November 11, 2012

Division 3 season preview: ECAC East and Northeast

By Mike Zhe

Here's NEHJ's Division 3 season preview for teams throughout ECAC East and Northeast.

ECAC EAST: Intrigue goes beyond favorites

There were two good races to follow in the ECAC East last season. The first was between Green Mountain rivals Norwich and Castleton State for league supremacy, a year-long battle that the Cadets ultimately won with extreme prejudice, battering Castleton, 11-1, in the championship game and going on to their third straight Frozen Four. 

Castleton's Nick Lazorko (Photo: Castleton State Athletics)

But just below the penthouse, there was a winter’s full of jostling among several teams well above ground level. And that shouldn’t change this year.

“Norwich and Castleton are 1 and 1A,” said Southern Maine coach Jeff Beaney. “They’re both going to be very strong. Then there’s always a group right after — Babson, UMass-Boston, Skidmore, New England College. It always comes down to the last point for who gets home ice for the playoffs.”

“UMass-Boston had a great recruiting class,’ said Norwich coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.). “New England’s going to be very good. They were very close last year.”

So let’s start in the middle. Southern Maine (10-11-6) came as close as anyone to crashing the Norwich-Castleton finals party that had been in the works for months, taking the Cadets to the wire in a 3-2 semifinal loss. The Huskies graduated just one senior, forward Dan Rautenberg (Cape Elizabeth, Maine), from that team, though their goaltending situation got murkier when Braely Torris transferred to Neumann.

But with 20 returning players, including a deep sophomore class led by forward Ryan Seward (8-16-24), the team’s co-leading scorer and the league’s Rookie of the Year; high-scoring defenseman Jon Grandinetti (7-17-24); and a supporting cast led by captain David Nies, the Huskies could make a big jump from sixth place if they can find a goalie. “We’re going to be a little unproven in net,” said Beaney.

Norwich (24-3-2) is Norwich. Whether the Cadets choose to break up their top line of Pier-Olivier Cotnoir (21-21-42), Kyle Thomas (16-21-37) and Travis Janke (11-28-39) or keep it intact, they’ll score goals, like they did a year ago when they led Division 3 at 4.62 goals a game. Defense and goaltending weren’t too shabby, either.

“Our nucleus is good,” said McShane. “Our better players are back and we have a great senior class.”

Castleton (19-7-2) spent part of its preseason on a European tour, showing off what’s back from a team that did everything but unseat Norwich a year ago. Breakout years from Nick Lazorko (23-17-40), Justin Alonzo (10-28-38) and this year’s captain, Dan Bell (18-22-40) more than picked up the slack during Josh Harris’ first-semester absence, and the Spartans averaged 4.43 goals a game.

Experienced Babson (9-13-4) returns five seniors — forwards P.T. Donato (Arlington, Mass.), Matt Leer, Jay Haseley and Trevor Hines (Newburyport, Mass.); and defenseman Sean Coffey (Needham, Mass.) — who’ve all played in at least 65 games, plus goalie Zeke Testa (Wellesley, Mass.). Transfer Nik Tasiopoulos should help an offense that managed just 69 goals in 26 games, though the Beavers did close the year on a 6-2-4 stretch.

NEC (9-12-5) graduated eight players, including a good chunk of its defense, from a team that had a tie and two one-goal losses to heavyweights Norwich and Castleton, but is usually able to turn over its roster quickly.

UMass-Boston (13-10-3) and Skidmore (12-13-2) will have to fill the shoes of last year’s two All-Conference goalies, Kevin Bendel and Colin Bessey, respectively, among others, but could get into the mix for a top-four finish.

St. Anselm (14-8-5) and St. Michael’s (6-18-2) are also hoping to climb in the standings, while the University of New England (4-19-2) is still looking for that foundation season since returning to the Division 3 ranks in 2010.

Three stars

Pier-Olivier Cotnoir, sr., F, Norwich — Slick Quebec native cracked the career 100-point mark during last year’s NCAA tournament win over Wentworth. Many consider him the best player in the league.

Nick Lazorko, jr., F., Castleton State — Only one player in Division 3 scored more goals than the Texas native, whose 23 were a single-season program record.

Ryan Seward, soph., F, Southern Maine — Exciting debut for the New York native, who became USM’s first league Rookie of the Year.

ECAC NORTHEAST: Wentworth gets defensive

Lots of comings and goings in the ECAC Northeast, which had plenty to celebrate last season, including an NCAA tournament win.

There are two new coaches — T.J. Manastersky replaces Rob Davies at Curry and Kevin Swallow takes over for Lou Izzi at Nichols. Meanwhile, one of the league’s brightest young stars, Louie Educate of Nichols — the third-leading scorer in Division 3 — transferred to Utica College.

That makes reigning champ Wentworth Institute of Technology a clear-cut favorite heading into the new season. Its own goings were minimal.

The Leopards (21-7-1), who won their first Northeast title since 2004 and then won at Plymouth State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, bring back the bulk of their roster, including all their defensemen, headed by seniors Shaun Jameson (5-20-25) and Reed Rushing, and one that allowed 2.48 goals a game last winter. “Last year and, for sure, this year, it’s the deepest group I’ve had back there,” said seventh-year coach R.J. Tolan.

Wentworth used a strong stretch run to snatch the title in a three-team race that also included runner-up Curry and Johnson & Wales. But both those teams have new looks, with the former welcoming a new coach and the latter saying goodbye to Jeremiah Ketts, who led all of Division 3 in scoring last year.

So who can push Wentworth? Maybe Western New England, which returns 10 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies from a 14-12-1 team that hit its stride down the stretch, going 5-2-1 in February. “I’m real excited,” said WNE coach Greg Heffernan. “I was just telling a couple guys I can’t wait to get going. I think this year will be less teaching and more correcting.”

The Golden Bears have a crop of budding stars led by forward Brandon Stroud and defenseman Adam Bristol. In all, seven players who managed at least 13 points are back. Junior Eric Sorenson will get first crack to be the No. 1 goalie after posting a 2.76 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, though sophomore Tim Carr is in the mix. If the goaltending holds and power play improves, the Bears could be in the hunt.

“Eric’s done a tremendous job for us,” said Heffernan. “Timmy came off the bench at the end of the year and won some big games. So it’s going to be competitive.”

Who else should be competitive? Never count out Curry (14-11-2), which has a new coach in former Fredonia State assistant Manastersky but also three straight trips to the league title game on its résumé. The Colonels, who pumped in 4.37 goals a game last year, graduated five senior regulars but have scoring punch back with players like senior Ian DeLong (13-18-31).

Ketts is gone at JWU (13-10-3), but linemates Jason Pietrasiak (Shrewsbury, Mass.) and Danny Kaufman return, and those two combined for 34 goals and 75 points. Still, maintaining 4.46 goals a game clip will be tough.

Nichols (12-13-2) has a potentially strong defensive core led by senior Wil Brown and sophomore Kyle Shapiro, and 100-point scorer Zach Kohn will try to help fill the production void left by Educate’s departure. But filling the shoes of All-Conference goalie Jacob Rinn won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, Becker (9-15-2), Salve Regina (6-19) and Suffolk (3-21) are all seeking improvement.

But as the puck drops on a new season, it’s Wentworth wearing the target. Returning players Mike Domsodi (19-16-35), conference final OT hero Sean McLaughlin (North Billerica, Mass.) and goalie Alex Peck (2.03 GAA, .918 save percentage) have the Leopards positioned well, even as Tolan acknowledges the league will be more competitive, top to bottom. “There are no easy games in college hockey anymore,” he said. “I think our guys enjoy that challenge.”

Three stars

Mike Domsodi, soph., F, Wentworth — Domsodi’s 19 goals ranked second among all Division 3 freshmen, and he’s got most of his supporting cast back.

Jason Pietrasiak, sr., F, Johnson & Wales — Riding shotgun with Jeremiah Ketts a year ago, the Shrewsbury, Mass., native put up 16 goals and 36 points and will be counted on for more.

Wil Brown, sr., D, Nichols — Few at this level possess size like Brown, a second-team All-Conference pick, who at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds should be one of the league’s top cops.

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @MikeZhe603