Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Last but not least, it's Clarkson. The Golden Knights last season got out of the gates hot, but cooled in January and February before coming within a goal of reaching Lake Placid. They threw off their unusual dry spell at home in the playoffs by knocking off Princeton in Potsdam (although they did lose Game 1, causing folks to wonder for a short time whether there was really some kind of curse), then outscored Cornell in Ithaca but fell in three games. Like their arch-rivals from down the road, they lose some important pieces from last year's puzzle, but they at least retain some important elements heading into this season.

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 (4th season)
2013-14 Record: 21-17-4 (11-9-2 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 85-48-9
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: January 31, 2014 (Potsdam, NY)

2014-15 games: February 7, 2015 (Potsdam, NY); February 27, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D James Howden, sr.; D Sam Labrecque, sr.; F Joe Zarbo, sr.; F Jeff DiNallo, jr,; D Paul Geiger, jr.; G Greg Lewis, jr.; F Pat Megannety, jr.; D Kevin Tansey, jr.; D James de Haas, so.; F A.J. Fossen, so.; F Troy Josephs, so.; G Steve Perry, so.; D Kelly Summers, fr.; F Samuel Vigneault, fr.

Key losses: F Allan McPherson, F Ben Sexton, D Alex Boak, F Will Frederick, F Jarrett Burton

Previous KYE installments:
Like SLU, Clarkson comes into this season losing four of their top five scorers from last year, but the good news in Potsdam is that the scoring was slightly more spread out last year than it was for the Saints. McPherson, Sexton, Frederick, and Burton accounted for 39 goals and 103 points last season, which is far less of a percentage of the team's total offensive output than SLU loses.

DiNallo was third on the team in scoring last year with 11 goals and 14 assists, and returning with him are proven offensive assets like Zarbo and Megannety. De Haas, Tansey, and Geiger also proved useful offensively as defensemen. Of this group, only Zarbo is a senior, which means Clarkson does have a strong core scoring ability to work with for the next couple of seasons.

That core, however, needs to show some improvement over last season's performance, as the Golden Knights struggled to put the puck in the net with frequency. Two seasons ago, Clarkson ended their season with a school record goalless streak, and last year the offense was even worse over the course of the entire season, netting just 2.40 goals per game. Only Harvard and Princeton had weaker offenses last year.

Defense was where Clarkson brought it, and the bedrock of their effort was given a significant boost with the addition of Perry to the mix in net. His presence helped boost Lewis' numbers from what had been a difficult freshman season, and ultimately the two would platoon during the ECAC schedule. Perry's numbers were better, but the team was more successful in the win column when Lewis was in net.

The defensive stand that this team will be able to put forward is going to be their touchstone for performance this season, there's no question. The combination of Perry and Lewis may not set records for stinginess but they're easily the most secure the Knights have felt between the pipes in years. In front of them is a corps of defensemen grounded by four upperclassmen, and a freshman who's an NHL draftee in Summers (who joins de Haas in that category).

Clarkson is a strong team that has some areas which need some serious polishing - the offense in general, along with both sides of special teams need to be improved over last season. In many ways, that makes them quite similar to the last ECAC team that we'll be profiling before the season gets underway: the Engineers. The Knights have gotten out of the gate quickly in two of the three years that Casey Jones has been watching the team's speed, and it led to halfway decent finishes in the league table both times. If they can catch fire early and keep the momentum throughout the season, a first-round bye would surely be in the offing.

Last year's RPI-Clarkson series was won 3-1 by the Knights, and as with this season, both games occurred late in the season. The Knights won the game in Potsdam in one of the classic offensive power outages the Engineers endured last season, and tied the game in Troy in one of the classic blown leads RPI produced last year. It's tough to analyze a matchup that won't happen until four months of developments on the ice have taken place, and these teams are so similar that home ice and the bounce of the puck are likely to be pretty big factors. So we'll just end this by saying... go see both of these games, if you can. The crowds always bring a little something extra to this game, even if no one on either side would presently peg this rivalry as the most important for their team at present.

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