By Mike Zhe
Defending champion Curry College will again be one of the teams to watch, but as far as players to watch, look no further than Johnson & Wales forward Jeremiah Ketts.
Ketts, a 5-foot-10 senior from Foristell, Mo., is coming off a season where he led Division 3 in goal scoring, with 25. His 50 points shared the national lead with Josh Harris of Castleton State.
With a supporting cast that returns just about everyone, we may be talking about his team come March as much as him.
After going 14-12-2 last season, a mark that included a 10-4 record in league play — just off the pace set by first-place Curry — the Wildcats are poised to move up. Offensive-minded defenseman Dom Recchia (3-28-31) and forward Jason Pietrasiak (18-13-31) of Shrewsbury, Mass., shared second place in the scoring ranks, along with the departed Joe Simeone (Cranston, R.I.), last season’s only senior regular.
“Other than (Simeone), we didn’t lose anything,” Johnson & Wales coach Erik Noack said. “We’re excited to have these guys.”
Matt Cooper, a junior, gives them some experience in net after going 12-6 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 20 games last season. Cooper, Ketts and Recchia were All-ECAC Northeast selections.
If there’s an area for improvement, it’s defense. The Wildcats scored at a 3.96 goals-per-game clip last year — 10th-best in Division 3 — but gave up 3.5.
“I think we can be better defensively,” Noack said. “We seemed to be able to score goals, but not limit other teams’ opportunities. That doesn’t just mean the defensemen and goalie, but the forwards getting back.”
Curry (16-9-3) won the league and reached the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season last season. The Colonels said goodbye to all-conference defenseman Ryan Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass.) but return their next 11 scorers.
That group includes senior forward Payden Benning, an all-league player who scored a team-high 16 goals, including the overtime marker that beat Wentworth in the championship game.
Junior Robert Dawson and sophomore Travis Owens split time in net last season, with Owens earning a spot on the league’s All-Rookie team, along with defenseman and fellow Californian Joshua Pineiro.
Wentworth (14-9-4) came up one win short of winning the regular-season title last season and one goal short in the championship. It figures to contend again, behind players such as senior forward Skylur Jameson (20-15-35), defenseman Shaun Jameson and sophomore forward Cory Lillie.
Goalie Chris Azzano is coming off a superb freshman season for the Leopards that saw him go 13-7-3 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 23 games.
Becker (11-13-3), Nichols (12-13-1), Western New England (8-17-1), Suffolk (8-16) and Salve Regina (2-21-2) all are looking to climb in the standings.
“You have to look at Curry and Wentworth as the top two,” Noack said. “I think Nichols will be there. After that, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you who will be in fourth and who will be in eighth.”
Jeremiah Ketts, sr., F, Johnson & Wales — No drama about when Ketts will reach the 100-point mark. He’s already there.
Skylur Jameson, sr., F, Wentworth — The California-raised sniped scored two goals in four of his last 10 games last season.
Zach Kohn, jr., F, Nichols — Only nine players in Division 3 had more assists than the 26 Kohn collected last winter.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.