By Mike Zhe
There were a lot of things to like about Plymouth State last season, a team that finished 15-6-5 overall, though it was upset by Westfield State in the first round of the MASCAC tournament.
The Panthers owned the ninth-best defense in Division 3, allowing just 2.35 goals a game in front of Swedish goalie Jack Astedt, a second-team all-conference player. Speedy forward Kyle Greco pumped in 22 goals.
But for all the things they did right, the Panthers lacked a finishing touch. In the third period of games, they got outscored significantly.
“Our third-period numbers were just brutal,” said second-year Plymouth coach Craig Russell (Northfield, Vt.). “We needed to hit the weights better and do dry-land (training) better in the offseason.”
The Panthers are ready to reap what are — hopefully — the offseason benefits. In the first year the MASCAC champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Panthers would love it to be them.
The optimism starts on defense, where junior Richie Zobak is coming off an all-conference season. He’s joined on the blue line by junior J.C. Richardson in front of Astedt, who posted a 2.18 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
“He’s a game-changer,” Russell said of his goalie. “I expect him to have another good year. I know he was disappointed with how the year finished.”
Competition figures to come from defending champion Fitchburg State (18-9-1) and Salem State (18-7-2), the teams that have met in each of the past two league championship games; plus UMass-Dartmouth, last year’s regular-season champ. Worcester State, Westfield State and Framingham State are the other teams in the league.
“Plymouth has a very good team coming back,” UMass-Dartmouth coach John Rolli said. “And Fitchburg and Salem have both played in the championship game the last two years.”
Salem is led by one of the league’s top snipers, senior forward Giancarlo Capodanna, whose 15-22-37 totals last season ranked him in the top 20 nationally.
Dartmouth (18-7-1) returns forwards Mike Owens (South Boston, Mass.), Todd Bartelson (Pepperell, Mass.) and Rob Dudley (Douglas, Mass.). The Corsairs’ defense, which features senior Justin Pye (Medford, Mass.), will be bolstered by a pair of transfers from Plattsburgh State — defenseman Zach Hepler and goalie Ryan Williams.
“We got hurt pretty badly (with graduation),” Rolli said, “but we return a small group that went from finishing fifth two years ago to first last year. We’re heading into the season feeling good about ourselves.”
With an NCAA automatic bid at stake, the teams that have bumped into each other atop the standings these past two years will now be playing for the league’s biggest prize to date.
“We didn’t lose enough to not be in the top four,” Russell said. “I think we’re one of the top teams when we play well.”
Richie Zobak, jr., D, Plymouth State — Steady defender packed offensive punch as well, with four goals and 12 assists.
Giancarlo Capodanna, sr., F, Salem State — Earned all-conference honors after posting 15-22-37 totals as a junior. His points were the 19th most of any Division 3 player.
Daniel Miressi, soph., F, Framingham State — Last year’s Rookie of the Year, a Monroe, Conn., native, will try to build on 18-12-30 totals. His 18 goals were twice as many as anyone else on the team.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.