Hawks take aim at NECHA title at season’s midway point

Roger Williams University club men’s ice hockey captain David Fasano skates across the ice during a game against Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 11.

Brett Johnson, Herald Reporter

With fall sports wrapped up and most winter sports about to go underway, there is one winter sports team that is getting close to the halfway point of their season. The Roger Williams University club men’s ice hockey season is in full swing and looking to win the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) Championship for the second season in a row.

The Hawks finished last season with a 22-6-1 regular season record and 10-2 record in NECHA play. RWU ended the regular season atop the conference and played their way to the championship game in February 2017. They defeated Eastern Connecticut State University 5-2 and won the title of NECHA champions.

The conference win earned the Hawks a trip to the first round of the national competition. They fell in their first game, but the team was proud of their accomplishments throughout the season.

A couple of the most noticeable changes coming into the fall of 2017 was the absence of five key players and a new coaching staff. Among the five 2017 graduates was Ian Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 forward who played an integral part throughout the season and especially during the playoffs.

The returners knew filling Mitchell’s vacancy would be tough, but their nerves have been eased by a strong, collective offense. Freshman Griffin Gagne leads the team with seven goals, but a number of Hawks have recorded two or three goals so far this season.

“We’re still producing a lot of offense. [Mitchell] was at least half of our offense last year,” said senior captain David Fasano. “It’s definitely a more balanced attack — more guys are getting involved.”

“A lot of guys have stepped up,” said senior captain Jonathan Panarelli.  

Bernie Sanford stepped in this year as the new head coach. He has assistant coach experience at Suffolk University and the University of Maine and was an associate head coach of the Boston University Bulldogs Junior Hockey Club for 13 seasons.

In his first season with RWU, he is pleased with the success his team has experienced so far and is optimistic about the remainder of the season.

“We have a good team. It’s a fairly young team so the group is continuing to evolve,” Sanford said. “I think if we continue to work together like we have, I am very optimistic for the rest of the year.”

He described his experience so far as “fast” since he only had about two weeks with the team before their first game.

“We had about three practices with him to learn his system,” Fasano said. “The first weekend was tough. Then, we got through that, came home, and won six games in a row.”

“He’s a big technical guy,” Panarelli said.

Sanford has a lot of gratitude and praise for his three goalkeepers. Sophomore Jack LaCasse and juniors Ryan Shae and Marc Frederick are splitting goaltending duties this season.

“Two of them so far have played in a game, but the three of them have a been a big part of it,” Sanford said. “The three of them have worked very, very hard in practice. They have been a huge part of the success we’ve had. They’ve done a really good job and we’re lucky to have three really strong goalies.”

Marc Frederick has gotten the brunt of the playing time by playing in eight games and 480 minutes which has earned him a 7-1 record. Ryan Shae has played in 180 minutes and has a 1-2 record. Fasano and Panarelli have noticed that the competition between the two for playing time has benefited the team since both goalies are constantly playing their hardest, but are extremely supportive of each other no matter who gets the starting job.

The Hawks have played 11 games this season. They have won eight and lost three. They are 4-0 in their conference and are heading into a weekend full of important league games.

“We don’t have any superstars like we did last year, but everybody plays hard and everybody does what they’re supposed to do,” Fasano said. “We’re going to win a lot of games if you do it that way.”