Throughout the season, USCHO.com staffers Scott Brown and Jim Connelly will offer their views on the previous weeks’ action, alternating writing duties every Tuesday. Brown will focus on the West and Connelly on the East, in a regular column exclusive to USCHO Extra.
Let’s Get Things Started
A week later than my counterpart, Scott Brown, here begins my trail as your Tuesday Morning Quarterback (should maybe we call this Tuesday Morning Goaltender? Nah, we’ll just confuse folks!)
Every other week, I’m going to give my thoughts on the goings on in college hockey, from an eastern perspective. I expect over time that my strong eastern bias, which I’ve been accused of all too often, will shine through. Anyone how knows me knows that I could care less that the WCHA put four teams in the Frozen Four last year. I still think Hockey East is the best conference in the country (fire-retardant suit is on, so flame away).
Here’s what you can expect:
• My opinions on the world of college hockey
• Some good battle back and forth between myself and Brown (by the way, Scott Brown is a doctor — of math, yeah, whatever — and he’s also quite pompous, so I have no problem utilizing Paula Weston’s nickname of Dr. Pompous in this column)
• Hopefully, good insight in the college hockey out here in the east.
• Exclusive coverage of all three eastern leagues — Hockey East, ECACHL and Atlantic Hockey
Here’s what you won’t find:
• Praise for the CCHA or WCHA (I’ll praise the CHA every now and again because I really like Niagara)
• Respect for Dr. Pompous
• Predictions on which you should bet your house
So let’s get things started in Hockey East…
Am I the only person who is really surprised at how well Vermont has played thus far this year? Yes, I believed coach Kevin Sneddon on media day when he told me that he thought his team could compete. But right now they’re about to crack the top 10 in the USCHO.com poll!
If you look at the numbers, you can see why. The Cats have allowed just one power-play goal in four games and scored seven. Special teams are going to be critical this year, even more so than, say, last year as from what we’ve seen to this point, as we’re seeing as many five-minute majors Britney Spears has trucker caps.
Vermont is also getting good goaltending from Joe Fallon, a player who surprised many last year as a freshman. If you thought his 1.96 goals against average and .921 save percentage were good last year, you’ll be even more impressed with a 1.25 GAA and .935 save percentage through his first four games this year.
You also have to like the line of Jeff Corey-Torrey Mitchell-Brady Leisenring. Against Minnesota-Duluth, the trio posted 13 points in two games. The whole Minnesota-Duluth team only had four points in the series.
Is Vermont a contender? The Catamounts certainly have my vote right now. Still to be told, though, is whether or not this play will continue inside of Hockey East.
Tidal Wave in the Atlantic
Maybe it’s appropriate that Atlantic Hockey is named after an ocean because it seems that tides are turning.
The league that I’ve referred to as “fledgling” has never had much success outside of conference play. Entering this season, most of the non-league success for Atlantic Hockey came against either College Hockey America (that’s like beating up your twin brother) and the ECACHL (and that’s like beating up your eight-year-old brother when you’re seven).
In total, the league had just two wins against either Hockey East or WCHA opponents. Until now.
This past weekend, Holy Cross went into Massachusetts and stole a game and Connecticut played Merrimack tight on back-to-back nights and split the weekend series. Add to those a Mercyhurst win at Minnesota-Duluth and a Connecticut tie against Union two weekends ago, and it seems that the fledgling isn’t so fledgling anymore.
Before we go picking Canisius to make the Frozen Four, though, we do have to be realistic. It’s likely that the league will still, come year’s end, have the worst out-of-conference record. The bottom of the barrel teams stand little to no chance against opponents from the “Big Four” conferences.
But for now, we do have to look at the fact that the league’s top teams are beginning to hold their own against some pretty good hockey teams. That alone is reason to celebrate.
It’s not the biggest upset in the world, but Rensselaer’s 3-2 road win at Boston University on Friday night was worthy of note.
Beating the Terriers in their barn is noteworthy enough, but the fact that the Engineers needed to overcome a two-goal deficit nearly midway was what opened my eyes.
Add to that the fact that Mathias Lange was once again impressive in net, making 29 saves (for the record, BU outshot RPI, 31-13), and coach Dan Fridgen has to be at least a little bit impressed with his team’s performance. Personally, having seen him play, I think that Lange is a fundamentally sound goaltender whose play could give RPI a lot of hope this season.
Sardines at Matthews
Hats off to Northeastern and new head coach Greg Cronin for packing Matthews Arena on Saturday night for the team’s home opener against Boston College. Reports are that the old barn was near overflow with 5,402 actual fannies in the seats (as opposed to the weak “tickets sold” that a lot of schools report).
It’s the biggest crowd that old Matthews Arena has seen since November 3, 1995, when 5,750 saw Boston University beat NU, 6-4.
The fact that Northeastern was able to steal a tie had to make most of the NU fans in attendance want to come back for more. Heck, if college hockey had adopted the shootout format like the NHL, Cronin’s bunch might have been able to hook for life some of those freshmen with moldable minds.
Pictures at an Exhibition
Was anyone concerned that both Harvard and St. Lawrence dropped exhibition games this weekend to Canadian schools?
Harvard fell on Friday night to McGill, 4-3 (for the record, Dartmouth beat McGill, 5-2, on Saturday), and St. Lawrence lost to Western Ontario, 4-1, on Saturday (a team that Clarkson squeaked by the night before).
So is there any reason for concern? Personally, I think it’s hard to tell.
The thing that most don’t realize when they look at the scores of these games is that, often time, coaches are playing every single player (the rules allow coaches to dress more than the 18-skater, three-goaltender limit for exhibition games).
Also, as was the case for Western Ontario against St. Lawrence, the Canadian teams often treat these games like their Stanley Cup and come up with huge performances (the Western Ontario goaltender had 59 saves!).
Truth be told, these exhibition games are pretty much a no-win situation for the U.S. schools. This year, to boot, it seems that many became even worse losses than just on the scorecard.
In BU’s exhibition against Toronto, top forward John Laliberte was given a game disqualification, which carries with it a one-game suspension, for hitting from behind under the stricter enforcement of that penalty this season (see above, for the Britney Spears reference). The last thing coach Jack Parker wanted was to open his season without his best player.
Hence, you’re seeing the trend that a lot of schools are no longer scheduling exhibition games. Add to the fact that teams are trying to squeeze in as many games as possible, the trend these days is to start playing as many “real” games as soon as possible, even if it means doing so in the first week after practice opens.