This Week in the ECACHL: Nov. 2, 2006

Get ready for the thunder; league play is under way.

The ECACHL schedule features a full slate of games this weekend, each team playing two games with league points at stake.

Dartmouth and RPI are rolling, Cornell is heating up, Yale is on an upset-high. Colgate, Union and St. Lawrence are hungry for decisive, streak-starting weekends, while Princeton, Quinnipiac and Clarkson are ready to kick it into gear. Unknown quantities Harvard and Brown — they’re eager to make themselves known.

So to quote celebrated boxing referee/television judge/claymation character Mills Lane, let’s get it on!

(Not to be confused with the similar lyric by Marvin Gaye, which carries decidedly less clout, contextually.)

A welcome second home

The Bobcats are only commencing their second season in the league, but neither the team nor its coach are starry-eyed novices to this game.

In fact, four of head coach Rand Pecknold’s charges had major-conference experience before ever donning the Blue and Gold.

The ‘Cats co-leading scorer, Dan Travis, is playing his first games for QU, but already has two years of NCAA games, three seasons of practices, and four years of college classes under his belt. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward will turn 23 three days after Thanksgiving, and has two goals and four assists so far this season.

Travis transferred to Hamden from UNH after the 2004-05 season, a sophomore campaign in which he registered a lone assist in nine games. (He finished with a 2-4–6 line in 14 games his freshman year with New Hampshire.)

Coincidentally, Travis’ classmate and current teammate John Doherty is also a former one: Doherty left UNH the same offseason, after a four-game sophomore year and a 15-game frosh campaign.

Posting one goal and two assists in his UNH career, the 6-foot-4, 235 Doherty independently selected Quinnipiac as his new program of choice. Doherty has played in all six games, and has a power-play goal and an assist to show for them.

“I remember a conversation I had with [the late Maine head coach] Shawn Walsh,” said Pecknold, “and he said one thing that helped put his team over the hump [in the early-mid ’80s] were some key transfers.” (Walsh’s ’85-86 team was 11-28-1, and 12-29-1 the previous year. The next season, the Black Bears were in the NCAA tournament… and in ’87-88, they were 34-8-2 and in the Frozen Four. By the spring of 1993, they were national champions.)

“I figured he knew what he was talking about, and I took it to heart,” said an understated Pecknold.

Both Travis and Doherty sat out the obligatory ’05-06 season for transferring, and each has one more year of eligibility left. This is thanks to the NCAA’s four-years-in-five rule, which states that a player is eligible to play four years of a sport within the first five years after he initially enrolls in college. Effectively, this means that a player can transfer or red-shirt a season and still get his full four seasons.

The other two transfers on Pecknold’s roster are also Hockey East expatriates: former UMass-Lowell goaltender Peter Vetri, and ex-Vermont Catamount forward Mike Atkinson. Vetri will have two years of eligibility left and Atkinson three, after both sit their post-transfer season out.

Princeton on the prowl

In an unusual circumstance, Guy Gadowsky and Co. predetermined that underclassman goaltenders Zane Kalemba and Thomas Sychterz would split playing time in the Tigers’ season opener versus Bentley.

Was the staff treating the matchup as a sort of second exhibition contest?

“No, not at all. It was a regular season game and we were playing to win,” said Gadowsky.

“Unfortunately, the NCAA only allows one exhibition game a year,” continued the coach. “We just wanted to get our goalies some more time, and give them a better look before league games started.”

In the end, Gadowsky was impressed with Kalemba’s half-game shutout (the Tigers settled for a 3-3 draw) and is rewarding the freshman with the start on Friday night in Troy. The coach didn’t rule out a full weekend’s work for the Garden State native, either, stating that Saturday’s spot at Union had yet to be filled.

Overall, Gadowsky’s primary concern is getting his 10 freshmen acclimated to college hockey, as well as arranging cohesive and effective line combinations.

“One of the pairs we really like together is [Kevin] Westgarth and [Kyle] Hagel,” he said. Playing a similar style, “they’re all about crashing the net… they’re a couple of big strong guys” who fit a power-forward mold, Gadowsky said.

The eighth-year college coach, in his third year as Tiger bench boss, was also pleased with the potential combination of Mark Magnowski, Darroll Powe and Cam MacIntyre. The freshman-senior-freshman (respectively) trio has generated a lot of energy in games and practices so far, he said.

Coaches’ favorite problem

There will probably be a few goaltending tandems in the league while the season is young, at Princeton, St. Lawrence, Union or Harvard. But the matchup in the Rensselaer crease might just have the legs to go all year. Jordan Alford and Mathias Lange have split time so far this season, and coach Seth Appert is in no hurry to pick one over the other.

“They’re both very good goalies in their own rights,” said the boss, who also said he is unsure about who will start this weekend’s games.

Lange tied top-five Boston University in the season opener at Houston Field House, was in net for a 5-1 loss at Denver, and held Colgate to one goal against on 21 shots in the Governor’s Cup championship game.

Alford beat Denver with a remarkable 38-save performance and defeated Union in a 3-3 (4-3?) shootout victory in the Gov’s Cup opener.

Union’s Williams retires prematurely

On a somber note, Nate Leaman and Union Hockey regretfully announced the withdrawal of freshman goaltender Shaun Williams from the program on Wednesday.

The Erie, Penn., native never got to face his first collegiate shot, instead electing to hang up his skates after undergoing knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. (This was erroneously reported as a torn MCL in last week’s column.)

“I feel really bad for Shaun,” Leaman said. “It’s a really tough situation. He’s had four surgeries already [including the most recent]… I think he just got tired of waking up every morning in such intense pain.”

Leaman is unsure if or how he will replace Williams as of late; in the meantime, junior Justin Mrazek and freshman Rich Sillery will hold down the fort for the Dutchmen. Mrazek has started five games so far with a 2-1-2 record and .911 save percentage. Sillery was solid in his fill-in time against Northeastern, and played in the 8-5 offense-apalooza loss (with an empty-net goal against) to Quinnipiac in the Governor’s Cup consolation.

On a lighter note, freshman defender Mike Wakita is recovering nicely from his own knee surgery and is expected to practice again next week.

Leaman is eager to see how his top two lines perform this weekend. Olivier Bouchard, Jason Walters and Josh Coyle have already combined for seven goals and nine assists, while Augie DiMarzo, T.J. Fox and Mario Valery-Trabucco have summed six goals and 11 assists on a freshman (Valery-Trabucco)-sophomore line.

Bears feeling trigger-happy

Brown head coach Roger Grillo is pleased with the depth and skill of his offense so far this year.

This comes as a relief to the Bears faithful, who endured a 3-14-5 ECACHL record last year, including the lowest-scoring offense in the league (45 goals in 22 games).

“I’m really happy with the forwards as of late,” Grillo began. “We have three solid lines… [senior forward Brian] Ihnacak is playing the best hockey he’s played since he’s been here… and two of our freshmen who were injured are now healthy again.”

He’s referring to Jordan Pietrus and Sean McGonagle, who were each out for the last two weeks with a hand injury and deep thigh bruise, respectively.

As for this weekend’s tilts, Grillo stated that “special teams are critical.” Citing three power-play goals by Merrimack last week — the only goals the Warriors mustered in the 3-3 draw — the coach is asking his defense to step up.

“We deserved the tie, if not a win,” Grillo said of his squad’s performance at the ‘Mack.

Snapshots

Dartmouth will be without the services of senior blueliner Grant Lewis this weekend. In what is not expected to be a “long-term issue,” according to coach Bob Gaudet, Lewis sustained an unnamed injury early in the first period against Harvard last Friday, and will hopefully be able to return next week.

Mark Sibbald is slated to start Friday’s game for Brown at home against Cornell. Also out of Providence, junior forward Seth Seidman officially withdrew from the team to focus on his academic pursuits.

Rensselaer’s Governor’s Cup championship was the first tournament title of any kind for the Engineers since winning their own holiday tournament in December of 2001.

Harvard’s Paul Dufault has been cleared to skate again after suffering a hairline fracture in his leg, but is not expected to be available for the Crimson’s grueling three-game, five-day slugfest with St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Boston College. Fortunately for Big H, all three games are at the Bright Center.

Cornell senior defenseman Dan Glover is expected to be out of the lineup until after Christmas as he recovers from hip surgery. The big Albertan will be missed, and having only seven pure defenders on the roster will keep head coach Mike Schafer busy, as well.

Interactive reading

Two things I now have to ask/offer as your faithful reporter.

First, I’d like to give the ever-popular Bill Simmons-style “mailbag” idea a shot. Rip on me, correct me, ask questions, propose answers. Journalism should never be a one-way street. I’m no Bill Simmons (I can’t stand basketball, I’m not rich and famous, I don’t hang with the stars, and I’m not an L.A. sellout… oh yeah, and I recognize hockey as a legitimate sport worthy of comment), but at the very least, I might be able to get some of you fanatics the answers you seek regarding your teams’ trends and newsbreaks.

Second, I confess that there are ECACHL venues I have yet to visit. I’d like to know what upcoming home game(s) I should attend this season for your program, and why. (Extra points for the best microbrew, and establishment at which to procure said microbrew in the immediate vicinity of your arena.)

All comments/proposals/threats/drunken late-night emails should be sent to [email protected].

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