A Sparkling Debut
Don’t look now, but the Union Skating Dutchmen are number 15 in this week’s USCHO.com poll, the first-ever national ranking for the 10-year-old Division I program. The Dutchmen did get some votes in the “others receiving” category in 1993-94, while ending the regular season unbeaten in nine straight and in 1996-97, during a six-game winning streak in the middle of the season.
“It’s a nice honor to be considered among the top 15 programs in the country and it’s obviously good for Union College and the exposure that it provides our institution,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “It’s a nice compliment to our players who have put forth a great effort thus far in the season and hopefully it will help with recruiting.”
Even though it’s early in the season, Union is one of the nation’s nicest surprises. The Dutchmen were picked to finish 11th in both the coaches and media polls, and 10th by this column. But after a weekend sweep of Cornell and Colgate, the Dutchmen sit alone atop the ECAC at 3-0-0 and 5-1-0 overall.
Is it really a surprise, though, that the Dutchmen are off to a nice start?
“I knew we had something special in our leadership and it’s something that we’re going to have to continue to work at it; it’s by no means perfect,” said Sneddon. “We’ve got a long way to go and there are a lot of things that we have to work on, on and off the ice, in terms of building the team, but the guys are on the same page and everyone is geared towards the same goals.
“When you have a good team, where everyone is on the same page and you have good leadership, you’re bound to have some good things happen.
“They have some confidence — a lot of that was built last year with nine one-goal losses, and we spent a lot of time in the off- and preseason focusing on the mental aspect of the game.”
Gaining confidence and getting mentally tough in all situations. Those are the little things we work on to make sure that we are comfortable with. If you go into a game tied, you have to be comfortable with that process instead of being nervous about it and they’ve done a nice job accepting that advice.”
And it certainly looks like the Dutchmen are following that advice. In their three ECAC games, the Dutchmen and the opposition were tied in the third period. Each time they have won. Tied at two with Rensselaer, scoreless with Cornell and tied at two with Colgate in the third periods of each game, the Dutchmen, each time, scored the winning goal next.
“It’s about the kids, to be honest with you,” acknowledged Sneddon. “It’s nothing to do with me or my staff. We’re here to try to provide the athletes with the great competitive environment to learn the lessons and they’re doing the hard work. We’re certainly putting in a lot of time to help them out, but credit the senior leadership and the great work ethic that the guys are putting forth.
“They deserve the accolades, and my job is to make sure that it’s a nice compliment that they don’t read the newspapers and the articles and get swollen heads. We’ve got to stay focused and remember that it’s a process and that we can’t too ahead of ourselves and that’s where I come in. To motivate them and certainly build on the positives and not get caught up in a lot of the accolades, because it doesn’t mean a lot right now.”
The Dutchmen are hot, but this weekend they are off for exam time at Union, with its trimester schedule. The Dutchmen don’t get back on the ice until the day after Thanksgiving, against Mercyhurst.
“You can look at it two ways, the positive or the negative, and we always choose to look at it as a positive,” said Sneddon on the untimely week off. “We have some injuries that are going to give our guys a chance to heal, and they’re in exams so it’s very important.
“That’s the single most important reason they are here at the institution: to get a quality education. Now it’s time to focus on the books this week, and it’s good that we’ll have time to get through the toughest academic portion of the term. We can put that behind us and focus on Mercyhurst.”
A Commentary On The Polls
While we think it’s great that Yale is 14th and Union is 15th in the USCHO.com poll, there is something that just does not sit right with us.
Let’s take Yale, for example. Yale, in the period after the previous USCHO.com poll was voted, defeated No. 2 Boston College and then split with Clarkson and St. Lawrence. This was after defeating New Hampshire to open its season. That’s a 3-1-0 mark against quality competition. Yet, the pollsters have Yale No. 14.
Let’s take Michigan for an example now. The Wolverines are 7-2-2 with losses to Michigan State and Ferris State, and wins over Merrimack, Alaska-Anchorage, Bowling Green (2), Miami (2) and Ferris State. No disrespect to those teams, but they aren’t Boston College and New Hampshire (whom the Wolverines tied).
Colorado College, in its first main competition of the year, went 0-2 this past weekend, dropping a pair to St. Cloud, yet is seventh.
Why is it that when a Michigan splits, they don’t drop significantly in the polls? Why is it that a five-game losing streak (as Wisconsin is on right now) only pushes a team down to 12th place in the poll? New Hampshire split this weekend, as did Providence.
Yale went 2-1 on the week. Union went 2-0. Harvard, Cornell and Rensselaer split.
What we’re trying to get at here is that we think that the ECAC gets absolutely no respect in the national polls. Why is that? Maybe it’s because there haven’t been enough games yet, or maybe the competition is not viewed as being as tough as other conferences out there. Or maybe it’s just an image.
It seems that if a team like Colorado College, Michigan or Boston University gains a split or loses two on a weekend, the viewpoint is, “Well, they had a bad night, but they’ll be right there again.” Whereas if Yale, St. Lawrence (which split) or Rensselaer drops a pair or splits on the weekend, it’s, “Well, the real Yale/St. Lawrence/Rensselaer has come out.”
Is that right? Of course not. Let’s start looking at things the right way, shall we, pollsters?
The Lone Wolf
One team that believes in simple math these days is Princeton. With a new coach and nothing to lose this season, the Tigers are counting every single point. As a result, the team finished its first full league weekend with two points over arguably the hardest road pair in St. Lawrence and Clarkson. To make life even sweeter for Princeton, the team is now 1-0-3, coming off its first unbeaten home weekend in over 10 years, and is the only unbeaten team left in the nation — the lone wolf, so to speak.
“Every point is important,” said Princeton head coach Len Quesnelle. “We’ll be looking back saying what a big point it was. This league is always so tight, sometimes one point makes the difference. That’s why we’re trying to get points every weekend.”
If you look at even more numbers, you’ll see that the Princeton special teams got quite the workout this past weekend. Over the course of two days, the penalty-kill unit went 4-for-10 while the Tigers power play connected for six goals in 13 attempts.
Quesnelle was especially impressed with goaltender Dave Stathos, who kept his team in the thick of things through most of the weekend and finished with 77 saves in two games.
“Dave was unbelievable … He’s off to a great start and is capable of having a big year,” said Quesnelle.
“When you can walk away with two points, it’s always positive. If we got more points it would’ve been even better, but those points will be valuable come the end of the season.”
As a side note, what would a Princeton game with Clarkson be without a little controversy? When Princeton scored in the third period of the game, many Golden Knights thought that George Parros ran into goaltender Shawn Grant to aid the tally. For the first time in years, Clarkson’s ire was not raised by Benoit Morin.
Congrats On 250, And The Cats Are Back!
Vermont completed its first full weekend of ECAC play in almost a year with a sweep of Harvard and Brown. Let me repeat that one more time for those disbelievers: Vermont — a team whose very hockey future was in jeopardy a mere 10 months ago — is now 2-0 in league action. Who would have thought, indeed.
It was somewhat appropriate that while the Catamounts were enjoying redemptive success on the ice this weekend, the players were simultaneously giving head coach Mike Gilligan his 250th career win. Rows of friends, family and former players packed Bright Hockey Center on Friday night in anticipation of the big moment. Sixty minutes of hockey later, Gilligan heard the final buzzer and was handed the game puck by his assistants and current players.
“Everyone knew he had a lot of family and friends in the stands,” said senior Jim Gernander following the 5-3 victory over Harvard. “It was great for us to get him his 250th win here, especially after all he went through with us last year. To give him that in Boston is just a great feeling.”
It was also a great feeling for Gilligan to have his team pull out two crucial victories on the road and see his offense post 11 goals in two games. After Ryan Miller and Graham Mink combined for five points on Friday, senior J.F. Caudron led the charge the following night with a hat trick against Brown. Heading into the season, Gilligan wasn’t sure what he would get from an offensive standpoint, so the six-goal explosion by his team — especially Caudron — was a welcome sign.
“[Caudron] has some real offensive flair,” said Gilligan following the 6-1 win over Brown. “He seems to be picking up where he left off, which is getting the job done for us offensively.”
Not to rain down on the parade, but here’s some food for thought. In Vermont’s two victories, the Catamounts finished with 63 shots on net and 11 goals for a 17.5% success rate. Its opponents posted 87 shots on net and three goals for a 3.5% success rate.
You can analyze this two ways, but it certainly shows that Vermont has been able to capitalize on opportunities while its opponents have struggled royally to convert on the offensive end. Credit obviously has to be thrown Andrew Allen’s way after the netminder racked up 86 saves on the weekend.
Allen’s play was especially critical during the Harvard game when the Catamount defensemen were having significant trouble containing the Crimson speed up front. The moral of the story is that Vermont is not dominating teams up and down the ice, but rather being opportunistic. It will be interesting to see how long the Catamounts can rely on teams to score only three percent of the time.
Clarkson at St. Lawrence
The 2000-2001 edition of the North Country War starts this weekend in Appleton Arena. St. Lawrence took three points on the weekend with an overtime win over Yale and a tie against Princeton while Clarkson lost to Yale in overtime and tied Princeton.
“We beat ourselves, that’s the frustrating part, because we did a lot of good things,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “We played really well at times in both games, but mental mistakes and bad penalties cost us dearly. It is really hard to swallow because we were not outplayed. It was not our best hockey, but it was not so bad that we could not have won the games.
“I don’t expect to play a flawless game right now, but we need a much better effort from our elder statesmen. Our young guys are coming around pretty good, but we need our veterans to perform as veterans should. We really need to make a statement right now. We have proven how well we can play. Now it is a matter of being consistent.”
“We would have liked to have gotten two wins, but on the road in a league with as much parity as this one, three points is a good weekend,” said St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh. “We’ve made steady progress and we just want to keep moving in the right direction.”
Harvard/Brown at Cornell/Colgate
It’s that time of the year in Ithaca once again: the Harvard-Cornell game at Lynah. The Lynah Faithful always get up for this game and each team finished up the weekend with a win after a loss.
“It was a solid effort for us to come through a lot of adversity,” said Big Red head coach Mike Schafer. “It’s funny with what we could do with 10 guys.”
“When you are starting a combined 10 freshmen and sophomores, you better hope that some of them get on the scoresheet if you are going to have any offense,” said Crimson head coach Mark Mazzoleni.
Meanwhile, both Brown and Colgate got swept on the weekend.
“We had a lot of chances,” Brown head coach Roger Grillo said after the 6-1 loss to Vermont on Saturday. “But it was a very frustrating game.”
“We’re not real deep and it’s been a concern for us about where our offense is coming from and it’s starting to bite us a little bit right now,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “We’ve got to find a way to generate some more offense five-on-five.”
The Red Raiders will head home after playing seven of their first eight on the road.
“We’ve been on the road awhile and it will be nice to get back home,” said Vaughan. “It gets tough, but it’s a long season and we’re not pushing the panic button yet.”
“Take away the second period and I thought we played a pretty good game,” said head coach Dan Fridgen of the Cornell game. “We played an average first, but we did a real good job in the third. We just couldn’t put it in the net.”
“This whole weekend was quite a test for us,” head coach Tim Taylor said. “After the devastating loss last night, I was interested to see how we would respond. We came up with our best game of the season.”
“We couldn’t finish any of our chances [Saturday],” head coach Bob Gaudet said. “That doesn’t concern me, however, because there will be plenty of nights for us this year when the puck goes in the net.”
If It’s So Easy, You Try It
Welcome to out new weekly feature. It’s a game of trying to best the two of us. We’ve gotten a lot of flak for our predictions for the coming week’s games, so we figured that people should start to put their money where their mouths are.
Starting this week, we will chose a random ECAC fan, and that fan will pick all the games that we pick for the column. If this fan beats us, he/she gets to come back next week and take us on again. If we tie, it’s a push and that fan gets to come back the next week. Should he/she go down in humiliating defeat, then we choose a new fan to go against us the next week and the humiliated fan will have to own up to the two of us beating him/her.
At the end, the fan that wins the most weeks against us will wear the crown.
This week our first victim will be Vic Brzozowski, a Clarkson fan. All of his picks are complete with his commentary — unedited. Also, games that end in a tie are counted as ties in the record, but if you pick a tie and it’s not a tie, you lose.
Friday, November 17
Yale at Dartmouth
Vic — The Green have been very disappointing. Yale 5, Dartmouth 3
Becky and Jayson — Yale 6, Dartmouth 3
Harvard at Cornell
Vic — A real rock-em, sock-em affair, fish and all. Hahvad 3, Cornell 3, ot
Becky and Jayson — Cornell 4, Harvard 3
Princeton at Vermont
Vic — How Princeton got two points last weekend: The Ref Friday and Chokley in the SLU nets Saturday. No such luck at the Gut. Vermont 5, Princeton 1
Becky and Jayson — Vermont 4, Princeton 1
Brown at Colgate
Vic — The Providence game was a fluke, Bruin fans. Colgate 4, Brown 1
Becky and Jayson — Colgate 5, Brown 2
Saturday, November 18
Princeton at Dartmouth
Vic — Princeton is shut out this weekend. Dartmouth 5, Princeton 2
Becky and Jayson — Princeton 5, Dartmouth 2
Yale at Vermont
Vic — My second tie. Yale 4, Vermont 4
Becky and Jayson — Yale 5, Vermont 4
Brown at Cornell
Vic — Cornell has trouble scoring, but Brown is even worse. Cornell 3, Brown 2
Becky and Jayson — Cornell 3, Brown 1
Harvard at Colgate
Vic — Central NY is a long way from Boston. Colgate 4, Hahvad 3
Becky and Jayson — Harvard 6, Colgate 2
Clarkson at St. Lawrence
Vic — You really didn’t expect me to pick against the Knights, did you? And I really don’t expect Joe to start Chokley in the nets. Clarkson 3, SLU 3
Becky and Jayson — St. Lawrence 4, Clarkson 3
UMass-Amherst at Rensselaer
Vic — I hardly ever pick RPI to win. Umass-Amherst 4, RIP 2
Becky and Jayson — Rensselaer 4, UMass-Amherst 2
Tuesday, November 21
Vic — Can you tell I don’t like BU? Hahvad 5, It sucks to BU 4
Becky and Jayson — Harvard 4, Boston University 2
Princeton at Yale
Vic — Hamilton, Stafford and Deschenes are too much. Yale 4, Princeton 2
Becky and Jayson — Yale 6, Princeton 2
Maine at Cornell
Vic — My second least favorite team in Hockey Least. Cornell 3, Maine 2
Becky and Jayson — Maine 4, Cornell 2
UMass-Amherst at Vermont
Vic — Only because it is being played in Gutterson. Vermont 5, UMass-Amherst 4
Becky and Jayson — Vermont 4, UMass-Amherst 3
If you are interested in putting your money where your mouth is, drop us an email to be eligible when Vic bites the dust.
Thanks this week to Dan Fleschner, Sean Peden, Mike Volonnino and Scott Esposito for their contributions