Well, I guess I jinxed Norwich and River Falls last week when I predicted that there wouldn’t be any changes in the USCHO.com Division III Men’s Poll.
The Cadets were shocked by Trinity 4-1 last Saturday, and UWRF could manage only a 1-2, 5-0 split with Wisconsin-Stout last weekend.
The setbacks dropped Norwich into a tie with Middlebury for second, while River Falls fell from fifth to seventh in the rankings.
Norwich’s home-ice loss was especially surprising as the Cadets came into the game 16-0 after dominating Wesleyan 8-0 the night before.
One coach who wasn’t all that surprised by Trinity’s win is MSOE’s Mark Ostapina, who coached at New England College for six seasons.
“Trinity can play,” he said. “They’re big and physical and aren’t usually out of many games. They’re well coached (by John Dunham) and are opportunistic.
“If they pop in a couple on you early, like they did against Norwich, they’re very tenacious and tough to beat.
“In a way, they remind me of an NCHA team with their physical style and game plan,” Ostapina added.
Watch out for the Bantams in the NESCAC playoffs. They’ve been under the radar until this win, but are only a point behind Colby in the standings, and just four points out of first place.
Bigger and Better
The main topic of my conversation with Ostapina was the new, on-campus athletic facility that the Raiders will move into sometime in the 2003-2004 season.
The $29 million Kearn Center will include a 2,400 seat hockey arena and a 1,200 seat basketball court, as well a fitness center and cafe.
“We break ground in June,” Ostapina said. “The best part is that it’s all being done with outside funding, thanks mostly to Dr. Kearn.”
The new facility will give MSOE one of the nicest rinks in the West, or in all of Division III for that matter. Could a future D-III Frozen Four be held there?
“It would be a great location,” said Ostapina. “We would be interested in hosting it even as a neutral site.”
The idea of a neutral Western location had been discussed by the NCAA Division III Hockey Committee last summer. St. Norbert’s new facility would also be a favorite to bid on the championships. If the Green Knights make the D-III Frozen Four this season, there’s a strong chance the finals will be held at the Cornerstone Community Center.
Ostapina’s MSOE Raiders are currently in second place in the MCHA, four points behind Marian, which has two games in hand as well.
“Marian is definitely the frontrunner,” said Ostapina. “The rest of the teams are all bunched together. It’s going to be a battle.”
Northland College is on the outside looking in right now in terms of playoff position, but the Lumberjacks can get back into things if they can sweep Minnesota-Crookston again, as Northland did back in early November.
But Crookston, the defending MCHA regular-season champion, is playing better now, according to Ostapina.
“They had a killer schedule at the beginning of the season,” Ostapina said. “They played a lot of road games early and now they’ll be facing most league opponents at home. You saw this last weekend when they swept Lawrence.”
In the first half of the season, the Golden Eagles have played just three home games (1-2) and a whopping 12 road games (1-11). Throw in a side trip to Colorado Springs to play in the Air Force tournament, and there’s no doubt that UMC is glad to be home for six of its final eight games. This was evident in a pair of convincing 6-1 wins over Lawrence, a team that beat UMC 7-2 back in December.
But there’s no way anyone’s going to catch defending champion Marian, which is 8-0, having already swept the other four MCHA teams once, outscoring them 45-11 in the process. That’s a league GAA of 1.38.
Unlike last weekend, this week’s schedule has several key games with league and national implications. The top three:
1. RIT (16-1) at Elmira (11-6). I’ve broadcasted the last five of these games at the Domes, and I don’t think that any have been decided by more than a single goal. I don’t expect this one will, either. RIT can open a large lead with a win, not in the ECAC West standings, but in the quest for the NCAA Pool “B” bid. Elmira can keep its NCAA hopes alive by holding serve and winning on home ice.
2. Oswego (12-6) at Plattsburgh (12-6). Plattsburgh is the only team to beat Oswego in league play this season, and the Lakers must return the favor, or drop four points plus the tiebreaker behind the Cardinals.
3. St. Norbert (16-3) at Wisconsin-Superior (14-4-1). The Green Knights are 2-1 against the YellowJackets so far this season, including a win in their only other conference game. SNC leads UWS by four points in the standings, and can all but lock things up with a victory.
His and Hers
The same schools occupy a whopping six of the 10 positions in the USCHO Men’s and Women’s polls.
Here’s the breakdown:
Middlebury: first in the women’s poll; tied for second in the men’s poll
Bowdoin: second in the women’s poll; sixth in the men’s poll
Elmira: sixth in the women’s poll; tenth in the men’s poll
Wisconsin-Superior: seventh in the women’s poll; fifth in the men’s poll
RIT: ninth in the women’s poll; first in the men’s poll
Wisconsin-River Falls: tied for tenth in the women’s poll; seventh in the men’s poll
And, if you include teams that received votes:
Manhattanville: third in the women’s poll; got votes in the men’s poll
Colby: eighth in the women’s poll; got votes in the men’s poll
Plattsburgh: got votes in the women’s poll; ninth in the men’s poll
St. Thomas: got votes in the women’s poll; eighth in the men’s poll.
Every school with a men’s team in the Top 10, with the exception of St. Norbert, also has a women’s team that got at least one vote in the women’s poll.
Goalie or Goon?
In the time-honored tradition of Billy Smith, I give you Geneseo’s Brett Walker. The freshman netminder from Regina, Saskatchewan, is fourth in the SUNYAC in penalty minutes. Here’s his rap sheet to date:
10/20 vs. Manhattanville — slashing minor
11/9 vs. Oswego — roughing minor, tripping minor
11/10 vs. Cortland — fighting major, game disqualification
11/30 vs. Potsdam — slashing major
12/8 vs. Manhattanville — delay of game minor, slashing minor, 10-minute misconduct
1/19 vs. Utica — fighting major, game disqualification
That’s a total so far of 55 minutes for Walker, who’s become a folk hero on the USCHO Fan Forum.
Keep out of his crease, boys.