November Musings

Some opinions on the first few weeks of the college hockey season …

Former Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin mentioned as a GM candidate in Philadelphia

Ok. Whenever a team goes through turmoil, famous alumni names come up. That is always the case in Philadelphia, where hiring anyone without a connection to the Flyers often raises eyebrows. This one raised mine pretty high.

Former Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin's name has apparently surfaced in Philadelphia.

Former Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin’s name has apparently surfaced in Philadelphia.

So where did Poulin’s name come up? Former assistant GM Paul Holmgren is now entrenched as the GM, no more interim tag. The former Flyers’ coach and player will ride out the season. Poulin was mentioned in an article as having been contacted by the Flyers about the position, which he denied. I’m sure someone from Philly floated a friendly gesture his way being that he has to be considered one of the best players ever to skate at the Spectrum in the black and orange.

Well-spoken, intelligent, friendly, and a capable executive, Poulin would probably make a good NHL GM, and after some time on the job, a very good one.

However, this question has to be asked. Why would anyone who has the job he has at Notre Dame in athletic development (remember, he’s an alumnus also) ever want to leave? Why would Poulin want to trade a very happy existence in Notre Dame athletics, and a challenging one — he is responsible for fundraising to get a new hockey arena built — for the unsafe and unchartered waters of an NHL GM’s job?

This spring will mark the 20th anniversary of Poulin, then a third-year player and captain of the Flyers, helping the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals. That season they lost to Edmonton in Game 7 by a 3-1 score, Poulin’s closest encounter with hoisting hockey’s holy grail. He might have never sipped from the Cup, but to consider his hockey career anything but a success would be dead wrong.

Boston College sweeps Wisconsin, but loses some games you’d think the Eagles would have won

I’m the wrong guy to say bad things about BC. So I’ll point out what I have seen live or on film and go from there.

This is a strange team which has a ton of talent. Outside of Brian Elliott of Wisconsin, Cory Schneider would be my choice in goal if I needed to win a big game, home or road. Brian Boyle looks like a man among boys at times (very much like Greg Moore of Maine did last season), and Joe Rooney has been pretty darn good through the first month of the season.

So, how is it that they can sweep the Badgers in Wisconsin (then again, ask Denver that same question, they did it as well), yet lose at home to Notre Dame, lose at Providence, and lose at Harvard?

Before fans of the Crimson, Irish, and Friars start sending hate mail, let us examine the circumstances around those games.

The Irish are the most improved team in the NCAA this side of Michigan Tech. Jeff Jackson’s crew is playing disciplined and controlled hockey. David Brown looks like he is making a case for himself as a top-five netminder in the NCAA. Notre Dame caught BC taking it a little too lightly in what has become a pretty interesting rivalry, and BC never recovered from the early onslaught administered by the Irish.

BC went to Providence after the emotional sweep of Wisconsin, the program that beat the Eagles 2-1 in the 2006 NCAA title game. The Eagles returned home from Madison Sunday, and played at Providence Tuesday. The Friars are also improving under coach Tim Army, but have had a rough start. However, BC was emotionally spent, and probably physically spent from the trip. This one you could sweep under the rug, which I’d do if they weren’t beaten so soundly by Harvard.

My theory is that the best thing a team can do when it is slumping is to play a game that raises its emotional and physical levels. Harvard, then 0-3, got two of them back-to-back in BC on a Tuesday at home, and then at Cornell on Friday. As head coach Ted Donato said Tuesday morning, “I’d agree with that theory, and right now every game for us is a rivalry-type game because of the hole we’re in.”

BC didn’t play well as a team against Harvard, and conversely, Harvard was the better team in front of the opponent’s net. BC had chances, and ran into a great effort by freshman goalie Kyle Richter (no relation to Mike, in case you were wondering). There were times that Harvard struggled with BC’s speed, but kept battling back. The Crimson won 4-0. BC had its chances, but wasn’t in sync. They looked at times like a team playing together for the first time, not one that should probably return to the Frozen Four.

Don’t write the obit for BC. Hockey East play, where the Eagles have dominated in recent years, is starting to ramp up. On the horizon is a huge game on Dec. 1 against Boston University on CSTV. What did we just say about playing a rival when your game is slightly lower than it should be?

This weekend BC plays at Boston-based rival Northeastern, then at Maine. Home games against UNH and BU up next. Expect BC to have a very competitive four-game stretch that should give fans some insight into what the Eagles’ lineup can do this season.

Army is 6-1-1 and in first place in Atlantic Hockey

Well, a tie for first, actually, with Sacred Heart. Each has played a league-leading eight games, three more than RIT, which sits behind them. But who cares about small details? Army is on top of Atlantic Hockey!

I haven’t seen the Black Knights of the Hudson play yet this season, so I’m a little uncomfortable talking about their success without a first-hand viewing. However, I have seen Army enough the past two seasons to know that Brian Riley’s crew will outwork any team on any night and then let the chips fall where they may.

Army has shown that its work ethic is unquestioned, but will fall short on the scoreboard because the Black Knights don’t have the high-end talent to provide depth to their top players. That is understandable because the service academies will never compete for recruits with the likes of Minnesota, BU, or Michigan State.

That said, no one gets every last drop of effort from his players quite the way Riley does. That is evident with a 4-1 road record so far including a sweep at Connecticut. Sophomore Josh Kassel, replacing Brad Roberts (not an easy thing to do), has a 2.19 goals against average and opened the season with a 2-0 shutout of AIC. Defenseman Tim Manthey and forward Luke Flicek both are averaging a point a game, and defensemen Casey Bickley and Chase Podsaid both have the ability to generate offense from the backline.

Keep an eye on Riley’s crew for two reasons. One, they are a great watch. They play hard and smart and bring it with everything they have. Second, they just might make a run at the top half of Atlantic Hockey. If anything, they’ll be a consistent pain in the neck to anyone who plays them.


The $64,000 question is who wins the WCHA, and does the WCHA win a national title for the sixth consecutive year?

Wisconsin is real good. Jack Skille, Kyle Klubertanz, and Ross Carlson have been hurt. That’s two-thirds of the top line and a very good offensive defenseman who have missed games. On a team that was savaged by graduation and early departures (Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl are both playing in the minors), the Badgers are finding out who they are. Elliott in net makes them legit. Great leadership from Andrew Joudrey, Jake Dowell, and Jeff Likens make them accountable. They’ll be in the mix.

Minnesota lost everyone, and is still flying. Freshmen Jay Barriball and Kyle Okposo look great. To quote former Gophers coach and current TV analyst Doug Woog, Okposo is “an oak tree with arms,” referring to his physical stature on the ice. Judging by his scoring, the leaves at the end of those branches are pretty capable.

There’s the usual cast of characters at the top of the conference, North Dakota, Denver and Colorado College are also recovering from losing players to graduation and early departures. CC lost the super scoring duo of Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling to graduation, and Brian Salcido left early. Denver bid adieu to college hockey’s best little guy, Gabe Gauthier, in addition to Hobey Baker winner Matt Carle and Paul Stastny. North Dakota is replacing more key guys than we have space to mention.

That allows much-improved St. Could State and Michigan Tech to join the fray. And with scoring down in the conference, it becomes very unpredictable.

Minnesota leads the league with a 4-0-2 record, and has averaged four goals a game in that span. NoDak is scoring at about the same pace. In third is Denver at 4-2, which is coming off a sweep of the Badgers in Madison (where George Gwozdecky bested former Badgers teammate Mike Eaves in the two game set).

Then in fourth sit Tech, Wisconsin, and St. Cloud. Tech has two games in hand on the others. All three have the same goals for-goals against differential, zero. Hockey sense states that right now, whoever builds the better differential from here on out stays no lower than fourth all season.

Colorado College should be granted a slight reprieve this season. Replacing Sterling and Sertich, a classic hockey combo, is like finding the next Tkachuk and Amonte. CC has seven goals in four league games, and will be a work in progress this season. However, Scott Owens will never let the Tigers rest on their laurels, so expect a better finish than start for CC.

This weekend the Badgers visit Minnesota and Tech plays at Denver.

No. 4 Michigan State at No. 5 Notre Dame?

The No. 4 Spartans don’t surprise many. They have a good team that will only get better as they get their personnel in place. MSU has shown that it usually finishes much stronger than it starts, and the Spartans’ start hasn’t been bad.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame is a bit of an eye-opener. However, ND’s slogan last season was “waking the echoes of a new era.” The Fighting Irish have woken more than echoes — they woke up the whole country. Showing great improvement over their slow start last season, which finished remarkably well, ND is out of the gate quickly.

Those two take the national stage on CSTV Friday night at 8 p.m. Eastern. If their hockey game looks anything like the football game these two schools played earlier this year, it should be pretty entertaining.

For those who like this type of cross-pollination stuff, consider the family ties of this hockey rivalry. ND coach Jeff Jackson played at Michigan State, while Rick Comley, bench boss at MSU, has a daughter who is an ND alum.