Despite win over No. 3 Colorado College, bias against Air Force, Atlantic Hockey still exists

I’ve been waiting somewhat patiently for the latest edition of the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll to come out today to see what, if any, respect Air Force would receive now that its beaten the No. 3 team in the country and lost a tight game to the No. 9 team.

Though I’m not necessarily surprised, voters still refuse to respect the Falcons or, for that matter, the league in which they play. Air Force entered the weekend perfect, 12-0-0, but many said its schedule wasn’t difficult enough to warrant a top ranking. I somewhat agree. The fact that the Falcons had been blowing away inferior opponents had me voting them higher (I believe 7th on my ballot last week).

When today’s poll came out, the Falcons were ranked 10th, one spot higher than last week. My argument is that Air Force, in knocking off No. 3 Colorado College in CONVINCING fashion, deserved a better fate. Some will say that Air Force lost a night later, but that shouldn’t impact the position that much. Every team in front of Air Force has losses, most team more than two and some teams have four or five losses.

The fact that Air Force is being held back because it is a member of Atlantic Hockey should be a crushed argument after this past weekend. Other Atlantic Hockey members were dominant and, in fact, the league posted a 5-3-1 record out of conference on the week. Mercyhurst won the RPI tournament by beating the host, RPI, and the No. 7 team in the country. Cansisius took three of four points from Clarkson, a pre-season top 20. Connecticut manhandled Brown. The only non-league losses of the week by Atlantic Hockey members were by RIT, which admittedly got manhandled by UMass-Lowell, Holy Cross, which lost a heartbreaker to former No. 1 Boston University, and the aforementioned loss of Air Force.

I really hoped that the pollsters (in full disclosure, I voted Air Force third this week) would have taken this opportunity to correct the Falcons under-rating. Though maybe it’s better off – teams might continue to take Air Force lightly and proceed to get outplayed. This is a team that deserves respect and I’m confident will continue to earn it.

UPDATE (4:15 PM ET): The other poll was just released at Air Force was also 10 in that poll. Good to see that short-sightedness in voting is not limited to USCHO’s balloters!

Agree to disagree?

So I began my season of blogging with a doozy – showing video of the Harvard-Union game in which a goaltender interference call nullified a late-game goal for Harvard and resulted in head coach Ted Donato’s ejection.

Ken Schott, long-time Union beat writer for the Schenectady Gazette, who pointed the play out to me originally, wrote more about the play today and quoted ECAC head of officiating Paul Stewart. Stewart defended his officials saying that they followed the correct procedure to make the call on the the play. Donato contended that the puck was in the net before any infraction occured.

Stewart never specifically was quoted in the article as having said he believed that the infraction occured before the goal, but said, “It would be like yo uand I going to the same restaurant, and I say, ‘Boy, the soup’s good,’ and you’d say, ‘No, it’s too salty.’”

What Stewart is basically saying is that even with video replay, there’s a significant amount of gray area in how this call was made. And with this I can’t argue.

I think where I see a problem is not with Stewart or the officials who made the call, more so with the video replay system.

Currently, the in-season video replay system is pretty much a “tape-and-string” initiative. Schools don’t have the money to invest in high-quality cameras stationed at multiple angles as exist in the NHL. Instead, in the effort to get as many calls correct as possible, leagues have allowed use of whatever exists – in this case a cable TV station’s minimal camera setup – to serve as a proxy system.

When push comes to shove, this is likely the best that can be done without significant investments in full-fledged cameras and replay equipment and the addition of a bonafide instant replay official.

Unfortunately for Ted Donato last Saturday, that simply wasn’t enough.

Back… with controversy

It’s been a while, fellow college hockey fans. And as I return with my first blog post of the college hockey season, I bring to you some controversy from last weekend’s Union-Harvard game.

With the score 3-1 in favor of Union in the final minute of play, Harvard scored what looked to be a goal to pull the Crimson within a goal. Referees Andy O’Brien and Richard Patry called the play a goal, but Harvard’s Doug Rogers knocked down Union goaltender Corey Milan on the play, prompting the officials to replay, as the game was televised on local cable television in New York (this gives the referees the option to view the play on instant replay to ensure that their call was correct). After a short video review, though, the referees reversed the call.

The result was Harvard coach Ted Donato receiving a rare ejection, forcing him to miss the final 39.3 seconds but moreso calling into play the effectiveness of video replay.

The fact of the matter is that the replay (which can be seen here, thanks to video provided by Ken Schott at the Schenectady Gazette) clearly shows that the puck was in the net when the contact between Rogers and Milan occurs. Thus, it would be impossible for Rogers to interfere with Milan’s ability to stop the puck if contact hadn’t been made when the puck passed the goaltender.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve blogged about referees getting calls incorrect despite using instant replay. Last year, we had Magnessgate, a botched instant replay call that nearly cost Wisconsin its NCAA tournament bid.

There’s certainly no telling if the referees got the call right on Saturday night at Union whether Harvard would’ve scored again to tie the game. But it’s tough to understand why referees can’t get a call correct even when they have the benefit or watching it over and over again on replay.

York Not Worried About a Milestone

Saturday night could be a milestone night for BC head coach Jerry York. Not only does his team have the chance to advance to the regional final, York is going after career win number 800.

That, though, only crosses the coaches mind when his wife reminds him.

“My wife kids me about it once in a while, saying ‘why didn’t you reach it yet?’” said York.

This weekend, though, York won’t even let his mind wander to the 800 win topic.

“I’ve always thought that you concentrate on what’s important and what’s important is to advance,” said York.”

Relying on the Work Horse

There’s no doubt that BC goaltender John Muse has become the ultimate work horse for the Eagles this season, having played every single minute of every single game (save time spent when pulled for an extra attacker).

York, on Friday was asked if at any point in the season Muse has come to him looking for a little bit of time off, which led to York’s tongue and cheek response.

“He’s never expressed that [he needs time off],” said York. “But then again, I turn away any time I see him coming.”

Adams Make a Different Type of Commitment

Eagles forward Joe Adams, who plays the role of a 13th forward for BC, had made a commitment for his post-Boston College career, and it’s one that doesn’t involve hockey whatsoever.

“We’re very proud that Joe Adams has accepted a position with the Peace Corps,” said York.

The Wayzata, Minn., native will spend the next two years working for the Peace Corps in Suriname, South America.

“I had to look it up,” joked York when asked where Suriname is located.

Third Time a Charm to Face Gophers

This weekend marks the third time this season that the Eagles and the Gophers will play in the same tournament. Ironically, though, it will be the first time that the two clubs meet. BC lost to Michigan in the opening game of the Ice Breaker tournament to end up in the consolation game while Minnesota faced the Wolverines in the championship game. And in December, BC did its job to get to the final of the Dodge Holiday Classic, but Minnesota that evening was upset by RIT in its semifinal pushing them to the consolation matchup.

Stirring Up Memories for the Gophers

When the Minnesota Golden Gophers take to the ice on Saturday evening to face Boston College in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, there will be a couple of logos on the boards that may stir up some bad memories – that of the Holy Cross Crusaders

This weekend’s Northeast Regional is hosted by Holy Cross, the team that beat the Minnesota two years ago in what is considered the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history. If Minnesota coach Don Lucia had any hope that the memory of that game wouldn’t be invoked, he certainly realized that wouldn’t be the case early on.

For starters, Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl is Minnesota’s host for the weekend, though Lucia said that he hoped to use that to his advantage.

“I called [Pearl] and said that I hope we’ll have all of the Holy Cross fans on our side this weekend,” said Lucia.

He did go on, though, to say that the loss in 2006, though tough to swallow was good for the game.

“The reality is that game, though it was disappointing for us, was great for college hockey,” said Lucia. “These teams, whether from the Atlantic or the CHA, they have to win their tournament to get here, so they’re on the top of their cycle.

“That team that comes out of these leagues is a good team. What you see if that there’s more parity to college hockey than there was five years ago. There’s more good teams than there was ten years ago, which is good for college hockey.”

Knowing the Power of Gerbe

Lucia knows that one player he’ll have to shut down on the BC front is Nathan Gerbe. The Hobey Baker finalist is, in Lucia’s words, “the type of player you want to pay to watch.

“He’s just a dynamic player. He’s a difference maker. He’s a game breaker.

“I wish he was on our team.”

Though admitting that the Eagles have plenty of offensive weapons, Lucia feels that shutting down Gerbe is of utmost importance to his team’s overall success on Saturday.

“We can’t let him get two or three points on the night or it’s going to be awfully difficult for us.”

Lucia on Pohl

Lucia discussed the injury to Tom Pohl that happened two weekend ago during the team’s game three quarterfinal victory over MSU-Mankato. Pohl, as most know by now, was checked into the boards and suffered a major head injury that led to the need for emergency, life-saving surgery for the senior.

“Here you are in game three and the loser may not make the NCAA tournament,” said Lucia, “and midway through the second period a guy gets seriously injured. And it’s kind of like this series, which was a spectacular series with two overtime games at that point in time, everything kind of goes on hold for 15 minutes.

“It happened right in front of our bench and we knew how serious it was, though we didn’t know it was life-threatening.”

The Gophers, of course, went on to win that night in double overtime and put together back-to-back wins in the WCHA Final Five to get into the NCAA Tournament. Lucia said that the resiliency that the club showed that night and throughout the season when difficult situations have arisen has made the Gophers stronger.

“With this group, it’s been one thing after another and they keep getting up off the mat,” said Lucia. “They’ve been through a lot and they’ve found a way to get to this point.”

Locks of Love for Miami's Jones

It’s not hard in general to notice Miami’s Ryan Jones on the ice. The Hobey Baker finalist is possibly the RedHawks most dominant player having scored 48 points in 40 games this season.

If for some reason his play doesn’t identify him on Saturday, just look for his hair.

The senior has what most would call flowing locks, draping well pas his shoulders. When asked about his hair, though, Jones has a great story to tell behind it.

Jones is growing his hair to donate it to Locks of Love, an organization that collects hair to create wigs to give to young cancer patients who lose their hair during chemotherapy treatements. Recently, Jones met 13-year old Korinne Croghan, who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her story inspired him to grow his hair long enough to donate it.

Jones says that his hair has more than reached the required length and that as soon as his team’s playoff run ends, he’ll have the scissors ready to cut it.

“The minute we’re done I’ll be cutting it, even thought Barry Melrose wants me to keep growing it,” said Jones of the ESPN hockey analyst – who happens to be covering this regional tournament for ESPNU – who sports long flowing hair as well. “He’s just mad because mine looks better than his.

Focused from Day One

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said on Friday that he was proud of his team’s focus since the beginning of the season that has helped to earn his club the number one seed in the region.

There was plenty of reason to focus for the RedHawks this year, particularly once three key players – Jones, Nathan Davis and goaltender Jeff Zatkoff all decided to turn down the NHL last summer in favor of returning for a senior season.

“It shows the type of commitment those guys have for Miami University,” said Blasi when asked about the trio’s decision to return. “Each of them agonized of the fact of leaving their team. It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about playing in the National Hockey League. It was about having to leave the team.”

Jones was the final player to make the decision to come back, and Blasi said when he did decide, it gave the RedHawks an added boost.

“Once Ryan decided to come back, I can tell you that the confidence for our team has been at a whole new level,” said Blasi. “Everything that has been done since that point on has been done with a purpose.”

Blasi also hopes that these players returning for their senior year will send a message to others in the college hockey world.

“It’s shows and example to the rest of our team and hopefully college hockey as well,” said Blasi. “It’s okay to play your senior year and have a fun time doing it. The NHL and pro hockey will always be there. You can only have your college days once.”

Fun in the Sun

Enrico Blasi was asked during Friday’s press conference how often his team – the Miami University RedHawks – is confused with the University of Miami Hurricanes. Blasi answer was quick and simple.

“Wait, we’re not from Florida?”

He did say that the success of his club has helped get the Miami University name known in the college hockey and sports world and said that is a credit to the teams in the recent past.

Miami used to be know as Miami (Ohio), but dropped the Ohio reference in recent years.

Air Force's Serratore keeps the crowd laughing

Air Force head coach Frank Serratore has never been what one would call “shy” and, in fact, has no problem keeping a room laughing with commentary and story telling. Serratore kicked off the Northeast Regional in Worcester on Friday with a solid dose of ethnic humor.

Of Italian decent, Serratore noted that he’s not the only “paisano” who will be behind the bench in Worcester this weekend. Minnesota’s Don Lucia and Miami’s Enrico Blasi also posses Italian surnames. Said Serratore, “The last time there were this many high-ranking Italians in one place, J. Edgar Hoover was there.”

He also didn’t spare commentary from the one non-Italian coach at the regional, Irish-American Jerry York, head coach at Boston College.

“You have Jerry York out here taking on the Sopranos,” said Serratore.

He also wondered why the NCAA selection committee didn’t put New Hampshire, with Dick Umile as head coach and Marty Scarano its athletic director, in Worcester as well.

“If we had Umile and Scarano here, the FBI would have all the tickets.”

Bada Bing!

Ehn to Play

Air Force senior center Eric Ehn, a 2007 All-American and one of the three finalists for last year’s Hobey Baker, will be in the lineup on Saturday. Ehn was injured on January 19 versus Colorado College when he fractured his left fibula and had what at the time was thought to be season ending surgery on January 22.

Serratore said that he met with Ehn and the trainers after Friday’s practice and decided at that time that he’ll suit up against Miami.

“We didn’t ask him if he wanted to play, I asked him what are you going to be able to do for us tomorrow,” said Serratore. “Basically, I said ‘I dont expect you to single-handedly lead us to the promised land. I want to know are you going to be better than our 12th forward.”

Phillipich Gets the Lemon

Air Force junior Mike Phillipich will be dressed in yellow for the opening practice of 2008-09, the penalty for losing the team’s showdown at the end of practice on Friday.

The Falcons finish the final practice before each weekend with a penalty shot competition and the final player held scoreless becomes the team’s lemon. As the lemon, the player wear a yellow helmet and yellow socks for each practice (which certainly standout against the Air Force blue). The only way to shed the bright color is to score in the team’s next showdown, which unless Air Force does the unthinkable and advances to the Frozen Four as the tournament’s lowest seed, means Phillipich will begin next season wearing yellow.

When asked what happens if a senior becomes the lemon at the final practice of the year, Air Force sports information director Dave Toller said, “They become lemons for life.”

Local Alums

The Falcons will definitely have three passionate fans in the stands on Saturday afternoon, as a trio of last year’s Air Force seniors are now stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base, located less than an hour from Worcester.

Andrew Ramsey, Peter Foster and Ben Worker – all members of the 2007 Air Force team that came within a half-dozen minutes of upsetting Minnesota in last year’s NCAA tournament – are all stationed at the base and will be part of an alumni reception that’s being organized before the game.

Serratore noted that the academy has a large contingent of alums spread throughout the country.

“When you’re the Air Force Academy, you’re never really the road team,” said Serratore.

Vote for Hobey… 200,000 times

I’m told that the T in RIT stands for technology, which is quite apparent if you look at this year’s fan balloting site for the Hobey Baker award.

Those enterprising RIT fans were able to figure out an automated way to stuff the ballot box at http://www.hobeybaker.com/voting. As of this morning, RIT’s Simon Lambert has 262,000-plus votes compared to say the 3,994 vote that current favorite Kevin Porter from Michigan has received.

And RIT isn’t the only technologically-saavy fan base. Miami’s Ryan Jones has received a solid 203,500 votes and counting as of this morning.

I’m told by those in the know (of computers and technology, that is) that the Hobey Baker voiting site is so basic that writing a computer script to stuff the box likely took about five minutes.

Thankfully this fan ballot aacount for only 1% of the overall vote (or as the site says, “the fans’ vote accounts for a full 1% of the total ballot in each phase in selecting this year’s award recipient.

Let’s just hope that the 99% of the balloting that is comprised of human voting isn’t replaced by cyborgs in the near future.

UPDATE: As of 3:00 PM ET on Tuesday, the Vote for Hobey site now requires the voter to type in one of those words that is hidden behind the squigly lines as a ‘security measure.’ There’s no mention anywhere on the site that it was hi-jacked, though, or the fact that Jones and Lambert got a 200,000+ vote lead over the rest of the field thanks to the tech-saavy fans at each school.

UPDATE #2: As of 10:00 AM ET on Wednesday, vote totals appear to be reset with the new ‘security’ system in place. North Dakota’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureaux and RIT’s Simon Lambert have jumped out to quick leads, which makes me think that possibly only French-Canadians have figured out how to crack this new system. :)

16 teams… one champion

The field is now set for the NCAA Tournament and there’s plenty of debate that is taking place about how the committee went about seeding things.

Once again, the USCHO.com PairWise Rankings correctly predicted the tournament field. But this year, even the PairWise itself sparked some controvery. Wisconsin’s selection to the tournament, despite being a below-.500 team had a lot of college hockey fans scratching their heads.

Surely it’s hard to justify why a team that can’t even post a .500 record deserves an at-large bid. I’m certainly hoping that in the off-season the NCAA tournament selection committee reviews bringing back the rule that says in order to be a team under consideration, a club my possess a .500 record or better come season’s end. This was the case for a long time and only eliminated around 2000 when teams in the then-MAAC conference had plus-.500 records and nearly met all of the criteria to become an at-large team. At that point, the rule was changed to say that a club must have an RPI above .500 to be a team under consideration (it’s further been tweaked to say that only the teams with the top 25 RPIs will be teams under consideration).

There’s no reason that RPI needs to be eliminated from developing the list of TUCs. My thought would simply be to add an above-.500 record as one of the requirements to make the field as an at-large team.

While they’re at it, I’d also like to see the committee revisit another criteria it eliminated in recent years: records in the final 16 games. It was a shame to see clubs like Boston University, Vermont and Harvard all make incredible late season runs and not make the NCAA field. Some will argue that every game should hold equal importance, making the opening games of the season matter just as much as the league title game. That’s a valid point, but my one response to that is simply that the overall college schedule, then, should change. It’s very difficult for a coach to step on the ice for practice number one on Monday and then be expected to have his team in game-ready shape by Friday. BU’s Jack Parker admitted that he treated his first two games of the year (against Robert Morris and Alaska) as exhibition games this season, and who could blame him as his team had had a handful of practices before having to travel to Alaska to open the season.

All of this said, based on all the criteria in place, the committee did its job in not just picking the 16-team field but also seeding the clubs. At the end of the day, there were certainly some complaints, but I liked the committees overall rationale.

With the six teams from the WCHA in the field, and most of them seeded either second or third, avoiding a first-round matchup became impossible. It was fortunate that this occured only once (Denver vs. Wisconsin).

As for the locations of where each team ended up, I liked the committee’s rationale. With two host schools in the tournament, the committees hands were locked with Colorado College and Wisconsin. Thus, it seems the committee chose to take the top two seeds – Michigan and Miami – and send both teams east to avoid ever having to play a team on home ice. I don’t think that this necessarily gives Michigan and Miami an advantage (though Michigan may possibly have the easiest path to the Frozen Four) but at least they’re not “rewarded” with having to play a “road” game as the top seed in the regional final.

This year’s region of death appears to the Colorado Springs. Defending national champion Michigan State will have a tough time repeating having to face host Colorado College in the opening round. And New Hampshire doesn’t have a cake walk in its first game against Notre Dame. Whichever team can survive this region, though, may just win the national title.

I thought if any one team kind of got screwed it was Denver. The Pioneers won their conference tournament on Saturday but now must beat Wisconsin at Bucky’s home. If they do survive this game, I like their chances of playing for the national title in their own backyards. What an atmosphere that would make.

All in all, I like the job the committee did in placing these teams. Now the question lies which teams will survive to make it to Denver. I’ll be back with those thoughts later this week.

It's the most wonderful time of the year…

Some people get jazzed up for the holidays. Others its about the start of a season like spring or summer.

For me, there’s only one season that counts: college hockey’s playoff season.

Things got underway this past weekend in formal (CCHA, ECAC, AHA) and informal (WCHA title, Hockey East’s home ice battle) ways. And coming home and reading about triple-overtime games and amazing third-period rallies I must say really gets me going.

What has seemingly been one heck of a battle all year long was magnified on the ice last weekend. All of that should only continue this week as two leagues – AHA and CHA – enter the “Final Five” playoffs and will crown champions, while the other four are poised for quarterfinal action (what does the WCHA call this round any way?)

While there has to be a focus on the prize at hand, in this case a league title, there are SO many schools that have to worry about the national tournament implications if they lose:

Boston College: Just two wins since the Beanpot was enough to squeak them into home ice, but a loss this weekend to Providence could spell the end of the season.

Boston University: It’s been a heck of a run down the stretch for the Terriers, but if they can’t get past UMass-Lowell this weekend, it’s likely curtains.

Vermont: Similar to BU, the Catamounts made a nice rally in the second half, but the day is certainly over if they can’t get past Northeastern.

Northeastern/Providence: These teams both spent quality time this season on the good side of the tournament bubble. That bubble is dead for either with a loss, while a series win still gives no guarantees.

Princeton: Guy Gadowski and crew have put together an impressive season, but the overall weak schedule of the ECAC this season could leave the Tigers on the outside looking in if they don’t advance to the league final four.

Notre Dame: It would be a shame if the Irish miss the tournament, but right now that’s a legitimate reality. Notre Dame has to get past a tough Ferris State team this weekend and then may even need to reach the CCHA title game to earn an at-large bid.

Minnesota-Duluth: Below .500 or not, the Bulldogs are on the wrong side of the bubble and are faced with the task of traveling to Denver this weekend. It’s more than likely a win-or-go-home for Duluth, which could put to sleep the bantering of whether a below .500 team deserves a chance at an NCAA bid (thought to earn the bid, it’s likley Duluth would get back to .500, but that’s semantics, right?)

Minnesota/Minnesota State: This isn’t exactly a must-win for the pair to advance, but losing this series would put either club square on the bubble forcing them to sit with fingers crossed that the conference tournaments don’t provide any bubble breaking upsets. ]

Wisconsin: Sitting at No. 13 in the current PWR, Bucky will look to solidify its ranking at St. Cloud this weekend. For the Saints, they’ll likely play with a desperate mentality, though, as it’s possible they miss the at-large bid should they not advance to the Final Five.

As for the teams that can more than likely sit back and relax: Colorado College, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Miami, Denver and Clarkson all seem like pretty solid locks, no matter what happens this weekend. Remember, though, I’m hardly a computer so don’t take my word for it.

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