This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Oct. 28, 2004

A Tribute…

I usually don’t like writing my entire column with a theme, but in tribute to the Boston Red Sox first World Series victory in 86 years, I’ve decided to at least attempt to tie everything in this week’s column back to the Sox, including a rare off-topic rant on random Red Sox ramblings (say that five times fast). For Sox Nation, I hope you enjoy! For everyone else, thanks for the tolerance!

Big Papi-Like Moments At UConn

There’s nothing quite like the walk-off home run in playoff baseball. Sox fans know that well after David “Big Papi” Ortiz did it twice for the Red Sox and added a walk-off single through the playoff run.

Hockey fans are fortunate in the fact that any team that wins an overtime game gets to feel that elation of sudden victory, much like the Sox felt three times this playoff season.

The most incredible “walk-off” wins for Atlantic Hockey so far this season came, coincidentally, last Sunday when Connecticut became just the second team in league history to knock off a Hockey East opponent, winning 3-2 in overtime at Massachusetts.

“It was kind of like that,” said head coach Bruce Marshall in comparing the win to Ortiz’s heroics. “I was happy for the kids. They’ve worked so hard. It was a great feeling of excitement. Now we have to put it behind us and get ready for the rest of the games.”

Marshall was proud to admit that the goal was scored on a set play exactly as he’d drawn it up on the chalkboard. With 10 seconds left in overtime and the faceoff in the UMass zone, Marshall called timeout.

He diagrammed a play where the center would win the puck back to the defenseman. He in turn would skate parallel to the blueline and let go a shot from the middle of the zone.

“You never now how [plays] are going to work,” said Marshall. “We wanted to get the [UMass defense] moving to make things a little harder. I’m not sure whether the puck deflected off of someone but there was a lot of traffic in front.”

Once the shot got past UMass goalie Tim Warner and in the net, the UConn bench exploded onto the ice to tackle goal-scorer Cole Koidahl.

“We’ve been tight in [non-league] games over the last couple of years so it’s nice to get the win, especially against a Hockey East school,” said Marshall.

For UConn to get the win, Marshall said that the club needed to perfectly execute a game plan, which is exactly what it did. And looking ahead, this can be a steppingstone for an underestimated UConn team.

“We had to play our style of hockey to win that game and that was important to us,” said Marshall. “This was a good step. I think we’re right on course, but it’s a long year and we hope not to go too far off course.

“We were excited about the players we had last year. The key was to get back to the work ethic that we needed to do in win.”

In truth, the road for UConn doesn’t get much easier. They’ll travel this weekend to Dartmouth to play the nationally-ranked Big Green. Next weekend, the Huskies face Northeastern on the road before hosting preseason league favorite Mercyhurst.

“If you look at our first 14 games and what our schedule has for us, you certainly didn’t want to wait until November to find out what it’s like to win.”

And for these Huskies, it was even more exciting to get this one Big Papi style.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Tim Olsen, Connecticut: Olsen, last year’s leading scorer in Atlantic Hockey, is proving early that he’ll be one of the most potent offensive players again this season. Sunday, in UConn’s 3-2 overtime upset win over UMass, Olsen scored the both goals in regulation.

Rookie of the Week

Scott Marchesi, Sacred Heart: As Sacred Heart has jumped out to a 3-0-0 start in league play, Marchesi has been impressive. Last weekend, he registered five points, assisting on two goals in the Pioneers 6-3 win over American International and netting a goal and two helpers in a 5-3 victory over Bentley.

Goaltender of the Week

Bryan Worosz, Canisius: Before the season, Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh said that Worosz would be a player he knew he could depend on. Last weekend, he held true to that role to avoid getting swept by hockey’s newest member, Robert Morris. Though Worosz lost, 3-1, against RMU on Friday night, he rebounded Saturday on the road in relief of Max Buetow, earning a 5-4 come-from-behind victory, and stopping 47 of the 50 shots he faced on the weekend.

Like Sox, Sacred Heart Enjoying Winning Streak

Maybe they wish that winning four in a row would be good enough for a championship like it was for the Red Sox over St. Louis, but Sacred Heart is still happy to have won three straight, all league games, to jump out to an early lead in the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Last weekend, the Pioneers successfully handled Army and Bentley, two clubs that — if Sacred Heart hopes to move from the middle of the pack to the top of the standings — the Pioneers need to beat on a consistent basis.

“Any win in our league is critical,” said Hannah matter-of-factly. “But in the past for our team [games against the bottom of the league] were games that we hadn’t won in the first half of the year.”

As critical as the opponent was, the timing of the win was just as significant. A season ago, with high expectations, the Pioneers got off to a horrid start, losing their first six and entering the final weekend of January with just four league wins and 10 points in Atlantic Hockey play.

Granted, things turned around and Sacred Heart moved up to the middle of the pack, but this year, with expectations set higher, starting strong is critical.

“To get out of the gate the way we did is important,” Hannah said. “It’s been important every year in our league and we haven’t done it in the past. To have the three wins in the win column it’s a step we wanted to make.”

Hannah’s team, as we mentioned last week, is the beneficiary of a league schedule similar to that Holy Cross had last season. The league office designs each team’s conference slate, and this year it’s Sacred Heart with a schedule chock-full of league play early on.

Last year, Holy Cross had the quick start and led wire-to-wire to capture a regular-season title.

This week for the Pioneers, attention will turn away from Atlantic play and to a tough ECACHL task. Sacred Heart will team with Army and travel to Cornell and Colgate. Sacred Heart will play Colgate on Friday and Cornell on Saturday with Army playing the inverse schedule.

According to Hannah, these early season non-league games are just as critical to shaping his team.

“This is a good weekend for us to be able to develop parts of our game that we need to develop,” said Hannah. “Initially we [put pressure on ourselves in these games].

“Now these games are more important for us to experience the level of play you need to play at to win down the stretch and in the postseason. For the young guys, it’s a good experience for them to see the level of play they need to be at to play Division I college hockey.”

And the learning experience doesn’t relate only to the postseason. Hannah thinks of these games as great “video analysis” opportunities, used to show positioning and system play that can sometimes be exploited against higher-level clubs.

“We go in every game looking to win the hockey game and play as well as you can. We do that with our non-conference schedule,” said Hannah. “But at the same time it’s a good preparation tool for the team. If you make mistakes they usually wind up as quality scoring chances and goals.

“They’re good teaching tools for us because we’re able to correct a lot of things after games against teams like Colgate and Cornell.”

Around The Horn…

As much as I’d like to find some sort of baseball-related comment here to match this title, I’ll leave it alone and get to the hockey.

Mercyhurst was happy this week to get off the losing bandwagon. Though the Lakers began the season with defeats to Wisconsin, twice, and then a heartbreaker to New Hampshire, the 0-3-0 start was a three-game losing streak nonetheless.

So Tuesday night in the club’s home opener against Robert Morris, it’s no surprise that the Lakers were licking their chops. They scored eight goals in an 8-2 win that gave RMU its healthiest “welcome” to Division I.

Defending champ Holy Cross split a weekend road series at Alabama-Huntsville and coach Paul Pearl had to be happy to see players like Jimmy Sixsmith finding the net. Last season as a rookie, Sixsmith proved to be one of the top freshmen in the league. His two goals on Friday against the Chargers had to be a welcome sight.

As great as the previous weekend was for Quinnipiac when it captured its fifth straight Q-Cup title, this one was a bit of a bump in the road. Quinnipiac dropped games to Air Force and Colorado College on the road, despite the fact that goaltender Jamie Holden made 67 saves in the two nights.

As for the week upcoming, keep an eye on Mercyhurst. The Lakers go on the road to Union and Rensselaer, and to see one of those games, if not both, turn into an upset for the ‘Hurst wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

For Once, It’s Okay To Be Off-Topic

For seven years writing this column I’ve tried my hardest to stay 100 percent on the topic of college hockey. Today, though, with good reason, I sway.

I will admit it. I’m from Boston and I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan. Finally, I have seen glory.

I sat in my living room with all of my superstitions, all of my pent-up frustrations, and an amount of baggage that most people wouldn’t have after three ex-wives, and watched the Red Sox win the World Series.

After the game, I realized that there were so many things that ran through my mind. If I was even half of a good reporter, I would’ve grabbed a notebook and started writing things down — alas, I didn’t.

So in rambling form, I want to use this space usually reserved for hockey to throw on paper a few of my thoughts.

  • It was a wonderful feeling to walk from my garage to my office this morning in downtown Boston. For at least one day, everybody was happy and smiling. You could pass someone on the street and flash a smile and they smiled back. As much as I love Boston, this isn’t a daily occurrence and for that, it was very pleasant.
  • I mentioned superstitions. I have a lot of them. Most of them come from my time in hockey but it’s so easy to carry them over to baseball, particularly come playoff season. Last night, for the fourth straight game of the World Series, I began watching the game at a local bar.

    After the fourth inning I left and went home, just as I’d done for the other three. Superstitious? Absolutely. The fact that I was home for the end of the game, though, was very satisfying. I was able to sit in the same seat that I did in 1986 when the ball went through Buckner’s legs. I know that any superstitious person would’ve changed seats, so for once I exorcised my demons.

  • I had the distinct luck and pleasure to attend three Red Sox playoff games at home this year. All three were won in extra innings by David Ortiz. The first was the Anaheim game that clinched the series and I had with me my mother. She’s suffered through almost every Red Sox pain that you can imagine, so to see the excitement in her face when that game ended was amazing. That afternoon, before heading to Fenway, she bought a Red Sox sweatshirt. Since that win, she wore it for every single game without washing it.

    This isn’t a 30-year old fan here we’re talking about, this is a retired woman (no, Mom, I won’t mention your age) who loves sports and her Red Sox as much as anyone. I gave her a hard time this morning when she put the sweatshirt in the wash, saying, “Good, it was starting to smell.” Truthfully, though, her spirit for the team was something I’m proud of, as much as I’m proud of the guys on the field who won the championship.

  • I loved the fact that every newspaper stand in Copley Square could sell out of the Boston Globe and the Herald five minutes after they were delivered. There are a lot of memories to take with us.
  • Bill Simmons, a well-known national writer, pulled me in with every word he wrote during the postseason. He did everything from touch my heart and soul and make my laugh so loudly people in my office came to see what was going on. I was so glad today to hear at least six friends admit that they teared up during some of his columns. Being a Red Sox fan has been the most frustrating but loveable thing I’ve done thus far in life, and getting emotional only proves that it’s worth it.
  • After watching the game Wednesday night, I stayed up and watched some of the news coverage of the celebrations both in Boston and St. Louis. Between 1:15 and 2 a.m., I dozed in and out of sleep. Each time I woke up, I would take a good look around and make sure I checked a few different channels to make sure that everything was actually happening. Good Lord, this wasn’t a dream for once.
  • People may be tempted to say that God is a Red Sox fan today. I guess that makes sense. To me, though, I think God is a movie producer and wrote a script to this year’s playoffs that will make some producer on Earth more money than you can imagine. C’mon — down three games to none against the number-one rival, three outs away from elimination, and then an eight-game winning streak? Forget it, God may have had nothing to do with this because even He’s not talented enough to think up that plot (I feel lightning ready to strike).
  • My last thought will bring back that emotion as I write it. My father was by far the biggest Red Sox fan I knew. He could remember games, at bats — heck, pitch locations — going back to the 1950s. I sat next to him in 1986 during Game 6. When I cried he was the one who told me not to worry, but deep down I knew that his heart was crying harder; he was just too tough to see it.

    My father died in 1996 and never got to see a World Series win. I swear, though, he watched every minute of this year’s playoffs and today he’s high-fiving people all around heaven. As much as I enjoyed this year’s playoffs, I know that he enjoyed it more.

    Saturday, as the championship parade marches past me, I don’t even have an idea of how I’ll feel or what will rush through my head. What I do know, though, is that I saw the Sox win the World Series in my lifetime, something I never thought would happen.

    Thanks for the patience, folks. From here on out, it’s hockey.