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Robert Morris’ continued success a big story line for Atlantic Hockey in first half

Wydo celebrates Robert Morris continued success a big story line for Atlantic Hockey in first half

Cody Wydo is third in the nation with 25 points for Robert Morris (photo: Robert Morris Athletics).

In recapping the first half of the season, here are five things of note:

Bobby Mo-mentum

Robert Morris finished strong last season and won the Atlantic Hockey title, so it’s not a surprise to see the Colonials picking up where they left off, considering Derek Schooley’s squad returned almost intact. But they have exceeded even high expectations, sitting at the break at 9-2-3 in conference play and 11-2-3 overall.

The Colonials are No. 19 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, reaching as high as No. 17 a couple of weeks ago.

Schooley has stuck with the goaltending tandem of Dalton Izyk (6-1, 2.30 GAA, .931 save percentage) and Terry Shafer (5-1-2, 2.21 GAA, .919 save percentage), and they’ve given him no reason to change course.

Senior Cody Wydo was expected to be near the national leaders in scoring again after a 31-goal season in 2013-14, and he’s third in the nation in points (11-14–25). Junior David Friedmann is on a pace for a career year (8-6–14) and freshman Brady Ferguson is off to a great start with 16 points.

The Colonials next square off against No. 20 Penn State in the first round of the Three Rivers Classic on Dec. 29. No. 6 Miami and Ohio State are the other participants.

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Rochester Institute of Technology is 3-3-1 at the new Gene Polisseni Center (photo: Omar Phillips).

New homes and some home cooking

It’s been a banner year for the league in terms of new facilities. Canisius and Rochester Institute of Technology both opened new barns this season: HarborCenter and the Gene Polisseni Center, respectively.

Canisius is 2-3-4 in its new digs, while RIT is 3-3-1 in its.

Attendance is up for both: The Golden Griffins are averaging 1,314 fans through nine games at HarborCenter; last season’s average attendance was 733 in 16 games at Buffalo State.

The Tigers are up almost 1,200 fans per game. They have averaged 2,753 fans through seven games at the Polisseni Center versus 1,592 per game in the final season at Frank Ritter Arena. Both figures exclude the 10,600 RIT draws each year for its game at Blue Cross Arena.

Overall, the league has seen an increase in home conference games thanks to other leagues needing to fill more nonleague slots as well as an incentive to play more road games through changes in the NCAA tournament selection criteria.

This season, AHA teams will host 25 nonconference games compared to 18 last season. So far, the league is a decent 7-12-2 at home in nonleague games; it’s a dismal 4-22 on the road.

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Andrew Gladiuk is tied for second in the nation with 27 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

Prime time guys

It’s the natural ebb and flow of college hockey, be it in leagues or on individual teams: Some years are “goalie years” and others are “scoring years.”

Atlantic Hockey has had its share of both, but recently, with some notable exceptions, goalies have led the way and the number of players able to put up 30-point seasons has decreased.

But a glance at national statistics shows Atlantic Hockey standing out in terms of offense so far. Four of the top five players in total points and points per game are from the AHA:

• Bentley’s Andrew Gladiuk (tied for second in the nation with 27 points; third in PPG with 1.42)

• Wydo (third in points with 25; second in PPG with 1.56)

• Max French from Bentley (fourth in points with 24; fifth in PPG with 1.41)

• RIT’s Matt Garbowsky (fifth in points with 23; second in PPG with 1.44).

Garbowsky and Gladiuk are tied for the national lead in goals with 14 each at the break.

Wydo and Gladiuk are no surprise — each put up big numbers last season. But French and Garbowsky are having career years so far.

French had an excellent freshman campaign last season, notching 11 goals and 12 assists. But he has already surpassed his point total from 2013-14.

Garbowsky, a senior, was out of the lineup the majority of last season with a hand injury, appearing in only 13 games and scoring just seven points. He did have 33 points his sophomore year but he’s well on the way to exceeding that this season.

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Jordan Ruby leads Atlantic Hockey with a 1.87 GAA (photo: Omar Phillips).

Goaltending: The usual suspects and some surprises

That’s not to say this has been a really down year for goaltending. Mercyhurst’s Jimmy Sarjeant, the reigning Atlantic Hockey player of the year, has two shutouts this season and is carrying a .918 save percentage.

As mentioned earlier, Izyk and Shafer are big reasons Robert Morris is leading the pack so far this season. Matt Ginn is closing out his career at Holy Cross with his best season to date (a league-best .931 save percentage and a 2.08 GAA).

The surprise so far is RIT’s Jordan Ruby. The senior has been up and down in previous seasons for the Tigers, but since early November Ruby has strung together the most consistent stretch of his career, allowing a total of five goals in his last six outings. He leads the league in GAA (1.87) and is third in save percentage (.930).

Also turning heads is Bentley rookie goaltender Jason Argue. He’s played in just five games so far (so isn’t eligible for statistical rankings), but has a .934 save percentage and a 1.97 GAA in those contests. He’ll be near the top of the leader board if he can keep it up.

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Matt Ginn leads Atlantic Hockey with a .931 save percentage (photo: Omar Phillips).

Midseason all-stars

Midterm grades are out, and here’s who’s on the Dean’s List, in our opinion:

Midseason all-conference
F Matt Garbowsky, sr., RIT
F Andrew Gladiuk, jr., Bentley
F Cody Wydo, sr., Robert Morris
D Steve Weinstein, sr., Bentley
D Chase Golightly, jr., Robert Morris
G Matt Ginn, sr., Holy Cross

Midseason all-rookie
F Brady Ferguson, Robert Morris
F TJ Moore, Holy Cross
F Tyler Pham, Army
D Phil Boje, Air Force
D Brady Norrish, RIT
G Jason Argue, Bentley

Midseason MVP: Matt Ginn, Holy Cross

Harvard, St. Lawrence’s Hayton emerge as first-half surprises in ECAC Hockey

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Steve Michalek has led Harvard to become one of the big surprises from the first half in ECAC Hockey (photo: Melissa Wade).

In ECAC Hockey’s preseason coaches conference call with the media, Rensselaer’s Seth Appert jokingly said there weren’t a lot of things you could count on, but one of them was the coaches and media whiffing when picking the preseason polls.

That’s the case as ECAC Hockey heads into the semester break with Harvard (ninth in the coaches poll; 10th in the media poll) tied for first place with Quinnipiac, which was picked fifth in the coaches poll and third in the media poll.

The Bobcats have been one of the league’s best over the last few years, but this appears to be a breakout season for the Crimson. Here’s a look at that and several other notable developments over the first three months.

Biggest surprise: Harvard

It’s a familiar narrative that’s been repeated many times this fall: A Crimson team loaded with NHL draft picks has finally turned its talent into wins. What might be getting left out is just how dominant Harvard has been.

At 9-1-2, the Crimson are in the top 10 in the country in offense, defense, power play and penalty kill. They’ve also outscored their opponents by an average of 1.92 goals per game, which is the best in the nation.

The top line of Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and Kyle Criscuolo, as well as defenseman Patrick McNally, are each averaging a point per game. McNally and goalie Steve Michalek, both seniors, look to be fulfilling the potential each showed earlier in their career. Both missed most of their sophomore years following an alleged involvement in a school-wide academic scandal. The Crimson might slow down a bit in the second half, but there’s no reason not to expect them to contend for the regular season title.

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St. Lawrence’s Kyle Hayton is second nationally in saves (photo: Omar Phillips).

Biggest surprise, player: Kyle Hayton

It’s always tough to project how rookies will adjust to college hockey. But St. Lawrence freshman goaltender Kyle Hayton has made an impact right away, helping turn around a Saints defense that was among the worst in Division I last year.

Hayton has a .932 save percentage and is sixth in the nation in minutes played and second in saves. He set the school record for shutouts in a season with four in his first 13 games.

St. Lawrence enters the break on a four-game losing streak to drop its record to 8-8, but that shouldn’t take away from Hayton’s first-half performance.

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After scoring 13 goals last season, Brown’s Nick Lappin is goalless through his first nine games this season (photo: Candace Horgan).

Biggest disappointment: Brown

It seems hard to believe that the Bears made it to the ECAC title game just two years ago. Even though the Bears faded last year and graduated several important defenseman in the offseason, they returned forwards Matt Lorito, Nick Lappin and Mark Naclerio. That trio formed one of the better lines in the conference last season.

Add newcomers and NHL draft picks Sam Lafferty, Tyler Bird and Max Willman, and it appeared the Bears should have had enough offense to challenge for a home-ice spot. That hasn’t been the case.

Lorito has five goals in nine games, but Naclerio and Willman are the only players of the aforementioned group to have scored a goal entering the break — and they’ve combined for only three.

It’s not all the offense’s fault. Brown is allowing nearly four goals per game, thanks to a .889 team save percentage and a penalty kill that is last in Division I at 67.4 percent. That all adds up to a disappointing 3-8 record, including a 1-7 mark in league play, with the lone win coming in the Bears’ final game before the break.

It doesn’t get any easier, as Brown opens the second half playing Boston College and Denver, followed by two games each against Providence and Yale.

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Defense has been the name of the game this season for Yale (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

A different Yale team

At 4-3-1 in the ECAC and 6-3-2 overall, Yale is off to a solid start. But this seems to be a different Bulldogs team from years past — one built around defense and goaltending.

Yale is 43rd in the country in scoring, but is sixth in goals allowed. That’s something that would have been nearly unfathomable several years ago, but credit sophomore goalie Alex Lyon and a veteran Bulldogs defense for the turnaround.

Lyon has a .927 save percentage, while backup Patrick Spano had a shutout in his only start of the season. Yale also has plenty of talent on the back end with senior Tommy Fallen and juniors Rob O’Gara and Ryan Obuchowski leading the way.

Currently in fourth place, Yale should in the running for a first-round bye come March.

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Lineup shuffling has cost Colgate some consistency in the first half (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Second half outlook: Union and Colgate should pick it up

It’s hard to criticize the Dutchmen or Raiders too much, given that each team enters the break with a 9-6-1 record. But it feels like the second half could have better things coming for each team.

Union endured a brutal six-game winless stretch from the end of October to mid-November. The Dutchmen are 4-1 since then, albeit the one loss was an 8-2 blowout to Western Michigan. The defending national champions have plenty of youth in the lineup but still have goalie Colin Stevens and plenty of dangerous forwards.

As for the Raiders, they’ve been steady most of the fall but dropped three straight to end the first half. Injuries played a part, as Colgate lost forward Mike Borkowski for the season in November, and Tylor Spink, last year’s second-leading scorer, saw his first action of the year Dec. 9 against Providence.

Throw in a one-game suspension for top-six forward Darcy Murphy, and head coach Don Vaughan has had to do some lineup shuffling in the first half.

Look for both the Dutchmen and Raiders to make a mark in the second half.

What does the end of Miller’s time in Duluth signal?

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Minnesota-Duluth coach Shannon Miller. (Brett Groehler)

With the announcement on Dec. 15 that Minnesota-Duluth will not renew the contract of head coach Shannon Miller after this season, one has to wonder what this means for women’s Division-I hockey going forward.

In the sports world, coaches come and go all the time. Miller is halfway through her 16th season running the Bulldogs’ program. Like her, Michael Sisti at Mercyhurst has been in place since the 1999-2000 season. After taking 2013-2014 off to direct the United States Olympic Team, Katey Stone is in her 20th campaign at Harvard, although she started her tenure five years earlier than Miller. Miller has seen everyone else arrive and many of them leave. In her league, Mark Johnson is second in tenure, as he took over in 2002-2003. On the other end of the league stability spectrum, Jim Scanlan is the fifth different Bemidji State coach to match wits with Miller.

The map looked far different in terms of the programs that existed when Miller started. The majority of the teams played in a 13-member ECAC Division-I league. UMD was one of seven squads that comprised the WCHA in its inaugural season, and Mercyhurst was one of three D-I independents.

Fourteen new programs that compete at D-I on a full-time basis have been added, while three others have dissolved: Findlay, Wayne State, and Niagara. Change is very much a part of the environment, and everyone realizes that.

What makes the change at Minnesota-Duluth most surprising is that not only is the length of her tenure second only to Stone, Miller has been the game’s most successful coach over it. In her first year, she guided the Bulldogs to season and playoff championships in the WCHA. The NCAA began sponsoring the national tournament the following season, and Miller and UMD won half of the first 10, including the first three. In addition to those five NCAA titles, Miller’s teams hold three WCHA regular-season crowns and five league tournament championships, and they’ve posted a composite record of 375-137-48.

However, the wins have slowed in recent years. Last year’s seniors were only the second of Miller’s recruiting classes to graduate without an NCAA championship during their careers. Nobody on her current roster has even competed in the NCAA tournament, unexpected given the Bulldogs were participants in all but one of the first 11. Two years ago, the team had its first losing season, and a .500 record last year made it two straight with fewer than 20 wins, a milestone she reached or surpassed in her first 13 campaigns. Her current squad has rebounded and heads into the break with a 12-5-3 mark and ranked in a tie for sixth in the latest poll.

Miller has long been a polarizing figure. She gets louder cheers from fans in Duluth during pregame introductions than do her players. Many of those current and former players speak of her in glowing terms, describing her as everything from the best coach they’ve ever had to the best coach in the world. She’s also had a couple of seasons end with players leaving the program while having eligibility remaining, with rumors that it was more a case of Miller cleaning house than players choosing to leave.

She’s also been a lightning rod for controversy. On two separate occasions, she’s been suspended by the WCHA for her actions resulting from disagreements with on-ice or league officials. Even when a rival coach was suspended, Miller figured prominently in the backstory. UMD would also own the 2007-2008 WCHA season title, but it was vacated as a result of the agreement reached with the NCAA after it was determined that her team used an ineligible player for a portion of that season.

In many sports, the conventional wisdom is that to keep their jobs, coaches need to continue to win in order to draw paying customers. That is seldom much of a factor in women’s hockey, because most teams don’t attract enough fans to generate a substantial amount of revenue. Minnesota-Duluth does better in that regard, and the Bulldogs have averaged over 1,000 fans per game in each of the last three seasons for the first time in their history. Factoring into that statistic is the opening of the AMSOIL Arena in December 2010. While the facility brings a few more fans to games, it also likely introduces greater costs to the budget.

The climate is also likely different in Duluth than it was when Miller was hired. No, not the lake effect and all that. Miller’s NCAA Championship in 2001 was the first for the school in any sport. Since then, the Bulldogs have won NCAA Division-II football championships in 2008 and 2010. The men’s hockey team won its first NCAA Championship in 2011, so the last two national titles won at UMD came from other teams. Former UMD chancellor Kathryn A. Martin was one of the women’s hockey team’s biggest supporters. Miller’s contract has been extended several times during her tenure, and in the wake of the Bulldogs’ success, Martin was willing to pay to retain her services. Martin retired in July 2010, and neither new chancellor Dr. Lendley C. Black, nor athletic director Josh Berlo, dates back to the Bulldogs’ last championship in women’s hockey.

The reason given by Berlo for not renewing Miller’s contract, as well as those of her assistants, was that the salaries did not fit within the current budget constraints of the university and its athletic department. That is entirely probable. She is reported to be the highest-paid NCAA women’s hockey coach in the country, and a primarily Division-II athletic department like that of UMD typically doesn’t spend at the same level that those in the power conferences do.

According to Miller, she would have been amenable to accepting a contract at a lower salary in light of the school’s budget difficulties. As quoted by Matt Wellens of the Duluth News Tribune, Berlo was not interested in pursuing that option. Instead, he and Black have decided to thank Miller for her service and move on with a new coaching regime after this season ends.

I know nothing of Berlo’s relationship with Miller, but she has been outspoken over the years in her belief that the women’s program should be funded and equipped in a manner similar to that of UMD’s men’s hockey team. Purely speculation, but perhaps cuts will need to be made in other areas of the program beyond staff salaries, and Berlo was reluctant to enter a new contract phase with Miller having fewer resources at her disposal than in the past.

How this change will alter the national picture in future seasons depends to a large extent on where Miller goes next. She has been very active in growing the international game. Miller could accept an opportunity in her home country of Canada or overseas, and it will be simply a case of subtracting her from the NCAA equation.

I don’t believe that the WCHA would have risen to prominence as rapidly as it did had someone other than Miller started the UMD program. Her international contacts gave her access to new talent pools, and her coaching ability allowed her to hone it to a championship level. Miller’s personality helped spark rivalries with league opponents. Programs like Minnesota and Wisconsin were forced to invest in their own programs to keep up or face the possibility of getting dominated.

Occasionally over the years, there would be rumors floating around that Miller was leaving UMD to move to another program. Perhaps the rumor that looked most likely to occur had her leaving Duluth in early 2008 to start the new program at Syracuse. Instead, she got a contract extension and a raise, and Paul Flanagan moved to Syracuse.

I think that the WCHA is less top-heavy than it was in 2008, so if Miller leaves the conference entirely, it is unlikely to become all Wisconsin and Minnesota. Programs like North Dakota and Bemidji State in particular are much stronger now than they were then.

How does it scramble the landscape if she moves to another program? Obviously, an opening has to exist, and right now, there aren’t any. I find it a little unseemly a week before Christmas to be speculating about what program might be interested in dumping its current coach and attempting to lure Miller to assume command. I expect that it would have to be a program that is fully committed to winning; I don’t think she would be content to making do with scraps.

If she does land in another NCAA job, I expect that it will quickly become a contender. Not as rapidly as the Bulldogs did, but depending on its current situation, quicker than with most hires. Miller told me a year ago that building a team was similar to fitting pieces in a puzzle. Of late, even in her established program at UMD, those pieces have been harder to find, because the competition for picking them has gotten more intense.

So what becomes of the Bulldogs, both in the short and long term? The future beyond the current season will depend on what current UMD players and recruits decide to do, who is hired to succeed Miller, and what resources that coach is allotted. I don’t expect that there will be a lot of recruiting happening on UMD’s behalf over the next few months. Part of the penalties imposed on the program by the NCAA back in 2009 was a two-week ban on recruiting. While programs might be targeting younger recruits now than they did then, I would still expect that several months without active recruiting would be detrimental. Some regression of the program, temporary or not, appears likely.

For the rest of this season, I expect that Miller will make every attempt to go down in a blaze of glory at Minnesota-Duluth. Her interview process for her next job effectively begins now, and this is her chance to showcase her coaching abilities. The players chose to become Bulldogs in the hope of being taught and coached by Miller. That opportunity is just shrunk down to a shorter window for most of them.

Finally, what will change for NCAA hockey fans like you and I? If this is her last coaching gig in our game, then we’re less likely to see certain things, such as shiny jackets behind the bench, impromptu refresher courses for officials, flying water bottles, and quotes that few other coaches would say. We’ll also miss out on some excellent hockey, played with speed and finesse.

Even her detractors would concede that Shannon Miller’s teams are entertaining. After nearly 16 seasons of observing her in action, I’d say that she is as well. She just has a wider repertoire of performances than most of her peers.

Wisconsin’s dreadful start leads list of first-half Big Ten notables

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Grant Besse leads Wisconsin with seven points through 12 games (photo: Melissa Wade).

Here are five surprises from the first half of the season for Big Ten teams:

1. Wisconsin’s dreadful start

Wisconsin came into the season without a lot of names that were frequently seen on the score sheet during the 2013-14 season. Most notably, its top five scorers had either graduated or departed early from the program. Those five players combined for 170 points last season, which accounted for a little more than half of the Badgers’ offense.

This season, Wisconsin went to battle with 11 true freshmen, although that number dropped to 10 after Keegan Ford left the program in early December. The Badgers started off 0-8 before tying and winning their first games of the season against Ferris State. They started off the Big Ten schedule by getting swept at home by Penn State. The Nittany Lions were the first conference foe to sweep the Badgers at Kohl Center since Minnesota State did in November 2012.

Wisconsin’s leading scoring freshman is Jake Linhart, who has zero goals and five assists. He is only two points behind Grant Besse for the team lead in points. Coach Mike Eaves has said that freshmen typically turn a corner after the holiday break. Whether Wisconsin’s stable of young players can do that and help salvage the season remains to be seen.

Wisconsin’s next action will be Jan. 2-3 when it hosts Michigan Tech.

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Casey Bailey has a team-high 10 goals for Penn State (photo: Omar Phillips).

2. Penn State’s solid start

In its second year in the Big Ten, Penn State has sent a message to the rest of the conference and country saying that it is a team that deserves some respect. The Nittany Lions are 9-4-2 and their 3-1 Big Ten record puts them atop the conference standings.

After starting 1-1-2, the Nittany Lions rattled off four straight wins at home. They then split with Massachusetts-Lowell and Michigan on the road and swept Wisconsin after falling to Cornell at Madison Square Garden.

Penn State has two players in the top 15 in the nation in scoring. Senior forward Taylor Holstrom and junior forward Casey Bailey both have 18 points this season. Bailey’s 10 goals put him at No. 10 in that department, and Holstrom’s 14 assists place him at No. 5 in that category. Penn State has the nation’s No. 7 offense, averaging 3.47 goals per game and has converted 16 of 60 power-play opportunities.

Penn State will play in the Three Rivers Classic at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on Dec. 29-30.

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Andrew Copp and Michigan are just one game over .500 (photo: Melissa Wade).

3. Michigan’s ho-hum start

Had someone told me before the season started that Michigan would average nearly four goals per game in the first half, I wouldn’t have thought its record would be a shade above .500, but here we are.

The Wolverines are 8-7 after dropping their last game of the first half to Boston College. The loss snapped Michigan’s four-game winning streak.

Consistency and playing well away from Yost Ice Arena have been the two biggest problems for Michigan so far this season. An 8-4 victory over Massachusetts-Lowell is the only away win for the Wolverines. The 1-5 road record includes a loss to Ferris State, two losses at Michigan Tech and losses to Boston University and Boston College. Michigan’s No. 3 offense is also coupled with the nation’s 42nd defense, which gives up 4.07 goals per game.

The Wolverines had won six of their last seven before Boston College, but the loss to the Eagles left a sour taste in their mouth heading into the Great Lakes Invitational, which will be held in Detroit Dec. 28-29. Michigan State, Ferris State and Michigan Tech are also featured in the tournament’s field.

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Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand and his fellow Big Ten goaltenders haven’t enjoyed the success they did last season (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

4. Struggles between the pipes

Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox has a 9-4-1 record, .926 save percentage and 2.12 GAA so far this season. Those numbers, which are not as good as the junior netminder and Gophers fans are used to, put Wilcox in the middle of the pack among national goaltending leaders.

That being said, he still has the best stats in a conference where goaltending was supposed to be a strong position.

Penn State’s Matthew Skoff is just behind Wilcox and had a solid start to aid the Nittany Lions’ so far this year. He has a 6-3-2 record and 2.27 GAA.

Things fall off quite a bit after Wilcox and Skoff. Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand is 6-9-1 with a 2.71 GAA, Michigan’s Zach Nagelvoort is 6-6 with a 2.78 GAA and Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel is 1-8-1 with a 3.24 GAA.

While the rest of the teams have gone with one netminder for the most part, Ohio State has split starts. Matt Tomkins is 3-5-1 with a 2.80 GAA and Christian Frey is 2-4 with a 3.69 GAA.

The reason expectations were high going into the season was because Wilcox, Nagelvoort, Frey and Rumpel all finished in the top seven in save percentage last season.

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Ohio State is 4-7-1 in nonconference play, including a sweep by Miami in October (photo: Rachel Lewis).

5. Non-stellar nonconference records

Minnesota (8-4) and Penn State (6-3) posted decent nonconference records in the first half, but the four other teams haven’t carried their weight.

As a whole, the league is 30-35-2 against teams outside of the Big Ten, and that’s not going to help the cause of getting multiple teams into the NCAA tournament from the six-team league.

Even if you remove the outliers (Minnesota and Wisconsin) from the equation, the four middle teams are a pedestrian 21-23-1.

The good news for the Big Ten is that there are a few opportunities to get some marquee nonconference wins after the holiday break. Minnesota plays Minnesota State in the opening game of the North Star College Cup and could possibly meet Minnesota-Duluth again in that tournament. Wisconsin plays Michigan Tech. Michigan and Michigan State will get shots at Michigan Tech and Ferris State. Penn State will play in the Three Rivers Classic, which also features Robert Morris, Colgate and Western Michigan.

Some big wins, especially by teams with poor records right now, would go a long way toward helping other teams in the conference in March. Of course, as we all know, all six teams in the Big Ten have a shot of getting the automatic bid into the tournament by winning three games the Big Ten tournament.

TMQ: Examining the first half’s balance of power in college hockey

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Minnesota State goes into break at No. 3 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll and No. 1 in the PairWise Rankings (photo: Jim Rosvold).

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

Matthew: We’re fresh off of a somewhat light weekend in college hockey, but we still have a fair bit to talk about. For one thing, we have yet another new No. 1 team in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll in Boston University after North Dakota split on the road against, in fairness, a solid Denver team.

It still seems to me like the balance of power is slightly tilted westward, however, when we look top-to-bottom at the top 10. Is that a fair assessment to make here around the halfway point of the season?

Nate: I think that’s a valid point. Several top-10 teams were off last weekend, while No. 4 Michigan Tech and No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth split a series, in addition to North Dakota and Denver as you mentioned.

While there are some top teams out west, I’ve had Harvard at No. 1 after putting North Dakota there two weeks ago. Don’t forget about Boston University, Massachusetts-Lowell and Vermont, which is allowing a national-best 1.53 goals per game after sweeping St. Lawrence last weekend.

Matthew: And Harvard is right up your alley, of course, as you’re one of our ECAC Hockey columnists. Does anything Harvard’s been able to do here in the first half the season surprise you, and do you think Boston’s Hockey East powers have much to be worried about with the Crimson going forward?

Nate: I’ll admit I’ve been surprised by the Crimson over the first two months of its Ivy League-shortened season. For several years, Harvard always seemed to have the talent but could never put it together. Credit to colleague Brian Sullivan, who picked the Crimson third on his preseason ballot; I picked them 10th.

There’s really not much to dislike about Harvard so far. The Crimson are in the top 10 in the nation in defense, offense and both special teams. Right now, I think they are the best team in Boston and it should set up a great Beanpot in February.

Are there any teams out west that have surprised you as we head into the holiday break?

Matthew: Part of me wants to say North Dakota has surprised me considering UND has had a reputation of starting slowly under Dave Hakstol. But even with the handful of injury concerns it has had, UND has enough talent on that roster to make waves.

Omaha has really surprised me, however. It’s not very often that a team with 11 freshmen can hit the ground running quite as well as the Mavericks have, and Ryan Massa has been outstanding in the UNO net.

Minnesota State and Michigan Tech also raised a lot of eyebrows, but I’d like to think that it’s just more proof that the WCHA is better than it gets credit for. I look at Minnesota State and know that Mike Hastings has won everywhere he’s gone to coach — being from Omaha, I still remember when he did well as the USHL’s Omaha Lancers’ bench boss for what felt like a few decades — and I think teams in that league like Minnesota State and Ferris State are showing that the WCHA isn’t to be underestimated.

What about what’s going on out east? Harvard has exceeded your expectations, like you said, but has anything else caught you off guard?

Nate: I know they are in the Big Ten, but Penn State’s success in its third season as an NCAA program is impressive. The Nittany Lions have already surpassed last year’s win total and are ranked this week in the USCHO.com poll for the first time in program history.

Elsewhere, Robert Morris is carrying over its hot second half from last season. There aren’t a ton of surprises in Hockey East, although Massachusetts-Lowell’s continued dominance despite several big losses shows how far that program has come in a few short years.

Outside of Harvard in the ECAC, the two big surprises for me are Brown and St. Lawrence, for different reasons. I thought Brown might make a push for home ice this season, but the Bears are one of the worst teams in the country. Even though the Saints were swept by Vermont last weekend, they still enter the break at 8-8, better than I expected after losing four of their top five scorers from a year ago.

BU’s Jack Eichel is getting a lot of well-deserved attention as a freshman, but Saints goalie Kyle Hayton has been outstanding in his rookie year.

Looking ahead, what do you see for the final two months? Any teams you think will fade or make a second-half push?

Matthew: In terms of western teams, I’m particularly curious to see if Michigan Tech and Omaha can continue to have the kind of success that they’ve had over the first half of the season. Tech has been an outstanding story so far but I’m not sure how much staying power it has, and UNO has a history of faltering near the end of the season and into the league playoffs.

It still floors me that the Mavericks never went to the WCHA Final Five and weren’t at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff last spring. That’s got to change eventually.

It’s as much a gut feeling as anything, I think, but I like Denver to make a big second-half push. Jim Montgomery has done an excellent job since starting with the Pioneers last year, and I think he’ll have his team ready to do some damage come tournament time.

How about in the east? Who are your picks to take of business and, conversely, get little done?

Nate: Harvard might slow down a bit, but the Crimson should be in position for the Cleary Cup in the ECAC.

I don’t have an obvious candidate for a second-half slump, but I wonder if Vermont can continue its success in Hockey East. The Catamounts face Boston University, Boston College and Massachusetts-Lowell twice in the second half. That’s certainly a daunting schedule.

Thumbs up

To North Dakota’s Bryn Chyzyk, who offered to let UND radio play-by-play commentator Tim Hennessy use Chyzyk’s own phone to interview the player at Denver last weekend after Hennessy forgot his own recorder back in Grand Forks.

 

Thumbs down

While it was the right thing to do, Saturday’s game between Princeton and Minnesota State was canceled after the Mavericks didn’t have enough players due to a flu outbreak. The game was declared a no-contest and ticket holders were reimbursed. Here’s hoping everyone is healthy for the holidays and ready to go in the second half.

Coming up

There are four games left before we wrap things up for the holidays. Massachusetts hosts Northeastern in a nonconference game on Tuesday, while No. 12 Omaha hosts Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday, Boston University plays the U.S. World Junior Team in an exhibition game at the end of the Americans’ camp.

Former New Hampshire goalie DeSmith tells his side of arrest, dismissal from team

Dismissed from the New Hampshire hockey team recently, senior goaltender Casey DeSmith recently spoke to the Concord Monitor about his dismissal from the team and the events that led to the unfortunate situation.

In August, DeSmith was arrested after a domestic dispute. He was suspended from the team and then dismissed in November.

“I always dreamed of playing for the Wildcats,” DeSmith told the Monitor. “And I will always be grateful for the opportunity that I had to play for the team, and for the support I received from the fans. But I am very upset with the way my UNH career was ended, and with the way I was represented in the press. The damage to my education and to my hockey career that has resulted from the accusation made against me and the manner in which it was reported is immeasurable.”

DeSmith said be believed that both police and the media tabbed him as guilty right from the start.

“Once the accusation was made against me, the school had no choice but to fully investigate it,” DeSmith said in the article.

DeSmith admitted that he had overindulged in alcohol on the night in question and even issued apologies within hours of the incident to police, the school and his coaches and teammates. The victim in the case was reportedly an ex-girlfriend of DeSmith.

“It would have been my preference just to put this whole episode behind me and move on,” DeSmith said to the paper. “But the ongoing misrepresentations of the facts in the media have convinced me that I need to stand up for myself and attempt to set the record straight.”

DeSmith said he isn’t sure if he’ll stay at UNH or transfer. He also may try his hand at pro hockey.

“I have learned many valuable lessons from this ordeal that will help me the rest of my life, including the very real dangers of alcohol,” DeSmith said in the report. “But I also believe that the media has a responsibility to seek and print the truth, and to better protect the rights of someone who stands accused in situations like this.

“I am determined not to be bitter about this and am very much looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I know that I am a good person, a person of good character, both ethically and morally. And I am hopeful that the next school or hockey team that I am fortunate enough to be a part of will see that the Casey DeSmith they’ve been reading about in the press bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real me.”

Longtime Minnesota-Duluth women’s coach Miller out at end of ’14-15 season

shannon miller umd Longtime Minnesota Duluth womens coach Miller out at end of 14 15 season

Minnesota-Duluth women’s coach Shannon Miller’s contract will not be renewed at the end of the 2014-15 season. Miller has coached UMD the past 15 years (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Shannon Miller’s 16th season as Minnesota-Duluth’s women’s hockey coach will be her last.

The school announced late Monday that it will not renew her contract when it expires at the end of this season.

In a statement, Minnesota-Duluth cited financial considerations for the decision. Assistant coaches Laura Schuler and Gina Kingsbury and part-time director of operations Jen Banford also will not be retained.

According to TwinCities.com, Miller’s salary in 2013 was $205,800.

Miller won five national championships with the Bulldogs, in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2010.

“I am extremely shocked and saddened by this news, as is our entire staff and team,” said Miller to the Duluth News Tribune. “But we are committed to staying here to coach these great young women for the rest of the season and to a national championship.”

“We deeply appreciate and are proud of what Shannon has built and accomplished at UMD,” added UMD athletic director Josh Berlo to the News Tribune. “She established a winning program, raised it to the highest level of competition and sustained a national championship tradition over the last 15 years. Today’s decision about Shannon’s contract was an immensely difficult and financially driven decision.

“Unfortunately, UMD athletics is not in a position to sustain the current salary levels of our women’s hockey coaching staff. However, we remain committed to supporting the Bulldog women’s hockey program.”

A national search for Miller’s replacement will start at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8-14

20141212 Omaha StCloudState 01 MBishop Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14

Omaha’s Austin Ortega (16) scores the game-winning goal in the third period of Friday’s game against St. Cloud State (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Here’s how the teams in the Dec. 8, 2014, USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll fared from Monday, Dec. 8 to Sunday, Dec. 14:

RANKLAST WEEK’S RESULTSRECORDTHIS WEEK’S GAMES
1und Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
North Dakota
Friday: lost at No. 11 Denver 4-1
Saturday: won at No. 11 Denver 3-1
13-4-2Off
2bu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Boston University
Saturday: won 5-1 at Rensselaer11-3-2Friday: vs. U.S. World Junior Team
3mnst Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Minnesota State
Friday: beat Princeton 5-013-4Off
4mtu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Michigan Tech
Friday: lost to No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth 3-1
Saturday: beat No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth 4-3
13-3Off
5hu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Harvard
Off9-1-2Off
6mu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Miami
Off11-5Off
7umn Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Minnesota
Off9-4-1Off
8uml Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Massachusetts-Lowell
Off10-3-3Off
9umd Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Minnesota-Duluth
Friday: won at No. 4 Michigan Tech 3-1
Saturday: lost at No. 4 Michigan Tech 4-3
12-6Off
10uvm Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Vermont
Friday: beat St. Lawrence 2-1
Saturday: won at St. Lawrence 2-0
13-3-1Off
11du Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Denver
Friday: beat No. 1 North Dakota 4-1
Saturday: lost to No. 1 North Dakota 3-1
10-5Off
12uno Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Omaha
Friday: beat St. Cloud State 3-2
Saturday: beat St. Cloud State 5-3
10-4-2Saturday-Sunday: vs. Alabama-Huntsville
13bgsu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Bowling Green
Off11-3-2Off
14col Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Colgate
Tuesday: lost at No. 18 Providence 4-39-6-1Off
15qu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Quinnipiac
Off10-5-1Off
16bc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Boston College
Saturday: beat Michigan 5-19-7-1Off
17rm Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Robert Morris
Saturday: won at Mercyhurst 7-4
Sunday: lost at Mercyhurst 3-0
11-2-3Off
18pc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Providence
Tuesday: beat Colgate 4-39-6-1Off
19mc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Merrimack
Off10-5-2Off
20uc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Dec. 8 14
Union
Off9-6-1Off

Minnesota State cancels Saturday game against Princeton because of flu outbreak among players

Saturday’s game between Minnesota State and Princeton has been canceled because of a flu outbreak among the Mavericks players.

Minnesota State made the announcement Saturday afternoon, saying its team did not have enough healthy players to put in the lineup.

“After consulting with several stakeholders, including the NCAA, Verizon Wireless Center and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and discussing our options, it was decided to cancel the game,” Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman said in a statement. “There were several complicating factors in the decision which involved facility scheduling, individual and team travel and the fact that there is no guarantee that we would have enough bodies to play tomorrow. We know that our fan base and those that follow us would have wanted to see the third-rated Mavericks play tonight and hope everyone can understand this difficult situation and the issues we faced in coming to this decision.”

The Mavericks beat the Tigers 5-0 on Friday.

Minnesota State said that Saturday’s canceled game is considered a no-contest and will not count toward either team’s record.

The school will announce plans for ticket refunds at a later date.

Miami’s Matt Joyaux bolts school for USHL’s Omaha Lancers

Miami sophomore defenseman Matt Joyaux has left school and joined the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

RedHawks’ coach Enrico Blasi tweeted the announcement on Friday.

Joyaux tallied two goals and seven points as a freshman in 2013-14, but had played just four games this season, registering one assist.

Joyaux’s brother, Chris, is a junior blueliner with the RedHawks and will remain with Miami.

ECAC North Atlantic to start in women’s D-III ranks for 2015-16

The ECAC announced Thursday the formation of a new Division III women’s league – the ECAC North Atlantic Hockey League – that will begin play for the 2015-16 season.

The league will be comprised of eight institutions that either currently compete independently or are starting a women’s program next year.

Becker, Canton, Daniel Webster, Endicott, Johnson and Wales, Morrisville, Salem State and Stevenson will be the founding members of the league.

“It is with great excitement and anticipation that the ECAC announces the formation of the North Atlantic Hockey League,” said ECAC president and CEO Dr. Kevin McGinniss in a statement. “The sport of women’s ice hockey is rapidly growing in the United States and we are extremely proud to be a part of it. These eight institutions are further blazing the path for future programs to start women’s ice hockey and to bolster the student-athlete experience.”

The eight schools will play each other twice during the regular season and an ECAC North Atlantic champion will be crowned following a postseason conference tournament.

Germany, Finland, Sweden have college hockey players on World Juniors preliminary rosters

2014112919 28 540230 Germany, Finland, Sweden have college hockey players on World Juniors preliminary rosters

Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt is on Sweden’s preliminary roster for the World Junior Championship (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Three teams besides the United States have college hockey players on their preliminary rosters for the World Junior Championship.

Ohio State defensemen Yanik Moser and Western Michigan forward Frederik Tiffels are on Germany’s roster, where they’re joined by Minnesota State recruits Parker Tuomie and Marc Michaelis, both forwards playing in the USHL.

Defensemen Erik Autio of Penn State and Mika Ilvonen of St. Cloud State are on Finland’s roster, and Minnesota forward Leon Bristedt is listed on Sweden’s group.

The World Junior Championship runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto.

The United States preliminary roster includes 18 current college players, two recruits and uncommitted forward Auston Matthews.

Motzko says St. Cloud State has earned its wins — and some of its losses, too

27857November 07 2014 Motzko says St. Cloud State has earned its wins    and some of its losses, too

St. Cloud State is 6-7-1 entering its final series of the first half against Omaha (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

One year after claiming the inaugural Penrose Cup, awarded to the NCHC’s regular season champion, St. Cloud State has struggled to establish consistency. The team sits just under .500 at 6-7-1.

While the Huskies have played a difficult schedule, coach Bob Motzko isn’t leaning on that as a crutch to explain his squad’s record.

“We’ve earned our wins. The unfortunate part for us is we’ve earned a couple of our losses, too,” he said. “There are things we’ve done in those games we’ve been in where we’re on the wrong side of play and we need to work on that and be better, and that’s what we are trying to do. We’ve earned and deserve everything we’ve got right now. There have been some real bright spots in the first half; there’s also been a handful of mistakes, and they are all correctable.”

It doesn’t get any easier for the Huskies, who close their first half on the road this weekend against a high-powered Omaha team.

The Huskies’ offensive production is significantly off what it was last season; they average 2.5 goals per game. They also don’t have a single player in the top 50 in scoring nationally.

The sixth-ranked power-play unit has been a bright spot, clicking at a 24.14 percent success rate, but five-on-five goals have been more difficult to come by.

“I think it’s just one five-on-five goal per game,” said Motzko. “I think that’s something we can overcome. Sometimes it’s important when you are playing well and doing the right things, you need to score a goal to put the game in a better light for your team. One night a week it comes our way.”

One bright spot offensively has been the play of junior Joey Benik, who is tied for the team lead in scoring with Jonny Brodzinski with 13 points.

“Joe is just at a whole new level right now, in two things,” said Motzko. “One, you couldn’t have asked for things to go more wrong for him early in his career when he broke his leg in the first practice of the year and he missed nearly half the year, and then we got to see him in spurts, and he showed that a year ago.

“He showed many times that he was on the verge of breaking out, but nagging injuries continued to hamper him. He had a terrific offseason, one of the better ones I’ve seen, which really paid off. He’s as strong as he’s ever been, he’s in the best shape he’s ever been in, his confidence is at a new level, and he’s playing outstanding for us. All the tools were there; he’s shown that at every level, but it’s peaking and it’s great to see, him being rewarded for a lot of hard work.”

The Huskies have also been getting good production from freshman Patrick Russell, who is fourth on the team in scoring. Motzko is expecting bigger things from Russell in the second half.

“I really think in the last month, he’s starting to get to the level we need him to be at,” said Motzko. “It was a little adjustment period, like all guys, but he’s making the step right now and we really expect big things out of him in the second half because he’s comfortable now and has adjusted to the pace and is picking the pace up.”

While the 6-7-1 record isn’t going to win the Huskies another Penrose Cup or a place in the NCAA tournament, Motzko is happy overall with how his team has progressed.

“I like a lot of the things we are doing; nothing is getting away from us,” said Motzko. “We’re just having a hard time stringing things together, and we are just going to continue to concentrate on our own game and what we have to do to get better at it.”

DSC 0029 Motzko says St. Cloud State has earned its wins    and some of its losses, too

Cody Bradley leads Colorado College with five goals (photo: Candace Horgan).

Colorado College looks to improve on road

As the Colorado College Tigers prepare for their final series of the first half, a two-game set on the road at Western Michigan, CC coach Mike Haviland is hoping his players can learn from last Friday’s heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss at No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth.

“I thought we played a real good hockey game, probably our best of the year against a very good team in their building,” Haviland said. “We’re a team that needs to find a way to finish the job. When it got down to the last five minutes there, they were really coming and pressing. We have to play with confidence and finish the job, and they found a way to tie it late and get one in overtime.”

The Bulldogs built on that late win by shellacking the Tigers the next night 7-2.

“My thing is, we gave up goals at the start of the second and the start of the third, and you can’t give up goals in the first minute and half of those periods,” Haviland said of Saturday. “They’re big momentum swings for the team. I like our character. We battled back to make it 4-2, and then the back breaker was the fifth.

“They’re a really good hockey team, and they’re where they’re at for a reason. As much as I liked our Friday night and a little bit of Saturday, we have to learn what it takes to win hockey games on the road and not get off of the game plan for any of the 60 minutes.”

CC is one of five teams nationally that is winless on the road in the first half, although aside from Maine, none of the other four has played close to CC’s number of road games, eight. Maine has played six, and the other three have played between two and four.

At home, things are brighter, as CC has gone 3-2. For now, Haviland said his team needs to simplify things on the road.

“I think it’s difficult to win on the road; I don’t care what level you’re at,” he said. “You’re going into a place where they’re sleeping in their beds, they’re comfortable, they feel good to be at home; every team does. We sometimes have lapses of a couple minutes where we turn pucks over and try to do a little too much instead of playing a simple game on the road, and when you turn things over and try to beat guys, you give other teams chances, and teams have been putting them behind us.

“The message is that you have to play consistent for 60 minutes, a simple road hockey game and not give up the odd-man breaks or the second and third chances in our end.”

CC has had its issues on defense. Though the Tigers are playing two young goaltenders in Chase Perry and Tyler Marble, CC has struggled as a team on defense, ranking 58th out of 59 teams nationally with an average of 4.46 goals allowed. Only Massachusetts has a worse average.

“That’s a whole team concept; it’s a commitment that everybody needs to make,” said Haviland. “I think we’ve changed a couple of things in the last couple of weeks, and except for Saturday night, the three prior games hadn’t really given up that many goals. We really need to bear down and make that commitment. It’s everybody; you can’t cheat in the defensive end. Right now, there are some things we need to clean up.”

One thing that might help CC’s road results is an improvement on special teams. The Tigers are 44th nationally on the power play with a 12.28 percent success rate, and 54th on the penalty kill at 76.4 percent.

However, Haviland said he believes there has been improvement on those numbers in recent weeks.

“I look at it the last four games we are 15 out of 16 on the kill, and our power play has jumped up and had goals in the last four games,” he said. “I think those numbers, a lot of it had to do with the beginning of the year, and sometimes they are tough to move. We feel that we are getting better in those areas, especially in the last four games, so we have to continue to move forward.

“I think that our attention to detail in those areas, especially on the PK side, has really gone up, and I think on the power play side we talk about simplifying things and putting pucks at the net and not trying to make the second and third pass and being on the same page. It’s starting to work.”

CC has a lot of its second half at home, including a five-week stretch starting on Jan. 30 save for one road game against Denver. So if the numbers continue to move forward, CC should be well-positioned for its extended stay in the friendly confines of World Arena.

Players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Cody Murphy, Miami: Murphy, who had only one goal entering the weekend, scored four in Miami’s split with Omaha. On Friday, he notched a natural hat trick in an 8-2 win, breaking the game open for his team from a 1-1 first-period tie to make it 4-1 in the second while finishing the game plus-3. On Saturday, he scored a power-play goal in the third to pull Miami to within one in a 5-2 loss. He finished plus-2 on the weekend.

Defensive player of the week — Jordan Schmaltz, North Dakota: Schmaltz led the way defensively and offensively in UND’s sweep of Lake Superior State, notching five points on the weekend, four on power-play chances. In Friday’s come-from-behind win, he assisted on North Dakota’s second goal, which helped spark a rally from 4-1 down, and also assisted on the sixth and seventh goals in a 7-4 win. On Saturday, he scored a power-play goal and an assist in a 3-1 win, and helped UND kill all nine Lake Superior power-play chances on the weekend.

Rookie of the week — Tucker Poolman, North Dakota: Poolman was versatile last weekend, playing forward one night and defense the next. He notched three points in UND’s sweep of Lake Superior State. On Friday, he moved to forward after two North Dakota forwards went out of the game due to injury and quickly scored two power-play goals to help spark his team’s rally to a 7-4 win. On Saturday, he played defense and notched an assist while blocking two shots and helping his team kill all nine Lake Superior power-play attempts on the weekend.

Goaltender of the week — Zane McIntyre, North Dakota: McIntyre claimed goaltender of the week honors for the second consecutive week for his performance in North Dakota’s sweep of Lake Superior State, where he posted a 1.21 GAA and .933 save percentage. He entered the game in relief Friday for Cam Johnson with North Dakota trailing 3-0 and made 12 saves as UND rallied for a 7-4 win. On Saturday, he made 16 saves on 17 shots in a 3-1 win. He also helped kill all nine Lake Superior power plays he faced.

Hockey East coaches’ letters to Santa: Some good tidings, some bah humbugs

141018 20233911 Hockey East coaches letters to Santa: Some good tidings, some bah humbugs

What coach wouldn’t be thankful for having Jack Eichel on his team? (photo: Melissa Wade)

I’ve once again intercepted mail from Hockey East arenas to the North Pole and am sharing it with you.

On UMass-Lowell stationery:

Norm Bazin here.

I’ve got to tell you, Santa, I’ve got no complaints. An undefeated record within Hockey East and first place, all while playing only three seniors and up to 11 freshmen. Loud and enthusiastic fans filling the Tsongas. (Hope you caught the crowd singing the National Anthem all on its own on opening night when the PA system failed.)

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Other than, of course, a third straight Hockey East title, a return to the Frozen Four and two big wins there to send the city of Lowell into utter euphoria.

That’s all.

On Boston University stationery:

Santa, David Quinn here.

Last year was a big bag of coal, but what a present you left for me when we signed Jack Eichel! Jaws are dropping all over the league.

And that wasn’t the only present. You left me four freshmen defensemen who play every game as well as a goaltender and several other forwards.

We now have the talent to compete with anyone, which is why, I guess, we’re No. 2 in the country.

So other than saying, “Thanks!” I guess I’d just like to ask that those elite recruits keep coming under our Christmas tree instead of the one further up Commonwealth Avenue, if you know what I mean.

On Vermont stationery:

Santa, this is Kevin Sneddon.

You’ve been a very good Santa this year! Or is that backward? I guess I’m the one who’s supposed to be good.

Whatever the case, we’re 11-3-1, a point out of first place and ranked in the top 10.

As one notable Yuletime philosopher once said, “Not too shabby!”

A year ago wasn’t bad. We were only .500 within Hockey East, good for eighth place, but we played strong out of conference and made the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, we drew Union in the first round and that team ran the table.

A similar thing happened in the Hockey East tournament. As the eighth seed, we drew Lowell and even though we pushed them to a third game and outshot them 13-4 in the third period, we couldn’t get the equalizer past Connor Hellebuyck. Just like Union would do in the NCAAs, Lowell ran the table to another Hockey East title.

So another NCAA tournament berth would be great, but I’d love to sew up home ice and a first-round bye so we’re not just the first step to another team running the table.

We’d like to do that running ourselves.

On Providence stationery:

Santa, Nate Leaman.

I didn’t pay attention to the preseason polls back when they said we’d be bad, so I didn’t pay attention this year when they said we’d finish first.

But plenty of other people do.

So to most of them, we’ve been a disappointment.

Hey, I want us to finish first just like the fans, but we need to just trust the process and work to get better. Let first place take care of itself.

On the other hand, however, a little more scoring would help. We’re only ahead of Northeastern and Connecticut in overall offense, so a little help there would be welcome.

Puck luck. Scoring touch. Clanged posts turned into sniper-style goals.

Whatever.

And along with that, a power play that clicks at better than 11 percent would also help.

2014101019 25 0839 Hockey East coaches letters to Santa: Some good tidings, some bah humbugs

Steven Fogarty has one of Notre Dame’s five power-play goals this season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

On Notre Dame stationery:

This is Jeff Jackson here.

I didn’t believe in writing letters to you last year and I don’t believe in it this time, either. What kind of crazy Hockey East tradition is this?

On the other hand, last season we finished tied for seventh in the league and still made the NCAA tournament, so there must be something odd, but effective, in the Hockey East water.

So I’m going to rub the head of my Joe Bertagna bobblehead doll and ask you to please bring us a power play. We’re at just 6.8 percent now. We’re not going to make the NCAA tournament with a man advantage that weak. So if you really do exist, how about doubling that rate?

On Boston College stationery:

Well hello, Santa, this is Jerry York.

Most years, I haven’t had to ask for much of anything. We’ve been on our way to another national title, or at least strong contention for one.

This season, we’re middle of the pack. Just a .500 record in the league and a single game above that overall.

We’ve got a middle-of-the-pack offense and middle-of-the-pack defense. A pretty good penalty kill, but an awful power play. Just 9.1 percent.

Since when are the Eagles middle of the pack?

We really need our senior class to step up its production. I know these guys have been role players all their careers here, but if you could give one or two of them a sniper’s touch, that’d be great.

We also need Thatcher Demko to stay healthy. That’s a big one for us.

That’s it, Santa. Help yourself to some milk and cookies, and go Eagles!

On Merrimack stationery:

Mark Dennehy here.

Santa, we’re 10-5-2 and nobody is talking about us. I know we haven’t beaten the iron in our nonconference schedule, but we’re a tough team to beat, especially at home (7-1-1, if you haven’t been paying attention).

We play strong defense and have a very good penalty kill. We’ve got a terrific freshman named Brett Seney.

But maybe it’s a good idea that we’re still flying underneath the radar. Let people think we’re still last year’s 3-15-2 club. They won’t know what hit ‘em.

Hey, I guess I’m supposed to ask for something, so how about a few more Brett Seneys under our recruiting tree for a real breakthrough year next season?

For this year? I see we’re tied in the standings right now with Boston College. I could live with that being true at the end of the year.

On Northeastern stationery:

Jim Madigan here.

I tell you, Santa, for a while there, I was going to clobber you over the head with a bag of coal. We didn’t win our first game until Nov. 15.

That was a tough stretch, let me tell you.

We’ve won four out of our last six, so maybe we’re past all the bad times.

But we’re still next to last in Hockey East in overall offense (1.87 goals a game) and only one notch better in team defense (3.27 allowed). And our penalty kill is the worst, only 72.5 percent.

So there’s lots you can put underneath our tree.

A Beanpot sure would be nice, too. Last year, we were dead even with BC with six minutes to go. Just don’t raise our hopes again only to crush them. If you do, then here come two words for you.

Bah humbug!

On Connecticut stationery:

Santa, Mike Cavanaugh. How are you doing?

This is a first time for me, although I saw you bring presents year after year to my mentor at BC, Jerry York.

How about doing the same for the Huskies? We’re new to the league, but this feels like the good old days. Familiar ground.

We’ve knocked off BC and Vermont and tied second-ranked BU. So we’re no doormats.

We’re playing pretty good defense, but could really use some more scoring. We’re last in the league in offense.

So how about a Johnny Gaudreau? Or maybe the UConn equivalent of Marty Reasoner, who came to BC when it was down and led the parade along with Brian Gionta.

A Brian Gionta would look very nice under the recruiting tree, Santa. How about it?

On Maine stationery:

Santa, this is Red Gendron.

I still think this silly letter-writing thing is just a cockamamie idea of that USCHO nitwit Hendrickson.

But here goes.

Everybody reminds us that we only won one game on the road last year, and we’ve still got the doughnut this year. I said before the season that we’d better be better on the road.

And we’re not.

So please — pretty please with sugar on it — can we please get not only one road win but a whole string of them so that albatross isn’t hanging over our heads every time we step outside of Orono? (For the record, that was three pleases in one sentence, including a pretty please.)

It’s that simple. Road wins. End of story.

On New Hampshire stationery:

Hey, Santa, Dick Umile here.

Where do I start?

I thought we might have a tough time, losing our goaltender right before the season started and having youth at a number of positions.

But next to last place? 1-5-1 in Hockey East? 4-9-1 overall? Winless in our last five games?

We’re not that bad. Those last five games have all been one-goal losses except for a tie and one empty-netter.

I’ll make it simple for you. We need wins. A whole bunch of them. And we need them right away because these kids are playing hard and we’re awfully close.

But awfully close doesn’t cut it here in Durham.

Wins cut it.

So please bring us a whole lot of them, Big Guy. Whaddya say?

On Massachusetts stationery:

Santa, this is John Micheletto.

Bah humbug. Bah humbug. Bah humbug.

Two years ago, my first year here, we finished next to last. Last season, same thing.

So I got wishing that we wouldn’t finish next to last again.

Where are we now?

In last place.

Very funny.

Bah humbug, Santa. We’ll make the playoffs no matter what, but I’ve still only got those two words for you: Bah humbug.

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

There will be a first-half wrapup next week, but this will be the final conventional column before the holidays. I hope you have a great holiday season.

When you do your holiday shopping, please consider my novels. I’ve got a new one called “Offside” coming out next Monday in ebook formats and a week after that in trade paperback.

If you liked “Cracking the Ice” — and I don’t know of anyone who didn’t — you’ll like this one. It takes place in 1967, the year before “Cracking the Ice,” and it even has a small role for that work’s hero, Jessie Stackhouse. The primary sport this time is football; there’s only a tiny amount of hockey. But I think you’ll like it.

My other novels include “Cracking the Ice,” which takes place during the height of the Civil Rights struggle. Jessie Stackhouse is a black, 15-year-old hockey phenom who is recruited to break the color line at an all-white prep school. The headmaster who recruited him tries to help, but the coach doesn’t want him there and neither do most of the players.

“Bubba Goes for Broke,” written under my pen name David Bawdy, is an R-rated comedy and crime caper featuring the world’s dumbest crook and the Hooters waitress he tries to con. If you’re easily offended, this book is funny, but it’s not for you.

“Body Check,” my first hockey romance, has been very popular. In it, a female sportswriter falls for an old college flame who’s traded to the local pro hockey team she covers. A journalist covering the man she loves? This breaks all the rules.

(This was published before the Jenny Dell – Will Middlebrooks romance became public and caused her to lose her job.)

This novel, published under the name D.H. Hendrickson, is definitely R-rated for the spicy you-know-what scenes. (Hey, they’re a requirement for a contemporary romance.)

You can always follow my fiction writing on
my website where you can sign up for my newsletter so you can hear (never more than once a month) about my latest releases.

Happy holidays, thanks for reading and see you next year.

Anybody’s game in the D-III East region going into 2015

Elmira Sal Magliocco Anybodys game in the D III East region going into 2015

Elmira goalie Sal Magliocco has been steady in the Soaring Eagles’ net this season (photo: Dan Hickling).

It was that noted hockey blogger – William Shakespeare – who posted those famous lines, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Shakespeare, no doubt, was referring to the heavy weight of expectation that comes with being anointed as pre-season conference favorites, such as it seems to be the case in the Eastern realm of Division III hockey.

Six squads were tabbed for the top – one in each of the Eastern conferences – but as the holiday break approaches, and with all conference play completed until January, we find ourselves with a convenient point to look and see how these “Chosen Ones” are living up to such great expectations.

Not so well, as it turns out.

Only one of the preseason faves – Norwich in the ECAC East – currently sits in the top spot, although the remaining five are certainly within striking distance.

All that said, keep your eyes peeled when things pick up again in the New Year.

Act Two, as our blogging friend might say, should be a doozy.

ECAC EAST
Who was picked: Norwich (7-0-0 in conference).
Who’s in first: Norwich.
No shocker, here, as the Cadets lead the league in scoring (4.43 gpg) and are second (to Babson) in scoring defense (1.00). Freshman goalie Braeden Ostepchuk (0.33, .980) is as stingy as any netminder which means if his mates give him a one-goal lead, you might well put the win in the books. What is a surprise is that the Cadets have plenty of company among the unbeatens, namely both Babson and Massachusetts-Boston are unstained at 6-0-0. Something’s bound to give in the second weekend in January, both of those contenders will have to make the trek to Norwich.

ECAC NORTHEAST
Who was picked: Nichols (3-1-1).
Who’s in first: Suffolk (4-0-1).
The Bison rattled off a five game winning streak (three in conference) to begin the year, then had to hustle to salvage a 1-1 tie with Suffolk on Nov. 19. Three days later, they dropped a 3-2 nailbiter to Johnson & Wales, and are just 1-2-2 (overall) at the break. Suffolk, which has just one winning season since 1994, may just be the most pleasant surprise of the season. The rematch with Nichols, at home on Feb. 7, could be the game of the year.

ECAC WEST
Who was picked: Elmira (2-2-2).
Who’s in first: Hobart (4-2-0), Nazareth (3-1-2), Neumann (4-2-0).
A six-team league is bound to be a bit claustrophobic, so it figures that two points (by which Elmira trails the others) separates the top four entries. The Soaring Eagles won’t play in conference again until Jan. 23, with six non-league games in between in which to tweak their weaknesses.

MASCAC
Who was picked: Salem St. (3-3-0).
Who’s in first: Plymouth St. (5-0-1).
Back and forth. Baaaaaaack and foooooorth. Such has been the lot of the Vikings, who at .500 and tied (with Massachusetts-Dartmouth) for third, have had the darndest time trying to get any traction. Two of their three MASCAC losses have been by three goals, but so have two of their three losses. Plymouth, which jump-started its season back on Nov. 6 with a 3-2 win at Salem, have had no such problems. Junior Gordon Ceasar (1.30, .963) has given the Panthers superior goaltending.

NESCAC
Who was picked: Trinity (3-0-1).
Who’s in first: Williams (4-1-1).
They are undefeated, have played two less conference games than the Ephs, and are just two points off the lead, so there is no cause for panic in Bantam Nation. For that matter, Trinity leads the NESCAC in offense (5.50 gpg) and defense (1.75).

SUNYAC
Who was picked: Oswego (5-1-1).
Who’s in first: Plattsburgh (8-1-0).
A function, in part, of the schedule which had the Cardinals playing nine conference games to Oswego’s seven. Thus Plattsburgh holds a five point lead, a gap that would be larger if Oswego hadn’t handed Platty its lone conference loss last weekend. Oswego has a slew of talented scorers but just one, sophomore Krystian Yorke (4-6-10) is in the SUNYAC’s top seven. Yet, the Lakers lead the league in scoring with 5.00 goals per game, which speaks to their balanced point production.

Late bloomer Kusch capitalizing on opportunities at Adrian

kelsey kusch mike dickie Late bloomer Kusch capitalizing on opportunities at Adrian

Adrian senior captain Kelsey Kusch is excelling on the ice and in the classroom for the Bulldogs (photo: Mike Dickie).

There’s an old saying that states when one door closes, another one opens.

Kelsey Kusch knows all about that adage, as she experienced it firsthand several years back.

Coming out of the esteemed Victory Honda AAA program in suburban Detroit, Kusch played her freshman year at Concordia (Wis.), but things didn’t go as planned in the classroom or on the ice.

She then looked at one of her original options, Adrian, and came back to her home state to play for the Bulldogs, where she has been lighting up the score sheet the past three years.

“I never had any true D-I offers, but at Concordia, which is about eight hours from home, I wanted the out-of-state experience, but nothing seemed to click for me both academically and athletically,” Kusch said. “Being able to come back to play in Michigan and be so close to home has made my experience at Adrian even better. My parents are able to come to all of my home games, which makes playing and winning on our ice special. Being the only D-III school in the lower part of Michigan, Adrian has always been on my radar for hockey.”

Once Kusch made the decision to leave Concordia and venture home, it was full steam ahead.

“I realized that my place was always at Adrian, so I transferred and haven’t looked back since,” said Kusch, who also won a U-12 state title with Belle Tire in her youth days. “It wasn’t until I got here where I saw how much Adrian has to offer. The Exercise Science program that I am in has given me so many opportunities to get experience to be a physician’s assistant. Plus, our facilities are amazing, especially the rink (Arrington Ice Arena).”

Bulldogs’ coach Chad Davis, a former D-I player at American International from 2000 to 2004, said coaching Kusch and watching her develop has been a tremendous treat.

“Kelsey sets the tone for the team on and off the ice,” Davis said. “Every day, you’re going to get a player who is hungry to get better and wants to win. She is a player who is always shooting countless pucks and doing extra skill sessions. With all the success she has had on the ice, she only cares about helping the team win. Off the ice, she has been great with being a mentor to young players. Kelsey always is the first person to volunteer for any cause the team may be helping out with.”

Davis added that even as Kusch’s staggering offensive numbers speak for themselves, they don’t give a true indication of what Kusch’s game is all about and how it has evolved.

“We like her ability to score at any time and every shift; she has the ability to create scoring opportunities,” said Davis. “With that being said, we still look to her in crucial situations in our defensive end. Overall, we know we can count on her to make plays at both ends of the ice.”

Also the captain of the Bulldogs, Kusch tallied 39 points in 2012-13 and then 47 last season. With 10 goals and 16 points through eight games this year, she’s well on her way to smashing her numbers of past seasons.

“Personally, I think I have elevated my game from last season in almost all aspects,” noted Kusch, a St. Clair Shores, Mich., product. “I think my shot has improved the most and has already come in handy. On a team level, our intensity, work ethic and all-around positive attitude has been outstanding and I am so proud of what we have accomplished so far and know that we have so much more in us for the second half of the season. I don’t see myself or our team stopping for the rest of the season. We put in so much time and effort and have really grown as a team in these few short months. The atmosphere is much different this year than it has been in the past. Everyone is on the same page and we all want the same thing, to dominate every team we face.”

Kusch also gave credit to the leaders on the squad, saying they have played a large role in the Bulldogs going 7-0-1 thus far in NCHA play.

“I think our leadership will continue into next semester,” Kusch said. “We’ve already had so many of the younger players step up as well. I have the utmost confidence in everyone on this team that we can do anything at this point. I can’t wait to finish out my last year on top and this is the team to do it with.”

Showing a selfless side, Kusch said that team chemistry is amazing and playing with a team full of talented players is “simply incredible.”

“Working with players like Hannah McGowan, Kristen Lewicki and Devyn Fitzhenry, to name a few, has been one of the best parts of playing at Adrian,” said Kusch. “Practice is so competitive going against players like them and it only makes me work harder to be on their level in some ways. We always know where each other is on the ice, no matter what line we are on for that game. Plus, shooting against Jade Walsh has really given me an advantage. She’s such a fierce presence in net and I know I’ll be ready to face other goaltenders after a week of practice against her.

“All of these players have made huge contributions to my personal success, and I would not have been the player that I am without them.”

And to think that Kusch, who is tied for sixth among the national scoring leaders, wasn’t one of those kids that learned to skate before she could walk.

In fact, it was actually quite the opposite.

“I started hockey relatively late at 11 years old and could barely stand on skates, and I was never really a part of a winning team,” explained Kusch. “I kind of accepted the mentality of not making it anywhere. Then I was and still am lucky enough to play at Adrian and it changed my perspective completely. We have one of the most competitive teams out there and it has only made myself and my teammates better as players and it shows me that all of the training, 6 a.m. practices and five-game weekend showcases leading up to college were worth it.”

With Adrian and Finlandia the only NCAA women’s hockey schools in the state and with Wayne State folding its D-I program back in 2011, it gives those players that want to stay home limited options. Kusch is banking on the future having more schools in the Mitten State taking on women’s hockey.

“I think there should definitely be more D-I teams in Michigan and I think it would give the top D-III players a chance to excel in the NCAA,” Kusch said. “I’ve always been surprised that the B1G schools like Michigan and Michigan State don’t have women’s hockey programs. Starting up D-I, and D-III programs for that matter, would only increase the growth of women’s hockey. I hope that in the future, more teams enter the league and create an even more competitive nature in the NCAA.”

Still, with just a semester and change left in her Adrian career, Kusch can’t help but reflect on what she has accomplished.

“Coming to Adrian is one of the best decisions I have made,” Kusch said. “The team and coaches have made hockey an unforgettable experience and truly made me into the player that I am today. Playing at our arena with all of our fans is such an awesome feeling and the women’s program has gotten so much support since I have been here and it really makes a difference.”

“We know Kelsey is very dedicated to her studies,” added Davis. “We see her being very successful in her professional career. I think she will most likely turn the page when the season is done and concentrate on getting into a PA program.”

Prior to that happening is the impending holidays, where Kusch plans to kick her feet up and spend quality time with her family.

“We normally get together with my dad’s side on Christmas Eve and then some from my mom’s side on Christmas Day,” said Kusch. “Winter is my favorite season and there is nothing better than Christmastime for me. Although the break is short, it’s nice to be at home and recover before the hardest part of the season comes.”

Noteworthy
Chatham goalie Megan Buchanan downed William Smith with two straight shutouts last weekend – 2-0 Saturday and 3-0 Sunday. Buchanan picked up the goose eggs in net with 22 saves Saturday and then 24 on Sunday afternoon. … With most teams already breaking for the holidays, there are just 11 games on the upcoming weekend schedule – all nonconference games. … Of all the conference leaders heading into this weekend, all have zero regulation losses, save for Wisconsin-River Falls (WIAC), which is 5-1-0. Norwich (ECAC East) is 6-0-0, Plattsburgh (ECAC West) is 7-0-0 and has also allowed just four goals in conference games, Gustavus Adolphus (MIAC) is 5-0-1, Adrian (NCHA) is 7-0-1, and Amherst (NESCAC) is 4-0-0. … Elmira’s Ashton Hogan, third in the country with 22 points (15 goals, seven assists), has three game-winning goals, five power-play goals and two short-handed goals. Her five power-play markers are second to St. Scholastica’s Nina Waidacher, who has six. Plattsburgh’s Kayla Meneghin and Utica’s Gabrielle Schnepp also have two short-handed goals to lead the nation in that department. … Four goalies (Bowdoin’s Lan Crofton, 0.59; Connecticut College’s Katherine Chester, 0.65; Plattsburgh’s Camille Leonard, 0.80; St. Thomas’ Paige Kittelson, 0.97) have sub-1.00 goals-against averages thus far. … Wisconsin-Stevens Point goalie Janna Beilke-Skoug has played every minute of every UWSP game and boasts an 8-2-1 record with a 1.54 GAA, a .936 save percentage and a pair of shutouts.

Baptista living up to expectations at powerhouse St. Norbert

mason baptista Baptista living up to expectations at powerhouse St. Norbert

St. Norbert senior Mason Baptista wants to end this season with another national title (photo: Nick Patton).

Mason Baptista learned right away about expectations at St. Norbert.

As a freshman, he was part of a Green Knights team that had won the NCAA Division III national championship the previous season.

“There were a lot of expectations and the standard was set to where winning was the only acceptable outcome,” Baptista said. “I learned a lot that year, but I also learned a lot the year we didn’t win the championship (2013). We saw that it was going to take everything you have to be the best.”

Baptista has won two championships in his career, his first as a freshman and his second one last season when the Green Knights knocked off Wisconsin-Stevens Point 3-1 in the national final.

Baptista, now a senior leader for the Green Knights, is determined to win one more before he hangs up his skates.

During a break from studying for a final exam in the library, the talented forward out of New York took time to reflect on the journey up to this point.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” Baptista said. “I remember being a freshman and doing whatever I could to earn playing time as a fourth-line type of guy. It’s been quite a progression since then and I’ve been able to become an impact player.”

Baptista has scored four goals and dished out 12 assists this year and has helped top-ranked St. Norbert complete the first half of the year with a 10-0-1 record.

Last season, while helping the Green Knights roll through a 28-3-1 campaign, he racked up 11 goals and team-best 27 assists. He scored seven goals and tallied 12 assists as a sophomore and finished with three goals and 10 assists as a freshman.

Like most players, Baptista would love to be able to score more goals. But he and his teammates have bought into the unselfish play mentality, which has been instrumental to the success of the Green Knights.

St. Norbert racked up 246 assists a year ago and already has 95 this season. Baptista’s assist total leads the team, but Marian Fiala has come through with 11 and Cullen Bradshaw has dished out 10. Sixteen other players have at least two assists.

“The mentality is to shoot first, but our ability to move the puck around has led to better opportunities for scoring,” Baptista said. “We don’t just have that one guy moving the puck up the ice. We get a lot of touches and we rarely have an unassisted goal.”

The Green Knights are hoping to continue their success in the second half hope the season ends with another championship.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Baptista is thankful he chose St. Norbert.

“It’s been amazing,” Baptista said. “A lot of guys have aspirations of playing D-I hockey, but I have friends who have gone that way and a lot of them end up on the backburner. Coming here has given me the opportunity to develop as a player and have a chance to be a big part of the team. I love everything about this school and I’ll definitely miss it when it’s over.

“Hopefully, I can go out on top like the seniors did last season.”

Cardinals Bounce Back

St. Mary’s ended a two-game losing streak on Saturday with a convincing 11-2 victory over Aurora. The Cardinals earned a split in the series after falling 6-3 in the opener on Friday.

The win was a positive step for a Cardinals team that has struggled in the first half of the season. St. Mary’s is 3-5-2 overall and 0-2-2 in the MIAC.

The 11 goals was the most scored this season by St. Mary’s and the most goals scored by the team since winning 14-3 over Concordia (Minn.) during the 2007-08 campaign.

Michael Simba and Martin Gruse scored twice to pace the Cardinals, who held a 40-25 edge in shots. Phil Heinle racked up 23 saves.

Gruse leads the Cardinals with seven goals and Jed McGlasson has tallied six goals and four assists. Bob Marx has come through with three goals and seven assists and Heinle has played well in nine starts.

Despite being below .500, the Cardinals have proven they can compete at a high level. It has beaten St. Thomas and St. John’s in shootouts this year, although the games go down on the record as ties. In another game against the Tommies, the Cardinals fell 3-2.

St. Mary’s also played Stevens Point and battled the Pointers hard before falling 3-2 in overtime last month.

The Cardinals, who will look to turn things around in the second half, return to action until Jan. 4 when they battle the Milwaukee School of Engineering on the road.

Record Setter

Devin Stuermer etched his name into the school record book at Concordia (Wis.), scoring a pair of goals in a 5-1 NCHA win over Finlandia on Saturday to become the program’s all-time leading goal scorer.

Stuermer now has 28 goals in his career, including seven this season, breaking the old mark of 27 set by Jonathan Smith, who played at Concordia from 2007 until 2011. He has also racked up seven assists.

Stuermer’s performance helped the Falcons win their fourth consecutive game as they have come a long way since opening the season on a six-game losing streak. Concordia is now 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the conference.

Stuermer wasn’t the only one making his mark. Eli Riddle and Anthony Pickering tied school records in the win. Riddle tallied an assist in the victory and has tied Jari Sanders for most assists in a career with 37.

Pickering tied the record for consecutive games with a point. He has tallied a point in eight consecutive games, tying the mark set by Stuermer.

Goalie Domingo Torrenueva continued his strong play. He started his third consecutive game on Saturday and made 30 saves against Finlandia. Torrenueva is 3-0 as a starter this season.

Tough Tests

Wisconsin-Stout faced two stern tests this past weekend, battling nationally-ranked opponents Wisconsin-River Falls and Stevens Point in their first WIAC games of the season.

The Blue Devils lost 7-3 to the Falcons and were beaten 7-5 by the Pointers and are winless in their last three games. They head into the holiday break with a 2-7-1 record.

Both games this past weekend were on the road, where the Blue Devils are 0-5-1. The good news for the Blue Devils is that they will play 10 of their final 14 games at home, and that advantage could help spark a turnaround in the second half.

Stout will play its first three games of 2015 at home, starting with a Jan. 9 game against MSOE.

Jake Useldinger, Justin Moody and Craig Lindegard all scored four goals apiece in the first 10 games of the season. Useldinger has also dished out five assists. Stout has scored 26 goals overall and has given up 43.

Nearly half of the goals the Blue Devils have scored have come off the power play, with Stout scoring 11 on the season. Lindegard has scored three times on the power play. The Blue Devils have given up 10 power play goals this season.

In The Poll

St Norbert is still the No. 1 team in the nation and is one of seven West region teams ranked. River Falls is fourth and Stevens Point is eighth. Adrian checks in at No. 9 and St. John’s is ranked 11th. Wisconsin-Eau Claire and St. Scholastica are 13th and 14th, respectively.

Illikainen sisters take different courses after high school

Illikainen Molly 5 Illikainen sisters take different courses after high school

Molly Illikainen left Providence College and now plays at St. Cloud State. (Tom Maguire/TOM MAGUIRE)

Something about growing up playing together makes sisters want to continue to be teammates in college, and the trend seems more common in hockey than other sports. It could be because there is a smaller domain of programs to select in hockey, or it could be that it just appears that way to me because I follow hockey much closer than any other sport.

However, consider recent examples: senior Brittany Ammerman and 2012 graduate Brooke Ammerman, Wisconsin; senior Shelby Bram and 2012 graduate Bailey Bram, Mercyhurst; junior Layla Marvin and sophomore Lisa Marvin, North Dakota; sophomore Cayley Mercer and 2014 graduate Carly Mercer, Clarkson; and junior Mary Parker and 2014 graduate Elizabeth Parker, Harvard.

That doesn’t include twins, like seniors Kari Schmitt and Sara Schmitt at Ohio State, because twins tend to wind up playing together no matter the sport.

So when sisters like Dartmouth senior defenseman Morgan Illikainen and St. Cloud State junior Molly Illikainen end up at different programs, it is more exception than rule, particularly when they are only a year apart.

That isn’t the biggest sporting departure for their family.

“My dad played in college, and he got us skating pretty early,” Morgan said. “We’re kind of like a big hockey family. My brother [Alex] is the only one that plays basketball.”

The hockey players include sister Madison, who is a high school sophomore. So how does the son of a former hockey player and coach become a basketball player who recently signed an NLI to play at Wisconsin, while all his sisters played hockey?

“I don’t think he wanted to compete with his sisters too much,” Molly joked. “We’re too big of a competitive family for that.”

The actual reason may have more to do with the six-foot-eight-inch Alex already being a foot taller than his sisters.

In any case, the choice that the girls of the family made for a sport is a popular one in their Minnesota hometown.

“Grand Rapids is definitely known for its hockey,” Morgan said. “Everyone supports the hockey team. My brother resents that a little bit, because the basketball team doesn’t get nearly the crowd that the boys [hockey team] gets. Our boys can still fill a rink just for a regular game. Definitely, hockey is the big thing around Rapids and Coleraine, especially. Our girls’ team right now is a co-op with Coleraine and Rapids. It’s definitely a little bigger fan base for us.”

Morgan started out playing center as a youth player, until one season her under-14 team had a need for defensemen and shifted her to the position.

“I had a better defensive mind anyway, so it worked out,” she said.

Meanwhile, Molly remained a forward, but didn’t forget about the defensive aspects of the game.

“Growing up, I just had to see what my strength was, and it was board work and just patience in the corners,” Molly said. “I just started working the boards, seeing how I could get out of the boards faster. I think I just developed my hands down low, having to be a defensive center, knowing I have to be against really great teams. Honestly, it was more just using what I had. Being able to work on the boards and being almost a defensive center at first really developed that.”

The siblings were able to hone their games together, as they both made the high school varsity at a young age.

“Obviously, it’s a privilege playing with your sister in high school,” Molly said. “Not many people get to do that, and I got to play with her for a couple of years, so I was really privileged.

The goal of every high school player is to advance to the state tournament at the Xcel Engery Center.

“Just being in Minnesota, the state tournament is a huge deal,” Morgan said. “If we make it to the state tournament, literally, no one is in school.”

They both got a chance to experience the trip to St. Paul.

“My eighth-grade year, we made it,” Morgan said. “We didn’t do as well as my ninth-grade year, we got second.”

The Grand Rapids-Greenway Lightning team that reached the title game in 2008 featured a number of future college players beyond Morgan and Molly, who were in ninth and eighth grade, respectively. Emily Erickson, Molly Arola, and Jessica Havel would go on to play at Bemidji State, Dana Gallop at Minnesota-Duluth, and Heather Horgen at Wisconsin-River Falls.

“We were stacked that year,” Morgan said.

It was ultimately a bittersweet experience for Molly.

“She got hurt second period of the first game,” Morgan said. “Someone dropped her mid ice, fell on her collarbone, slid into the boards, broke her right ankle, so both on the right side. [Molly] skated off. She thought it was just her collarbone [that was fractured]. She didn’t even know her ankle was broken until afterward.”

In the championship game, the Lightning put up a good battle but came up short.

“Looking back on it, I always wonder if Molly hadn’t gotten hurt, what could have changed that year,” Morgan said. “Obviously, [Eden Prairie] was stacked. They had like nine D-I players. We kind of had to juggle our lines and call people up.”

Looking back, it’s the good times that stand out.

“Being able to share those experiences, and like when we grow up, we get to cherish them and laugh about them,” Molly said.

When it came time to pick a college, Dartmouth was one of the first schools to take an interest in Morgan.

“I just had a really great, longer relationship with Mark [Hudak] and the coaching staff here,” she said. “I visited like three times, and every time was great. It really was just the one place on my official visits that there was literally no doubt in my mind. It was comfortable, but yet not comfortable enough that it wasn’t going to push me. Obviously, the schooling was great, and I kind of wanted to come out East and get away from home a little bit.”

While Hanover, N.H., was a long way from home, it was similar in some ways.

“Our school is only four or five thousand, so we’re a little smaller campus than some of the bigger schools,” Morgan said. “It’s kind of like the same weather, climate. It’s the same small-town feel. When you’re in Hanover, it’s kind of like its own little world. Once you come here, you really have everything you need. It’s kind of like you’re isolated in the sense of everything is Dartmouth and everything is [Dartmouth hockey]. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Molly went in the same direction for a college choice as her sister, but to a different destination.

“She picked Dartmouth, and Dartmouth is a great school, but Providence just worked out the best for me at that situation,”. Molly said. “I would have loved to play with my sister at that level, but I chose my own path and I knew what was best for me, and I picked Providence right from the start.”

A metropolitan area like Providence is obviously a change from a town like Grand Rapids, where the population is just over 10,000.

“The school was really small, so I just fit right in,” Molly said. “I came from a small high school. It just kind of seemed like home there. It was a small campus and close, so all athletes are just really close to each other. It was really great. The transition was kind of hard at first, just being far away, but we had a lot of Minnesotans on the team, so we all bonded really well and kept each other motivated to stay out there. If you can have a chance to go and explore, you might as well explore it while you can. I just knew that I had a chance to do that, and if worse comes to worse, I could come home.”

Molly’s career at Providence started well. Her 30 points ranked third on the team, and the Friars’ record was just shy of .500.

Her sophomore year was more challenging. Her production dropped. Providence lost eight more games than it had the previous season and failed to reach at least the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament for the first time in the league’s history.

She made the decision to transfer to St. Cloud State after her sophomore year.

“I just wanted to be happy,” Molly said. “Definitely, [Providence] is a great school, but something was missing. I knew that maybe coming home with family and friends and people I know [would help]. I think that was the key component, just being comfortable. Something just had to change for me. I love it [at St. Cloud State], and I don’t regret anything. I just needed something that I could call home.”

St. Cloud is a little more than a two-hour drive from Grand Rapids, so it is easier to get her supporters in the stands than it was when she was playing at Providence.

“If I’m playing bad or good, it’s so nice to just see the parents up there at least,” Molly said. “My best friends are around, so they get to come to most of my games — my cousins and everyone. Honestly, not having family there over two years, them only making it out once, I appreciate them being able to drive every weekend. I think that’s just what some people don’t understand; some people really need that support. I’m really glad that I have them there. They’ve always supported me. Now that they get to come to every game, [I] have a little bragging rights over Morgan that they bring me treats on the weekends.”

Even the opposition helped make it a homecoming.

“I’ve played with almost one person from each team in the WCHA, and really bonded with a lot of them growing up,” Molly said. “It’s kind of nice to see new faces. A lot of them say, ‘Welcome back,’ so it’s really great to feel welcomed by them.”

Morgan hasn’t had that proximity to family during her four years at Dartmouth.

“That’s the one thing right now that Molly really has a great opportunity for, to play in Minnesota, to play for more a hometown crowd,” she said. “My parents have gone there every weekend that they can. They only make it out here two or three times a year, but now that my brother is out here — he left his senior year to come play at a prep school out here — it’s like an hour or two away. Definitely, having my brother out here is nice, and they’re able to come a little more, because they can catch two kids at once all weekend. They try to get up as much as they can, but most of the time, I’m one of the only kids without a parent. But that’s what is expected. They’ve got their own stuff going on. Dad is coaching, and Madison, our youngest, is still busy dragging Mom around.”

As Morgan dealt with living far away from family, she also adjusted to playing on the blue line in the NCAA.

“It’s definitely a different game,” she said. “Obviously, coming from high school, if you’re an upper-tier player, you can get away with being a little more offensive. It was an adjustment, mostly a mental adjustment, kind of figuring out what your role is at the college level and making sure you do that role. There’s times when I’m going to try to jump up and create a lot of scoring opportunities. Especially as you grow older, too, in college your role changes. Now that I’m an upperclassman, I’m definitely going to want to contribute and have a bigger role.”

As she prepares for the second half of her senior season, she is also considering her role in life after Dartmouth, where she’s majored in psychology with a minor in government.

“I’m actually thinking about joining the Navy next year, hopefully to work intelligence and use [that for an] FBI or NSA career. Something like that,” Morgan said.

Her sister still has a year and a half of hockey to go, and while she is new to the St. Cloud State program, so is coach Eric Rud and his assistants.

“Everyone loves the whole coaching staff,” Molly said. “They’re doing so great with us, being patient as we’re trying to adjust to them as they adjust to us. They’re taking us in a new direction. I think the team has developed a lot from the beginning to now. We know we can be better. I think we just need to keep grinding. We’re trying to be a new start for this program.”

Michigan Tech set for another big nonconference home series against a familiar foe

michigantechfront Michigan Tech set for another big nonconference home series against a familiar foe

Alex Petan leads Michigan Tech with eight goals this season (photo: Adelle Whitefoot).

So far this season, Michigan Tech has played just one nonconference series — two home dates with instate rival Michigan.

Before that series, one could have argued that said series was the biggest non-WCHA series in Houghton in a quarter-century. After all, Michigan is a storied program that hadn’t visited Houghton since the 1980s. Michigan was ranked in the top 20 at the time and the Huskies were out to prove themselves against the big, bad Wolverines.

That series was big, at the time.

But just more than a month later, it seems to have been trumped.

This weekend, the Huskies host Minnesota-Duluth in a battle of top-10 teams in a nonconference battle so big they may have to play it on Lake Superior to make sure everyone gets a ticket.

Tech coach Mel Pearson knows the Huskies have played a bunch of good teams this season, but the Bulldogs may be the best they’ve seen so far.

“I feel like I keep saying that every weekend,” he said. “But watching Duluth on tape, I think they look good. They’re solid in each position. It’s going to be a good weekend. And with the PairWise and everything else going on, it’s shaping up to be an important weekend for them and us.”

Old-school WCHA fans surely cringed when they read “nonconference” in relation to a Minnesota-Duluth/Michigan Tech series.

The Huskies and Bulldogs have met 224 times — most of them as WCHA opponents. The Huskies are the Bulldogs’ most commonly played opponent.

Last season the teams met in Duluth.

“We played them right at the start of the year so everything was fresh,” Pearson said of last year’s games. “It still felt like we know them. they know our players and we know theirs. I don’t think it feels any different this year, either.

“It doesn’t feel weird that we’re not in the same league. It just feels normal. Whatever ‘normal’ is these days.”

One thing, however, will be different this season: For the first time, the teams are both in the top 10 of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, which dates to 1997. The Huskies are No. 4 in the country while the Bulldogs are No. 9.

“That’s what you want,” Pearson said. “It’s what good rivalries are built around, when you have two strong teams that are playing each other when they’re good.

“It’s good for our league, our program to be put in situations like this and be tested. That’s why we brought Michigan in here earlier, and we played up to the competition. I’m hoping Duluth will also bring up the best in our team.”

The Huskies and the Bulldogs seem like awfully similar teams — Pearson described it as looking at his own team in the mirror. Both are tied for the lead in their respective conference standings and both have young goaltenders (Tech’s Jamie Phillips and UMD’s Kasimir Kaskisuo) who have taken over to backstop the team to victory.

“They have depth like us,” Pearson said. “Their forwards, they have 16 guys who have scored and we’ve had 15. They have a good defensive corps with size and mobility, and we look at ours and that’s been the strength of our team, on defense.”

It’s Michigan Tech’s final series before the holiday break — and its last chance to get some games in before the Great Lakes Invitational Dec. 28-29 in Detroit.

Although this weekend’s series won’t put the Huskies in a better position in the conference — the Huskies and Minnesota State are tied for first place with 20 points — Pearson said playing UMD will help them when they get back into conference play early next year.

“We’re happy with where we are,” he said. “We’d like to play that Minnesota State series over again, but we put ourselves in a good position to give ourselves a chance in the second half.

“There’s still a long ways to go but I like where we’re positioned. I can sort of see some separation in some groupings in the league right now, but we also understand it can change in a second.”

Memorable trip for Nanooks

Alaska had a good weekend on the ice, splitting a league series at then-No. 2 (now No. 3) Minnesota State, including a 5-4 overtime victory on Friday night.

But the road trip was made even more special on the way home with a stopover in Seattle on Sunday.

That’s where the Nanooks visited teammate Justin Woods, who is at the Ronald McDonald House there after being diagnosed with cancer in May. Woods has Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer most commonly found in children and adolescents, according to an Alaska news release.

Woods will be continuing treatment in Seattle until February or March.

The Nanooks also visited other children and families at Ronald McDonald House, handing out 50 gift bags, an experience junior forward Nolan Huysmans called “humbling.”

“The kids kept talking about how much we were brightening their day, but honestly, it brightened our day even more so,” he said.

Said coach Dallas Ferguson: “Our athletes were all-stars [Sunday] night. We are very fortunate to have such wonderful young men representing the university and the community of Fairbanks. The time we spent at the Ronald McDonald House was truly one of the most special things I have done as a Nanook. It is a wonderful organization, and it was extremely humbling to see the smiles from the children and hear the gratitude of their parents.”

Woods, a Fairbanks native, had one goal and five assists in 33 games as a freshman defenseman last season.

Ice chips

• Alabama-Huntsville had last weekend off, the first break of the season for the Chargers. UAH travels to Alaska this weekend, going all 4,000-plus miles for the WCHA’s longest road trip. (Fun fact: According to Google Maps, it would take only a measly 71 hours to make that drive by car.) The Chargers are 6-14-1 all-time against the Nanooks and 3-9 in Fairbanks.

• Alaska-Anchorage’s Brett Cameron broke out of an 11-game goalless drought in a big way, scoring four goals in the Seawolves’ 4-4 tie with Bemidji State on Saturday night. The senior forward is the first player in Division I this season to score four goals in a game. It was the first four-goal game by a UAA player since 1995 when David Vallieres did it.

• Speaking of Bemidji State, the Beavers finally broke out of what had been something of a power-play slump. In Friday’s game against UAA — a 3-3 tie — BSU went 2-for-3 on the man advantage. It was the first time of the season the Beavers have scored multiple power-play goals in the same game. On Saturday, they did it again, going 3-for-7 on the power play. The Beavers are 12-for-71 on the power play (16.9 percent) — seventh in the conference.

• No. 13 Bowling Green is unbeaten in its last five games (4-0-1) and next plays Jan. 3 in an outdoor game against Robert Morris at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio. Freshman goalie Chris Nell improved to 5-0 with his second shutout of the season, a 5-0 victory on Saturday night at Northern Michigan.

• Coming off an idle weekend, Ferris State returns home to play Lake Superior State. The series is the Bulldogs’ first in Big Rapids since Nov. 22. Following the weekend, they won’t play at home again until Jan. 16-17 when they host Minnesota State. After playing the Lakers, 10 of their next 12 games will be played on the road.

• Lake State and Ferris have met 127 times, dating to the 1977-78 season — that was two years before the Bulldogs were a full-time member of the CCHA. The Lakers have historically had success at Ewigleben Ice Arena, going 29-24-6 all-time, but are just 2-5-3 in their last 10 games in Big Rapids.

• No. 3 Minnesota State has four hat tricks this season, including Dylan Margonari’s three-goal game in Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Alaska. Four different players have hat tricks for the Mavericks (Bryce Gervais, Teddy Blueger and Brett Knowles are the others). The hat trick total is the most since Minnesota State had five in the 1998-99 season.

• Northern Michigan dropped out of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll this week after a loss and a tie against Bowling Green. Sophomore defender Brock Maschmeyer had two goals in Friday’s 5-5 tie. Maschmeyer and Darren Nowick each have scored four goals on the season to lead the Wildcats. Nowick also leads the team with seven assists and 11 points.

Players of the week

This week’s WCHA players of the week are Alaska-Anchorage senior forward Brett Cameron (offensive), Bemidji State senior defenseman Matt Prapavessis (defensive) and Bowling Green freshman goaltender Chris Nell (rookie).

North Dakota blueliner Stecher to miss 6-8 weeks with leg injury

According to the Grand Forks Herald, North Dakota sophomore defenseman Troy Stecher will be out for about 6-8 weeks after suffering a lower leg injury during UND’s 3-1 win over Lake Superior State last Saturday night.

Stecher is a major part of the North Dakota penalty-killing unit and also has a goal and eight assists for nine points in 17 games this season.

Seniors Nick Mattson or Andrew Panzarella are favorites to take Stecher’s spot in the UND lineup.

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