Date Posted:11/20/2003, 11:00AM
Year in, year out, the Bowdoin College men's ice hockey team is consistently among the best Division III schools. Over the past two seasons the Polar Bears have racked up a 31-12-8 mark (.686 winning %), one of the best marks in the nation. But with the loss of nine letterman off last years' team, will the Polar Bears slip?
Not if Head Coach Terry Meagher has anything to say about it.
"As far as the key people in critical and core positions, this is as young a group as I've ever had," says the coach. "We want to remain realistic, but we really believe in this group. These first three weeks of practice have been a lot of fun, but we're ready to get some game reps."
Meagher became the winningest coach in Bowdoin history last season, surpassing his predecessor Sid Watson with his 327th career win. With the milestones of the past two years behind him, Meagher is back to concentrating on just hockey.
"The past two years, we've had high expectations," says Meagher. "We were very balanced and experienced with that large group of seniors we graduated. This year, the junior class will be more of the catalyst. They'll be the key to our season."
As always, a team's success often rides on the shoulders of its goalkeeper and Bowdoin is no different. After a stellar sophomore campaign that saw him post numbers that would make any goalie envious (91.2 save %, 2.17 GAA), Mike Healey (Hamden, Conn.) saw his goals-against-average balloon to 2.87 last year. Still respectable, but not up to his high standards. George Papachristopolous (Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.) and Dave Sandals (Wallingford, Conn.) will fight for the number-two spot behind Healey.
"Right now, its a little bit up in the air because Mike will start the season injured," according to Meagher. "That makes this position more like the others on the team because it'll give the other people an opportunity to step forward. We'll deal with it."
Youth will truly be served at the forward position for Bowdoin in 2003-04. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing.
The Polar Bears struggled to put the puck in the net at times last year, ranking sixth out of ten teams in the NESCAC in goals last season (86 in league play). Of 20 players listed as forwards on Bowdoin's roster, 13 are either sophomores or first-years.
Leading the group are a pair of exciting sophomores. Reigning NESCAC Rookie of the Year Adam Dann (Burlington, Vt.) and classmate Jon Landry (Toronto, Ont.) are as dangerous a combo as any in the conference and will look to improve on their identical 11-goal, 14-assist seasons in 2002-03. Both excelled on special teams as Landry notched five powerplay goals, while Dann collected two shorthanded tallies. Seniors Michael Stevens (Miramichi, N.B.) and Mike O'Neill (Tewksbury, Mass.) are the hard-nosed heart of the squad, while juniors Shannon McNevan (Peterboro, Ont.), Matt Kovacich (Brookfield, Wis.), Adam Mackie (Charlottetown, P.E.I.), Bobby Cavanaugh (Warwick, R.I.) all bring much-valued experience to the unit. Sophomore Matt Roy (Greenville, R.I.) showed flashes of great play in his rookie campaign, while classmates Andy Nelson (Marston Mills, Mass.), Kevin Richardson (Holbrook, N.Y.) and Mike Chute (West Hartford, Conn.) will all fight for more ice time this season.
The seven first-year forwards have impressed in preseason as the group averages over six-foot, 200-pounds. James Gadon (Toronto, Ont.), Nick Dunn (Centerville, Mass.), Bryan Ciborowski (W. Springfield, Mass.), Ian Hanley (Pembroke, Mass.), Greg McConnell (Charlottetown, P.E.I.) and Peter Smith (S. Hamilton, Mass.) will fight for immediate ice time up front. First-year Tim McVaugh (Hamilton, N.Y.) will likely see time at both forward and defense.
"We have a ton of young kids who love to play and who would love five-hour practices, if they'd allow it," says coach. "Andy Nelson has caught our eye in the early going because he's made a huge step forward in strength and is also conceptually able to get to the next level. Right now, completely honestly, I don't know if we'll score. We have to get into some league games and see what happens."
Defensively, the Polar Bears lost co-captains Ryan Seymour '03 and Jared Porter '03 and will look to fill those gaps with a group of talented defenders. Senior Pete Nasveschuck (Rutland, Vt.) scored five goals from the blue-line a year ago, while Nate Riddell (Nanaimo, B.C.) dished out 14 assists last year. Junior Brooks Boucher (Lewiston, Maine) and sophomore Jesse Minneman (Bloomingdale, Ill.) are two imposing towers defensively, while senior Andy DeMarco (Winthrop, Mass.) and Ged Wieschhoff (Brookline, Mass.) will likely see more playing time this season.
"We're really excited about Ged," says Meagher. "We're curious to see where his game is going to take him. Defensively is the one place where we have a lot of experience. We've been through the league a couple times with this group and we're confident they can do well."
Bowdoin opens their season with a tough match-up against 11th-ranked New England College at home on Friday, November 21. The Polar Bears will have to travel to league foes Williams and Middlebury, while hosting Amherst and Hamilton among others. ECAC East rival and top-ranked Norwich will come to Brunswick on February 7, while the annual pair of matchups against Colby loom as well (at Waterville, December 2; in Brunswick, February 10).
"As the old saying goes 'where promise meets production,'" says Meagher. "Right now, we're in the promise stage. Coach Dumont and I are doing everything we can to facilitate the development of this team. We could give them the keys to the rink and they'd open and close it- they're that driven. I feel like I'm herding squirrels at the end of practice, trying the get them off the ice. That could mean one of two things; my practices are getting too easy or this group just loves to play. Its really exciting to have young competitors who can develop and we have a group who are really engaging, but are able to have a sense of purpose as well."