WILLIAMSTOWN >> When the Williams College men's hockey team opens its tonight, the Ephs will be jumping into the proverbial deep end of the pool.
Williams not only starts its season after the rest of Division III, but unlike many other programs, heads right into NESCAC conference play. The Ephs open with Bowdoin tonight at Lansing Chapman Rink, and play Colby Sunday afternoon.
"I love it. Bowdoin's always been a rival. My freshman year, we didn't beat them and they went undefeated and won NESCAC," said Williams captain Zander Masucci. "I still think about we lost to them 2-1 in the NESCAC final and we opened and closed that season with Bowdoin away.
"The seeding in the conference is so important. Maybe if we played an out-of-conference team we might think about working on some things or trying new things out. We have to take it seriously from Day One. Every game matters."
Coach Bill Kangas will open his 27th year behind the bench with a familiar face by his side. Mike Monti rejoins the Eph staff after spending three years as director of hockey operations at Division I Vermont. Monti is also assisting women's coach Meghan Gillis.
Williams is still seeking its first NESCAC men's hockey title. Twice in the last three years, the Ephs were on the short end of one-goal games in the final. They lost to Bowdoin in 2012 in the aforementioned game, and last year gave up a goal three minutes into the third period in a 1-0 loss to Little Three rival Amherst.
"That's something we don't focus on," said the Williams defenseman. "It's a new season. We have a whole new crop of freshmen. We looked at last season as successful.
"We made it all the way to the finals and now it's a whole new year. We're ready to go."
Williams and the rest of NESCAC get started later than other Division III teams, and certainly later than their Division I cousins. With the later start, however, came some extra time to practice. NESCAC opens its season in the third weekend of November, and this year, that came with 20 full days for practice.
"It's been nice to have an extra week of practice to keep working on things," said Kangas. "The pace has been good. The guys are working hard. We're really anxious to get going."
The Ephs have to replace two of their top four scorers — forward Craig Kitto and defenseman David Jarrett. Kitto led the club with 13 goals and 14 assists, while Jarrett had three goals and 12 assists.
Two sophomores, David Italiano and C.J. Shugart, had solid freshman seasons. Italiano is the top returning scorer after netting 11 goals and 12 assists, while Shugart had seven goals and six assists. Senior defenseman Greg Johnson had eight goals, including a team-best six on the power play.
But if Williams is to be successful, the Ephs will need quality goaltending. Sean Dougherty played in 23 of his team's 27 games, and earned a diploma in June. Senior Noah Klag has waited patiently to start. Sophomore Stephen Morrissey and freshman Michael Pinios from Montreal will battle for playing time.
"We've got three goalies who are pretty solid. They're all working hard," said Kangas. "They're all capable goalies. We're confident with any one of the three."
Would Kangas like one of the trio to take command of the position? The coach said that would be nice, but not necessary.
"We've just got to go with the process," he said. "They've been competing hard in practice. We'll see what we do by the end of the weekend."