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Six of top 10 scorers from last season return

The Massachusetts hockey team returns six of its top 10 scorers from last season, all of whom have significant roles in 2009, as they try to fill a void left by last season’s departed personnel.

UMass returns three of its leading point-scorers from last season, including All-American James Marcou, who leads a forward line that brings speed and scoring to the ice. Marcou led the Minutemen with 15 goals, 32 assists last season, and is a creative player who can do a lot with the puck. Based on his six power-play goals last season, Marcou is one of the main players to look out for on the man advantage.

Last season’s co-leader in league points (35), Marcou is especially dangerous against Hockey East opponents, with 11 of his goals and 24 of his assists coming in conference play last season. While only a junior, Marcou’s skill-set improves every time he steps on the ice.

Senior Brett Watson mans center ice for UMass this season. The captain tallied five assists last season with no goals. However UMass coach Don Cahoon believes that Watson’s strengths lie in more than points.

“Brett Watson has carried the leadership for this team for a couple of years now,” Cahoon said. “We lost some good seniors from last year, and that’s part of the college game. The strength of this team is the character and the leadership that we have in that locker room.”

Watson’s work ethic and leadership are critical this season to a team that has nine incoming freshmen.

Senior Will Ortiz is another veteran whose natural ability makes him a threat to any team. Ortiz had three game-winning goals last season (six total) and four assists. His 41 shots was a career-low, but his well-placed time on the ice earned him a career-high 4 rating in 25 games. If Ortiz dresses for most of the games this season, look for the Framingham native to return to the form he showed in his freshmen season, when he tallied seven goals, 14 assists in 2006-2007.

Sophomore Casey Wellman led all Minuteman rookies last season with 11 goals, 22 assists, while earning a team-high 10 rating. He also had six power-play goals, making both Marcou and himself two of the most dominant forwards in the conference, behind Boston University’s unit.

Redshirt freshman David Boehm gets his chance on the ice this season after losing last season to injury. Before UMass, Boehm tallied 14 goals, 17 assists for the Cedar Rapids Rough Riders of the United States Hockey League.

True freshman forwards Rocco Carzo (Des Moines Buccaneers, USHL), Kevin Czepiel (New Jersey Hitmen, EJHL) and Eddie Olczyk (Waterloo Blackhawks, USHL) had 20, 20 and nine goals, respectively, in minor league hockey before UMass.

While the offense for the Minutemen is a potent one, Cahoon has as much confidence in his defenders when it comes to closing out games.

“I think on given days, the forward lines are going to carry the play,” he said. “Yet I think that if they’re shut down on any given day that we have the ability to stay in it defensively, and get the type of goaltending that can allow us to win a low-scoring game.”

Defensive captain Justin Braun returns to lead a defensive unit that includes three freshmen this season.

Braun had seven goals and 16 assists in 39 games last season, and orchestrated last season’s penalty kill defense that had four short-handed goals, including two by Braun.

“Justin Braun has been maybe the most valuable player on this team for a couple of years now because of his position and the amount of ice time he gets,” Cahoon said. “I have a hard time believing that he’s not one of the top six defensemen in all of college hockey.”

The UMass defense had an 84-percent penalty kill average and a 17-percent power play percentage, giving up seven goals last season.

In 39 games in the 2008 season, the Minutemen held opponents to under three goals 20 times, including two shutouts.

Opposite Braun this season is fellow senior Martin Nolet, who had two goals, seven assists in 2008-2009.

Nolet’s physical play gave him a team-leading 26 penalties last season. Cahoon said that there is an area in front of the net where players like Nolet and Braun will need to make their presence felt, because it’s an area where an opponent should feel like they’re going to pay a price for entering.

Braun and Nolet had 39 penalties between them last season, including the Nov. 26 game against rival Boston College, when eight players received 10-minute misconduct penalties after a fight broke out in the second period.

Sophomore Matt Irwin had seven goals, 11 assists last season and figures to see more time this season based on the success of his rookie campaign.

Junior Paul Dainton will see much of the time at goalie this season with senior Dan Meyers also a strong player between the pipes.

There is a difference between backup goalies that are benched because they have more to learn and goalies who are capable players who are working hard and waiting for their chance, and Cahoon made that known.

“I think that the season’s enough of a grind where there are certain points in the season where one is a little fresher than the other. We’re not putting him in there out of the goodness of our hearts, we’re putting him in there because we think he’s a good choice to win that game that night,” Cahoon said of Meyers.

“If one guy is playing at a pretty high level regardless of how the other guy’s playing, we’re probably going to run with that guy.”

Dainton went 12-14-1 in 29 games last season while Meyers had a record of 4-6-2 in 14 games. Dainton and Meyers had .913 and .911 save percentages, respectively.

Both Minuteman goalies held opponents to under two goals 13 times in 2008, including both UMass shutouts.

Mike Gillmeister can be reached at mgillmei@student.umass.edu.

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