The NCAA released an open letter to the college ice hockey community earlier this year, announcing to all its intention to cut down on holding, hooking and obstruction infractions. The letter basically put the onus on referees and linesmen to call the game “by the book,” and warned coaches and players that trips to the penalty box could be on the increase.
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder and his Purple Eagles learned just how serious the NCAA is about enforcing the rules during their season-opening, 3-2 overtime loss to the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.
Referee Dan Murphy blew the whistle 25 times during the contest — 17 of those directed at Niagara. The most minors the Eagles took in a single game last season was 11, also recorded against UMass-Lowell, on Oct. 24, 2003.
Seven times during last Saturday’s game, Niagara was forced to play two men down. Not surprisingly, the River Hawks took advantage of those opportunities, going ahead 1-0 late in the second period during a five-on-three, tying the game at 2-2 midway through the third period in the same situation, then winning in OT while Travis Anderson and scoring threat Barret Ehgoetz sat in the sin bin.
You could hardly blame Burkholder for being upset, although he said that reports of his anger aimed at the officials weren’t entirely accurate.
“I would say that was how it was written up. I certainly did not say anything about the officiating,” said Burkholder, who was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the extra frame. “I think that was just people who witnessed the game making their own conclusions based on how upset I was. But I get upset after every loss.”
Burkholder’s penalty was the final call of the game, and came close on the heels of Anderson’s hooking call with one minute left in regulation, Ehgoetz’s slash with one tick left on the clock, and Andrew Lackner’s cross-checking infraction 38 seconds into OT.
“We’ve watched the film and we took a couple of bad penalties, which we’ve addressed,” Burkholder stated.
Despite the near constant stream of purple sweaters headed to the penalty box, Burkholder said their are several positives that the team can take out of the game.
“We actually outscored them five-on-five, 2-0, which is something we’ll take away from the game,” he said. “Lowell was getting a lot of play in the preseason polls, and from some of the prognosticators. And we played very well against a real skilled team from Hockey East.
“I’m going to take the positives out of it. I thought my goaltender [Jeff Van Nynatten] played great. He had 37 saves and almost stole it for us. Though it doesn’t show, I thought our power play had good puck movement.”
Van Nynatten was the best player on the ice for the Purple Eagles — perhaps because he was one of the only players on the ice for any significant amount of time. The 2004 CHA Tournament MVP equaled his career-high for saves in a game against Lowell.
“And those were all power-play shots,” said Burkholder. “Jeff, he just looks so solid, and there wasn’t any wasted movement, he didn’t leave a lot of rebounds around the cage. He seems to be maturing very well and very rapidly.”
On The Road Again … And Again, And Again
If Niagara didn’t seem to have the referees on its side during the opener, at least the team had the home crowd. More than 1,200 fans filed into Dwyer Arena for the battle against Lowell.
But the Purple Eagles won’t see those friendly faces again for quite a while. Niagara goes on the road for its next eight games, with stops at Maine, Vermont, Clarkson and Western Michigan to come before some home cooking against Quinnipiac on Nov. 12.
“I would have much rather split up those road trips. But it’s funny how the scheduling goes, it’s very difficult,” said Burkholder. “You get on the phone and my philosophy is to start at number one and try to get the toughest schedule I can. That’s just how it played out. Last year I had a totally balanced schedule, home-away, home-away. This year, that’s the best we could do.
“But you know what? If you look at our second semester, we’re going to be home quite a bit going into the playoffs. So hopefully we’ll be rested and be playing our best hockey on the most important weekend, and that’s the CHA playoffs.”
The sixth-ranked Black Bears, looking to bounce back from a pair of defeats to North Dakota last weekend, are first up for Niagara. It’s a challenge for which Burkholder says his players are prepared.
“I just think it’s my philosophy that we’re going to play a very tough, demanding schedule. And that’s going to toughen us up for CHA play, especially second semester when everyone across the country plays exclusively, for the most part, in their own conference,” he said.
“Our first five weeks I think is going to bring us closer together as a team, and we’re going to challenge ourselves against the national runner-up and one of the most storied programs in all of college hockey by going to Maine. I’m excited about it, I know our kids are, too.”
Wayne State Worldwide This Weekend
After posting a 3-1 exhibition win against Queen’s University, the Wayne State Warriors open their 2004-05 regular season with a pair of home contests against the Clarkson Golden Knights this weekend.
Warriors’ fans who can’t get to the Compuware Sports Arena for Clarkson tilts can listen online thanks to the visitors. Log on to Clarkson’s website Saturday at 3:05 p.m. and Sunday at 2:05 p.m. to catch the action.