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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.”

Eichel’s first impression at Boston University matches the expectations

I0000EYGX7EUtPxw Eichels first impression at Boston University matches the expectations

Jack Eichel had four points in his first regular season game at Boston University (photo: Noah Buchanan/Boston University Athletics).

As one of the most highly touted rookies to enter Hockey East in recent memory, you knew that Jack Eichel would have a number of big games in the 2014-15 campaign.

What we might not have known is his first game would be one of them.

Eichel helped blow open what was a 2-1 game against Massachusetts after two periods last Friday night, combining with linemates Danny O’Regan and Ahti Oksanen to score four goals in less than 11 minutes in an 8-1 victory. He finished the night with two goals, two assists and a team-best plus-5 rating.

“Jack’s a special player. We all know that,” said BU coach David Quinn. “He did some pretty special things.”

While Eichel was certainly headline-grabbing, Quinn left Friday feeling pretty good about a number of his players. O’Regan, who posted an impressive 38-point rookie campaign, dipped significantly last season, netting just 10 goals and 22 points. His two goals on Friday proved to Quinn that hard work put in during the offseason is paying dividends.

“Danny O’Regan’s first goal [on Friday] was a great goal,” Quinn said. “Danny’s worked hard on his shot. Those two goals he scored [on Friday], I don’t think he could’ve scored last year. You don’t shoot a puck like that through osmosis. It takes a lot of hard work. He’s put the work in. I’m happy to see him get rewarded for it.”

The third member of that line, Oksanen, converted from defense to forward this season, something Quinn discussed with the junior at the conclusion of last season. It’s a move Quinn is confident will pay off for his team and for Oksanen’s future.

“[Ahti] and I spoke at length about [converting to wing] beginning last spring,” said Quinn. “He had been here for two years and played a lot of hockey. Obviously, he’s a very skilled and talented defenseman. I just thought with his skill set he’d be a better winger.

“He obviously has a desire to play in the National Hockey League, as do most Division I players. He and I talked about it and I said, ‘It’s been two years since you’ve been here and you haven’t been drafted. With your skill set you’ll be a better winger.”

Friday also provided Quinn a first look in a game situation at rookie goaltender Connor LaCouvee. With Sean Maguire not returning this season, still suffering the effects of a concussion suffered late last season, it is critical that Quinn’s Terriers team has additional support for returning junior Matt O’Connor.

“I thought [LaCouvee] played great. You win 8-1 and you don’t mention your goalie,” said Quinn. “But once it got to 5-1, I thought we got sloppy and all of a sudden they get some chances. It could’ve been 5-3 in a hurry but he bailed us out.”

Interesting to note of Friday’s win at UMass for the Terriers was that all 10 of the team’s freshmen were in the lineup. There are often headlines of large recruiting classes like BU’s, but when you look at the box score each weekend you realize that only a handful of those freshmen are playing.

That likely won’t be the case for the Terriers this season, as all 10 of the first-year players seem game-ready.

“It’s a very diverse [freshman] class,” said Quinn. “But these guys fit in seamlessly with the guys who are coming back. There’s a good feeling in the room.

“All these guys can play Division I hockey out of the gate. And when you have a class that size, I don’t think one guy feels a lot of pressure. If it was a small class, [the freshmen] might feel some pressure. But when you have 10 of them, they just need to do what they do best.”

The Terriers return to exhibition play this weekend, hosting Eichel’s former teammates with the U.S. Under 18-Team. But next weekend, Michigan and Michigan State will arrive at Agganis Arena. Last season, a trip to face those two teams on the road sent the Terriers home with two losses and derailed BU’s season early.

Most know that after that beginning, the season didn’t exactly finish well.

Still, regardless of results, Quinn stresses the need for perspective.

“We’re going to have lots of tests coming up here and when you’ve got 10 freshmen, you’re going to have struggles,” said Quinn. “We’ve talked internally: After 10 games we might not like our record, but we’ll love our team. And we’ll love what the future holds for us, and by future I mean this year.”

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Vermont’s Mario Puskarich (left) and Jonathan Turk celebrate after Turk’s second of three goals in last Saturday’s win over Northeastern (photo: Melissa Wade).

Turk shines for the Catamounts

Vermont opened the eyes of many last weekend with a commanding 6-2 road victory over Northeastern on Saturday night. And no player opened as many eyes as Jonathan Turk.

A solid bump-and-grind role player for the Catamounts for his first two seasons, Turk entered this year with three goals in each of his two previous campaigns. On Saturday, he matched those marks, scoring a hat trick and adding an assist for a four-point night.

“It was a total team effort and Jon just happened to make some real good plays in the offensive zone,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “That line [with Mario Puskarich and Brendan Bradley] was very, very good and it was a special night for Jon.”

It helps a bit that Turk has been elevated to first-line center alongside last year’s rookie phenom Puskarich and another offensively talented sophomore in Bradley.

“Since moving to center on our team last season, Jon has had a big role on our team,” Sneddon said. “He is a very reliable two-way center and now we need him to think more offensively while being good in his own zone. His faceoff percentage continues to improve and we expect him to have a big year for us.”

River Hawks fans start off the season with an assist, record

If you didn’t read this week’s edition of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, you may not have heard about the helper that was credited to the crowd at Massachusetts-Lowell’s Tsongas Center last Friday night.

After the microphone failed to work for singer Jilly Martin and it appeared there might not be any solution, the Lowell student section in the beyond-capacity crowd jumped into action as if on cue and provided a chorus rendition of the national anthem that was chilling.

You miss the first verse, but you can see and hear the rest of it in this YouTube video:

“I’ve been involved with a lot of things in my years in hockey, but [the student section] singing the national anthem right off the hop — it really set the tone,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “When you have a student section like that, the guys are skating six inches in the air. They were really a factor in the game, I thought.”

The impromptu serenade was part of a memorable night for the Lowell faithful. The crowd of 7,326 at the Tsongas Center was the second-largest to witness a hockey game in the building’s history. Additionally, the 2,365 students in attendance was a school record for a single game.

After the rousing opening that also included a brief ceremony to unveil Lowell’s Hockey East tournament championship banner, the team on the ice didn’t disappoint. Lowell fell behind early to the then-No. 4 Eagles only to rally to a 5-2 victory. It was only the seventh time in 26 attempts that the River Hawks have beaten BC at the Tsongas Center.

Quick hits

• While nonleague play wasn’t friendly to Hockey East teams last weekend, Merrimack was the lone school to impress, posting two wins in a home-and-home series with Holy Cross. The highlight of the weekend was goaltender Rasmus Tirronen, who earned both victories while stopping 49 of 52 shots in the 3-2 and 2-1 victories.

• A season ago, Maine earned just a single victory away from the friendly confines of Alfond Arena. If there was hope that getting really far away from home might help Maine’s road woes, it was quashed as the Black Bears lost twice in Anchorage, Alaska, to the host Seawolves on Friday and the other school from the 49th state, Alaska, on Saturday. The Black Bears shouldn’t feel too bad, however, as Wisconsin, a team most think will be competitive nationally this season, also lost to the two Alaska teams on the weekend.

• While there is a lot of talk about Eichel, we can’t overlook Providence rookie Brian Pinho, who posted two goals in a weekend split at Ohio State. The second of those two goals will be a memorable one as Pinho potted the overtime game-winner with 45 seconds left in the extra session on Saturday. That was the good news of the weekend for the Friars. It was contrasted by a not-so-good performance by the special teams. The Friars’ power play went scoreless in seven attempts in the two-game series while the penalty kill allowed three goals in seven kill attempts.

• The Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge got underway last weekend with four contests, all on the road for Hockey East teams. In the challenge each team gets a point for a tie, two for a win and a bonus point (i.e., three in total) for a road win. Connecticut earned one point for a 2-2 tie on Friday at Penn State but fell 7-1 on Saturday. Ohio State earned two points for its overtime win against Providence on Friday but then allowed Providence to walk away with three points for the road victory, also in overtime, on Saturday. The Big Ten holds a 5-4 lead with 16 contests remaining. The Challenge continues this weekend with four more road contests for Hockey East teams. New Hampshire will head to Michigan for a pair while Massachusetts travels to East Lansing to face Michigan State twice.

Union preaching patience, which isn’t an easy thing for its coaches

I0000DzidVaT6x0w Union preaching patience, which isnt an easy thing for its coaches

Mike Vecchione scored in both of Union’s wins last weekend, giving him a four-game goal-scoring streak dating to last season’s Frozen Four (photo: Melissa Wade).

It wasn’t necessarily a championship performance, but defending national title-winner Union shook off the rust and jitters last weekend with 7-3 and 3-1 wins over American International and New Hampshire, respectively.

“I liked the fact that we could handle an emotional weekend and stay even-keeled,” coach Rick Bennett said. “We had some ups and downs throughout the weekend, but … there were parts of our game that I really liked, and some stuff that looks negative is actually kind of positive.”

The latter is a reference to Union’s power play, which succeeded on only one of its eight opportunities.

“It was only 1-for-8, but there were times when — especially in the second night — it really generated a lot of momentum and kind of tired out the other team, I thought, as the game went on,” Bennett said.

While there were flashes of nostalgic brilliance in Schenectady, N.Y., on Friday and Saturday — the Dutchmen buried the Yellow Jackets and Wildcats with packs of tightly bunched goals, just as they rolled last spring’s opponents in similar fashion — it is clearly a different squad under Bennett’s tutelage this fall.

“We’ll have to do a lot more coaching,” he said. “We have to have a lot more patience.”

These simple words were as good as gold to Bennett, who thanked Colgate star and former Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen for the advice.

“It’s what we’re trying to do. To say we have the most patient staff in the world would probably be a blatant lie,” Bennett laughed, “but by the same token, that’s why there’s video, and that’s why we practice.”

The Dutchmen rolled the same lines both Friday and Saturday, but the coach stated that the lineup is by no means set.

One role that is unlikely to waver much is in net, as senior Colin Stevens picked up where he left off last April with 56 saves on 60 shots.

In picking apart similarities, continuities, differences and deficiencies between last April’s Dutchmen and this October’s, we exemplify an obvious desire on the part of fans, opponents and other observers to try to peg teams as being good at one thing, bad somewhere else … as playing this type or that type of hockey, as being somehow predictable or formulaic. Bennett wants nothing to do with such evaluations.

“The way we’ve always worked is, we’re going to work from practice to practice, from game to game, and we’ll let everyone else try to figure out what Union is,” he said. “We’ve always been focused on ourselves, and we feel that there is plenty to work on. We’ll just go about our business, and again, let other people try to figure out what type of team we are. I thought that happened a lot last year, and while everyone is trying to figure it out, we’re just playing hockey.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, I know that, but that’s the fun part about coaching, and the fun part of the journey.”

Knights lay siege in season-opening wins

Clarkson didn’t win its first two games with cavalry charges. Rather, the Knights put up some monstrous walls and simply out-waited their foes.

Coach Casey Jones’ Golden Knights are out to a 2-0 start for the second year in a row, and now seek Clarkson’s first 3-0 start since 2006-07, which was also the year of their last NCAA tournament appearance. (Jonathan Quick and Massachusetts promptly smothered the Knights, but the point stands.)

Unlike that team, loaded with nine NHL draft picks like Shawn Weller, Nick Dodge, Steve Zalewski and Grant Clitsome, this year’s Knights are more understated with four NHL prospects and barely a hint of hype.

“We’ve got a lot of room for growth, but I think we have a lot of players that will do the gritty things, and hopefully that will progress into a good offensive-zone game,” Jones said of his defensive-minded team.

Clarkson surrendered just 34 shots last weekend in twin 3-1 road victories over Niagara and Rochester Institute of Technology, allowing career .919 save percentage goalie Steve Perry plenty of time and peace-of-mind. When called upon, Perry returned the favor.

“I think it’s a little bit of both” strong defense and great goaltending, Jones said of the performances, “but I think that’s what comes with goaltending. On Friday night, a great example is when we were doing a great job on a penalty kill. One of our kids committed, made a really nice block, but the [puck] went right off to the side, to a guy that was in perfect position for a one-timer. [Perry] was nice and calm and came across, in control, and made a nice save at a big time for us.

“That’s the kind of calmness he offers us. Sometimes [as a coach] you go into a weekend thinking you’ll get as many guys as you want into the games, but I thought he warranted coming back on Saturday, with the way he finished last year and the saves he made at key times on Friday night.”

Jones noted before the season began that his team looked to be deep and strong defensively, and would have to be so in order to win early games. So far, so good up at Fort Potsdam.

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Rensselaer’s Jason Kasdorf made a strong impression in his return from injury (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Raiders, Engineers impress early

Colgate had a pretty good season last year, finishing second in the league. It’s off to an even better start this year.

The Raiders fulfilled the second year of their home-and-home contract with St. Cloud State, and whereas last year the ‘Gate dropped both of their home games to the Huskies, this year’s squad split a pair in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in a pair of 3-1 games.

St. Cloud State is no pushover, having advanced to the West Regional final last spring and being picked to finish third in the NCHC by the league media.

In the Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, Ind., Rensselaer deflated host Notre Dame with a 3-2 win in Friday’s opener, secured on the back of junior Jason Kasdorf’s 31 saves.

The netminder — playing his first game since a season-ending shoulder injury last fall — made 31 more saves in Sunday’s 3-0 championship-game loss to No. 1 Minnesota.

Time will tell if RPI will muster the offense necessary to make a legitimate run at something special this season, but the evidence is already pretty strong that Kasdorf is ready to carry the load.

Big Ten coaches pick through early results, with differing opinions

2014101213 15 15228 Big Ten coaches pick through early results, with differing opinions

Minnesota coach Don Lucia and assistant Grant Potulny share a laugh after the Gophers’ Ice Breaker Tournament win (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise. This quote, attributed to the Roman lyric poet Horace, is perfect for the start of any season, when everything — when every team — is nothing but potential.

And it’s the wisdom that sometimes matters the most.

“We need work. We need work on the power play, on all our speciality teams.” This is what coach Don Lucia saw after Minnesota became the first team to capture consecutive Ice Breaker Tournament titles last weekend in South Bend, Ind., downing Minnesota-Duluth 4-3 and Rensselaer 3-0.

Of course, every elite program has the luxury of nitpicking in ways that other programs may not, but Lucia saw his team take 11 penalties, and allow a power-play goal and a four-on-four goal to the Bulldogs. To their credit, the Golden Gophers also scored a power-play goal each night and Kyle Rau scored his second career short-handed goal against Duluth.

“I can’t say that there’s one thing that I liked,” said Lucia — not by way of poo-pooing his team’s performance, but meaning that there’s no single aspect of his team’s game that looked outstanding. “It just reinforced that when it’s early in the season, you’ve got a lot of work to do. I thought at times we tried to do too much, played too individualistic, especially on Friday. We were better with that on Sunday.

“Last weekend, our best players were our best players. We’ve still got to figure out this year who should play with who. We’d like to keep our balance like we had last year with three even lines.”

Sounding a little more enthusiastic about an opening weekend was the coach of the team at the opposite end of this year’s coaches poll. Penn State tied and defeated visiting Connecticut in what was a weekend of firsts for the Nittany Lions, a team in its third year of Division I play and second of league affiliation.

“If our first weekend is any indication, we can see a lot of growth from where we were a year ago,” said Guy Gadowsky. “I think the guys are real proud of it. They know how hard they worked last year and it’s nice to see some results.”

The Nittany Lions came from behind twice in their 2-2 Friday tie with the Huskies and exploded for five second-period goals in Saturday’s 7-1 win. The first goal in the tie was scored on a penalty shot, the first successful penalty shot in PSU history and scored by junior Tommy Olczyk — who had the team’s first unsuccessful penalty shot last season.

The seven goals against Connecticut marked a program single-game high, and the tie and win represent the best opening weekend in Penn State history. OK, it’s a short history, but it’s still something to note.

Gadowsky — without the luxury of decades of successful tradition and every single advantage such a thing can bring — understands that measuring progress for the Nittany Lions is a tricky thing. “We’re still in our infancy,” he said.

The Nittany Lions didn’t win many games last season but came on in the second half of the campaign, recording their first Big Ten win against Michigan in early February and then defeating the Wolverines again 2-1 in their opening game of the Big Ten tournament.

That playoff win represented their first back-to-back recorded wins against Big Ten opponents; they beat Ohio State in their final game of the 2013-14 regular season.

Gadowsky said he thinks that last year’s second half has carried over into this near year.

“Not riding the momentum,” he said, “but riding the improvement. The guys worked so hard all season and you didn’t really see the fruition of it. All through January and February, we were playing well and we were improving. The guys knew it, but the wins weren’t coming.”

Which is what made this nine-goal, tie-and-win opening weekend all the sweeter.

“The guys really worked hard and they grew a lot,” said Gadowsky. “It shows.”

Like Lucia, Gadowsky said he saw a lot that the Nittany Lions need to address.

“Initially, we took a major penalty [in the first period of the first game], and sometimes that alone can cost you a game and we have to learn from that, obviously,” Gadowsky said. “But the first game was just the first game. Things were flying around. You know how that first game is all the time. You just have to get through it. Our goaltender kept us in there.”

With less than a minute to go on Friday, sophomore David Goodwin scored the tying goal with Skoff pulled for an extra attacker.

“Any time you tie a game with your goalie pulled,” said Gadowsky, “it’s a good thing.”

Saturday was a different story. “In today’s game, you need some puck luck to score,” said Gadowsky. “We got the bounces Saturday as well. I’m hoping that continues.”

The Nittany Lions may still be babies in the greater college hockey scheme of things, but with a full season of league affiliation to their credit, they’re no longer a completely unknown quantity.

Beyond shedding an aura of mystery, Gadowsky said he thinks that the Nittany Lions have earned a little respect, too. No one playing PSU will think the game an automatic three points.

“I think people did think that about Penn State early,” said Gadowsky, “but we had stronger performances in the latter part of the season. I don’t think they look at us that way now.

“But trust me when I tell you that when you play in the Big Ten conference, no game is easy. And no game is easy for us.”

That the playing field may be slightly more level this season is something that Lucia noted.

“We saw that at the end of last year,” said Lucia. “The league has very good goaltenders. That’s why you saw a lot of low-scoring games.”

And while the Nittany Lions may be a third-year team, Lucia pointed out that many Big Ten teams share some of Penn State’s demographics. “How many of us have seniors any more?” he said.

“Ohio State is making improvement,” Lucia said. “Wisconsin returns a Hobey Baker finalist. Everyone plays hard, and you get to play 10 nonconference games before league play begins in late November, which means that players are seasoned.”

Three of the league’s teams are considered to be legitimate top-10 material, the other three play hard — and all six advance to the playoff championship tournament. It’s the start of a season in which anything can happen.

As for beginning with a tournament title, the second consecutive Ice Breaker Tournament title, “We’ll take it and move on,” Lucia said.

Wise words from the man whose team fell one game short of a 2014 national championship.

Wisconsin’s road woes

The Badgers dropped their two games in Alaska at the Kendall Hockey Classic, losing 1-0 to Alaska and 4-2 to Alaska-Anchorage.

Wisconsin lost seven road games last season.

RachelLewis USCHO UW OSU MIH 01242014 1 Big Ten coaches pick through early results, with differing opinions

Ohio State’s Anthony Greco (left) completed a hat trick last Friday with an overtime goal against Providence (photo: Rachel Lewis).

Buckeyes like overtime

Ohio State split a home series with Providence, winning 5-4 Friday and losing 2-1 Saturday, both in overtime.

Since the Buckeyes beat Michigan State in overtime in their first 2014 Big Ten tournament game and then lost to Wisconsin in the league’s title game two days later, the Buckeyes have played an opponent to overtime in four of their last five contests.

Players of the week

Three different Big Ten teams are represented this week, and the recipients are no strangers to accolades.

First star — Minnesota sophomore forward Hudson Fasching: Fasching netted the game-winning goal and added an assist in Minnesota’s 4-3 win over Minnesota-Duluth in the opening game of the Ice Breaker Tournament and added another goal in the Gophers’ 3-0 title game win, a performance that saw him named the most valuable player in the tourney. Fasching had 14 goals and 16 assists in 2013-14, his freshman season, and this is his third career Big Ten weekly award.

Second star — Ohio State senior forward Tanner Fritz: Fritz had two goals and two assists, all in Ohio State’s Friday 5-4 overtime win against visiting Providence, including an assist on the game-winning goal. Fritz had eight goals and 24 assists in 32 games in his junior year last season. This is his second career Big Ten weekly award.

Third star — Penn State junior goaltender Matthew Skoff: Skoff stopped 54 of 57 shots for a .947 save percentage in the Nittany Lions’ two-game home series against Connecticut, a tie and a win. As a sophomore in 2013-14, Skoff played 23 games for Penn State with a .906 save percentage and 2.95 GAA. This is Skoff’s second career Big Ten weekly award.

My ballot

For what it’s worth. And remember that it’s very early in the season.

1. Union
2. Minnesota
3. Boston College
4. Ferris State
5. Massachusetts-Lowell
6. Providence
7. Colgate
8. St. Cloud State
9. North Dakota
10. New Hampshire
11. Wisconsin
12. Notre Dame
13. Minnesota State
14. Quinnipiac
15. Ohio State
16. Northeastern
17. Michigan
18. Clarkson
19. Robert Morris
20. Cornell

Wednesday Women: Finding order in chaos

Brittany Ammerman Wednesday Women: Finding order in chaos

Brittany Ammerman (10) and her team, No. 1 Wisconsin, will try to break their losing streak against No. 2 Minnesota this week in Madison. (David Stluka)

Candace: There were a lot of surprises this weekend. Several games were ties between an unranked opponent and a ranked one, with several being big surprises. I’m not sure where to start really. Minnesota-Duluth’s result at home against Minnesota isn’t really too huge a surprise; it had to happen sooner or later, though I would bet UMD coach Shannon Miller is upset with only getting the shootout win after holding a two-goal lead in the third. To me, the big ones that stand out were with Hockey East teams, as unheralded Maine got a tie with No. 7 Mercyhurst, Northeastern could only manage ties with Syracuse and RIT, and Boston College was tied by St. Lawrence. I think that last one is where to start, simply because the Saints held BC to two goals in each game, including the one it lost. I mentioned last week that having a senior netminder like Carmen MacDonald could be a big plus for St. Lawrence, and she stood out against BC, making 41 saves in the 2-1 loss and 32 in the tie. BC had a trend last year of piling up a lot of shots and failing to score at key times; is this a continuation, or have we underestimated St. Lawrence?

Arlan: The trend of BC shots on goal and goals scored being out of proportion goes back longer than last year. As much as any team, the Eagles tend to have a sizable advantage in shots on goal in games where they come up lacking on the scoreboard; see the losses in 2011-12 as an example. It’s also entirely possible, and in fact very likely, that I have underestimated St. Lawrence. I picked the Saints to finish someplace goofy like seventh in the ECAC.

We saw in MacDonald’s rookie season that she can be a game changer. According to Chris Wells, MacDonald wasn’t healthy much of last season, so if she is 100 percent now, that alone can make a big difference. The Saints also got Amanda Boulier back after she missed last season, but because Mel Desrochers had a monster season on the blue line for them as a senior last year, gaining Boulier but losing Desrochers may wind up as a wash. Rylee Smith also graduated, and she was the final member of the top line with Kelly Sabatine and Karell Émard that was so instrumental in SLU’s run to the ECAC Championship in 2012.

Rather than viewing SLU in the scope of this weekend, consider it in the big picture. Clarkson’s ascension to the top has had a more adverse impact on St. Lawrence than any other program, not only because the Golden Knights are above the Saints in the standings and take a bite out of them in head-to-head meetings, but because Clarkson attracts players that once would have likely wound up at St. Lawrence. We’ve seen similar parallels with Dartmouth declining when Cornell rose in the Ivy League, and North Dakota prospering at Minnesota-Duluth’s expense. In that sense, SLU doesn’t seem to be poised on the brink of a return to glory days, no matter how many games MacDonald may steal as a senior. The challenge for the Saints this year is what happens in those games where they play a team that is at or slightly below their level; can they win the vast majority of those games where they have an edge, but not the depth of talent that they once enjoyed?

Another thing that the weekend’s results remind us is that a team’s first road trip of the season can be shaky. Minnesota has been a great road team, having won 45 straight road games before Saturday’s tie, but I remember how badly the Gophers struggled at Colgate to open last season. So let’s not be too concerned if BC had a slight hiccup when it ventured on the road for the first time, just like we shouldn’t have been too giddy over BC walloping the Orange when they made their first appearance outside of Syracuse.

I’m sure any lingering questions of just how good St. Lawrence is will be cleared up this weekend when Robert Morris visits Canton. Do you groan out load when you have to try to predict a game involving the Colonials? Sometimes I do; other times I just laugh maniacally.

Candace: I cringe and then groan at the thought of picking Colonials games. Luckily, we didn’t have them on our slate this past weekend. I’m not sure what is going on in Moon Township right now, but something isn’t right. On paper, the Colonials have the talent to be much better than their current 2-4 record.

However, in looking at their results, perhaps things aren’t as dark as they appear. They lost their two opening games to Bemidji State, but Bemidji followed with convincing wins over Rensselaer and Vermont; we’ll know a little bit more about the strength of the Beavers after this weekend’s series against Ohio State. The loss to Maine doesn’t appear as bad after Maine tied Mercyhurst this weekend. Giving up six to Colgate is pretty strange, especially four in the second. Jessica Dodds is not playing well to follow her fine rookie campaign. Her goals-against is 4.68, and her save percentage only .849. Senior Courtney Vinet has been far steadier, and if I were Paul Colontino, I’d probably play Vinet in both games this weekend against St. Lawrence.

Of more concern for the Colonials has been the paltry production from some of their stars. Senior defenseman Erin Staniewski leads the team in scoring right now with three points in six games. Senior Rebecca Vint, who has been the leader offensively for the Colonials through her first three years, has only one point in three games. Sophomore Brittany Howard, who tied Vint last season as tops in points with 41, hasn’t played in the last four games. Those two averaged 1.20 points per game last season, and right now their production is really needed. Vint hasn’t played in the last three games either, so I’m sure Colontino would be happy to get both of them back, especially since the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Colonials, who travel to St. Lawrence for a pair this weekend, then host Northeastern for a pair, then play a series at Mercyhurst Halloween weekend. Even a healthy Robert Morris team might struggle to get above .500 in that stretch.

Speaking of Northeastern, I think we both expected more than 1-1 and 2-2 ties against Syracuse and RIT, respectively. Even if we go with opening on the road being a challenge, Northeastern can’t be happy with those results, and this weekend could be equally tough as the Huskies travel to Mercyhurst for a pair. We had Northeastern in mind as a team that could be dangerous to the Hockey East powers of BC and Boston University. Do we expect the Huskies to get stronger after an opening-weekend hiccup?

Arlan: Yes. When? That’s a tougher question. For its opening weekend, Northeastern skated seven freshmen and only two seniors besides goalie Chloe Desjardins, defenseman Colleen Murphy and forward Chelsey Goldberg. Other than Kendall Coyne, Paige Savage is the only returning player with more than 50 points in her career, and Murphy with 42 makes it only three players with at least 30 points as Huskies. Kelly Wallace, Katie MacSorley, and Brittany Esposito carried much of the load last season, so new scoring threats have to emerge to complement Coyne, Savage, and sophomore Hayley Scamurra up front. I’m sure that they will at some point, but until everyone settles into new roles, the offense could be spotty. Staying on the road through October doesn’t help. In a season where Northeastern could really use a quick start, it may not get one.

Next up for Northeastern are the Lakers, who are in a similar boat. As expected, juniors Emily Janiga and Jenna Dingeldein are atop team scoring with six and five points, respectively. Newcomer Sarah Robello has made her presence known, chipping in with three. However, seniors Shelby Bram and Molly Byrne have been quiet with a point apiece, so perhaps not coincidentally, Mercyhurst is averaging just two goals per game. It has been beyond stingy defensively, with senior Amanda Makela having three shutouts in four games; however, neither Providence nor Maine is exactly an offensive juggernaut. The early schedule is kinder to the Lakers, as they are home for the rest of the month. After Northeastern, a very young Minnesota State visits Erie, before the Colonials come calling to kick off CHA play. Mercyhurst’s schedule doesn’t ramp up much in difficulty, as a December game at No. 5 Cornell is its only contest against a currently-ranked opponent, although St. Lawrence, a January road foe, is receiving votes.

Of all the ties over the weekend, the one that I least would have foreseen was Quinnipiac settling for a tie in the second game at Penn State, 1-1. Rick Seeley was very optimistic coming into this season despite the graduation of Kelly Babstock. Seeley felt that the return of Nicole Kosta from injury and Erica Uden Johansson from the Olympics, plus the addition of freshman Taylar Cianfarano, would more than offset the loss of Babstock. While those three have contributed early, the Bobcats have scored only seven goals through three games. The tie with Penn State was reminiscent of last season, when nine ties kept Quinnipiac out of the NCAA field with just six losses. Do you see this as more of the same, or a sign of improvement by the Nittany Lions?

Candace: I think it could be a combination of the two actually. The Nittany Lions showed some improvement last year, and they have a Minnesota-Duluth transfer, Hannah Bramm, joining some established players like Shannon Yoxheimer. Penn State got shellacked by Minnesota in its first game, but then beat St. Cloud. Offense has always been an issue for the Nittany Lions, and so far, it has been this season. In their two losses, the Nittany Lions have been held without a goal. In fact, only four players on the roster have a point; that needs to change if the Nittany Lions want to have some success. If they can get some more balanced scoring, results like the tie against Quinnipiac might not be exceptions.

For the Bobcats however, that tie could hurt them in the PairWise later in the year. I don’t think we expected Quinnipiac to get an at-large bid anyway, especially with the CHA having an autobid this year, but if they are on the bubble, this weekend could loom large. Cianfarano has played well, averaging a point a game, and is tied with Kosta for the points lead. Perhaps Quinnipiac took Penn State a little lightly, but it goes to show that you can’t afford to have any letdowns in the current college hockey climate.

Another team struggling offensively is Providence, which hasn’t scored in its first four games. The Friars are on the road this weekend against Syracuse and Colgate, and if they are even to get to the coaches’ pick in Hockey East (fifth), they better break out of their offensive doldrums. You picked them seventh, a pick that seems more prescient after four games at least. Do you expect improvement this weekend?

Arlan: Probably not, although when a team is 0-4 and has yet to score, the bar is set pretty low, and things can change quickly when a couple of dozen 20 year olds are involved. It’s strange to look at statistics for a team after four games and see everyone, goalies included, tied for the scoring lead with zero points. I’m never sure exactly how teams such as Providence that don’t figure to be in the picture for an NCAA at-large bid approach nonconference games. Do they use them as warm ups for the conference schedule and experiment more than they would if standings points were on the line, or is it business as usual, just like league play?

In any event, the Orange and the Raiders present a less formidable challenge on paper than Mercyhurst and Clarkson did, so the Friars could make strides this weekend. Bob Deraney has 270 wins at Providence, so he likely has a good idea of what he requires from his team. Looking at the positive side, the Friars were more competitive from a territorial perspective in the second game of each series. How those adjustments will translate when playing two different opponents on the weekend remains to be seen. At some point, I’d expect seniors like Haley Frade, Beth Hanrahan, and Brooke Simpson to start finding the range and get the offense going. This concludes a long, convoluted answer that basically says I have no idea what is wrong at Providence, and I likely never will.

Before we get back to discussing more teams that are a constant source of bewilderment, what are your thoughts on the current NCAA overtime rules? We had eight overtimes over the weekend, and all ended as scoreless overtimes. UMD’s Miller said that she’d like to see OT played four on four, but I don’t like that idea from the standpoint that those results would have possible PairWise Rankings implications and could impact the NCAA field. If four on four is a better game, then we would play that way all of the time. I prefer seeing games decided by full teams as much as time and penalty situations allow. The only reason I find shootouts tolerable is that the NCAA ignores shootout results, so in the big picture, the shootouts’ only impact is on playoff seeding. During the regular season, ties are fine. I don’t require the instant gratification of leaving the arena having seen a victor, especially if artificial means are required to produce one. Would you change NCAA overtime, or leave it as is?

Candace: I’d leave it as is. I don’t really see the problem with ties, and having them skate four on four would, I think, kind of change the dynamic. Five on five for five minutes makes sense. As for shootouts, I’m USCHO’s NCHC columnist, so I’ve seen a few of those over the last year, and while it makes the points standings interesting, and obviously adds a crowd-pleasing element, it still seems like a stunt to me. I have trouble taking it seriously, although I’ve some players make some really cool moves when they score.

Let’s turn our attention to a team that isn’t baffling: Wisconsin. The Badgers looked mighty impressive in sweeping Ohio State on the road without giving up a goal. Wisconsin looks to me to be back to where they were a couple of years ago in terms being so balanced. The Badgers really seem to have a lot of ways they can win. Their offense has been the best in the country, averaging five goals a game, and six of the current top 10 scorers in the country are Badgers. The defense, anchored by goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, is third in the country and giving up less than a goal a game. Both the power play and penalty kill are top five in the nation. Freshman Annie Pankowski is second in the country in scoring, putting up a blistering 1.83 points per game, and her classmate, Emily Clark, is in a tie for 10th. This could be the deepest Wisconsin team since their last national championship squad in 2011, and reminds of the days when in our picks contest, my mantra was, “Always pick Wisconsin.”

Do you think Wisconsin can reclaim the WCHA crown from Minnesota this year while holding off charges from Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota?

Arlan: I picked the Badgers in my WCHA preview, and nothing that they’ve done since has led me to think that was the wrong choice. I’m not basing that on what the scoring totals say, because Wisconsin has played more games than other teams, and the per-game averages can be similarly slanted early on after a team like BC has blown up the scoreboard at someone’s expense. The Badgers were at a talent disadvantage at forward a couple of years ago, but their last two recruiting classes have done a lot to change that, adding players like sophomores Sarah Nurse and Sydney McKibbon in addition to some that you mentioned.

The possible hurdle for Wisconsin is if there is a mental block where the Gophers are concerned. On occasion, you will see it with goaltenders who will play better or worse than their numbers against certain teams. For example, great as she was, Minnesota did very well over the years against former UMD goaltender Kim Martin, while former Badger Jessie Vetter owned the Gophers. Alex Rigsby was more like the former in terms of results versus Minnesota. Even in her championship year as a freshman, the Gophers had a couple of games where they were able to score against her, and she was in net for all of the recent 11 straight defeats. Now Desbiens takes over and starts a new chapter in the rivalry.

Desbiens doesn’t need to be sensational to beat Minnesota, just solid. The Gophers graduated three of their top nine forwards, and Maryanne Menefee has yet to play this season. No new lines have really manifested. The power play has been deadly, but beyond that, a handful of veterans, Hannah Brandt in particular, have carried the offensive load.

As for Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota, I’m not sure that either is ready to make a charge at the top. Both are trying to sort some things out, including trying their WCHA All-Rookie Team defensemen at forward. North Dakota is getting by on a steady diet of Meghan Dufault and Becca Kohler, and for the second week in a row, it struggled to score on Saturday. Josefine Jakobsen will be in the mix, as will Gracen Hirschy, no matter where they ultimately line her up. The question to be answered is who else will contribute consistently. For the Bulldogs, nobody is averaging a point a game through six games, and goaltending has been suspect in a couple of contests. I like Lara Stalder better on the blue line, so I’ll be interested to see where she winds up. We’ll get an idea of which of these teams is more likely to be a factor when they meet Friday and Saturday in Grand Forks.

What do we think about the defending NCAA champs? Shea Tiley has quickly established herself among the top goaltenders statistically. Can she stay there when the Golden Knights host Boston University and Marie-Philip Poulin?

Candace: From my point of view, the defending champs are still in a “to be determined state.” As we discussed earlier, Providence has offensive struggles, and shutting out the Friars on consecutive nights isn’t enough to make me think that Tiley is going to be the second coming of Erica Howe. I think this weekend will tell us a lot more about the Golden Knights, as will the game against St. Lawrence, with whom they split two weeks ago, on Oct. 28. If Tiley can keep Poulin, Sarah Lefort, Maddie Elia, and Rebecca Russo, as well as talented freshman Rebecca Leslie, in check, I will be willing to revisit that. This is really Clarkson’s first set against a team that has the ability to put up a bunch of points.

Offensively, Clarkson has been solid; they’ve scored three or more goals in three of four games, and considering that BU is anchored by inexperienced goaltenders, I don’t see any reason that Clarkson will suddenly be shut down offensively. A bigger test of Clarskon’s offensive potential will actually come in mid November, when the Golden Knights face off against Harvard. I think there’s a lot of potential with the Golden Knights, but they haven’t yet made my shortlist of teams I expect to see contend for the NCAA tournament championship.

Another team we haven’t talked about is New Hampshire, which with a 1-3-1 record has actually been in every game it’s played so far, with all three losses by a single goal. Getting points on the road at RIT and Syracuse this weekend has me wondering if UNH might be looking up. This weekend, they host Boston College, and in the last few years, they’ve given BC fits in the first game between the two, winning twice and tying them once. Will history repeat itself? Is UNH going to be in the Hockey East mix after its disastrous collapse last season?

Arlan: No and no, unless in the mix is taken to mean appearing somewhere in the list of eight Hockey East teams. My expectation is that the big ice surface in the Whittemore Center favors BC more than UNH. It’s not just that the Wildcats collapsed last year. Their fourth-place finish two years ago followed a couple of seasons of scuffling around closer to the bottom than the top. I just don’t think that there are enough pieces in place to do more than try to get on a bit of a roll and somehow get home ice for a Hockey East quarterfinal. Scoring seven goals in five games is telling. My column this week will be on New Hampshire under Hilary Witt, who got her first win behind the Wildcats’ bench at RIT, so I’ll save additional analysis regarding UNH until then.

Instead, let’s look at RIT as it travels to Vermont for a Saturday/Sunday series. These are two teams that the coaches of their respective leagues picked to finish in the top half, but not to be title favorites. Series that match such teams can be as important for the teams above them in the standings as for the clubs involved, because the results propagate through the Ratings Percentage Index. RIT and Vermont split a series last year, each taking a fairly one-sided victory. So far, RIT has been strong defensively but weaker on offense, while the Catamounts have been fairly middle of the pack on both. Ali Binnington didn’t play in the Tigers’ tie with Northeastern, and that was the first time they allowed more than one goal. In fairness to Brooke Stoddart, the Huskies likely present a better offense than Union or UNH. If RIT does well this weekend, the schedule sets up well to build some confidence before a trip to Mercyhurst Nov. 21 and 22. Vermont features a superior power play, so the Tigers would do well to avoid a special-teams battle, even though they have a strong penalty kill. I’d be very surprised if either team can score five or six goals as the winners did last year, so these look like games that may come down to a bounce or an OT session. The Catamounts have produced poorer results on Sunday thus far, so it would behoove them to come out just as hard in game two. Do you see anything else out of this series?

Candace: No. I think that a split is likely, and it will be a low-scoring affair in both. I suppose Vermont could get a sweep, depending on how its offense does. RIT has struggled to score even against teams that it should do fine against. A defenseman, freshman Christa Vuglar, currently leads the Tigers in scoring. They need some scoring from other players, like Lindsay Grigg and Celeste Brown and Morgan Scoyne. Admittedly, even last year, when three seniors were in the top five in scoring, RIT didn’t have a big point producer, so the Tigers look to be built from the net out.

I think the series comes down to Vermont’s Amanda Pelkey and Brittany Zuback against RIT’s Ali Binnington, and that’s not meant to slight Dayna Colang or Bridget Baker, who lead the Catamounts in scoring. However, Pelkey and Zuback, in addition to being scorers, are leaders, and really need to provide that if Vermont expects more consistency this season.

Feeling more at home, Atlantic Hockey teams improve slightly on nonconference record

DSC 3645 Feeling more at home, Atlantic Hockey teams improve slightly on nonconference record

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Brad McGowan (left), Alex Perron-Fontaine and Matt Garbowsky celebrate a goal in a season-opening win over St. Lawrence (photo: Omar Phillips).

Atlantic Hockey teams opened the season 4-8 in nonconference games, which at first glance isn’t very impressive.

But when you look at history, however, a .333 winning percentage is far above average for the league, which has an aggregate nonconference winning percentage of only .246 over the past 11 seasons (154-548-74).

One of the factors the league’s coaches have pointed to over the years when addressing the AHA’s dismal record out of conference is that few of the games are played in Atlantic Hockey buildings. There’s been an effort to change that, and we’re starting to see the effects.

Last weekend saw the majority of nonconference games played in the home rinks of AHA teams — nine of 12 in all, which, after perusing schedules over the past 11 seasons, appears to be unprecedented.

Atlantic Hockey teams won four of those nine games, highlighted by Robert Morris’ sweep of Lake Superior State and home wins by Canisius over Western Michigan and Rochester Institute of Technology against St. Lawrence.

“It’s a credit to our coaches who are pushing for more home games and not settling for a guarantee,” said Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley. “And it’s a credit to college hockey in general where teams are willing to come and play in our buildings to help out smaller programs.”

There’s still a long way to go. After getting those nine home games last weekend, AHA teams will host only 15 more nonconference games the rest of the season.

Picking up where they left off

Robert Morris opened its defense of its Atlantic Hockey title with a 3-1, 3-0 sweep of Lake Superior State last weekend. It was the start Schooley was looking for and was in stark contrast to last year, when the Colonials had just two wins at Christmas.

“We returned a lot of players that know what it takes to be successful,” said Schooley. “I thought our compete level was very high and that the guys were prepared. That kind of focus and energy will get you past any rough spots you can have early in the season.”

Team defense was an emphasis for the Colonials going into their opening weekend, and it showed.

“We are a team that can score goals, but in our final three games last season we allowed four goals, four goals and seven goals,” said Schooley. “Our goal was to be focused defensively, and I think the results show that.”

It helps to have two proven goaltenders, as the Colonials do in junior Terry Shafer (one goal allowed on 29 shots on Friday) and sophomore Dalton Izyk (zero goals allowed on 28 shots on Saturday).

“Both goalies played extremely well,” said Schooley. “Both earned playing time and for now that’s what we’ll do. Eventually, one will falter and the other will pick him up, and then that guy will falter and the other guy will pick him up. It’s a good problem to have.”

Robert Morris opens league play this weekend against Niagara in a rematch of last year’s semifinals at Blue Cross Arena that saw the Colonials prevail in overtime.

Already having two wins in the bank gives Schooley’s team some early-season confidence.

“[The slow start last season] has been asked about a lot,” he said. “I think we’ve had good preparation to return the team we had at the end of [last] year.”

Where have we seen this before?

Niagara had a tough opening weekend, losing to Clarkson 3-1 and then seeing a 3-2 second-period deficit to St. Lawrence balloon into a 10-2 drubbing on Saturday.

Already hit by the injury bug, it doesn’t get any easier for the Purple Eagles, who have a home-and-home series with Robert Morris this weekend and then travel to Notre Dame for a pair.

Niagara can take some solace by looking back to 2013, when it also lost to an ECAC Hockey team 10-2 in its second game of the season, that one coming at Colgate. The Purple Eagles went on to a 23-10-5 record that season and became the first Atlantic Hockey team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Calling it home

RIT officially christened the Gene Polisseni Center with a 5-2 win over St. Lawrence last Friday. Coach Wayne Wilson said it was good to get that first win at the new $38 million facility out of the way.

“We’ve said that it’s not really home until you win there and establish your own history,” he said. “It’s not home ice until you make it home ice. Then it becomes our building.”

The Tigers’ next game is at their home away from home, Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. RIT will take on Boston College on Saturday. Another sellout (10,600) is expected for the Tigers and Eagles, who have met just once before: a 6-0 BC win in the championship game of the Mariucci Classic in 2007.

mattginn Feeling more at home, Atlantic Hockey teams improve slightly on nonconference record

Matt Ginn took over at the top of Holy Cross’ career saves list (photo: Melissa Wade).

Milestones

It’s usually late in the college hockey season that you see career records broken, but Holy Cross goaltender Matt Ginn got one out of the way in his first game of the 2014-15 season.

His second of 32 stops in Friday’s 3-2 loss to Merrimack was No. 2,701, setting a Division I school record for career saves previously held by Tony Quesada (2002-06).

Ginn made 32 more saves in a 2-1 loss to Merrimack on Saturday, increasing his total to 2,763.

Century club

Speaking of milestones, here’s a look at the Atlantic Hockey players that have a good chance of hitting the 100-point mark this season:

• Bentley’s Alex Grieve (112 points), Robert Morris’ Cody Wydo (110) and Air Force’s Cole Gunner (105) and are already there.

• Matthew Zay of Mercyhurst is at 99 points.

• Zay’s teammates Ryan Misiak (95) and Daniel Bahntge (91) are knocking on the door, while the Lakers’ Chris Bodo (75) is on a pace to get to 100 points as well.

• At Bentley, besides Grieve, defenseman Steve Weinstein (83) and forward Brett Switzer (84) are looking good. Junior forward Andrew Gladiuk has 67 career points is and within striking distance already, especially if he can have another year like his sophomore campaign that saw him score 37 points.

• Air Force forward Chad Demers (91) looks to join teammate Gunner in the century club.

• Robert Morris senior forward Scott Jacklin has 76 points, also within striking distance.

Catching up with coaches

Last but not least, some coaches are also looking to set milestones this season:

• Air Force’s Frank Serratore needs six more victories to reach the 300-win mark at the school. He’s 294-278-62 at the Academy. His career coaching mark is 343-370-71.

• RIT’s Wilson (280 career wins) and Mercyhurst’s Rick Gotkin (475 victories) are coming up on major milestones but need their teams to have outstanding seasons to reach them in 2014-15.

You win some, you lose … one

Something unprecedented happened in Air Force’s 5-1 opening-night victory over visiting Mercyhurst: Lakers goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant lost a regular season conference game. The senior and reigning Atlantic Hockey player of the year was 15-0-5 in league play coming into the game.

Sarjeant does have five other career losses, all coming last season. Four came in nonconference play and the other in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals.

Weekly awards

I’m choosing the same honorees as the league, with the exception of adding a goaltender.

Player of the week — Cole Gunner, Air Force: The senior forward picked up where he left off last season, with a pair of goals and a pair of assists in a split with Mercyhurst.

Goalies of the week — Dalton Izyk, Robert Morris, and Alex Vazzano, Sacred Heart: Izyk was perfect in his season debut, stopping all 28 shots in a 3-0 win over Lake Superior State. Vazzano stopped 70 of 73 shots he faced in a split with Army.

Rookies of the week — Johno May, American International, and Jonathan Charbonneau, Mercyhurst: May figured in two of AIC’s three goals with a goal and an assist in a 7-3 loss at Union. Charbonneau also had a goal and an assist, both coming in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Air Force.

At RIT, new Gene Polisseni Center shows program’s growth

DSC 3705 At RIT, new Gene Polisseni Center shows programs growth

The Gene Polisseni Center replaces Frank Ritter Arena, home of Rochester Institute of Technology hockey for 46 years (photo: Omar Phillips).

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Countless dreams and four years of hard work have finally come to fruition at Rochester Institute of Technology.

On Sept. 18, the school dedicated the new $38 million Gene Polisseni Center, a 4,000-seat venue for the men’s and women’s hockey teams.

“The Polisseni Center symbolizes the growth of RIT hockey from the D-II and D-III days through Division I and the Frozen Four,” said RIT president Bill Destler. ”It is a reflection of the commitment that RIT has to the community and the community has to RIT.”

RIT’s men’s and women’s hockey teams moved in to the new ice rink in September after playing at Frank Ritter Ice Arena for 46 years. While Ritter Arena was much-loved for its raucous atmosphere and close-to-the-action feel, its limited amenities and seating capacity became more obvious after the men’s team elevated to Division I in 2005.

Tickets became increasingly hard to come by, general admission bench seating turned families away, and the amenities of the rink were outdated.

The RIT men’s team’s run to the 2010 Frozen Four provided the impetus for dreams of a new rink to transform into action. In the fall of 2011, Steve and Vicki Schultz kicked off the effort with a large donation.

The RIT women’s hockey team winning the Division III national championship in 2012, its final season before moving to Division I, added momentum to the drive for a new facility.

Fundraising of all sorts followed, ground was broken in the summer of 2012, and the doors finally opened for the first game on Sept. 29.

DSC 2607 At RIT, new Gene Polisseni Center shows programs growth

The Gene Polisseni Center cost $38 million to build (photo: Omar Phillips).

Fan experience and maintaining the loud atmosphere that RIT hockey games are known for were important design considerations.

Reserved chair-back seating fills about three quarters of the Polisseni Center, with the remainder of the 4,000 seats set aside for general admission sections that include the infamous Corner Crew, students and pep band.

Reserved seating has proven popular with alumni, staff and the community, alleviating the need to arrive at games early to ensure a seat.

“Reserved seating is the best,” said alumnus Tom Naeger. ”I can now stand in the Corner Crew while my wife and child have seats guaranteed.”

Another popular feature is the club section, which includes seating at center ice and provides fans a dinner buffet, lounge area, cash bar and other amenities during games.

Six luxury suites are spread throughout the venue for larger groups. They include an ice-level “bunker” suite and a VIP “player experience” box located as an extension of the home team bench.

The Polisseni Center centralizes the facilities used by the teams and support staff as well. The men’s and women’s hockey teams each have large locker and dressing rooms adjacent to a shared training room, along with weight rooms, team and video rooms, coaches offices and equipment rooms.

There are four visiting locker rooms as well as rooms for referees and other game officials.

“For the team, it is nice to have everything in one place,” said RIT volunteer assistant coach Mike Germain. ”At Ritter, we had to go all over the complex for different things; now it is all right here.”

DSC 3542 At RIT, new Gene Polisseni Center shows programs growth

Video screens are at each end of the Gene Polisseni Center (photo: Omar Phillips).

A large press box with individual broadcast booths unites television, radio, video and print media with the sports information staff for the first time, providing more cohesive coverage for games.

Instead of the more conventional center-ice scoreboard, the Polisseni Center includes two large video boards, one on each end of the arena, as well as smaller scoreboards on the walls near center ice that include timing, score and penalty information.

It gives everyone an unobstructed view of the entire arena and allows for concerts, graduation and other events to be held in the building after hockey season concludes.

While there are growing pains with any new facility, the teams and the fans are both striving to make the Polisseni Center the new home of RIT hockey.

“I miss the Ritter but they made it real easy to like the new rink,” said RIT alumnus Paul Meyerhofer. ”It just feels right.”

TMQ: A wild start to the season, especially for ranked teams

2014101216 21 129 TMQ: A wild start to the season, especially for ranked teams

Notre Dame started 0-2 for the first time since 2005-06, coach Jeff Jackson’s first season in South Bend (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.

Todd: Did the first week-plus of the season really end up like that?

Before every season, everyone around college hockey makes their best guess as to which teams will be the ones to watch, and then reality starts to set in. The teams that our 50 voters picked for the top 20 in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll combined to go 14-14 in regular season games over the first nine days of the season.

You never want to read too much into results this early in the season, but what did you take away from that stretch?

Jim: I left the weekend shaking my head, no doubt. Particularly as I filled out my ballot and realized the few teams in the top 20 that escaped the weekend without a loss (of the 18 top 20 teams that played, only six came away without a loss), it was a pretty difficult weekend for the nationally ranked.

What this may say is that voters got things wrong on their first ballot. Even though only three new teams made their way into the poll, there were a number of huge shifts. Wisconsin led the way on the trek down, moving from 10th to 18th after losing twice in the Alaska-Anchorage tournament. Massachusetts-Lowell led the up-and-comers after posting a nice home win over once-No. 4 (now No. 7) Boston College.

But if anything, this weekend proved that the coaches who say that polls are for the media and fans are absolutely right. The game is played on the ice.

Todd: I can see some pretty tough weeks on the practice ice for a few teams. I saw Notre Dame lose both of its home games at the Ice Breaker Tournament, to Rensselaer and Minnesota-Duluth, and I think those results will put the veterans on the Irish roster on notice that they need to give more while the younger players adjust to the college level.

Wisconsin is in the same boat when it comes to youth. The Badgers had 10 freshmen in their lineup for Saturday’s loss to Alaska-Anchorage, the most since a game in the 2003-04 season. The losses had to hurt, but the lessons learned are going to be valuable.

Jim: I think that at this point in the season, teachable moments are things that coaches actually want. Yes, winning games would be nice. But particularly if you have a number of rookies, it’s good to see some mistakes that you can take to the video room, break down and create awareness so when these players are faced with similar situations later in the season that these mistakes don’t happen.

Turning from the negative to the positive, there were plenty of accomplishments to talk about. Out east, most people in Hockey East began the year with the name of Boston University’s Jack Eichel on the tip of tongues. Friday at Massachusetts, Eichel’s hopeful promise paid dividends as he factored in four goals early in the third period to break open a 2-1 game. His two-goal, two-assist effort led to an 8-1 BU victory.

At least in Hockey East, I can’t remember such a highly anticipated recruit possibly since Paul Kariya. Of course, there is the good and bad side of this. If Eichel has an explosive year like most anticipate, it may be his only year on Commonwealth Ave.

So if you’re a coach, are you willing to risk a player lasting just a single year on campus? Personally, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Todd: As long as you have your recruiting targets worked around the likelihood of having a player for only one season, it’s a tremendous opportunity for a team. It’s the surprise departures that can really throw a wrench into the long-term plans. I’d be surprised if BU’s recruiting plan includes Eichel being with the team for more than a year, maybe two.

College hockey isn’t going to change the system, so it has to manage how it works within it. I think you take the players that will get your school’s name mentioned in a positive light on NHL broadcasts down the road.

Getting back to what we saw last weekend, there were a pair of notable hat tricks on Saturday: Jonny Brodzinski to help St. Cloud State earn a split with Colgate in a matchup of top-10 teams, and Vermont’s Jonathan Turk in a win at Northeastern. One name may be more familiar to many than others; Turk scored just three goals in each of his first two seasons with the Catamounts. I suspect production from players like Turk will make Vermont more of a factor in the Hockey East title chase this season.

Jim: Certainly. I was actually quite surprised with how low Vermont was ranked in the Hockey East coaches’ poll (eighth). This was a solid team that made the NCAA tournament a year ago. And Saturday proved that this Vermont team has the potency on offense and solid goaltending to become a top-tier team in Hockey East.

Thumbs up

Well done, fans at last Friday’s Boston College at Massachusetts-Lowell game. When the national anthem singer’s microphone didn’t work, you knew what to do:

Thumbs down

OK, Kendall Hockey Classic, we’ll overlook that we were introduced last weekend to an outfit called Rent A Can. But if you have a system where the tournament champion has to be decided by which team allowed the fewest goals over two games, that we won’t overlook. An event where four teams are brought to one arena to play deserves to be decided by a championship game.

Coming up

We’ve got our eyes on some home-and-home series between ranked teams (and some former conference foes) this weekend.

From the old CCHA, No. 11 Miami and No. 17 Ohio State square off. From the old WCHA, No. 12 Minnesota State meets No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth. And from the old Division II independent ranks, No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell matches up with No. 13 Quinnipiac.

WCHA suspends Alaska-Anchorage’s Cameron one game

The WCHA announced Monday that Alaska-Anchorage senior forward Brett Cameron has been handed a one-game suspension.

The suspension is a result of Cameron’s game misconduct infraction for contact to the head of a Wisconsin player, which occurred during the third period of UAA’s game on Saturday, Oct. 11.

Cameron is eligible to return for the Seawolves’ game on Saturday, Oct. 18, against Air Force as part of the Alaska Goal Rush in Fairbanks.

Former Oswego, St. Anselm women’s assistant Heydenburg passes away

Joe Heydenburg, a former assistant women’s coach at Oswego and St. Anselm, died last Friday at the age of 52, Lakers coach Diane Dillon said.

Heydenburg coached at Oswego from 2008 to 2012 after two seasons at St. Anselm.

He also was a video coordinator for the Harvard men’s program, the NHL’s New York Islanders and the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs.

He also coached the men’s club team at Navy for three seasons.

WCHA wants to see even more of its teams in the NCAA tournament in 2014-15

Mavericks Win WCHA wants to see even more of its teams in the NCAA tournament in 2014 15

Bryce Gervais and Matt Leitner return to make Minnesota State the WCHA favorite (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

Mike Hastings recalled two seasons ago, his first as coach of Minnesota State, and the tough schedule of the “old WCHA.” There were trips to Wisconsin and other places where “you had to go earn it,” he said.

When realignment took place, and the WCHA was busted up and put back together again, the conventional wisdom around college hockey was that the league was an easier one to manage.

Not so, Hastings said.

“It’s no different,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who says I’d like to go Bowling Green back to back nights and try to get two wins there — or even one — or go to Northern Michigan and play a Walt Kyle-coached team.

“Everybody’s prepared. That hasn’t really been a change compared to anything we’ve seen before. And anybody who thought different has been proven wrong.”

The league may have lost some star power in realignment, but it didn’t lose any drama.

By the final weekend of the season, there were three separate races being fought among the WCHA’s 10 teams: one for the MacNaughton Cup as regular-season champion, one for a top-four spot in the standings and home-ice advantage and one for the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Every week, everything mattered,” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson said. “It came right down to the wire — right? — the last game of the year deciding where everybody was going and who everybody was playing. I loved competing against it.”

There was a bit of a feeling-out process in year one of the revamped league, which combined the leftover teams from the WCHA and CCHA after others had left for the Big Ten, NCHC and Hockey East.

But most of that, coaches said, involved travel arrangements and logistics, planning 10-day trips to Alaska, figuring out the best route to Alabama, preparing for long bus rides to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — not just once or twice but sometimes three times.

Teams that didn’t go through some of that last season are going through it this year, maybe with the advice of last year’s guinea pigs.

But on the ice?

“It was pretty evident pretty quick that it was going to be one-goal, close-checking games,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “Every game was going to be the same.”

Last season, two teams emerged from the WCHA to earn berths to the NCAA tournament: Ferris State and Minnesota State.

The Mavericks received the league’s auto-bid by winning the Final Five and the Broadmoor Trophy. Going into the conference’s playoff championship weekend, they were not guaranteed an at-large spot in the field of 16, as the Bulldogs, the team they beat in the league finals, received.

The following weekend, Minnesota State lost a tight, 2-1 tournament game to Massachusetts-Lowell, while Ferris State defeated Colgate 1-0 before falling 2-1 in double overtime to North Dakota in the regional finals.

Those games proved the WCHA hadn’t gone anywhere and indeed could still compete on the national stage.

“The teams that come out of the WCHA and get to the national tournament are going to be battle-tested,” Hastings said.

This season, the goal, according to new WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson and the coaches, is to get three teams in the national tournament.

It’s no easy task — one that will require a better nonconference showing than WCHA teams made last season when they went 25-44-12 outside of league play (not counting postseason), including an 11-37-7 mark on the road.

“When we get in league play, we have a tendency to beat the heck out of each other, which we did last year. There’s no easy nights,” Hastings said. “In our nonconference, hopefully there’s a focus that we can carry our weight.”

Minnesota State and Ferris State again are the favorites for the top two spots in the league and, based off the national polls, to get to the national tournament. But who’s poised to join them?

Michigan Tech and Bowling Green appear to be on the verge of a move up. Alaska made a late-season push last winter, and Alaska-Anchorage took Ferris State to overtime in the Final Five semifinals.

“I expect to have more teams in the tournament,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “From top to bottom, every night you’re going to have to play your best game to win. And if you don’t, you’re going to get beat. … I think it will be a tighter league than last year, and, as everybody knows, it went down to the last weekend to find out who was going to make home ice and who was going to make the playoffs.”

Even the coaches whose teams that are still in the rebuilding phase agree.

Mike Corbett, whose Alabama-Huntsville team won just two games last season, said the league is moving in the right direction.

“We all know the WCHA is a tough, hardworking league with just as much talent as any league in the country,” he said. “The biggest thing we’ve been able to learn over the course of one year of being in the league is what it takes to compete. …

“We’re trying to emulate the successful teams in the WCHA.”

Click on a team name below to see its preview:

Alabama-Huntsville

Alaska

Alaska-Anchorage

Bemidji State

Bowling Green

Ferris State

Lake Superior State

Michigan Tech

Minnesota State

Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan expects to see growth from last season’s large freshman class

nmu Northern Michigan expects to see growth from last seasons large freshman class

Reed Seckel scored 12 goals last season and is back for his fifth season at Northern Michigan (photo: Northern Michigan Athletics).

Walt Kyle said he’s looking at the 2014-15 season with “quiet optimism.”

Last year his Northern Michigan team played a boatload of freshmen — 10, to be exact — to get them prepared for future seasons. The Wildcats finished the season 15-21-2 overall, 13-14-1 in the WCHA and lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to Minnesota State.

This year, throwing those players into the fire early could pay off.

“I think you’re not gonna win in this league, or any league, with young guys or inexperienced guys, and we had to kind of bite the bullet [last season],” Kyle said. “Those guys have all, from what I’ve seen, come back and done the things they’ve needed to to to take the next step. They all look very much on task to be the better players we’d hoped they’d be.

“The question for us is who’s going to score goals?” Kyle said. “I think we have some guys who have a lot of room to grow in that department and I think they will.”

Reed Seckel, the team’s second-leading scorer (12-13–25), returns for his fifth year of eligibility. John Siemer tallied 18 points as a freshman.

But Kyle expects to be stronger on defense, especially with Mathias Dahlström in the net. Dahlström started in 25 of 38 games for the Wildcats and sported a 2.64 GAA and .912 save percentage.

“He’s a quality goaltender, one of the better guys in the league,” Kyle said. “I think he’s a great guy for us to build on.”

The Wildcats also have nearly their entire defensive corps back, including Mitch Jones, Jake Baker and Brock Maschmeyer.

“We have five of our top six, six of our top seven defensemen returning,” Kyle said. “We think that position is a position where we have some strength. We hope guys like Jake Baker and Mitch Jones, who are seniors, can be leaders back there and have their best career years.”

The Wildcats open their tough schedule Oct. 17-18 at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., against Wisconsin; they also take on Minnesota-Duluth and Penn State in nonconference play.

“We have a quiet optimism,” Kyle said. “We have to reduce penalty minutes and be better killing penalties. If we can do those things we take some big steps this season.”

About the Wildcats

2013-14 record: 15-21-2

2013-14 conference record: 13-14-1 (seventh)

2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Sixth

Key losses: F Stephan Vigier, F Erik Higby, D CJ Ludwig

Key returnees: F Reed Seckel, F Ryan Kesti, G Mathias Dahlström, D Mitch Jones, D Jake Baker, D Brock Maschmeyer

Impact rookie: Kyle said that, due to last year’s large freshman class, this year’s is smaller but has a few newcomers who could contribute right away. Joe Manno, a transfer from Northeastern, was singled out as being a player who could see significant time for Kyle. He went back to Dubuque of the USHL last season and had 10 goals and 12 assists in 35 games. He had four goals and eight assists for Northeastern in 14 games 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Why the Wildcats will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: NMU had 10 freshmen that saw time last year. This season they’re a bit older, have more experience and should be better adjusted to the new WCHA. With a deep blue line and goaltending, they could compete for home ice this year.

Why the Wildcats will finish lower than the coaches poll: Kyle said he wasn’t sure who was going to score consistently. If the younger forwards he’s expecting to grow into scorers can’t do that this year, NMU could be fighting to stay in the playoff hunt.

Minnesota State needs a better start to meet high expectations

2013110821 38 5351 Minnesota State needs a better start to meet high expectations

Matt Leitner had 12 goals and 45 points last season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Minnesota State very nearly got where it wanted to go last year.

The Mavericks came within a point of winning the MacNaughton Cup. They won the Broadmoor Trophy as Final Five champions. They returned to the NCAA tournament and came within a whisker of advancing out of the first round.

But getting there wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“We had to put together a good string toward the end of the year,” coach Mike Hastings said.

As they were this year, the Mavericks were picked to win the WCHA a year ago. But they got off to a 4-7 start overall.

With almost every key player back from that team and expectations sky-high, Hastings says the Mavericks can’t afford to test those waters again.

“We have to be good early,” he said. “If we’re not prepared and we’re not playing real good hockey when we go to Omaha (on the opening weekend) and Duluth (on Oct. 17) and get into league play, we’re going to have a tough time getting out of a hole like we did last year.”

The Mavericks are fortunate to have players who remember the lesson.

It’s a loaded team that includes the league’s top two returning scorers in forwards Matt Leitner (12 goals, 45 points) and Jean-Paul LaFontaine (20, 40), both of whom have more than 100 career points, as well as the league’s goaltending champion, Cole Huggins (.926 save percentage, 1.88 GAA).

Hastings has his most-experienced team in three seasons at Minnesota State.

Preseason all-league picks Leitner, LaFontaine and defenseman Zach Palmquist, as well as forwards Chase Grant and Max Gaede all have played more than 110 college games.

“We’re going to lean on those guys from the get-go,” Hastings said.

But the cupboard’s not bare after that.

There’s a promising junior class led by Bryce Gervais (16, 26) and Teddy Blueger (4, 26) coming up behind them.

“It’s a season we’re extremely excited about,” Hastings said.

About the Mavericks

2013-14 record: 26-14-1

2013-14 conference record: 20-7-1 (second)

2014-15 predicted finish: First

Key losses: F Johnny McInnis, F Zach Lehrke

Key returnees: F Matt Leitner, F Jean-Paul LaFontaine, F Bryce Gervais, D Zach Palmquist, G Cole Huggins

Impact rookie: F C.J. Franklin

Why the Mavericks will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: Their young but now-experienced defensemen step up and they get top-flight goaltending from the get-go.

Why the Mavericks will finish lower than predicted: They’re unable to replace a 20-goal scorer in McInnis and find a suitable replacement for Lehrke on the power play.

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