Change is inevitable in college hockey during the long offseason, and the ECAC West saw its share of change this past summer.
After 16 seasons with Bill Greer at the helm, Hobart enters this season under the leadership of new head coach Mark Taylor. Elmira lost its top scorer, Jeff Angelidis, who chose not to return to school after his sophomore year. And finally, after many rumors and much speculation, expansion hits the league as Neumann and Utica announce plans to join the ranks for the ’01-’02 season.
The ECAC announced this year’s coaches’ poll, and no surprise that Elmira and RIT are tied for the top spot. In an interesting twist to poll voting, each coach wasn’t allowed to vote for their own team, which meant that they ranked the other teams in the league first through third. Seems like political correctness has finally hit college hockey, when coaches aren’t allowed to vote anyone into last place.
Team by Team preview in order of predicted finish
At the end of last season, Elmira coach Glenn Thomaris knew that we was going to lose his No. 2 scorer, Adrian Saul (12 goals, 22 assists, 34 points), and No. 7 scorer, Andrei Krivokrasov (9-15-24), to graduation. However, he didn’t count on losing his No. 1 scorer, sophomore Jeff Angelidis (9-28-37). Angelidis decided to give pro hockey a try, heading to the Western Pro League, and did not return to school this fall.
With only two seniors on this year’s squad, Thomaris significantly understated the age of his team when he said, “We’re young again.”
To help pick up the loss in offensive power, Thomaris brought up names like Adam Godfrey (10-14-24), Dean Jackson (12-19-31), Kris Carlson (13-14-27), Jason Silverthorn (8-13-21), and Mike Hulbig (9-12-21).
“We are hoping that they can all chip in and give us some points from the upperclassmen,” said Thomaris.
The top forward recruit for the Soaring Eagles is Pierre Rivard, who played for Newmarket in the OPJHL last season. Rivard led the OPJHL in scoring with 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points. Another forward recruit is Ryan Baker.
There aren’t as many question marks about Elmira’s defense. The only loss from last year’s solid squad was Dave O’Hearn, who graduated. Freshman recruit Lawne Snyder will slide in to join the veteran defensive corps.
Junior netminder Rob Ligas saw action in about three quarters of Elmira’s games last season, posting a steady .921 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average. Thomaris thinks he will rely on the league’s top netminder again this coming season, but junior Nick Edling will also see time.
“Robbie had a great finish last year, ” said Thomaris, “but he and Nick have contrasting styles and I think that we will want to have both of them out there.”
Junior Steve Kaye will serve as team captain, with Eddie Cassie and Hulbig as assistant captains.
Elmira begins its season at Oswego, “which is always a tough place to open up at,” said Thomaris. Then on Nov. 3-4, Elmira will host Wisconsin-Superior. Fans will remember Elmira’s trip to Superior last season, where the teams split the weekend, and an off-ice brawl marred the games.
Could there be a carry over?
“Well, I hope not,” said Thomaris. “We’ve all had a lot of time to think about it and talk about it and find out all that was a part of that.”
But the real highlight of the season will come during the Soaring Eagle’s ‘All Purple’ Thanksgiving weekend tournament. Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Williams, and St. Thomas will join for battle in the Thunderdomes in arguably one of the best D-III tournaments in the nation this season.
All of the speculation about Elmira moving to a new rink appears to be settled. The Soaring Eagles will remain in the Thunderdomes for the forseeable future. And with a women’s team in the works for the start of next season, construction plans to add additional locker room facilities only seem to reinforce the appearance that Elmira is in the domes to stay.
RIT head coach Wayne Wilson voiced the feelings of Tiger fans everywhere with the simple phrase, “We’re going to miss Pat Staerker.”
Three time all-American Staerker led RIT in scoring with 17 goals and 34 assists last year, and finished his four-year career ranked No. 5 on the RIT all-time scorer list with 206 points.
“I don’t know if you ever can fill a person of that ability and impact on the game that he’s had for us,” said Wilson. “I think that we certainly have a really good nucleus of guys coming back that I think can make up that ground. I think there are going to be a combination of guys that will have to fill that hole.”
Freshmen Mike Tarantino, Adam George (Syracuse Jr B) and Brandon Luckino (Palmford Prep) will add to the Tiger offense. Tarantino was a standout for the Oakville Blades last season in the OPJHL and was highly recruited by other top D-III teams.
While RIT got as far as the NCAA quarterfinals last season, losing to Norwich, the team lacked depth and struggled with injuries all season.
Wilson said, “I think if we stay healthy, that we will be a much better team than we were last year. I think that is as important as anything else.”
Injuries particularly plagued the Tiger defense. After being injured in the first game last season, Jerry Galway returns even stronger this year, and is expected to lead RIT’s defense.
“These guys are going to be way better than they were last year, because we are going to be playing with defensemen instead of shuttling forwards back to defense,” said Wilson.
Wilson spent most of his recruiting efforts on defense, trying to rebuild both depth and skill into that aspect of the team. Matt Moore (Brampton Capitals), Ryan Franke (St. Thomas Stars), Mike Walling (Chatham Maroons) and Ryan Fairbarn (Georgetown Raiders) joined the Tigers at the blueline this season.
“[The freshman are] guys that you are going to see a lot of, and I think they are going to be all-League type of players,” said Wilson.
Jerry Galway and Derek Hahn will be co-captains this season.
“It’s [sophomore goalie Tyler Euverman’s] job, he’s earned it. What impressed me the most last year was that he even played better in big games,” said Wilson. Euverman garnered a .920 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in 27 games last season.
Backup netminder Chris Sherman is still recovering from an injury and won’t be ready to go until a few weeks in to the season. So the Tigers will be relying on walk-on Rob Boope for Euverman’s backup.
“Rob played for all of the top Chicago teams. I think he is really going to challenge for a position with the team, ” said Wilson.
With only nine home games this season, RIT continues to struggle with its schedule.
“Teams have to want to come here to play,” said Wilson. “Teams don’t really need us, the way our league is. I would like to get reciprocating agreements. My record is irrelevant to me, and winning some games by big scores isn’t helping me or the team prepare for down the road.”
There may be light at the end of the tunnel for RIT and its fans, as several nationally ranked teams have already signed up to travel to Rochester during the 2001-02 season.
In its second season, the Valiants are still a young team. But Head Coach Keith Levinthal expects his second recruiting class to raise the skill level of his program.
“I think one of the biggest things that would be different from last year is that we should be a little more talented up front. But we still have an awful lot of question marks as we are still really young,” said Levinthal.
Manhattanville’s leading scorer, Tommy Prate (25-14-39) returns in perhaps the best shape of his life. Levinthal also expects Ray Williams (4-1-5), who only played the second half of last season, to have a much larger impact.
“[Williams is], without a doubt, our best all-around player,” said Levinthal. “We expect a pretty competitive environment amongst ourselves for each of the positions.
Mike Nason (Oshawa Legionnaires) and David Schmalenberg (Notre Dame Hounds) are two offensive recruits that Levinthal expects to make an immediate impact.
In net, Rob McShane (.887 save pct, 4.33 GAA) and Jeremy Hill (.870, 4.51) shared duties and posted almost identical statistics.
“I think that we would like to settle on a No. 1, have someone step forward and take the position,” said Levinthal. “But we will have to see what happens. It is still a position of question.”
Manhattanville scheduled an early challenge this season, playing at RIT on Nov. 3, just the Valiants’ second game of the season.
“We hope that that game will help prepare us for games later in the season. Those are the games where you learn a lot,” said Levinthal. “We are still very, very young. We have a policy here: ‘Anyplace, anywhere, anytime, we’ll play you,'”.
The Valiants will look to improve on their 8-17-1 record last season as they continue to build their young team. Damon Iannillo will be team captain this season, with John Auxier as an assistant captain.
Fresh start is the key word around the Hobart hockey team this season. New Head Coach Mark Taylor, formerly an assistant coach at UMass-Lowell, arrived at the school at the end of August and is quickly getting up to speed with his new team.
“I would have loved to have taken over the job in early spring from a recruiting standpoint, but it doesn’t really affect my plans for the season,” said Taylor.
— new Hobart coach Mark Taylor
A 1985 graduate of Elmira, Taylor was the Soaring Eagles’ MVP and an all-ECAC selection his senior year.
“I’m excited to get back to the league, it holds a lot of good memories for me,” said Taylor.
One quick challenge for Taylor will be to figure out where the Statesmen offense will come from. For the past four seasons, Travis Finkle (13-27-40) has led Hobart in all offensive categories. Finkle also replaced Keith Levinthal (now Manhattanville’s head coach) as the all-time scoring leader at Hobart with 155 points. Now, without Finkle, other players on Hobart will have to fill the void.
“Someone is going to rise to the occasion, or some group of guys is going to rise to the occasion,” said Taylor.
Hobart has ten freshmen recruits in school this fall, all recruited by former coach Bill Greer before he resigned. When asked to talk about the recruits, Taylor responded, “With the freshman kids coming in, I think it would be unfair to name names. It’s kind of an open door this year.”
We will all need to keep an eye on the Statesmen to see who emerges in the scoring role.
Tim McCarthy has been tapped to be the team captain this season.
“For me, my whole philosophy is that you have to have a commitment to defense and a passion for offense,” said Taylor as he talked about the style of team that he wants to develop. “My style of play is going to be a read-and-react, up-tempo, in-your-face game.”
In addition to change on the team and behind the bench, improvements to the community rink where Hobart plays are under way as well. Hobart has plans to add a varsity room onto the Northern end of the rink. These facilities will include a team locker room, coach’s office, and trainer’s room. Construction is scheduled to begin next spring.
“I told the kids, I’m not going to make any promises other than we’re going to get better and we’re going to love coming to the rink,” concluded Taylor. “I want the university, town, alumni and friends to be proud and excited about Hobart hockey and the student-athletes here.”
It appears that the long-awaited expansion of the ECAC West is finally going to occur for the 2001-02 season. Neumann, currently an ECAC independent, will join the league as a provisional member. Neumann will enjoy full participation and voting rights in the league, but their membership will be reviewed after three years to ensure certain budgetary promises are kept and levels of competitiveness are maintained.
Utica will also be joining the league next season. Utica, a satellite school of Syracuse University, is starting a new D-III men’s and women’s ice hockey program. Utica recently named Gary Heenan, formerly an assistant coach at Hamilton, as its men’s coach.
This expansion will hopefully help to return the ECAC West to the premiere levels of D-III hockey once again.