State of Friar Hockey, Part 2

Recently I had a chance to chat with PC men's Head Coach Tim Army and got some his thoughts about the direction the program is moving. While there was not enough time to cover every aspect its clear that Coach Army has a plan going forward and the atmosphere surrounding the team is very positive. In Part 2, we focus on the team's recruiting efforts.

One area the coach wants to improve the team is with its depth. At one point in our conversation he spoke very highly of the contributions of this past season's seniors. Of that group he especially noted the contributions of James Pemberton. The list of his contributions was long and included his penalty killing ability, playing on the power play, leading the rush and making good first passes to clear the puck from the defensive zone, and most of all he was a top player. Unfortunately Jay's season ended 6 games earlier then it should have due to injury. This leads to the question of what might have been. While other teams, most notably BU and Maine peaked in late February and early March due to the play of their seniors, PC saw their seniors knocked from the lineup due to injury At that point this team did not have the bodies to step in and keep the team going without skipping a beat.

Providence's '06 recruiting class is a first step to both raising the caliber of talent on the team and to increase the team's depth. In listening to the coach it was clear what traits he values in his recruits. He is looking for players who can think for themselves and have speed or quickness The class of '06 will see 6 new players and introduce another who sat out last year due to a tricep injury.

Jon Mori tore his tricep in the first game of the season and has been given a medical red shirt season. My understanding is that the doctors took a tendon from his leg and attached it to the tricep. Supposedly this surgery will make the area stronger then it was previously. Having been associated with the team for the past year it appears his potential role has been visualized by the coach. Coach Army's expectation is that Mori will slip into the spot Nate Meyers performed in this past season. Army's reasoning is that Mori is "classic anything to win" type player. Several words the coach used to describe Mori, also define Meyers, tenacious and persistent. The difference is that Nate was a larger and stronger player. Mori will replace those assets with his speed as Jon is a better skater. In assessing his other skills Coach Army listed, "skates well, has good puck skills and is very good below the circles". As a result look for Jon Mori to be on the finishing end of PC's offense.

Of the forwards the most highly regarded is Chris Eppich. One of the leading scorers in the BCHL (British Columbia) Eppich was originally destined for Princeton having verballed there last fall. However with Princeton's tight requirements Eppich's grade index was a couple of points short to gain admission. Once on the market again PC pounced at the chance to add this talented forward. Chris will be the first Canadian brought in to play hockey in the past couple of years. He is another player who is not only a good student, he will be biology major in the fall, but a smart player on the ice. One of his strengths Coach Army listed was his ability to be very intuitive on the ice. From the description the coach gave it is likely Eppich will become a skilled weapon is his arsenal. Eppich can fly with great leg speed and puck skills. Further he sees the whole ice very well and plays both ends of the rink. His role most likely will be better defined when he can be paired up with a couple of line mates. The coach mentioned he is an off wing, but can play center so he is a versatile player.

Probably the best known of the recruits are the Cavanaugh cousins from Warwick RI. John is a forward and David is a defenseman. In each of their last 3 seasons their teams have won their league championship. The first two years their Tollgate team was the first team to win a RI state championship beside Mount St Charles dating back to 1977. This past season their Salisbury Prep team won the prep championship losing but one game.

John will fill one of the center spots on the roster, which will let PC take advantage of the fact he is a solid face-off man. Only about 5'9 Coach Army says that he plays big and knows how to take advantage of his strength which is his quickness. In defining John most of the attributes the coach listed stem from this. Coach Army called him an alert player, able to make good effective plays, who is fast with the puck. The coach attributed this to the talent of being able to see what is happening on the ice and processing it mentally. Like Eppich the word intuitive was used. From John expect to see a smart passer who will create many 2 on 1 breaks that the PC offensive system thrives on. One other role that John is likely to fill is penalty killer.

David is a player with tremendous upside. In some ways that was how his brother Tom was described before he went off to play forward for Harvard where he had a very successful career scoring well over 100 career points. Coach Army pointed out David has continued to get better and better. He said this was a player who had the intangibles that make him work to continue to improve. David was also called an intelligent player who makes good first passes, jumps into the rush, makes good decisions, and whose alert play helps his forwards. Coach Army also sees David as developing into to a solid defenseman. He projects him to top out at close to 220 pounds by the time he finishes at PC and he's about 6'2, thus he foresees a player who will add the physical element to Providence's game. At this point the goal appears to push David to continue growing as a player.

Providence only graduated 3 regulars off last year's team. The remaining two players will add that depth the coach noted was needed to step in when the team needs to replace injured players or needs a spark.

Greg Collins is a product of former Friar Larry Rooney's Thayer Academy program. Last season he was a teammate of the Cavanaughs on the championship Salisbury team. Coach Army noted the improvement he showed at Salisbury which the Providence coaching staff will look to develop further as they push Collins to play faster. Greg's strengths are good speed, a good shot, and a nose for the net. The coach described him as a winger who in time should develop into a solid up and down player. Once the staff gets him to see he can play at the level they want he should be a consistent contributor who down the road has the potential to be a strong penalty killer.

Matt Tommasiello is a walk on who as captain of the Bridgewater Bandits led them to the playoffs for the first time. The role Coach Army seems to have envisioned for him this coming season is to be a 5th line player. However, as part of the depth PC will be developing Matt has the maturity to know that he can push the other players to hold onto their spots in lineup. The coach sees in Matt the ability to jump into the lineup and keep up the pace that Coach Army wants the team to play at. Tommasiello will push the other players to be faster and raise the bar.

Lastly Coach Army updated the progress of fall recruit Mark Fayne. Coach reported that he has grown to about 230 pounds and is ready to play the physical style of Hockey East. He said Fayne is just now tapping into his ability as until this past season Mark played three sports. This past fall he gave up football and once he is at PC he will concentrate solely on hockey. Coach Army remarked about Fayne being a New Jersey draft pick by saying "they don't make many mistakes in drafting players". Fayne like Cody Wild this past season, should see considerable action as Coach Army called him, "a skilled and complete defenseman yet active on offense."

Since I talked to the coach there appears to be one more change which is shifting one of the '07 recruits into this year's freshman class. Backup goalie Stephen Ritter will not be returning to the team. This had led to the acceleration of the arrival of Ryan Simpson. Simpson was the top goalie in the EJHL last year and was originally going to play another year of juniors. However since Simpson graduates from high school next month it was logical he be brought in to be the second goalie on the team. Ryan should be able to provide some quality minutes and give Sims more rest in the upcoming season.

Due to NCAA rules I could not ask the coach about the solid group of '07 recruits he has already put together. He did say that he is looking to bring in a couple more players in that group. Right now from what is general knowledge the class has two defensemen, Joey Lavin and Eric Baier, and three forwards, Ian O'Connor, Austin Mayer, and Kyle MacKinnon. Simpson, O'Connor and Mayer all played this past season in the EJHL where Lavin played the previous year before joining the National Development team this past season. Baier played at prep school and MacKinnon was a teammate of Chris Eppich's in the BCHL. Logic would dictate that with so many forwards graduating and with the make up of the class so far the open spots are slated to be impact forwards. I suspect that as in basketball recruiting that the decision that top players make has a trickle down affect. Right now I think the top chip that must fall for the rest to fall into place is for a top player on the national team that several of the prominent teams are trying to get, deciding whether to go the college route as opposed to the OHL, a major junior league. If this player goes major junior it might convince several other top players to look at the teams the first player forsakes for juniors, thus making PC's job of bringing in a particular blue chip forward all the more difficult.

As of right now PC has no verbals for the recruiting class of '08. However most Hockey East schools have not landed any recruits for that class, presently only two players have committed to a team in the league. Coach Army said that we were developing a good base of players to recruit from. It is likely the '08 class will be smaller then the '07 class because of less players projecting as completing their careers. Coach Army also said that to upgrade the depth he is developing that a coach has to be creative with the 18 scholarships he has available. Most of the '07 class comes from New England and Coach Army said that will always be our base, but as time goes by our recruiting will be more diverse. This may be the first class to reflect that.

An offshoot of the recruiting discussion was a discussion about the direction of the college game in general. It appears the timing of the hiring of Coach Army was very fortunate for just as he has came in here with a coaching vision that is up-tempo, other coaches are picking up on the change. The pro game has now gone in that direction and in order to compete against the major junior leagues and to recruit the top players, college teams are going to have to play this way. The goal of most of the players is to continue to play after they graduate. The easiest way to aid this goal is to emulate the NHL. Coach Army looks at college as a chance to develop the players and make the transition to the pros easier. His style reflects the speed, goal scoring and puck handling skills the NHL and professional leagues in general value.

We also talked about the importance of his recruiting the local players, which is evidenced by the fact that 5 Rhode Islanders who will be joining PC over the next couple of years. Coach Army said he does not want to lose local kids out of state. He believes the local talent pool is as strong as ever. It might not spend as much time in state as players now routinely go to prep school or the junior leagues for one to three years before entering college but the talent is still there.

One more major element that Coach Army brought up was the fact that we will have Stan Moore as assistant coach again this season. Moore was a leading candidate for the vacancy at RPI but withdrew his name. He stayed at Providence because he is happy here and is both excited about the future and wants to see our rise to prominence through. It should be noted that Coach Moore had a stint as head coach at Union where he was ECAC coach of the year, and was the interim head coach at Colgate, where he also won coach of the year.

Clearly the direction the program is heading is positive. The coach's watchword for the next season is to be inventive. If they do so they should play an exciting brand of hockey and continue to become more successful. The goal the coach laid out for his players is that they will be playing in Boston and St. Louis next spring. In short that means they are looking forward to winning Hockey East and the Frozen Four.

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