Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad
In my first column of the season, I looked at four teams that I thought were not ranked appropriately in the USCHO Division III preseason poll. I said that I thought three teams, Plattsburgh, RIT and Wisconsin-Superior, were probably ranked too high; while the Tommies of St. Thomas were underrated.
The jury’s still out on Superior (1-0-1), but it looks like I’m batting .667 with the other three, based on a trio of key early season games. In a rematch of last year’s SUNYAC championship, Oswego dumped favored Plattsburgh, 5-2. In another championship rematch, defending ECAC West champions Hobart were beaten by RIT, 6-1. Right on the Cardinals; wrong on the Tigers.
Out West, St. Thomas took care of St. Norbert, defeating the Green Knights 5-3. The win rocketed the Tommies from tenth to third in the latest USCHO Division III poll.
Shaken, Not Stirred
While the same two or three favorites are expected to again be at the top of their respective conferences, it looks like the MCHA is getting shaken up a bit, based on early returns.
The usual powers in the conference, Marian and Minnesota-Crookston, may have come back to the pack a bit, while Northland, Lawrence and MSOE have improved. MSOE has already defeated Crookston and Marian this season, and Lawrence picked up ties with Wisconsin-Stout and St. Scholastica, the first time the Vikings have ever taken points from an NCHA team. Newcomer Finlandia looks like it’s going to fit in nicely, already defeating Northland in a non-conference game to open the season.
“We’re definitely a more balanced league,” said MSOE coach Marc Ostapina. “I think we’re getting closer to what college hockey should be, where on any given night you can pick up an ‘L’ no matter who you’re playing.”
MSOE moved into a new venue this season, the $31 million Kern Center, which held its opening ceremony on October 29.
“It’s definitely been a case of ‘if you build it, they will come'”, said Ostapina. “The rink is a Tiger Woods sand wedge away from campus, and the students have been coming out for the games. We’re selling tickets for the first time.”
The arena will eventually seat 2,200 for hockey, but only half the bleachers are in place for this season. The Raiders are drawing about 900 per game, up from the 100-200 fans they were getting when playing at an off-campus public rink.
The NCAA’s new Points of Emphasis (POEs) have been in effect for about a month now in Division III, and I haven’t written much about them because I’ve been giving it a chance.
After 66 penalties and 63 power plays were handed out in the season opening weekend series between Geneseo and Neumann, I decided to give it a chance.
After broadcasting the most boring college hockey game I have ever seen (and I’m not exaggerating) between RIT and St. Clair, where 37 penalties were called and the game, even though decided by just one goal, had zero flow and zero excitement, I decided to give it a chance.
After reading all the (mostly) positive comments from coaches and officials and the (mostly) negative comments from fans, I decided to give it a chance.
After hearing that some leagues are forbidding their coaches to comment on the POE situation, I decided to give it a chance.
OK, I’ve given it a chance.
And I think it sucks.
Try as they might, the college hockey leagues are trying to paint a rosy picture and think that if they educate the fans as to the reasons for this crackdown, we’ll understand. But based on the crowd reaction I’ve seen at games and comments I’ve read on message boards and in newspapers, not all fans have gotten the memo. Most are booing the officials lustily. The most common complaint I hear is: “I don’t know what I just saw, but it sure wasn’t hockey.” Whatever momentum college hockey could have generated in light of the NHL work stoppage has been squandered.
Most coaches that I’ve talked to are still optimistic, but what choice do they have?
And I think it sucks.
“If it works, it will be good for hockey,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “There’s going to be an adjustment period. It’s going to be painful, but it will ultimately be better for hockey. We need to open things up for the skilled players.”
“I don’t have a problem with at as long as it’s done correctly,” said Bob Emery, coach at Plattsburgh. “A referee should not be evaluated on how many penalties he calls. He should be evaluated on what penalties he calls in what situations.”
“If we can find a happy medium, I think we’ll have a pretty good game,” Wisconsin-Stevens Point coach Joe Baldarotta told the Stevens Point Journal. “Things are (now) penalties that players have been taught to do since they were 4 years old.”
Others see no reason for the current crackdown.
“I think they’re trying to reinvent the wheel,” said St. Thomas coach Terry Skrypek. “There have always been gray areas and this is an attempt to clean up the gray areas. I don’t think you can do that, completely. You can call a penalty on almost every play if you wanted to.”
Coaches and officials point to last year’s national championship game between Denver and Maine as a prime example of what’s wrong with college hockey. The video of that game (a 1-0 Denver win) was shown to officials as an example of how teams are getting away with murder, clutching and grabbing and defensemen using their sticks (the horror!) to slow down forwards away from the puck.
I thought it was one of the most exciting games I had seen in a while. At least since the Division III title game three weeks prior, which also was a 1-0 thriller.
I agree that we don’t want our game to turn into the NHL where all the trapping and clutching have taken the excitement out of the game, at least until the playoffs start and teams start playing to win instead of playing not to lose. What we need is a happy medium between a no-check league and the NHL extreme.
We already have that. It’s called college hockey.
Let’s leave it alone.
Quote of the Week
I’m not sure if this will be a regular feature, but when I find a quote I especially like, I’ll pass it along. My favorite this week comes from Manhattanville senior forward Wade Richardson. Commenting on Manhattanville’s near perfect home record since moving to the Playland Ice Casino last season, Richardson said, “At the Playland Ice Casino, the house always wins.”
Seeing is Believing
Saturday’s contest between RIT and Manhattanville at Playland will be video streamed via the internet, the first time Manhattanville has attempted this type of broadcast. You can watch and hear the game at: http://www.mville.edu/Streaming/live.html.
Of course, I have to put in a plug for yours truly, who will join Randy Bloechl in the booth to carry the same game via WITR’s internet feed. Audio only, though.
[Chris is kidding himself if he thinks he’s going to find an actual “booth” there. –Ed.]
I’m starting to see some parallels between USCHO and the ubiquitous ESPN empire.
First there was the original ESPN. Then came ESPN the Magazine. First there was USCHO. Then came USCHO the Magazine.
The video-based ESPN then launched ESPN.com. And now the internet-based USCHO has, in conjunction with CSTV, gotten into the video side of things.
What’s next? USCHO2? USCHO Classic?
How long before somebody names their kid “USCHO”?