Coach’s Notebook

Random thoughts this Thanksgiving weekend…

• I really like the Minnesota power play: Phil Kessel and Ryan Potulny on their off wings (Kessel on the left, Potulny on the right), and Blake Wheeler in the slot. Lefty Alex Goligoski plays his side, as does righty Chris Harrington. Sets up an interesting situation, as any short pass leads to a one-timer. If you’re the opposition, do you a) worry about Kessel because he’s the No. 1 option, b) worry about Potulny, who might have the best wrist shot in college hockey, or c) think about what line you’ll roll out of the power play after giving up the goal?

• Speaking of power plays, anyone else notice that Michigan had scored four power-play goals in back-to-back games in wins at Fairbanks and Notre Dame? Eight PPGs in two games away from Yost. Pretty impressive.

• Speaking of Notre Dame, Dave Poulin gave his heart and soul to rebuild Notre Dame hockey. Now he’s building Notre Dame athletics. Poulin recently gave a tour of the new training facility, a $22 million work, to CSTV hockey producer Ross Molloy and play-by-play man Matt McConnell. That same facility was toured that day by Regis Philbin (a Notre Dame alum), and many other national bigwigs have been through the doors. It is generally acknowledged that the Green Bay Packers have the best training facilities in the NFL. When Packers brass saw the new building in South Bend, their reaction was, in a word, “Wow!”

• The Minnesota drinking situation. Well, not a pretty situation considering the football and basketball teams at Minnesota have had their public image problems in recent years. However, it was bogus journalism by some local station in sweeps times. However the Gophers handled it internally, it seems the fire has gone out of the story. Congrats to the college hockey media for treating the story for what it was, garbage. Imagine, underage athletes drinking beer; who could have guessed? However, if I remember correctly, no players were suspended. On the eve of the national championship game in 2004, Denver suspended Lukas Dora, its leading scorer, for the title game because of a rules infraction.

• Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to Brock Trotter of Denver. The left wing, on the big line with Gabe Gauthier and Ryan Dingle, was injured at North Dakota on Oct. 28. A lacerated Achilles tendon ended his season. From the looks of it, Trotter was off to a good start.

• Speaking of Denver, are there two more injured teams than the Pioneers and the Spartans of Michigan State? Gauthier, Corbin, Marcuzzi, Trotter? Similar to two years ago when the Pioneers got blitzed by injuries. “We didn’t have enough guys to practice some days,” said George Gwozdecky, their head coach. “We knew the injury bug really had hit when one of our guys, I think it was Jussi Halme, separated his shoulder taking a slapshot in warmups.”

• Moving back east, anyone notice that Boston University? The Terriers are an enigma. After back-to-back wins vs Vermont and at Maine two weeks ago, BU was beaten by UNH (ok, understandable), and UMass (harder to fathom). Then they rallied for a 2-2 tie against first-place Providence. Two good things for BU: one, that the Terriers overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie on the road. Two, “We needed to get our defense back in order again, and we played well defensively, all six defensemen and our four centers played very well in our own zone.” BU got the return trip from the Colorado schools (Denver on Friday and CC on Saturday) this weekend, after making that trip out west last November, and kicked off the weekend well with a 1-0 win against the Pioneers.

• So, who says eastern kids don’t play out west? Two good ones come back east this weekend on that trip. Denver defensemen Andrew Thomas of Bow, N.H., and Colorado College forward James Brannigan of Brooklyn, N.Y., reappear in their home region for the holidays. Both kids, overlooked by eastern schools, played in the USHL (Waterloo and Cedar Rapids, respectively) and were offered scholarships by Rocky Mountain teams. “That happens sometimes,” a WCHA coach told me recently. “The eastern schools see a kid a few times, playing in the Eastern Junior Hockey League or in prep school, and don’t pull the trigger. The kid goes to the USHL, where we see him, and we get lucky.”

• Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin gets the award for the best line of the year so far. After an early-season tie against BC, Cronin told the media “I told them that they worked hard. Whoop-de-doo, you’re supposed to work hard. You still didn’t win.” A thought on this, and I like this thinking. Too many coaches say the effort was there, we just didn’t get it done, but we didn’t quit. Gee, that’s great. You didn’t quit. Since when did not quitting become heroic? When you receive a scholarship (or a paycheck) to play hockey, I feel it is okay to presume your players will show up for games and practices prepared to work, skate hard from the time the gates open until they close. Win or lose, effort should be factored into the equation as something that will happen. The great coaches are the ones who do not allow players to be fooled into simply thinking that a good effort is an accomplishment. Those who have been there know you never mistake effort for execution! Of the two, effort is usually easier.

• Drew Stafford of North Dakota currently fronts a band along with teammate Jordan Parise. “Red Seal Peach” is the name. The are auditioning teammates for spots in the band.

• Keeping it simple is what coaches stress early in the season (all season, for that matter). Says North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, “At this point in the season, we try not to overload them. We’ll learn our opponents as the season goes on. Right now, we want to worry about ourselves.”

• Wes O’Neill, a junior defenseman at Notre Dame, had an interesting take on his stature in the lineup. “I may be a veteran, a third-year guy, but other than two guys on the defense, I’m still the youngest blueliner here.” He’s right. There are freshman and sophomore defensemen older than O’Neill, who was 17 as a freshman on a defense that included Brett Lebda (now with the Red Wings), Neil Komadoski, and Tommy Galvin. “I don’t pretend to be a big-wheel veteran. Coach just wants me to be myself,” he added.

• Denver’s Matt Carle loves to spend summers hiking and training in the mountains around his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. Notre Dame’s Tim Wallace likes to spend summer at home in that same locale fishing for silverback salmon. Colorado College goalie Drew O’Connell also lives there. Three pretty good players from the state of Alaska.

• Watch a game in the CCHA, then watch a game in the WCHA, and you will be convinced there are two different rulebooks. I hate getting on officials because their strings are being pulled by a higher authority, which leads me to this point. When did the WCHA decide it was going to allow its officials to call games the old way, while the CCHA and Hockey East work hard to follow the mandate set forth by the NCAA in its rules enforcement crackdown? Contact to the head is supposed to be automatic. Ryan Dingle was elbowed in the melon so many times last Friday in Denver’s game vs Minnesota that I’m sure someone had to remind him where he lived after the game. Picks were set, sticks impeded progress, interference was rampant. So I ask, what set of rules are we playing by? Personally I hate penalty-filled games, and I do like to see good flow. Ticky-tack penalties ruin the game. Then again, when skill players are illegally impeded from playing to their capability, it robs the fans of the true beauty of this game: skill and flow. Hockey is a game of speed, skill, flow, passion, and emotion. Because of that, its almost impossible to officiate consistently. That is why there are so few good ones, like Hockey East’s Scott Hansen.

• Want to see old-time physical hockey? Watch North Dakota and Wisconsin. They legally beat the heck out of you. Bucky really wore down CC two weekends ago by finishing every check, and NoDak just hits every chance it gets, led by burly defenseman Matt Smaby. CC’s Lee Sweatt was physically abused by Wisconsin in their series in Madison recently. However, Sweatt earns my undying respect, because the more he got hit, the more he competed — the true sign of a true player.

• How about Matty Lange? RPI’s rookie sensation is 5-2-3 so far, and just notched his third ECACHL rookie of the week award. Lange boasts a 5-2-3 record, a .920 save percentage, and a 2.37 goals against average. Last weekend, he stopped 62 of 64 shots in a pair of 1-1 ties with No. 17 Colgate and No. 5 Cornell. Colgate scored 5-on-4, and Cornell scored 5-on-3. Lange is one cool customer in goal, one who never gets rattled after a bad goal (of which he does not give up many), and never gets too excited after a big win. After playing in Billings in the NAHL, he played a year in the Eastern Junior Hockey League with the Apple Core, and was heavily recruited by former Iona coach Frank Bretti, now an assistant with RPI. Head coach Dan Fridgen had a tough summer fending off critics of his program, so happy to report Fridgen battled through some adversity in recent seasons to get the Engineers back on the road to respectability.

• Want to watch an exciting player? Here’s Ryan Ginand of Northeastern. He was a pain in the neck to play against (and some of his teammates with the junior Bruins will also say to play with), but he is a high-energy guy who worked his way to Division I.

• Would someone tell the Moncton franchise in the QMJHL to kindly shut up? First they wreak havoc in Boston last fall by planting stories in the papers that Chris Bourque is about to leave BU to join them (which he did after realizing school wasn’t his thing, and hockey was). He left the team after last season. Now, just because Maine freshman Simon Denis-Pappin was seen talking with some of his buddies at a QMJHL game in Lewiston, Maine, Moncton once again is running a story that Pappin is about to jump ship. My CSTV colleague Adam Wodon called Pappin, who was more than willing to say that Moncton is full of hot air (actually, in their rink, when the big garage door is open, its really cold air) and that he is staying with the Black Bears.

• Interesting take by one assistant coach in Hockey East. “There are just way too many junior teams in this region, and a lot of them are really bad. My feeling is that there are not enough midget AAA teams, and that junior killed midget hockey in the east. AAA teams like Victory Honda, Honeybaked, and Compuware could probably beat any junior team outside of the Eastern Junior League. They prove that every year at the Northwoods Tourney.”

• The Gophers are a big-rink team, but they looked okay at Duluth on the small ice, and in the small rink in high altitude in Denver went 1-0-1. They played at No. 1 Michigan on Friday night and won, and are at Munn Arena Saturday night against Michigan State. When you have that much skill, you could play in the old Boston Garden and still compete.

• Those games are part of the College Hockey Showcase, which makes sure that big-time programs Michigan and Michigan State get a chance to play former conference rivals Minnesota and Wisconsin. Last season, Minnesota won big against the Michigan schools in Minny. It’s the Big Ten on ice.

• Speaking of the Big Ten on ice, the spectacle of a hockey game on the field in Green Bay is pretty cool. No, actually, its pretty cold. I’m guessing that if it is that cold, Wisconsin and Ohio State hold back the studs for fear of injury (hamstrings hate sub-zero weather, and so do goalies’ hands in their catching gloves). How about the stripes? That metal whistle should feel lovely after it is frozen and pressed against one’s lips. This game is a great idea. This game in February is a little shaky.

• Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, especially to my friend Jerry York of Boston College. When one survives a cancer scare like he had in August, Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning.

• To the coaches, players, officials, trainers, equipment managers, student managers, and SIDs who make this game work, we all thank you!

Dave Starman is national columnist for, and the analyst for CSTV’s broadcasts of college hockey. Previously, he coached in both the minor leagues and in junior hockey for 15 years. He is currently special assistant coach for the EJHL’s New York Apple Core, as well as the Northeast scout for the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks.