There is no doubt many of us are working to drop some of the weight we put on over the holidays. The same can be said for the NCHA and MCHA teams as they gear up for the second half of the season. In fact, many have already gotten action in since we last visited, and we already have a little bit of a shakeup in the USCHO.com Division III poll
St. Norbert, following a perfect December, has tightened its vice grip on the top ranking, earning all but one of the first place votes. River Falls remains in the No. 6 position while Stout dropped one spot to land at No. 8. Riding a four game losing streak, MSOE is no longer in the â€˜others receiving votesâ€™ category, leaving Adrian as the lone MCHA team to be receiving votes.
This weekend brings the MCHA resuming conference action, while the NCHA will finish off its dismantling of the MIAC in Interlock play.
As if holding the all-time Division III records for career shutouts and longest shutout streak (among others) wasnâ€™t enough, St. Norbert senior goaltender Kyle Jones now owns perhaps the most prestigious goaltending record in college hockey.
Jones garnered his 73rd career win on December 29, surpassing Plattsburgh Stateâ€™s Rick Strack for the all-time D-III lead, as the Green Knights defeated Curry 5-2 in the opening round of the Pathfinder Bank Oswego Hockey Classic in Oswego,N.Y.
Though Jones did not see action in the contest., the Green Knights went on to defeat Amherst 3-1 in the championship game.
After his 17th career shutout last weekend against MSOE, Jones is now holds a ludicrous career record of 74-10-6, one that will likely only improve as the season progresses.
The Green Knights werenâ€™t the only NCHA team to head east over break, as Lake Forest and St. Scholastica made trips of their own.
The Foresters hit the road to partake in the Middlebury Hockey Classic in Middlebury, VT. Hockey aside, Forester head coach Tony Fritz views tournaments like these as a great experience for anyone involved.
â€œThings went extremely well,â€ said Fritz. â€œIt was a tough trip. We flew into Manchester, bussed over to Middlebury. Buses, planes, the whole deal: it went extremely well. They are incredibly good hosts and nothing could have been better.
â€œItâ€™s a great experience, especially going to a facility like (Middleburyâ€™s). The people are phenomenal, they are such great hosts. The list goes on and on, I just love the way they do things.â€
As far as the hockey goes, the Foresters picked up their second win of the season by downing Skidmore 6-3 in their opener. The Foresters picked up goals from five different players and the six goals marked a season high.
Lake Forest jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on goals from Peter Morrison and Dave Ridos and would never look back. They would carry a 5-3 lead into the final period where a Justin Taylor with less than eight minutes to play would ice things for the Foresters.
â€œWe played well — I think thatâ€™s the best we played this year. I think their goalie had an off night which helps, because normally he plays extremely well.â€
With their tickets punched to the finals, the Foresters would get none other than host Middlebury, the defending national runner-up.
Though the Foresters would drop the contest, 3-1, they didnâ€™t go down without a fight.
An unassisted goal by Petter Andersson would stake the Foresters to a 1-0 lead they would carry into the final stanza, but the large Middlebury ice sheet and the speed and skill of Middlebury finally won out in the end, notching three final period tallies.
â€œThe difference between the two nights is on Friday when we had chances we buried them, and on Saturday — when we had them — we didnâ€™t. Particularly when it was 2-1 and we had a breakaway and hit the crossbar. That was huge. That could have been a 2-2 game with eight minutes to go but it wasnâ€™t to be.â€
Despite the loss to Middlebury, Lake Forest was very pleased with its play in the tournament, and hopes it will carry over into the final half of the season.
â€œIt was great to get into the final and really get into a game with them and go toe-to-toe with them on their ice,â€ said Fritz. â€œIt was good for us. It was good for our confidence and for our guys to realize they were capable of playing this way. So we felt good about that, it was a good trip for us.â€
St. Scholastica didnâ€™t head quite as far east as Lake Forest did, but still hit the road to participate in the Cardinal Classic in Plattsburgh, NY.
Like Fritz, St. Scholastica head coach Mark Wick thought it was a great experience to play teams from the East Region.
â€œIt was a good experience like that to go into an environment like that and perform,â€ said Wick. â€œWe were in a rink that isnâ€™t the most fan friendly to the opposing team. We were on the road and they have a great crowd and it was a good experience for us.â€
Wick noted the importance of cross-regional match-ups when it comes NCAA selection time, and also pointed out a specific desire to take on Plattsburgh.
â€œI wanted to go out there because I wanted to play Plattsburgh,â€ he said. â€œI know [Plattsburgh coach] Bob [Emery] and I wanted to play them because if you talk about the top teams in the East I think there name is going to come up quite often along with a handful of other teams, which is why that semifinal game is was so important for us.â€
If the Saints were to take on the Cardinals, they first had to win said opener and that they did, scoring a 3-1 win over Trinity behind goals from Matt Stengl, Trevor Geiger and Joey Martini.
The Saints scored twice in the final period to get the win, appearing to rectify some of the third period struggles that plagued them earlier in the season.
â€œWeâ€™ve talked about that over the break,â€ said Wick. â€œYou know, we have 10 blemishes and I think in eight of them we were tied in the third period.â€
He continued, â€œWe have to put things away when we have the chance, so on Friday night we were tied in the third period and were able to pull it off so that was nice.â€
The win set up the desired showdown with third-ranked Plattsburgh in the finals, but the Cardinals would break a 2-2 third period tie with just over eight minutes to go, holding on for a 3-2 win.
â€œAgain, we were tied in the third period and Saturday and just werenâ€™t able to pull it out. We played well, but we do have to find a way to win those games,â€ said Wick.
â€œI thought it was a great championship game,â€ said Wick. â€œIt was back and forth; we played great on the penalty kill, blocked a lot of shots and took a lot of passing lanes away.â€
Though Wick was ultimately pleased with the Saintsâ€™ performance, he canâ€™t help think about what might have been.
â€œWe did have our chances,â€ he said. â€œJordan Chong had a four-on-four breakaway, Martini had one and then we hit a couple of posts when we pulled the goaltender we hit a couple of posts. Both teams had a lot of chances and they just put one more away than us.â€
Overall, the NCHA must be quite pleased with the play of its teams out East this year. With St. Norbert winning in Oswego and St. Scholastica and Lake Forest each picking up a win before taking a pair of national powers to a brink, the NCHA looks to be as strong as ever and is certainly in good hands.
On the Inside Rail
In the MCHA preview I stated, â€œIf one is looking for a dark horse in the MCHA, they need look no further than Marian.â€
Thus far, the Sabres havenâ€™t looked like much of a dark horse, but rather clear post-time odds-on favorites.
The Sabres are 8-5 overall, with all five losses coming against very good teams (Bethel twice, Adrian, Stout and River Falls). More importantly, Marian finds itself at 7-1 in the MCHA right now, good enough for a first place tie with Adrian.
â€œWe thought we might be here in conference play,â€ said head coach Jasen Wise. â€œWe had some good leadership coming back, guys with a lot of experience and we really liked our freshman class.â€
At the risk of editorializing, one thing I think has contributed to Marianâ€™s success this season is an abundance of speed on this yearâ€™s rendition that I didnâ€™t necessarily notice last year. Add that to the fact Marian plays its home games on an Olympic size ice sheet and they have all the makings of a formidable foe.
â€œSpeed is something we put an emphasis now,â€ said Wise. â€œWith this years recruiting class I wanted to get faster. That was the number one question I asked coaches when I was out recruiting: â€˜can they skate?â€™ And then all of my returning playing dedicated themselves in the weight room especially in terms of trying to get faster.â€
Continuing, he noted â€œ[t]hatâ€™s what we are going to continue to do in trying to build a team that can succeed on the big sheet of ice. Obviously if you have speed on the big sheet you should have it on the smaller sheet.â€
The speed is paying dividends as the Sabres rank second in the MCHA, scoring 4.46 goals per game. Even more notable is the 4.87 goals per game they are scoring at home.
Thus far sophomore Nick Cinquegrani has paced the Sabre attack with 17 points on eight goals and nine assists, and he is followed by senior Carl Bresser who has fifteen points on nine goals and six assists.
The aforementioned freshman class has also performed up to expectations with Wise singling out forwards Brendan Hull and Todd Collins as well as defenseman Brandon Blair. Hull and Collins each have 14 points on the season while Collins has added seven in ten games.
â€œIâ€™m very happy with the class,â€ he said. â€œNumber one we added good character kids who work just as hard on the ice as off it. I think weâ€™ve also added some physical nature to our play as well. Kids like Randy Wills and Mitch Bye who play hard, finish their checks and can take the body.â€
Somewhat interestingly, the Sabres have utilized a three goalie rotation thus far, with freshman Ira Greenberg, sophomore Cullen Caldwell and junior Jason Jadczak all seeing action in five games this year.
Jadczak has posted the best numbers and has been playing well as of late, leading Wise to suspect they may have found a, you guessed it, horse to ride down the homestretch.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to find a go-to guy,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re looking for a guy to step up. [Jadczak] has taken the ball and is running with it. Heâ€™s started the last four games and heâ€™s playing real well.â€
Though the Sabres are off to a strong start, particularly in MCHA play, their toughest stretch of schedule looms on the horizon, beginning this week with MSOE and next week as they hit the road to take on Finlandia.
â€œThese games are extremely important because Adrian has swept MSOE, Finlandia and Lawrence,â€ said Wise. â€œIt we want to keep pace with Adrian we have to do what they do, starting Friday night.â€
Marian was only 0-2-2 against MSOE last season, which has Wise focusing on one game at a time.
â€œWe canâ€™t look ahead to Saturdayâ€™s game against MSOE or next week against Finlandia, Wise said. â€œWe are very familiar with MSOE, we know the systems they run. We have been very focused on them with our preparation, we just have to do what weâ€™ve been doing, use our speed on the big sheet and hopefully score more goals than they do.â€