This Week in the ECAC Northeast: Nov. 1, 2001

The lack of game action in the early going lends itself to a lack of material for a weekly column, but that does not mean that there is nothing to talk about.

So what is there to talk about?

Well, this weekend will see a slew of Northeast teams in action and things will be picking up in the coming weeks. We will take a look at this upcoming weekend.

But first, I thought I would expand on something I originally introduced in the ECAC Northeast season preview.

In talking to the coaches around the ECAC Northeast before the season, one thing is consistent — positive energy is emanating from everyone in the league. Each and every team believes that they have a shot at making the playoffs and everyone is starting the season on a positive note.

One of the positives that really jumped out at me is the consensus opinion that the Northeast is a league on the rise. No longer is it a league filled with the proverbial sisters of the poor. That maybe overstating it, the league may never have been the sisters of the poor per se, but there were certainly people around division III hockey circles who gave the Northeast little, if any respect.

As I said, I touched on this a little bit in the preseason preview with what I hope was a clever analogy to my brother and I playing wiffleball. The point being that other teams and leagues took the Northeast lightly in the past, scheduling teams out of the Northeast either to a fill an open slot in a tournament, or maybe just to try and get an “easy” win. Things are different now. And it is because of the overall improvement of the league.

Why and in what areas is the Northeast improving? Something thing that became clear in my preseason conversations with the coaches is that the league is definitely a coach-driven league. That said, who better to consult then the coaches themselves? Some coaches had some particularly astute comments on this and most every coach mentioned some of the same things. Here is a little of what they had to say.

Curry head coach Bob Davies made a comment that summed up the state of the Northeast very well. “The league is improving in all aspects: coaching, commitment by schools, quality of kids playing the game.”

Reasons for this rise, according to Davies, includes sponsorship, greater commitment level by everyone involved and more full time coaches. He also sees a league where the separation between the teams is not dramatic and a lot of the separation is dependent on the fringe players. “All these teams have talent. Some have more depth than others.”

Every team having talent means that every team has a chance and if every team has a chance then each and every league contest is meaningful.

“The league is just so wide open,” said Southern New Hampshire University coach Rene Leclerc. “Nobody is going to run away with it.” This is a good equation for quality hockey being played in any given ECAC Northeast contest.

Western New England College first year head coach Karl Enroth credits some of the improvement to the fact that there are just more good hockey players out there then there used to be. The sport of hockey is growing. Evidence of this can be seen in the prep school and junior hockey level where there are more strong teams who play a better brand of hockey then in the past. With that there is a wider breadth of players reaching college age who are just better, more polished players.

“There’s just more kids out there,” said Enroth, who specifically cited junior programs for a good amount of the improvement. “With the growth of the game, there is better coaches out there.”

This is a very interesting point. No longer is it prep school or bust. There are simply more avenues for kids to take to get noticed and to make themselves good enough to play college hockey. And many of these youth, junior and high school hockey coaches are well-qualified guys who really know their stuff.

"All these teams have talent. Some have more depth than others."

— Curry head coach Bob Davies, on the development of the ECAC Northeast

This is especially true around New England, where most Northeast teams draw most of their talent from. Take a look at the quality options that high school aged New Englanders have now that didn’t exist in the past. From midget teams, to AAA teams, the EJHL, to the IJHL, the Boston Bulldogs, and so forth. And when you add into the mix the guys who are coming from junior programs as far away as Alaska and Canada, you have some real top flight Division III talent coming into the league. One can see how there is an increased number of high caliber players coming into the college ranks.

Worcester State College head coach John Guiney agrees with those sentiments. “We’ve come a long way,” said Guiney about the Northeast, “The league has gotten better because of depth.”

Another thing that a number of coaches mentioned is the presence of the NCAA automatic bid, granted to the Northeast last year. This bid ensures that at least one team will be represented in the postseason tournament. According to some coaches, kids are attracted to that because they see it as an opportunity to play meaningful games for a longer period of time. What hockey player doesn’t want to do that? The bid also gives the league a concrete legitimacy that it may have lacked in years prior to the instatement of the automatic bid.

The presence of full-time coaches is another plus, not to take anything away from part-time coaches. There are certainly part-timers who put every bit as much work into their team as a full-time coach. However, by the very nature of the title, a full-time coach can devote more time to his position and work on things for the betterment of their team and thus, the league. And with more of these present in the Northeast, the league is better off. Recruiting, game prep, media relations — everything is easier for a full-timer; it’s no coincidence that most of the top teams in the conference have full-time guys at the helm.

For Curry assistant coach Bob Barich, it is cooperation from the administration and the athletic department that has allowed him and head coach Bob Davies to begin to build a better team, which solidifies the quality of league play even further.

But cooperation is one thing. Financial backing is another. This is another interesting topic cited by Barich as necessary for the improvement of the league. “The schools have to back the teams financially. You can see that certain teams get [financial backing] and certain teams don’t.”

This is another excellent point. Let’s face it, more money for a program means more resources at a coach’s disposal. This can aid in recruiting, scheduling, uniforms, permanent locker rooms, ice time, everything really. Even the smallest things like spacious stalls, the presence of a nice stick rack, or a snappy paint job in the locker room can attract better talent to a program and these things require money to be spent. The more money you have behind your program, the better off you are.

Head coach Scott Harlow of Stonehill, a newcomer to the league last year, sees the Northeast as a league on the rise as well. “I think it’s great. I was impressed by it last year,” said Harlow, “The hockey is very strong.”

I agree.

Opening Weekend

The opening weekend of conference play will see a number of intriguing matchups and it could tell us a lot about some teams in the early going.

Wentworth will take on Stonehill on Friday night at the Bridgewater Ice Arena. This game could answer some questions about both teams. Namely, will the Wentworth youngsters step up to fill the voids lost through graduation and enable Wentworth to remain one of the conference’s top teams? Will Stonehill suffer as a result of their tough early schedule or will they make an announcement to the league that they need to be taken very seriously?

Stonehill plays Wentworth Friday, Johnson and Wales on Sunday, and Fitchburg State next Wednesday — pretty tough early going. Harlow acknowledged that his early schedule is daunting, but does not seem fazed

“I think we’ll be all right early on. It will give us a good indication of our team,” he said. “You’ve got to play everyone eventually, so why not [play them] early on?”

The Paine Webber Classic will be an interesting tournament. Four Northeast teams: Assumption College, Fitchburg State , Salve Regina , and Worcester State will compete for the championship trophy.

While none of the games count in the conference standings, like the Wentworth and Stonehill game they will help to answer early-season questions for the teams involved.

Will Salve and Assumption carry over the momentum from the end of last year? Will Fitchburg return to its former self and be a dominant team in the league? What kind of a team is Worcester?

It is only two games for each team, and every season is usually a series of ups and downs, but these questions will be answered in part by this tournament.

On Friday, Worcester will play Fitchburg at 5pm and Assumption takes on Salve around 8pm. The winners will face off Saturday at 8pm and the consolation game will be held prior to that at 5pm. The tournament is being hosted by Assumption and all games will be played at the Buffone Ice Arena in Worcester, Mass.

Last Week

Lebanon Valley was the only Northeast team in action last week. They took on a Manhattanville squad that garnered 15 votes in the USCHO Division III preseason poll and was 3-0 heading into the game with LVC. The game was Lebanon’s season opener. Tough opening act for the Dutchmen.

While the Valiants came into the game with three games already under their belts, LVC skated into the contest with under a week’s worth of practices. The Valiants skated away with a 5-3 victory. An empty net goal was scored late in the third, so the game was a tighter contest than the score appeared.

An encouraging sign for LVC is that junior forward Scott Schilling, who was not eligible for the second half of last year, made his returned presence felt immediately, potting two of the three Dutchmen goals.

LVC will take on an upstart Utica team this weekend. This will be an interesting matchup as Utica comes into the contest at 0-1-1 but has an older team that cannot be taken lightly.

While we’re on the topic of Lebanon Valley, I want to personally apologize for an error I made in last week’s season preview. I originally reported that LVC would be unable to host playoff games, as voted by the coaches of the Northeast, which is not true. Lebanon Valley will be able to host playoff games. Again, I apologize for the error and for any confusion it may have caused anyone, especially Coach MacCormack, the Lebanon players and the LVC community.

And finally…

Things That Keep Me Up At Night

Throughout the season I will use this space to convey semi-random, non-ECAC Northeast thoughts about sports that come to me at that critical moment between shutting out the lights and falling asleep. I hate those but sometimes I think they’re noteworthy so I write them down and they entertain me so there’s a chance they will entertain others. I’ll throw them out there just to see what sticks. Feel free to email me about anything either column related or TTKMUAN related. (That’s code for Things that keep me up at night) Here are this week’s entries.

  • Where does the expression “farm team” come from? I really want to know. Can someone who knows email the answer?
  • Who was Mel Kiper, Sr.?
  • There’s a guy on the UNLV football team named “Wagers.” Nice.
  • First of all, mullet humor has gone too far. At first, it was funny and unique. Now you look up the word “mullet” on Yahoo and you get hundreds of search results.

    But it occurred to me the other day as I watched SportsCenter — what is with Curt Schilling’s hairdo?

    Seriously, he seems like a guy who is relatively with-it. Right? I mean, has he never heard of a mullet? Or does he just not believe in sideburns? Either way, it is ridiculous for a grown man who makes the kind of money he does to have that hairdo.

    Don’t even get me started on the fashion mess that is Randy Johnson. He would look at the 1991 University of Moncton team picture and think to himself, ‘Now there’s a sharp-looking bunch of guys.”

    No offense to anyone who is related to, knows, or was on the U of M-NB 1991 team, of course.