Preview of the 2017-18 NESCAC season: Part III

[This is the third installment of our four-installment preview, covering the three middle-tier teams (Tufts, Williams, and Colby)]

MIDDLE TIER

TUFTS

Coach: Patrick Norton (3rd season) (21-21-9) (.500% winning percentage)

Team history: no NCAA appearances or NESCAC championships

2016-17 NESCAC record: 9-8-1 (6th place; Play-offs: lost to no. 3 Trinity 4-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 11-11-3)

2016-17 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 43 (no. 8)
goals scored per game: 2.39
PP: 17.8% (no. 4)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 44 (no. 5)
goals allowed per game: 2.44
PK: 85.1% (no. 5)
special teams net: +3 (no. 6)
PIMs: 8.6 (no. 2)

Captains: to ve determined

Key returners:

Forwards: Brian Brown (Sr) (8-6-14), Tyler Scroggins (So) (4-8-12), Anthony Farinacci (So) (5-6-11)

Defense: Jordan Haney (So) (3-6-9), Cooper Stahl (So) (1-5-6), Cory Gottfried (So) (0-2-2), Trevor Davis (Sr) (1-4-5)

Goalie: Nik Nugnes (Sr) (.941 save percentage in 693 minutes) (NESCAC second team in 2017)

Key losses: Mason Pulde (G), Sean Kavanagh (D), Patrick Lackey (F), Mike Leary (F), Conal Lynch (F), Matt Pugh (F/D), Chad Goldberg (F) (team’s no. 2 scorer in 2015-16 as a sophomore but was injured for 2016-17 season)

Key newcomers (rated no. 1): Drew Hotte (G), Peter Hatton (F), Hayden Smith (F), Charley Borek (F), Brendan Ryan (F), Michael Gordon (D)

Strengths: Tufts and Wesleyan are locked in a tight contest for top-tier status with not much to separate the two teams but something had to give, resulting in the Jumbos relegation to the middle tier. The Jumbos have many of the ingredients for a successful season, starting in net where senior Nik Nugnes (UMaine transfer) became the Jumbos’ primary netminder in the second semester of the 2016-17 season when outstanding goalie Mason Pulde suffered an ACL tear, ending his season and his college career. Nugnes finished no. 2 in the league in save percentage and can expect to be relieved by former BU commit Drew Hotte, who made a last-minute decision to become a Jumbo. Tufts was middle-of-the-pack in defense in 2016-17 (no. 5) but below-average in offense (no. 8 with 2.39 GPG). Tufts had a very strong recruiting year for the second year in a row, with the NESCAC’s no. 1 class consisting of several strong forwards as well as hot goalie prospect Hotte. Tufts continued to show progress and improvement under third-year HC Pat Norton, finishing sixth before falling to eventual champion Trinity in the first round of the play-offs.

Weaknesses/question marks: With a total of 75% of the roster (21 of 28) being freshmen (12) and sophomores (9), Tufts is a very young team. Tufts’ primary weakness has been a fondness for the sin bin, although it may have rectified this flaw, going from having the worst record in the NESCAC in 2015-16 (more than 15 PIMs/game) to having the second-best record in 2016-17 (registering just 8.6 PIMs/game). Its offense continues to be on the weak side, producing just 2.39 GPG in 2016-17 (8th in the league). It experienced more attrition than any other NESCAC team, perhaps due to the influx of a large number of new players (12), and has the second least experienced team in terms of game experience. 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 lackluster history as a hockey school.

WILLIAMS

Coach: Interim HC Mike Monti (no record) (HC Bill Kangas is on sabbatical)

Team history: 1 ECAC East championship (1994); 1 NCAA quarterfinal (2016)

2016-17 NESCAC record: 10-5-3 (4th place; play-offs: defeated no. 5 Amherst 2-1 in the NESCAC quarterfinals and lost to no. 3 Trinity 4-2 in the NESCAC semifinals) (overall record: 14-9-3)

2016-17 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 57 (no. 2)
goals scored per game: 3.17
PP: 24.2% (no. 1)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 49 (no. 6-T)
goals allowed per game: 2.72
PK: 78.3% (no. 8)
special teams net: +4 (no. 4-T)
PIMs: 8.7 (no. 3)

Captain: Colby Cretella (F) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: David Italiano (Sr) (9-16-25) (NESCAC first team in 2017), Roberto Cellini (J) (10-11-21) (NESCAC second team in 2017), CJ Shugart (Sr) (8-3-11), Colby Cretella (Sr) (3-7-10)

Defense: Max Fuld (So) (2-2-4), Keanu Hilaire (J) (0-3-3), Peter Christie (So) (0-1-1)

Goalie: Michael Pinios (J) (.886 save percentage in 913 minutes) (NESCAC second team and NESCAC co-RoY in 2016), Stephen Morrissey (Sr) (.935 save percentage in 401 minutes)

Key losses: Tyler Young (F) (NESCAC second team in 2016), Luke Stickel (F), George Hunkele (F), Frankie Mork (D) (NESCAC first team in 2017; NESCAC second team in 2014), Alex Hagerty (F), Sam gray (D/F), James McNamara (D), Taylor Carmola (D)

Key newcomers (rated no. 3): Myles Cunningham (D), Jack McCool (D), Nick Van Belle (F), Bobby Beniers (F), Tyler Scott (F)

Strengths: Williams returns excellent scoring punch, with the third-most returning goals at 38 and the no. 1 and no. 3 NESCAC scorers in David Italiano and Roberto Cellini. In a reversal of form for the usually defensive minded Ephs, Williams scored the second-most goals in the NESCAC team in 2016-17 with 57, trailing only Trinity. Williams is normally the most disciplined team in the NESCAC, registering the lowest number of PIMs in the league for a remarkable 4 years in a row (2012-16), before falling to no. 3 in 2016-17. Williams had the best PP in the league, with a 24% success rate.  Williams has one of the strongest recruiting classes in the NESCAC, with 4 new d-men and 5 new forwards joining the team this year.

Weaknesses/question marks: In terms of overall returning game experience, Williams is dead last due to the loss of much of its blue line and several key forwards (like Tyler Young and Alex Hagerty). Williams lost 4 of its top blue liners to graduation and more than 60% of its blue line experience—NESCAC first teamer Frankie Mork and 3 steady performers in James McNamara, Sam Gray, and Taylor Carmola. But it also has a second consecutive class of recruits that is weighted in favor of the blue line, with newcomers Jack McCool and Myles Cunningham looking especially promising. The Ephs’ defense (tied for sixth) and goaltending were subpar for Williams in 2016-17, with the central question going into this year being whether junior Michael Pinios will regain his co-RoY form of his freshman year or whether the struggles he experienced as a sophomore will continue (sub-.900 save percentage). Despite its continued strong performance in the regular season, Williams’ post-season record is one of futility, with many excellent teams but no NESCAC championships (the Ephs have lost 3 NESCAC championship games in the past 7 years, with 1-goal losses to Amherst in 2015 and to Bowdoin in 2013 and a 3-goal loss to Bowdoin in 2011)). Williams’ normal team discipline weakened in 2016-17, with a porous defense and a poor PK (78% kill rate or the no. 8 PK in the league). A large unknown is how the Ephs will react to a temporary coaching change as long-time HC Bill Kangas takes the year off and is temporarily replaced by Williams’ untested assistant coach, Mike Monti.

COLBY

Coach: Blaise MacDonald: 6th season (45-60-18) (.428% winning percentage)

Team history: 1 NCAA quarterfinal (1996); 1 ECAC East championship (1997)

2016-17 NESCAC record: 11-4-3 (2nd place; play-offs: lost to no. 7 Wesleyan 5-4 in the NESCAC quarterfinals) (overall record: 13-7-4)

2016-17 NESCAC stats:

Offense:

goals scored (total): 47 (no. 5)
goals scored per game: 2.28
PP: 16.9% (no. 6)

Defense:

goals allowed (total): 36 (no. 3)
goals allowed per game: 2.72
PK: 80.6% (no. 7)
special teams net: 0 (no. 7)
PIMs: 8.9 (no. 4)

Captains: Phil Klitirinos (F) (Sr), Michael Rudolf (F) (Sr), and Dan Dupont (D) (Sr)

Key returners:

Forwards: Phil Klitirinos (Sr) (5-14-19), Michael Rudolf (Sr) (8-4-12), Cam MacDonald (Sr) (4-5-9)

Defense: Mark Leprine (So) (0-7-7), Thomas Stahlhuth (J) (2-2-4)

Goalie: Sean Lawrence (Sr) (.944 save percentage in 404 minutes), Andrew Tucci (So) (.921 save percentage in 607 minutes)

Key losses: Jack Burton (D) (NESCAC first team in 2017), Devin Albert (F), EJ Rauseo (F), Kevin Doherty (F), Geoff Sullivan (D), Kai Frankville (D)

Key newcomers (bottom tier): Spencer Hewson (F), Justin Grillo (F)

Strengths: Colby was solid defensively in the league last year (no. 3) but very much middle-of-the-pack at the other end of the ice, finishing sixth and losing a large percentage of its scoring to graduation (41%). Its strength is in net where Quinnipiac transfer and senior Sean Lawrence took over the no. 1 spot in the second semester last year and solid first semester starter Andrew Tucci became a back-up. Colby had its strongest finish in 2017 since 2008 (when it finished first), finishing no. 2 in the league and knocking off arch-rival Bowdoin in both of their games. (But Colby fell to upstart no. 7 Wesleyan in the first round of the play-offs.) Blaise MacDonald, now in his sixth year as head coach, has settled in very nicely and will have the honor of coaching two of his sons this year (senior Cam and freshman Joe).

Weaknesses/question marks: Colby is third-to-last in terms of experienced players, having lost 35% of its game experience to graduation, including superb d-man Jack Burton and two excellent scorers in EJ Rauseo and Devin Albert.  The Mules will have to focus on a quick rebuild of its d-corps, having lost almost 50% of its blue line experience and replenishing its offensive production (it lost more than 40% of its scoring to graduation).

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Tufts roster posted

Tufts has posted its 28-member roster, with a few surprises. Its 12-member freshman class includes 11 previously identified recruits plus highly regarded goalie prospect Drew Hotte, who committed to D1 BU just a few months ago (in the summer of 2017). Eight veteran players are not returning for another season in an unusual amount of attrition for the NESCAC. The players not returning include four juniors (F Nick Balboa (3-3-6 stat line in 19 GPs; F David Lackner (0-2-2 in 16GPs); F Peter Straub (no stats); and D Jefferson Martin (0-1-1 in 5GPs); and three seniors (F Chad Goldberg (7-9-16 as a sophomore but did not play during his junior year due to concussion syndrome; he played for the US in the Maccabiah games in the summer of 2017); F Oliver Takasci-Nagy (2-1-3 in 18GPs); and G Ross Bendetson (no stats)).

NESCAC Quarterfinals Preview

The quarterfinal games are evenly split between 1 pm and 3 pm start times, with the early start times for 2 of the 4 games (Bowdoin at Hamilton and Tufts at Trinity) due to the host team also hosting a women’s quarterfinal game on Saturday. In 3 of the 4 games, the higher seed (Hamilton, Colby, Trinity) has a clear edge in momentum, making the home team the clear favorite.  In the fourth game (no. 5 Amherst at no. 4 Williams), neither team has any real momentum going into the quarterfinals but Williams has a slight edge due to the home ice advantage and Amherst’s struggles on the road.

So from our vantage point, we may be looking at something shocking in the NESCAC – an upset-free set of quarterfinal games. That last happened 8 years ago in the 2009 play-offs (it almost also happened in 2012 and 2013 but for the no. 5 seed defeating the no. 4 seed in each of those years). Predictions are just predictions, of course, and anything can happen on the ice, especially in this era of parity where narrow statistical analyses do not determine the actual outcome of games. Continue reading

Tufts’s 2016-17 roster posted

Tufts has posted its 29-member roster. The roster includes 9 freshmen, all of whom are included in our recruits database. Attrition was modest was 3 veteran players not retuning for this year: d-man Ryan Wolter and forwards JJ Ganss and Zack MacQueen. Wolter was a regular on the blue line so his contributions will likely be missed.

Only the Amherst and Trinity roster remain MIA . .

Tufts hires prep school coach Pat Norton as head coach

After a somewhat protracted process, today Tufts announced the hiring of Pat Norton, the head coach for the Tilton School in New Hampshire, as its new head coach. Norton’s background includes extensive prep school head coach experience (the past 10 seasons with Tilton). His resume also includes 8 seasons of work as an assistant coach at the college level, including 4 seasons with Norwich (1996-97 through 1999-2000 seasons, including a NCAA championship run in 2000) and 4 seasons at the D1 level (2000-01 through 2002-03 seasons at UVM and 2003-04 at Northeastern).

His coaching record at Tilton, one of the smaller hockey-playing prep schools, was mediocre with only 3 winning seasons during his 10-season tenure. His team’s best seasons were in 2008 (23-8) and 2011 (22-10-3). He played collegiate hockey for UNH as a light scoring forward, graduating in 1996 and scoring 3 points in 36 games, but was that rare commodity of a New Hampshire native (Concord) making the big time. Norton graduated from Concord High School in 1991 and then did a PG year at Northfield Mount Hermon. Norton’s father is Bob Norton, former UNH assistant hockey coach during the Charlie Holt years (and part of the sprawling Holt coaching tree), a long-time college hockey TV analyst, and current president of the Gridiron Club of New England.

With this hire, all 10 NESCAC schools have coaches in place for the upcoming season, with new coaches in place at both Middlebury (Neil Sinclair) and Tufts. In the past 4 seasons, new coaches have been hired at Trinity (Matt Greason), Hamilton (Rob Haberbusch), and Colby (Blaise MacDonald) for a 50% turn-over in the NESCAC coaching ranks.

Good luck to Norton and lets hope that Tufts is working on a secret plan to build a rink and replace the NESCAC’s worst facility, the Valley Forum in Malden, with a higher quality on-campus venue some time in the not-too-distant future.

Tufts HC opening

Still no news on the identity of a new head coach for Tufts although it has been more than three months since the departure of long-time HC Brian Murphy in May. The notice of the job opening on the Tufts website was taken down several weeks ago, implying that the search and selection process is nearing its end. Still, it is odd to go so long without naming a replacement for Murphy, especially as the summer months are critical in the NESCAC recruiting process (NESCAC coaches can obtain “pre-reads” from their admissions departments starting on July 1 and can obtain “commitments” from recruits to apply to their schools as those pre-reads are completed).

Another head coaching vacancy — this time at Tufts

For the second time this year, a well-established NESCAC head coach is stepping down: this time it is Tufts head coach Brian Murphy, who will be joining former Middlebury HC Bill Beaney on the sidelines when the next season opens in November. Murphy is a bit of a Tufts institution, having captained the Jumbos in 1995, joined the Tufts coaching staff immediately following his graduation as an assistant coach, been elevated to head coach in 1998, and served as Tufts’ head coach throughout its tenure in the NESCAC. The only reason we know of this opening is because Tufts posted a job announcement for the vacant position on May 14.

Murphy’s departure is a slight surprise as the Jumbos had one of their most successful season’s this year, knocking off no. 1 seed Trinity in the NESCAC quarterfinals, 2-1, and giving eventual champion Amherst almost all it could handle in the NESCAC semifinals before falling by a score of 3-2. Murphy was named the NESCAC coach of the year in 2012, the only one of his 14 NESCAC seasons in which his team had a winning record in the NESCAC (9-8-1). The Tufts hockey program is seriously handicapped by playing at an inferior, off-campus ice rink (the Valley Forum in Malden, Massachusetts). Murphy’s overall record at Tufts has been weak during its NESCAC years, with two of the last three seasons producing only two NESCAC wins. (Tufts is a bit of an outlier in that it was the last NESCAC school to become a conference playing member, not adopting a full NESCAC schedule until the 2001-02 season). The Jumbos’ NESCAC record has been well below .500 and  is somewhat out of synch for a school that prides itself in contending for NESCAC championships in most sports and for national championships in several sports (men’s soccer in the fall of 2014 and contending for a repeat championship in men’s lacrosse and softball in the next few days) . . .