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College Hockey:
Commentary: In Eventful Summer, Nothing More Important than Mandi

We are still a ways away from the opening puck drop, but it has been an eventful summer. Some news, notes, and opinions to get us thinking college pucks.

No college hockey story is more important than Mandi Schwartz. This blurb from the USCHO staff was posted recently.

Aug. 15 — Tests have indicated that Yale’s Mandi Schwartz is no longer in remission in her battle with acute myeloid leukemia, a development that has postponed her stem cell transplant.

Schwartz needs to be in remission to have the transplant, so she will undergo more chemotherapy.

Her doctors at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Care Center in Seattle have developed what’s being called a breakthrough procedure in the stem cell transplant that is being planned for when Schwartz is again in remission.

Woody Hayes coined the phrase “You win with people,” and every coach will tell you that you coach people first, players second. The fact that the hockey world has rallied around Schwartz is a tremendous sign that we still look at these student-athletes, especially hockey players, as people first. Hockey has done a great job taking care of its own. Hopefully, we can all continue on this path and do what we can to get Mandi back on the road to recovery.

Tarnished Dome?

Notre Dame has made headlines, and for the first time in years it’s football that looks good and hockey that has taken its lumps.

In a recent interview I was a part of on “The Pipeline Show” in Edmonton, Alberta, the questions about Notre Dame were about whether its reputation is tarnished with the off-ice issues it has had?”

To say it hasn’t would be putting your head in the sand. To believe that the Irish will feel long-term effects from this is the anti-college hockey faction cranking up the propaganda machine.

Yes, Kyle Palmieri left after his freshman year. Yes, Jarred Tinordi backed out of his commitment. Yes, there have been some issues with underage drinking and players getting arrested (something new to the American sports scene). They are not the only school to have this issue, and yes, it happens in major junior also.

However, it is still Notre Dame, a program a year away from christening a fantastic new building. It is still Notre Dame, which was just ranked higher academically than any other non-Ivy League school with a hockey program and seventh overall in that category in a US News and World Report survey. It is still Notre Dame, whose staff is as good as any in the NCAA in developing two-way players.

Everyone gets a black eye at some point; just ask Michigan football. The problems Notre Dame is having fall outside the direct responsibility of the hockey program and somewhat on the student-athletes themselves. Poor judgment is more the problem here than anything “official,” like willingly allowing players to practice outside of allotted time for it as detailed by the NCAA.

This whole thing should be a blip on the map for Notre Dame if handled correctly. I bet it recovers well.

So Long

Underclassmen Derek Stepan, Jerry D’Amigo, Jordan Schroeder and Kyle Palmieri all chose to depart early for the pro ranks.

All four were members of the gold medal-winning American team at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, last January. All four had very good showings in the WJC and Stepan at times looked like a man among boys. D’Amigo showed hockey sense beyond his years, and Schroeder demonstrated his elite-level offensive skills. Palmieri was a buzz saw throughout the tourney and has good size, which he likes to combine with a gritty attitude to be effective.

Whether they should have come back to school for further development at the NCAA level is up for debate in many circles, but it would be a surprise if any of these four talented U.S.-born-and-developed players doesn’t get a good sniff at the NHL in the very near future.

Welcome Back

One school that did get its key underclassmen back is Boston College. The Eagles were awesome last season, and they could be as good if not better this year.

It is hard not to keep your eye on the Eagles, but with their team speed you might have to watch very quickly to see them play.

Putting Faulk on the Radar

Keep your eye on Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Justin Faulk. The kid just keeps growing on me as a player since I watched him a bit in camp for the World Junior team in Grand Forks, N.D., last December.

He’s a little under the radar as compared to some of the higher-profile defenseman from the U-18s who were picked in the draft, but if this kid doesn’t become (at the very least) an elite NCAA defenseman I’d be shocked.

Early Challenges for UNH

Looking at some early schedules, I really like New Hampshire in October. The Wildcats start at Miami, which is a back to back Frozen Four team, then come home and play Michigan, which just made its way to the NCAA tourney for a 20th consecutive time.

Michigan is a good skating team that always moves the puck well, so in the big rink in Durham the Wolverines should be a good challenge for UNH.

The Wildcats play at Northeastern, at Cornell and at Boston College (to start November). If any team will know what it can do after a month of hockey, it’s UNH. You have to respect a program that challenges itself early in the season. Those games aren’t easy. Keep an eye on UNH; at the very least it will be battle-tested early with a great schedule.

Backing Bergeron

If there is anyone who thinks Chris Bergeron won’t do well as a head coach, speak up now.

I think he’ll do very well. He has the passion, energy, and smarts for the job. Bowling Green is a program that needed a shot in the arm and Bergeron should provide that.

The Falcons might not win a ton of games right away but they should be a hard team to play against. He is also an excellent recruiter, so BG shouldn’t be the third choice among Ohio-based schools for very long.

On that note, add new Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki and his brilliance recruiting in Minnesota, and you have a battle brewing in Ohio on the recruiting front.

Watch These Trios

A couple of trios to watch for this season. The first is the three senior centers at Miami — Carter Camper, Andy Miele and Pat Cannone. This could be the deepest threesome of centers on one team since Ohio State had R.J. Umberger, Ryan Kessler and Dave Steckel.

A second trio is Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust at Michigan. Those three are as good an offensive force as any in the nation, and if all have their “A” game all season Michigan becomes a very dangerous team, home or road.

Off the Air

On a TV note, I’m still sad to see the Frank Mazzocco-Doug Woog team broken up in Minnesota. We all get replaced eventually, but these guys have been great colleagues and good friends. They will be missed.

Also on a TV note, best wishes to Eric Haugen, who left NHL Network U.S. to take a position at NESN in Boston. Eric was a huge force behind NHL Network’s coverage of the World Junior Championship last season and has an imprint on this season’s planning. His brains and creativity were all over that production and were the reason it was so successful. He is a friend of college and amateur hockey in the United States, and wherever he is amateur hockey will be in good hands from a TV perspective.

Eye on UNO

Keep an eye on Nebraska-Omaha in its first season in the WCHA.

Dean Blais got the most out of an under-talented roster last year and did a masterful job on the physical, emotional, tactical and mental side of things winning the gold medal at the WJC.

This is year two at the helm in Omaha, and the team is taking on his personality. The players believe in him and so do I. Watch the Mavs and you’ll see a program on the rise.

Congrats

Lastly, congratulations to Brett Henning on his new position in pro scouting with the Vancouver Canucks. Henning, a recruit of Dave Poulin at Notre Dame, suffered a career-ending neck injury during his career in South Bend.

A Long Island-born-and-bred player, he was as smart a player as any. If that hockey sense translates into his scouting, the Canucks have a great hire.

I coached Brett on the Islanders pee wee team that played in the annual International Pee Wee Tourney in Quebec City (I’m thinking it was 1993). In a game at Le Colisee, one of the Nordiques assistant coaches was standing near the end of our bench and after a whistle asks me “is that Henning Lorne’s kid?” I said yes. The coach says “It’s amazing, the kid has his father’s hockey sense and he’s only 12.”

His father is Lorne Henning, one of the smartest players of his NHL era. It was he who set up Bob Nystrom’s OT goal to win the 1980 Stanley Cup for the Islanders (Henning to John Tonelli to Nystrom).


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