Most coaches with a team in the thick of the hunt would be content in that position, but for veteran University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth coach John Rolli, who fully understands the depth of talent in the ECAC NE, heâ€™s a bit pragmatic.
â€œWell, weâ€™re just hanging in there, literally. Last night against a very game Worcester State team, we won 2-1, but they gave us everything we could handle. This is a tough, tough, league.â€
Rolli is very impressed with how teams from the ECAC NE have fared against opponents from other conferences.
â€œWhen a Suffolk beats a UMass-Boston, when a Plymouth State beats a New England College, when a Curry beats a Middlebury, when a UMass Dartmouth beats a Colby, right on down [the line],â€ Rolli said. â€œWhen a Wentworth takes two from Fredonia, I donâ€™t know what the teams in this league can do to prove our mettle, but certainly itâ€™s happened a number of times this season.â€
â€œItâ€™s a great league, and right now weâ€™re in a dog fight with Johnson and Wales, and Westfield and Fitchburg all fighting for the last home playoff spot,â€ the man who has spent a quarter of a century behind the Corsairs bench remarked. â€œWith Nichols undefeated, Wentworth undefeated [at press time] and Curry undefeated all in the league, itâ€™s tough.â€
When pressed about his teamâ€™s performance, Rolli still maintains his stance.
â€œWeâ€™ve just been barely hanging in there, to be honest with you. Becker took us to overtime earlier in the season. Stonehill was a one goal game and we scored an empty netter. Weâ€™ve had to battle for our wins.â€
One aspect of the Corsairs play that has encouraged Rolli is the goaltending duo of Jon Dryjowicz-Burek and Jeff Green. Both have been stellar, and Rolli feels that they have carried the team thus far. He is using them on a regular rotation, and right now Green, a senior, is 5-2-0, while the junior Dryjowicz-Burek is 3-2-1.
Both also have a shutout so far. For the Corsairs to contend for their unprecedented fourth straight title, they will need to have the consistency in net over the second half of the campaign that they have received in the first half.
The Corsairs went into the break with an overall record of 6-4-1, and have won the last two games. The line-up received a boost recently with the return of Joe Hill, a sophomore forward who suffered a preseason injury.
As a freshman last year, the native of Newburyport, Mass. averaged more than a point per game with 15 goals, 21 assists, and 36 points in 28 games. Also back from injury is freshman forward Rob Dudley.
â€œThose are two good offensive players,â€ Rolli said, â€œand we hope that their addition to the line-up will help spark us and score a few more goals.â€
The veteran coach feels as though heâ€™s getting what he expected from the others on the team.
â€œPretty much, the veterans on this team who have been through the wars over the past year, or two years, or three years, certainly they understand their responsibilities. The new guys are all chipping in, so have a pretty good balance of veterans and new players. Plus, weâ€™ve just got great goaltending, and thatâ€™s going to be our calling card all season.â€
One of the new players Rolli referred to is freshman Giancarlo Capodanno, out of the New Jersey Rockets in the AJHL. In 13 games, he has five goals and three assists so far. One of the Corsairâ€™s veterans who have stood out is senior forward Chris Shore.
â€œHeâ€™s been our most consistent offensive performer all season long,â€ Rolli stated. â€œHeâ€™s just a going concern every time he touches the ice.â€
Shore leads the team in scoring with 6-5-11 in 13 games.
Also pitching in for UMass-Dartmouth is sophomore defensemen Mickey Dudley, who leads the team in assists with eight. An All-Rookie team selection last year, one of his assists was on younger brother Robâ€™s first collegiate goal in a recent win over Assumption.
Contributing up front as well is sophomore forward Billy Manning, who has four goals, two of which have been game winners, and two on the power play — a troublesome spot for the Corsairs so far as they currently rank second to last in the conference on the man advantage.
Rolli could soon find himself in very elite company, as he is closing in on 500 wins. He currently has 492, and needs eight wins in his final 12 games to hit the milestone. He entered the season ranked 18th in all-time wins amongst his coaching brethren. His .778 winning percentage is also the highest in the history of college hockey.
This is something Rolli never brings up, though, and he would just as soon talk about how strong the ECAC NE has gotten, in what will be the last year he competes in it, before going to the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference (MASCAC) next year.
â€œThe eight teams that make the playoffs will certainly have worked hard to get into the playoffs. Whoeverâ€™s standing at the endâ€™s going to have a few bumps and bruises. I canâ€™t state enough what some of the teams in our league have done against some the bigger boys in division three hockey. I think thatâ€™s the story, what the ECAC NE has done in inter-league play.â€
Plenty of non-conference tilts this weekend: Lebanon Valley visits UMass-Dartmouth on Friday and Nichols the next night, Johnson & Wales is at Buffalo State, Potsdam hosts Western New England College Friday and Saturday, Cortland travels to New Hampshire to play Plymouth State (at the Tilton School) both nights, and Brockport is at Framingham State on both evenings … UMass-Dartmouth visits UMass Boston on Tuesday … Westfield State has the top two scorers in the conference in sophomore center Dennis Zak and freshman forward Pat Nelson. Zak has 14-13-27 and Nelson is right behind him with 9-16-25. Both have played in all 13 games … Zak is third in the nation in D-III scoring while Nelson is fifth … Nelson leads all freshman in scoring nationwide trailed by Wentworthâ€™s Skylur Jameson … Dryjowicz-Burekâ€™s save percentage of .944 is the third best in the country … Not only does Wentworth have the best power play in the nation, but they also have the best penalty killing … Seven of UMass Dartmouthâ€™s last nine conference games are on the road.