WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- The Williams College men's ice hockey team is preparing for what will prove to be another competitive season in the NESCAC, looking to improve even further upon last season's overall record of 16-9-2. A year ago the Ephs had an impressive run towards the finish, landing a place in the conference championship match against Amherst. However, Williams ended up coming up short in a tight championship game, resulting in a 1-0 defeat.
In the past five seasons, the Ephs have made it to the NESCAC semi-finals twice, and the NESCAC championship three times. The most recent title match went to Amherst, while the previous two in which Williams contested went to Bowdoin (2011, 2013).
The Ephs are returning nineteen players from last season, including six of the team's top eight point contributors from the previous season. The Ephs will be relying on their offensive depth this season to help advance their season to the conference championships once again.
Williams graduated starting goaltender Sean Dougherty '15, who played in twenty-three of the twenty-seven games last year, giving senior Noah Klag, sophomore Stephen Morrissey, and freshman Michael Pinios the opportunity to make the defensive unit their own this year. Most notably, Klag boasted a .953 save percentage in his three games last year.
Head coach Bill Kangas is confident in his three netminders, despite the loss of Dougherty: "We have three goalies that are very capable. Like any position, you want players to earn their spot; all three are very talented goaltenders. We're going to take it day by day, evaluate as the season goes on, and right now we feel really comfortable and happy with all three. Noah, being the senior, has been through this, he understands the league and the grind of our season. All three bring something unique and different to the table, so we will sit back and wait and see which ones emerge going into the weekend."
In front of the netminders, the Ephs return an experienced unit of defensemen, led by seniors Greg Johnson and Zander Masucci. Johnson, in addition to his stability in the defensive zone last year, was a big offensive contributor as well: third on the roster is goals scored (8 goals) and fifth in points (14 points). Additionally, juniors James McNamara, Frankie Mork, Greg Zaffino, and Taylor Carmola also return to the defensive squad. Notable point contributors from the blue line crew included McNamara, who had 11 points last season, and Mork, who contributed seven.
Kangas is looking to the defensive unit to be the backbone of his team this year: "Last year we had a lot of success on the power play, so we're looking to continue to build upon that, of course. But to be successful, you have to be a great defensive team first, to keep the puck out of the zone, the puck out of the net. We're mature on our back end, six defensemen in the junior or senior class, so we have some age, some maturity defensively, which is really necessary to have a strong team. It all starts in the back end, and builds from there."
Offensively, the Ephs return many of their heavy hitters in the scoring department. Last year the Ephs overall averaged 2.90 goals per game, and were especially dangerous on the power play, where they capitalized on the man advantage 26% of the time.
Sophomore David Italiano (11 goals, 12 assists) is back for just his second season as an Eph, despite being behind only the graduated Craig Kitto in goals on the team as a freshman.
Along with Italiano, juniors Tyler Young (who was second on the team in points last winter with 13 and third in points with 20), Sam Gray (10 points), and Luke Stickel (10 points) return to the offensive squad, as do sophomores CJ Shugart (13 points) and Colby Cretella (12 points).
Italiano, Young, Shugart, and Cretella alone were four of the top five points producers for the team last season. Senior Matt Werner, juniors George Hunkele (7 points) and Alex Hagerty, and sophomores Dan Doherty (6 points) and Joe Welch are additional returning members of the offensive unit.
The squad did graduate key contributors in Kitto '15, Alex Debaere '15, and defensemen David Jarrett '15 and Brian McNamara '15. Kitto and Jarrett were the two most noticeable seniors in regards to points last season, Kitto leading the team with 26 and Jarrett with 15, and their vacancies present opportunities for younger players to step up and contribute offensively in the forthcoming season.
Said Kangas: "The six freshmen we have are going to contribute a lot to the team; they already have. They are great players, great students, hard workers, and great teammates. The good thing about the maturity and age of our team is that we can take our time with the freshmen, allow them to really develop," Connor Meike (Arlington, VA), Keanu Hilaire (Montreal, Que.), Roberto Cellini (Montreal, Que.), Marcus Mollica (Dove Canyon, CA), Michael Lata (Toronto, Ont.), and Michael Pinios (Montreal, Que.) are the six players that make up the freshman class.
Going into last season, the team's focus was on achieving improvement with regards to offensive prowess. In the 2013-2014 season, the Ephs scored 2.44 goals per game in the conference, and last year that statistic improved to 3.00. Providing that this upward trend continues, the Ephs will be in good standing offensively for the 2015-2016 season.
Once again, the NESCAC conference is expected to be highly competitive, with every team serving as a competitive and worthy opponent. The team will begin their season with four consecutive home games, which bodes well for the squad, who was 8-2-1 last season when playing at the Lansing Chapman Rink.
On November 21st, Williams opens their season against the Bowdoin Polar Bears at 7:00 PM. Williams was 2-0-1 against the Bears last season. The Ephs will then face the Colby Mules on the following day, with puck drop occurring at 3:00 PM. "Every team in the conference is really good, so the focus is going to be really competing defensively," Kangas stated. "Both our forwards and our defensemen are offensively minded. If we show up in our own zone, we are going to get our offensive chances, and after that it is a matter of capitalizing," The next weekend, Williams will have two non-conference matches with SUNY Geneseo and Johnson & Wales (RI) visiting.
Playing into December, Williams will have two weekends on the road. On the 4th and 5th, Williams will face Tufts and then Connecticut College. The Ephs round out the first semester, before Winter Break, with facing Amherst on the 11th at 7:30 PM and then Hamilton on the following day at 3:00 PM.
Upon return from the break, the Ephs will have two games in the Oswego Classic, in Oswego, NY. The first game will be on January 2nd, and their opponent on the following day will depend on the outcome of the first match (either Oswego or Castleton), after the Ephs face-off against Adrian College.