April 26, 2014

Freshman plays big role as Geneseo State reaches 1st Frozen Four

By Mike Zhe

Geneseo State’s Jack Ceglarski registered 20 points in his freshman season. (Keith Walters, Geneseo staff photographer)

LEWISTON, Maine — It was a hard-hitting first impression from a guy seeking to make his own impression.

In the first shift of the game, just seconds after the puck dropped on the Frozen Four at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee late last month, Geneseo State freshman Jack Ceglarski (Byfield, Mass.) lined up St. Norbert (Wis.) defenseman Blake Thompson and dropped him to the ice, right in front of his team’s bench.

Two hours later, Ceglarski and his teammates had to make peace with the end of their season after a 6-2 loss to the top-ranked team in Division 3, one that saw them erase the first two-goal deficit but not the second.

St. Norbert (28-3-1) would go on to beat Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 3-1, a night later to close out its third national title in four years and fourth in seven years.

But helping Geneseo (23-7-0) reach the program’s first-ever national semifinals, after years spent trying to escape the shadow of foes Oswego State and Plattsburgh State in the SUNYAC, was a nice first college act for Ceglarski, whose surname is familiar but whose road to this point was anything but.

“The seniors put us in a good spot, right from day one,” said Ceglarski, the grandson of legendary former Boston College coach Len Ceglarski. “They welcomed us, put us under their wings and taught us the Knight way. … It was a good year. It’s good to get the program back on the map.”

In the first Frozen Four played in New England since 2005, there was nary a New England team present. Geneseo had halted regional power Norwich’s string of four straight trips with a 3-2 quarterfinal win. Babson was blanked by Oswego, 3-0, that same day.

The closest thing to a hometown team was Geneseo, which relied heavily on three New England-born freshmen during its breakthrough season, including Ceglarski; defenseman Derek Stahl (Londonderry, N.H.), who played in every game and collected seven assists; and forward Connor Anthoine (Lewiston, Maine), who grew up skating in this rink.

“It’s been a great year, being a freshman coming in, being able to contribute,” said Stahl. “It’s been a great experience.

“I’d actually played Connor two years prior; I grew up playing with and against him. Summer tournaments along the way, as well as with Jack and (freshman) Matt Lee (Waterville, Maine). Just kind of knew them.”

The 6-foot-1 Ceglarski finished the season as the Knight’s seventh-leading scorer, with four goals and 16 assists for 20 points. After sitting out the first two games, he was in the lineup every game the rest of the way.

“I was a healthy scratch my first two games,” he said. “I kind of tweaked my groin in the preseason and had to battle through that. But Coach was always talking to me, telling me my chance would come. It finally did. I just kind of took it in stride and it paid off. I played with some good people.”

Ceglarski skated on a line in the semifinals with senior Zachary Vit, the Player of the Year in the SUNYAC, and sophomore David Ripple. Plunged into a 2-0 hole early in the second period after Joe Perry scored the first of his two goals for St. Norbert on the power play, the Knights battled back.

Another freshman, Cam Hampson, got them on the board at 4:32, feigning a slapper from the center point, skating around a defender and potting a wrister. Barely three minutes later, Justin Scharfe cashed in on a power play and it was a brand-new, 2-2 game.

That would be the high point for Geneseo. Zach Martin was slapped with a five-minute contact-to-the-head penalty and game misconduct later in the period after leveling a St. Norbert player trying to skate the puck out of the defensive zone.

One goal was scored with the teams skating 4-on-4, and the dagger came just after the penalty expired — with Ceglarski serving it — when Michael Hill curled around the net from the right and tuck a shot past goalie Nick Horrigan (38 saves) for a 4-2 lead. The Green Knights were stifling in the third period, allowing just six shots on goal while adding a couple insurance markers.

“They don’t give you much,” said Geneseo coach Chris Schultz. “Very similar style to what we saw with Norwich. Odd-man rushes just don’t happen.”

“We couldn’t come back tonight,” said Ceglarski, “but we showed a lot of resilience all year.”

The Knights will graduate just one of their top eight scorers — Vit — which means Ceglarski, Stahl, Anthoine and company might have a chance to improve on this finish in the years to come.

“What I said to the guys in the locker room is that we’re going to be a dynamite team next year,” said Schultz. “But we’re losing some great senior leadership and a guy who’s led our team in scoring for four years.”

Len Ceglarski (East Walpole, Mass.) is a college coaching legend in both New England and New York. Before his two-decade stint at Boston College, which saw him retire in 1992 with 689 career victories, most-ever in Division 1, he led Clarkson to the national championship game three times in 12 years. He was elected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

His grandson left New England to play two years of juniors with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AJHL, captaining the team in 2012-13 before committing to Geneseo and earning the reputation of a hard worker, on and off the ice.

“I’ve always battled with the name,” said his grandson. “Even refs come up to me and say, ‘Are you related?’ So I’ve dealt with that all my life. But he’s always been one of my biggest supporters, as well as my parents … he’s just always been, ‘I don’t care who I am, just be you. It’s your own career.’ ”

It’s a college career off to a pretty special start.

Trinity’s Brewer wins Concannon Award

Trinity College junior forward Jackson Brewer (Newton, Mass.) was named the recipient of the Joe Concannon Award as the best American-born college hockey player in New England competing in Division 2 or 3.

Brewer finished as the national scoring leader with 56 points (14 goals, 42 assists). His 42 assists led Division 3 and set a program record. He and linemates Mike Hawkrigg and Sean Orlando formed the most productive line in the country.

Trinity went 21-5 overall record and finished first in the NESCAC with a 15-3 league record. A 5-4 loss to Bowdoin in the league semifinals cost them a chance to advance to the 11-team NCAA tournament.

Brewer prepped at the Rivers School and played juniors with the Boston Advantage. He will head into his senior year with 88 career points.

Twitter: @MikeZhe603

Email: mzhe@hockeyjournal.com