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Milliron a key part of Wisconsin-River Falls’ success

tanner milliron uwrf Milliron a key part of Wisconsin River Falls success

Wisconsin-River Falls goalie Tanner Milliron played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore, but is now the Falcons’ starter (photo: Kathy M Helgeson/UW-River Falls).

Tanner Milliron will tell you that one of the most instrumental things to the success of Wisconsin-River Falls’ early-season success can’t be found in the box score or on a stat sheet.

It goes far beyond any of that as far as the junior goalie of the Falcons is concerned.

“Everyone trusts each other, and that trust on the team translates into success,” Milliron said. “We all play for each other and when you do that, it makes easier to win games.”

So far, Milliron and the Falcons have been racking up the wins. River Falls is 7-0 after a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against Augsburg on Tuesday night. It was the fourth road win of the season.

While trust has certainly driven the Falcons in this early part of the year, so has motivation.

Last season, the Falcons won the WIAC regular-season championship, but lost a semifinal series to Wisconsin-Superior in the conference tournament.

“We felt like we missed out on an opportunity after winning the regular-season title,” Milliron said. “We were motivated to be better this year. We all worked hard in the offseason.”

Milliron spent a lot of time working on his game in the offseason, striving to make himself the best goalie possible.

He played in two games as a freshman and then played in nine games a year ago.

This season, Milliron has started all seven games and has given up only 14 goals, recording one shutout.

“I spent a lot of time in the ice over the summer trying to eliminate the deficiencies in my game,” Milliron said. “I also worked a lot with our goalie coach. It has made a difference. I continue to work hard every week and stay as focused as possible.”

Milliron has had plenty of support from the offense, which is has put up 30 goals.

Alex Murphy has paved the way with five goals while Mike Fazio, Blake Huppert, Ryan Doner and Christian George have come through with three goals apiece. Terry Leabo leads the team with seven assists.

Although the Falcons have started strong, they know there is still a lot more to accomplish. Bringing an intense effort to the rink night in and night out will be the key to achieving their goals.

“Our league is very good and we know that on any given night we can be beat if we don’t play our best,” Milliron said. “We understand that we have to come in focused and play every game like it’s our last.”

Building Momentum

After winning once in its first four games, St. Thomas has started to turn things around, winning two of its last three, including a 4-1 win over St. Olaf on Friday. The Tommies missed out on a sweep of the series as they lost the finale 2-1.

Drew Fielding made 19 saves in the victory over the Oles and has come through with 186 saves on the season. The veteran goalie has allowed only 12 goals and owns a 1.48 goals against average for the Tommies (3-3-2, 2-1-1).

St. Thomas has scored only 17 goals this season but has scored four in each of its last two wins. The Tommies have been led by Alex Altenbernd and Willie Faust. Both players have four goals apiece.

Knight Time

Defending national champion St. Norbert has yet to lose a game and will return to action this weekend against Buffalo State after a 10-day layoff.

The top-ranked Green Knights last played on Nov. 18th when they knocked off Wisconsin-Eau Claire 3-2 in a battle between the last two national champions.

St. Norbert (6-0-1, 5-0-1) has thrived offensively, racking up 36 goals. It has scored at least two goals in every game, tallying three or more six times and the balance has been tremendous.

Eleven players have scored two or more goals, with Erik Cooper, Michael Hill and Ross Pavek tallying four goals apiece to lead the way.

Hill, Pavek and Blake Thompson lead the team in power play goals with two apiece. The Green Knights, who average 39 shots per game, have seven power play goals in all.

Tough Stretch

Eau Claire won three of its first four games but has struggled as of late, dropping two of its last three. It skated to a 1-1 tie against Lake Forest at home on Saturday despite holding a 44-28 advantage in shots.

The Blugolds (3-2-2) haven’t been able to score more than two goals in each of their last three games after putting up three or more in their first four. But to Eau Claire’s credit, it has played tremendous competition lately. Eau Claire lost just 3-2 to St. Norbert before falling 5-2 to Adrian, which features one of the top offenses in the nation.

Eau Claire has the talent and ability to get back on track, though, especially with Ethan Nauman pacing the offense with five goals. Ross Andersen has scored four goals. Eau Claire has scored 22 goals on the season.

Jay Deo and Tyler Green have split time in goal. Deo has made 107 saves while Green has come up with 77 saves. The two have combined to give up 17 goals.

In the Poll

St. Norbert is still the No. 1 team in the nation, receiving 19 first-place votes in the most recent poll. Adrian is fourth this week while River Falls is up to seventh. Wisconsin-Stevens Point is ninth, while St. Scholastica is tied for 11th. Eau Claire is 13th and St. John’s is 14th.

Cortland moving forward under new coach Cardarelli

CRD Joe Cardarelli Cortland moving forward under new coach Cardarelli

Joe Cardarelli has been tasting success in his first year as head coach at Cortland (photo: Dan Hickling).

For a team trying to fight its way upward through a tough league (think SUNYAC), progress can often be measured thusly.

Two steps forward, one step back.

So it is with Cortland (2-5-1, 2-4-1) under first-year coach Joe Cardarelli.

Winless in their first five starts, the Red Dragons presented Cardarelli with his first two wins last weekend – including one versus nationally-ranked Geneseo – then stumbled Tuesday, 6-3 against independent Canton.

That’s often the way as teams struggle to find their way while on the fly.

“We are a young team,” said Cardarelli, a Cortland assistant last year who took over for interim head coach Tom Cranfield, “playing eight freshmen most games, with a new coach and new systems. It’s been a process establishing a culture where we can overcome adversity and compete for 60 minutes.”

Cardarelli said that the twin wins gave his squad some extra jam.

“This past weekend we were able to get some confidence,” said Cardarelli, “as we became more consistent in our effort.”

It may come as a surprise to some (maybe to everybody) to see three Cortlanders – senior Nick Zappia (6-6-12) and freshmen Dan Broderick (7-4-11) and Darren McCormick (1-10-11) – planted at the top of the SUNYAC scoring list.

Cardarelli said that there’s a lot to like about this high-scoring trio.

“Nick Zappia is a very talented player,” he said, “who, as a senior captain, has a vested interest in his and the team’s success this season. He dedicated himself this past summer to getting in great shape and leads his teammates by his work ethic. Both of the freshmen had successful junior careers and both dealt with injuries during their last season that I believe pushed them to be more prepared than the average freshman player. That line really likes to push the pace and use their speed to create offensive opportunities, and are have fun doing it.

“It really is that simple they’ve developed good chemistry by having fun.”

Nazareth trending upward in ECAC West

While on the subject of progress, consider the upward trajectory of Nazareth within the ECAC West.

The third-year program had recorded just five league wins during the first two seasons (just one in Year One), but have already record three against Western rivals so far this campaign.

The Golden Flyers are now 3-1-1 (4-2-1 overall) and are just one point off the league lead.

If you ask Nazareth head man George Roll, his club is simply building off last year’s foundation.

“I think it started in the second semester last year,” said Roll. “We started to understand what it took to win games and started to believe we could win every night or at least learn how to compete to win. It has been a learning process but we continue to grow as a program. We have great leadership and to man they have bought in to a team first philosophy.”

Helping the cause has been the emergence of forward Dominick Gabaj (4-2-6), who coupled with fellow sophomore Ben Blasko (1-4-5) gives the Flyers a youthful one-two scoring punch.

Gabaj played locally at Monroe Community College and “we felt he would be a great compliment to Ben. We had a feeling there would be chemistry between the two and that has been the case along with Oliver Janzen – they have been very effective,” said Roll.

As to what it should take to keep the puck bouncing their way, Roll said his club will have to keep following the plan.

“We have such a tough schedule this year,” he said, “but if we can continue to build on what we have done to date it should be an exciting season.”

Hamilton making strides

In the NESCAC, eyebrows were arched last week when middle-of-the-pack Hamilton held powerhouse Trinity, then ranked No. 8 in the nation, to a 1-1 overtime tie, on the road no less.

“Trinity was a great game,” said Hamilton coach Rob Haberbusch. “I thought both teams played well and the crowd got their money’s worth.”

Hamilton received a yeoman’s effort from freshman goalie Evan Buitenhuis, who pulled off 46 stops against Trinity, the NESCAC’s most prolific scoring squad (at 5.5 gpg).

Buitenhuis, the NESCAC’s reigning player of the week, is the backbone of the Continentals’ outstanding (12 for 12) penalty killing performance.

“He’s certainly capable of making the big save,” said Haberbusch, “and he gives the team a lot of confidence. But the entire team is committed to a strong penalty kill. Scott Vazquez, Seamus O’Neill, Jon Carkeek and Bennett Hambrook are blocking shots like they enjoy it.”

After rough start, Cornell finds ‘a little bit of a breakthrough’

20141107 1616 After rough start, Cornell finds a little bit of a breakthrough

Princeton’s Tom Kroshus and Cornell’s John McCarron battle for the puck (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Let’s be honest here, Lynah Faithful: Some of you entertained heretical thoughts through the Big Red’s 0-3-1 start, a four-game stretch that saw the Ithacans outscored 6-3 and fail to achieve two goals in any single outing.

While a home split against the North Country tandem may have relieved some of the pressure, last weekend’s seven-goal sweep of Yale and Brown was an exhale as Cornell set — then topped — its season-high offensive output.

“[This feels like] a little bit of a breakthrough,” coach Mike Schafer said. “Once you start to score, you get some confidence. The biggest thing for us is to get that confidence, but also get some guys healthy. It’s been a real struggle, with the amount of injuries we’ve had, especially back on the blue line, and I’ve always believed that the blue line kind of ignites your offense. With all the guys we’ve had banged up back there, it’s been a tough start.”

Only 12 players have made all eight appearances, while eight more have played between five and seven games. With three defensemen currently on the shelf with a variety of ailments, Schafer said that the quality of his team’s defensive play has actually gone “beyond expectations,” but what is missing is the defensive corps’ offensive contributions.

“The biggest [loss] is obviously [senior defenseman and San Jose Sharks draft pick] Joakim Ryan. He’s been out since the first game of the year, and having him out of the lineup has been difficult because he’s on the ice all the time. He’s a big part of our power play, and it was just this last weekend that we were been able to get our power play going a little bit.”

Schafer hopes to get Ryan back “sometime after Christmas.”

While the offense is getting on track, the defense has been steady since Day One. Opponents are scoring only 1.62 goals per game, the penalty kill is tickling 91 percent and the team save percentage is .946. Not bad for a group whose biggest question mark preseason regarded the graduation of Andy Iles.

“We’re pretty happy with the defensive numbers, but the offensive numbers have suffered because of it,” Schafer said. “So, yeah, it was nice to score a few goals and have some players regain some confidence in themselves.”

The Big Red play only once this week, but it’s at the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. It’s Cornell’s sixth trip to MSG, where the Red are 1-3-1.

While Schafer and the Big Red are beginning to feel more at home in the Big Apple, the experience is anything but another day on the job.

While previous MSG opponents Boston University and Michigan drew well, this week’s foe — Penn State — hasn’t generated perhaps as much demand as the former pair, but Schafer said, “the Cornell alumni have been picking up the slack.”

“It’s just an awesome feeling to play in front of that many Cornell alumni,” he said. “To have a crowd of 14,000 alumni coming to the game is a phenomenal feeling.”

20141107 1614 After rough start, Cornell finds a little bit of a breakthrough

Princeton’s Colton Phinney makes a diving save on Cornell’s Joel Lowry (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Princeton pounding away

It has not been a brilliant start for Ron Fogarty at Princeton.

Hired as the leader among active NCAA coaches in win percentage (167-23-10 — .860 — in seven years at Division III Adrian), Fogarty inherited another staff’s players and a mediocre recent history. The Tigers are 1-6-1 overall and 1-5 in league play, having scored just eight goals while surrendering 30.

Fortunately, Fogarty is no novice, and he isn’t about to throw in the towel just because of a rough month or two.

“We’re struggling to score goals. We’re getting opportunities to score, but we just haven’t been able to put it behind some pretty good goaltenders here in the ECAC,” Fogarty said. “We’re still tweaking. We have some players coming back from injury this week that will play some impact minutes for us, so we’re looking forward to that positive injection of potential goal-scorers up front in the next three weekends before the break.”

A former ECACer himself, Fogarty played at Colgate (class of 1995) with assistant Brad Dexter (’96) for current Raiders coach Don Vaughan. He knows his way around this league and has played — and coached — through his fair share of adversity. The key, he said, is to take the long view and resist the urge to seek the quick fix.

“I think the building blocks are within the systems,” he said. “We have to stay with them. We can’t just scrap everything because the results haven’t been there. We are playing well at times, we just haven’t put it together for 60 minutes.”

One bright spot for the Tigers has been the play of goaltender Colton Phinney, whose .914 league save percentage is unfortunately overshadowed by the poor record and 3.22 GAA.

“He’s seeing a lot of shots … we’re tracking the number of quality scoring chances the opposition is getting, and those numbers are decreasing, but we still have to eliminate a good chunk of them to give Colton better looks at shots,” Fogarty said.

The biggest issue facing his team is its poor puck-possession skills, statistically exposed by the Tigers’ minus-14 average shot differential per game.

“We have to take better care of the puck and watch our quantity and quality of shifts,” Fogarty said. “Our shift times have to be lower than they were in the first six games, and we worked on that last weekend but it still needs to be improved moving forward.

“It’s not a snowball effect. Some of the goals that we’ve given up have been the product of our error. We’ve had full control and haven’t executed plays to break out, or to put the puck in safe areas, and we’ve continually addressed that. You have to work on it Monday through Thursday in skill drills, making plays in tight areas, and making decisions in pressure situations, so we’ve worked on that the past couple of days. That’s the key to improve: You have to have the playmaking abilities to get the puck out of your end, and also the ability to score goals.”

The Tigers know that while their record is not insignificant, it does not destine or doom them to anything at all. All that matters in the end, after all, is how you play down the stretch.

“Fortunately, every team makes the playoffs in the ECAC,” Fogarty said, “and obviously we want to climb higher in the standings to have the opportunity to host playoff games here at Baker Rink. We just have to continue to tweak and find those right line combinations, defensive pairs, special team units, so they can be peaking come mid-February.”

A few deep breaths for all ready to condemn the Big Ten to mediocrity

2014110917 26 161783 A few deep breaths for all ready to condemn the Big Ten to mediocrity

Hudson Fasching (24), Justin Kloos (25) and Minnesota have seven of the Big Ten’s 23 nonconference wins this season (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The Big Ten began league play last week and already there are hockey fans out there willing to pan the entire conference. One fan tweeted that the Big Ten looks “fairly awful,” while another emailed to say that the conference is “so over.”

Relax. It’s the end of November. It’s the second week of conference play. For the love of all that is Hobey, it’s the second year of the league itself.

Yes, the Big Ten has a losing record (23-30-3) in its early play against nonconference opponents, and that doesn’t include the league’s 1-1 record against the U.S. Under-18 Team. Minnesota’s 5-4 overtime loss to the visiting youngsters last Friday prompted the Twitter discussion that resulted in the “fairly awful” proclamation. After all, the Golden Gophers had been swept the week before by Minnesota-Duluth, swept and kept to one goal in the series after having begun 2014-15 with one loss in eight games and entering that weekend with Duluth second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging close to four goals per game.

An exhibition loss to a highly touted and well-coached team with a roster full of young players that nearly every NCAA Division I program would at least take a glance at while recruiting was surely the end of the world for Minnesota hockey and a harbinger of bad things to come for the Big Ten, right?

“We talked about the skilled team that they have,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said after the game, “and obviously we made some mistakes.

“I think any time you put on the gear you want to win the game. Obviously, we’re all competitive. But did it have the same emotional stake? No. Let’s be honest, but I don’t want to take anything away from the other team.”

After being swept by Duluth, the Gophers used the exhibition game to get some players time on the ice, including freshman goaltender Nick Lehr, who made 35 saves.

“We wanted to get some reps this weekend without having a weekend off,” said Lucia. “We wanted to get Nick a game tonight. It’s the first time he’s had an opportunity to play. I thought he did a pretty good job in there tonight, so no issues with that, and just get some other guys game time that maybe haven’t had as much this year.”

So there’s that.

Minnesota travels east for Thanksgiving weekend, playing Boston College on Friday and Northeastern on Saturday.

Then there are the Badgers

Further evidence that the sky is falling for the Big Ten is Wisconsin’s 0-8 start. This is certainly not how the Badgers envisioned their season beginning, eight straight nonconference losses culminating in last weekend’s 5-2 loss to Colorado College and 3-2 decision against Denver.

This, however, is less about the Big Ten than it is about Wisconsin, a team with 16 freshmen and sophomores on the roster and no one yet as able to produce consistent scoring. Averaging 1.38 goals per game — second-to-last nationally — the Badgers actually outpaced themselves during their trip to Colorado.

And coach Mike Eaves said he is hesitant to address the Badgers’ start, hesitant to reinforce anything that may undermine the confidence of his young team.

“We may not be able to measure ourselves by our wins and losses yet, but certainly video and in our comments on the ice and off the ice and in extended meetings that we have had, we’re able to point out and talk about areas of growth,” he said.

“So that’s kind of that bridge between not having success in wins and losses, but having sight that we’re going in the right direction and seeing good indications of growth.”

Eaves said that he saw positives in the loss to ranked Denver on Saturday. From video of the game, Eaves said the coaching staff saw the Badgers “out-chance our opponents, out-hit them, out-blocked them. The only stat that we didn’t out-do them was goals for.”

Many programs go through rebuilding periods, and even a perennial powerhouse like Wisconsin is not immune.

“It’s an interesting journey we are on right now because we have not had a lot of puck luck, and we believe the harder you work the more you get and that’s an old quote,” said Eaves, who added that there are “some good things on the horizon” for the Badgers.

“They’re going to be rewarded for the efforts they’re giving each other,” said Eaves. “They worked their fannies off and they’re playing some pretty good hockey right now.”

Wisconsin hosts Ferris State on Friday and Saturday.

DSC 4336 A few deep breaths for all ready to condemn the Big Ten to mediocrity

Casey Bailey has nine goals this season for Penn State (photo: Omar Phillips).

And when Penn State beats Michigan …

… bad things, man. Bad. Things.

That was another gripe that I heard from fans, that the Nittany Lions’ split with the Wolverines last weekend in Ann Arbor was further evidence that the Big Ten is weak.

Several things here. Penn State beat Michigan twice last season, so why would a split now be such a surprise? And if the Nittany Lions put together a good season, does that necessarily mean that the rest of the Big Ten is down? Can’t it just mean that Penn State has improved? After all, PSU split with Massachusetts-Lowell on the road the week before, beating the River Hawks 4-1 on Nov. 15.

The Nittany Lions are scoring 3.5 goals per game, the eighth-best offense in the nation. And that offense has blossomed this year: Senior Taylor Holstrom (4-13–17) and juniors Casey Bailey (9-6–15) and Eric Scheid (7-1–8) are formidable and playing the kind of up-tempo offense that coach Guy Gadowsky likes.

The 3-2 Penn State win Friday was an interesting contest and fortunately was televised. Michigan maybe would have won that one, too, had it not been for three minutes in the first period in which the Nittany Lions scored all three of their goals.

Gadowsky said that Friday’s contest was good for individual efforts but wasn’t so much PSU’s best effort.

After Michigan’s 8-1 win Saturday, Gadowsky said: “I thought we were really lucky to win last night. Absolutely. We certainly didn’t come with our best. Believe it or not, we played a better game tonight than we did yesterday. Tonight, it caught up to us.”

Gadowsky wasn’t exaggerating. After Andrew Copp put the Wolverines up 4-1 six minutes into the third period, the Nittany Lions took many risks to attempt to generate offense, risks that resulted in Michigan odd-man rushes and other opportunities for the Wolverines.

While Michigan coach Red Berenson acknowledged that the 8-1 win was probably his team’s best effort from start to finish this season, he said, “This was not an 8-1 game.” And Berenson wasn’t exaggerating.

That eight-goal performance bumped the Wolverines’ offense up to a tie with Denver for fourth in the nation, averaging 3.64 goals per game. “It was good to see the puck go in,” said Berenson.

This weekend, Penn State meets Cornell in Madison Square Garden on Saturday in the game dubbed “The Frozen Apple.” Michigan hosts Rensselaer on Friday and Saturday.

And what about those Spartans and Buckeyes?

They split. Big surprise. And further evidence of the erosion of western civilization as we know it. I got a message through Facebook — seriously — that both split series from the opening weekend of B1G hockey indicate a “certain mediocrity” in the league.

Sigh.

You know what the split between Michigan State and Ohio State indicates? A split.

The Spartans beat the Buckeyes 3-1 to open Big Ten play last Thursday, and Ohio State rebounded with a 3-0 win Saturday. After Thursday’s loss, OSU coach Steve Rohlik said: “They scored on the power play, we didn’t. At the end of the day, those things are the difference.”

The game-winning goal Thursday was Matt Berry’s second-period power-play marker, the senior’s sixth goal of the season.

Rohlik proved to be prophetic, as Buckeyes sophomore Nick Schilkey’s second goal of the season gave Ohio State a two-goal lead in its 3-0 win Friday.

Said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos after Friday’s contest, “We did have some good looks throughout the game tonight for sure, but their goalie came up big.”

Jake Hildebrand had 34 saves for the Spartans for the win Thursday; Matt Tomkins stopped 29 for Ohio State Friday.

The Spartans play at Princeton on Friday and Saturday, while the Buckeyes face former CCHA foe Western Michigan on Friday in the Shillelagh Tournament and will play either Union or host Notre Dame the following night.

Players of the week

Three players from two former CCHA teams are honored this week … and I think that very well may be a sign of the apocalypse. One of them is from Canada, too. Doom. I smell doom.

First star — Michigan sophomore forward Max Shuart: Shuart had a goal and three assists in Michigan’s split with Penn State. His goal came 46 seconds into Friday’s 3-2 loss. The Northville, Mich., native has three goals and four assists in his last five games; in 11 games last season, Shuart had no points. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

Second star — Ohio State sophomore goaltender Matt Tomkins: Tomkins had a .939 save percentage and 1.54 GAA in OSU’s split with Michigan State, and he turned aside 29 shots Friday in his first career shutout. In eight games this season, the Sherwood Park, Alberta, native has a .917 save percentage and 2.11 GAA. This is his second career Big Ten weekly award; he earned his first on Nov. 4.

Third star — Michigan sophomore defenseman Michael Downing: Downing recorded two goals in Michigan’s split with Penn State, one in each contest, and he leads all Big Ten defenseman this season with three total goals in 11 games. The Canton, Mich., native had two goals and 10 assists in his freshman season. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

My ballot

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

Wednesday Women: Pressure packed

130201 UMN UMD W 339 Wednesday Women: Pressure packed

Kayla Black of Minnesota-Duluth. (Ryan Coleman/Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com)

Arlan: Many of the noteworthy events of the week involved ECAC teams. Among those, the impressive version of St. Lawrence remained in evidence, Harvard is still trying to get its rhythm, and the hole for Cornell got a little deeper. I thought the most significant game of the weekend was Quinnipiac’s 1-0 win over Clarkson. I don’t think that game necessarily demonstrated that the Bobcats were measurably superior. They held the Golden Knights to 15 shots on net and Chelsea Laden pushed her shutout total for the season to seven, but Quinnipiac only had 19 shots itself. The difference is that Emma Woods scored on a nice snipe while the visitors couldn’t get anything by Laden. The big key was it got the two points, and it is starting to look like every point will be crucial in the league race. The Bobcats did give a point back the next day when they had to come from behind in the third period to tie St. Lawrence, 2-2. That was the first time Quinnipiac has trailed this year and the first time it has allowed multiple goals.

When you’ve asked, I’ve always said that I thought Harvard was the team to beat in the ECAC, if not the country. As the weeks tick by, that is looking less and less accurate. If not the Crimson, then who? Should we be looking to Quinnipiac, or defending champ Clarkson, or some dark horse team?

Candace: I wasn’t completely sold on Quinnipiac, but this weekend has changed my mind. Holding Clarkson to only 15 shots is pretty impressive. The Bobcats play a stifling defensive game, and they have a proven netminder in Laden. Coach Rick Seeley has his squad playing well in the defensive zone, knowing that the Bobcats don’t have explosive offensive players who can break a game wide open. Since many teams actually lack that, it’s a very good strategy, and plays to the current team’s strengths.

If we are looking at the ECAC, aside from Cornell, which has Jillian Saulnier and Brianne Jenner, Clarkson is really the only squad that has players who can break a game wide open. Of the top 10 scorers nationally, only one is from an ECAC team, Clarkson’s Shannon MacAulay. Holding her, Cayley Mercer, and Geneviéve Bannon in check like the Bobcats did is pretty impressive. I think Quinnipiac is well-positioned to possibly win the regular season title. Playing a defensive-minded game will also be helpful in the one-and-done format of the semis and finals in the ECAC playoffs.

They say there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and I think an examination of offensive production bears that out. While the ECAC has six of the top 12 teams in scoring offense, I think those numbers are a little skewed. Yale, for instance, is third, but their average is boosted by the 10-2 and 13-0 beatdowns of D-I independent Sacred Heart and 6-2 and 5-2 wins over Providence, which has also struggled defensively. Dartmouth’s only real impressive offensive outing was the 5-1 win over St. Lawrence, as New Hampshire and Rensselaer aren’t strong defensively. Harvard too is boosted by scoring a lot against Rensselaer and also Union. Providence has also boosted the offensive numbers of Clarkson, which also gets a boost from the 9-0 win over Syracuse.

However, when you look at the games between the top teams, most are of the low-scoring, one-goal win variety, so I think Quinnipiac is possibly the favorite at this point. I look to five teams as contenders in Quinnipiac, Clarkson, Harvard, St. Lawrence, and Cornell, in that order.

Speaking of the Big Red, they were just swept in Duluth, including losing 7-2 in the first game. The Bulldogs have quietly put together a nine-game win streak after a terrible start. That streak also includes a shootout win over Minnesota. Do you think the Bulldogs can challenge Minnesota and Wisconsin for the WCHA crown?

Arlan: Looking first at the math of that question, Wisconsin has already completed its first pass through the league and gained 34 points, eight short of the maximum. The Gophers sit at 29 and still have their St. Cloud State series remaining in the first half, so they could possibly get to 35. UMD has four WCHA games left in its first half of the season with Bemidji State and Ohio State coming up. If the Bulldogs can sweep those games, they could increase their point total to 29 and be within range of the two leaders. However, both series are on the road, and as we’ve seen when facing Bemidji State in particular, those games in hand don’t automatically convert into points in the standings. The other hurdle for UMD is that it has to go on the road to face both of the leaders. The Bulldogs haven’t won in Madison since November of 2010, and their last win in Ridder Arena was the 2010 NCAA Championship over Cornell.

Maybe defeating the Big Red again over the weekend made Shannon Miller a bit nostalgic, but she told me her current Bulldogs can win a national championship. The team is on a nine-game winning streak as you said with wins over North Dakota, Lindenwood, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, and now Cornell, but UND has the best record of that bunch and it is two games under .500. The Bulldogs only other win of the season was over Connecticut. A number of teams have the potential to be factors in the national tournament, but until they start posting wins over the type of teams that they’ll meet in the postseason, it is premature to look too far down the road.

When I watched UMD against Cornell on Saturday, the Bulldogs were missing a couple of their key Europeans in senior defenseman Tea Villila and freshman forward Michelle Lowenhielm, but they still had enough to subdue the Big Red. Kayla Black was very strong in net, stopping both Brianne Jenner and Jillian Saulnier on early breakaways to keep the game scoreless. Sophomore forward Ashleigh Brykaliuk is developing into someone who is not only the team’s leading scorer, but can be depended on to make plays all over the ice. Senior forward Jenna McParland played the most complete game I’ve ever seen from her. There are a number of other key pieces in place, including Zoe Hickel, Lara Stalder, and Brigette Lacquette. The talent and depth of UMD are definitely a few steps up from the last couple of years. If the Bulldogs put it all together, it is possible, but both the league and the NCAA picture are stronger than when they won their last titles in 2008 and 2010, so there is a ton of work left to do.

As for Cornell, I spoke with Jenner and coach Doug Derraugh and they’ll be the subject of this week’s column, so I’ll reserve further comment until then, but I think it is safe to say that they are one of a number of teams that has had to feel its way defensively in the early going. We’ve seen wild fluctuations from St. Lawrence when Carmen MacDonald didn’t play, inconsistent goaltending has contributed to the underachieving start for Robert Morris, and Vermont definitely had issues over the weekend versus Northeastern. What are you observing on that front, and what team or teams do you think have the best chance to improve in goaltending and overall defense?

Candace: Well, exhibit A would be Harvard. Emerance Maschmeyer is highly touted in net, but her stats are not that great so far, as she has a 2.51 goals-against and only a .904 save percentage. Harvard itself is giving up over two goals a game on average, hardly Crimson-like numbers. Maschmeyer will face a stern test this weekend when the Crimson travel across town to face Boston College, which has the top two scorers in the country in Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa, and the top offense in the country, which averages over five goals a game. If ever the Crimson needed Maschmeyer to be sharp, it would be this Friday.

We’ve talked about MacDonald a lot, but her numbers are hardly stellar, with a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage. If MacDonald starts putting in consistent outings, St. Lawrence will be a troublesome out.

Over in Hockey East, Northeastern’s Chloe Desjardins also has room for improvement, with only a 2.21 GAA; her squad is 13th nationally in team defense, giving up 2.33 goals on average. If Victoria Hanson at Boston University continues to show improvement, the Terriers will be a more difficult team to play as well; she currently has a 1.90 GAA.

It may sound strange to say, but I also think to a certain extent Wisconsin’s Ann-Renée Desbiens hasn’t been as solid as she could be. She’s currently ninth overall in goaltending with a 1.52 GAA and .922 save percentage, and Wisconsin is 13-2-1 overall on the year. However, in the two losses to Minnesota and the tie with North Dakota, the team let up four goals, two goals, and three goals, respectively. Wisconsin also escaped Bemidji after giving up three goals in the second game. I think Desbiens has been outstanding against lesser competition, but she and Wisconsin failed to step it up when playing the elite.

When it comes to offense, Northeastern finally looked like it got it going this weekend in convincingly sweeping Vermont, something I wasn’t expecting after the Huskies had lost to Providence the week before. Kendall Coyne is currently fourth in the country in scoring; are you expecting more consistent performances from the Huskies in the future?

Arlan: This is Hockey East, where the Huskies can beat BU by three goals and then lose to Providence by the same margin four days later, so I’m reluctant to use the word consistent. But overall, yes, I think that Northeastern will show improvement going forward. Its current three-game winning streak has it back to .500 for the season. Next the Huskies play Harvard and Union, then they go on their Christmas break. They’re back on the ice to close out 2014 with Dartmouth on New Year’s Eve, and a week into 2015, they start a critical BC-BC-BU stretch that will go a long way to determining their fate in Hockey East.

Northeastern was already up on Vermont by the time I started watching both of their games over the weekend, so I’m likely missing a key piece of how those games unfolded. Despite posting two one-sided victories, the Huskies weren’t exactly a finely-tuned machine. There’s a lot of youth on the roster; of the 22 skaters to see game action this year, 13 are freshmen or sophomores, including the next five top scorers after Coyne. A number of times, a forward would get the puck near the top of the circles with the defense set, and rather than moving it back to an open point or starting a cycle in the corner, she would attempt to carry it to the net through two defenders. That resulted in a number of unnecessary turnovers. I imagine that eventually, they will start to make more veteran decisions, but until then, there may be some ragged games. Also, these younger players weren’t on the roster during Coyne’s sophomore season, so she’s still trying to develop chemistry with them. I’m told that Paige Savage will sit out the remainder of the season for personal reasons, so that means Northeastern will be without a veteran scoring threat up front.

There is some nice talent there. Sophomore Hayley Scamurra had a hat trick in the first win over the Catamounts. Rookie Denisa Krížová had five points in the series and demonstrated skill and good synergy with Czech countrywoman Lucie Povová. McKenna Brand also had five points, including three goals, and looked very confident with the puck. So I think that the Huskies can be a very dangerous team beyond Coyne, but they have to limit the mistakes that will cost them against better teams.

A few weeks back, it looked like the winner of the CHA’s automatic bid would be the league’s one representative to the NCAA tournament. Now, Mercyhurst looks like a fairly safe bet to make the field as an at-large entry, even should it get tripped up in the conference playoffs. I just don’t see many losses in its remaining schedule, even though it has to travel to Cornell for one and a pair at St. Lawrence, and the Lakers are up to sixth in the PairWise Rankings. In most years, I look at its schedule and Mercyhurst has such games that are must-wins; this year, doesn’t it look more like those are more vital for the ECAC squads if they want to appear in the PairWise picture?

Candace: Yes, but also for Hockey East and the WCHA. First, look at the ECAC. If the season ended right now, Quinnipiac and Clarkson would qualify via the PairWise, while Dartmouth, St. Lawrence, and Harvard, ranked 10a, 10b, and 12, would be out. Traditional power Cornell isn’t even in the PairWise top 16, and it looks like the Big Red might actually need to win the ECAC tournament to qualify. They have some places they can make up ground, with single games against Mercyhurst and Boston University and two each against Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Dartmouth, and Harvard, but it’s by no means a certainty. Even Yale and Princeton are above Cornell right now. I think Cornell has to run the table to have any chance of an at-large bid.

Harvard has a couple of games that I think it must at least split with in Boston College this Friday and Quinnipiac the following Saturday; if the Crimson lose both, I don’t see any opportunity for an at-large bid. In the second half, the Crimson have Quinnipiac again and Boston University again, and possibly Boston College if they beat BU, and end the season against Clarkson, but even should they win all four, it might not boost their PairWise high enough.

Quinnipiac is looking pretty good, as long as the Bobcats keep winning. They play BU and BC in January, but even if they lose both, I don’t think they’d drop too far. To fall out of at-large contention, I think the Bobcats would have to go into a major swoon.

For Hockey East, Boston University is currently an at-large bubble team. I think the Terriers need to either win Hockey East, or steal a win from Boston College and win their next game with Harvard or alternately beat Quinnipiac to feel a little more secure, especially with Bemidji State nipping at their heels. BSU has more places where it can improve its position, with two more each against Minnesota and Wisconsin and four against Minnesota-Duluth.

You are right that Mercyhurst looks to be fine for an at-large, but given the fairly inconsistent play from the rest of the CHA, I think it’s hard to see anybody but the Lakers winning the CHA tournament and first league autobid. I certainly expected more from RIT than a pair of 4-1 losses against the Lakers. Syracuse could only muster two ties against Robert Morris this week. In fact, the Orange haven’t won a game since beating Mercyhurst for the first time in team history a few weeks ago. Penn State also continued its up and down record by splitting with Lindenwood. It’s kind of crazy to look at the CHA, because aside from Mercyhurst, only Penn State has a winning record this year.

What’s going on there?

Arlan: Back to teams and possible NCAA tournament positioning for a second. It is important to remember that Harvard, disappointing as it may have been to date, currently has but one loss. Along with two ties, that is effectively two losses. Teams catch fire in the second half on a fairly regular basis, with the most prominent case being UMD in 2009-10. That team was 13-7-2 heading into the break and wound up as the No. 2 seed in the tournament. I think I counted Mercyhurst out about a dozen times last year; come March, the Lakers were not only in the field, but back at the Frozen Four. So Harvard could lose to both BC and Quinnipiac and still wind up hosting an NCAA quarterfinal.

As for the CHA, I did a fairly comprehensive rundown of the league in our discussion last week, and I don’t think that this week’s results changed my opinions much. With RIT not having Ali Binnington in either game, it wasn’t surprising that the Tigers were swept. It’s hard enough to visit the top team and get points under any circumstance, and minus their best player, that was a big ask. Penn State has had trouble putting together two strong games on a weekend, and Lindenwood is scrappy if not overly talented, so a split there wasn’t surprising. It was noteworthy that the Lions held PSU to just 11 shots in their 2-1 win.

Syracuse looked to be finding its offensive game in spite of getting swept when it scored nine goals in a series with Vermont a week ago, but in light of UVM’s leaky effort with Northeastern, that production is likely not indicative of what we can expect from the Orange moving forward. As for RMU, the two-tie series with Syracuse was its second-best weekend of the season, topped only by taking three of four points from Northeastern. When we consider that Rebecca Vint and Brittany Howard each hit 41 points last year and have combined for only six so far with Howard appearing in just two games, there was bound to be a slump. They were the only returning players who bettered 15 points last year. Katherine Murphy is having a solid rookie season with eight points, tying her with Ashley Vesci and Katie Fergus for the team lead, but nobody is taking the game by storm like Vint and Howard did in their first years. It’s starting to look more and more that by the time some other club gets everyone pulling in the same direction, Mercyhurst will already have wrapped up the season and have the inside track for the playoffs.

You mentioned BU being in the vicinity of the NCAA bubble, and in that respect, the tie with Harvard was pretty much a wash. The tie didn’t surprise me as much as the score. I thought BU was better offensively than defensively when I saw it play, and nothing since has changed that opinion, so the 1-1 draw was puzzling. Marie-Philip Poulin missed a few games as well as the Four Nations Cup due to injury, so perhaps that has taken a toll on the offense. I was shocked that she had only one assist entering Sunday’s win over New Hampshire, where she added three more. Playing with a proven scorer like Sarah Lefort, I’d have expected the points to come regularly, so maybe the injury has continued to hamper her. How should those in the Terriers’ camp feel about the tie with Harvard? Outshooting the Crimson by more than a two-to-one margin is nice, including 11 to two in the third period, but it would have been nice to pull out a win on home ice.

Candace: Yes, I think the Terriers have to be a little disappointed in that result, especially after convincingly sweeping Clarkson last month and how Clarkson tied Harvard. Poulin’s production has been a little puzzling, especially since it has seemed that as she goes, so go the Terriers. Poulin is currently fifth on the team in scoring, though she has admittedly played five less games than the people above her. Poulin’s scoring average per game is a little below Sarah Lefort, who really has keyed the Terriers’ offense. Perhaps, like Coyne, Poulin has had trouble adjusting to people she’s never skated with before this season. Whatever the reason, Poulin is still the player whose leadership will make or break BU this season. The Terriers only have one game this weekend, against Dartmouth, a game I think will tell us more about the Big Green than BU.

I think another team that has be disappointed in its weekend output is North Dakota, which tied and lost a shootout to Ohio State on Friday before finally breaking its winless streak with a 4-3 win on Saturday. I said last week that I thought UND was likely out of the NCAA picture unless it wins the WCHA tournament. I’m starting to think that this year’s North Dakota team might not even get home ice for the WCHA tournament, which was unthinkable to me at the start of the year. In fact, UND might finish as low as six. What is your opinion of this year’s North Dakota team?

Arlan: Like many teams, there is a gap between UND playing well and UND going through the motions. Five of its six games versus Minnesota, Wisconsin, and UMD were very tight games. It lost three of those and only managed one overtime win, but if it could play at that level every time out, it would be okay. Maybe not at the top of the league, but solidly in the top four. The problem is that it mixes in games where it doesn’t seem quite as interested, as in the loss to Vermont, the second game in Minneapolis, and the first game in Bemidji. It doesn’t give itself much of a chance in those contests.

North Dakota has lost a lot of leadership in the last couple years with the graduation of Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux and Michelle Karvinen, on top of their point production. The burden has fallen on younger players to lead, and they are growing into the role. The team had to deal with a very turbulent week with the serious accident involving sophomore Lisa Marvin. That her sister Layla is a junior on the squad just multiplies the impact. In an emotional media conference after Friday’s game, Brian Idalski said that there have been other things going on as well. I’m sure every team has to deal with a lot of things over the course of the season — 25 or more lives intersect a lot of events. Some seasons stand out. Three years ago, Minnesota went through a Murphy’s Law type of year including death and serious medical issues involving family of several team members, and it just seemed like one thing after another. Adversity can either break a team down or make it stronger, and by the time that year ended in the program’s first NCAA title in several years, the players reacted as though they’d learned how to cope with any obstacle.

I expect that these events will strengthen the North Dakota team. It doesn’t mean that it will result in championships, but the bonds will have been formed by all of the turbulent times that they have weathered together. No matter what happens in the WCHA quarters, North Dakota will be hosting the league semis and final, so that can serve as a carrot on the stick later in the year. If as you say, it needs to win to advance, UND won’t lack for motivation, but there will be some tough opponents standing in the way.

Monday night, I saw St. Cloud State play for the first time since its opening weekend versus BU and Penn State when the Huskies faced Minnesota in the Hockey Hall of Fame game. After the game that Minnesota won, 5-0, first-year coach Eric Rud was encouraged that his team was making more plays.

“That’s really what we’re trying to teach our kids; you can’t win hanging on,” Rud said. “You got to come out and play and compete. I thought we made plays tonight from start to finish. Coming up the ice, we’d connect one, two, three, four passes. Now our next challenge is we kept fizzling out on our offensive blue line or in zone.”

We’ve seen opponents of the two undefeated teams, BC and Quinnipiac, exhibit both of those problems. Both won again on Tuesday night. BC opponents often find themselves just trying to hang on, while the Bobcats cause many opponents’ offensive thrusts to fizzle. What will it take for someone to hang a first loss on either before the two collide in January?

Candace: For Quinnipiac, I think it will take a team that can generate sustained rushes into the offensive zone and fire more shots. Princeton actually got 22 shots on net against Chelsea Laden, but most teams have had trouble getting more than 20. In their last few games, Quinnipiac faced 19 shots from St. Lawrence, 15 from Clarkson, eight from Union, 13 from Rensselaer, and only 14 from Cornell. Quinnipiac is a stifling defensive team, so you have to figure out a way to get through the neutral zone with speed. I was curious, so I just looked at the box scores, and Princeton is the first team all season to break the 20-shot barrier against Quinnipiac. Several teams have been held to under 10.

I think it would help if the team can match the Bobcats defensively as well. Quinnipiac plays Yale this weekend in the Nutmeg Classic, and the Bulldogs may have lost starting goaltender Jaimie Leonoff to an injury; she left during the game against the Eagles Tuesday and didn’t return. That won’t help the Bulldogs when they face Quinnipiac, but Yale exhibited an ability to skate at times with the high-flying Eagles.

What will it take to beat BC? Maybe replacing the skate blades with wheels before the Eagles take the ice. BC is just ridiculously fast on almost every line, and the top line with Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa may end up with two players leading the country in scoring. It’s really hard to keep them in check in for 60 minutes. BC hasn’t been held to under four goals since St. Lawrence did it back in early October, and looking at the schedule, I don’t know if that will happen before the Eagles face Quinnipiac, a game that at the moment looks like a classic case of the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. I’m not sure how that one will play out.

Before that game, the Eagles will face a Harvard team that has the potential to shut down an offense, and Boston University has played tight defensively as well, and the game on Jan. 7 could be very interesting that way. However, it has to be demoralizing for a team to know that you may have to score five or more goals to win. I’ve heard that BC has looked bored at times in the last weeks, so the game against Harvard is really important.

Getting back to Minnesota, the Gophers are in a funny position, sporting a 12-1-2 record but with some people considering it a down year so far. Do you think that maybe a little less pressure on the Gophers will help them come playoff time?

Arlan: Is there less pressure? Less attention, I’d say, but the pressure is a different kind of pressure. They’ve been able to open up sizable leads in the conference race the previous two years. This year, Wisconsin has been a week ahead in WCHA games played all season, so the Gophers have trailed in the standings in terms of points the whole way, despite having the better league winning percentage. I think that the focus of a tight conference race will help whatever team emerges from the WCHA wars, be it the Badgers, Gophers, Bulldogs, or some dark horse. Minnesota had a stronger team for the 2013 NCAA tournament than it put on the ice in 2012, but the 2012 unit had been pushed hard during the season so many times that it rose to its potential and had a slightly easier time of it in the national tournament, not needing to face the perils of sudden death in overtime.

The Gophers are still trying to fine tune their lineup, finding the right mix of six on the blue line and deciding who will line up at center. Kelly Pannek had her first hat trick on Monday. She currently has the team’s two senior forwards, Rachael Bona and Meghan Lorence, on her wings. That unit has shown signs of heating up, and if it can stay productive, that takes some burden off of Hannah Brandt’s line with Dani Cameranesi and Maryanne Menefee. With all the key freshmen in the Wisconsin lineup, the Badgers will continue to grow. The effort that was good enough to sweep them a month ago won’t be enough when the teams next meet in January. UMD, with so many new faces on the roster, continues to gel as well.

If I’m Katie King Crowley, I want somebody to give the Eagles a game over the next couple of months, no matter the outcome. Constant leads of two, three, or even more goals heading into the third period is not optimal for development. I am convinced that their speed and depth make them the best team in the country right now. I don’t see BC as being on a totally different level, however. The team that will emerge in March is the one that makes the most improvement in the coming months, and that’s a pressure that all of the contenders share.

Niagara starts the long road back from injury-filled 0-9 start

DSC 0282 Niagara starts the long road back from injury filled 0 9 start

TJ Sarcona returned to the Niagara lineup last weekend after missing the start of the season with a broken wrist (photo: Omar Phillips).

The Niagara Purple Eagles were picked to finish fourth in Atlantic Hockey this season, coming off an appearance in last year’s semifinals that saw them fall to eventual champion Robert Morris in overtime.

There was a lot for coach Dave Burkholder to be optimistic about heading into the 2014-15 campaign. His team returned two of its top three scorers in Hugo Turcotte and Isaac Kohls, as well as TJ Sarcona, who turned heads as a rookie (11 goals and 11 assists).

Another freshman, defenseman Vince Muto, was named to the league’s all-rookie team, while a pair of first-year goaltenders came into their own. After platooning Adrian Ignagni and Jackson Teichroeb for the first half of the season, Burkholder went with Teichroeb down the stretch as the Purple Eagles upset Air Force in Colorado Springs in the playoff quarterfinals to advance to Rochester.

So a top-four finished seemed not only possible, but probable.

But the injury bug hit hard, beginning with Sarcona, who broke his wrist in dryland training. Then Teichroeb injured his hamstring in an intrasquad scrimmage right before the season started. Senior defenseman Kevin Albers started the season on the sidelines (offseason shoulder surgery).

With player after player missing games due to injury, capped by Muto breaking his arm in Niagara’s second game, the Purps were literally limping into the season, starting 0-9.

“It certainly was a factor,” said Burkholder. “So many guys have missed time. When you lose the guys we did, like TJ Sarcona, who is one of our captains as a sophomore, it puts you back on your heels.”

Only three Niagara players have appeared in all 12 games so far: Turcotte and fellow forward Matt Chartrain as well as senior defenseman Nick Cecere.

But things are looking up in Lewiston. Sarcona returned to action last weekend and just about everyone (with the exception of Muto, who isn’t expected to return to the lineup until after Christmas) is back and reasonably healthy.

The result? Niagara won its first game of the season on Nov. 8 at Bentley, in overtime, and after a weekend off returned home to Dwyer Arena and swept Army in convincing fashion, 3-1 and 6-1.

“It’s really just been since last weekend that we’ve had a healthy roster,” said Burkholder. “And our goaltending was great.”

Teichroeb was pressed into action on Oct. 31 after, you guessed it, Ignagni was hurt the weekend before at Notre Dame. It took Teichroeb a couple of games to shake off the rust (a pair of losses to American International and a loss to Bentley), but he was outstanding last weekend against Army, allowing just two goals on 51 shots.

“[Teichroeb] was medically ready [at Notre Dame] but he probably should have had a little more time,” said Burkholder. “But that’s the way it’s been with injuries. It took him a while to get his timing and fitness to where it needed to be.”

Sarcona provided an immediate boost with a goal and an assist last weekend. And rookie Stanislav Dzakhov made his debut with a pair of assists. Dzakhov, a Moscow native, came in highly touted after a career in juniors that saw him spend time with Fargo in the USHL and more recently Bismarck in the NAHL, where he led the Bobcats in scoring.

Dzakhov was certified by the NCAA “with conditions” requiring him to miss the first 10 games of the season.

“It’s great to have [Dzakhov] as well,” said Burkholder. “It’s a real bonus on top of everything we’ve had to deal with so far to have him in the lineup now.”

Burkholder credits his players and staff with sticking through the hard times, which he hopes will make his team stronger.

“On top of the injuries, we just weren’t playing well,” he said. “We’ve got a pretty positive group and they didn’t get down on themselves. It starts with the belief that we know we’re going to be a good hockey team. You can’t put it all on injuries.”

When a team is short-handed, a silver lining is having role players move into the spotlight and gain valuable experience. Burkholder said he’s seen that with his squad.

“[Freshman] Rob Angiolella is a good example,” he said. “If you asked the coaching staff in the summer that, starting at full strength, what his role would be, we were unsure. He could have been on the fourth line or maybe in and out of the lineup.

“But he’s been outstanding for us. He’s got seven points in nine games and is a complete 200-feet player. He’s done it all.”

Another surprise is Cecere, who transferred from Michigan Tech after the 2011-12 season. He had to sit out the 2012-13 campaign and then played only four games last season due to injury.

“He’s been out of hockey for essentially two years and we were wondering if he’d still have the drive,” said Burkholder. “But he’s been a leader for us.”

Niagara’s schedule hasn’t been kind — now getting healthy after a grueling start to the season, the Purple Eagles are in the midst of a 33-day stretch where they play just twice. Niagara was off the weekend of Nov. 14-15 and is also idle this weekend, with its next games at home against Holy Cross on Dec. 5-6.

“Yeah, we could have used those breaks earlier this season,” said Burkholder. “And after getting our first win at Bentley (on Nov. 8) we wanted to play again right away. It kind of feels that way again now.

“But we still have some guys dinged up a bit, and with finals approaching we’ll use the time to our advantage.”

DSC 6071 Niagara starts the long road back from injury filled 0 9 start

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Matt Garbowsky leads the nation with 11 goals (photo: Omar Phillips).

Top of the heap

We’re about one-third of the way through the 2014-15 season, and players from Atlantic Hockey are near or at the top of many offensive categories:

• Rochester Institute of Technology’s Matt Garbowsky leads the nation in goals with 11. Bentley forward Max French is tied for second with 10.

• Garbowsky is tied with Boston University’s Jack Eichel for overall points with 19. Next in line is Robert Morris senior Cody Wydo, who has 18.

• Wydo is tied for fourth in the nation in points per game with 1.50.

• RIT’s Josh Mitchell is tied for the lead nationally in assists with 13. Also with 13 assists is Penn State (and former Mercyhurst) defenseman Taylor Holstrom.

• French is second in the nation in power-play goals with five.

• Robert Morris freshman Brady Ferguson is tied for fourth in points by a rookie with 12.

• Robert Morris has the top-rated offense in Division I, averaging 3.83 goals scored per game.

• Bentley has the nation’s top power play, converting at 34.7 percent (17-for-49).

Tying history

On Friday, American International lost three leads and had to settle for a 5-5 tie with then-No. 20 Robert Morris. It marked the second time the Yellow Jackets have tied at nationally ranked team.

It happened before on Nov. 23, 2007, in the first round of the Rensselaer Hockey Tournament, which saw the host Engineers advance via a shootout win.

AIC is still looking for that elusive victory over a ranked team.

Snowed out

Thanks to the snowpocalypse that hit Western New York last week, last Friday’s game between host Mercyhurst and Canisius had to be postponed. The game will be played on Tuesday, Jan. 13.

The teams were able to meet last Saturday in Buffalo, skating to a 3-3 tie. Canisius is now 0-2-3 in its new home, the HarborCenter. The Golden Griffins will be looking for that first win in their new barn again this weekend when they host Air Force for a pair of games.

Father vs. son

Jack Riley, the son of Army coach Brian Riley, is a redshirt freshman forward at Mercyhurst. We’ve already seen the teams square off this season (Mercyhurst swept the Black Knights in Erie on Nov. 7-8) and they will play at least two more times this season and likely have many more meetings over Jack’s career.

Saturday’s RIT game at Yale is the first and most likely the only time Tigers coach Wayne Wilson will match up against his son Stu, a junior forward for the Bulldogs.

“It’s for bragging rights,” said Wilson. “Unless we meet in the NCAA tournament, this is the last time it’s going to happen, and having that one-up on each other is going to last a long time.”

Both Wilsons sport national championship rings: Wayne won the title in 1984 as a senior with Bowling Green and Stu’s Bulldogs won it all in 2013, his freshman season.

Weekly awards

I’m going with the same honorees as the league, which has started a new award: defensive player of the week. Defensive prowess is often hard to quantify, so I’m not going to second-guess the league on that one.

Player of the week — David Friedmann, Robert Morris: The junior forward had three goals and an assist to lead the Colonials to a three-point weekend against AIC.

Goalie of the week — Terry Shafer, Robert Morris: Shafer recorded his fourth career shutout in a 6-0 win over AIC on Saturday.

Rookie of the week — Robert Angiolella, Niagara: The freshman scored three goals, including a game-winner, in a weekend sweep of Army.

Defensive player of the week — Rob Mann, Robert Morris: The sophomore blueliner had a goal and an assist and was plus-3 on the weekend.

Despite first losses, Michigan Tech gives Houghton plenty to be excited about

tech celebrate 1 Despite first losses, Michigan Tech gives Houghton plenty to be excited about

Michigan Tech drew capacity crowds to the MacInnes Student Ice Arena for a rare home series against Michigan (photo: Devin C Miller/Michigan Tech Athletics).

HOUGHTON, Mich. — While the nation’s longest winning streak came to an end over the weekend, the Michigan Tech Huskies won something important in a series against Minnesota State: the attendance at both games.

On a weekend when students normally head home, the Huskies played before a combined total in excess of 7,000 fans.

“Overall, I think the community is ecstatic,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “They know we are going to have some hiccups here and there, but we have had a rich and proud history in the past here. Most people are just happy to see us back on the map in college hockey.”

With the pair of one-goal losses to Minnesota State, the Huskies saw their season-opening winning streak end at 10 games and fell from No. 1 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll — a program first — to sixth.

Still, they have already racked up 16 points in the WCHA, more than they amassed in the entire 28-game schedule in three of the previous six seasons.

When Pearson was brought in to replace Jamie Russell as head coach three seasons ago, there was a sense that maybe this was the right move, but maybe it was six years too late. There was no way to be sure.

In his first season at the helm, Pearson’s Huskies came into their final regular season series against Colorado College with the potential to finish anywhere from fourth to eighth in the WCHA standings. They dropped both games but swept the Tigers in the playoffs the next weekend.

In his second season, the Huskies won the Great Lakes Invitational for the first time since 1981. In year three, they finished just a point out of a home playoff spot.

The winds of change are evident for the Huskies, who have gone from playing in front of crowds of 1,600 to those of 3,200 and up.

Crowd size is not the way to determine how things are changing in the local community. For the past four weeks, Pearson has been mentioning in postgame interviews that his staff and the team have been receiving emails and phone calls of support for the things they are doing.

“The big thing is keep it going,” said Pearson. “Everyone says, ‘Just keep it going.’ Which is great and of course we want to do that. It’s nice to see people feel good about their team and the team they support. We have had outstanding support since I’ve been coach.”

With their 10-0 start, this iteration of the Huskies has done something no team in the history of the program has done: win nine or more straight games to start a season. After sweeping Bemidji State on Nov. 14 and 15, they became the only remaining team with no losses.

That slipped away last weekend, but that the honor belonged to the Huskies has not been lost on Pearson.

The players have been hearing from their friends and classmates both on campus and through social media.

“We did not sweep it under the rug because you can’t,” said Pearson. “Our players are getting emails and they can read papers and the Internet, but good for them. I told them it is good to be recognized for your hard work.”

Pearson is quick to share the credit for this group’s success with the players, who have learned to play the style that his staff has been working to instill for three years.

“We have a real educated hockey community,” said Pearson. “They can see it. I think they have seen it in the last couple of years, the game and the style we are trying to incorporate. Now we are just learning how to win in that style.”

p35 Despite first losses, Michigan Tech gives Houghton plenty to be excited about

Michigan Tech’s Blake Pietila has four goals through 12 games (photo: Tim Brule).

Several upperclassmen have had a major impact in the way this group plays. It all starts with junior goaltender Jamie Phillips, who Pearson believes has been a strong candidate for WCHA defensive player of the week every weekend he has played.

The numbers for Phillips bore that out. In 12 games played, he has a 1.42 GAA and his 10 wins more than double his career high of four.

Part of the reason for his success comes from having assistant coach Joe Shawhan on the staff this season. Phillips has learned much from working with the former goalie.

The resurgence of co-captain Blake Pietila has also helped the Huskies get off to a strong start. Last season, while battling a nagging injury that did not keep him out of the lineup but affected the way he played, Pietila scored just one goal before Dec. 26. This season, he already has four.

Local product Tanner Kero, who graduated from Hancock High School, located just across the canal from Houghton, is also off to a great start.

Through 12 games, Kero has 14 points. More impressive, however, is how he is doing it. He has had three multi-point games and two where he has not scored at all. However, even when he is not scoring, he has an effect on what happens night in and night out.

“I think if you are happy, you are in a better spot to have success,” said Pearson. “I think our players enjoy coming to the rink. That has helped fuel them to have success. … You are trying to create that culture that they want to be here.”

Regardless of what happens moving forward, the Huskies have done plenty both before and during this season to get the local community back on their side. Moving forward, it seems that the culture around the program is changing for the better as well.

TMQ: Now it’s Boston University’s turn with the target

141025 20042304 TMQ: Now its Boston Universitys turn with the target

Boston University is 8-1-1 heading into a Tuesday night games against Harvard (photo: Melissa Wade).

Matthew: Welcome to this week’s edition of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, USCHO’s weekly column in which we go over some of the biggest talking points from the weekend that was in college hockey. Normally Jim Connelly and Todd Milewski are the masters of ceremonies in this space, but I’ve been asked to step in and wag chins with Jim about last weekend.

We’ve got a lot to talk about here between things that happened on the ice and even some things that happened away from it. One of perhaps college hockey’s smaller schools in Michigan Tech fell from the top of the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, while D-I hockey will soon be picking up a very big name in Arizona State.

We’ll get to both of these topics, but let’s stay balanced nationally. Jim, what’s the biggest thing that caught your eye out further east last week?

Jim: Well, what caught my eye also caught the eye of many of the voters in this week’s poll, and that’s Boston University. The Terriers’ come-from-behind win on Friday against Maine was a memorable one, scoring twice in the third to tie the game before rookie extraordinaire Jack Eichel scored the OT winner on a stunning end-to-end rush.

Now the Terriers become the team with the target, taking the top spot in the poll. And that target will be worn Tuesday night as BU takes on an upstart Harvard team in a pre-Thanksgiving game. Pretty compelling for a midweek game.

Matthew: “Extraordinaire” almost seems to be putting it mildly with the attention he’s already been getting in his short time with the Terriers. BU intrigues me, though, and it seems like it’s been a long time since the Terriers have been in the top spot.

Michigan Tech was there last week but fell twice to Minnesota State and also dropped in our poll. Tech was and remains a great story early on this season, but how much more staying power do you think BU might have in terms of staying on top?

Jim: I think that experience usually breeds staying power atop the polls. And while BU has plenty of hockey tradition, none of its current roster has enjoyed any significant success. Second-year coach David Quinn has a winning resume and was a part of the 2009 NCAA championship team as an assistant. But it’s hard to get a feel for whether BU has a staying power at the top.

Back out west, what do you think we should make of Minnesota State? A great two-game road sweep of No. 1 Michigan Tech seems noteworthy but didn’t create a huge jump in the poll. Are the Mavs underappreciated?

Matthew: I think the whole WCHA is. Mike Hastings has turned Minnesota State into a perennial contender since he moved up there after his time as an assistant at Omaha, and I think people tend to forget North Dakota’s goaltender Zane McIntyre stole an NCAA tournament regional final against Ferris State and robbed the Bulldogs of what would’ve been a deserved place in the Frozen Four.

As for Michigan Tech, Mel Pearson has done a brilliant job with the Huskies ever since leaving Michigan. One wonders whether he, like Hastings in Omaha, saw the writing on the wall that head coaching jobs would have to be found elsewhere.

At 5-6 right now, Michigan must wish it could’ve done more to keep Pearson around. Minnesota and Penn State have both done pretty well so far, but after that, the Big Ten has been a big mess. What do you think is going on in that league?

Jim: The only Big Ten team I am seriously concerned about is Wisconsin. The Badgers might just be one of the three worst teams in the country. Losing to a struggling Colorado College team on Friday further cemented my extreme concerns for Wisco.

I think Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all have a ton of potential in the Big Ten but Wisconsin may already be in the middle of a lost season.

Another big story last week was the elevation of Arizona State from club to Division I beginning next season. A lot to be discussed there, including what conference the Sun Devils will play in. But what are your initial thoughts?

Matthew: Regardless of where the Sun Devils eventually slot into, I think the fact that ASU is starting a Division I program is fantastic for college hockey. It further allays many people’s fears that conference expansion was going to hurt college hockey, because so far it feels as though quite the opposite has been taking place.

I have to think that the NCHC would be the best fit for ASU, or at least early on. I believe it’s the best geographic fit for as long as the Sun Devils are the only Pac-12 school with a D-I hockey program. I know ASU hopes that making this move will tip the dominoes with some of their Pac-12 brethren, though, and I’m curious to get your thoughts as to whether or not that’s doable.

Jim: I will admit I have tempered optimism, not for Arizona State but rather to believe you can find five other Pac-12 schools to pony up a minimum of $30 million to invest in hockey.

Just because there are some of the nation’s strongest financial athletic programs in that conference doesn’t mean that there will suddenly be a financial dump into college hockey programs. And angel donors, while now responsible for the two newest D-I programs, are still rare.

Trust me, I am excited for more college hockey expansion, but thinking this is the dawn of a new era may be a bit of a pipe dream at this point.

Thumbs up

If anyone wonders how good this Jack Eichel kid is, here is a video of his end-to-end rush in overtime that won the game against Maine on Friday. The video is about two-and-a-half minutes long, but you only need to watch 15 seconds to see Eichel’s brilliance.

Thumbs down

Omaha knocked off Minnesota-Duluth 4-1 on Saturday to end what had been a no-loss November for the Bulldogs. The night before, UNO hosted UMD in a 3-2 win for the Bulldogs that ruined UNO’s first home game since Oct. 11. That means the Mavericks went nearly a month and a half between games early on this season at CenturyLink Center. Road wins mean a lot, and UNO went 5-0-1 on its six-game road trip, but UNO fans certainly had to sit tight for a while before getting their fix again.

Coming up

As mentioned earlier, new No. 1 Boston University gets a Tuesday night test against No. 18 Harvard before hosting No. 9 Colgate on Saturday.

No. 2 North Dakota hosts No. 11 Omaha in a two-game NCHC series Friday and Saturday, and there are three other games between ranked teams this week:

• No. 3 Minnesota plays at No. 12 Boston College on Friday.

• The Eagles then play at No. 20 Providence on Saturday.

• Harvard plays at No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday.

ECAC Hockey suspends Colgate’s Murphy one game for head contact penalty

ECAC Hockey announced Monday that Colgate junior forward Darcy Murphy has given been a one-game suspension as the result of his actions in the Raiders’ game against Brown last Friday (Nov. 21).

The league action was taken after review of an incident that occurred at the 15:39 mark of the second period when Murphy was assessed a major penalty for contact to the head and a game disqualification penalty.

Murphy is not eligible to compete in Colgate’s next game this Saturday, Nov. 29, at Boston University.

Hockey Humanitarian Award seeks nominations for college hockey’s finest citizen

2012040616 38 140399 Hockey Humanitarian Award seeks nominations for college hockeys finest citizen

The BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award will be presented at the Frozen Four in Boston (photo: Jim Rosvold).

The BNY Mellon Wealth Management Hockey Humanitarian Award, in its 20th season, is looking for nominations for college hockey’s finest citizen.

College coaches and athletic department personnel are encouraged to consider which of their athletes embrace hockey as an opportunity to enrich both their own lives and those of others in the community.

Nominations are being accepted through Dec. 14 at the HockeyHumanitarian.org page.

Players from all areas of NCAA hockey — men’s and women’s, Divisions I, II and III — are eligible for the award, which will be presented April 10 at the Frozen Four in Boston.

Holy Cross’ Jeffrey Reppucci was the 2014 recipient.

U.S. College Hockey Online has been a Hockey Humanitarian Award media and marketing partner since 2007.

Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17-23

20141121 Omaha UMD 11 MBishop Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23

Omaha’s David Pope celebrates his second-period goal in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth on Friday (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Here’s how the teams in the Nov. 17, 2014, USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll fared from Monday, Nov. 17 to Sunday, Nov. 23:

RANKLAST WEEK’S RESULTSRECORDTHIS WEEK’S GAMES
1mtu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Michigan Tech
Friday: lost to No. 9 Minnesota State 2-1
Saturday: lost to No. 9 Minnesota State 3-2
10-2Friday-Saturday: at Alabama-Huntsville
2und Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
North Dakota
Friday: lost at No. 16 St. Cloud State 3-1
Saturday: won at No. 16 St. Cloud State 3-2
9-3-1Friday-Saturday: vs. Omaha
3bu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Boston University
Friday: beat Maine 3-2, OT
Saturday: won at Connecticut 5-2
8-1-1Tuesday: vs. Harvard
Saturday: vs. Colgate
Sunday: at Dartmouth
4umn Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Minnesota
Friday: lost to U.S. Under-18 Team (ex)7-3Friday: at Boston College
Saturday: at Northeastern
5uml Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Massachusetts-Lowell
Thursday: won at Notre Dame 3-1
Friday: tied at Notre Dame 2-2
8-2-3Saturday: vs. Harvard
6col Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Colgate
Friday: beat Brown 4-3, OT
Saturday: lost to Yale 3-1
9-4-1Saturday: at Boston University
7mu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Miami
Friday: beat Western Michigan 1-0
Saturday: beat Western Michigan 5-2
10-4Off
8umd Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Minnesota-Duluth
Friday: won at No. 13 Omaha 3-2
Saturday: lost at Omaha 4-1
9-5Off
9mnst Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Minnesota State
Friday: won at No. 1 Michigan Tech 2-1
Saturday: won at No. 1 Michigan Tech 3-2
9-3Friday-Saturday: at Lake Superior State
10du Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Denver
Friday: beat Air Force 7-0
Saturday: beat Wisconsin 3-2
8-3Off
11uvm Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Vermont
Friday: lost at Connecticut 2-1
Saturday: won at Massachusetts 11-1
8-3-1Tuesday: vs. Massachusetts
Friday-Saturday: at Maine
12bc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Boston Colege
Friday: won at Massachusetts 5-3
Saturday: beat Maine 4-1
7-5Friday: vs. Minnesota
Saturday: at Providence
13uno Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Omaha
Friday: lost to No. 8 Minnesota-Duluth 3-2
Saturday: beat Minnesota-Duluth 4-1
7-2-1Friday-Saturday: at North Dakota
14qu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Quinnipiac
Friday: lost at Clarkson
Saturday: won at St. Lawrence 3-2, OT
8-3-1Friday: vs. MassachusettsSaturday: at Massachusetts
15uc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Union
Off6-5-1Friday: at Notre Dame
Saturday: vs. Ohio State/Western Michigan at Shillelagh Tournament
16scsu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
St. Cloud State
Friday: beat No. 2 North Dakota 3-1
Saturday: lost to No. 2 North Dakota 3-2
5-6-1Friday-Saturday: at Bemidji State
17nmu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Northern Michigan
Friday: won at Alaska-Anchorage 1-0
Saturday: lost at Alaska-Anchorage 4-0
7-2-1Friday-Saturday: at Alaska
18bgsu Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Bowling Green
Friday: beat Bemidji State 3-1
Saturday: beat Bemidji State 3-2
10-3-1Off
19pc Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Providence
Friday: at New Hampshire, ppd, ice
Saturday: won at New Hampshire 1-0
5-5-1Tuesday: vs. Army
Saturday: vs. Boston College
20rm Rankings roundup: How ranked teams fared, Nov. 17 23
Robert Morris
Friday: tied at American International 5-5
Saturday: won at American International 6-0
8-1-3Off

New Hampshire, Providence set Jan. 13 as date to make up Friday’s postponed game

New Hampshire and Providence will make up Friday’s postponed game on Tuesday, Jan. 13.

The teams weren’t able to play Friday because of problems with the ice surface at the Whittemore Center.

The rescheduled game will start at 7 p.m. EST. Fans with tickets for Friday’s game can use them on Jan. 13 or return or exchange them at the point of purchase.

Saturday’s game is scheduled to be played at 5 p.m. EST.

Northeastern’s Snydeman suspended 1 game for hit that sidelined Merrimack goalie Tirronen

Hockey East suspended Northeastern senior forward Torin Snydeman for one game on Saturday after he collided with Merrimack goaltender Rasmus Tirronen early in Friday’s game.

Snydeman was given a goaltender interference penalty during the game; Tirronen had to leave the game with what the Boston Herald reported was a suspected concussion.

“He’s out for a while,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said of Tirronen. “He got elbowed in the head.”

Snydeman has two goals and 12 penalty minutes in 10 games this season for Northeastern. He’ll miss Saturday’s home game against Merrimack.

Roy earns prestigious Spirit of Courage Award from Christopher Reeve Foundation

Travis Roy was presented the Christopher Reeve Foundation’s prestigious Spirit of Courage Award at its annual gala in New York City on Thursday.

Roy, who fell head-first into the boards just 11 seconds into his first game with Boston University in 1995 and wound up paralyzed, has been involved with his self-named foundation for years, but has never been after any recognition.

“For a long time, almost 10 years, I never felt comfortable with the attention my story received,” Roy told the Portland Press Herald. “Basically, all I did was break my neck.

“The first seven, eight years, the impact [of the Travis Roy Foundation] was very small. The last eight, 10 years, we’ve changed the lives of 1,000 people. We’re funding research. I realize [the Spirit of Courage Award] is important. It means a lot to me because I share it with so many others. I’m just the lead singer of this band.”

Roy’s annual Wiffle ball fundraiser tournament in Essex, Vt., has raised $2,910,000 over the past 13 years.

“Every year I try to get through it without emotionally breaking down,” said Tony McNaboe, a longtime friend of Roy’s, to the Press Herald. “Essex, for the three days of the tournament, is a little bit of utopia. It blows my mind what he’s turned that tournament into. It’s such a profoundly poignant time and it’s all because of Travis. He’s so selflessly concerned with you.”

Michigan’s Yost Arena to undergo improvements to ice systems

The University of Michigan Board of Regents approved on Nov. 20 improvements to the ice systems at Yost Ice Arena.

The existing equipment has been in use since 1973, when the Wolverines began play at Yost, and has exceeded its life expectancy, according to a school-issued press release.

Michigan has hired Stevens Engineering, Inc. to design the project, which will include removing and rebuilding the existing rink floor to facilitate replacement of refrigeration piping.

Minor architectural changes will occur, including the modification of the current ice equipment room, enclosing the existing Zamboni flood water treatment system, extending the wall in the Zamboni area to increase separation from the west concourse, expanding the existing snow melt pit and the construction of two new brick screen walls at the south façade of the building to enclose the cooling tower and dumpsters.

In addition, the current dasher board system will be removed and replaced to improve the safety of the players.

The project, funded by Michigan Athletics resources, will cost an estimated $5.8 million. Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

Commentary: At Arizona State, expect the exuberance to continue past the first varsity faceoff

I0000n.2sjye5EyM Commentary: At Arizona State, expect the exuberance to continue past the first varsity faceoff

Arizona State goalie Robert Levin was the rookie of the year in the ACHA last season (photo: Courtney Pedroza/House of Sparky).

Editor’s note: Justin Emerson is the managing editor of HouseOfSparky.com, an SB Nation site, and a student in Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Starting next season, Arizona State will have a Division I hockey team. I never thought I’d type those words. I don’t think anyone ever expected to read those words.

I’ve covered the ASU team for three years now and have seen what this team is, and that’s one of the most exciting teams at a school with a ton of excitement. The football team made it to No. 6 in the rankings, the basketball team is in the infancy of its season, the baseball team has a new stadium and a new coach.

And yet, everyone is excited for hockey right now. And why not? This is a region that, while watching the rest of the country, is enjoying the slightly chilly 70-degree weather. I’m sitting outside by my pool as I write this.

This team has always been a little different. It never identifies itself has a club team. It’s the “C” word around the program. On my first day on the beat, my headline included the “C” word, and I got called by three people inside the team asking me to not use it when not absolutely necessary. The players don’t think of themselves as “C” word players, and now they won’t have to.

As for the fan support, that’s where it gets fun. The ASU basketball team’s student section has what it likes to call the “Curtain of Distraction.” Essentially, they have a giant curtain they pull back when the opposing team attempts a free throw to reveal something utterly ridiculous in an attempt to make him miss.

Now take that level of exuberant fandom, stick it in the seats behind the opposing goalie and see what happens. The poor guy. He’s going to let in a goal and hear his name serenaded behind him until the final horn sounds.

What’s intriguing is the possibility for Pac-12 hockey. ASU and the University of Arizona are extraordinarily competitive, and UA won’t like the fact it is losing in anything to its northern neighbors.

Oregon has Nike’s Phil Knight in its corner and surely won’t be lacking in the funds to make it possible if it is something Oregon wants to prioritize.

Same for the Los Angeles schools. USC and UCLA would have no trouble, and Colorado already has an ACHA team.

There’s the six schools the Pac-12 would need to form a hockey conference. And that doesn’t include Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, California and Utah.

The one thing that is for sure is that it is an exciting time for hockey in Arizona, the West Coast and the college world. ASU brings name recognition to a college hockey landscape that (no disrespect to Union) has a national champion not many outside of New York or the college hockey world has heard of. Obviously, it’s tremendous hockey played there and Union deserves far more credit than it receives, but if you ask a random fan who the defending NCAA football, basketball and hockey champions are, they’d probably get two.

ASU is certainly buzzing with hockey fever right now. Next year the team will play a hybrid NCAA-ACHA schedule, followed by a full NCAA conference-independent schedule the following year and joining a conference in 2017-18.

Next season will be my fourth on the beat. I was around when the Sun Devils beat Division I Penn State, I was there for the 37-game winning streak against rival UA and I was at the national tournament. But next year will be the most excited I’ve ever been for ASU hockey.

Follow Justin Emerson on Twitter at @J15Emerson.

Plattsburgh senior Stewart finds success, stays on even keel

shannon stewart plattsburgh gabe dickens Plattsburgh senior Stewart finds success, stays on even keel

For Plattsburgh senior Shannon Stewart, success only means the hard work is never complete (photo: Gabe Dickens).

Most hockey players are humble and down to Earth.

Even coming off a national championship last spring, Plattsburgh senior forward Shannon Stewart still has her head on straight.

Then again, coming off three years of big-time success is an even greater accomplishment, but Stewart wants no discussion on the past; it’s only about looking forward for her.

“I expect a lot out of this team because we have been so successful in the last three years,” said Stewart, a Pickering, Ontario, native. “Everybody is working hard and wants to be back in that championship game again. In order to succeed, we have to focus on one game at a time and not look past anyone. Working hard doesn’t just consist of on the ice, but also doing what we’re supposed to be doing outside of the rink.”

In 2011-12, Plattsburgh finished third in the nation,  then repeated that in 2013. Then came the Cardinals’ 28-1-1 campaign of 2013-14, and everything just fell into place.

Stewart said last year was simply a dream, and wants to go through the rigors again this season.

“I think the past three seasons have been very successful,” explained Stewart, “As a freshman, we were the underdogs going into the Final Four weekend. We were happy to be there and had a great year. Obviously, my sophomore year was not what we wanted, only losing one game all year and it being the semifinals game, but at the same time, it was still an amazing season for us. Last year was something that I will never forget. We finally ended up on top and it was very exciting.”

As a top player in Canada, many schools were after Stewart. After careful consideration, the choice came down to just one — Plattsburgh — and she even got a second opinion on the matter.

“I visited the campus twice before deciding that Plattsburgh was the place for me,” Stewart said. “I came up with my mom on one trip and traveled to Potsdam to watch the team play. Later on in the year, I came up with my dad and spent a night with the team. I really liked the way coach [Kevin Houle] talked about the program on and off the ice. Plattsburgh had my major [childhood education], and his coaching record really stood out to me.”

Houle has been impressed with Stewart’s progression through the years, and isn’t sure what the plan is next season.

“Shannon has been an impact player since halfway through her freshman year, but as a sophomore, she became a force,” Houle said. “Last season, she was one of the top players in the country and she started to mature as a leader of our team. This season, she has become our leader at the forward position and is off to a great start. She makes plays every shift on the ice. You can’t replace a Shannon Stewart with a freshman, as you are not just replacing points, you are trying to replace a role model and the leadership she brings to the team. As a coach, you hope that a current player will step into her role.”

Looking back, was it an adjustment for Stewart moving to a foreign land?

“There wasn’t a culture shock, but it took time to get used to,” admitted Stewart. “I wasn’t used to practicing every day and at first, it was very exhausting. It took me a while to adjust, but now that I am so used to it, I love being busy and doing something constantly.”

What she has also done on a constant basis is rack up points. In 96 career games, Stewart has posted 53 goals and 53 assists for 106 points, including six goals and eight points through seven games this year.

Just as she won’t dwell on the past, Stewart also won’t pine over the future, instead choosing to take her approach one day at a time.

“I think that as a team, we are all level-headed,” Stewart said. “We don’t talk much about last year because this is a new year and anything can happen. We also know how to overcome adversity and give it everything we’ve got. Coach is always on us about hard work, and I think that has helped us in a lot of situations. We try to be relentless every game.”

So what does happen next year when Stewart’s college career comes to a close? Her goals are very reasonable.

“I hope to play hockey somewhere, if it’s in Europe or the CWHL,” said Stewart. “I don’t think that I am ready to hang up the skates just yet. At the same time, if a job opportunity arises, I would take it.”

Again, Stewart’s humility shines through.

Noteworthy
St. Scholastica if off to a 5-1 start and has outscored opponents 29-7, averaging nearly five goals a game (4.83). Saints’ senior Nina Waidacher leads the country in scoring with a 7-6–13 line in six games. … St. Anselm senior defenseman Robin Yoshida is the lone New Mexico native in all of NCAA Division I or Division III women’s hockey (more on that next week). … Amherst has scored just three goals in its first two games this season, but won both last weekend in a home-and-home with Hamilton, 2-0 and 1-0. … Hamilton is the only team yet to score a goal this season, with the exception of Bowdoin, which hasn’t played yet. … Karen Larson and Kayla Goodwin have 10 points each for Wisconsin-Superior this season. … Bethel has scored 18 goals as a team, yet is just 3-2-1. … Plattsburgh freshman Kayla Meneghin leads all D-III freshman and the country with eight goals, including two short-handed snipes. … Senior Ally Ross is 5-0-1 between the pipes for Plattsburgh and carries a 1.64 GAA and a .904 save percentage.

Snowstorm postpones Friday’s Mercyhurst-Canisius game, rescheduled for Jan. 13

Friday’s Mercyhurst home game against Canisius has been postponed because of the snowstorm in Western New York.

 

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