This Week in the ECACHL: Oct. 20, 2005

After two weeks of games against non-conference opponents, many of which were on the road, the ECACHL has fared well against the more-closely located competition from Atlantic Hockey or Hockey East, but has struggled against teams from the geographically distant CCHA and WCHA.

“Home ice is a huge advantage in college hockey, especially in some of the big arenas out West,” said Union coach Nate Leaman.

“What is most challenging is that a lot of non-conference teams aren’t willing to play reciprocal games in our buildings, so we’re on the road a great deal of the time against non-conference teams,” Leaman added.

Of the 22 non-conference games played thus far, 13 contests have been on the road and many of those games involved travel over long distances to play WCHA or CCHA opponents. Thus far this season, ECACHL teams have played at Michigan and at Wisconsin, in Colorado Springs as part of the Ice Breaker Invitational and in Anchorage, Alaska, for the Nye Frontier Classic. Here is the ECACHL’s record against other conferences:

ECACHL vs. Atlantic Hockey 2-0-1 (Bentley, Sacred Heart, Connecticut)
ECACHL vs. CCHA 0-3-1 (Michigan, Lake Superior)
ECACHL vs. CHA 1-2-0 (Niagara, Air Force)
ECACHL vs. Hockey East 4-2-0 (UMass-Lowell, Providence, Massachusetts)
ECACHL vs. WCHA 2-3-0 (Wisconsin, Michigan Tech, Colorado College, Alaska-Anchorage)
ECACHL vs. Independent 1-0-0 (RIT)
Overall 10-10-2

While a 10-10-2 record is hardly problematic, the less than equal number of home and road games, not to mention the difficult venues and travel distances that come with playing the Michigans and the Wisconsins of the world, have put the ECACHL and its teams at something of the disadvantage.

The thousands of miles of travel clearly had an effect on both Rensselaer and Colgate this weekend, with both coaches Dan Fridgen and Don Vaughan citing the distance as a factor in their teams’ energy levels.

Troy, New York to Anchorage, Alaska … .by way of Pouce Coupe, British Columbia

“It was a long way to go for a pair of weekend games,” Fridgen said, referring to his team’s contests in Alaska as part of the Nye Frontier Classic.

I believe Fridgen, of course, but curiosity compelled me to plug into Mapquest the street addresses for Houston Field House in Troy, N.Y., and Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska. In case you’re also curious, Mapquest puts the trip by car at approximately 76 hours, over the course of which your automobile would travel approximately 4,432 miles.

I’m not positive, but I think that means you’d have to make sure to change the oil in your car while in Pouce Coupe, B.C. Pouce Coupe, in case your curiosity has held up this far, has a population of 833 and the closest city — referred to as a “boomtown” on its website — is Dawson Creek, B.C., population 11,290.

So now you have at least a little sense of what Fridgen must have meant when he talked about how his team was worn down by the very act of traveling to Alaska. Back to the hockey …

“In the first game against Alaska, the travel got to us a little bit,” Fridgen said. “We were a little lethargic and they certainly took advantage of that, especially on the power play.”

The Engineers’ fatigue figured prominently in its penalty killing struggles; Alaska-Anchorage scored three power-play goals on the night, including go-ahead goals when the score was tied 1-1 and later at 2-2.

On Saturday night, however, it was the Engineers’ turn to rally, as they turned in a strong performance against Michigan Tech.

“Against Michigan Tech, we had a real good game,” said Fridgen. “We came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, and then we got a big goal, a power-play goal from Andrei Uryadov.”

That was Uryadov’s first collegiate goal, at 14:25 of the third, and it proved to be the game-winner, allowing the weary Engineers to salvage a split of their nearly 9,000-mile road trip.

A Sojourn to Sault Ste. Marie

Compared to the Engineers’ transcontinental crossing, the Colgate Raiders’ trip of more than 750 miles for a pair of games against Lake Superior State seems insignificantly short. But that’s still a long way to go, and the distance combined with travel delays to ensure that Vaughan’s team didn’t arrive in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., until the early hours of Friday morning for a game later that evening.

“It made for a really long trip,” said Vaughan. “There’s no easy way to get up there.”

“But we played well,” he continued. “We had opportunities; we just didn’t capitalize on our chances. We missed some really good chances.”

On Friday night, despite being outshot 32-22 and spending eight shifts on the penalty kill, the Raiders managed a 2-2 tie with the Lakers. That was largely attributable to the continued strong presence in net from sophomore netminder Mark Dekanich, who stopped 30 shots.

On Saturday, though, the time spent on the penalty kill caught up to the Raiders during a 3-2 loss. The Lakers scored all three of their goals on the man-advantage; over the course of the weekend, Colgate racked up 59 penalty minutes and was only able to kill off 10 of 14 power plays for Lake Superior.

“We took some positives away from the weekend,” said Vaughan. “We’re still a pretty young team, so it’s good experience for our freshmen and sophomores.”

“You never want your team to be satisfied [with a one-point weekend],” he continued. “We want to find a way to win those close games.”

On Deck

A number of exhibition games dot the calendar for the coming weekend, and five of the six Ivy League teams — Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale — will take the ice for the first time. By a quirk of the schedule, Brown will not take the ice for an exhibition game until Friday, October 28 against Concordia, a team from Quebec.

Union is idle for the weekend; St. Lawrence and Clarkson will both face Western Ontario and the Golden Knights will also host the U.S. Under-18 Team on Saturday night. Clarkson coach George Roll appreciates having a weekend’s worth of exhibition games to keep his team fresh but at the same time practice specific capabilities that haven’t been performing up to par.

“We’re plan on getting some guys out on the ice who haven’t played yet in the lineup,” he said. “Our power play is very good; even the times we haven’t scored, we’ve created a lot of opportunities. But we haven’t shown the discipline necessary to be successful, and we’re not at all satisfied with our penalty kill.”

“We’re going to be trying out some different forechecks,” he continued. “And we’re going to try using some of our power-play guys on the penalty kill.”

“Obviously with the games not counting we can play around a bit.”

A Challenging Task

The three teams that will be engaged in non-exhibition contests this weekend are Quinnipiac, Colgate, and Rensselaer. For the Bobcats that means a simple home-and-home series alternating between Hamden, Conn., and Springfield, Mass. And for the Raiders, that means a meeting with the Black Knights of Army and a fresh opportunity to rebound from last weekend’s disappointments.

“Playing against Army is going to be a challenge,” Vaughan noted. “They’re never going to quit, and so we have to match that intensity and work ethic [that they bring].”

The most intriguing game on tap for the weekend, though, is Friday night’s match between Rensselaer and Boston University. Jack Parker’s Terriers are 1-0-0 after defeating UMass-Lowell a week ago and it will be interesting to see what sort of game plan Fridgen and his staff assemble to slow down one of the most well-balanced teams in Hockey East.

“This weekend we certainly have our work cut out for us against Boston University, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Fridgen said. “We’ll have to play a real smart game because they are always a big, fast team up front with quality forwards and big, very mobile defensemen.”

MacDonald Will Seek Redshirt

It was announced this week that Rensselaer senior forward Kirk MacDonald, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last April, will apply for a medical redshirt for his senior season.

MacDonald, who was named one of three captains of the 2005-06 team, led the Engineers with 16 goals and 36 points last season. Having concluded his cancer treatment near the end of the summer, he had been hoping to return to the ice this season. He issued a statement to that effect on October 5, noting his desire to return but also the uncertain timetable for full recovery.