PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The bitterness lingers for the Plymouth State College hockey team.
A second-place finish in the Eastern College Athletic Conference North Division wasn't good enough for the 1996-97 Panthers to advance to the ECAC North-Central-South play-offs, even though the first, third and fourth place schools in the North were all invited. PSC remembers not the 12-9-1 overall record or the 8-3-1 conference mark, but sitting at home for the play-offs.
"There's still a sour taste in our mouths after finishing second in the conference and not making the playoffs," said second-year head coach Sal Leale. "As a result, we've set our standards and expectations very high this year. Nothing less than a trip to the playoffs would be considered a success for this year's team."
This year's team begins playing for real this Saturday (Nov. 8), when they entertain ECAC North opponent Roger Williams (4:00 p.m.) in the season opener at Waterville Valley Ice Arena, about a 20-minute drive from campus. The Panthers play at home for their first three games and six of the first eight, with a challenging trip to Cortland, NY, for a doubleheader at Cortland State sandwiched in later this month.
Leale has 14 returning veterans, including the entire defensive unit, a goaltender, and five of the top six scorers. Only four seniors graduated from last year's squad, but one was starting goaltender Scott Linde and another was three-time leading scorer Jeff Craig.
"We will have excellent speed offensively, and good size defensively," said Leale, a native of Nyack, NY. "The veterans coming back have had a year to understand my system. We've got three solid lines who are all capable of scoring anytime they're on the ice. The freshman recruits have come in and adapted well to the system and gelled with the team."
"We are extremely young," added Leale, noting the 13 freshmen on the roster. "We will be one of the youngest teams on the ice this year."
Leale feels good about his offensive unit, with the return of juniors Chris Ticconi (Shaker Heights, OH) and Josh Perry (Falmouth, MA) and sophomores Eric Ryan (North Chelmsford, MA), Rich Vega (New Milford, CT), and Kevin Creighton (Falmouth, MA). Ticconi, one of the team captains, scored 12 goals in just 13 games as a sophomore last season after a 13-goal freshman campaign, and should be one of the top players in the league this season. Perry has scored 20 goals in his first two seasons, and possesses the ability to put up some big numbers. Ryan and Vega were 2-3 on the team in scoring last season (behind Craig), each averaging more than a point a game. Creighton joined the team at mid-semester and added nine points in 13 games, and provides a spark to the offense.
Leale says the top newcomers on offense are freshmen Erik Nadeau (Waterville, ME) and Matt McPhee (Plymouth, MA), who should both add punch to the offense right away.
Also likely to see plenty of playing time are senior Derek Hengstenberg (Clark, NJ) and junior Todd Hengstenberg (Clark, NJ). They should skate a regular shift, but will also contribute with plenty of penalty killing.
Defensively, Leale feels the Panthers are very solid, with all six regulars from last year returning. PSC will have four or five blue-liners over six-feet tall, and all throwing their weight around, led by senior Mark Memmolo (Reading, MA), junior captain Steve Colonna (Falmouth, MA) and sophomore Tim Conroy (Cohasset, MA). Colonna has good size and can also be an offensive threat. Memmolo is a four-year regular, and Conroy is one of the most physical players on the team.
Also returning from last year's blue-line unit are seniors Mike Flaherty (Reading, MA) and Mike Comeau (Haverhill, MA) and junior Rob Fox (Mashpee, MA). Leale says freshman Chris Casey (Niskayuna, NY) has great hands and a great shot, and will step in right away in both even-up situations and power plays. Also look for Jack Langelier (Marlboro, MA) to work his way into the lineup and add to the blue-line corp.
Junior Jeremy Roberge (Concord, NH) is the only experienced returning goalie for PSC. He had the starting role most of his freshman season, and was 3-0 in three starts last season, posting a 2.71 goals against average in seven games overall and a .905 saves percentage. He is being challenged by freshmen Cliff Mask (London, Ont.) and Dan Baker (Clifton Park, NY). Mask, a 6'3" netminder, brings tremendous experience with him from the Canadian Jr. Program, and Baker has looked extremely sharp to this point. Leale is still sorting out his goalie rotation, and finding out who his go-to guy will be.
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