Multiple first-year NHL draftees join proven veterans

Following disappointing end to last season, men's hockey team returns three leading scorers, starting goaltender

Sports Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2014

Nick Lappin ’16 hits a slap shot toward the goal. The forward contributed 13 goals and 19 assists and played all but one game last season. He will be instrumental to Bruno’s offensive game plan this year.

After wrapping up a 5-2 victory over Colgate University during January’s last game, the men’s hockey team sat at 9-8-3, appearing to be on the precipice of a winning season with a high tournament seed heading into college hockey’s most important two months.

What followed could only be considered calamitous: The Bears finished off their regular season in a 2-5 quagmire that gave them an away draw at St. Lawrence for the first round of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship. They then lost two games straight to cap off a disastrous two months and, ultimately, a very disappointing season.

“There’s a lot of lessons we can take away from last season,” said Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94. “The ending was not what any of us had envisioned in terms of our February record of play and then the stretch going into the playoffs.”

And with the loss of defenseman and captain Dennis Robertson ’14 — who played all but one game last year for the Bears — and forward Garnet Hathaway ’14 — who played all of Bruno’s games last year — the Bears have more than just last February’s disappointment to overcome.

“Dennis was a guy that, when he stepped on campus, was logging 25 minutes a game,” Whittet said. “We will miss him, along with the other seniors. That being said, it’s nice in a lot of ways to have some new faces that are here to absorb teaching and then put that teaching into action.”

Luckily for Whittet, the new faces enter the program with some impressive resumes: Three of the 10 incoming first-years were drafted in the National Hockey League draft in June, with two of the three — Tyler Bird ’18 and Charlie Corcoran ’18 — appearing on the scoresheet against Dartmouth in the Bears’ first scrimmage of the year.

“We’re just hoping they play with confidence. They’ll have an adjustment period — everyone does as a (first-year) — but all we can hope for is that they play with confidence and are able to help us out,” said Mark Naclerio ’16.

“All of the (first-years), in their own way, have looked good so far, as has the team,” Whittet said. “The three that were drafted, they’re all good players, but the draft alone does not ensure that they’re going to be successful as athletes here at Brown. They have to show up and prove that they’re ready for this level.”

The talented newbies join an impressive returning cast, highlighted by Naclerio, Nick Lappin ’16 and Matt Lorito ’15 — the three leading goal scorers for the Bears last year. The three played on the same forward line with spectacular results, but with the influx of new players and improved returning players, the line could be split up at some point in the season.

“My plan is to keep them together for the first game,” Whittet said. “Then we’re going to do what’s in the best interest of our hockey program. Our goal is to roll out four lines and six defenseman that can really play. There should be no discernible difference between the first line and the fourth line,” he said.

“I’ve played with (Lappin and Lorito) for most of my time on the ice at Brown,” Naclerio said. “We’re really good friends off the ice, and on the ice, we really complement each other.”

The Bears return 75 percent of their point production from last year — one of the highest retention of point production in the ECAC. But the key member of this year’s team could be goalie Tyler Steel ’17. The sophomore started 21 games last year as a first-year, posting an 8-10-3 record. With the loss of Robertson and with the goal of rotating six defenseman into each and every game, many defensive contributors will be inexperienced, meaning Steel will need to be the glue that keeps the defensive unit in sync.

After ECAC powerhouses Colgate, Union and Quinnipiac — many experts are picking the latter to be the dark horse for the ECAC title — Brown, Dartmouth and Yale look to be the prime competitors for home playoff bids come ECAC tournament time. Ranked seventh in both the preseason coaches poll and the preseason media poll, the Bears are looking to prove their critics wrong, especially with regard to criticisms surrounding their poor defensive play late last season.

“I tell the guys to get better each and every day and to have a relentless pursuit of excellence when they step on the ice,” Whittet said. “If we focus on improvement and consistency of effort, we’ll be where we want to be at the end of the year, and that’s holding championship trophies.”

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