NESCAC champs ready to start new season Friday at home

WATERVILLE, Maine – The memories of a New England Small College Athletic Conference title will never go away, but the Colby College men’s hockey team has the hopes of a new season when the Mules play host to Middlebury College at 7 p.m. Friday in the season opener.

Colby was the sixth seed in last year’s NESCAC playoffs with a veteran team of nine seniors. Everything came together at the right time and the Mules won their first-ever league title. Colby then went on the road to beat University of New England and Geneseo to make the NCAA Frozen Four.

“Last year certainly was an historic year for Colby hockey and one that we will remember for a long, long time. This is a totally new team, new year, new season as we graduated nine key players from last year's team and have added eight first-years this season,” Colby head coach Blaise MacDonald said. “Over the last two seasons, we have graduated 17 players so there's no question we are in a bit of a rebuilding mode this season. I have been impressed with how the upperclassmen and leadership turned the page and really focused on a new beginning this year. That being said, we have certainly created a new standard for Colby hockey that we will be responsible for each day.”

Despite the graduation losses, Colby still has a lot of talent on the roster. Junior forward Kienan Scott (Spokane, Wash.) led the Mules in scoring last year with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. He also had three goals on the power play and two game-winning scores.

Senior forward Nick O’Connor (pictured right, Canton, Mass.) and senior defenseman Thomas Stahlhuth (pictured below, Webster Groves, Mo.) will lead the team as co-captains. O’Connor has been an impact player since his first season and was tied for third on the team in scoring last season with 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points. Stahlhuth had a breakout season with three goals and 10 assists for 13 points. Stahlhuth will always be remembered for his rush up the ice and his blast that was saved by the goaltender against Geneseo, but on the doorstep was Justin Grillo (Rockville Centre, N.Y.) slamming in the rebound with less than two seconds left in regulation in a one-goal victory.

“Thomas and Nick are a strong and diverse partnership that will allow them to lead our program this season. Together they have been exceptional players on the ice for us and in the classroom,” MacDonald said. “They are great role models and embody our values and the culture of Colby hockey. We have been very fortunate to have had many great leaders and captains over the years and our leadership philosophies have been consistent and handed down year after year.”

Grillo was one of a number of first-year players to excel in season one. He was tied with O’Connor for third on the team in scoring with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points. Fellow sophomore Spencer Hewson (Vernon, British Columbia) added four goals and 15 assists for 19 points.

Junior forward J.P. Schuhlen (Longmeadown, Mass.) added six goals and five assists, while Zack Hale (Minneapolis, Minn.) finished with four goals. Hale had a memorable goal in Colby’s NESCAC championship win over Trinity College.  Senior John Rourke (Wellesley, Mass.), junior Robert Cerepak (Saddle River, N.J.), junior Paddy Daley (Sudbury, Mass.), and sophomore Brendan Murphy (Fair Haven, N.J.) also return as forwards.

The largest graduation losses may have come on defense with All-NESCAC player Michael Decker, Dan Dupont, and Andrew Reis graduating. All three played well last year in front of goaltender Sean Lawrence, who was playing as well as any goalie in the country at the end of last season.

With the loss of Lawrence to graduation, Stahlhuth and Mark Leprine (4 assists, New Fairfield, Conn.) will be the most experienced defensemen. Billy Overby (Fairfield, Conn.) was part of the top six defensemen last year and contributed five assists in his first season. Sophomores Tim Reilly (Pelham, N.Y.), Sean Holly (Groton, Mass.), Jake Rasch (Cumberland, Maine), and Connor Krause (St. Louis, Mo.) will earn more ice time this season on defense.

Junior goaltender Andrew Tucci (Toronto, Ontario) was a starter two years ago and has played more than 1,000 minutes. He has an 8-6-3 career record with the Mules. Senior Mack Burton (Columbus, Ohio) and sophomore Joe MacDonald (Westford, Mass.) also return in goal.

The Mules bring in eight first-year players, including four forwards and four defensemen. Austen Halpin (Grapevine, Texas), Jalen Kaplan (Bridgewater, N.J.), Velan Nandhakumaran (Mississauga, Ontario), and Michael Thomas (Park Ridge, Ill.) will play on defense. Logan Clarke (Saint Lazare, Quebec), Quinn Doyle (Pittsford, N.Y.), Mike Morrissey (Bethlehem, Pa.), and Brian Sanzone (Schaumburg, Ill.) are forwards.

“At this point of the season, all the first-years look like they will have very good four-year careers at Colby,” MacDonald said. “They are respectful, passionate, and have a great work ethic.”