The Golden Knights were positively wracked by injuries last season, and found themselves at 3-13-4 before cobbling together their only consecutive victories of the season in a false-hope-feeding four-game win streak. The season had effectively ended long before its formal termination, a defenseless double-drubbing by Union in the Dutchmen’s first-ever playoff series triumph.
Junior Scott Freeman led the squad in scoring with 29 points, but recent alumni Chris D’Alvise and Shea Guthrie led the team with 13 goals apiece. Senior Matt Beca is the only returning player to tally 10 goals last year. Rookie goaltenders Paul Karpowich and Richie LeVeau each mustered better than .900 save percentages despite their team’s hapless offense, and look good for a fierce competition for minutes this autumn.
Last year’s team took the stage with a lot of promise and a lot of unproven talent, but the curtain fell with nothing proven and no promises fulfilled. The pieces are still there this year, and the group has the potential to surprise the league a la last year’s young Dartmouth side, should the pucks start bouncing right for George Roll’s squad.
“Obviously, the seniors we lost were extremely skilled players,” said the fifth-year head coach, “and they put up good numbers. I think two of them [Guthrie and D’Alvise] were 100-point producers. That’s the biggest thing we lose with that class graduating: their skill level. That being said, I’m really confident that the guys who are returning can pick up the slack.
“The sophomores that were freshmen last year, I think they have the ability to make the jump that our junior class did last year with Freeman, [forward Lauri] Tuohimaa, [forward Brandon] DeFazio … they had very good sophomore years. So if they can make that same jump that those guys did, it should compensate for the losses.
Regarding last year’s disappointment, “[injuries] were a big part of it, but I certainly think we had chemistry issues in terms of commitment and a lot of other things that go into it,” Roll said. “I don’t see those things this year; we’ve only been going at it … for a month, but it seems they’re extremely focused and all on the same page. I don’t know if we had that last year. Injuries were a part of it, but certainly only a part of it. It’s a new year, and I think we all learned from last year.”
Up front, Roll doesn’t foresee the same dead-puck doldrums that plagued the punchless Knights in 2008-09.
“I think we’re good. We’re fairly young in all areas of our lineup, but I think we have three good scoring lines,” he said. “There’s not a lot of difference between our top line and our third line, and our fourth line will be a very good checking line and energy line. I think we were one of the lowest-scoring teams in Clarkson history last year — I’m not going to attribute everything to the chemistry aspect, but I think that’s a big part of it. Teams that are on the same page and all pulling in the same direction are going to have success. To me, that’s going to be our strength this year. Every team goes through it, every team loses players, and that’s part of the process. Other guys step up, and that’s where we’re at.”
The chemistry issues to which Roll referred ate at him as last season wore on, and just as players mature with experience, so do coaches.
“As a coach, clearly I need to be more demanding of my players and not as leniant,” Roll said. “I think sometimes you make decisions based on your heart instead of your common sense, and I think I should have done a better job of being tougher on the players and holding them more accountable. From the moment last season ended, we made some changes in that area, and the players realize that and I think they’ve responded to it.”
On defense, Roll feels equally confident about a bounce-back campaign.
“Last year, with the injuries to Phil [Paquet] and Ty [Mason], they were never 100 percent the entire year,” Roll said. “We’re going to be young back there. We only have one senior who because of injuries hasn’t played a whole lot, so we are young back there. But again, I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and we have a couple of guys back there in [sophomore Mark] Borowiecki and [junior Bryan] Rufenach who, in my opinion, can be two of the better defensemen in the league and they’ll see a lot of minutes. If we can stay healthy back there, we’ll be fine.”
In net, Roll shed a little light on what had been a bothersome downward trend in Karpowich’s game last season.
“The freshman [Cody] Rosen, in time, will push [Karpowich and Leveau],” Roll said. “Paul had a very good freshman year but kind of slipped at the end, and I think that’s primarily because he broke his hand at the Ohio State tournament and played with a cast the rest of the year. People didn’t know that, but it certainly affected his play.
“We have confidence in all three guys, and I think Paul’s going to have a breakout year for us, again as long as we can stay away from the injuries. Knock on wood, so far we’ve been good; at this time last year we had three players out already and we hadn’t even been on the ice yet.”
The one thing that does concern Roll is numbers, but that will only work to the rookie class’ advantage.
“I think they have to [compete for starting roles],” he said. “Given our situation right now, we don’t have a lot of depth. We only have seven defensemen and 14 forwards, so yeah, everybody’s going to play and get ice time. For me to sit here and tell you who’s going to make an impact and who isn’t, I’m not sure right now. Some guys will adjust quicker than others, but we feel good about this class and I think they’re all going to get opportunities because of our depth situation.”