Men’s Ice Hockey 2017-18 Season Preview

Photo by Lianne Yun '18
Photo by Lianne Yun '18

2017-18 SEASON OUTLOOK

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – The 2016-17 season was a great ride for the Wesleyan University men's ice hockey team, and now the Cardinals are hungry for more heading into the 2017-18 campaign.

Last winter, Wesleyan rattled off a strong 13-9-4 overall record and a 7-7-4 mark in the highly-contested NESCAC, as the squad entered the conference tournament as the seventh seed, and upended second-seeded Colby, 5-4, during a thrilling battle in Waterville, Maine. With the victory, the unit advanced to the semifinals of the NESCAC Tournament for the second time in program history, and the first time since the 2010-11 year.

< COACHES CORNER WITH CHRIS POTTER >

Wesleyan is loaded with talent heading into this year's journey, including 19 returning players and six newcomers. The group is set to jump right into conference action during its home opener on Friday against Connecticut College (7 p.m.) at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink.

Wesleyan will host 12 regular-season games in Middletown, Conn., and the team will compete in 18 NESCAC battles and six out-of-conference affairs. The squad opens the year on a four-game homestand, and then the Cardinals will hit the road for the first time on Dec. 2 when they take on Little-Three rival Amherst at 7 p.m. The 2018 NESCAC Tournament is set to get underway on Feb. 24.

Head coach Chris Potter, who is entering his 15th season at the helm, has put his imprints on the program, as the Cardinals have made nine appearances in the NESCAC Tournament under his guidance. During the 2006-07 year, he powered the Cardinals to an outstanding 9-6-4 record in the league, resulting in Wesleyan's first-ever home playoff contest in the NESCAC Championships.

During the coach's tenure, the eighth-seeded Cardinals downed top-seeded Hamilton, 5-2, in the quarterfinals of the 2011 postseason tournament, and then gave second-seeded Williams all it could handle in the semifinals, ultimately falling, 3-2, in overtime.

Wesleyan returns a great deal of its offensive production from last winter, as the program received double-digit points from seven players and six are returning. Sophomore Walker Harris (nine points, 12 assists, 21 points), senior Dylan Holze (9-11-20), junior Chad Malinowski (4-15-19), senior Cam McCusker (9-6-15), sophomore Andy Espinoza (7-8-15) and sophomore Tyler Wyatt (3-10-13) will lead the charge in the offensive zone.

Harris posted the third-most points among rookies in the NESCAC, while checking in at the No. 4 and No. 9 slots, respectively, in power-play points (12) and power-play goals (four). McCusker was dynamite on the man advantage for Wesleyan, netting six goals, which was tied for the third most within the conference ranks. Malinowski ranked fourth among all defensemen in the conference with 19 points, while Wyatt checked in at the No. 10 slot in freshman scoring. Espinoza was the lone Cardinal to tally a short-handed goal, and Holze ranked third on the team in points.

Wesleyan will be led by a pair of captains in senior Theo Tydingco and Malinowski, along with senior assistant captain Jordan Jancze. Potter also has a pair of well-qualified assistant coaches in David Lun and Jim Panczykowski '04.  

Wesleyan loses a great deal of offensive talent with the departure of forward James Kline '17, as the Pittsburgh, Pa. native led the team in points (26) and assists (17), while sitting in a tie for first with nine goals last winter. He finished the year in a tie for the seventh-most points and assists in the conference, while also checking in at the sixth slot in power-play points (11) and ninth in man-advantage goals (four).

MEET THE TEAM

  • The Cardinals returning group features seniors Martin Rubin, Jancze, McCusker, Tydingco and Holze, juniors Mike Yablong, Malinowski, Luke Babcock, Chris White, Sean Ross, Vincent Lima, Espinoza and George Blinick, and sophomores Spencer Fox, Harris, Wyatt, Tyler Kobryn, Hunter Vannier and Matthew Huston. The six newcomers consist of sophomore Tim Sestak, along with rookies Pat Schena, Cameron Peritz, Drew Pitcher, Matthew Zandi and Jordan Rose.
  • Babcock, who compiled four goals, three assists and seven points last winter, provided the heroics for the Cardinals during their quarterfinal-round playoff triumph, putting the squad ahead for good at 5-4 with an early third-period goal. Yablong was strong in the defensive zone last winter, and jumped into the offense on multiple occasions, finishing with one goal and seven assists.
  • Lima (four goals, five assists), Fox (one goal, eight assists), Jancze (two goals, five assists), Tydingco (three goals, three assists) and Kobryn (two goals, three assists) all tallied five or more points during the 2016-17 year. Vannier (two goals), White (two goals), Ross (two goals) and Rubin (two assists) will look to continue their development.
  • The Cardinals have four goalies on their roster in Blinick, Huston, Sestak and Schena. Blinick received valuable experience last year, playing in nine games, as he compiled a 5-3-1 record, along with team highs in save percentage (.944) and goals-against average (1.66). Dawson Sprigings '17 saw the bulk of work in net during the run last season, appearing in 17 games and boasting an 8-6-3 record.

WALKER HARRIS

"The returners from last year, along with myself, are very optimistic for the upcoming season. Although we lost some valuable senior leadership and productivity; we have some returners looking to step up and fill those voids, as well as a capable freshman and sophomore transfer that will make an immediate impact. I feel last year's team was the start of a new era for Wesleyan hockey and a culture of winning. This year, we are expecting to build off last year, and accomplish some of the goals we fell short of last season. Those goals include hosting a playoff game, winning the NESCAC and getting a berth into the NCAA Tournament in the spring. We also are looking to accomplish the goals we did achieve last year, starting with winning the Little Three for the second year in a row, along with having the top penalty kill in the nation."