ECAC Northeast Season Preview

This season marks the end of the ECAC NE as we have all known it, as the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) formally announced the addition of men’s ice hockey as a conference-sponsored sport on Monday, July 14.

With Westfield State reinstating its program following a 20-year hiatus, the MASCAC now has five member institutions sponsoring men’s ice hockey and — per conference-bylaw — will now become a MASCAC-recognized sport. Fitchburg State College, Framingham State College, Salem State College and Worcester State College are the other four members.

After competing as full members in the ECAC during the 2008-09 season, those five will be joined by affiliate members UMass-Dartmouth and Plymouth State University. The seven schools will formally withdraw from the ECAC and begin MASCAC play in 2009-10.

As the ECAC Northeast Ten gets ready to drop the puck, USCHO caught up with the league’s coaches to get their thoughts on the upcoming campaign as well as take an in-depth look at each team and key in on one player to watch for each squad.

Assumption College

He knows things are going to stem from his goalie out.

“We’ve got a returnee in Jamie DiGiulio, and the past few years he’s faced too many shots, and I don’t think we’ve seen his potential yet,” Brady said. “We’ve also got a freshman who’s a very solid player in Steve DiDomenico. I think he’s going to be a fine one in the future. From there we move out to our defense and our captain’s going to be a leader there, Chris Genovese, and Mark Labb.”

Continuing, he noted “[u]p front, we’ve got a returnee in Patrick Fitzgibbons, who had a great freshman campaign, but his two linemates are gone, and we’re looking to him to lead the forwards. We also have two great transfers in Adam Goudreau and Ben Kirkland. We possibly have an all-star freshmen line of Patrick O’Kane, Dennis Sylvio, and Taylor Larsen. I’m really looking forward to see how they stack up against their opponents. They were impressive in camp.”

Although this is Brady’s first year as a head coach, he has an impressive hockey résumé. After graduating from Holy Cross in 1993, he went on to play five years of professional hockey between the IHL, AHL, and ECHL. He then played professional roller hockey, and also spent time in the front office of the (then) Worcester Ice Cats

Last year, Brady spent the season working under Steve Hoar at Becker College as an assistant coach.

“That was a great experience,” Brady recalled. “He showed me the ropes, especially the administration work that goes into being a head coach. That was something I hadn’t really experienced. It’s been great so far. I love the college atmosphere and the college player.”

Brady knows enough about the league after one season to know how strong it is.

“It’s getting better every year, and I’m talking the total ECAC division three, not just the Northeast 10. We’ve got some great players. It’s a good mix of schools, and a good mix of talent.”

When asked what his goals are in his rookie season, Brady aimed high:

“I think any college coach should have a championship as his first goal, if you don’t have that I don’t think you should be coaching. That should be your number one goal. A Northeast 10 Championship is the ultimate for us, obviously because of our playoff situation.”

Brady also stated some goals that may be easier to attain.

“I’m also looking at a winning season, and I’m really looking at some decreased penalty time. Averaging 29 minutes per game is absolutely ridiculous. We really need to get down into the 10 minute range, and that’s still kind of high. If we’re in that 10 to 12 area, I think we’re going to win a lot of hockey games. You can’t let your goaltender face 50 shots a game and average 29 minutes in penalties. You’re just not going to win a lot of hockey games. That’s what’s happened to this team for the past three to five years.”

Player to Watch: Patrick Fitzgibbons. With a year under his belt, look for him to averaged at least a point per game.

Frankline Pierce University

In New Hampshire, Jaymie Harrington was named the third head coach in Franklin Pierce College’s history this summer, after spending last year as an assistant, and he knows what will make his team tick this season.

“Right away, the strength of our team is that we are returning seven of our nine top returning scorers.”

Those players include forwards Casey Goodell, Jeff Kasper, Phil LaBreck, Sean Woodring, Coursen Schneider, Shane Murphy, and defenseman Kyle Kruse.

On LaBreck, who tallied 12 goals and 10 assists, Harrington remarked that “he really had a pretty good year for himself and established himself,” and when it comes to Kasper, his coach feels he is “as skilled as they come.”

A trio of freshmen forwards who are expected to contribute right out of the gate are Alaskan native Justin Adams, Nate Shursky from Arizona, and Anthony Chighisola from Whitman, Massachusetts. Also hailing from the Bay State, freshman netminder Ben Siok played at St. John’s in Shrewsbury, MA. He is expected to compete for time in the cage.

On defense, Harrington is looking towards a pair of juniors to lead the way in Kyle Kruse and Steve Della-Calce.

“The two really figured out what we expected of them, and elevated their game. They’re a quality pair who complement each other well” said Harrington.

Senior Rob Perretta and sophomore Sean Carroll are also ready to help out as well.

With last season somewhat of a breakthrough year for Franklin Pierce, even bigger things are expected this campaign. In addition to matching the program record for wins in with a 6-19-0 overall record last season, 14 of Franklin Pierce’s losses were by two goals or less, including 11 by a single goal, and five in overtime.

The Ravens set numerous single season offensive team records, including goals (93), assists (151), points (244) and power-play goals (47), and finished the regular season with the third best power play in the nation (30.5%). The team also reduced their penalty minutes by an amazing 300 from the 2006-07 season.

Harrington, who played for four years at Canisius College, is looking forward to his first year behind the bench in what will be the last season as we know it of the ECAC Northeast.

“It’s a bit of a transition with the MASCAC forming, but top to bottom there’s pretty good parity. With every game, it’s whoever wants it more,” analyzed Harrington.

Player to Watch: Sean Woodring. Last year’s co-rookie of the year is not the most skilled player in the world, but he would go through a brick wall for his teammates if he had to. With a year under his belt, he will only get better.

Stonehill College

Another coach fairly new to the NE Ten is Gary Hebert of Stonehill College. Hebert is very excited about his team’s new address this season.

“We have a new home,” Hebert said. “For the last bunch of years we’ve been playing at the Bridgewater Ice Arena. This year we have a new home, it’s closer to campus, it’s a state of the art rink, and it’s called the Foxboro Sports Center. We have a dedicated locker room, and they hung our championship banner there, and we even have our logo painted in the ice. We even have a VIP lounge up above, where Varsity Club members and alumni can go. It’s a first class facility that’ll be a real classy home for us.”

When talking about on-ice matters, Hebert had a unique way of looking at things.

“We have eight seniors, and our strength is our weakness in the sense that last year we lost seven, and one of them was Matt Curran, and it’s hard to replace those goals. All of them were really good, but now we have eight seniors left that are still here, and I believe out of those eight we have the single best forward in the league in Brendan O’Brien.”

A Braintree native, the senior led the team in scoring last year with totals of eight goals, 22 assists, and 30 points. Seven of his goals were on the power play. Two years ago as a sophomore, O’Brien was named the ECAC Northeast Ten Player of the Year, and his coach feels he has the tools to play beyond college, as well.

On the blueline, Hebert feels he is lucky with a pair of returning seniors.

“I feel we have two of the best defensemen in all of the Northeast Ten in James Florentino of West Roxbury and Billy Ninteau from New Hampshire,” he said. “They’ve both been Northeast-Ten All League players for the last couple of years in a row. They’re a tandem, they’re just massive bodies that are fluid on their skates and punish the opposing players with their physicality, but at the same time have sweet hands. They’re a real deadly tandem on defense.”

While Hebert feels he has one of the top forwards in the conference in O’Brien, and two of the top defensemen as well, he’ll also count on his remaining seniors, including forwards Paul Reissfelder, Frankie Amato, John Sommers, Ryan MacInnis, and defenseman James Killeen, who is described by his coach as a “solid, stay at home type.”

In short, Hebert could not be happier with his senior class:

“I am blessed with what I feel is the best single crop of seniors in the league, bar none. Both hockey-wise, but character-wise as well.”

In terms of the seven seniors he has lost, Hebert knows he needs to plug those holes with freshmen. He is looking towards players such as Mario Ranalli from Coyle-Cassidy and Billy Harris from Weymouth, who some say has a pro-caliber shot. Jordan Fine from St. Sebastian’s reminds Hebert of the legendary Adam Oates, and should play right out of the gate, and also expected to make a difference is big defenseman Matt Doherty from Thayer Academy. New Jersey native Tyler Jackson should be expected to compete for time in the net with returnee Mike Manna, a sophomore who went 8-7-1 last year.

Player to Watch: Brendan O?Brien. Plays well when hurt and is often double and triple teamed. He has a tricky release on his shot. With 44 points this year, he could become the school?s all time leading scorer.

Southern New Hampshire University

Ken Hutchins is readying for his second season behind the bench at Southern New Hampshire University, and he knows he’ll have to rely on a certain group of players with experience.

“We only have one senior, but we have a lot of sophomores and juniors. David Carroll is our only senior, and we’ll be relying on John Frey and Troy Maybury picking up the offense.”

Carroll is a senior defenseman who played in every game last year, while Frey and Maybury are junior and sophomore forwards, respectively. They were ranked second and third in team scoring last year.

In goal for SNHU, look for sophomore Shane Brooks and freshman Todd Rowley to split the duties. Canadian freshman forward Doug Belanger and fellow first-year defenseman Frankie O’Connor are also expected to log plenty if ice time for Hutchins this year.

Although this is Hutchins second season behind the Penmen bench, he has nearly 20 years of experience, including as an assistant at SNHU for nearly 10 years, and prior to that he spent seven seasons as an assistant at Skidmore College. This seasoning allows him to offer a unique perspective on the league.

“As far as Division III hockey goes, I think because of the influx of junior hockey and everybody playing a year of prep school, the quality of play is so much better than it was 10 years ago,” he observed. “You don’t even have to coach some of the basic fundamentals anymore, they come in pretty polished.

“Our league should be very, very competitive. The gap between first place and last place has closed quite a bit. There are no automatic blowouts for anyone on their schedule anymore. There’s a lot more parity in the Northeast Ten and in the ECAC Northeast.”

Player to Watch: Troy Maybury. His maturity and physicality are coming together, along with very nice offensive tools, an ability to see the game well, and an increasing edge to his play.

University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

In Dartmouth, Massachusetts, John Rolli is preparing for his 25th season
behind the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth bench, and he didn’t have to think long when asked what his teams’ strength would be this season:

“Not only do we have Jeff Green back, but Jon Dryjowicz-Burek has transferred back from UMass-Lowell. Three years ago when he was a freshman, he was an American Hockey Coaches Association and USCHO All-American. We have two very, very good goaltenders,” Rolli stated. “They both have very good winning percentages and very low
goals against averages and very high save percentages. I think clearly the
strength of our team will be goaltending.”

In front of Green and Dryjowicz-Burek, Rolli also feels confident.

“I think that we should be pretty solid on defense,” he said. “We return six veteran defensemen, and we think that defensively we should be pretty solid.”

Up front, Rolli knows there is a huge void to fill.

“With the loss of Jeff Grant, and his 145 career points, certainly is an issue, and we have no one player to fill that, but I think we’ll be a more balanced team.”

Two seniors will lead this year’s team as the new captain and assistant captain. Nick Paquin out of Warwick, Rhode Island will be the captain, while Chris Shore from West Haven, Connecticut will serve as assistant captain.

Both are in their fourth and final seasons with the Corsairs. Both players met while playing a post-graduate season at Winchendon Academy. Paquin has played 78 games, scoring 22 goals and adding 21 assists for 43 points. Shore has played an equal number of games, scoring 26 goals and 19 assists for 45 points.

One thing on Rolli’s mind, as he enters his final season in the ECAC NE before playing in the MASCAC next year, is the chance to win a fourth consecutive championship. No other team has done that, although some UMD teams have won three in a row, such as the senior team that Rolli has know.

“This is an opportunity to win four consecutive championships. That means that there are a few teams out there that will be lining up for us,” Rolli joked.

Rolli is never one to speak about his own accomplishments, but there is a strong chance that he will earn his 500th college victory this season, putting him in elite company. With 484 career wins, he is 17th all-time, and the legendary John “Snooks” Kelly is in front of him with 501. Rolli enters this season with an unheard of winning percentage of .781, which leads all college coaches conference and nation-wide.

In speaking of the upcoming season, Rolli knows that there’s parity, and he also knows his team has a tough schedule.

“We’ve got a very difficult non-league schedule. We’ve got one week in November when on a Tuesday we’re at Babson, Friday we’re at Colby, and Saturday we’re at Bowdoin.”

He also knows teams the competition will be stiffer.

“You look at Nichols College, returning everybody from a team that went to the championship a year ago and you’ve got Wentworth which has an outstanding recruiting year.

Player to Watch: The goaltending tandem of Jeff Green and Jon
Dryjowicz-Burek. On any given night, the Corsairs will have a goalie between the pipes who are conceivably as good as any in the league.

Curry Colonels

In Milton, Rob Davies is preparing for his ninth season as the Curry Colonels bench boss, and is looking to improve upon last year’s season, in which he led the way in the regular season, but was bounced in the first round of the playoffs to number eight seed Fitchburg State.

“We’ve brought in a lot of recruits to make our team,” Davies said. “Obviously, losing in the first round last year, we wanted to address that issue and why that happened, and look at what we can control form our end, and I’m not taking anything away from Fitchburg. Consequently, we recruited a large class to come in and compete for jobs. There might be a pretty good turnover with our roster this year, more than most years, and we only graduated three guys. We brought in 16 or 17 freshman. It’s going to be competitive here.”

One key loss, not to graduation, was when last year’s leading scorer Jason Yuel decided to transfer to University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he is now the first-line right winger. Replacing Yuel’s 22 goals will be a challenge for Davies.

“We think we brought in some good players to replace Jason, as good as he was for us.”

Some of the players coming back up front that will help out are senior Jeff Hazelwood, who led the team in assists last year with 27 and junior forward Ross Enmark, a former rookie of the year who will miss a handful of early games recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery. Jimmy Pentecost, a senior forward, brings leadership and scoring to the squad, as well as senior Jeremy Hmura, who is a great role player and always competitive.

On defense, junior Jarrett Rush begins his first full season with the Colonels. The 6’5”, 215 lbs. New Jersey native transferred from Manhattanville College during last year’s holiday break and is expected to be a key contributor on the blueline.

As far as the last line of defense, Davies had this to say:

“We’ve got two guys who alternated last year in Zach Cardella and Steven Jakiel, and they’re both juniors. I’m hoping that goaltending is a strength of ours with those guys battling it out. Cardella had an outstanding year, and Steve is a good goalie that probably wants to have a better year fro himself. I think that will be a strength of our hockey club.”

Some key newcomers should include defenseman Ross Barlock from Illinois as well as a pair of forwards that Davies claims “can play in all three zones” in Mike Guzzo and John Williams. Also expected to contribute up front are big forwards Payden Benning and Steve Mohler.

When asked about the league, Davies was quick to answer.

“No doubt that this is the last year of the league being as we’ve known it for the last seven or eight or nine years,” he said. “In that sense, everybody wants to have as good a campaign as they possibly can because it’s the last year. That being said, you’re starting to see the fruition of a lot of hard work from the coaches as far as recruiting coming together. There’s more parity in the league. You’re starting to see some closing of the gap between the eighth place team and the fourth place team. The Curry’s and the Wentworth’s and the UMass-Dartmouth’s are really having to work hard to keep their spots.”

Davies feels an interesting year lies ahead.

“From what I know of the other teams, there are some excellent recruits coming in. There’ll be a lot of nights where there’s a serious dogfight. I have no idea how the other coaches see it, but I just see a better overall league. There were a lot of competitive games last year, and I just see that intensifying this year.

“It should be real interesting. I look at the other teams, and what they’ve done with their non-conference schedule. They’ve improved that by putting their players in a position to be challenged in a way that maybe traditionally they haven’t been challenged in the past. That’ll help the league and each member in it.”

Player to Watch: Jeffrey Hazelwood. Averaged more than a point per game in his first two years at St. Norbert’s, and set career highs last year in goals (18) assists (27) and points (45) in 26 games. Will be counted on heavily in the early going with Enmark out.

Nichols Bison

Things are looking good in Dudley, Massachuseets. The Nichols Bison are coming off their first-ever appearance in the ECAC Northeast Championship game and finished the year with a 20-7-1 overall record, the best mark in the conference and the best record in the program’s long history.

Fifth-year Head Coach Lou Izzi also became the program’s all-time winningest coach this season as he now has 55 career victories, and he was also named the 2007-2008 NEHWA ECAC Northeast Coach of the Year.

Izzi is also fortunate in that he has a great nucleus coming back.

“We have 15 guys back who played in the championship game last year. I like the fact that we’ve got a veteran squad for the first time, and we do have a lot of depth. We have four good lines and six good defensemen that we can put on the ice, and we have good team speed as well.”

Returning is mainstay Anthony Monte, a senior who played in all 28 games last year and led the conference in scoring. In three years at Nichols, he has totaled 71 goals and 59 assists for 130 points in just 81 games. Those numbers include 27 power-play goals and 11 shorthanded goals.

He’s complemented by another talented senior, Ryan Gervais, a prolific scorer in his own right with 48 goals and 44 assists for 92 points in 81 games, including 10 power-play tallies and five while shorthanded.

Also adding to Nichols’ powerful offense will be juniors Eric Cremer and Zeke Costello, along with sophomore Will Munson. Talented freshmen Andrew Ella out of Ontario is already projected to be a first-line player, and fellow frosh Brett Englebright and Zach Hendrickson should step right into the line-up as well. Sophomore Matt Sayer, who transferred from SNHU, will only add to the depth up front.

On defense, Izzi has Jeff Beiber, Glenn Cacaro, and Cole Ruwe all back. Joining them will be Keith Richardson from the Beausejour Blades in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, who Izzi says “handles the puck well, he has great foot speed, and he’s a defensive defenseman.”

Manning the goal again will be Keith Fink, who has started for the past three years and been stellar in each of them. He’ll be backed up by freshman Mike Davis.

In asked what he thought of the league, Izzi responded:

“A lot of teams, obviously, and when you have a big conference you’re going to have some real good teams, and then some other teams at the bottom. It’ll be competitive and a chase to the playoffs as well, as it usually is every year. I think that some of the bottom teams may have gotten a little better, but the top teams have gotten better, too. I don’t know how much that gap is actually going to close, but we’ll see.”

Player to Watch: Anthony Monte. Capable of putting up 50 to 60 points. Cole Ruwe. One of the top defensemen in the conference, the game seems to have slowed down for him. The heart and soul of the team.

Suffolk University

At Suffolk University, Chris Glionna is back for his fourth year behind the bench, and he is excited about the experience he’ll have this year.

“For the first time since I’ve been here, we have some experience,” Glionna said. “It’s always been freshmen and sophomores leading the way, now we’ll have juniors and seniors, and some experienced players.”

A couple of players Glionna can rely on are defensemen Mitch Sabo, a senior; and junior Nick Davis. Both have good size, and “they’ve done a tremendous job for us,” according to their coach.

In goal, sophomore Jeff Rose is expected to carry the load once again.

Up front, Glionna knows he can count on senior Kyle Cook to have another big year, and sophomore Paul Weisser “had a great freshmen year and is now ready to take the next step.”

Senior John Rocchio is just four points shy of the century mark, and he should reach that milestone at some point this month. Senior Scott Zanolli and junior Mike Mondello will also be counted on to provide an offensive spark.

Two newcomers are true freshman Conor Twomey out of Marshfield (MA) High School, and he’s projected to be a top-six forward. Glionna feels Twomey has the potential to be an elite player. Defenseman Nate Lenard has shown steady improvement in camp, and the former Bay State Breaker will see plenty of ice time.

Glionna knows that you can’t take anything for granted with the conference.

“The league keeps getting better, in talking with the coaches, and you look at the kids who end up coming into the league,” he said. “You have exceptional coaches who are working very hard. It’s very rare that I’m not in a rink on a weekend and don’t see three or four other teams in there. The league’s ready to make the next step to being able to compete on the national stage.”

Player to Watch: Kyle Cook. By far one of the fastest players in the league. Really cam motor, and has to be watched at all times when he’s on the ice. In 80 games, has 101 points, poised for more.

Wentworth Institute of Technology

Also in Boston, on Huntington Avenue, is Wentworth Institute of Technology, where R.J. Tolan gets ready for his third season behind the bench.

“We have a reasonably sized senior class with five guys who’ve played most of our games, so that gives us some leadership,” Tolan said.

Up front, the Leopards are led by senior captain Joey Sides, a dynamic player who paced the team in assists last year with 18. He’ll be joined by junior Dave Lewandowski, who was second in team scoring last year with 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 26 games.

Junior Jeff Olitch is back as well, and he has proven that he, too, can put the puck into the net. Second year man Geric Brodt is back, and he could possibly be a point-per-game player in the future after a strong rookie year, in which he earned All-Rookie Team honors.

On defense, senior Greg Demerjian leads the way. A four year player who is consistent and durable, he’ll be joined by another member of last year’s All-Rookie team, Calgary native Jeff Fedyk, as well as junior Martin Winzer, a native of Germany.

“I’m hoping these guys can lead us down the right path,” said Tolan.

In goal, junior Justin Marriott is back, after appearing in 21 games last year. Sophomore Andrew Ricci and freshman Steve Perry are also expected to see some time.

Tolan knows you can’t take anything for granted with this league.

“You have to hope you have good players. It’s amazing how fast the season starts after we get on the ice for practice. The league should be extremely competitive. It was fun last year.”

Player to Watch: Joey Sides. Although his goal production was down last year, that may have been because he was called on to play defense when the team needed him to. Athletic, and a fierce competitor. Able to do a little bit of everything.

Becker College

Becker College coach Steve Hoar has one goal in mind for his team.

“We want to make continuous, measurable improvement and earn respect,” Hoar said.

This is his third year with Bentley, and after going 0-8-1 two years ago, the Hawks were 12-12-2 last year.

One key returning player is goalie Tony Stoehr, a junior from Wisconsin.

“We have a veteran in Tony, he’s proven himself, he’s done a credible job, and he backboned us last year.”

Pushing Stoehr for ice time will be promising freshman Jake Rosenthal, a Long Island, New York native who last played in the Northern Ontario Hockey League. No matter who is between the pipes, Hoar feels he has an improved defense, and it will be anchored by captain Jim Ceglarek.

Up front, Hoar suffered a key loss when Anthony Libonati, who was a point per game player and tied for the team lead in scoring last year, returned home to Oregon. The Hawks will look to junior Derek Kersner, who had a break out season last year, and was himself a point per game player and shared the team scoring title, to do even more this year.

Kersner will have help from sophomore forwards Mike Caprio, Derek Stabile, and Mike Herbert to help balance the offense.

There may be some help with the freshman class as well. Hoar has his own “Sedin Twins” in Swedish imports Martin and Markus Oeberg, and he has another Swede in Erik Nordquist. The twins may even end up playing together. On defense, freshmen Jeremy Narducci from North Carolina is expected to play a key role.

Hoar knows the league continues to get stronger each year.

“The league is very strong,” he said. “It reminds me of the old ECAC Division Two. You now have national recruiting, international recruiting, over-age freshmen. I think some of our top teams can go against any team in Division III NCAA hockey.”

Player to Watch: Jared Kersner. Although on the bubble as a freshman, he had a coming out season last year, and he is the Hawks offensive sparkplug.

Westfield State

The new team this season is the Westfield State Owls, and leading the way is coach Jerry Keefe. With a young team laden with freshmen and sophomores, Keefe is looking toward his goalies to be a mainstay. Sophomore Ray Munroe, a transfer from UMass-Boston, will be called on heavily this year, as will freshmen Ian Wilson, who last played in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Of offense, Keefe has senior Jeff Chillson, a transfer from Salem State to rely on.

“He’s a kid I’m expecting big things from,” as well as sophomore Dennis Zak, also a transfer from the Beacons who Keefe says “is a real skilled kid.”

Patrick Nelson and A.J. Shiverdecker are two freshmen Keefe plans to utilize heavily during the year.

Manning the blueline, Keefe plans on relying on Jon Madsen, a transfer from Johnson & Wales who has impressed him so far as well as Ted Battaglia who Keefe said “is another guy we’ll be relying on a lot back there, and can pretty much play all areas of the game.”

Dylan Scanlon, yet another UMass-Boston transfer, will be a key to the Westfield power play.

Not surprisingly, Keefe has a connection to UMass-Boston, having served as an assistant there for two years, prior to getting hired last year by Westfield State. His playing résumé includes a high school career at Matignon under legendary coach Marty Pierce, followed by two years of junior hockey in the USHL, and then a four year career at Providence College.

Keefe knows that he is entering a league that he says is “getting better and better. Some of those middle of the road teams are really making a push to get into one of the top four spots. It’s going to be competitive to try to make the playoffs, it’s going to be a battle to get into the playoffs. Our goal this year is to hopefully have a chance at that, and it’s going to be tough for us because the league’s getting better and better.”

Admittedly, it’s been a long wait for Keefe, and he’s ready to see the puck dropped:

“A lot of people at Westfield State have put a lot of effort into this, and we’re really excited to get this thing started. Hopefully we’re a team that goes out and competes hard every day and tries top get better every day, and hopefully we’re playing our best hockey at the end of the year.”

Player to Watch: Benni Schennach. A tremendously skilled Austrian with the making of being a very skilled point producer.

Plymouth State University

Nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University coach Brett Tryder is happy about the fact that his squad will be a bit more seasoned than last year’s edition.

“Our strength this year will be more experience,” he stated. “Last year, we had 16 freshmen on the roster. Having kids with more game experience this year is key.”

Returning to the Panthers are sophomore forwards Seth McQuade and Sean Buckley, as well as junior forward Chris Chambers. McQuade was second in the team in scoring last year, and while Chambers was fourth, he suffered through somewhat of a sophomore slump, as he had less than half of the points he had produced as a freshman. Newcomers Justin Phenney and Chris Zaremba should play right away. Phenney played last year with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the CSHL and scored 22 goals and 35 assists.

One depth position Tryder has is in goal. With Allen Schneider, another Cleveland Lumberjacks alum, looking impressive in the early going, he may have the edge when the puck drops, but also look for Kevin Crosby and Aaron Runner to see time. Tryder said that he is not afraid to use any of them.

Tryder continues to be amazed at how the league keeps improving.

“It’s unbelievable where we’re getting guys. It seems like every year a coach finds another league to pull players from.”

This is the last year Plymouth State will play in the conference before joining the MASCAC, and Tryder would like to go out with a bang, adding:

“I’d love to win the Northeast before we move on to the MASCAC. I’d hate to leave a conference without winning it.”

Player to Watch: Chris Chambers. A legitimate force, he’s got a good scoring touch and always works hard.

Salve Regina University

Down in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island Andy LeColst is preparing for his second season as the coach of Salve Regina University, and he offered some thoughts on his squad.

“Our goalie, Patrick Enloe, is as good as you’ll see in the league, and up front we’ve got a lot of guys returning. We’ll be able to rely on three lines pretty regularly.”

Enloe was all conference last year

Those lines will include the dangerous junior Tyler Trott out with sophomores Joe Colaianni and Brett Pimental. Another tandem will see Ryan Peterson out with fellow sophomores Bryan Russell and Alex Casiano, and the third steady line has seniors
Conor McCahill and Jake Picard out with junior Patrick Bambery.

On defense, LaColst admits the blueliners are pretty young, but he does have three returning that he knows he can count on. Sophomore Kevin Sullivan, junior Nathaniel Burns and senior Zach Sufilka will be leaned on heavily to protect their own end.
Newcomer Eric Spaltt, a sophomore who transferred from Franklin-Pierce, will be a welcome addition to LeColst on defense.

“He likes to go with the puck, but he’s smart enough to know when to stay back.”

LeColst expects to utilize goalie Chase Goodrich as well, and he knows that his goalies will push each other. The sophomore coach, who played his collegiate hockey at Salem State, is impressed with the state of the league.

“You’ve got your powerhouses like Curry and UMass-Dartmouth, but it’s been proven that anyone can beat anyone else on any given night,” LeColst said. “You might finish fourth, or be out of the playoff picture, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

Player to Watch: Tyler Trott. With steady improvement in his first two years, this could be a breakout year. One of the shiftiest players on the ice.

Johnson & Wales University

Also in Rhode Island is Johnson & Wales University, where Eric Noack is preparing for his sixth season behind the Wildcats bench. Noack had a very tentative answer when asked what the strength of his team would be.

“Strength? Are we good? I don’t know, we graduated a lot, as in 90% of our offense! We’re very young, but our one strength is our enthusiasm.”

When asked just how young, Noack’s answer said plenty:

“We have over 20 freshmen, and almost all of them are playing. It’s a new team, a new thing, and we’re just going to have to wait and see,” he said. “Defensively I think we’re a little stronger than last year, and we do have Mike O’Malley on defense, which is great because we need a big-time leader.”

Among the freshmen Noack has to rely on are forwards Jeremiah Ketts, Luke Van Asch, Kyle Botos, and big (6’2”, 215 lbs.) Zach Hamilton, who has had a solid camp.
Defenseman Domenic Recchia is also a freshman, and junior Jimmy Van Asch will also be counted on. In goal, there are three freshmen in camp, along with sophomore JR Woodland, who played in eight games last year.

Noack feels the league could be wide-open this season.

“It’s going to be crazy, maybe like last year when it came down to the last game. I don’t think anyone’s going to run away with it. It’s anyone’s game.”

He also offered another perspective, as the league plays its’ final season as the ECAC NE.

“It’s going to be interesting this year. Everyone wants to go hard. It might be the last time some of these teams play each other.”

Player to Watch: Mike O’Malley. An All-Conference player last year, he has three years of steady progression under his belt.

Western New England College

In western Massachusetts, Chris Bernard is getting his Western New England College team ready, and he offered some thoughts on his team.

“We’re going to be system strong. We have a real strong work ethic, and a tenacious bunch of players. We have 12 guys in the senior class and to single any one out I’d be remiss, but we’ll rely on them to provide leadership to propel this program forward.”

To complement the dozen seniors, there are some freshmen coming in that should provide a nice balance between youth and experience. They include forwards Mike Kaselouskas, Rory Hansen, and Californian Korey Grahl.

Bernard feels that his goaltending is something he won’t have to worry about.

“I feel we have three guys who can play,” he said.

Senior Kyle Sagnella appeared in 14 games last year, and sophomore Justin Richards also played in 12 games, posting all six of the Black Bears wins. Junior Dennis Harrsch should also see action.

Bernard knows the nothing comes easy in this league.

“We’re in for another dogfight. There are 14 teams and eight playoff spots. Being consistent each night becomes magnified.”

Player to Watch: Vinny Weyel. A smooth skater with good offensive skills, he is in line for a break out year.

Worcester State College

At Worcester State College, John Guiney is getting behind the bench at his alma mater for the 17th season, and he knows with just seven returning player, he’s got a very young squad.

“We’re relatively young, but most of the kids have a good background,” Guiney said. “We know our biggest strength is going to be speed. We’re excited-but cautious.”

Among those returning will be junior forward Mark Rintel, who is also this year’s captain. The New York native missed all but three games last year after breaking his leg, and will be a welcome addition to the squad, as will sophomore forward Billy O’Neill, who missed time last year due to a concussion.

Also back is the speedy Lee Belisle, who played in all 24 games last year and had six goals and seven assists. They’ll be joined by sophomore Mark Elia.

On defense, Bill Knauber is returning and is the only senior on team. He’ll be joined by sophomore Chriss Wallin, who came over from Morrisville last year.

In goal, junior Andrew Evans is back, and he played in eight games last year, and Guiney says “he has looked good so far.”

Headlining the youth movement is the talented Cody Warila, a forward from the Junior Boston Bruins, who Guiney is excited about.

“He’s talented, quick, great hands and can really shoot the puck,” he said.

Andrew Brady is on board, as well as a transfer from SUNY, Nick Aspirito, who missed all of last year following shoulder surgery, will be counted on, as will Andy Orisini and Tom Pappa, both of whom transferred from Munroe Community College. Also in the mix is big (6’3”, 220 lb.) forward John Cahalane, last seen skating for the Laconia Minutemen in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League.

Guiney knows how tough it will be this year, especially with such a young team.

“The strengths of this league are always going to be the Curry’s and the UMass-Dartmouth’s, but to qualify for the playoffs would be great. Getting in the eight spot will be tough, but so far things have been good, and as long as they perform like they have been, we know we’re going to be much better.”

Player to Watch: Cody Warila. Great hands, the type you don’t want to play against. Tenacious with a hard shot.

Fitchburg State

In Fitchburg, Dean Fuller is excited about hopping behind the bench for his 25th year as Fitchburg State’s coach.

“I like the club. We have good speed, good skills. We have five returning defensemen with good experience.”

Amongst those returning are captains Matt Arsenault and Bob Kalousian.

“They’re two of our leading point scorers coming back. They both have good wheels, and good skills,” Fuller said of the seniors.

Arsenault averaged just a bit over a point per game last year, while Kalousian averaged just a shade below a point per game last year.

Also back are Chris Riggs and John Goffredo, a pair of sophomores were know how to produce points. Riggs led the squad with 10 goals and 25 assists last year in 27 games, while Goffredo had 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points in the same amount of games.

Expected to help out up front are three freshmen. Bryan Cantor has looked good in the early going so far, and has Alaskan Bryan Cantor, Kris Threkeld, and Thomas McAleer should all see a regular shift.

“I think those kids up front our going to give us a nice little addition. They should be able to pick up some of the slack from the kids who graduated. They’ll all fine players,” their coach stated.

On defense, sophomores Billy Pescosolido and Erik Trahan are back, and junior Christopher Brecken returns as well. Although Brecken is listed at 5’6”, 155 lbs.; his coach feels his play is bigger than that.

“He’s been an outstanding player. Small in size, but boy, is he tough.”

Fuller is one of the many coaches who sees how deep the league has become.

“I think there’s a lot of good depth. A lot of teams are pretty much on the same page.”

Player to Watch: Matt Arsenault. Extremely deceptive with good skills, has the ability to break a game open at any time.

Framingham State College

At Framingham State College, coach Chris Heaney is about to get behind the bench for his fourth season. Returning are co-captains Jeremy Schmidt, a junior forward who had seven goals and seven assists last year, as well as junior defenseman Joshua Williams.

In goal, look for juniors Andy Joyce and Ryan Shelley to see plenty of action, with sophomore Terence Sullivan standing by.

Key newcomers on offense include Michael Carroll, who had an outstanding year at Trinity-Pawling School last year, as well as forwards Michael Colleran, Nick Jackson, Aran Ward, and the Vallaincourt brothers, Jon and Charles.

On defense, freshman Brian Lawson will be counted on to dish out assists. He had 48 of them last year for the Hampton Roads Junior Whalers of the Continental Hockey Association (CHA). His teammate last year joins him at FSC, and Corey Chaney will be looked upon to help as well. Chaney had a mere 46 assists last year. Tommy Manning will also see plenty of time on the blue-line as well.

Player to Watch: Ryan Shelley. The tall goalie started his career at UMaine four years ago, but could not crack the line-up in his two seasons there.