By Mike Zhe
There’s not much doubt that Norwich, which returns 20 players from last year’s Frozen Four team, has the ability to make a return trip to the NCAA Division 3 tournament.
The flip side of that coin is that if the top-ranked Cadets do make the NCAAs by winning a 10th ECAC East title, they may not be as battle-tested as they’d like.
A 12-year interlocking scheduling agreement between the NESCAC and ECAC East lapsed last year, meaning Norwich loses out on annual battles against most of that league’s elite – the Bowdoin, Williams and Amherst teams that often find their way to the NCAAs.
“I did enjoy playing the NESCAC schools, and it’s too bad that happened,” said Norwich coach Mike McShane (Wakefield, Mass.), on the eve of the season. “But, after the fact, you’ve got to move on and now we have the opportunity to start earlier.”
The Cadets used the early-season time to scrimmage some teams, including Division I Dartmouth, to which it lost 3-1.
The Cadets had little problem on the road in their opening weekend in Maine, dispatching the University of New England, 7-4, on Friday and Southern Maine, 5-1, on Saturday. Those two teams combined for a 14-32-5 record a year ago.
Freshman forward Doug Lindensmith had a hat trick in the opener, his first collegiate game, and junior forward Kyle Thomas (Waltham Mass.) finished the weekend with a 3-4-7 line on his way to getting named ECAC East Player of the Week.
Lindensmith is one of three new forwards on the team, but a 20-year-old who put up 33-32-65 numbers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League last year.
“Lindensmith looks to be a seasoned player,” said McShane. “He’s a 20-year-old freshman that has played junior hockey for a few years on a good team with some good players.”
Thomas, meanwhile, is a seasoned veteran, who played a big role on the 2009 Division 3 championship team. With classmate Pier-Olivier Cotnoir and sophomore Travis Janke, he figures to again be part of one of the nation’s most explosive lines.
Schedule-wise, don’t expect a cakewalk. The Cadets have two games against No. 6 Plattsburgh, two against NESCAC rival Middlebury and potentially two with No. 11 Elmira.
Plus, there’s the prospective strength of ECAC East this year. Castleton, another 20-game winner that returns the bulk of its lineup back, is off to a 4-0 start and is ranked No. 3 nationally.
Game of the Week
Bowdoin at Middlebury, Sunday
Polar Bears were ranked No. 5 at the time and playing at home when Middlebury marched in last year and pinned a 4-2 loss on them.
The two teams that many expect to be contending for the NESCAC title will play twice this year, including a game in Brunswick, Maine, on Jan. 21.
Small college power ratings
1. Norwich (2-0, 2-0 ECAC East)
Cadets enjoyed their weekend in Maine to open the season, knocking off the University of New England (7-4) and Southern Maine (5-1).
2. Castleton State (4-0, 4-0 ECAC East)
Nice weekend for sophomore goalie Erick Cinotti, who stopped 65 of 68 shots he faced in wins against New England College (4-2) and St. Anselm (2-1).
3. Middlebury (0-0, 0-0 NESCAC)
Panthers open their season Saturday by entertaining league rival Colby, the team that ended their run of 11 straight appearances in the NESC AC title game last year with a quarterfinal upset.
4. Bowdoin (0-0, 0-0 NESCAC)
Polar Bears hit the road for a pair of tests: at Williams and Saturday and then up the road to play at Middlebury Sunday.
5. Salem State (1-0, 1-0 MASCAC)
Idle Vikings jump right into the iron of their schedule with weekend games against contenders Fitchburg State and UMass-Dartmouth.
6. Curry (1-1, 1-0 ECAC Northeast)
Colonels took out their frustration of season-opening 5-4 loss to Neumann by blasting Suffolk, 10-2. Senior defenseman Mike Kavanaugh had a goal and four assists.
7. Plymouth State (2-0, 0-0 MASCAC)
Matt Aponte’s goal 24 seconds into overtime saved the day in a 4-3 win at Stonehill Thursday.
8. Williams (0-0, 0-0 NESCAC)
Goaltender Ryan Purdy is coming off a season that saw him rank 11th in Division 3 in save percentage (.923).
9. New England College (4-1, 3-1 ECAC East)
Nice start for the Pilgrims with wins at UMass-Boston and Fitchburg State. We’ll know a little bit more about them after their trip to Norwich Friday night.
10. Amherst (0-0, 0-0 NESCAC)
Lord Jeffs become one of the first NESCAC teams to open when they entertain league rival Hamilton on Friday night.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.