BY STEVEN SOUSA // Oct. 26, 2017 //
The Curry College men’s ice hockey team is trying to accomplish something it hasn’t done since 2011: put together consecutive winning seasons.
Last year, the Colonels enjoyed a 14-10-2 season, good for fourth place in the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) and a home playoff game. However, they were knocked out in the first round of the tournament by the University of New England, a team they beat in both regular-season matchups.
Although it was a bit of a stunning defeat, sixth-year head coach TJ Manastersky said he couldn’t let the team dwell on it for too long.
“The reality is that every team’s season ends disappointingly except for one,” Manastersky explained. “But what you do when the dust settles is try to take positives from it and learn from the things that you need to get better at.”
One area of improvement could be starting off games better, as Curry trailed in 11 of its contests and only came away with three wins.
The Colonels will look a little different this season after losing 11 seniors from a year ago, including top point-scorer Tyler Vankleef, who racked up 15 goals and 15 assists. Jake Heisinger will also be missed after he registered the most assists on the team with 20.
In addition, three-year starter Brett Sinclair leaves the goal posts vacant after carrying a .900 save percentage and a 12-9 record. Although every team goes through turnover year to year, this type of production will be a challenge to replace.
“When you lose a player that scored 15 goals, you’re probably going to feel that at some point. But you’re counting on guys to emerge,” said Manastersky. “There were some guys last year that I think are capable of doing more and we think that they will.”
Junior Lionel Mauron scored the second-most points last season with 25. Seniors Shane Tracy and Adam Valadao were right behind him with 23 apiece.
Another player to keep an eye on this season is junior Zachery White. Although he didn’t have a lot of production last season over 22 games, Manastersky believes he is a player who will be able to create many offensive chances.
It is still unclear who will be the next man up between the pipes for the Colonels. Senior Chris James, junior Spencer Cookson, and freshman Frank Cundiff are all vying for the starting spot, but Cookson was the only one to see time last year, appearing in five games while getting two starts.
Manastersky declined to reveal who will be the starter for Curry’s home opener on Friday.
Naturally, the Colonels will be a young team but Manastersky feels that strong leadership will guide them. Seniors Phil Kiss and Tracy will serve as captains, and classmates Ryan Fitzgerald, Jarret Kup and Valadao will don A patches, serving as assistant captains.
The 2017-2018 version of Curry hockey will feature 11 new players, including 10 freshmen. Tracy noted there may be some growing pains early on, but they will have to find a way through them.
“With a lot of new guys, it might take a little while to adjust completely compared to last year, but I think as the season goes on we are going to get stronger,” explained Tracy. “We are going to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season, push into the playoffs, and make a serious run.”
Kiss shares those same playoff aspirations, as his goals for the team are simple.
“Make it to the conference championship, win it, and get into the tournament,” said Kiss. “It’s going to be hard work and we are getting better every day.”
Despite the CCC preseason coaches’ poll ranking the Colonels as only the fifth-best team in the conference, Curry is eager to make a statement.
“We got some freshmen that nobody even knows exist,” Manastersky elaborated. “They’ve been in North America for six weeks; they don’t know what we are playing with.”
This young Curry team has playoffs on its mind, but to get there it’ll have to do something it hasn’t done in six years: finish over .500 for two seasons in a row. However, co-captains Tracy and Kiss have all the faith in the world in their teammates.
“I think with the guys we have, it’s 100-percent possible,” said Kiss.
“Oh, guaranteed,” echoed Tracy.
The 2017-2018 campaign kicks off Friday, Oct. 27, at 6:50 p.m. when UMass-Dartmouth pays a visit to the Max Ulin Memorial Rink in Milton.