Between the Lines

Editor’s note: this edition of “Between the Lines” was written Monday, prior to the announcement of Mike Sertich’s replacement of Tim Watters as head coach at Michigan Tech.

Welcome back to another season of quips and controversy. This is where we try to find the nuggets of information beneath the surface, give context to those nuggets, and expose the issues that don’t get uncovered elsewhere.

With the season just getting into full swing, it’s time to try to get a pulse on what’s going on around the country.

As usual, all comments and suggestions are welcome … though I’m still sifting through my Vermont e-mail from last year. Enjoy the season.

Loophole No More

An arbitrator’s decision allowing former Michigan defenseman Mike Van Ryn out of his commitment to the Devils opened the door to a number of other players to leave school, such as Maine’s Barrett Heisten, and Michigan’s Mike Comrie.

NHL teams used to hold college players’ rights until one year after their normal graduation year, even if they left early. Non-college players have a two-year signing window after they are drafted, or else the NHL team loses their rights and they go back into the draft. That’s because Canadian major junior players are allowed to sign contracts with NHL teams and remain in juniors.

So, Van Ryn, trying to circumvent the system, left college after two years and went to the OHL as an overage junior. Each team is allowed a certain number of overage players on the roster. After being in the OHL for one year, he believed he was now a free agent. The arbitrator agreed, and now the rights of college players are only held by NHL teams until one year after they leave school, regardless of whether it’s earlier than four years.

By having the option of going to major juniors, players don’t have to play four years of college, sit out a year while negotiating with their drafted team, and then become free agents. They can leave school, go play in juniors for a year, then become free agents, essentially nullifying the draft.

There was fear the decision would hurt college players in the draft, because NHL teams would be afraid of the same thing happening. That didn’t come to fruition — this year’s NHL draft was a fruitful one for college players — but it is still an annoyance to a program that loses a player this way.

The OHL then did U.S. colleges a favor. It closed the loophole by stating that any player listed on a team roster as an overage junior must have played in the OHL the previous season.

Of course, the other two major junior leagues, the WHL and QMJHL, did not adopt the same rule. So, if a bunch of players suddenly skip out of school and jump to the WHL, as Comrie did, the OHL may choose to rethink its position.

The NCAA could help solve the problem by allowing college players to be drafted, sign contracts with NHL teams, and still stay in school. This way, the NHL team would at least have the two years while in school to sign the guy. In Van Ryn’s case, the Devils were never even afforded the opportunity to truly negotiate with Van Ryn.

As for Van Ryn, he said he wanted out of the Devils’ organization because general manager Lou Lamoriello is so stubborn about insisting players begin their careers in the AHL, no matter what. Gee, Mike, he’s only won two Stanley Cups.

Meanwhile, Van Ryn signed with St. Louis. And where is he now? Right. With the Blues’ AHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass., where he’s a minus-3 with one assist in five games.

Comrie? He’s tearing it up for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, with 24 goals in 15 games.

Summer Breeze

It was an interesting summer in the MAAC, with the conference receiving the expected autobid to the NCAA tournament.

Some hockey factions were angered by this, saying it was undeserved. Unfortunately, the tournament expansion to 16 teams was nixed, fueling the fire of the anti-MAAC group. And clearly, there’s a right to be annoyed that a MAAC school will take the place of another deserving team. But that’s not the MAAC’s fault: blame the NCAA.

But it didn’t bode well when Quinnipiac started making noise about investigating a jump to Hockey East, and then Canisius had meetings with ECAC officials about a jump there. If things continue in that direction, a MAAC autobid could be a moot point in a couple of years.

The MAAC can’t expect to draw good teams, and build good teams, if it only allows 11 hockey scholarships. The problem is, there are some schools willing to give 18, and some schools giving none. But the ones giving none are dragging down the rest of the conference.

The MAAC had to make a concession to smaller schools, limiting scholarships so that those programs would be willing to join. In doing so, they sold their souls a bit. At some point, they have to raise the scholarship limit and bring up the conference as a whole.

As for Canisius and Niagara, the ECAC doesn’t appear too quick to accept their entry into the league. The league actually reached out to those schools, asking for them to give a presentation, but it’s the same old story: the six Ivy League schools are concerned about adding extra teams that will tip the balance of membership away from the Ivies.

Can Quesnelle?

If there’s any justice, Len Quesnelle will be able to maintain Princeton’s presence on the college hockey scene.

When Don Cahoon was after the Princeton job — following the dismissal of fellow Boston University graduate Jim Higgins — people told him to be careful what he was after, that Princeton was a place you just couldn’t win. That it was the black hole of coaching.

Cahoon proved them all wrong, and, in leaving for UMass-Amherst, he has left the program in good shape.

His right-hand man all those years was Quesnelle, a loyal assistant and 1988 Princeton graduate. He patiently waited his turn, and has been rewarded.

In a sport full of good guys, Quesnelle is one of the best. A quality recruiter and an outstanding student of the game, he has done it all while earning the respect of those around the college hockey scene.

Certainly, Cahoon helped put Princeton on the map. His connections with BU enabled him to line up nonconference games with big teams, and to get into tournaments Princeton rarely entered previously. So, Quesnelle has Cahoon to thank for leaving him a program that is able to earn respect instead of snickers. And he knows it.

But it’s Quesnelle’s job now to maintain that. They’re tough shoes to fill, but he’s learned a lot and he has plenty of experience to draw from. The only question is whether Quesnelle can create that vortex of passion that swirled around Princeton from the moment Cahoon arrived. Don Cahoon had the unique ability to be a salesman for a program that others couldn’t sell. And on sheer will, he had the ability to get players to listen, and believe in themselves.

He also has the task of shifting roles mid-stream, with upperclassmen used to him being more of a go-between.

“He hasn’t really changed,” says Princeton senior Chris Corrinet. “He doesn’t have the same intensity of coach Cahoon. He’s more low key. It makes it easier to speak with him. He brought a lot of new ideas in this year. I’m happy with the way things are going.”

Quesnelle started out on a decent note, picking up a home win and tie against Niagara. He said the biggest difference between before and now is that he has to yell more.

“My voice is sore,” he says. “I did a lot of yelling. [I’m] the go-to guy now.”

There aren’t many people like Cahoon, and Quesnelle deserves room to be his own man. It’s a difficult task, but here’s a hearty good luck salute.

As for Cahoon, he has the Minutemen off to a very nice 3-1 start in league play. Considering UMass averaged just five league wins per year over six seasons under Joe Mallen, it speaks well for Cahoon. There’s a lot of work to be done, but this situation reminds me an awful lot of when Bill Parcells replaced Rich Kotite as coach of the New York Jets.

How’s that for putting pressure on someone? Sorry, Toot.

Nice Try

Speaking of the Princeton job, there were some other candidates, of course, before Quesnelle was actually named. A suprising name to some was that of Lake Superior coach Scott Borek. When learned that he had interviewed on campus, it raised eyebrows, knowing he had just signed a contract extension with Lake Superior.

At first, Borek denied he had interviewed there, but changed his tune after he was found out. He said he was afraid how it would look to potential recruits.

You certainly can’t blame him for being concerned about the perception, but this wasn’t just passing interest on Borek’s part. It’s clear he’s been at odds with the LSSU administration at times. And he’s an East Coast/Ivy League guy, having graduated from Dartmouth.

The charade turned comical the next day, however, when a press release was distributed out of the LSSU sports information office.

The release claimed that Princeton contacted Borek first, as if Princeton athletic director Gary Walters knew Scott Borek from a hole in the wall. The release went on to say that Borek just sort of stopped in to Princeton, taking time out from a trip East for his brother-in-law’s wedding in Connecticut.

Nice try.

Never mind that Borek stayed at a local hotel the night before his interview.

“Hey guys, just passing through — how ’bout a job interview?”

Borek was then quoted as saying, “I am not interested in pursuing the Princeton position, and I am withdrawing from further consideration.”

And “I was flattered they wanted to talk to me … but I have no intention of leaving Lake State.”

Yeah, no kidding, coach. That statement was made a day after Len Quesnelle was hired for the job. I should hope you wouldn’t still be interested in the job at that point.

Borek has been a decent and fun guy to talk to when I’ve had the chance: but, c’mon, coach, you can’t kid a kidder.

And then there’s this …

Speaking of sordid publicity-office behavior, this one is not remotely comical.

In May, Corey LaTulippe, the former Vermont walk-on candidate who filed a lawsuit against the school and hockey team members amid a hazing scandal, recanted some of his earlier statements during a court deposition.

This was quickly followed by an article from someone named Peter Freyne, a writer for a local Vermont weekly known as Seven Days, essentially ripping LaTulippe and exulting a big “Ah-hah!”

In what amounted to a diatribe — more like a thinly-veiled jealous rage — against the daily Burlington Free Press, Freyne latched onto LaTulippe’s statements and rode them to ridiculous conclusions. “Sooner or later, the truth always comes out,” Freyne wrote.

Never mind that LaTulippe pulled back from only a small percentage of his charges, and that most of what he originally described was eventually declared undeniable by investigators. (The case was eventually settled out of court.)

It was a condescending, sarcastic, anger-laced attack against LaTulippe and his mother.

In and of itself, this diatribe could be sloughed off as the act of a small-time writer trying to make a name for himself. In fact, no one outside of Vermont would’ve known this article existed, were it not for one simple act:

The University of Vermont’s sports information office saw fit to take that article and forward it via e-mail to a host of people. The distribution list included local and national media, other SIDs and hockey officials.

Can someone explain to me what Vermont hoped to gain by doing this? Were we supposed to believe that, out of all the articles written about the situation, Vermont just wanted to make sure everyone had a copy of this for their archives?

“Hey, everyone, just thought you might want to see this.”

First, Vermont didn’t want anyone to talk to them about the situation, then they are suddenly chomping at the bit to get this “news” out? As if they have an interest in LaTulippe lying? Why would that make them feel better?

Freyne’s article was irresponsible, at best. Vermont’s distribution of his piece came across as a spiteful and childish act that should have been condemned, and would have been had more people known about it.

Now you do.

Well, I’ll allow that good people sometimes do bad things. So, folks, here is my open invitation to respond, unedited, to this. If anyone from Vermont would like to write a message explaining the motivations behind this, please feel free to do so, and I will run it in my column … unedited … free of charge.

The unkindest cut

Last summer, Russ Bartlett came back to Boston University, thinking he was about to begin his junior season. As a sophomore, he was the team’s third-leading scorer. But BU head coach Jack Parker had other ideas. Saying Bartlett didn’t fit into the team plans, he cut him. Bartlett was allowed to stay on scholarship, but he wasn’t going to play for the Terriers.

It’s hard to question Parker from a team standpoint. The Terriers roared back to the top of the Hockey East standings, and were a fourth-overtime goal away from the Frozen Four.

Meanwhile, the team that eliminated the Terriers, St. Lawrence, was the beneficiary of Parker’s decision. Head coach Joe Marsh, who was among the recruiters initially going after Bartlett, immediately re-contacted the now ex-Terrier. Bartlett had to sit out last year, but will have two more years of eligibility remaining.

This bodes well for the Saints, who needed a replacement for Brandon Dietrich, who departed for the pros.

But forget the on-the-ice stuff for a second. What does this all say about the NCAA and Parker? Well, it’s hard for me to really get upset at Parker over it, though there are people who do. I don’t know enough about the situation to judge that one way or another.

But should Russ Bartlett have been allowed to play for St. Lawrence last season, without having to sit out a year? Absolutely.

NCAA rules say you must sit out a year in residence when you transfer. This restrains players from jumping around all over the place. But how about when a coach who recruited you quits or gets fired? Many people believe a player should be able to transfer at will under those circumstances. The Bartlett case is even more clear-cut (pardon the pun). He was cut from the team. To be disallowed from playing the next season seems incredibly silly, not to mention unfair.

This is something the NCAA has to look into immediately.

No Sweet 16

Some under-informed types have misinterpreted my stance on the NCAA’s decision against expanding the men’s tournament field to 16 as an anti-Title IX stance. So, let me state clearly and boldly: Title IX is good legislation, and has done more for equality in this country than anything passed in the last 40 years.

The anti-Title IX faction says there’s not equal interest in women’s sports. But that could just as easily be a product of society.

The anti-Title IX faction loves to tout horror stories of men’s programs being dropped so that women’s programs could be added.

But, while it’s unfortunate for those athletes, you could just as easily argue that those programs never would have existed for decades had schools given equal opportunity from the outset. I don’t expect that rationale to make fans or participants in those dropped programs feel any better, but the net result is still the same.

Title IX says there needs to be equal participation in, or equal money spent on, the men’s and women’s programs.

If you want to demonize something, let’s start with the biggest culprit: football. There’s no justification for allowing more than 70 football scholarships in a game where only 30 players play regularly. Hockey dresses 18 players in a game, and gets 18 scholarships.

So, there, is that clear now?

Nonetheless, this does not change the fact that the NCAA is wrong. Nixing a plan to increase the men’s tournament to 16 teams because of supposed gender-equity issues is a completely misguided stance.

The NCAA faced political pressure to forsake all increase of expenses in men’s sports until women’s sports are equal in opportunities and finances.

What it failed to understand or recognize was how men’s hockey, as the NCAA’s third-highest money maker, would make even more money if increased to 16 teams — money that could go to benefit an expanded women’s hockey championship.

This is not anti-women. This is an obvious win-win situation.

Early takes on college hockey

It’s a little too soon for a new coaching hotseat list. Nonetheless, this raised some eyebrows: Alabama-Huntsville sweeps Bowling Green, and the Falcons do not score a goal in either game.

Speaking of which: I’m a fan of polls. I think they’re fun conversation pieces. That said, they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. So, I’ll try not to. Nonetheless, it was hard for me to swallow Michigan being No. 1 last week. It didn’t last, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it, but what exactly have they done? Who have they beaten? The aforementioned Bowling Green? Miami? Alaska-Anchorage and Merrimack? Yep, those are the answers. The CCHA is clearly on a downtrend. These things tend to cycle, and I’m sure it will come back around again. But league coaches are deluding themselves if they think this is anything but a down cycle for the CCHA. At least Northern Michigan coach Rick Comley had the guts to admit it.

This will be another interesting year in the ECAC. So far, things haven’t looked good for a couple teams. Last year’s NCAA teams, Colgate and St. Lawrence, have struggled. Clarkson, which always starts slow, has been particularly down so far. This is a crucial year for that program and coach Mark Morris. A lot of people expect Cornell to be near the top, but I have to see it to believe it, and losing to Sacred Heart certainly does nothing to give you faith. Harvard is also expected to start making some noise again, now with Mark Mazzoleni in his second year. But if it doesn’t, the natives may start to get restless very quickly.

Can anyone possibly question the dominance of Hockey East right now? Top to bottom, this may be their strongest year yet, with Providence and Northeastern looking good early, and UMass-Amherst playing well under Don Cahoon. It’s hard to figure Providence looking so good last Friday in defeating Maine, then getting shallacked by Brown the next day, but that’s just college hockey.

In the WCHA, it’s starting to look like Don Lucia’s breakout year at Minnesota. His old school, Colorado College, saw some veterans have trouble adjusting to new coach Scott Owens last year. The Tigers are 6-0 this year, but they’ve played Mankato, Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth.

And, by the way, Michigan Tech has gotten progressively worse under Tim Watters, reaching a new NCAA record for losses last year, his fourth at the helm. Now they have started 1-7-1, with no prospect of improvement. Can it possibly get any worse?