November 7, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Clarkson

Golden Knights Were Shaky on the Road Last Season, But Have 3 Wins Already This Year

CHN Staff Report

It was about this time last year that Clarkson was named CHN's Team of the Week, after a nice start to the season. But things didn't turn out as well, with the Golden Knights slipping to .500 by year's end.

This year, the Golden Knights are 6-1-1, and after sweeping Dartmouth and Harvard (no slouches) on the road, they are again the esteemed CHN Team of the Week.

So why is Clarkson so confident this is the year it returns to ECAC dominance and beyond, as opposed to last year?

"The road record is one indication," says Clarkson coach George Roll. "Last year, we played well (on the road) but didn't win. This year, we see the confidence on the road that it's a different mentality. We can let up a soft goal and there's no panic. Last year, we were pretty fragile."

In addition to these road wins, Clarkson won at Providence and tied at Massachusetts.

This season, it also seems that Clarkson has finally gotten its talent level to a place where Roll has been aspiring since taking over in 2002. Roll was an assistant under long-time coach Mark Morris in the '90s, and was around when the team had a couple dozen highly-skilled forwards come through, some who have gone on to long, productive NHL careers.

That changed after Roll left, and assistants like Jim Roque (now Lake Superior's head coach) influence Mark Morris to recruit bigger, grind-it-out type players to compete with where Cornell was headed. For whatever reason, it didn't work, and Clarkson's string of 20-win seasons, and near-perennial NCAA appearances, came to an end. So did Morris' time at Clarkson.

Junior Shawn Weller is having a breakout season, thanks partially to staying out of the penalty box. (photo: Chris Lenney)

Junior Shawn Weller is having a breakout season, thanks partially to staying out of the penalty box. (photo: Chris Lenney)

Roll set about re-changing the philosophy, not to mention weeding out some "problems" that had seeped into the program. Since then, assistants Greg Drechsel and J.F. Houle, one of those skilled forwards from the '90s, have recruited as strong a group of forwards as Clarkson has had in a long time.

"We knew there would be hard times," said Roll. "From where the program was, our philosophy is a lot different. We knew we had to take some lumps. Greg and J.F. did a great job. We wanted to go the other route and be a team that could skate, move the puck, and have high energy.

"We could see it getting better last year. There was no panic in us. And there's a long way to go this year. But we've caught up recruiting-wise."

Among those on the team now are guys with size and skill, like juniors Shawn Weller, Nick Dodge and Steve Zalewski, who represent Roll's first full class. All three are drafted. Sophomore Shea Guthrie is another, and the freshman class has added highly-skilled Matt Beca from Mississauga, Ontario.

"We have a lot of skill and speed," Zalewski said. "We play an up-tempo game and real hard-working game. We forecheck hard. We have a well-conditioned team and team speed. ... We want to be the ones dictating the pace of play."

Weller is a player that came in highly-touted, and made the U.S. World Junior team as a freshman, despite missing his first four games over an admissions mix-up. After an up-and-down two seasons, where he had to shake loose a tendency to be in the penalty box too much, he has broken out.

"He had two good years, but like Stevie, he's made an enormous jump," Roll said. "He has confidence with the puck. We want him on the ice. He can't do that sitting in the box. He's great along the wall, offensively it's hard to take the puck away from him."

Ironically, Roll said that Weller most reminds him of a former Clarkson player known for being a major pest, or some would say, chippy.

"He reminds me of Chris Clark," said Roll, of the now-NHL player who was with the Golden Knights from 1993-97. "But (Weller's) a better skater. ... He provides more speed than Chris Clark, but he's tough in your face."

Meanwhile, in goal, David Leggio has been just fine for the Knights.

"Definitely David is a big part of our success when we need it," Roll said. "He's not spectacular, but he's consistent, and there's no soft goals."

So getting back to the NCAAs for the first time since 1999 would seem to be the next order of business.

"It's a major goal for this year," Zalewski said. "We try not to think about it, but it's in the back of your head when playing big games."

Of course, Roll pointed out, again, the team was 8-3-1 last year, and finished .500. And whether this style of play can be successful in the national tournament is another question.

"I think we have turned the corner, but we have to prove it," Roll said.

"I do believe (our style can hold up). Our forwards, 1-12, are very good. And the speed we have, with the way the game is called, we have great puck movement.

"But we go to St. Cloud (next weekend), and we've got Miami and Bowling Green (at home Nov. 24-25) and then Wisconsin over the holidays. So I guess we'll find out."

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