So did you miss it? The holidays were a nice distraction, but did you miss college hockey? Sure, if you’ve got satellite, there were some great D-I tournaments to check out, but D-III was on break from December 14 to December 27.
Now it’s tournament time for D-III, and some good ones were played last week, with more on tap this weekend.
Boston-area D-III fans had two holiday tourneys to choose from last week. Salem State held its annual Christmas bash with the Curry Colonels coming out on top over Bowdoin and then the host Vikings in the title game. More on the hottest team in Division III later.
In the venerable Codfish Bowl, it was Skidmore defeating Southern Maine and UMass-Boston to claim the first tournament title in school history.
“We’ve been in a lot of tournaments and we’ve never won one before,” head coach Paul Dion told the Boston Globe. “This is a first for us and we’re glad we were here.”
It’s been quite a season so far for the Thoroughbreds, which saw their program cancelled and then resurrected this fall due to a massive fundraising campaign. The good karma continues for Dion and his players.
Middlebury was also active this week, participating in the Montreal University Cup along with Holy Cross and four Canadian schools. The Panthers defeated Toronto and lost to Saskatchewan in the round-robin portion, advancing to the finals on goal differential. Middlebury lost to the Concordia Stingers (from Montreal — not to be confused with Concordia of the MIAC) in a shootout following a tie in the title game.
Middlebury was playing under an NCAA exemption that allows a team to play outside the U.S. once every four years and not count the games against its seasonal limit.
Three tournaments are on tap this weekend, involving a total of six teams in the USCHO.com Division III poll:
Colonels Take Command
Coming out on top in last week’s Salem State tournament is the most recent accomplishment for Curry, which improved to 9-0 with wins over Southern Maine and UMass-Boston. While the Colonels may seem like an overnight success, this has been coming for three seasons, according to head coach Rob Davies. The former player and assistant coach at BU has resurrected a program that hadn’t had a winning season since 1988.
— Head coach Rob Davies on his perfect-so-far Curry Colonels.
“We didn’t expect to be 9-0,” Davies said. “You don’t go 9-0 without getting lucky a few times.
“But I did expect the guys to be playing this well.”
The Colonels went 5-0 against ECAC Northeast competition to open the season, but it was a 4-3 win at Manhattanville that really turned heads and gave Curry the “For Real” label.
“Manhattanville was the best game we’ve played so far, and I think it made a believer out of some people, said Davies. “It’s been a gradual thing. When we tied Manhattanville two years ago (4-4), I think we jumped over a hurdle. This was another one.”
In Davies’ first couple of seasons, the success stories were few and far between. The Colonels were 4-18-1 and 4-17-1 his first two seasons, but then things began to turn around.
In 2001-02, Curry finished with a 16-8-1 record, and last year the Colonels were 18-9-1. Now they’re 9-0.
“We’re 50 to 75 percent better than we were last year, skill-wise, and a year older,” said Davies. “The junior class, which was my first recruited class, had blind faith. We were 4-17 their first year and I kept my sanity by working on the locker room and lounge. I wanted the players to have a first-class, Division I facility.”
That and the gradual improvement on the ice has helped bring more and more talent to Curry. According to Davies, Curry has sent the message that both on and off the ice, the school is serious about having a winning program.
“Hockey was life and death for me growing up, and playing at BU,” said Davies. “There are plenty of kids like that but not enough (Division I) opportunities. Those are the kinds of kids I want to attract.
“Twenty-five percent of the players out there will only play for a winning program, so now we’re getting looked at by those players as well. They need concrete proof that the school is committed to hockey.”
Not only is Davies getting freshman from places like Green Bay of the USHL and Springfield of the NAHL, he’s also getting top players to transfer in. This season Manu Mau’u came over from Johnson & Wales and Casey Reasonover transferred from UMass-Boston.
“I think they’re both pieces of the puzzle,” said Davies. “They have different roles. One (Mau’u) is doing a lot on special teams for us, and the other (Reasonover) is a great role player, who can play offense and defense.
“Each player (that has been recruited) was a difference maker. You’d tell them, ‘If you’re here, that means three or four more wins.'”
And so the wins are starting to add up. Curry continues its aggressive non-conference schedule (Colby, Elmira, RIT) before getting back into ECAC Northeast games.
Looming on the horizon is arguably the biggest game of the Colonels’ season, a showdown on Jan. 24 with Wentworth. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the ECAC Northeast playoffs, with an NCAA bid awaiting the winner.
“League games are the most important,” said Davies. “Wentworth is the defending champion. We haven’t won anything until we have beaten them.”
Still, wins over teams like Colby or RIT, added to the ones in the books over Manhattanville and Bowdoin, would send a message that if the Colonels do make it to the NCAAs, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
“The non-conference games are good for pride,” said Davies. “The teams we have scheduled know how to play the game. I like the western style of hockey and teams like Elmira and Manhattanville play that style very well.”
Success over programs like that could lead to Curry looking beyond its current situation in the ECAC Northeast, and Davies thinks his team would be ready if the situation arose.
When asked about a hypothetical move to the ECAC East, Davies said. “I think we’d be a good match. Our school is committed to hockey and I think we’d be a good fit.”
The sky’s the limit.
Back after a short hiatus, here’s my Top 15, also known as the USCHO Division III Power Ratings:
1. Norwich (6-1) — The Cadets can prove it with a victory in their tournament.
2. St. Norbert (11-1-1) — The Green Knights are just three goals away from 13-0. They’re off until 1/9.
3. Middlebury (4-1) — The Panthers are in the middle of a five-games-in-eight-days stretch.
4. Plattsburgh (9-1) — Are the Cardinals overachieving, or really as good as they appear? This weekend may tell.
5. Oswego (9-2-3) — The Lakers have stumbled recently, but I think they’re still a top-five team.
6. Lake Forest (11-0-1) — One of only two undefeated teams left, the Foresters are off until a big series with St. Norbert on 1/9-1/10.
7. Wisconsin-River Falls (11-1-1) — Just four goals away from 13-0, the Falcons may be better than seventh.
8. Manhattanville (9-1-1) — A big drop-off from the top seven, Manhattanville leads a list of teams that could be interchangeable from positions eight through 15.
9. RIT (4-3-2) — The Tigers have historically had problems in Plattsburgh.
10. St. John’s (5-1) — The Johnnies have had a weak schedule so far, so they are hard to gauge. Games with Oswego and either Elmira or Norwich this weekend will change that.
11. Wisconsin-Superior (9-4-1) — The Yellowjackets had a bad stretch in late November, but seem to be back on track.
12. Curry (9-0) — Big non-con games coming up.
13. New England College (5-2-1) — The Pilgrims are riding a four-game winning streak, and should extend that with upcoming games against J&W and Castleton.
14. Wisconsin-Stevens Point (9-4-1) — The Pointers brought Wisconsin-Eau Claire back down to earth before the holidays. They’re “quietly” tied for first in the NCHA.
15. Elmira (5-6-1) — Look to be back on track after a horrific start. Big weekend ahead at Norwich.
Last time: No picks
On the Season: 61-14-3 (.801)
Guest Picker: Tom Pare will be back next week — it’s hard to use the conventional picks process with so many games undetermined due to the majority of tournament games on the schedule this week.
That said, instead of picking a winner or a loser in each game, I’ll go out on a limb and pick the tournament winner.
Cardinal Classic — I like Plattsburgh over Babson and RIT.
Times-Argus — I also like the home squad in this one, over Elmira and Oswego.
Middlebury Holiday Classic — The host Panthers make it a home-team sweep with wins over Trinity and Hobart.
Look for the regular picks involving Top 15 teams to return next week.