While playing conference alignments have grown more prevalent across leagues and sports, case in point the newly formed CCC, the level of competition under any name or banner is what the real story should be for the teams that formerly competed in the ECAC Northeast. For Endicott coach RJ Tolan and Salve Regina’s Andy Boschetto, the message is clear: they want to play against any team in D-III and prove their mettle as worthy national competitors, but both know to get to the NCAA stage as the Seahawks did last season, they are going to have to win a very competitive conference.
“There are no easy conferences,” stated Boschetto. “Ours is very competitive and more with the addition of the University of New England and Kevin Swallow who we all know from his time at Nichols. We know the league is going to be tough but also want to represent our conference well every time we play a nonconference opponent to further build our reputation and credibility on a bigger scale.
Endicott as a first year program last season at the NCAA level won the regular season and advanced to the conference tournament title game, where they fell one step short of an NCAA appearance in their maiden season. The bad news for the rest of the league is that they have everyone back and added some pieces to be better.
“We want to be a consistent and high-performing program,” said coach RJ Tolan. “We have a great group of kids that love the school and love playing hockey here. They all put team first and have embraced role changes based on this year’s roster and really want to keep building on what was a very good season last year. We want to show that we can win hockey games and be good enough not just to get to the NCAA tournament but to win games in the NCAA tournament.”
The dark horses
While Salve Regina is the defending champion, having beat Endicott in the conference final last season, the Seahawks may still be flying under the radar for most people, and for coach Andy Boschetto that is OK.
“People forget we were the runner-up two years ago and that we got off to an 0-4-1 start last season,” noted Boschetto. “I think our conference doesn’t get some of the respect that some of the bigger names do so we relish opportunities to show what we have, especially in nonconference situations. We split two games last weekend with two very good teams in Manhattanville and Neumann and want to get off to a better more consistent start this season. We have a good thing going with this core group of players and certainly want to go to the next level as a team.”
UNE as a playing member in the CCC has moved from the NEHC, where it battled Babson, Norwich and Massachusetts-Boston, among other NESCAC schools in past schedules. The Nor’easters look to be a real threat at the top of the standings and bring back coach Kevin Swallow, who is very familiar with these teams from his time building the Nichols program to the top of the then ECAC Northeast.
Then there is that Bisons team under coach Parker Burgess that emerged fourth in the coaches’ poll, but should never be dismissed as a threat to win the conference title.
Players to watch
Becker: Nicholas McKee – forward; Connor Allison – forward
Curry: Jake Heisinger – forward; Brett Sinclair – goalie
Endicott: Ross Olsson – forward; Josh Bowes – forward
Johnson & Wales: Joey Ballmer – goalie; Connor Bates – forward
Nichols: Michael Parnell – defense
Salve Regina: Blake Wojtala – goalie; Pat Thompson – forward
Suffolk: Justin Holiday – forward
University of New England: Brady Fleurent – forward; Trevor Fleurent – forward
Wentworth: Kyle Lebrun – forward; Jake McDonough – forward
Western New England: Josh Twietmeyer – forward
USCHO predicted finish
2. Salve Regina
3. University of New England
5. Johnson & Wales
9. Western New England
There isn’t time to “ease into the season,” as the action in conference play heats up on Thursday night with Endicott facing UNE, Salve Regina taking on Curry, and Wentworth playing Nichols. There are no nights off and as coach Boschetto referenced, “The season grind has started.”