As the Pioneers enter the offseason, the organization will need to restructure its roster that contains a potential of 16 returning players. The team loses 7 seniors, consisting of 4 forwards and 3 defensemen. Among the forwards are team captain Shaun McTigue (Mississauga, Ontario), who placed himself in WPU Hockey history by becoming the all-time leading goal scorer and point getter in school history. The captain finished the season as Super East Player of the Year and 1st team All-Tournament at the National Tournament. Coach Ballance also feels that the captain will obtain more awards on the All-region and/or All-American teams. “Shaun was the best player in the country in my opinion and his efforts both on and off the ice were recognized by our league”, said Coach Ballance. The captain left his stamp on the program recording a total of 290 points (1st all-time), consisting of 137 goals (1st all-time) and 153 assists (2nd all-time). Aside from his production and presence on the ice in all situations, the Pioneers lose their captain from the last two seasons. “Shaun captained this team to two SECHL championships, was a major contributor in the team’s success of a SECHL three-peat, led the team to a 6th and 3rd overall rank in the country, and has provided a legacy of what it means to be a Pioneer and a Captain, among other things. His work ethic and competitive edge on the ice was demonstrated every time he hit the ice and his leadership will be missed both on and off the ice. We all wish him the best of luck in his professional career as we know he will be a huge asset to any team he signs with,” said Coach Ballance.
Senior Forwards Craig Junda (Clifton, NJ), Jeff Zamor (Randolph, NJ), and Lance Beckman (Sparta, NJ) leave a hole that desperately needs to be filled as well upfront. Junda and Zamor logged a lot of minutes up front along with special team time. Junda notched 44 points this past season (20 goals, 24 assists with 5 game winning goals) while Zamor produced 20 points (8 goals and 12 assists), but a relentless work ethic, attitude, and character that is tough to replace. Beckman recorded 10 points on the year (4 goals and 6 assists) as a role player, who played above his potential. Head Coach Ballance spoke highly of the three forwards, “Junda played important minutes both 5 on 5 and on the Power Play and his point production will be missed. His desire to win was evident this past year and it reflected in his overall game. Zamor, aside from logging top 6 forward minutes, he served us as a great penalty killer as he provided a work ethic and character that will be missed both on and off the ice. Jeff has a will to win and a heart of a lion and I couldn’t ask for anything more than what he gave to this program the last two years. Lastly up front, the team will miss Lance Beckman’s grit, toughness, and determination on the ice. He understood his role and executed it well and always put the team first. His attitude, approach, and character are going to be difficult to replace in our lineup and lockerroom.”
Defensively, the team loses their top 2 defensemen from this past season in Anthony Zipfel (Brick, NJ) and Chris Wynne (Suffern, NY). Both defenders logged nearly 30 minutes a game against the opposition’s top players while being able to contribute offensively. Anthony Zipfel recorded 19 points (5 goals and 14 assists) while being a key cog to a successful Power Play the last 3 years along with being a great shot blocker on the penalty kill. “Anthony was an assistant captain this year as he put the team first and did whatever he could to help this team win. His skill set on the blue line was underrated as he could do many things for us back there. He was able to rush the puck up ice, make a great first pass, possessed a good shot from the point, served as a key man on the Power Play, was utilized as a shut down defensemen, and as a key penalty killer. He could do whatever we needed and that attitude and ability will be tough for us to replace,” said Coach Ballance. Chris Wynne provided the same versatility on the blue line as well. Used more as of a defensive defenseman for the Pioneers, Chris had a strong season offensively posting 15 points (4 goals and 11 assists) and earned a lot of ice time in a shut down role. Chris served on the Power Play from time to time and was a key Penalty killer through his work ethic, stamina, and shot blocking skills. “Chris did whatever the team needed out of him. If we needed him on the Power Play, he logged those minutes. If we needed him in a shutdown role, he did it. Chris’ stamina enabled him to log a ton of minutes throughout a game while playing at a high level. His sound defensive game helped us down the stretch and in the post season. His ability on the ice, attitude and work ethic will be missed,” said Coach Ballance.
Lastly, senior defenseman Matt Duffy leaves the team recording 6 points (1 goal and 5 assists). While Matt had his most productive season offensively, he is best known for his willingness to help the team win. “Matt started the season as a forward and was asked to move back to strengthen our defensive core late in the year. Without any hesitation, Matt moved back and contributed right away. He brought a physical presence, a good first pass, and great shot blocking on our blue line. His team first attitude, putting his teammates and team first to win will be sorely missed in our locker room. These 7 seniors all possessed character that was developed through experience and will be a void that needs to be filled,” said Coach Ballance.
While losing 7 important pieces that has helped the Pioneers earn three straight SECHL championships and a rank of 3rd in the country this past season is difficult to swallow, Coach Ballance appears optimistic on the Pioneers future as the team potentially returns 16 players from last years roster. “This team has a good young core that was called upon all year long and obtained a lot of experience this past season. Aside from their skill set, the experience they obtained is far more valuable to this team’s future. They’ve learned what it is like to play in conference championship games and National tournament games, including a Final Four appearance.”
The team is lined up to return 2 goaltenders, 10 forwards, and 4 defensemen, however the organization knows that a strong offseason to construct this roster will take a lot of hard work and efforts by the staff. “Graduating 7 players is tough, but the staff doesn’t look at this as a rebuilding process. This is viewed as a retooling process and an opportunity to reshape the roster. The staff will meet to identify how to structure the roster to move this team to the next step. We have had success with what we have been doing so you don’t want to reinvent the wheel here, but change sometimes provides an opportunity to be better and that is the approach,” said Coach Ballance.
While it isn’t an easy task, Coach Ballance is confident that the program will be right back at it next year crediting Director of Recruiting Ian Michaelchuck’s tireless offseason efforts. “While the staff all brings in players and contributes to the recruiting aspect, Ian has done a tremendous job for this program the last three years. He is an alum of both the university and hockey program who provides great insight through his own experiences. He can relate to the potential student-athlete and possesses a wealth of knowledge throughout the entire process both from an academic and hockey standpoint. Ian has made the application process seamless through his work ethic and relationships with the university as well. He is a great asset to the staff and the program as I personally have no reservations or need to follow-up on Ian’s work throughout the offseason due to his work ethic and motivation to keep the program moving forward.”
Stay tuned for further WPU Hockey news, coaching staff roles and responsibilities, organizational structure, among other important information that is to be released soon….Be sure to visit www.wpuhockey.com for the latest information on the Pioneers offseason progress, structuring of the player roster and staff, and upcoming dates such as team dinner, tryouts, training camp, and the 2012-2013 game schedule along with other important information and dates needed for the upcoming season.
Have a safe, healthy, and happy offseason!