CASTLETON, Vt. - The Castleton University men's ice hockey team welcomes 14 new faces to the roster for the 2018-19 season. The Spartans will look to for a bounce-back season in 2018-19 after a record that fell below the .500 mark for just the fourth time in the past 12 years a season ago. The Spartans finished the letdown campaign with a record of 7-16-3 (3-14-1 NEHC).
The end of the season, however, showed tremendous hope for a rebound in 2018-19. Last season ended with a double-overtime loss to Norwich in the New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) quarterfinal round. Norwich entered the game as the defending NEHC and NCAA D-III national champion, but required a come-from-behind effort to take down the Spartans.
"The game we played against Norwich last year was a great battle and I was proud of the way we competed," said third-year head coach Bill Silengo. "But that was last year, and this year is different."
With a clean slate and plenty of youthful energy throughout the preseason, expectations have been set high by the coaching staff for a successful campaign. "Preseason has been a lot of teaching with all of the new faces we have. We want to establish the identity of our team and figure out the way we need to play to be successful," Silengo said.
Castleton's offense will look to better its 2.35 goals-per-game average from last year, good for sixth in the NEHC. The Spartans will turn to senior captain Caleb Fizer to lead the offensive attack. Fizer was the leading scorer for Castleton in 2017-18 with seven goals and 10 assists. Fizer enters his farewell season as the active career leader in goals (12), assists (18), and points (30). Sophomore Glenn Wiswell is coming off an impressive opening act in which he tallied a team-high nine goals with five assists in 2017-18. He sported three multi-point nights and two power play goals, as well as a game-winning goal against Skidmore. Sophomore Dom Kuziak will also look to play an integral role to the Spartan success in 2018-19. The sophomore playmaker dished out nine assists last season and scored two goals, one of which came on the power play. Junior Jacob Erwin will look to surpass the 10-point plateau for the second consecutive season, having converted for four goals and six assists a year ago. Additional returners to the forward group include senior Corey Sikich (2-2-4), junior Brian Leonard (0-0-0), and sophomores Ryan Ng (2-1-3) and Nick Gravina (0-1-1).
Despite the influx of rookies, the Spartans will still rely heavily on the leaders and veterans. "We have had great leadership in my two years here and I expect that will be the case this year," Silengo said. "The older guys have done a good job of bringing the freshmen along and it is so important because they are like sponges."
The Spartans will welcome a talented group of 10 players, including nine freshmen and one transfer sophomore, to the offensive unit in 2018-19. Sakke Tiitinen is a transfer from Plattsburgh, where he appeared in a pair of games for the Cardinals last year. The native of Finland (one of three on the Castleton roster) returned to the United States after a 46-game stint with Lämärit of II-divisioona (Finland), where he racked up seven goals and 11 helpers in 2016-17. Anton Tarvainen and Alex Maunula of Karhu-Kissat (Jr. A SM-liiga) have also made the trip across the pond to join Castleton. Val Sverdlov, who suited up for three EHL teams last year, scored 21 goals and 19 assists over 46 games. The Estonian-born, Wellesley, Massachusetts, native represented Estonia at the 2017 D2 World Junior Championships where he had three points in five contests. Jason Bilski comes to Castleton after a 40-point season with the Islanders Hockey Club (USPHL), where the team captured the 2018 Dineen Cup. Sam Rennert was a 29-point scorer for the Carolina Eagles (USPHL) in 2018, while Ugo Roik, Asa Palker, Connor Rider, and Kyle Kazeroid will each look to jump in and contribute to the Spartan offense.
On the blue line, Castleton will welcome back five letter winners to a core that will look to improve on the seventh-best defense in the NEHC from last season. Dan Fitzgerald will lead the group and has been selected as an assistant captain in his senior year. Troy Taylor is the two-time defending leading scorer from the blue line after adding a goal to a 10-assist effort last year despite missing time due to injury. He's racked up a career total of four goals and 23 assists over 27 appearances. Sophomore Matt Bloomer led all defensemen with five goals in 2017-18, including three with the man advantage. Mark Shroyer netted four goals and added four assists last year, while Chris Butryn will look be a shutdown presence for Castleton in its defensive end.
The defensive core will add Andrew Barber, Cory Ellerton and Jahwara Rennalls to the unit. Barber, a 2017 EHL all-star, was a two-year staple of the Vermont Lumberjacks squad in which he had 65 points in 97 total contests. Ellerton joins the squad following a 13-point season for the Total Athletics Seahawks (EHL) last season. Rennalls will call the United States home for the first time following a youth career in the Ottawa area. He scored six goals and 30 assists in 173 games in the CCHL.
The Spartans return two goalies to the roster that will compete for time in goal. Senior Wyatt Pickrell split time in goal last season and will look to provide a steady presence between the pipes for the Spartans. He appeared in eight games and went 1-5 with a .883 save percentage and 4.58 goals against average. He also made seven appearances as a sophomore for Castleton. Sophomore Luke Cohen did not appear in a game for the Spartans last year, but will look to make his first collegiate appearance in 2018-19. The Spartans also welcome Kyle Alaverdy who, in 2017-18 with the Nepean Raiders (CCHL), played in 19 games with a 3.36 goals-against-average and a .908 save percentage.
The NEHC schedule will prove to be one of the most strenuous in the nation, with two games each against defending conference champion, Hobart, and Norwich. Both teams are ranked in the top-15 of the preseason USCHO poll. Silengo expects the team to be up for the challenge. "Every game in college hockey is like a mini-season. We have talked with our guys about focusing on the task at hand and not looking ahead."
With the season and home opener set for Friday, Oct. 26, versus Wentworth at Spartan Arena, Silengo has set his expectations high for the team. "The expectations never change: we want to be the hardest working team in the conference and play to our strengths, and that is how we are going to have success."