November 20, 2012

Division 3 Journal: Owls soar out of the gate

By Mike Zhe

In his five years as a coach at Westfield State since that program was re-elevated to varsity status, Bob Miele has seen bad starts. 

Defenseman Billy Miller led the Owls with 20 points in 26 games last season. (Photo: Westfield State)

He’s also seen good starts, and he knows that what’s being achieved in November is not necessarily what he’s going to see come February.

Still, it’s hard not to be a little encouraged about what the Owls, 7-14-5 a year ago, have done so far this season: a 6-0 record (3-0 MASCAC) that includes last Tuesday’s win against preseason favorite Plymouth State.

“We still have a long way to go, obviously,” said Miele. “This is just the beginning. “We’ve had good starts in the past and finished off poorly, and we’ve had bad starts and finished off hot.

“But it’s great to have that confidence. Winning is kind of contagious. There have been a couple times when we were down two goals in the third period and they know they can come back. In the past, it was kind of, ‘Here we go again?’”

So what’s got these Owls soaring out of the gate? A little bit of everything.

Defensively, they’ve been solid in goal with sophomore Ian Perrier (.961 save percentage). And most potential rushes have to go through 6-foot-2 junior Billy Miller, their Californian anchor on the blueline.

“He definitely plays the most minutes on ‘D’ for us,” said Miele. “We brought him in kind of as a defensive defenseman, but he’s running our top power play now. He makes smart decisions. He’s wearing a letter for us. He’s a guy we look to each and every day.”

Offensively, the Owls are scoring at a 4.83 clip, the sixth-highest in Division 3. Eight players are averaging at least a point a game, a group led by captain Vince Perreault (3-5-8).

Frank Zuccaro was the hero last week against Plymouth, scoring on the power play with 1:23 left in overtime for a 3-2 win.

Miele knows the road gets harder, not easier, from here. The Owls kick off a stiff, three-game stretch tonight when they play at No. 8 Amherst – where Miele played for coach Jack Arena a decade ago – and next week face league foes UMass-Dartmouth and Salem State.

Since the program’s rebirth after 20 dormant years in 2008-09, the only comparable start to this one was in 2009-10, Miele’s first year as head coach after one year spent assisting Jerry Keefe (Billerica, Mass.). The team opened 5-0-2 but finished 13-10-3, losing to UMD in the first round of the MASCAC tourney.

This year, Westfield’s looking to change the script.

“Long way to go,” said Miele. “It’s been great so far, though.”

Player of the Week

Nathan Corey, G, Amherst

Senior from Alaska made a strong pitch to take over the vacated No. 1 spot in net, making 26 and then 22 saves in the Lord Jeffs’ back-to-back, 1-0 shutouts of Hamilton to open the season.

Game of the Week

Middlebury vs. Plattsburgh, Friday, 4 p.m.

Lot of eyes on Vermont this holiday weekend. The Panthers (1-0-1) face off against SUNYAC power and No. 5-ranked Plattsburgh (5-1) in the first round of the PrimeLink tournament at Norwich.

In the late semifinal, No. 2 Norwich (5-0) hosts No. 11 St. Thomas (5-2-1). The winners play Saturday.

New England Division 3 power rankings

1. Norwich (5-0, 5-0 ECAC East)

Unbeaten Cadets got their stiffest test of the season so far at New England College on Saturday, needing a go-ahead goal midway through the third period from Pier-Olivier Cotnoir and 22 saves from Chris Czarnota (Wakefield, Mass.) in a 2-1 win.

2. Bowdoin (1-0-1, 1-0-1 NESCAC)

Ollie Koo scored a pair of goals but Polar Bears left a point on home ice when they couldn’t protect a two-goal, third-period lead in a 4-4 tie with Middlebury on Saturday.

3. Amherst (2-0, 2-0 NESCAC)

What goaltending concerns? Nathan Corey pitched a pair of 1-0 shutouts in opening-weekend sweep of Hamilton, making a combined 48 saves in the wins.

4. Plymouth State (3-1, 1-1 MASCAC)

Defenseman J.C. Richardson and Travis Stevens scored goals to stake Panthers to a 2-0 lead in NCAA rematch with Wentworth on Monday, and they held on for a 2-1 win.

5. Middlebury (1-0-1, 1-0-1 NESCAC)

Got balance? Nine different players scored goals for the Panthers opening weekend, in a 5-2 win at Colby and a 4-4 tie at Bowdoin.

6. Western New England (4-1, 3-0 ECAC Northeast)

Tim Carr’s 41 saves spurred WNE to 2-1 win over Salve Regna Saturday to complete a perfect 2-0 week. Brandon Stroud had two goals and three assists.

7. Wentworth (4-2-1, 2-1 ECAC Northeast)

Road warriors? Monday’s loss to Plymouth snapped a two-game win streak for the Leopards, who are 0-2 at home, 4-0-1 away from home.

8. Westfield State (6-0, 3-0 MASCAC)

Pay attention closely. Next three games for the Owls – at Amherst Tuesday, vs. UMass-Darmouth and at Salem State on Dec. 1 – will tell us a lot more.

9. New England College (4-2-1, 3-2-1 ECAC East)

Shawn Sirman was stellar in 2-1 loss to Norwich, making 37 saves. He has a 2.79 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in six starts.

10. Trinity (1-0-1, 1-0-1 NESCAC)

Seniors Chris Menard (Burlington, Mass.) and Zachary Lombardi, and freshman Jim Burt (Hamden, Conn.) each scored twice in weekend that included 4-4 tie with Tufts and 6-0 win at Conn. College.

Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.