PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College drops the puck on a new era of ice hockey this weekend with a pair of conference road games to open up the 2001-02 campaign.
The weekend will mark the debut of new head coach Chris Hudon, a 1992 PSC graduate and former Panther player. Hudon gets a tough welcome into the ECAC Northeast Division, facing conference foes Salve Regina this Friday evening (6:30 p.m.) in Newport, R.I., and UMass Dartmouth Saturday afternoon (4:30 p.m.) in North Dartmouth, Mass.
The Panthers return to New Hampshire for the home opener at Waterville Valley Ice Arena next Tuesday, Nov. 20th, against Stonehill College (7:00 p.m.).
Another highlight of the schedule this season is PSC's return to the PAL Cup, a competitive in-season tournament at Tri-Town Arena in Hooksett, N.H., involving Southern New Hampshire University (formerly New Hampshire College), Saint Anselm College, and, this year, St. Scholastica (Minn.). The year's tournament is Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-25), with PSC facing St. Scholastica Saturday in the opening round (3:30 p.m.).
PSC finished 4-20-1 overall last season, placed 10th in the ECAC Northeast at 4-13-0, and was picked to finish around the same spot this season. Hudon is hoping the Panthers can improve and finish in the top eight to make the play-offs for the first time since making back-to-back appearances in 1998 and 1999.
Plymouth State will host 10 home contests among its 23-game schedule. The conference play-offs begin on Feb. 23rd and a champion is crowned on March 2nd, receiving an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
2001-02 P.S.C. Ice Hockey Outlook
Hudon is eager to return the Panthers to the type of team that earned seven ECAC post-season berths between 1986 and 1999. He is optimistic this team can do the job.
"Our goals this season are to finish above .500 and to make the play-offs," said Hudon, who was head hockey coach at Dracut (Mass.) High School the past two years. "Those are realistic goals if we keep working hard and concentrate on being disciplined and playing defensive hockey. Those are the keys to helping turn this around."
One of the strengths of this year's team is between the pipes, where the Panthers return a four-year starter in senior Larry Forgue (Nashua, N.H.). The veteran has set several Panther school records and is a former All-Conference goalie (‘98-'99), and is poised for a strong senior season. Sophomore Mike Mansson (Wilson, WY) gives PSC a capable back-up.
"We'll look to Larry to lead us," said Hudon, who took over from former coach Mike Bonelli, who left last spring after three years behind the Panther bench. "He's our main man back there. Mike's a top-quality back-up, but he's only a sophomore and he'll see his time."
Forgue is also one of the four seniors who will handle captains duties this season. Forgue and defenseman Chris Tortorella (Larchmont, N.Y.) will wear an "A" on their jersey, and d-man Aaron Fifield (Northfield Falls, Vt.) and forward John Hornor (Marlton, NJ) will each wear a "C".
"They all deserve to be captains," said Hudon. "They've help make the transition to a new coach a lot easier for me with their hard work, dedication and enthusiasm. We'll look to them as our leaders."
Tortorella and Fifield give the Panthers a pair of veteran leaders on defense. Both rely on speed and quickness to be effective. Sophomore Bryan Croft (Webster, N.H.) picked up valuable experience last season, and should be a force this winter. Sophomore Ralph Menzione (Downers Grove, IL) should be a solid contributor, along with freshman newcomers Max Wernert (Greenwich, Conn.) and Mike Marrone (Nashua, N.H.)
"We're hoping to be a lot stronger defensively," said Hudon. "We want to lower the number of shots we give up each game. We're also counting on our forwards to play team defense as well. Backchecking is a big thing."
Look for Hornor to lead the Panther offense after enjoying his best season as a junior, finishing second on the team in scoring. The rest of the top two lines will likely be filled by sophomores Ryan Luczynski (Concord, N.H.) and Mike Jackson (Middleton, Mass.), junior Tony LaScola (Farifax, Va.), who sat out last season, and freshmen Aaron Keller (Concord, N.H.) and Kyle Poirier (Concord, N.H.).
"We're inexperienced up front," said Hudon. "We'll have to play smart, and use our strengths. We're hoping to improve as the season goes along and we mature as a team."
Other veterans expected to see plenty of ice time as forwards are juniors Dan Molinari (Hyannis, Mass.), Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.) and Pete Seriano (Safety Harbor, FL), and sophomores Matt Toutain (Lewiston, Maine) and Eric Clark (West Hartford, Conn.). Hudon sees the other top freshmen being Chris Starr (Old Greenwich, Conn.), Joe Dudek (Laconia, N.H.) and Mitchell LaFleur (Levittown, PA).
"There have been no problems with the transition to a new coach," said Hudon. "The guys have been ready to play since Day One. They came into school in shape, and have been working hard during preseason. We're ready to start winning hockey games."