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Picked for 10th, Merrimack gets valuable early confidence, wins

140103 14370847 Picked for 10th, Merrimack gets valuable early confidence, wins

Hampus Gustafsson (in yellow) scored in overtime to give Merrimack a win over Connecticut (photo: Melissa Wade).

Considering that Merrimack was picked by Hockey East coaches to finish 10th this season (and a rather distant 10th it was), the phrase “3-0 Warriors” must sound awfully pleasing to North Andover ears.

“It beats the alternative,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy quips.

The Warriors swept Holy Cross to open the season, then fought back on Saturday to claim a league win over visiting Connecticut. Despite controlling play, Merrimack needed an extra-attacker goal from Brett Seney to force overtime and then another from Hampus Gustafsson to claim the win.

The resulting two points may come in handy in the standings by season’s end.

“It’s also good for the psyche,” Dennehy says. “When you exert the amount of effort to play as well as we played, you want to be rewarded. That’s human nature.

“As coaches, you’re prodding the team to keep going and not be affected by the scoreboard, but it’s a hard thing to do. So to put in the memory bank that, hey, we stuck with it, we played a full 60-plus minutes, and at the end of the day the ledger was in our favor. Now we can go back to that when we’re in similar situations.”

Based on play so far, Hockey East fans can expect to see a familiar sight: stellar goaltending in the Merrimack crease. Rasmus Tirronen claimed Hockey East’s defensive player of the week award following the sweep over Holy Cross. He weighs in with a 1.32 GAA and a .943 save percentage.

“I don’t want to say that he’s picked up where he left off because that’s impossible to do from one season to the next,” Dennehy says. “But we did think he had a really good finish to the season last year, and he had another good summer and is really hungry to show how good he is.”

Merrimack now embarks on four more nonleague games, including a rematch against UConn in the Liberty Hockey Invitational, before tackling Providence in its next league contest. With a young team playing eight freshmen, that’s a definite positive.

“I did a poor job of scheduling last year,” Dennehy says. “A lot of our issues, I brought on myself. So it’s something I definitely tried to pay a lot more attention to this year. With a young team, it’s nice to be able to play a number of our 12 nonconference games prior to getting into the meat of league play.

“Scheduling has become more and more important each year. With the restructuring [of leagues], the addition of teams and fewer and fewer league games, scheduling is rapidly moving up the priority list for coaches.”

I0000DiQ LcxWj.Q Picked for 10th, Merrimack gets valuable early confidence, wins

Robby Nichols made 36 saves in Connecticut’s win over No. 15 Quinnipiac on Tuesday (photo: Stephen Slade/UConn Athletics).

No cigars to celebrate entry into Hockey East

At least before Connecticut upset No. 15 Quinnipiac on Tuesday, “Close but no cigar” summed up the Huskies’ early contests in their first season in Hockey East.

The Huskies traveled to Penn State for a two-game set, and in the Oct. 10 opener held a one-goal lead until the final minute when an extra-attacker goal evened the match. Ultimately, they had to settle for a tie.

A week later, they invaded Merrimack’s Lawler Arena and clung to a 1-0 lead until the final seconds when, once again, an empty-attacker goal knotted the score. Even worse, Merrimack took the win with an overtime goal.

“They were two very different games,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh says. “In the Penn State game, we played very well for the last two periods. I really believe that was a game we deserved to win. We just got a little bit unlucky there, but I was really happy with the way we played.

“In the Merrimack game, though, we were fortunate to be in the game, leading 1-0. Merrimack controlled possession and play for the last two periods of the game and it was only because Robby Nichols was outstanding in goal that it was 1-0. We actually got what we deserved in that game.”

Nichols helped the Huskies break through on Tuesday, making 36 saves in a 4-1 victory over Quinnipiac in Bridgeport, Conn.

As for what UConn will be deserving in this its inaugural Hockey East season, that remains to be seen. Cavanaugh, at the very least, feels very much at home, returning to the league where he served under Boston College coach Jerry York for 18 seasons.

“I feel a lot more comfortable in Hockey East than I did in the Atlantic Hockey league,” Cavanaugh says. “That being said, I don’t think that’s the case for all our players. In the past, we might play a Hockey East [opponent], but it was really a no-lose situation. We went in as an Atlantic Hockey league team without scholarships. If we won it was a great upset; if we didn’t, no one expected us to win.

“Now, we’re going into a game and this is a league member we’re facing, they’re in our league so we’re supposed to be on par with these guys. So it’s a completely different mindset for all 26 of our players. I think that by Christmastime we’ll feel much more comfortable in our surroundings and playing in the league.”

As for what his expectations are for his club, Cavanaugh says it’s too early to tell.

“My expectations never change from game to game,” he says. “We expect to go out and compete hard, we expect to play the game the right way, we expect to be mentally smart, and we expect to win the game. We feel that if we do those types of things, we can win the hockey game.

“That being said, I’m still trying to figure out where we are with personnel, who we are as a team and what our identity is going to be. I know the identity of hockey that we want to play. I’m just not sure what our identity as a team is.

“I remember [Oakland Athletics general manager] Billy Beane saying that it takes the first third of the season to figure our what you have, the next third to figure out what you need and the next third to get to where you want to go. It’s a little bit different in college hockey because you can’t just go out and get players or make trades or those type of things.

“But I do take that philosophy going into the first third of the season. Even in my days at BC, that was somewhat what we did. There were a lot of years where we were .500 at the Christmas break or just a few games over .500. You’re playing different people, you’re putting people in different positions, you’re trying to figure out what you have as a team and what your identity is going to be.”

Cavanaugh then invokes the mantra of seemingly every coach: Take it one game at a time.

“If you start to look at our schedule as a whole, it can be somewhat overwhelming,” he says. “So we just want to play as very well as we can each night.”

An important split and a bright outlook

A year ago, New Hampshire opened the season with a 1-4-1 record while traversing a gauntlet of tough early opponents. That rough start contributed greatly to the Wildcats uncharacteristically missing the NCAA tournament.

The same prospect beckoned this year with an opener at second-ranked Union followed by a two-game set at 10th-ranked Michigan. With expected goaltending mainstay Casey DeSmith on suspension for at least the first semester, a crater-sized hole to crawl out of seemed a likely possibility.

Instead, UNH followed a season-opening loss at Union with a rousing 5-1 win over the Wolverines in their own barn. That gave the Wildcats permission to get greedy and hope for a sweep. That possibility didn’t come to fruition, but not for lack of trying. Trailing 2-1, the Cats had their chances, outshooting their hosts 16-8 in the third period.

Still, a split on the road against such a tough opponent could amount to a positive weekend by season’s end.

“There’s no question that you don’t want to start the season 0-3,” UNH coach Dick Umile says. “You want to win every game, but you don’t want to get swept. It was important to get the win, and we played pretty good hockey over the weekend so I was pleased.”

Umile holds no regrets for putting together such a difficult schedule.

“At the end of the day, you want to play the best teams that you can play,” he says. “They make you better.”

Freshman goaltender Adam Clark has assuaged most of the concerns about how well the Wildcats will fare without DeSmith. He’s allowed only six goals in the three games and has posted a .929 save percentage.

“We’re extremely happy with him,” Umile says. “He’s a big guy, 6-foot-5. He quietly plays very well in his crease. He’s quicker than I think he realizes. He’s played very well for us.”

As has the defense, which is almost as inexperienced as the goaltending following the loss of three of last year’s top four contributors. Umile has played three freshmen on the blue line, integrating another one into the mix when rookie John Furgele went down with a significant ankle injury.

“We’re really pleased with the young defensemen,” Umile says. “They’ve done a good job and given us the depth that we need back there even though there’s not much experience playing at a Division I level. They fit in well with the team.

“Right now we have good chemistry going on with our team, led by [senior captain Matt] Willows. The guys are playing hard, and that’s what we’ve asked them to do. Hopefully, we get good goaltending and give ourselves an opportunity to win games.”

A few quick notes

• Kudos to Massachusetts-Lowell for its strong start, defeating sixth-ranked Boston College and getting a win and tie against No. 15 Quinnipiac. The past two years, the River Hawks have gotten off to rocky starts, then taken off. This year, the taking off started in game one.

• It seems strange to see only three freshmen on the roster of a recruiting juggernaut like Boston College. Of course, those three are mega-recruits and the numbers are a reflection of a large sophomore class.

• I can’t help wondering if Hockey East will again have three teams that secure only a single road win all season. I sure hope not.

And finally, not that it has anything to do with anything, but …

This is my first column since January, when I was facing open-heart surgery. I bounced back in time for the NCAA regionals and the Frozen Four, but this is my first appearance in this space since going under the knife.

It’s good to be back.

Thanks to Jim Connelly for covering my half of this space, and also for avoiding any Wally Pipp wisecracks. Thanks to my family and all the many close friends (Jim included) who gave me such great support. And of course, thanks to all of you for the well wishes. It was, and is, and always will be very much appreciated.

Thank you.

Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage take unbeaten records to the Lower 48

IMG 0637 Alaska, Alaska Anchorage take unbeaten records to the Lower 48

Defenseman Austin Coldwell (left) and No. 20 Alaska-Anchorage leave their home state for the first time this season for a series this weekend at Maine (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

During the WCHA’s preseason conference call, several coaches talked about getting used to travel in the new league last year, namely getting their long trips to Alaska in order.

It’s a delicate balance for the coaches and their staffs. They want to arrange enough travel time to keep their teams fresh and not too jetlagged, but they also want to make sure the players aren’t missing too much class time and that their academics aren’t suffering as a result.

You’ll have to forgive the two coaches from Alaska if they don’t have a lot of empathy for their visitors.

“I’m not overly sympathetic to the coaches that commented on having to come up to Alaska,” said Alaska-Anchorage coach Matt Thomas, the final speaker on the conference call.

Indeed, it’s easy to forget that those same travel issues are factors for the Alaska schools — even more so. Except for when they play each other, Thomas’ Seawolves and Dallas Ferguson’s Alaska Nanooks must travel three or four time zones away every time they hit the road.

After a stellar two weeks in their home state to start the season, both teams will take this year’s first voyages out of Alaska this week.

Following last weekend’s Brice Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks and the previous week’s Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, the Nanooks (4-0) and the Seawolves (3-0-1) are both undefeated following those events for the first time since the Goal Rush’s inaugural tournament in 2008.

It’s also the first time since that year that the two teams are both ranked in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Alaska is No. 16 and Anchorage is No. 20.

Now the teams are in prove-it mode.

“The biggest question of our team is: Can we win on the road?” Thomas said in that preseason call.

Despite Thomas’ impressive turnaround of the Seawolves last season, they were 3-10-2 in the Lower 48 states. The Nanooks, meanwhile, were 5-5-2 outside of Alaska.

This week, Anchorage will go all the way to Maine, returning the favor to the Black Bears, who opened the season against them on Oct. 10 (UAA won 3-1), and Alaska will play a nonconference series against former CCHA foe Western Michigan.

“Everyone’s talking about travel,” Thomas said. “That was something I thought we had to concentrate on this year.”

Wit the hope of improving his team’s road record, Thomas, the second-year coach, is trying something a few teams have done while scheduling back-to-back road series in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

“This year, we do have two two-week trips, one each semester,” he said, “which could be a challenge academically for our players but athletically could be a little bit of an advantage. Some [coaches] have commented that they have to do it for us.”

Anchorage will play Michigan Tech on Nov. 7-8 and stay in Michigan to play Ferris State Nov. 13-14. The Seawolves also will play Northern Michigan Jan. 30-31 and stick around the Midwest before taking on Minnesota State Feb. 6-7.

Last season, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State each spent 11 days in Alaska. Northern Michigan will have a similar trip next month.

According to the Alaska Dispatch News, the Seawolves left Anchorage on Monday and practiced Tuesday and Wednesday at Boston University before busing to Orono, Maine, on Thursday.

RachelLewis OSUvLSSU 12022011 6 Alaska, Alaska Anchorage take unbeaten records to the Lower 48

Stephen Perfetto leads Lake Superior State with two goals through six games (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Lakers return home for shot at first win

Lake Superior State has struggled in its first six games under new coach Damon Whitten. The team started 0-6, with losses to Michigan Tech, Robert Morris and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks.

But maybe this weekend’s festivities against WCHA foe Northern Michigan can light a spark under the Lakers.

It’s Great Lake State Weekend in Sault Ste. Marie — LSSU’s equivalent of Homecoming — and the Lakers will be honoring the 1994 NCAA championship team, which is being inducted into the LSSU Athletics Hall Of Fame this weekend.

Before the season started Whitten talked about returning Lake Superior “back to that level” of its championship years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

That won’t happen overnight, but it wouldn’t be a bad start to earn some wins over a top rival on the weekend the past champions are watching.

Beavers look to knock off another top-5 team

A week after upsetting then-No. 2 North Dakota 5-1 in their season opener, Bemidji State had a week off to sit and think about its next top-five opponent.

The Beavers travel to No. 1 Minnesota this weekend looking to score another upset.

“I don’t think we think too much about the rankings, but there’s always been a big rivalry with Minnesota, and with North Dakota,” Beavers sophomore forward Brendan Harms said. “Every game is a huge game for us. Against the higher-ranked teams, too. If we can play the best game we can maybe we can move up in the rankings. That would be great, too.”

BSU last defeated the Gophers in November 2009 — the only time they’ve beaten Minnesota. They’re 1-16-1 all-time against their in-state rivals.

Friday night’s Bemidji State-Minnesota game will be aired on Big Ten Network — that network’s first hockey broadcast of the season and another nationally televised game involving a WCHA team. The puck is set to drop at 8 p.m. CDT.

Around the WCHA

• Bowling Green sophomore forward Kevin Dufour scored three goals against Alabama-Huntsville last weekend and leads the nation in goal scoring with six. He scored nine goals during his freshman season. Teammate Nolan Valleau, a freshman defenseman, has six assists, which is tied for the national lead.

• Last season’s league goaltending champion, Cole Huggins of Minnesota State, has been slow out of the gate. In three starts, he is 0-2 with a 4.70 GAA and a .752 save percentage. The good news for the Mavericks is that the previous year’s top goalie, Stephon Williams, has been solid in his two appearances, including one in relief of Huggins. The junior is 2-0 with a 2.16 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

• Ferris State will begin defense of its MacNaughton Cup championship when it opens WCHA play at home against Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs are 17-0-1 in their last 18 home games. Their last loss at Ewigleben Ice Arena came in last year’s season opener, Oct. 18, 2013, against St. Lawrence.

• This week’s WCHA players of the week are Bowling Green forward Kevin Dufour (offensive), Northern Michigan goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom (defensive) and Alaska forward Austin Vieth (rookie).

Cianfarano and Roesler bring success to Quinnipiac in different ways

Kelly Babstock piled up 203 points in her four years and 147 games at Quinnipiac. No other player wearing a Bobcats jersey has ever hit triple digits in a career. During Babstock’s tenure, her team scored 398 goals, meaning she was directly involved in over half of its offense.

As is the case with any great college athlete, the clock steadily clicks away the years, and all too soon, a program is left to look elsewhere.

“Freshman Taylar Cianfarano has definitely stepped up these past few games,” assistant captain Cydney Roesler said. “I know the whole team is really happy with her performances.”

Five contests into her career, Cianfarano is averaging a goal per game, with three game-winners. It’s not a surprise that she’s finding the net. The Otsego, N.Y., native played in two Under-18 World Championships and led all goal scorers at the 2014 tournament. The surprise is that she’s doing it for Quinnipiac.

To be sure, Cianfarano seriously considered Hamden as a destination when she began the recruiting process.

“Quinnipiac was one of my top three schools,” she said. “I came to visit, and right away, I knew I liked the coaches. Obviously, the facilities were awesome and everyone throughout the campus was just so nice. You felt welcomed, and it was something that I definitely liked about Quinnipiac.”

Nonetheless, Cianfarano picked Wisconsin and signed with the Badgers in November.

“She decided pretty early, so it wasn’t like we had invested a long time,” Quinnipiac coach Rick Seeley said. “She’d been here on a visit, and we loved her as a kid, and obviously, we loved her as a player. But, 90 percent of recruiting is disappointment.”

Fate interceded, and Cianfarano’s plans to attend Wisconsin fell through.

“It was definitely frustrating,” she said. “It just so happened to be that I was one of those girls who had to look back at schools and figure out where I was going, but I’m glad where I ended up.”

So was her new coach when Cianfarano’s status changed in April.

“That was like winning a lottery, because it’s something you don’t expect and it’s long gone, and then all of a sudden what you were hoping for in the first place happens,” Seeley said. “We felt great about it. I think she has fit in here really well. The fact that she’s producing right away certainly helps with that adjustment, and she’s a great kid and a great teammate. We’re very fortunate to have her.”

Cianfarano has found Quinnipiac to be a good fit scholastically as well.

“I just changed my major to business management, also with a minor in sports studies,” she said. “Basically, with my hockey career, I’m hoping to coach as I get out of college. That’s definitely one of my goals.”

Post-graduate life is a long way off for the freshman, so for the immediate future, she’ll be concentrating on goals that involve a puck and a net.

“She has a desire to get better,” Seeley said. “Having the national camp experience this summer was great, because it made her realize how far she has to go, what’s missing in her game. That desire is there every day to improve, so she’s a very coachable kid. Her conditioning has to get better. I think it’s something that’s never hurt her in the past, but she’s realizing at this level, ‘I’ve got to step it up a notch.’ We haven’t even introduced penalty killing to her. We don’t want to wear her out, but that’s certainly a goal of hers and ours, to get her to that point. But her conditioning is a lot better today than it was even two weeks ago.”

She’s recognized other areas where she needs to improve.

“Playing at [National Sports Academy] for three years, I always didn’t have the strongest defense, but going from high school hockey to college hockey, it’s so much harder and so much more competitive,” Cianfarano said.

As anyone who has followed Quinnipiac hockey under Seeley knows, it’s very much about defense for everyone on the ice.

“Every day in practice, it’s one of the things that we always bring up,” Roesler said. “That’s our focus all the time, and I think it’s been really good so far this season, and we just hope to continue with that.”

The defense thus far has been more than good, allowing only one goal on the season.

“I think in the past when we’ve broken down, one breakdown will lead to another, lead to another, which would lead to a goal,” Seeley said. “I think we’re doing a much better job of remaining composed and having someone step in right away and stop the bleeding. No insult to who we have played, but it’s not the Clarksons and Harvards of the world either, that will sustain longer pressure, and that will be a real test for us. It hasn’t mattered who we’ve played in the past. When we’ve broken down, three, four, five times in a row, and usually it’s not the first breakdown that leads to a goal. It’s the ones after it. So I’m really proud of how our kids have responded to any adversity and just kind of put out fires immediately.”

Senior goaltender Chelsea Laden has started four of the five games and has four shutouts to show for her efforts. However, effort may not be right word, because there haven’t been many fires for her to extinguish; she has faced less than 10 shots per game on average.

A trio of junior defensemen is a big reason why.

“They’re all distinctly different defensemen,” Seeley said. “[Roesler] and [Kristen] Tamberg have basically been leading the charge since they’ve got here, and Lindsey West continues to improve, although I wouldn’t say at this point she’s as dominant as those two.”

The quality on the blue line goes beyond the upperclassmen.

“We like our depth there,” Seeley said. “As the freshmen continue to work, I think we’ll be really solid there, as long as we stay away from injuries.”

One never knows when an injury may knock someone out of a game.

“Cyd took a shot off her ankle in the warm-up for Friday’s game against Maine, and we didn’t skip a beat,” Seeley said. “We had Alicia Barry playing, a freshman, and Shannon Cherpak had a few shifts. Tamberg and West definitely stepped up, and [Emma] Greco and [Taryn] Baumgardt have been phenomenal since they got here last year as freshmen.”

Not that he wants to have to have to play without Roesler on a regular basis.

“Having someone like Cyd — she’s just dominant this year,” Seeley said.

The five-foot, nine-inch native of Stittsville, Ontario, uses her size effectively.

“I’m a big player,” Roesler said. “I try to play big. I like to contribute offensively, read the plays and headman the passes sort of thing. One of my focuses is to contribute more offensively, and I think I’ve done that so far this year.”

The Bobcats could use it, because to date, the scoring hasn’t kept pace with the defensive performance. The team currently ranks ninth in scoring average, at only 2.6 goals per game. The power play has yet to find its stride, converting twice, but one of those was into an empty net.

“I think we’re more talented this year,” Seeley said. “I think we have two [power play units] that can work, and they’ve shown glimpses. Two years ago, we had the confidence that every time we stepped on the ice on the power play we were going to score. It’s just getting that confidence. We’re getting looks, but we’re just not finishing. Some of our top shooters just aren’t finishing five on five yet either, so we’re excited about where we might be going when those guys like [Erica] Udén Johansson, [Shiann] Darkangelo, and Emma Woods start producing at the pace they normally do.”

Last season, the power play finished with a 13.6 conversion percentage and never found high gear.

“It’s been a long time since we scored regularly on the power play, so I think they just have to gain that confidence and keep playing with it,” Seeley said. “If I had an answer, we’d be scoring more.”

Additional offense will be vital once November arrives and the No. 7 Bobcats see their first ranked opponent, traveling to No. 5 Cornell. Not that Seeley wants his team thinking about that game yet.

“We preach to the kids that every game is going to be the same,” Seeley said. “We ease up for five minutes against Penn State, and we’re in a tie game.”

That 1-1 tie at Penn State is the only blemish on the ledger, but the teams the Bobcats have seen thus far don’t possess the same firepower as Cornell.

“There’s not much you can do, other than just try and prepare every day like you’re playing one of the best teams in the country, which obviously Cornell is,” Seeley said. “It’ll be a bit of a unique game, because I think we’ll both be losing a player or two for Four Nations, and they might be losing a coach, too. Colgate is always tough for us on the road, so that test the night before certainly won’t hurt us. It’s what my teams have always done, they try and play hard. But if you’re not seeing the same things, it’ll be a bit of a shock when a Brianne Jenner starts flying down the boards. You just hope you adjust within five, 10 minutes, and then you realize what college hockey is really like at the highest level.”

Roesler has already experienced those high-level games.

“It definitely makes for a fun hockey game,” she said. “You know you’re playing some of the best in the conference, in the country. It’s pretty fun to look forward to. It’s going to be a challenge, that’s for sure, but we’re ready for it.”

The preparation includes working hard on less glamorous facets of the game, like defensive back pressure.

“That’s big for us, and that’s an easy thing,” Seeley said. “It’s a really fine line. If you’re not working that hard, then all of a sudden, anyone can score with you. If you don’t utilize your speed, then you’re just equalizing things for the opponent.”

The labor could pay off for a team still seeking its first title.

“Our main goal is to win [the] ECAC Championship, and I think it’s very attainable,” Roesler said. “If we keep working hard and we keep focusing on the details like we’ve been doing, it’s something that we’re striving for and I think it’s definitely something we can reach.”

North Dakota ready for national spotlight with home series against Providence

IMG 7406 North Dakota ready for national spotlight with home series against Providence

Zane McIntyre and North Dakota enter a top-five matchup against Providence this weekend (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Once we get nearer to college hockey’s postseason, more and more is made of what will get certain teams into the NCAA tournament and what will leave others out.

One of the biggest factors that gets placed under the microscope is how teams fare in their nonconference games. Doing well against league rivals is obviously important — and lest we forget that the six conference playoff champions get automatic bids into the NCAA tournament — but nonconference records can and often do either make or break teams on the at-large bubble.

Third-ranked North Dakota is well aware of this, and it’s also cognizant of the fact that the national spotlight will be on Ralph Engelstad Arena this Friday and Saturday. No. 5 Providence is coming to Grand Forks, N.D., for a two-game set, and UND will be hoping to get the armchair NCAA selection committee on UND’s side.

Going into the series, however, UND coach Dave Hakstol isn’t taking a lot of stock in UND’s and the Friars’ places in the national polls.

“It’s just two good teams, and I guess you can just throw rankings out the window,” Hakstol said. “I know both teams are pretty good, and obviously we’re going to be hungry as we get into a long stretch of nonconference games, and these are extremely important.

“Providence College is extremely well-coached [with] veteran players and top-end players [compared to other teams] throughout the nation. It should make for a great series.”

Perhaps the biggest matchup within the UND-PC series will be in the teams’ respective nets. UND’s Zane McIntyre and the Friars’ Jon Gillies are two of the top veteran goaltenders in Division I.

Hakstol is looking at the bigger picture with this series, however, and not just the goaltending aspect of the two-game set. He knows that neither his team nor Providence coach Nate Leaman’s group is lacking in weapons anywhere on the ice.

“I don’t really see it as a defensive matchup,” Hakstol said. “I just see it as two teams that play well in all three zones.

“There’s enough offensive ability on both teams to be very dangerous. I just think it’s two teams that compete hard, pursue the puck very hard and try to take away [opponents'] time and space.

“There’s a lot of similarities there, and both are pretty veteran teams,” Hakstol said. “It should make for a heck of a matchup.”

Another common bond these two teams have is that they both stumbled out of the gate this season. They both lost their season-opening games, but both are in the process of turning that around.

UND lost 5-1 at home to Bemidji State on Oct. 10 on the opening night of the season but has won three straight since then, including a sweep last weekend on the road at NCHC rival Colorado College.

Providence also lost its season opener on the road at Ohio State, but the Friars beat the Buckeyes the following night and had last weekend off to prepare for the’s trip to Grand Forks after a Thursday exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 Team.

If either UND or the Friars picks up anything more than one win from this series at Ralph Engelstad Arena, this weekend’s set could serve as a springboard for the rest of the season.

No matter how the results shake down, however, Hakstol is glad to have such a stern test for his team so early on. He also knows that good performances against the Friars would garner some looks from pollsters and everyone else trying to determine which teams are among college hockey’s elite this season.

“It’s the type of series that you want to play in,” he said. “Early in the year, they test you, they make you better and they push you in a lot of areas, and it’s always fun to compete in series like this where there’s a lot at stake and there’s some national exposure that comes with it.”

With the exposure such a high-profile nonconference series provides comes a lot of pressure. Hakstol knows this, but he’s also working to make sure his UND team is aware of the potential gravity of each of its 11 nonleague games this season.

“You’ve got to take them one game at a time, and every game is critical, and we know nonconference scheduling [and] wins and losses plays pretty heavily into your outcome at the end of the season,” Hakstol said. “It’s a cliche about one game at a time, but we know the emphasis we have to put on our nonconference schedule.”

RachelLewis USCHO 20141018 Miami OSUMIH 7 North Dakota ready for national spotlight with home series against Providence

Riley Barber had eight of Miami’s 62 shots on Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey last Saturday (photo: Rachel Lewis).

RedHawks having little trouble creating chances

Much has been made about Miami’s largely disastrous 2013-14 regular season and how a team as loaded as the RedHawks surely can’t experience that two years in a row.

So far, they aren’t.

Tenth-ranked Miami opened its new campaign with two home-and-home series in as many weeks against intrastate rivals Bowling Green and Ohio State. Those were daunting tasks as the Falcons and Buckeyes are both tough outs, but Miami held up well in winning three of four games against its nearby former CCHA compatriots.

The RedHawks’ two most recent wins came last weekend in a home-and-home against Ohio State. Miami’s offense ran riot on Saturday during a 5-1 win in Columbus before the RedHawks scrapped to a 2-1 win in Saturday’s rematch in Oxford.

Miami’s victory on Friday in the Ohio state capital came about thanks to a superb offensive performance from the RedHawks. Their power-play units effectively won Miami the game by going 3-for-5, and Buckeyes goaltender Matt Tomkins was kept busy in facing 32 shots on net.

On Saturday night in Oxford, it was the visitors who took the upper hand early. A power-play goal from Ohio State’s Anthony Greco 5:28 into the game put the visitors in front early, and they took a slim 1-0 lead into the second period.

Over the final 40 minutes, however, Miami peppered Buckeyes goaltender Christian Frey with shots galore. The RedHawks recorded 48 shots in the second and third periods — and had 62 in all on the night — and just enough found their way into OSU’s nets.

Miami’s game-tying goal from freshman forward Louie Belpedio and the game-winner from senior forward Alex Wideman came exactly 100 seconds apart in the second period. The RedHawks fired 25 shots on net in that period and another 23 in the third, but a 60-save performance from Frey kept Miami from lighting up its in-state Big Ten rival for the second night running.

Scoring so few goals on so many scoring opportunities on Saturday doesn’t bother Miami coach Enrico Blasi. That his team is creating so many chances, he suggested, beats the alternative.

“I’m not so much concerned about scoring goals as about getting chances,” Blasi said ahead of his team’s two-game home set this weekend against St. Lawrence. “That’s not to say we don’t want to score goals because we do, but if you’re getting the scoring chances, I think we’ve got some guys that can score goals.

“If you’re not getting the scoring chances, then obviously you would be concerned, but I felt like our process was fairly good all night on Saturday in terms of getting to those areas where you’re going to get scoring opportunities, making plays in the offensive zone, making plays in the defensive zone to lead to chances on the rush and things like that.

“We’ve always been a program and a staff that’s focused on process,” Blasi continued, “and we feel that our process is pretty good right now.”

Players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Mark MacMillan, North Dakota: The senior forward had a career series against Colorado College. He posted five goals and seven points in the two wins over the Tigers and scored the first goal of the game both nights.

Defensive player of the week — Paul LaDue, North Dakota: LaDue is only a sophomore, but he led UND from the blue line last weekend in the team’s pair of wins at CC. He posted five points on the weekend, including a career-high four last Saturday. In that second game against the Tigers, LaDue picked up two goals and as many assists en route to his team’s 7-2 win.

Rookie of the week — Danton Heinen, Denver: The forward picked up three assists last weekend in a home sweep of Rensselaer, and those helpers marked Heinen’s first three points in a Pioneers sweater. He finished a plus-1 in each win over the Engineers and blocked two shots in the two games.

Goaltender of the week — Ryan Massa, Omaha: Goaltending has been one of the Mavericks’ biggest question marks in recent seasons, but it certainly wasn’t last weekend in a series at Western Michigan. Massa, a senior, made 37 saves last Friday in a 5-2 win before posting a 17-save shutout the following night during the Mavericks’ 3-0 triumph.

Robert Morris’ defense takes its turn in the spotlight

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Robert Morris defenseman Evan Moore was plus-3 in last Friday’s win over Niagara (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Last week, Chris Lerch discussed the Robert Morris Colonials as the defending Atlantic Hockey playoff champion got off to a fast start with a couple of nonconference wins.

He spoke with coach Derek Schooley about the team’s start, about how the team was always going to score, and how the defense and goaltenders were playing well off of one another.

By sweeping former College Hockey America rival Niagara with a pair of three-goal victories, the Colonials remain atop the league for another week, both literally and figuratively.

Last week, the story centered on how the team could play good, solid team defense. Schooley stressed the recognition of his team’s offense but recognized the need to continue improving the back side. Against the Purple Eagles, he got exactly what he asked for.

Outshot 34-17 on Saturday and with his top scorer in the locker room, Schooley’s squad earned a 4-1 victory to run its season-opening record to 4-0.

It also proved that his team, defensively at least, could rise to the occasion as they gained their first victory at Niagara since Jan. 28, 2011.

“I’ve always felt that shot totals can sometimes be a little overrated because you really have to focus on prime scoring chances,” said Schooley. “Niagara likes to funnel their offense toward the net, so we really had to make sure that [goalie Dalton Izyk] had good looks at the shots coming at him.

“We had a lot of zone time, but we did a good job of keeping shots outside and preventing second chances. That said, our offense had 30-plus shots per game to that point, and we had to overcome adversity [to get the victory].”

Saturday’s game was the type that coaches want to see their teams win. Up 1-0 in the second period, the Colonials absorbed both an injury to Jeff Jones and a game misconduct to Cody Wydo. Wydo’s penalty also brought a five-minute major, extending into a five-on-three power play for Niagara when Evan Moore was called for holding 10 seconds later.

Robert Morris killed the entire two-man advantage that extended into the third period, then got a bang-bang short-handed breakaway resulting in a goal by Matt Cope.

Although Niagara cut the lead to 2-1 on that same major power play, the Colonials had enough energy buoyed from their run to bury their former rival with two goals in five minutes.

“When you kill off a five-on-three like that and score, it creates a huge lift [for the team],” said Schooley. “Our work ethic this season has been really high, and it helps make up for a lot of the mistakes that teams will make early on.”

Robert Morris plays Army this weekend in its first trip out East this season.

Rink of honor

Last weekend’s series between American International and Holy Cross would’ve made Lady Byng proud.

The teams notched 18 penalty minutes combined in two games, two minutes fewer than the next-closest individual game.

On Friday night, referees assessed two penalties, one for each team, before the halfway mark of the second period. Each goal came in a full-strength situation, and a 2-2 tie (of course it was) took just over two hours to play.

The next night, the Yellow Jackets and Crusaders played to the tune of 14 penalty minutes, and each team scored a power-play goal. But after Chris Porter scored his man-up, game-tying goal at the 1:13 mark of the third period, penalty box operators found themselves equally useless. Holy Cross won 3-2 on a goal scored in the period’s third minute.

Compare that to the rest of the weekend. The next-lowest total in penalty minutes was the 20 amassed by Boston College and Rochester Institute of Technology, but that came in a single game. Likewise, Air Force and Alaska absorbed 22 minutes in their contest, and Army and Canisius were called for 26 and 23 minutes in their games, skewed slightly since the Golden Griffins took a game misconduct on Saturday.

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Five of Sacred Heart’s 16 wins since the start of the 2012-13 season have been over Bentley (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

The itch you just can’t scratch

Including the start of this year, Sacred Heart has 16 wins dating to the start of the 2012-13 season. Five have come against the Bentley Falcons, a team that won nearly double that amount for that same period (including 19 wins and a second-place finish last year).

The Pioneers are 5-2-1 against the Falcons since the start of that season. Taking away their 7-1 loss to start the 2012-13 season, Sacred Heart has lost only once to Bentley — a 4-1 Falcons victory recorded this past Friday. For teams playing on opposite ends of the spectrum, that’s both amazing and shocking.

It’s not just that Sacred Heart won games; it’s how the Pioneers have won games. Bentley’s starting goalie failed to finish the game in four games, including last Saturday. Last season, they won 5-4 at Bentley despite trailing by one in the game’s last four minutes. The lone tie, a 6-6 result, saw the Pioneers squander a 5-1 third-period lead, trail 6-5, then tie it up in the game’s last minutes.

Last Saturday, a wild affair in Watertown watched the Pioneers jump out to a 5-0 lead in the second period. Even though Bentley was able to put three goals on the board, it also gave up a sixth. Neither team scored in the third period but the Falcons amassed over 40 minutes of penalties in the final two-plus minutes. The frustration more than boiled over, and the Pioneers skated out of Massachusetts with yet another win.

Depending on which team you’re rooting for, you’re either thrilled or relieved at the teams’ scheduling — they don’t play each other again for a full weekend slate this season. They’ll play a one-off game on Feb. 13 and again on the final day of the regular season.

Road warriors no more

Last season, Atlantic Hockey programs not named Air Force traveled just under 3,300 miles for nonconference play in the season’s first weekend alone.

It was highlighted by Bentley’s 1,500-mile trip to Nebraska-Omaha, Mercyhurst’s 850-mile trek to Minnesota and Robert Morris’s 600-mile trip up to Lake Superior State in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Sacred Heart and Army had relatively easy trips of under 200 miles going to Massachusetts-Lowell and Penn State, respectively. Holy Cross’ trip to Boston University (46 miles) seems like a walk up the street in comparison, eh?

This season, programs not named Air Force traveled all of 105 miles in the season’s first two weekends for nonconference play. American International went to Union last week. Everybody else played at home, including RIT, which hosted the Brick City Classic against Boston College.

Why did we exclude Air Force? The Falcons played the same opponents on the road in the study for both years — Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage. That means each season Air Force went 3,173 miles, almost as much as everyone else last year combined, then did it again this year.

Weekly awards

Player of the week — Ralph Cuddemi, Canisius: It would be one thing if Cuddemi just scored a hat trick; that probably would’ve earned him honors in my eyes anyway. But he scored his three goals in dramatic fashion with his team trailing Army 4-1 on Friday night. Cuddemi scored two goals in three minutes to pull the Griffins within one before the end of the second period, then iced the game with an empty-net goal in the last minute. Maybe some people don’t like a guy getting a hat trick on an ENG, but without his outburst, the Black Knights would’ve had a four-point weekend.

Goalie of the week — Parker Gahagen, Army: After touted freshman Cole Bruns picked up the loss on Friday, coach Brian Riley went back to Gahagen on Saturday. He responded with a shutout. I’ve never liked seeing a goalie coming off the bench for the back end of a weekend; I feel the rest of their team is warmed up to start the second game and they’ve had 60 minutes of sitting. But Gahagen shook it all off and registered a goose egg to rebound after a rough loss on Oct. 12.

Rookie of the week — Conor Andrle, Army: Andrle registered three assists in Army’s split against the two-time defending league finalist Golden Griffins.

St. Cloud State’s Papa shelved after offseason hip surgery

According to a recent St. Cloud Times report, St. Cloud State sophomore forward Ryan Papa will be out of the Huskies’ lineup until January 2015 after offseason hip surgery.

Papa had torn labrums in both hips and played in pain last season.

“The whole year, there was pretty consistent pain and not fun to play with, but I had to play through it,” said Papa in the article, who added that the pain started with a groin pull the season before he got to St. Cloud State. “All year, we were trying new [treatments] to try to get into a routine that worked the best as far as limiting the pain. The season ended and we thought rest would help it, but it didn’t really get any better with rest.”

He had surgery on his left hip July 22 and then on his right hip Aug. 28.

“Having it done so late in the summer where I’d already miss over half the season, might as well get them both done,” added Papa. “The doctors suggested that. They said that you rehab better if you do both of them at the same time. Most people who have one [hip surgery], end up having them both done. They thought it would be better to get it taken care of all at once rather than missing another part of another season.

“You’ve got to take the positive out of it and think that I’m going to come back stronger and hopefully, a better player when all of this is over.”

For Colgate, a similar roster brings a similar mindset

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Colgate’s Charlie Finn stopped all 52 shots he faced last weekend against Northeastern (photo: Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com).

Last season, Colgate coach Don Vaughan praised the Raiders’ ability to reset following a tough win or loss.

Two weeks into this season, Vaughan is saying the same thing — mostly because this year’s team is the same as last year’s edition.

The Raiders returned all but backup goalie Eric Mihalik and forward Mike McCann from last year’s NCAA tournament team and were picked to finish first in ECAC Hockey in both the coaches and media preseason polls.

Colgate is off to a 3-1 start after a pair of shutout wins against Northeastern last weekend. Friday’s win against the Huskies marked Vaughan’s 350th win in his 22nd year as coach of the Raiders. He is one of only 11 active NCAA coaches to have reached that milestone.

“Like a lot of coaches, I don’t look at the numbers,” Vaughan said, adding that the impending milestone was mentioned in a meeting last week but that he hadn’t otherwise known about it.

While the win gave Vaughan a chance to think about the players he’s coached and the coaches he’s worked with, he was most impressed with the Raiders’ ability to handle the Huskies’ physical play in the series.

“That’s something in the past we may not have done well,” Vaughan said. “I was happy after we pushed back.”

In addition to the Raiders’ physical play, sophomore Charlie Finn stopped all 52 shots he saw on the weekend. The two shutouts for Finn, the league’s goalie of the week, are one more than he had as a freshman last season.

“He’s strong physically with another year under his belt,” Vaughan said. “He’s fighting through the traffic a little bit better and finding pucks quicker. One of his biggest qualities is his compete level — he’s unbelievably competitive. A lot of guys are high-strung high-energy, but [he's] very quiet. Sometimes he makes it look easy but underneath that, he’s extremely competitive.”

With Finn in net and a deep lineup led by senior captain Spiro Goulakos, forwards Kyle Baun, Darcy Murphy and Tylor and Tyson Spink, Vaughan said this year’s team reminded him of the 2004-05 Raiders, who made the NCAA tournament with a 25-11 record.

“The second half [of last year] this group matured a little faster than I thought they would have,” Vaughan said. “Some guys in the [junior] class are a little bit older. The maturing process might have come a little bit sooner having been through juniors.”

Hayton standing tall for Saints

It’s Greg Carvel’s third season as head coach at St. Lawrence but the first time he’s had the chance to bring in his own goaltender.

So far, so good.

Freshman Kyle Hayton has started all four of the Saints’ games to date, including his first collegiate shutout last Saturday against then-No. 4 Ferris State.

Hayton also made 44 saves in a 3-2 loss to the Bulldogs on Friday, and was honored by the ECAC as the league’s rookie of the week after stopping 77 of 80 shots on the weekend.

“[Some] people think he’s a little undersized; he’s under 6 feet,” Carvel said of Hayton. “But he’s really, really quick and combines that quickness with a good feel for the game. He’s really competitive; sometimes you get a goalie that wants to be quiet and left alone, but he comes to the bench and talks to his teammates and does a good job communicating.”

The early returns on Hayton, who played two seasons for Sioux City in the USHL before coming to St. Lawrence, are promising for a young Saints team. With four of its five top scorers gone from last season, including Hobey Hat Trick finalist Greg Carey, the Saints can’t afford to get into many shootouts this season.

Hayton has helped the St. Lawrence penalty kill go 20-for-21 after finishing second-to-last in the country last year.

New assistant coach Jared DeMichel, the starting goalie on Rochester Institute of Technology’s 2010 Frozen Four team, has implemented a new penalty kill system to take advantage of the Saints’ team speed.

“We have a more aggressive mindset,” Carvel said. “Instead of just waiting for their power play to come at us, we’re going at them a bit more.”

While the Saints still have plenty of offense to replace from last season, several individuals are off to promising starts. Sophomore Drew Smolcynski is tied for the national lead with six assists, while freshman defenseman Nolan Gluchowski had four points in his first two games before missing the Ferris State series with an injury. Carvel said he’ll be out for a couple of weeks.

With 17 underclassmen on the roster, captain Gunnar Hughes and alternate captains Brian Ward and Patrick Doherty have helped keep the Saints on track in the early going.

“Our leadership group has been really good,” Carvel said. “[It's] helped create team chemistry right off the bat.”

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Joel Lowry had a pair of goals in Cornell’s Red/White game last weekend (photo: Dave Burbank).

Around the league

• Scoring looked like it was going to be a problem for both Clarkson and Rensselaer entering the season, and that’s been the case so far. RPI avoided getting shut out for the third game in a row Saturday thanks to Chris Bradley’s power-play goal with 35 seconds left against Denver, while the Golden Knights scored one goal in a pair of losses to Vermont after scoring three goals in their first two games. Clarkson lost 3-0 Saturday despite outshooting the Catamounts 11-0 in the final period.

• Quinnipiac’s defense was expected to be the backbone of the team this season. But the Bobcats have given up at least three goals in each of their four games, including six Friday at Massachusetts-Lowell. Michael Garteig and freshman Sean Lawrence have a combined .829 save percentage after Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Connecticut.

• Union forward Mike Vecchione was named the ECAC player of the week for the second time in a row after posting five points in a sweep at Maine. The sophomore’s nine points are tied for the most in the country.

• Cornell held its annual Red/White game last weekend, with Joel Lowry scoring two goals to help the White team to an 8-5 win. The Big Red, Yale, Dartmouth and Brown all get started with exhibition games this weekend.

• Colgate forward Tylor Spink, the team’s second-leading scorer last season, is recovering from an injury that caused him to miss the first four games. Vaughan was unsure about his status for this weekend.

• Former Union forward Josh Jooris (Calgary) and former Colgate forward Chris Wagner (Anaheim) each made his NHL debut on Oct. 17. Jooris had one of the Flames’ two goals in a loss to Columbus.

Wednesday Women: Finding Cinderella

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Chelsea Laden could be a factor if Quinnipiac hopes to make the NCAA tournament. (Shelley M. Szwast)

Arlan: There were four series over the weekend that matched a pair of teams that I’d say have a good or better chance at making the NCAA field. In that list, I’d include Minnesota at Wisconsin, Boston University at Clarkson, Northeastern at Mercyhurst, and Minnesota-Duluth at North Dakota. Before we look at those results and the ramifications of them, I’d like to start this week’s discussion with Quinnipiac.

In the early going, I’ve had a pretty steady idea of the teams that I consider to be my top six. How the teams that follow those six rank tends to change from week to week, and sometimes, it changes markedly. I watched Quinnipiac online for the first time this year, and right now, I see the Bobcats as separating from the rest a bit and moving into my mythical seventh spot. What do I like about them? They’ve allowed a single goal on the season after five games, and Chelsea Laden, their senior goaltender who has played in four of those games, hasn’t yielded anything. We all know what defense wins. Freshman forward Taylar Cianfarano has quickly emerged as someone who can provide the type of offensive spark that was lost when Kelly Babstock graduated. She’s averaging a goal per game. Those are a couple of the stats that have contributed to a 4-0-1 record. The Bobcats enjoyed a big edge in quickness versus Maine this weekend, and it was often hard for the Black Bears just to get the puck down the ice, let alone threaten once they did.

There are also some concerns. Quinnipiac has played Connecticut and Penn State in addition to Maine, so the first big test is still ahead. The Bobcats haven’t exactly lit it up against that trio, averaging 2.6 goals of scoring offense. The power play was often a liability last year, and it has only clicked twice so far, and one of those was into an empty net. Quinnipiac applies good pressure at even strength, then it goes on the power play and has trouble maintaining the same intensity. It’s obviously early, and maybe the unit just needs some time to gel.

Anyway, I’m intrigued enough by the Bobcats to make them the subject of my column this week. As for more answers on the ice, that may have to wait until November; they open the month at Cornell, and Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Princeton, and Yale are also on the docket. You said after the Penn State tie that you didn’t see the Bobcats as a likely at-large team. Do you still feel that way, or will you withhold judgement until you see the results against Cornell and the like?

Candace: I still feel that way. The competition for at-large bids this year is going to be brutal. With the CHA getting the autobid this year, there are now four conference teams that will get in by winning their conference. That only leaves four at-large bids. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that either Boston College or Boston University will win Hockey East, and whichever doesn’t will get an autobid. The same goes in the WCHA, where Minnesota and Wisconsin both look strong. Neither Cornell or Harvard has started play yet, but both look pretty strong roster-wise, and I would expect both to be competing for the ECAC. Add in the CHA winner and that’s seven teams accounted for in an eight-team field.

Now imagine some upsets. What if RIT wins the CHA again; will Mercyhurst get an at-large bid? North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth both look strong. Imagine if one were to win the WCHA tournament? Or what if Northeastern wins Hockey East?

It’s obviously very early in the year, but I just don’t see Quinnipiac getting in as an at-large team. Who knows though? Maybe the Bobcats will go into Boston in January and sweep Boston University and Boston College, and then their PairWise position will be strong enough.

Getting back to those series that pitted likely NCAA tournament qualifiers against each other, Minnesota went to Madison and I think really emphatically reclaimed the No. 1 position from Wisconsin. I really expected more from the Badgers in that series. Minnesota won convincingly in game one, and in game two, scored with 88 seconds left in the game to tie it and then won in overtime. You talked last week about a possible mental block the Badgers might have with Minnesota. Is that what you think happened? Or does Minnesota just have a belief that they will beat Wisconsin, no matter what happens?

Arlan: I’d say it is more a case of the latter. Friday’s game was a little strange. I imagined Wisconsin would come out flying, determined to prove that it was no longer going to play second fiddle to Minnesota. Instead, the Gophers opened like they were the team that had something to prove. After Hannah Brandt capitalized on a bad giveaway to score on the penalty kill, Wisconsin was able to tie just after its power play ended. I thought that was a bit of a reprieve, in that the Badgers were even on the scoreboard despite being outplayed to that point, and I expected it to turn things in their favor. It didn’t happen; Dani Cameranesi started her hat trick just over a minute later. When the Gophers went on a power play before intermission, Wisconsin desperately needed to get to the locker room down just one. It looked like it would when Ann-Renée Desbiens froze the puck with 5.7 seconds left, but Brandt won a faceoff back to Rachel Ramsey, and Cameranesi deflected Ramsey’s shot and tucked in her own rebound before the buzzer could sound. The Badgers had eight minutes of power play time in the second period, but were unable to generate much and Cameranesi put it out of reach with another last-minute goal. Friday’s game was just a case of Minnesota being the better team on that day.

Saturday’s response was more what one expected from Wisconsin. It had the better of play for long stretches, and the Gophers were the ones that were unable to get shots off when quality chances developed. Sarah Nurse, who had more top-quality scoring chances than anyone in the series, finally was able to score on a rebound, and it looked like that would be enough. The Gophers looked tired, and as the minutes clicked by, I was wondering when they were last blanked. The answer to that is still December 2011 in Grand Forks, N.D. Minnesota got a couple of goals from its senior captains to flip the outcome in the closing minutes. Rachael Bona, who hasn’t really developed chemistry on a new line after playing with Sarah Davis most of last year, scored her first of the year when she hit the top corner on the far side with 19 seconds of power-play time left. Then Ramsey picked off a pass at center ice in OT, and although Wisconsin seemed to have four players back in position to defend, Brandt, Cameranesi, and Ramsey wound up outnumbering them down low and Ramsey scored on a rebound. The Saturday game I’d say was a case of Amanda Leveille playing very well and keeping Minnesota within range, the team’s veterans stepping up at crunch time, and Wisconsin not yet being as airtight defensively as it will be later in the year.

Turning to the other series that matched NCAA tournament teams from March, you said last week that Shea Tiley had a ways to go to prove that she was ready to replace Erica Howe in the Clarkson net. That proved accurate as BU was able to get to her and score in quick succession a couple of times in sweeping the series. It looks like we could see a similar theme play out with some regularity this season as teams with potent offenses try to decide games before their own inexperienced goaltenders can be exposed.

Candace: I think that’s definitely the case, and a place where teams like Quinnipiac that have experienced netminders have a leg up. I think it’s very difficult for a rookie goaltender to come in and prove themselves right off the bat. Many coaches I’ve talked to say that it takes longer for defensive players to adjust to the collegiate level than offensive ones, and I think you see that with goaltenders too. Yes, some goalies are exceptional right away, but not everyone is Noora Räty. I think several teams are looking to have young netminders really step up and prove themselves in pressure-packed situations.

Still, I don’t think young goaltending is the only problem at Clarkson. After all, BU also has young goalies, sophomore Victoria Hanson and freshman Erin O’Neil, who got the start on Friday and Saturday against Clarkson, respectively, and the two kept the Golden Knights to three goals in the two games. Even last year, with a lot of upperclassmen, Clarkson was a team that was built to win with defense. It’s really what made the win against Minnesota in the NCAA Championship so unusual, in that the Golden Knights won an offensive battle. Minnesota got four goals and still lost.

No slight to Jamie Lee Rattray, who had an amazing senior year last season, but Clarkson has never been the team to win by scoring a lot, unlike teams like BU, Boston College, and Minnesota, which have always been able to get a lot of goals. BU, for instance, has five players currently that are averaging a point a game. BC also has five players averaging a point a game, while Minnesota has six players at a point a game or better. Clarkson only has one player, Cayley Mercer, averaging over a point a game. That certainly played out this weekend, as Clarkson struggled to score while BU piled on some points and looked dominant.

Getting back to Quinnipiac, it’s another reason why I don’t think the Bobcats can get in on an at-large bid, as only Cianfarano has over a point a game on that squad. You need a good balance to be successful, and the teams that have a few snipers while also being good to strong defensively are going to do better.

Another interesting series this weekend pitted two potential NCAA bubble teams, as Mercyhurst hosted Northeastern. The Huskies hadn’t shown much offensively in their opening weekend, but at least Friday, were better, potting four goals in a 4-0 win. The Lakers came back and won on Saturday, thanks to a late goal by Jacklyn Arbour. What do you think that series tells us about those two teams?

Arlan: Like much of the country, they tend to be a little inconsistent. Mercyhurst has grabbed an at-large bid to the NCAAs for 10 straight seasons by always finding a way to win those games that it absolutely had to have. Now with the possibility of the CHA automatic bid, the Lakers have a bit of safety net, but in terms of the hanging around at-large contention, Saturday’s win was huge. It seems silly to think that way for a team that has only played six games, but there isn’t a lot of steel in the Mercyhurst schedule. The Dec. 1 game at Cornell is the only one versus a team from last year’s NCAA field. In terms of other teams out of conference that could get some consideration, there are two with St. Lawrence and one with Ohio State, but those are all road games. Robert Morris is still floundering. RIT and Syracuse have been around .500, even when playing teams closer to mid pack. Penn State is the only CHA team that has demonstrated improvement, and it had nowhere to go but up. The good news for Mercyhurst is that it isn’t just being carried by Emily Janiga and Jenna Dingeldein. Yes, they are the leading scorers and have figured in at least half of the team’s goals, but other junior forwards that don’t have a lot of points on their resumes have contributed, like Hannah Bale and Arbour. Among newcomers, Sarah Robello is off to a strong start, but Mercyhurst likely needs to get Kirsten Miller going. Defensively, the Lakers have been solid, but 75 percent of their goals allowed were to Northeastern, so that could be a product of the teams they’ve played.

As for the Huskies, I thought that Friday’s game might be a statement win for them after opening with two ties. Following it up with the narrow loss to Mercyhurst keeps them in that area where they’ll have a good record but not quite good enough. It is a bad break that they open with eight straight road games, but the selection criteria doesn’t make any allowances for such challenges, so they’ll have to persevere through it and find a way to sweep Robert Morris. Everyone else is abusing the Colonials, so Northeastern can’t afford to look ahead to the Terriers on the following Tuesday. The freshman class is scoring, as Lauren Kelley and Ainsley MacMillan are tied for second behind Kendall Coyne, and Denisa Krížová is tied for fourth. Defensively, the Huskies will need to shore up just a bit before they run into the heavyweights of the league.

In the final series matching contenders, neither North Dakota nor Minnesota-Duluth could get its offense untracked; each only scored twice on the weekend while splitting. Can either of these teams score enough to claw its way into the national picture?

Candace: I think so. Their schedule is helped by four games each against the top two teams in the country, Minnesota and Wisconsin, so they’ll always have the opportunity. Minnesota-Duluth tied Minnesota last week, so that helps the Bulldogs. Splitting with North Dakota in Grand Forks is another good sign for the Bulldogs. Both the Bulldogs and UND are tight defensively, but as you pointed out, scoring is a bit of a challenge. North Dakota has some good players, such as emerging star Becca Kohler, as well as Meghan Dufault and Josefine Jakobsen, two players whose point production has been important to UND’s success in the past. However, the days when UND could lean on the Lamoureux sisters and Michelle Karvinen to put up a lot points are gone.

Kohler is interesting; she has 10 points in her first six games. Last year, she notched 16 points in an entire season of 36 games, and the previous year, she scored 12 points in 38 games. Her production has to be a pleasant surprise for coach Brian Idalski. North Dakota travels to Minneapolis this weekend to face the Gophers, then hosts the Badgers the following weekend, so I think we’ll have a better handle on UND at the end of the month. These coming four games will be a big challenge for UND.

As for the Bulldogs, well, their production isn’t that good. They don’t have a single player over a point per game; Jenna McParland currently leads the team in scoring with six points in eight games. Freshman Michelle Löwenhielm has played well so far, notching five points in eight games, but the Bulldogs really need more scoring. Yes, the Bulldogs’ schedule has been brutal, as after opening with two against Connecticut, they’ve run the gauntlet against the WCHA’s terror trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. I guess on the positive side, the Bulldogs did get a tie/shootout win against Minnesota and did win one against North Dakota. Now they go into a stretch of games where they could conceivably go 6-0 against Lindenwood, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State, and maybe their players can settle into systems and start producing more points. It would be helpful, as after that stretch the Bulldogs then host Cornell for a pair on Nov. 21-22, and any hopes of being in the NCAA tournament picture likely hinge on their results in those games, especially since they tied Connecticut on opening weekend.

Speaking of Cornell, we’ll get our first look at the Big Red this weekend when they travel to Boston to take on Boston College, which this past weekend won what has been a trap game in recent seasons against New Hampshire. The scoreboard operator could be kept very busy in that series between two high-powered offenses. Opening a season on the road against a top squad is a tough ask; what do you think we can expect in that series?

Arlan: “Goals” would be the likely answer, but two veteran coaches will know that as well, so they may try to clamp down defensively as much as possible to protect inexperienced goaltenders. Cornell would figure to have a slight edge from that perspective, as sophomore Paula Voorheis came on in relief of an injured Lauren Slebodnick in November and played almost 46 minutes against the Eagles, and she had more than 12 games worth of action overall. Of course, there’s no telling if she’ll be in net or if Doug Derraugh will turn to someone else, like rookie Amelia Boughn.

Just about every other angle favors BC. The Eagles have four games’ experience, while Cornell didn’t even mix in an exhibition. The Ivy League imposed delay to the season hasn’t necessarily hurt the Big Red out of the gate in recent years, as they beat BU to start the season two years ago, and won their first five games against tough competition last year, but those teams did play an exhibition or two and the goaltending was more of a known quantity. Cornell can put out a top five skaters to rival anyone in the country, but if Derraugh loads up with all of his top players on the ice at once, then BC’s depth would figure to hold an edge the rest of the time. The forwards should just about cancel out, so it may come down to how well the young defensemen for the Big Red can hang in there against a top attack. Having graduated the quartet of Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, Hayleigh Cudmore, and Alyssa Gagliardi over the last two years has left Cornell with far less of a veteran presence on the back end, with juniors Cassandra Poudrier and Morgan Richardson as the only upperclassmen. If that blue line is ready, then it likely comes down to goaltending and special teams, as many games do.

I expect the biggest takeaway from that series will be answers to the goaltending questions. If either squad has somebody shine in her first exposure this season to a top-class attack, then that bodes well for her team going forward. The skaters, on the other hand, will develop over the course of the season and look vastly different in four months.

At least we’ll get to see Cornell. Harvard doesn’t start until the last day of the month, it hosts Rensselaer and Union, and then it immediately takes the next weekend off for Four Nations. The Crimson only play 10 games during 2014; they’ll exceed that in January alone.

The other Ivies all get started this weekend. Yale and Princeton bear watching, opening versus Providence and Penn State, respectively. Will we learn anything from either of those?

Candace: Probably not too much, unless Yale and Princeton lose, in which case we can say that either those two squads are overrated, or Penn State’s continued improvement is for real and that Providence has shaken off its results in its first four games. I’m expecting more out of Yale this season, and am really looking forward to seeing how they do this season. I think the Bulldogs can learn a lot from how close they played Harvard in the ECAC tournament last season. Princeton is another squad that has at times troubled the teams at the top of the pecking order, and generally was a squad that you didn’t want to go in overlooking.

Yale has Phoebe Staenz, a dynamic player who had a huge impact last year. If she avoids a sophomore slump and gets stronger, watch out. I could see Yale finishing as high as third, though I don’t expect the Elis to challenge Harvard or Cornell for supremacy just yet. Princeton is hoping that a healthy Molly Contini can be a contributor, and that its incoming freshmen make an impact. The Tigers are helped by having a seasoned goaltender in Kimberly Newell, and she can definitely help. The Tigers also expect Brianna Leahy to be a big contributor.

Speaking of Penn State, the Nittany Lions got three of four points on the road against Union. They currently have a better record than Robert Morris, which we could never have expected, and have more wins than Syracuse. Is it time to consider that the Nittany Lions might become more of a factor in the volatile CHA?

Arlan: It looks like it, with the caveat that the CHA is still a week away from starting conference action, so we’re assuming that the trends we’ve seen out of conference will translate into the league slate. I slotted Penn State fifth in my CHA preview, but if RMU can’t pull out of its tailspin, then fourth is definitely in reach. Nobody in the circuit looks that daunting, so if the Nittany Lions can get to a conference semifinal, who knows, they could pull an upset. To say that they could win the championship game once there starts to sound more like Hollywood than reality, but we didn’t expect it out of Robert Morris or RIT either. At first glance, PSU doesn’t score much, but half of its games have been against very stingy defenses from Quinnipiac and Minnesota, so the offense could develop. The seeds for a couple of decent lines are there with juniors Shannon Yoxheimer and Hannah Bramm on one combo and sophomores Amy Peterson and Laura Bowman on another. If the right wings on those lines, Caitlin Reilly and Hannah Hoenshell, start to click, Penn State could sneak up on some teams. All of its opponents to date have been either near the top or near the bottom, so the next two series versus Princeton and Syracuse from the middle tier should help us evaluate PSU.

Bemidji State was another team that had a brief flirtation with playing Cinderella, and then it had a bye week at a bad time. Or that could have been just a coincidence that it went into the bye perfect and got swept at Ohio State coming out of it. It seems to be almost an annual occurrence in the WCHA that a team will start with a couple of months that are better than forecast, and then the league schedule just grinds it down. The Buckeyes suddenly look like the more dangerous team, with their only losses coming on the road at Wisconsin. Now they get a bye while the Beavers try to get back on track against Wisconsin and Minnesota. There’s no shortage of wicked stepsisters to make life tough for WCHA Cinderellas.

Is Yale our best chance at a Cinderella story this year? I’d say RIT, but I don’t know if we can sell the defending league champion as Cinderella, and if Hockey East has one, she’s traveling incognito.
 
Candace: I think actually that there are two other potential Cinderellas, besides the ones you named. First, Hockey East’s potential Cinderella isn’t traveling incognito; I think Northeastern has the potential. With Kendall Coyne on offense and the experience of Chloé Desjardins in net, Northeastern could potentially trouble both of the Boston powerhouses, and all the Huskies would need to do is get on a roll at the right time and they could perhaps win the Hockey East tournament and its concurrent NCAA automatic bid. I was fairly impressed by Northeastern’s performance against Mercyhurst. It’s still early in the year, but I think that with time, Northeastern will be a formidable foe.

The other potential Cinderella is in the ECAC. St. Lawrence has looked awfully good so far. The Saints demolished Robert Morris on Friday, then followed up with a win Saturday for the sweep. Yes, Robert Morris has been awful of late, especially with Rebecca Vint and Brittany Howard out of the line-up, but St. Lawrence also beat Clarkson earlier in the year, and tied Boston College last week. Not only that, in the first game against BC, the Saints gave the Eagles everything they could handle in a 2-1 decision. St. Lawrence has one of the more proven netminders in the ECAC with Carmen MacDonald, who has put up very good numbers so far. They’ve also been getting balanced scoring. Freshman Kennedy Marchment has played very well, and is averaging a point a game. They’ve also got Brooke Webster, Jenna Marks, and Amanda Boulier playing very well. The Saints were flying under the radar at the start of the year, but just a few years ago (2011-2012), the Saints entered the postseason as the fifth seed and ran the table in the ECAC tournament, beating Dartmouth, Harvard, and Cornell to make the playoffs. Boulier and MacDonald were freshmen on that squad, and now are leaders. MacDonald was in net for the ECAC tournament, so she can lean on that experience.

St. Lawrence plays Clarkson this week in Potsdam on a Tuesday night. I think the results of that game will really tell us a lot about who is going to contend in the ECAC. That same night, Northeastern faces Boston University, so we’ll learn more about the Huskies.

At 0-4, Wisconsin isn’t out but has put itself pretty far down

20140221 MichiganState Wisconsin 07 At 0 4, Wisconsin isnt out but has put itself pretty far down

Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel has just an .884 save percentage through three games (photo: Dan Sanger).

Wisconsin’s season is two weekends old.

The Badgers have played four games and their large group of freshmen hasn’t even hit the ice for their first game at the Kohl Center.

It’s too early to make any judgments on the team’s performance, right?

The problem is that Wisconsin hasn’t found its way into the win column in its first four contests, putting the young team behind the eight ball early in the season.

As one might have guessed with a young team, depositing the puck behind opponents’ goaltenders has been a problem for the Badgers through four games. Wisconsin has been outscored 11-3 so far this season and has been shut out twice.

Wisconsin’s 0.75 goals per game is last in the league. Its power play is 0-for-18 and its penalty kill has killed only eight of 11 opportunities.

“We didn’t do a good job of puck retrieval,” coach Mike Eaves said of the team’s power play after Wisconsin’s fourth loss, against Northern Michigan last Saturday in Green Bay, Wis. “That’s something that we’re going to work on. That goes for five on five and power play as well.”

Joel Rumpel, who has been rock solid throughout his Badgers career, is 0-3 with an .884 save percentage and 2.72 GAA.

Wisconsin’s early season struggles started the weekend before last at the nation’s last frontier. The Badgers mustered only 14 shots on goal and wasted a 30-save performance by Landon Peterson in their opening-night loss to Alaska. The next night Wisconsin managed to outshoot Alaska-Anchorage but wound up on the short end of a 4-2 game.

Last weekend Wisconsin found itself back in its home state, but not its home arena. The Badgers and Northern Michigan played a “we’ll meet you halfway” series at Green Bay’s Resch Center.

The Badgers again were outshot (28-18) and shut out in Friday’s contest with the Wildcats.

“We didn’t block a shot of the first goal and we had poor coverage on the second one,” Eaves said after the game. “Even on the first power play, we were just jittery. In the second period we settled down like we told the kids that we would.”

Eaves said the difference in Friday’s game was that Northern Michigan won the vast majority of the 50-50 battles, or “moments of truth,” as he called them.

“There was too many moments of truth where we weren’t on the winning side of those truths,” he said. “That’s something that we could be better and we need to be better at.”

On Saturday, Northern Michigan was the team with 18 shots. However, Wisconsin converted on only one of its 25 shots, Rumpel gave up two goals and Northern Michigan also scored two empty-net goals.

“If we didn’t have bad luck we’d have no luck right now,” Eaves said after Saturday’s loss. “When you’re around this game long enough, you know you’re going to go through periods like this. We just find ourselves in the middle of it right now and the only way we’re going to get out of it is to work until the ship turns a little bit.”

When asked if his role with the team was more that of a psychologist or coach, Eaves had this to say:

“Boy, I’d say it’s about 50-50. We have a lot of young guys that are looking for answers. We’ve kind of had a four-game look at what we got; we didn’t know at all what we had at all and now we have a little bit of an idea.

“Now we say, ‘Now we’re going to work. We’ve got two weeks with a scrimmage in-between. If you guys thought we worked before, we’re going to ramp it up.’”

Wisconsin’s next game will be Nov. 7 against North Dakota. Eaves said he loves the fact that he gets two weeks to work with the team, and that he thinks the young players will benefit, too.

“If you’re struggling the best thing you can do as an athlete is go back to work,” he said. “Your head coach is telling you, ‘Guess what we get to do, we’re going to go back to work.’ And if you thought that the definition of hard when you got here was there, we’re going to redefine that.”

The young players haven’t contributed much, but the upperclassmen are struggling, too.

“I really like what they’ve done off the ice. They’ve done a tremendous job; they’ve embraced these kids,” Eaves said. “Now the other side of leadership is for them to be able to do it on the ice to lead the way. That’s been tough because they haven’t been able to produce.”

So Wisconsin’s 0-4. Is the sky falling? Should Badgers fans start looking forward to next year?

Sometimes the best way to predict the future is to look at the past.

Before this year, Wisconsin had started off 0-4 three times in program history.

The first two times were during the 1921-22 and 1932-33 seasons. Things didn’t get better from there; The Badgers finished 0-8 during the former season and 0-9 during the latter.

The 2008-09 season is a better example to look at, considering the Model T wasn’t the best-selling car during that season. Wisconsin started that campaign by going 0-6-1 out of the gate. The Badgers ended that season with a 20-16-4 record.

So while they may be down this year, after four games, they certainly aren’t out.

RachelLewis USCHO 20141018 Miami OSUMIH 1 At 0 4, Wisconsin isnt out but has put itself pretty far down

Victor Björkung and Ohio State lost twice to Miami last weekend (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Rest of the Big Ten struggles early, too

Wisconsin’s start may be the highlight, or lowlight, of the Big Ten’s nonconference season so far, but the Badgers aren’t the only team that has struggled so far this year.

Minnesota has found success in its limited action and is 2-0, while Michigan State and Penn State are at .500 at 1-1 and 1-1-2, respectively. Michigan is 1-2 and Ohio State is 1-3.

Nonconference games were a big talking point at the Big Ten’s media day because a strong nonconference performance by all six teams could mean more Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament at the end of the season.

The nonconference schedule doesn’t get any easier. Michigan and Michigan State each play one game against Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell this weekend. The Wolverines also have a nonconference game left against Boston College and potentially one against Ferris State.

The Spartans have three contests against Ferris State, two against New Hampshire and one against Boston College.

Minnesota has games against St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Notre Dame, Boston College, Northeastern and Minnesota State left on the schedule. Wisconsin has North Dakota, Denver, Ferris State and Boston left.

Ohio State is already through the meaty part of its nonconference schedule but still has games with Omaha and potentially Notre Dame. Penn State has a series with Lowell remaining and also plays in a couple more in-season tournaments.

For the most part, Big Ten play starts in late November with the majority of the conference series being played after the holidays.

Three stars of the week

First star — Michigan State forward Matt Berry: Berry had four goals and two assists in the Spartans’ series split with Massachusetts. This is the second career Big Ten weekly award for Berry.

Second star — Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey: Frey had 60 saves during the Buckeyes’ 2-1 loss to Miami last Saturday night. It was the most saves by an Ohio State netminder since 2000 and was six saves shy of the school record that was set in 1964. This is the third career Big Ten weekly award for Frey.

Third star — Michigan goaltender Steve Racine: Racine had 31 saves in Michigan’s 2-1 victory over New Hampshire last Saturday. The win salvaged a series split for the Wolverines. The victory was the 20th of Racine’s career and netted him his first Big Ten weekly award.

B1G in the poll

Two teams represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll:

No. 1 Minnesota (Last week No. 1)

No. 14 Michigan (LW 10)

After a one-week stint in the top 20, Ohio State received only 14 points and was the 10th team out of the poll. Wisconsin’s two-week drop from the preseason No. 10 team was completed this week, as the Badgers didn’t receive any votes.

My ballot

For everyone to analyze and scrutinize.

1. Minnesota
2. North Dakota
3. Providence
4. Union
5. Colgate
6. Boston College
7. St. Cloud State
8. Miami
9. Massachusetts-Lowell
10. Ferris State
11. Quinnipiac
12. Boston University
13. Minnesota State
14. Michigan
15. Denver
16. Cornell
17. Minnesota-Duluth
18. Alaska
19. Nebraska-Omaha
20. Alaska-Anchorage

This week’s games

Bemidji State at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)

Michigan at Massachusetts-Lowell (Friday, Tsongas Center)

Michigan at Boston University (Saturday, Agganis Arena)

Michigan State at Boston University (Friday, Agganis Arena)

Michigan State at Massachusetts-Lowell (Saturday, Tsongas Center)

Holy Cross at Penn State (Friday and Sunday, Pegula Ice Arena)

D-I women’s poll shows Minnesota a unanimous No. 1 as Gophers regain top spot

Minnesota gained all 15 first-place votes this week to reclaim the top spot in the USCHO.com Division I Women’s Poll.

Wisconsin, which sat No. 1 in the Oct. 13 poll, falls back to No. 2 this week.

Boston College vaults to No. 3 this week, swapping places with Harvard. Cornell stays fifth, as does Boston University at No. 6.

Quinnipiac moves up two spots to No. 7, Mercyhurst stays eighth, North Dakota climbs one to No. 9 and Clarkson falls three to sit tenth in this week’s rankings.

The USCHO.com Division I Women’s Poll is compiled weekly and consists of 15 voters, including coaches and women’s hockey writers from across the country.

Despite sitting idle, Minnesota remains top-ranked team in D-I men’s poll

Minnesota was off last weekend, but still earned 39 first-place votes in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll to stay the top-ranked team in the country.

Union remained No. 2 with a sweep of Maine and garnered the other 11 first-place votes.

With a sweep of Colorado College, North Dakota stays third, while Colgate swept Northeastern to move up two places to No. 4 and Providence is again fifth after tying the U.S. NTDP Under-18 Team in an exhibition game.

Boston College beat RIT to rise one to No. 6, Massachusetts-Lowell beat and tied Quinnipiac to jump two places to No. 7, Ferris State split with St. Lawrence and tumbles four notches to No. 8, St. Cloud State sat idle and falls one to sit ninth and Miami took both from Ohio State and moves up one to No. 10 this week.

At No. 11, Denver skyrockets five places after sweeping Rensselaer, Boston University beat the U.S. NTDP Under-18 Team in an exhibition game and rises two spots to No. 12, Minnesota State falls one to No. 13 after splitting with Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan drops four spots to No. 14 following a split with New Hampshire and Quinnipiac lost and tied with Lowell to fall two spots to No. 15.

Alaska beat both Air Force and Penn State and jumps three to No. 16 this week, Vermont is back in the rankings at No. 17 after a sweep of Clarkson, Cornell falls three to No. 18 despite being off, Minnesota-Duluth beat and tied Minnesota State and is up one to No. 19 and Alaska-Anchorage, unranked last week, rounds out the rankings at No. 20 after tying Penn State and defeating Air Force.

The USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll consists of 50 voters, including coaches and beat writers and sports professionals from across the country.

Atlantic Hockey suspends Bentley’s Deresky one game for boarding penalty against Sacred Heart

Atlantic Hockey announced Tuesday that Bentley sophomore Tyler Deresky has received a one-game suspension for his boarding penalty during the Falcons’ game on Saturday, Oct. 18 against Sacred Heart.

Deresky was assessed a minor for boarding at the 18:25 mark of the third period, but after a review of the game footage, AHA supervisor of officials Eugene Binda and commissioner Bob DeGregorio determined that Deresky’s hit deserved supplemental discipline.

Deresky will be suspended for Bentley’s next game, which is this Friday (Oct. 24) at Rensselaer.

In addition, Bentley senior forward Alex Kubiak will also sit out the game this Friday as a result of a major for hitting from behind and game disqualification penalties incurred at the 18:54 mark of the third period of the Sacred Heart game last Saturday.

Open Dates: For many, realignment makes nonconference scheduling more challenging

140322 19062754 Open Dates: For many, realignment makes nonconference scheduling more challenging

Massachusetts-Lowell and New Hampshire are among the Hockey East teams that saw their need for nonconference games double between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons (photo: Melissa Wade).

First in a three-part series.

One of the joys during the hockey offseason is to watch new season schedules roll in, one by one. It’s a fresh start: no wins, no losses, nothing but hope, dreams and hypothetical wins leading to the Frozen Four.

Now that the new season is underway, fans can put those preseason hopes to the test, enjoying the season-before-the-season: nonconference play. But the process of actually arriving at that slate is far more involved than simply calling a fellow coach on the phone (although that’s a good start).

Building a nonconference schedule is subject to expectations both on and off the ice. It’s more art, less science. A team must land the right balance between competition, strength of schedule, home games and travel budgets, sometimes years in advance.

A new reality

After the landscape of college hockey was shaken by the tremors of conference realignment, it created a new reality: upwards of 14 dates to fill for some schools and a lot of new possibilities along the way.

Open Dates

A three-part series by USCHO's Alex Faust on the challenges college hockey teams face in scheduling nonconference games after the 2013 realignment.

Tuesday, Oct. 21: Teams find themselves with more nonconference games to schedule and have to get creative.

Friday, Oct. 24: A tug-of-war emerges between schools who'll pay for an opponent and those who want a return game in their building.

Tuesday, Oct. 28: Coaches turn to old relationships to fill the nonconference schedule, but common stereotypes still appear.

Before realignment hit in the fall of 2013, most teams had a mere handful of dates unoccupied by conference play, making the job of nonconference scheduling relatively straightforward to manage over a multi-year span.

In 2012-13, the only league with fewer than 25 conference games was ECAC Hockey. Now, four out of six leagues are in that same category. Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA both play 28-game schedules; Atlantic Hockey teams played 27 league games in each of the last four seasons.

Big Ten, NCHC and Hockey East programs suddenly found themselves with (in most cases) double the number of nonconference games to fill on short notice.

And with only a year to prepare, it became a major challenge for most of those teams to fill the remaining space. Conflicts had to be sorted out, financial guarantees had to be negotiated, travel had to be booked and, yes, contracts must be signed, sealed and delivered.

“In the past 30 years, there wasn’t much difficulty in scheduling nonconference games,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “We had 28 league games, plus if you’re in the [Great Lakes Invitational], that’s 30. That transition has made it different.”

In many cases, it’s only added several pieces to an already challenging jigsaw puzzle.

To fill or not to fill?

“We got to the point last year where I couldn’t get two more home games,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “We were already playing 17 road games, so we chose to only play 32 games, instead of 34.”

While the NCAA affords teams the opportunity to shorten their schedules, some teams have resorted to adding nonconference games against league opponents in the middle of the season, at times on the same weekend.

Maine, in particular, elected to take that kind of creativity. The Black Bears’ two games in Alaska don’t count toward the 34-game limit, so they had a 36-game schedule to fill, and they turned to fellow Hockey East state schools.

Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are on Maine’s schedule four times — twice in league play, twice in nonconference meetings.

But it hasn’t been bumpy for everyone. For ECAC teams like Rensselaer, the changes presented an opportunity to jump headlong into the growing market for nonconference action.

2014101020 17 0614 Open Dates: For many, realignment makes nonconference scheduling more challenging

Rensselaer started this season with the Ice Breaker Tournament and a series at Denver (photo: Jim Rosvold).

“It’s made it easier for us,” Engineers coach Seth Appert said. “We already had 12 [games] to find but in the past nobody had those games to give, home or away. Now more teams and more leagues are forced to look for games.”

And for most Atlantic Hockey programs, the boon provided an opportunity to better leverage their location (all but Air Force are based in the northeast United States).

“Being just outside of Buffalo, we can go through Canada and our campus from Yost Arena is four hours, five to Columbus, four and a half to Michigan State,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “We’re a bus trip away from some of the top teams in the country.”

And Niagara isn’t about to just hop on a plane on a whim.

“We’ve always told recruits and parents during the recruiting process that we’re going to provide a national schedule [as best we can],” Burkholder said. “That being said, I’m fiscally responsible to the university for team travel, time away from the classroom, etc.”

Still, some programs are better able to take advantage of the new normal than others. All of those give-and take factors of home vs. road, competition vs. cupcakes, guarantees vs. reciprocity mean a lot of moving parts for coaches to consider in the years of work in planning their schedules.

In Friday’s part 2 of the Open Dates series: One of the simmering controversies with nonconference scheduling: The ability for teams to schedule a majority of games at home, and how a growing number of coaches are pushing back.

TMQ: Bruised Badgers, dangerous Dutchmen and accelerating Alaskans

2012111721 19 0880 TMQ: Bruised Badgers, dangerous Dutchmen and accelerating Alaskans

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has two weeks off for his team to stew on an 0-4 start (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Each week during the season we look at the big events and big games around Division I men’s college hockey in Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Jim: This last weekend was much better for the top-ranked teams. But there is one team out there that I think should already begin to panic, and that’s Wisconsin.

At 0-4, the Badgers are quickly playing themselves out of relevance. You’re pretty close to this team: What gives?

Todd: Before the season, Badgers coach Mike Eaves was talking about needing his senior goaltenders to buy some time for the team’s large group of young players to grow. You could argue that the growth is taking place, but the goaltending hasn’t stole the team a victory yet.

I don’t think there’s much disputing that Wisconsin is going to be a rough-around-the-edges team that might be able to make a second-half run when things come together. But the hole is getting deep, and now the Badgers have the next two weekends off to sit on an 0-4 record.

Jim: You have to think when Eaves made this schedule with two weekends off, he was doing so to catch the team’s collective breath. Little did he know his team would be 0-4.

At the other end of the spectrum, we should take the time to recognize defending national champ Union. The Dutchmen lost some key players and many worried how this team would respond. A 3-0 record with decisive wins over New Hampshire and Maine (twice) certainly answers those questions. Do you think this team has what it takes to repeat?

Todd: I think it would be foolish to rule out any team that’s returning from a championship season, because most of that group of players knows what it takes to get there.

I’ll be interested to see how the Dutchmen handle some adversity. I think that’s a great indicator of how far a team can get, and my read on coach Rick Bennett is he’ll have the team’s leadership corps ready to handle that when it comes.

I think it’s important to note that after two weeks, the Alaska teams are a combined 7-0-1. Now, all of those games have been played within the state’s borders in the school’s back-to-back tournaments, but it’s at least a strong first step for the Nanooks and the Seawolves.

Jim: I have been keeping an eye on the Alaskas. Fairbanks made my ballot this week while Anchorage was my first team off my ballot. The test for both of these teams is how they do on the road. Being in Alaska, it goes without saying there are no easy road trips. Having to fly for seven hours or more to get to a game has to be exhausting, don’t you think?

Todd: I think it’s more the cumulative effect. Those last trips of the season are probably a lot harder than the first ones, and I’ve often wondered how much of a direct toll all the travel has on the teams’ success.

One argument could be that young athletes may adjust better to travel than your average frequent flier, but I also can see how there would be a greater rate of decline in performance.

Jim: Out in the world of Hockey East, one team that has a lot of people shaking heads is Northeastern. The Huskies, a team that many believe to have the component of a championship-caliber club, are 0-3 and last weekend didn’t score a single goal in a two-game series against Colgate.

Not taking anything away from the Raiders, but a team that has offensive talent like Northeastern should be able to muster at least a single goal in a weekend, no?

Todd: That is puzzling, for sure. One team that isn’t having trouble putting up goals or wins is Robert Morris. After making the NCAA tournament for the first time last season, the Colonials have started off 4-0, scoring 15 goals and allowing only four. It’s quite a departure from the start of last season, in which they didn’t get their fourth win until Jan. 5.

Thumbs up

To the teams from the Last Frontier. In this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, Alaska is No. 16 and Alaska-Anchorage is No. 20. It’s only the second time in the 17-plus years of the USCHO rankings that both teams have appeared at the same time; the other was on Dec. 1, 2008.

Thumbs down

To the Cheel Arena Zamboni, which broke down during the second intermission of Clarkson’s home opener last Saturday. You had one job.

 

Coming up

It’s a huge week for inter-region matchups of ranked teams.

No. 2 Union hosts No. 9 St. Cloud State, while No. 3 North Dakota welcomes No. 5 Providence in East-West series.

No. 14 Michigan heads east to play No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell on Friday and No. 12 Boston University on Saturday.

And in the NCHC, No. 19 Minnesota-Duluth hosts No. 11 Denver for a two-game series.

In the WCHA, Michigan Tech kicks off a stretch of six straight games against ranked teams by traveling to No. 8 Ferris State for a series. The Huskies follow that up by hosting No. 14 Michigan and No. 20 Alaska-Anchorage.

Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13-19

RachelLewis USCHO 20141018 Miami OSUMIH 4 Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19

Sean Kuraly and No. 11 Miami pulled away from Tyler Lundey and No. 17 Ohio State (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Here’s how the teams in the Oct. 13, 2014, USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll fared from Monday, Oct. 13 to Sunday, Oct. 19:

RANKLAST WEEK’S RESULTSRECORDTHIS WEEK’S GAMES
1umn Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Minnesota
Off2-0Friday-Saturday: vs. Bemidji State
2uc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Union
Friday: won at Maine 3-0
Saturday: won at Maine 5-2
4-0Friday-Saturday: vs. St. Cloud State
3und Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
North Dakota
Friday: won at Colorado College 3-1
Saturday: won at Colorado College 7-2
3-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Providence
4fsu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Ferris State
Friday: won at St. Lawrence 3-2, OT
Saturday: lost at St. Lawrence 2-0
2-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Michigan Tech
5pc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Providence
Thursday: tied U.S. Under-18 Team 3-31-1Friday-Saturday: at North Dakota
6col Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Colgate
Friday: beat Northeastern 3-0
Saturday: beat Northeastern 3-0
3-1Friday-Saturday: at Sacred Heart
7bc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Boston College
Saturday: won at Rochester Institute of Technology 6-21-1Friday: vs. Colorado College
Saturday: vs. Massachusetts
8scsu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
St. Cloud State
Off1-1Friday-Saturday: at Union
9uml Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Massachusetts-Lowell
Friday: beat No. 13 Quinnipiac 6-3
Saturday: tied at No. 13 Quinnipiac 3-3
2-0-1Friday: vs. Michigan
Saturday: vs. Michigan State
10um Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Michigan
Friday: lost to New Hampshire 5-1
Saturday: beat New Hampshire 2-1
1-2Friday: at Massachusetts-Lowell
Saturday: at Boston University
11mu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Miami
Friday: won at No. 17 Ohio State 5-1
Saturday: beat No. 17 Ohio State 2-1
3-1Friday-Saturday: vs. St. Lawrence
12mnst Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Minnesota State
Friday: won at No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth 5-4, OT
Saturday: lost to No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth 6-2
2-2Friday-Saturday: vs. Alabama-Huntsville
13qu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Quinnipiac
Friday: lost at No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell 6-3
Saturday: tied No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell 3-3
1-1-1Tuesday: at Connecticut
14bu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Boston University
Saturday: beat U.S. Under-18 Team 6-41-0Friday: vs. Michigan State
Saturday: vs. Michigan
15cor Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Cornell
Off0-0Friday: vs. U.S. Under-18 Team
Saturday: vs. Carleton
16du Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Denver
Friday: beat Rensselaer 3-0
Saturday: beat Rensselaer 4-1
2-0Friday-Saturday: at Minnesota-Duluth
17osu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Ohio State
Friday: lost to No. 11 Miami 5-1
Saturday: lost at No. 11 Miami 2-1
1-3Friday-Saturday: at Canisius
18uw Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Wisconsin
Friday: lost to Northern Michigan 2-0
Saturday: lost to Northern Michigan 4-1
0-4Off
19uaf Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Alaska
Friday: beat Air Force 4-3
Saturday: beat Penn State 4-3
4-0Friday-Saturday: at Western Michigan
20umd Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Oct. 13 19
Minnesota-Duluth
Friday: lost to No. 12 Minnesota State 5-4, OT
Saturday: won at No. 12 Minnesota State 6-2
2-2Friday-Saturday: vs. Denver

Big Ten hands Michigan State’s Darnell one-game suspension

The Big Ten on Saturday suspended Michigan State’s Brent Darnell for one game after the senior was called for hitting from behind in Friday’s win over Massachusetts.

Darnell, a forward who had two goals and eight points in 31 games last season, must sit out Saturday’s rematch with the Minutemen.

He was issued a major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct in the first period of Friday’s game.

TSN partners with College Hockey Inc. to broadcast NCAA games in Canada

TSN announced Friday a new partnership with College Hockey Inc. that will see 37 NCAA men’s Division I games broadcast this season, including the Frozen Four.

The expanded coverage of NCAA hockey is also available for live streaming and on-demand viewing to TSN subscribers through TSN GO.

“This partnership will allow TSN to deliver Canadian fans unprecedented access to the excitement of NCAA hockey,” said College Hockey Inc. executive director Mike Snee in a news release. “Canadians have always had a strong presence in college hockey and currently make up 30 percent of all Division I players. TSN will provide fans in Canada the chance to see for themselves why so many skilled Canadian hockey players are choosing college hockey, and why NCAA hockey is the fastest growing development path to professional hockey.”

“Hockey fans throughout Canada should be very excited,” added Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray. “Obviously, the quality of play in college hockey is exceptional, but I think it will be the atmosphere in the rink and intensity of the games that will be the biggest surprise to Canadians not familiar with NCAA hockey. From the bands to the student-sections to the historic rivalries, it’s very special.”

2014-15 SCHEDULE – NCAA MEN’S GAMES ON TSN

October
Friday, Oct.17, Lake Superior State @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Oct. 18, Lake Superior State @ Notre Dame, 6 p.m. ET on TSN2

November
Friday, Nov. 21, Massachusetts-Lowell @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN2
Tuesday, Nov. 25, Massachusetts @ Vermont, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2

December
Saturday, Dec. 6, Maine @ Massachusetts-Lowell, 8 p.m. ET on TSN2
Sunday, Dec. 28, Quinnipiac @ Princeton, 4 p.m. ET on TSN3

January
Saturday, Jan. 3, Union @ Boston University, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Jan. 10, Northeastern @ Boston College, 4 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Jan. 10, Rivalry on Ice – Harvard vs. Yale, 6 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Jan. 17, Michigan State @ Penn State, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Wednesday, Jan. 21, Merrimack @ Boston College, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Jan. 31, New Hampshire @ Notre Dame, 6:30 p.m. ET on TSN2

February
Monday, Feb. 2, Beanpot – Northeastern vs. Boston College, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Monday, Feb. 2, Beanpot – Harvard vs. Boston University, 8 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, Feb. 6, Notre Dame @ Maine, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Monday, Feb. 9, Beanpot Championship, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, Feb. 13, New Hampshire @ Boston University, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Feb. 21, Minnesota @ Penn State, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, Feb. 21, Connecticut @ New Hampshire (joined in progress), 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, Feb. 27, Boston College @ Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN2

March
Friday, March 6, Minnesota @ Ohio State, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, March 14, Hockey East Quarterfinal – Game 2, 4 p.m. ET on TSN2
Sunday, March 15, Hockey East Quarterfinal – Game 3, 4:30 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, March 20, Hockey East Semifinal #1, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, March 20, Hockey East Semifinal #2, 8 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, March 21, Hockey East Championship, 7 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, March 27, Frozen Four – TBD, 2 p.m. ET on TSN2
Friday, March 27, Frozen Four – TBD, 5:30 p.m. ET on TSN3
Friday, March 27, Frozen Four – TBD, 8 p.m. ET on TSN3
Saturday, March 28, Frozen Four – TBD, 3 p.m. ET on TSN3
Saturday, March 28, Frozen Four – TBD, 4 p.m. ET on TSN4
Saturday, March 28, Frozen Four – TBD, 5:30 p.m. ET on TSN3
Saturday, March 28, Frozen Four – TBD, 9 p.m. ET on TSN3
Sunday, March 29, Frozen Four – TBD, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN2

April
Thursday, April 9, Frozen Four – Semifinal #1, 5 p.m. ET on TSN2
Thursday, April 9, Frozen Four – Semifinal #2, 8:30 p.m. ET on TSN2
Saturday, April 11, Frozen Four – Championship, 7:30 p.m. ET on TSN3

Bemidji State gets a boost from dominating North Dakota, and the WCHA appreciates it, too

I0000GR7qpr7Lv2E Bemidji State gets a boost from dominating North Dakota, and the WCHA appreciates it, too

Brendan Harms had two goals in Bemidji State’s 5-1 win over North Dakota last Friday (photo: BSU Photo Services).

The shocking thing about Bemidji State’s 5-1 victory over then-No. 2 North Dakota last Friday night wasn’t necessarily the score line.

OK, that’s not entirely accurate.

Sure, the Beavers’ battering of UND — their first win in Grand Forks since 1970 — turned heads around the country during an upset-filled weekend. But it wasn’t only because of who won. It was how said team won: convincingly.

BSU didn’t just get a few lucky bounces to fall past the UND goaltenders. They flat-out dominated a North Dakota team that lost little from its 2014 Frozen Four run.

“That’s pretty much the same team as last year aside from Rocco Grimaldi,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “I thought the guys responded well. That’s something you build on.”

UND won Saturday night’s rematch in Bemidji 2-1 but by no means schooled the Beavers.

It’s only one weekend, but both results have Serratore encouraged for the upcoming season.

“I thought, really, we played 120 minutes of hockey,” he said. “Our battle level was high. Our effort was outstanding. … I was happy with how we performed. You hope that carries over to the next weekend and you want to build on that.”

The win at the Ralph was the high point of an outstanding weekend for the WCHA in nonconference play — an area where the league generally struggled a year ago.

Bowling Green beat No. 11 Miami 3-2 in Bowling Green then nearly pulled off the upset in Oxford two days later.

Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage each beat then-No. 10 Wisconsin in the Kendall Hockey Classic.

No. 12 Minnesota State split with Omaha on the road and Ferris State was idle but jumped from No. 9 to No. 4 due to all the losses in front of them (and by virtue of the fact that the Bulldogs got a big win over fellow top-10 team Michigan in the opening weekend).

The WCHA is 8-7 in nonconference action and even though it’s still early those eight wins will help the conference in the PairWise Rankings come tournament time. New WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson has said it’s his goal to put three or more teams in the NCAA tournament. The only way to do that is to win nonconference games.

As for the Beavers, last week’s results against UND mean a lot for a team that went 10-21-7 a year ago and failed to win a nonconference game.

The Beavers know it’s still early and it’s hard to read into one early-season game, but at the same time, not many teams can go into Ralph Engelstad Arena and run UND out of its own building the way Bemidji did on Friday.

Serratore hopes that bit of confidence carries over to the rest of its early schedule — one that includes Minnesota, Alaska and Minnesota State.

“I thought our guys responded well,” Serratore said. “North Dakota responded very well. I was enthused about that. It’s something you hope you can build on as a coaching staff. It’s great for the guys’ confidence.”

SW1 6712 Brett Cameron Bemidji State gets a boost from dominating North Dakota, and the WCHA appreciates it, too

Alaska-Anchorage’s Brett Cameron (center) will miss Friday’s game against Penn State (photo: Sam Wasson/UAA Athletics).

Suspension sends message

Alaska-Anchorage coach Matt Thomas was surprised that senior Brett Cameron received a one-game suspension by the WCHA this week but not completely shocked.

Cameron will miss Friday’s game against Penn State for the hit on Wisconsin freshman defenseman Tim Davison on Saturday. He received a major penalty and game misconduct (not a game disqualification) for the hit, which injured Davison.

Replays showed that the hit appeared to be a clean, shoulder-to-shoulder check. However, Davison did not see it coming, and his helmet came off as he fell to the ice.

“One of the big points of emphasis with contact to the head is hitting an unsuspecting player,” Thomas told the Alaska Dispatch News. “I don’t think [the hit] fits that category 100 percent, but I get where they’re coming from. That’s the way hockey is going.”

Ferguson joins Century Club

Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson picked up his 100th career victory on Saturday when the Nanooks defeated Maine and won the Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage.

The seventh-year coach’s record stands at 100-96-32.

“To be honest, I wasn’t aware that the win was my 100th until the team presented me with the game puck,” Ferguson said. “But I love coaching, and I love the University of Alaska, so to reach this milestone is an incredible honor.”

Ferguson’s win total ranks fourth among WCHA coaches, behind Ferris State’s Bob Daniels (380), Northern Michigan’s Walt Kyle (223) and Bemidji State’s Tom Serratore (212).

After that, it’s Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron (58), Minnesota State’s Mike Hastings (51), Michigan Tech’s Mel Pearson (45), Anchorage’s Matt Thomas (20) and Huntsville’s Mike Corbett (2). Lake Superior State’s Damon Whitten is in his first season and is 0-4 so far.

Ice chips

• Alaska-Anchorage forward Tad Kozun and Minnesota State forward Brad McClure were two of five freshmen nationally who scored two goals last weekend.

• Ferris State, which is ranked No. 4 in the country, has been in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll top 10 for 22 consecutive weeks.

• WCHA teams continue to ease into league play. The only conference series this weekend has Bowling Green going to Alabama-Huntsville.

• Northern Michigan is the only WCHA team yet to play a game. The Wildcats open the season this weekend with a nominal “home” series against Wisconsin at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis.

• Lake Superior State is 0-4 but it’ll be the first WCHA team to appear on national television when the Lakers take on Notre Dame and former LSSU coach Jeff Jackson this weekend in South Bend, Ind. Both games of the series will be televised by NBC Sports Network.

Players of the week

WCHA awards this week went to Bemidji State sophomore forward Brendan Harms (offensive), Alaska sophomore goalie Davis Jones (defensive) and Alaska-Anchorage freshman forward Tad Kozun (rookie).

Power play shows early promising signs for Minnesota-Duluth

2014101215 58 50175 Power play shows early promising signs for Minnesota Duluth

Minnesota-Duluth celebrates a goal in a 3-0 win over Notre Dame on Sunday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

It certainly wasn’t how coach Scott Sandelin and the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs wanted to start their season.

In a game against their in-state rival, Minnesota, in the Ice Breaker Tournament at Notre Dame, the Bulldogs found themselves down 1-0 after just 30 seconds. Five minutes later, while on a power play and looking to tie it, the Bulldogs gave up a short-handed goal to fall behind 2-0.

A Minnesota power-play goal early in the second put the Gophers up by three, and while the Bulldogs got one back on a power play at 13:21, it was barely three minutes later before Minnesota scored again to go up by three.

Then came the third period, and Andy Welinski scored just 25 seconds in and Dominic Toninato scored less than four minutes later to get the Bulldogs back within one. Although the rally fell short, they used the momentum to post a convincing 3-0 win over then-No. 12 Notre Dame on Sunday.

“I thought our guys played well for four, four and a half periods out of six,” said Sandelin. “Obviously, the start was a little bit of bad puck luck, too, but resulted in them scoring in the first minute and put us on our heels.

“I thought we got better as the game went on, but we dug too deep a hole and couldn’t get out of it. I thought our guys played with a lot more intensity and determination.

“When you are down by three goals, you have to play that way to give yourselves a chance. We did that, and I was pleased with that period, and I thought we carried that over to Sunday and played a pretty strong game for early in the year and got a win.”

In a preseason interview, Sandelin stressed the need to improve on a power play that converted at a measly 15.76 percent last year. So far, the signs are promising.

Despite the short-handed goal in the first, the power play got a goal in the second period against Minnesota and got two goals Sunday against Notre Dame. Also, Toninato’s third-period goal against Minnesota was on a four-on-four.

“From the power play’s standpoint, it was good for the power play to get some goals and have a decent start,” said Sandelin. “It’s something that needs to keep improving. I thought our penalty kill, especially on Friday, those teams you can’t give too many opportunities to, and I thought for the most part we did a decent job.”

The departure of Aaron Crandall to graduation has left the Bulldogs with sophomore Matt McNeely, who played nine games last year, and freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo battling for the goalie position. Kaskisuo got the start against Minnesota, and Sandelin said he felt the rookie improved as the game went on.

He also said that McNeely got a lot of confidence from his 23-save shutout effort against Notre Dame.

“Like I said at the beginning of the year, we’re happy with our goaltending, we’re happy with those guys being back there,” said Sandelin. “Matt’s played the most out of all three of our guys, and it was good for his confidence to have that kind of start and it’s good for our team.

“I think Kas battled back after giving up the first couple of goals and played pretty solidly, too. We’ll see. If it ends up being a rotation for a while, that’s how it will be, as long as those guys are playing up to their ability.”

This weekend, the Bulldogs, who moved to No. 20 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, continue their tough schedule against ranked teams with a home-and-home series against No. 12 Minnesota State.

Sandelin said he hopes his team can build on its results last weekend to become a consistent, 60-minute club.

“Like any team, you need your best players playing consistent and being strong for you, and I thought Sunday they were much better,” Sandelin said. “I think our whole team, we asked them to do a few things better. That’s what it’s all about right now. For me, it’s hard in any game to play great for 60 minutes, but Sunday I thought for us team-wise was a good 60-minute game for early in the year.”

5DM37441 Power play shows early promising signs for Minnesota Duluth

Anthony Louis and Sean Kuraly are key elements of Miami’s offensive depth (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Miami looks to build on team concept

Coming into the season, the big question surrounding Miami was which team would be on the ice: the one that won only two games in the second half of the season last year, or the one that was one period away from winning the NCHC tournament and making the NCAAs at the end of the year?

In its first weekend of play, Miami started slowly, but rallied. The RedHawks lost 3-2 to Bowling Green on Friday, in part due to giving up two power-play goals. They won by an identical score on Sunday thanks in part to two goals by Sean Kuraly in the second period.

“Sean obviously had some goals on the scoreboard, so that was good,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “I thought we got better as a team throughout the weekend. As a coach and it being early in the season, that’s what we want to see. There’s still lots to work on in all three zones, and lots for every player to work on.”

On Sunday, starting netminder Ryan McKay was knocked out of the game after a collision with a Bowling Green player. Jay Williams played solid in relief, giving up two goals and making 23 stops in 54 minutes of play.

McKay is being evaluated to see whether he’ll be able to play this weekend in a home-and-home series with Ohio State.

“He’s skating [Tuesday], so we’ll evaluate him from day to day,” Blasi said of McKay.

One area on the score sheet that looks like Miami could improve on is the penalty kill, which gave up three goals on 11 chances on the weekend, but Blasi sees some strengths in that unit.

“It’s an important part of the game, and I thought we did a pretty good job on Sunday of killing penalties,” said Blasi. “It’s just one of those things where we have some new guys doing some stuff that they aren’t accustomed to. It’s a matter of getting some reps in.”

Perhaps what was most impressive about Miami’s production on the weekend was that most of the goals were at even strength, and that the goals weren’t coming from Miami’s big forwards.

Austin Czarnik had only one point on the weekend and Riley Barber got one goal and one assist. Czarnik finished in the top 10 nationally last year in scoring, and Barber was in the top 20.

The return of both (Czarnik is a senior, Barber a junior) is one reason some people expect Miami to be in the hunt for the NCHC crown.

“I think we have some good depth up front,” Blasi said in talking about Czarnik, Barber, Kuraly and Blake Coleman. “Anthony Louis is another one, and Justin Greenberg. We’ve got some guys that can make plays, but the way we structured our team is team first and play a good team game and good team concepts all over the ice.

“Hopefully, our defense and our offense start clicking all over the ice at the same time and we can put 60 minutes together. I don’t think it matters to those guys who is getting the points as long as we’re winning games.”

On the blue line, the RedHawks are getting lots of minutes from a couple of freshmen, Louie Belpedio and Scott Dornbrock, as well as a few others. Belpedio earned NCHC rookie of the week honors for his play against Bowling Green, including getting the first goal in Sunday’s win.

“Obviously, he’s a freshman so we’ve got to be careful how we throw around his game because he’s still learning,” said Blasi. “He has tremendous ability with the puck and tremendous skating ability. We’ve got good depth on our defense with Matthew Caito, Scott Dornbrock, Louie, and we’ve got guys like Ben Paulides and Chris Joyaux that have played a lot of minutes for us. It’s going to be by committee back there. It’s not anybody that’s going to take it and run with it. We’re all going to play the same way. Like I said, it’s a team concept, and go from there.”

Having opened with Bowling Green, Miami will be facing off with another former CCHA rival this weekend. Blasi expects the home-and-home series against Ohio State to be exciting.

“It’s always been a big rivalry for us,” said Blasi. “Ohio State and Miami over the years have been some great games, so it’s no different this weekend. We’re looking forward to it.”

Players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Dominic Toninato, Minnesota-Duluth: Toninato posted four points on the weekend and a plus-3 rating, helping the Bulldogs finish third in the Ice Breaker Tournament. In Friday’s 4-3 loss to top-ranked Minnesota, he had a plus-2 rating, scoring two goals to help the Bulldogs rally from a 3-0 and 4-1 deficit. Against Notre Dame on Sunday, he had a goal and assisted on the game-winner. Toninato had a hand in four of UMD’s six goals on the weekend.

Defensive player of the week — Peter Stoykewych, Colorado College: Stoykewych posted a plus-3 rating and had two points in CC’s weekend sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, including scoring the game-winner with a slap shot from the blue line in Saturday’s 4-3 win. In Friday’s 3-2 win, he had a plus-1 rating and blocked two shots. After Alabama-Huntsville rallied to tie the game with three goals in the second period on Saturday, Stoykewych scored the game-winner with 5:26 left in the third.

Rookie of the week — Louie Belpedio, Miami: Belpedio was part of Miami’s top defensive unit in its split with Bowling Green over the weekend, helping Miami go 8-for-11 on the penalty kill on the weekend. He also scored Miami’s first goal in Sunday’s 3-2 win, blocked three shots and posted a plus-1 rating.

Goaltender of the week — Matt McNeely, Minnesota-Duluth: Against host and No. 12 Notre Dame in Sunday’s third-place game in the Ice Breaker Tournament, McNeely stopped all 23 shots and helped kill six Notre Dame power-play chances to post the second shutout of his collegiate career. He also had an assist on Minnesota-Duluth’s second goal, his first collegiate point.

Witt shoots to make hockey fun again at New Hampshire

131016r 19130851 Witt shoots to make hockey fun again at New Hampshire

Vilma Vaattovaara (UNH – 35) – will be important for UNH’s chances against the rest of Hockey East. (Melissa Wade)

Long before there was Hockey East, the WCHA, the CHA, or the NCAA sanctioning a women’s tournament, there was New Hampshire. No program has enjoyed more success over its history, which dates back to 1977-78; the Wildcats have won 735 games with a .724 winning percentage. Only Providence with 670 wins comes close to that victory total, which includes the championship game of the first national tournament in 1998.

When the women’s Hockey East began competition in the autumn of 2002, UNH quickly rose to the top, claiming six straight regular-season crowns, a run that began in the league’s second year. The last four of those were combined with conference tournament titles that brought NCAA tournament berths; the Wildcats were an at-large participant in 2010, and they reached Frozen Fours in 2006 and 2008.

A lot of success. Lately? Not so much. The program fell out of the NCAA picture with its first losing season ever in 2010-11 and followed it up with three more. Last year, the Wildcats failed to reach double digits in wins for the first time and endured adversity off the ice as well, when long-time coach Brian McCloskey was terminated due to an incident involving a player on the team’s bench during a game.

Former Yale coach Hilary Witt was hired as UNH’s new coach in April, and finds herself in charge of the sport’s most storied program at its lowest point.

“It’s unprecedented for the program, so it’s a little bit shocking, I think, for some of the supporters,” Witt said. “But I think the challenge to get it back on track is the most exciting part of this job.”

If the fan base is accustomed to on-ice success, the team Witt inherits is not; nobody on the roster has experienced a winning season at New Hampshire.

“Since she’s come, our culture on our team has changed dramatically,” said co-captain Hannah Armstrong. “She comes in with drills for things that during a game didn’t look good or didn’t work out right. We do that specifically in practice. She’s definitely a teacher and a motivator. We all like her very much.”

Witt doesn’t just want her players to like her, she wants them to like being college hockey players.

“I think our job as coaches is to make sure these athletes have the best college experience that they can have,” she said. “It’s about them; it’s not about us as coaches. In my eyes, my job is to make sure that we put them in the best positions to succeed, both on the ice and off the ice, and make sure we prepare them for whatever they’re going to do when they leave UNH. I care about them; I care about their future. I certainly want to win, and we’re going to do the best we can to do that as well.”

Witt celebrated her first win with New Hampshire on Friday at RIT, 1-0. That underscores one of the problems facing the current edition of the Wildcats. They don’t score much, only seven goals total in the first five games. It isn’t just a recent issue, because 34 games last season resulted in only 72 goals, and the two players on that roster to crack 20 points have graduated.

“I think one of the reasons why we don’t score a lot in the women’s game is because we don’t shoot enough,” Witt said. “We’ve passed up too many grade A scoring chances by passing instead of shooting. We want to put pucks on net. We want to go to the net hard for rebounds, be physical, play tough, and be difficult to play against, and that’s how you’re going to create goals.”

While she wants her team putting pucks on net, she also wants the players to be aware that it isn’t the overall objective.

“I think the first thing that we noticed that was different with her was that coaches would always get mad at us when we would miss the net,” Armstrong said. “It was like you had to do 10 pushups if you missed the net, and she’s like, ‘Well, no. If you take a shot and you’re trying to score, I don’t care if you miss the net.’ Aiming at the net most of the time will put the puck in the goalie’s stomach, because we’re just trying to hit the net. But she is like, ‘No, I want you to shoot to score.’ I think like in practice having that mindset that we’re not going to get in trouble for missing the net, we’re kind of changing the way that we’re now shooting, and hopefully, we’re going to put some more pucks in the net, for sure.”

That mentality extends beyond shooting.

“People aren’t afraid to make a mistake or just to give something different, be more creative,” Armstrong said. “She’s like, ‘Just think [that] having fun is your number one thing.’ She’s like she’ll never get mad at us for making a mistake, but she’ll get mad at us for not working hard or being lazy. So it’s a lot different than what a lot of us are used to. I think a lot of us are adjusting, but we’re liking the adjustments that she’s made.”

There have been plenty of adjustments to make under Witt’s direction.

“She’s actually changed every single thing that we’ve ever done here,” Armstrong said. “I’m a fifth-year senior, so I’ve been here for four years. I think especially for the seniors and juniors that have had systems for such a long time, it was a big change that we had to make. We’re still doing our old habits in the game and she keeps reminding us that we need to change to the new system. She’s come in and changed everything. Absolutely everything.”

For a team that wasn’t rewarded with a lot of success with the previous approach, change is welcome.

“This year, we’re kind of having the mindset of we’re going to make teams not want to play us,” Armstrong said. “We’re going to be the hardest working, the toughest, the fastest, and that’s where practices have changed from kind of a slower pace that we were used to, to a high pace, doing a lot of different skating drills, getting together at the end of practice doing a lot of battle drills, like making us tougher as a group, and hopefully, that helps our team in what we have to offer.”

On Sunday, the Wildcats play a Hockey East game against No. 4 Boston College, a squad they once dominated and still manage to surprise once a season in the lean years.

“We always play well or have a good game with BC, so I think a lot of us are excited to play them,” Armstrong said. “Hopefully, we’ll come in a little bit more prepared and put some points up on the board.”

The Eagles boast one of the top three offenses in the country, so UNH’s defensive effort will be just as key. The Wildcats have done well in that regard so far, holding opponents to an average of 1.80 goals per game, albeit opponents that are less prolific scorers than those skating for BC. Any discussion of defense starts with goaltending, and inconsistency at that position has contributed to UNH’s decline.

“Vilma Vaattovaara has really stuck out and proved herself so far, so we’re going to stick with her right now and let her keep doing what she’s doing,” Witt said. “She’s played fantastic, and we’re fortunate for that.”

The junior has responded to the steady work with a strong .945 save percentage. If Vaattovaara continues to give her team steady minutes, and the skaters help her out while hitting the net at the other end of the ice on occasion, what is possible in the first year of Witt’s tenure?

“I think anything is possible in any league you’re in in any given year, but for us right now, we want to get better every single day,” Witt said. “That’s our goal. I think one of the things that we tend to do as coaches and even players do it as well is you try to think about what can we have, what could we be, instead of just enjoying the process and getting better every day and seeing what it’ll be at the end of the season instead of worrying about it during the beginning of the season. We’re definitely going to take it one day at a time, really enjoy this process, really enjoy each other. It’s a great bunch of kids. I couldn’t be happier with the team we have right now and their commitment level and just their character. It’s just a great group.”

The long-term future of a college coach balances in large part on her ability to attract recruits to her institution, and New Hampshire has a lot to offer beyond tradition.

“I think the academics speaks for itself,” Witt said. “We’ve had a lot of kids be very successful through academics here, very successful careers, and I think that’s the most important thing. Of course, the campus is absolutely gorgeous. I think the thing that really sticks out about UNH is the people. It’s a really close-knit community, where people care about hockey, they care about each other, they care about UNH athletics, and they care about UNH as a whole. I think that makes it really unique in a lot of ways, where you have the support of the community for a women’s sport.”

A consideration when creating a team to play in the Whittemore Center is the wider, Olympic-sized rink.

“No question, we want to be a skating team, and that’s my style regardless, whether we’re on the sheet that we have here, or if we’re on an NHL-size rink all the time, we want to skate, we want to protect the puck, get pucks to the net,” Witt said. “We also want to be confident with the puck, share the puck, and use the width of the ice as well. We don’t want to just go up and down. We want to be able to spread it out and really possess the puck. That’s something that we should be able to do here with our ice surface, and we’re looking forward to getting there.”

Along the way, she wants the Wildcats to remember that hockey is a game, and the verb most often used with it is play.

“It’s not worth it if it’s not fun,” Witt said. “To be honest, I get to coach hockey for a living. What’s better than that? For these kids, they don’t get to go to the NHL. Hopefully, someday we’ll have that, but they don’t right now. I want them to compete, I want them to know that they can do more than what they think they can. I want them to have fun in this community, and I want them to represent UNH the best they can. If we do all those things, we’ll be successful. If you have a great, positive culture, you can win games, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

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