Team of the Week: Clarkson : College Hockey News

November 22, 2022
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by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor (@CHN_AdamWodon)

For what figured to be a team in contention to make the NCAA Tournament, Clarkson’s season could not have started any worse.

Four straight losses, including two in overtime to New Hampshire and Mercyhurst, had many people shaking their heads.

But there’s always more to the story.

Clarkson lost both assistant coaches in the offseason — Mike Towns to Michigan State, and Josh Hauge to become Union’s new head coach. Clarkson coach Casey Jones used this as an opportunity to change the scheme up a bit. Jones has been recruiting different kinds of defensemen, and wanted to change the system to fit, emphasizing quicker breakouts and the like.

“Pretty fortunate with the staff I have, but it’s just getting on the same page,” Jones said. “I wanted to change some things, maybe two steps back, three steps forward with how we wanted to play. It was a really good opportunity for that. Then you had eight, nine new bodies, and throw new wrinkles in … so you have a lot of guys learning new stuff.

“We wanted to generate a little more numbers on our backend, a little different makeup back there than we had in the past. We wanted to exit a little quicker. We’re a good defensive team, but we defended a little bit too much last year I felt. I wanted to defend less, be quicker, counter-punch. So it was just getting acclimated to that and getting our guys thinking that way.”

Meanwhile, Clarkson had some key players out, especially forward Anthony Romano, who put up 15 goals last season. The Knights couldn’t score their way out of the dilemma.

“When we made the changes at the beginning of the year, we returned some primary point producers, while we were getting acclimated (to the new system),” Jones said. “The assessment I had that was wrong is that I thought we’d outscore our mistakes initially. But we just weren’t firing on all cylinders offensively. We were losing low-scoring games, which I didn’t expect.

“So it just kind of snowballed on us. But I give our guys credit, they stuck to it.”

Following a 3-2 loss to Union to open the ECAC season, the Golden Knights have reeled off five straight wins. They outscored Cornell/Colgate 8-1 a couple weekends ago, shut out Rensselaer, and this past weekend, swept Arizona State, which had been playing well.

Friday was a hard-fought affair, with Alex Campbell scoring both goals in a 2-1 win. The latter was the game winner, on a power move to the net, coming with 16 seconds left in regulation. Campbell, a 16-goal scorer last year, was one of the guys slow in getting going, but now has seven goals on the season. He’s playing with Romano.

Saturday was the breakout game for the line of Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, Ayrton Martino and Mathieu Gosselin. They were put together earlier in the season while Jones was searching for chemistry. Saturday, they had four goals, 10 points and 18 shots on net, while Gosselin won 13 of 19 draws. The Knights won 5-3.

“They’ve been on the positive side of the ledger in terms of chances for and chances again, so this weekend it went in for them,” Jones said.

Whether the ship is completely on course remains to be seen. But coaches are never satisfied.

“Outcome, if you’re solely based on that, you’re going to be in trouble,” Jones said. “It’s just how you play. We like how we’re starting to play. There’s some consistency coming in our game. That’s the most important thing, and that’s what the end goal is. So we’ll keep plugging away. So those losses sting , any losses sting, but we just gotta continue to trend upward and shore things up, and that’s all our focus is right now.”

“If they get the goaltending” is a common refrain in hockey, but it’s again true here. Ethan Haider had ups and downs last year, and is having the same this year. Although there’s signs he’s steadying. If he can improve his .909 save percentage, Clarkson still has plenty of time to make a run for the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re starting to eliminate chances more and more every game,” Jones said. “Now we’ve seen some different teams, and now it’s about us generating and not giving a lot up. It’s like anything else, you want to play the percentages. But I’m comfortable with where we’re going. It’s been fun though. It rejuvenates you. Gets the guys excited.

“We’re just going to continue to all try to get better together, cumulatively, and I think the product is coming on the ice, and hopefully we’ll keep pushing it forward to reach our potential.”

This weekend will be the test of just how far Clarkson has come. It travels first to Princeton on Friday, then to league-leading Quinnipiac on Saturday. The games between these two teams in recent years have been wars.

“They don’t give you much, so you better be prepared to grind and work for everything you get, and be prepared to take advantage of your opportunities,” Jones said. “They really don’t have any weaknesses, it’s a veteran team, older in a lot of respects. You have to be patient. They’re consistent, well-coached, and always prepared. Tough games, but it’s the games you look forward to, but we can’t look past any time, we can’t afford to.”

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