This Week in Division III: Dec.16, 2004

Not a creature was stirring …

Except for a few Division III teams finishing off the first half of their seasons. There are only five games on the schedule this weekend, and two of those are exhibitions.

With not much happening in the present, we turn to the ghost of hockey past, and look at the latest chapter in the Bowdoin-Colby rivalry, as well as the ghost of hockey future and see what’s in store for RIT in its move to Division I, plus some upcoming holiday tournaments.

A Special Rivalry

Last Friday was the 181st chapter in one of college hockey’s greatest rivalries. Colby defeated Bowdoin 5-4 in overtime before a sellout crowd of 2,600 at Bowdoin’s Dayton Arena.

“It was a classic Colby-Bowdoin game,” said Colby coach Jim Tortorella. “It was a nail biter.”

The White Mules pulled it out in the end, but not before the Polar Bears staged a furious comeback, scoring twice in the final 1:37 to send the game into overtime.

Joel Morash’s goal at 2:29 of overtime gave Colby the win, and left the all-time series at 92-82-7 in favor of Bowdoin.

The teams play twice a year, with the first meeting counting in the NESCAC standings. The teams switch off on the location of that game each season.

“The second meeting is as intense as the first,” said Tortorella. “It’s a special rivalry. Every game is an event.”

Fan behavior at these games has been a problem from time to time, but seems to have settled down in recent years.

“The rivalry has been misunderstood by fans sometimes,” said Tortorella. “Things can get out of control. One year they threw a cow’s head on the ice.”

The games have also been interrupted by fans throwing toasted (Colby) cheese sandwiches on the ice, making quite a mess.

While fans in the stands sometimes show animosity towards the players and each other, that isn’t the case on the ice.

“The games are hard fought, but there’s mutual respect”, Tortorella said. (On Friday) while were waiting for the overtime to start, some of our players were talking with some of their players. I asked our guys what they had said. They said, ‘We were all talking about what a great game this is.'”

Another thing that makes the rivalry special is the Peter Schuh Memorial award, which has been given to the MVP of the Bowdoin-Colby game played at Bowdoin each season. It’s in memory of Schuh, a former Bowdoin player who was killed tragically in 1994, after his sophomore season.

Colby senior Nick Bayley was honored this year. “Nick had a great game,” said Tortorella. “And we had seven freshmen in the lineup that had never been through one of these games before. They all played well.”

Lucky guys. They get to play in a least seven more of these games in their careers.

Movin’ On Up

RIT made it official on Tuesday, announcing that the Tigers had been accepted into Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-2007 season. RIT will play as a Division I independent next year.

That presents a challenge for coach Wayne Wilson, who has to scramble to find 20 Division I games on short notice. RIT can play as many as 34 games, but must play 20 D-I contests in order to satisfy the NCAA requirement the Tigers need to set the stage for conference play the following season.

So far, Wilson says he has 14 Division I games set up. They include pairs of games at Air Force and Robert Morris, a spot in the Quinnipiac tournament, and at least one game at Bowling Green, Colgate and Cornell. Only one home game has been scheduled so far, and that one is tentative. Home games may be few and far between.

None of the 14 games include teams from Atlantic Hockey, but it’s assumed that RIT will pick some games up there as well, as schools need to replace Quinnipiac on their schedules.

“I also want to include some Division III games, especially against our rivals,” said Wilson. “Elmira, Oswego, Plattsburgh. I’d want to play them next season for sure.”

Wilson’s challenge is to find another half dozen Division I games and then hope the Division III games can be fit in around them.

“Now that we’ve made the commitment to Division I, I have to give those games the top priority,” he said.

As someone who has been around this program for many years, this is all still a bit of a shock, even though it’s been rumored for months.

Based on the distain that RIT President Albert Simone has shown over the years for the NCAA in general and Division I sports in particular, seeing him on the front page of USCHO is being regarded by some as a sign of the apocalypse.

But Simone came around thanks to 13 years of pressure from RIT students and alumni, as well as the Rochester community, which until yesterday was the second largest (1.2 million) metro area in the country without a major league or Division I sport.

“I was concerned then as I am now at some of the behaviors of some of the schools in Division I,” said Simone. “There’s no way I was going to plunge RIT into that scenario. Our priorities have been very clear: Number One, the academic success of our students. The second priority is school spirit. Our third priority is competitiveness.

“But then I learned. I got educated about the Atlantic Hockey Association. And what we found are eight schools … that have the same academic philosophy I described,” said Simone.

This is a good move for RIT, which is not your typical Division III school. The university has over 15,000 students, which will make it the second largest school in Atlantic Hockey, behind UConn. The Tigers are averaging almost 1,500 fans per game this season, which would also be second in the league after Army.

Here’s a breakdown of each team’s average attendance this season and rink size:

School          Avg. Attendance Rink Size
Army            1,654           2,746*
RIT             1,497           2,100*
Holy Cross        991           1,600*
Quinnipiac        860           1,000*
Mercyhurst        849           1,500*
Canisius          764           1,800
UConn             510           2,000*
Sacred Heart      438           1,000
Bentley           224           1,200
AIC               213           1,200

*On campus rink

This increase of fan support, plus the addition of another on campus rink, bodes well for RIT and Atlantic Hockey in general.

Ranking the Tournaments

Five holiday tournaments are on tap this season. Most have been around for several years, and each has its own appeal. Here’s a ranking, based on the strength of each field:

1. Times-Argus (Hosted by Norwich on 12/30-12/31): The Cadets are fortunate to get to play in the top two tournaments in Division III this season. Norwich has already won the Primelink Great Northern Shootout, and now gets to host a strong field in undefeated Manhattanville, Elmira and Lake Forest. You have to give this one the nod with the Number Two and Three teams in the nation.

2. Middlebury Classic (Hosted by Middlebury on 1/1 and 1/2): This one is a close second, with two ranked teams (Middlebury, Trinity) as well as the US Under 18 National Development Squad. Skidmore’s also in the mix.

3. Salem State (Hosted by Salem State on 12/27-12/28): A strong field this year that includes ranked Curry, almost-ranked Bowdoin and Worcester State.

4. Cardinal Classic (Hosted by Plattsburgh on 12/30 and 12/31): This one is wide open with the Cardinals having an off season by their standards, and Utica playing well. Wesleyan and Conn College are legitimate dark horses.

5. Codfish Bowl (Hosted by UMass-Boston on 12/28 and 12/29): This is one of the oldest tournaments in all of college hockey. Babson is in this one as well as St. Michael’s and Fitchburg State. Catch one or more of these if you can.

Not a Happy Ending

It’s sadly ironic that as RIT prepares to renew some old ECAC West rivalries with Canisius and Mercyhurst, a key figure will not be there. Brian Cavanaugh was fired by Canisius this week, after 24 years behind the Canisius bench. A player mutiny apparently brought about Cavanaugh’s dismissal.

I am saddened by this because Brian has been a friend to me and to college hockey in general. He was my first interview in college hockey back in 1995 and we became friends as a result. I am certain that without Brian’s persistence and efforts, there would be no Atlantic Hockey Conference. He was one of the main organizers of the MAAC Hockey League, which eventually led to the formation of Atlantic Hockey. Hopefully, he will land on his feet.

Have Yourself …

A very safe and happy holiday season. We’ll see you in the New Year.