This Week in ECAC Hockey: Nov. 1, 2007

Welcome, welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another season of chair-kicking, trash-talking, ego-deflating, weekend-ruining, zebra-hating ECAC Hockey action!

Everyone’s mum before the games, so the controversy is pretty minimal so far. We’ll be sure to catch up with the most loquacious personalities afterwards, though.

Big Greenhorns

Dartmouth is a little wet behind the ears this season after taking a massive roster hit between defections and graduation. Head coach Bob Gaudet is anything but inexperienced, however, and he is enjoying the challenges and achievements of his remodeled program.

“This is by far the youngest team I’ve ever had,” he said last week. “It’s a lot of fun for me.”

His roster averages just over one year of experience … between 27 listed players, the mean year is sophomore plus a quarter, if you will.

“There are a lot of positive things that can be taken from seeing something grow.”

The 21st-year NCAA coach has been leading the Green since his seniors were in elementary school. His experience with two decades of ups and downs — not including varsity years playing for the Green himself — allow him to see this campaign in a rich and optimistic manner. Like a video-gamer embracing the obstacles of the next level, Gaudet says he’s thrilled to coach such a talented and malleable squad.

“Getting the potential out of your team … getting them to the next level … is really fulfilling,” he said. “[The goal of my entire career] has been to try to play literally one shift at a time.”

While Gaudet falls under the category of “richly seasoned,” as far as coaches go, he’s certainly not one to avoid a competitive statement every now and again.

“I’d put our recruiting class up against anybody’s,” he said.

Vermont down, 28 … or 32 … or 36 … or more … to go. Coach has plenty of time.

Big-headed Bobcats?

Quinnipiac started the season ranked 14th in the nation in the Division I poll, and promptly fell off the list after being swept at Air Force. For a team picked by some to make a run at the Frozen Four, what happened?

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Air Force,” began coach Rand Pecknold. “Their goalie [Andrew Volkening] was great both nights, he made some great saves.

“We went into the weekend thinking shut down Eric Ehn [who had two assists on the weekend]. He was good, but it was all four lines [that hurt us],” he said.

However, Pecknold then focused on his own bench.

“We were flat. We were not anticipating, not jumping on pucks, not winning battles.

“We were pretty highly ranked before we played a game. Textbook coaching 101: thinking we were better than we are,” he explained.

“My top seven or eight players all played very poorly,” Pecknold added. “Not just on the weekend, but in all three games [thus far].”

Pecknold then praised some of his younger, hungrier charges for playing passionately in their meager ice time.

“Some of the best players were freshmen,” he said.

Apart from a case of overconfidence, Pecknold also repeated his assertion that the graduation of All-American defenseman Reid Cashman has seriously hampered the Bobcats’ special-teams productivity.

“There’s definitely a void on the power play,” he lamented. “Reid was probably one of the best four or five power-play kids in the nation last year.”

The ‘Cats have so far been declawed by the opposition, running at only 15 percent on the man-advantage (three for 20).

Engineering My Embarrassment

Just kidding; I’m really not egotistical enough to believe that what I say is in any way, shape or form “bulletin board” quality. That said, Seth Appert — among others — took a moment to point out to me that my preseason preview for Rensselaer was, shall we say, a tad misinformed.

He wasn’t talking about the rankings; no coaches pay much attention to those, of course. The bone he picked was regarding the irresponsible absence-of-mention of such impact freshmen as Tyler Helfrich, Chase Polacek or Bryan Brutlag, who have combined for three goals and nine assists already. So, to those players and all you true ‘Tute diehards: my bad.

Beyond my stunning incompetence, Appert also mentioned that — oh yeah! — the Engineers are having a pretty good season so far, too.

“We’re getting very good leadership,” he said. “You may not see them leading the scoring, but [they’re] doing a very good job in the locker room and on the ice [leading by example].”

The four senior skaters — Andrew Lord, Jonathon Ornelas, Jake Morissette and Dan Peace — have accumulated four goals and eight assists in 24 total games. Senior Jordan Alford hasn’t done too poorly either.

“We’re getting very good goaltending. [Mathias] Lange and Alford have had very good practices, very good workouts, and very good summers.”

As a tangent, Appert discussed a remark he made a week or two ago, stating that his goaltenders needed to stop at least 91 percent of their shots in order for the team to be successful.

“If you look around, very few teams have had success … without 91 [percent] or better goaltending,” he said, citing his own experience at Denver, but also pointing toward recent Frozen Fours.

Rensselaer’s current tandem has combined for a 1.56 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage, including three shutouts in four starts by Alford. Ninety-one percent may end up a sour disappointment at this rate.

Coaches’ Corner

Ah, if only we had the surliness, the self-righteousness, the outdated macho brashness, the Quebec-hating brain-bendingly bedazzling Don Cherry on board. How I’d love to worship and cripple him and his stubborn arrogance, all at the same time.

But seriously, in the first of this season’s weekly coaches’ polls, the ECAC branch of the fraternity was asked two questions: what have you found to be the biggest misconceptions or myths about hockey held by the average fan, and can a goalie rotation be successful indefinitely, or does one goalkeeper have to take the reins at a certain point?

The results were mixed for the first query, but surprisingly uniform for the latter.

One coach doesn’t feel that the general public has enough appreciation for how quickly decisions have to be made on the ice. He said that plays seem to develop more slowly and much more conspicuously from the stands, whereas the actual speed of the game requires major decisions in fractions of a second.

Another bench boss said that many fans fail to comprehend exactly how many different hats a head coach has to wear, from recruiting, to admissions, to scholastics, to actually training and coaching a team. He focused on recruiting, which is absolutely true: these guys log more miles than astronauts in their scouting and recruitment trips.

The final notable response to question one is the idea that “goalies are crazy.” Let’s face it, with the amount of protection goaltenders get from the latest innovations in equipment and the rule book alike, they’re probably the sanest ones on the ice.

As far as rotating goalies, the league’s coaches were pretty much on the same page: yes, it can work.

Conditions like skill, durability, and personality all have to be compatible of course, but many of the responding coaches cited Denver’s championship duo of Peter Mannino and Glenn Fisher, or Maine’s Mike Dunham/Garth Snow tandem, or even Quinnipiac’s Jamie Holden and Justin Eddy a half-dozen years ago.

Got any questions you’d like to ask the coaches? Keep it clean, but send it here. [email protected].