PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The 1999-2000 edition of the Plymouth State College ice hockey team makes its season debut this Saturday evening in an important home game at Waterville Valley Ice Arena.
The Panthers will host the Penmen of New Hampshire College at 7 p.m. Saturday in an ECAC Northeast Conference battle. It's a fairly big game for both schools, as these were two of the eight teams that made the play-offs last season in the 18-team Northeast Conference.
Plymouth State, which is beginning its second year under head coach Mike Bonelli, will have four home games this semester, along with three road contests. The first five games are conference encounters, and Coach Bonelli and the Panthers are hoping for a strong start to what they hope will be a playoff-bound season. The Northeast Conference champion in March will receive an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
PSC was picked seventh in this season's Northeast Conference pre-season coaches' poll, not a surprising choice after the Panthers finished seventh last season with a 10-7 mark. It was the second straight ECAC post-season appearance for the Panthers, who finished with a 13-12 overall record after Fitchburg State dashed their championship hopes in the first round, 6-2.
1999-2000 P.S.C. Ice Hockey Outlook
The Panthers return 19 veterans from last year's squad, including 13 who saw regular playing time. Bonelli welcomes back the top four scorers from last season, four solid veterans on defense, and an All-Northeast Conference goaltender.
"Our first and foremost goal is to return to the play-offs," says Bonelli, who is in his third year at PSC and second as head coach. "We would also like to get into a position where we can have a home play-off game. These are realistic goals we have set for the team."
Even with the return of the top four scorers, Bonelli says the strength of the team lies in its defense. Having a top-notch goaltender is a big part of the picture.
"Look for Plymouth State to be a strong defensive team game in and game out," says Bonelli. "We were among the top defensive teams in the league last season, and I expect that to continue."
The blue-line unit must overcome the loss of two-time all-conference selection and team captain Steve Colonna, but the key returnees include senior tri-captain Tim Conroy (Cohasset, Mass.), classmate John Power (Reading, Mass.), junior Jack Langelier (Marlboro, Mass.) and sophomore Chris Tortorella (Larchmont, NY). Bonelli is also comfortable with senior Matt Dutton (White Plains, NY) and freshmen Henry Sabens (North Falmouth, Mass.) and James Smith (Long Beach Island, NJ).
One of the strengths of the Panthers is the return of sophomore goaltender Larry Forgue (Nashua, NH). The 5'7", 160-pounder had a terrific rookie season, earning all-conference honors and setting the school record for goals against average in a season (2.56). His goals against average and saves percentage (.918) were both among the national leaders. Bonelli hopes Forgue will be pushed by junior Cliff Mask (London, ONT) and newcomers Craig Michalowski (East Haven, Conn.) and Josh Bourdon (St. Albans, VT).
"Larry has established himself as the No. 1 guy," said Bonelli, "but his success is based on the guys backing him up. They've got to push him to come out every night and do what we ask him to do."
The Panther offense should be no slouch, either, led by senior captain Eric Ryan (North Chelmsford, Mass.), classmates Rich Vega (New Milford, Conn.) and Kevin Creighton (Falmouth, Mass.), and junior captain Erik Nadeau (Waterville, Maine). Ryan led the team in scoring last season with 17 goals, 16 assists and 33 points in 25 games, and needs only nine points to reach 100 for his career. Vega (9-14-23) and Creighton (7-15-22) are solid veteran players, and few possess the natural skill and ability of Nadeau (8-10-18).
Bonelli will also look to a handful of veterans for offensive punch - juniors Matt McPhee (Plymouth, Mass.) and Tom Beaulieu (Hudson, NH) and sophomores John Hornor (Marlton, NJ) and Tony LaScola (Fairfax, VA), as well as junior transfer Michael Zegarelli (Clinton, NY),
"We're hoping to be able to go at teams with four balanced lines," said Bonelli. "Depth is an asset on this team and overall, I think our top three lines are stronger than in the past. One thing you won't find on this team is an individual star or a top line. We'll be much more balanced, and we hope that''ll be hard for teams to defend."
Bonelli is also pleased and excited about the return of assistant coach Chuck Yaeger, who served as a Panther assistant for many years under former head coach Dave Webster.
"He's already made quite an impression on the guys," said Bonelli, "with his knowledge of the game and his enthusiasm. The stability he gives to the program is something we've missed since he left."
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