POTSDAM -- Heading into the 2011-12 hockey season with half his roster brand new, SUNY Potsdam Head Coach Chris Bernard was confident in his team, but still a little unsure of what had.
He ended up with three SUNYAC All-Rookie team selections, the SUNYAC’s top rookie scorers and the Bears’ second playoff berth in his three-year tenure.
“We were fortunate to have a number of players step up and play large roles. Erick Ware (Huntsville, Ala./Kenai River Brown Bears) led the conference in scoring by a defenseman, and Trevor Cope (Swartz Creek, Mich./Atlanta Jr. Knights) finished first in the SUNYAC in overall rookie scoring” said Bernard. “Kevin McFarland set our single season record in save percentage (.915). Those sort of guys emerged for us last season.”
Those players created some of the Bears’ most memorable moments last year, but Potsdam still struggled with its consistency. Different Bears teams tended to show up weekend to weekend, at home or on the road.
“Consistency has to be a hallmark of our play,” Bernard said. “We played with effort. We played with energy. We played with unity on given weekends through all six periods. But then we wouldn’t see that the following weekend, especially on the road where our record was abysmal. I think for us, without a home game all year, there’s a chance to address that deficiency.”
With Maxcy Ice Arena undergoing an $8.7 million renovation this year, the Bears will play their 10 home games at Massena Arena and practice in Clarkson University’s Cheel Arena. Bernard is appreciative of the support he has gotten from around the North Country to turn an inconvenience into an opportunity to gain new fans.
“We’re really grateful that the people in Massena and at Clarkson have welcomed us with open arms. It makes me proud to be a North Country native and be associated with institutions that are willing to be so accommodating,” said Bernard. “People in the area want to see hockey and I believe that they’re going to come out and see what we have. I am confident that we’ll give them a quality product that they’ll want to comeback and see again.”
Potsdam has several familiar faces to lead the Bears into the new season.
Seniors Matt Viola (Toronto, Ontario/Vaughan Vipers) and Brett Waters (Uxbridge, Ontario/Markham Waxers) will serve as captains, while juniors Mike Arnold (Didsbury, Alberta/Kingston Voyageurs) and Nick Avgerinos (Bolton, Ontario/Georgetown Raiders) will don the “A’s” this season. Bernard is pleased with the quartet.
“We’ve got a great mix of personalities with our four captains,” Bernard said. “In them we have guys that any of our players can connect with. They each bring something different to the table in their demeanor and leadership characteristics, but all of them provide something essential for the team to have success.”
Though the Bears will look to fill the hole created by the graduation of All-SUNYAC selection Sy Nutkevitch (9g-31a-40pts), Potsdam returns the next four top scoring forwards. Cope (8-19-27) and junior Adam Place (Scarborough, Ontario/Bowmanville Eagles) (11-12-23), will be relied on even more this season. Viola (3-14-17) and Arnold (10-3-13) each had career-highs in points and look to improve upon their totals in 2012-13.
Sophomores Ken Simon (Norwell, Mass./Philadelphia Revolution) (1-10-11), Vinny Buttitta (Middleburg Heights, Ohio/New York Apple Core) (3-3-6), and Ryan Miller (Didsbury, Alberta/Arizona State) round out the veteran forwards, each having seen significant playing time last season.
In his returning and new forwards, Bernard sees a quick and hard working bunch.
“I think we have a real gritty, speedy group of forwards that should enable us to forecheck with some real tenacity,” the Bears coach said. “I hope fans that watch us will say ‘That team plays a fast, north-south kind of game’.”
Adding, depth and scoring punch up front are six new faces. The most notable is Plattsburgh transfer Zach Blake (Campbellford, Ontario/Wellington Dukes). Blake saw action in just four games with the Cardinals last year, scoring a goal and recording an assist. Billy Pascalli (Deer Park, N.Y./New York Bobcats) joins Potsdam fresh off of an MVP season in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, where he was the league’s high scorer. Californian Jake Rivera (Pacific Palisades, Calif./Hartford Wolfpack) and Alaskan Matt Thompson (Anchorage, Alaska/Kenai River Brown Bears) arrive from the West Coast, while Mike Riley (Brantford, Ontario/Brantford Golden Bears) and Todd Thomas (Davidsville, Pa./Hartford Wolfpack) made the shorter trips from Ontario and Pennsylvania, respectively.
“I think our defensive corps is tremendously solid,” Bernard said. “We have proven players back there. We have guys who have played through adversity and responded well to it.”
Of the eight blue liners on the roster, seven are veterans. Waters, Ware and Avgerinos stand out for the Bears on defense. Waters played in all but one of Potsdam’s 26 contests last season, scoring a power-play goal and recording four assists. As a freshman, Ware not only proved that he could handle the puck in the defensive zone, but also accurately distribute it from the point, earning himself All-SUNYAC recognition. A steady defender, Avgerinos also had a career year offensively, totaling five goals and seven assists for 12 points.
Also back on defense are junior Kevin Carpenter (Denver, Colo./Notre Dame Hounds) (25gp, 1-4-5), Dan McCamey (Dayton, Ohio/Minnesota Flying Aces) (22gp, 4-2-6), Max Fogel (Williamsville, N.Y./Buffalo Jr. Sabres) (14gp, 1-2-3) and Kevin O’Connor (Ann Arbor, Mich./New Mexico Mustangs) (19gp, 1-1-2). The only rookie to join the defensive ranks is Brad Campagna (Monroe, N.Y./New York Bobcats).
In goal, the Bears look to replace the graduated McFarland, who seized control of the starting job down the stretch, and SUNYAC All-Rookie goalie Dylan Ellis, who did not return. Potsdam will have several options to turn to in order to fill the void. The only familiar face is senior Andy Groulx (Rockland, Ontario/Orangeville Crushers) who, after missing the last two years, is healthier than he’s been since his freshman campaign. Freshmen Jon Hall (Dexter, N.Y./Stouffville Spirit) and Austin Keiser (Dunwoody, Ga./Boston Bulldogs) will push each other for ice time and junior Shane Talarico (Greensburg, Pa./Elmira College) joins the Bears after transferring from the Elmira Soaring Eagles.
“We’re going to need our goalies to adjust to the speed, crowds and wild momentum swings of college hockey,” Bernard said. “We have continual competition in practice and that’s going to get them prepared to play.”
The Bears started the season with five games in Massena and finish it there with the final four. In between they will be tested with a marathon 13-game road trip lasting from November until February. They will battle their full slate of SUNYAC rivals and make the trip to Portland, Maine for a two-game non-conference series with Southern Maine. Potsdam will also square off against several other non-SUNYAC foes, including Hobart, Hamilton, Becker, Western New England and Castleton.