The West Chester University men’s hockey team underwent a huge facelift this off-season. Gone are the likes of Jim Gehring, Robert Bushman, Chris Orlando and Corey Hackney. In come a plethora of unknown and unproven players, ready to show that WCU’s No. 4 overall finish last year was no fluke. The 2008-2009 team had the most successful season in program history, finishing with 29 wins and the aforementioned No. 4 ranking in the country. The team also finished as the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season and playoff champions and also made an assault on the program’s record books. Those days are now gone.
However, while the team suffered potentially crippling losses, it still returns a fantastic core of players that is expected to be the foundation for another great WCU team.
Pat Johnson, a senior from Vankleek Hill, Ontario, is the leading returning scorer and is finally ready to break out of Gehring’s large shadow. A smooth skater with tremendous hands and jaw-dropping moves, the ’08-’09 third-team All-American figures to be in the running for the ACHA National Player of the Year award. He tallied 50 assists last season, tops on the team, and finished second with 87 points.
“It’s tough to replace Gehring, but we expect big things from Johnson,” WCU general manager Dom Bellizzie said.
WCU will also look to upperclassmen Mike Longo, Tom Scocozza and Ted Gilbert to provide additional scoring. Longo, coming off a 41-point season, will likely play on the same line as Johnson and has the potential to reach 55-65 points. Scocozza also averaged over a point per game last season and could blossom into one of the team’s top scorers. Gilbert was bothered by nagging injuries last season, but should be a strong anchor for the team’s second line.
The defense is expected to be the strength of the team. Stalwarts such as Steve Jones, Shane McGarry, Jeff Shockley and Bob McInerney will make opposing offenses think twice about coming into the WCU zone. Jones will also be counted to quarterback the WCU power-play. Jones’ 24 assists led all WCU defensemen last season, and will probably increase as Jones’ responsibilities increase.
With Corey Hackney’s graduation, WCU is in the market for a goaltender. While none of the three candidates on the roster has created clear separation in a bid to be the starter, Matt Murmane, a freshman from Smithtown, N.Y., is expected to be the early starter. While Murmane will get the first crack at the job, it is expected that current backups Roman Chiokadze and Will Parra will see time as well.
This area is undoubtedly the biggest question mark on the roster, especially with WCU moving to the high-flying Eastern States Collegiate Hockey League. The ESCHL’s level of competition is significantly higher than the ECHA’s, and winning this league without top-flight goaltending will be impossible.
While WCU is already used to playing the likes of Delaware, Rhode Island, Penn State, Drexel and Navy in out-of-conference games, it is interesting to see how they will respond to playing these teams more often. In a faster, quicker and more physical league, WCU will need its depth players to respond and step up.
WCU was predicted to finish fourth in the pre-season poll behind co-favorites Penn State and Delaware, but also has the potential to vault over the favorites if the goaltending plays up to par, and if they’re able to find secondary scoring. The Golden Rams have a brutal stretch to begin the season after their opening weekend with games at the ACHA Showcase against Michigan-Dearborn, Arizona State and Oklahoma. In addition, they will begin ESCHL play with home-and-home sets against Penn State, Delaware and Navy. These games should tell fans everything they need to know about this team.
Matt Chandik is a fifth-year student majoring in Spanish with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.