PLYMOUTH, N.H. - A new era of Plymouth State University ice hockey begins this weekend when the Panthers drop the puck on the 2003-04 campaign.
PSU will host ECAC Northeast Conference opponent Stonehill College on Saturday on its home ice at the Waterville Valley Arena. It is the first of 14 home games for the Panthers this winter, all beginning at 6:00 p.m. The game will also mark the debut of new Panther head coach Brett Tryder, who takes over as head coach following two years as an assistant.
The Panthers will play a 24-game schedule, including 15 Northeast Conference contests. One of the highlights of the schedule is PSU's return to the Police Athletic League (PAL) Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in Manchester, N.H., where the Panthers will match up with Granite State opponent Saint Anselm College in the opener.
Plymouth State, which finished last season with a 5-12-5 overall record and a 3-9-4 conference mark, will be out to qualify for the ECAC playoffs after missing out last season. The conference play-offs begin on Feb. 28 and a champion is slated to be crowned on Mar. 6, receiving the conference's automatic bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament.
2003-04 PSU Ice Hockey Outlook
Coach Tryder welcomes back 13 veterans from last year's team as well as some talented newcomers. The team has been working hard in the pre-season and is primed for a run at the post-season this year.
"Our goal is to make the ECAC Northeast play-offs," said Tryder. "We made it my first year here but we missed out last season. Definitely making it back to the playoffs is a top priority for us."
The Panthers made improvements on the blue line last season, and should have a solid defensive unit this year. Leading the way is senior and two-year captain Bryan Croft (Penacook, N.H.) along with junior Max Wernert (Greenwich, Conn.) and sophomore Nick DeBaggis (Topsfield, Mass.).
"They all have good size and are physical players," said Tryder. "They give our defense a very strong base. We're looking for some others to step up as well."
Plymouth State returns seven of its top eight forwards from last season, but Tryder admits the Panthers will need to score more to improve on last season. Key returnees include sophomores Rory Nickerson (West Chatham, Mass.) and Dennis Kane (Westford, Mass.), who finished 1-2 on the team in scoring as freshmen last year. Nickerson led the way with 15 assists and 19 points, and Kane scored a team-high 14 goals. Junior Kyle Poirier (Concord, N.H.) returns after leading the team in scoring as a freshman and notching nine of his 10 goals last season on the power play. Other top returning forwards include seniors Matt Toutain (Lewiston, Maine) and co-captain Mike Jackson (Middleton, Mass.), and junior Michal Bodnar (Czech Rep./Laconia, NH).
The goaltending position is open, according to Tryder. Senior Michael Mansson (Wilson, Wyo.) and sophomore Kyle Van Dingstee (Skaneateles, N.Y.) are the returnees, but should be challenged for playing time by the newcomers.
"The guys are very anxious to start the season," said Tryder. "If we work hard and concentrate on our strengths, we could be in for an exciting year."