University of Massachusetts season preview

By DJ Powers

The University of Massachusetts Minutemen will open their 2005-06 regular season on October 14th when they travel to Appleton Arena to face off against host St. Lawrence.

UMass went through a difficult season last year to say the least and ended up finishing a disappointing eighth in Hockey East. This season, they will try to turn things around with many new faces coming in and many familiar ones gone.

The good news to start the season will be the return of junior Matt Anderson. The big question will be if he can stay healthy. Anderson was forced to take a medical redshirt last season after a leg injury abruptly ended what looked to be a very promising season. He finished his sophomore campaign with 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists). Despite playing in just 18 games, Anderson still managed to finish among the Minutemen’s top scorers, fourth on the team. In addition to Anderson, UMass returns all of their top scorers including senior Stephen Werner (WSH), sophomore P. J. Fenton (SJ), junior Kevin Jarman (CBJ) and senior defenseman Marvin Degon.

Werner led UMass in scoring with 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) playing in 38 games. Where Werner proved to be very effective was in penalty-killing situations. He co-led the nation with four short-handed goals. Werner will serve as one of the team’s tri-captains this season. Fenton enjoyed a stellar rookie season that earned him a spot on the Hockey East All-Rookie team. He led all Minutemen freshmen in scoring with 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists). Jarman continues to steadily improve as one of the Minutemen’s most effective two-way players. He finished the season third in scoring with 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists). His 14 assists led the team. Degon led all UMass defensemen in scoring with 18 points (ten goals, eight assists).

As many players that UMass is returning, they’ve also lost some key players. Forwards Tim Vitek, Peter Trovato and Craig MacDonald along with defensemen Jeff Lang, Dusty Demianiuk and Sean Regan and goaltender Tim Warner have all graduated. John Toffey opted to forego his senior season to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning. UMass will all of the aforementioned players’ character and leadership and hopes to get that from their top returning players.

With the departure of Lang, Demianiuk and Regan along with some other non-graduating players, the Minutemen blue line will be very young this season. Degon and junior Mark Matheson return as the lone upperclassmen. UMass will also return two excellent sophomores in David Leaderer and Michael Kostka. Both players enjoyed outstanding rookies campaigns and became two of the Minutemen’s most dependable defensemen. Leaderer finished the season with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) playing in all 38 games. His outstanding season also earned him a selection to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Kostka brought some size and presence to the UMass last season. He finished with six points (one goal, five assists) in 32 appearances.

UMass returns two goaltenders in senior Gabe Winer and sophomore Jamie Gilbert. Winer returns as the Minutemen’s top goaltender from last season. Winer posted a 10-16-2 record that included two shutouts. Gilbert saw action in four games but did not post a decision.

UMass brings in a stellar freshman class this season that is led by one of the best incoming goaltending recruits in the nation in Jonathan Quick (LA). Quick comes to UMass from Avon Old Farms (NEPSIHA) after rewriting the AOF goaltending books and leading the Winged Beavers to their second consecutive NEPSIHA D-I title. Quick brings three attributes to UMass: great athleticism, confidence and the ability to step up his game when called upon.

Along with Quick, two other 2005 NHL draft selections will make their UMass debut this fall. Rugged forward Alex Berry (TOR) and defenseman John Wessbecker (TB) are part of the newcomers to the Minutemen lineup. With some question about whether or not he would be (academically) eligible this season, Berry looks to have taken care of his academic issues. He comes to UMass from the Boston Junior Bruins, where he amassed 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) to go along with 172 penalty minutes. Wessbecker comes to UMass from the Blake School (USHSW), where he had 22 points (six goals, 16 assists). Wessbecker is a 6’2/185 lbs. defenseman who is strong on his skates.

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 6)

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