Bank On It
On the back of the dollar bill, written in semicircular scroll just below the pyramid, is the phrase “Novus Ordo Scelorum.” It means, roughly, “A new order has begun.”
I learned this while talking with Milwaukee School of Engineering head coach Mark Ostapina. That’s the slogan he’s instilled in his players, their theme for the 2001-2002 season.
And it appears to be working. MSOE swept Minnesota-Crookston last weekend, 6-3 and 5-2, to grab first place in the MCHA. Until the loss on Friday, UMC had never been defeated in league play, going 23-0-1 over the last two seasons.
Conversely, MSOE finished dead last in 2000-2001, going just 3-12-1 in league play.
“They’re working extremely hard,” said Ostapina of his team.
“They’ve bought into a new system and a new philosophy.”
Ostapina is back in Wisconsin, where he played for the Badgers in the late 1970s. After that it was Sweden, Anchorage, Lowell and most recently the head coaching position at New England College, which climaxed the 2000-2001 season with an ECAC East title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“I’ve been very impressed so far,” said Ostapina. “I decided to challenge them and put a lot on their plates from day one.
“So far, they’ve devoured every morsel.”
Players like senior Ryan Moren (Lakeville, MN) and freshman Andy Eisch (Crystal Lake, IL) are prime examples. Moren is the veteran leader who was the team’s leading scorer last season; Eisch had four goals and two assists last weekend to pace the Raiders.
“I ran this team through the same drills we did at Wisconsin, and I was hoping they’d pick them up by mid-season,” said Ostapina. But they’re already executing them in some ways superior to what I was used to in Division I.”
One of the main changes made by the new coach has been in the MSOE zone, where he’s instilled a more defensive system that’s paying dividends.
“I don’t think we really believed in it in the Buffalo Tournament (loses to Fredonia and Buffalo State), but we really executed well last weekend against Crookston.”
Case in point: goaltender Adam Blumfield was 1-11 with a 5.00 GAA.. This season, he has a 2.66 GAA and was named MCHA goaltender of the week.
“I think we snuck up on Crookston a bit,” said Ostapina. “It was their first games and we had played the weekend before. In Buffalo, we fell victim to that, since Fredonia and Buff State had played a couple of games already.”
There’s still a long road ahead — MSOE hosts MCHA champion Marian this weekend followed in two weeks by a rematch series with Crookston — but the Raiders are already within one conference win of matching its total for all of last season.
Chalk it up to determination, says the coach.
“I borrowed something from Shawn Walsh,” he said. “I told the team that they would be judged by their ability to compete every day.”
Optimism is also high in another Great Lakes city. The Buffalo State Bengals are 2-0 in conference and tied for first place. That’s never happened before.
“It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” joked head coach Jim Fowler. ‘We’re playing for first place this weekend.’ Never been able to say that before either.”
The Bengals are indeed playing for sole possession of first place in the SUNYAC this weekend, but they’ll be heavy underdogs against Plattsburgh State.
“They have so many weapons,” said Fowler.
But Buffalo State has a few things on its side: home ice and more experience than they’ve ever had.
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors. It used to be that I’d have to bring in a whole lot of guys each season to plug holes. Now we just need to fill in some gaps.”
Fowler attributes this mainly to being able to coach full time instead of what was formally a part-time position.
“Instead of being on the Zamboni, I can be in my office watching tape or out recruiting.”
That’s led to a 4-2 start (2-0 SUNYAC), the best ever for the Bengals, who have defeated MSOE, Utica, Brockport and Geneseo.
Things started slow, with a pair of shutout loses at the SUNYAC challenge to open the season, but since then, the Bengals are on a roll, and, even though it’s very early, thinking playoffs.
Outside of Plattsburgh, it looks like there’s going to be a lot of parity in the SUNYACs this season, with every team having a chance at one of the six postseason spots.
“That’s our goal,” said Fowler.
Buffalo State is led by a trio of forwards, junior Joe Urbanik (Calumet City, IL), who led the team in scoring last season with 37 points, senior Todd Nowicki (Buffalo, NY), who already has 11 points this season and was named USCHO.com’s first Division III offensive Player of the Week for this season, and junior Rocky Reeves (Anchorage, AK), a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian award last season.
“He’s a real leader,” Fowler said of Reeves. “Incredible character and a great student-athlete.
“He’s working right now on organizing a clothing drive and is getting the rest of the team involved.”
All three plus goaltender Nick Berti (Orchard Park, NY) will have to come up big against Plattsburgh and Potsdam this weekend if the Bengals expect to continue their min-streak, but the confidence of winning a few games can go a long way.
“We aren’t getting ahead of ourselves,” said Fowler. “But there’s no reason to think we can’t achieve our goals of making the playoffs and playing well throughout the season in order to get there.”
Game of the Week
The folks on the USCHO.com message board have been taking full advantage of the new features installed over the summer; one of which is the ability to generate poll questions that others can respond to.
One poll that’s been created each week is the “Game of the Week.” Several matchups are proposed and voted on.
This weekend’s winner in a landslide is the tilt between Wisconsin-River Falls and Wisconsin-Superior.
In a rematch of last season’s NCHA championship, as well as the NCAA consolation game (both won by Superior), UWRF comes in at 1-0-1 in conference, while the Yellowjackets are a surprising 0-2.
UWS lost to both Lake Forest and St. Norbert last weekend, and at 0-2 in conference will be hard pressed to match last season’s 11-3 mark (30-4-1 overall).
The Falcons need to keep pace with Lake Forest, which is off to a surprising 2-0 start in conference after winning just three league games all last season.
Like the Bengals and Raiders, the Foresters are off to a quick start, looking to turn the standings from last season upside down. Whether any of these teams will be successful remains to be seen, but signs of “Novus Ordo Scelorum” are everywhere early in the Division III season.