The successful head coaching debut of Nate Leaman highlighted the week that was in the ECAC. Union’s victory was the lone win for the league in nonconference action as six teams compiled a 1-3-3 mark.
Matchups against Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA, the CHA and Hockey East continue this week with a number of ECAC teams facing programs they know very little about. Coaches around the league are wearing out VCRs looking at game tape, but more than anything, they are focused on early-season problems.
What’s on that agenda? Penalties and special teams — what else?
Batting A Thousand
One game, one win. Simple enough, this game of hockey.
Leaman captured his first victory as head coach when Union defeated Niagara on the road, 4-2. The win marked the Dutchmen’s third opening-night success in the last five seasons. In 1998-99, they also defeated Niagara. Last season, it took three tries before Union earned a victory; it, too, came against the Purple Eagles.
“Obviously, I’m pleased,” said Leaman about Saturday’s win. “It was a good game. I didn’t think we gave up a lot until the third period. That’s when we took four penalties and it almost came back to haunt us. But we stuck together through that adversity and overcame it.”
Leaman was pleased with Union’s resiliency, but noted signs of a team still getting used to a new coach and a new system.
“It looked like we were thinking the game more than just playing it,” observed the coach. “Sometimes when you introduce a new system, guys are thinking too much about being in the right position, instead of just playing.”
It isn’t a complicated system, but it is one that Union will need in order to address what Leaman considers the team’s main concern.
“We’re strong in net, I like that,” he explained. “We have depth up front and experience, but our weakness, if we had to pick one, would have to be around our defense. But our system focuses on supporting our D (with the forwards), to make life as easy as possible for them.”
The system will be put to the test again this weekend. Union hosts Merrimack and American International before departing for a three-game road trip against Bowling Green and UNH.
“I don’t know a lot about AIC,” said Leaman, “I’ve never played them. However, we do know that Merrimack had a good game against Sacred Heart (a 4-2 win). We also know that Marco Rosa can win a game by himself.
“We’ll need to play tight on him, like we did against [Joe] Tallari at Niagara. We can’t give Rosa time with the puck.”
In addition, Leaman pointed out that Union will need to focus on creating more scoring chances and playing a more disciplined style to remain on the winning end of the scoreboard.
“We have to get the puck to the net and look for second-chance opportunities,” he said. “We also need to stay out of the box. We need to be a tough team to play against, but we can’t do any boneheaded things that will compromise our chances to be successful.”
Bonus Hockey for All
Three games went into overtime last weekend, with Colgate and St. Lawrence each skating to ties in their respective contests. As with most deadlocks, some teams view them as positives, others as negatives.
More often than not, the feelings are somewhere in between.
“We went out there knowing we had to win the third period in order to have a chance to play overtime,” said Colgate interim head coach Stan Moore, “and we did that, so I was very pleased.
“I’m encouraged with the fact that we fell behind three times and came back, but I’m disappointed in our consistency. We proved that we need to work on it.”
Moore also noted that, in the Raiders’ tie, “our offense showed signs after all of our early penalties, but I’m very disappointed about [the penalties]. The players we count on offensively were probably a bit tired from having to kill all of them off.
“They were deserving penalties, but we need to put more emphasis on playing well.”
Moore’s squad will get that chance this weekend when they open their home schedule with a pair against defending CCHA regular-season champion Ferris State.
“I know they’re ranked eighth in the country,” said Moore when asked what he knows about the Bulldogs. “That’s enough for me.
“[Head coach] Bob Daniels and his staff do a great job. No one would have been disappointed to have seen them advance in the NCAAs last year. “Bob is a good teaching coach. His players will come out loose, less nervous and ready to play. Hopefully, we’ll have a healthy respect for them.”
The Raiders will need to be armed with more than just that.
“Our penalty killing needs to improve,” Moore said, “as I’m certain [Ferris State] has a sound power play. And we need to execute on our power plays.
“We also need to take away the red line, the middle of the ice. Some of Northeastern’s quicker players went after our middle and that’s where forwards would like to play. But it makes it tough for our defensemen.”
Another element that has had an impact in the early going is the change at the top.
“You work for three years, learn a system, know who the coach is, who the assistants are and what to expect,” said Moore. “It’s your senior year, the year you’ve looked forward to and then, in September, your coach changes.
“A number of [the players] were taken aback by the change so late. It was very emotional for them. I thank [former coach] Don [Vaughan] for doing a great job to help them understand the need for the change. We always tell them, ‘Intelligence is the ability to adjust.'”
Moore is no stranger to the club, however, having twice been an assistant under Vaughan, including since 1998. And coming off a 17-win season, Moore is just looking to build upon his predecessor’s success.
“I think our ranking this year is consistent to where we’ve ranked the last few years,” he said. “If we play to our potential, like we did over the last 15 games last year, we have a chance to improve on that. We’d like to spread out that play over the whole season, though, and not have to wait until the last 15 games.”
Meanwhile, in the North Country, the Saints skated to a pair of ties against Wayne State (4-4 on Friday, 1-1 on Saturday).
“They were very competitive games,” said Saints’ coach Joe Marsh. “[Wayne State] is going to be a good team. They really outplayed us in the first two periods of the first night, but we played well in the third period.
“We played much better the second night, but just ran into a hot goaltender.”
The Warriors’ Matt Kelly made 41 saves.
“I wish our record was better,” said Marsh of his 1-1-2 team, “but it’s probably where we’re at. We just need to improve.”
One area he’s focusing on is the Saints’ power play, which went 1-18 against Wayne State.
“I think we are making some progress in a lot of areas,” said the coach, “but we still have a lot of things we need to work on. We need to get our power play down. We created some chances, but you have to finish things off.”
On the flip side, St. Lawrence’s penalty killing has been sharp, including killing off an overtime opportunity for the Warriors.
“The way the games are being called,” said Marsh, “a lot of calls are being made, which I agree with. The league has made that decision, so it is incumbent on each team to respond to that and be sound fundamentally and disciplined.
“The referees are looking to reduce some of the things that have crept into the game over the last few seasons. Finishing checks up high, anything to the head. Overall, the refs are doing a pretty good job. It’s a good wake-up call for all the guys.
“If you keep going with just improving the equipment, you’ll have guys with football helmets out there. It’s been proven that the more the equipment has improved, the less respect there is.
“It’s bad fundamental hockey anyway. Far too much emphasis is placed on hitting and not on checking. You need to control the tempo of the game and control the defensive zone. I’d rather see a defenseman go in and wrap a guy up than throw a big hit.”
In addition to the power play, the Saints were also affected by injuries to forwards Adam Hogg and Josh Anderson.
“We’re banged up a lot right now,” Marsh said, “and that made a difference. That’s not an excuse, though, since we would platoon players at this time of year anyway. We just have to work through it and have guys step up in place of those who can’t play. But, because of that, everyone’s been in and played, which gives us a chance to evaluate everyone.
“We came back in way better shape than a year ago. Some of it is just luck. Over the course of the year, it’s a matter of how quickly they come back. Are they in good enough shape to get back soon and respond better? That’s the real issue.”
Marsh will need health on the Saints’ side, especially over the next two weeks as St. Lawrence squares off against Massachusetts this weekend, before hosting Maine.
“When I think of [Massachusetts],” said Marsh, “I think of them going into Maine and winning last year. They are going to be a very tough team over the course of the year. ‘Toot’ (Don Cahoon) is a great coach and last year will really help them for this season. You don’t win championships in one year, it takes time. They know how important every game is.
“It will be a tough game for us. Hopefully, we’ll play our best game, then we have Maine coming in here. That’s the point of our schedule, though, to get battle-tested. It will be a real tough test for us.
“Again, special teams are the key. Our power play needs to get to the point where we’re confident and enthused. We need to throw some in to get guys feeling good about going over the boards. It’s early, so I don’t read too much into percentages. I’m looking more at confidence.”
One Saint playing with a world of confidence is netminder Kevin Ackley, who will likely start again this weekend.
“He stole our first win against Miami,” Marsh said. “We’ve relied on him less in the following games. He’s a good, smart goaltender playing with confidence. He has a great mental approach, never too up or too down. The kids really like having him in there.”
Taking on Hockey East Heavies
The Vermont Catamounts are not shying away from big games right off the bat. After a pair of losses to Boston College and UNH to start the season, UVM continues its march through Hockey East with a home tilt against Boston University.
“From a coaching standpoint,” said Vermont bench boss Kevin Sneddon, “we want to get better every day, and [against UNH], we were a little better hockey club than we were against Boston College.
“The brightest spot for us, and this was a question in a lot of minds heading into the season, was the goaltending. I thought Travis Russell played an outstanding game again.”
While Sneddon said that UVM played much better defensively against the Wildcats than in the opener against BC, he admits, “we still have a long way to go.
“The biggest thing is finding ways to win and learning how to win. We’re not there yet, but we’re obviously going up against teams that are number one and number two in the country.”
But how exactly does a team figure out how to win?
“Learning to win means dealing with the little things,” Sneddon said, “mastering the details. That’s what wins you hockey games. New Hampshire did that, capitalizing on some mistakes we made. That’s what good teams do.
“A lot of it is attitude. We don’t have a lot of guys here who have won, so you need to build that.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s matchup against seventh-ranked BU, Sneddon knows the Catamounts will have their hands full.
“They are another very good team, an elite hockey team coming into Gutterson Fieldhouse. Jack Parker is another coach that’s sustained excellence. They come in with that attitude I spoke of and they have a good transition game that capitalizes on opponents’ mistakes.
“We are going to spend a lot of time in practice on the fundamentals and special teams. We gave up some power-play goals against New Hampshire while our power play didn’t produce. We’ll need to prepare for the aggressive penalty killing of BU.
“[The Terriers] will come in here and try to outwork us. We need to be ready for that and not let anyone outwork us in our own building.”
Sneddon doesn’t expect any major lineup changes heading into the contest, but he is leaving his options open.
“The lineup is day-to-day. We keep saying that practice means something, so every day is an evaluation. We may change some of the lines around.”
The possibilities for change also include who’s in net, although Russell has played very well.
“There’s been no decision yet on our goaltender,” Sneddon said, “but obviously Travis has done a great job and he continues to impress.”
Engineers Look to Rebound
Coming off a pair of losses in New England, against BU and Providence, the Rensselaer Engineers look to notch their first win of the season when they open their home slate hosting Atlantic Hockey’s Connecticut Huskies.
“I don’t know too much about UConn,” said head coach Dan Fridgen, “it’s the first time we’ve played them in a while as a program. At this point, though, it’s a matter of focusing on our club first.”
The reason for that is last week’s showing against the Terriers and Friars.
“We played pretty hard both games,” said Fridgen, “but not very smart. I thought our defensive coverage in the BU game was a factor in the second period, otherwise I thought we played pretty even with them for two periods.
“I thought we started to get a little cute carrying the puck into the zone and paid the price for it. If we had capitalized early on, it would have been them coming from behind instead of us, which is a different kind of game to play.
“We were pretty soft; we were playing nice for whatever reason. That’s certainly not going to be the kind of hockey that we’re going to be playing, and I think they got the message.”
As for the game in Providence, “we just made too many turnovers and gave them too many chances.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of positives from this weekend, we just need to work on some things.
“We need to play smarter in all the zones. Offensively, we need to protect the puck better and not have as many turnovers. Defensively, we need to do a better job communicating with each other.”
Between the pipes, senior Nathan Marsters stopped 47 shots on the weekend.
“Nate played well,” said Fridgen. “Statistics can be deceiving. There were a lot of rebounds and you hope he can make the save and give you some momentum. He stopped some, but overall we just left him out to dry.
“We missed assignments [too]. I thought we played soft in our end of the rink at times, and not making the opposition pay the price for standing in that prime real estate area.”
Fridgen had yet to make a decision on who would start against Connecticut.
Knights Roll Into Opening Weekend
George Roll officially begins his Clarkson head coaching career this weekend as the Golden Knights travel out West to take on preseason CHA favorites Bemidji State. Each team is coming off exhibition wins.
“We are looking forward to going on the road,” said Roll. “I think it is always good to have a trip early in the season where the guys can get together and bond as a team.
“Bemidji is a quality opponent. It certainly won’t be an easy road trip out there, but the guys are focused and they seem excited. They are enjoying their time coming to the rink every day. When that happens, a lot of times it carries over to the game situations.”
Roll is looking to make his mark on the program, especially after Clarkson’s disastrous 2002-03 campaign. To that end, he waited until just two weeks ago before making final cuts.
“A lot remains to be seen,” he explained. “We’ll have a lot better handle on the team after this weekend and next week when Colorado College comes into town. We have a hardworking team and we’ll be in games this year.
“But we’re still getting ourselves together. The biggest thing will be discipline. We need to stay out of the box. That plagued Clarkson all year last year and it will not be tolerated. It’s something we’ll need to work on.”
The discipline issue will be key for Clarkson if it plans on being successful this weekend and throughout the season. But while Roll knows he’s facing a talented, well-coached team, he’s more concerned about the Knights.
“Right now, our concentration is on preparing our team,” he said, “and getting better in specialty teams areas. We’ll need to work on our forechecks and our defensive zone coverage as well.”
Sophomore Dustin Traylen will start the season opener for Clarkson after missing the exhibition contest due to what Roll called “a minor team violation.” Rookie Kyle McNulty started in his place.
“It was noting major,” Roll continued, “but that’s something that will not be tolerated. It wasn’t about using him as an example, but we’ve got to get everyone to understand. He understood and accepted it.”
The Envelope, Please …
The season’s first set of ECAC weekly awards have been dished out. Saints sophomore T.J. Trevelyan was named Player of the Week, while teammate Drew Bagnall nabbed Rookie of the Week honors.
“The Trevelyan line did a great job offensively [last weekend],” said Marsh, “and Drew has played well for us. He brings a lot of enthusiasm and the right kind of intensity.
“The sophomore class is a key class for us. The freshman class isn’t a big class, but it is a good one. We still show signs of being a young hockey team, but, eventually, you can’t keep saying that. The young guys are playing so much, they need to grow up quickly.”
Colgate senior David Cann earned Goaltender of the Week acclaim for the second time in his career.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see him named,” said Moore. “He and Steve Silverthorn were very close last year with almost identical numbers. The only difference between the two was in the letters, “Ws” and “Ls”.
Cann was 4-9-2 with a 2.90 goals against average (GAA) and .901 save percentage in 2002-03. Silverthorn, meanwhile, was 13-10-2, with a 2.90 GAA and .900 save percentage.
“We looked at how they performed in practice this season,” Moore said, “and David showed that he wanted it. He asked for the opportunity. I don’t know of any coach who, when you have someone who has been so loyal, will not give a senior that chance after such a statement.”
(Players named to the weekly Honor Roll are listed in the sidebar.)
Two Minutes For …
Each week in this section we are going to give a reader the opportunity to offer their 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 and decency (just in case!), but opinions will not be altered. E-mail us after this weekend’s games, but keep in mind that for space reasons, all comments should be kept to fewer than 300 words.
Scott Weighart contributed to this column.