November 13, 2012

Division 3 Journal: WNE off to promising start

By Mike Zhe

Three games is an awful small sample size for making early-season judgments, which is why nobody in Springfield, Mass., is getting overly excited yet. 

Brandon Stroud led Western New England with 28 points last season. (Richard Orr Photography)

What ailed Western New England last year, as much as anything, was its failure to cash in on the power play. In 137 chances, the Golden Bears converted on just 19, for a sub-par, 13.9-percent success rate.

“The area we really need to improve is in our power play,” said fourth-year WNE coach Greg Heffernan. “That’s an area we’re definitely going to focus on and try to improve.”

So far, so good.

In 16 power-play chances through its first three games, WNE (2-1, 1-0 ECAC Northeast) has connected five times (31.2 percent). In an eyebrow-raising, 3-2 win at defending ECAC Northeast champion Wentworth last week, it struck twice with the man advantage early on to build a two-goal lead, with Chris Connors and captain Brian Prost doing the honors.

The Bears are banking on improved depth across the board to challenge for the league title this year. But the team’s core remains the same – forwards Connors, Prost, Dan Monahan, captain John Kelly and Brandon Stroud; defenseman Adam Bristol; and goalie Eric Sorenson.

Sorenson was a second-team All-ECAC Northeast pick last year, Stroud and Bristol were picked for the All-Rookie team, and junior forward Alan Martin (Monson, Mass.) leads the team with three goals. Against Wentworth, Sorenson made 40 saves and Stroud struck for the game-winner with 97 seconds left in regulation off a feed from Kelly.

This could be the first chapter in a two-year plan for the Bears, who have just one senior on their entire roster – back-up goalie TJ. Fatse (Hampden, Mass.) – but no shortage of experience.

“No senior players, but all the returning guys have played a lot of minutes,” said Heffernan.

Wentworth, which won the league for the first time since 2004 last year, and then beat Plymouth State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, was rightfully tabbed as the team to beat as it, too, suffered minimal losses to graduation.

That’s why WNE’s win last week was so satisfying, after it began the season by splitting with Westfield State and Worcester State, a couple of second-tier MASCAC programs.

Player of the Week

Vince Perreault, F, Westfield State

Junior had three goals and an assist in two wins last week for the Owls, who beat Stonehill and Assumption, and are off to a 3-0 start after going 7-14-5 last season.

Game of the Week

Middlebury at Bowdoin, Saturday

NESCAC play opens with a bang as two of last year’s top three teams renew acquaintances in Brunswick, Maine.

New England Division 3 Power Rankings

1. Norwich (3-0, 3-0 ECAC East)

Cadets have cruised through first games, beating St. Michael’s, Southern Maine and UNE by a 19-3 count, all at home. First road trip takes them to St. Anselm and New England College this weekend.

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

Polar Bears jump right into their NESCAC schedule by hosting Williams and Middlebury this weekend.

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

All eyes will be on the Lord Jeffs’ net as they try to have another memorable season without MVP goalie Jonathan La Rose.

4. Plymouth State (1-0, 0-0 MASCAC)

Good signs of depth for the Panthers. Five different players scored goals in season-opening 5-1 win over Stonehill, and Kyle Greco wasn’t even one of them.

5. Wentworth (2-1-1, 0-1 ECAC Northeast)

A 3-2 home loss to Western New England in league opener took away some of the shine from a quality, 3-2 win at Salem State a night earlier.

6. Middlebury (0-0, 0-0 NESCAC)

What’s the over/under on impact freshmen for the Panthers this season?

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

Excellent weekend for the Pilgrims, who knocked off Skidmore and Castleton State on the road behind goals from seven different players, including two apiece from Jonathan Boxill and Cheyne Matheson.

8. Castleton State (1-2-1, 1-2-1 ECAC East)

Spartans have allowed at least three goals in every game and it probably doesn’t get any easier this weekend in Boston with games against UMass-Boston and Babson.

9. Western New England (2-1, 1-0 ECAC Northeast)

Brandon Stroud’s late strike gave Golden Bears a big, 3-2, early-season road win over defending champ Wentworth at Matthews Arena.

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

Only 10 extra-man goals in 92 chances for Bantams last year. Recipe for a climb in the NESCAC standings starts with improving on that; blend in other things later.

Twitter: @MikeZhe603