By Mike Zhe
Is it a new era at Curry College?
Or just the continuation of a good, existing one?
When T.J. Manastersky was tapped to replace Rob Davies as coach prior to this season, he inherited a team with just 12 returning players and a slew of freshmen. But among those 12 returnees were several who’d helped the Colonels reach the last three ECAC Northeast championship games.
Manastersky knew two things: One, that he wanted an emphasis on defense, on the Colonels being a team that gave up few scoring chances and took few penalties.
And, No. 2, that the team he was coaching in November wouldn’t be as good as the one he’s coaching now.
Curry had to travel into another time zone to do it, but it’s coming off its best weekend of hockey all year. It swept Finlandia (3-0) and host Wisconsin-Superior (5-3) in the Yellowjacket Tournament this past weekend, giving its momentum a boost with the resumption of conference play just 12 days away.
Against Finlandia, an MCHA program, it permitted just 17 shots on goalie Derek Mohney. Forward Casey Brugman (Winthrop, Mass.) scored his first two goals of the year and the Colonels had one of their most aesthetically-pleasing wins under their new coach.
“That was a really satisfying win for me,” said Manastersky. “We played a full game and we were committed to defense. And, obviously, the guys were all fired up for the next game. We talked about it being a game where everyone’s going to check out the box score because it’s East vs. West, so let’s see what happens.”
Against Wisconsin-Superior, the No.11-ranked team in Division 3, Brugman scored twice more, including the equalizer midway through the third period on the power play. Curry scored three times in the third period to secure the come-from-behind win.
Ian DeLong is leading the team in scoring (9-8-17) and is also the first forward off the bench on the penalty kill. Captain and undersized defenseman Brett Kaneshiro is a calming influence, playing nearly 30 minutes a game; and another senior, Connor Hendry (6-8-14) is a gritty player described by his coach as the “heart and soul” of the team.
Defensively, the team is allowing 2.92 goals a game, nothing embarrassing but something that has room for improvement.
Last year, the Colonels’ loss to Wentworth in the ECAC Northeast championship snapped a string of two straight titles and accompanying NCAA tournament appearances. Wentworth, with just about everyone back from its team, was the preseason pick to win.
But at midseason, the picture’s murky. Wentworth (7-6-1, 3-2 ECAC Northeast) is there, but so are Curry, Western New England (6-5, 4-1) and even Nichols (9-5, 3-2), another program with a new coach (Peru, Maine, native Kevin Swallow).
Manastersky was hired at Curry after four years as an assistant at Fredonia State. He arrived and began preaching defense, reasoning that down the stretch, when the games get bigger, it’s going to be low-scoring affairs they need to win, not 6-5 shootouts.
“We’re a program that, in the first half, was searching for an identity,” he said. “I’m hoping that weekend out west helped us find it.”
Player of the Week
Casey Brugman, sr., F, Curry
Brugman (Winthrop, Mass.) had zero goals in first 10 games, but four over the weekend in Yellowjacket tourney at Wisconsin-Superior.
“He was carrying the weight of Winthrop on his shoulders,” quipped Manastersky.
Game of the Week
UMass-Boston at Norwich, Friday, 7 p.m.
Norwich got saddled with its first loss Saturday (to Neumann) but is still perfect in ECAC East play.
The visiting Beacons have won seven straight and senior forward Mike DeGrazia (12-13-25) leads the nation in points per game.
New England Division 3 Power Rankings
1. Bowdoin (11-0-1, 7-0-1 NESCAC)
Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass.) had the game-winner with two minutes left in thrilling, 3-2 win at Amherst Friday that lived up to expectations. A 6-2 win at Wesleyan followed.
2. Norwich (11-1, 7-0 ECAC East)
Cadets’ first loss was tough one to swallow against Neumann Saturday, 5-3. They owned 2-0 and 3-2 leads, and allowed just 14 shots on goalie Matic Marinsek.
3. Williams (7-2-1, 6-1-1 NESCAC)
Goalie Sean Dougherty stopped 65 of 67 shots as Ephs tied Trinity (1-1) and beat Wesleyan (2-1). Defenseman Mike Brofft figured in all three weekend goals, scoring two.
4. Plymouth State (8-3, 5-1 MASCAC)
On a night when they got outshot 45-23, Mike Freitag (two goals) and Jack Astedt (43 saves) were the heroes in a 4-2 win at streaking Babson Saturday.
5. Amherst (8-4-1, 5-3 NESCAC)
Freshman Dave Cunningham (Arlington, Mass.) needed to make just four saves in a 3-0 shutout of Colby Saturday.
6. UMass-Boston (9-2-1, 3-2-1 ECAC East)
Beacons captured Codfish Bowl, beating Wentworth (5-2) and Johnson & Wales (6-3). Tim Richter (Naugatuck, Conn.) and DeGrazia each had two goals on the weekend.
7. Trinity (6-3-2, 3-1-2 NESCAC)
John Hawkrigg had the game-winner and Ben Coulthard of South Windsor, Conn. (53 saves) continued his stellar season in a 2-1 win over Middlebury Saturday.
8. Babson (7-3-2, 3-2-1 ECAC East)
A 4-2 home loss to Plymouth State Saturday snapped the Beavers’ seven-game win streak
9. Curry (7-5-1, 3-1-1 ECAC Northeast)
Things get no easier for Colonels this weekend with No. 4 Hobart coming to town Saturday.
10. Nichols (9-5, 3-2 ECAC Northeast)
Early goals by Joe Sposit and Danny Greiner helped Bison salvage Yellowjacket tourney with a 2-1 consolation win over Finlandia.