As the newcomer to the ECAC NE, Becker College is having a respectable campaign, currently sitting in the middle of the pack, four points out from second place but in a four way tie for fourth place.
â€œThis is our second year of existence,â€ coach Steve Hoar stated. â€œI think the ECAC NE is a very strong, competitive league, and in the cross-over games have proven themselves with the other leagues. Itâ€™s a great league, and parents and prospects should realize that.â€
With a 6-4-0 conference record, and 9-9-1 overall, the Hawks are putting in a respectable campaign, but it hasnâ€™t been easy.
â€œWeâ€™re going through some growing pains, no question about it. Itâ€™s been a learning experience,â€ Hoar said. â€œI donâ€™t know what a junior or senior looks like! We want to compete, and hopefully make the playoffs. That would be a nice achievement for our team, and thatâ€™s our goal.â€
Becker played a strong game earlier this month against Curry College, and even led after two periods before eventually losing, 7-5. Hoar felt this was a good chance to see how his squad would compete against one of the elite teams in the conference.
Stated Hoar: â€œWe want to earn their respect and compete, get a little puck luck, and get a â€˜W.â€™â€
Hoar, who had coached at Plattsburgh State in the 80s, and Tufts in the 90s, originally came to Becker last season to help then-coach Craig Barnett. He took over as head coach when Barnett, who ironically had played for Hoar at Plattsburgh, left Becker to become Mercyhurst Collegeâ€™s associate director of athletics in December of 2006. He was named AD in August of 2007.
One pleasant surprise for Becker this year has been the play of sophomore forward Jared Kersner. The Maryland native currently leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points in as many games. His heady play has resulted in two shorthanded goals, and he doesnâ€™t spend much time in the penalty box, only being whistled for three minors so far.
â€œMost of our offense is spread out,â€ said Hoar. â€œWe have no first line. We have a balanced attack. Whatever line plays well, thatâ€™s my first line for the evening.â€
One unit that the Hawks have relied on is the trio of Anthony Libonati, Robert Higgins, and Mike Caprio. The latter is a sophomore. Libonati and Higgins are both freshmen, and Libonati is second on the team in scoring, with nine goals and seven assists in 18 games. All three players bring some grit to the offense, as well.
On the blue line, Hoar is pleased with very pleased with the play of Jim Ceglarek.
â€œHeâ€™s the consummate student-athlete; heâ€™s a leader, just a very coach-able individual. As a sophomore, heâ€™s the captain of the team, and he also plays baseball here.â€
The Chicago native also provides a spark offensively, tallying one goal and seven assists for the Hawks.
Other defensemen catching the eye of their coach are John Nogatch, a transfer from Wayne State, who Hoar says is â€œa strong player and has a presence,â€ and Brad Jones, who according to his coach has â€œbeen the most pleasant surprise.â€
As far as goaltending, Hoar is very comfortable with Tony Stoehr, a transfer from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
â€œHe didnâ€™t play much at River Falls. This has been a new beginning for him, a coming out. Through his play heâ€™s made us more competitive.â€
Hoar currently has a record of 9-9-1 and a save percentage of .905, good for fifth best in the conference. Stoehrâ€™s goals against average is 3.20. No goalie has played more minutes than Stoehr, who has logged 1,123:30 so far.
Overall, Hoar knows thereâ€™s work to be done with his squad, and he also realizes what a strong league heâ€™s now a part of.
â€œYou look at these rosters, theyâ€™re going national, and itâ€™s junior dominated. The whole recruiting landscape has changed. Thereâ€™s a lot of parity in the league. In the past, it was a two horse race between Curry and UMass Dartmouth. Now you look at Suffolk, Nichols, Fitchburg State, and Wentworth.â€
Hoar feels the league gains respect as some of the top teams fare well in non-conference games.
â€œThe league is more respectable when you see Curry or UMass-Dartmouth doing well against the other ECAC teams. Weâ€™re not at that stage yet, but the big difference from last year is that weâ€™re much more competitive this year. Weâ€™re thrilled to be in this league. Hopefully weâ€™ll make continued improvement in every game. Thereâ€™s a lot of hockey left to be played.â€