Division I has been nothing short of electric all season long, parity has been abundant from top to bottom. Every team has shown up to play and challenged for a bite at the prestigious regional trophy come March 2nd and an automatic bid to beautiful Salt Lake City in Mid-April. With that said and done for the Division I mid-season recap we here at the ECRHA give you a year’s end power rankings. Note: these power rankings are solely the opinions of ECRHA’s staff writer and in no way shape or form have any bearing on the decisions made by the league come time for the NCRHA’s Selection Monday.
1) West Chester University Golden Rams (10-1-0)
It’s very hard to find anything wrong with this team while looking up and down the roster. It is even harder to believe that rumor has it that this roster may be getting some serious bolstering come next semester; negating what seems like will be a successful 2012 for the Rams, this past semester has been Golden for WCU as they’ve passed about every test thrown at them in the past calendar year.
Of the 10 everyday roster players on the Rams roster none of them are averaging below a point per game and three of them are averaging more than two Adam St. Clair (2.18), Jack Grossman (2.72), and offensive dynamo Jonathan Lucente (3.81) those three have been key in their key comeback wins against both Neumann and West Chester so they’ll start off at number one.
Unsung Hero: Goaltender Roman Chiokadze has been stellar in net for the Rams with a 2.00 GAA but what makes him more remarkable is his poise to bounce back regardless of the last goal against as seen in the West point win where after allowing 4 early goals shut down the Knights with 26 saves in the final two periods.
2) Neumann University Knights (8-1-2)
Let the debate begin, although the Knights have the two ties on their record, they have been absolutely dominant in most games against whoever has tested them, even besting the SECRHL leading University of Central Florida 5-3 in their clash at Skate Safe America. Much like their cross town rivals the Neumann Knights are led by a trio of excellent players averaging over 2 points per game in Andy Zubak, Ed Jones and AJ Ehinger who remarkably has scored 8 of his 18 goals this season on a power play which is 80% of his teams PP goal output. However without the depth of West Chester they struggle with secondary scoring which places them at number two.
Unsung Hero(es): Justin Brown and Mike Maczynski that lack of secondary scoring is being made up in a two part equation, first by Brown’s hardworking effort day in and day out; he kills penalties scores goals and generally produces everything that’s asked of him by his team. The second part is the timely goaltending of Maczynski who for the most part has put the team on his back through his bend don’t break mentality.
3) Stony Brook University Seawolves (9-1-0)
SBU who may be the biggest surprise of this season garnishes a gaudy 9 win record in 10 games with their only loss coming to the aforementioned Neumann Knights. This team at times plays more like they belong in an ice rink with their high tempo hard forechecking style of play. Oh! also by the way they have a brick wall in net by the name of Adam Melillo who leads the ECRHA in both wins and shutouts.
It’s hard to overshadow Melillo this season if it wasn’t for the play of the trio of Justin Zim, Derek Blatchley, and John Kaszubski who are fourth, third, and second in the league in points and have generated 57 goals and 50 assists for 107 points leading the Seawolf attack. While there’s so much NCRHA talk about Michigan St., Lindenwood, Ohio St. and even UNLV. Stony Brook is my surprise to compete deep into the elimination for the national championship come Mid-April especially after pounding eight goals home on Central Florida in front of a home crowd at Skate Safe America.
Unsung Hero: Eric Urso if was a sibling in the metaphorical “Stony Brook Family” he’d be the often forgotten middle child who secretly does everyone else’s housework with none of the credit. He has produced a goal a game been excellent on both sides of the puck in all three zones while being one of the most balanced contributors in the Stony Brook arsenal.
4) Hofstra University Pride (7-3-1)
They have beaten almost everyone they’re supposed to beat and pushed both Stony Brook and West Chester to the very limit in respective 4-1 and 4-6 games. The team organizationally is deep with players who can plug in and out of coach Jim Tamburino’s system that demands the absolute best of his players on all areas of the floor. 24 players have suited up for the Pride this season and while not all have been able to produce on the scoresheet most have made a meaningful contribution on the Pride this season players like Devin Gee and Richie Schwartz who have either spent time this or last year along side the B players before being mainstays with the DI squad.
Those players have been privy to the playmaking abilities of Chris Culot and the finishing of Pat Rosa. The junior tandem has accumulated 175 points together in the last 3 years and are a mainstay in the infrastructure that makes the Pride a contender for the regional championship this spring. Culot is a miraculously talented playmaker who has racked up 24 assists this season and six goals. It must be said however that if Culot wants to push himself into the upper echelon of players in the NCRHA he’s going to have to pull the trigger a lot more often in 2012.
Unsung Hero: Jared Occhicone is definitely a difference maker in the net, and it’s quite obvious when he struggles so does the rest of the Hofstra team, while his numbers are significantly better year after year Occhicone still seems to lack the same game changing prowess that led his Hofstra team to an impressive run in 2009 at Nationals in San Jose.
5 ) Towson University Tigers (5-3-2)
Towson has been among the “Who’s, who?” of the Collegiate hockey world since the days of the CRHL in the early 2000′s with some past greats suiting up for them like current Hofstra coach Jim Tamburino and Gene Gsell among others. 2010 for the Tigers was rocky to say the least, but in a short year the Tigers have restocked and regrouped matching their win total from last year in just one semester; with a couple of impressive four goal victories over West Point and Temple. While tying Neumann and UConn at the Skate Safe tournament in November.
The Tigers have been the beneficiaries of some great defense led by goaltender Scott Fensterer who has been giving up less than 4 goals a game with a .845 save percentage in his first year with the Tigers. This is a pretty impressive feat judging Towson offense is only generating around 4 goals a game scoring 46 goals in 10 games which is good only for a +2 goal differential. The offense is led by Mike Seyglinski who has netted 14 goals in 9 games played while getting some secondary support from Drew Fitzhugh and Brian Woodzisz. The three of them also lead the team’s power play unit which is working at an efficient 45.2% but has also allowed 5 short handed goals in 31 power play chances.
Unsung Hero: A.J. Nisbet who in 20 games last year had a total of 15 points has already reached 11 points in half the games. On a team where scoring is tough to come by Nisbet is adding some depth as well as a steady presence on the defensive side of the puck; his leadership is definitely prevalent in the defense first identity of this edition of the Towson squad.
6 ) US Military Academy at West Point Black Knights (5-5-0)
There was a time at the Columbus day event when I was convinced that West Point and West Chester were going to be the the top two teams in the east. The Black Knights had come out the gates swinging in the first two events in Feasterville and Lemoyne however since stumbled in some tough losses against Rowan, Hofstra and the disaster of a loss against West Chester after holding a 5-0 lead early into the second period. Despite those setbacks the Black Knights are a seriously resilient bunch of players; who despite a lack of scoring prowess manage to come into the all-star weekend with an impressive .500 record.
The Black Knights have managed to keep themselves in close games regardless of their lack of scoring with a staunch defense led by goaltender Bradford Witt who is sporting an impressive .915 save percentage in 4 starts with the West Point squad. The Black Knights have also gotten help from goaltenders Tony Day and Michael Lesmeister during the first semester and are going to need to find a steady starter to take the reigns for the Knights heading into March. Unsung Hero: Matt Riopelle with ten points in ten games the 22 year old from Fargo, ND has been a solid producer for the Knights. More so Riopelle on a team typically blasted for its knack for untimely penalties, has only 2 minutes in the box in 10 games and has scored 2 short handed goals while working hard on the top PK unit.
7) University of Connecticut Huskies (3-6-2)
I won’t lie it is hard to pick a UConn team over PSU and Temple who has played more games and garnished less wins than their ECRHA counterparts this season. But I think the woes the Huskies had to endure in the first semester are (for the better part) now in the rearview mirror. The Huskies dropped some key first semester games in Feasterville to Rowan and West Point by one goal each. However those losses were in part to the absence of former 50 point scorer Nick Tomczyk and former all star Tyler Dasilva; whose much needed return sparked the Huskies to an imperative 2-1-1 record at Skate Safe America last semester. In their absence Cody Gabor had no problems shouldering their load for the first half of the Huskies semester where he eclipsed his prior year’s totals; and continued his dominant performance on the UConn Power Play when they desperately needed goals. Gabor is likely to thrive with the re-additions of Tomczyk and Dasilva who now allow forwards like Gabor and AJ Grocki to play the lesser tertiary and secondary defensive pairs of teams in the division
Unsung Hero: Zach Bach has been the jam of this year’s team after a suspension late last year that most likely cost his team some serious points going down the stretch in 2010-11. Now Bach is the leader of the team off the rink and is doing a superb job handling the adversity of finding a new coach and replenishing the UConn roster in the second semester. Bach is also on pace to see over 460 shots this year which is a career high while posting an .819 save percentage that has been trending upward in recent competition.
Temple University Owls (4-6-0)
The Owls definitely have an argument to be sitting at the sixth or even fifth spot on this power ranking, but the issue is the Owls at every opportunity given have yet to beat a team that sits higher than them in the standings aside from Penn State. The Owls haven’t even lost those games by a significant amount either aside from a thrashing in Lemoyne by West Chester.
Temple can play with just about anyone you throw their way from any of the tiers of the elite division in the ECRHA. Alas they don’t have the killer instinct to finish against the Neumanns and Stony Brooks of the league. This is best evidenced by one goal losses to Neumann and Hofstra who both beat the Owls with third period tallies the most stinging of so was AJ Ehinger’s dagger with 8 seconds to go after the Owls had a one goal lead with less than 20 seconds on the clock. Those kind of losses hurt when the Owls still have to play Suffolk, UConn, Stony Brook, Neumann and West Chester all in the next calendar year on top of a interregional where they’ll play East Carolina, George Mason, and North Carolina State.
Unsung Hero: on the team so far is the continued brilliance of Scott Kalbfleisch who has been amazing for the Owls for the last three years but often went unnoticed playing with Josh Altman who of late has been nowhere near his form last year. Kalbfleisch along with former Shippensburg standout Trevor Davis are most likely the jam the team will need to snag its first ever DI regional playoff bid.
9) Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions (4-5-1)
I can clearly remember in 2009 when players Brett Dzura and Adam Bogart along with goaltender Mitchell Reinhold were holding the B division national championships above their heads after reeling in impressive wins versus Lindenwood and Central Florida. That was a very different time in the Penn State roller hockey history when the DI squad couldn’t get a sniff at a Nationals Bid; things have changed since then, the Nittany Lions have gotten back on track as a DI contender playing with the best of what the ECRHA has to offer winning tight games against Hofstra and Towson. However, they do struggle with some serious consistency issues. The Lions were unable to garner wins against a struggling Brockport team, tied a short handed UConn squad, and suffered a one sided loss to Temple in October after dropping a one goal decision to West Point.
Scoring has been sporadic at best for the Lions with all of it being generated from the top four players and only sporting 3 players with 10 or more points and one player with greater than 8 goals. The path to Nationals is much reliant on the play of goaltender Mitchell Reinhold who is struggling to meet his career marks set in 09-10 with a 1.80 Goals against average with a .911 save percentage against his 3.90 GAA and .847 SV% of this year; still is one of the best goaltenders in DI and will have to really play the role of Atlas and carry what seems to be the world on his shoulders heading into March. With the Lions dropping 3 of their last four they’ll sit at the eighth spot of the power rankings.
Unsung Hero(es): First year players Kevin McGraw, Sean Stahl and Brian Milici have been welcome additions to this year’s Nittany Lions roster. The three players have combine for 30 points with McGraw being up amongst the leader in assists and Milici holding the second spot on the team in goals scored. They’ll have to perform at the same level next semester as well if they plan to make a run deep into regionals.
10) SUNY Brockport Golden Eagles (3-7-1)
If you want to talk about anemic offences this is one of the best possible example in the entirety of the ECRHA. There are offences that have scored just about the same or less but those teams do not have the same skill as the Eagles who of late have been underperforming. Last year’s team scraped their way into the playoffs and surprised their way into nationals much on the back of former SUNY Buffalo standout Alex Durinka and 40 point scorer Joseph Chappius. With Durinka transferring for the second time in as many years to Ohio St. Chappius has struggled to find the chemistry he once had with this year’s edition of the Golden Eagles.
Easing the pain of the Brockport scoring woes is the play of who in my opinion is the most naturally talented goalie in the entire ECRHA, Patrick Keyes, Keyes by no means is having a good year statistically with a goals against average around five and a save percentage below 85% but Keyes does enough to make Brockport a contender against stronger teams for the most part. Best example is his performances against Hofstra, Penn St., and Central Florida. Keyes legitimately cannot have an off game from here until March if the Golden Eagles want to make the Regional Championships which is a lot to ask of your only DI goaltender. However if anyone is going hold the keys to the proverbial Brockport car on their drive to Feasterville it’s him. (Terrible pun.)
Unsung Hero: Kevin Galante has a brother who carried another SUNY team to a regional championship game in DIII for the Oswego St. Lakers and hopes to do so for them again this year. Kevin has decided to follow suit and decide to do his best effort for this year’s Brockport side as he leads the offence with 6 goals. Hopefully for Galante, based on the last event in Lemoyne, Joe Chappius can provide some primary goal scoring help.
11) Rowan University Profs (3-6-1)
Rowan who expected to be having a serious rebuilding year, had the hardest hit of the year with graduating players. All but 7 points (5 goals 2 assists) remained on this year’s team from players Jon Adams and Brendan Scalley; the two of whom coincidentally don’t even lead the team in goals, points, or assists. That for sure has to be a welcome relief for a team that is still trying to find its swagger. The Profs are definitely a team that can make a late push for the playoffs if they can get some better efforts out of their two goaltenders who have yet to break the 80% save plateau.
A pleasant surprise has been the twosome of Talyor Devlin and Alexander Schmitt who have accounted for 18 of the 43 goals on the Rowan roster which is great considering that Schmitt is only a freshman, and the Rowan organization has both a B and a PCRHL squad to pull from.
Unsung Hero: Coach Jones has done a phenomenal job with both the B and DI teams for Rowan this year pulling the most potential possible out of his players who fell into his lap as an absolute hodgepodge and are now shaping up to be a contender for the 8th, 7th, or even 6th spot in the region.
12) University Rhode Island Rams (2-9-1)
This team is very much different than their 0-18-0 team from a year ago and even more different than the team that lost their 7th game against temple in Feasterville earlier this season. The Rhode Island Rams are very much trending in the right direction in the recent years thanks largely in part to leading goal scorer Cody Allard and set up man Dave McFillin; the two of whom are starting to emerge as some seriously talented players in the ECRHA.
More so the transformation can be attributed to the two coaches Dan Leonard and Corey Allard who as former Rams themselves are looking to instill a winning tradition back into the URI roster that was synonymous with the URI teams from only a few short years ago.
Unsung Hero: Team Chemistry is going to be a huge part in whether this team can break the five win mark or not. For the most part this team has been absolutely disjointed with one another. 1 on 3 rushes into the offensive zone, committing too many people to the forecheck, not enough on the backcheck, and a plethora of turnovers have led to some losses that were preventable. However the team is starting to show signs of cohesiveness which is most likely too little to late but for that reason they sit at 11th on the list.
13) SUNY Buffalo Wings (2-8-0)
What a difference a year makes, from regional runners up, to being stuck in the ECRHA cellar. The SUNY Buffalo name has been a recognized Nationals contender year after year since its inception; this year however is abundantly different. Beyond Bryan Feiler and Josh Sibenik there is almost no help on this team offensively, and while Feiler does have both the flash and substance that is tantamount with the players of Buffalo teams past it is not enough to make up for the absence of secondary scoring on the squad. Nobody on the team aside from Feiler and Sibenik have managed to score more than 2 goals this season and on the flip side the -24 goal differential isn’t anything positive either.
It doesn’t make sense to pine over the losses of Alexx Christie, Alex Durinka, Shaun Golden, Chris Kendall, Tyler Walser and Matt McNeil the team if they want to compete they’ll have to commit to either the offensive side of the puck, or the defensive side of the puck to win games finding an identity for this years Wings’ team is going to need to be first on the agenda for this team to rebuild for years to come.
Unsung Hero: Next year. There’s always next year, and with Buffalo having a couple of professional inline teams, a division I club ice hockey players a world class inline rink and a plethora of ice rinks in the immediate area this team could be a powerhouse in one year given the correct consideration by its executive board/front office. There is a ton of talent to be had by this Buffalo organization that for its first year in ten years doesn’t have a B team. I have a premonition that this Wings team will see an immediate turnaround next season, but the recruiting efforts have to start today.
14) Rutgers University Scarlet Knights (1-9-0)
Rutgers, much like SUNY Buffalo, were a team a year removed from a nationals bid and a late push into regionals. They like the aforementioned Buffalo team have no shortage of woes heading into 2012, struggling to score and having all sorts of struggles keeping pucks out of their own net this Rutgers team lacks both a game changing scorer and goaltender. The brightest spots on the squad have been Gary Rokozak and Chris Notley who have led the Scarlet Knights in scoring. Unfortunately the goaltending of Matt Strickler and Dan Yulo have not been very good both with goals against averages greater than five and failing on average to save greater than 77% of the shots they have faced. The Rutgers squad in general has been a bit schizophrenic as well with lop sided losses to Rowan, Stony Brook, Buffalo, and UConn but less than three goal losses to Brockport, Towson, Suffolk and remarkably a 3-1 game to Neumann. Perhaps if Rutgers can pull out some second half wins against Brockport and Rowan, and hope for some help for losses from the teams above them.
Unsung Hero: Organizational strength is something that I have cited a lot while recapping these teams, but I cannot emphasize how much having the support of a B team, a recreational team or even an organized team-run a intramural team can assist in rebuilding a team in less time than expected. Rutgers has that depth organizationally and the benefit of being located directly in the center of one of the roller hockey hot beds in both the nation and the northeast. Rutgers might be on the snide now but soon they could be back where they were just a short year ago.
Unranked) Suffolk County Community College Sharks (7-3-1)
This Suffolk team is unranked on this list due to the fact that although they play in the premier division of the ECRHA; they aren’t able to qualify for the Division I regionals, since they are in fact, a Junior College team. With that they are one of the best teams in the entire ECRHA, they beat a WCU squad, tied Neumann, and only suffered (non-forfeit) losses to Hofstra and Stony Brook. The team has one outrageous issue, which is getting the majority of the team to show up but beyond that there’s some serious talent. Most of the players spent time as leading point getters in either the Suffolk or Islandwide high school leagues. Guys like Troy Wengaar, William Coogan, James Reiger and Ed Clark have all picked up the slack scoring for the Sharks while Mike Alonzo has yet to lose a DI game in his ECRHA career.
Unsung Hero: The Auto-Bid to nationals. The Sharks can book their tickets to SLC right now if they want to and I suggest they do, because not only is Nationals an experience to behold, but this team has a legitimate shot at winning the JC crown nationally. They have just about every asset to do so: Scoring, Defense, Goaltending, Coaching, Strong competition, and Organizational Depth. Look for the Sharks to take a serious bite out the competition in 2012 especially late in April.