TMQ: Revisiting Belfast and weighing college hockey’s potential next venues

UMass-Lowell celebrates the inaugural Friendship Four championship (photo: Andy Gibson, Black Lab Photography).

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.

Paula: Jim, count me among the people jealous that you traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the Friendship Four. Can you talk about your experience there? I’m really curious about the interest in hockey in Ireland. I’m also shaking my head at the results, with two games going into overtime and Colgate taking a pounding twice. What did you take away from the trip?

Jim: First off, let me say that it was a great privilege to be able to travel with UMass-Lowell to call the games. It was easily one of the best experiences of my 24 years in college hockey.

Hockey is a cultural centerpiece to the city of Belfast. When hockey arrived 15 years ago, this was a city torn by a terrible religious conflict and sports were all too often the catalyst to violence. The traditional sports like soccer and rugby had fans whose rooting interests were aligned with their religion. Team colors were used like gang colors in the U.S. And the hooliganism associated with sports was destructive to the entire region.

When the Belfast Giants were born, they made specific efforts to make sure there were none of the colors that were religiously tied to other sports. They chose teal as their main color and banned any other sports jerseys from the arena. Because the Giants play in a league based in Great Britain, there wasn’t another club to battle in Ireland or Northern Ireland. Thus, the popularity of the team was also a unifying factor. Catholics and protestants cheered alongside one another for the first time.

Thus hockey didn’t just become popular but also became a focal point of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The Friendship Four tournament was an extension of this. Bringing four college teams from the U.S. to play meaningful games meant a lot to this city and the fans embraced it. The attendance for the four games exceeded 20,000, many of whom were grade school children bussed in from all over the region, their tickets paid for by sponsors.

The product on the ice didn’t disappoint. Though the favorite, UMass-Lowell, emerged with the victory, it did so dramatically. Both games for the River Hawks required an extra-attacker goal to tie the score. The semifinal against Northeastern was decided in overtime and the title game against Brown was decided in a shootout. The fans seemed to love every minute of it, soaking it up with great enthusiasm.

It was announced that the tournament will happen again next year, which means there will be many programs in Hockey East and ECAC Hockey angling to participate.

Paula: I am blown away by the school children bussed in from all over, with their tickets paid by sponsors. I’m reminded of the last lines that Annie Savoy speaks in “Bull Durham,” when she claims that Walt Whitman said that baseball “will repair our losses and be a great blessing to us.” In all seriousness, this is the best part of sport at every level — from pond hockey and pickup basketball to college sports to professional sport of all kind. That it’s the game that we love, hockey, that helped the peace process in Northern Ireland is moving and gratifying.

What an experience, Jim. I’m so glad that you had this experience and that each of the four participant programs did as well.

It almost makes me wary of segueing into what I want to know next: Is Colgate really that bad? And why did it take Colorado College until the last weekend in November to get a win? Maybe you can answer the first one, at least.

Jim: Although I never spoke with Don Vaughan directly in Belfast, I was told by a number of people that Colgate is suffering through a number of injuries and thus is seriously lacking the depth you would expect from this team. Both nights, the Raiders fell behind swiftly in the second period — giving up quick goals to fall into multi-goal deficits. And I think that was simply destructive. I thought at times in the opening period of each game they looked decent but they may be too banged up to put forth a 60-minute effort necessary to win.

As for Colorado College, first let me say that I am happy to see the Tigers win. I got to see this team earlier this season and it looked pretty good. It surprises me that it took this long to get a win, but I also think that the Tigers are a step behind the rest of the NCHC. Mike Haviland has a proven track record as a successful coach and, in year two, sometimes you don’t have all the pieces in place to play your system. It’s going to be another long season for the Tigers, no doubt. But it’s good to see them get off the schneid.

Lowell wasn’t the only team to take home hardware last weekend — Harvard captured the Shillelagh Tournament at Notre Dame and Boston University rallied to tie Cornell and win a shootout to win yet another addition of Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden.

The latter is what I want to talk about. This was the fifth edition of Red Hot Hockey played at MSG. It is always a smashing success, this year packing in 17,154 fans. This is an old rivalry with two schools that have large fan bases in New York City. Are there any other rivalries you might like to see played on a special stage on a repeating basis? I know Michigan and Michigan State already take a game each year to Joe Louis Arena. But that is in the same geographic region. Could you imagine other schools imitating Red Hot Hockey?

Paula: I love the Michigan-Michigan State games in Joe Louis Arena. Interestingly, they draw really well while the 2015 Big Ten tournament did not; last year’s regular-season game (Jan. 30, 2015) between Michigan and Michigan State drew over 20,000 people, while the Big Ten tournament had a few thousand at any given moment, at most. The consensus in the JLA press box was that the game between the Wolverines and the Spartans is an annual event and is well promoted throughout the region, yet the Big Ten tourney was the first of its kind in JLA after a year’s absence of a college hockey championship tournament, since the last CCHA championship was in 2013.

But I digress.

Sunday marked the fourth annual Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff at the Wells Fargo Center, and the attendance for the Penn State-Vermont game was 9,213. Last season’s game — played Jan. 31, 2015 — drew 11,674. The teams played in front of 17,632 on Oct. 26, 2013, and the inaugural game (Jan. 19, 2013) drew 19,529. I just wanted to throw that dwindling attendance out there before I got to your question, Jim.

I would love to see Wisconsin play Minnesota in Chicago annually. That’s a game that would draw because of the regional appeal, because people enjoy traveling to Chicago, because there are many alumni from each school in Chicago, and because Chicago is a pretty good hockey town. Weirdly enough, I think a Michigan-Ohio State game may draw annually somewhere outside of the Midwest, where the alumni bases were big enough. Here, though, it’s mostly about the football; in someplace like Washington, D.C. — just as an example — there may be enough of a nostalgia for the schools to draw fans to a hockey game.

Then there are destination venues — like Las Vegas — that may turn into something that would be well attended annually. It’s tough to predict, however, because college hockey really is a regional and niche sport, still. I will be interested in seeing how the Michigan-Penn State game does in MSG in January. I will be there, covering that one.

I do like college hockey in big venues in cities where college hockey is not otherwise played, but I will say that I dislike the outdoor games. I think they’re overdone.

Jim: I actually noticed that the attendance in Philly has been dropping year after year. It’s hard to tell if maybe that game has run its course, though I also wonder if it would be better to take the BU-Cornell approach and play every other year. It seems to work well for Red Hot Hockey.

I also agree that outdoor games have run their course and believe we won’t see many going forward, at least for a little while. But I do believe there will be some nontraditional venues that get games in the years coming forward. I think Chicago makes a lot of sense for almost any two schools. It is a great destination for fans that is easily reachable and many schools have large alumni bases.

I would also like to see two teams take a college game north of the border — whether it be Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa. Heck, maybe it’s hockey-starved Quebec City. I feel like any two teams can draw both their own fans as well as locals to some of these cities while it would also stand to promote the game in major junior’s backyard.

Thumbs up

This one is easy. It’s a thumbs up to the people of Belfast, Northern Ireland, who turned out in force to support college hockey. Tournament organizers took a big chance by holding four separate admission games over the two days. But that translated to 20,414 fans walking through the turnstiles. People wondered if Belfast could support college hockey and the answer was resoundingly yes.

Thumbs down

There was a lot of talk last week about proposed legislation brought forth by the Big Ten that would restrict players from entering college hockey more than two years after their expected date of high school graduation. It would basically cut off 21-year-olds from entering as freshmen, something unique to college hockey but also something that has increased the parity in the game in recent years. Recently, the battle to attract players to college and away from major junior has been a difficult one. We don’t understand why the heck anyone would want to place further regulations on recruiting players that steer players away from college hockey.

Coming up

While the Big Ten gets its conference season started this weekend, the NCHC features a pair of series matching two teams ranked in the top 10 of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. No. 7 St. Cloud State hosts No. 6 Omaha, while No. 9 Denver plays at No. 4 North Dakota.

No. 1 Providence takes its unbeaten record into a home-and-home series with No. 16 Merrimack, while No. 3 Quinnipiac puts its unbeaten record on the line at No. 10 Yale on Friday. No. 13 St. Lawrence plays at No. 15 Cornell on Friday.

Minnesota’s Seeler suspended one game by Big Ten for head contact penalty

The Big Ten announced Monday that Minnesota junior defenseman Nick Seeler has been suspended for one game as a result of an incident that occurred in a game against St. Cloud State on Nov. 29.

The action was taken by the conference after a review of an incident that happened near the 5:28 mark of the second period and resulted in Seeler receiving a major penalty for contact to the head and a game misconduct.

Seeler is ineligible to play in Minnesota’s next game on Dec. 4 against Ohio State.

Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 23-29

Goalie Charlie Lindgren and No. 7 St. Cloud State swept a pair of games at Minnesota (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Here’s how the teams ranked in the Nov. 23, 2015, USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll fared between Nov. 23 and Nov. 29:

Saturday: beat No. 10 Yale 4-39-0-3Friday: at Merrimack
Saturday: vs. Merrimack
Boston College
Tuesday: won at Connecticut 5-1
Saturday: beat RIT 6-2
12-1Saturday: vs. Northeastern
Sunday: at Northeastern
Friday: won at Massachusetts 4-1
Saturday: beat Massachusetts 1-0
13-0-2Friday: at Yale
Saturday: at Brown
Friday: beat Northeastern 3-2 (OT)
Saturday: tied Brown 5-5
10-1-4Saturday: at Connecticut
Sunday: vs. Connecticut
North Dakota
Friday: won at Michigan State 3-1
Sunday: won at Michigan State 4-1
12-2-2Friday-Saturday: vs. Denver
Friday: beat Ohio State 3-1
Saturday: beat Ohio State 6-4
11-2-1Friday-Saturday: at St. Cloud State
St. Cloud State
Friday: won at Minnesota 3-2
Sunday: won at Minnesota 7-4
11-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Omaha
Friday: won at No. 18 Notre Dame 4-1
Saturday: beat Rensselaer 4-0
6-1-1Friday: at Union
Saturday: at Rensselaer
Off7-3-2Friday-Saturday: at North Dakota
Saturday: lost at No. 1 Providence 4-35-2-2Friday: vs. Quinnipiac
Saturday: vs. Princeton
Boston University
Tuesday: beat Bentley 3-0
Saturday: tied No. 16 Cornell 3-3
7-4-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Vermont
Friday: beat Dartmouth 7-0
Saturday: tied Dartmouth 1-1
7-2-2Friday-Saturday: vs. Wisconsin
Saturday: lost to Union 4-06-2-4Friday: vs. Providence
Saturday: at Providence
St. Lawrence
Off8-3-2Friday: at Cornell
Saturday: at Colgate
Bowling Green
Friday: beat Northern Michigan 2-1
Saturday: beat Northern Michigan 4-3 (OT)
9-3-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Minnesota State
Saturday: tied No. 11 Boston University 3-36-1-2Friday: vs. St. Lawrence
Saturday: vs. Clarkson
Off5-5-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Western Michigan
Notre Dame
Friday: lost to No. 8 Harvard 4-1
Saturday: beat Western Michigan 3-1
6-4-4Friday-Saturday: vs. Massachusetts
Michigan Tech
Friday: won at Alaska 4-1
Saturday: won at Alaska 3-1
9-4-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Alaska-Anchorage
Penn State
Sunday: beat Vermont 4-08-2-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Michigan State

WCHA suspends Lake Superior State forward Hults one game

The WCHA announced Saturday a one-game suspension for Lake Superior State freshman forward Mitch Hults.

The suspension is a result of Hults’ game misconduct infraction, which was assessed following a blindside hit with contact to the head of an opposing player, at the 5:15 mark of the third period in Lake Superior State’s game Friday, Nov. 27 against Ferris State.

LSSU’s next scheduled game is tonight, Nov. 28, versus Ferris State. Hults is eligible to return for the Dec. 4 contest at Alaska.

Lake Superior State learning how to close out games

Lake Superior State’s Alex Globke has posted just four points through 10 games this season (photo: Lake Superior State Athletics).

For a young team still learning to win close games, overtime can be a valuable learning tool.

Take Lake Superior State. The Lakers had a pair of close games at home against Division I newcomers Arizona State two weekends ago. Saturday, Gus Correale scored to tie the game at 2-2 with just less than a minute to play.

But the Lakers’ hopes of earning the tie were dashed when the Sun Devils’ Jordan Masters netted the winner with 30 seconds to go in overtime.

So the next weekend, when the Lakers headed to Bemidji State, they figured out how to guard their valuable lead. Lake Superior State gutted through a scoreless third period to win Friday night’s game 3-2 before settling for a solid 1-1 tie in Saturday’s contest — one in which Lakers’ goaltender sophomore goaltender Gordon Defiel saw 48 shots.

And although the Lakers, who are 3-8-3 overall, have been somewhat inconsistent this season, that’s to be expected for a young team.

“With a young team and a team in a rebuild, you’ve got to learn how to win hockey games and be in close games, to get that experience,” second-year coach Damon Whitten said. “That’s all showing a little bit. We’re still learning how to close out games and either hold onto leads or get that goal to tie it up.”

Seven of the Lakers’ last eight games have been decided by one goal (or ended in ties). The only outlier was a 5-0 Saturday night loss against Alabama-Huntsville that may have been carryover shock from losing a two-goal lead in the third period of Friday’s game.

The Lakers have had their share of issues — scoring has been a problem, for one, with just 28 goals in 14 games — but overall it seems like they’ve improved as the calendar turned to November.

This is especially true for Defiel and the Lakers defense, which gave up 29 goals in their first eight games. They’ve allowed just 11 in six games since.

“It’s a little too inconsistent for our liking, probably, but we had huge growth after Christmas last year, where we finished extremely well defensively,” Whitten said. “We thought that’s where we’d be starting from, but that wasn’t the case. I thought we were way too loose early on, but we tightened that up in a lot of areas.”

Defiel’s numbers haven’t been eye-popping, but he, too, has improved since the start of the season. Against the Beavers last weekend, he made 80 saves to steal three points.

The Lakers are also getting more contributions from their older players than they were to start the season. Junior Alex Globke, who was the top WCHA newcomer in 2013-14, scored the game-tying goal Saturday against BSU while junior Gus Correale scored Friday’s game-winner in Bemidji and also helped send the game against Arizona State to overtime.

“In college hockey, your success is dependent on your upperclassmen,” Whitten said. “Globke had a tremendous freshman year before we got here, but he’s playing the best hockey since we’ve been here. And that’s huge to get him going. Give him a lot of credit for sticking with it. His work ethic away from the puck has been tremendous and he’s getting rewarded for it.

“And Correale has been good since day one. He works extremely hard, he skates, he plays in all situations. To get offense from him, we’d like that to continue.”

Otherwise, all of Lake State’s scoring leaders are newcomers. Sophomore J.T. Henke, a Maine transfer, leads the way with eight points (5 goals, 3 assists). Freshmen Mitch Hults, Gage Torrel and Anthony Nellis are also ahead of Globke and Correale in the scorebooks.

The Lakers, who have just two conference losses in six games, have games in hand over just about everybody in the conference. They return home this week, where they’ve struggled to win games — just one victory in Sault Ste. Marie so far. A high-scoring Ferris State team that has scored more than anyone in the league awaits them.

“It’s not a terrible league start but we’d like to be better overall,” Whitten said. “It’s been too up and down and too inconsistent in the nonconference portion. But now that we’re getting in the league play we’ve tightened up. So we’re an improved team and we see that but we can’t have passengers in this program right now. We need everybody playing and we’re starting to get that.”

Rookie goalies shine

Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen has made an immediate impact as a freshman, winning WCHA rookie of the week honors three times (including this week), getting a defensive player of the week award once and capturing the league’s first rookie of the month honor in October.

He is 3-3-5 and ranks second in the WCHA with a .934 save percentage and is third with a 2.13 GAA.

But suddenly, he’s not alone when it comes to rookie goalies in the league. Three others are starting to make names for themselves, too.

Minnesota State freshman Jason Pawloski has started three games in a row and has yet to lose this season. Competing with junior Cole Huggins, Pawloski is 3-0-2 with a 1.99 GAA (second-best in the WCHA) and just battled Tolvanen to a pair of ties in Marquette. His save percentage, however, is just .883.

In Big Rapids last weekend, rookie goalies stole the show in a pair of ties between Ferris State and visiting Alaska. The Bulldogs’ Darren Smith, who has played in nine games and has a record of 4-1-3, stopped 70 of 75 shots last weekend. The Nanooks’ Jesse Jenks, who has played in four games (2-0-2), stopped 75 of 80 shots.

Jenks and Smith rank third and fourth, respectively, in conference save percentage at .928 and .925. They have 2.41 and 2.39 GAAs, respectively.

They have had competition for their jobs. Junior Davis Jones has played in eight games for Alaska, and senior Charles Williams has seen action in seven games for Ferris State.

The only other freshman to play between the pipes this season in the WCHA is Nick Kossoff, who has gotten action in four games for Lake Superior State, winning once.

WCHA rejects proposed legislation

The recent kerfuffle over the Big Ten’s proposed legislation to lower the maximum age of incoming recruits from 21 to 20, as reported by College Hockey News, has been far and wide in the college hockey world.

And, unsurprisingly, the list of dissenters officially includes the WCHA.

WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said in a phone interview Wednesday that although he understands and respects the Big Ten’s proposal, overall the WCHA is against it.

“I believe it will have a negative impact on college hockey,” he said. “And all of our head coaches agree.

“I would say the current system is not broken by any means.”

Robertson said that with the limited number of scholarships in college hockey, and the fact that redshirting is so rare, forcing players to attend school a year before they might be ready would be a detriment to the athletes, both athletically and academically.

Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings echoed these sentiments in an interview with the Mankato Free Press.

“I’ve always been a proponent that we provide the student-athlete and the student, in general, the greatest opportunity to become contributing people to society — academically, socially, athletically,” Hastings said.

“If you’re looking at trying to take a year away from someone who’s trying to better himself, someone needs to explain to me the motivation for that. I thought the goal was to provide opportunities for young men and young women to better themselves.”

Ice chips

• Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville got a head start on the rest of the league for a rare Wednesday night pre-Thanksgiving battle. The Beavers scored four straight goals, including three in the third period, to beat the Chargers 4-1. Reid Mimmack, who has been the Beavers’ backup goaltender in the past two seasons, started his second consecutive game and won for the second time in three tries this season. Before this season he had started just one game, in November 2013. So far this year he has allowed five goals for a 1.62 GAA and made 74 saves for a .932 save percentage.

• Brandon Carlson scored the only goal for Alabama-Huntsville, which is 29-44-4 all-time against their former Division II and College Hockey America rivals from the north. The game was also the fifth all-time for UAH on a Wednesday. The Chargers are 1-4 in the middle of the week.

• Alaska-Anchorage takes its surprisingly unbeaten road record to Minnesota State this weekend. The Seawolves are 3-0-1 away from home but are beginning a tough stretch with back-to-back series against a couple of the league’s best, the Mavericks and Michigan Tech.

• Alaska secured four points during its recent two-week trip to the Midwest, where it split at Bemidji State and got two ties at Ferris State. The Nanooks will spend the next three weeks in Alaska before their winter break, hosting Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State and going down state to Alaska-Anchorage.

• Bowling Green began a six-game home stand last weekend and got off to a good start with a sweep of Alabama-Huntsville. Including a 3-0-2 record there this year, the No. 15 Falcons are unbeaten in their last nine games at home, the second-longest active streak in the country. They will host Northern Michigan this week.

• Northern Michigan skated to six ties last season, which was fourth in the nation. This year, the Wildcats have already tied five times in 12 games — most in the country.

• With a pair of assists in Saturday’s home tie against Alaska, Ferris State junior forward Gerald Mayhew leads the WCHA in scoring with 15 points, including a league-best 12 assists. Bulldogs freshman Corey Mackin is tied for second in scoring with 13 points, including five goals. The Bulldogs go to Lake Superior State this weekend.

• After starting the season 1-2, Michigan Tech is 6-2-1 over its last nine games. This weekend, Tech will make its fourth and fifth all-time appearances against Alaska in Fairbanks. The Huskies are 2-1 all time in Fairbanks, including a sweep the last time they made the trip in 2013. The only other time the Huskies visited Fairbanks was for the Great Alaska Faceoff Tournament in 1993, when the Nanooks won 4-3.

• Minnesota State defends well, ranking first the nation in shots on goal allowed, averaging 23.21 shots against per game. Including last weekend’s 66-28 advantage in two ties against Northern Michigan, the Mavericks have outshot opponents 444-325. The Mavericks host Alaska-Anchorage this weekend.

• This week’s WCHA players of the week were Michigan Tech junior forward Tyler Heinonen (offensive); Lake Superior State sophomore goaltender Defiel (defensive) and Northern Michigan freshman goaltender Tolvanen (rookie).

Army West Point shows it’s capable of playing with Atlantic Hockey’s best

Clint Carlisle shares the Army West Point lead for goals with three (photo: Omar Phillips).

Scanning down the Atlantic Hockey standings, it’s easy to point out Army West Point for its struggles. Winless in league play at 0-5-3, the Black Knights are tied with Niagara for 10th place, but the Purple Eagles have four AHC games in hand. At first glance, it’s all a combination that makes the service academy dismissible to fans of teams with better results.

But looking within the numbers reveals a much different story. Yes, they opened the year 0-5-1, but the competition remained stiff. There was a game against Boston College, arguably the nation’s best team. There were two against Mercyhurst, currently perched in first place in the AHC. There were two against Bentley, an always-tough opponent tied for fifth with Rochester Institute of Technology, which Army also had to play.

In a league with a reputation of “no nights off,” the numbers don’t always tell the full story for what can be seen behind the scenes at Tate Rink.

Starting with the back end of the RIT weekend, Army West Point has been threatening to turn the corner. Trailing the Tigers 2-0 after the first period of that bout, the Black Knights scored twice in the second for a hard-fought 2-2 tie.

Three days later, they hit the road to take on former AHC rival Connecticut. Scoreless after two, the Black Knights scored at the 7:35 mark of the third, then added an empty netter to take a 2-0 victory, their first of the season.

They followed that up with last Friday’s thriller against Robert Morris. The Black Knights led at three different points, surrendering a third-period goal but salvaging a 4-4 tie in the process. Even with a loss on Saturday, that tie allowed them to come away from the weekend with a point against arguably the league’s best team. It was a watershed moment for a team opening up its season with just two nonconference games before Christmas.

“Last weekend, we played with Robert Morris, who is one of the top teams in the league. We went up and down the ice with them,” said Army West Point coach Brian Riley. “It’s disappointing that we had the lead three times and only came away with a tie, but the real positive takeaway is that we’re capable of playing with the best teams [in the league]. The next step is to learn how to win those types of games.”

With the tie, Army continued its building blocks on the first half of the year. Even through the tough stretch to open the year, the Black Knights began planting the seeds to get better in hopes that their best hockey would be in front of them. They’ve seen those positives, even though the wins haven’t yet come. But the breakthrough is right in front of them, even as the road ahead remains tricky.

“There’s been a lot of good [for us this year],” Riley said. “We have a good group of older guys on our team that set a good example, and we have a good crop of younger guys that are starting to develop. We knew the start of the season was going to be really challenging with a strong caliber of opponent, and we really looked forward to it. Our record could be better, but it’s great to see how our guys are really battling. Our best hockey is yet to come, and it starts with a good finish over the last three weekends of the first half of the season.”

Five of their next six games are on the road, beginning this weekend at Canisius. They’ll play a home-and-home series with Sacred Heart next week before heading to American International to close out the first half of the season. They’ll finally pick up a home stand after Christmas, when they play five of six at home against Merrimack, Massachusetts, Sacred Heart (home-and-home) and Air Force.

Falcons questing for local wins

Bentley’s Gabe Antoni stopped 44 shots in a 3-0 loss at Boston University on Tuesday (photo: Melissa Wade).

From the time it joined Division I in 2000 through the start of the 2007-08 season, Bentley played only two games against local Massachusetts schools not affiliated with the MAAC/AHC.

Starting in 2007, the Falcons began a stretch of playing at least one Massachusetts nonconference opponent for seven seasons. They played their first game against someone other than UMass-Lowell in 2008 when they played Northeastern, and they won their first game over a Bay State opponent when they beat the Huskies in 2010.

Two years ago, they stomped the region’s standard bearer, Boston University, with a 4-1 defeat.

Throughout the years, Bentley has transformed from a team long overlooked, becoming something of a player on the local scorecard. The Falcons have played every nonconference Massachusetts opponent from Hockey East or ECAC Hockey at least twice, with only Boston College (who they’ve never played) as the lone exception. With the increased level of competition comes higher expectations to establish themselves among the tradition and history of the programs historically dominating local headlines.

Earlier this season, Bentley famously swept Northeastern on back-to-back nights. Since those two wins, however, the Falcons have played two other Massachusetts teams with negative results. In early November, they went into the third period tied with Merrimack 1-1 before giving up four third-period goals. On Tuesday, they returned to Agganis Arena but lost 3-0 and were outshot 47-15.

“It’s certainly important [to play games against local teams] to our school to continue to grow the program,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist. “I think our league and our program are beyond [that point] of being happy to play in these buildings. Our expectation is to come in and win, and if you don’t win, you have to give your best effort.”

Now done with Massachusetts opponents for this season, Bentley turns its attention to another local opponent from a different New England state. They’ll head north to play New Hampshire on Saturday in their final nonconference game of the season. It’ll be the first meeting between the Falcons and Wildcats, providing another opportunity for Bentley to elevate the school among its local brethren.

“[UNH] is a very good club in their building [at the Whittemore Center],” said Soderquist. “It’s a big sheet, and we’ve been struggling a little bit on the bigger sheet. So we’ll need to go back and do some soul searching and figure it out pretty fast [with a quick turnaround].”

Numbers game

Entering this week, here’s some of the stat breakdowns of where AHC teams fit on the national scope:

• Robert Morris sits as the second-best offense in the nation, behind only Boston College, averaging 4.40 goals per game. BC and Robert Morris actually separate from the rest of the nation by a wide margin, with the Eagles averaging 4.42 goals per game. Third-place Penn State trails by nearly a half a goal per game.

• Behind the Colonials, Mercyhurst’s 3.50 goals per game is tied with Denver and UNH for ninth in the nation. They are the only two AHC teams in the top 20 in scoring.

• Conversely, zero AHC teams rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring defense, although the best defenses in the league are tightly packed. Robert Morris ranks 18th at 2.40 goals per game, while Sacred Heart is 20th at 2.54. Bentley is tied for 21st with Clarkson at 2.55 goals per game.

• Army West Point is the second-most penalized team in the nation, averaging 21.1 minutes per game. That’s 0.1 minutes per game fewer than the team with the most penalty minutes, Boston College. Mercyhurst and Canisius rank fifth and sixth as teams spending the most time in the sin bin.

• Robert Morris and Bentley are the two best AHC teams on the power play. The Colonials have the best power-play unit in the nation and are the only team over 30 percent. Bentley, perennially one of the best special teams units in college hockey, is tied for seventh with Western Michigan.

• Despite their success on the power play, the Colonials are tied for 51st nationally on the penalty kill. But of the eight teams behind, five are Atlantic Hockey teams.

Giving thanks

With Thanksgiving here, there’s one last news note requiring recognition. Last week, the Army West Point seniors passed through the academy tradition of Branch Night. Sitting with classmates and companies in historic Eisenhower Hall, they open envelopes upon orders and receive their United States Army branch assignments.

It’s a reminder that of the 60 Division I hockey teams, two American military service academies reside in Atlantic Hockey, a calling that goes above and beyond anything they’ll do inside of a hockey rink.

“As a coach, I’m so lucky to be at West Point,” Riley said. “The United States Army is getting great young men, and I’ve been so fortunate to watch them grow within the hockey program. It always feels like just yesterday they came to West Point, and now they’re getting ready for the next phase of their journey.”

The next milestone night for the West Pointers will be Post Night, occurring while the team is traveling to play at Niagara. At that point, the senior cadets find out the location of their station assignments around the globe upon graduation.

Players of the week

Here’s the latest honorees from the league offices.

Player of the week — Robert Morris’ Brandon Denham: Denham put up a five-point weekend against Army West Point, bringing his tallies to eight goals and six assists. With 14 points, he ranks 17th nationally in scoring.

Goaltender of the week — Air Force’s Shane Starrett: Playing on the road at Sacred Heart, Starrett stopped 44 of 47 shots against the Pioneers. His 1.44 GAA and .936 save percentage paced the Falcons to a three-point weekend, and his clutch performances included two saves during Friday’s overtime and 11 saves in the third period of a 3-2 comeback victory on Saturday.

Rookie of the week — Niagara’s Nick Farmer: Farmer had four assists on Niagara’s five goals in Friday’s overtime win over American International. Those four points were the most by any Purple Eagles player this season, and it was the first time anyone scored that many points for the school in over two years.

Defensive player of the week — AIC’s Ryan Polin: The Holt, Mich., native scored his first two collegiate goals, including a game winner, in a 4-2 victory on Saturday over Niagara. He blocked two shots during the weekend split with the Purple Eagles and finished the series with a plus-2 rating.

Kinsel relishing senior year at Wisconsin-River Falls, ‘making the most of it’

Wisconsin-River Falls senior forward Chloe Kinsel just wants to have fun this season, one she calls possibly her last in competitive hockey (photo: Kathy M Helgeson/UW-River Falls).

Chloe Kinsel is like most hockey players: humble.

Even after putting together a 50-point All-American season a year ago. She’s also finding herself living in the moment more than ever as a senior at Wisconsin-River Falls.

“It honestly is hard to believe this is my senior year,” said Kinsel. “It sounds cliché, but it does goes by fast. I still remember bringing home a flyer for youth hockey registration and asking my mom if I could play and she said if I do well at open skate and here I am playing my last season.”

With eight goals and 10 points in seven games so far this season, Kinsel hasn’t missed a beat with her offensive prowess.

More than that, she’s relishing her time with the Falcons.

“Hockey has been a huge part of my life and I am thankful for the opportunity to play the sport for as long as I have,” Kinsel said. “I just want to have fun. At the beginning of the year, (assistant coach) Jim Walsh came up to me at practice and told me it’s my last year and to just have fun, don’t feel pressure to be the best and just enjoy it all. That really stuck with me. At the end of the day, hockey isn’t everything, so making the most of it while I still can, especially my senior year, is the plan.”

During her first three seasons at River Falls, Kinsel averaged better than a point per game with 18 goals and 32 points in 30 games as a freshman, 17-16—33 as a sophomore and then her huge season a year ago when she went for 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points in 31 games. Her point totals were a WIAC-best and tied for second in the country with Elmira’s Ashton Hogan.

This season, Kinsel sits in a 19th-place tie in the national scoring race.

Still, Kinsel said “yes and no” when asked if gaudy offensive numbers have always been a part of her game.

“I never thought in high school (at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn.) that I would be this successful at the collegiate level,” admitted Kinsel. “I think I have only gotten better each year and I think my coaches can back me up on that. I remember beginning of my freshman year just being put in games at random points, but eventually I learned from my teammates and coaches that you have to find the next step and picked up my game.”

Winding up at UWRF in the first place was a situation that Kinsel never expected, but has learned to embrace.

“I just wanted to keep playing hockey,” said Kinsel. “Division I schools didn’t work out and I was starting to look at schools for just academics and thought I wasn’t going to ever play hockey again, but I am lucky UWRF ended up working out. I wanted to stay close to home, but not too close, and they had the major I wanted to go in to as well.”

As a biology major with a biomedical emphasis, Kinsel said her goal after the season ends is to go on to graduate school for pharmacology and research drugs and their use.

“As of right now, I have no plans to stay in hockey,” Kinsel said. “I think it might be time to hang up the skates, but only time will tell.”

In the spirit of living in the moment, Kinsel went back to discussing the current season with the No. 8 Falcons and again, with the humble mentality, said that the team always comes first.

“We have a pretty young team, but a lot of talent, so it is only a matter of figuring out how to use our talent across the whole team,” explained Kinsel. “We usually start off slow and have a couple losses under us, but they’re learning experiences. For me, I have just been trying to be a leader on and off the ice and if I score or create scoring opportunities, that’s just a bonus. As long as we play well and are winning, how many points I have doesn’t matter. We’ve had scoring from a various amount of people and lines, and I am happy with that.”

Off to a 5-2-0 start (3-1-0 WIAC), Kinsel cautioned that wins now won’t necessarily mean wins later in the season.

“We can’t play like we’re expected to win just because we have had winning seasons in the past; it’s a new year and new team,” said Kinsel. “Obviously, a national championship is the ultimate goal and we’ll only get there if we play well and take it game by game and not think down the road. Even winning the conference and conference tournament is always our goal every year as well.”

And yet, March is seemingly right around the corner.

“Sometimes to help motivate me to get through practices, I just think about how pretty soon I am not going to be practicing any more and I will be wanting to step out on the ice to condition or go over systems or do a shootout at the end of practice,” Kinsel said. “Freshman year, you have your whole collegiate career ahead of you and it’s exciting and your senior year, you really understand that this is it and are almost grateful and humbled for all hockey has done for you. Both are great situations to be in, but senior year I’ve found myself living in the moment more than I ever have. Freshman year, you look forward to what hockey has to bring and senior year, I’m looking forward to what academics has to bring and I’m excited.

“Hockey has been a nice getaway, but it’s on to the real world after this year.”


Nothing new at the top of the USCHO.com Division III Women’s Poll as Plattsburgh again received all 15 first-place votes in Monday’s poll. … Castleton entered the rankings at No. 10, marking the school’s first-ever appearance in the national rankings, and is 7-0-1 thus far. … In an interview with Rubber Hockey Magazine (www.rubberhockey.com), former St. Anselm player Robin Yoshida (2011-15), one of just two New Mexico natives in NCAA women’s hockey last season (Amherst’s Kristen Molina was the other), is set to join the Peace Corps in February and will travel to Madagascar to participate in community health volunteering and helping local healthcare workers.

Yale looking to add a championship to its culture

Eden Murray of Yale (Yale Athletics)

Eden Murray of Yale (Yale Athletics)

By some interpretations, Yale has gotten off to a slow start this season.

“They’re not happy that we’re 1-6-1, especially the senior class,” coach Joakim Flygh said of his team. “They deserve better.”

From a different perspective, it’s really not that slow of a start. Four years ago, the season before the current senior class arrived, the Bulldogs finished 1-27-1, defeating Union in overtime and tying Colgate.

That was Flygh’s second year in charge of Yale’s program, and he and his staff were trying to reshape the roster.

“This whole senior class that we have, they made a leap of faith in some ways, because of where we were as a program when we got them,” he said. “There are six kids in that class, and as we got all of those six kids, we were excited about [them] and the first time we had an opportunity to really go through the recruiting process with a class. We were excited to get all those kids.”

Things didn’t turn overnight, as among other things, Flygh’s early teams had to overcome more than their share of injuries.

“I think coming in our freshmen class did a good job of kind of turning the program around a little bit, changing our culture,” senior captain Janelle Ferrara said. “The past three years, we’ve gone from one win to last year we were a .500 team, so it’s been really cool to see the program turn around. We’ve worked really hard to get it to where it is today.”

Results weren’t always immediate. Her first season, the Bulldogs started 1-9-0, but improved to five wins by season’s end.

There were other positive signs. Yale was outscored by 121 goals the year before the current seniors arrived. That goal differential dropped to 47 goals in the first season once they became Bulldogs.

Sophomore year started with five losses. Once again, Yale grew over the course of the season, and wound up with a 9-16-7 overall record and 6-9-7 in ECAC Hockey. The goal differential shrunk further, down to a minus 20.

Perhaps most importantly, Yale returned to the postseason for the first time since 2008. The Bulldogs played an epic quarterfinal series at Harvard. In the first game, then junior goaltender Jaimie Leonoff made 55 saves and Ferrara got her stick on a puck in the Harvard crease and pushed it into the net to give Yale a 3-2 win at 17:33 of the second overtime. The next day, Harvard tied the game at 2-2 with 4:02 remaining in regulation, and this time, it was the Crimson that found a goal in the second overtime. Harvard also took the deciding third game and ended Yale’s season.

Last year, the Bulldogs rose to 12-10-0 in conference play, and their overall goal differential was now in their favor by 15 goals. However, for a second straight year, the Crimson eliminated Yale in a quarterfinal series.

The picture in the league looks to be more wide open than ever through the early weeks of conference play.

“I think in the past, there have been a few teams who control the league, but this year from first place to last place, it’s very even,” Ferrara said. “It’s exciting to go out there and battle each game and know that you have just as good of a chance as any other team in the league. We’re excited to play for a league championship this year.”

That may sound overly optimistic for a team that has lost six times through it’s first eight games, but only two of those losses were in conference play.

“We’ve played four league games to this point in our season, and they’ve been all very close games,” Flygh said. “Some of the teams that are outside the playoffs seem to have improved quite a bit this year, RPI and Colgate, so I think they’re going to make a strong push to get into playoffs, too. They’re playing well, so it’s going to be a fun race. There isn’t going to be any easy night in our league, and it’s fun. Certainly looking forward to it. We’ve only got six league games before Christmas, so we’ll get the bulk of our league games after Christmas.”

The mission for Yale is to be a stronger team by the time that large slate of ECAC competition commences.

Offensively, the Bulldogs aren’t far off.

“We have a lot of talent up front,” Flygh said.

The team returned its top five scorers from a season ago, and with a balanced attack, Yale ranks in the top half of scoring offenses thus far. The problems have come at the other end of the rink.

“We’ve just got to do a better job as a team and play better team defense and help our goaltenders out,” Flygh said. “We’ve been spoiled with Jaimie Leonoff, who is fantastic, the past three years, and we’re going through a growth period now with it, but I believe in the kids that we have and we’ll figure it out.”

What the Bulldogs need to figure out is how to improve a scoring defense that currently ranks 35th out of 35 teams.

“When you have a kid like Jaimie Leonoff, when we had her, it made it competitive for us,” Flygh said. “When you need to win games to be in the playoff hunt in our league, the top eight teams obviously, so it was hard to get [backup] Hanna [Mandl] minutes. She’s certainly very capable in practice, but certainly in playing time you get a ton of experience, too. We know she’s capable of playing.”

Whether the issue has been the goaltender or the skaters in front of her, Yale has yielded a minimum of three goals in each of its games through the first month of its season. Admittedly, it has been a challenging month, with six of the eight games coming against teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament in March, including its most recent series against the defending national champions.

“We’ve got to do a better job, especially playing teams like Minnesota, you’ve got to play really good one-on-one defense,” Flygh said. “I think that was something we struggled with at times, and I think also at times we didn’t play as tight as we needed to with the kids off the puck.”

There have been positive signs. In the second game at Minnesota, Mandl and the Bulldogs tightened considerably, and they held the nation’s most prolific offense two goals below its usual scoring average, allowing only one goal five-on-five.

“At the end of the day, [that was] probably by far her best game of the year, and she made some key saves,” Flygh said. “I told her right after the game, if she keeps playing like this, we’re going to have some success in our league. So make sure she carries that forward and plays with that kind of swagger and confidence, and she’s going to be just fine.”

That confidence can snowball and lead to more success.

“We certainly have enough faith in her, too,” Flygh said. “We’ve seen the work she’s put in the last two years. It’s not a lack of effort, not trying. We need to learn to play in front of her, and she needs to find her way, too, to be competitive. The biggest thing for her is she’s starting to get a little more aggressive and challenge the shooters a little bit more. Hopefully, she can keep building off that and gain more and more confidence.”

Mandl doesn’t need to win games single-handedly. If she can hold her team in games, it has demonstrated that it can be a competitive team. Their lone win thus far came over No. 5 Quinnipiac, a week after Yale fell by three to the Bobcats.

“That was a great team win for us,” Ferrara said. “I think Quinnipiac is a great hockey team, we played just a strong team game. We didn’t play well that first game against them, had a couple of defensive breakdowns and just failed to play a good, strong defensive game against them since they’re such a good hockey team.”

While the Bobcats are built to think defense first, that isn’t quite how Flygh has constructed a Yale roster that hails from seven states, three Canadian provinces, plus Sweden and Switzerland.

“Wherever we can find talent,” Flygh said. “We try to find players that can play with skill and pace, obviously.”

That produced entertaining games against a Minnesota team that also looks to get up and down the ice.

“There was a lot of back and forth, and I thought we did a good job in transition at times, too,” Flygh said. “That’s the way you want to play. You want to play with speed and skill and really play an uptempo style of hockey. I think that’s what we enjoy to do and try to recruit that way and train that way and put our systems in place that way. We’re probably going to be in a lot of high-scoring games this year.”

Such a style is popular with players.

“We use our speed really well,” Ferrara said. “We’re a fast, quick team. It’s been fun, fun to play with people who push the pace like we do.”

As a roster acquires players with speed and skill, it gets easier to recruit more of them, such as sophomore Eden Murray.

“Coach has implemented a really great system for the incoming freshmen and all of the upperclassmen and the sophomores, and I think that the way we play the game as a team is hard-working and fast paced,” Murray said. “I definitely like being on a team with girls who know how to work hard and get in there and move the puck well, too. It’s exciting.”

It can be exciting for a coach to find a player like her as well.

“Eden exemplifies the type of kids that we look for: extremely fit, play hard and play with pace, and loves to compete and she certainly does that,” Flygh said. “The last four, five games here, she’s been really, really good. I think she leads our team in scoring now. She shows up ready to play and wants it real bad.”

Murray is tops on the team in points and she and Ferrara lead in goals with four apiece.

Before her arrival in New Haven, Murray competed for Canada in the Under-18 World Championships.

“It was unbelievable; great experience,” Murray said. “Great girls, great people to play with. So much is expected of you, and it’s nice to be held to that standard. It’s really neat to see how successful every girl is on the team. It’s nice to be given the opportunity to play with people like that.”

A taste of international competition creates an appetite for more.

“I just think it drives me and other girls in the program to pursue even higher goals for themselves,” Murray said. “Being a part of that program, you know what they expect of you. It’s a good reminder every day to push toward that ultimate goal.”

Given how precious spots on the Canadian senior national team are, players have to look for ways to grow their individual games.

“I think the type of game Hockey Canada wants from me is to be almost mistake free, and so I need to work on fewer turnovers in all zones,” Murray said. “But I think I’ve worked hard this season with the girls. Everyone has been working really hard, and hopefully, show some improvements there.”

Someone with her pedigree had options of schools to attend. Yale had an advantage, because Murray’s sister Madi was a defenseman and classmate of Leonoff.

“I had been looking at some other really good schools, but ultimately it was when I visited campus,” Murray said. “My sister had a big part to play, but when I visited, I just fell in love with the team and the girls. They’re great people, and the coaches, obviously great coaches, good staff, good support system. Nice facilities. I just really enjoyed my visit. That’s what helped me decide.”

Flygh has other great players in the fold as well. Junior Phoebe Staenz found time during her freshman season to win an Olympic bronze medal with the Swiss team.

“It’s been crazy to see how much respect other people give us now than they did our freshman year,” Ferrara said. “It’s definitely much more fast-paced games than it used to be.”

Now that a quick start has eluded the Bulldogs once more, they’ll have to demonstrate again that they can turn a season around.

“I think our biggest thing is just have more confidence,” Ferrara said. “We’re a good team and we just need to come out each game and set the pace, and not wait to get down and then push back, but know how good we are and play to our strengths.”

Nobody is panicking.

“I think we’re going to keep growing the first half of the year, and we’re going to take some lumps and bruises along the way, but I also know that we’re going to play some really good hockey after Christmas, too,” Flygh said. “We’ll get better. I think our kids know the process that we’re trying to follow here. They’re believing in it. They’re doing everything we’re asking them to do.”

Partly, the team is following its leadership.

“Janelle Ferrara, being our captain, is good as a hockey player, and she’s an unbelievable person off the ice and someone that all our kids gravitate toward,” Flygh said. “Spend some time around this group and see how she interacts with the team, you understand why she is the captain. A salt of the Earth kid, and obviously tremendously fortunate to have her in our program. Sets a great example every day for her teammates. I can’t say good enough things about her as a person and as a hockey player.”

Ferrara and her classmates could pat themselves on the back, tell themselves that they were part of a program turnaround at Yale, and accept their diplomas in the spring.

“We worked really hard in changing the culture, and this senior class that we have has been a big, big part of that, too,” Flygh said. “So that’s something we’ve got to continue to refine, and we have our six core values that we use to define our success at the end of the day, but these kids are competitive. They want to win.”

The seniors are looking for more than just moral victories and the knowledge that they tried very hard.

“We’re definitely looking at getting better every day, but also at the beginning of the year we set our goal of being top four in the ECAC and compete for an Ivy League title, and hopefully, get a shot at the national tournament this year,” Ferrara said. “A good way to go out my senior year.”

Success can be measured in many ways. Perhaps no other women’s hockey program exemplifies that better than the one at Yale, where the impact of the late Mandi Schwartz, a player who was diagnosed with leukemia her junior year, is still felt. She made a difference in the days she had at Yale, and inspired others, like 2012 Hockey Humanitarian Award Aleca Hughes.

“Ultimately, we want our kids to be good citizens, which they are,” Flygh said. “They are some tremendous kids that are extremely bright, smart, caring people, but they also want to win. We want to have a championship program, and that’s something that we strive toward.”

20 things in and around Hockey East worth being thankful for

Having two Hockey East teams in last season’s national championship game ranks among David H. Hendrickson’s things to be thankful for (photo: Jim Rosvold).

This week’s edition will depart from the usual fare. In recognition of Thanksgiving, I’m listing the top 20 hockey-related things I’m thankful for.

Jim will return next week with a more typical edition looking around Hockey East.

Without further ado …

20. Mites and squirts playing during intermissions

I may have a game story to work on during intermission, but as soon as the little kids skate onto the ice, they’ve got my attention. The story can wait.

Is that simply because it sends me back to the good old days when my son was a little tyke, falling down but then jumping back up again to race after the puck, filled with energy and enthusiasm?

Maybe a little, but I’d contend that no other sport lends itself to being entertaining to watch at all levels. By contrast, would you stop to watch a Little League game played by kids you don’t know?

19. Kids being introduced as part of the starting lineup or named honorary team captains

I love to see kids in their uniforms being announced as part of a team’s starting lineup. If it doesn’t actually put a smile on my face, it puts one in my heart.

What a thrill for those kids, and what a great form of community outreach.

And special kudos to those teams that adopt as honorary captains kids who are facing life-threatening illnesses. To me, this is athletics at its finest, extending a helping hand to those who need it most.

18. Student-athletes in the most complete sense of the word

Each year, Hockey East announces its all-academic team comprised of student-athletes who have achieved a GPA of 3.0 or better in both of the season’s two academic periods. Last year, a league-record 133 such players qualified.

Topping that list were Merrimack’s Hampus Gustafsson and Alfred Larsson, who shared the designation of being Hockey East’s top scholar-athlete, each with a perfect 4.0 GPA for the season.

Eleven players were honored as distinguished scholars, having qualified for the all-academic team in each of four seasons of varsity play.

That typifies what is best about our collegiate game.

17. No Louisville-style scandals

And at the other end of the spectrum …

I suppose the money involved in college football and basketball are bound to corrupt at least some teams eventually. But you have to shake your head at the revelations about the Louisville basketball team, for which escorts were allegedly hired to perform their services as part of recruiting efforts.

I’m not naive and would never contend that hockey players in general act like choir boys. But thank goodness we don’t suffer from scandals on par with this one.

16. Hockey Humanitarians

At the other end of the spectrum are those humanitarians, both those recognized at the end of the season by the Hockey Humanitarian Award and those who get no mention of their honorable work.

The life of a student-athlete is exceptionally demanding. It boggles the mind how some of them can also apply so much effort into making this world a better place.

15. New additions to the league

Since I began covering Hockey East, the league has added Massachusetts, Vermont, and, most recently, Notre Dame and Connecticut.

I’ve come to appreciate the importance of the two games each team gets against every other. That limited quality does up the ante.

And although I did like the old system where teams actually missed the playoffs, thereby raising the importance of the regular season, I see advantages to the new format as well.

14. The music

It’s great to know that U2 and “Where the Streets Have No Name” are somewhere on the playlist at Merrimack’s Lawler Rink. It may take until the third period, but that magical guitar riff seems to always echo before I leave.

And I may be biased from attending so many games there recently, but I have to tip the fedora to UMass-Lowell’s band above all others. In particular, the sax solo on “House of the Rising Sun” a weekend or two ago was just smokin’. I could not have loved it any more.

It took me back to the first time I heard a Sonny Rollins album at the MIT Coop all those years ago and I realized there was a whole new world of music to explore called jazz.

Kudos to all the bands, especially Lowell’s, and a big thumbs up for the chops of that sax player.

13. Jim Connelly

Jim is both a great friend and a great hockey guy. I’d like to think we Frick and Frack pretty well in this space. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather share this column with.

I’d list him at higher than No. 13, but frankly, this year he’s kicking my butt in our picks competition so he slots in at 13, where maybe that unlucky number starts turning his picks sour.

12. Witty chants

I’ll always remember the time at Northeastern that the student section recognized me and decided to serenade me for having picked the Huskies to lose that night.

“Daa-ave!” they began in their singsong chant. “Daa-ave! Dave Hendrickson! You suck!”

That was a great moment.

More to the point, though, are all the chants directed at other teams that are witty, but not mean-spirited.

There are plenty of chants that fail my mean-spirited litmus test. The “safety school” chant almost always does.

With one exception.

I had to love it when one of the other Beanpot schools, I think it was Northeastern, began taunting Harvard with, “Safety school! Safety school! Safety school!”

Now, that was witty.

(As a former student at MIT, I must point out that I hold no grudges toward Harvard. I’ll happily grant that it’s the second-best school in Cambridge.)

11. The turnover

Every year and for every team, there’s a new incoming freshman class. A batch of seniors has graduated. Perhaps some high profile stars have departed early for the pros.

If you’re BU or Providence fresh off a fabulous NCAA title game, Jack Eichel and Jon Gillies are gone, new challenges in their places.

If you’re Massachusetts, coming off a last-place finish, a new Cardiac Kids edition replaces last year’s club.

Hope springs eternal. New challenges arise.

For every great player that leaves, there’s a new one on the way.

10. My incredibly supportive wife, Brenda

I’ve put her at No. 10 instead of number one because she’s a perfect 10 of a wife. Not in the sexist mentality of the Bo Derek film, but in terms of being the perfect partner.

And what does she have to do with hockey?

If not for her overall support and especially her transcriptions of my interviews, I’d never be able to keep up with this column.

So if you like these columns, you can wish her a silent thank you.

Of course, if you hate my columns week in and week out, blame her.

9. Rotating Frozen Four locations

I think the committee has gotten it just right of late (other than having gone too long between Boston appearances).

Switching between traditional sites like St. Paul (and yes, Boston) and nontraditional but popular ones like Washington, D.C., or Tampa works perfectly.

I’m already looking forward to a return to Tampa and can already feel the breeze as I navigate an early morning run along the Riverwalk.

Of course, I’m also looking forward to the smell of certain beverages as we all socialize during the one time when East meets West.

8. Pastoral settings in the winter

My favorite has to be New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center when the snow is falling thick from the sky. I love to feel the crunch of the snow beneath my feet and hear the sound of church bells pealing in the distance.

(If those aren’t church bells, don’t tell me.)

It takes me back to simpler times as a little kid growing up in Maine, living in a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Those were great years before my family moved to Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin.

As culture shocks go, that one was of seismic proportions.

So those snow-filled skies outside of UNH games are always welcome.

7. My wonderful son, Ryan

There will always be only one No. 7 for me. Ryan finished as co-captain for the Wesleyan Cardinals, and what a great ride that was.

He earned all-NESCAC academic honors, and if defensive prowess could be as easily measured in statistics as goals and assists, he’d have earned plenty of other honors as well. A key member of the penalty kill as a freshman and the dominant member of the PK the next three years, he led a unit that finished among the best in the NESCAC all four years, even during the middle two when the team finished at or near the bottom of the league.

My list of players I admire most begins with Ryan.

6. The players

I’ve witnessed so many great players, from Chris Drury in USCHO’s first season to Jack Eichel last year. The exceptional talents are always a treat to watch.

But I also appreciate the role players, guys who were stars at another level but do whatever it takes outside of the limelight to get their team a win.

There’s a lot that goes into Hockey East’s success, but it starts with the players.

5. Cooperative coaches and sports information directors

I’m thankful for all the returned phone calls and all the time that coaches have spent with me so I can provide you with columns as interesting and as informative as I can make them. In most cases, a column only goes as far as the coaches’ answers.

As for the sports information directors, they all help make every writer’s job easier with their pregame notes and other information. Their research often provides that colorful detail that gives that extra spice to a game story.

A special thank you is due to New Hampshire coach Dick Umile for his extraordinary efforts to track down a former high school classmate for me as part of my research into the novel that became “Cracking the Ice.” I’ll never forget that.

4. Programs on the rise

It’s great to see programs grow from being doormats to serious forces within the league.

There’s probably no better example than Merrimack, which took its medicine year after year. It had a facility that screamed to potential recruits (such as those at Hockey Night In Boston): “If you can’t get a scholarship anywhere good, check us out.”

I coached teams there where players had to be sure not to step on exposed metal near the benches. There were a lot of good people there, but a lot that wasn’t giving the program a chance.

Now, Merrimack sports a first-class facility that it can be proud of to go along with a first-class team it can also be proud of.

That transformation has been a pleasure to witness.

3. The Beanpot

Yes, there is that outsider, Harvard, but in reality the Beanpot is a Hockey East party. (The Crimson have advanced to the championship game only once in the last 17 years and not at all since 2008.) Boston University vs. Boston College is always great fun, but Northeastern has been knocking hard on that door in recent years, too.

The atmosphere is invariably electric as is the quality of play.

The first two Mondays in February are a distinctive treat.

2. The national champions

There’s nothing like having two Hockey East teams battle it out in the NCAA title game like last year.

Although, I take that back. In 1999, it was even better because Maine and New Hampshire took the championship game into overtime and Boston College rounded out the three Hockey East semifinalists. So that had to be better (and I sure didn’t mind being in Anaheim).

But the point is that it sure is great to see Hockey East schools in the Frozen Four season after season. At least one league team has appeared in the NCAA championship game in 15 of the last 19 years.

And the good guys have taken the title in five of the last eight years (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2015).

This is the Golden Age of Hockey East.

1. The fraternity of friends

Some of you I’ve known all the way back to the pre-website days of HOCKEY-L, the college hockey email list. It’s always great to see the familiar faces around the rinks and see familiar names in my email inbox.

I’ll never forget the cards I received when I was recuperating from open-heart surgery or having legendary Boston Herald writer Jocko Connolly show up in my recovery room at Mass General.

The people in college hockey are special. The new friends and the old ones.

You all are the best.

And for all of these things, I’m so very thankful.

Talented Knochenmus seeing game take off as junior at Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Adam Knochenmus leads Wisconsin-Eau Claire in scoring and improved each season with the Blugolds (photo: Bill Hoepner/UWEC Photo).

Adam Knochenmus is in his third season at Wisconsin-Eau Claire and has made significant strides during his career with the Blugolds.

Those strides have helped him become one of the top scoring threats for Eau Claire. In fact, during the team’s 5-1-2 start, Knochenmus leads the Blugolds in goals (9) and points (12).

“I think I’ve just matured a lot since last season and I’m playing with a lot more confidence,” Knochenmus said. “I was trying to be too cute last year on plays. This year, I know if I’m around the net, I have the ability to put the puck in.”

Knochenmus, a tremendous athlete — he was a three-time letter-winner in baseball while in high school — is pleased with the way the year has started off for him. But the junior forward gives a lot of credit for his success to his teammates.

“I think I’ve played pretty well so far,” Knochenmus said. “I go out there and play with a lot of energy and do my best to take advantage of scoring opportunities. I owe a lot of credit to the guys I play with, though. We have a talented group of forwards and they put me in a position to score goals. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Knochenmus has been a key contributor for the Blugolds since arriving on campus after playing junior hockey in the NAHL. He scored two goals and dished out five assists as a freshman before racking up five goals and 13 assists last season.

“The big thing for me was adjusting to the speed,” Knochenmus said. “I wasn’t expecting it to jump up as much as it did from junior hockey. It was a wake-up call for me. It also took time to get used to being ready to play every night. With the season being much shorter in college, you can’t afford to take any nights off.”

Of course, playing for one of the top teams in the nation means Knochenmus must be on top of his game night and night out anyway.

“We seem to get everyone’s best shot. Every team comes in wanting to beat us,” whether we are at home or on the road,” Knochenmus said. “We have to be prepared to play our best game and we work extremely hard in practice every week to be ready to go.”

Knochenmus is determined to continue playing at a high level and he is also focused on helping the Blugolds compete for a WIAC and national championship. Eau Claire last won it all in 2013.
“We have to be consistent in every game,” Knochenmus said. “We play in a great league and our goal is to win a title and have a chance to compete in the (NCAA) tournament. We have the potential if we play our best hockey.”

Johnnies back on track

St. John’s failed to win in its first six games, but finally got on track over the weekend with a sweep of nationally-ranked Hamline. The Johnnies topped the Pipers 2-1 and 4-3 to improve to 2-4-2 overall and 2-2 in the MIAC.

St. John’s has scored 16 goals this season and Huba Sekesi has paved the way with three goals and four assists. Six other players have scored at least two goals for the Johnnies, including Neal Smith, who has punched in three to go along with an assist.

If the offense can continue to make strides, St. John’s should be just fine going forward, particularly with a veteran goaltender in Saxton Soley.

Soley has started all eight games and has tallied 241 saves. He has allowed 21 goals. Soley was just named the MIAC Men’s Hockey Athlete of the Week. It’s the third time in his career he has earned the honor and the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.

Saints on a roll

St. Scholastica will take a three-game win streak into Thanksgiving weekend. The Saints completed a sweep of Northland this past weekend, winning 4-2 and 3-2 to improve to 4-1-1 on the season. They are 3-1 in the NCHA.

Tyler Bruggeman made a career high 49 saves for St. Scholastica in the opening game. Bruggeman has been the starter in all six games this year and owns a 2.29 GAA.

Brandon Millin has helped fuel the Saints’ success, scoring a goal in four consecutive games and leads the team with six on the year. He has also dished out four assists.

Speaking of assists, Cole Golka has tallied one in four consecutive games. He has racked up five on the year and has also scored twice. The Saints have scored 25 goals in all.

Yellowjackets looking to bounce back

Wisconsin-Superior is in the midst of a difficult stretch. The Yellowjackets are winless in their last five games and two of those games have been decided by only one goal. Another game ended in a 1-1 tie.

It was a different story earlier in the season as Superior opened with three consecutive wins. It is 3-3-2 on the year.

Superior plays Hamline next and a win over the Pipers would provide it with a huge boost of confidence going forward.

Offensively, Superior has scored 20 goals, with Ian Ecklund tallying three to go along with eight assists. Generating offense will be key against the Pipers, especially after managing only one goal in its last two games.

After ending season-opening skid, Ohio State starts to see results

Nick Schilkey leads Ohio State with six goals and 12 points (photo: Omar Phillips).

Ohio State’s nonconference schedule to start this season was similar to last year’s — playing Providence, Miami, Omaha and Bowling Green. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the results were also similar.

They started this season with a seven-game losing streak, but the Buckeyes have won their last three going into this weekend’s series at Omaha’s new barn, Baxter Arena.

“Every team is different and certainly everybody wants to get off to a good start,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “The way college hockey is these days and the parity of the teams out there, with 17 freshmen and sophomores, we knew we had to be ready to play our best hockey to start the year. We played some games there that were probably a toss-up; we just didn’t get it done. It’s unfortunate, but you have to learn to win those tight games.”

Some of the seven losses were close ones: Ohio State was outscored by an average of 1.71 goals during those contests, with three of the defeats were by one goal. The Buckeyes’ offense woke up after a 2-1 loss to Mercyhurst on Oct. 30, and they have outscored their opponents 15-6 over the last three games, a win over Mercyhurst and two wins over Canisius.

“It’s nice to see some results,” Rohlik said. “The guys are putting the time in and they’re working extremely hard, so it was nice to finally get some results on the other end.”

That’s not to say that a three-game winning streak erases the memory of losing the first seven, but Rohlik said that he likes how his team came out on the other side of those losses, considering its youthfulness.

“We played some good hockey teams and we played some good games. We were right there,” he said. “Each weekend we played, you can sit back and say, ‘Jeez, if we got that bounce or that bounce, we could have won that game. But, you know what, at the end of the day they had more goals than we did.’ So, that’s just the way it went, but I know that our team knows that if we play our best hockey we can go out and play and compete.

“The frustration was there,” Rohlik added. “But the belief was still there and the belief is still there for this team and that’s the attitude we have to take moving forward.”

Ohio State entered the season with 10 freshmen on its roster and most of them have been asked to step into significant roles right away. Rohlik pointed to defenseman Sasha Larocque and forward Mason Jobst as two youngsters that have particularly impressed him so far.

“[Larocque] has played a lot of minutes for us and has been solid,” Rohlik said. “Because of our injuries back there he’s been thrown into the power play and penalty kill and playing tons of minutes. He’s already playing key roles for us.

“[Jobst] is a kid that didn’t even play last year in the USHL due to injury and he’s come out and is another guy that’s been in every situation. I’ve been impressed with what he’s done for a guy that didn’t play a lot of hockey games last year.”

Like some other coaches, Rohlik said that he believed you could spot a difference between the fall and spring portions of a player’s first season and that he expected players to step into bigger roles after the holiday break.

“They get used to the structure, they get used to the schedule of college,” he said. “People forget that these guys go to school full time and have a lot on their plate.

“Once they get back after Christmas — they get home and see the family again, which is important, but then they come back and they know what to expect. I think that’s a game-changer at that point.”

The Buckeyes’ top three scorers so far this season are upperclassmen. Junior Nick Schilkey has 12 points, fellow junior David Gust has 11 and senior Anthony Greco has eight. Rohlik said that he has consistently sent those players out in important spots and that Ohio State needs them to perform to get the results that it wants.

“For us, we’ve got to depend on those guys for putting points on the board,” he said. “When they get the minutes that they do and they’re playing on special teams, they’ve got to come through for you. They have for the most part, even though each of them would say that there’s a lot left on the table out there.

“They’re kids that we’re leaning on,” Rohlik added. “They have to lead by example and they’ve done that for the most part.”

After gaining some momentum at home, Ohio State heads back out on the road against another tough opponent, No. 6 Omaha. The Mavericks have a 4-0 record at home this season.

“They’re very talented and very good team; they’ve proved that last year and they’re proving that this year,” Rohlik said. “Everybody’s beatable, we know how good they are and our team’s going to go in there and we’re going to lay it on the line. We don’t want to get into a run-and-gun game with them. Certainly, we want to go down there and play a solid hockey game and it would be nice to keep that score down and try to win a 3-2 hockey game.”

Three stars of the week

Alex Kile helped Michigan gain a split at Boston University (photo: Melissa Wade).

First star — Michigan junior forward Alex Kile: Kile had three points — two goals and an assist — during the Wolverines’ split with Boston University last weekend. He notched the game-winning goal on Saturday.

Second star — Penn State freshman forward Andrew Sturtz: Sturtz had two goals during Penn State’s 5-2 victory at Alaska-Anchorage last Friday. It was his second multi-goal game of the season. The Nittany Lions tied the Seawolves 1-1 on Saturday.

Third star — Michigan State junior forward Mackenzie MacEachern: MacEachern had two goals and one assist as the Spartans lost to and tied Michigan Tech last weekend. He has a four-game goal-scoring streak.

B1G in the poll

No. 20 Penn State joined No. 12 Michigan in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Michigan State also received a vote.

My ballot

1. Providence
2. Quinnipiac
3. Boston College
4. Massachusetts-Lowell
5. North Dakota
6. Omaha
7. St. Cloud State
8. Harvard
9. Denver
10. Boston University
11. Yale
12. Michigan
13. St. Lawrence
14. Bowling Green
15. Merrimack
16. Minnesota-Duluth
17. Cornell
18. Michigan Tech
19. Notre Dame
20. Penn State

This week’s matchups

Michigan State vs. No. 5 North Dakota (Friday and Sunday, Munn Ice Arena)

No. 12 Michigan vs. Dartmouth (Friday and Saturday, Yost Ice Arena)

Minnesota vs. No. 7 St. Cloud State (Friday and Sunday, Mariucci Arena)

Ohio State at No. 6 Omaha (Friday and Saturday, Baxter Arena)

No. 20 Penn State vs. Vermont (Sunday, Pegula Ice Arena)

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Since Prow’s return, St. Cloud State has regained offensive mojo

Ethan Prow’s return to the lineup has keyed St. Cloud State’s offensive resurgence (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

On Oct. 23 and 24, St. Cloud State had its worst offensive showing of the year in a series at then-No. 14 Quinnipiac, losing 5-2 and 4-1.

Since that weekend, the Huskies have won five of six, and the fewest number of goals they have scored in a game has been three.

For coach Bob Motzko, one of the keys to the Huskies’ offensive success over the last three series has been the return of senior captain Ethan Prow from a reported head injury suffered Oct. 17.

“[He] has made a huge impact, especially to our power play, and to have a senior leader back, our captain back, he’s very offensive,” said Motzko. “Also, we’re maturing. Our D corps is adding to the offense, guys are settling in on some lines. Nobody is having a super year, but we’re balanced and we’re getting some offense from different players in our lineup and they come on different nights.”

Last weekend, the Huskies faced one of their toughest tests when they hosted No. 4 North Dakota, a key series in the NCHC race. St. Cloud lost the first game 4-3 in part due to the play of North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula, who had a hat trick, including the game-winner scored at just 28 seconds of the third period.

The next night, St. Cloud regrouped defensively and held Caggiula, North Dakota’s second-leading scorer and top scorer in points per game, without a point in a 6-1 win.

“The mistakes we made Friday, you can’t make against a team as powerful as North Dakota, a team as well-coached as they are,” said Motzko. “The big thing is the mistakes we made were correctable. They are things that we worked on that you make against players like Caggiula, they’re going to make you pay.

“I thought Saturday, we had better sticks, deflected pucks, blocked some shots, and we had much better depth and presence than we did Friday. A lot of times, it’s doing little things better that is going to turn the tide for you.”

One of the other keys to St. Cloud’s early success has been the continuing strong play of goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who is second in the country with four shutouts and ranks eighth in GAA.

“I think that it started after Christmas last year,” Motzko said of Lindgren. “If you go back and look at where our team was last year at Christmas, our second half, a lot of that goes to how Charlie matured last year as a goaltender and as a leader for our team.

“What he did this year is pick up right where he left off. We were an under-.500 team at Christmas last year, and our climb to get back into the NCAA tournament kind of fell on his shoulders last year, so I think it was a little bit of a hidden secret.”

This weekend, St. Cloud faces another tough test when it travels to Minneapolis to face Minnesota, a rivalry series that always brings out the best in both teams. Last year, St. Cloud split with the Gophers, losing the second game of a two-game set in overtime.

“I think you take out a couple of minutes of play, especially the Mankato game, and then maybe the first game of the year, they’re awfully close to having an elite record,” Motzko said of the Gophers. “They’re much closer to having an elite record than they are the other way. They have a ton of talent, they’ve been getting better each week, getting stronger, and they’re going to be a heck of a hockey team.”

Minnesota-Duluth puts together complete weekend

Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped all 45 shots he faced for Minnesota-Duluth last weekend (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Entering a series against Colorado College last weekend, Minnesota-Duluth hadn’t outright won a game since Oct. 30 against UMass-Lowell.

In that stretch of four losses and a tie/three-on-three OT win, the Bulldogs had been firing a ton of shots with little to show for it. They had 28 against Lowell on Halloween, 47 and 37 against Omaha, and 27 and 46 against Denver.

For the Bulldogs, then, seeing the shots finally go in came as a relief, and they rolled to 5-0 and 6-0 wins and a series sweep of CC.

“It’s been a little bit of a struggle for our team to score,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “We’ve generated chances in those games, so it was nice to get some goals and get the lead and you build off that both nights. Hopefully last weekend gave our guys a boost, and the most important thing is not just the scoring, but that we won two games and got six important points.”

Although the scoring drought might have had the players pressing a little bit, Sandelin said that those games were important for the team’s development.

“It might have been a little bit of gripping sticks tightly, but we just try to keep generating those opportunities and eventually things will start going in,” said Sandelin. “I think we were doing a lot of good things. Shots are shots, and everyone can look at the numbers, but you also look at quality chances. Some games we’ve had more than others, but it tells you we’ve had the puck a lot and are generating those shot opportunities and chances.

“It’s hard to be upset when your guys are doing all the right things but it’s just not going in. We ran into a good goalie in Omaha, and both Denver goalies played well.”

Through that tough stretch without an outright win, Duluth was competitive in each game thanks to the play of goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who has continued to develop in his sophomore year.

“I think we’ve done a decent job in front of him defensively,” said Sandelin. “I think the one area we need to clean up is some decisions with the puck. We’ve made some mistakes and turnovers in critical areas of the rink that other teams have capitalized on. I think those are some things we need to clean up. Overall defensively, we’ve been pretty good, and it starts with him, and it’s an area we need to keep being good at and hopefully it helps us win some games.”

Duluth is off this week, then closes its first half with series against Western Michigan and North Dakota. Sandelin said that with the break, the wins against CC were even more important.

“I think anytime you go into these off weeks, it was really important that we got a couple of wins and did some of the things we did last weekend. I could even tell after we won the three-on-three game with Denver that the next week of practice guys were feeling better.

“I told them at the beginning of the year, you’re going to go through some tough times. You don’t want to, but hopefully we learn from that stretch, and we just have to keep improving. When you score some goals when you haven’t, it builds confidence in your team, and hopefully we continue that forward into the Western Michigan series.”

NCHC players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Austin Farley, Minnesota-Duluth: Farley scored seven points in the Bulldogs’ road sweep of Colorado College and was named the No. 1 star in both games. On Friday, he scored the game-winner, the first goal, just 1:12 into the game, assisted on Duluth’s second goal and added a power-play goal in the third, finishing the game with a plus-2 rating. On Saturday, he tied a career high in points with two goals and two assists, again scoring the opening goal, this time on a power play, and finishing the night plus-4.

Defensive player of the week — Niklas Nevalainen, St. Cloud State: Nevalainen helped the Huskies earn a split with No. 4 North Dakota, posting a plus-5 rating on the weekend while contributing three points. On Friday, he had an assist on St. Cloud’s final goal in a 4-3 loss, while Saturday, he assisted on St. Cloud’s first goal and scored a power-play goal in the second period to put his team up 4-1 while posting a plus-3 rating and helping his team kill all three North Dakota power-play chances.

Rookie of the week — Jon Lizotte, St. Cloud State: Lizotte, a defenseman, had three assists in St. Cloud’s split with No. 4 North Dakota while posting a plus-5 rating and blocking five shots. On Friday, he assisted on St. Cloud’s first goal and finished plus-1, while on Saturday, he assisted on St. Cloud’s third goal and sixth goal of the game and helped the team kill all three North Dakota power plays.

Goaltender of the week — Kasimir Kaskisuo, Minnesota-Duluth: Kaskisuo became the first Minnesota-Duluth goalie to record two shutouts in a weekend series. On Friday, he stopped 19 shots in a 5-0 win and helped kill two Colorado College power plays. Saturday, he stopped 26 shots and helped kill four CC power plays. He has an active shutout streak of 170:20, a Minnesota-Duluth record, and three shutouts on the season.

Wednesday Women: wheat from the chaff


Katie Fitzgerald (St.Cloud State University-35 ) 09 Nov.13: St.Cloud State University hosts the University of Minnesota in a WCHA match-up at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St.Cloud, MN (Bradley K. Olson)

Katie Fitzgerald (St.Cloud State University-35 ) helped lead St. Cloud to a sweep of Ohio State. (Bradley K. Olson)

Candace: We saw some very interesting games this weekend Arlan, with some competitive results. I think what we saw that was most interesting though, was in the ECAC. The Quinnipiac/Princeton travel pair headed up to Northern New York, and Quinnipiac blanked No. 4 Clarkson 3-0 and followed that up with a convincing 5-0 win over St. Lawrence Saturday. No 10 Princeton, meanwhile, lost both games, 3-2 to St. Lawrence and 3-0 to Clarkson. To me, it seems that Princeton is moving back into the middle, where most people probably would have thought the Tigers would be, even with their strong start.

Quinnipiac, meanwhile, made a statement and took over first in the ECAC. Bobcats goalie Sydney Rossman made 29 stops in the win over Clarkson and then another 17 against St. Lawrence. The Bobcats big forwards were also productive. Taylar Cianfarano had a hat trick against Clarkson and then scored twice more against St. Lawrence. Nicole Connery had two assists in each game, and Melissa Samoskevich had a goal and assist against St. Lawrence.

What’s more, all the goals were even strength, and when that happens, it bodes well for a team’s ability to gut out tough games as the season goes on. Quinnipiac has a one-point lead on Harvard, but the Crimson have a game in hand.

I think what’s also really puzzling is Clarkson. The Golden Knights are a perfect 12-0 outside the conference, but only 2-2-2 inside the conference. I’m beginning to wonder if the Golden Knights were perhaps a little overrated. Looking at their out-of-conference schedule, they cleaned up against Hockey East lower-tier teams like Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, and also took two from a Syracuse team that isn’t quite as good as was thought. The sweep of Boston University looked good at the time, but given the Terriers’ struggles this season, is perhaps not the case.

What do you make of those results for the four teams?

Arlan: While the clear loser in the weekend’s results was Princeton, the Tigers weren’t that far away. Both games were essentially one-goal losses, as Clarkson put in a pair of empty-net goals late. The loss to Quinnipiac the week before was of the same variety, a one-goal game with an empty netter added on. The Tigers’ other loss, to Cornell, was by a 2-1 score, so four losses, all in cases where Princeton trailed by a goal and had to pull its goalie. On the other hand, its only win by more than a goal was over Brown. If you want a tight game, it looks like Princeton is your team. As you said, somewhere in the middle, with the potential to edge a team above it or falter to one below.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence arrives at the same middle a little differently. The Saints are more of an “on any given day” type of team. They aren’t as consistent defensively as Princeton, so even though they can score three or four goals with some regularity, the goals-against can also balloon. SLU had been on the mend defensively, having not allowed more than three goals since Boston College in early October, and only once yielding more than two since that time. Getting hit for five by Quinnipiac was a bit of a setback.

Like several of the top teams, Clarkson’s forward production drops off after its first line of Cayley Mercer, Olivia Howe, and Geneviève Bannon. Its next three highest-scoring forwards are freshmen Loren Gabel, Kelly Mariani, and Rhyen McGill. It would help if Shannon MacAulay could get back to her pace of last year, when she was more of a point-a-game player. Her first couple seasons, she averaged half that, but so far as a senior, she hasn’t even averaged a point a weekend. My perception was that Shea Tiley wasn’t quite at the same level that she played as a freshman, but her save percentage is actually the same, and her goals-against average has actually improved, falling by more than 10 percent to 1.24. For all the perception of Clarkson being off, only Boston College has more wins, although admittedly, only Bemidji State has played as many times as Clarkson.

In many respects, Quinnipiac and Clarkson are nearly equivalent statistically. The Golden Knights have the better power play, but they also commit more penalties, almost an extra minor per game. That would suggest that the two would be close in winning percentage as well, and they are; Clarkson is only marginally better. Quinnipiac is for the most part a veteran team, but its top two scorers are a sophomore and a freshman, its goaltender, while a junior, had only made six starts her first two years, and it has a first-year head coach in Cassandra Turner. It’s really difficult to say if either has a higher ceiling than the other. It may just be that Quinnipiace matches up well for some reason against Clarkson, having taken all three games played last season as well. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the Bobcats’ one loss came versus Yale, a team that has only that one win.

While the ranking of Quinnipiac and Clarkson relative to each other is tough to nail down, it is safe to say that they belong in the ECAC’s upper crust, presumably with Harvard.

Cornell is a team that is even harder to grade. If we throw out its opening-weekend sweep at the hands of BC, the Big Red have played at a .500 pace, but the results within a weekend sometimes bounce around, such as losing the first game to Mercyhurst by four and then taking the rematch by five. Cornell rested veteran goaltender Paula Voorheis in the loss, so maybe it is as simple as that. You asked me last week if the Big Red were waking up. Could it be that they’ll be a little drowsy all season?

Candace: Yes, I think that’s fair to say. Considering that Cornell lost three all-world offensive talents from last year’s team, Brianne Jenner, Emily Fulton, and Jillian Saulnier, three players who accounted for more than 50 percent of the goals the Big Red scored last year, it makes sense that Cornell would struggle. Junior Hanna Bunton has 12 points so far, a 1.2 points per game average, but only two other players are even averaging half of that production. It seems like offense is one area where Cornell has issues. The power play is clicking at an absolutely dismal 7.9 percent, having scored only three times in 38 tries.

On top of that, Cornell has often struggled defensively. The penalty kill has been bad so far, giving up nine power-play goals in 40 tries, meaning it successfully kills penalties at only 77.5 percent. Paula Voorheis has a better goals-against this year than last year, but it’s still 2.23 goals per game. Her save percentage is .921, compared to .917 last year. However, I think Voorheis might be getting hung out to dry a little. I was curious and looked up Lauren Slebodnick, Voorheis’ predecessor, and her GAA was 2.31 as a senior. Even Amanda Mazzotta had a 1.71 GAA her senior year. I think Cornell doesn’t have the strength at defense that it used to when players like Laura Fortino, Lauriane Rougeau, and Alyssa Gagliardi anchored the blue line.

Combine a defense that has difficulty at times with an offense that is inconsistent at best, and I think Cornell will be hanging around the bottom eight of the ECAC, and will be fighting to make the ECAC tournament in February. The Big Red have enough talent that they should be able to pull it off, but I don’t see them getting home ice this year, and I think they will likely go out in the first round of the ECAC tournament to one of the top teams.

One team Cornell might battle for a playoff spot is Colgate, which seems to be showing improvement this year. The Raiders are 7-2-5. Their out-of-conference record is solid, although they are only 0-1-4 in the ECAC, but that’s bound to change. The Raiders are a very young team, composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores. A trio of first years, Bailey Larson, Jessie Eldridge, and Shae Labbe, lead the team in scoring, and are followed by sophomore defenseman Lauren Wildfang and freshman defensemen Olivia Zafuto. The Raiders have experience in net, with senior Ashlynne Rando anchoring things. Colgate did battle Quinnipiac to a scoreless draw, and swept Robert Morris earlier in the year. This weekend, they host a very up-and-down Mercyhurst team, and the following weekend make the trip to the North Country to play Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

What is your impression of the Raiders this season?

Arlan: Colgate is a talented team with a lot of upside, but it is also a young squad that needs to learn how to win as a unit and close out games. The pessimistic view is that the Raiders have only won seven of their 15 games, while a more favorable slant says they’ve only lost three. Third-period leads slipped away against Connecticut, Rensselaer, and Cornell, and the Raiders had to settle for ties. Most damaging was the game versus Mercyhurst where a two-goal lead slipped away in the second period, and the Lakers won the game in the third. Another frustrating loss was the second game at Merrimack where they surrendered a couple of third-period goals and suffered their first loss in a game where they held a 49-15 advantage in shots. The Raiders spent that whole series dominating the shot chart, yet having to battle from behind.

Goaltending has been a bit of a paradox so far. Both Rando and freshman Julie Vandyk had poor save percentages against the Warriors. That wasn’t the only concerning game, as Colgate outshot Union to a tune of 60-18 and could only manage a 2-2 tie. In other games, the goaltending has been a strength. Rando stopped all 44 shots to gain her team a point in the scoreless tie with Quinnipiac, and she also had a 31-save shutout of Robert Morris. Vandyk stopped 32 of 33 shots in the 3-1 win over RIT and 35 of 36 shots to beat Syracuse, 2-1. Statistically, she has better numbers than Rando, although the senior has started versus the tougher opponents. Colgate can’t afford to take anyone lightly, but whether it is the goaltender or the players in front of her, the Raiders need to be just as focused defensively for supposedly weaker opponents as they are for the power teams of the ECAC.

Another interesting segment of Colgate’s team is its sophomore forwards. In their rookie season, Breanne Wilson-Bennett led the team in scoring, Megan Sullivan was only a couple of points behind, and Shelby Perry and Annika Zalewski were solid contributors. All are above their pace from last season, but nobody has taken her game to another level and really started to open people’s eyes. Some of these kids have that potential, so if players start to adjust to their roles and combinations really click, Colgate could be a more daunting team in the second half than it is today.

It’s interesting to compare Colgate with one of the teams that figures to be competing for the same turf, Dartmouth. The Big Green are much more reliant on veteran players, with seniors Lindsey Allen and Laura Stacey and junior Kennedy Ottenbreit as its top scorers. While all three are around the point-a-game mark, Dartmouth likely needs a couple of them to have truly special seasons for it to make a major push up the standings. Junior goalie Robyn Chemago is off to a great start with a .952 save percentage and a goals-against average barely over one, so it looks like she could be sitting on a breakout year.

If Cornell is going to drop this season, who moves into the vacuum left behind? For a time, it looked like it might be Princeton, but the Tigers receded a bit over the last two weeks. Dartmouth and St. Lawrence are currently both on pace to be home-ice teams in the ECAC quarters, but I assume that Clarkson is destined to host a quarter once the schedule plays out. Even more critical than the fight for home ice is the race to make the top eight. With revivals at Rensselaer and Colgate, it looks like we’ll have at least 10 teams in the hunt for the playoff spots right down to the wire. I got to watch Yale in person for the first time this weekend. It will be the subject of my column this week, and I get the impression we haven’t heard the last of the Bulldogs this year.

What are some of the keys you’ll be looking at as the ECAC season unfolds?

Candace: I think I’ll be looking to see whether Dartmouth can keep up its pace, whether Rensselaer can build any momentum, and what happens with St. Lawrence. You’ve already talked about Dartmouth. RPI has that impressive win against Clarkson, and also a 2-1 loss to Harvard, but also lost to Cornell and got swept by Robert Morris. The Engineers host New Hampshire this weekend, and then close their first half in early December with home games against Brown and Yale. RPI needs to win both to remain in the playoff hunt.

St. Lawrence, on the other hand, is currently sitting in fourth, and would have home ice, but to hold on to it I think the Saints will be battling Dartmouth, a team they did beat a few weeks ago. The Saints also beat Princeton, but the 5-0 loss to Quinnipiac definitely hurts. St. Lawrence also has two losses to Clarkson already, though those are nonconference games. They face Clarkson again at the end of January in a home-and-home, and really need to win those two games.

Goaltending is still a concern with St. Lawrence; Sonjia Shelly has a 2.68 goals-against and a .909 save percentage. She really needs to prove that she can actually steal a game if St. Lawrence is going to make a successful push. Some better offense would help too. St. Lawrence doesn’t have a single player averaging a point a game. Kennedy Marchment is closest, with a .933 points per game average.

Let’s shift over to Hockey East right now. Northeastern won the battle of containment, as the Huskies shut down Boston College stars Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa, while Kendall Coyne got a goal and Denisa Krížová had two assists. However, as I thought it might, BC’s depth was too much to overcome, and the Eagles won a very tight contest. BC is definitely in control in Hockey East, though Northeastern is right there, and both teams have an edge on Boston University, with games in hand and, in BC’s case, two more points already. Those three teams are the only ones in the conference with winning records in conference, and only Connecticut has a .500 record overall. It looks like a bunch of Hockey East teams will battle for playoff positioning, but lose to the big three Boston teams.

What did you take away from BC’s win over Northeastern?

Arlan: BC remains the best team in the East, and perhaps the country, but I think that Northeastern can be encouraged that it was right there until the end. Last year, the Eagles always blew teams away in these types of games, particularly early in the season. Ironically, it might work to their benefit to face some more adversity along the way and have to discover other ways to win games. I realize that they did so last year in terms of surviving, or maybe a better word is thriving, despite having large numbers of players miss games for national team commitments, but that didn’t appear to have any long-term payback. It was almost as though once the stars were all back, the rest of the roster looked to them to carry the load the rest of the way. I’m sure it is a comfort to Katie Crowley to know she can count on unexpected sources like Kaliya Johnson, Tori Sullivan, and Meghan Grieves to come through in the event someone can shut down Carpenter, Skarupa, and the other top threats. There may be a few more challenges this year, but I expect the Eagles to still be unbeaten when they meet Harvard on January 19.

Hockey games, for all the speed and skill that is on display, often wind up being decided by the mistakes players make. In a film session for fans a number of years ago, a coach made the point that even star players and Olympians will make mistakes in coverage. We saw that in the Northeastern and BC game, where each team scored its first goal thanks in part to a coverage breakdown. The Huskies’ first goal came on the power play, so the defense obviously can’t cover everyone. The two defensemen were tying up Huskies on either edge of the crease. One forward is on the puck carrier, in this case Krížová. That leaves two players for the other forward. Northeastern has a player out at the point above Krížová, and she wasn’t a threat at that point. Should the puck go to her, there would be time to rotate back. The fifth Husky was Coyne, standing alone in the slot. BC’s weak-side forward chose to maintain the box and essentially cover nobody, while Coyne was left uncovered a few feet behind her and deflected the shot for the game’s first goal.

A minute later, the shoe was on the other foot. Dana Trivigno got the puck behind the Northeastern net and centered it to Tori Sullivan at the edge of the crease. Northeastern had players on either side of her, but they made no attempt to tie up her stick or move her out of danger, so Northeastern’s only lead of the game lasted just 68 seconds.

Players on every team get caught puck watching now and then, and you just hope it doesn’t prove costly. At other times, the problem isn’t that people aren’t doing anything, but that they try to do too much.

North Dakota had a such a breakdown on Saturday that resulted in the game’s only goal. Minnesota-Duluth’s Katherine McGovern chased a puck into her offensive zone with three Fighting Hawks in pursuit. McGovern picked up the puck behind the net and skated it to the right corner, with all three UND players defending her. That didn’t leave enough coverage in the danger areas, and when Michelle Löwenhielm entered the zone as a trailer, there wasn’t anyone available to pick her up before she’d fired the puck inside the post.

Connecticut benefited from a more obvious mistake by Maine on Sunday. Scoreless in the first period, the Black Bears got caught with too many players on the ice while on the power play, and they added a cross-checking penalty 19 seconds later with the teams skating four on four. Just like that, a Maine advantage turned into a five-on-three opportunity for Connecticut, and Brittany Berisoff set up Leah Buress for a tap-in goal. Although technically a five-on-four power play because one of the penalized Bears was out of the box, the puck was in her net before she could enter the defensive zone. With the way that Elaine Chuli has been playing, you don’t want to give the Huskies a lead, and they went on to win, 2-0.

Dating back to last year, that’s now five straight wins for Connecticut over Maine, with all five occurring in Orono. Although there is a knot of five teams tied with six points, Connecticut has to be the early favorite to be the fourth team to get home ice, owning games in hand, and more importantly, Chuli. Would you agree?

Candace: Yes, more than likely, but who knows. It’s amazing in a way that teams 4-8, five squads in all, in Hockey East all currently have six points. Each has three wins, and all that sets them apart is the number of losses, with Connecticut having the fewest. New Hampshire has played the most conference games, which isn’t great for them for positioning. I keep wondering if Vermont might make a push. The Catamounts do have three games against Merrimack in the second half, two against New Hampshire, two against Maine, and two against UConn, so there is that possibility. The loss to Connecticut Friday doesn’t help though.

Connecticut has played perhaps the toughest schedule so far, with one game against Boston University and two against Boston College, plus a road series at Clarkson. This weekend, the Huskies face Quinnipiac in the first game of the Nutmeg Classic, then get either Merrimack or Yale in the second game. They then face a resurgent Boston University to close the first half. The Terriers have won seven of nine since their three-game losing streak, and the only two losses were to Boston College, one of which was in OT. BU rebounded from their shellacking against the Eagles by taking them to OT the next night, so I wonder what will happen when they face Northeastern in the Beanpot.

Anyway, Hockey East looks rather chaotic, but Connecticut is as good a guess as any for the final home ice spot. As you pointed out, they have Chuli in net, and she’ll have to be on her game to give Connecticut its best shot, because the offense is horrible. Leah Lum leads the team in scoring, and she’s only averaging .642 points a game. The power play only succeeds at 17.8 percent, and the penalty kill is only succeeding at 78 percent, so there isn’t much room for error in Hartford. The offense is in the bottom third nationally, and of the Hockey East squads, only Vermont scores less.

Stats can sometimes tell a lot. Take Wisconsin. The team is third in scoring offense, averaging 5.07 goals a game. If you look at individuals though, of the top 12 scorers nationally, only one is a Badger, sophomore Annie Pankowski. Contrast that with Minnesota, which has five of the top 12, or BC, Clarkson, and Northeastern, which each have two. It certainly seems to point to a lot of depth offensively for the Badgers, who have seven players scoring at a point a game or better.

Wisconsin hosts Dartmouth this weekend, and while the temptation might be to look ahead to two weeks from now and the series in Madison against Minnesota, I’d imagine Mark Johnson would have his charges completely focused on the Big Green.

That Wisconsin/Minnesota series can’t come fast enough for me, because Minnesota has owned Wisconsin for the last 3.5 years, and until the Badgers beat the Gophers, I can’t vote them for the top spot in the poll.

Of course, Minnesota was challenged a little more by Yale this weekend than Wisconsin by Lindenwood. I was surprised to see Yale hang three goals on Amanda Leveille Friday. Was that a Minnesota defense getting sloppy with a big lead?

Arlan: I’m trying to think of how to answer that without taking 10,000 words, because there are about 100 ways I could go. First, I do think that Yale is more dangerous offensively than a team like Lindenwood. The Bulldogs have some nice forwards that can create problems, as evidenced by scoring at least three goals in all four of their games versus Quinnipiac, Princeton, and Dartmouth, all teams that rank in or near the top 10, and scoring twice and generating 28 shots against Harvard.

There is also a factor of a team letting down once it gets up by several goals and starts to skate four lines instead of the normal three. I’ve seen that play out for years.

However, I do think it’s fair to say that Minnesota isn’t a great defensive team right now. It looks to have the pieces needed to be one, and I don’t know that there are problems that can’t be fixed, but it isn’t a one-game phenomenon with the Gophers. After opening the season with four straight shutouts, there has been a recurring theme of somewhat ineffective defending. The overall numbers aren’t that bad, but when you consider that Minnesota has possession of the puck as much of the time as it does, there have been a few leaks.

The penalty kill in particular has been far from deadly. It does fine as long as it keeps the opponent from getting set up in the zone, and it does well in that regard, but it has been vulnerable once the opposing power play takes shape. There have been years where I thought that the Minnesota PK was stronger than the stats suggested, because it had been asked to kill a lot of five-on-three time or a number of consecutive penalties. That’s not the case now. With the talent it can put on the ice, ranking 29th out of 35 teams is somewhat mystifying, and nights like Friday, where Yale converted on both of its power-play opportunities, don’t help the stats.

What has saved Minnesota is that it doesn’t go to the penalty box much. At full strength, the overall numbers are okay, but those defensive numbers are buoyed by the games where Leveille has been great and has kept the opponent off the scoreboard. When she’s been less than great, the blips have quickly appeared. There have been a number of flaws that have contributed, and I don’t think that it is something that can be fixed just by flipping a switch and starting to suddenly focus on defense. Saturday’s second period was an example of the kind of dominant period the Gophers can play, but again, much of that success is born of possessing the puck and not having to defend a whole lot. I don’t think that they can do that for 120 minutes against the nation’s top-ranked team. If that proves to be true, then they will likely get their lunch handed to them by Wisconsin, you can vote for whomever you like at the top of your poll ballot, and Minnesota will have two months to figure out how to become a great defensive team once more.

As for the squad that already is a great defensive team, you are correct that Johnson tries to keep attention focused squarely on the next game. In his Monday media conference, he was asked about the importance of beating Minnesota, and his response was, “I thought we were playing Dartmouth Friday?” You and I can look ahead to anything we choose, but Johnson, his coaching brethren, and most importantly, their players, don’t have that luxury.

The Badgers finish 2015 with three critical weekends: Dartmouth, Minnesota, and North Dakota. It may be a bit much to expect that they can come through that stretch with a perfect record intact, but I like their chances to still be in first place when the break arrives.

Elsewhere in the WCHA, UMD finally got its first win over a ranked opponent after coming up short in its first nine tries. The Bulldogs and Maddie Rooney shut out North Dakota to get a split. In another series that may prove important for trying to avoid Wisconsin and Minnesota in the quarterfinal if nothing else, St. Cloud State showed it may be stronger than we thought by sweeping Ohio State. Any thoughts on either of those?

Candace: Yes. I think actually, in many ways, the WCHA is a lot like the other conferences: a couple of strong teams, one or two weak teams, and then a whole lot of parity. North Dakota is a great example of that. The newly christened Fighting Hawks are the only team to hang an “L” on Minnesota this year. However, except for the second weekend of the year against an overmatched Minnesota State squad, North Dakota has yet to emerge with six points on the weekend. They tied and lost to Bemidji (though they won the shootout in the tie game), beat and tied St. Cloud (losing the shootout), and then have split with Minnesota, Ohio State, and Minnesota-Duluth.

In its losses, and even its ties, the offense has sputtered. They got one goal in two games against Bemidji, three and four goals against St. Cloud, one and four goals against Minnesota, two and four against Ohio State, and four and none against Minnesota-Duluth. It is feast or famine for North Dakota, and the Fighting Hawks aren’t good enough defensively to be able to rely solely on Shelby Amsley-Benzie to steal the game if the offense isn’t producing.

That’s the theme for the entire WCHA. Ohio State could only score a goal in each game against Bemidji, managed three in its win against North Dakota, and since then has scored one, two, and one goals in its last three games. Again, there isn’t a single player on the Ohio State roster averaging over a point a game, and the penalty kill has given up 11 goals in 62 tries, a 79 percent success rate, not good for a team ranked 19th offensively and barely averaging more than two goals a game, and that is also the fourth most-penalized team in the country. Three of St. Cloud’s four goals Saturday, including the game-winner, came on the power play.

St. Cloud does have some offensive power in the form of Molly Illikainen, who is 23rd in the country in scoring and factored in all three goals in Friday’s 3-2 win over the Buckeyes. St. Cloud has now won four in a row, although those games were against Minnesota State and Ohio State. I think St. Cloud will be battling for fifth in the WCHA against Minnesota-Duluth. I’m not sure the Huskies are quite strong enough to move up to home ice and displace either Bemidji State or North Dakota.

As for Duluth, I don’t think we will have a real handle on the Bulldogs until the end of the first half. Until Saturday against North Dakota, their sole wins in conference were against Minnesota State, the only team in the WCHA without a win or tie in league play. Before that 1-0 win, they had lost seven in a row in WCHA play. Minnesota-Duluth closes its first half with series against St. Cloud and Ohio State, so those two weekends might go a long way to getting a better handle on the WCHA playoff race.

Let’s talk CHA for now. Penn State lost to St. Lawrence in a close defensive battle. Until its win against Cornell, Mercyhurst hadn’t beaten anybody outside the CHA. In fact, all the CHA teams have pretty dismal out-of-conference records, with Mercyhurst sitting at 2-6-1, Syracuse at 2-7, Robert Morris at 4-3-1, Penn State at 3-7, Lindenwood at 2-6, and RIT at 4-6. Robert Morris’ record is bolstered by the series where it swept Merrimack, D-I’s latest addition and hardly a powerhouse.

Is this just an off year for the CHA, or do you think CHA programs are going to have a harder time attracting top players?

Arlan: Historically, the CHA hasn’t attracted the cream of the crop of recruits, and it hasn’t stopped the league from competing. Mercyhurst was able to land Meghan Agosta, and perhaps that helped entice some other higher-end recruits like Jesse Scanzano, Bailey Bram, and Christine Bestland, but Michael Sisti was able to bring in players like Valerie Chouinard before Agosta, and get to the NCAA tournament with the likes of Teresa Marchese, Desirae Clark, Samantha Shirley, and Stefanie Bourbeau. I don’t know that players on the current roster like Emily Janiga, Jenna Dingeldein, or Sara Robello are that different from forwards that have been the Lakers’ bread and butter over the years. It’s a bit of a down year in Erie, but I’m not going to write Mercyhurst off and say this is what it is likely to be going forward.

As for Robert Morris, I like the Colonials’ freshmen class. It has provided a lot of contributions and shows potential for future growth. With only three seniors, Paul Colontino won’t be graduating much after this season, especially in terms of offensive production, where only Ashley Vesci is a regular on the score sheet.

If Syracuse could find a big-time goaltender like Paul Flanagan had back when Rachel Barrie played for him at St. Lawrence, then I think that we might view the Orange differently. He’s brought in some impact forwards that didn’t work out, with Isabel Menard transferring to Boston University and Laurie Kingsbury getting injured and having to quit hockey.

The other three teams are so new to Division I that I think it is hard to say that what they are today is what we can expect going forward. Penn State in particular still has its first recruiting class on the roster, and a big key for that program will be what type of talent Josh Brandwene is able to bring in to replace them in the fall. With many of these programs, I’m at a disadvantage in that I don’t know much about their facilities, having never been to any of them, but at least from a player perspective, Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena is supposed to be very nice.

Recruiting is so difficult to predict down the road. I remember 10 years ago there were those who thought that teams like New Hampshire were going to take over and lead Hockey East to a position of superiority to the ECAC. For a bit, it did seem that traditional powers like Harvard and Dartmouth receded and the biggest advances were in Hockey East. Enter Cornell, Clarkson, and Quinnipiac. I doubt we’ve heard the last of the Wildcats as far as being a contender, but Harvard and company are far from being dead and buried. BC may be the best program in the East right now, but it is hard to question the overall health of ECAC Hockey. These days in recruiting, outside of a handful of teams that bring in the top classes year after year, there tend to be some highs and lows for everyone else.

Programs are added and subtracted, coaches come and go, and who knows if and when we’ll be hit with conference realignment like we saw on the men’s side. What we think we know about the balance of power will likely be different in four years. I think it is safe to say that the CHA didn’t have a true power team last season, it doesn’t seem to have one this year either, but it doesn’t mean that potential recruits won’t be attracted to play in a circuit where the games look to be very competitive more often than not.

Endicott not playing like the new kids on the block

Endicott freshman goaltender Kevin Aldridge is a key component of the Gulls’ early-season success in 2015-16 (photo: David Le).

When you look at the roster for Endicott, you will find 28 freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors among the 32-player team.

Coming from the club ranks into NCAA Division III eligibility, building a competitive team has been the focal point for head coach R.J. Tolan and his staff and the early returns in the young season are showing very positive signs.

“First, I am delighted to be part of the Endicott family,” said Tolan. “When Dr. Richard Wylie, the school president, and Brian Wylie, the athletic director, came to me with this opportunity which is literally five minutes from my home, I knew it was the right place for me. It was very clear the dedication they have to successful academics and athletics at Endicott. Over the past year, we have been focused on preparing to be a competitive D-III program focused on doing it the right way and with the right kind of kids for this school.”

Assistant coaches Jonathan McCourt and Lachlan Burgess get a lot of credit from their boss on the quality and character of the players recruited to Endicott. Both qualities get treated with equal importance by the coaching staff and are seen as necessary elements for success.

“We are trying to establish traditions here,” noted Tolan. “Right now, I want players who are going to be good citizens on campus – kids that will open doors for people and do things the right way. Jonathan and Lachlan have done a great job in finding kids that really fit the culture here at Endicott and give us the opportunity to establish a competitive NCAA program from the prior club status. We are building the program a game at a time.”

After opening 0-1-2, which included an overtime loss to the defending conference champions from Nichols, Endicott has won four games in a row with three of the wins coming on the road. The program’s first win came at Salve Regina by a 7-5 score on Nov. 12.

“We are obviously a very young team,” said Tolan. “With that will come some growing pains and chances to continually improve our game. We opened up a big lead against Salve Regina in their building, which is a tough place to play. We let them back in it in the third period, but got the win and lots of lessons learned about 60 minutes of hockey and compete level at the college level. I know it’s cliché and a bit boring, but we really do want to build on our game experiences and be better each time we play.”

The first win has evolved into a four-game win streak that includes wins over Wentworth, Johnson and Wales and Becker. During the first seven games, the Gulls have seen their youngsters take flight quickly. Twenty players have recorded a point already this season and goaltender Kevin Aldridge has been very consistent as the starter in all seven games to date. Aldridge has a .932 save percentage and a 2.35 GAA.

Offensively, Parker Wood and Josh Bowes lead the way with seven points each and nine of the team’s 23 goals so far this season. Wood, who was named ECAC Northeast Player of the Week last week scored the game winning goal against Johnson and Wales late in the third period, while Bowes, too, has a game-winner to his credit in the first win at Salve Regina.

The Gulls not only have a new team, but also opened play at the new Raymond J. Bourque Arena on Nov. 7 in a 1-1 tie with conference foe Suffolk. The new facility, along with the rink and coaching staffs, provide further indication of the commitment that the school has made to both the men’s and women’s programs at the D-III level.

“When I was offered the opportunity to come here and coach, it was very clear that the entire institution from the president on down were committed to our success,” stated Tolan. “Everything has been first-class in the completion of the facility and opportunities for our student-athletes at a good school like Endicott. We are looking to build the tradition of good student athletes and good people as much as we are good players on the ice.”

The Gulls will experience another testing weekend as they travel to Maine for the Bowdoin/Colby Tournament and games with both NESCAC schools before returning home to close out the first semester with games against Stonehill and Salem State.

The early returns are good, but the expectations for ongoing improvement are what the coaches are emphasizing with their young team. The results to date are encouraging and like their coach says, they are just working to be better in the next game they play – the Gulls will be focused only on Bowdoin as the next team in their learning progression.

NCAA players, recruits listed on latest NHL Central Scouting ‘Players to Watch’ rankings

NHL Central Scouting released on Tuesday its latest ‘Players to Watch’ list for the 2016 NHL Draft and it is packed with current college players and future recruits.

The players are given A, B or C ratings – an A is a first-round candidate, a B is a second- or third-round candidate and a C is a fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round prospect.

An ‘LV’ rating means that player has had limited viewing by NHL Central Scouting.

The list is in alphabetical order by league:

Player's Name
2015-16 Team
Commitment (2016 unless noted)
Brinson PasichnukDBonnyville (AJHL)CVermont
Taden RattieFWhitecourt (AJHL)CWestern Michigan (2017)
Justin YoungFWhitecourt (AJHL)CAlaska
Dennis CholowskiDChilliwack (BCHL)BSt. Cloud State (2017)
Kohen OlischefskiFChilliwack (BCHL)CWisconsin (2017)
Dante FabbroDPenticton (BCHL)ABoston University
Tyson JostFPenticton (BCHL)ANorth Dakota
Matthew FreytagFWisconsin (Big 10)C
Matthew JurusikGWisconsin (Big 10)C
Luke KuninFWisconsin (Big 10)A
Owen GrantDCarleton Place (CCHL)CVermont (2017)
Brett MurrayFCarleton Place (CCHL)CPenn State (2017)
Colton PointGCarleton Place (CCHL)CColgate (2017)
Casey FitzgeraldDBoston College (Hockey East)C
Charles McAvoyDBoston University (Hockey East)A
Ethan SpaxmanDMerrimack (Hockey East)C
Vincent DesharnaisDProvidence (Hockey East)C
Joseph MasoniusDConnecticut (Hockey East)C
Tage ThompsonFConnecticut (Hockey East)B
Callum FryerDMassachusetts (Hockey East)C
Mikael HakkarainenFBrookings (NAHL)CProvidence (2017)
Brian HurleyDMinnesota Wilderness (NAHL)COhio State
Rourke RussellDWichita Falls (NAHL)CMiami (2018)
Dylan GambrellFDenver (NCHC)C
Matthew CairnsDGeorgetown (OJHL)CCornell (2017)
Matthew ThomDGeorgetown (OJHL)CPrinceton (2017)
Matt FilipeFCedar Rapids (USHL)CNortheastern
Matt GosiewskiFCedar Rapids (USHL)CHarvard (2017)
Ryan LarkinGCedar Rapids (USHL)LVMiami
Sam SternscheinFCedar Rapids (USHL)CCornell
Grant GabrielleDChicago (USHL)CWestern Michigan
Matt KierstedDChicago (USHL)CNorth Dakota
Tanner LaczynskiFChicago (USHL)COhio State
Max ZimmerFChicago (USHL)BWisconsin (2017)
William KnierimFDubuque (USHL)BMiami
Michael O'LearyFDubuque (USHL)CCornell
Cameron LeeDGreen Bay (USHL)CProvidence
John LeonardFGreen Bay (USHL)CMassachusetts
Andrew PeekeDGreen Bay (USHL)BNotre Dame
Zachary BerzollaDMuskegon (USHL)CColorado College
Derek DaschkeDMuskegon (USHL)CWestern Michigan
Mitch EliotDMuskegon (USHL)CMichigan State
William FallstromFOmaha (USHL)CMinnesota
Michael BoyleDSioux City (USHL)BDenver (2017)
Christopher DoderoFSioux City (USHL)CColorado College
Jackson KeaneFSioux City (USHL)CNorth Dakota
Jake RyczekDSioux City (USHL)CProvidence (2017)
Justin WellsDSioux Falls (USHL)CBowling Green (2017)
Joey AndersonFU.S. NTDP (USHL)BMinnesota-Duluth
Kieffer BellowsFU.S. NTDP (USHL)ABoston University
Michael CampoliDU.S. NTDP (USHL)CBoston College
Adam FoxDU.S. NTDP (USHL)CHarvard
Trent FredericFU.S. NTDP (USHL)BWisconsin
Keeghan HowdeshellFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CFerris State
Clayton KellerFU.S. NTDP (USHL)ABoston University
Chad KrysDU.S. NTDP (USHL)ABoston University
Ryan LindgrenDU.S. NTDP (USHL)BMinnesota
William LockwoodFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CMichigan
Griffin LuceDU.S. NTDP (USHL)BMichigan
Graham McPheeFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CBoston College
Nick PastujovFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CMichigan
James SanchezFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CMichigan
Keenan SuthersFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CWestern Michigan
Zach WalkerFU.S. NTDP (USHL)CBoston College
Joseph WollGU.S. NTDP (USHL)CBoston College
Sam RossiniDWaterloo (USHL)BMinnesota
Garrett WaitFWaterloo (USHL)CMinnesota
Kevin ConleyFYoungstown (USHL)CDenver
Luke McInnisDYoungstown (USHL)CBoston College
Cameron MorrisonFYoungstown (USHL)CNotre Dame (2017)
Jacob Schmidt-SvejstrupFBoston Jr. Bruins (USPHL)CMaine (2017)
Liam DarcyDIslanders (USPHL)CNew Hampshire
Robert HamptonFNorth Jersey (Midget AAA)CNortheastern (2017)
Jamie ArmstrongFAvon Old Farms (US High School)CNortheastern
Patrick HarperFAvon Old Farms (US High School)CBoston University (2017)
Adam KarashikDAvon Old Farms (US High School)CConnecticut
Matt LaddGAvon Old Farms (US High School)CNiagara (2018)
Marshall RifaiDHotchkiss School (US High School)CHarvard (2017)
Carter LongDSouth Kent (US High School)CVermont (2018)
Greg PrintzFSouth Kent (US High School)CProvidence (2017)
Brian MatthewsDBelmont Hill (US High School)CYale (2017)
Jacob KampsDCushing Academy (US High School)CVermont (2017)
Riley TufteFBlaine (US High School)AMinnesota-Duluth
Michael GrahamFEden Prairie (US High School)BNotre Dame (2017)
Mitchell MattsonFGrand Rapids (US High School)BNorth Dakota
Scott PerunovichDHibbing/Chisholm (US High School)CMinnesota-Duluth (2018)
Casey StaumDHill-Murray (US High School)CNebraska-Omaha (2017)
Kenneth JohnsonDShattuck-St. Mary's (US High School)CMichigan

Despite glut of ties, don’t expect to see shootouts in ECAC Hockey

Cornell’s Mitch Gillam stopped all 57 shots he faced last weekend (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

There was a lot of extra time played not only in ECAC Hockey last weekend, but in college hockey as a whole. Twenty-two games went to overtime, including four in ECAC Hockey.

Despite the extra time, there wasn’t a lot of closure. All four of those ECAC games ended in ties — two of them scoreless.

Saturday’s 0-0 tie between St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac was the first scoreless game in the history of the Saints’ program — a span of 2,083 games dating to the 1925-26 season.

Despite the abundance of ties, don’t expect the ECAC to explore adding a shootout during the offseason. Most coaches interviewed about the matter two seasons ago seemed opposed to the system.

While the shootout might be an option in the 82-game NHL season, the 22-game conference schedule often puts points at a premium. Some see it as a shame that crucial points come down to a skills contest.

Colgate coach Don Vaughan recalled the words of former St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh, who compared the shootout to settling the Masters with a putt-off.

“It’s a skills competition to decide a team game,” Vaughan said.

Where’s the offense?

With two scoreless ties last weekend — and only one team scoring more than three goals — it might seem that the league’s offense has dipped a bit from last season.

Each team, with the exception of Dartmouth and Rensselaer, has played six conference games (the Engineers and Big Green have played five). The average ECAC team is scoring 2.47 goals per game, the exact same mark as a year ago. However, that’s down slightly from the 2013-14 season (2.75) and 2012-13 season (2.59).

While there are plenty of good goalies in the league, this year’s talented freshman forwards — Harvard’s Ryan Donato, Yale’s Joe Snively, Cornell’s Anthony Angello, Quinnipiac’s Thomas Aldworth and Rensselaer’s Evan Tironese, among others — suggests that scoring could rise in the coming seasons.

Brown and Colgate going Green

Darcy Murphy and Colgate play Brown in the opener of the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday (photo: Omar Phillips).

It’s near the end of November and ECAC Hockey has the best out-of-conference winning percentage of any league in the nation at .674 (29-13-4).

There will be several chances to add to that mark this weekend, two of them across the Atlantic Ocean.

Colgate and Brown will meet in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday as a part of the Friendship Four. It will be the first regular season U.S. college hockey game to be played in Europe.

The Raiders and Bears will play at 11 a.m. Eastern time on Friday. That game counts toward the league standings and will be televised by NESN. Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell will play in the second game, with the championship and consolation games offering nonleague competition for the ECAC schools on Saturday.

All four games will take place at the SSE Arena Belfast, the home of the Belfast Giants of the Elite Hockey League. The current Giants roster features several former NCAA players, including ex-Clarkson defenseman Matt Nickerson.

Both the Raiders and Bears were in Belfast on Tuesday. It’s the second European trip of the year for Colgate; the Raiders spent 10 days in August touring Switzerland and Italy while playing against several local teams.

Bears coach Brendon Whittet told UTV Ireland it took “about two seconds” to say yes to playing the games, and he sees more NCAA teams making the trip in the future.

“The best ambassadors will be us when we go back and say how we were treated and what it was like and what the experience was like,” he told UTV.

Information on the games can be found on the tournament’s official website.

Colgate and Brown aren’t the only ECAC teams taking part in notable games this weekend. No. 16 Cornell will travel to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to face No. 11 Boston University as part of the Red Hot Hockey matchup. No. 10 Yale travels to Providence to face the defending national champion Friars, who are No. 1 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and haven’t lost this season. It’s the first meeting between the teams since 1997.

Finally, No. 8 Harvard travels to No. 18 Notre Dame to take part in the Shillelagh Tournament, while Dartmouth travels to No. 12 Michigan for a pair of games against the Wolverines.

Around the league

• Rensselaer extended its unbeaten streak to eight games (6-0-2) with a win over New Hampshire on Tuesday night. Engineers forward Milos Bubela played for the first time since Oct. 31, while goalie Jason Kasdorf remained out. Kasdorf was injured on Nov. 6 against Clarkson and hasn’t played since.

• Cornell’s improved offense has been a big reason for the team’s 6-1-1 start, but the Big Red have been getting outstanding goaltending from junior Mitch Gillam, who was named ECAC player of the week and NCAA first star of the week after posting back-to-back shutouts last weekend. It’s the first time a Cornell goalie has had back-to-back shutouts since Andy Iles did on Dec. 2-3, 2011, and the first time it’s happened on the road since Nov. 7-8, 2008, when Ben Scrivens blanked Princeton and Quinnipiac. Entering the season, Cornell coach Mike Schafer said neither Gillam nor sophomore Hayden Stewart claimed the No. 1 job down the stretch last year, but Gillam has done exactly that so far this season.

• Joining Gillam on the league’s weekly awards list were Quinnipiac’s Luke Shiplo (rookie), who scored Tuesday against Connecticut and Friday against Clarkson, and St. Lawrence sophomore Kyle Hayton (goalie), who stopped 71 of 72 shots in a three-point weekend for the Saints.

• And finally, here’s proof that the Union and Rensselaer rivalry extends beyond the collegiate ranks. Former Dutchmen defenseman Mat Bodie and former Engineers forward Mike Zalewski mixed it up during Sunday’s AHL game between Hartford and Utica. Each player was given two minutes for roughing.


They’re leaving home: Illinois produces many college players but has no Division I team

Skokie, Ill., native Louie Belpedio of Miami was a third-round pick of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild in 2014 (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Willie Knierim wouldn’t have needed much of a recruiting pitch if Northwestern had a Division I men’s hockey program.

Knierim grew up in Skokie, Ill., just 10 minutes from Northwestern. He knows plenty about Evanston and what Northwestern has to offer.

“It’s one of the most beautiful campuses,” Knierim said. “It’s right around the water.”

Alas, Northwestern doesn’t have a program, and Knierim, who ISS Hockey ranks No. 22 among 2016 NHL draft-eligible players, recently signed his letter of intent to play at Miami next year.

While Illinois is among the nation’s top five states in registered hockey players and is producing more and more NHL prospects, what the state lacks is a Division I program.

“It’s always been kind of weird that Illinois doesn’t have a D-I hockey program,” Knierim said. “And for Arizona to have one right now, I think Illinois needs to get at least one, if not two. With the Blackhawks being such a big part of Chicago and the state, too, hockey is growing even more.”

With Arizona State moving up this season, that makes 60 Division I programs across 20 states. Massachusetts and New York each have 10 D-I programs. The closest programs to Illinois, geographically, are Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

Knierim and other teenage players are too young to remember it, but Illinois actually had an D-I program not that long ago.

The University of Illinois-Chicago, which is located on Chicago’s west side, possessed a Division I men’s hockey team from 1982 to 1996. What brought that program down is the same thing that’s keeping other programs from being started: money.

“We had two rinks — the Pavilion and a practice rink on campus — and those rinks were losing about $800,000 a year,” said UIC athletic director Jim Schmidt. “We were renting the rink 24/7 and still losing money. … The campus administration at the time made a decision to discontinue the program and reinvest in other programs to make us more competitive. It did work.

“It’s like anything else: If anyone funded the program, all the scholarships and all the finances, I would never say never. I would never say never, but it’s a big investment. It would have to be really a sound business plan with financial backing.”

Former Notre Dame forward Vince Hinostroza is a Chicago native who’s now part of the Blackhawks organization (photo: Melissa Wade).

There’s little hope of UIC adding a hockey program again. The logical schools would be Illinois and Northwestern, both of which are in the Big Ten. Both schools have club programs, but neither seems interested in expanding.

“The resources we have will be dedicated to the 503 student-athletes and 19 programs that currently represent Northwestern,” Northwestern spokesperson Paul Kennedy said.

Illinois spokesperson Kent Brown had a similar answer.

“Illinois had a very successful men’s ice hockey program back in the ’30s and early ’40s, but it was suspended at the outset of World War II,” Brown said. “Ray Eliot was the first hockey coach. After the war, the interest and finances to restart the program weren’t there, and it never was a varsity sport again.

“We have a couple of major issues to hurdle before hockey would become a varsity sport again. Our ice rink was built in the late ’20s and seats about 1,500. To start a varsity hockey program, we would need a new facility, with at least two additional sheets of ice for both a men’s and women’s team to use for practices.”

Division I programs have been added elsewhere in recent years, but donations were key to those. Penn State received $102 million in total donations from Terry and Kim Pegula, who own the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Arizona State received a $32 million donation.

“Penn State recently began a program with a nearly $100 million gift from an alum who owns the Buffalo Sabres,” Brown said. “We would probably need something in the same neighborhood to get started here. We know the sport is extremely popular, and the Chicago area has a ton of players, but we just don’t have a facility to support men’s and women’s varsity programs. I guess we would never say never, but there are several projects already on the board before even seriously thinking about adding men’s and women’s hockey, and we would have to add both for Title IX reasons.”

No one doubts the state’s current passion for hockey. With the Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cups in six years, hockey has taken off in Illinois.

The state has added nearly 10,000 registered players in the last six years and recorded a total of 30,553 during the 2014-15 USA Hockey registration period. Illinois trails only Minnesota (55,450), Michigan (50,602), Massachusetts (49,591) and New York (48,580).

As Illinois has accumulated more players, it’s also developed more high-end talent. Christian Fischer (second-round pick by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015), Miami’s Louie Belpedio (third round by the Minnesota Wild in 2014), Ryan Hartman (first round by the Blackhawks in 2013) and Michigan’s JT Compher (second round by the Sabres in 2013) are all recent draft picks from Illinois.

Knierim and Boston University recruit Clayton Keller, who is from Swansea, Ill., are projected to be selected early in the 2016 draft.

The Blackhawks have especially dipped into Illinois’ talent pool as of late. They drafted Illinois natives Hartman, Alex Broadhurst, Vince Hinostroza (a former Notre Dame player), Miami’s Anthony Louis and Roy Radke since 2011. They also signed former Maine goaltender Scott Darling, who is from Lemont, Ill.

With all those players in Illinois and no Division I program in the state to recruit them, other schools have benefited. Wisconsin has seven Illinois players on its roster. Miami and Notre Dame both have four players. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State each have at least one Illinois player.

Blackhawks television analyst and former NHL player Eddie Olczyk has had two of his sons play Division I hockey and a third will begin playing next season. Eddie, his oldest, played at Massachusetts. Tommy is a senior at Penn State. Nick is committed to play at Colorado College.

Olczyk would have loved to keep his children in state for college.

“To me, that would be incredible to have a Division I program in our state and kids growing up in our state,” Olczyk said. “You have that kid in Massachusetts, and they want to go to Boston College, BU, Harvard. The same thing with Michigan or Michigan State or Minnesota.

“To get that one would be an incredible boost to hockey. I’m hoping at some point somebody is going to say it’s about time my alma mater has a Division I program. If you look at that template by Penn State, it can happen and it can happen really quick. It’d be great for the state of Illinois and kids of Illinois.”

TMQ: On perfection, parity and teams whose true colors are yet unknown

Connor Clifton and Quinnipiac are 11-0-2 this season (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

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: Perfection once again won’t occur this hockey season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Quinnipiac put together an impressive run of 11 straight wins to open the season before posting back-to-back ties last weekend against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The Bobcats still have yet to lose a game.

Quinnipiac’s run, however, got me thinking about Cornell and its 1969-70 team that went 29-0 to win its second national title in four years. The game has certainly changed a lot since that Big Red team ran the table. We use the word parity all the time in describing today’s college game. Thus I feel like its safe to say that Cornell’s perfect record probably will never again be touched. Do you agree?

Paula: I do agree that perfection is unattainable. An undefeated season? Maybe — a big maybe. But perfect? Nope.

There are many reasons for this, but the biggest one that comes to mind is the amount of information that’s available about any team via technology. Every team pores over video of opponents to prepare for upcoming games, and in doing so, each team is able to determine a way to exploit any weakness an opponent exhibits in ways that simply couldn’t be done 45 years ago.

Additionally, this is something that is done for college-bound players before they get to play Division I. Savvy coaches are preparing their players better and at younger ages for nearly any potential scenario, anything that can be anticipated with video. Players are smarter about the game in general now.

In some ways, the parity makes the college game more interesting; in others, however, it seems to take some of the shine off the game.

Years ago when I asked coaches about parity, they also talked about the improvement in goalie equipment, especially bigger pads. I can’t speak to whether that’s part of it.

While nobody’s perfect this season, there are some impressive records out there, especially in Hockey East and the NCHC.

Jim: It’s true, once again we can sit here and talk about Hockey East and the NCHC. Right now, Hockey East occupies three of the top four spots in the latest USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and half the members in the NCHC have overall winning percentages of .667 or above.

With the Ivies all having some games under their collective belts, I think we can also pass judgment on ECAC Hockey and, right now, I’m impressed with five of the 12 teams. We’ve already mentioned Quinnipiac, but Harvard, Yale and Cornell have all gotten off to the start each wants. Add in St. Lawrence, which shut out Quinnipiac in Saturday’s scoreless tie, and I like a lot of what I’m seeing in the ECAC as well.

Rensselaer is also off to a solid start in league play, matching Quinnipiac at 4-0-2, but the Engineers are 2-4 out of conference so the jury remains out on them.

The team I can’t figure out is Clarkson. The Golden Knights were 5-1 out of the gate, although the one loss was a 7-1 slaughtering at Merrimack. Clarkson is 0-3-2 in its last five, but the two ties came against Quinnipiac and Rensselaer.

Am I the only one that is confused about just how good (or not so good) Clarkson is?

Paula: I think Clarkson is having difficulty figuring out how good Clarkson is. Since that 5-1 start, the Knights are 0-3-2, a stretch in which they’ve averaged 0.80 goals per game after starting the first six games averaging 4.17 goals per game. It may not be completely fair to point to the strength of their opponents, but on paper, that is what it looks like. The opponents Clarkson has played since that fast start have been a bit tougher.

Sometimes a start like that can propel a team through a tougher stretch of schedule, give a team confidence down the road, but this recent skid does not bode well for the Golden Knights as their ECAC season progresses.

The league that perplexes me is the very league that I cover, the Big Ten. On USCHO Live! at the start of the season, you made a comment about how tough I was on the Big Ten in my season preview — a fair comment, in my opinion — but, once again, B1G hockey is struggling big time with its nonconference schedule at the start of the season.

We’ve talked a bit about the more successful leagues in the early going. I’m curious, however, as to what other people think about Big Ten hockey. I see a lot of it, obviously, through the season and I know what I think. Do you have a take on why the Big Ten has such difficulty with nonconference opponents?

Jim: I have to tell you that I am a bit perplexed by the struggles of Big Ten teams as well. None has simply come out of the gate with a bold statement. Penn State looks and feels like a team that wants to carry the Big Ten flag, but I’m not even ready to put a stake in the ground for the Nittany Lions.

As you said above, it’s maybe not right to talk about strength of schedule, but the fact of the matter is that Penn State has played six of its 12 nonleague games thus far against Atlantic Hockey teams, a conference that is 9-36-3 out of conference. Not exactly a ringing endorsement to classify Penn State having significant success.

You’re closer to the league than I am. It doesn’t seem like teams are struggling with the recruiting game but I have to think it was easier to recruit to say Wisconsin or Minnesota when the teams were playing against teams like Denver and North Dakota regularly. There also have been enough teams to elevate the performance of their programs (Union, Yale, Quinnipiac, Providence and the like) to make recruiting more competitive.

I guess what I am saying is simple: I have as little an explanation for the Big Ten’s early season struggles as you.

While we’re talking about conferences off to less-than-blazing starts, we shouldn’t leave out the WCHA. The same conference that produced the top overall seed in last year’s NCAA tournament is 14-18-8 out of conference thus far, including a dismal 1-10-2 mark against the NCHC. I know it’s too early to look at the PairWise Rankings with much certainty, but the highest-ranked WCHA team is Michigan Tech, ranked 21st. Not exactly the same success this conference enjoyed last season.

Paula: I hadn’t even considered the recruiting advantages of being one of the two or three “big” teams in the WCHA or CCHA. What an interesting point, Jim.

I have a huge affection for the current WCHA, as it is home to many of the CCHA teams I covered for so long. It does seem as though the WCHA is poised to have a down year. While it is too early to look at the PWR with any real sense of what’s going to happen between now and the end of the season and we’re still early enough on for me to be wary of some statistics, it’s disconcerting to see the top team in scoring for the WCHA, Michigan Tech, come in at No. 19 nationally. The league’s top defensive team, Bowling Green, is tied for 10th, but it’s a big drop to the league’s second team, Tech again at No. 19.

There is a lot of interesting hockey on tap for Thanksgiving weekend, especially hockey of the nonconference variety. With host Notre Dame plus Harvard, Rensselaer and Western Michigan, the Shillelagh Tournament looks to be very competitive. The St. Cloud State-Minnesota series should be an interesting barometer for both teams, as is the game between Boston University and Cornell in Madison Square Garden Saturday. I’m also looking forward to seeing North Dakota in my own backyard as the Fighting Hawks — and that will take some getting used to — visit the Spartans.

Thumbs up

To the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. Yep, that’s right. If you were under a stone for the last few weeks, North Dakota finally has another nickname. Hopefully this will allow us all to put the Fighting Sioux — and all the controversy associated with it — in the past. Knowing the North Dakota faithful, however, that might not happen any time soon.

Thumbs down

To the number of games resulting in a tie this season. We’ve just finished Week 8 and there have been 55 games that have finished in a tie after five minutes of overtime. The three-on-three play that the NHL is using this season (and that the NCHC uses after the five-minute OT to award an extra point in the standings) is exciting. Couldn’t the NCAA use a mandatory three-on-three or four-on-four format throughout every league to reduce the number of games that result in outright ties?

Coming up

In addition to the Shillelagh Tournament at Notre Dame, there’s one more holiday tournament this weekend: the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brown, Colgate, No. 4 UMass-Lowell and Northeastern play Friday and Saturday.

Besides No. 11 Boston University and No. 16 Cornell in Red Hot Hockey at MSG, there’s also No. 10 Yale at No. 1 Providence on Saturday in games between ranked teams.

Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 16-22

St. Cloud State’s Judd Peterson and North Dakota’s Trevor Olson battle for the puck Saturday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Here’s how the teams ranked in the Nov. 16, 2015, USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll fared between Nov. 16 and Nov. 22:

Friday: beat Northeastern 5-2
Saturday: won at Northeastern 3-0
8-0-3Saturday: vs. Yale
Boston College
Saturday: won at New Hampshire 6-310-1Tuesday: at Connecticut
Saturday: vs. RIT
Tuesday: won at Connecticut 6-2
Friday: tied No. 20 Clarkson 1-1
Saturday: tied No. 14 St. Lawrence 0-0
11-0-2Friday: at Massachusetts
Saturday: vs. Massachusetts
North Dakota
Friday: won at No. 7 St. Cloud State 4-3
Saturday: lost at No. 7 St. Cloud State 6-1
10-2-2Friday, Sunday: at Michigan State
Friday: tied No. 16 Notre Dame 2-2
Saturday: beat No. 16 Notre Dame 3-1
9-1-3Friday: vs. Northeastern
Saturday: vs. Brown or Colgate
Friday: tied at Miami 3-3
Saturday: won at Miami 3-2 (OT)
9-2-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Ohio State
St. Cloud State
Friday: lost to No. 4 North Dakota 4-3
Saturday: beat No. 4 North Dakota 6-1
9-3Friday, Sunday: at Minnesota
Off4-1-1Friday: vs. Notre Dame
Saturday: vs. Western Michigan or Rensselaer
Friday: tied at Wisconsin 3-3
Saturday: won at Wisconsin 6-2
Boston University
Friday: beat No. 12 Michigan 3-2
Saturday: lost to No. 12 Michigan 4-2
6-4-2Tuesday: vs. Bentley
Saturday: vs. Cornell
Friday: tied No. 18 Cornell 0-0
Saturday: beat Colgate 3-1
5-1-2Saturday: at Providence
Friday: lost at No. 10 Boston University 3-2
Saturday: won at No. 10 Boston University 4-2
6-2-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Dartmouth
Saturday: tied Massachusetts 1-16-1-4Saturday: vs. Union
St. Lawrence
Friday: won at Princeton 5-1
Saturday: tied at No. 3 Quinnipiac 0-0
Bowling Green
Friday: beat Alabama-Huntsville 3-2
Saturday: beat Alabama-Huntsville 4-3
7-3-3Friday-Saturday: vs. Northern Michigan
Notre Dame
Friday: tied at No. 5 UMass-Lowell 2-2
Saturday: lost at No. 5 UMass-Lowell 3-1
5-3-4Friday: vs. Harvard
Saturday: vs. Western Michigan or Rensselaer
Friday: won at Colorado College 5-0
Saturday: won at Colorado College 6-0
Friday: tied at No. 11 Yale 0-0
Saturday: won at Brown 1-0
6-1-1Saturday: vs. Boston University
Michigan Tech
Saturday: won at Michigan State 5-4 (OT)
Sunday: tied at Michigan State 4-4
7-4-1Friday-Saturday: at Alaska
Friday: tied at No. 3 Quinnipiac 1-1
Saturday: lost at Princeton 3-0
5-4-2Friday-Saturday: vs. Arizona State

DeVito expected to regain eligibility for Rensselaer in Jan. 2016

Rensselaer announced Friday that junior forward Jimmy DeVito is expected to regain his eligibility in early January 2016.

DeVito has practiced, but not played this semester due to failure to meet the NCAA’s mandatory progress-toward-degree requirement.

“Jimmy has had the opportunity to concentrate on the most important aspect of college- earning a degree – and he has taken advantage of this chance by fully concentrating on his coursework,” said RPI director of athletics Dr. Lee McElroy in a statement. “While we are eager to have him rejoin his teammates for competition, we are most interested in Jimmy becoming a Rensselaer graduate and we continue to assist him in that endeavor.

“We appreciate the NCAA’s efforts in doing their due diligence through the waiver and subsequent appeal processes.”

In his first two seasons with the Engineers, DeVito posted two goals and nine points in 64 games.

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