ECAC East/NESCAC – Christmas Wish List – December 15, 2010

T’was ten days before Christmas, and all through the rink, no games were they playing so the Zamboni did sleep.

The skates were hung in the locker with care in the hopes that the new calendar soon would be here.

And coaches with game films, more analysis you see, are hoping Santa leaves the gift that they want most, under the tree.

So, what to their wondering eyes should appear but a topical writer with gifts of good cheer.

For it is a most wonderful season filled with merriment and mirth, but for some icemen the first half of the season also lacked worth.

So let me look into my giant hockey bag filled assorted things and find just what your team is looking for in time before the next anthem sings.

So for each of the conferences, I below do propose, some things to make better, some right under their nose. I play no favorites, it’s not Santa’s way, so heed my suggestions and better you will play!

ECAC East Wish List – teams in alphabetical order

Babson – At 4-4-0 overall and 3-2-0 in conference, the Beavers are looking for more consistency in output from some key players on the roster.  Returning redshirt forward Jason Schneider has just three points in the team’s first eight games while forward Terry Woods has been snakebit, posting only three assists in the opening games of the season.  The power play has been great at 32 percent, but Zeke Testa and Andrew Peabody should improve on their combined .895 save percentage and 3.62 goals against average in the first half.

So far this season, winning back-to-back games has been a challenge, and the second period seems to cause Babson some trouble, as they are a -7 goal differential and -35 in shots in the middle stanza this season.  The Beavers open the second half with former ECAC East rival Salem State, so look for Jamie Rice’s squad to get hot when it counts after the New Year.

Castleton – At 6-2-0 overall and 3-2-0 in league play, the Spartans come into the break riding a big high from the first half in winning their Thanksgiving tournament and upsetting Norwich in overtime in Northfield last weekend.  Special teams, which have been a problem in past seasons, are on a roll, so Coach Alex Todd hopes that Santa doesn’t take away from the man-advantage group and the success of Josh Harris (4-11-15) and Stuart Stefan (5-7-12).  The Spartans have also been stingy on defense, surrendering just 19 goals so far, and goaltender Seth McNary (2.55 GAA) has been solid.  Castleton is 3-0-0 on the road this season and they will need to be solid away from home, as the next six games are away, including the St.Michael’s Tournament to open the second half. A second piece of hardware would definitely be a nice thing to find in January to keep building this team’s confidence.

Mass.-Boston – Off to a great start at 6-2-0 overall and 3-2-0 in the conference, the Beacons have been getting balanced scoring and have Eric Tufman again leading the way offensively.  While the power play has been effective at 20 percent, coach Belisle would surely appreciate a little help from the jolly old elf himself in tinkering with the PK unit to improve on the 75 percent kill rate so far.  They say your best penalty killer should be your goalie, so look for Thomas Speer and Kevin Bendel to up the save percentage in the second half.

The Beacons won the PAL Cup over Thanksgiving and now set their sights on winning their own Codfish Bowl right after Christmas.  It’s a challenging field with Assumption, Fitchburg State and Wentworth in the mix.  The Beacons will look to really jump out fast in the New Year with four home games to open the second half and build on the first half momentum.

New England College –A 2-4-0 record overall and 1-3-0 in the league is not where coach Tom Carroll wants his Pilgrims sitting at this point in the season.  The Pilgrims need goals – having scored just 22 in the opening six games – from other players besides Niko Uola (6-1-7).  Special teams have been OK and a better PK wouldn’t hurt matters, including helping senior goalie Aaron Harvey cut down his current 3.59 GAA.

The Pilgrims are 0-2-0 on the road this season, so a little Christmas magic to get them going away from Henniker would certainly help with five straight games on the road to start the New Year,  including the Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh with the host school along with Neumann, and Curry. No easy games in that group but it could be the jump start NEC needs to get it going.

UNEThe Christmas list is fairly obvious when you are 1-6-0 over all and winless in the conference.  A win or two would surely make the season bright and to do that the Nor’easters are going to need to score more than the 11 total goals they have in their first seven games.  Three players have two goals apiece to lead UNE but they are going to need to improve all facets of their game to have success in the conference.  Last year’s standout goaltender Mike Roper would definitely like to improve on his .866 save percentage and 5.70 GAA.  To do that, his teammates are going to need to tighten up the team defense and get better on special teams, a big list for Santa but hey, that is a big sleigh he’s got there to move all the presents around.

UNE opens the second half at the PSC Invitational at their new rink along with Becker and Salve Regina from the ECAC Northeast.  Opening the games with solid first periods would help UNE carry some momentum into the rest of the game so look for faster starts from Coach Holt’s team.

Norwich – The defending national champions are unbeaten in league play with only a 2-2 tie with Amherst blemishing their conference schedule.  At 5-2-1 overall, the Cadets have shown that Alex Dubois is capable of filling the big skates left by the graduated Ryan Klingensmith – a 1.49 GAA and .934 save percentage are stellar by anyone’s standard.  No Santa may be looking to get some super sophs firing on all cylinders, and its not Scott Schroeder and Pier Olivier-Cotnoir he’s looking for, since they lead the team in scoring.  Kyle Thomas and Blake Forkey have combined for just eight points this season, so any production near where they left off last year is only going to make Norwich a more dangerous and balanced team.

The penalty kill could be a bit better for coach McShane’s troops and they will need it, with Nichols, Adrian and Manhattanville coming to Northfield for the Northfield Bank Tournament over New Year’s.

St. Anselm – Coach Seney’s team is 3-3-0 overall and just 2-3-0 in the league where they finished a surprise second a year ago with much the same cast.  Last year’s Player of the Year Coleman Noonan is averaging a point a game but is off the pace that saw him score in all situations last season.  Among the leaders in the nation in short-handed goals last year, the Hawks have none this season to date.

Robert Kang (.924 SP, 2.35 GAA) has played well in goal and can hopefully help the Hawks to find some good home cooking after the holidays.  St. A’s is 0-2-0 so far on home ice this season, so look for a turnaround there in the second half.

St. Michael’s –A very up and down first half saw the Purple Knights win their first three games, outscoring opponents by a 16-3 margin.  The next three games were losses where they could only score three goals total.  They closed the first half with a win to break the three-game losing streak and enter the break at 4-3-0 overall and 2-3-0 in the conference.  St. Mike’s really is looking for the defensive tightening tool from Santa to cut down on the goals against and support goalie Mike Diagun (.886 SP, 4.07 GAA) in getting back to the way they started the season.

The Purple Knights host their own tournament to start the second half as the first of four straight at home – a win streak would be a nice stocking stuffer for coach Davidson and the team.

Skidmore – After eight games, the Thoroughbreds would normally be happy with a four-goal-per-game average offensively – if only they weren’t surrendering nearly five against through the first half.  A wild OT win at home against Bowdoin showcased the offensive talent in building a 6-2 lead only to see Bowdoin come back with four unanswered goals in the third period to force overtime where Skidmore won the game 7-6.  Coach Sinclair likes the uptempo game but has always emphasized solid team defense – something that needs to get better in the second half.

Goalies Bessey and Ross are much better than their sub-.900 save percentage numbers, so look for players like Nick Dupuis and Alex Myolenko to help get the Thoroughbreds off and running away from home ice where they play their next four games.

Southern Maine – The Huskies have traditionally been a team that starts slow and gets very hot at exactly the right time of the season. Could coach Beaney be wishing for the same with this year’s team, or is it an unprecedented sweep of his brother’s Middlebury team on January 4th in Vermont – I say it’s a Christmas list ask for everything you want.

Well on the top of the list for the Huskies should be a power play – at just 9 percent, the man advantage squad isn’t helping the offense much and more importantly the penalty kill at 76 percent is digging a deeper hole in front of freshman Braely Torris (.924 SP, 2.54 GAA) who has assumed the number one role in goal.  Defenseman Paul Conter leads the team in scoring but will need Dan Rautenberg and Zach Joy to get hot and get a struggling offense jump started.

NESCAC Wish List – teams in alphabetical order

AmherstThe Lord Jeffs have had great success with exceptional goaltending, special teams and timely scoring. At 4-2-1 overall and 3-0-1 in the conference the formula seems to be working again for coach Jack Arena.  Cole Anderson is up to his usual tricks in goal for Amherst and the penalty kill is ridiculous at 94 percent, but the power play is a pedestrian 18 percent by Amherst standards and the team has just 25 goals in the first seven games.  Santa, can you bring some red lights to hang above the opposition net where Amherst starts at home for the next five games, including the McCabe Tournament that has been moved from its usual November date to open the second half among NESCAC’s Connecticut troika and Amherst.

The Lord Jeffs finish the regular season with four straight on the road, so getting points early and often in January and February will help keep them near the top of the NESCAC standings.

Bowdoin – The Polar Bears are rocking upfront, led by senior Kyle Shearer-Hardy, who has a realistic shot at hitting the 100 point plateau for his career.  Off to a 6-1-0 overall record and 4-1-0 in the conference, Bowdoin comes off a rare two-game sweep of rival Colby before the break.  Coach Meagher always says to give his team a save percentage of .900 or better and they will be in the hunt.  Santa, if you are listening the address is Brunswick, Maine where the coach would like to see collective .889 save percentage and 3.53 goals-against average improve a lot in January.

The power play has been killer at 38 percent and the team has taken a liking to “The Sid,” where home ice has been very favorable to the Polar Bears, who open with Wentworth, Norwich and St. Michael’s in the second half.

Colby – A little puck luck for coach Tortorella’s squad would be  a welcome present under the tree.  The White Mules are 2-5-1 overall and 1-3-1 in league play.  Four of the team’s losses are by just one goal, so either increasing the scoring behind the likes of Billy Crinnion and Michael Smigelski or getting Cody McKinney (.874 SP, 3.73 GAA) to improve on his numbers won’t take much to put Colby on the plus side of the scoreboard.

Unlike rival Bowdoin, Colby has not fared well on home ice so far this season, going 0-3-0 in the first half.  They open up in January with a familiar foe in Salem State and will need to get things going in front of the home crowd.

Conn College – The Camels have improved dramatically on last year’s terrible start, going 3-3-0 overall and 3-2-0 in league play.  Some help with the special teams would be a welcome gift as would some offensive balance to support the great start to the season from Sean Curran, who already has a third of the teams goals and over 20 percent of the total points.  Andrew Margolin (.895 SP, 3.60GAA) has stepped in for Greg Parker in goal and has been good, but needs to be better in league play starting with the McCabe Tournament at Amherst as part of five straight road games for the Camels.

Conn College has tasted the playoffs over the past three seasons and this team is hungry to get back there. Keep them hungry Santa – easy on the sugar cookies.

Hamilton – The Continentals are looking for consistency to break the win-one, lose-one pattern they have opened the season with in route to a 4-3-0 overall record and 2-2-0 conference record.  Goalie Scott Heffernan (.927 SP, 2.50 GAA) has been solid and would benefit from a little more offensive production.  Freshman Michael DiMare leads the team with four goals while twelve other players have contributed one apiece in the first half.

The Pathfinder Tournament hosted by number one ranked Oswego along with Hobart and Wisconsin-Stevens Point will get Hamilton’s attention quickly to open the second half and success in that tournament will need better special teams play from both the power play (15 percent) and penalty kill (81 percent) units.

Middlebury – Talk about a Christmas wish list – please bring some goals.  The Panthers have struggled at 2-4-0 overall and 1-3-0 in the league by scoring only 15 goals in the first six games – seven of which came in the final game before the break, a 7-1 win at UNE.  Talented goal scorer Martin Drolet has only played in four games but has just one point and will need to lead the offense in finding the back of the net.  The defense has been good and so has the goaltending of John Yanchek and Nick Bon Durant – just a few more goals will change things around for the Panthers.

Kenyon Arena has always been a big advantage for the Panthers – the large ice sheet benefiting their style of play.  So far this year, Middlebury is 0-2-0 at home, having been outscored by an 8-3 margin.  The schedule has 11 home games remaining, including the last five regular season games.  A rocking Kenyon Arena will mean good things for the Panthers.

Trinity – Like Middlebury, Trinity is uncharacteristically looking up at the league leaders, going just 2-4-0 overall and1-3-0 in the league.  With just 12 goals in their first six games, the Bantams have three players accounting for two-thirds of the offense – not something that will serve them well in the second half.  Proven scorer Paul Jaskot has played only one game so far so a return to health and point production should help the offense.

Santa, if you have any special-teams magic left in the sack, please send it down to Hartford.  The Bantams are a dismal 7 percent on the power play and not much better on the penalty kill at 76 percent.  These areas are not always easy to fix, but coach Cataruzolo will be looking to see improvement when the team heads off to Amherst to face the familiar NESCAC opponents in the McCabe Tournament.

Tufts A 3-0 shutout at Middlebury got the Jumbos off to a great start and they finished the first half at 4-3-1 overall and 3-2-0 in the conference.  As expected, Tom Derosa (5-9-14) is leading the offense and Evan Koleini has had to fill-in for goaltender Scott Barchard, who when healthy is among the very best in the league.  The Jumbos will need to cut down on the goals against and come out stronger in the second period of play, where they have been outscored and outshot all season.

While they open the second half on the road, the games are right in the backyard against ECAC East opponents Mass.-Boston and Babson.  Tufts has the talent to contend in the league this year and staying healthy gives them the best shot to surprise some of the traditional NESCAC powerhouses.

WesleyanThere seems to be a common theme among the teams looking up in the standings.  Wesleyan, like several other squads, desperately needs some offense.  Santa can you help out a team that averages just two goals per game?  Freshmen Nik Tasipoulous, Keith Beuhler and Tommy Hartnett lead the Cardinals in scoring with 50 percent of the team’s total.  Look for forwards like Tom Salah to improve on his first half total of one assist and contribute to some increased offensive production.

Special teams could be better and Wesleyan will quickly find out if this team is road ready in the second half.  Coach Potter likes to play an opportunistic brand of hockey based on solid play in the defensive end.  Look for the goalie combination of Stowall and Hadge to better their combined save percentage of .897 and help make things easier for the offense.

WilliamsFor most teams that have played the Ephs, they are hoping Santa brings lumps of coal.  Afterall, a 7-0-1 start overall and 4-0-0 in the conference finds them playing solid hockey in all three zones, outscoring opponents by a whopping 38-8 margin.  So what could Santa bring to coach Kangas’ team you ask?  How about continued good health for Ryan Purdy (.957 save percentage, 0.99 GAA) and an improved power play.  At just 13 percent, the power play may be the only area that has not been jaw-dropping good for the Ephs this season to date.

The seniors have been rock solid for this team and their experience shows on the ice this season.  Williams has had moderate success in the conference playoffs, but has never hosted the final four weekend.  Santa, can you make sure there are enough hotel rooms for three other NESCAC teams in Williamstown in March?  There is a long way to go, but this team has drive, talent and  the consistency to go a long way – can’t wait for the second half.

Well, as this cherubic columnist gets ready to don his nightcap (figuratively), I want to wish all of the D-II/III fans a most Happy and Healthy Holiday Season.  There is a lot of exciting hockey yet to be played and whether Santa showers gifts around the league or not, the competition will be heating up all the way to March.

I really can’t wait until they…. Drop the Puck!