This Week in ECAC Hockey: Oct. 16, 2008

Welcome back everybody to another season of utterly inept and pointless predictions, complemented by brutally misleading statistics and a smattering of predictable coach-speak and clichés.

Oh, I guess there’s some skating-stick-ball thing going down, too.

And just like the teams, I’m going to ease my way into the new year with a few pithy observations and a lot of editorializing.


(What to Pay Attention To, since “W2W4” — a.k.a. What to Watch For — has been absorbed into the corporate copyright compendium of the ubiquitous ABC/Disney/ESPN mega-media juggernaut.)

Some thoughts on the league and its members:

• Clarkson — ‘Tech visits Rochester I.T. this weekend for the first time since RIT made the jump to D-I in the fall of ’05. The Green & Gold beat the Tigers in Potsdam in each of their two meetings since, but the Tigers have nipped the Knights before, beating them twice and tying once in 11 overall meetings since the 1983-84 season.

Not that anyone asked me, but … Clarkson has the youngest average age of confusing “w”s in the league: soph Michael Kosziwka (kuh-ZOO-kuh), freshman Mark Borowiecki (boar-oh-VEH-ski) and classmate Paul Karpowich (CAR-poh-witch … not car-poh-vich, as I initially suspected).

• Colgate — the Raiders won their sixth straight home opener, dating back to a 5-3 win over Ferris State in October 2003. It’s the second-longest such streak in the league, as Quinnipiac (which joined the league in the fall of 2005) hasn’t lost a campaign’s initial home tilt since the fall of 1996. (Seriously!) Rensselaer and St. Lawrence each boast six-game unbeaten streaks in home openers, for the record.

Not that anyone asked me, but … Austin Smith is one of the best names you could ever hope for from a blue-chip Texan sniper. I hope the Raider faithful develop a deep repertoire of Smith-centric cheers. He’s from Dallas, drafted by the Stars … if only he had been a goalie. I’m absolutely positive that his mask artwork would’ve been stellar (astronomy pun wholeheartedly intended).

• Quinnipiac — for starters, read the Colgate bit; QU re-opens the Bank on November 1 against UConn (12-10-2 all-time in favor of the ‘Cats). The Bobcats play Union in the Maverick Stampede on Friday, and hold a 7-2-1 overall record against the Dutchmen … but secured only a single point against the Schenectady skaters last year.

Not that anyone asked me, but … defenseman Mike Glaicar might not be the largest freshman in the league — media guide measurements are notoriously inaccurate (read: “adjusted for optimal perception”) — but he’s certainly one of them at (somewhere around) six-four, 220. Whether he’s the crusher of the class or not, he does have the most awesomely frightening name. Glaicar … reminds me of the battle scene from Coneheads, for better or worse.

• Rensselaer — the good: Vermont went only one-for-nine on the man advantage last Saturday. The bad: RPI went zip-for-five to follow up a miserable .071 performance last season. (Tangent: The Engineers played a league-low 19.2 percent of their ECAC contests with the lead.) Hopefully ‘Tute’s three-for-10 effort against the Under-18s on Sunday will inspire a little more confidence in the fledgling Engineers as they hit No. 6 New Hampshire Friday night.

Not that anyone asked me, but … I miss the Puckman jerseys. There’s nothing wrong with the current sweaters (Easton? That’s a novelty), but ditching Puckman is on par with the Penguins ditching the scarf (they couldn’t even bring it back for the Winter Classic; are you kidding me?). I actually liked the Pens’ stylized triangular logo too, but that’s neither here nor there.

• St. Lawrence — regardless of rooting preference, there’s no denying that 21 does not equal 11. The blackjack deal was anything but exciting for the Saints, who were assessed 21 minor penalties in two games at Michigan, while the host Wolverines were a full royal short of that total. Perhaps SLU was sufficiently distracted by the abrasive Yost atmosphere, and/or maybe there was a little CCHA home cookin’ at play. Either way, not pretty numbers. You want some numbers that do equate? One equals one. That’s how many power-play goals each side scored on the weekend: UM was one for 19 on the advantage, while the Saints finished 1/9. Two tight losses against the third-ranked team in the nation are cause for optimism in the North Country.

Not that anyone asked me, but … scarlet and brown are quite a unique color pairing, sports-wise. I can’t think of another team that currently uses those tones as primary hues, and yet, Brown is so close … Two such similar combos in the same league — and nowhere else — is downright bizarre. (If I’m missing a whole slew of brown and red logos, let me have it.)

• Union — the Dutchmen open their season with back-to-back tournaments in the Maverick Stampede and the Governor’s Cup. There is potential — probability, in fact — for UC to play three conference foes (Quinnipiac, Rensselaer and Colgate) in these four non-conference games before the ECAC Hockey schedule actually begins. This gives the Garnet & White the biggest conference sneak-peek in the league. (Brown will play a couple non-league games against Princeton and Yale in the mini-Ivy Showcase.)

Not that anyone asked me, but … does anyone think Kelly Zajac wishes he’d gone to North Dakota instead of Union? Me either.

Game of the Week

Rensselaer @ New Hampshire: Friday, 7 p.m.

This is the latest installment of Seth Appert’s Take On All Comers tour, testing his underdog Engineers against the sixth-ranked Wildcats. Appert and his charges have something to prove; the ‘Tute was 0-7-0 against favored non-conference opponents last season, and 1-5 against non-ECAC competition away from the Houston Field House.

The programs haven’t met much in recent years — their last tilt was in November ’03 — but in a healthy 42 all-time rumbles, UNH holds the 23-19-0 edge. Fun note: the Wildcats (Hockey East’s regular-season champs) were 0-2-0 against the ECAC last season, falling at home to St. Lawrence (ninth in ECAC Hockey last year) and to Dartmouth (12th) in Manchester, N.H.

In Memoriam — Jack Falla

I understand that personal soliloquies can come off as unrelatable at best, and selfish, pretentious or pontificating at worst. Therefore I won’t blame you if you don’t read what follows. However, I will beseech you to take one thing away from this: if you are a hockey fan, consider yourself obligated to read both Home Ice and Open Ice, as they are collectively to Ken Dryden’s The Game what Shoeless Joe (movie adaptation: Field of Dreams) is to Moneyball. That is, the literary touchstone for the emotional and cultural side of the game.

I’m not sure which profession Jack Falla found more rewarding, writing or teaching. That’s because I never really made that final push into his inner circle, which I certainly regret in retrospect. He wasn’t a father-figure to me, he wasn’t a professor in the Classroom of Life … he wasn’t Morrie Schwartz and I’m not Mitch Albom.

But he was my hero, in many ways, and neither of us even suspected it until the end.

Jack Falla covered hockey for Sports Illustrated for five years and wrote (or co-wrote) eight books, all involving or focusing on hockey. An alumnus of Boston University, he returned to his alma mater in the last decade to teach sports writing and sports communication, which is how I met him. He was a wordsmith of great talent and acclaim, and clearly devoted more time to researching a single character — Hobey Baker for example, only one of many subjects of his latest tome — than many of us did for entire collegiate courses (myself included). He was a rink rat, a family man, and a sharp entertainer, despite a pervasive disdain for crowds and strangers.

I pride myself on being a pretty fair and accurate judge of character, and Jack Falla was a good man. He taught a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable class. He was accessible, he was friendly and gregarious, and he took the business of sportswriting — so often referred to as the “toy department” of the journalistic establishment — very seriously. But what our niche community lost in mid-September wasn’t a father, a husband, or a teacher; it was a friend, a colleague, and a supporter who never sang in anything but full voice for our collective passion.

A lot of us are missing you, Jack … but the biggest sufferers will be those who will never feel the ache. They are the ones who will never be instructed that “ya gotta play hurt,” who will never be able to imagine your rolling, Bostonian patois as they invariably devour your prose, word by gliding, wistful word.