The 20 teams from the ECAC East and NESCAC get under way this weekend, 35 days after Manhattanville and Geneseo kicked off the Division III season back on October 18.
Has the wait been hard for those teams?
“Not really,” said Colby head coach Jim Tortorella. “That’s the situation in our league. You know the parameters. The season starts the third Thursday in November and you plan accordingly.”
The NESCAC and ECAC East are the only leagues that play hockey exclusively in the winter sports season as defined by the NCAA. While hockey is considered a multi-seasonal sport by the NCAA, the ECAC East and NESCAC voluntarily limit the length of their seasons, eliminating conflicts for multi-sport athletes.
“I think the Division I season is too long, with too many games,” Tortorella said. “To each their own, but I think the Division III season that some of the leagues are playing is too long.”
Top-ranked St. Norbert has already played nine games, or 36 percent of its schedule. The NESCAC and ECAC play one fewer game than NCHA teams, so they’ll be busy getting in their 24 games before the 22nd of February when the regular season ends.
Other than their holiday break from December 8 to January 4, and a single game on Saturday, January 4, the White Mules will play a pair of games every weekend from now until the end of the season.
“That holiday delay is actually harder than the one at the beginning of the season,” Tortorella said. “You start practice for the season preparing for the first seven games. Then you have a long layoff, and when you come back, you need to prep all over again.”
There are currently two NESCAC teams and one ECAC East squad in the USCHO.com Division III Men’s poll, but now that play is underway, who winds up there from week to week is anyone’s guess, according to Tortorella.
“[The NESCAC] is strong from top to bottom,” he said. “Middlebury is still the team to beat, but I think it’s more wide open. The next six or seven teams — Bowdoin, Hamilton, Colby, Williams, Trinity, Amherst — are all going to be very good. And the next set of teams can beat anyone in the league.”
According to Tortorella, this will be evident come playoff time, where a new structure has been implemented.
“Now it’s the top eight instead of the top seven. Even if you finish first, you have to win a game to be able to host the semifinals and finals. And the eighth place team definitely has a chance to knock off the first place team. You have to be ready to play every game.”
Wild and Wacky
It seems like I say this every year at this time, but the Division III season is off to an unpredictable start. The best example of this is Cortland’s 4-3 win over Plattsburgh. It was the first time the Red Dragons had defeated the Cardinals in 57 attempts a streak that dates back to January of 1977.
The next night, Plattsburgh came within seven seconds of losing again, needing Brendon Hodge’s late goal to tie Oswego. The loss and the tie guarantee that the Cardinals will finish with their lowest league point total in five years.
Other shockers include Lawrence’s win over Marian, the Sabres’ first loss in league play in almost two years. The next weekend, the Sabres pulled the upset special, downing Elmira 5-4 in overtime after losing 10-2 to the Soaring Eagles the night before.
And in what may be the worst start ever by a good team, Gustavus Adolphus is 0-7. The Golden Gusties were a goal away from the NCAA tournament last season and were picked to repeat as runners-up in the MIAC preseason poll. Gustavus has lost four games by a single goal, twice in overtime. Things don’t get any easier this weekend when the Gusties square off against No. 14 St. John’s.
Turkey Tournament Time
There’s plenty of hockey action the weekend after Thanksgiving, some of it of the tournament variety. Since there’s no column from me next week, here’s a quick preview:
Three of the four teams were in the Division IIII Frozen Four back in March. With the exception of Potsdam last season, the host team has won the tournament each year. Norwich hosts this time.
Not That It Matters
I’m polishing off my kids’ leftover Halloween candy as I write this, and this whole “Fun Size” thing is bugging me. You know, the inch-long candy bars emblazoned with the slogan “Fun Size!” on the side.
Just what the heck is “Fun Size”? Seems to me they’d be more fun if they were large enough to actually take a bite out of ’em, instead of popping them like peanuts. And is it my imagination, or does “Fun Size” get smaller every year? What fun is that?
And finally, isn’t it ironic that the symbol Microsoft is using to promote its new MSN 8.0 service is a bug?