Wrapup: Division III

Thoughts on the Championship

For an unprecedented second year in a row, Norwich hosted the Division III championship, and again did an outstanding job. The hockey was some of the best I’ve seen in quite a while — the three games were decided by a total of four goals, with two ending in overtime. Check out our coverage on the Division III frontpage.

The semifinal battle between Middlebury and Norwich was as good a game as I’ve seen in years. Clocking in at over 87 minutes, it reminded me of the classic Maine-Michigan semifinal battle in Providence in 1995.

St. Norbert gets a step closer each year to the elusive NCAA title, and I get a feeling that next year could belong to the Green Knights, especially if they can secure home ice for the finals. With 10 teams in the tournament next season, the odds favor that. St. Norbert played as well as it could have last weekend, and the title game could have gone either way.

I was especially impressed at the way all the players, winners and losers, conducted themselves in the press conferences after each game. Their schools are fortunate to have such well-spoken student-athletes.

Thanks to Norwich’s SID/Assistant Director of Public Affairs Dave Caspole and Athletic Director Tony Mariano, and to all the folks who stopped by to chat with the USCHO team.

Tough Choices

At this time every year, I offer my take on the 2003-2004 Division III All-Americans, floating some alternative choices that perhaps didn’t get the recognition they deserved.

This year, more than any in recent memory, the choices were difficult, with a few obvious standouts but many other qualified players in the running.

“Things were pretty wide-open this year,” said one coach. “A lot of guys were calling me, asking, ‘Who did you pick? And I’d say, ‘I’m not sure yet. Who did you pick?'”

While every player listed is deserving of the award, the selections for goalies in the East are somewhat puzzling. Raj Bhangoo has had an outstanding four years at Wentworth. I have seen him play twice in person, and he turned in two of the best performances I have ever seen, including a 50-save performance in a 4-3 win at RIT in December, 2001 and 52-save effort in a 2-2 against the Tigers at Matthews arena back in October of 2002. I’ve also seen Hobart’s Adam Lavelle quite a number of times, and he was the main reason that the Statesman captured their first ever league title and trip to the NCAA tournament.

However, this season Bhangoo was only 18th in the nation in save percentage, and Lavelle was not in the top 20. Neither was in the top 20 nationally in GAA. In the NCAA quarterfinals, Lavelle gave up nine goals, while Bhangoo gave up six goals in two periods.

Some obvious candidates that were not selected were Middlebury’s Marc Scheuer, who led the nation in GAA (1.42). While the votes were cast before his stellar performance in the NCAA tournament, and Scheuer didn’t rise to prominence until January, he played 20 games and was the hottest goalie in Division III down the stretch.

Another eastern goalie worthy of consideration is Wesleyan’s Jim Panczykowski, who had a .919 save percentage on a whopping 798 shots faced. Out west, Lake Forest’s Joe Cameron led the nation in save percentage (.944), stopping 472 of 500 shots.

Some other players who may have been overlooked were:

  • Jaakko Kolari (New England) — Had 39 points in just 22 games as a freshman.
  • Jimmy Sokol (Utica) — Leading the Pioneers to their best season ever, Sokol had the highest points per game average (1.77) of any player not selected as an All-American.
  • Mike Lukajic (Oswego) and Ryan Langenbrunner (St. John’s), a couple of players who might not have had the points totals they had last season, but are still among the best out there.
  • Ryan Fairbarn (RIT) — I may be a bit biased, but having seen most of the 111 games he played, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a defenseman who played as well in all three zones. He scored 120 career points and was one of the best special-teams players I saw the past four seasons.
  • Mike Tucciarone (RIT) — Had 34 points in only 14 games before suffering a season-ending injury. He was leading the nation in points per game when he went down. Not enough games played to be considered.

    In the Offseason

    Here are some things to keep a watch on while waiting for next season to begin:

  • Coaching Moves: Nick Russo is out at Neumann, so look for a new coach to be named soon. On a better note, both Chris Potter at Wesleyan and Jon Deptula at Wentworth have recently had the “interim” tag removed from their titles and are now officially head coaches. Potter, who took the job just weeks before the season began, guided Wesleyan to one of its best seasons, while Deptula took over in January and led the Leopards into the NCAA tournament.
  • Anticipating 10 bids: Next season will bring about two changes to the NCAA tournament process, both for the good. The field expands to 10 teams next season, and Pool B teams will now be eligible for Pool C bids. The ECAC West will expand to seven teams with the addition of Lebanon Valley, but will remain in Pool B for at least one more season. There’s a year-long waiting period for conferences that apply for an NCAA automatic qualifier, which the ECAC West can do now that a seventh team has been added.
  • Neutral Sites: Another thing to look for in the offseason is news from the NCAA on which sites have been selected to host the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Division III championships. Look for an announcement in July. While the NCAA cannot release the list of sites that have put in bids to host, USCHO has learned some of the details. Sources say that a total of eight bids were submitted, with an additional bid in process for the 2007 or 2008 championships. Of the original eight, only two were from the West: Wisconsin-Superior’s Wessman Arena and MSOE’s new rink, which should be completed by 2006.

    We’ve had less luck tracking down the Eastern sites so far, but we know that Elmira has put in a bid using the First Arena. Oswego is working on a bid to host in its new facility, which won’t be ready until 2007.

    Sincere Thanks

    Looking back on the 2003-2004, I’m struck by the number of off-ice stories that emerged, but that in no way takes away from what was one of the most wide-open, unpredictable seasons in many years.

    Thanks to all the coaches, players, athletic directors and SIDs who helped me this season, and also to the numerous parents and fans who got in touch with me to share your ideas and opinions.

    While there was less Division III coverage at USCHO this season, I hope that what we did bring you helped you follow and enjoy this sport that we all care about so much. Look for several changes next season that will re-assert USCHO’s mission to be the “Definitive College Hockey Resource” — for Division I as well as Division III.