Clarkson Says Goodbye to Important Group
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ALBANY, N.Y. George Roll's first recruiting class had a lot of weight on its shoulders. Its job was to help clean up the mess that the program had been left in. And in so doing, it was going to get interference from a lot of upperclassmen that were used to the old ways.
Four years later, that class has clearly helped Clarkson re-establish itself on the national scene, Saturday's disappointing 2-0 defeat to Michigan in the NCAA East Regional final notwithstanding.
Roll knew what those players meant to the program and to himself. He had asked those guys to come in there and help clean things up; it was a lot of responsibility. As freshmen, that group, which included Nick Dodge, Grant Clitsome, David Cayer and Steve Zalewski, went 13-23-3. So after the loss, his praise wasn't just the usual platitudes given to the group headed out the door, but a highly emotional goodbye that left Roll in tears.
"No regrets. They did everything we asked them to do and more," Roll said. "Their first year, with the most losses in the history of Clarkson, to turn that around and get a game away from the Frozen Four, that's special — at a school like Clarkson that's not easy to do, and they get most of the credit.
"Not just on the ice, but as people, but great young men. If they were my kids, I'd be honored. They're the type of kids we want in our program. You get pretty close to guys in four years."
Yes, a school like Clarkson, with 3,000 undergraduates in a town with a population of under 10,000. It played a school with 40,000 undergraduates, and an athletics budget that far exceeds Roll's dreams.
But Clarkson played with the mighty Wolverines every step of the way.
"I thought the first two periods were maybe two of our best (all season), limiting them to 14 shots," Roll said.
"Our power play couldn't get it done. We had chances and they're so aggressive and use their speed to their advantage. We got undisciplined in the third. You give a team chances, even though they didn't score, you take yourselves out of the game for a while. I thought that was the only shortcoming of our game."
The Clarkson coaching staff proved itself, however, to be as formidable as anyone. It shut down two of the top offenses in the country for most of the weekend, and had game plans that worked.
"We knew their top line was dangerous, so we tried to keep good gaps," Clitsome said. "They're a really skilled team, they like to make plays and make passes up the middle. So we just had to be aware of who was on the ice."
The effort this weekend took some of the sting out of last year's loss, when Clarkson was a top seed and bowed out in the first round, and the ECAC quarterfinal series loss to Colgate two weeks ago.
"Yeah, a little bit. It was nice to get a second wind to come out here and play," Clitsome said. "Yesterday, getting the first NCAA win for our school in a long time. It softened the blow a bit, but tonight was still tough."
But what does it all mean for the future?
"We're not that far off I guess," Roll said. "The one thing that's difficult is losing these guys. I told them after the game, they came into a rough situation as far as where our program was at. They've been in two national tournaments, got to one game last year, got to the second game this year. We're going to miss them. The character of this group, that's the hardest thing (to lose). ... I'm proud of our effort. The two games, we competed at an extremely high level. There were times during the season it wasn't like that. But the effort tonight was something our university could be proud of."
The seniors were quick to turn the praise back around.
"They pour their hearts into the program," Clitsome said. "A lot of people don't realize the time and effort they put into it. They're at the rink after every game late at night getting ready for the next night. I can't thank them enough."
Roll knows it will be difficult getting back again. The Golden Knights have a strong tradition and can recruit well, but it will still face the usual challenges.
"It's going to be difficult. I don't want to give the seniors all the credit, but they're going to be a tough group to replace," Roll said. "We've got to get some guys in that junior class to step up, not only on the ice but off the ice — the leadership those (seniors) have given in their career is something you can't measure."