Ranked seventh in the NESCAC, men’s hockey banks on chemistry

Men’s ice hockey is out for revenge this year. Memories of a tough 9-15-1 record last season and a crushing defeat at the hands of archrival Amherst in the NESCAC quarterfinals will weigh heavily on the minds of this hungry team. Led by captains Andrew Beasley ’02, Daniel Cotuno ’02 and Daniel Houck ’02, the Ephs hope to challenge for the NESCAC championship.

The team enters the season ranked seventh in the NESCAC preseason poll. This low ranking reflects the loss to graduation of key players such as Bobby Moss ’01, last year’s leading scorer, and Eric Demment ’01, who this year will try his hand in the French First Division with the Besancon Sequannes.

Although last year’s seniors will be sorely missed, the team believes it can defy expectations.

“People don’t expect us to be that good,” said Cotuno, “but we’re ready to take on that challenge.”

He cites an evenly balanced attack, strong competition for starting goalie, and increased team chemistry as reasons for optimism. Unlike last year, fans cannot expect to see any clear scoring leader emerge. The team will send out four lines in each game, which will both wear the opposition down and spread the scoring, as many different players will see shooting opportunities.

Primary responsibility, however, will fall to senior forwards Beasley, Cotuno and Alex Garceau, as well as Wesley Fox ’03.

“Alex Garceau is ready for his swan song,” said Coach William Kangas, “And Wesley Fox really emerged at the end of last season.”

On defense, Kangas will look to captain Houck for leadership. Houck comes into this season in the best shape of his college career, and he will lead a platoon of able defensemen. They will form a solid barrier for the as yet unnamed starting goalie.

Competition is fierce for the team’s last line of defense. Goalies Michael Aroesty ’03, Ben Fash ’04 and Matthew Starkey ’02 have all been impressive in practice.

Although Fash ended last season as the starter, and recorded 32 saves in the playoff loss to Amherst, it is anyone’s guess right now which player will start the season between the posts.

Kangas may even opt to switch off Fash and Arroesty between games, at least early in the season.

The real key to the Ephs’ success may well be the old intangible, team chemistry. Cotuno sees a difference between last year’s squad and this year’s incarnation: “Last year we were missing something. This year the team chemistry is a lot better.”

By all accounts, the Ephs on ice are a much closer bunch these days. The captains have put an emphasis on tightening the team bond, notably lacking at times last year. Off the ice, the team has participated in community service together, volunteering at local elementary schools.

Still, the Williams team will face an uphill battle, with perennial NESCAC powers Amherst and Middlebury looming, and a tough weekend Dec. 7 and 8 when the Ephs will face contenders Elmira and RIT back to back, not to mention an away game Jan.15 against defending national champion Plattsburgh.

The team will have to play at its highest level if it wants to emerge victorious from these games.

In the end, the season should come down to whether or not the Ephs can gel on the ice and defy expectations.

A lot could depend on the infusion of new blood, with the talented Kevin Darcy ’05, a defender and Jake Clapton ’05 and Steve Baldassarri ’05, both forwards, expected to contribute.

This is certainly a team with a lot to prove, but Coach Kangas has confidence in his players. Although he agrees with the low preseason ranking, he believes the Ephs have the power to turn heads this season.

“We think we can make it a lot higher,” said Coach Kangas, “It’ll take a lot of work, but the team has already shown it will put the work in.”