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Panthers to drop puck on 2002-03 campaign

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College is gearing up for the start of the ice hockey season, and the puck drops this Sunday on the Panthers' 2002-03 campaign.

PSC will host ECAC Northeast Conference opponent Salve Regina University on its home ice Sunday at the Waterville Valley Arena. It is the first of 10 home games this winter, all beginning at 6:00 p.m. After a road game Wednesday (Nov. 20) at Stonehill, PSC will also be at home next Saturday (Nov.23) against UMass Dartmouth.

The Panthers, led by second-year head coach Chris Hudon, will play a 23-game schedule, including 15 conference contests. PSC finished 7-14-1 overall last season, and finished eighth in the Northeast with a 7-8-0 league mark. The Panthers traveled to Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania for their first playoff game in three years, and were sent home with a 6-1 defeat.

The conference play-offs begin on Mar. 1 and a champion is crowned on Mar. 8, receiving an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.

2002-03 P.S.C. Ice Hockey Outlook

After making the ECAC Northeast Conference playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, Plymouth State will be looking to continue on the upswing this year. The Panthers earned the eighth seed in last year's tournament, the eighth post-season berth for PSC since 1986. Hudon would like to improve that position in order to have a better chance at winning a post-season game or two.

"We want to become a higher seed than last year, and that's a reasonable goal," said Hudon. "We are young this year, with 14 freshmen and only two seniors on the roster. The big thing for us this season is improvement in the defensive zone. We need to cut down on the number of shots allowed, and take some pressure off our inexperienced goalies."

Team defense will be a key, Hudon added, as the Panthers look to move on after the loss of four-year starting goaltender Larry Forgue, who's now an assistant coach. Forgue set several school records and was a former All-Conference goalie. Junior Mike Mansson (Wilson, Wyo.) is a returning veteran, but has only one career win. Freshmen Chris Hyson (Colchester, Conn.) and Joe McCabe (Saugus, Mass.) will battle for the back-up role for now, according to Hudon.

"We're looking for Mike Mansson to step it up," said Hudon. "He put his time in behind Larry, and he's earned the job. As a junior, we'll look at him to carry the early load."

The defensive unit in front of the goaltender will be a mix of veterans and newcomers, according to Hudon. Junior captain Bryan Croft (Penacook, N.H.) anchors the group, and should be one of the top defensemen in the league. Sophomore Max Wernert (Greenwich, Conn.) is strong and physical, and will see plenty of ice time, and junior Ralph Menzione (Downers Grove, Ill.) has continued his improvement and will play a solid role. Freshman Nick DeBaggis (Topsfield, Mass.) looks like the top newcomer, but several others will have to step up.

PSC will also be out to improve the offense, and will look to players like juniors Mike Jackson (Middleton, Mass.) and Matt Toutain (Lewiston, Maine), senior Tony LaScola (Fairfax, Va.) and sophomore Michal Bodnar (Czech Rep./Laconia, NH). Jackson and Toutain have been hard-working regulars for three years and along with LaScola and fellow senior Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.) will need to provide leadership to the team. Bodnar joined the team at mid-season last year, and provided an offensive spark with six goals and 10 points in 13 games.

Sophomore Kyle Poirier (Concord, N.H.) returns after leading the team last year with nine goals and 17 points, while junior Ryan Luczynski (Concord, N.H.) also provides versatility and depth to the offense.

Hudon is excited about several of the freshmen forwards, led by speedy Chuck Hudson (Amityville, N.Y.) The Panthers will have to rely on two or three newcomers, and that could come from the group of Dan Butler (Gales Ferry, Conn.), Rory Nickerson (West Chatham, Mass.), Paul Feeney (Lowell, Mass.) and/or Dennis Kane (Westford, Mass.).

"The veterans have worked hard, and I'm impressed with the group of freshmen," Hudon said. "We've got a tough opening schedule, but we need to come out of the gate strong. That's the key to what we hope will be a good season."