This Week in Atlantic Hockey: Feb. 3, 2005

I Can’t Bite My Tongue

I had sworn to myself that I would no longer editorialize on the situation at Canisius that led to the sudden firing of coach Brian Cavanaugh earlier this season. I had said my piece, and even when the Buffalo News came forward with the reported players’ complaints against Cavanaugh, all of which I considered petty at best, I chose to simply let it slide and stop beating what seemed like a dead horse.

Well, that horse’s pulse has returned and it’s time that once again I get out my whipping stick.

Last week, the News again was on top of a story of mischief and irresponsibility by the Canisius players and coaching staff while on a road trip earlier in the year at North Dakota. According to the News, four players were reprimanded for damaging their hotel room in a drunken stupor after they were supplied with alcohol allegedly bought on a University credit card.

Here’s how the story goes: there was a team meal in North Dakota with interim co-coach Clancy Seymour as well as Assistant Athletic Director Marshall Foley, which led to a night of drinking for at least four players — Tim Songin, Billy Irish-Baker, Mike Ruberto, and Joe Durno. Once back at the hotel room, Durno in his state of inebriation attempted a summersault that led to him crashing into a wall, breaking a picture on the wall and receiving a gash in his foot that required a trip to the emergency room and stitches.

Sources told the News that the alcohol purchased in the incident was done so on a University credit card. It couldn’t be confirmed or denied by the University — they simply said they had no proof. It also wasn’t confirmed or denied that Seymour and Foley witnessed the drinking amongst the players.

The final bill for damage was $550, not counting the medical expenses that the school likely absorbs under its insurance policy.

But what’s (among other things) shocking was how this incident was treated.

The school, and more so turn-my-head-blind athletic director Tim Dillon, chose to wait more than a month to discipline these players, and when they finally were each suspended for two games, they were forced to miss two exhibition games against the U.S. Under-18 Team.

Are you kidding me? That’s likely equivalent to giving a three-year old a tap on the derrière, and in the end probably has the same effect.

I’ve been around the college hockey game now for 13 seasons. I worked for Massachusetts-Lowell under head coach Bruce Crowder as an equipment manager from 1992 through 1996. The entire number of beers or alcoholic beverages I witnessed consumed on road trips by myself or team members was zero. It simply wasn’t allowed. More so, it wasn’t even considered.

I remember traveling to Boston for the Hockey East championship, with the semifinals played on March 18. That meant the night before, our first night in Boston, was St. Patrick’s Day. I remember Crowder saying firmly that absolutely no one, and that included the Irish equipment managers, was to be out drinking on St. Patrick’s Day. Why? Because it just doesn’t make sense.

Just to make sure that I’m not crazy, I asked current Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald about his policies on members of the team drinking.

“You start with the recruiting process,” said MacDonald, known as one of the more stringent coaches in terms of player conduct. “You stress to them that social misbehavior is you first way to get kicked off the team. That’s established right in the recruiting process.

“I’ve kicked kids right off the team for drinking. I’m not a huge believer in second chances. Your first chance is when you’re told. Your second chance is when you get caught doing it.”

As far as whether or not his players are allowed to drink on the road, MacDonald barked, “Absolutely, positively not! … When you hang around with a dog with fleas, you’re going to get fleas. You don’t want to invite that. It’s Fundamental Control of Your Team 101.”

There’s no need for players to ever be drinking on the road. These are college kids, not NHLers. There is constant scrutiny of these student-athletes, many of whom are attending college for free, and it’s the University’s responsibility to keep these kids from embarrassing themselves and the school.

MacDonald talks about second chances, but according to sources, Durno would need a third. He already had a problem involving alcohol on a road trip this season. When the team was returning from Alaska earlier in the year, sources said that Durno was so drunk that flight attendants were hesitant to board him onto the plane.

This is something that a college needs to control, no?

But why would this be expected from Canisius? The school has already proven that it doesn’t understand responsibility.

What the athletic department and school and, most importantly Dillon, did when it let Cavanaugh go was simply irresponsible. It caved to the demands of the players. It in no way displayed proper judgment and has since never defended its actions publicly.

At the time, I insinuated in my column that the players were punks without using that exact word (the actual word I used was “rowdy”). My reason for insinuating that related to the fact that Dan Bognar was suspended from the team after being arrested.

I received some hate email from a couple of fans saying that one player does not make up the whole team.

Well, how about five of them? At this point, we have five players who have needed to be disciplined (or whatever you call the recent suspension, because to me that’s sure not discipline).

I think five players is a solid sample size for which to grade a team and now I have no problem saying that these players are a bunch of punks.

What’s sad it that Canisius, at this point in the season, is actually in position to post a pretty respectable record. There’s even a chance that the Griffs could put together a postseason run and qualify for the NCAA tournament.

If that happened, it would be sad. It would be a disgraceful representation to send this team to an NCAA Regional. What would happen then? Maybe the school could throw a keg party — though first making sure they take anything breakable out of the hotel rooms so that there won’t be any damage to cover up.

I know there will be folks out there who disagree with me and say, “they just a bunch of good college kids having fun.”

If that’s true, I’d hate to see the “bad” equivalent. Or maybe, in Canisius’ case, we already have.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week

Ben Nelson, Quinnipiac: If the Bobcats needed a player to step as the team looks to climb back in the pennant race, Nelson might be the man. Last weekend he scored two critical goals — the game-winner in overtime against Army on Friday, and then the game-tying goal against the Black Knights the following night. He also added a third goal earlier in Friday’s game for a three-goal weekend.

Rookie of the Week

Jereme Tendler, American International

AIC wants out of last place and proved it last weekend with a 3-2 upset of Connecticut on Friday night. In that game, Tendler buried two goals, including the overtime game-winner. He also added a third goal on Saturday night in a 7-2 loss. Tendler is fourth on the team in scoring with seven goals and an assist.

Goaltender of the Week

Jamie Holden, Quinnipiac: Knowing that his team desperately needed a couple of victories, Holden put forth a 61-save performance, holding a pesky Army squad to seven goals as the Bobcats pulled off back-to-back one-goal wins.

Five-Horse Race

Looking to make your travel plans to this year’s league championship? You might want to make hotel reservations in five different cities.

After last week’s games were played, a total of five different teams were within six points of one another at the top of the league. League leader Holy Cross is ahead with 22 points, while Canisius is three back with 19, Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst are five back with 17 and, thanks to a four-game winning streak Quinnipiac has now jumped in the race with 16 points.

“We were in seventh place in late January — that’s kind of a different spot to be in, said Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold. “We still have a lot of games to go. There’s a long way yet.”

“It’s rare to see five teams in the hunt this late in the season,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “I don’t think it’s ever happened [in Atlantic Hockey/MAAC].”

Pearl’s Crusaders do sit at the top of that stack, but he said that’s not something about which to feel secure.

“It just as easily could be anybody in this league,” said Pearl when asked if last weekend’s series with second-place Canisius could be a preview of the championship game. “Anyone who sees our league play will tell you it’s really entertaining.”

This weekend upcoming could see Pearl’s Crusaders unseated from the top spot as they compete out of conference while six of the remaining eight teams are in league action.

“Everyone will catch up game-wise,” said Pearl, whose club has three games in hand on Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac as well as two on Mercyhurst. “Sacred Heart could go ahead of us if they won their games in hand.”

The one thing that Pearl points out is that many of the remaining teams will pit top teams against one another. Holy Cross, for example, still has to play Sacred Heart twice, Mercyhurst twice and Quinnipiac once.

“Every game is like a four-point game,” Pearl said.

As for Quinnipiac, a team that’s never finished lower than third place since joining a Division I conference, the possibility of moving up lessens with every passing day.

“It’s not that we have to catch one team. We have to catch four teams,” said Pecknold, about his club’s slim chance of winning the conference title. “If anyone gets hot, they’ll be tough to catch. Right now our focus isn’t first place.”

Battling for Country

As much as there are plenty of exciting league games in store this week, the most compelling story line will come from an exhibition game played in West Point, N.Y.

Army will renew its annual rivalry against Canadian military counterpart Royal Military College.

The series, begun by Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1923, continues to flourish and is well-recognized across the hockey ranks, as shown this year by CSTV sending its top crew of Mike Emrick and Billy Jaffe to West Point to broadcast the game.

Army has only lost once in nine games played at Tate Rink, but this year RMC will bring its best team in the past two decades to West Point to challenge. One catch for RMC, though, will be staying out of the penalty box. They’ll face a tighter game down in terms of penalties on U.S. soil, and thus far this year, RMC has racked up more than 600 penalty minutes.

As part of the festivities associated with the game, former coach Rob Riley will make his first return to Tate Rink since retiring last summer. He’ll join current head coach and brother Brian Riley as well as former head coach and father Jack Riley in a ceremony honoring Rob for his contributions towards the classic RMC-Army series.

For the record, Army holds a 38-29-6 advantage all time in the series. Rob Riley was 13-3-2 all time versus RMC, while father Jack was 22-11-3.

Once Bitten, Twice on Injured Reserve

How do you think that Holy Cross will list sophomore Tanner Fogarty on its injured list?

Fogarty, who has a goal and four assists this year for the Crusaders, will miss action for a while as he nurses a bug bite.

Now before you make accusations that Fogarty is lacking toughness or grit, let me explain.

After Friday night’s game against Canisius, Fogarty noticed a red mark with a little bit of swelling on his arm. He was given antibiotics and sent on his way. After Saturday’s second game, though the infection had spread all the way up his arm and at this point was serious enough for a trip to the hospital. Three days later, Fogarty was still hospitalized as doctors attempted to drain the infection from his arm.

“It’s a strange thing,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “He’s going to be on antibiotics for two weeks.”

Pearl said that Fogarty will have to remain out of the lineup as the area around the bite can’t sustain any kind of trauma that would be caused by playing hockey.

“I’ve never heard anything like it,” said Pearl. “He’s one of the toughest guys on this team so it’s not like he’s skirting around.”

The source of the infection, according to Pearl, is believed to be a spider bite. Neither he nor Fogarty has any idea when or where this occurred but the impact was obviously serious and needed to be treated as such.

Hopefully Holy Cross’ Sports Information staff will be kind enough to simply list him as an arm injury, rather than as having a bug bite.