November 9, 2011

ECAC East preview: Castleton State takes aim at Norwich

By Mike Zhe

Any team in this league looking to unseat perennial power Norwich has to have its sights set pretty high. 

Josh Harris of Castleton State (photo: Ennis Duling/Castleton State)

Josh Harris of Castleton State (photo: Ennis Duling/Castleton State)

Consider Castleton State to be gazing up.

“We’re bringing back basically the same team we had last year,” said seventh-year coach Alex Todd, who was named ECAC East Coach of the year last season after guiding the Spartans to a 22-4-1 mark. “If we stay healthy and get a couple bounces, I think we can have a great year.”

The Spartans had a national presence last season, at least on an individual level. Forward Josh Harris, who is a junior this year, led all of Division 3 with 50 points (16 goals, 34 assists).

“He competes so hard; the biggest thing he needs to do is keep his focus on playing both ends of the ice,” Todd said. “He’s always going to get his points, as long as he’s working hard. He’s got that nose for the net.”

That nose also can smell a pretty solid supporting cast.

The Spartans did graduate forward Stuart Stefan, like Harris an AHCA All-American, but lost only one other player to graduation.
In addition, defenseman Braden Kinnebrew transferred and forward Cameron Granger likely will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury.

Defensively, sophomore Reid Lesswing and junior Brad Barber are the shutdown guys, while senior Tyler Atkins (2-16-18) and sophomore Dru Douglas can provide scoring punch.

Still, Castleton and the other teams know that any path to the league title goes through Northfield, Vt.

The Cadets are coming off a 22-6-3 season that saw them reach their third Frozen Four in the past four years. Norwich also won its unprecedented 13th consecutive ECAC East regular-season title and ninth ECAC East tournament championship.

Seven of the team’s top 10 scorers are back, a group led by Pier-Olivier Cotnoir (21-17-38), league Rookie of the Year Travis Janke (12-27-39) and Kyle Thomas of Waltham, Mass., and the South Shore Kings (16-12-28).

“We’ll probably start them off together and see how they do,” said Norwich coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.). “They finished off last year together and did a nice job.”

Babson, which knocked off Castleton to reach the league tournament final last season, has just about all its top scorers back, a group led by forwards PT Donato (Arlington, Mass.) and Mike Hoban (Medfield, Mass.), and defenseman Ryan Heavey (Andover, Mass.). Zeke Testa (Wellesley, Mass.) should be one of the league’s top goaltenders after posting a .909 save percentage a year ago.

UMass-Boston said goodbye to All-American forward Eric Tufman, but forward Travis Daniel and defenseman Rob Florentino (West Roxbury, Mass.) are two good pillars to build around.

Three stars

Josh Harris, jr., F, Castleton State — Early questions about the California native’s work ethic have been put to rest, and he’s on track to become the school’s all-time scoring leader.

Travis Janke, soph., F, Norwich — Janke is both skillful and durable. His 27 assists were the eighth most in Division 3, and he was one of just six Cadets to play in all 32 games.

Rob Florentino, jr., D, UMass-Boston — The blueliner made a major impact in his first season after transferring from Div. 1 AIC.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.