Happy New Year!
Canâ€™t you just see the confetti, the ball, er puck, dropping at the stroke of midnight over and over again in a scene reminiscent of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day? Over and over again in flashbacks, the league coaches have had various amounts of time during the holiday break to think about what the first half brought and what the second half really needs to see change for the clubs to be successful and play their best hockey at the right time of the year.
No Santa list or visit this year kids! Nope, the jolly old elf is burned out dealing with some D-I columnist (who made frequent guest appearances with D-III updates in Connecticut last season) who annually makes him visit the very needy Hockey East coaches every year in hopes that they find a little Christmas magic in their stockings.
No this year is all about resolutions and the New Yearâ€™s wishes the D-III coaches have for their teams in the ECAC East and NESCAC conferences leading to a prosperous January and beyond. So without further ado and in reverse order of the standings, here is what this writer thinks 20 teams are renewing commitments to in the second half as the regular season recommences this weekend across the league.
Skidmore — Breaking their winless streak in the league is probably tops on the list for the Thoroughbreds following Tuesdayâ€™s loss to travel partner Castleton, but at the core of it all is a need to score more goals from the guys who produced last year and stop more opposing goals where last yearâ€™s team found success. Matt Czerkowicz had four points in a solid effort Tuesday which hopefully bodes well for the second half.
Teddy Gowan getting on track offensively and some solid goaltending is definitely needed and that now looks to be squarely on the shoulders of senior Ted Levine who will step in for sophomore DJ Delbuono, who left the team and was taken off the roster prior to Tuesdayâ€™s game against Castleton. Interesting times for the Thoroughbreds to start the new year.
Salem State — The Vikings enter the new year having lost the championship game in their holiday tournament to longtime league rival Bowdoin then rebounded nicely in a non-league win over Fitchburg State. Coach Bill Oâ€™Neill would just assume keep his young guns popping off as Aaron Blades, Chris MacInnis and Justin Fox all have eight goals apiece already and the Vikings will need the firepower in the second half. Keeping the power play cranked up is a resolution Salem State would like to keep.
St. Michaelâ€™s — What better way to start the new year than with a three game win streak over the holidays including a win in their own tournament. Coach Chris Davidson has the Purple Knights playing pretty well but will need his teamâ€™s resolve in scoring more goals and more even strength goals as nearly 50% of their production is coming off the power play, led by Erik Caron and Ryan Mero. Transfer Tyler Bilton has been solid in goal and needs to stay committed to backstop his team as the Knights look to move up in the standings.
UMass-Boston — Very quietly the Beacons are starting to make people notice they can play and for the first time in many seasons they come out of the break posting a winning record at 5-4-1. Their current three game unbeaten streak includes a tie that felt like a win against travel partner and league leader Babson by a 1-1 score and two 5-4 victories over Suffolk and Fitchburg State, respectively, to capture the Codfish Bowl Tournament during the holiday break. Coach Peter Belisle is resolving that his kids keep the faith in the second half and looks to Eric Tufman to continue his team leading scoring and Kris Kransky to play big and continue his hot start.
Castleton State College — The Spartans got a big two points on Tuesday night in a high scoring affair that isnâ€™t typical of the style that coach Alex Todd has brought to his team. Theyâ€™ll take the win but the coach is probably looking for a commitment to tighten things up and staying committed to the style that worked so well for them last season. The Spartans could use a few more seven goal outbursts and have some talent upfront — led by Brandon Heck and Steve Culbertson — to do it.
St. Anselm — The only blemish on the Hawkâ€™s record is a loss to streaking New England College just before the break but for a young team coach Ed Seney has to be happy with how his team has played particularly on defense and in the goal. Resolutions are probably easy here in looking for more offense and a power play that can help lessen the burden on even-strength play. Goalie Jason Zuck continues to impress in his sophomore season and St Aâ€™s will need his consistent play to challenge the league leaders in the second half.
Norwich — Funny to be writing about the Cadets sitting in the four spot at the break with a 4-1-0 record but last year proved the Cadets can turn it on in the second half. After winning the Times-Argus tournament with quality wins over UMass-Dartmouth and ECAC East league leader Babson, the Cadets suffered a tough loss against third ranked Plattsburgh by a 3-2 score in a game decided in the final 76 seconds of regulation. Coach McShane resolved before the season to have a better power-play and at 29%, it wasnâ€™t hard to renew that resolution come the new year. Continued production from Rick Cleaver and Nikita Kashirsky is expected but added scoring from the likes of DJ Famiani and Chad Anderson will make this team more formidable for league opponents.
Southern Maine — 10-0-1 from a team that has made it mandatory for second half excellence in recent seasons, coach Jeff Beaney must have pushed some New Yearâ€™s resolutions on the boys early in the season based on the fast start. Goalie Jamie Gilbert has stepped right into David Beckles crease and has been rock solid while Mike Stevens has been a key offensively scoring key goals including three game winners so far this season. The power play is killer and so too is the balance up front. These Huskies have been close each of the past three seasons. Maybe this is the year.
New England College — Only a close 4-3 loss to host and defending national champion Oswego this past weekend mars the Pilgrims season entering league play this weekend with a trip to Maine to face Bowdoin and Colby. The Pilgrims are down right stingy on defense and must have resolved to support the solid goaltending from Ron Baia with tight play in front of him especially a man down where the y have an extraordinary 93% kill rate. The Pilgrims are strong up the middle and have the depth and balance to be dangerous with all of their lines — watch out for Mark Ehl especially on the power play where his six goals lead the team.
Babson — Only the loss at Norwich blemishes the Beaverâ€™s opening half and the defending conference champs are right back at the top playing with great balance in all phases of the game. Ten players led by Jason Schneider and Brad Baldelli have more than two goals and the defense has been solid in front of goalie Skylar Nipps. Coach Jamie Rice will surely resolve that his team not dwell on last season but focus on the opportunity at hand and continue to play aggressively in the new year.
Hamilton — Following a tough season last year, the Continentals have only won one game in their first eight to star the season. The win was a big one for Coach Phil Grady who recorded his 300th career win while at Hamilton. This yearâ€™s team is still very young and the coach must have made a number of resolutions and wishes for some goals as the team has been offensively challenged early in the season. Sophomore Jerome Wallace leads the team in scoring with six points on four goals and two assists. The power play has not been effective yet so getting into a rhythm when a man up might help some of the Hamilton forwards get on track in the second half that begins at home against ECAC East leading Babson and resurgent UMass-Boston.
Wesleyan — After a sluggish start to the season, a quality win over UMass-Dartmouth seemed to be just what the team needed to get on track and play like they did last season. Coming off the break, the Cardinals lost a 6-0 decision to Manhattanville before beginning league play this weekend where they are in desperate need of goals and points starting the second half. Like Hamilton, Wesleyan has had difficulty putting the puck in the net and the power play hasnâ€™t helped much. JJ Evan leads the team with just three goals and as a team they have just five tallies with the man advantage. The defense and goaltending can improve but a little more offense will go a long way in taking some of that burden off the back line.
Williams — For coach Bill Kangasâ€™s team, a resolution towards consistency would help the Ephs in the second half. Like other teams struggling early, Williams needs offense and better special teams play on both ends. The power play is only clicking at a 10% success rate while the opposition scores 25% of the time with the advantage. More consistent goaltending from either Mark Pulde or Dick Raymond would certainly help the latter category. Brandon Jackmuff and Alex Smegelski account for almost 40% of the teamâ€™s goals so Williams will need better balance in the second half.
Trinity — Still young is what first year coach Dave Cataruzolo says about his Bantam squad. That said they have not seen any losing streaks this year of greater than one game so their experience and maturity are starting to show in their favor as compared with many of the tight contests that did not go their way last season. The goaltending duo of David Murison and Wes Vesprini have been consistent and sophomore Naoto Hamashima is among four players with four goals each for the Bantams. A resolution to a better penalty kill and maybe a bit better production from the power play would help Trinity a lot especially opening the second half at Southern Maine and Salem State.
Conn. College — Another one of last yearâ€™s surprise teams has been off to a rough start and for coach Jim Ward, the needed item is what everyone else was making New Yearâ€™s resolutions about — his team needs offensive chances and goals. The Camels are being outshot in aggregate in every period by their opponents so despite having a stellar .910 save percentage, goalie Greg Parker is giving up 3.53 goals per game and his team is scoring just over two per contest. Freshman phenom Ryan Howarth needs to get going in the second half and look for Rob Campbell to lead the offense in the second half of his senior season.
Tufts — See comments above. Seriously, until the new year the Jumbos were playing pretty well but suffered back-to-back losses at the Plattsburgh tournament by resounding 9-2 and 6-0 scores to Plattsburgh and Trinity, respectively. This team has always been known for its power play but this year has struggled. The penalty kill has also struggled and one of two talented netminders needs to step up in the second half if this team is going to challenge for a playoff berth at the end of the season. Senior Greg Oâ€™Connell and junior Joe Milo need to help the offense with more production starting a five game home stand in eight days.
Middlebury — Last yearâ€™s team needed a late run to navigate the league tournament as well as the NCAA tournament before falling in the finals to Oswego. By coach Bill Beaneyâ€™s own admission his best two players are his goaltenders and only of them can play at a time. The injury bug struck early as did the inability to score goals. The team hopefully has resolved to stay healthy and help freshman Chaz Svoboda on the scoresheet — seniors Mickey Gilchrist and Tom Maldonado will need to find their All-American caliber games in the second half for the Panthers to challenge yet again for the league title.
Amherst — The Lord Jeffs have perennially found themselves fighting at the top largely due to timely scoring, great special teams and some better than expected goaltending. This year coach Jack Arena has resolved to keep that formula in place and hope they can finish the second half better in the final six games than they have over the past three seasons. The goaltending has been pretty solid among three netminders including freshmen Cole Anderson and Jonathan Larose along with junior AJ Scola. A better second half from last yearâ€™s leading scorer Joel Covelli will help Amherst stay in the hunt.
Bowdoin — Coach Terry Meagher can complain all he wants about how goal-challenged his team is but it is hard to swallow when freshman Ryan Leary has found the magic touch and already connected for 11 tallies in his first seven collegiate games — thatâ€™s about a quarter of the teamâ€™s total this season so far. One resolution for the coach should then be to keep Ryan doing whatever it is that his him scoring at a record pace. Lost in Leary-mania is the solid season being had by senior Mike Westerman who continues to be Bowdoinâ€™s best all-around player this season. They picked the wrong game to lose in the home-and-home with Colby where the first game was for the two points in league play but as is the case every year, the Polar Bears have the game to be in the hunt when it counts most.
Colby — The White Mules sit on top on the strength of their win over travel partner and in-state rival Bowdoin before the break. Coach Tortorellaâ€™s early resolution was to let the goaltending sort itself out and it appears freshman Cody McKinney has grabbed the job and will look to improve on his save percentage in the second half. Seniors TJ Kelley and Josh Reber are in their customary spots leading the offense but defenseman Arthur Fritch has been off to a slow start with point production and his impact is needed on both ends of the ice for Colby to stay in their current position.
With roughly 10 to 12 games under their belts, most teams know what they have and more importantly know what they need to do to improve in the second half. We are off to a great start and the excitement is just beginning in the new year! Make your resolution to cheer your school on and enjoy the ride in the second half.
The holidays are over — drop the puck!