Thursday, August 11, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Clarkson

Quick - name the teams that never finished in the top four in the ECAC during the Obama administration. OK, you got Brown, that wasn't hard. You probably said Princeton, which is incorrect (2009). If you're not an RPI fan, you might have said RPI (2013, suckers!). And you probably missed Clarkson because... well, because they're Clarkson and that's abnormal. Really abnormal. They came close last year, missing out by just two points - but it's been eight straight seasons now, twice as long as their previous record for finishing outside the league's top four. That has the serious potential to change this coming season, and not because there's going to be a new occupant in the Oval Office.

Nickname: Golden Knights
Location: Potsdam, NY
Founded: 1896
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 1991
Coach: Casey Jones (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 20-15-3 (10-9-3 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: Clarkson leads, 88-50-11
First Game: January 24, 1925 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 8, 2015 (Potsdam, NY)
Last CU win: February 6, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: November 11, 2016 (Troy, NY); January 7, 2017 (Lake Placid, NY); January 28, 2017 (Potsdam, NY)

Key players: F Jordan Boucher, sr.; F Perry D'Arrisso, sr.; D James de Haas, sr.; F A.J. Fossen, sr.; F Troy Josephs, sr.; G Steve Perry, sr.; D Terrance Amorosa, jr.; F Ben Dalpe, jr.; F Brett Gervais, jr.; F Nic Pierog, jr.; D Kelly Summers, jr.; F Sam Vigneault, jr.; D Aaron Thow, so.; F Devin Brosseau, fr.; F Sheldon Rempal, fr.; D Jordan Schneider, fr.; F Nico Sturm, fr.

Key losses: F Jeff Di Nallo, G Greg Lewis, D Paul Geiger, D Kevin Tansey, F Pat Megannety, F Christian Powers

Previous KYE installments:
It's not that Clarkson isn't losing anyone significant from last season - a number of those key losses should be names that even casual ECAC fans should probably recognize. It's more a recognition that the Golden Knights return a solid roster of team players that put together a strong resume last year.

Vigneault led the team last year with 12 goals and 26 points, while Boucher (23 points) and Fossen (18) round out the top three scorers from last season, all returning. They are among 10 skaters returning that notched 10 or more points on the season last year, representative of a decent amount of balance to the Clarkson attack. The blue line boasts three NHL draftees (de Haas, Amorosa, and Summers), all of whom bring size and offensive capacity to the table.

And to all this, add an outstanding freshman class straight out of Don Lucia's nightmares. Seven of nine freshmen will be 21 when the season starts - and the other two will be 20. But they're not just older and more experienced, they've also produced some solid results this past season. Sturm was a top-line center for the USHL champions at Tri-City in addition to having played on Germany's World Junior team, and Schneider comes from a solid bloodline, a son of 20-year NHL veteran Mathieu Schneider who brings additional size and offensive strength to the table. But among the frosh, Rempal and Brosseau should be especially interesting to watch.

Linemates at Nanaimo in the goal-happy BCHL, they've been a package deal practically from the start as they committed to Clarkson on the same day in October 2013. Rempal finished second in the BCHL in scoring last season, and Brosseau was right there with him in fourth, with Brosseau typically feeding Rempal the puck for the finish. Both have really blossomed over the last couple of seasons, to the point that Rempal may be one of the best incoming freshmen in the entire ECAC with Brosseau not far behind. That they arrive with three seasons of chemistry already should give them a leg up in adapting to college play - perhaps practically giving Clarkson another quality scoring line overnight.

The one thing that's probably keeping Clarkson from looking like they're ready to stomp a complete mudhole in the ECAC is the lack of a proven lockdown goaltender. While Princeton over the last three seasons has proven that simply having a strong netminder and nothing else isn't quite a recipe for success, we've seen on several occasions over the last decade - including at RPI - that a big-time goalie can transform a team that's wanting in a few places into one of the better teams in the league, and it's practically a requirement for being at the very top.

Lewis last season more than fit the definition of "acceptable goaltending." His numbers (2.04, .925) didn't rank him amongst the top of the league, but they were enough to keep a strong team in front of him competitive, and that's all Clarkson really needed. Perry saw plenty of action in net last year (as in his first two years), but Lewis was the first-choice goalie, a guy who certainly displayed vast improvement from his freshman and sophomore years, the kind of development you like to see in your goaltenders.

Perry, or incoming freshman Jake Kielly, will need to improve on where Lewis was last season if Clarkson is going to be more reminiscent of the program that was perpetually dominant in the ECAC from the 1960s through the 1990s. Kielly played with Sturm last season and backstopped Tri-City's playoff run to the USHL title, so it wouldn't be unexpected if he gets some solid play right off the bat.

As far as RPI-Clarkson is concerned, the Golden Knights have taken 3 points from the Engineers in each of the last three seasons, a fact that is probably obscured slightly by the fact that RPI has won a playoff series in Potsdam twice in the last five seasons, something which hadn't even happened once before that. But make no mistake - Clarkson is likely to be one of the better teams in the ECAC this coming season, and it's going to make for three very tough wars to be fought in about two months' time. They may not be overwhelming at anything, but they're probably going to be pretty decent at most elements of their game.

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