Team of the Week: Clarkson
Golden Knights Getting Their Identity Back
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Clarkson has made a history out of grooming top talent — many guys who have gone on to the NHL — and getting solid goaltending with great special teams. The teams in their last "Golden" era of the '80s and '90s were fast and fun to watch.
But in the years leading up to the end of the Mark Morris era, and the aftermath, Clarkson hockey tailed off. In some ways, that was a by-product of the ECAC's overall decline. But even as the ECAC stabilized and had a semblance of a resurgence, Clarkson seemed left behind.
Two years ago, Clarkson made a run to the ECAC semis. But after last year, that seemed more of a fluke than anything.
Now, however, with George Roll firmly ensconced in his third year as head coach, the Golden Knights' have surged back into the national consciousness. And while every ECAC team will struggle these days to keep up with Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, etc... the Golden Knights have shown signs of a legitimate comeback this year, with a 10-5-1 record and solid play up and down the lineup.
It starts with the skill level. Roll recruited sophomores Nick Dodge, Shawn Weller, Dave Cayer and Steve Zalewski. They are four of the team's top eight scorers. Freshman Shea Guthrie is second on the team in scoring. They are all legitimate talents. Weller was on the U.S. World Junior team last year, and though he disappointed during the Clarkson season, he's been on fire this year (though, ironically, was not selected for this year's World Junior team).
But it continues with a pervasive attitude shift. Attitude problems on and off the ice beset Clarkson at times over the last five years, but those things seem to have disappeared.
"I could tell last spring when the season ended when our captain, Chris Berkelmans, pulled the team together," said Roll of knowing the team was ready for good things this year. "In the spring and over the summer, he held everyone accountable for their off-ice workouts and he, along with Jeff Genovy, as the only two seniors, have taken a very strong leadership role. It started in the spring and has carried over to this season."
Wins over Providence and Niagara highlight the non-league schedule. Then this past weekend, Roll went back to his old stomping grounds — Bowling Green. Roll played for the Falcons through 1986, and played with current BGSU coach Scott Paluch. Clarkson's 6-4 win over the Falcons last Friday came after falling behind 3-0, and typified the offensive resurgence.
The next night, the Golden Knights played the No. 2 team in the country — Miami — at raucous Goggin Arena and played tough in a 2-1 loss. It was nothing to be ashamed of.
Clarkson's schedule gets much tougher, so there are apt to be some bumps in the road. But things are looking up for the program, and that's why — despite being the first winner to have lost a game during the week — it is deserving of the Team of the Week.
"I think it was important for us, as a young team to be home for the early part of the season," said Roll. "In that home stretch, we gained a lot of confidence, which will help us when we go on the road this weekend and the second semester. Of the 20 games we have left, around 12 are against nationally ranked teams. Obviously, we are going to have to play well both at home and on the road, but I do believe this team has the confidence to go on the road and be successful."
There are more pieces that need to fall in place for Clarkson. One intangible that would be helpful is the return of a great atmosphere to Cheel Arena. Old Walker Arena was as raucous as they come. When the old barn was supplanted by Cheel Arena, it was a beautiful place, still cozy enough to do the job, the team was still great (it was coming off a Frozen Four), and the place still buzzing. Over the years, for a multitude of reasons not just related to lack of winning, the building turned relatively subdued. A rejuvenation there is long overdue, and possible.