November 11, 2012

Division 3 season preview: NESCAC and MASCAC

ByMike Zhe

Here's NEHJ's Division 3 season preview for teams throughout NESCAC and MASCAC.

NESCAC: Net losses? Or net gains?

What the NESCAC had a year ago, when it sent its champion to the Frozen Four, was an abundance of good senior goalies. Jonathan La Rose led Amherst to the national semifinals and received the Sid Watson Award as Division 3 Player of the Year. Williams had Ryan Purdy. Tufts had Scott Barchard (Reading, Mass.). 

Bowdoin's Colin Downey (Photo by Brian Beard/Creative Images)

“It’s always nice to see the good ones graduate, especially when you’re playing against them,” said Wesleyan coach Chris Potter. “Those guys were good, but they also had good teams, too.”

How good will they be this winter? There could less of a gap between the rich and middle class, especially when one factors in who has a proven goaltender and who doesn’t. “That’s the big thing,” said Tufts coach Brian Murphy. “If you can stop the puck, you’re going to be OK.”

Bowdoin (16-6-3) falls on both sides of the fence. The Polar Bears said goodbye to Richard Nerland but welcome back sophomore Steve Messina, who posted a 2.88 goals-against average and .900 save percentage while splitting time with Nerland.

The team returns seven of its top eight scorers, including versatile Colin Downey (East Sandwich, Mass,), who notched eight goals and a team-high 29 points. John McGinnis scored 10 times on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. This might be the team to beat.

Many coaches feel Amherst (24-4-1), even with La Rose moving on, won’t drop off dramatically, though he was a huge part of their national-best 1.66 goals per game allowed. Mike Moher (13-16-29) leads a contingent of veteran skaters, while senior Nathan Corey is the No. 1 among the returning goalies and freshman David Cunningham (Arlington, Mass.) out of Belmont Hill was an All-New England prep selection last year.

“I like our group coming back,” said Amherst coach Jack Arena. “I’d hope that up front we’d be pretty similar — four balanced lines with all of them contributing. That was definitely one of our strengths last year.”

“It’s Amherst,” said Trinity coach Matt Greason. “Until they’re beaten, they’re still No. 1. They’re still the class of the league.”

Trinity (9-13-2) is poised to make a jump with most of its scoring back and a defense, though young, that’s promising. Twins Chris and Jeffrey Menard (Burlington, Mass.) led the Bantams with 27 and 25 points, respectively, and junior goalie Ben Coulthard (South Windsor, Conn.) had a superb second half, finishing with a 2.86 GAA and .922 save percentage.

“We’ve got to put pucks in the net and our power play (10 for 92) has to be better,” said Greason.

Perennial contender Middlebury (14-10-3) looks to be a team in transition, though a potentially strong freshman class could speed that up. None of the team’s returning players had more than 13 points a year ago, and Middlebury went through goalies (five) like there were open auditions. Look for former Nobles standout P.J. Falvey (Hingham, Mass.) to make an impact on the blueline.

Offensively, Wesleyan (12-11-2) will feel the absence of leading scorer and Rookie of the Year Nik Tasiopoulos (Norwell, Mass.), who transfered to Babson. But the Cardinals were decent defensively, and there are reasons for optimism with forwards Nick Craven and Tommy Hartnett and senior goalies Glenn Stowell (Hadley, Mass.) and Matt Hodge (Canton, Mass.).

Tufts (12-11-2) and Williams (12-9-5) have new goalies to nurture, and Hamilton (8-14-3) and Connecticut College (6-15-3) will try to make strides.

Colby (7-15-1) will take the ice with its third head coach in three years. Former UMass-Lowell and Niagara bench boss Blaise MacDonald (Billerica, Mass.), who has a track record of rehabbing programs, will try to get the White Mules pointed in the right direction.

Three stars

Mike Moher, sr., F, Amherst — Toronto product will resume his role as first-line center, top faceoff man and special teamer after leading Lord Jeffs with 13-16-29 totals last season.

Colin Downey, jr., F/D, Bowdoin — Former Northfield Mount Hermon and Boston Jr. Bruins standout has 54 points in his first two seasons.

Kyle Gallegos, jr., F, Tufts — He emerged as one of the league’s best players, scoring a team-high 18 goals last season for a Jumbos squad that managed just 69.

MASCAC: Plymouth aims for back to back

For all the success Plymouth State enjoyed last winter — its first MASCAC championship and first NCAA tournament appearance — it’s not like the Panthers were in danger of burning out the red lights in their rink or others.

In 27 games, they scored a total of 89 goals — barely three a game. Take away the six they scored in the opener against Southern New Hampshire and the seven they pumped in against Worcester State in the conference semifinals, and this was not exactly an offensively imposing team.

Defensively, though, few were better. And with standout goalie Jack Astedt and the entire blueline corps back, there’s little question the Panthers (17-7-3) are the team to beat in the MASCAC, no matter where the offense comes from.

“Our identity last year kind of changed along the way,” said Plymouth State coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.). “I thought we’d have a decent amount of offense and that could carry our defense.

“This year, I’d expect it to be more of what I thought we had last year.”

On the blueline, Richie Zobak (3-19-22) and captain J.C. Richardson are back for their senior years, and both again are expected to log nearly 30 minutes of ice time a night. Astedt (2.28 goals-against average, .914 save percentage), Zobak and forward Kyle Greco (14-22-36) were first-team All-MASCAC selections.

“(Astedt) is far beyond everyone else in this league, in my opinion,” said Russell.

Challengers? Like last year, the best bets are Salem State and UMass-Dartmouth, who traded the top spots in the standings with Plymouth all last winter, with the Vikings coming oh-so-close again, losing in the league championship game in double overtime, 5-4.

Salem State (15-9-3) returns two of its top offensive guns — senior Nick Lampson of Groton, Mass. (19-18-37) and junior Eric Defelice (13-14-27) — plus Derek Crocker, who had 10 goals as a junior. The goaltending for coach Bill O’Neill’s (Lynn, Mass.) squad should be in good hands with junior Ryan Sutliffe.

UMD (16-9-2) also has a good core of players back — eight forwards, four defensemen and three goalies — but one glaring hole, the one left by the graduated Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.), the conference Player of the Year whose 23 goals ranked second in Division 3.

“You don’t like losing a guy like Mike Owens,” said UMD coach John Rolli. “That’s a big hit. Hopefully, a couple of veterans will step up and be productive, and that goes with whatever we can get from the new guys.”

The Corsairs return eight forwards, four defensemen and three goalies, including last year’s Rookie of the Year, defenseman Stephen Ginand (Milford, Mass.), who posted 7-13-20 totals.

“A very gifted, skilled defenseman,” said Rolli. “He handles the puck very well and sees the ice very well. And, without a booming slapshot, he scores key goals.”

Rolli (545) and O’Neill (502) enter the season ranked 14th and 20th, respectively, in all-time college coaching wins.

For the league’s other four teams — Worcester State (9-15-3), Fitchburg State (9-13-4), Westfield State (7-14-5) and Framingham State (6-15-4) — cracking the top three might have to wait another season.

This season, at least at the start, it’s seasoned Plymouth and then everyone else.

“Last season was kind of a season that you didn’t want to end,” said Russell. “In the offseason, we were just waiting for October to get here.”

Three stars

Nick Lampson, sr., F, Salem State — The 5-foot-10 sniper from Groton, Mass., has put up double-digit goal totals in each of his first three years, including 19-18-37 last year. He enters the year with 99 career points.

Billy Miller, jr., D, Westfield State — The hulking, 6-foot-2 junior from California led the Owls in assists (17) and points last year and was named All-Conference and team MVP.

Stephen Ginand, soph., D, UMass-Dartmouth — Last year’s Rookie of the Year showed punch offensively with 7-13-20 totals and is one of four returning blueliners for the Corsairs, who own the most league wins of any MASCAC team the past two years.

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

Twitter: @MikeZhe603