Preview for the 2016-17 NESCAC season

The preseason predictions for the top 4 finishers in the NESCAC regular season are: (1) Trinity; (2) Bowdoin; (3) Hamilton; and (4) Williams. Trinity, which won the NESCAC championship in 2016 after a no. 2 finish in the regular season, is favored to capture the regular season championship but can expect a battle for the no. 1 spot. The next 4 finishers in the 5th through 8th spots—Tufts (5), Amherst (6), Colby (7), and Middlebury (8)—are bunched close together and with up-and-down movement likely within those 4 and even with those in the top 4. Wesleyan (9) and Conn College (10) are once again predicted to finish out of the running for play-off spots, but can likely be counted on to make trouble for the teams above them.

Teams facing big challenges this year include Middlebury, which lost 60% of its goals and 63% of its offensive production to graduation, and Conn College, which lost 59% of its goals and 49% of its offensive production to graduation. Middlebury also lost 44% of game experience to graduation and other departures, with Amherst not too far behind with a 37% loss of game experience. Conversely, teams with built-in advantages on the experience front include Bowdoin and Colby, with Bowdoin losing only 8% of game experience to graduation and Colby losing just 12%. Similarly, each team returns most of its offensive production, with Colby returning 91% of its points and Bowdoin not far behind at 89%.

Teams with excellent returning goaltending include Hamilton, Williams, and Tufts, with Bowdoin and Trinity’s returning netminders almost as good.

The range in terms of returning offensive production is large, with Trinity and Bowdoin leading the pack by substantial margins at 143 and 113 returning points respectively; conversely, Middlebury returns players who produced a meager 39 points in 2015-16, with Conn College not much better with just 41 returning points and Amherst on the weak side too with a returning offense of 54 points. To put these numbers on stark terms, Trinity returns players who scored 3.6 times as many points as Middlebury’s returning players and 2.6 times as many points as Amherst’s returning players. In other words, a giant chasm separates our no. 1 pick from a couple of our lower picks in terms of baseline experience.

On the coaching front, only one team—Bowdoin—will be breaking in a new coach this year but his face is familiar and he brings much experience as new HC Jamie Dumont has been behind the Bowdoin bench as the sole assistant to recently retired Terry Meagher for some 9 years in 2 separate recent stints (2001-05 and 2011-16). Two newish coaches—Middlebury’s Neil Sinclair and Tufts’ Pat Norton—have each completed a full season of coaching and recruiting in their new posts and have now settled into the NESCAC routine. More than half the NESCAC coaching fraternity is now relatively fresh given the recent turn-over in the coaching ranks, with 6 of 10 coaches having 5 or fewer years of NESCAC head coach experience under their belts (Trinity’s Matt Greason and Hamilton’s Rob Haberbusch are both entering their 6th season (time does fly!!), Colby’s Blaise MacDonald is entering his 5th season, Sinclair and Norton are starting their 2nd season, and Dumont is beginning his 1st season).

We can expect another season of parity or, as a recently retired NESCAC head coach liked to say, “equal competition” as we know from how well no. 8 Tufts performed in the play-offs in both 2015 and 2016 regardless of its below-par performance during the regular season and how a no. 1 Trinity team was unable to reach the NESCAC championship game in 2014 or 2015 and a no. 1 Williams team flamed out in similar fashion in 2016. Championship weekend in 2016 saw 8th place (Tufts), 6th place (Amherst), 5th place (Colby), and 2nd place (Trinity) teams battling for the championship, with 2 close semifinal games (Amherst 4 Colby 2 and Trinity 4 Tufts 3) before Trinity easily vanquished Amherst in the 5-1 championship game.

Trinity is our no. 1 pick because it returns a strong offense (143 points and 57 goals or 3.16 goals/game), a deep and experienced defense, 3 all-NESCAC forwards in Sean Orlando, former PoY Ryan Cole, and Anthony Sabitsky, a solid goalie in Alex Morin, and a small but talented class of recruits. Bowdoin represents a serious threat as it returns 113 points and 46 goals, a deep and experienced defense, an excellent goalie in junior Peter Cronin, and an outstanding class of recruits. We expect Hamilton, with its modest losses to graduation, to build on last season’s 4th place finish and end up in the no. 3 spot. It is very close to Bowdoin, with an even stronger defense and goaltending (all-NESCAC goalie Evan Buitenhuis) but a slightly weaker returning offense and a smaller and weaker class of recruits. Williams is our no. 4 pick, with a drop-off in returning offense (no. 4, with 100 returning points and 40 returning goals), great goaltending in sophomore Michael Pinios, and a returning defense, with some holes due to graduation losses, but a nice class of recruits that is loaded with promising d-men.

In simple terms, Trinity and Bowdoin are likely to have the best offense and Hamilton, Tufts, and Williams the best goaltending; Hamilton, Trinity, and Bowdoin appear to have the strongest defense; and Amherst, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Middlebury have the strongest freshman classes. Based on these predicates, Trinity and Bowdoin stand slightly above the pack while Hamilton and Williams, ranked no. 3 and no. 4, are not far behind and could easily contend for the top 2 spots.

Things can happen along the way to alter the basic picture like the dramatic emergence of freshman talent as happened last year with Bowdoin forward Cody Todesco, Williams forward Roberto Cellini, and Williams goalie Michael Pinios or the sudden emergence of a sophomore like Hamilton’s Neil Conway, who scored 19 points in league play in his second year after a quiet 6-point freshman year. And then there are those players who have one great season and then tumble to earth for reasons that are not always apparent. A prime example would be Amherst forward David White who had a spectacular freshman year, finishing second in the league in scoring with a stat line of 16-10-26, only to have a pedestrian sophomore year that produced just 10 points (2-8-10). So the past provides helpful guide posts but is not always definitive and, as usual, we can expect to be surprised this year, especially if you look at the long list of promising prospects in the class of 2020.

Here are the predictions for how each team will finish during the regular season; the number in parentheses is the team’s regular season finish in the 2015-16 season:

  1. Trinity (2nd)
  2. Bowdoin (3rd)
  3. Hamilton (4th)
  4. Williams (1st)
  5. Tufts (8th)
  6. Amherst (6th)
  7. Colby (7th)
  8. Middlebury (5th)
  9. Wesleyan (9th)
  10. Connecticut College (10th)

Here is the team-by-team assessment. Point totals and goalie stats (only data from regular season NESCAC games is included to ensure apples-to-apples comparisons) for returning players for the 2015-16 season are included in parentheses to provide additional context and detail for these predictions:

1. Trinity

Coach: Matt Greason: 6th season (91-34-7) (71.6% winning percentage); key achievement: 1 NCAA championship (2015); 1 NCAA quarterfinals (2016); 1 NESCAC championship (2016)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 14-4 (2nd place; eliminated no. 7 Colby 3-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals and no. 8 Tufts 4-3 in the semifinals; defeated no. 6 Amherst in the championship game 5-1) (overall record: 21-6-1)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 62 (no. 1)
goals scored per game: 3.44
PP: 18.5% (no. 2-T)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 38 (no. 2-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.11
PK: 82.5% (no. 7)
special teams net: +2 (no. 3-T)
PIMs: 10.4 (no. 9)

Captains: Sean Orlando (F) (Sr) and Sam Johnson (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Sean Orlando (Sr) (7-12-19) (NESCAC first team and all-American third team in 2016), Ethan Holdaway (Sr) (11-5-16), Anthony Sabitsky (J) (5-10-15) (NESCAC second team in 2016), Ryan Cole (Sr) (6-8-14) (all-American first team, all-NESCAC first team and NESCAC PoY in 2015; all-NESCAC first team and NESCAC RoY in 2014; all-NESCAC second team in 2016), Tyler Whitney (J) (8-5-13)

Defense: T.J. Sherman (Sr) (1-9-10), Griffyn Martin (J) (0-10-10), Michael O’Brien (So) (1-6-7), Connor Hegarty (J) (2-4-6), Sam Johnson (Sr) (1-2-3)

Goalie: Alex Morin (J) (.932 save percentage in 543 minutes)

Key losses: John (Mike) Hawkrigg (F) (all-American third team and all-NESCAC first team in 2015; all-American second team and all-NESCAC first team in 2014), Nano Heilbron (G) (all-American second team and all-NESCAC first team in 2015; MVP of NCAA D3 play-offs in 2015), Elie Vered (F), Ben Hjarmalsson (F/D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 5): Jack McCarthy (F), Barclay Gammill (F), Charlie Zuccarini (F) (So), Liam Feeney (D), Tedy Loughborough (G), Adam Anderson (F)

Strengths: Trinity had the no. 1 offense in the league in 2015-16 (3.44 GPG) although its offensive production was down a bit from the 2014-15 national championship season (4.11 GPG). The Bantams tied for the second best power play (but just an 18.5% success rate, which was emblematic of a down year for the PP throughout the league). Trinity tied for second on the defensive front, giving up just 2.11 GPG. Trinity is no. 3 in the league in terms of experience and has more returning offensive production than any other team (143 points versus runner-up Bowdoin’s 113; 57 goals versus runner-up Bowdoin’s 46). The Bantams have several of the league’s tops forwards returning, including former PoY Ryan Cole, all-NESCAC (1st team) Sean Orlando, all-NESCAC (2nd team) Anthony Sabitsky, and several other established scorers. During the 2015-16 season, Trinity quickly rebuilt a defense that was decimated by graduation in 2015 and now has one of the strongest groups of returning D in the league. Goalie Alex Morin is not the best in the league but ended up with excellent numbers in a part-time role last season (.932 save percentage) and is likely to be Trinity’s no. 1 goalie this year. The Bantams have a small but excellent class of recruits (rated no. 5 primarily because of the modest number of recruits (just 6)). Trinity has one of the best coaches in D3 hockey in Matt Greason, now embarking on his 6th season and with his first NESCAC championship under his belt.

Weaknesses/question marks: In truth, Trinity’s weaknesses are few, it having quickly rebuilt its blue line in 2015-16 after losing a lot to graduation in its championship year (2015). Its chief fault last year was a lack of consistency during the regular season (4 losses) that resulted in a 2nd place finish, likely due primarily to the green defense. Defensive weaknesses that were exposed in 2015-16 and need work include a poor PK (just 7th in the league) and too many penalties (next-to-the-most penalized team in the league). Otherwise, it is hard to find many flaws in the Trinity team as we enter the season.

2. Bowdoin

Coach: Jamie Dumont: 1st season (served as Bowdoin’s assistant coach in 2001-05 and 2011-16)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 9-5-4 (3rd place: eliminated by no. 6 Amherst 8-5 in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 13-8-4)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 53 (no. 2)
goals scored per game: 2.94
PP: 15.7% (no. 6)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 42 (no. 6-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.33
PK: 77.6% (no. 10)
special teams net: -3 (no. 9-T)
PIMs: 9.2 (no. 5)

Captain: Matt Sullivan (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Cody Todesco (So) (11-6-17) (NESCAC co-RoY in 2016), Matt Lison (J) (7-7-14), Chris Wallace (So) (2-9-11), Spencer Antunez (J) (6-4-10)

Defense: Mitch Barrington (Sr) (1-9-10) (all-NESCAC first team in 2016), Danny McMullan (J) (1-4-5), Brendan Conroy (Sr) (0-3-3), Jay Kourkoulis (Sr) (1-2-3), Cullen Geary (J) (injured for most of the 2015-16 season)

Goalie: Peter Cronin (J) (.935 save percentage in 1046 minutes), Nathan Colannino (So) (1.000 save percentage in 45 minutes)

Key loss: Matt Rubinoff (F)

Key newcomers (rated no. 2): Michael Brown (F), Tommy Dunleavy (F), Patrick Geary (F), Ronnie Lestan (F), Sam Topham (D), Caleb Perez (D), Christian Capello (F), Max Ginsberg (F)

Strengths: Bowdoin returns its entire d-corps, most of its offense, and an excellent goalie. The Polar Bears are the most experienced team in the league and return the second most points (113) and goals (46) in the league. Bowdoin has an excellent goalie in junior Peter Cronin, who took over the no. 1 spot last year and was often the difference maker, with excellent numbers, playing virtually every minute of league play. Bowdoin has a young and dynamic offense (2 of the top 4 freshman scorers in the NESCAC last year were Bowdoin forwards Todesco and Wallace), which is likely to get even stronger this year as a nice group of new forwards are folded into the mix. Bowdoin has great facilities (Sidney J Watson Arena), a strong fan base, a great history, and a devoted alumni following. Bowdoin has had 3 successive strong recruiting years with another deep class of quality recruits and extra strength on the offensive end (6 of its 8 recruits are forwards). Bowdoin is one of just 4 schools to win a NESCAC championship in the last 9 years, with 3 championships to its credit during that period (2011, 2013, and 2014) (other championships were won by Amherst (2009, 2012, 2015), Middlebury (2010), and Trinity (2008 and 2016)).

Weaknesses/question marks: It has been a while since Bowdoin won the championship after a great run of 3 in 4 years (2011, 2013, and 2014), with only the senior class having championship experience. Bowdoin’s PK was nightmarishly bad in 2015-16, finishing dead last with a kill rate of just 77.6%. The PP was also somewhat weak with just a 15.7% success rate (no. 6 in the NESCAC). As usual, Bowdoin has a somewhat soft OOC schedule although 2 of those 6 OCC games are with UNE, a program very much on the rise and a third will be with a strong SUNY-Geneseo club. This will be new HC Jamie Dumont’s first year as the no. 1 guy behind the bench. He should be fine as he has lots of NESCAC experience due to his 9 years as the Bowdoin assistant coach and recruited every member of the current Bowdoin team.

3. Hamilton

Coach: Rob Haberbusch: 6th season (41-63-19) (41.1% winning percentage)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 8-6-4 (4th place; eliminated 2-1 (OT) by no. 5 Middlebury in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 13-8-4)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 46 (no. 4-T)
goals scored per game: 2.56
PP: 13.6% (no. 8)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 38 (no. 2-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.11
PK: 85.3% (no. 4)
special teams net: -2 (no. 6-T)
PIMs: 10.1 (no. 8)

Captain: Bennett Hambrook (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Robbie Murden (Sr) (10-10-20) (all-NESCAC first team in 2016 and second team in 2015), Neil Conway (J) (9-10-19), Brandon Willett (J) (6-9-15)

Defense: Conor Lamberti (Sr) (2-6-8) (all-NESCAC second team in 2016), Jon Carkeek (Sr) (1-1-2), Bradley Smelstor (Sr) (0-2-2), Bennett Hambrook (Sr) (0-1-1)

Goalies: Evan Buitenhuis (J) (.938 save percentage in 1102 minutes; played every minute of NESCAC play) (all-NESCAC first team in 2016)

Key losses: Kenny Matheson (F), Scott Vasquez (D), Tyler Lovejoy (D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 9): Bennett Morrison (D), Blayne Oliver (D), Nick Ursitti (F), Sterling Bray (F), Sam Jones (D)

Strengths: Junior goalie Evan Buitenhuis is generally viewed as the NESCAC’s best goalie, playing every minute of league play in 2015-16 after an injury-shortened debut season in 2014-15, and provides this Hamilton team with a rock-solid foundation. Hamilton also features a very strong group of d-men, including four seniors, in front of Buitenhuis and the league’s no. 1 and no. 2 (tied) returning scorers in Robbie Murden (10-10-20) and Neil Conway (9-10-19). The Continentals were tied for second in defense in 2015-16, allowing just 2.11 GPG, and return much of that defense for another year. Hamilton returns the third-most goals (43) and the fourth-most points (104) in the league so is long on experience in the scoring department. Hamilton has a small class of recruits (just 6) but it includes a couple of possible scoring contributors and 2 excellent d-men. Rob Haberbusch, after taking over for former HC Norm Bazin in 2011, has done an excellent job of quietly and systematically rebuilding Hamilton into a top-tier team.

Weaknesses/question marks: Hamilton has a well-established fondness for the penalty box although it actually showed improvement in that area, going from the most penalized team in the NESCAC in 2014-15 (13 PIM/game) to the third-most penalized in 2015-16 (10 PIMs).

4. Williams

Coach: Bill Kangas: 28th season (370-244-60) (59.3% winning percentage); key achievement: 1 ECAC East championship (1994); 1 NCAA quarterfinal (2016)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 14-2-2 (1st place; eliminated by no. 8 Tufts 2-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 19-6-2)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 49 (no. 3)
goals scored per game: 2.72
PP: 19.2% (no. 1)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 27 (no. 1)
goals allowed per game: 1.50
PK: 88.7% (no. 1)
special teams net: +6 (no. 1)
PIMs: 6.6 (no. 1)

Captain: Tyler Young (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: David Italiano (J) (4-10-14), Roberto Cellini (So) (5-9-14), Tyler Young (Sr) (5-8-13) (all-NESCAC second team in 2016), George Hunkele (Sr) (5-7-12)

Defense: Frankie Mork (Sr) (1-4-5) (all-NESCAC second team in 2014), James McNamara (Sr) (1-2-3), Greg Zaffino (Sr) (0-1-1)

Goalie: Michael Pinios (.928 save percentage in 724 minutes) (all-NESCAC second team and NESCAC co-RoY in 2016)

Key losses: Zander Masucci (D) (NESCAC PoY, all-NESCAC first team, and all-American first team in 2016), Greg Johnson (D), Noah Klag (G), Michael Lata (F) (So) (transferred to Brown)

Key newcomers (rated no. 6): Max Fuld (D), Peter Christie (D), Will Somers (F), Evan Johnson (F), Wyatt Glover (F), Derrick Spencer (D)

Strengths: Williams will be looking to recreate the chemistry associated with its first ever no. 1 regular season finish in 2015-16 while rebuilding in a couple of important areas–it suffered graduation losses but not catastrophic losses as happened at a couple of other NESCACs. Williams returns the fourth highest number of goals (40), trailing Trinity (57), Bowdoin (46), and Hamilton (41), so will start out with a solid offensive foundation. In terms of overall returning game experience and returning scoring, it sits squarely in the middle of the pack at no. 5. The Ephs greatest strength is in net where sophomore Michael Pinios, last year’s NESCAC co-RoY and second team all-NESCAC goalie, returns for his second year after compiling a stellar record in terms of both his W-L record and basic stats as a freshman. As has been the case for several years, Williams is a highly disciplined team and stays out of the penalty box (the lowest number of PIMs in the league for a remarkable 4 years in a row, averaging just 6.6 minutes per game in 2015-16). As a general rule, Williams was superb on special teams in 2015-16, leading the league on both the PP (19.2% success rate) and the PK (88.7% kill rate) and of course special teams net (+6). Williams’ great discipline (apparent in both how it stays out of the sin bin and how it handles special team situations) is a strong testament to the coaching/teaching skills of the Ephs’ long-time HC Bill Kangas.

Weaknesses/question marks: Williams lost 2 important blue liners to graduation—NESCAC PoY Zander Masucci and steady Greg Johnson—but likely has found replacements for them in its recruits (starting with Max Fuld and Peter Christie). The Ephs lost its primary back-up goalie (Noah Klag), who was able to lighten the load on Pinios’ shoulders so that he was not the full-time goalie that the league’s other top goalies were (like Hamilton’s Buitenhuis and Bowdoin’s Cronin). Despite its great record last season, Williams continued its record of failure in post-season play, with many excellent teams but no NESCAC championships (the Ephs have come up short in 3 NESCAC championship games in the past 6 years, with 1-goal losses to Amherst in 2015 and to Bowdoin in 2013 and a 3-goal loss to Bowdoin in 2011 in NESCAC championship games, but last year’s post-season collapse was even more devastating as Williams was eliminated by no. 8 Tufts in the quarterfinals after a nearly perfect regular season and its first ever no. 1 finish in the regular season).

5. Tufts

Coach: Patrick Norton (2nd season) (10-10-6) (50% winning percentage)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 5-8-5 (8th place; eliminated no. 1 Williams 2-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals (it was the second year in a row that Tufts defeated the no. 1 team from the 8th spot); eliminated 4-3 by no. 2 Trinity in the NESCAC semifinals) (overall record: 10-10-6)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 43 (no. 6)
goals scored per game: 2.39
PP: 18.5% (no. 2-T)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 42 (no. 6-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.33
PK: 84.4% (no. 5)
special teams net: -2 (no. 6-T)
PIMs: 15.2 (no. 10)

Captain: Mike Leary (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Chad Goldberg (J) (6-4-10), Brian Brown (J) (1-7-8)

Defense: Sean Kavanagh (Sr) (1-6-7), Nick Abbene (So) (4-3-7), Dan Kelly (J) (2-0-2), Jefferson Martin (So) (0-2-2), Trevor Davis (J) (1-0-1)

Goalie: Mason Pulde (Sr) (.946 save percentage in 670 minutes), Nik Nugnes (J) (.943 save percentage in 420 minutes)

Key losses: Stewart Bell (F), Dom Granato (F), Brian Ouellette (D), Ryan Wolter (D) (So)

Key newcomers (rated no. 3): Machlan Sawden (F), Tyler Scroggins (F), Anthony Farinacci (F), Cory Gottfried (D), Ross DeLaBruere (F), Jaret Koger (D), Blake McIntyre (F), Cooper Stahl (D)

Strengths: Tufts’ strength is its interchangeable duo of transfer goalies senior Mason Pulde (Middlebury) and junior Nik Nugnes (UMaine). They finished nos. 1 and 4 in the league in save percentage, with Pulde slightly better than Nugnes and playing in about one-third more games. Either goalie can steal a game and both can be counted on to keep the Jumbos in most games. Tufts was middle-of-the-pack in both offense and defense in 2015-16 and had above-average losses to graduation in scoring and game experience. But it had an excellent recruiting year, with the no. 3-ranked class, with some strong scoring prospects, so could have a solid year on both the offensive and defensive ends if things go right. Just as it had in the prior season, Tufts closed out the 2015-16 season in fine fashion, knocking off Williams, the no. 1 seed and the regular season champion, on the Ephs’ home ice in a 2-1 game. The Jumbos then gave the eventual NESCAC champion Trinity as much as it could handle in the semifinals before losing 4-3. New HC Pat Norton, not hired until late in the summer of 2015, did an excellent job in building a solid team from the parts left behind by former HC Brian Murphy and has impressed on the recruiting front.

Weaknesses/question marks: Tufts’ primary weakness is a fondness for the sin bin, with far and away the worst record in the NESCAC in terms of PIMs/game at more than 15 in 2015-16. Its offense was a tad on the weak side in 2015-16, with only 4 teams returning fewer goals (29) and points (74). It has less returning game experience than only 3 other teams. Tufts plays its games at an off-campus location (it plays in a commercial rink with limited seating in the nearby town of Malden) and has a short and undistinguished history as a hockey school.

6. Amherst

Coach: Jack Arena: 34th season (440-323-62) (57.1% winning percentage); key achievements: 2 NCAA semi-finals (2012 and 2015); 2 NCAA quarterfinals (1999 and 2009); 3 NESCAC championships (2009, 2012, and 2015); 1 ECAC East championship (1996)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 7-8-3 (6th place; eliminated no. 3 Bowdoin 8-5 in the NESCAC quarterfinals; eliminated no. 5 Middlebury 4-2 in the NESCAC semifinals; defeated by no. 2 Trinity 5-1 in the NESCAC championship game) (overall record: 11-12-4)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 33 (no. 9)
goals scored per game: 1.83
PP: 13.4% (no. 9)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 38 (no. 2-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.11
PK: 87.5% (no. 2)
special teams net: +2 (no. 3-T)
PIMs: 9.3 (no. 7-T)

Captain: Thomas Lindstrom (F) (J)

Key returners:

Forwards: David White (J) (2-8-10) (all-NESCAC first team and NESCAC RoY in 2015), Thomas Lindstrom (J) (6-6-12)

Defense: Patrick Mooney (J) (3-2-5), Austin Ho (D) (Sr) (0-2-2), Tyler Granara (J) (0-2-2), Philippe Johansson (So) (0-1-1)

Goalie: Connor Girard (J) (.930 save percentage in 396 minutes), Adam Ellison (Se) (.905 save percentage in 60 minutes)

Key losses: Dave Cunningham (G) (all-NESCAC second team in 2014), Conor Brown (F), Topher Flanagan (F), Patrick Arena (F), Brendan Burke (F), Kevin Ryder (D), Theodore Hannah (D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 1): PJ Conlon (F), Pat Daly (F), Mark Esposito (D), Noah Gilreath (D), Greg Krisberg (D), Giancarlo Ventre (G), Joey Lupo (F), AJ Klein (D/F)

Strengths: Amherst’s primary strengths include its recent history of great success, great coaching, and targeted and effective recruiting. Based on his W-L record, its returning goalie, Connor Girard, is not a world beater but his numbers suggest that he has some talent. Amherst has the no. 1 class of recruits, which should help the Purple and White cope with serious graduation losses, but this class of recruit is a little light in the area of Amherst’s greatest need—forwards. (Amherst also had the no. 1-ranked class of recruits last year but they perhaps were over rated as they did not produce much on the scoring sheet.) Amherst has one of the NESCAC’s finest head coaches in Jack Arena, who has coached Amherst to the NESCAC championship 3 times in the past 8 years (2009, 2012, and 2015) and took Amherst to the NCAA semifinals in both 2012 and 2015 and is known for his expertise in developing and implementing great team defense.

Weaknesses/question marks: For the second year in a row, Amherst suffered major graduation losses, with departures including 2 outstanding d-men (Kevin Ryder and Theo Hannah), 4 of its top 6 scorers (Topher Flanagan, Conor Brown, Ryder, and Patrick Arena), and its no. 1 goalie (Dave Cunningham). Only Middlebury will have a less experienced roster than Amherst. Amherst is coming off a rare losing season. Amherst had the next to the worst offense in the NESCAC in 2015-16, scoring at a meager 1.83 GPG rate, so the graduation losses compound an already serious problem. Fan support for the Purple and White will continue to be limited (it is a basketball school and is expected to have a very good basketball team) but it will likely not affect the performance of the self-motivated and well-coached Amherst team.

7. Colby

Coach: Blaise MacDonald: 5th season (32-53-14) (39.4% winning percentage)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 6-9-3 (7th place; eliminated by no. 2 Trinity 3-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 9-11-5)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 41 (no. 7)
goals scored per game: 2.28
PP: 18.2% (no. 4)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 49 (no. 8)
goals allowed per game: 2.72
PK: 85.7% (no. 3)
special teams net: +3 (no. 2)
PIMs: 6.9 (no. 2)

Captains: Geoff Sullivan (D) (Sr) and EJ Rauseo (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Mario Bernicky (So) (7-6-13), Devin Albert (Sr) (8-4-12), EJ Rauseo (Sr) (1-9-10), Cam MacDonald (J) (4-9-13)

Defense: Jack Burton (Sr) (3-9-12), Geoff Sullivan (Sr) (2-8-10), Michael Decker (J) (2-7-9), Dan Dupont (J) (0-2-2), Kai Frankville (Sr) (0-1-1)

Goalie: no returning goalie with game experience

Key loss: Emerson Verrier (G) (J), Alex Walsh (D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 10): Andrew Tucci (G), Kienan Scott (F), J.P. Schuhlen (F), Mark Leprine (D), Robert Cerepak (F), Pat Daley (F)

Strengths: Colby has the second most experienced team in the NESCAC and returns the third most offensive production in terms of points (105), trailing only Trinity and Bowdoin in that category. It returns several outstanding scorers in Bernicky, Rauseo, Albert, and MacDonald and adds 2 strong scoring prospects in its freshman class (Kienan Scott and J.P. Schulen). Colby suffered one loss to graduation on the blue line (Alex Walsh) but returns the rest of its d-corps and adds a good prospect in freshman Leprine. Colby’s special teams were solid in 2015-16, finishing second in the league in special teams net (+3). Only Williams was more disciplined than Colby in avoiding the penalty box as the Mules were tagged with only 6.9 PIMs. Colby has an excellent coaching staff that gets the most out of its players as has been shown by the development of Albert, Rauseo and MacDonald into top-tier scorers.

Weaknesses/question marks: Colby’s greatest question mark is in net, where Emerson Verrier, a workhorse who played every single minute of league play in 2015-16, did not return to Colby for his junior year. His absence likely means that goaltending responsibilities will fall on freshman Andrew Tucci, who had an excellent prep career and appears to have some skills. The NESCAC has seen freshman goalies who have thrived (like Michael Pinios for Williams just last year) so his inexperience is not dispositive as to whether he will be able to handle the job.

8. Middlebury

Coach: Neil Sinclair: 4th season (40-28-12) (57.5% winning percentage) (includes 22-5-2 record as Middlebury’s interim head coach in 2002-03)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 6-5-7 (5th place; defeated no. 4 Hamilton 2-1 (OT) in the NESCAC quarterfinals; eliminated by no. 6 Amherst 4-2 in the NESCAC semifinals) (overall record: 8-11-7)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 46 (no. 4-T)
goals scored per game: 2.56
PP: 16.7% (no. 5)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 41 (no. 5)
goals allowed per game: 2.28
PK: 82.0% (no. 8)
special teams net: -1 (no. 5)
PIMs: 8.2 (no. 4)

Captain: Andrew Neary (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Vincent Gisonti (J) (5-4-9)

Defense: Matt Doherty (So) (1-3-4), Andrew Neary (Sr) (1-2-3), Spencer Cage (So) (1-2-3), Zach Weier (J) (1-0-1)

Goalies: Steve Klein (J) (.942 save percentage in 581 minutes)

Key losses: Jake Charles (F), Evan Neugold (F), Brendan McGovern (F), Zach Haggerty (F), Ronald Fishman (D) (all-NESCAC second team in 2016), Max Greenwald (D), Cam Romoff (D) (Sr), Terrance Goguen (D, Paul Falvey (D), Liam Moorfield-Yee (G), Mike Najjar (F) (Sr)

Key newcomers (rated no. 4): Trevor Turnbull (F), Brendan Dawson (D), Brett Dineen (D), Danny Tighe (F), Brian Ketchabaw (G), Connor Lloyd (F), Danny Jacobs (F), Mitch Allen (F), Joey Piccinini (F), Frank Cosolito (D)

Strengths: Middlebury, under third-year HC Neil Sinclair, is in the rebuilding mode as a large chunk of last year’s team graduated or departed the team. There are a handful of decent returning d-men but, with the exception of senior Andrew Neary, they are young or inexperienced. On the bright side, the returning goalie, junior Stephen Klein, had excellent numbers and seemed to be the answer to Middlebury’s longstanding goalie problems but incurred an injury in early February of last season and missed the last 7 games. His health and availability will be crucial to Middlebury’s success. Middlebury’s class of 2020 is strong and deep (rated no. 4) and provides the foundation for a rebuild of the team but many of its members are on the young side. With perhaps the strongest OOC schedule in the NESCAC (2 games with Norwich and 1 or 2 games with Plattsburgh), it will be trial by fire for the young Panthers. Middlebury has the strongest hockey history in the NESCAC (8 NCAA D3 championships (1995-99 and 2004-06)) but that history recedes further into the recesses of history every year, with its last no. 1 regular season NESCAC finish occurring 11 seasons ago in 2006 and its last NESCAC championship happening 7 seasons ago in 2010. Middlebury’s other advantages include excellent facilities in the form of the Chip Kenyon Arena and its devoted hockey alumni.

Weaknesses/question marks: In a complete reversal from last year, Middlebury has the least experienced team in the NESCAC, returning only 56% of its game experience from last year. Even more ominously, Middlebury returns only 37% of last year’s offensive production (a meager 39 points) and lost all but 1 of its top 8 scorers to graduation or other departures. The cupboard is very bare so lots of opportunities for the new class of recruits and last year’s bench warmers. The Panthers finished below.500 (8-11-7) in 2015-16 for the second year in a row after 27 straight years of winning seasons (prior to the 2014-15 season, Middlebury’s last losing season was the 1988-89 season (11-12-1)). The Panthers’ offense was already somewhat weak in 2015-16, considering how experienced their line-up was, producing 2.56 GPG. Middlebury had a poor PK last season (82% kill rate for no. 8 in the league).

9. Wesleyan

Coach: Chris Potter: 14th season (98-176-39) (37.5% winning percentage)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 2-9-7 (10th place; did not qualify for NESCAC play-offs) (overall record: 2-14-8)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 39 (no. 8)
goals scored per game: 2.17
PP: 13.7% (no. 7)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 57 (no. 9)
goals allowed per game: 3.17
PK: 81.2% (no. 9)
special teams net: -3 (no. 9-T)
PIMs: 6.9 (no. 3)

Captains: Robby Harbison (D) (Sr) and James Kline (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: James Kline (Sr) (10-5-15), Andy Espinoza (So) (2-9-11)

Defense: Chad Malinowski (So) (3-1-4), Mike Yablong (So) (2-2-4), Cole Morrissette (Sr) (0-4-4), Robby Harbison (Sr) (0-1-1), Theo Tydingco (So) (0-1-1), Chris White (So) (0-0-0)

Goalie: Dawson Sprigings (Sr) (.907 save percentage in 978 minutes)

Key losses: Jay Matthews (F), Alex Carlacci (F), Terence Durkin (F), Eric Casey (D), Jaren Taenaka (F/D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 8): Harris Walker (F), Tyler Kobryn (F), Spencer Fox (F), George Blinick (G) (So), Tyler Wyatt (F), Hunter Vannier (F), Matt Horton (F), Matt Huston (G)

Strengths: Wesleyan started to make a move last season as it was very much in 9 of 18 league games, with 2 losses and 7 ties, including tight games with each NESCAC power house. Wesleyan had a very young but talented defense last year that will likely be better equipped this season to provide a stouter defense in front of the often beleaguered goalie (Dawson Sprigings). It also has a premier forward in senior Jamie Kline (he was tied for 7th in the league in scoring in 2015-16). The Cardinals have a somewhat low-ranked class of recruits (no. 8) but it does include several forwards who could help with the scoring and an excellent transfer goalie (George Blinick) who could take some of the load off Sprigings. A strength for the Cardinals last season was that they were rarely penalized (just 6.9 PIMs for the third-best record on the league).

Weaknesses/question marks: Wesleyan had the next-to-the-worst record in the NESCAC in 2015-16, failing to make the playoffs and winning only 2 games. It crawled out of the cellar in a couple of important statistical areas (going from last to no. 8 in offense and from last to no. 9 in defense) so has begun to make improvement. Wesleyan’s special team play improved last season but only marginally so. Wesleyan has a small number of returning goals (27) and points (65) but it is 7th in these 2 categories instead of last as it was in 2014-15.

10. Connecticut College

Coach: Jim Ward: 14th season (103-187-28) (36.8% winning percentage)

2015-16 NESCAC record: 0-15-3 (10th place; did not qualify for NESCAC play-offs) (overall record: 3-18-3)

2015-16 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 32 (no. 10)
goals scored per game: 1.78
PP: 13.2% (no. 10)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 72 (no. 10)
goals allowed per game: 4.0
PK: 84.1% (no. 6)
special teams net: -2 (no. 6-T)
PIMs: 9.3 (no. 7-T)

Captains: Joe Giordano (F) (Sr) and Greg Liautaud (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Joe Giordano (Sr) (3-11-14)

Defense: Greg Liautaud (Sr) (1-4-5), Dylan Chase (So) (1-3-4), Mason Evans (J) (1-1-2), AJ Wallace (So) (0-1-1), Conner Judson (So) (0-0)

Goalie: Tim Cooney (J) (.870 save percentage in 40 minutes), Austin Essery (Sr) (.700 in 38 minutes)

Key losses: Tim DiPretoro (F) (all-NESCAC first team in 2016), Joe Birmingham (F), Sebastian Meltzer (F), Tom Conlin (G) (all-NESCAC second team in 2015)

Key newcomers (rated no. 7): Ryan Petti (F), Rory Garlasco (F/D), Jacob Moreau (F), Jeff Thompson (F), Billy Stahley (F), Liam Ferguson (F), Brendan O’Connell (F), Avery Gobbo (G), Dan Driscoll (D), Jamie Carnavalla (D), Brenden Russ (D)

Strengths: Conn College lost 59% of its goals and 49% of its points to graduation but does return one excellent offensive player in Joe Giordano and a go-to d-man in Greg Liautaud. Conn College did not qualify for the NESCAC play-offs in 2016, collapsing just one year after its highest regular season finish (no. 3) ever in 2015 and going winless in league play. On the optimistic side, Conn College was in most of its games in 2015-16, registering 3 ties and 7 1-goal losses in league play, including to each of the league’s top 6 teams (Williams, Trinity, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Middlebury, and Amherst, with 3 of the 1-goal losses in OT (Trinity, Middlebury, and Amherst)). The distance between a 3rd place and last place finish in the NESCAC is just not that great but to narrow that gap will require extraordinary discipline from the Camels and major contributions from this year’s no. 7 ranked class of recruits.

Weaknesses/question marks: The Camels’ graduation losses were small (5) in number but more devastating in impact than graduation was for any other team as Conn College is last in returning goals and next to the last in returning goal production and lost the next-to-the-greatest percentage of goals (59%) to graduation. The offensive losses are due primarily to the graduations of nos. 1 and 2 scorers in Tim DiPretoro and Joe Birmingham and no. 7 scorer Sebastian Meltzer and the fact that scoring was concentrated last season almost exclusively in Conn College’s first line of DiPretoro, Birmingham and Giordano. In addition, the Camels lost their no. 1 Goalie (Tom Conlin), who played all but 78 minutes of league play in 2015-16 so its number one priority is finding a new no. 1 goalie or settling on a workable rotation. In 2015-16, Conn College finished dead last in the league in scoring, goals allowed, and the power play so its work is cut out for it. Conn College has a small rink, but enthusiastic fans show up for games when college is in session and create a lively atmosphere.

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One Response

  1. Thanks and more thanks for this comprehensive and well-written analysis. You’re the best Division III hockey writer in the country.

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