The standings in some of the Division I conferences look like someone has hung them upside down, and the same can be said for Division III. The trend of perennial Davids rising up to slay Goliaths continued last weekend, especially in the MIAC and the NCHA.
Wisconsin-River Falls is the only team with an unblemished conference record, sitting atop the NCHA at 4-0. The Falcons’ four conference wins have been by at least three goals each.
St. Norbert is in second at 3-1 (its 4-1 win over archrival Wisconsin-Stevens Point was a nonconference game), followed by a three-way tie between Point, Wisconsin-Stout and Lake Forest. Defending champion Wisconsin-Superior is off to a slow start, dropping its first two conference games.
The Stout Blue Devils are one of several early-season surprises in the conference, beating Superior 2-1 last Friday. And, according to head coach Terry Watkins, that was a huge win because his team has been plagued with injuries so far.
“I’ve lost five of my top six forwards,” said Watkins. “That’s what made last weekend so amazing.”
Watkins was forced to turn to some players who don’t normally see a lot of ice time.
“There are some guys who I told at the beginning of the season, ‘The only way you’re dressing is if our bus crashes.’
“Well, I came into practice last week, with so many guys out with injuries, and told them, ‘The bus has crashed.'”
While many role players stepped up, it was goaltender Ben Plester’s performance that literally saved the day for the Blue Devils. They were outshot by the Yellow Jackets 39-16. Plester made 38 saves against Wisconsin-Superior, and was named NCHA Player of the Week.
Watkins agreed with St. Norbert head coach Tim Coghlin’s comments here last week on the balance in the league this season.
“The gap between the top four and bottom four teams has narrowed,” he said. “The playoffs last year were very competitive, even in the first round where the games were close. I think that first night of the playoffs, three of the games were decided by a single goal, and the other one was only two goals.
“That has carried over to this season. So far, three of the four ‘bottom’ teams have knocked off three of the four ‘top’ teams.”
If that trend continues, it could mean that teams near the top of the NCHA standings will have seven or eight losses, and be hard-pressed to grab the lone NCAA at-large bid come tournament time.
St. Thomas is feeling the effect of losing the line of Aronson, Bolf and Disch, which amassed 189 points last season. The Tommies are 1-2-1 so far after losing just one conference game during the entire 1999-2000 season.
Last weekend, St. John’s earned a win and a tie against the Tommies. Lead by MIAC Player of the Week John Konrad, the Johnnies defeated St. Thomas 4-2 last Friday, and then earned a 3-3 tie on Saturday. Konrad, a senior from Bloomington, Minnesota, scored three goals in the third period to erase a 2-1 St. Thomas lead. Then, on Saturday, he scored the game-tying goal in the second period.
Concordia rode back-to-back shutouts by Bryan Howard to move to the top of the standings, followed closely by upstart Bethel and St. Mary’s, which is looking to get back to national prominence after a few tough seasons.
It’s early, but has the regular-season championship already been decided? Defending champion Minnesota-Crookston got a win and tie at Marian last weekend. Big deal? It was.
Since this is the only meeting all season between the two favorites, the games were worth four points apiece. By virtue of a 4-3 overtime win and a 4-4 tie, The Golden Eagles took six of eight points against the Sabres. That’s like winning three of four games, and it came down to a single goal, credited to Todd Chandler. The tally actually came when a clearing attempt bounced off a Marian defender into the net. Wild.
Don’t count out MSOE, either. The Raiders took two from Northland to move into second place. Ryan Moren had five goals in the two games, a 4-1 win on Friday followed by a 7-1 victory on Saturday.
It’s been a regular soap opera so far for the Plattsburgh Cardinals, USCHO.com’s preseason favorite in Division III. A hazing incident has forced head coach Bob Emery to juggle the lineup to accommodate a slate of suspensions ranging anywhere from one to four games, and things got even stranger last Friday as Plattsburgh traveled to Geneseo.
With about six minutes gone by the third period, and Plattsburgh holding a 5-2 lead, Cardinal Rob Retter committed a checking-from-behind penalty, and was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct.
As Retter was walking to the dressing room, he was, according to witnesses, attacked by several Geneseo fans, including the father of an Ice Knight player. Two Plattsburgh players then left their bench to assist Retter, resulting an a melee that wasn’t brought under control until police showed up.
A Geneseo fan was arrested, and the two Plattsburgh players given ten-minute misconducts.
Plattsburgh went on to win the game 6-4, and then to defeat Brockport 9-1 the following evening to retain first place in the SUNYAC.
The biggest upset of the week belonged to the Fredonia Blue Devils, who earned a 4-0 win at Oswego, one of the toughest venues in the SUNYAC for visiting teams. The Lakers outshot Fredonia 42-17, but couldn’t solve Blue Devils goaltender Will Hamele. The sophomore from Dearborn, Michigan, made another 33 saves the following night as Fredonia defeated Cortland 3-1 to move into fourth place.
Elmira got back on track with a 6-3 road win over Hobart last Saturday. The Soaring Eagles’ three special-teams goals were the difference in holding off a pesky Hobart team that has lost three games by a total of six goals, while winning a trio of games by a combined score of 19-3.
Elmira got some competition off the ice as well on Saturday, as the Elmira Jackals of the United Hockey League played its home opener in front of 3,377 fans at the new Coach USA center. Long the only game in town, the Soaring Eagles must now compete for fan attention with the Jackals, as well as with the Elmira Junior Express, a Junior-C team that will also play at the new arena.
RIT continued its winning ways with a 13-0 shellacking of cross-town rival Geneseo on Tuesday. Eleven of RIT’s first 12 goals were from up close and personal: right in the crease area, usually scored by the weak-side winger. The Tigers capped off their scoring spree with a last-minute goal from their own blue line by defenseman Shawn Wilkins.
“Twelve layups and a three-pointer,” is how the RIT radio broadcast reported it.
Tyler Euverman quietly made 30 saves for the shutout, bringing his GAA down to 1.66 and his save percentage up to .940.
In a change welcomed by just about everybody, the Division II members of the ECAC Northeast are back in the mix.
Last season, the four D-II teams were broken out from the Division III teams and separate standings were kept, something done to allow the Division III teams in the Northeast to compete for an NCAA automatic qualifier. While Stonehill, New Hampshire College, Assumption and St. Michael’s played all of the Division III teams in the ECAC Northeast throughout the season, those matchups were considered nonconference.
Starting this season, the Division II games against Division III teams will count in both standings, making them much more meaningful. This is the same scheduling arrangement used by the ECAC East and NESCAC.
As was the case last season, the Division II and Division III teams will compete in separate playoffs.
Another welcome change is that since the Division II teams will keep conference standings, their playoff seeds can be determined by objective regular-season results, the way it’s done for the Division III teams.
“The Division II teams will be seeded for their playoffs by the regular-season standings,” said ECAC Assistant Commissioner Steve Hagwell. “We’ll then slide in (Division II) St. Anselm from the ECAC East.”
ECAC East and NESCAC
The wait is almost over as action finally gets underway this weekend. Early key matchups include Bowdoin and Colby traveling to Hamilton, while defending national champion Norwich hosts St. Anselm and New England College.
Last week: 0-3
On the season: 6-4
Ouch. An 0-3 weekend after opening the season 6-1.
This Week’s Picks
No. 7 Elmira at No. 1 Plattsburgh (11/18) – The Soaring Eagles are back on track, but look for the undefeated Cardinals to once again derail them. Plattsburgh 6, Elmira 3.
Colby at Hamilton (11/18) – Colby got a couple of votes in the USCHO.com preseason poll, and Hamilton didn’t. But the Continentals were picked to finish higher (3rd vs. 4th) in the NESCAC preseason poll. Go figure. Hamilton 3, Colby 2.
St. Mary’s at No. 9 Wisconsin-River Falls (11/17) – St. Mary’s is playing good hockey right now, but may run into a UWRF buzzsaw. UWRF is undefeated and has outscored its opposition 37-11, including 17-3 on home ice. UWRF 5, St. Mary’s 1.
No. 8 St. Thomas at No. 9 Wisconsin-River Falls (11/18) – St. Thomas isn’t playing good hockey right now, so expect a UWRF sweep this weekend. UWRF 7, St. Thomas 3.
St. Anselm (11/17) and New England College (11/18) at No. 3 Norwich – Whether the Cadets will be as good as last season remains to be seen, but I think they’ll be good enough to sweep at home. Norwich 4, St. Anselm 1; Norwich 5, NEC 2.