The rest of the MASCAC conference watched a two-team battle unfold last year between Salem State and Plymouth State in determining the conference championship. This year, the battle looks to be again waged between the two rivals with a question around who else is going to emerge as a worthy challenger for the crown.
The defending champion Salem State Vikings have a very good group of returning players, led by last year’s conference goalie and player of the year, Marcus Zelzer. Zelzer had a magical run as a goaltender last year, where he was 18-2-0 and unbeaten for two months leading into their NCAA tournament opening round game. The supporting cast is deep for coach Bill O’Neill, who enters his 35th season with the same energy and passion for the game he has always brought to the ice with any of his Vikings squads.
Up front, junior Michael Casale, who scored 16 goals last season, leads a talented group of forwards that should cause some angst for coaches around the league in stopping a potent Salem State attack.
The Panthers from Plymouth State project to be right there in the mix with Salem State, as has been the case in recent years. Coach Craig Russell’s team is deep and experienced on the blue line, and especially with the forwards, but will need one of three young goaltenders to emerge as the number one replacement for the graduated Gordon Caesar.
The dark horse
Massachusetts-Dartmouth has had a long history of success in the conference under legendary coach John Rolli, who retired over the summer. Eric Noack, who most recently coached at Johnson & Wales, is on board to take on leading the Corsairs into the next era of hockey and starts with a pretty robust roster, including forwards Matt Baldino, Mike Kelly and Casey Shea, along with junior goaltender Drew Michals. The team is mature and adds only a handful of freshmen into the mix to help coach Noack’s team move toward the top half of the conference standings this season.
The Corsairs will be tested early with Saturday’s game at Massachusetts-Boston to open the season.
Players to watch
Fitchburg State: Cameron Snyder – forward; Mike Fish – forward
Framingham State: Vaughn Guetens – defense
Mass.-Dartmouth: Casey Shea – forward; Drew Michals – goalie
Plymouth State: Ian McGilvrey – forward; Michael Economos – forward
Salem State: Michael Casale – forward; Marcus Zelzer – goalie
Westfield State: Jackson Leef -forward
Worcester State: Andrew Etheridge – forward
USCHO predicted finish
1. Salem State
2. Plymouth State
3. Westfield State
4. Fitchburg State
6. Framingham State
7. Worcester State
While the past several seasons have seen a two-team race, the rest of the teams have all improved and have demonstrated an ability to beat the contenders. Nothing is given, it has to be earned, and all of the hard off-season work now gets put on display as the season opens this weekend and while you can’t win the conference in November, a bad start can help you lose it.