experience from last year can only help them mature this year.”

On defense, junior Joey Sides returns, as does sophomore Martin Windsor, who should log plenty of ice time. They’ll be playing in front of goalie Justin Marriott, a sophomore who played in 24 of the Leopards 28 games last year. Look for a pair of freshmen, Andrew Ricci and Matt Buchan, to serve as Marriott’s understudies.

Up front, Tolan has a wealth of returning players. “We want to work and grind our way back to last year. We won’t come out and blow anyone’s doors off, but we’ll make teams have to beat us. You look at Curry and Dartmouth [UMass] and obviously they’re a little more talented than most teams in the college hockey so we need to keep up with them.”

Plymouth State University

Up off up Route 93 in New Hampshire, Brett Tryder is getting ready for his fifth season behind the bench, and if there’s one position he feels confident about it is his goaltending.

“In goal, we’ll be deep,” Tryder predicted. “We have three goalies. Karl Helgesson has transferred back to us, and we also have Erik Shields, who came here midway through last year. We also have a freshman, Kevin Crosby, who will be keeping pressure on them both. I feel comfortable with any of them in net.”

Crosby had an outstanding year last year at Hebron Academy, and his save percentage was among the best in the prep ranks.

Helgesson, a native of Sweden, played his freshman and sophomore years at PSU, posting winning records in both seasons. He then transferred to Plattsburgh, where he again enjoyed a winning record last year.

Exactly half of the team is new, with 14 of the 28 roster spots filled by returning players.

“Offensively we can see some guys scoring goals, but time will tell,” Tryder said.

He’ll be looking to big (6’3”, 190 lbs.) sophomore Chris Chambers, who led the team in scoring last year with 17 goals and 17 assists in 26 games, to have another good campaign. Right behind Chambers last year in scoring was Deni Bojadzic, with totals of 13 goals and 15 assists in 26 games as a junior. Look for transfers David Dufresne and Chris Cantara, last seen at Brockport, to contribute as well.

On defense, Tryder acknowledges that his team will be pretty young.

“We’ve brought in a slew of defensemen.” Bryan Horrigan, out of the Eastern Junior Hockey League; and Kyle Tobin, an offensive minded player who was captain of Hebron Academy, will be counted on heavily.

In summation, Tryder said of his blue line corps: “We’re going to be decent. We’ll be athletic and move quicker. We’ll use a small concentration of foot speed and puck movement.”

Fitchburg State College

As is the case with so many of his coaching brethren, Fitchburg State College coach Dean Fuller spoke of his goaltending when asked what his team’s biggest strength is.

“We have our returning goalie, Devan McConnell, back, this will be his third year starting, and he’s our backbone.”

Why wouldn’t you refer to someone who played in more than 90% of the action last year, and posted a save percentage of .905 as your backbone? McConnell, who went 12-10-3 last season, will be counted on heavily in this, his senior year.

Defensively, Fuller has some veterans coming back. Senior Ross Goff and junior Wayne Bonkowski are two solid rearguards who will anchor the Falcon’s defense.

Up front, Fuller is glad to have Stephen Schofield back, and feels the senior will bolster his attack. Schofield missed all of last year due to injuries, but scored 81 points in 70 games throughout his first three years at Fitchburg.

Fuller will also rely on senior captain Ryan Tierney, junior Matt Arsenault, and sophomore Andrew Hutton to provide scoring punch.

Overall, Fuller, who will go behind the bench for his 23rd campaign, feels his team “has a great deal of speed up front, and that they’re working hard. We should be pretty solid.”

Southern New Hampshire University

While the press guide might list Southern New Hampshire University as having a first-year coach in Ken Hutchins, that only applies to Hutchins’ ‘head coaching’ experience.
Hutchins will indeed be behind the bench for SNHU this year, but it is a spot he’s most familiar with, after having served as an assistant to former coach Rene LeClerc for ten years.

Prior to that, the former SNHU player also was an assistant coach at Skidmore College from 1990-1997, and even spent time in the Adirondack Red Wings front office where he served as Corporate Marketing and Sales Manager, so hockey has been a major part of his life for a long time.

“I think our strong points will be that we have depth at each position this year. We have a good nucleus of freshmen and sophomores, and that’s added depth at each position.”

In goal, Hutchins has three candidates right now vying for playing time, and will most likely start out the season with a rotation. Expect sophomore Shane Brooks and junior Mark Courchesne to battle for the top spot, but don’t surprised to see freshman Todd Rowley see some time, also.

Hutchins is very happy with his defense.

“We’re carrying ten defensemen right now, where last year we were lucky to have seven. All of them are capable of getting into games, and will get into games. This has led to better practices, and more competition. David Carroll is our leader back there. He’s a real force, he plays with an edge, but composed at the same time.”

Carroll, a junior, is also capable of playing with an offensive flair as well, putting up decent numbers in his first two years, and proving an asset on the power play. Kent Honeyman, a sophomore, is another defenseman not afraid to rush the puck, and is starting to emerge.

On offense, Hutchins will look to last year’s leading scorer, Brandon Hammermeister, to carry the load. Hammermeister, a senior, had totals of 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points in 27 games played last year. He also led the team in scoring as a sophomore.

“He’s unbelievable, the points he had last year,” Hutchins said of his captain. “He’s our top returning forward.”

Expect to see Hammermeister playing initially with sophomores Jon Frey and Ryan DiBartolomeo.

Johnson & Wales University

Third year coach Erik Noack feels optimistic about his teams’ fortunes this season.

“We had a pretty good recruiting class. James Shea has turned out to be a pretty good defensemen, and we also have Matt McGilvray and Craig Houle up front, and Mike O’Malley and Jon Madsen on defense.”

One newcomer who should make an impact is freshman Joe Simeone, a right winger out of Cranston, RI. Noack likes what he’s seen so far.

“He’s been impressive in dry-land, and in practice. He’s an energy guy who plays physical, and has speed.”

McGilvray, a senior, led the team in goals last year with 17, points with 30, power-play goals with 8, and also netted three short-handed goals. Ten of his team leading 15 goals in 2005-06 were powerplay strikes, and as a freshman he led the team in scoring, so there are obviously expectations he can do it again.

McGilvray won’t be able to do it alone, though.

“We have DJ McNaughton and Kevin Marchesi back, two roles players that have a year under their belt. Both had decent freshmen years, now they need to follow up,” Noack said.

The Wildcats will also need to have contributions from senior forwards Shawn Roach, Ryan Jacobs, and Adam Frew. Collectively, they scored 58 points last year.

Between the pipes, senior Charlie Bacon has three years, and many minutes under his chest protector.

“We’re expecting a lot out of him,” his coach stated. Another name to look for is that of JR Woodward, a freshman goalie. “He’s our first Canadian recruit, and we’re expecting things out of him. He can give Charlie a little bit of rest,” Hutchins said of the Picton, ON, native.

Noack, who played defense at RIT, feels the league will be outstanding this year, and that he’s got his work cut out for him.

“The league’s going to be unbelievable this year. Our goal is to get ourselves into a playoff spot. Do the little things right, and stick to the system. We have to rely on the veterans. It’s my first recruiting class that are seniors, so the pressure’s on. It will be an extremely challenging season with the way the league in shaping up. There are a ton of teams looking for eight playoff spots, and now there’s one more team looking with Becker added in.”

Stonehill College

Just about 20 miles south of Boston, in Easton, MA, sits Stonehill College, a Catholic school founded in 1948 by the Congregation of Holy Cross. Leading the hockey flock this year will be Garry Hebert, a man of deep faith and conviction himself, who hopes to sow seeds of faith that will last long after any hockey development.

Hebert, who was an associate to former head coach Scott Harlow for two years, couldn’t be happier to be where he is.

“It’s been great. The guys have been terrific. I think if you look at the total, composite whole of the team this year, you’ll notice our work ethic, character, and dynamic playmaking ability.”

Hebert, who was a Division I player at the University of Vermont before a head injury cut short any hopes of playing pro, went on to say:

“I think we should be a team that’s pretty fun to watch, and I think we’ll be a team that’s recognized by it’s work ethic, character, and its’ dynamic play-making ability. I’m big on creating an atmosphere of unity and harmony. I know it’s an unenforceable platitude, but it’s happening.”

The biggest challenge facing new coach Garry Hebert is not so much the nine freshmen on the team, but the three freshmen goalies. Vying for playing time between the pipes will be the aforementioned freshmen trio of Mike Manna, Peter Lucchesi, and Justin Zegel. Manna is coming off of a great year at Xaverian Brothers High School, and Lucchesi was a second team All New England player out of Kents Hill.

Hebert knows that with three young goalies, there will inevitably be growing pains.

“I’m counting on the goalies letting in some soft goals here and there. It’s understandable, and the team needs to shore up on defense.”

Up front for the Skyhawks, they’ll be expecting junior captain Brendan O’Brien to pick up where he left off from the previous two years, as the team’s leading scorer.

“He does some things in tight spaces that reminds me of the Great Houdini,” Hebert said. O’Brien has 22 goals and 65 assists for a total of 87 points in his first 47 games.

Last year, he was one of the least penalized players on the squad, with only 8 minutes in penalties.

Senior Matt Curran, an alternate captain, is described by his coach as “Immense, not huge in stature, but explosive, and a dangerous offensive weapon,” and was last year’s leading goal scorer, lighting the lamp 30 times, and he will be expected to put up big numbers again. Sixteen of his goals last year came on the powerplay.

On defense, a pair of big defensemen will anchor the blue-line. Alternate captain James Florentino (6’2”, 215 lbs.) and Billy Ninteau (6’3”, 220 lbs.) are both smooth skaters, and both can handle the puck and are not afraid to help out on offense.

Also on defense, Hebert is very happy to have freshman Mike Tuplin joining the team.

“He’s a real special player, and I’m just going to let him go. He can play offensively, he blocks shots, he’s tough as nails and he delivers punishing hits.”

Tuplin, who is 6’3” and 215 lbs., was one of the leaders of the Weymouth HS team that finished second in last year’s Super 8 tournament, just the second time in the 17 year history of the tournament that a public school finished that high.

Hebert, whose mantra this year is “Building Something Special” wants to start off strong.

“We have to get out and establish ourselves, and steer out of any ruts.”

So obviously, all seventeen ECAC NE head coaches feel optimistic about their teams, and their chances, at this time of the year, and why wouldn’t they? Every team starts off the campaign with the same record, but it will be the final record in five months they will all be judged by.