by Ray Biggs
Managing Editor, D3hockey.com
|Goaltender Keith Longo was a huge part of the Hobart teams that set the standard for their more recent successes. Photo: Kevin Colton for Hobart College|
Stevens Point, WI - In recent seasons, the Hobart Statesmen have been nothing short of an enduring national power. Hobart has appeared in the last five NCAA tournaments, has been omnipresent in the national rankings, and generally never seems to take a step back from the success they’ve had. This season, they took a step forward by making a triumphant return to the grand stage that is the national semifinals at 21-7-2.
Hobart head coach Mark Taylor alluded their consistency in recent years to each class not allowing the flag to drop on their own watch, but before their recent run of success came the teams that set the high standard for the Hobart program. In 2006, the Statesmen made it to the national semifinals. Exactly ten years ago in 2009, another great Hobart team also made it as deep as the national semifinals.
It was teams like those that set the bar, and the 2009 team was a special one in its own right.
This year’s Statesmen have proven a similar level of mettle, including having the same record as their decade ago predecessors.
“Back in 2009, we had a lot of special things going on,” Taylor said. “We had an awesome goaltender but ran into a hot goaltender at the other end in the tournament. That group set the bar at a level that the guys since have been trying to maintain. We had a lot of special stuff going on that year, that was the first season of our Wounded Warrior affiliation and we wore those jerseys at the Frozen Four. We had a great bunch of guys with great leadership.”
The 2008-09 squad stands perhaps as the memorable national title team that could have been for the Geneva, NY based school. The Hobart Statesmen finished 21-7-2, then made its way into the NCAA tournament as an at-large and advanced through the first two rounds. They topped Nichols by a 3-0 score, and later prevailed on a Jason Merritt goal in overtime by a 2-1 score against Amherst in the quarterfinals. That darted Hobart all the way into the national semifinals, where they fell to eventual national champion Neumann by a 2-0 score. Hobart outshot the red-hot Knights 36-24 but ran into Ross Mackinnon’s 36 save shutout at the other end as the team’s exceptionally promising season came to a sudden conclusion.
Taylor felt that the Statesmen did enough to win that day, but just couldn’t take it to fruition.
“You play good hockey and you play your game,” Taylor said at the 2009 semifinal press conference. “Even though you have to make your own bounces at times, I think we made enough and it just didn’t bounce the right way for us.”
It wasn’t just those on the inside of the Statesmen program that felt that way. D3hockey.com senior writer Matthew Webb recounts that he felt the Statesmen were quite possibly the best team in the hunt that year in his own eyes, and routinely maintains that to this day.
“I believe they were the best team remaining,” Webb said. “I thought they outplayed Neumann in nearly every aspect of the game with one exception. They were faster, they transitioned better, and they got better scoring chances.”
That night, one of Hobart’s greatest teams may have unfortunately ended up on the short end at the destination, but many players stood at the height of greatness to get Hobart into the enviable position of competing for a national title.
Among the most critical components was the play of their netminder. Senior All-American Goaltender Keith Longo was one of the best ever to wear the navy blue and orange of Hobart. He compiled the last eighteen of his 51 career wins as a senior, and graduated with what was the best career save percentage in Division III history at the time, a record that has since been broken several times by the goaltenders of recent times. Taylor remembers his entire four years fondly.
“He was a rock if you look back,” Taylor said. “He was the guy who kept us in every single game and I never had to pull him once in four years.”
Longo not only had the respect of his coaches and teammates for his excellent body of work, but also his competitors. Former Utica goaltender Adam Dekker, now the Pioneers’ goalie coach, went to battle against Longo several times.
“He was a horse for Hobart, Hobart was a team that took very little to get amped up for and you knew it would be a battle from start to finish,” Dekker said. “He was the type of goalie that as an opposing goalie/team you knew you had to be on the top of your game that day. If you got one by him, which didn't happen often each game, you knew you had to take advantage of that opportunity and shut the door.”
Beyond the binding presence of Longo, the Statesmen sported an experienced lineup that was laden with junior seniors. Most notable was All-American Andrew Brennan on defense. Brennan was the team’s captain and one of the first names that comes to mind for Mark Taylor when discussing that year’s team. He finished his senior season with fifteen points for the Statesmen. Ryan Adler also played big minutes on the back end for a Hobart team that held opponents to just 2.27 goals per game.
The forward group was led by junior 29 point forwards Nick DeCroo and Bobby Cahill, and thirteen of the team’s skaters were over ten points on the campaign. Future ECAC West Player of the Year Matthew Wallace was a depth forward on that team. It was a deep group, a diverse group, and a hard working group by all counts of those who saw them. And it’s a team still recalled fondly years later by those along the shores of Seneca Lake.
What really could have been never came for that group of Statesmen, but the teams following have carried the torch, including this year’s edition. It wouldn’t be a stretch for this year’s group to look in the mirror and see some of that great team in itself.