This Week in Division III: Jan. 27, 2005

Deep Freeze

Manhattanville’s stay at the top of the USCHO Division III poll lasted only six days. The Valiants suffered their first loss of the season last Saturday, on the frozen tundra of the Geneva Rec Center, affectionately known to Hobart fans as “The Cooler”. Hobart, in front of 105 brave and frozen fans (game time temperature at the semi-enclosed rink was six degrees), defeated Manhattanville 5-2.

That means a new Number One in Division III. Wisconsin-Superior has refused to lose, steadily moving up the poll until Monday, when there was no longer anyone ahead of the Yellowjackets.

“It’s a coaches poll, not the NCAA rankings,” said Superior coach Dan Stauber, putting things in perspective. “It’s a reward for the players, some nice recognition. It’s also a target on your back. It means we have to step up and play extremely well these last few weeks of the season. We are facing two good teams this weekend on the road, and we better come to play.”

The top three teams in the poll are all from the Western Region, with NCHA rival St. Norbert (15-2-2) ranked second, and St. Johns (16-0-1) in the third position.

“It’s a credit to the teams in our region,” said Stauber. “We’ve seen and played them and they’re both very good teams.”

And there’s more where that came from, according to Stauber. “There’s some diamonds in the rough as well,” he said. “St. Thomas is very strong. River Falls is a good team.”

The Yellowjackets have five ties on the season, meaning they’re five goals from being 19-0, and five goals away from being 14-5.

“To be honest, there’s some we should have lost, and some we should have won,” said Stauber. “We gave up 3-1 leads against Stevens Point and St. Olaf, but we came back from 3-0 against St. Norbert. It’s evened out.”

Wins are what the ‘Jackets need in their final six games in order to win the NCHA regular season title. It may come down to the final weekend, when Superior hosts St. Norbert in the last regular season game for both squads.

“Everybody’s talking about that one, but we have five very hard games before then,” Stauber said.

Neither Rain, Nor Snow …

The city of Boston was virtually shut down on Monday, still digging out from “The Blizzard of 2005” as it’s being called in New England.

Curry College was closed, but coach Rob Davies was in his office, breaking down game tapes. The Colonels haven’t been playing well as of late, with just one win in their last four games and two in their last eight. Curry blew a three goal lead at New England College last week and had to settle for a 4-4 tie against league rival Wentworth on Saturday.

Despite outshooting the Leopards 48-27, Curry needed a goal from Sean Pero with 11:44 remaining to earn the tie.

“We had plenty of chances to win,” said Davies. “We came out strong, but then one of our kids got hurt and it caused a delay of 20 minutes. (Wentworth) went to the locker room and regrouped. They scored a shorthanded goal and the advantage swung to them.”

About five minutes into the contest, Gus Labelle was hit from behind into the boards by Wentworth’s Justin Anonas, resulting in a major penalty to the Leopards. Curry scored with the man advantage, but Wentworth’s Bill Clifford responded with a shorthanded tally 3:26 later.

Labelle required medical attention and didn’t return to the game. “Thank God he’s all right, but he’ll be on the shelf for a while,” said Davies.

It’s been a frustrating span for Curry, which also lost leads to Manhattanville and Oswego earlier in the season.

“We’re making plays, but not the right ones,” said Davies. “We’re working hard but we’re not using our heads when we’re near the cage. We’re passing when we should be shooting, and shooting when we should be passing.”

The defense also needs to improve, according to Davies.

“Offense is a variable. Defense should be a constant,” he said. “You’re not going to bury all your chances, but defense is something you should come to play every game.”

Curry had a “get better” game against Western New England on Tuesday, overwhelming the Golden Bears 16-2. The Colonels play a makeup game with Salve Regina before hosting RIT on Saturday.

Heads or Tails?

The official tiebreakers for the ECAC Northeast are: 1. Head to head results 2. League Wins 3. Record against other teams in the league in rank order 4. Coin flip.

Curry and Wentworth are each 7-0-1 in conference, having tied each other. If they both win their remaining seven league games, which is a distinct possibility, they will have tied each of the first three criteria. They’ll have tied their lone game against each other, each be 15-0-1 in league play, and each be 15-0 against the rest of the conference. That means it’ll come down to a coin flip for home ice throughout the playoffs. Last season, the ECAC Northeast held its semifinals and finals at Matthews Arena, but this season they’re back to their old system of the highest remaining seed hosting the championship game.

Quote(s) of the Week: A tie this week between two unhappy coaches:

“The loss itself, here at home in the last time we’ve ever played RIT, it’s disappointing for our seniors, it’s disappointing for our club, it’s disappointing to a lot of our alumni for sure. And it’s not the way that we were trying to send off RIT to the great land of Division I hockey.” — Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski to the Star Gazette after the Soaring Eagles’ 4-3 loss to RIT on Saturday.

“But our goaltender let us down. He let his teammates down. You can’t win without your goaltender playing well. We need for one of our goalies to show some leadership. One of them needs to step up to the plate.” — Plattsburgh coach Bob Emery to the Press-Republican after a 4-3 loss to Middlebury on Tuesday. The Cardinals blew a third-period lead when goaltender Craig Neilson allowed two late goals.

Small Fish, Big Pond

There’s been a lot of discussion on USCHO’s Fan Forum and among the RIT community about the recent decision to take the Tigers to Division I. Some will miss the chance for a national championship — even the most optimistic Tiger fans know that it will never happen at the Division I level without scholarships. Many will miss cheering for a team that has a chance to win very game it plays and has won more than its share (112-26-12 over the past six seasons). Some observers think it will hurt the program in the long run, since RIT’s fans are used to winning, and wins will be a lot harder to come by.

I think it comes down to whether RIT fans and RIT itself will be happy with an ultimate goal of making the D-I NCAA tourney. I think that’s a reasonable target for the next 5-10 years from now. The Tigers will be competitive in Atlantic Hockey, and a conference title means a berth in the Big Dance. Mercyhurst, Niagara, Holy Cross etc. have been thrilled just to get there, and once they did, have performed well on occasion. In 2001 Mercyhurst lost in the NCAAs 4-3 to Michigan; last year they lost 9-2 to Minnesota. Niagara, a year removed from the ECAC West in 2000, beat UNH in the first round of the NCAAs and lost a relatively close quarterfinal game to North Dakota.

In D-I basketball, there are many, many small conferences whose members’ goal is just to make the tournament. That’s the future of college hockey with smaller conferences springing up. It’s also the Tigers’ future.