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Quinnipiac’s Connor Clifton will sit one game after slew-footing incident

20131122 5D3 6051 Quinnipiacs Connor Clifton will sit one game after slew footing incident

Quinnipiac’s Connor Clifton is second on the team in penalties (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

ECAC Hockey on Saturday suspended Quinnipiac defenseman Connor Clifton for one game for slew-footing a Brown player on Friday.

Clifton, sophomore, was not penalized during the game for the incident, a kicking out of an opponent’s skates.

He will miss Saturday’s game at Yale.

Clifton has played in all 25 of the Bobcats’ games this season, recording four assists. He’s second on the team with 21 penalties and 50 penalty minutes.

Harvard loses defenseman McNally for rest of regular season with lower-body injury

According to a report on thecrimson.com, Harvard junior defenseman Patrick McNally will not play for the rest of the regular season after sustaining a lower-body injury during a game last week against Cornell.

“I will be out for probably the remainder of the season, but there is a chance that I could be back for the [ECAC Hockey] playoffs,” McNally told the website on Thursday night.

McNally limped off the ice with the help of a team trainer after colliding with a Cornell player last Friday night.

“When my left leg went up in the air, I didn’t really have anything else to support it other than my right leg, which kind of buckled underneath me,” said McNally, who did not disclose the precise nature of the injury.

Curry sophomore Heisinger ‘surprised,’ shocked’ to be up for Hockey Humanitarian Award

jake heisinger2 Curry sophomore Heisinger surprised, shocked to be up for Hockey Humanitarian Award

Curry sophomore Jake Heisinger helped organize a Teddy Bear Toss to benefit local children last November (photo: SportPiX).

When informed last week that the list of 15 candidates for the 2015 NCAA’s Hockey Humanitarian Award, and that is name was on it, Jake Heisinger had two responses.

“Huh?” and “Why?”

The first because Heisinger, a sophomore forward at Curry, had never heard of the award, which for 20 years has been bestowed upon one college hockey player – with both genders and all three divisions considered – whose commitment to community service stands out among all others.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘why me?’said Heisinger. “Everyone on our team does a bunch of stuff to help out around the community. I was surprised and shocked. Anyone could have been nominated. It just happened to be me.”

Heisinger was one of three Eastern Division III players to be nominated, joining Babson goalie Jamie Murray and Geneseo forward Tyler Brickler on the list. The finalists will be announced next month with the winner named April 10 at the Frozen Four in Boston.

Should any of the three win the award, they would be just the third D-III men’s player – after Rocky Ray Reaves (Buffalo State) and William Bruce (Williams) – so honored.

“The whole being acknowledged was great,” said Heisinger, “but that wasn’t the point of everything that’s taken place.”

What was the point, then?

Why teddy bears, of course.

Or more importantly, the needy children at the Dana Farber Children’s Hospital Cancer Center who would love to cuddle up with one.

Heisinger, along with Curry teammates Jordan Reed, Brett Sinclair and Tyler Vankleef, manned the point on an initiative to bring a little warm and fuzzy Christmas cheer where it was needed most.

What resulted was the Teddy Bear Toss that occurred during the Colonels’ Nov. 22 home tilt with Wentworth.

“I’m one of those guys who enjoys Christmas and giving back,” said Heisinger, grew up in Winnipeg. “It’s kind of how I’ve been raised. My parents used to make sure I got what I wanted for Christmas. As I got older, I really appreciated what they did for me as a young kid. I wanted to make sure that as I was able to do something for young kids who aren’t [as] fortunate as all of us.

“I figured why not try and do something as a team.”

That thought led to a conversation with Curry third-year coach T.J. Manastersky, who agreed to help steer the project through the proper channels at the school, the NCAA, and Wentworth, too.

“There were a lot of people who pushed for it,” said Heisinger, whose father, Craig, is senior VP/assistant GM for the Winnipeg Jets.

That Heisinger, still an underclassman, would take the lead in this way came as no surprise to Manastersky, who made him one of his first-ever recruits.

“Jake is a very well liked and respected teammate,” said Manastersky. “You can see it in the way he and his teammates interact. He loves to play hockey and has fun at practice and that enthusiasm is contageous. He is also a leader with a strong set of personal values. I think the fact he has been nominated for such a prestigious award as just a sophomore is outstanding. It gives him an opportunity to build his legacy for two more years that will stick with him for his entire life.”

When the night of the Toss arrived, Heisinger said he didn’t know what the crowd response would be. The school had chipped in a couple hundred of the plush toys for the occasion.

But when Colonels’ forward James Murphy popped in a power-play goal 2:35 into the contest, nearly 600 bears came flying onto the ice.

“To our pleasant surprise, half the bears came from the [spectators] themselves,” Heisinger said. “We [thought] that if even 10 people showed up with teddy bears, it would be a success. That’s 10 kids who were going to be a better Christmas. We ended up getting close to 500-600 teddy bears when it was all said and done. For a small school like us, that was quite the accomplishment. It was much more than all of us could have ever thought.”

The HHA nod to Heisinger is a first for Curry, just as it is for Brickler, a senior, who is leading Geneseo’s effort to spread awareness of Down Syndrome.

“I think [the HHA recognition] is an amazing opportunity for Tyler,” said Ice Knights’ coach Chris Schultz. “He has put a ton of energy and enthusiasm into this project and he has touched a family’s life in so doing so. Our student-athletes know that the expectation here is to be great people first and to then step outside their egocentric comfort zones and touch people’s lives in one way or another. Tyler has exemplified this expectation. He has provided our younger players with a foundation on which to build.”

Murray, a junior, is being recognized, in part, for his involvement with the Cure For Cole WiffleBall Tournament, held each year in Scituate, Mass., which helps defray the massive medical costs incurred by his friend Cole Pasqualucci, who suffers from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a rare kidney disease.

After low point in Omaha, Denver finds the motivation to rebound

DU StC 116 46 After low point in Omaha, Denver finds the motivation to rebound

Denver’s Danton Heinen is third nationally in rookie scoring, behind Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Michigan’s Dylan Larkin (photo: Candace Horgan).

Three weeks ago, No. 10 Denver may have had a critical moment in its season when it was swept in Omaha. The Pioneers lost two very different games, one a 5-4 offensive shootout and the other a 1-0 defensive battle.

After that weekend, Denver dropped to sixth in the NCHC standings but has since rebounded by sweeping St. Cloud State and splitting with Miami. Denver is in fifth in the NCHC, three points ahead of Western Michigan and three points behind Miami.

For Denver coach Jim Montgomery, that low point after Omaha was a turnaround moment for his team.

“I think we used that the sweep at Omaha as motivation to get better in certain areas that didn’t allow us to have success there,” said Montgomery. “I think that we’ve done that and have become a harder team to play against.”

One change has been in net. Evan Cowley started in Omaha in the 5-4 series-opening loss. Cowley played the next weekend for one period against St. Cloud State but was yanked after giving up the first goal. Since then, freshman Tanner Jaillet has played all the minutes for Denver. However, Montgomery believes both goalies have room to improve.

“Tanner has played well; he’s given us an opportunity to have success every time he has been in the net,” said Montgomery. “I wouldn’t declare him our No. 1. He’s playing the best right now, and if you’d asked me before Christmas, I’d have said Evan Cowley was playing the best. Both goalies need to continue to get better to give us the goaltending we’ll need down the stretch.”

Interestingly enough, a freshman has paced the Pioneers offensively as well. Danton Heinen, a fourth-round pick of the Boston Bruins, leads the team in scoring while playing on the top line with senior Daniel Doremus and sophomore Trevor Moore.

Heinen is the only Denver player averaging over a point a game, at 26 points in 23 games. He is third nationally among freshmen in scoring behind Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Michigan’s Dylan Larkin.

“I don’t think anyone outside of Denver thought that he would be one of the premier freshmen in the country, but he is one of the premier freshmen in the country,” said Montgomery. “He’s a go-to guy for us, and his stick and his mind are elite.”

One of Denver’s strengths this year is special teams play. The power-play unit is sixth nationally at 21-of-93, good for 22.58 percent, and the penalty kill is 13th nationally at 73-of-84 for an 86.9 percent success rate. Several players have helped with that, including seniors Joey LaLeggia and Doremus.

“No question on the power play you have to give a lot of credit to those guys,” said Montgomery. “Obviously, Joey is our quarterback. Will Butcher and Nolan Zajac really give us three quarterback defensemen that a lot of other schools would be jealous to have.

“On our penalty kill, I give a lot of credit to our seniors again. That’s more Josiah Didier, who is really our anchor back there, and then you have Doremus, [Matt] Tabrum and Grant Arnold providing great leadership who consistently go out and outwork people.”

Last season, Denver went on the road in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, beating Omaha in the first round two games to one and then winning the NCHC Frozen Faceoff to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Asked if home ice is a goal, Montgomery said the team is aiming higher.

“Our goal is to try and win the NCHC and unfortunately we haven’t gotten the desired results,” he said. “We’d like to be better than one game above .500. We do think that we have the potential to not only get home ice, but to move up to first place. We need to score big goals in big moments of games better than we have, and we need to be able to not have periods off.

“I would say in our last three weekends, we’ve had one bad period every weekend, and in the NCHC you can’t afford to do that. You have one bad period against Omaha and they score three goals against you. You have one bad period against Miami and they get two odd-man rushes against you and go up 3-1.”

This weekend, Denver faces third-place Minnesota-Duluth, which it trails by four points. The two squads split a series in Duluth in October. Montgomery is expecting another fierce series.

“I’m expecting the same thing we saw in October: a team that’s relentless, that comes at you in wave after wave, and we’re going to have to come back at them and make sure they have to defend more than we have to defend,” he said.

DSC 0119 After low point in Omaha, Denver finds the motivation to rebound

Cody Bradley leads Colorado College with eight goals and 20 points (photo: Candace Horgan).

Tigers clawing back

It’s been a tough season for the Colorado College Tigers. The team stands at 5-16-1, and until Jan. 16 hadn’t won a game in conference. A stretch of 13 games out of 14 on the road saw the team finally win its last one of those 13 while suffering several overtime defeats after blowing leads in the third period.

Perhaps the worst part of the season came on Nov. 14, when the Tigers traveled to Denver intent on establishing a lead in the Gold Pan series, only to get blown out by archrival Denver 8-1.

According to CC coach Mike Haviland, that game was a turning point, and his team is starting to see some positives finally result.

“I think if you look at that loss, we’ve been pretty good since that loss,” Haviland said. “I know the one game we’d like to take out is the second game in Duluth after losing in overtime; it was pretty close until the final 10 minutes and they took over and got some goals when we were really pressing.

“Since that Denver game, which I think turned our season around and certainly should have, the way we got beat up there, I think our focus, our preparation in practice and in games has gone to a different level, and it’s been in the back of everybody’s minds.”

Last weekend, the Tigers traveled to Grand Forks and gave North Dakota all it could handle. Now CC settles in at home for a stretch of six consecutive home games. Eight of its last 11 will be in the friendly confines of World Arena, where the Olympic-sized ice sheet and the elevation (above 6,000 feet) makes it a difficult place to play.

“I think when you are in those battles — in Omaha, in Providence, in North Dakota, in Western Michigan — you are learning what it takes to compete for 60 minutes,” said Haviland. “We’ve come up short on some of them in overtime, but I think you learn what it takes for those 60 minutes to compete and how hard it is to win. It’s such a fine line.

“We’ve made a progression, and I think it will help us. I see us getting better each and every day. When you have to go on the road and you have to battle, especially on the road, you take those lessons and apply them at home, and we are at home a lot of the rest of the season.”

One bright spot for CC has been the power play, which is clicking at a nearly 20 percent success rate and is ranked 20th in the country. While the PK has struggled at times, Haviland also sees improvement there.

“I am happy on both sides of it; I think the last 10 games we are running about 90 percent on our PK too, so special teams have really improved,” he said. “I’m very proud of our units and what they’ve done. The adjustments they make game in and game out, watching film and making sure we know what we have to execute going into the power play, it’s been a major reason why we’ve been in games and are winning games now.”

Asked if it was hard for his team when it was on losing streaks of seven and five games, respectively, sandwiched around a lone win over Wisconsin, Haviland acknowledged it was.

“I think early on we felt sorry for ourselves, and it was easy to do, and now we don’t and we understand that if a team scores, we have to go back and play,” he said. “There’s still 10 or 20 minutes left in the game and we still have a chance to win the game. It’s a long way from the beginning of the year to now and now it’s not even a question.”

This weekend, the Tigers take on St. Cloud State, a series in which Haviland expects to see “playoff hockey” from “two desperate hockey teams.” The following Friday, CC will take on Denver for the first time since the crushing loss. The Tigers then take on Denver again in a home-and-home series two weeks later.

The Tigers aren’t looking too far ahead, but they do know the Denver games loom, and are excited for another crack at their archrival.

“We don’t look past any weekend, any opponent,” Haviland said. “We should never do that, but I know that everybody is excited to get to those games, and you don’t forget very easily what went on up there.”

Players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Cody Murphy, Miami: Murphy notched four points on the weekend in Miami’s split with No. 11 Denver. On Friday, he had only one shot on goal, but on Saturday, he had a hand in all four Miami goals. Murphy assisted on Miami’s first goal in the first period and scored the game-winner in the second period. He scored another in the third to put Miami up 3-1, and assisted on an empty-net goal that sealed the win. He finished plus-4 Saturday. His four points in one game was a career high.

Defensive player of the week — Keaton Thompson, North Dakota: He helped UND kill both Colorado College power plays in Friday’s 2-1 win. On Saturday, he assisted on the game-winning goal in the second period and earned a career-best plus-3 rating in North Dakota’s 5-3 win.

Rookie of the week — Patrick Russell, St. Cloud State: Russell notched four points in St. Cloud’s split with Western Michigan on two goals and two assists. In Friday’s 7-0 win, he posted a career-high three points, scoring a power-play goal in the second period to put St. Cloud up 4-0 and assisting on St. Cloud’s final two goals. In Saturday’s 3-2 loss, he scored the second goal that put St. Cloud up 2-0. He finished the weekend plus-2.

Goaltender of the week — Charlie Lindgren, St. Cloud State: In a key split with Western Michigan, Lindgren posted a .936 save percentage and a 1.52 GAA. In the first game, he earned his first shutout of the season, stopping 23 shots. On Saturday, he had two more shutout periods and made a save in the second period that was later featured on ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the day. He finished with 21 saves Saturday and 44 saves on 47 shots in the series.

College Hockey, Inc. tabs ex-Denver captain Thomas as new director of education and recruitment

College Hockey, Inc. has named former Denver captain Andrew Thomas as the organization’s new director of education and recruitment.

Thomas, currently the director of hockey operations at Rensselaer, will complete the season with the Engineers before officially assuming his new role with CHI.

“We are thrilled to welcome Andrew Thomas and know he will thrive in this role, educating players and families on the many benefits of college hockey,” CHI executive director Mike Snee said in a statement. “Andy is a passionate young man whose commitment to college hockey is genuine. We were fortunate to have a tremendous pool of qualified candidates but Andy’s background, experiences and enthusiasm set him apart. He will be a real asset to NCAA hockey.”

Thomas, who won a national title at DU in 2005, succeeds current director of education and recruitment and former Notre Dame star Kyle Lawson, who is leaving CHI on March 31 to pursue a new professional opportunity.

“My experiences in college hockey were the most integral part of my development as a person and as a player,” Thomas added. “I deeply value the relationships and experiences I had at the University of Denver and I look forward to being a strong advocate of college hockey for prospective players and their families.”

Hockey East teams have varying degrees of success in handling season’s ebbs, flows

saracino Hockey East teams have varying degrees of success in handling seasons ebbs, flows

Nick Saracino and Providence got back on track with a sweep of Massachusetts-Lowell last weekend (photo: Melissa Wade).

It’s a problem coaches face at every level. Their teams get on a roll where they’re doing all the big and little things to be successful.

Then as the wins pile up, the attention gets clouded just a little toward one detail or another. Perhaps the wins continue, and the focus on another detail wavers and soon enough the juggernaut team has gotten sloppy enough to lose a game or two it would have won weeks earlier.

A couple of Hockey East’s top teams, Boston University and Providence, have emerged from just those doldrums and are back to winning again. Massachusetts-Lowell may have also fallen victim to that same plight, but the River Hawks — undefeated in Hockey East play until Jan. 10, but now losers of four of their last five games — have yet to right the ship.

It’s instructive (and interesting) to look closer at this phenomenon to understand the ebbs and flows of the season.

The Friars had enjoyed a stretch of prolonged success dating to late November, winning six straight and 10 of 11, but then lost their last two contests going into last weekend, and to teams with a collective 12-27-2 record.

“We had a long winning streak there, and we got a little complacent at the end of it,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said on Friday night. “I thought we were playing pretty sloppy.

“We had a better week of practice. Losses get you focused pretty quick.”

The refocused Friars swept Lowell in impressive fashion, 7-3 and 4-1, and are now among the top four teams in Hockey East, positioned with a game in hand to potentially move higher.

For BU, the stinker of a loss came against a surprising foe, archrival Boston College. Usually, there’s no lack of focus in a matchup like that one. But the seeds had been planted for a while, resulting in ties with Union and a horrendous Wisconsin team (now 2-15-3).

After the loss to BC, BU coach David Quinn said: “This has been coming on for a while. We haven’t played great, but we’ve been avoiding losing.”

The Terriers have rebounded nicely, however, skating to an overtime win over Lowell and then traveling to 15th-ranked Vermont and sweeping the Catamounts in their own building.

“It’s human nature more than anything,” Quinn said. “Early on in the season, maybe you’re a little more attentive to the process. All of a sudden you start getting results.

“Once you keep getting results, you become consumed with the results, as opposed to being consumed with the process and what has allowed you to have success. That was starting to happen to us [before the BC game].

“We’d gone a while without a loss, [from Nov. 30 to Jan. 16]. All of a sudden you can start fooling yourself into thinking you’re pretty good. I kind of sensed that was starting to happen leading into the BC game. We were dodging some bullets and weren’t playing as well. We were a lot more sporadic throughout games, and we would not be fully engaged mentally or physically.

“But we weren’t losing. We’d come back and tie somebody, or squeak out a win. Sometimes you have to get jolted with a loss to bring you back to reality and to remind you of why you’ve had the success you’d had leading up to that point in the season.”

Similar to Providence’s response to its “wake-up” losses, BU also has responded since its wake-up call.

“Since that game, we’ve played hard,” Quinn said. “We’ve been consumed with the process, we’ve been more consistent with our effort and have done the things that have allowed us to have quote-unquote success. I say quote-unquote because I don’t really judge success until you get into March and April, but success up to this point and winning hockey games.”

And for those who think this is a Gen X phenomenon, forget it. Quinn recalls the same thing happening during his playing days.

“I remember vividly having it happen to us when I was here at BU as a sophomore,” he said. “We lost to Vermont and ended up waking up and going on a run and having a heck of a year. Those things happen.”

And to add an example from outside of Hockey East, look at former No. 1 Minnesota State. The Mavericks hadn’t lost since Dec. 5, and had gone 14-1-1 since Nov. 1. But they lost last weekend to a 9-12-3 Bemidji State team. While giving credit to Bemidji, Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings pointed to uncharacteristic, fundamental mistakes.

While fans love to look at positions in the standings (and admittedly this writer does, too), for teams it can be the kiss of death. It can be the catalyst for problems with success.

“There’s a little too much watching [of the standings],” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said on Friday. “We need to get back to our original goal, which is to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, at the end of the season. Standings never played a part in our goals at the start of the year.”

It’s a sentiment that Quinn echoed even though last weekend gave the Terriers a four-point lead atop Hockey East.

“I rarely look at the standings,” he said. “They don’t have any relevance in my mind to what we’re trying to accomplish here.

“We want to win hockey games, we want to play the right way, we want to be consistent with our mental and physical effort. If we do that, then winning and losing takes care of itself.”

150103 22191095 Hockey East teams have varying degrees of success in handling seasons ebbs, flows

With 28 points, Boston University’s Evan Rodrigues is six shy of his collegiate high (photo: Melissa Wade).

Looking closer at the Terriers

If you look at the Hockey East scoring leaders, BU’s stellar line of Jack Eichel, Danny O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues rank one-two-three.

Everyone has heard about Eichel. But O’Regan and Rodrigues have taken major steps forward in their production from last year, both already totaling 28 points after 22 and 14, respectively, all of last season.

Cynics might point out that the two are simply beneficiaries from playing with college hockey’s newest superstar, but Quinn contends there’s a more broad-based reason than that.

“When people ask about the success we’ve had or about the turnaround this year, I say that we’ve added 10 really good hockey players to a bunch of guys that were here that were really good,” Quinn says. “We surrounded a good core with a good incoming freshman class.

“Now Danny O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues don’t have to play 25 minutes a night and do everything from power play, penalty kill, part-time goalie, sharpener of the skates and drive the Zamboni. These guys are able to just do the things that they’re asked to do and not do too much.

“For example, in the game up in Vermont on Saturday night, after two periods we were down 1-0, but we were playing very well. We had out-chanced them either 18-7 or 18-9. Going into the third period, O’Regan, Rodrigues and Eichel had only played about 13 and a half minutes. So they were in a position where I could play them a lot more in the third because we have depth.”

And as it turned out, Rodrigues scored the tying goal to force overtime, where Eichel got the game-winner.

“I can play four lines,” Quinn says. “I trust all of our lines.

“We’ve got a good D corps. You add four freshmen defensemen who can play and have made the adjustment to college hockey the way our guys have, everybody’s better for it.

“When forwards have success, they often look to their linemates. I look at the D corps. You ask a forward, they want good defensemen out there who can get the puck out of the zone. That’s what our D corps have done for the most part all year long.”

The blueliners came in for considerable criticism from Quinn after the BC game. He noted that it was the first time in a long time BU had looked like a team with four freshmen defenseman. Their lack of gap control allowed BC to wheel and deal.

The group heard Quinn loud and clear, and has responded.

“Unbelievable,” Quinn says of the progress. “In the Lowell game, we were much better, but still weren’t managing the puck the way we were earlier in the year.

“Early on against Vermont Friday night, I thought we were really panicky. It was a tough environment; Vermont was clicking on all cylinders. But we settled down and did a better job.

“Then on Saturday, we really did a good job with our puck movement, breaking out of the zone and doing the things we need to do to have success. They’ve really responded well since the BC game.”

Based on where the Terriers stand and how well they’re playing, it’s difficult not to think about what this team can accomplish. Quinn, however, isn’t about to start talking about team goals.

“It’s 100 percent about the day-to-day process of just being the best team that we can be,” he says. “Where that takes us, who knows?

“I have an idea in my head of what we’re capable of, but our job is to just be the best team that we can be every day. If we do that, the winning and the losing and everything else will take care of itself.

“So far, we’ve done a pretty good job of that, but they haven’t handed out a trophy yet. It’s nice to have the record we have, but it doesn’t mean a thing. We’ve put ourselves into position to be in position. There’s a lot of hockey to be played.”

And as for that idea in Quinn’s head of what BU is capable of? That’s for him and the Terriers to know, and the rest of us to find out.

20141230 Omaha UNH 01 MBishop Hockey East teams have varying degrees of success in handling seasons ebbs, flows

New Hampshire goaltender Adam Clark has a .894 save percentage (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Tough times at UNH

After getting swept by the rival Maine Black Bears last weekend, New Hampshire fell into a tie for last place. The Wildcats hold three games in hand on Massachusetts, so that really amounts to 11th place, but this is UNH we’re talking about.

Perennially a home-ice team and a frequent invitee to the NCAA tournament. Tied for last place?

The tailspin started when starting goaltender Casey DeSmith was arrested in August on a domestic dispute charge and was suspended indefinitely. He eventually was dismissed from the team.

DeSmith and since-graduated Jeff Wyer played all but six and a half minutes of the time between the pipes last year. The plan had been for incoming freshman Adam Clark to learn for a year and then either seize the position or compete with a new recruit next year.

Instead, Clark got thrown into the fire, and he has some burn marks to prove it. Where DeSmith recorded a save percentage of .920 last year, Clark’s number comes in at .894.

That’s not at all to say that UNH’s problems this year exclusively lie with Clark. However, what is the last team that was successful with a goaltending save percentage under .900?

“I don’t want to be negative on Adam; he’s done a lot for us,” UNH coach Dick Umile says. “I wouldn’t put it all on him. It’s a culmination of some of the play in front of him. Maybe there are nights he could have made some big saves and it didn’t happen, but overall he’s competed for us and done a pretty good job, but not [outstanding].

“This is a tough league. I think he’s developing into a top-notch Division I goaltender. He’s very capable of playing at this level, [but] it hasn’t worked exactly the way he’s wanted or we’ve wanted as far as back-to-back wins and winning games for us.”

The team added Daniel Tirone to the equation at the start of the semester and put him in a rotation with Clark with initially positive results. Tirone won his first three starts, allowing a total of five goals against Omaha, Providence and UMass. But he did allow five at Maine last Friday, so that situation is still evolving.

As noted before, however, this season’s 8-14-2 mark (3-8-1 in Hockey East) isn’t just on the goaltenders. The Wildcats haven’t defended or scored to the level we’ve come to expect from UNH teams.

“It hasn’t been from lack of competing,” Umile says. “Whether it’s been an inability to score when we have opportunities or giving up bad goals at the wrong time, it’s just happened. Especially during the first half of the season. But the work ethic and leadership that we’ve had on the team has been solid. We’ve just had a difficult time putting wins together.”

Injuries to expected defensive leader Brett Pesce also have hurt. Of late, UNH has been playing four freshman defensemen. Combining four freshman defensemen with a freshman goaltender is rarely a winning equation.

“We haven’t given up and moved on to next season yet, but they’re learning what it’s like to play at this level and getting great experience,” Umile says. “Hopefully, we [put things together] next game. You get a couple wins and you hope to build on that. There’s still a lot of games left.”

A great Beanpot on the horizon

This year’s Beanpot promises some outstanding contests. The early game Monday pits second-ranked BU against fourth-ranked Harvard. And the late game features 14th-ranked BC against a Northeastern team that has lost only once in its last 10 games.

Some quick notes

• Providence is 7-4-1 on the road. Leaman explains it: “I think we’re a better team. That’s the key word. We play as a team. We do a good job of being focused and knowing how hard it is on the road, which is really tough in this league.”

• The Lowell penalty kill has fallen apart of late. On Friday, it gave up goals on all three Providence chances. That gave the PK an unenviable mark of seven power-play goals allowed in the last 12 opportunities. It then gave up another two on Saturday in nine Friars chances.

Nerves or no nerves, Stevenson’s Blackburn finding the back of the net

chelsea blackburn2 Nerves or no nerves, Stevensons Blackburn finding the back of the net

Stevenson freshman Chelsea Blackburn has scored 15 goals in her first 20 games for the Mustangs (photo: Stevenson Athletics).

Chelsea Blackburn said she was nervous coming to Stevenson as a freshman this year.

If scoring 15 goals in her first 20 games is the way Blackburn deals with nerves, one has to wonder how she’d perform calm and relaxed.

Blackburn currently leads the Mustangs in scoring with her 15 goals among 18 points and is sixth in the country with her goal totals.

“I just wanted to make a name for myself and I think I have,” said the native of Westland, Mich. “Each day I live by the [Pat Riley] quote, ‘Each warrior wants to leave the mark of his will, his signature, on important acts he touches. This is not the voice of ego, but of the human spirit, rising up and declaring that it has something to contribute to the solution of the hardest problems, no matter how vexing.’ I think I’ve brought someone who is willing to work for what she wants and strives to be the best that she can. I’m constantly looking to learn new things and improve on anything I can. I love being a part of a team and working for one goal, and that’s to win.”

Idle this weekend after sweeping Sacred Heart last weekend and now having won five of their last six games, Stevenson, playing as an independent this season, is 14-6-0.

For the 2015-16 season, Stevenson will be part of the new ECAC North Atlantic conference.

“I think it will bring more competition,” Blackburn said of next season. “We have a huge reason as to why we want to win. We are fighting for a title, which is what we all want to accomplish as hockey players, not only competition with other teams, but within our own team to fight for our right to play.”

As a Detroit-area native that excelled with the Team Detroit program, Blackburn knew she’d have a chance to play college hockey, but needed to find the right fit.

She found it at Stevenson.

“When I decided to go to Stevenson, I chose it through the hockey perspective based off the fact that they were a young team trying to make a name for themselves,” said Blackburn. “Also, I really loved the fact that the girls and coaches were both so welcoming toward me. For academics, I chose Stevenson because I am going into nursing and they have an amazing nursing program here.”

Still, Blackburn still has to pinch herself now and again as at times it’s hard to fathom that she is excelling in the college game.

“I started playing hockey when I was five because of my older brother,” remembered Blackburn. “He played it and I was always there watching him and I instantly fell in love with the game. I never wanted to actually say I was good enough to play college hockey until I started getting noticed when I was on a 16-and-under team. Then I realized it was something I wanted to reach and achieve.”

Not only this season, but for as far back as she can remember, creating offense has been a major cog in Blackburn’s overall makeup on the ice.

“Offense has been a huge part of my game, and I think just working hard at practice and pushing to improve has gotten me where I am right now with hockey,” she said.

That said, she’ll gladly trade individual success to help the team continue to move forward.

“I love how close we all are,” said Blackburn. “No one is left out and we all stand up for each other with everything we do on and off the ice. We’re a huge family who sticks by each other’s sides through thick and thin.

“On a personal level, I want to continue making a difference on the ice and as for a team level, I want to continue our winning streak and fighting for the wins we deserve. I think we are the underdogs of D-III because of being a newer team, but we owe it to everyone out there to show them what a difference we can make.”

NOTEWORTHY
Just two players in all of women’s D-III have 20 goals or more – Buffalo State’s Kara Goodwin (20) and Elmira’s Ashton Hogan (23). … Hogan’s Elmira teammate, Ashley Ryan, continues to dominate the score sheet with 10 goals and 42 points through 17 games – a 2.47 points per game average. … The USCHO.com Division III Women’s Poll for Jan. 26 was the same as it was for Jan. 19, save for Wisconsin-Superior entering into a tie with No. 10 Bowdoin. … Plattsburgh netminder Camille Leonard has put up some gaudy numbers this season: 9-0-0, 0.55 GAA, .967 save percentage and five shutouts; the latter three are all tops in the country.

Clarkson looks to extend championship run

AmbroseVER12lm 1 Clarkson looks to extend championship run

Erin Ambrose quarterbacks the Clarkson power play. (Clarkson Athletics)

Every year in college athletics, a team starts climbing from the bottom of the hill. All the while, the clock is ticking, both on that season for the team to improve, and for the individuals whose eligibility lasts only so long. Eventually, the time runs, some athletes move on to the next stage of their lives, the team welcomes new members, and the climb starts anew from the bottom of the hill.

For one lucky team each year, the climb ends at the very top of the hill. In 2014, Clarkson was that team, as it won its first NCAA Championship.

Even for that squad, the next climb still starts at the very bottom. The defending champ just includes players who know what is required to scale to the summit.

Unfortunately, because seniors are often the backbone of a successful ascent, defending champs are usually trying to reinvent themselves while they make a title defense.

“We have some really quality players here that got a lot of experience last year, but we also have a young team as well,” Clarkson coach Matt Desrosiers said. “We have a lot of freshmen in the lineup that have to play some valuable minutes for us. They’ve done a great job for us this year, but it’s a little different dynamic obviously than what we had last year. We had an older squad last year. It’s obviously a little different losing six seniors and the accolades that they had. They had about 570 points and a starting goaltender, and we end up losing two coaches late in the process, too. I’m actually really happy with where we’re at right now this year.”

The Golden Knights’ record stands at 15-7-3, two more losses than they suffered along the way last year. They were also the champions of the ECAC regular season, and have posted a 9-2-2 mark in defense of that crown.

That would have been impossible had the new Knights not come up to speed quickly.

“We’ve had to have them play some valuable minutes right off the bat,” Desrosiers said. “The first semester, it was good experience for them to have. Obviously, Shea [Tiley] getting in the nets and just feeling comfortable and knowing that she can play at this level and succeed at this level.”

Goaltender Erica Howe was one of the graduates; she posted 90 wins in her career for Clarkson. Tiley came on in relief opening night and has started every game since then, posting an excellent .932 save percentage with a goals-against average of 1.50.

“She’s been doing a great job,” said junior defenseman Erin Ambrose, a first-team All-American as a sophomore. “She’s stood on her head when we’ve needed her to. She’s held us in games when we’ve needed her to. She’s won us games. You really couldn’t ask anything more out of Shea. She gives us a chance to win every single night, that’s for sure.”

The blue line has also been reinforced by a freshman. Savannah Harmon has matched the offensive production of Ambrose with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points.

“She was a kid that we knew was going to be that kind of puck-handling defenseman that we wanted,” Desrosiers said. “It was just us making sure that she understood that she could play that style.”

It’s up front where Clarkson looks far different than it did a year ago. It’s inevitable that there would be a period of adjustment after losing the Patty Kazmaier Award winner and a couple other forwards who’d topped 100 points in their careers.

Junior Shannon MacAulay is one who has taken advantage of increased opportunity.

“Learning off of great players — we had people like Jamie Lee Rattray, Carly Mercer, all the seniors last year were great role models for me,” MacAulay said. “I came in as a freshman, and I was in a good spot with them as my leaders, and I think that they helped me get better every day.”

MacAulay is skating on the top line with a pair of sophomores, center Geneviève Bannon and Cayley Mercer, with whom she shares the team lead with 29 points.

“I think toward the end of last year [MacAulay] really started to figure out what style of game she should be playing,” Desrosiers said. “Obviously, she’s a big kid out there. She has really good hands. She’s able to protect the puck really well. She started using that a little bit more toward the end of the year. That’s something we talked to her about and tried to focus on with her in practices and in games. It started coming along toward the end of the year. Obviously, come playoff time, she was a key factor in us winning the national championship.”

MacAulay even scored the winning goal in the NCAA final on an unassisted breakaway.

“It definitely helped my confidence out,” she said. “It’s not every day you get that opportunity that you get a breakaway, let alone in a national championship game.”

It may not be typical of how she normally gets the puck in the net.

“We play a gritty game,” MacAulay said. “We crash nets hard and we battle down low. That’s a strength of ours. If we can get our feet moving, we can buzz pretty good when we catch teams off guard with our size and our strength.”

No. 8 Clarkson visited No. 3 Wisconsin for the first time over the weekend, and Badgers coach Mark Johnson was impressed, particularly by the top line.

“When they got the puck below our goal line, we had trouble containing them,” Johnson said. “Big, strong, they protect the puck well.”

MacAulay scored the first goal of the weekend against Wisconsin. Clarkson was unable to find the net again, and it had to settle for a 1-1 tie and a 4-0 loss on its trip west. The offensive punch will increase as four freshmen forwards gain experience.

“The young forwards are coming along great,” MacAulay said. “We couldn’t have asked for better freshmen. They’re all living together and learning. It’s just little details that when you come in as a freshman that I’m sure every freshman goes through. It’s just a completely different step coming from midget hockey to college, and there’s just lots of things to be developed.”

The Wisconsin series was part of that seasoning.

“I think coming out and playing a team like Wisconsin really gives them a little bit of an eye-opener of exactly what it takes to get to that level,” Desrosiers said. “Wisconsin is a perennial team that’s in the NCAA tournament. It’s good experience for them to come out on these types of trips and play these types of teams.”

Admittedly, it would be nice to pick a couple of wins as well and strengthen one’s case in the PairWise Rankings, where Clarkson is also in eighth place.

“We’re all starting to fill our roles and really starting to get comfortable,” Ambrose said. “I really thought we were starting to find our groove. Unfortunately, didn’t get a win this weekend, but definitely think there’s a lot of things we can take from this weekend.”

The Golden Knights don’t look to be that far away.

“They’re disciplined, especially in their own end,” Johnson said. “When they had some breakdowns, their goalie has good size and covers a lot of the net. Some young players, but similar to what they had last year. When those players progress and they get into year two and three and four, they’ll be a team that we’ll be talking about.”

The power play is one area that is actually better than last year. Clarkson is clicking 20.2 percent of the time compared to 18.8 percent last season.

Throughout her career, Ambrose has quarterbacked the power play from the point.

“Obviously, special teams are a really important part of any successful team,” she said. “Sometimes it’s going, and sometimes it’s not. We’re all working as a five-man unit, and hopefully, going to just keep working to make that stronger as the year goes on.”

Ambrose, MacAulay, and their classmates, defenseman Renata Fast and forward Olivia Howe, form much of the veteran core of this year’s team.

“Our junior class has done a great job throughout their career,” Desrosiers said. “They bring a lot both on and off the ice. They’ve had a lot of experiences with their national programs, and I think that’s helped give them a lot of confidence in the last three years. They’re definitely a group that we look to to kind of carry us on throughout the entire year.”

Clarkson holds third place in the ECAC, four points down from Quinnipiac, but with a game in hand and a head-to-head meeting remaining, the Golden Knights still control their destiny. They can’t afford to worry about the Bobcats just yet.

“I think it speaks to the quality of teams that we have within our league,” Desrosiers said. “It’s not just a one-or-two-team league. It’s anywhere from one to six, we definitely give each other a good battle, but even some of the teams that are maybe a little bit lower in the standings, they’re coming along. They put up a pretty good fight. I think that was the key to us winning the national championship last year, is that we had pretty good battles within our league. It kind of prepared us for that playoff run.”

As defending ECAC and NCAA champions, Clarkson can be assured that they’ll get the best effort from every opponent. According to Ambrose, that’s not really new.

“You always have the bullseye on your back,” she said. “Ever since my freshman year, we’ve always been a ranked team. That’s not going to change any time soon.”

The season will likely come down to the final couple of weekends. Clarkson hosts Quinnipiac on Valentine’s Day, and the travels to Harvard a week later.

“You got the Harvards and Cornells and Quinnipiacs that are all doing well, but then you’ve got a lot of tough teams,” Ambrose said. “Princeton always plays us tough. Yale, Brown, it goes all the way down, all 12 teams. We’ve got a big weekend next weekend with Yale and Brown coming to Cheel [Arena], and I think we’re ready to get that going next weekend.”

Just as important as picking up league points is honing the team in preparation for the postseason, and hopefully, another title run.

“I just think we need to keep working hard day in and day out,” MacAulay said. “It’s going to be a battle for us. Moving forward this part of the season, it gets tougher and tougher every day, and I think we just need to stick to our game and our systems. Play simple Clarkson hockey, and that’s just hard work.”

Callahan proving his worth as a leader for young Wisconsin-Eau Claire squad

jack callahan2 Callahan proving his worth as a leader for young Wisconsin Eau Claire squad

Wisconsin-Eau Claire senior captain Jack Callahan is hoping to lead the Blugolds into the NCAA tournament this spring (photo: Rick Mickelson).

Jack Callahan didn’t know a lot about Wisconsin-Eau Claire hockey before he arrived on campus a few years ago.

But he had some friends that played for the Blugolds and when he was looking to transfer from Quinnipiac after his freshman season, he decided to take his talents to Wisconsin.

“I had some buddies from junior hockey that played there and they talked about how much they loved it,” Callahan said. “I went out on a limb and decided to go there. The great thing was that I fit in nicely.”

It turned out to be a right place, right time kind of deal. In his first season with the Blugolds, he was part of a national championship team. Callahan, a defenseman, scored two goals and dished out 18 assists en route to earning first team All-American honors.

“It was incredible,” Callahan said. “I had to prove myself because I was on a team that had a lot juniors and seniors. Those guys had been together for awhile, but I wanted to win just as badly as they did and it was great how they accepted me as part of the team.”

Callahan is now a senior captain for a Blugolds team with 11 freshmen on the roster. He has racked up three goals and 15 assists in 17 games, helping 12th-ranked Eau Claire fashion an 11-4-2 overall record. The Blugolds are 3-1 in the WIAC.

“Things are going great for me. I’m trying to make the most of my senior season,” Callahan said. “We have a young team and I’m just trying to lead by example.”

Callahan said he has enjoyed watching the team grow up over the course of the season, and after an early-season stretch where the Blugolds lost three of five, he likes the direction Eau Claire, winners of four of five, is headed in.

“We had some growing pains earlier in the year, but things are starting to click,” Callahan said. “It’s been neat watching us come together as a team. I feel like we are hitting our stride.”

Several players have stepped up for Eau Claire, which has its eyes on a WIAC championship.

Ethan Nauman has tallied 14 goals and eight assists while Brandon Wahlin has come through with seven goals and 13 assists. Patrick Moore has rung up five goals and 14 assists and Ross Andersen has tallied 11 goals and eight assists.

Jay Deo and Tyler Green have split time in goal, with Deo going 5-2-1. Green is 6-2-1 on the year.

Callahan has been instrumental to the success as well, and there is no denying his love for hockey. While he in high school, he was required to play two sports. He originally wanted to play baseball, but because of his hockey schedule, it didn’t work out.

“The baseball coach wouldn’t let me play unless I stopped playing hockey [and] I wasn’t going to give up hockey,” Callahan said. “I went with lacrosse as my other sport. It was a lot of fun playing it. It’s a lot like hockey on grass.”

Callahan said he and his teammates are tight and are determined to stay focused. Focus is important, especially in the WIAC where no automatic bid to the NCAA tournament is up for grabs. And with three nationally-ranked teams in the league, there is no room for a let-up on effort.

A year ago, Eau Claire won the conference tourney, but was left out of the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin-Stevens Point, which was beaten by Eau Claire in the WIAC semifinal round, earned a bid to the tourney and went on to finish as the national runner-up.

“Every game is like a playoff game,” Callahan said. “You can’t take a night off and expect to be successful. You have to come ready to play all of the time. We are enjoying the season and we are determined to accomplish all of our goals.”

Still on top

Concordia (Minn.) had to settle for a split with Augsburg over the weekend, but it didn’t hurt the Cobbers’ cause as far as the standings go. The Cobbers, with 18 points, are tied with St. Thomas for first place in the MIAC.

The Cobbers, 10-6-3 overall and 5-3-2 in the conference, have won at least 10 games in each of the last five seasons. Their success has been fueled, in part, by the impressive play of Andrew Deters and Jordie Bancroft.

They rank first and second in points on the season, with Deters scoring nine goals and dishing out 12 assists. Bancroft has come through with 13 goals and seven assists. Bancroft has been particularly key to the Cobbers’ power-play attack, having tallied six goals.

Concordia has scored 58 goals in all, including nine off the power-play, and is averaging 30.5 shots per game. The Cobbers have won four of their last five and have lost only twice since the beginning of 2015. They are just two wins shy of equaling their victory total from a season ago. Not bad for a team that lost its final two games of last season, including a 5-3 loss to St. Olaf in the quarterfinal round of the MIAC tourney.

In the hunt

Adrian is in great shape heading into the last week of the January.

The Bulldogs are tied with St. Norbert in the NCHA standings, sitting at 10-1-1 in league play. They are 13-3-3 overall after splitting a weekend series with Finlandia.

Offense has not been in short supply for the Bulldogs, who have punched in 84 goals, including 10 by Mathew Thompson. The freshman forward has also dished out 10 assists and has tallied at least one point in all but three of the 16 games he has played in this season.

Josh Ranalli has been a big part of the Bulldogs’ success as well, leading the team in points with 22. He has come through with 12 goals and 10 assists, one of four players who has racked up 18 or more points.

Adrian plays four of its next six on the road, where the Bulldogs have won seven times this year. Their final two home games of the regular season are this weekend as they host St. Norbert in a showdown for first place. The Bulldogs and Green Knights split their season series last year before Adrian lost in the NCAA tournament to St. Norbert.

Close calls

Wisconsin-Superior is stuck in a five-game losing streak and has struggled most of the season. The Yellowjackets are 7-12 overall and are winless in six WIAC games.

Despite the struggles, Superior has proven it can be a competitive team. Five of its losses have been by a goal, including four to teams that are currently ranked nationally, have been nationally-ranked at one point, or are receiving votes in the current poll.

The Yellowjackets played Stevens Point this past weekend and led the Pointers 1-0 at the end the first period in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Pointers. They were tied at 3-3 with the Pointers in Saturday’s 9-4 loss.

Tanner Dion is Superior’s top scorer. He has tallied nine goals and six assists to fuel an offense that scored 52 goals in all. Four other players have scored at least five goals, including Ian Ecklund, who has come through with six assists as well and ranks second on the team in points.

Five of the Yellowjackets’ final six games are against ranked opponents. Superior plays two against Wisconsin-River Falls this weekend and two against Eau Claire next weekend. The Yellowjackets close the regular season against Stevens Point.

In the poll

St. Norbert dropped out of the No. 1 spot this week and enters this week ranked No. 2 in the country. The Green Knights are one of seven teams from the west region ranked in the national poll. Stevens Point is No. 5 and River Falls checks in at No. 7. Adrian is 10th this week while Eau Claire is 12th. St. Thomas and Lake Forest are 14th and 15th, respectively.

With nonconference play nearly complete, WCHA race heats up

2015012421 15 529784 With nonconference play nearly complete, WCHA race heats up

Bemidji State beat Minnesota State for the North Star College Cup last Saturday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

There were plenty of smiles in the press box of St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center last Saturday night, at least among folks associated with the WCHA.

Their league was in the spotlight with a tournament championship and a prime-time game between a pair of league rivals who, the previous day, knocked out two former league foes.

“We’re proud that both teams are here; I think we both earned it,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said Saturday after the North Star College Cup title game. “It’s not just this tournament; nationally, our league’s done a good job at competing outside of conference.”

Indeed, with just two nonconference games remaining in the regular season (Northern Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth on Feb. 6-7), the WCHA has a .523 winning percentage (30-27-9) against nonleague opponents. Compare that to .381 a season ago.

Three WCHA teams are in the top 10 of the PairWise Rankings, including No. 1 Minnesota State. Those same three teams, which include Bowling Green and Michigan Tech, also are in the top 10 of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.

And before the bottom half of the league gets overlooked, remember that Bemidji State won the North Star Cup, beating Minnesota State 3-1, and Lake Superior State won a tournament, too, taking the Florida College Classic in late December.

“Hey, we have a heck of a league,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “That team we played [Minnesota State], that’s the best team in the country. That’s not just rankings; that team is really good.”

Perhaps more than shining a little light on the WCHA’s success, Saturday’s game between the Beavers and the Mavericks showed that the league might be in for a wild ride over the final six weeks of the regular season.

There’s at least a two-team race for the MacNaughton Cup. There’s a four- to six-way race for a top-four spot and home ice for the first round of the league tournament. And there are three or four teams sitting uncomfortably close to the conference’s last-place spot, which comes with the reward of a premature end to the season.

“The margin for error and the parity in college hockey showed this weekend,” Hastings said on Saturday. “The difference between winning and losing is minute.”

Here’s a glance at the standings going into this weekend’s series:

• Minnesota State has a four-point lead atop the league standings, with Michigan Tech in second place.

• Bowling Green, which has two games in hand, is in third place but missed a chance to tighten the gap more with a home split against Lake Superior State last weekend.

The Falcons travel to red-hot Bemidji State this weekend.

• Bemidji State also is trying to close in on a home-ice position for the playoffs. Ferris State, which travels to Minnesota State, and Northern Michigan, which hosts Alaska-Anchorage, are tied for fourth. The Beavers sit three points behind (Alaska sits in between, but, you’ll recall, the Nanooks are ineligible for postseason play), and they and the Bulldogs have played 16 league games to the Wildcats’ 18.

• The Beavers, who have lost just twice in their last 11 games, also are trying to create some separation from the bottom of the standings. While they have two games in hand on Alabama-Huntsville (at Michigan Tech) and four on Lake Superior State (idle), they hold a slim one-point lead on those teams.

• Alaska-Anchorage, which, like Bemidji State, has played just 16 games thus far, is three points behind the Beavers in that unenviable, out-of-the-playoffs position of 10th place.

“It doesn’t matter what league we’re in. It matters how hard we play and how hard we compete,” Serratore said.

wjec nmu w kyle With nonconference play nearly complete, WCHA race heats up

Walt Kyle missed Northern Michigan’s games at Penn State last weekend (photo: Melissa Wade).

NMU’s Kyle returns from administrative leave

After a weeklong administrative leave that forced him to miss Northern Michigan’s nonconference series at Penn State, Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle returned to the team on Monday afternoon.

Kyle, along with associate athletic director Bridget Berube Carter, were placed on leave last week. A source told Upper Peninsula television station UpperMichiganSource that there was “concern over the compliance aspects of Carter’s position in reference to the hockey program.”

University spokesperson Derek Hall told the Daily Mining Journal newspaper that no university bylaws or university policies were violated and both were back to work as normal.

Kyle is expected to be back behind the bench this weekend when the Wildcats host Alaska-Anchorage in Marquette.

The Wildcats need some consistency after winning just once in the last 12 games. They started out 7-1-1 but are now 9-9-6.

Last week against Penn State, with assistant coach John Kyle leading the team, the Wildcats lost a pair of 4-1 leads. They ended up losing 5-4 Friday and tying 5-5 Saturday. They were outshot 117-59 on the weekend.

Northern Michigan’s Mathias Dahlstrom has seen his GAA soar all the way to 2.19; it was 0.74 at one point. Which is to say, he’s still good, but can’t do it by himself.

Despite the January swoon, the Wildcats still find themselves tied with Ferris State for the fourth and final home-ice slot.

But that won’t last long if they can’t find a way to get back on track like they were earlier this season.

Ice chips

• Although the games didn’t count, Alabama-Huntsville played two spirited games last weekend against the U.S. Under-18 National Team. Team USA won both games, but Friday’s went to overtime before Team USA won 2-1 and on Saturday UAH gave up two goals in the last minute and lost 4-2. The Chargers will be back in action this weekend against Michigan Tech — a team they’ve never defeated in four tries.

• Alaska is off this weekend, getting a chance to stop some bleeding. The Nanooks have lost four straight and are winless in their last six games despite having leads in four of them. Three of those games (two losses, one tie) went to overtime.

• After an idle weekend, Alaska-Anchorage embarks on a long road trip for back-to-back series at Northern Michigan and Minnesota State. The Seawolves won their first road games in league play two weeks ago at Alaska. They have yet to win a road game outside the state of Alaska.

• Bemidji State has always been known for its strong defensive corps, but last weekend two defensemen contributed greatly to the offense in the Beavers’ North Star College Cup victory. Senior captain Matt Prapavessis netted his sixth goal of the season Friday night, setting a single-season high. Following his three-point (1-2–3) weekend, Prapavessis leads the Beavers in scoring with 17 points and 11 assists. Sam Windle also contributed to the offense. Windle, one of the best pure defenders on the Beavers, is 10th in the country with 51 blocked shots. But on Friday he scored his first goal of the season and just the third of his career. Windle always gives Bemidji State a boost — the Beavers are 3-0 all time when he lights the lamp.

• There’s no rest for No. 6 Bowling Green, which has no bye weekends over the second half of the season. The Falcons are in the midst of a 20-games-in-10-weeks stretch and are 4-2-2 so far, including last weekend’s home split with Lake Superior State. They’ve scored 2.8 goals per game over that span; for the season, they’ve averaged 3.17.

• Come mid-February, Ferris State might be tired of Mavericks and Falcons. Although the Bulldogs were idle last weekend, they are playing Minnesota State in back-to-back series, followed by Bowling Green in back-to-back series. That’s eight games over five weeks against two opponents.

• As poorly as Lake Superior State played to start the season, lately the Lakers have been given a big boost by the play of Gordon Defiel. He’s tied for second in the nation for most games started in net (25), has the nation’s most saves (826) and has faced the most shots (906) by any goaltender this season. In the eight games since the start of the Florida Classic, Defiel has posted a .949 save percentage with a 1.86 GAA.

• No. 8 Michigan Tech improved its win total to 18 with its sweep of Alaska last weekend. It’s a mark the Huskies haven’t hit since the 2006-07 season when they finished with that number. Tech is in the middle of a nine-game home stand, going 3-2 so far, with Alabama-Huntsville coming to town.

• Junior defenseman Jon Jutzi has made a big impact on No. 3 Minnesota State since returning to the team after taking the first semester off for personal reasons. In six games, he has two power-play goals and five points and is plus-3. The Mavericks are 5-1 in those games.

• The WCHA players of the week were Michigan Tech senior forward Blake Pietila (offensive), and Bemidji State freshman goalie Michael Bitzer (defensive) and freshman forward Gerry Fitzgerald (rookie).

As regular season’s final month begins, Harvard finds itself missing injured difference-makers

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Alex Kerfoot has missed Harvard’s last eight games with an injury (photo: Melissa Wade).

Today is Wednesday, Jan. 28. Exactly one month from tonight — on Saturday, the final day of February — ECAC Hockey will conclude its regular season schedule.

My my, how time does fly.

This leaves most teams with 10 remaining league games (Harvard, Rensselaer and the North Country duo have only nine) and everything still at stake. Today we hear from coaches of two of the league’s top four teams about ongoing challenges and the five weeks remaining.

Harvard hobbled, but hardened

The Harvard Crimson have been toying with fans and pundits for a while now: They started the season 10-1-2 and at the top of many pollsters’ ballots, but are just 2-3 in 2015 and fueling annual doubts about their competitiveness leading up to the Beanpot.

Coach Ted Donato acknowledges the importance of Boston’s annual college hockey event but cites a reason for his team’s struggles that is far older than the February fete: injuries.

“We haven’t had [centers Alex] Kerfoot and [Sean] Malone in at the same time, and they’re two difference-makers,” he said. “We’re hoping to get them both back, but we haven’t played a game this year with them both in [the lineup]. The [Jan. 10] Yale game was the first time we didn’t have either one of them; that was different. Without both of them, and [senior defenseman Pat] McNally being out for a few weeks, and having [sophomore forward Luke] Esposito go out this weekend, we’ve certainly had our challenges with health.”

Harvard earned a road split last weekend, falling in the final minute at Cornell before rallying for a blowout victory at Colgate.

“Against Colgate [last Saturday], we basically had eight players out of the lineup,” Donato said. “We played without Kerfoot, without Malone, without [junior forward Colin] Blackwell, without McNally, without [junior forward Brayden] Jaw, without [sophomore defenseman Kevin] Guiltinan, without [senior forward Ryan] McGregor, without Esposito.

“When you’re out one or two guys, you can sit there and say, ‘Hey, everybody’s got injuries.’ But when you’re without that many guys, it’s not an excuse, it’s a hurdle just to go out and play the best hockey you can.

“This weekend, without all those difference-makers, we came out and had two really strong efforts. We lose with 40 seconds to go against Cornell in a game where we carried the play in the third period on the road with a pretty short bench. Saturday, we came out with a very gutsy effort against a good Colgate team on the road. The resilience of the group has been great, and I’m not sure we’ve come anywhere close to where we could be or where we hope to be if we can get a lot more healthy bodies in the mix. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that will ever happen, so we’ll see how it plays out.”

Donato said that he is obviously hoping Kerfoot and Malone can return “very soon,” but as of yet there is no set date. He would be “very comfortable” reuniting Kerfoot with top-line wingers Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo, a combination that wreaked havoc on opponents for much of the fall. He also added that at this moment, no one has been definitively lost for the year.

Harvard faces Union in Boston on Friday night before relocating to the TD Garden for Monday’s Beanpot matinee against Boston University. Despite the Crimson’s recent woes, many are still expecting this year’s tournament to be among the most competitive and evenly matched in over a decade.

For his part, Donato is simply happy to be working with a team that takes no shortcuts and seeks no excuses.

“I would say, minus the game at Madison Square Garden, I’ve been happy with the effort pretty much every night,” he said, referencing a 4-1 loss to Yale on Jan. 10. “Consistently working hard, getting off to good starts in games, and they’ve really rallied around their work ethic and perseverance and resilience. It’s been a very fun group to work with.”

20111112 IMG7667 As regular seasons final month begins, Harvard finds itself missing injured difference makers

Joe Zarbo leads Clarkson with seven goals (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Golden Knights shining down the stretch

Winning three games in a row is kind of like finding a five-dollar bill on the ground: Neither will generate much buzz, but wouldn’t you rather win those three — or have that fin — than not?

Clarkson is especially happy to be those three wins richer. The Golden Knights’ 5-2 win over Dartmouth, 6-0 win over Brown and 1-0 nail-biter over Yale secured the program three consecutive W’s — and its most goals (12) over a three-game stretch — for the first time since November 2013.

“Our vision is to be competitive and really difficult to play against, and to play a fast, up-tempo style of hockey, and I think it’s been a good stretch. We played some good hockey over the weekend, and we were fortunate to find the two W’s,” coach Casey Jones said.

“Some young guys have stepped up since we’ve come back from Christmas. We have a lot of freshmen playing in some key spots: We’re really young down the middle, with three freshmen playing center, which sometimes takes some time to get used to. Usually with younger kids, consistency is the biggest issue: Consistency with production, consistency with execution, stuff like that, and they are becoming more and more consistent on a nightly basis. That’s where the change is, in that we’re generating a few more quality chances.”

Oddly enough, Clarkson’s top scorer is sophomore defenseman (and Detroit Red Wings draft pick) James de Haas. His six goals place him just one off the team lead (held by senior forward Joe Zarbo), and his 14 overall points pace the pack.

“It’s not surprising” that de Haas is the top scorer, according to Jones, given his great offensive ability. Furthermore, Jones said he knew going into the season that the defense would have to contribute offensively in order for the Knights to be successful.

Beyond an unproven (albeit improving) offense, Clarkson’s greatest area of concern appeared to be in net, where sophomore Steve Perry’s five-game absence left some big skates to fill. Before his lower-body injury against Colgate on Jan. 9, Perry boasted a .960 save percentage in league play.

Up stepped junior Greg Lewis. Seizing the spotlight, Lewis pitched consecutive shutouts last weekend and stopped 86 of 88 shots in his last three games.

“When you face adversity, it can go one of two ways: You can come out the other end stronger and better for it, or it can really affect you,” said Jones. “And I think for Greg he’s fought through some adversity in the first half with a lack of playing time, but he’s competed at a high level and now an opportunity has presented itself and kudos to him for being ready and competing hard … so that he could take advantage of it.”

Lewis, Jones, de Haas and the rest of the Knights are ready for this weekend’s one-game rubber match against neighboring rival St. Lawrence. The teams have split three contests so far this season (1-1-1), but Clarkson took the only league points on the table with a 2-1 win on Dec. 6.

The Knights are 4-2 in ECAC play at Cheel Arena this season and dream about drawing even with the Saints in the standings. Saturday’s game marks the midpoint of Clarkson’s season-long five-game home stand; it also represents a whole lot more in terms of the Route 11 Rivalry, and a major opportunity to further strengthen a top-four spot in the league.

“If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to win home games; that’s the bottom line,” Jones said. “We want Cheel to be a difficult place to play, with our fans coming in, and we want to be able to jump on teams. It’s difficult to get here. We want to be able to take advantage of those things. We’ve looked at these five games as a very important home stand for us.”

Michigan pouring in goals and drawing favorable comparisons

141213 20310400 Michigan pouring in goals and drawing favorable comparisons

Michigan’s Zach Hyman has nine goals in the last seven games, all Wolverines wins (photo: Melissa Wade).

Does Michigan really need more confidence? And what does a confident Wolverines team mean for the rest of the Big Ten?

Bad things, man. Bad things.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but right now in recent weeks, we’re starting to look like the team we had in ’97, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after the Wolverines swept Wisconsin on the road last weekend. “But right now it’s good. It’s good to see our guys getting some confidence.”

Getting some confidence. As though that implies a process.

Disclaimer: I’m not at all suggesting that the Wolverines are a cocky bunch. On the contrary, one of the most entertaining things about this Michigan squad is how down to earth the players seem.

Michigan is the hottest team in the country right now, riding a seven-game winning streak during which the Wolverines have scored 38 goals. That’s an average of 5.43 goals per game — and that includes the first two wins in that span, games in which Michigan netted a total of four goals.

In their last five games, the Wolverines have averaged 6.8 goals per game. These insane numbers have inflated Michigan’s overall scoring offense to an average of 4.36 goals per game, a nation-leading stat that’s 0.87 goals per game ahead of second-place Robert Morris.

Everyone who skates for Michigan can score. Well, maybe everyone is a bit of an exaggeration. Freshman forward Alex Talcott doesn’t have a point yet, but he’s played in only five games. In fact, every single player except for Talcott who has played for the Wolverines this season outside of the pipes has registered at least one point — and even sophomore goaltender Zach Nagelvoort has two assists.

This powerful offense is led by senior Zach Hyman, who has 16 goals and 19 assists and is third nationally in points per game. If you’re wondering why you’ve never really paid attention to Hyman before this season, it’s because his 16 goals in 22 games this season are three more goals than he scored in 114 previous games in his first three seasons with the Wolverines.

In Michigan’s road sweep of Wisconsin last weekend, Hyman had three goals and three assists and his line — which includes freshman Dylan Larkin (9-20–29) and junior Justin Selman (5-6–11) — accounted for seven of Michigan’s 13 goals.

Selman, who joined the line just the week before, netted his first collegiate hat trick in Friday’s 7-4 win. And Selman’s five goals in 11 games this season equals the total he scored in his first two years with Michigan in 49 total games.

“Selman just went on the line this past week so it’s interesting that he’s fit in so well,” said Berenson. “Dylan came back from the World Juniors with a ton of confidence. He played well in the first half but he’s taken another step from there. Zach Hyman is just every weekend, he’s a dominant player, so we’ve got a little bit of everything on that line.”

If those three are a little down, there’s junior Andrew Copp, whose 12 goals in 22 games this season are just three shy of his career-high 15 from a year ago, scored in 33 games. Sophomore Alex Kile has 11 goals in 21 games after scoring four in 28 last year. His classmate Tyler Motte (7-16–23) is two short of the number he netted last season in nearly twice as many games.

There are so many Michigan players with more goals than they had a season ago that it’s too much trouble to list them. Let’s just say that this is a team that can seemingly score at will — for now.

“It’s crazy when you’re scoring so much as we’re scoring right now and it’s finally nice to see that we put up a zero in the goals-against category,” Hyman said after the Wolverines shut out the Badgers 6-0 Saturday.

It’s that goals-against that’s been the sore spot. While the Wolverines scored 10 goals against Ohio State on Jan. 16, they allowed six. Their seven goals against Minnesota on Jan. 10 came with five goals against — a win, yes, but with a lot of numbers on the other side.

While the Wolverines are averaging more than five goals per game during this seven-game win streak, they allowed nearly three per game — and that includes the two games in the GLI in which they gave up just a goal a game and Saturday’s shutout, the third of the season for sophomore goaltender Nagelvoort.

“It’s great for us,” said Hyman. “We haven’t had that all year and just to get Zach some confidence in net is huge. We’re so confident in this team right now. We’re excited because we’re on a roll right now.”

Berenson said that his team is “going to the net and … making good plays,” and that’s part of what is fueling this run. He also said that sweeping a Wisconsin team that’s down on its luck this year wasn’t “overachievement for our team,” but he added quickly, “You’re lucky if you can get two wins on the road against any team in the Big Ten, back to back, and that was an important victory tonight.”

Oh, and that reference to the 1997 team? That’s a team I remember well. They went 35-4-4 overall and lost to Boston University 3-2 in the semifinals of that year’s Frozen Four — although it wasn’t called the Frozen Four quite yet — in Milwaukee. Coincidentally, it was also USCHO.com’s first season and my second as a hockey reporter.

That 1997 team was fast and exciting with an enormous amount of offensive skill that also could seemingly score at will. Wolverines forward Brendan Morrison won the 1997 Hobey Baker Award, and in accepting the award, Morrison said, “We had a successful year, and we did all the little things along the way, and sometimes the best team doesn’t win.”

That rankled more than a few people in college hockey because it sounded a bit like sour grapes. I just thought it sounded like a kid whose team had been eliminated from national championship play the day before, a kid who would have traded his individual award for a win 24 hours earlier.

The end of the 1996-97 season is still a sore point for many Michigan fans. That team was just that good.

Is this team that good? I can’t answer that, but I do know that Michigan feels like a team on a mission. Hyman said that every game is motivation because of the nature of the Big Ten schedule.

“You lose one game and you can drop four or five spots,” he said. “It’s just more of a desperation thing. You need to win every game.”

Desperate hockey can be fun hockey, especially with a high-scoring team that nets goals in batches.

20141128 2046 Michigan pouring in goals and drawing favorable comparisons

Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand was the Big Ten’s first star after recording a .982 save percentage in the Spartans’ sweep of Ohio State (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Brooms in East Lansing

The other team to take six points in Big Ten play last weekend was Michigan State. The Spartans earned their first sweep of the season when they beat visiting Ohio State 4-1 and 2-0. In Saturday’s win, Jake Hildebrand earned his second shutout of the season.

The Spartans aren’t as exciting to watch as the Wolverines are, but Michigan State is playing solid hockey.

“Right now our team hasn’t been a team that scores a lot of goals, so our margin for error hasn’t been that wide,” Spartans coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s win. “We have to make sure we’re doing the little things with consistency — offensively and defensively. Everybody’s got to do it. Everybody’s got to block shots. Everybody’s got to backcheck. Everybody’s got to make the right plays at the right time.

“I think we play hard. I think that’s been a fairly common trait for our teams over the last several years. Our execution hasn’t always been to the level we’ve wanted or our production hasn’t been to where we wanted.”

One of the things I like about the Spartans under Anastos is the sense that the program is always moving forward. Always. And Anastos sees the program as a whole for what it is; he’s worked hard himself to rebrand Michigan State hockey and draw fans to Munn Ice Arena — and keep them there.

Munn has always fought the reputation of being library-like, but there is a liveliness in the arena now that seems fresh, with a good and supportive student section and a buzz on Munn’s classic donut-like concourse.

The renovations are nice and fit the building well — even if the massive center scoreboard doesn’t actually keep score, projecting the game rather than any totals — and there’s a sense that things are happening in East Lansing.

Slowly. But happening.

“Any time you can bring a little bit of confidence, our challenge with our group is to grow up a little bit, learn how to win, learn how to deal with winning and expect more of yourself,” said Anastos. “I think that’s part of our group, learning how to grow up and handling a little bit of success to try to be better and accomplish more. It’s a slow step in the process.”

The Spartans and Wolverines meet Friday night in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, a rematch of the 2-1 Michigan title game victory in this season’s Great Lakes Invitational. Anastos knows what he’s up against, but he also knows what he has.

“They have a lot of depth, offensively,” said Anastos. “Right now their team, they’re hitting their stride. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’re a different team than we saw at the GLI championship. We’re going to have to go into that game understanding who we are and how we play and devise a strategy that will give us the best chance to win that game. You can kind of prepare for a one-game shot on a weekend as opposed to a back-to-back series.

“Our guys will be excited about that. We’re always excited about going down to Detroit to play at the Joe and it should be a really good game.”

And at this point, what do you say?

When your team is 2-15-3 and has just been swept in two games by a collective score of 13-4 and you don’t have a single win in conference play, what do you say in your postgame news conference?

One thing might be that you don’t want to answer the same questions you hear repeatedly.

After Wisconsin lost to Michigan Saturday night, coach Mike Eaves fielded a question from longtime Wisconsin State Journal reporter Andy Baggot.

“I asked you a couple of weeks ago if you thought you’d lost this team,” said Baggot. “Is that anywhere near where you are at this point in time?”

Eaves was cool in his demeanor but his words were a bit, well, hot. “Sometimes I wonder at the angle you come in with these questions,” said Eaves, “and I answered that question two weeks ago and the answer’s still the same.”

When asked by another reporter how much progress the team has made so far and “how much more this team has left in them to go,” Eaves responded with, “How do you measure that? In inches?” Then he followed up with, “What are you looking for?”

When the second reporter clarified that he was asking Eaves to describe the Badgers’ progress from the beginning of the season, Eaves said: “I can tell you this: We’ve improved, and there’s lots of improvement to go. But I don’t know how you quantify it. I mean, when you grow a plant in the ground and you plant the seed, you can measure how it’s grown. How do you do that with a group of young people? I can tell you that they’re better and there’s lots of room to grow. How’s that?”

That, in my estimation, is perfect. “How do you do that with a group of young people?” That question alone tells me everything I need to know about this Wisconsin season and even more than I already knew about Eaves, a coach I respect. He’s in a tough spot, and his first thought in nearly every news conference is protecting his players who are, after all, just college students.

With one decision, a sad and unfortunate association

This is what kills me.

Before the number “409″ appeared on the helmets of the Penn State hockey team, that program had managed to remain completely unsullied by the horror of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Because no one involved with the hockey program had been present when Sandusky had used his position at the university to lure in and molest boys — and let’s not be afraid to say exactly what it was — the nascent Nittany Lions hockey program had been spared any mark at all.

Coach Guy Gadowsky had been brought in to build the program the same year that the scandal broke, and the team played its first Division I games the year that Sandusky was convicted. But the two were so completely separate that the hockey team seemed to be the one program in the athletic department untouched by what should be remembered as a very dark incident in American history.

Sadly, the hockey Nittany Lions will now be associated with that scandal because of the decision made to put the number “409″ on hockey players’ helmets for the Jan. 16 game against Michigan State to commemorate the NCAA’s restoration of Joe Paterno football coaching wins that were vacated because of his connection to the Sandusky scandal.

There is outrage, and there should be. Gadowsky has been quoted repeatedly in several news outlets as saying that the number is there to honor the students and supporters of Penn State athletics. I’ve known Gadowsky for 15 years, long enough to know that he is all about fan support of the teams he coaches. His statement rings true to the person he is, even if the sentiment behind them is a little shortsighted.

Then there’s the finger-pointing, the hemming and hawing over who decided to put the number on the helmets. At one point, it was reported in some outlets that the players wanted to do this, but Gadowsky cleared that up by saying that it was a “group decision.”

Then there is athletic director Sandy Barbour, who has now backed away from a tweet in which she said that the 409 stickers were “inappropriate and insensitive.” As of this writing, not one person at Penn State has come out and said, “I made the decision to do put the stickers on the helmets.”

That, too, is sad.

In several stories, Gadowsky said that the stickers were supposed to be a way for people to move forward — people meaning Penn State supporters. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t think that anyone should move forward so quickly from a truly horrific chapter of American history, where a big and powerful athletic program at a big and powerful university covered up seriously heinous crimes to save face.

Until these stickers appeared, the hockey program had escaped every bit of association with that chapter and was — by its unsullied nature and its enthusiastic start in a post-Sandusky PSU — part of the process that was helping people breathe a little better in University Park. And I do want people to breathe easier at Penn State, where every single person with whom I’ve dealt in the athletic department has been professional and sincerely nice.

Maybe in time the 409 stickers on the Nittany Lions’ hockey helmets will be a minor footnote in a shameful chapter in Penn State history.

What kills me is that there didn’t have to be a footnote or any other kind of association at all. Not one bit.

Players of the week

Given the sweeps perpetrated by those two teams from Michigan, these are not surprising.

First star — Michigan State junior goaltender Jake Hildebrand: Hildebrand earned his second shutout of the season, the sixth of his collegiate career, in Michigan State’s two-game home sweep of Ohio State. His save percentage was .982 in the two contests and he stopped 22 shots in the shutout. This is his sixth career Big Ten weekly award and his second of the season.

Second star — Michigan senior forward Zach Hyman: Hyman had a goal and two assists in Friday’s 7-4 win and two goals and an assist in Saturday’s 6-0 game as the Wolverines swept the Badgers on the road. His goal-scoring streak is at seven games, marking the longest goal-scoring streak by a Wolverines player since the 1995-96 season. This is his third career Big Ten weekly award, and all three have come this season.

Third star — Michigan junior forward Justin Selman: Selman had three goals and an assist in Friday’s 7-4 game — his first collegiate hat trick, and a career-high, four-point game — and had two assists in Saturday’s 6-0 win. These were his second and third consecutive multi-point games, and this is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

My ballot

1. North Dakota
2. Minnesota State
3. Boston University
4. Minnesota-Duluth
5. Miami
6. Omaha
7. Massachusetts-Lowell
8. Michigan Tech
9. Harvard
10. Vermont
11. Michigan
12. Denver
13. Bowling Green
14. Providence
15. Boston College
16. Yale
17. Colgate
18. Robert Morris
19. Penn State
20. Quinnipiac

Wednesday Women: Tightening up

2015 01 12 afl 1032 Wednesday Women: Tightening up

BC freshman Kaitlin Burt, shown here in the U-18 tournament, hopes to lead BC to a second straight Beanpot; Copyright 2015 Angelo Lisuzzo (Angelo Lisuzzo)

Arlan: It seems that I always start out speaking about the surprises over the week, but at this point, it would be a surprise if there weren’t any upsets. What we won’t have much of moving forward is inter-league play. Outside of Harvard taking on a pair of Hockey East schools in the Beanpot, those games are in the books, so other than what the Crimson can reveal, we know all that the selection committee is going to know on that front.

A couple of major milestones were reached over the weekend in the WCHA. Mark Johnson won his 350th game at Wisconsin, joining Katey Stone, Mike Sisti, and Shannon Miller as coaches who have enjoyed that level of success with their current teams. Now in his 12th season, Johnson has always exceeded 20 wins and has exceeded 30 on five occasions, so the wins add up quickly.

Hannah Brandt of Minnesota became the second active player to move into the 200-point club, joining Cornell’s Brianne Jenner. Alex Carpenter of Boston College is 35 points away from joining them.

Mercyhurst wrapped up the nonconference portion of its schedule and was unable to add to its resume at St. Lawrence. The Lakers have always been able to come up with some big results to make the NCAA field. This season, their best in that regard was a win over Ohio State and a tie with Cornell. Luckily for Sisti and company, the CHA automatic bid offers a Plan B, because there doesn’t look to be an opportunity to move high enough in the PairWise Rankings to get an at-large spot. We both picked the Saints, but I think we both expected the Lakers to come closer on their trip to Canton.

Candace: I definitely expected more. I’m glad I didn’t go with my first inclination and pick a split. As I said in this column last week, these Lakers are not the Lakers of old, when they could send out two lines that were essentially lines 1A and 1B and could seemingly score at will. However, given that, you would have expected these Lakers to clamp down on defense, not give up a total of 10 goals on the weekend to a St. Lawrence team that has struggled to score at times.

Mercyhurst is now 13 in the PairWise; they’ve never been so low this late in the season that I can remember. It does look like the Lakers’ only chance to make the NCAA tournament again, which they’ve done now for 10 years consecutively, longer than any other school, is to win the CHA tournament, which might be easier said than done, given how many hiccups there have been for the Lakers in conference play. I’m sure Sisti was hoping to avoid being in that position, but the Lakers still have experience on their side, so maybe they will come through.

The result in New York wasn’t the only surprise. Boston University fell to hapless Vermont on Saturday at home, 2-0. This came on the heels of the Terriers beating Quinnipiac pretty convincingly last Wednesday, 4-1. Perhaps the Terriers went in not mentally prepared, but they responded by firing in nine goals on Sunday in a 9-2 rout. It does seem to me that every time I think the Terriers are ready to truly establish themselves, they step back.

BU now has four losses in Hockey East. Somehow, I don’t see the Terriers overtaking Boston College for first in the league. What do you make of the Terriers?

Arlan: Watching BU play opening weekend, I thought that it would be vulnerable defensively against top offenses. It graduated some important pieces on the back end, and a defense that ranks 17th bears that out. I did expect that the Terriers’ offense would be able to carry them through most of the time. It looks good in aggregate, ranking fourth and scoring 3.58 goals per game, but it has disappeared at key moments. It only scored once against Harvard back when the Crimson were struggling defensively, and after putting up three goals on three shots in the first period to take a lead against Boston College, the offense went dormant in the final 40 minutes versus a backup goaltender. Saturday’s game is a mystery; if the Terriers can score nine times against a team 24 hours later, how do they get shut out? I know they’d played Wednesday, but I’d expect that to show up more in the second game on Sunday if it was a factor.

So that makes BU a dangerous team. If it is on its game and everybody is interested, it can score enough to at least put a scare in anyone. If the effort or focus isn’t there, it looks like the Terriers are vulnerable against a fairly wide range of teams. Sitting in that oh-so-vulnerable seventh spot in the PairWise with Harvard and BC games looming, they can’t afford repeats of Saturday.

That BU bobble is one reason why the PairWise Rankings are getting very interesting. Another is that Minnesota-Duluth looks comfortable in the sixth spot at the moment, but its schedule is about to spike upward in difficulty. The Bulldogs have moved to within range of Wisconsin for second place in the WCHA, but they close the regular season with the other four teams in the league’s top five. There is a logjam of ECAC teams sitting behind UMD and BU in the rankings, and all of those teams aren’t going to be losing. If BU or UMD falters, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, or Cornell may be poised to take advantage.

The Saints were without a couple of key players in Carmen MacDonald and Jenna Marks for a few games, but now they are back. Cornell is the team that looks to have current injury woes, as Jillian Saulnier and Hanna Bunton missed last weekend. Clarkson got a tie out of its trip to Wisconsin to maintain a rankings edge on the other two. Do you have a sense of which of the three, if any, will ultimately factor into the national picture?

Candace: That’s a tough question to answer. You would think either the defending national champion, Clarkson, or Cornell, which has won the ECAC tournament in recent years and was close to winning a national championship in 2010, but I think St. Lawrence. Clarkson has had scoring issues this year at times. Shannon MacAulay and Cayley Mercer have had good seasons are tied for the scoring lead with 29 points, and Geneviève Bannon is also doing well with 23 points, but the Golden Knights aren’t as deep as they were last season when they had Jamie Lee Rattray, Brittany Syner, and Carly Mercer in addition to the three just mentioned. You theorized a few weeks ago that one reason Erin Ambrose’s point production is so down from her first two seasons is that she doesn’t have those players to dish passes to. Defensively, while Shea Tiley has emerged as a solid goaltender in her freshman year, I don’t think she has quite the experience needed to take her team to the NCAA tournament.

Cornell has been a puzzle. The Big Red crushed Boston University a couple of weeks ago, but haven’t looked great since. They were shut out by Harvard on Saturday, and squeaked by Dartmouth on Friday. Then again, they were without Emily Fulton and Saulnier on Friday. Fulton returned on Saturday against Harvard, but perhaps her effectiveness was hampered. Saulnier has missed three consecutive games now, dating back to last Saturday against Brown when she didn’t play, and her play really helps complete the effectiveness of her linemates, Fulton and Brianne Jenner. Cornell has games coming up against ECAC also-rans in Union, Rensselaer, and Colgate before facing Quinnipiac again, so perhaps Saulnier can get healthy before that key game.

That leaves the Saints, who have won five straight and are undefeated in their last six. St. Lawrence hosts Brown and Yale this weekend, and Yale still hasn’t seemed to get untracked. They open February against Clarkson next Tuesday. February also sees the Saints playing Union, Rensselaer, and Princeton, as well as games against Quinnipiac, Harvard, and Dartmouth. The Saints tied QU earlier in the year and beat Dartmouth and Harvard. I could see them winning out the rest of the way.

St. Lawrence trails Clarkson by two points in the ECAC, but has a game in hand, so if they win that game against the Golden Knights next week, I could see them in third or even second in the ECAC by season’s end.

In the PairWise, I think St. Lawrence is helped by the tie with Boston College. If they beat Clarkson, I think they’d move ahead of the Golden Knights. Then they just need to pass Boston University to at least be in contention for an at-large bid. The Terriers still have two, possibly three games left against Boston College, and the game against Harvard in the Beanpot next week.

It’s entirely possible the Terriers could only go .500 down the stretch, and if that happens, I think St. Lawrence will displace them in the PairWise.

I know in the WCHA, we’ve talked about how home ice may not matter in the tournament, but North Dakota has won a key stretch of four games against Ohio State and Bemidji State, whom they trailed in the standings a couple of weeks ago. Now North Dakota is in fourth. Do you think they hold onto that position, and do you think it will help in the first round against either OSU or BSU?

Arlan: More than home ice, I think that the process of finishing in the top four and learning how to win will benefit North Dakota. IMO, UND has more top-end players than teams like Ohio State and Bemidji State. Nothing against those squads, but UND just has more kids in its nucleus that have national-team potential. I think it may have taken some time for the leadership void that was left by the departure of first Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux and then Michelle Karvinen to get filled. I don’t mean for somebody to stand up and say, “Let’s go out there and win this game!” It’s more about having the people who understand when and how to make a play to make that possible.

Over much of the season, North Dakota players have been able to do that one night, and for whatever reason, they don’t bring quite the same intensity the next. Those two big WCHA sweeps go a long way toward figuring that out. Goalie Shelby Amsley-Benzie has likely been the team’s best player for much of the season. If you sit her down in a rotation, that means going out and winning with your best player on the bench. That’s tough with the small gap that exists between many of these teams. She’s played both ends of the recent sweeps. UND has a tough stretch now with UMD and Minnesota back to back, but then it finishes with St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. Even if it gets nothing out of the next two series, I don’t know that the pursuers will catch up if North Dakota can take care of business and take 12 points from the bottom two and get to 45 points. For that reason, the upcoming series in Duluth might be more crucial for the Bulldogs. Although if North Dakota could somehow sweep, then it is just a point behind and the battle for third gets very interesting.

The games this weekend are vital for Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs started with a rugged schedule in the league and were just 1-4-1 after series with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. It looks nice that Bulldogs have been 11-2-1 in league play since then, but the toughest opponents they’ve faced were Bemidji State and Ohio State, and they didn’t sweep either in three series, so they’ve really been just one tick above .500 against those two and cleaned up against the teams in seventh and eighth. Tea Villilä is back in the line-up after missing a number of games, so it’s time for UMD to figure out just what it has and how likely a postseason run is.

Another key tilt is on Friday in the ECAC when the Bobcats host Harvard. Quinnipiac is still in front in the league race, but if the Crimson win, they’ll take control. Do you think dropping both games to BU and BC will put a dent in the Bobcats’ confidence after they’ve been flying high most of the year, or will it be a blessing in disguise and lock them in for the stretch run?

Candace: I think it will affect them. Quinnipiac has never won the ECAC, nor been in the NCAA tournament. Last season, a Robert Morris team that admittedly isn’t as strong as the Bobcats this year looked poised to make its first NCAA tournament, and controlled its own destiny in the CHA. The Colonials then went in a swoon, going 4-4-1 in their last nine games and losing in the first round of the CHA tournament.

I don’t think the Bobcats will necessarily swoon quite so badly, but Quinnipiac has now lost to three ranked teams in BC, BU and Harvard, and has ties with Dartmouth and St. Lawrence. The win against Cornell back in November still looks to me to be a case of Quinnipiac taking advantage of a Cornell team just getting on the ice, so that leaves its two wins against Clarkson as wins against a ranked team, which are solid yes, but are still a case of defense beating a shaky offense.

Perhaps the Bobcats will silence their internal doubts and win their next three critical games, which include not only the Crimson, but Dartmouth and Cornell. QU will also play Clarkson and St. Lawrence in mid-February. However, Quinnipiac is not used to being the hunted, and I think the pressure may get to them a little bit. I still expect to see the Bobcats in the NCAA tournament, barring an epic collapse, but I don’t know if they will win either the ECAC regular season title or tournament.

I mentioned the Colonials, and they showed their first signs of life all year in the last two weeks, first taking Quinnipiac to OT and then sweeping Lindenwood. Robert Morris is now in third in the CHA, trailing Penn State by three points and Mercyhurst by five. There is also the CHA auto-bid to fight for. The Colonials host the Lakers this weekend, and in recent years, have given Mike Sisti’s club trouble. Can the Colonials continue to climb, and perhaps come back from an epic disaster of a first half?

Arlan: Yes. No? Maybe? Sixty percent of the CHA schedule has been played, and only five games separate first-place Mercyhurst and last-place RIT. Halfway in the middle, RMU and Syracuse are the poster children for parity with 5-5-2 and 4-4-4 CHA records, respectively. It’s hard to even say what direction some of the teams are trending. You almost have to judge everybody on their most recent game, and in that respect, Robert Morris looks very good.

Maybe the most encouraging sign is the people sitting on top of its scoring stats. Three sophomores: Mackenzie Johnston, 16 points; Mikaela Lowater, 14 points; and Rikki Meilleur, 12 points. As freshmen, they had 13 points combined. Losing Brittany Howard early, the Colonials needed others to emerge, and it’s taken time, but finally, it’s happening. Next are three seniors, Katie Fergus, Rebecca Vint, and Maddie Collias, who have double-digit points. They came into the year with a combined 187 points in their careers, so I’m sure they were expecting to have bigger final campaigns. That’s okay; no time like the present to make an impact. Jessica Dodds has had some good starts in net, and now, she just needs to start stringing them together.

The league is there for the taking for anyone. As you said, this isn’t the Mercyhurst we’ve come to expect, and the older kids for RMU have plenty of success against the Lakers to recall. The Colonials went down rather meekly in the first series this year. They did score first in the second game, but took a penalty right after, and within 90 seconds, the lead was gone. It will take more determination, but RMU is playing better than it was back on Halloween weekend, and Mercyhurst has been wobbly since getting swept at Penn State. Even if they don’t come away with a win, I think it is key for the Colonials to push the Lakers enough to prove to themselves that postseason success is a possibility.

It’s going to be fun to follow that CHA tournament with an auto-bid on the line and apparently no giant to slay. I don’t know that Lindenwood has enough firepower to navigate the field, but I may think differently in a month. Other than that, the league should be wide open.

One league where that is far from true is Hockey East, where BC sits atop the mountain for the foreseeable future. However, the Eagles are somewhat victims of their own success. They keep winning, but they set the bar so high out of the gate that just winning is no longer enough. We expect them to demolish opponents. What do you think? Is BC just on cruise control waiting for the postseason to cement its legacy, or is the field closing the gap just a bit in 2015?

Candace: I’ve actually been wondering about that a little bit, because it does seem like BC is playing uninspired of late. The team is so talented and has dominated so many others that perhaps they’ve gotten a little bored. The win against Quinnipiac was probably good for them it that it showed the Eagles they can win a close game against a tough opponent. BU pushed them a couple of weeks ago, and St. Lawrence pasted the Eagles with their only blemish with the tie back in October.

Maybe the results against Vermont two weeks ago were the first sign the Catamounts were emerging again, given that Vermont just beat BU, but BC’s offense hasn’t been clicking quite as effectively in the second half. Aside from the 16 goals against Northeastern in two games, the Eagles have been kept to four or less goals in every game in January.

Perhaps over the break, they got to thinking too much about their first-half success, or have gotten away from what made them so deadly. It’s equally possible that the team just doesn’t want any key players to get hurt before the playoffs, but I still think there’s something to be said for not giving your opponents any hope. Anything can happen in a one-and-done scenario. There’s no time like the present for them to get it back though, with the Beanpot looming next week, always a tough tournament. BC opens with Northeastern, which it has dominated this year, then will play the winner of Harvard-BU.

The Eagles close their regular season with two against Boston University, a series I think everyone at the start of the year thought would decide the Hockey East crown, but at this point, it looks like the Eagles may have it wrapped it the weekend before at Maine.

As long as we are talking top teams, we might as well look at the Gophers. They look to have the WCHA pretty much wrapped up, just as the Eagles do Hockey East, barring an epic collapse. They swept St. Cloud convincingly this weekend, and the stats sheets are dominated by Gophers, including freshman Kelly Pannek, who is fifth in the country in scoring now, though BC’s Kenzie Kent and Wisconsin’s Annie Pankowski aren’t too far behind. Five Minnesota players are in the top 10 in scoring, including Hannah Brandt, who is second and has come on strong, now trailing Alex Carpenter by only two points.

The Gophers have had it easy the last two weekends facing Minnesota State and St. Cloud State, but the last month they face Ohio State, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Bemidji State. Can any of the those teams stop the Gophers express?

Arlan: They’ve all gotten at least a tie versus Minnesota over the last couple of seasons, so theoretically, any of them could. Ohio State is up first, and it’s been a long, long time since the Buckeyes won outright — October 2007. Twin Cities native Taylor Kuehl had a three-goal series when the teams played in Columbus, and I’m sure she’ll want to have a good showing in what could be her final appearance in Minneapolis; the senior is Ohio State’s second-leading scorer after Claudia Kepler. The bigger question for the Buckeyes is on the other end of the ice, because Minnesota has hung some big numbers on the scoreboard over the years. Last year they gained a tie by limiting the goals allowed to two.

The series in Grand Forks is interesting, because that could be a prelude to a WCHA semifinal in the same building. Then Shannon Miller leads the Bulldogs in for what she certainly hopes isn’t the final time with the NCAA tournament on the horizon. The regular season concludes with a series at the Sanford Center that everyone has been anticipating since November when Jim Scanlan introduced his new team to the Gophers. I don’t see Minnesota going 8-0 over that stretch; it was 5-1-2 against that quartet on the first pass. UMD and Minnesota in particular met so long ago and their freshmen are likely entirely different players by now, so these series are useful in establishing new benchmarks heading into the playoffs.

Over the final weeks, I think that Minnesota will be looking to fine-tune its special teams and clean up its play in its own zone a bit. Defenseman Milica McMillen has missed the last three games with a lower body injury, so if she returns, they should be as close to healthy as a team ever is at this point of a taxing season.

While this is going on, look for Wisconsin to get its offense back on track against Minnesota State next weekend. I think that the Pankowski hat trick on Sunday in a 4-0 win over Clarkson did wonders to help a team that was scuffling offensively relieve some pressure. Now a few more people will see pucks go into the net and start to feel good about their games.

This is our last column before the Beanpot gets underway. Do you have any thoughts on what that event might reveal? On one hand, I’m interested to see if Harvard has gained on BU since the two teams tied and can set up a rematch with BC to prove that the massacre was a fluke, but on the other I think the Crimson are at a big disadvantage to be playing two games each weekend while all three Hockey East squads play but once in advance of the Tuesdays of the Beanpot.

Candace: I guess playing Quinnipiac and Princeton could tire the Crimson out, while BU only faces Connecticut on Saturday, but BU lost to Vermont this past weekend, so who knows? In the long run, I think Harvard has to mainly concern itself with PairWise positioning, so from that respect, beating Quinnipiac is probably more important. If the Crimson beat Quinnipiac, they have take over first place in the ECAC and have a likely chance of holding it till the end of the year. More importantly, it would move Harvard up to fourth in the PairWise, giving the Crimson a better shot at home ice in the first round in the NCAA tournament, which is what I think the Crimson have to concern themselves with.

However, losing to BU would negate the PairWise advantage over Quinnipiac in the short term, so I think the Crimson should probably give their all in the next three games.

If the Crimson lose to the Terriers, they will likely play Northeastern in the Beanpot consolation game, a game they should win. I imagine they’d rather beat BU though, since the two squads tied back in November. That would mean another game against BC most likely, a game in which they’d really have nothing to lose and everything to gain, which would make them dangerous.

How do you think the Beanpot might play out?

Arlan: The Beanpot isn’t a seeded tournament, but if it were, the Northeastern versus BC game would be the one matching the fourth seed against the top seed, and people always tend to look past the lower seed. In the 14 years of the NCAA tournament, the No. 1 seed has lost in the semifinal of the Frozen Four five times. That’s not to say the Huskies are currently the caliber of an NCAA tourney team; obviously, they aren’t, based on results to date. We’ve seen similar upsets in conference tournaments, too. Fans look ahead to the potential final opponent, and sometimes, the favored team does as well. If the underdog can survive the first period, when power teams come out determined to make a statement on a bigger-than-normal stage, then it gets interesting. Northeastern has performed well in Beanpots in recent years, and a Kendall Coyne type talent can explode at any moment. Results earlier this season suggest that this is a bad matchup for Northeastern stylistically, so it will be a big challenge for the Huskies.

The other semifinal has about as many question marks as one cares to type. The difference between both Harvard and BU on their best days compared to their worst has been pretty glaring. Harvard has a lot of pieces, but it doesn’t possess a threat who has proven herself to the degree that Marie-Philip Poulin or Sarah Lefort have. The Crimson look to have an apparent edge with Emerance Maschmeyer in net, but she’s similar to Chloe Desjardins in that sometimes she play lights out, and other times you’d swear that the lights are out because the power has been turned off.

When it comes to the second week, the BC game is going to be the marquee game even in the unlikely case of it being for third place. Rather than the Beanpot title, the bigger question will be if either Harvard or BU is gaining on the Eagles at all. BC is probably about a three-goal favorite.

At 7-1-1 in 2015, Air Force hopes it has started another second-half run

DSC 3822 At 7 1 1 in 2015, Air Force hopes it has started another second half run

Cole Gunner’s overtime goal gave Air Force a win over American International on Friday (photo: Omar Phillips).

On Dec. 31, the Air Force Falcons were in a tough spot. Atlantic Hockey’s best perennial power for the last decade, the Colorado-based service academy finished fourth in the Catamount Cup after getting pasted 5-1 by Massachusetts.

Losers of four straight, five of their last six, and seven of their last nine, the mighty Falcons, five-time conference champions, were 5-12-2 overall with a 4-5-1 record in the league.

Then the second half of the season started and the team turned on its afterburners.

With a 7-1-1 record since Jan. 1, the Falcons are Atlantic Hockey’s hottest team so far in 2015. Winners of their last six, they’ve rocketed up the league standings into fourth place. A team once threatened to be on the road in the first round of the playoffs, they’ve turned the tables and now stand poised for another memorable second-half run.

Still, coach Frank Serratore is hesitant when looking ahead at the upcoming schedule.

“We have a nice streak going here, but we have to ask if we’ve really gotten better or if it’s an illusion,” he said. “Early on in the year, we played some of the top teams in the league. Now we’ve gone 7-1 and won six games against teams below us in the league.

“But if you look at those games, we’ve played a lot of close games. There’s no substitute for winning, but this weekend [against first-place Robert Morris] is going to be a huge series against a top team.”

Last weekend, the Falcons swept American International for their third straight four-point weekend. As Serratore noted, however, it wasn’t an easy task. Friday’s game required an overtime strike from Cole Gunner to get past the Yellow Jackets; it was the team’s second extra-time win during the streak and fourth one-goal victory.

On Saturday, however, the team completely broke out. The Falcons outshot AIC 27-10 through two periods and opened up a 4-1 lead with two goals from Erik Baskin and one each from Ben Kucera and Scott Holm. After AIC scored to cut the lead to 4-2 early in the third, Holm struck again on the power play to end the threat. Air Force added a short-handed, empty-net goal — the first of the year for Kyle Mackey — to take a 6-2 victory.

The winning streak created murmurs around college hockey that the Falcons are back at it. Observers are shifting their eyeballs west to a team known for making noise as seasons draw to a close. Last season, Air Force went 9-5-4 through the 2013 part of the year, then closed on an 11-7 clip in 2014 to finish in third place.

The year before that, a 6-8-4 record in 2012 gave way to an 11-3-3 record in the 2013 portion of the year for a second-place finish. In 2011-12, Air Force went on a 7-2-3 clip to end the season. In 2010-11, they lost to Niagara, 5-4 in overtime, on Feb. 12. Their next loss came via a 2-1 overtime decision on March 25 in the East Regional semifinal against Yale.

“We have been a good second-half team [through the years],” said Serratore, “but I don’t really know how or why that happens. If I knew why, I could write a book and retire.

“We’ve been really good to not get ahead of ourselves,” he continued. “Every team wants to separate themselves and get one of the top five spots. Every coach wants his team to have a first-round bye. So far, we’ve been able to make a move, but we have to keep it going, and we’re going to learn a lot about who we are as a team when we play Robert Morris.”

This weekend’s series against Robert Morris is going to be a must-see test for both teams. The Colonials re-entered the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll this week after winning a pair of one-goal games against Holy Cross. Having won four in a row and five out of six, the Colonials’ 31 points is four ahead of second-place Canisius, and they’re going west to avenge what Air Force did to them at home. Back in November, the Falcons took three points from the Colonials in a pair of overtime games.

“Robert Morris has the team that every coach in the league wants,” said Serratore. “They’re good, they’re deep and they’re older. They are what everyone wants to be. They have a talented offense; they’re not a team we can go up against and try to outscore. So we need to be really strong defensively and play well in our game in order to go out and beat them.”

Return engagements

This weekend will feature three return series from the first half of the season and five teams all in the hunt for one of the coveted first-round byes:

• First-place Robert Morris lost to and tied fourth-place Air Force at home back in November. Down 3-1 in the Friday game, the Colonials scored once before the end of the second period, then tied the game in the third period. The next night, Robert Morris tied the game at 1-1 with another third-period goal, only to see Scott Holm score less than 30 seconds into the extra period for a 2-1 Air Force win. In both games, the Colonials dramatically outshot Air Force in the third period.

• During that same weekend in November, Bentley took three points with a pair of overtime games from Mercyhurst. On Friday, the teams traded four lead changes and five second-period goals en route to a 4-4 tie. On Saturday, Bentley rallied from a two-goal, second-period deficit to win in overtime 5-4 in a game where Andrew Gladiuk scored a hat trick. This weekend, the Lakers will entertain the Falcons at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.

• In early December, Holy Cross swept Niagara as part of a 6-1-3 stretch. Since that series, the Crusaders are 1-7-1 with six straight losses. Seventh-place Holy Cross faces last-place Niagara hoping to reenergize their season.

The easy road home

With the playoff stretch kicking up, it’s worth looking who has the easiest road to clinching a more favorable position en route to Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

• Of the teams in the top five, Mercyhurst and Air Force have the easiest path to sealing up home ice and a first-round bye. After this week, Air Force doesn’t play another team over .500 in league play until the last weekend against Canisius. Mercyhurst has three series left against over-.500 teams (Bentley, Canisius and Rochester Institute of Technology), but half of those games are at home. The other remaining games are against AIC and Niagara, two of the bottom three teams in the league.

• Canisius hasn’t lost since Jan. 3 and hasn’t lost a conference game since Nov. 29. The Golden Griffins are riding a three-game winning streak and are 6-0-1 in their last seven. But their road to the playoffs is the second-toughest in the league. Removing two home games against Army, they’ll play five road games at Robert Morris, Mercyhurst and Air Force with only one home game against the Lakers as part of a home-and-home series.

• Outside of the top five, Holy Cross has the easiest road with no trips left to the west and the easiest strength of schedule among remaining games. The Crusaders will play only three of their final 10 games on the road, none over a full weekend, and have zero games left against teams in the top four of the league.

• As the last place team, Niagara obviously has games left against teams ahead of it in the standings, but things aren’t going to get easier for the Purple Eagles. They have the toughest remaining schedule by far with six of their remaining 10 games on the road. Their final six games come against teams in the top four.

DSC 6409 At 7 1 1 in 2015, Air Force hopes it has started another second half run

Clint Carlisle had a goal and three assists in Army’s win over Royal Military College (photo: Omar Phillips).

Patriot games

One of the greatest parts about college hockey season comes when the United States Military Academy takes on the Royal Military College of Canada in an exhibition game. It’s a series established in 1923 when the commandant of the RMC visited West Point to study the academic curriculum. He met the academy’s superintendent and agreed to a rivalry. The superintendent at the time? Douglas MacArthur.

The intense game is one of college hockey’s greatest attractions. It doesn’t count toward anything in the standings, yet it always brings out some of the teams’ respective bests.

Army scored four goals in the first period to pick up an 8-0 win over RMC last Saturday. Clint Carlisle had a goal and three assists; CJ Reuschlein had two goals and an assist; and Joe Kozlak, Maurice Alvarez and Ryan Nick each scored a goal and an assist for the Black Knights. Army outshot the Paladins 60-19, with Cole Bruns picking up the first shutout in the series since 2003.

It was the fourth straight Challenge Cup victory for West Point, and coach Brian Riley remained undefeated against the Canadian academy, improving to 6-0-1.

How ’bout those Pios?

As Chris Lerch mentioned at the conclusion of the weekend, the east is really struggling with western-based teams this season. But a stick tap is well deserved for the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who took three points from Mercyhurst last weekend at the Milford Ice Pavilion in Connecticut. More on this a little bit later thanks to goalie Alex Vazzano.

I love me some orange Jello

It’s always fun for us in the press box when RIT comes to town because the Tigers enjoy great fan support. With the Tigers traveling to play Bentley last weekend, I was able to partake in some fun with the Corner Crew alumni of the Boston area.

When House of Pain’s “Jump Around” is played over a loudspeaker, it’s referred to as “Orange Jello Time.” I have no idea why it’s called #orangejellotime, but I got to have some fun with the RIT faithful.

 

That came after I found myself caught in the pregame warmup games of the Tigers when I arrived at the rink. Forward Todd Skirving was kicking a soccer ball around with some of his teammates when I arrived at Ryan Arena with my radio and computer equipment. He volleyed the ball to me, which resulted in me taking part in the game with a few of the guys for a few seconds. My hamstrings hated me for it, but there was no denying I had a blast with the experience.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several different interactions with teams and fans throughout the years, and it just reinforces my belief that Atlantic Hockey provides some really great, clean fun in addition to a solid on-ice product.

Atlantic Hockey players of the week

The latest from the league’s head office in Winthrop, Massachusetts, which may or may not be beachfront property after the blizzard whacked the Northeast this week.

Player of the week — Canisius’ Ralph Cuddemi: Cuddemi notched six points, including four goals, in the weekend’s victories over Niagara. Scoring two goals in each game, he recorded the game winner in the third period on Friday.

Goaltender of the week — Sacred Heart’s Alex Vazzano: The senior netminder stopped 58 of the 61 shots he faced last weekend, coming within three minutes of a shutout in Saturday night’s 5-1 win over Mercyhurst. He made 38 saves in the win, adding 20 on Friday in the 2-2 tie with the Lakers. On the weekend, he had a .951 save percentage.

Co-rookies of the week — Canisius’ Ryan Schmelzer and Niagara’s Robert Angiolella: Schmelzer had a plus-7 rating and three points in the victories over the Purple Eagles, and he tied the program record for a single game with a plus-5 during Saturday’s 6-4 victory. He has a plus-14 rating on the year.

Angiolella scored three points for the Purple Eagles on Saturday as Niagara cut into 4-1 and 5-3 deficits against Canisius. His goal with less than a minute left and the goalie pulled was the fourth Niagara goal of the night.

Defenseman of the week — Robert Morris’ Alex Bontje: Five blocked shots in a single weekend. That’s enough to earn him honors from the league and an ice bath to soothe the bruises he almost assuredly incurred.

Vermont suspends Hoffman for ‘violation of team value and expectations’

According to a Vermont spokesperson, the Catamounts have suspended junior goalie Brody Hoffman indefinitely for “violation of team value and expectations.”

Hoffman was pulled from last Friday’s 4-2 loss to Boston University after allowing three goals.

“We’ll meet with the team and the captain and decide when [Hoffman's] return is going to be considered,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon told the Burlington Free Press. “Again, we have high expectations and high values regarding how we conduct ourselves and he did not comport himself very well last night after the game.”

Hoffman is 10-3-2 this season with a 2.08 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

Overlooked no more, Massachusetts’ Montour handles high expectations

8417466 Overlooked no more, Massachusetts Montour handles high expectations

Brandon Montour has gone from an unknown Junior B-level prospect playing in the Greater Ontario Hockey League to a second-round NHL draft pick with high expectations (photo: Thomas Kendall/UMass Athletics).

It was late in the second period. Massachusetts was on the power play.

As was already becoming customary, Brandon Montour — just four games into his collegiate career at that point on Jan. 2 — stepped on the ice to quarterback the man advantage.

Connecticut gained possession off a defensive-zone faceoff and dumped the puck the length of the Mullins Center rink, forcing the Minutemen to give chase and retrieve it. The first UMass player there was Montour.

The freshman seized the puck and made his trip down the ice, gliding effortlessly from defensive zone to neutral zone to the offensive zone. Huskies defensemen barely had time to spot the red Massachusetts letters stitched across the chest of his white jersey before he sped by and propelled deeper into the zone.

Montour was a gazelle. Step by step he moved gracefully toward the goal line, around the net and back out to the point — completely untouched — before passing it off. It was a subtle sequence. It didn’t produce a goal, didn’t change the outcome of the game — although he did score his first collegiate goal in the third period of UMass’ 4-3 loss to the Huskies that night — and certainly didn’t grab the attention of the few in attendance at Mullins Center.

That one small trip down the ice did, however, exemplify just who Montour is: a dynamic player with a knack for unintentionally avoiding the spotlight and easily going unnoticed.

Just two years ago, Montour was an unknown Junior B-level prospect playing in the Greater Ontario Hockey League. Back then, the only people who knew of his talent were his family and teammates in Caledonia.

One dominant season later with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks — a team and league he didn’t originally have on his radar, and one that was lucky to find him to begin with — and his stardom immediately inflated. Seemingly overnight he became a USHL MVP and the highest selected NHL draft pick in UMass history.

“It’s a great story,” Waterloo coach P.K. O’Handley said.

Now Montour is viewed as the liberator of a program in the midst of what likely will be its fourth straight losing season; someone who single-handedly could change the fortunes of a program desperate for positives.

But for Montour, a modest 20-year-old with humble roots, it’s just another step in his self-effacing hockey journey.

***

Trying to avoid hockey would’ve been fruitless for Montour as a child.

He grew up in a zealous hockey family that included an older and younger brother and a father who also played, in the small community of Tilbury, Ontario, where the sport was king.

Fortunately for Montour, by the time he began playing at 5 years old, he developed an unbreakable passion for the sport.

There was something about the freedom of skating and the challenge of handling a puck with a stick that immediately captivated Montour. He relished in the speed and the constant motion that took place on the ice. He enjoyed the child-like excitement of meeting new friends on each of his teams.

Although he was also a skilled and fervent lacrosse player, participating in organized leagues as recently as last summer when he played for the Six Nations Arrows of the Ontario Junior A Lacrosse League, hockey always took precedence. Even when the sun had melted the ice off the ponds of eastern Canada, Montour remained active in summer hockey leagues despite balancing lacrosse season as well.

“It just stuck,” he said.

Montour Brandon 2 Overlooked no more, Massachusetts Montour handles high expectations

Brandon Montour’s skating ability makes him stand out (photo: Thomas Kendall/UMass Athletics).

The time of day didn’t faze Montour, either. His father, Cam Montour, barely would have time to say his son’s name in the morning before Brandon jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs to prepare for a 6 a.m. practice.

“It was almost like he slept in his equipment, he was so fast getting up to go,” Cam Montour said.

Soon enough, Montour’s devotion to hockey translated into his game. Between that and lacrosse, he developed superior hand-eye coordination and physical conditioning. By the time he was in high school, Cam Montour said, Brandon already showed the potential to have the exceptional skating ability that eventually contributed to his remarkable success at Waterloo.

He attributed his son’s growth simply to hard work.

“He just kept pushing himself,” Cam Montour said.

Montour, however, was going to need more than a first-rate work ethic to garner the level of recognition his talent warranted.

***

Montour is not one to leave his comfort zone. It’s the reason why he stayed so close to home during his junior hockey days.

He and his family moved to Brantford, Ontario, just before he began high school. At 16, he played local Junior B hockey for the Brantford Golden Eagles of the GOHL.

After two years in Brantford, Montour’s family moved to Caledonia, where he played for the Caledonia Corvairs, also of the GOHL. There, he experienced his first breakout season, scoring 67 points on 18 goals and 49 assists in 49 games.

The problem for Montour, despite the impressive numbers, was the lack of attention a small league such as the GOHL generated. He wasn’t receiving the recognition he may have been given somewhere else.

Montour, however, enjoyed his three seasons in the GOHL. He said he cherished playing close to home, in front of his family, and improved his game significantly. But he also knew he had to move on to someplace bigger if he wanted a chance to reach his hockey career’s full potential.

“There wasn’t too much recruiting out there or people to come out and watch us play there,” Montour said. “I might’ve been there a little longer than I should have, but it was good.”

Montour’s achievements in Caledonia during the 2012-13 season did catch the attention of UMass coach John Micheletto, who was prompted to go watch him play. Montour’s statistics, Micheletto said, were extraordinary in comparison to the rest of the league, despite the GOHL not historically producing comparable collegiate talent to more prominent leagues such as the USHL or BCHL.

“With a guy like Brandon, it’s easy to go out there and see the positive attributes and his skill set that he has,” Micheletto said. “That’s identifiable no matter where he was playing.”

Micheletto was mesmerized by Montour’s dynamic skating ability. The third-year coach said it was apparent to him that Montour would be an asset on both ends of the ice, serving as a player who can lead the rush on offense, or get back into defensive-zone coverage, using his speed and mobility to get into position.

Micheletto and assistant coach Joey Gasparini began recruiting Montour in the summer of 2013 and invited him for a visit to the university. Montour was attracted to both the hockey program and the campus environment, and didn’t hesitate to verbalize his commitment to the school.

“I loved the facilities, the arena here,” Montour said. “It’s a very nice community.”

Not too long before being discovered by UMass, Montour was still uncertain about the next phase of his hockey career.

***

Montour originally believed he’d be playing Tier II hockey in Alberta. The offer was there, he was clearly wanted and it seemed like the best-case scenario to prepare him for collegiate play.

Then he received a call from O’Handley. The Black Hawks had just selected Montour in the 18th round — the 287th overall pick — of the USHL draft.

Waterloo first noticed Montour thanks to nothing but good fortune after an assistant coach received word through unnamed contacts about Montour’s existence. Eventually they were informed he might be worth a chance.

“We had a couple of scouts that had seen him play. We cross-referenced some colleges that were friendly with us and had seen him play,” O’Handley said. “It’s communication and trusting with the people that were able to see him.”

Perhaps the biggest risk was using a draft choice on him to begin with. O’Handley said the Black Hawks drafted Montour in order to acquire his rights, but odds are he wouldn’t have been selected in the USHL by another team because he was invisible to everyone else.

“One could argue maybe we saw him and no one else did in our league and we didn’t need to draft him at all,” O’Handley said. “Had he been playing in Detroit or Boston or some place that was more in the scouted area, then you have a little different story.”

Montour Brandon Overlooked no more, Massachusetts Montour handles high expectations

Brandon Montour has 10 points in his first 10 games after missing the first semester because of ineligibility issues (photo: Thomas Kendall/UMass Athletics).

Montour’s father immediately advised he accept the offer from Waterloo for the exposure if nothing else.

“There’s going to be a lot of people watching him,” Cam Montour said.

Montour went to Waterloo hoping to simply make the team, saying, “I didn’t know what to expect with a big jump like that.”

Ultimately, the situation worked out perfectly for both sides.

O’Handley said it usually takes about 20 games for him to determine a player’s potential. Montour’s ability was noticeable right away.

Montour had arguably one of the best single seasons of any defenseman in Black Hawks history, setting the franchise record for points in a season with 62 (14 goals, 48 assists) and finishing sixth in the league in plus/minus with a plus-35, which earned him USHL player of the year honors.

Waterloo finished the year with the best record in the USHL and was just one win short of a postseason championship.

It was a perfect storm O’Handley said will be hard to replicate.

“I think Brandon’s story gets a little bit magnified because no one really knew who he was,” O’Handley said. “I’m sure if you talked to his team back in Caledonia, they’ll tell you that teams are out there looking for the next Brandon Montour. I don’t know if those things are going to happen. They’re going to be rare.

“It was a bit of a throwback acquisition. No one really looked at that team, and you’re able to acquire him late in the draft and have a storybook season.”

***

As Montour’s father predicted, he reaped the benefits of the added exposure.

On June 28, 2014, with his parents, advisers and Micheletto and Gasparini in attendance at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Montour was drafted in the second round (55th overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL Entry Draft, making him the highest selected player in the history of a program that also bred Jonathan Quick.

“Just the thought of watching it with your friends, years past on TV back home, you wouldn’t expect but you’d wish to hear your name called to some team,” Montour said. “But actually being there, experiencing it all. It was a packed arena. Hearing my name called by Anaheim was something I’ll never forget.”

Said Cam Montour: “It’s hard to describe. It’s hard to believe because only two years ago he was playing in front of us in Caledonia. Before that he was at minor hockey. All of a sudden he’s taken off. It really is hard to believe. It’s a great feeling.”

That was the last bit of joy Montour would experience that offseason.

At the end of the summer, just before the start of the Fall 2014 academic semester, Montour was ruled ineligible for the first half of the season due to an NCAA Clearinghouse issue.

It was crushing news for both Montour and the program. Instead of taking a step forward in his career, he went back to the Black Hawks to wait out his time.

“It was very difficult for him,” O’Handley said.

Montour’s return to Waterloo failed to produce the kind of magic it did the season before. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Montour was unhappy being back with a group of new teammates, and the results were indicative of that. Despite scoring 21 points in 17 games, he finished minus-11 on a significantly less talented Black Hawks team and lacked the same drive as a season ago.

“In Waterloo they understood the situation, but I was definitely more focused on what’s to come instead of there in a sense,” Montour said.

Montour said he took on a mentorship role in his short time with the Black Hawks in the fall. He said he took the time to give players advice and help a young team that was clearly still in a learning curve. It was something he felt he owed to the team.

When asked about Montour’s mentorship role, O’Handley gave a dejected, deflective response.

“I think everybody’s intentions were that it was going to be easy and fine,” he said. “It’s just difficult when you know you’re not going to be here in 40 days, 20 days, whatever it is. Brandon did the best he could under the circumstances he had. When the dust settles, UMass got a really good hockey player.”

***

Given where he was drafted and how well he performed at Waterloo, Montour naturally has been given immense expectations from UMass fans hoping he can be the savior of a team that’s spent the season in the Hockey East cellar.

Those expectations, one could easily argue, are unrealistic.

But as Montour is asked about these high hopes from the outside, his unpretentious nature fully exposes itself. He puts his head down, stops to think for a few seconds and smiles shyly as he translates his thoughts into words.

Montour is not oblivious to the situation. He is well aware of those outside expectations. Those, Montour said, are of no concern to him.

Montour has been on both ends of the spotlight. He’s been overshadowed by larger names in larger leagues yet was unfazed and found success. He’s also thrived under the public eye, as his individual success turned into team success in Waterloo. His experiences have humbled him and have taught him how to ignore unnecessary pressures.

“For me, I’m not the kind of guy that would think about it for a long time,” Montour said. “It’s nothing to me. I’m just going to practice, have fun. I always have a smile on my face; I enjoy what I’m doing. As long as that keeps coming it’s just going to keep getting better.”

Montour’s modest personality, Micheletto said, makes him well-suited to triumphantly handle lofty expectations.

“His natural disposition is pretty unassuming,” Micheletto said. “He’s hard-working, he’s a really pleasant kid to talk to, easy to get along with.

“He’s gone through the last year and a half under a bigger and bigger microscope, more powerful microscope. He’s continued to develop and he’s been able to handle all the outside influences very, very easily and continue to focus in on being a good player and help the team to win. I wouldn’t anticipate anything changing for him.”

Whether one wants to acknowledge the pressure placed on Montour or not, he’s certainly lived up to the billing so far. In just 10 games, he’s already significantly upgraded UMass’ weak defensive corps, scoring 10 points on two goals and eight assists.

Montour’s elite skating has already translated to the collegiate level. He’s a regular on the power play, aggressive on the rush and sets up teammates for grade-A scoring opportunities with his vision.

According to Micheletto, Montour has transitioned to the college game well despite joining the Minutemen halfway through the season.

“It’s obviously brand new,” Micheletto said. “You’re coming in at the midway point, trying to develop relationships with individuals and understanding the philosophy that we have, penalty kills, schemes.

“In spite of all that, he’s been a productive player. I would only expect that to continue as his comfort level continues.”

However, if you ask Montour, he’ll tell you he hasn’t accomplished anything yet. His goals are too big for complacency, and he’s quick to admit that his game needs improvement in numerous ways.

But if there’s anything Montour has accomplished, it’s excelling on every team he’s played for. Except now, the spotlight is brighter than it’s ever been.

“It’s definitely going to be improvement each and every day,” Montour said, “so I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Rensselaer forward Wood suspended two games by ECAC Hockey

ECAC Hockey announced Tuesday that Rensselaer sophomore forward Jake Wood has been assessed a two-game suspension as the result of his actions in the Rensselaer-Union game on Saturday, Jan. 24, at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.

The league action was taken after review of an incident that occurred at the 19:13 mark of the third period where Wood was given a major penalty for hitting from behind and a game misconduct.

Wood is not eligible to compete in Rensselaer’s next two games – Friday, Jan. 30, at Dartmouth and Friday, Feb. 6, at St. Lawrence.

TMQ: Another change at No. 1, while the preseason favorite disappears from the rankings

141213 20310400 TMQ: Another change at No. 1, while the preseason favorite disappears from the rankings

Zach Hyman has six of Michigan’s 30 goals in the last four games (photo: Melissa Wade).

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: After Minnesota State enjoyed the No. 1 spot in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for two weeks, it seems we might be back to the top-spot musical chairs game that we’d seen take place over much of the season to date.

North Dakota is our poll’s new No. 1, as it had been before the Mavericks usurped UND at the top a few weeks back. Sort of seems like it’s a case of us going back to the future, no?

Jim: Well, I think the reality is that there remains no clear No. 1 team. We can look at North Dakota, Minnesota State, Boston University and Harvard as a solid quartet right now but any of those four teams deserves the top ranking, in my opinion. It wasn’t too long ago that Minnesota was not only in that group but spent several weeks at No. 1. Now the Gophers are no longer ranked. What happened to this team?

Matthew: What happened was, dare I say it, that they’ve just about fallen off the face of the Earth. If I’m a Minnesota fan, I’m really worried right now because the Gophers have won only two of their last nine games and just finished in last place in the North Star College Cup, a Minnesota state tournament that I think most of us thought when it was created that Minnesota would win or at least get into the championship game each season.

The Big Ten in general hasn’t been good this season, however. Wisconsin is a hot mess; Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State aren’t night-and-day better than the Badgers; and Michigan and Penn State are the only teams above .500 in league play. Michigan seems to be turning it on these days, however. We have to look at the Wolverines as league favorites now, right?

Jim: Michigan might be the most impressive offense in the country right now. The Wolverines have averaged more than five goals per game since the break, and in the last four contests — all Big Ten wins — Michigan has scored 30 goals. That’s not a typo. This team has averaged 7.5 goals per game over the last two weekends. Safe to say this is the most potent team in terms of scoring right now?

Matthew: I think so, although I also wonder if this Michigan team might be peaking a little too early. Scoring at that high of a clip more often than not is a good sign for a team that wasn’t really setting the world on fire results-wise at the start of the season.

That being said, however, with losses back then to Ferris State, Boston University and Michigan Tech, I think we could also easily make the case that the Wolverines’ schedule — or at least their nonconference schedule — has made them a better team in the long run.

Jim: I think Michigan coach Red Berenson is pretty thankful for his nonconference scheduling, given how weak the Big Ten has proven to be.

Another team that has caught lightning in a bottle is St. Lawrence. The Saints have won four straight and five of their last six, beating teams like Harvard, Yale and Cornell in that stretch. This team is having success because of balanced scoring with 22 different players who have scored goals. Pretty impressive numbers for a team poised to make a run at the ECAC Hockey regular season title.

Matthew: And that’s probably what much of the country wasn’t looking for: another ECAC team on the rise. We’re still a couple months and change away from Boston and the Frozen Four, but where we are now, would it shock you if we see a ECAC team win the national championship for a third year running?

Jim: That’s a good question. I don’t want to sound like a nonbeliever, but I don’t think that league is as strong as it was the last two years. I think Harvard is built to make a run and Quinnipiac has a lot of the parts necessary, but I am not positive either resembles Yale or Union of the seasons past.

I actually think this year’s champion comes from the west and likely from the NCHC. That conference simply impresses me from top to bottom. You follow the NCHC closer than I do. Am I overstating just how good that league is this year?

Matthew: No, I don’t think so. North Dakota is a deserved No. 1 — although, like you said before, you could make a case for a few teams right now — and you can’t overlook the fact that five of the eight teams in the NCHC would be in the NCAA tournament if it were to start this week.

I know we’ve mentioned in this space before that there’s a chance the league could cannibalize itself a little in the PairWise Rankings, but we’ve yet to see it happen.

Jim: I do think the PairWise has a lot of settling still to do, but right now is the time for some teams to make moves if they are going to make the tournament. If your team isn’t in the top 20 right now, you better be hoping for a long winning streak down the stretch. Otherwise, your favorite team better be skating a conference championship trophy around the ice if you want to see them in the big dance.

Thumbs up

To Bemidji State, which had to go through No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 1 Minnesota State to win the North Star College Cup.

Thumbs down

To Minnesota, whose two losses in-state rivals helped them fall out of the top 20 for the first time since Feb. 14, 2011.

Coming up

There are plenty of big matchups before we even get to Monday’s Beanpot semifinals.

In the NCHC, No. 1 North Dakota plays a series at No. 5 Omaha, and No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth is at No. 11 Denver.

In Hockey East, No. 10 UMass-Lowell and No. 19 Merrimack play a home-and-home series, and No. 12 Providence plays at No. 14 Boston College.

No. 16 Yale hosts No. 18 Quinnipiac in an ECAC Hockey game Saturday, the same day that No. 15 Vermont plays Penn State in Philadelphia.

And on Monday, the Beanpot kicks off with No. 2 Boston University playing No. 4 Harvard in the early game, followed by Boston College playing Northeastern.

Northern Michigan reinstates coach Kyle, administrator after administrative leave

wjec nmu w kyle Northern Michigan reinstates coach Kyle, administrator after administrative leave

Walt Kyle is expected to be back behind the Northern Michigan bench when the Wildcats host Alaska-Anchorage on Friday (photo: Melissa Wade).

Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle has been reinstated by the school after a weeklong administrative leave, the Marquette Mining Journal reported.

School spokesperson Derek Hall also told the newspaper that associate athletic director Bridget Berube Carter was no longer on administrative leave.

An internal review showed that neither Kyle nor Berube Carter violated university bylaws or policies, the newspaper reported, but the school did not disclose what the review was investigating.

Northern Michigan athletic director Forrest Karr informed players about Kyle’s leave before practice last Tuesday, and Kyle missed last weekend’s games at Penn State. The Wildcats lost 4-1 leads in both games, losing on Friday and tying on Saturday.

Kyle is expected to return to the bench when the Wildcats host Alaska-Anchorage on Friday.

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