This Week in Division III: Nov. 4, 2004

Back and Better Then Ever

USCHO’s Division III Page looks a lot more crowded lately, and that’s a good thing for Division III fans. Besides this column, you have Scott Biggar’s ECAC West Report, and Russell Jaslow’s SUNYAC column. Added to the mix this week, and every week going forward, are Tim Costello’s Eastern report, which covers the ECAC East, ECAC Northeast and NESCAC, and Ryan Mattingly’s Western column, covering the MCHA, MIAC and NCHA.

Throw in Ed Trefzger’s new Monday morning roundup, and you have unprecedented Division III coverage, the best anywhere.

Since I no longer carry the sole burden of bringing you all the Division III news I could fit into 2,000 words, expect the emphasis of this column to change slightly to include more feature-based material, as well as more opinion. Picks and power ratings will still show up as well.

Onward and upward!

Double Duty

Lou Izzi has had an interesting couple of years. Izzi started the hockey program at Johnson & Wales in 1997, and almost overnight turned it into a contender in the ECAC Northeast. The Wildcats reached the league semifinals in just their fourth year of existence, posting an 18-7-2 record.

Things went downhill just a year later, when issues with a group of disgruntled players and other factors eventually led to Izzi resigning his position. He’s still in the athletic department at Johnson & Wales, as an academic advisor and NCAA compliance officer.

But even though he wanted to for a while, Izzi didn’t give up hockey completely. He agreed to help out at Nichols, acting as an assistant coach through most of last season.

This spring, he took over the reigns as head coach of the Bison, which of course play in the same league as J&W.

How’s it working out? So far, so good.

“I get good support from both athletic directors,” Izzi said. “Before I agreed to do this, I insisted that they both sit down and talk this through to make sure it would work.”

Izzi says he never planned to get back into head coaching so quickly.

“I was totally burned out after the difficult time at J&W, personal issues and an illness in the family. It was very difficult, because I started the program there. But it was time for a change.”

But not long after, Nichols contacted Izzi to see if he wanted to be an assistant coach for the Bison, helping out head coach Mark Jago.

“They called looking for someone to help out. I told them that I just wanted to work on the ice,” Izzi said. “I wanted to get back to the basics and just focus on the hockey. It worked out great. Last year was very invigorating for me.”

Hockey at Nichols requires dedication. Ice time can be hard to find, and early morning practices are the norm.

“Practice was at 5:30, and I had quite a drive to get there,” said Izzi. “But the players were as committed as I was. They were at practice every day.”

At the end of last season, Jago elected to step down, and Izzi agreed to become a head coach again. His challenge is to improve a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 1978-79.

“I see some similarities between this and when I started at J&W,” said Izzi. “Nichols doesn’t have much of a tradition to build on, but Johnson & Wales didn’t either, being a new program. When I started the team at J&W I was told it would take 10 years to put together a winning program. We were 15-7 our first year and kept building.

“I think we can do that here, too.”

Izzi says the challenges he’s faced over the past three years have made him a better coach.

“There’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “Other coaches have told me that after a move, they became a better coach. I see what they mean now.”

The Bison are very young (21 freshmen and sophomores on the roster as opposed to just six upperclassmen), but Izzi is cautiously optimistic.

“I think we’ll be pretty competitive this year,” he said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs, and give some people some problems.”

As for his former team, Johnson & Wales struggled through its worst season ever last season, going just 1-22-2

“They’ll be ok,” Izzi said. “Last year was a difficult time for them. Several players left the program. But Eric [Noack] is a good coach and they’ll be fine.”

Around Division III

Is the streak over? St. Norbert split with RIT last weekend in Green Bay, snapping the Green Knights’ 36-game home winning streak. St. Norbert won on Friday night 4-1, but the Tigers came back on Saturday to defeat the Green Knights 4-3.

But is the streak really over? The games were played at Resch Center, which is home to Wisconsin-Green Bay’s Division I basketball team, as well as the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. The previous 35 games of St. Norbert’s Division III record streak were played at the Cornerstone Community Center in Ashwaubenon. But since the loss to RIT was considered a home contest for St. Norbert, the NCAA considers the streak to be over. We’ll keep the unofficial streak going to see when the next time SNC drops one at the Cornerstone. The last time? March 10, 2002, when the Green Knights fell 4-2 to Wisconsin-Superior in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Speaking of RIT, wasn’t this supposed to be a down year for the ECAC West? Not so far, anyway. RIT beats the number one team in Division III, Manhattanville sweeps the US Under-18 team, Elmira ties ranked Oswego twice and Hobart won the Buffalo State Invitational. So far, so good.

And speaking of the ECAC West (nice segues, huh?) Manhattanville raised a bit of controversy a couple of weeks ago when they were joined in practice by currently out of work NHLers Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Nemchinov. Apparently, someone complained to the ECAC (they won’t say who), which issued a statement cautioning teams that NHL players can skate informally with Division III teams, but not participate in scrimmages. Not to worry, said coach Keith Levinthal, the guys were just hanging out and getting some skating time in.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, at the (NCAA) Division III level, people are always worried about competitive advantage,” Levinthal said.

“I just think it’s neat for our guys to be on the ice with them. I’m not sure we benefit much.”

And lastly, I need to correct an error I made in last week’s Division III preview. I said that Gustavus Adolphus was returning Dan Melde in net. This isn’t the case — Melde has graduated. He’s expected to be replaced by Erik Kraska, who transferred from Minnesota-Crookston. Kraska was MVP of the last two MCHA tournaments, leading the Golden Eagles to two straight title game victories over Marian.

I bet the Sabres are glad to see him go.