Men’s hockey readies for opener

Proven contender Alex Smigelski '10 captains the Ephs in his final season on the ice. Last year, Smigelski earned All-NESCAC honors.
Proven contender Alex Smigelski ’10 captains the Ephs in his final season on the ice. Last year, Smigelski earned All-NESCAC honors.

Men’s hockey is looking forward to starting the 2009-2010 season this weekend with games at Conn. College on Friday and Tufts on Saturday.
The team, which finished last season with a 15-9-2 record overall, is mostly made up of returning players this season, including five seniors.

According to Head Coach Bill Kangas, the team is hoping to “build on the momentum of last season.” Last year’s third-place conference ranking definitely gives the team something to build from, and the men are taking advantage of that opportunity. “I like the way we’ve been practicing, and the way the guys have been training . . . It’s all moving in a positive direction,” Kangas explained. “Like everyone else, our goal is to ultimately try and win the NESCAC championship.”

Captain  Alex Smigelski ’10 agreed. “In order [to win the NESCAC championship],” Smigelski said, “we need to host our first round of players and then win from there.”

Last year, Middlebury thwarted the men’s post-season goals in the semifinals, when the Ephs fell to the Panthers 1-4. This season, with the combination of strong returning players and five new freshmen, Kangas believes his team will only continue to improve. “Lots of good young players [played] a lot of minutes last year,” Kangas explained. “We have a returning all-league defenseman in Justin Guttek [’11], who earned that honor as a sophomore.”

Kangas also listed many of his seniors as key players: goalkeeper Marc Pulde ’10, forward and assistant captain Zach Miller ’10, forward Andrew Lepore ’10 and Smigelski, whose leadership will anchor the team throughout the season.

“Alex is the real deal,” Kangas said. “[He] leads by example. He takes care of himself whether it’s sleep, diet, training method or plays, and always puts forth an incredible effort in practice. He played the first 12 games of the season last year and then got injured but was also named to the second all-league team. That’s how strong of a player he is.”

Due to injury, veteran Octavian Jordan ’10 will be out “for a good piece of time,” according to Kangas. Jordan, with seven goals and six assists last season, will definitely be missed on the ice.

Forward and assistant captain Matt Masucci ’11, who led the team in assists last season, will be crucial this season, along with defensemen Justin Troiani ’12 and assistant captain Ryan Scott ’12.

Goalkeeper Ryan Purdy ’12 will be another important force this season. Purdy was ranked third in the NESCAC last season, with a season save percentage of 0.929.

With all of his talk regarding specific players, Kangas was quick to comment on the importance of the entire team’s roster. “We don’t really have any key guys – [our team] is all key players,” he said. “All of the new players are going to be contributing and have important roles.”

“Since I have been here, this is the most talented group I have been a part of,” Smigelski said. “We have a fast and skilled team this year that likes to attack the net . . . [but] we need to improve by increasing our power play percentage, controlling the puck more in the offensive zone and getting pucks on net.” Last season, Williams was ranked seventh in the NESCAC in regards to scoring offense, with 72 goals for the season. Top-ranked Middlebury had 119 goals for the season.

Williams certainly had this offensive need in mind for this year’s team: Of the five rookies, four – John Wickman ’13, Cody Skinner ’13, Eric Rubino ’13 and Evan Dugdale ’13 – are forwards. Mike Brofft ’13 joins the team on defense.

“The NESCAC men’s hockey league will be very competitive again this year. We expect every game to be a very difficult contest,” Kangas said. “Our style of play is [to play] at a high tempo . . . This should match up pretty well with a lot of teams we play.”

Men’s hockey will travel on Friday to play Conn. College at 7:00 p.m. and then hit the road again for a 3:00 p.m. game at Tufts on Saturday.

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