Notes From Behind the Wheel

I spend a lot of time in traffic. These are some of the things I think about to keep from wasting time on the phone:

• I know it’s a couple of weeks away (Feb. 4-5), but keep that series between the Badgers and Gophers circled on your schedule. For a change, this second half matchup will be in Madison, and the young Badger defense is certainly more mature then they were when Minnesota swept at home in November. In that meeting, three of the Wisconsin defensemen were playing their first road series ever in college hockey. That would be like a rookie cornerback facing USC’s Matt Leinart at the L.A. Coliseum in his first game.

• OK, let’s get off Al Montoya’s back. Has he been great? No. Did he have a less than stellar World Junior Tourney? Yes. Can a case be made that he was playing better at this time last season than this season? Yes. However, let me present some items for thought.

Start with this: He was the sixth pick overall in last year’s NHL Draft, and picked by an original-six team and the one located in the country’s No. 1 media market, New York. He was wined and dined all over the Big Apple, hung out with New York sports and media celebrities, gets a sandwich named after him at a famous New York deli. He was on cloud nine — the world was his oyster. Then come the dog days of summer. You train, you scrimmage, you teach a hockey school or two. You get back to being just a hockey player in Ann Arbor, not a focal point in a new environment in the world’s best league.

When all was said and done, it was September again, and Montoya was back in class, back at Yost, and back in the CCHA, and was faced with something harder than becoming a great goalie, and that is staying a great goalie or even moving to a higher level of excellence. That is a maturation process, both mentally and physically, and young Al is experiencing something we all did as players at that age, a slump. My money is on Montoya to succeed. And despite the Rangers’ ability to ruin many young rising stars, remember that two of the premier U.S.-born goalies ever to play in the NHL come from the Rangers’ system, John Vanbiesbrouck and former Wisconsin Badger Mike Richter.

• Mike Eruzione is Boston University hockey. He doesn’t coach and he’s not the AD (that would be Mike Lynch, who has done a terrific job since coming there from the University of Miami). However, anyone on hand at the weekend where BU closed its run at Walter Brown Arena and opened their new building, Agganis Arena saw just how big a role Eruzione has in the BU hockey program. While Jack Parker is the heart, soul, and face of that program, Eruzione has to be given an assist because he’s an alum who has really never left BU, and continues to be one its best ambassadors. Many, many, many years from now, in front of that magnificent arena, a statue of Eruzione will probably be erected. While known as the captain of our “Miracle on Ice” team from 1980, CSTV play-by-play man Eric Frede summed it up best. “Without his brilliant playing career here at BU, there would have been no Miracle in 1980. People forget how great a college hockey player he was at BU.”

• We all talk about the great young players in this country entering the NCAA ranks. While Michigan, Minnesota and Massachusetts will continue to dominate the American recruiting scene, the state of New York has seen its share of good players move on. I’d run out of room listing them all, but the latest Empire Stater to do well in college hockey is Pete MacArthur of BU. From Northwood School, to the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks, to BU, he has been a dominant force wherever he has played.

On that note, while Long Island might not ever turn out the number of players the greater Minneapolis area will, and while it is not exactly in the middle of a great recruiting trail for scouts, my advice to college recruiters is this: Don’t ignore this little diamond in the rough. From Mike Komisarek to Rob Scuderi (both in the NHL), the “Island” has moved its share of good NCAA players. Eric Nystrom of Michigan, Jon Pelle of Harvard, James Brannigan of No. 1 Colorado College, Mike Arcieri of Vermont, Kevin Schaeffer of BU, and Steve Birnstill of Northeastern are playing now. Tim Filangieri and Tim Kunes are committed to BC, Louis Liotti to Northeastern, Bill Keenan is committed to Harvard, and Mike Kowarski to Yale. Massachusetts has three LI’ers verbally committed for the season after next. Toss in former team captains Tom Galvin of Notre Dame and Ryan Vesce of Cornell who graduated last season, and you
have a pretty good start. Start spreading the news.

• I’d just like to say how impressed I am with the job Kevin Sneddon has done at Vermont. Ditto that for Nate Leaman at Union, Mike Eaves at Wisconsin, Walt Kyle at Northern Michigan, Ted Donato at Harvard and Scott Owens at CC. While we’re at it, everyone should notice the tireless effort the staffs at every D-I and D-III school give to their programs everyday. The risk you take when you coach is that no matter what happened, it is always seen as your fault.

Have a bad recruiting class — your fault. Goalie gives up a bad goal — your fault. Power play doesn’t shoot the puck enough — your fault. Water isn’t cold enough on the bench — your fault.

Then comes my favorite. “The players don’t like the coach.” From pee wee to the pros, this is the big one. “Little Johnny doesn’t like the coach.” Somehow I get the feeling that in their hey days, guys like Ron Mason, Jeff Sauer, Jack Kelley, and Amo Bessone weren’t thought of fondly by their players for their stern approach to running a team. Last season, Jack Parker literally threw his team out of Walter Brown on a practice day and told them he didn’t want to see them until the next night’s game because he was so mad at a loss the night before.

The coach’s job isn’t to be liked, that’s just a bonus if it happens. His job is to build a program, make it competitive and graduate his players. In some cases, winning a national championship should happen every few years to keep the alumni happy. However, you’d probably agree that the people you learn the most from are generally the people you didn’t get along with all that well when you were around them.

Dave Starman serves as an analyst on CSTV Friday Night Hockey and contributes weekly to Starman has coached professionally and in the amateur ranks and is currently the head scout in the Northeast for the USHL’s defending champion Waterloo Black Hawks.