Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Between the inception of the ECAC in 1961-62 and the league's 40th season in 2002 - Mark Morris' final full season behind the bench - Clarkson finished outside the top half of the league standings only once,  in 1974, when they were 9th in a league of 16 teams (in other words, barely). Since that anniversary, however, finishing in the bottom half has become the norm, happening no less than nine times in 11 seasons. It's been true for quite some time that this isn't your father's Clarkson.

Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (3rd season)
2012-13 Record: 9-20-7 (8-11-3 ECAC, 9th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 84-48-8
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: March 3, 2012 (Potsdam, NY)

2013-14 games: January 31, 2014 (Potsdam, NY); February 22, 2014 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Alex Boak, sr.; F Jarrett Burton, sr.; F Will Frederick, sr.; F Allan McPherson, sr.; F Ben Sexton, sr.; D James Howden, jr.; D Sam Labrecque, jr.; F Joe Zarbo, jr.; F Simon Bessette, so.; D Paul Geiger, so.; G Greg Lewis, so.; F Pat Megannety, so.; F Jordan Boucher-Gould, fr.; D Jason DeHaas, fr.; F Troy Josephs, fr.; D Bryan Sinz, fr.

Key losses: D Andrew Himelson, D Nik Pokulok

Previous KYE installments:
The Golden Knights were a quirky team last year. Outside the ECAC, they had a brutal 1-9-4 record - the one win coming in a non-conference game in Lake Placid against St. Lawrence. To wit, Clarkson hasn't won a game against a non-ECAC opponent since a 5-0 win over Holy Cross on November 27, 2011, and they haven't won a non-league game against a non-Atlantic Hockey team since a 2-1 win over Lake Superior State exactly one year earlier on November 27, 2010.

Early in the season, within the league, they were getting the job done. After opening the season 0-4-3 (including 0-2-3 against Atlantic Hockey teams), the Knights picked up 3 points in their first league weekend at Yale and Brown en route to a respectable 3-3-1 league mark by the end of December, and the Knights even stuck around in decent position in the league standings into the month of February, holding a 6-6-3 record in the ECAC by the time they hosted RPI for the first time.

That game was the second half of a Capital District weekend that had already featured a win over Union that gave the Knights points in five of their last six games, even despite the team's weak defense. But following RPI's 6-2 demolition of Clarkson in Potsdam, the team limped home with a 2-4-0 record in the stretch, dooming them to the bottom four.

Most ignoble was the complete lack of offense at the end of the season. After Bessette scored with 1:29 left in the second period in a 6-2 home loss to last place Harvard, the Knights would go 218:40 without scoring again - over three and a half games without lighting the lamp. That stretch included a completely goalless final weekend of the season in the Capital District and a shutout in Game 1 at Brown. During the drought, the team allowed a total of 18 goals, only one of which was placed in an empty net, and the drought only ended in what was the team's final outing of the year as they were swept by Brown.

That's no way to end a season at all. But there's good news for Clarkson stalwarts - last year's team was very, very young. They lost almost no one to graduation as they return all of their top eight scorers. That's the good news. The bad news is that none of those scorers eclipsed the 30-point mark, with McPherson leading the way at 25. Zarbo (13) and Burton (12) were the only scorers to pump in more than 10 goals, while Sexton was kept from loftier totals due to injuries that have plagued his career in Potsdam. Those four plus impressive sophomore Megannety will be key to the Clarkson attack, which should at least be somewhat improved. Expect NHL draftee Josephs to make early contributions as well. Clarkson has the least amount of offense to make-up from graduation losses of anyone in the ECAC - which is what you would expect from a team that graduated just one forward who had all of six points last year.

The offense, however, is going to be fairly irrelevant if the Knights can't improve on their defense from last year. Lewis was pulled from his cage in both games against RPI last year - in two games against the Engineers, he allowed 8 goals on a total of 23 shots across 43:39 of playing time, which computes to an 11.00 GAA with a .652 save percentage. That was far worse than his season numbers, of course, at 3.02 and .898, but neither of those are sparkling either.

Lewis simply must be better than he was last year, because Clarkson's options in net are limited. They bring in a 21-year-old freshman from the NAHL - a lower-tiered junior league - and a 20-year-old Finnish goaltender who was announced in late July. That's the only real backing Lewis has as of now after classmate Andrew Hunt left Clarkson in June. He'll have to do it with a d-line group that includes just one senior and is likely to include a sophomore and two freshmen.

Offensively, this looks like a team that will be fine, especially once the season gets into full swing, which presents a challenge for RPI since "full swing" is exactly where the season will be once the Engineers meet up with the Knights. The defense has a lot to prove, though, and unless Lewis can keep RPI from eating him alive as they did last year, it'll be another long couple of games for Clarkson.

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