With the core of last year's defensive unit all returning, head coach Paul Payne has a great foundation on which to build his team, which last year showed a five-game improvement from the year before. Led by co-captains Tom Pfender and Chris Chestnut, the Huskies limited opponents to just 1.4 goals per game a year ago. Also returning are All-PSAC performers Mike Jones and goalie David Leindecker, part of a unit that allowed more than two goals in a game in just four times. Bringing an added element of experience and talent in the back will be Senior Mike McGee, Junior Marcus Valeriano and Sophomore Matt Kaupp.
Pfender, who is trying to come back from off-season surgery, is a no-nonsense player who provides a lot of leadership for the Huskies. Chestnut, whose father played for the Huskies, is like a coach on the field with a great understanding of the game.
"The strength of our team is our defense," said Payne, who will be entering his 11th year on the bench. "We have a core group of players that is solid on the defensive end of the field, plus a returning keeper (Leindecker) who was all-conference and a backup that (Erik Solymar)who is ready to push for some playing time. Where we need to be more consistent is on the attacking side of the ball."
The Huskies return top scorer Eric Simonds, who scored five times; Jones, who had three goals, and Tom Kovack, who had two goals and two assists. Simonds has the ability to make an impact, while Jones is a threat for the Huskies anywhere on the field, while Kovack is a strong player with both attacking and defending skills.
But, it will be the newcomers who Payne is excited to see.
"We have a strong recruiting class of forwards in Alex Ruhfass, Bryce Shaffer and Tyler Phillips who will be a factor for us on offense this season," said Payne. "They are strong and quick and have the skills to put the ball in the net."
Ruhfass was a four-year starter in high school and a two-time all-league selection. He also spent two years at the Italian Residence Academy in Italy honing his skills. Shaffer was a two-time first team all-Mid Penn Keystone Division selection, while Tyler Phillips was first team all-league this past year and finished his career with 100 points.
"In addition to those three players, we are bringing to camp two other players, Brian Savage and Tom Natter who also are strong in the open field. All of these players will make us better right away."
As for the Huskies schedule, once again it is tough one. Not only do the Huskies have to face PSAC East rivals in East Stroudsburg, West Chester, Millersville and Shippensburg, the team will also face the three top teams in the PSAC West in California, Mercyhurst and Slippery Rock.
"Every game in the PSAC is a close one," Payne continued. "We dropped two, one-goal games to East Stroudsburg, which qualified for the PSAC playoffs, and another one-goal game to Slippery Rock, which also made the PSAC playoffs. That's how close play is in our league. There is not much difference between the teams."
That's why defense is so important. It wins games. For the Huskies it will hopefully mean also mean a trip to the post-season.