Clarkson University season preview

By DJ Powers

The Clarkson University Golden Knights opened their 2005-06 regular season on Oct. 7 when they traveled to Dwyer Arena to face off against host Niagara. Clarkson may have the quirkiest schedule of any team in the NCAA, with only four road games in the first two months of the season.

One road trip later in the season that head coach George Roll is looking forward to is a visit to his alma mater, Bowling Green, and facing his former teammate in head coach Scott Paluch.

“Yeah, I’m pretty excited. I played with Scott in my senior year there. We’re still very good friends. Scott’s done a great job there turning around the program, which is nice,” said Roll in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future.

A new attitude and a renewed sense of commitment is theme for the 2005-06 edition of the Clarkson green and gold. “There’s no question that the commitment and attitude of the whole team has changed this year. You can feel the commitment level is much different now. The attitude and work ethic is certainly a breath of fresh air and it’s certainly different than what we had last year,” said Roll.

While the Golden Knights have lost some key players in the offseason, they also bring in one of the best freshman classes in the nation this season.

In goal, Clarkson will be going with the returning tandem of junior Kyle McNulty and sophomore David Leggio. Roll is expecting to rotate the two goaltenders to start the season.

“Both Kyle and David haven’t had a lot of playing time, but when they both have been called upon in the past, they’ve both shown that they can play at this level.”

McNulty, the more experienced of the two, played in ten games last season, posting a 2-6-1 record. Leggio played in five games, posting a 2-1-0 record with a .908 save percentage.

With the relative inexperience of their goaltending tandem, a solid defense will be key in helping Clarkson make a successful run at the ECACHL title this season. Ken Scuderi was the only defenseman lost to graduation.

The stellar group of returning defensemen will be led by senior Chris Brekelmans, who will serve as team captain this season. The defensive defenseman finished with five points (two goals, three assists) playing in all 39 games last season. Brekelmans will provide the Golden Knights with strong leadership and will be a great role model for the younger Clarkson players this season.

“He doesn’t bring the highest level of skill but what he brings to every game is a passion, desire, and a high level of competitiveness. I think with him as our leader, he’ll hold a lot of guys accountable to how they play,” said associate head coach Greg Drechsel in his recent interview with Hockey’s Future.

Clarkson got an outstanding offensive performance out of sophomore Grant Clitsome (CBJ) last season. As a freshman, he led all Golden Knights blueliners in scoring with 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 39 games and became Clarkson’s top offensive defenseman. One area where Clitsome was invaluable was quarterbacking the Golden Knights power play.

In addition to the returning players, Clarkson will welcome three incoming freshmen to their defensive corps. The two of note are 2005 NHL draft selections – Philippe Paquet (MTL) and Tyrell Mason (NYI).

Paquet comes to Clarkson from the Salisbury School (NEPSIHA), where he had five points (one goal, four assists) last season. Paquet is a smooth-skating defenseman who possesses good size and great poise with the puck.

“Phil sees the ice very well. He can move the puck and can make that great first pass out of the zone. He can jump up into the rush offensively and he does a lot of the little things,” described Roll.

Mason comes to Clarkson from Salmon Arm (BCHL), where he posted 42 points (six goals, 36 assists) in 51 games last season. Like Paquet, Mason is a defenseman with size who skates and moves the puck extremely well.

“I’d like to see more of our defensemen get involved in the play. With the addition of Tyrell and Phil, the potential exists for those kids to bring that offensive composure,” said Drechsel, who noted that one of the improvements that he and the rest of the Clarkson coaching staff would like to see this season is increased offensive production from the defense.

The most significant losses that Clarkson suffered in the offseason were at the forward position. Jay Latulippe, Chris Blight and Mac Faulkner have all graduated. With the losses, the Clarkson forward lines will be significantly younger this season. While for some teams having so many young, inexperienced forwards is a curse, for Clarkson last year it was a blessing. The underclassmen, most notably the freshman class, proved at times to be the saving grace of the Golden Knights. Players such as Steve Zalewski (SJ), Shawn Weller (OTT), Nick Dodge and David Cayer played pivotal roles in carrying the team last season.

Zalewski led all Golden Knights rookies last season with 19 points (12 goals, seven assists) playing in all 39 games. A superbly gifted offensive player, Zalewski proved to be far more than just scorer, having been utilized in a variety of situations last season.

After finally getting his academic situation straightened out, Weller made a big splash in his season debut by scoring two goals. He finished the season with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 33 games. He also led Clarkson with 72 penalty minutes. The power forward became a dominant force every time he was on the ice, providing not only some offensive firepower but also a tough, physical presence as well.

Dodge and Cayer provided offensive depth as well as excellence on faceoffs for the Golden Knights last season and will be expected to do the same this season. Dodge finished the season with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 37 games, while Cayer finished with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 31 games.

Three newcomers will join the excellent returning group up front this season. The most notable is Shea Guthrie (NYI). Guthrie was one of two Clarkson players selected by the New York Islanders in the third round of the most recent NHL draft and he could turn out to be a steal. The Carlton Place, ON native may well become one of the best players to come out of the recent draft playing in the NCAA. Guthrie is an exceptionally gifted offensive player that few people know or are talking about. He comes to Clarkson from St. George’s School, where he amassed 50 points (26 goals, 24 assists) in helping to lead the Dragons to their first ever ISL/New England D-II title.

“Shea gives us one of those very dynamic, offensively gifted players. When you talk about an offensively challenged team from last year like we were, Shea was the type of guy that we needed to help us raise that level of skill this season. His natural ability is as good as just about any player that we’ve recruited. He’s very committed on and off the ice, whether it’s in the classroom, on the ice or in the community. That’s the type of person that we want in our program. I think the biggest thing that Shea gives us is that offensive ability. He’s a game-breaker type of individual. He’s going to have the opportunity to play quite a bit and be on our specialty teams. He’s just a guy that we felt very fortunate to have gotten in the recruiting battle. I think he’s going to be an awfully dynamic freshman forward this year,” said Roll in his praise of Guthrie.

With the addition of the excellent newcomers as well as the return of many of the top players, Clarkson is hoping to see an increase in their overall offensive production this season.

“One of the big things that we were looking for when we recruited this incoming class was increased skill level and guys that have more of a knack around the net. We certainly felt defensively that we weren’t a bad hockey club but we certainly felt pretty challenged offensively. We feel that we’ve upgraded in terms of our skill with this year’s freshman class and I think we’ll feel a lot more comfortable with our offense this year,“ said Roll.

Another improvement that the Clarkson coaching staff wants to see is more discipline.

“We know that we have to be more disciplined as a team. Last season we were allowing more goals against and we weren’t scoring as much because we were undisciplined. Yes, we want to improve our offensive production but at the same time we want to be a more disciplined and defensively-sound hockey team,” said Drechsel in addressing the team’s disciplinary issue.

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 9)

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