Between the Lines

Welcome to our first “Between the Lines” column. The goal is to give a different take on the issues than you may see elsewhere, or cover topics that don’t get covered anywhere else. College hockey has a lot of interesting stories, but ESPN isn’t knocking down the door to cover them all.

If you disagree with something I write here, or just want to comment, feel free to email me. If your letter has some good thoughts, I may respond. Otherwise, save your fingers. Remember, everyone’s entitled to an opinion, including me. Knocking your favorite team doesn’t make me a bad guy (it’s the jail time in Malaysia that makes me a bad guy, but that’s for another day).

If you see anything crazy during your stops around the rinks each weekend, drop me a line and let me know. Otherwise, thanks for reading.

The ECAC has seen a changeover in the top again. A year ago, Phil Buttafuoco took charge of the conference as a whole, hockey and otherwise. Now, Steve Hagwell, who Buttafuoco once worked with at the NCAA, has replaced Jeff Fanter as hockey commissioner. The names have changed, and some of the delegation of duties may also change, but one thing hasn’t changed: the grumblings by some member schools over the home office’s perceived missteps.

To use a New Age word, the ECAC has “issues” right now. And we’ll be delving much deeper into them over the coming weeks.

By the way, Fanter left to become assistant SID in charge of men’s basketball at Indiana (watch out for flying chairs, Jeff). For some reason, I just don’t see Bruce McLeod, should he ever leave the WCHA, becoming an assistant SID. Just a thought.

To paraphrase Yale coach Tim Taylor, “If Princeton is an 11th-place team, then our league’s going to be pretty good.”

OK, he was saying that about his own team … two years ago. But the same could be said now for Princeton, picked 11th in the coach’s preseason poll.

Of course, that Yale team went to the NCAA tournament. No one is making any such bold predictions for Princeton — they probably won’t even be .500 — but the Tigers have never finished out of the ECAC playoffs under Cahoon, and I’d be shocked if they did so this year.

“We’re a good enough team to win some games and be in the thick of this,” says Cahoon. “I think it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing. I think we’ve proved that. But, mentally, we’re so far away from being a competitive team … kids are looking over their shoulders and wondering what’s going to happen.

“It’s all a whole different makeup. I feel like maybe how I felt 5-6 years ago, where we were getting better but I wasn’t sure they totally understood all it took.”

Joe Marsh knows all about the validity of polls. His St. Lawrence team was picked ninth last year, but finished second and went to the ECAC tournament final.

“Princeton’s a very gritty team, they have been for a few years,” Marsh said. “They lost a ton through graduation: [Syl] Apps, [Scott] Bertoli, [Jeff] Halpern, [Steve] Shirreffs. It’s an all-star team. But there’s residuals from that.”

Agreed. But it still cracks me up how no coach ever wants to admit he believes a team will have a bad season. Someone picked Princeton 11th, for cryin’ out loud.

Only one player who has ever transferred colleges is now playing in the NHL: Former North Dakota star Jason Blake, who started at Ferris State and is now with the Los Angeles Kings. Of course, this may speak more to how few players transfer than any sort of dubious reason.

Nonetheless, another player may soon add to the list: Tim Lovell is leading the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins in scoring with seven goals, including four game-winners, and 14 points in 13 games. Lovell played three seasons at Maine before transferring to UMass to escape the cloud of NCAA sanctions.

Looking forward to seeing how Mike Gilhooly handles this weekend against BU and/or BC. Northeastern’s goalie was the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for October, then turned in a big 2-2 tie with Maine to start November. With Jason Braun home to be with his sick father, coach Bruce Crowder may hand the full reins to Gilhooly this weekend.

Gilhooly’s wins are against Bowling Green and UMass-Amherst, but if he can pull off another showstopping weekend, he may give Northeastern fans reason to believe they’ll have this year what they thought was coming last year until Marc Robitaille decided to depart for the pros.

Have you seen some of the early-season numbers? BC’s Jeff Farkas has 16 points in six games. Michigan’s Mike Comrie and Michigan State’s Shawn Horcoff have 13 points in seven games. And with an incredible 13 goals — and just two assists — in seven games, RPI’s Brad Tapper may be a candidate for the Cy Young Award as well as the Hobey Baker. Surely there will be other contenders, but these guys have early Hobey favorite status. My personal favorite: Can I box St. Lawrence’s Justin Harney and Dale Clarke and nominate them as an entry?

There are some interesting games this weekend, as always.

Let’s see how RPI and SLU, two early ECAC upstarts, fare against each other. Thankfully, that game is first, so RPI has no “we played Clarkson the night before” excuse. My feeling: St. Lawrence is for real … jury is still out on RPI.

In Hockey East, I’m looking forward to Providence and New Hampshire, waiting to see what direction their seasons take.

The big matchup out West, of course, is Minnesota at Wisconsin. Wisconsin is flying right now, despite the loss of David Tanabe, but, as the cliche goes, throw the records out the window. Amazingly, the USCHO message boards have been quite civil about this weekend’s games. Who spiked the water up there with polite pills?

My new favorite team? The Fairfield Stags. It’s not just that they start the season with nine road games in which they’ll travel over 5,000 miles; or that they have 15 freshmen on a team that won one game last year; or that their leading scorer (Steve Calderara) is from Georgia. It’s that they have a new head coach who deserves to be cheered for in Mark Dennehy. Dennehy was the second assistant at Princeton, and he was as big a part of their success in the last three years as anyone. He played in the Heinze-Emma-McInnis era at Boston College, and there may not be a better young coaching prospect out there. He’s got the personality, knowledge and pedigree to be a success for a long time.

The death of the college player’s pro potential has been greatly exaggerated. With numerous former NCAA players leading their AHL teams in scoring, and with another fine crop of NHL rookies to add to last year’s bonanza, the college game has much to be proud of. There was a time there when I wondered who would take the torch from the likes of Amonte, LeClair, Leetch, Richter, McEachern, etc. But that concern is no longer there.

In last season’s AHL All-Star Game in Philadelphia, 18 of the 34 non-European members played U.S. college hockey. This season, former Vermont star Martin St. Louis of Saint John leads the league in scoring, and these guys lead their teams: Louisville, Eric Boguniecki (New Hampshire); Lowell, Ray Giroux (Yale) and Dave Hymovitz (Boston College); Philadelphia, Jim Montgomery (Maine); Providence, Tim Lovell (Maine, UMass-Amherst); Springfield, Eric Healey (RPI) and Sean McCann (Harvard); Worcester, Marty Reasoner (Boston College). Meanwhile, goalies Dan Murphy (Clarkson) and Jean-Marc Pelletier (Cornell) are one-two in the league in goals-against average for Quebec and Philadelphia, respectively.

In the NHL last year, a bumper crop of rookies included Calder Trophy winner Chris Drury, finalist Brendan Morrison, Bill Muckalt, Tom Poti, Jay Pandolfo and Matt Cullen.

This year’s group includes the likes of Mike York, Brad Chartrand, Paul Comrie, Steve Kariya, Jason Blake, John Grahame, John Madden, Blake Sloan and Jeff Halpern.

Alaska-Anchorage is proving its coach, Dean Talafous, right. Talafous thought his current team was even better than last year’s sixth-place squad, but the coaches picked the Seawolves last in the WCHA. Right now, they are second, but we’ll see how long it lasts following a big test against newly-anointed No. 1 North Dakota.

I think they’ve already clinched a better record than 0-6 Michigan Tech.

Taking a look at Ferris State’s roster one day (don’t we all?), something immediately struck me about freshman Kevin Caudill. No, it wasn’t that he hails from Tustin, Calif. And it wasn’t that he weighs 165 pounds. It’s that he’s 6-foot-3 and weighs 165 pounds.

I suddenly started fearing for his safety. I mean, Brian Gionta is 165 pounds … but of course he’s 5-7. Maine’s newest Kariya, Martin, is 5-7, 160; Gianni Cantini of Brown and Don Richardson of Vermont weigh in at a Freddy Patek-like 5-6, 160. Can Caudill meet the rigors of Division I hockey?

“Obviously, his strength is a concern,” says Bulldogs coach Bob Daniels. “He’s a very good skater, very mobile, and our challenge is to put strength on him. But by the time he’s done, I think he’ll be a very good hockey player.

“He was actually 158 when he came here. He’s been so busy growing, he can’t stop to put weight on. We knew he wouldn’t be major contributor his first year, but he has Division-I skills and he hasn’t looked out of place.”

Please send Baskin-Robbins’ gift certificates to USCHO, attention: Adam Wodon, and I’ll be sure to pass them on to Kevin.

And if ever a player didn’t fit a name, it’s Cornell’s Stephen Baby. At 6-5, 220, Baby is anything but. He’s also from the high-rent district of Chicago’s northern suburbs — specifically Winnetka, a growing hotbed of U.S. talent.

By the way, the tallest listed player is Harvard’s Kyle Clark (6-6, 210). Maine’s Robert Ek is 6-5, 210, but Merrimack’s Stephen Moon takes the overall award, coming in at a Lindros-like 6-5, 240. Oh, if only …

With Matt Adessa and Mark Wilkinson on the roster, is Western Michigan now officially the Wayward Home of The Sons of Coaches Dismissed Under Dubious Circumstances?

After seeing Steve Kariya’s disappearing act in last year’s Final Four, did anyone think he’d be as good as he is in the NHL? Oh, wait, is that a letter from Maine fans? Duck! (Duck? No, that’s Paul Kariya.)

BU eighth? What, has Dave Hendrickson lost his mind? Well, our esteemed writer lost that years ago, but when it comes to Hockey East, I’ll take his opinions over anyone’s in the country. Nonetheless, an opinion is just that, and everyone’s got ’em — mine is that you don’t pick a Jack Parker-coached and recruited team to finish eighth. You just assume there’s some talent there that Parker will whip it into enough shape to finish respectably. It’s the same philosophy that ensures Princeton of finishing no lower than ninth. Don Cahoon has less to work with, but it’s similar, in relative terms.

Is there a greater feat in hockey history than Harvard’s C.J. Young scoring three shorthanded goals in 49 seconds? That happened almost 11 years ago, on Dec. 12, 1988, and to this day, it still amazes me every time I think of it. The closest I ever saw was Martin St. Louis’ 2 1/2 shorthanded goals against Princeton in one game. He scored one just as his team’s penalty was expiring, and scored another as he came out of the penalty box to make a three-on-five a four-on-five. I didn’t see Young’s, but it’s incredible nonetheless.

I just had to say that.