After upsetting two of the most offensively talented teams in the conference in RPI and Yale during the first two weekends of the ECAC Hockey tournament, the 3-0 loss suffered by Brown in the opening semifinal of the championship weekend was understandably disappointing.
Still, the Bears have a lot to look forward to as first-year coach Brendan Whittet works to bring the program back to a level of attention and prominence it has not experienced since he played well over a decade ago.
“I played at Brown,” started the playoff-bearded coach, “and had some really good success, and the amount of e-mails and well-wishes and people that are checking in, believe me, there’s a lot more of it than at the beginning of the year where we’re struggling. Our goal is to get this team back to the level it was when I played and to win championships. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch. I mean this run is nice, but again it’s going to be progress.”
Nearly every returning player on the Bears roster put forth a career-best performance in 2009-10. Many improved their numbers so dramatically that one has to think it must be the coaching. Junior Harry Zolnierczyk had only five points through his first two seasons before he exploded for 31 this campaign. Jack Maclellan, who has led this year’s edition of Brown hockey with 34 points, was coming off a freshman year in which he had been on the scoresheet but six times.
“We’re a program that was unbelievably down when I got there,” Whittet said matter-of-factly. “We had to change the mentality and the culture and lay the foundation for what’s going to lead to success. It paid dividends I thought as the season wore on. We’re a streaky team but we have definitively improved from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. And I thought that was spelled out with the way we were able to play down the stretch.”
Senior tri-captains Devin Timberlake, Aaron Volpatti, and Jordan Pietrus each nearly doubled his previous career scoring numbers just this year alone. And that with Pietrus having missed all of February and March up until his return Friday afternoon. The same can be said of the likes of Bobby Farnham, Jesse Fratkin, and Jarred Smith as well.
“When Coach Whittet and the new coaching staff came in, they brought a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to Brown,” Pietrus said. “[He] played at Brown and bringing that pride back is very exciting. We grew as a team and, unfortunately, I only got to play one year with [him] because I think they are going to do some big things here in the near future.”
“My senior class was just an unbelievable group of guys and were instrumental in helping to turn this program around,” said Whittet. “We want to have momentum going into next year, but it’s going to be a different team. We’re losing some really good hockey players. Every year is different, different chemistry.”
Brown has not only improved on offense, but also has taken on a defensive style that Whittet says is the same used by Cornell under Mike Schafer.
“I just like the way they play,” Whittet said with admiration. “They’re big and strong and they possess pucks. When I played for Bob Gaudet at Brown, we played a 1-3-1 [defensive setup] and that’s what we play now. It’s something that I have always felt is an effective system. I think it’s very accountable. If we want to play in-your-face hockey, I think it’s the way to go.”