Nearing the start of a new season, many teams face two standard issues - replacing losses on offense and defense. For the Skidmore College ice hockey team, offense might not be an issue.
For starters, the Thoroughbreds return four of the top five scorers from last year's team. Junior forward Tony Giacin leads the way for Skidmore, coming off a season where he totaled 13 goals and 11 assists last year. Fellow forward Aaron Beck contributed seven goals and 15 assists in his sophomore year. Senior Zach Menard defenseman finished with five goals and 15 assists, followed by sophomore forward Tim Colvin, who chipped in six goals and 10 assists.
That quartet helped the Thoroughbreds to the ECAC semifinals and gave them the right to host a playoff game.
"We had a really strong season last year," eighth-year coach Neil Sinclair said. "We went 8-4-2 the last third of the season and finished fourth in the league, so we're excited about the group that's returning."
However like any other team, Skidmore had its share of graduation losses, including the program's first All-America in defenseman Nick Dupuis. Also gone is goalie Colin Bessey, now playing professionally in France.
But like any other team, the returning players are using the previous season as the motivating factor for a new year.
"Last year was really exciting because we came together as a group," senior forward Brendan Cottam said. "Our leadership team of seniors last year really set the tone for us and we elevated our game.
"We had some struggles at points in January, but from those struggles we came together and picked up some success in February and took it into the playoffs."
With the offense in capable hands, Sinclair observed that the real questions for the Thoroughbreds come on defense and in goal. Competing for playing time in goal are sophomores Spencer Sodokoff, Brad Cray, who saw limited playing time last year and freshman Ben Freiberg.
But despite needing to fill a few holes on defense and finding a starting goalie, Sinclair thinks there might be one area that helped Skidmore to its strong finish last year and that could be a factor this season.
"In the run at the end of last year we were very consistent," he said "We beat the No. 2 team in the country and we beat the No. 4 team in the country.
"We got consistent play in goal, consistent play from our defensemen, we killed penalties and our power play was pretty successful. We have the ability to do it - it's can they put it together for 25 games."
"I think last year we proved we can play with anyone - beating a lot of good teams in our conference down the stretch," senior forward Julian Malakorn said. "This year we look to start where we ended and play up to our potential and be a force in the league.
"It gives you confidence taking down the No. 1 team, but you also have to put it in perspective. We didn't go undefeated and we lost to other teams, so it's just an added boost of confidence that we can take on anyone."
In looking at the conference ledger, Sinclair stressed the importance of maintaining focus every night.
"Obviously you've got Norwich that has won a national championship and finished first in our league the last 10 or 15 years," he said. "You've got Castleton, who is very strong and Babson has made the national tournament several times. So I think from top to bottom there are no off nights."
Among teams goals for the season, Sinclair mentioned a top four league finish, winning the Skidmore Invitational and getting to the ECAC finals.
But getting to the basics, Sinclair echoes the sentiments of any coach - constant improvement through the season.
"My mantra to them is we want to get better every time we step on the ice," he said. "For us, when you look at a 25 game schedule, if you don't give it your best effort, it's probably not going to be good enough."
The Thoroughbreds open the season Friday and Saturday on the road with games against the University of New England and the University of Southern Maine. Skidmore plays its home opener Nov. 9-10 hosting New England College and Saint Anselm College.
ON THE WIRE