|All-American Chase Nieuwendyk provides|
plenty of firepower
The Brockport Golden Eagles had a standout season in 2014-2015, going 13-12-2 overall, while finishing 6-8-2 in conference play. After securing the sixth and final playoff spot, they manhandled their greatest rival Geneseo in the first round and came so, so close to upsetting the Plattsburgh Cardinals in the second round, tying the game in the third before falling 7-5 (Plattburgh’s seventh goal was last minute empty netter).
We got a taste for such electric and competitive play during the regular season, when the Golden Eagles tied powerhouse Oswego 4-4 and twice scared Plattsburgh in what were Brockport losses (0-1 and 3-4 scores).
In all of those games, including the playoffs, Brockport was just one goal, one mistake, one moment away from possibly snaring a victory. Things could have so easily gone the Golden Eagle’s way in any of those (and other) affairs. That’s how close Brockport is to going to the next level and becoming SUNYAC champions – and maybe something more.
After having lost just four players to graduation at the end of the season (albeit major contributors), what remained from the 2014-2015 roster is intact and the coaches, once again, recruited some top-level talent.
Brockport was in the top half of DIII teams when it came to scoring last year, their 3.11 goals per game good for 32nd in the country. 27 of their 84 goals came on the power play, which had that specialty unit ranked 14th in the country, and 2nd in the SUNYAC after Oswego. The team was well-balanced, with 6 men having 6 or more goals, and 10 having 10 or more points.
Despite that balance, the team’s offensive success is heavily reliant on one man – Chase Nieuwendyk. While no other Golden Eagle lit the lamp more than 7 times, Nieuwendyk found the back of the net an amazing 18 times (the 14th best output in the whole country). Of those, 9 were with the man advantage, good for 2nd in the nation. With 12 assists to go with them, he amassed 30 points. Especially awesome was his line in SUNYAC play, 11-8-19 in 16 conference games. That led to his being chosen for the All-SUNYAC first team while becoming just the second All-American in Brockport hockey history (after the great James Cody), getting Third Team East honors. Nieuwendyk is now in his senior season, so appreciate his play while you can – he is an amazing talent; fast and creative, there are 5 or 6 times a game when your jaw drops while watching him trying to make something out of nothing.
While the statistical gap between him and the rest of the forwards is vast, that doesn’t mean Brockport is lacking in firepower. Some guys should see their numbers grow quite well. Ryan Kangas had a great freshman season, posting a 6-15-21 line. His maturation on the ice, and being paired with Nieuwendyk for a whole season should see both his goals scored and assists rise this year. There’s no sophomore slump in the cards for this talented kid.
Expect to see good numbers from fellow sophomore Dylan Shapiro. His 4-4-8 line belied his talent last year. His effortless flow to the puck and net last year put some of the conference’s bigger d-men to shame. He should capitalize on that and get some goals this year. Likewise for second year player Zac Sikich who had 6 goals as a freshman and can get shots off quickly…he has double-digit goal talent and is willing to take shots from tougher angles.
As for upperclassman, look for big things out of Jeremy DeFazio, James Ryan, and Jake Taylor. DeFazio’s output has been increasing every year and last season the hard-charging forward – who is a treat to watch -- hustled his way to a 5-9-14 line. 20 points is not out of the question. Ryan was outstanding on the power play last year, getting 5 such goals, while netting 7 overall. He had 8 goals the previous season and is always Johnny-on-the-spot; the kid could be deadly in an extended playoff run. Taylor, who will be a junior, had another solid season. After scoring 10 goals as a freshman, he had a 6-10-16 line last season, with 11 points in SUNYAC games. He could certainly surpass his freshman totals this season, especially with a slapshot like his.
The offense gets a lot of support from an atypical place – the blue line. Defenseman Chris Luker had another brilliant offensive season – he followed up his 9-13-22 sophomore season with a 4-19-23 campaign and First Team All-SUNYAC honors for the second season in a row. A very strong case can be made that he deserved All-American recognition, especially last season when he was 7th in the nation in points among defensemen and he had already established himself as a great two-way defenseman. That slight will be a great motivator for Luker, who, when he puts his mind to something, can be transformative: Consider his freshman year when he led the team with 44 penalty minutes – in the years that followed had just 14 and 8, and became the most decorated d-man in Brockport history. I don’t know how a blueliner can build on consecutive 20-point seasons, but he will. All-American honors would be the icing on the cake for a great career.
Luker is joined by a solid supporting cast. Jonathan Demme is the team captain this year and is a “defenseman’s defenseman.” He doesn’t put up big numbers (no goals and 4 assists last year), but he doesn’t have to. It’s not his job. His duty is to contain the conference’s biggest threats, something he does quite well and without sloppiness – he had just 10 penalty minutes last season and only 4 in SUNYAC play (he doesn’t make mistakes). Robbie Hall saw a lot of ice time last season and with the graduation of Bobby Chayka, it will be on him and Brian Hurlimann to fill the void of physicality. Hall could surprise and provide some fireworks from the blue line…he has the potential to post a 12 point season.
If and when the pucks get past the defensemen, Brockport has a great #1 in goal. There should be no worries even though the team lost to graduation Aaron Green who had a brilliant senior season and finished off a very nice career that put him near the top in all of the key statistical categories. Senior Jared Lockhurst came into the NCAA with great fanfare and admiration, especially from opposing coaches who publically sang his praises and, he began each of his first three seasons as the starter. But, the injury bug seems to have always had other plans for Lockhurst and he has often found himself watching. When healthy, he has been brilliant with save percentages of .919 as a freshman, .903 as a sophomore, and .910 as a junior. Due to injuries (and, last year, Green’s hot hand), Lockhurst had been limited to 14, 14 and 10 games. If he can stay injury-free this year, expect him to be in .920 territory. He has excellent mechanics, positioning and attitude -- he has preternatural calmness on the ice.
In the offseason, Coaches Brian Dickinson and Stephen Mallaro recruited 2 goaltenders among their 7 pick-ups to back-up Lockhurst. Here’s the skinny on all of the recruits…
Trevor Simonick (defenseman): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/07/simoniock-commits-to-brockport.html
Nick Palumbo (defenseman): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/02/palumbo-commits-to-brockport.html
Tim Keilich (forward): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/07/kielich-to-play-for-golden-eagles.html
Connar Bass (defenseman): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/07/brockport-recruits-big-blueliner.html
Cole Burack (goalie): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/01/burack-commits-to-brockport.html
Jake Moore (goalie): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/07/moore-recruited-by-brockport.html
Jamie Lukas (forward): http://brockporthockey.blogspot.com/2015/01/lukas-commits-to-brockport.html
It’s an excellent recruiting class, one that addresses some weaknesses and areas of need while preparing for the future. Preparing for the future is critical, as after this season the team will be without the likes of Demme, Lockhurst, Luker, Nieuwendyk, DeFazio, Ryan, Chad Cummings, and Jesse Facchini. That’s a lot of talent to lose in one year, especially when you are talking about 2 guys who rank among the very best in the whole country.
But, that’s something to worry about next year.
For now, we have each of those guys. And, what a blessing it is, as we have them at their primes – it’s normally the case that NCAA hockey players are at their pinnacle as seniors. If that’s true this year, the sky’s the limit. This is certainly a team with the mental and physical make-ups to make it to the SUNYAC championship and beyond.
Of all the years that I’ve watched Brockport hockey (this will be my 23rd season in the stands), this is the team that I’ve had the most hope for. All the pieces are there. Their time is now.
Count my words, 2015-2016 will be something special.