Welcome to the penalty box.
The sin bin, if you will.
After attending a couple of weeks’ worth of games, I figured it would make sense to write this column from the confines of this small box. After all, this is where all the action is these days.
If you’ve had the benefit of catching a college hockey game this season, then we likely share in a collective level of frustration. If you haven’t caught a game yet, here’s a tip: bring a book.
It’s not that the games are boring, it’s just that the new mandate to cut down on clutching and grabbing has led to an abundance of penalties the likes of which we have not seen since the Broad Street Bullies were winning Stanley Cups.
Speaking of which, did anyone outside of members of the NHL Players’ Association realize that Wednesday was supposed to be opening night for the league?
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning!”
In any event, time is ticking away on my two minutes in the box, so back to my main point.
Penalties, penalties, penalties. The college game is undergoing a transition and the early results feature double-digit power plays for each team, every night. But why all the calls?
Are the games chippy?
Are players throwing elbows and swinging sticks?
Instead, the penalties are the result of the NCAA cracking down on obstruction. To a man, each coach will tell you that the eventual result will be good for the game because it will force players to abandon the rampant holding and interference. The game will then be more wide-open, benefiting the more skilled players. Or so the theory goes.
Until the change is complete, however, we’re left with games that lack flow. The parade to penalty box leaves every 30 seconds, so don’t worry, you won’t miss anything.
“Adjustments have to be made on all fronts,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan, “from the referees to the players and coaches. A stick under the ribs, that’s going to get called, but will a little tug two zones back need to get called?
“I feel bad for the fans. They didn’t see it coming. I get the sense that they are very frustrated. They weren’t briefed.”
And the reaction around the country in rinks from Orono to Omaha is that the players aren’t being allowed to play. While officials, coaches and players were told of the new edict over a month ago, most fans are learning of the changes in real time.
Of course, just because the players were told what to expect, doesn’t mean they are having a smooth transition to the new officiating.
“I didn’t know what to do,” said Clarkson assistant captain Jay Latulippe after his club’s loss to Massachusetts in which nine of the game’s 10 goals came on the special teams.
“First, they call it all, then they let it go, then they call it all again.”
Latulippe’s coach, George Roll, was even more frustrated.
“To me, it’s not hockey. The officials took the game out of the players’ hands. Some calls I agreed with, others you just have to have a feel for the game. It’s taking the physical part out of the game.”
Former ECAC bench boss and current Massachusetts coach Don Cahoon agreed after the contest.
“It seems like we won’t be recruiting any role players. The big guys who held others up are not really useful anymore.”
Which is exactly the goal of the NCAA’s crackdown.
“My only recommendation,” said Cahoon, “is to educate the fans. The fans need to understand [the changes].”
My two minutes are up. Back onto the ice …
Obstruction-holding?! That’s wasn’t holding!
Back in the box.
Where was I?
Rensselaer’s Dan Fridgen is another coach in favor of the changes, but he is curious to see how it all plays out over the course of the season.
“I think it’s for the better of college hockey,” he explained, “but it will take a while for the players to adjust. What I’m concerned about is the possible lack of consistency from referee to referee and league to league.”
Crap (I cleaned it up a bit) … a power play goal. I’m gonna pay for that one. But it really wasn’t holding, I swear. I’ll make up for it on this shift.
Five teams hit the ice last weekend, as every club other than Union and the Ivies saw action. ECACHL squads are a combined 3-5-2 in the early going, with some obvious mixed results.
Colgate (2-0-0, 0-0-0 ECACHL), the defending regular-season champ, was victorious in taking two at Ferris State (0-2-0, 0-0-0 CCHA).
“It’s always nice to get a couple of wins to start the year,” said Vaughan, “especially on the road. We’re still figuring out the right combinations since, like Ferris, we only had five days to prepare. But, the kids adjusted to the new points of emphasis.”
The Raiders posted nine goals on the weekend, but only two came on the man-advantage. That doesn’t mean Colgate didn’t show signs of life on the special teams. In addition to its two power play markers on Friday, the Raiders notched three shorthanded tallies on the weekend – one fewer than all of last season.
“Both teams were exhausted after Friday,” said Vaughan about the abundance of special teams play. “But Saturday was better.”
And while all the calls did allow for the Raiders to see more of their players in new situations, Vaughan cautioned, “we still need to perform.”
He continued, “we had some great individual efforts from our leadership and the older guys.” Specifically, Vaughan was impressed with the likes of juniors Kyle Wilson (2-1-3) and Jon Smyth (1-2-3) and seniors Adam Mitchell (2-0-2) and Darryl McKinnon (1-1-2).
Sophomore defenseman and ECACHL Player of the Week Mike Campaner, he of the 16-point rookie campaign, picked up where he left off last season by notching five assists in the two contests; freshman Tyler Burton (1-1-2), meanwhile, made the expected quick impression on the offense.
As for this weekend, Vaughan expects a different test for his Colgate sextet when they battle Lake Superior (first game).
“Ferris skates well and likes to open it up, but Lake Superior is a different team. They grind it out and play well along the wall. We anticipate a different game and the guys will need to battle. This will be a good test for us.”
Obstruction-hooking?! I’m 10 feet away from the guy!
By the way, when did it become imperative that we label everything with the word “obstruction?” Wasn’t getting called for hooking or holding or interference enough? Maybe the refs just like cupping their hands into an “O?” Or maybe there’s some educational component?
Today’s game is brought to you by the letter “O” and the numbers “4” and “2.”
Ah, the things you think about when you spend half the game in the box.
Rensselaer (0-1-1, 0-0-0) also skated in a pair of games last weekend, but with a different result. The Engineers lost to Merrimack (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HEA) in the season opener before settling for a 3-3 tie against Connecticut (0-1-1, 0-0-0 AH).
“It was all basically special teams play,” explained Fridgen. “I didn’t think the officials contributed to our loss and tie. In some instances, we took some bad penalties and didn’t play smart.”
Against the Warriors on Friday, being shorthanded was the difference in the contest as the Engineers allowed three power play goals.
“Now,” under the newly enforced rules, Fridgen said, “forecheckers cannot be held up and they are putting more pressure on the defense. But what’s happening is that the forecheckers also can’t finish their checks. If they do, it seems to be getting called.”
And until that adjustment is made, RPI and teams across college hockey will need to spend half the night killing penalties.
In the meantime, Fridgen was happy with the performance of some of this players and he’ll be looking to them to carry that into Saturday’s game against Connecticut and Tuesday versus Northeastern.
“I thought [rookie Jordan] Alford (26 saves vs. UConn) did a good job. As did Chris Hussey (2-0-2) and [defenseman] Matt McNeely (2-0-2). They skated hard and capitalized on their opportunities, which, as a team, we did not do well. We had some real good scoring chances from guys who would normally have buried them.
“You’ll definitely see some fresh faces in the lineup. We’ll make some adjustments, but we’re going to stand pat on our system. It was tough to get a handle on it since there was very little 5-on-5 play.”
The Saints of St. Lawrence (0-1-1, 0-0-0) jumped into the middle of the fray last weekend with a spot in the Ice Breaker tournament – which used to kick off the season – on New Hampshire’s home ice. In the opening round, head coach Joe Marsh’s troops battled St. Cloud State (1-0-1, 0-0-0 WCHA) to a 1-1 tie before winning a shootout to advance to the championship game.
And while the Saints fell to No. 8 New Hampshire (2-0-0, 0-0-0) the next evening, SLU’s senior goaltender Mike McKenna was the star of the weekend.
“You can’t say enough about the confidence [he] is showing right now,” said Marsh.
It is the same level of confidence that oozed from each pore of the netminder last season, including in the postseason.
As for last weekend, McKenna stopped 31 shots against UNH and 24 against SCSU, plus all the rubber thrown his way in the shootout.
“He came up big any number of times,” beamed Marsh.
The performance was stellar enough to earn the St. Louis native ECACHL Goaltender of the Week honors. He was also named to the Ice Breaker all-tournament team.
Despite the loss to UNH, the Saints’ coach was glad his club had the chance to battle the Wildcats.
“From the standpoint of a championship experience,” Marsh explained, “I would much rather play UNH with a full house against us than at 2 with nobody in the stands.
“It’s all part of the process of building a team, and playing in a hostile environment and trying to fight through it is something we want the guys to learn how to do.”
It is the type of game lessons that will benefit SLU not just in the immediate future, but down the stretch and into March. For now, though, the Saints will put their early-season experience to the test against third-ranked Michigan and No. 7 Michigan State this weekend.
Holding the stick?! Are you serious? He had half my jersey in his glove! That’s gotta be obstruction of some variety.
The Clarkson Golden Knights (0-2-2, 0-0-0) stumbled out of the gates in its opener against Providence (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) last Friday in a game that had Roll visibly upset when he met with reporters outside the locker room.
“I thought we didn’t play well at all,” he said after the 4-2 loss. “We thought we could just show up and win. We’re not that good. We need to play with some passion.”
That and better defense. Already struggling to get healthy on the blueline – the Knights are without sophomores Nathan Beausoleil and Jamie McKinven – the effects of the loss of two regular defensemen is obvious.
Although they rebounded with a better effort in Amherst on Saturday against Massachusetts (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA), the Knights were unable to change the outcome.
“We competed hard until we ran out of juice in the third period,” Roll explained. “We had to play the same guys over and over. They were all worn out at the end.”
According to Roll, the fatigue was due to the excessive time spent on special teams.
“We weren’t prepared for it,” he admitted earlier this week. “It was something we worked on a little bit in practice, but not enough.”
Clarkson takes to the road this weekend to play Wayne State (first game), a team guided by Bill Wilkinson, the man who recruited Roll as a player at Bowling Green.
“His teams are always hard working and competitive,” Roll said. “That is what we need right now. We need to be in there mentally prepared to compete.”
After suffering a season-opening 7-1 loss to No. 6 Maine on October 3, the Vermont Catamounts (1-1-0, 0-0-0) have not allowed a goal. They shutdown Sacred Heart (0-1-0, 0-0-0 AH) to the tune of 6-0 last Friday before crushing Trois-Rivieres, 7-0, in an exhibition game on Sunday.
Sacred Heart isn’t Maine and the other game doesn’t count in the standings, but Cats’ offensive outburst and stingy defense are good signs early in the season. Don’t forget, this is a UVM team that didn’t win its first game last season until December 20.
“Our special teams looked pretty good,” said Sneddon after Sunday’s win, “and obviously not giving up any goals in back-to-back games, the attention to defense is there. At the same time, we’re having some things click offensively.”
That includes the top line of freshman Torrey Mitchell (the ECACHL Rookie of the Week) and seniors Scott Mifsud and Brady Leisenring. The trio notched five of the six goals – 11 points in all – against Sacred Heart and added another four tallies and 10 points in the exhibition win.
“They obviously have clicked pretty early,” remarked Sneddon. “It’s going to get harder and harder as each game goes along because they aren’t going to be a surprise anymore, but I think they can fight through it.
“Mitchell has had an immediate impact for us and I strongly believe he is one of the best young players in the league. His work ethic and attention to detail are far more advanced than most freshmen.”
Speaking of rookies, UVM’s Joe Fallon, who made his collegiate debut in a relief role against the Black Bears, made his first start on Friday. His shutout win was the first by a freshman netminder since Tim Thomas in 1994.
“The thing I really liked about him,” said Sneddon, “was that he looked composed. He just looked like a senior in net, and I think that bodes well for the future for Joe. It’s always tough when you’re a freshman to go in front of the home crowd in your first game and I thought he answered the bell very well.”
Fallon and his teammates will need to repeat the effort on Saturday if they are to grab a win from their future league-mates Boston University (0-2-0, 0-0-0 HE).
The Terriers lead the all-time series between the two teams, 27-10-3, but have had two ties in the last three games against the Cats. Vermont, meanwhile, is just 5-14-1 at Walter Brown Arena. The last UVM victory on Commonwealth Ave. came in 1996 when the aforementioned Thomas, Eric Perrin and some guy named Martin St. Louis led the way.
It’s too bad that St. Louis kid never made it.
Union is the final ECACHL club among the non-Ivies to hit the ice in a game that matters. They’ve had the most prep time and they’ll likely need it as they travel to No. 13 Colorado College (first game) for a pair.
“We’ve practiced hard,” said Dutchmen coach Nate Leaman from an airport terminal in Minneapolis, “but we have to see how we muster up. I’m excited to see us and to get the games underway.”
Union, however, enters its season opener with a major setback on the blueline. According to the second-year coach, senior defenseman Chris DiStefano spent the week in the hospital with a viral infection..
“We’re really beat up on defense,” explained Leaman, “and we’re playing a young, fast lineup. I’m looking to see how the freshmen respond in a hostile environment. I like the team and I like out team speed. I’m excited to see us play someone other than ourselves.”
A big reason for Leaman’s enthusiasm is his faith in the raw talent on this season’s version of the Dutchmen.
“We’re more skilled than last year,” he explained. “Colorado plays a more wide-open game on their big sheet [of ice]. I hope that plays to our strength out there. Either way, it will be tough on our defense, so we’ll need to help them out.
“I’m glad we’re starting out against CC. Especially since we know they will be a top 10 team at the end of the season.”
It’s quite the measuring stick for Union, but Leaman will surely know a great deal more about his club by late Saturday night.
Interference?! Oh, sorry, obstruction-interference. Yes, that’s much worse. I barely touched the guy! How about calling a dive every once in a while?
This is going to be a long season …