New rinks and healthy starts

A Grand Opening
The pieces were in place. And when the lights went on, the results were there, as Plymouth State christened its new arena at Hanaway Rink with a convincing 6-0 win over Southern New Hampshire Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 900.

“It might have even been a little over capacity,” first year Panthers coach Craig Russell said. “They were electric from the beginning. Every time we had a down moment, you could sense them picking us up, and we were able to feed off that.”

The on-campus arena is a change from the Panthers’ previous home, which was at Waterville Valley Ice Arena, a 20-minute drive from campus and which simply didn’t have the capacity to support crowds like the one Saturday.

“There was a lot of hype leading up to the opener and the night was pretty awesome,” Russell said.

Those in attendance included New Hampshire governor John Lynch, the university president, dean, and board of trustees.

The game featured several festivities, including a ceremonial opening puck drop by former University System of New Hampshire Trustee Merle Schotanus, the announcement of “Pemi” as the new name for the Panthers mascot, a pep band, and a light and sound show for the Panthers team.

“He was always pro-hockey,” Russell said of Schotanus. “It was nice to see him recognized.”

The design process for the arena began in the fall of 2008, with construction starting in April 2009. In addition to serving as the home for both Plymouth State hockey teams, it’s open for student recreation as well as community skating.

In his first year as head coach, Russell is looking to spread awareness of his program in the community. So far, the Panthers have helped out local youth hockey teams and sponsored a charity cancer fundraiser.
Russell said this outreach is something new this season, and coupled with the new arena, should create some excitement around the team.

“Word is definitely spreading faster, not that it wasn’t before,” he said. “The arena is more available to the student body then before. [With the lack of dignitaries] at future games, I’d anticipate at least half of the attendance to be made up of students.”

A Healthy Start to the Season
It’s early, but already things are looking up Nichols.

For starters, the Bisons are healthy, a season after losing eight key players to injury for a combined 58 games. In addition, current senior captain Will Munson gutted out a painful injury to play in 26 games, but still managed to put up 27 points for the year.

“It’s amazing. We went through just a dismal year last year with all the injuries,” Nichols coach Lou Izzi said following his team’s season opening 4-4 tie at Westfield State last Friday. “We have everybody healthy, which is a great sign, and we can roll four lines and put out six of our “D,” and I think we have a lot of strengths this year if we can just stay healthy.”

Despite the injuries, the Bisons still managed to finish with a 13-10-3 mark and grab fifth place with a 7-6-1 record before losing to Becker in the ECAC Northeast quarterfinals.

If all stays true to form, this year’s team could challenge the success of the 2008-2009 squad, which posted a 25-4 record en route to capturing the regular season and conference championship title, along with its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. The Bisons graduated only two seniors while bringing in six freshman, including forward Greg Strootman, who skated on the top line in Friday’s opener, recording an assist along with several blocked shots.

Strootman comes to Nichols from the New York Apple Core of the EJHL and will look to make major contributions during his opening campaign.

“We thought he was going to be a good player, but he’s done so much more than that,” Izzi said. “He’s done everything, power play, penalty kill. He’s going to be a key player for us all year and I would just expect him to keep getting better and better.”

In all, four freshman suited up for Nichols Friday, combining for three assists.

“I have a pretty good feeling; I’ve been doing this for a long time,” said Izzi, who is in his seventh season at Nichols after spending six years at Johnson and Wales. “This is probably one of the teams I’m most excited about. I like our chemistry. I like the way our lines flow. I like our defense; they move the puck and they’re quick. I think right now we are in a good place to keep getting better. I think as long as we work to stay focused and work hard, we’ll be O.K.”

Weekly Honors
ECAC Northeast

Player of the Week: Jeremiah Ketts, Johnson and Wales.
The junior forward posted a hat trick and two assists in the Wildcats 8-1 win over Franklin Pierce Friday after adding an assist in Johnson and Wales’ season opening loss to Stonehill earlier in the week.

Goalie of the Week: Jacob Rinn, Nichols.
The junior stopped 43 shots in the season-opening 4-4 tie at Westfield State. Rinn turned away 22 shots alone in the third period and gave up three goals courtesy of two power plays and a penalty shot.

Rookie of the Week: John Kelley, Western New England
Kelly scored the first two goals of his career, including the game-winner with 34 seconds left in overtime, as Western New England College opened its season with a thrilling 6-5 victory over Westfield State.

Honor Roll: Korby Anderson, Becker College and Jeff Rose, Suffolk.
Anderson, a freshman forward, scored two goals and added three assists in a 1-1-1 week for the Hawks. Rose, a senior goalie, turned away 21 shots in a 1-0 win over Stonehill.

Loose Pucks
As always, any comments or questions can be e-mailed to me. Again, still looking for any interested parties to serve as an arena reporter for any of the ECAC Northeast or MASCAC teams.