POTSDAM -- The 2009-10 season was the first for the SUNY Potsdam men's hockey team under head coach Chris Bernard and assistant coach Tim Crowley.
The Bears opened the year with a 5-2 win at SUNY Brockport on Friday but lost to SUNY Geneseo 4-1 on Saturday.
With a year under his belt at the helm of the program, Bernard feels much more familiar with his team's capabilities and is prepared to lead them to the next level.
"Last year we were making decisions with information as it came to us. Now we're armed with so much more information about who we are and what our team can be," Bernard said. "We understand the personalities so much better and what elements we were missing. It's a climate we're much more comfortable with."
The Bears skated to a 9-14-2 (5-10-1 State University of New York Athletic Conference) record, a sixth-place conference finish and a playoff berth as they got to know each other.
As the team heads into the 2010-11 campaign, Bernard is very excited about the potential of this Bears squad.
"We believe we have the components to challenge for a SUNYAC title. It's going to come down to how we handle adversity. There's not a night off in the grind of the SUNYAC schedule, so our mental toughness will be the defining factor in the success of our season," Bernard said.
Mental toughness comes with experience and the Bears have plenty. While two-time All-SUNYAC first team forward and leading scorer Connor Treacy (11 goal -27 assists-38 points) was lost to graduation, Potsdam returns 18 veterans to complement its eight newcomers. Three seniors have been selected to serve as captains this season. Defenseman Zack Juliano (Cape Elizabeth, Maine/Valley Junior Warriors) and forward Fraser Smith (Fonthill, Ontario/Oakville Blades) will be co-captains, while forward Kevin MacLellan (Kensington, Prince Edward Island/Summerside Capitals) will serve as an assistant captain. Bernard believes leadership is a critical factor in a team's success as well as a component of strength for the Bears this year.
"Leadership at the Division III level, to me, is the absolute 'X-factor' to determine whether you're going to have a good season or not. Fraser Smith, Zack Juliano, and Kevin MacLellan are three veterans and mature guys,"
Bernard said. "They've demonstrated success in this league, so they'll be leading the way on and off the ice."
Depth is a theme all over the Bears' roster, and is especially cogent with the returning group of forwards. The nine veterans will be led by co-captains Smith (11-15-26) and MacLellan (5-9-14). Fellow seniors Colin MacLennan (Whitby, Ontario/Ajax Attack) (12-8-20) and Jordan DeLong (Perth-Andover, New Brunswick/Woodstock, Slammers) are also back. Junior Todd Hosmer (Toronto, Ontario/Newmarket Hurricanes) was second only to Treacy in scoring last season with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) and has averaged one point per game in his Potsdam career. Sy Nutkevitch (Montreal, Quebec/Cornwall Colts) (5-16-21) and Mike Foy (Markham, Ontario/Welland
Canadians) (2-2-4) round out the Bears' junior forwards, while sophomores Bill Tsekos (Montreal, Quebec/Vaudrevil Mustangs) (1-1-2) and Matt Viola (Toronto Ontario/Vaughan Vipers) (1-1-2) also return.
Five newcomers join the offensive corps this season and hope to make contributions immediately. Two Alberta natives, David Carr (Edmonton, Alberta/St. Albert Steel) and Mike Arnold (Didsbury, Alberta/Kingston
Voyageurs) have made the trek across the continent, while Jesse Ostring (Ylojarvi, Finland/Sammon Lukio), a Finn, has crossed an ocean. For Ontarians Brandon Couto (Bowmanville, Ontario/Cobourg Cougars) and Adam Place (Toronto Ontario/Bowmanville Eagles), the trip to Potsdam was shorter, but expectations are just as high.
The Bears look to have six experienced player comprise the defensive lines this season and Bernard is encouraged by what he's seen so far.
"Looking at our returning guys, I think they really took to heart the challenge of addressing areas we felt they needed to fine tune. We've seen guys make a concerted effort to do that and that's exciting because it shows they're taking their role and contribution seriously," said Bernard.
Potsdam's defense will be led seniors Juliano (2-2-4) and Pat Choules (Bradford, Ontario/Kahnawake Condors) (1-7-8). Also back are last season's top scoring defenseman, Matt Rhymer (Kingston, Ontario/Yarmouth Mariners) (3-10-13), and fellow junior Hunter Syrydiuk (Toronto, Ontario/Bowmanville
Eagles) (0-1-1). Sophomores Brett Waters (Uxbridge, Ontario/Markham Waxers)
(2-4-6) and Matt Miller (Pickering, Ontario/Cobourg Cougars) (0-3-3) complete the core of defensive veterans.
Three freshman look to bolster Potsdam's blue line ranks this season. Mike Purcell (Pickering, Ontario/Whitby Fury), Kevin Carpenter (Parker, Colo./Notre Dame Hounds), and Nick Avgerinos (Bolton, Ontario/Georgetown
Raiders) will each compete for time on the ice this year.
The Bears have no new faces between the pipes this season as juniors Trevor O'Neill (Bobcaygeon, Ontario/Stouffville Spirit) and Kevin McFarland (St.
Louis, Mo./Woodstock Slammers) return to compete with sophomore Andy Groulx (Rockland, Ontario/Orangeville Crushers). O'Neill made 17 starts last season posting a 7-9-2 record, a 4.10 goals against average, and a .863 save percentage. McFarland saw limited action last year, stopping 13 shots in 32:43. Groulx was 2-4-0 in seven starts with a 3.68 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. All will challenge each other for time in the crease this season and Bernard says this will greatly benefit his team.
"I think we're in a position to have continual competition every single day throughout the entire year as to who's going to play on any given night.
That's a marvelous asset because it makes us better individually and collectively. If that's the mentality these guys are bringing to practice it's only going to make those practices all the more intense," said Bernard.
"I believe it's a really healthy competition and it's going to sharpen our skills all around."
The Bears play their usual grueling SUNYAC schedule during the 2010-11 season and also face a challenging non-conference slate. Potsdam will battle familiar ECAC West foes Manhattanville, Hobart, and Neumann, as well as ECAC East rivals Skidmore and Castleton.