This Week in Division III: Nov. 20, 2003

Finally, the Gang’s All Here

For some patient fans, the Division III hockey season starts this weekend, a full six weeks after teams from other conferences began play. The last 20 of the 74 Division II and Division III teams kick things off as the NESCAC, ECAC East and St. John’s from the MIAC finally get underway. They have some catching up to do — some teams have played as many as nine games, over a third of their schedule.

Domination, Week Two

The NCHA continues to knock the MIAC around. After two full weeks of interlocking play, NCHA teams hold a whopping 25-4-3 edge and have outscored their MIAC opponents 171-67, including 97-38 last weekend.

What’s up with that? Last season, the MIAC was a respectable 23-27-4 against their Midwestern rivals.

There are two theories for the disparity this season, one having to do with timing, the other with turnover.

“This past weekend was one of the worst I can ever remember in terms of goal differential,” said St. Olaf coach Sean Goldsworthy. “I think part of it is that our league lost a lot of impact players, and the NCHA has most of their top players returning.”

Besides the talent gap, which is cyclical, the two leagues have decided to play each other in November, rather than December and January as in prior years. Since the MIAC doesn’t start until November, the NCHA was got a head start by playing nonconference games against each other, as well as games against the MCHA, which also started in October.

“It make a huge difference when you’re playing your first few games against teams with six or seven games under their belts,” said Goldsworthy. “They have been able to get the bugs out of their systems. It’s especially apparent in special teams, and we got killed on special teams last weekend.”

That said, Goldsworthy is still in favor of the early nonconference games, rather than starting with league matchups and then taking a break to play non-MIAC opponents around the holidays.

“It’s all about the AQ (automatic qualifier),” he said. “That means that every conference game is critical. Nonconference games are good for competitiveness and national rankings, but neither of those things get you into the NCAA playoffs.”

Finally, Part II

The lone Western team to start this late is St. John’s, but it wasn’t by choice. Since there are nine MIAC teams and only eight in the NCHA, one team stays out of the interlocking schedule each season. This time it was the Johnnies’ turn.

“We’re ready to go,” said head coach John Harrington. “It was our turn to be the odd man out this season. With the move of the nonconference games to the first three weeks of the season, there was nobody to play. The MCHA were already into their conference games, so unless we wanted to fly somewhere, we were stuck. And we’re already flying to Norwich for their tournament, so another trip was out of the question.”

So how will the defending champs fare in what might be a down year for the MIAC?

“We’re going to be decent,” said Harrington. “Our biggest loss was Rick Gregory, who was both an All-American goalie as well ask an academic All-American, something you don’t see very often.

“St. Thomas is always kind of the A-1 team in our league, so they will be tough. Gustavus is .500 (against the NCHA) and has almost everyone back, and I think St. Olaf is a real dark horse. They’ve got some talented players.”

The Johnnies travel to Lawrence this weekend.

MCHA Happenings

After a couple of weekends where teams split their series, Minnesota-Crookston and Marian put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. Currently 1-1, MSOE plays Marian twice this weekend.

MSOE coach Marc Ostapina says that the Sabres will present quite a challenge.

“Marian looks strong again this season, and did better against St. Norbert (4-2 loss) than many teams have done.”

Looking at the West as a whole, Ostapina likes Wisconsin-River Falls to rule. The Falcons defeated Ostapina’s Raiders 5-0 and 4-1 to open the season.

“I think River Falls might be the top team in the West,” Ostapina said. “From top to bottom, they’ve got the most skill and experience.”

As for MSOE, “We’re better,” said Ostapina. “We’re improving, especially in net. I think this season it’s a matter of addition by subtraction. We let go of some problems we had last season. But we’re young.”

Weekly Awards

ECAC Northeast: Player of the Week — Matt Beck, Massachusetts-Dartmouth. The senior forward was named MVP of the UBS Face Off Classic Tournament. He dished off a total of six assists as the host Corsairs captured the title with wins over Fitchburg State (5-2) and Assumption (6-4)

Goalie of the Week — Greg Blais, Suffolk. The sophomore netminder made a whopping 54 saves in a 3-1 loss to Curry in the championship game of the Curry Invitational Tournament. Blais was named to the all-tournament team.

Rookie of the Week — Brett Adams, Curry. Adams had a goal and two assists in a 9-2 win over Nichols in the first round of the Curry Tournament.

ECAC West Player of the Week — The honors are shared this week by Mike Tarantino from RIT and Hobart’s R.C. Schmidt. Tarantino had two goals and five assists in a pair of Tiger wins over Elmira (4-0) and Utica (6-1). Schmidt tallied a hat trick, including the game-winner, in an 8-5 win at Elmira.

Goalie of the Week — George Eliopoulos, RIT. The sophomore picked a great time to record his first career shutout, a 4-0 win over Elmira. It was the first time RIT had ever shut out its archrival in 65 meetings.

Rookie of the Week — Brad Harris, RIT. The freshman winger wins the award for the second time this season, thanks to a pair of assists that helped the Tigers to get off to a 2-0 start in league play.

NCHA Player of the Week — Aaron Degerness, Wisconsin-River Falls. The sophomore forward from Roseau, Minn. Chalked up two goals and two assists in wins over St. Thomas (5-1) and St. Mary’s (4-2).

MCHA Player of the Week — Brock Anundson, Minnesota-Crookston. The Baudette, Minn., native wins the award for the second straight week. He lit the lamp three times last weekend in a pair of conference wins. Anundson leads in the MCHA in goals with five.

Defensive Player of the Week — Marc Tviet, Minnesota-Crookston. The Golden Eagles defenseman scored twice and added an assist in two wins.

Rookie of the Week — Chad Little, Marian. The forward from Southampton, Ont., tallied two goals and an assist in a Sabres sweep of Northland.

SUNYAC Player of the Week — Nate Gagnon, Cortland. The junior forward scored four goals and added two helpers in a pair of Red Dragons wins. The former Maine Black Bear already has 13 points on the season.

Goalie of the Week — Tyson Gajda, Oswego. The senior from Westfield, Mass. stopped a total of 60 shots in a pair of wins over Buffalo State (6-2) and Fredonia (2-1). He moved into fourth on the school’s all-time win list with 38.

Rookie of the Week — Ryan Busby, Plattsburgh. The freshman forward had five points last weekend, including a hat trick against Brockport, helping the Cardinals to stay unbeaten on the season.

Great Save

Congratulations go out to the folks who saved Skidmore’s hockey program by raising $2.5 million. The money will be used to fund a foundation that will not only pay for hockey, but support other needs of the athletic department.

While this is great news for Skidmore and college hockey, it sets a troubling precedent. Will other schools threaten to eliminate programs as a way of raising funds? Holding teams and their supporters hostage?

Time will tell.

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