With the holidays fast approaching, they say that this is the season of giving. So I figured it might be a nice time to do some giving myself, and hand out some midseason awards in the East.
You won’t find any MVP or Rookie of the Year awards here, though. I much prefer to look at things through glasses of a different color (actually, some folks who don’t exactly like what I write might think it’s about time that I actually started wearing glasses).
Here, then, are my picks for those on the right coast deserving of a little recognition this holiday season:
Best Imitation of a Heart Surgeon: Maine’s goaltending duo of Mike Lundin and Ben Bishop
It was just days before the season was scheduled to start, and suddenly Maine hospitals were crowded with Black bear fans with collective heart attacks when they heard the news that all-star goaltender Jimmy Howard had decided not to return in favor of the NHL. But, alas, two young men came to the rescue, reviving the public around the state of Maine, and each posting numbers that impressed. It wasn’t long before Black Bear fans realized that, when it came to goaltending, there was no need to worry.
Most Impressive Start, Even Though No One Seems to Realize: Providence
Go ahead. Ask your average college hockey fan which team stands in first place in the Hockey East today. You’ll hear Boston College, Maine, New Hampshire, maybe even Boston University all thrown into the mix. Few, though, would believe it is Providence. Rookie head coach Tim Army has the Friars playing their best hockey in nearly a decade, ranked 17th in the country, and currently tied with BC for first place with an 8-2-1 league record. The Friars are using a run-and-gun offensive style that Army says he always liked to play himself and taught in his days coaching in the pro ranks. Though many thought that the early success was due to a light schedule, the Friars quieted critics with back-to-back wins at home over Maine and BU.
The Identity Crisis Award: Mercyhurst defenseman Jamie Hunt
Maybe someone should tell Jamie Hunt that he’s a defenseman. Truth is, he probably wouldn’t care. Hunt is one of the most talented offensive players in Atlantic Hockey, quarterbacks a power play better than most in the game, and at this point in the year is tied for the national lead among defensemen in scoring with 27 points. Ironically, Hunt doesn’t even lead his team in scoring. He leaves that to forward Scott Champagne, who, with 28 points, just saw a 35-game scoring streak come to an end recently.
The Martha Stewart Memorial Award: Canisius
Once again this year, Canisius hockey players ran into trouble. Though the college isn’t saying what led to the dismissal of Mike and Matt Ruberto, Craig Nooyen and Ryan Hatch, one thing can be sure, this program is in major need to staying out of the spotlight. Since the dismissal, the team is 0-4-0.
The Happy to Lend a Hand Award: Quinnipiac defenseman Reid Cashman
A year ago, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold went on a crusade to tell everyone just how great defenseman Reid Cashman is. The problem was, playing in Atlantic Hockey, few believed him. So Cashman went out this year and proved his coach right. Playing a tougher ECACHL schedule, Cashman is 12th in the nation in points (25) and his 23 assists tie him with Bowling Green’s Alex Foster and Denver’s Paul Stastny for the national lead. Pecknold’s campaign worked, and Cashman proved it.
The “Under the Radar Screen” Award: Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio
There’s no doubt that DeGregorio seems to be trying to keep a low profile this season. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that he doesn’t want to be framed for destroying College Hockey America. When DeGregorio and Atlantic Hockey lured Air Force in this past summer as its 10th member, there didn’t seem to be too much concern that the CHA would suddenly be under the NCAA minimum requirement of six members for a tournament autobid. Kennesaw State, a school that was in talks with the CHA, was planning on adding Division I hockey and the CHA seemed the perfect fit. But when talks with Kennesaw broke off this past fall, it was obvious that the CHA is in a lot of trouble. Though it may seem fair to point a finger at Atlantic Hockey, if anyone is to be blamed it’s the CHA. Since its inception, the league has done little to lure teams in or convert top level Division II and III programs. That, in my opinion, is what will lead to the demise of the CHA if it continues.
Most in Need of a Life Vest: Massachusetts-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald
MacDonald told me at the beginning of the season that there was no need for panic when his club struggled in the first couple of weeks. He said that panic is what you do when you realize you’ve run out of time. Well, coach, you might want to start panicking. At the halfway point, MacDonald’s River Hawks are 5-10-0 and 3-7-0 in Hockey East, leaving them in a three-way tie for seventh place. Seeing as one of those three teams won’t make the playoffs, it seems as if this River Hawks ship may be taking on a little water, meaning that it’s time to man the life boats.
And on a More Serious Note
I want to wish all of our readers here at USCHO Extra a very happy holidays, no matter what it is that you might celebrate. When TMQ: East returns in two weeks it will be 2006, so please let me pass along a Happy New Year to all of you as well. When we return next year (yeah, I was that kid in school who would say something goofy like, “See you next year,” when we were leaving for Christmas break) we’ll have a complete look back at all of the holiday tournaments as well as a look ahead to the league playoff races. Until then, I hope Santa, or whatever mythical character you believe gives you gifts, is generous.