Last year was very successful for Salem State hockey. Veteran coach Bill O’Neill, who has been at the helm since 1981, recorded his 500th career win, and the Vikings went all the way to the MASCAC championship before dropping a heartbreaker to Plymouth State in double overtime.
The 2012-2013 season opens in Newport, R.I., tomorrow when Salem State takes on Salve Regina, and on Nov. 7, the home opener will be against Wentworth, with the first league game at Rockett Arena on Nov. 17 against UMass Dartmouth.
“We start a little earlier than usual this year, but Salve already had two games in New York this past weekend,” O’Neill said. “It will be good to begin because once you have camp, the guys are anxious to get going, and we don’t play any exhibitions. I’m optimistic and feel good about our talent.
“Tryouts are always a difficult time because we have to cut it down, but we are going to be a bigger team numbers-wise than the last two years. The reason is because we lost some key people and have a larger freshman class than in the last three seasons. A year ago, we carried 22 players and three goalies; this time, it’s 27 plus the three. That makes for healthy competition.”
O’Neill said it is such a big step up to the college game that it will depend on how quickly the freshmen adjust as to how much ice time they’ll see.
“The speed, quickness and mental aspect of the college game make it a big jump from prep school or juniors,” O’Neill said. “They have to get used to the physical and mental challenges, as well as gain experience. We’ll look for them to continually show improvement, and some will do it quicker than others.”
Last year, the Vikings finished with a 15-9-3 record and scored 104 goals. The graduation of forward Nick Lampson, who was a New England Division II/III Hockey All Star, and led the team in scoring with 19 goals and 18 assists, leaves some big shoes to fill. Eric Defelice, a junior from Pennsylvania, was sixth in MASCAC scoring as a sophomore (13 goals, 14 assists) and second in short-handed goals. He will be counted on heavily along with senior Derek Crocker from Wakefield, who had 19 points a year ago.
Senior captain Matt Kenline, who produced three goals and seven assists a year ago, will also look to bolster the forward line.
“We’ll rely on them along with Kyle Phelan (junior), Andrew Cetola (sophomore) and Mark Macdonald (junior),” O’Neill said. “I feel good about this team as far as forwards, defense and goaltending goes. We have added some good young players, and they will have some opportunities.”
There are 14 newcomers on the roster including goalie Khalid Devji, who is from Vancouver and played in the British Columbia Hockey League. He joins returning keepers junior Ryan Sutliffe and senior Sam Avoine, giving the Vikings three solid netminders. Sutliffe had a .918 save percentage a year ago and 2.54 goals against average with a 13-7-3 record.
Chad Goodwin is a high-scoring transfer from Salve Regina, who figures to help up front along with freshman Andrew Bucci from Peabody, who played for the Boston Bulldogs in the AJHL along with Chris Mastropietro from Revere. Defenseman Keaton Cashin of Boxford played for Masconomet and Phillips Andover before spending a year with the Waterville Valley Juniors.
“Overall, we have some experience and numbers at each of the positions. On defense, we return seniors Dan Smolinsky and Brian Hanafin along with sophomores Ian Canty and Cameron Banwell. We also have a couple of freshmen there that should get some time. Cashin’s a good kid, who has been working hard. He’s big and solid. Bucci is another hard worker, who should get some time because he can really skate. Those two guys spent time playing juniors to develop their skills. They want to come in and play.
“College hockey is very exciting, and there is such parity now. All the teams from top to bottom will be good. I expect Plymouth State to be right up there along with Fitchburg, Dartmouth (league home opener on Nov. 17), and Westfield. The last couple of years, Worcester gave us trouble. This is the fourth year for the league, and each season it gets better and better. It should be very interesting, and I’m looking forward to another good year.”