This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Jan. 13, 2005

Where Has All The Offense Gone?

Last weekend’s home-and-home series between Army and Connecticut amplified what is a growing concern for Atlantic Hockey, at least in this writer’s eyes. The Black Knights and Huskies played two consecutive 1-0 games, each team winning one and leading me to ask: where has all the offense gone?

If you can believe it, Canisius leads the league in scoring average with 2.76 goals per game. That’s slightly above the 2.48 averaged by Bentley in 2000-2001 which, at the time, was worst in the league. And the 2.76 GPG for Canisius is a far cry from the 5.42 Quinnipiac averaged in 1999-2000, or even the 4.03 that Mercyhurst managed last year.

So how do you explain the power outage?

“I think it’s a couple of things,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “League-wide, we know how good the goaltending is and has been. You’re really seeing the goaltending rise to the top this year.

“Secondly, I think that as coaching staffs, we all recognize that if you want to be successful in March, you have to be a good defensive team. Defensive play has been better top to bottom.”

Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl points more to preparation, but in the end has a similar thought as Gotkin.

“I think that teams are just playing better system,” said Pearl. “Goaltenders, as our league improves, have gotten a lot better.

“From 1999 to now, the use of video and advanced scouting before you play them is a huge factor. That’s not just our league, it’s all of hockey.”

Gotkin’s Lakers themselves experienced the scoring drought last Sunday when, playing a non-league game against Robert Morris, they battled to a 0-0 tie, the first scoreless tie in the 17-plus year history of Mercyhurst’s program.

According to Gotkin, though, the game wasn’t indicative of the score.

“It wasn’t a tennis match,” said Gotkin. “Shots were 39-35 (actually 39-33 in favor of Mercyhurst). But the goaltending was unbelievable. Both teams hit a handful of posts and crossbars. And it was a great college hockey game.

“It wasn’t your typical 0-0 hockey game.”

For Gotkin, though, even spectacular goaltending performances can’t explain everything that’s missing from his offense, which is down about a goal-and-a-half per game this season to 2.58. He says that at some point you have to look at the team’s inability to finish.

“Our team, we’ve had opportunities, we just haven’t executed offensively,” Gotkin said. “We’ve had some great chances in every game we’ve played and the puck has not gone in as frequently as we’d hope.”

After last season’s national championship game ended in a 1-0 decision for Denver, the NCAA decided it was time to crackdown on obstruction penalties to allow for more of a skating game. In the early goings of the season, there was in extreme increase in penalty minutes.

Depending on which league you watch, or in some cases which official is working the game, that number of penalty minutes is significantly down from early in the year, which makes you wonder: have the players adjusted and thus there’s less clutching and grabbing, or have officials just stopped calling these obstruction penalties.

Regardless, the overall national statistics don’t show any increase in across the board offense. Last year, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux led the nation offensively with 4.44 goals per game. Four teams eclipsed the four-goal plateau. This year, Michigan’s 4.32 GPG is best, with only three teams with a four-goal or better average.

“Your stats don’t bear that out,” said Gotkin, referring to the correlation between the way the game is called and the offense associated . “The points of emphasis were to take the clutching and grabbing out of the game. If you call it that way all the time, teams would have a lot more power-play opportunities. The stats don’t prove that.”

One question that has been asked even at the NHL level is whether or not the goaltenders equipment is having an effect on the game. As technology has improved, the size of the goaltender’s pads have significantly increased, almost so much that it seems impossible to find a spot on the net not protected by the goalie.

Gotkin, though, doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.

“Is [the equipment] too big? I don’t think so,” said Gotkin. “I just see talented goaltenders and good teams. It’s not the equipment keeping the pucks out.

“I’ve never looked at [the goaltender] pads as an issue. You have to protect your goaltenders. With these composite sticks and these guys shooting the puck like they do, the goaltender should have whatever equipment they need to be safe.

As for what effects all of this has on Atlantic Hockey, there could be a bright side. Come season’s end. when the Atlantic tournament champion advances to the NCAA tournament, solid goaltending and defense are the formula that such a team must employ to pull off an upset.

“I think that if you could have one thing as a coach, a great goaltender makes you into a very tough team to play against,” said Gotkin, whose netminder Peter Aubry nearly stole a first-round NCAA game against Michigan in 2001. “Based on our experiences in the 2001 and 2003 NCAA tournaments, goaltending is key. It’s the biggest part.”

“That’s what makes hockey different than any other sport that one position can play such a huge factor in a game,” said Pearl. “Just ask [defending national champ] Denver.”

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Dave Borelli, Mercyhurst: Borelli had a four-point week, scoring a goal and three assists in two ties and a win for the Lakers. In a week that saw Mercyhurst score only seven goals (but avoid losing), Borelli played a role in four of them.

Rookie of the Week

Dale Reinhardt, Holy Cross: Similar to Borelli, Reinhardt registered four point in Holy Cross’ two victories last weekend. He tallied two assists on Tuesday night against Sacred Heart and then potted a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win over American International on Friday. Reinhardt is the leading rookie scorer for the Crusaders.

Goaltender of the Week

Treye Kettwick and Brad Roberts, Army: The tandem for the Black Knights allowed only one goal, a 5-on-3 goal in Friday’s 1-0 loss to UConn, stopping 55 of 56 shots on the weekend. Roberts, who hadn’t played in nearly three months due to injury, earned a shutout in his first game back.

Welcome Back, Roberts

Is there any doubt that Army coach Rob Riley was happier than punch for the return of goaltender Brad Roberts last weekend? Take nothing away from the play of stand-in Treye Kettwick, who himself turned in numerous impressive performances in the two-plus months he replaced the injured Roberts. But the fact that Roberts returned with a 29-save shutout in a 1-0 victory Connecticut last Saturday has to put a few smiles on the faces of the Army coaching staff.

Roberts had not played a game since being injured with 4:36 remaining against Bentley on October 22. Kettwick finished the game, earning a 3-3 tie. Over the 13 games, though, Kettwick’s stats were solid (.906 save percentage, 2.93 goals against average), but he was only able to post a 2-9-2 record.

Roberts was impressive as a rookie two seasons ago, solid enough to earn first-team all-league honors. Last year, though, his goals against average ballooned to 3.29 and his record was 7-15-3, down from 15-16-0 as a rookie.

So no matter what the goaltending situation at Army, seeing a shutout, the second one of the season for the team, has to be pleasant.

Is That The Boston Bruins? No, It’s Bentley

With the current NHL labor agreement leaving empty ice times at high-profile ice arenas around the country, the FleetCenter in Boston is looking to do whatever it can to fill open dates.

Atlantic Hockey was happy to oblige earlier this week when it announced that it will move two league games from Holy Cross and Connecticut, respectively, to the FleetCenter ice as part of an early February college hockey doubleheader.

“It’s a great opportunity for Atlantic Hockey,” said commissioner Bob DeGregorio. “Depending on how we do, we’ll look to do this every year.”

“Our players are excited to do it,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl, who also indicated that in future years the team will look to play games in the Worcester Centrum, a 10,000-plus seat facility just miles from campus. “It’s great for our alums and fans to see us in [the FleetCenter].”

The league will move two games to Saturday, February 12: the Quinnipiac at Holy Cross game that was originally slated for January 21, and the Bentley at Connecticut game that was originally schedule to be played on the same day in Storrs, Conn.

For Pearl, giving up a home date wasn’t too much of an issue.

“I had no problem losing a home game as long as it was one of the teams I play twice at home and once on the road,” said Pearl. “It’s going to cost us money, but in the spirit of it, it becomes more of an event for the day because you get some of the local Boston-area alums. If anything you get some goodwill and who knows what else down the road.”

DeGregorio worked with the FleetCenter to find the optimal open date. February 12 was selected when it was realized that the four Boston-area teams — Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern — are all either idle or out of town, as the date falls between the two Beanpot Mondays.

According to DeGregorio, each of the four schools will be required to sell a minimum number of tickets (though that number was not disclosed). This, along with a marketing push that will focus on local radio, will be what DeGregorio hopes helps fill some of the 17,565 seats in the building that both the Bruins and Boston Celtics call home.

According to Pearl, selling tickets for Holy Cross won’t be a problem, particularly after many alums struggled to get tickets earlier this season when the Crusaders played at Boston College.

“We had more people at the BC game saying they’d got their ticket through BC people,” said Pearl, as most BC games are sold out this season through season ticket sales — though many games find hundreds if not thousands of empty seats. “So now we’ll have a lot of people getting them themselves.”

As part of the schedule change, one other game must also be shifted. The Holy Cross-Sacred Heart game that was scheduled for February 12, was moved to six days later, February 18.

This is not the first time that Atlantic Hockey schools will host games in an NHL building. Quinnipiac and Connecticut had played their annual “Heroes’ Hat” game in Madison Square Garden for the last three years. Canisius had teamed in the past with Niagara to host the Punch Imlach Classic at Buffalo’s HSBC Arena.

The games will take place at 5 and 8 p.m., with Holy Cross and Quinnipiac playing the early game. Tickets for the event are $10 and cover admission to both games. Students can purchase tickets on campus for $5.

Persick Repeats As Humanitarian Finalist

For the second straight year, Canisius senior Mark Persick has been named a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, given annually to “college hockey’s finest citizen.” The award will be presented at the Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio, on April 8.

In his four years at Canisius, Persick has organized a host of community programs, from visiting local hospitals to collecting food and donations for the homeless, to helping clean up and landscape the Buffalo area.

Persick also serves as a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council for Canisius, is a senior senator on the student senate and is vice-president of the Criminal Justice Honor Society.

Persick joins four other finalists: Sarah Carlson of Boston College, Gillian Gallagher of Quinnipiac, John Ostapyk of Dartmouth and Peter Trovato of Massachusetts.

Of the original 15 nominees, Persick was the only one from Atlantic Hockey.