College Hockey Slap Schotts: Could be special year for Union, RPI
Welcome back to another season of my College Hockey Slap Schotts blog. It’s hard to believe I’m starting my 23rd year covering college hockey, my 29th year of covering hockey overall (I had a five-year run covering the Hershey Bears for the York Daily Record and helped out the pro hockey coverage during my first year with The Daily Gazette in the 1990-91 season).
So, what can we expect from the Capital Region’s teams this season? I think it will be an interesting, exciting year for Union and RPI.
Let’s start with the Dutchmen. They are the two-time defending ECAC Hockey tournament champions bring back 18 players from last year’s squad. But it’s who they lost that does cause some concern. Four of the top five scorers are gone. Three were expected — forwards Wayne Simpson and Kyle Bodie and defenseman Greg Coburn graduated. The departure of junior forward Josh Jooris to the Calgary Flames came late in the summer, and that caught the team off guard. But they Dutchmen do have some promising offensive talent coming in with freshmen Michael Pontarelli and Mike Vecchione. Returnees Daniel Ciampini, Kevin Sullivan and Matt Wilkins will need to contribute more.
Another early departure was junior goalie Troy Grosenick. That happened shortly after the Dutchmen were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. But the Dutchmen have a very capable returnee in Niskayuna native Colin Stevens.
The defense, anchored by senior Mat Bodie and junior Shayne Gostisbehere, should be solid.
The key for the Dutchmen is not to have a mid-season lull like they did last year. Ultimately, that cost them a higher seed in the NCAA tournament.
The coaches picked the Dutchmen to finish in a tied for third. The media picked them fourth, My prediction is third.
As for RPI, the Engineers seem to be the chic pick, and for good reason.
The Engineers, who finished second last season, have 21 letterwinners returning. Sophomore goalie and last year’s ECACH Rookie of the Year Jason Kasdorf leads the way after going 14-5-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average.
Twelve forwards return. Junior Matt Neal is the top returning scorer, He had 30 points last season on eight goals and 22 assists. Junior Ryan Haggerty and sophomore Mike Zalewski are the top returning goal scorers with 12 each. Also back is Jacob Laliberte (11-17-28).
The defense is anchored by junior Curtis Leonard and seniors Guy Leboeuf and Bo Dolan. The Engineers did lose defenseman and leading scorer Nick Bailen to graduation.
The Engineers, whose second-place finish was the highest in the coach Seth Appert era, which started in 2006, must find a way to get past the best-of-three rounds. They haven’t appeared in the ECACH tournament championship round since 2002, when Dan Fridgen was the coach. They should have made it last year. Another missed opportunity won’t sit well with the fans.
However, I see the Engineers advancing to Lake Placid in March. The coaches picked them to finish second, and the media has them winning it. I picked RPI to win it.
It was a very good weekend for Clarkson.
The Golden Knights swept a two-game series at 20th-ranked Niagara. They posted a 2-1 win on Saturday, and earned a 2-0 victory on Sunday. In Sunday’s game, freshman Steve Perry made the Purple Eagles stop belivin’ (bad Journey reference, I know) they could score goals. Perry made the lights go down in the rink (bad Journey reference No. 2) by making 30 saves. I wonder if the Purple Eagles cried, “Oh, Sherry” (bad Steve Perry song reference).
Meanwhile, Colgate split a two-game series at home against Ferris State. The Raiders dropped a 7-4 decision Saturday, but tightened up the defense Sunday to earn a 1-0 win. Eric Mihalik made 25 saves to earn the shutout.
Even thought the Dutchmen haven’t played a game yet, they dropped from 12th to 15th in Monday’s USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. I don’t see a need to have a poll with only four real games played over the weekend.
There is no USCHO.com poll this week.
In case you have missed it, check out my Parting Schotts blog for the team-by-team previews of RPI’s and Union’s ECACH opponents. I have seven posted so far, and will post previews of Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Yale later this week.
There are also short videos of the coaches previewing their teams on our multimedia page.
If you have any comments, post them below, or e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow me on Twitter @slapschotts on Twitter. Also, please become a fan of two Facebook pages — The Daily Gazette On Ice, and my "Slap Schotts" college hockey segment page.
Good Monday! Good Hockey! It’s good to be back!