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Panthers drop the puck on 2000-01 campaign

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College drops the puck on the 2000-01 ice hockey season this weekend with a pair of home games at Waterville Valley Ice Arena.

The Panthers will face-off Friday night against Salve Regina University and Saturday evening against Nichols College. Both games, which begin at 7 p.m., are official league contests, and PSC would like nothing better than to get off to a good start in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Northeast Division.

Led by third-year head coach Mike Bonelli, the Panthers were picked to finish seventh out of the 14 teams in the Northeast Coaches' pre-season poll. They will be facing squads this weekend that were ranked eighth (Salve) and 14th (Nichols) in the poll. Wentworth was the picked as the pre-season favorite, with Fitchburg State and Lebanon Valley tied for second.

Plymouth State will be looking to rebound after a sub-par season in 1999-2000. The Panthers finished 6-12-2 overall, and missed the play-offs for the first time in three seasons after posting a 5-6-2 league mark.

This year's schedule should be an exciting one. There are 10 home games, trips to New York the first two weekends in December, participation in the New England College Holiday Tournament later in the month, and the rest of the 13-game ECAC Northeast slate the first two months of 2001. The conference play-offs, which include the top eight teams, begin on Feb. 24th and a champion is crowned on March 3rd, receiving an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.

2000-01 P.S.C. Ice Hockey Outlook

Getting back to the play-offs is the team's top priority, and the Panthers will rely on a strong defense and one of the best goaltenders in the league, junior Larry Forgue (Nashua, N.H.) Bonelli hopes the offense will open up and turn those one-goal losses into victories.

"We've got to continue to play strong defensively," said Bonelli. "Obviously, with Larry in net, defense is our strength. We've got to get ourselves on the scoreboard more, which we haven't done the past two years. We've changed the system to hopefully get more offensive production."

The Panthers lost five seniors and three freshmen from last year's team, so there are a lot of new faces on this year's team -- 14 newcomers among the 24 on the roster. Gone is the core of last year's team - Eric Ryan, Rich Vega, Kevin Creighton, Tim Conroy and John Power.

"We lost about 400 career points of offense," said Bonelli. "Losing a big senior class and coming in with so many young kids will make a difference. The team make-up is definitely very different this season. I think we're a more mature team. The new kids bring natural leadership to the program."

The key, though, is the performance of Forgue in the Panther net. He has had two terrific collegiate seasons, posting a career 2.93 goals against average and .912 saves percentage. He set a school record for goals against in a season (2.56) as a rookie, along with a .918 saves percentage, and followed that with a 3.38, .906 campaign as a sophomore. Two newcomers, sophomore Sebastian Pollack (Ridgefield, CT) and freshman Mike Mansson (Wilson, WY), are suitable reserves.

"When his game is on, which it usually is, Larry is one of the best goalies in the Northeast," said Bonelli. "The guys have all the confidence in the world in him. We're looking for him to lead us to the play-offs."

The defensive unit will be led by a pair of returning veterans, senior Jack Langelier (Marlboro, Mass.) and junior Chris Tortorella (Larchmont, N.Y.). Sophomore Dave Moore (Anchorage, AK), who played forward for PSC in 1998-99 before sitting out a year, will shift back to the blue line, and will likely be joined by freshmen Bryan Croft (Webster, N.H.), Rob Petitjean (Melrose, Mass.), Ryan Luczynski (Concord, N.H.) and Rob Brady (Madbury, N.H.)

The offensive leader is senior captain Erik Nadeau (Waterville, Maine), but Bonelli is also looking for big production out of the line of senior assistant captain Tommy Beaulieu (Hudson, NH), senior Matt McPhee (Plymouth, Mass.) and junior John Hornor (Marlton, NJ). Nadeau is the leading returning scorer with 61 career points (24 goals), and provides the desired leadership. The Beaulieu-McPhee-Hornor line has excellent size and a physical presence.

"Erik does everything for us, offensively and defensively," said Bonelli. "He does whatever we ask him to do. He has all the qualities of an excellent captain. We're looking for the Beaulieu-McPhee-Hornor line to be strong, physical and aggressive, to set the tone for the team."

Senior Mike Zegarelli (Clinton, NY) will also log plenty of playing time, and junior Aaron Fifield (Northfield Falls, Vt.) anchors a special teams unit that led the nation last season in penalty killing. The top newcomers include freshmen Eric Clark (West Hartford, Conn.), Garrett Dionne (Clarence Center, N.Y.), and Dave Hunt (Reading, Mass.), and sophomore Dan Molinari (Hyannis, Mass.), a transfer from Salve Regina.