This Week in the ECAC: Oct. 9, 2003

Welcome to the first ECAC weekly column of the season. In addition to our usual look at news from around the league, we’re going to continue the tradition of having guest prognosticators. So, e-mail us with your predictions and we’ll pick a new reader to go up against each week. Plus, we’re adding a new feature to the column this year that you will learn more about further down the page. For now, though, let’s launch into the major stories around the league.

A Dose of Reality

The college hockey world and those close to the Rensselaer hockey program are still in shock over the death of Bill Cahill. A two-time former men’s assistant under Buddy Powers and Dan Fridgen, Cahill was entering his fourth season as head coach of the women’s team when he died of a heart attack Sunday night. He was 53.

“We lost a good man,” said Fridgen, head coach of the Engineers’ men’s program. “He was a great communicator and was incredible in the way he dealt with colleagues, administrators, student athletes and parents.

“He really had a soothing effect when speaking with student athletes about whatever pressures they were facing.”

Fridgen and Cahill worked together as assistants under Powers. Once Fridgen was named head coach, he hired Cahill to be his assistant, a position he held for six years.

“We learned from each other,” recalled Fridgen. “It was a give-and-take relationship. As an assistant, he would fulfill any role needed.”

But what Cahill did working for Fridgen was more than Xs and Os. It included life lessons and a unique approach that reminded all around him that this was sports and nothing more.

“It didn’t matter how difficult the situation was,” explained Fridgen, “he always put a different spin on it and made you realize that it was just a game and that other things were more important. That somewhere in the world, someone had it worse off.

“I learned that you could deal with the things you faced in a different way. One that was less stressful and easier for everybody. He never yelled or lashed out at anybody. He had a different way of speaking which was real effective; I always said it came from his years working as a social worker.”

Behind the gentle touch and caring outlook, Cahill was also a big practical joker and, as Fridgen pointed out with a laugh, no one was ever off limits.

“We had a lot of fun, a lot of laughs. He liked practical jokes and liked to tease. Sometimes when you have a guy with that kind of humor, he can’t take it. But Bill could give it and take it. Anyone in the room was fair game.”

And because of that, Fridgen knew he had to be one step ahead of his friend.

“He recently had his photo taken at Saratoga [Raceway],” Fridgen recalled between laughs, “in the winner’s circle with [Rensselaer President] Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson. A friend of ours had taken the picture and I knew he’d bring it into my office and rub it in. So I called our friend and had him superimpose my face over his.

“[The photographer] came to our office with the pictures. When I handed the superimposed one to Bill, the look on his face … he was trying to figure out what happened!

“Of course, he was also trying to figure out what happened to his hair in the picture, since he had more than me. Then he said, ‘Hey Fridge, you have a great body, have you been working out?’ And I said, ‘Bill, you know it’s a good thing I’m married because with a body like that … ‘”

As Fridgen explained, and as many others know first-hand, that was life around Cahill. It could be serious, it was honest, but, most of all, it was filled with joy.

“On the personal side, with Bill,” said Fridgen, “he may have been struggling with some things and he’d open up to you. At that moment you realized that you were doing for him what he always did for you … and you learned it from him to begin with.”

Of all the elements of life that Cahill taught others, his hockey knowledge was top-notch and his abilities as a coach spoke for themselves.

In his most recent role as head coach of the women’s program, he compiled a 47-28-3 record. He guided Rensselaer to an increasing win total in each campaign, from 12 in 2000-01 to 20 last year.

“He loved to play hockey,” said Fridgen, chuckling as he approached the punch line to another Cahill moment. “He’d come in after the weekend and tell me about all of his goals and I’d ask, ‘Was there a goalie in the net?’

“There was always lots of give-and-take, a lot of laughs. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Viewing hours for Cahill were held this Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Athy Funeral Home in Worcester. The funeral will be held Friday morning at 11 at Blessed Sacrament Church on Pleasant Street in Worcester. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made payable to “Let’s Go Red — Women’s Hockey” and sent to:

Let’s Go Red!
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
AS&RC Building
110 Eighth Street
Troy, NY 12180-9987

Saints Earn First Win for ECAC

St. Lawrence opened the season for all ECAC teams last Friday with a matchup against host Miami at the Lefty McFadden Invitational. Led by the stellar goaltending of junior Kevin Ackley, the Saints defeated Miami 3-1. It was St. Lawrence’s first season-opening victory since capturing eight straight to begin the 1999-2000 campaign.

“Kevin was just tremendous all night long,” said Saints coach Joe Marsh about the netminder and his 41 stops on the evening. “He made some huge saves and had them shaking their heads. Obviously we’d like to see a little less pressure on him and a few more shots on goal on our part, but the disparity in shots may have been a little misleading. We had some pretty good stretches in their zone, but didn’t get a lot of shots on the net.”

St. Lawrence was outshot 42-18, including 19-6 in the third period. However, on the scoreboard, where the numbers actually count, the Saints made the most of their limited shots, tallying twice in the final frame while Ackley shut out the RedHawks over the game’s last 35:59.

Offensively, nine different Saints notched a point, including the game-winning goal by Stace Page, who will be counted on to rediscover his freshman-year scoring touch (9-9–18) after injuries limited him to just four goals in 2002-03.

“It was a good play all the way around,” said Marsh. “The guys worked the puck down low and Stace made a nice shot on a good angle. It was great to see him score the first time out after all the struggles he had with his back last season.”

Unfortunately for the Saints, their balanced offense of the previous night was held in check in the championship game against nationally-ranked Denver (No. 12 in this week’s USCHO poll).

The two programs had met only once in their storied histories, a 12-2 Denver win in the 1961 NCAA championship game. This time, the score was much closer, with the Pioneers skating away with a 3-0 victory. They face off again out West on January 2.

“Denver used its speed to their advantage and they aren’t a team that you can make turnovers against. I think we minimized our mistakes and Kevin again came up big in key situations to keep us in it right until the end,” said Marsh.

Outshot 39-24, St. Lawrence once again received excellent goaltending from Ackley. He was the lone Saint named to the all-Tournament team, stopping 77 of 81 pucks fired at him over the two days.

Despite the split weekend, St. Lawrence’s 19th-year head coach was pleased with his team’s performance.

“Even though we didn’t win it, I would consider this a good weekend for us,” explained Marsh. “We played two quality teams and we competed well both nights. Even though we didn’t score against Denver, I actually think we played better offensively in a lot of ways than we did on Friday.

“[It] gives us a good base to work from, and while we know we have a lot of work to do, I think we can build on this and continue to improve. We do need to work on increasing the quality of our shots and getting into good scoring position, but that will come as we get more practice under our belts.”

Speaking of which, the lack of preseason action makes this weekend even more impressive for the Saints, who had practiced with the coaching staff only four times prior to facing off against the RedHawks.

“We are allowed ‘captain’s practices’ without the coaches on hand,” explained Marsh, “and the guys had a little more structure in that this year, which helped us. [But] it becomes a question of getting into game condition and coming up with line combinations and special teams groupings that are going to work for you down the road.

“We will undoubtedly do a lot of juggling and mixing things up early, but we also know how important it is to get off to a good start.”

The Saints will continue to be tested as they play their traditionally challenging nonconference slate. They open the Appleton Arena portion of their schedule this weekend against defending CHA champion Wayne State. Those contests are followed by games against Massachusetts, Maine and Lake Superior before diving into ECAC play on November 7.

A New Chapter Begins in Burlington

The other ECAC team to see action last weekend was Vermont, including new coach Kevin Sneddon. A sold-out Gutterson Fieldhouse had all the splendor of opening night. Boston College was in town, Sneddon launched a new era for UVM hockey and Raymond Bourque dropped the ceremonial first puck.

The Catamounts, however, were outplayed for the majority of the contest, a 5-3 loss, despite mounting a third-period comeback.

“We played against a very good BC team,” said Sneddon. “They were well-coached and played a mature game for it being their first.

“We watched them skate around us for two and a half periods and didn’t play well defensively. It could have been first game jitters and the [team] is still getting used to a new coach and a new system. We just didn’t look comfortable.

“We gave them a run at the end, but in all honesty, BC was the better team.”

Despite playing tentative hockey for most of the contest, Vermont battled back from a 4-0 third period deficit with three goals in the last five minutes before Tony Voce notched an empty-netter to seal the victory for the Eagles.

Why the late push?

“We challenged the players a little bit between the second and third periods,” explained Sneddon. “The guys were down and hanging their shoulders a bit. We want the mark of Catamount hockey to be that we play 60 minutes and play until the final buzzer.

“A lot of it is getting them to believe in themselves. The biggest challenge we have [as a new coaching staff] is change. Some people are receptive to change while others are more resistant. Change is difficult.

“But we’re trying to enhance the Vermont tradition; trying to improve upon the solid foundation that is already here.”

To create the new environment Sneddon envisions, he and his coaching staff will lean heavily on the playing leadership of the Catamounts — senior co-captains Jeff Miles and Oriel McHugh, as well as the assistant captains, junior Brady Leisenring and sophomore Jaime Sifers.

“We have tremendous character in our leaders,” said a proud Sneddon. “They are excited about the demands we are placing on them. They’ve been very receptive to new ideas, but we have a long way to go.

“Miles is one of the elite players in college hockey, but he needs to bring his best game each day and lead by example. Sifers will be a great leader for years to come. They have to accept the change in culture and be willing to carry it to the rest of the team.

“They’ve been great.”

Another Catamount who earned that superlative after the season opener was sophomore goaltender Travis Russell.

“He was phenomenal,” said Sneddon about the performance of his young netminder against a strong BC squad. “We could have been down by much more after the first period if it wasn’t for him. Instead, we were down only 1-0. They jumped all over us, but he’s shown he’s a bit more prepared for this season than last year as a young freshman.

And, he’s being pushed by the other goaltenders (junior Scott Sortal and sophomore Matt Hanson). That’s a very good thing for us. From an outsider’s perspective, our goaltending is viewed as a question mark, but I see it as a positive. Aside from the inexperience, they are all hungry.”

Considering Russell’s 36-save performance (including 19 in the first period) against the Eagles, could the Catamounts have already settled on a solution between the pipes?

Don’t bet on it.

“We’ve made the decision as a coaching staff,” explained Sneddon, “to make week-to-week evaluations. We don’t want to make a decision on who is starting on Monday; we want practice during the week to be very important. Who starts in goal will be evaluated every week.”

And next on the horizon is fourth-ranked New Hampshire and a matchup with the Catamounts in Durham. It’ll be the home opener for the Wildcats, runners-up in last year’s NCAA championship game, and another extremely tough test for Vermont. That’s followed up by games against Boston University and Michigan Tech before conference play.

“My biggest concern,” said Sneddon, “is finding the right combination of lines to play two-way hockey. We need to play much better defensively.

“We’re getting better. We learned a lot about where we are at as a team. That’s tough to do in practice because you need to be tested in games by good teams. We’re better this week than we were going into the BC game.

“The schedule is a tremendous challenge for us. We’re not fearful of playing anyone, but we are focused on ourselves. We tell the players not to worry about the past or the future, but to focus on one game. As a coach, you can’t ask for more than that.”

Tickets? What Tickets?

The ECAC slate begins November 7. The two teams face each other for the first time since last season’s dramatic league championship on December 12 in Ithaca, N.Y. But it’s a contest in early 2004 that has launched this season’s first salvo in the ever-intense Harvard-Cornell rivalry.

News surrounding Cornell’s much-anticipated trip to Bright Hockey Center on January 9 began to make waves even before the first Crimson ticket was sold for any game this season. And therein lies the issue.

Tickets. Or is it “Ticket-Gate?”

Cornell traditionally packs Harvard’s home rink with loud and enthusiastic fans. Add to it the Big Red’s Pep Band and it makes for a home-away-from-home for many a Cornell player — as many of them remarked after last season’s win in New England.

Visiting fans have always been able to purchase single-game tickets by simply calling the Harvard box office. It was a method all fans could take advantage of, but, to their credit, Cornell fans did it in droves.

This season, however, things are a little different. The Crimson have adopted a model that’s become more prevalent in professional sports.

“Cornell tickets are available as part of the four-game ticket package only,” said Harvard Ticket Manager Erin Hobin-Audet.

The Crimson will no longer sell single-game tickets to the Cornell matchup. Instead, they have packaged the January contest into a block of four games, which includes dates against Princeton, Rensselaer and Massachusetts. If a fan wants to see Cornell play at Harvard, he or she must buy tickets from among the 100 given to the Cornell ticket office, purchase the full four-game pack or be a Harvard season ticket holder.

“This is similar to what the Beanpot schools do,” explained Hobin-Audet. “[While] undergraduate students get in free, this protects our fan base. The first priority is to give alumni and season ticket holders first shot at buying tickets for what will be a sellout. At the same time, this gives us a boost for the other games that may not draw as well.”

Hobin-Audet also pointed out two other options. Harvard sells 100 tickets for this contest each season to the Cornell Club of Boston. The Club purchases the tickets at the Harvard group rate of $8 each and then sells them at a higher price to Cornell alumni.

Calls and e-mails to Club Programming co-Chair Tom Pasniewski seeking clarification on the cost and how to purchase tickets went unanswered over the last week, as did calls seeking comment from new Cornell Hockey Association President Bob Pochily.

“The other option would be to wait until after the first game in the package is played (Princeton’s visit in November),” said Hobin-Aubin. “At that point, tickets to the remaining games in the package will be released to Harvard-affiliated individuals only, including faculty, staff and alumni. Then, any extra tickets will go on sale to the general public January 5.”

It will be interesting to see if Harvard will succeed in keeping Cornell’s turnout lower than last season, but judging by the fan response on the Cornell end of things, this issue is just picking up steam.

Two Minutes For …

Each week in this section we are going to give a reader the opportunity to offer an opinion on a relevant ECAC news story. One reader will be selected and will have comments included in the column. All commentary will be edited for grammar, syntax and decency (just in case!), but opinions will not be altered. The fun begins with next week’s column, so feel free to chime in with an e-mail to us after this weekend’s games. Keep in mind that for space reasons, comments should be kept to fewer than 300 words.

Hitting the Ice

Opening up play this week in games that count are Union, Colgate and Rensselaer. All contests will be on the road for those clubs as they look to start the 2003-04 season with strong showings. Check out our predictions on the right and let’s see if we can put one in the win column.