Rolli Hits Milestone, Prepares for Playoffs
With the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouthâ€™s 4-2 victory over Johnson & Wales Saturday night, coach John Rolli earned his 500th victory. In his typical fashion, he downplayed the milestone.
â€œItâ€™s a longevity milestone, I think,â€ chuckled the affable coach. â€œWeâ€™ve had great players and great teams over the years. Weâ€™ve made the ECAC playoffs for 27 consecutive seasons, and UMass-Dartmouth teams have won 11 ECAC championships.â€
When asked to think back about some of those great players, Rolli pondered his answer.
â€œI think if you look at the history of UMass-Dartmouth, weâ€™ve had outstanding goaltending. I would say that would be the number one position that stands out. From a Bobby Silvia back in the 1980s who in two years had 43 wins and 3 losses, to the tandem weâ€™ve had playing this year in Jeff Green and Jon Dryjowicz-Burek, or Scott Pearsons, who played in the 1980s with 11 career shutouts. Weâ€™ve just had great goaltending.â€
Pearsons would later join Rolli behind the bench as an assistant coach for three seasons and was part of the 1993 ECAC championship team.
That great goaltending has benefited from solid defense.
â€œBack in the eighties, we had a fellow named Steve McDonald from Gloucester,â€ Rolli remembered, â€œand he was truly one of those players who slipped through the cracks that teams at the higher levels of college hockey missed out on. We had a defenseman in the nineties from Malden named Bobby Carroll who was a J. Thom Lawler Award recipient.â€
The award is presented in memory of the late J. Thom Lawler, who served as head coach and director of athletics at Merrimack College and led them to the NCAA Division II championship in 1978.
Rolli has had other players win it more recently, as well. Last year, senior defenseman Tyler Crocker was named the recipient of the award, which is presented to an NCAA Division II or III hockey player in New England each season. Senior forward Eric Frank of the Corsairs won the award in 2006.
Rolli, who began with the Corsairs in 1984, also recalled some of his former offensive stars.
â€œWith the forwards, you have a guy like Bill Kewer, who scored 117 goals in 77 career games. Brian Holmes, who played with Kewer, and is our all-time point leader with 206 career points. He came to use from Mt. Saint Charles.â€
Holmes was no stranger to successful ice hockey programs, and was an outstanding player for the Corsairs as a 5-7, 150 pound center who was considered too small for everyone else.
Also playing with Kewer and Holmes was their line mate Bill Kennedy, who in four years at Dartmouth played on teams that went 89-14-1, with a .861 winning percentage.
Rolli also remembered another player, forward Peter Barbagallo.
â€œBack in 1985, he was Division III Player of the Year, on a national level. Back then, they gave out a Division I, a Division II, and a Division III winner. The Division I winner was Tom Kurvers from Minnesota who played with the New Jersey Devils. The Division II winner was Joel Otto from Bemidji, who played with Calgary.
â€œWe could fill up lists of goaltenders and defensemen and forwards, but theyâ€™ve been part of great teams, and thatâ€™s why they had individual success, also.â€
While it may be nice for Rolli to stop and reflect on the past 25 years, heâ€™s more concerned with winning another championship, and that process begins on Saturday afternoon at 4:30 when Rolli and the Corsairs host Dean Fuller and Fitchburg State.
Fuller began coaching in 1984, and just like Rolli, has amassed an impressive rÃ©sumÃ©. His overall record now stands at 427-221-42, and while he may be a few years shy of getting number 500, Rolli is taking nothing for granted.
â€œUMass-Dartmouth and Fitchburg have a long history and rivalry. Weâ€™ve had our share of wins against them, and theyâ€™ve had their share of wins against us. Fitchburg and UMass-Dartmouth is the ECAC Northeast equivalent of the Bruins and the Canadians.â€
The two squads have played each other twice this year, with Fitchburg winning 3-0 in early December, and then in late January both teams played to a tie, which Rolli feels his team was fortunate to get.
â€œThey really took it to us. It was a very fortunate 2-2 tie for UMass-Dartmouth. Theyâ€™ve played very well since then, theyâ€™re a sound team in all facets. It should be a great game, with two very evenly matched teams. Itâ€™s clearly the toughest draw in the quarterfinal round of the Northeast.â€
One goal Rolli and his troops have in mind is to finish out their last season in the ECAC Northeast by making some history.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got an opportunity that no other team in the Northeast has ever had, and thatâ€™s a chance to win four consecutive championships. Certainly, there is huge motivation for this team. Weâ€™ve had great fortune in the playoffs at Hetland Arena. It should be a real vibrant and exciting atmosphere on Saturday. This is the best time of the year.â€
Needless to say, it will also be a rare night when two coaches with well over 900 wins, collectively, face-off against each other.
Of course, there will be three other series in the ECAC NE facing off as well.
Nichols College had a near perfect season with a 16-1-0 league record to earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Bison are currently ranked 14th in the NCAA Division III East Regional Poll, and will host No. 8 Westfield State College in the quarterfinals on Saturday, February 28 at 7:45 p.m. First year member Westfield State won seven of its first nine games and finished the season at 11-8-4 overall and 7-7-3 in Northeast play.
Curry College, currently ranked 15th in the NCAA Division III East Regional Poll, finished the season with a 15-1-1 record to earn the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Colonels finished the year with the most potent offense in the league with 99 goals, an average of 5.82 per game. Winners of their last six games, Curry will host No. 7 Johnson & Wales University on Saturday, February 28 at 4:35 p.m. The Wildcats finished the year with an 8-7-2 league record and a 9-13-3 overall record.
Wentworth Institute of Technology earns the number three seed by way of ECAC Northeast League tiebreaking criteria (head-to-head results). The Leopards defeated UMass Dartmouth, 4-1, on February 12t. Wentworth skates into the playoffs riding an eight game winning streak, and a 13-3-1 league record, 16-7-1 mark overall.
The Leopards will host No. 6 Becker College on Sunday, March 1 at 2:00 p.m. Becker finished the season with a 9-7-1 league record and a 11-13-1 overall record, but has had a rough month, going 1-2-1.
In the Northeast 10, the playoff picture is set. St. Anselm and Southern New Hampshire University get a first round bye. SNHU is unbeaten in their last three games. In the quarterfinals, Stonehill travels to Franklin Pierce, who has had very tough stretch lately, losing their last nine games. Assumption looks to snap their own three game losing streak when they host Saint Michaelâ€™s on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.