Signs of Progress There for Clarkson
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Last season was a tough one in the North Country, as Clarkson struggled much of the season just to get a positive bounce. But inexperience was the biggest concern.
This season, the team was picked to again finish near the bottom of the ECAC. But it could be a different story with a few breaks, and signs are already pointing that way.
“We were very young last year,” said Clarkson coach Casey Jones. “We have a decent size senior class and we go from having a large freshman class to a large sophomore class this year. On the experience end, it will vary from night to night but we have a little bit of depth from it.
“We went through a lot of ups and downs last season with the inexperience. We have less of that inexperience out of the gate this season and we should be more ready at the start then previous seasons.”
One of the things that Clarkson struggled with most last season was its lack of scoring touch in key situations. It struggled through 17 one-goal games, winning just three of those. If this improves, Clarkson instantly gets better and the year of experience will certainly do a lot of good.
“We have guys that have been in those situations before,” said Jones. “Many of these players have been in the battles before and it was nice to get the first one out of the way early, against Niagara. We got into a couple of really nice battles against Niagara that went our way and that was a nice confidence boost for us.”
The Golden Knights return their top nine scorers from a year ago, four of six on defense and a freshman goalie that saw action in 34 of 36 games. Question marks on offense have been the biggest question in the preseason, but it only lost five of 89 goals scored last season to graduation. Alan McPherson, Joe Zarbo, Ben Sexton and Jarrett Burton have all proved they can light the lamp on a given night. The offense when it was present was relatively balanced last season.
“Scoring goals has been my biggest question this offseason,” said Jones. “We haven’t shown the capability of scoring goals regularly or in bunches so we are trying to work on a good team concept, offensively, that will enable us to have good habits to put us in situations to produce more. We are hoping, like every program does, that the development model in place allows guys to take a step forward each year.”
Despite being picked near the bottom of the conference, the Knights have come out and impressed, going 3-1-0 in non-conference action. Its only loss came against perennial national contender, New Hampshire, with its three wins coming against the supposed top two teams in the Atlantic conference, Mercyhurst and Niagara.
Its staple in the early going has been tough defense and great goaltending, something that was often missing in crucial moments last season. Clarkson gave up 2.97 goals per game a season ago, which was 11th out of 12 teams in the ECAC. In its three wins, the Golden Knights have allowed just three goals.
With a struggling defense, came a struggling goaltender in Greg Lewis. The freshman finished with a 3.02 GAA and .898 save percentage. Despite his struggles, he was the team’s goaltender and the experience he gained last season will be ever valuable going forward.
“Last year Greg was a little injured down the stretch,” said Jones. “He knows that he didn’t play his best hockey of the season down the stretch but he has had a great offseason.”
Unlike last season, Lewis will get a push from teammates behind him. So far Lewis has played in just two games with freshman Steve Perry getting the other two starts. Perry is already 2-0, with a 1.00 GAA and .964 save percentage.
“Competition at every position is healthy,” said Jones. “It keeps people on their toes and makes you aware of your surroundings and how you are performing. We have depth at the goaltending position now and they will be competing for playing time on a daily basis in practice. It can only make our offense better as well from being challenged and will only make us a better team.”
Increased competition on the team, increased depth and increased composure up and down the lineup should make Clarkson that much better this season.
“I feel like we have taken steps,” said Jones. “We are just setting daily goals for ourselves and we want to make sure we are getting better every day because there is a lot of room for growth right now. We are trying to use the non-conference schedule to prepare to compete for ECAC championships, which we feel is going to be very competitive and tough this season.”