Ho! Ho! Ho!
Tis the season to be jolly and enjoy the festivities of the holiday season. For most teams entering the semester break, there is about a two-week hiatus, longer for some, between the last organized games and practices and starting the second half of the season after the Christmas holiday. With little ice time for practice after the players return from break, most coaches are sending their teams home with best wishes for the holidays and strong hopes that their players stay active and in-shape for their return to the ice.
“We just don’t have the time on the ice to be reconditioning the players,” noted Babson head coach Jamie Rice. “We have maybe two practice sessions before we play in the Codfish Bowl so the players will need to step up and do some conditioning work on their own while their away for the holidays.” Virtually every coach who wants their team to get out to a fast start in the second half of the season echoes Rice’s sentiments.
For SNHU head coach Rene LeClerc, a message was sent loud and clear to the team following their Tuesday night win over Castleton State that sees the Penmen off to an impressive 9-1-2 mark entering the break. “We kind of hate to see the break come when we are playing pretty well overall,” stated LeClerc. “We just want to keep the kids focused while they’re away on trying to get in some good workouts so we don’t lose any of this momentum from the first half. We’ve got some guys competing hard to dress every night especially among the freshmen so I think they’ll stay in pretty good shape and find a little ice time to work out while their at home with their families.”
Here’s hoping the players go easy on the cookies, pastries, and other assorted holiday delectables — note to self, you could benefit a bit from the same approach! Enjoy the holidays but know that those first couple of practices are going to be a test of conditioning and gearing up for holiday tournament and league play.
What every hockey fan wants for the holidays — exciting tournament play! In New England we have our fair share of holiday puck fests with the Times Argus Tournament at Norwich having the greatest appeal based on the four participants. In addition to the hosts, #2 Manhattanville joins Lake Forest and Elmira in what is sure to be an exciting tournament. Manhattanville faces off against Lake Forest while Norwich hosts Elmira on the first night. Look for a Norwich/Manhattanville championship game with the outcome having an impact on the national rankings.
At Salem State’s tournament, defending champion Curry looks to repeat but will have to beat the hosts in the first game and the winner of the Bowdoin/Worcester State game on the second night. Coach Rob Davies knows Salem State and Bowdoin will both be gunning for his team to avenge losses in last year’s tournament. “We’re probably a bit better than we were last year, but we know we will have to play well and the kids would love to repeat as tournament champions,” Davies noted. This tournament also acts as an unofficial BU alumni meeting with Bill O’Neill of Salem State, Terry Meagher of Bowdoin and Rob Davies of Curry all having come out of Jack Parker’s program in Boston. Add Salem State assistant Shawn McEachern to the group and the four coaches surely could tell a lot of “Parkerisms”. Not sure Jack would want to pick a favorite but sure he would want to see one of them take the title this year.
The Codfish Bowl finds host UMass-Boston playing with Babson, Fitchburg State and St. Michael’s for this year’s bragging rights. Look for Babson to get their second half rolling with a tournament win before the New Year but they will have their work cut out for them in beating St. Mike’s the first night and the winner of the Fitchburg State/UMB match-up on the second. “We would like to get a good start on the second part of the season,” said Babson coach Jamie Rice. We should be healthy and want to continue to improve our game starting with a tough one against St. Mike’s.”
At Middlebury, the nation’s number one team is joined by Trinity, Skidmore and the U.S. Under-18 squad for a round-robin affair to get the second-half started. Both Trinity and Middlebury play against the national team and Skidmore during the two-night affair that kicks off the New Year. Both games with the national squad should provide the coaches with a barometer for their teams’ level of play moving into league play. Trinity coach John Dunham is looking forward to the trip to Middlebury — “It’s always fun to play in that arena and playing the national team will be a strong challenge for our kids who have played consistently well so far this season.”
Lastly, Wesleyan and Conn College will try to get their seasons moving in the right direction by playing in the Plattsburgh tournament. This is the second tournament the two Connecticut schools have been in together. At Thanksgiving, the two teams played in the Charles T. Luce tournament but did not face each other. Joining them are Utica and the host Cardinals who will be looking to get their season back on track at the expense of two up and coming NESCAC programs. Should goalies Steve Oven of Conn College and Steve Binswanger of Wesleyan continue their hot play, both teams from upstate New York could be surprised?
… The Stockings Were Hung By The Chimney With Care …
With all due respect to Clement Clark Moore, what pre-Christmas column would be complete with out a team-by-team look at their lists for Santa. So by conference here is what the coaches might want to find under their tree Christmas morning:
St. Anselm — continued balanced scoring and power play efficiency to support senior Jim Merola
Norwich — a Times-Argus win and some whistle relief for physical defenseman Brian Mullally.
Babson — a healthy line-up and more consistent goaltending in the second half.
St. Michael’s — a stronger offense to support some more consistent goaltending
Southern Maine — continued offensive balance and more wins like their upset of Williams
New England College — goal scoring and winning a couple of close games to jump-start their season
Castleton State — wins and competitive games for the Spartans who have had 13 freshmen play this season
Skidmore — a squad at full strength and an easier schedule than the first semester to go with increased offensive output
UMass-Boston — a strong second semester for senior Patrick Donlan and improved penalty killing to cut the goals against
Salem State — Coach O’Neill’s 400th win and a continued NHL stoppage to keep Shawn McEachern at SSC
Middlebury — continued strong play from freshmen and goalie Yen-I Chen matching Marc Scheuer’s second half streak from last year
Trinity — a second half to match the first and some road wins in Vermont and Maine
Colby — a strong second half from seniors Nick Bayley, Patrick Walsh and Chris Ries
Bowdoin — Adam Dann taking his game to the next level and more of the same from George Papachristopoulos
Amherst — a more consistent power play and a healthy second half for Beau Kretzman
Hamilton — some healthy bodies and some scoring help for Gus Katsuras
Williams — great play from Brad Shirley and continued improvement from freshmen Will Bruce and Brandon Jackmuff
Wesleyan — more depth on the blueline and weekly columns appearing on the D-I page — it’s got to help the recruiting
Conn College — a bit more scoring to back some solid defense and goaltending
Tufts — consistent goaltending and better penalty killing with timely scoring from John Hurd
Curry — a few less penalty minutes and a match for last year’s clean run through the league
Wentworth — some non-league wins and putting the talent pieces together every night
UMass-Dartmouth — strong finishes for Kevin McGowan, Scott Trahan and Eric Franck in their senior season
SNHU — continued strong play from the freshmen including goal-scorer Brandon Hammermeister
Suffolk — building on the offensive emergence of freshmen Joe Keane, Nick Glum, Ryan Coakley and Dan Pencinger
Fitchburg State — great goaltending from Nick Hankes and scoring from senior Chad Fletcher
Framingham State — some offense to support senior Paul Morgan in the goal
WNEC — solid leadership from seniors Michael Szmeiter and Kevin Leonard to support a young team on the way up
Worcester State — some added depth, improved goaltending, effort to match captain Justin Vallas every game
Nichols — Ryan Davis to put up numbers like his freshman season of a year ago
Plymouth State — playing stronger in the third period and more great goaltending from freshman Karl Helgesson
Assumption — better special teams and continued offensive production from Jeff Ilvonen and Scott Hersom
Franklin Pierce — strong offense and defense from senior Mark Gibbons to support an emerging program
Salve Regina — some offense to support leading scorer and defense stalwart Geno Binda
Johnson & Wales — more wins like their upset of UMass-Dartmouth and better special teams
Stonehill — improved penalty killing and steady play from leading scorer, freshman Anthony Zanetti
My own college hockey related Christmas wish is for fewer penalties and better flowing games entering the New Year. I wish for two-hour games and close competitive hockey regardless of the match-up. I know it’s a lot to ask for but c’mon Santa, I’ve been a really good boy this year.
Here’s hoping that everyone enjoys a happy holiday season with family, friends and, of course exciting hockey. I’ll be off for the next couple of weeks trying to remember my promise to go easy on the holiday treats but ready for some tournament play and what appears to be a very exciting and competitive second half of the season.