Hockey in the “bigs”: Skating with the best in the division
Skidmore’s ice hockey team recently finished its best season since joining the East region of the Eastern College Athletic Conference in 1998. The East was a step up for the Thoroughbreds, putting them into the best—that is, toughest— level of NCAA Division III hockey. ECAC East teams play an interlocking schedule with the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which has produced the last six NCAA Division III champions.
The Skidmore program has come a long way since the early days of skating in the old three-walled Saratoga Springs “barn.” Head coach Paul Dion has been around for most of the team’s varsity history—he just completed his nineteenth season—and offers this take on the team’s progress.
|Dion directs action on the ice from the coaching box.
Why the move to the East?
The old league was breaking up, with some of the teams going Division I and others merging with the ECAC North and Central to form the ECAC Northeast. The East/ NESCAC was looking to add a team, so the timing was right to make the move. The Northeast is OK, but we’re a better academic fit with the East/NESCAC, and there’s a great hockey tradition at schools like Bowdoin, Middlebury, Norwich, Williams, and Salem State.
How is the team doing?
We’re right where we should be. The first year we needed to learn to compete; the second year we needed to learn to skate with the other teams; and this year we’ve actively played with teams. At first we lost some one-sided games, but this year we were really in almost every game. We even tied Salem State and beat UMass-Boston and Wesleyan.
How are the players progressing?
The Class of 2003 was really our first recruiting class in the East. We had a lot of players from high-quality prep-school programs that were used to winning. The first year of adjustment—playing hard without winning as much—was tough for them, but this past season they’re the group that made us competitive.
We only had two four-year letterwinners on the team this season. The juniors improved over three seasons and have provided leadership to the younger players.
Where are the recruits coming from?
Since moving to the East, we’re getting inquiries from the best prep and junior teams in the country. Players looking at Bowdoin, Connecticut College, or Hamilton have added Skidmore to their list of prospective colleges. My assistant coach Chris MacPherson ’96 and I are on the road all the time watching players. We’re always evaluating prospective student-athletes to see if they can fit Skidmore’s academic profile, compete at this level of hockey, and fit into the team’s chemistry.
How has the alumni support been?
We’ve got a great group of alumni and alumni parents. We had more than forty former players take part in our alumni game in February, and many of their parents came back too. And there were about a hundred alumni at our playoff game at Babson. They range from Steve Cornell ’81, who helped get the program started, to his brother Mike ’92, who’s among our all-time leading scorers, to Joe Doldo ’96, who is our all-time leading scorer. They represent different stages of the program’s history and are important to our future success.
We return a solid group of players that will combine with freshman talent to give us a shot at a top-four finish next season. We were not that far off this year. New England College won the East, and we lost a close 3-2 game to them on the road.
We also want to continue to build on our alumni tradition. Many schools we compete against have been playing hockey for eighty years. We’ve been around in some form or another for maybe twenty-five.
And we want to keep developing our relationship with the Saratoga Springs community. At the beginning of the season we held an open “Meet the Players” skating session for Saratoga youth hockey players, and many of them returned to watch Thoroughbred games with their families and friends.