Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

It's an enemy as old as time itself, at least as far as the Engineers are concerned, for our first ECAC foe of the Know Your Enemy series. The very first league weekend of the season features a trip to the North Country (previously known as the "dreaded North Country trip"), a road weekend that is always good to get out of the way as soon as possible for a number of reasons, not the least of which includes not having to trek through the heart of the Adirondacks in the middle of winter.

Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (1st season)
2010-11 Record: 15-19-2 (9-12-1 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 81-44-8
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2011 (Potsdam, NY)
Last CU win: January 7, 2011 (Troy, NY)

2011-12 games: November 4, 2011 (Potsdam, NY); January 28, 2012 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Julian Cayer, sr.; G Paul Karpowich, sr.; F Jake Morley, sr.; F Louke Oakley, sr.; F Corey Tamblyn, sr.; F Nick Tremblay, sr.; D Nik Pokulok, jr.; D Alex Boak, so.; F Allan McPherson, so.; D David Pratt, so.; F Ben Sexton, so.; F Matt Zarbo, so.; D Kevin Tansey, fr.; F Joe Zarbo, fr.; F Mitch Zion, fr.

Key losses: F Brandon DeFazio, D Mark Borowiecki, F Scott Freeman, D Bryan Rufenach

Previous KYE installment:
Obviously, the biggest change in Potsdam is behind the bench - in 2008, George Roll had Clarkson on the doorstep of the Frozen Four, but three losing seasons since now has him in Rochester as D-III Nazareth's first head coach. His replacement is former Clarkson assistant and longtime Ohio State and Cornell assistant Casey Jones.

When a new coach comes to town, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. Sometimes, it's a slow build to respectability, such as has happened with Seth Appert. Sometimes, it's an immediate splash, as happened with Seth's college roommate, Jeff Blashill at Western Michigan (which landed him an assistant coaching gig with the Red Wings right away). Will Jones play Cornell hockey at Clarkson (we hope not, zzzzzzz)? Will he try to tinker with and improve upon Roll's methods? Will we get something completely different from either of those? It's hard to know.

What we can look at are the players, their numbers, and what they're losing and bringing in. What they lose are their top two goalscorers in DeFazio and Freeman, and their top defensemen in Rufenach and Borowiecki, the latter of which left with a year of eligibility remaining to sign with Ottawa.

What's left isn't exactly nothing, though Clarkson surely wants to get more production out of Tremblay, a Boston Bruins draftee who has just 16 goals for his career (which actually makes him Clarkson's active leader). A healthy season out of Sexton would probably go a long way, McPherson could be poised for a solid second campaign, and with both Zarbo brothers now in place, the Knights could get some good production from their younger players.

Defensively, Clarkson is going to be very young. Pokulok and Andrew Himelson, both juniors, are the Knights' most experienced blueliners, and they'll be in front of Karpowich, whose numbers in his first three years in Potsdam leave much to be desired. The defense took another hit when highly touted defensive recruit Luke Juha decided - possibly in part because of Roll's departure - that he would not come to Clarkson, preferring to wait a year and then join Penn State's program in its first varsity campaign.

The defensive issues, it would seem, might be enough to lead Jones to consider Cornell's methods - Pokulok's brother Sasha fit well into Schafer's scheme in Ithaca, but beyond the 6'5" junior, there's not a great deal of size back there.

Again, the coaching change is a wildcard, because you never quite know exactly what a coach is going to do with the players he inherits, but when it comes to wildcards, Jones is a pretty solid ace in the hole. His name has come up as a candidate for practically every eastern D-I opening in the last decade or so (including RPI's in the middle part of it), and that doesn't happen without having the bonafides to be a solid head coach - especially in the recruiting aspect, although that'll take a few seasons to blossom.

On paper, Clarkson seems to be in for another difficult season that'll probably be full of high-scoring affairs. But if Jones makes a system work for the players that he has as Blashill did last year in Kalamazoo, anything could happen.

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