Random hockey musings from a writer still coming to grips with the Evil Empire’s massive collapse …
Off and Running
Yes, it is still October. Yes, half of the ECACHL has yet to play a game. But the Colgate Raiders are 4-0-0 after conquering two Western opponents and you’ll have to forgive them if they feel good about that fact.
Hey, it beats the alternative.
A year ago, Union that won its first four games and had a 7-2-2 record by mid-November. You know the rest. The Raiders, however, are a far cry from the Difficult Dutchmen of last season.
For starters, Colgate’s players are on the same page. They are also an experienced lot that learned valuable lessons in losing tough games last March that caused them to miss out on April entirely.
One of the goals for this year’s version of the Raiders is to perform better though the non-conference portion of their schedule — a problem last season that led to seeing their NCAA at-large bid being awarded elsewhere despite Colgate’s 22 wins.
The quartet of victories thus far has produced the club’s best start since the 1990 campaign, the season the Raiders lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA title game. Not that anyone’s thinking that far ahead, of course.
The Zebra Watch
Another week, another coach upset with the barrage of penalties. And to think, the Ivies have yet to get a taste of the brave new world of constant special teams play. That’s six more coaches who will have their patience tested, including Harvard’s bench newbie Ted Donato. Welcome to college hockey, Ted!
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, meanwhile, after his team’s loss to Boston University last week, was not pleased at what he perceived as the disappearance of the game he loves.
“I’m frustrated,” he said after the BU affair.
“To be honest, I’m more frustrated because I didn’t feel it was a hockey game. To me, that’s not hockey.”
Wait for it …
“I know the refs have a job to do,” Sneddon continued, “and I know they’ve been told what to do, but it’s not hockey … it was just all special teams, and to me that’s not hockey.”
Here it comes …
“Don’t misinterpret my comments as anything against the referees,” he said, “because they’ve been told to do that. But to me, it’s frustrating, it’s just not hockey. I want to get the obstruction out, but there’s an awful lot of stuff that doesn’t have an influence on the play, and that’s what I’m talking about.”
And that’s part of the problem in the early going. Officials are calling it tight — only until the third period in some games — and everyone is still adjusting to what they can and can’t get away with. Add to it that each official has his own style of calling games to begin with and, well, now you see the problem.
It is true that the ultimate goal of the crackdown is a worthwhile endeavor. It would be great to see a more wide-open game again — I’m not sure I remember what those are like anymore — but there will be growing pains along the way.
The good news is that frustrated coaches make for great quotes and that’s at least fun for reporters, columnists and readers.
So, we have that going for us.
The Difference Makers
Coaches often stress that goaltenders are the best penalty killers. It is a theory being put to the test in earnest in this new-look season. Thus far, four netminders with goals against averages below 2.60 have grabbed the spotlight in a league famous for top-flight goalies.
The Raiders’ Steve Silverthorn leads the way with four victories. He has the league’s best GAA at 2.25 and is tied for second with a .913 save percentage. The Owen Sound, Ont., native is coming off his best season in Hamilton after posting 18 wins and a microscopic 1.82 GAA.
Fellow senior Mike McKenna leads ECACHL goaltenders with a .929 save percentage and is third with a 2.47 GAA. He is 1-2-1 after posting St. Lawrence’s first victory in Michigan (a 3-1 win against Michigan State) since the 1950s. It was only the Saints’ third game ever against the Spartans; MSU defeated St. Lawrence 3-2 in 1952, but was blanked by SLU 3-0 in Canton in 1968. McKenna took over between the pipes down the stretch last season and finished the year with nine wins, a .917 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA.
A pair of rookies round out the ECACHL’s top four netminders. Vermont’s Joe Fallon is emerging as a surprise story in Burlington after getting the early bulk of playing time over junior Travis Russell. Fallon is tied for second in the league with a .913 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA.
“I think it’s too soon to say,” explained Sneddon when asked if Fallon had become the team’s number one netminder. “Travis is a great goalie … he’ll get other opportunities as well.”
Meanwhile, Rensselaer’s Jordan Alford, this week’s ECACHL Rookie of the Week, has been a boost for the Engineers, helping them overcome the loss of the graduated Nathan Marsters. At 2-0-1, Alford has started RPI’s last three games and has a fourth-best 2.59 GAA and .907 save percentage.
Forget Europe, How ’bout Jersey
With the NHL season on hold — will the league ever play another game? — and players seeking employment elsewhere, it was only a matter of time before faces and voices from the big show found their way to our modest, but exciting world of college hockey.
At the end of September, CSTV announced that longtime NHL broadcaster and New Jersey Devils’ play-by-play man Mike Emrick would be calling the action on the network’s Friday evening games — at least until the NHL resumes play in 2017. Those who are fortunate enough to get CSTV (count this writer as one who is out of luck on this front … thank you, Comcast) will enjoy Emrick’s intelligent style.
“Basically, these college games are the only things I’m doing [during the lockout],” Emrick told the New York Post‘s Andrew Marchand last week. “It is exciting because I get to see some of these guys before they eventually get to the NHL.”
Emrick, who is affectionately called “Doc” — not because he looks the part of a college professor, but because he holds a Ph.D. from Bowling Green — also told the Post that he’s noticed the disappointment in the college ranks with regard to the NHL lockout.
“I even hear this reflected from the college coaches we have been talking to,” he told Marchand. “It is terribly disappointing for their sport. Like anyone else, they want people to pay attention to their game, and it is not like they think they are the only game that there is. When this hits one element of hockey, it probably hurts all of them. That is the reason it is probably the most annoying.”
This week came more news of an NHL veteran in our ranks. Princeton announced that Philadelphia Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock would be joining the Tigers staff as a volunteer assistant coach as the team gets set for its regular-season opener next Friday.
Think about that.
A Stanley Cup-winning coach (he hoisted the prize while leading the Dallas Stars in 1998-99) working with college players on a hands-on level. It is a tremendous opportunity for the Tigers and a coup for new coach Guy Gadowsky, who secured Hitchcock’s services by simply asking during a phone call about other issues. Nice move by another one of the league’s new bench bosses.
For the first half of the 2003-04 season, the Clarkson Golden Knights had a tough time holding onto third-period leads, including four times in the first month’s worth of games. As the season progressed and the Knights’ young defense gained more experience, it became less of an issue.
However, the late-game yips are back. In the season’s second game against Massachusetts, Clarkson took a 4-3 lead into the final 20 minutes. The Knights gave up three goals and lost. Last Friday, they gave up two in the third to lose 5-4 to Wayne State.
To Clarkson’s credit, it turned the tables on Warriors the next night, rallying for three late tallies to win.
While we’re still a week away from the Ivies seeing real action, five of the six schools hit the ice this weekend in exhibition games. Canadian colleges Windsor, Western Ontario and McGill are the opponents for Princeton, Dartmouth and Cornell, respectively, on Friday.
On Saturday, Windsor heads to the Bright Hockey Center where Donato will be behind the bench as head coach for the first time in his career. That same night, Western Ontario will visit Yale. The only Ivy not seeing action is Brown, which opens its season hosting the Crimson on October 29, followed by an exhibition game on Halloween afternoon versus the U.S. Under-18 Team.
Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions to this report.