This Week in Division III: Jan. 13, 2005

Mea Culpa

Leaving RIT’s Frank Ritter Arena on Tuesday, I was wondering, based on the results of Division III games from last weekend and early this week, if I am a curse, or just plain wrong.

Since I proclaimed the ECAC West as the top Division III league in last week’s column, the teams in that conference have gone a combined 1-6 in NCAA play. Things went especially bad in a hurry for RIT. The Tigers have dropped three games in a row at home, if you include an exhibition loss to the US Under 18 squad back in December. Based on my unofficial research, the Tigers haven’t lost two straight on home ice since 1993. RIT hasn’t lost thee at home, exhibition or otherwise, since 1987.

Due to the recent results, I’ve gotten several emails from fans asking me to please, please not pick their favorite conference as the new king of the hill. USCHO’s message board is full of references to the “Lerch Curse” or “Lerch Effect”. Since I don’t think I possess any special powers (just ask my wife), I was probably just overzealous in my assessment. Or, the ECAC West just had an off week. We’ll have to wait and see.

Perfect So Far

The lone ECAC West team that recorded an NCAA win this week is Manhattanville. The Valiants defeated Brockport 2-1 on Tuesday to run their record to a perfect 12-0.

There are four teams left in Division III without a loss: Manhattanville, Middlebury (9-0-1), Wisconsin-Superior (10-0-5) and St. John’s (12-0-1). Division II St. Anselm is also unbeaten at 10-0-1. How long can these teams keep it up?

Manhattanville coach Keith Levinthal knows every game will be a battle.

“It’s funny,” he said. “When I started coaching here, when we started this program, you could imagine what it would be like to be undefeated and the Number Two team in the country. You’d be dominant. You’d be winning by large margins. Well, that’s not the way it really is. We’ve been in so many dog fights, it’s hard to believe we haven’t lost yet. It doesn’t feel like we’re undefeated.”

Levinthal says his team’s streak is on his player’s minds, but he hopes not so much to be a distraction.

“I think they’d like to keep it going, but after (Tuesday night), I’m not so sure,” he said. “The effort wasn’t there. Maybe they are too aware of being undefeated. We win when we play gritty and work hard. We didn’t do that (Tuesday night).”

But the Valiants won anyway, something they’ve done every time they’ve taken the ice. Manhattanville’s last four wins have been by a single goal. In all, seven of the Valiant’s 12 wins, plus an exhibition victory over the US Under 18 team, have been by a goal.

Good teams find a way to win even when they don’t have their “A” game. For Manhattanville, that comes down to two things, according to Levinthal.

“We’ve had excellent leadership,” he said. “Our captain (Jason Kenyon) has been unbelievable. And we’ve had good goaltending. Those have been the difference in tight games.”

Can Manhattanville run the table? They’re half way there, with 11 games to play. Next up is a pair of games with Potsdam this weekend.

“Potsdam is a dangerous team,’ said Levinthal. “Look what they’ve done in recent games, beating Plattsburgh and Elmira and losing to Norwich in overtime. We’ll have our hands full.”

Then it’s back into conference play, with tough road games at Hobart, Elmira, RIT and Utica, “Utica is the real deal,” said Levinthal. “I don’t think they’ve gotten enough attention. They remind me of Hobart last season.”

Levinthal says even though his team is highly ranked and undefeated, there’s still a chance they could even miss the postseason. Only four teams make the ECAC West playoffs.

“A very good team is going to be left out,” he said. “It could easily be us. We’ve only played three league games and we have nine left.”

Nothing Settled

Out west, Wisconsin-Superior and St. John’s helped each other stay unbeaten last Thursday with a 1-1 tie. Ties have been a common occurrence for Superior (10-0-5). A five goal swing is the difference between 10-5 and 15-0 for the Yellowjackets. Superior played three games in three days last week, a rare Wednesday, Thursday, Friday schedule. The ‘Jackets also tied Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Friday, but their 9-1 win over Concordia on Wednesday was a historic one: the 100th of coach Dan Stauber’s career.

Quote of the Week

Speaking of ties, here’s what Curry coach Rob Davies said about them to the Patriot Ledger:

“Tying Colby and tying Oswego, we’re still thinking ‘Why don’t we win these? They were right there for the taking.’ And why didn’t we beat Manhattanville (No. 2 in Div. 3)? We had a 4-2 lead with 11 minutes left in the game (but lost in overtime, 5-4).”

No D-III Humanitarian

The finalists were announced this week for this year’s Hockey Humanitarian award, presented annually to “College Hockey’s Finest Citizen”. This is my favorite award in all of sports, and the past nominees, finalists and winners have set wonderful examples for all of us.

There wave been two Division III winners in the nine year history of the award: Christine Pierce from RIT in 1999 and Buffalo State’s Rocky Reeves in 2002.

There will be no winner from a Division III school this year. That’s because none were nominated. It’s a disturbing trend that began last season when only Babson’s Derek Nisula was nominated.

“We’re crushed. We really are,” said John Greenhalgh, Founding Director of the Hockey Humanitarian Foundation. “We know there are worthy candidates at Division III schools. We haven’t gotten the nominations, but we are at fault there as well.”

The process to nominate a player, while not daunting, still requires a lot of paperwork. With limited resources, many Division III schools may not feel they can successfully complete the process by the early December deadline each year.

“We’re going to change the nomination process next year to make it easier for the D-III schools,” said Greenhalgh. “Just give us the name of the player, and a list of accomplishments. We’ll do the rest and follow up on nominations that look promising.”

Greenhalgh, whose son Colin plays for Williams, is well aware of the many potential candidates at Division III schools.

“There are too many kids out there who deserved to be recognized, and aren’t,” he said. “And if we don’t help fix that, shame on us for allowing it to continue.”

His and Hers

Besides the four undefeated Division III men’s teams, there are two D-III women’s teams that have yet to suffer a defeat. Amazingly, they are Middlebury (11-0) and Manhattanville (13-0-1), whose men’s teams are also unbeaten. Both campuses have yet to see their teams lose this season.

Middlebury is ranked first in both the Division III men’s and women’s polls. Manhattanville is second in both polls.

Putting In Overtime

Castleton State’s Branden Gallagher made a whopping 81 saves in a 9-1 loss to New England College last Friday. It’s tough to name him’s Player of the Week because of the nine goals allowed, but the 81 saves deserves some recognition. He was a runner-up for the award this week, won by Adam Hanna of St. John’s.