September 12, 2011

From NEHJ: Five college newcomers to watch

by Mike Zhe

Michael Paliotta (photo: Ted Sorensen)

Every March, it’s the common lament among college hockey fans: “We’re really going to miss (insert player’s name) next year.”

But, come September, disappointment is typically replaced by anticipation, as a new influx of talented players and potential stars arrive on campus, renewing hope and generating excitement.

With new college seasons barely a month away, we cast our eye across the region to identify five newcomers, either from New England or bound for New England schools, who are likely to make the biggest impact in the year ahead.

Michael Paliotta
D, Vermont (Westport, Conn.)

The first New Englander scooped up in the NHL Entry Draft in June, when he was chosen in the third round by the Chicago Blackhawks, Paliotta (Westport, Conn.) will step right into a Vermont lineup that can use a talent infusion after last season’s 8-20-8 step back.

Paliotta brings a wealth of big-stage experience, including two years (110 total games) with the U.S. National Team Development Program, and was part of gold-medal winning U.S. teams at the World Under-18 Championship in 2011 and the Under-18 Five Nations Cup in 2011.

At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he arrives on campus with a very un-freshman-like body. He managed a goal and 14 assists in 60 games with the U.S. team last winter, and will be needed to bolster a Catamounts defense that allowed 3.22 goals a game in 2010-11.

“His experience of playing on the world stage, as well as competing against college teams, will allow Mike to be an impact player for us from Day One,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said.

Luke Curadi
D, Rensselaer (Cheshire, Conn.)

Curadi was one of the biggest parts — literally — to the improbable run to the USHL championship by the Dubuque Fighting Saints, an expansion team loaded with New England talent, last winter.

At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Curadi brings a physical presence that should be immediately felt throughout ECAC Hockey. In 63 games in the regular-season and postseason with the Fighting Saints, he collected 136 penalty minutes to go with two goals and 10 assists, and hoisted the Clark Cup when it was over.

“He has great size and athletic ability and is starting to develop into a hard, physical and intense defender,” RPI coach Seth Appert said.

Brian Billett
G, Boston College (Kennebunk, Maine)

The departure of stalwart John Muse (East Falmouth, Mass.) leaves a void in the BC net that hasn’t been present in some time, and if things play out right, Billett could be the one to fill it.

Last season, as the top goalie on the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs, Billett posted a 19-2-1 record, 1.93 goals-against average and .933 save percentage as the team won the EJHL title.

“We’ve had some serious goalies here in the last decade,” Jr. Monarchs head coach/GM Sean Tremblay (Newburyport, Mass.) told New England Hockey Journal late in the season, “and Brian Billett is breaking every record.”

The only goalie on the BC roster with any experience is junior Parker Milner, who saw time in nine games last season. Senior Chris Venti (Needham, Mass.) and freshman Brad Barone (Medfield, Mass.) are also on the roster.

Vinny Saponari
RW, Northeastern

The 21-year-old Saponari’s offensive creativity and flair were displayed enough for the Atlanta Thrashers to spend a fourth-round pick on him in 2008, before this long, strange trip began.

He was an impact freshman on Boston University’s national championship team of 2008-09, scoring eight goals and 17 points. He improved those totals to 12-18-30 as a sophomore but was kicked off the team at the conclusion of the season by coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.), who noted “cumulative instances” where Saponari and his older brother, Victor, exhibited “conduct unbecoming” of a BU player.

Last season, as a teammate of Curadi’s on the championship Dubuque team, he put up 18 goals and a team-high 46 assists.

Saponari’s worth watching for several reasons: first, to see if his creativity can jump-start a Huskies offense that must replace its top four scorers; and second, to see the reception he gets when he plays against BU (and maybe even BC). Should be a fun Beanpot.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
D, New Hampshire

New Hampshire fans are still taking sides on the time current Philadelphia Flyers standout James van Riemsdyk spent with their program, whether the former No. 2 overall draft pick enjoyed two standout years or didn’t dominate enough for a player of his pedigree.

At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Trevor van Riemsdyk favors his older brother physically, though he generates his offensive creativity from the blue line. In 38 games with the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs last season, he posted 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists), best among the team’s defensemen.

“Trevor is simply the most gifted offensive defensemen in the EJHL over the last two seasons,” Tremblay said. “His ability to see the ice and make the right decision with the puck is exceptional. Because his game with the puck is so strong, he is a very underestimated defensive player. I expect him to make an immediate and big impact in Durham.”

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com. This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.