2022 NEC Preview

(Photo Courtesy of Saint Joseph’s Athletics)

The NEC has been an ever-changing conference in recent years. The addition of LIU and Merrimack have added new blood to the conference and the exit of Robert Morris following the 2020 season left a space where one of the best teams as of recent used to sit. The NEC has been a very interesting league to follow over the last few years and don’t expect that to change in 2022, especially amongst the top-tier teams in the conference.

Here is a look at how the NEC shook out last season where the conference had every team play each other twice:

*NEC Tournament Champs !NEC Regular Season Champs ^Can’t play in postseason until 2024

  1. Saint Joseph’s – 9-4 (8-0)!
  2. Hobart – 6-3 (6-2)
  3. Bryant – 9-4 (5-2)
  4. LIU – 6-5 (5-3)
  5. Merrimack – 5-5 (4-4)^
  6. Mount St. Mary’s – 4-9 (2-5)
  7. Wagner – 1-9 (1-7)
  8. Sacred Heart – 1-12 (0-8)

Saint Joseph’s ran through the regular season and earned that top spot in the conference tournament, where they advanced to the title game before falling to Bryant to end their season. The Bulldogs got that auto bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to eventual national champion Virginia in the first round. Hobart and LIU were the other two teams that made the NEC tournament, falling to Bryant and Saint Joseph’s in the semifinals.

Enough about last season, let’s turn the focus towards the upcoming 2022 campaign.

Bryant Bulldogs

Last season: 9-4 (5-2), NEC Champion

Key Departures: Ryan Baker (D), Zach Coffey (D), Jake Fisk (LSM)

Key Returners: Marc O’Rouke (A), Logan McGovern (A), Luke Caracciolo (G)

Transfer Additions: Zak Lanoue (M, Hartford), Henry Watson (D, Ohio State), Conor Whalen (LSM, Maryland)

Bryant reassumed their role atop the conference last season, winning the NEC title after multiple unusual down season in Smithfield. And after that impressive campaign they return nearly everybody, including fifth-year attackman Marc O’Rouke, who missed most of last season with myocarditis but was stellar in the final five games of the season, tallying 25 points off 21 goals and four assists. Logan McGovern (20G/26A) and Bennett Albadian (29G/8A) highlight the offensive returners alongside O’Rouke, and on the back end Luke Caracciolo returns in cage while LaJohn Jones (31GB/15CT) and Brody Rule (25GB/13CT) look to lead that close unit. The Bulldogs also return a solid one-two punch at the faceoff dot with Nathan Laliberte and Jacob Alexander.

Hobart Statesmen

Last season: 6-3 (6-2), NEC Semifinalist

Key Departures: Jason Knox (A), Drew Blanchard (FO)

Key Returners: Derrek Madonna (M), Ryan Archer (A), Kevin Holtby (G)

Transfer Additions: None

Greg Raymond’s squad faces some of the biggest losses in the conference with both Jason Knox and Drew Blanchard both moving on. The question at the faceoff dot with the loss of Blanchard might be bigger as senior midfielder Derrek Madonna (22G/12A) and fifth-year attackman Ryan Archer (16G/16A) both return as leaders on this offense, as well as multiple others. Fifth-year Kyle Nalen (9GB/4CT) and senior Michael Christiansen (13GB/7CT) are the top returning poles for this team while Kevin Holtby should remain as the starer in cage after posting a .531% save percentage of 111 saves a season ago as a first-year starter.

LIU Sharks

Last season: 6-5 (5-3), NEC Semifinalist

Key Departures: N/A

Key Returners: Richie LaCalandra (A), Will Mark (G)

Transfer Additions: Tommy Ramsey (M, Hartford), Zander Hauck (M, Hartford), Trevor Bell (M, Suffolk CC), Chris Campbell (D, Hartford), Justin Joseph (FO, Lycoming), Sean Gillman (G, Hartford)

LIU was the darlings of the NEC last season. In just their second year as a DI, the Sharks put together an impressive five-game winning streak that included a win over Hobart to mark their biggest win since the transition. In 2022, the Sharks return their two best players in Richie LaCalandra (32G/29A), who was the NEC Offensive Player of The year, and goalie Will Mark who was named the NEC Defensive Player of The Year following a season in which he made 192 saves with a .577% save percentage. The pair serve as the proverbial rocks that the rest of the team is built off of on both ends of the field.

Merrimack Warriors

Last season: 5-5 (4-4)

Key Departures: None

Key Returners: Jack Rooney (M), Tommy Rooney (A), Nicholas Perez-Blanco (D), Karl Sutter (FO)

Transfer Additions: Kyle Muldoon (M, Nassau CC), Mason Balch (M, Bryant)

The Warriors made the jump from DII to DI following two straight national titles in 2018 and 2019. And while they won’t be able to compete in the postseason at the DI level until 2024, this is still very much a program that is building and improving in their new era. The Rooney brothers, Jack and Tommy, took the reigns of this offense a year ago and are just two of their top-five returning point-getters after combining for 67 points last spring. On the back end, it’s All-NEC selection Nicholas Perez-Blanco (14GB/18CT) returning as the top producing pole for a defense that was fairly green a year ago and saw a freshman in Henry Vogt anchor things in cage with 103 saves and a .531% save percentage.

Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

Last season: 4-9 (2-4)

Key Departures: Luke Frankeny (A), Sam Stephan (FO), Bryan McIntosh (D), Dylan Furnback (G)

Key Returners: Jake Krieger (M), Steven Schmitt (LSM)

Transfer Additions: 

2022 will be the start of a new era, in a sense, for the Mountaineers as they lose their top three scorers, including leading scorer and program great Luke Frankeny. Additionally, faceoff man Sam Stephan, defenseman, Bryan McIntosh, and four-year starting goalie Dylan Furnback are all gone. It will be new faces all around for this squad that is looking to bounce-back from a distasteful season last spring. Senior midfielder Jake Krieger is the Mountaineers’ top returning point-getter, having put up 17 points off 11 goals and six assists, while LSM Steven Schmitt is the top returning pole. He had 13 caused turnovers and 34 ground balls in 2021.

Sacred Heart Pioneers

Last season: 1-12 (0-8)

Key Departures: Logan Lijieberg (A), Drew Edwards (A), Tristian Dowd (FO), Colton King (G)

Key Returners: Connor Sullivan (D), Donovan Lacey (SSDM)

Transfer Additions: Skyler Wilde (A, Nassau CC), Zach Buffington (D, Hartford)

Since making the NEC semifinals in 2019, Sacred Heart has a combined two-year record of 2-18. This is a program looking to rebound and one that has just lost another program great with the graduation of Logan Lijieberg, as well as three other top-five scorers. Their top option at the faceoff dot in Tristan Dowd, as well as goalie Colton King, who saw the majority of minutes in between the pipes last season, are both gone. Close defense is the only place where the Pioneers return much high-quality production from last season as all three of their starting close defensemen from a year ago return in fifth-year Connor Sullivan (26GB/11CT), sophomore Ridjkaard Victor (10GB/9CT), and senior Thomas Houlihan (17GB/6CT). Also look for two-way midfielder Donovan Lacey (42GB/14CT)to make an impact.

Saint Joseph’s Hawks

Last season: 9-4 (8-0)

Key Departures: Matt Tufano (A)

Key Returners: Ryan Doran (A), Matt Bohmer (A), Zach Cole (FO), Patrick Clemens (D), Tucker Almany (G)

Transfer Additions: Alex Borg (FO, Providence), Zach Lee (D, Syracuse)

Saint Joseph’s has made the NEC title game four times in program history (2015, 2016, 2018, 2021). Each has ended with the same result: a Hawks loss. With one of the best faceoff men in the nation, Zach Cole, highlighting this roster they look to finally get over that hump. In addition to Cole, the trio Ryan Doran (23G/15A), Matt Bohmer (31G/6A), and Levi Anderson (20G/7A) returns to lead this offense while the Hawks back end is highlighted by a defensemen Patrick Clemens and Logan Blondell. Tucker Almany saw action as the starter in cage for the majority of last season, making 94 saves with a .487% save percentage, and should be the starter again. If the Hawks can put all the pieces together for once, an NEC Championship could be their destiny.

Wagner Seahawks

Last season: 1-9 (1-7)

Key Departures: N/A

Key Returners: Stephen Dwyer (A), Brendan Higgins (D)

Transfer Additions: Danny Cassidy (D, Stony Brook), Dan McCauley (M, Depauw)

Beating Sacred Heart 11-9, in comeback fashion as year ago was the Seahawks only win of the season and their first win over a conference opponent since 2017. After breaking that conference losing streak, Bill McCutcheon’s squad looks to push forward. Stephen Dwyer highlights this team, having been a leader on offense for multiple years and coming off a season in which he tallied 23 points off 14 goals and nine assists. On the back end, all eyes are on Stony Brook grad transfer Daniel Cassidy who could be an immediate impact player and provide a significant spark to this unit. Cassidy started all 14 contests for the Seawolves last season at close defense, recording 33 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers.

2022 NEC Predictions

Here is a look at how I can see the NEC shaking out this season, as well as who I would pick right now as the conference’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year.

Final Standings:

  1. Bryant
  2. Saint Joseph’s
  3. Hobart
  4. LIU
  5. Merrimack^
  6. Mount St. Mary’s
  7. Wagner
  8. Sacred Heart

Bryant is the clear-cut best team in the conference and Saint Joseph’s is sitting right there behind them, but I do believe there is somewhat of a gap between those two. How much of one is something we will only find out with time. Hobart and LIU are the two next best teams for sure. I feel like Merrimack could creep up in there but it wouldn’t matter for playoff purposes as they can’t compete in the postseason until 2024 anyway. Mount St. Mary’s, Wagner, and Sacred Heart all have a lot of problems and questions to the point where I don’t see many wins coming from any of those three this season.

Offensive Player of The Year: Marc O’Rourke, A, Bryant

Defensive Player of The Year: Will Mark, G, LIU

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