Goalie battle a primary concern as Clarkson tries to climb standings

A respectable finish last spring was all well and good in coach Casey Jones’ first season in charge, but Clarkson’s improvement is hardly assured in 2012-13. Nine freshmen compose a full third of the Golden Knights’ roster, and the players who received their sheepskins in May left big skates to fill.

First and foremost, the cavity left by St. Louis Blues prospect and Clarkson’s all-time saves leader Paul Karpowich is crying out for attention. Senior (and Islanders draft pick) Cody Rosen is the lone returning netminder for Clarkson, and he will have a battle on his hands if he hopes to hold down the No. 1 spot this year.

“Our philosophy is that the best goalie will play; there is no entitlement in the position,” Jones said. “We have two newcomers with Cody that will battle for playing time, but with that experience we’re a vastly different team than last year. Last year we were vastly inexperienced on the blue line and we had a better goaltender in net. It kind of flips around this year. We’ll be a little more veteran in front of the nets.”

The rookie backstops are Surrey, British Columbia,-bred Andrew Hunt and Mars, Pa., product Greg Lewis. All three goalies play similar styles, according to Jones, filling a lot of vertical space but complementing their height with butterfly-method technique.

Regarding the defense in front of them, Jones said: “Last year, we had nights where [young defensemen] had rookie games and other guys had to carry big, big minutes. It limits you a little bit, in how you play, how aggressive you can be. With a deeper D-corps and a lot more experience, it will afford us to play a lot more guys in a lot more situations, which allows guys to be more successful. Now they can play at [a high] intensity level all game and both nights. That’s where I’m looking for the biggest boon from our D-corps this year: being able to be a little better-gassed.”

A team statistic that stands out from last season is Clarkson’s 18 penalty minutes per game, but Jones doesn’t see it as something worth losing sleep over.

“I’ll be honest with you: I want our guys to play a little bit on the edge, and play with an assertive style,” he said. “What we try to take away — we talk about it all the time — are the lazy penalties, the stick penalties. That’s a priority for us, to limit those in our game. You can’t win if you’re undisciplined, and we all know that.

“But like I said, like any coach will tell you, if we’re trying to be aggressive and we’re competing hard and over the course of the game we take some penalties” that’s just a trade-off that you make, he said.

Jones and the Knights will be hoping to put a 6-2 exhibition loss to Carleton in the rear-view mirror as soon as possible, as an early-season series at Colorado College opens the regular season.

About the Golden Knights

2011-12 overall record: 16-17-6

2011-12 ECAC record: 9-9-4 (tie, sixth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): 10th

Key losses: F Julien Cayer, G Paul Karpowich, F Louke Oakley, F Nick Tremblay

Players to watch: F Allan McPherson, F Ben Sexton, D Sam Labrecque, F Joe Zarbo

Impact rookies: F Christian Finch, D Paul Geiger

Why the Golden Knights will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: The goaltending situation will be solved quickly, bolstered by a veteran defensive corps. Scoring will emerge by committee, highlighted by the resurgence of Sexton and McPherson’s continuing improvement.

Why the Golden Knights will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: Not far to fall from the predictions, but it’s certainly possible should the defense prove vulnerable. If the defense isn’t strong from the start, the offense and goaltending may never get the opportunity to solidify.