This Week in ECAC Hockey: Oct. 23, 2008

Deja Vu

Rand Pecknold is hoping he’s not an unwitting protagonist in a Groundhog Day sequel. The veteran coach will remember only too vividly how his vaunted offense went into the tank early last season, and the team defensive scheme didn’t gel to the necessary extent to win those games.

To wit, he was quoted at this time last year as saying, “my top seven or eight players all played very poorly … not just on the weekend, but in all three games [thus far].”

It’s far too early to draw conclusions about this year’s crop, but The Boss was not happy about the Bobcats’ play against Union at the Maverick Stampede in Omaha. Up 4-0 at the first intermission on the strength of a Brandon Wong hat trick, QU collapsed over the following 34 minutes, allowing five straight goals and needing a Jean-Marc Beaudoin tally with three and a half remaining to force overtime … where Union’s Stephane Boileau put the Bobcats away.

“Friday’s game was a … unique way to start the season,” he said, with a pronounced pause at the ellipses. “We played poorly all game [regardless of what the box score indicated].”

“Union took it to us pretty much the whole game,” he assessed. “We had eight seniors in the lineup who should know how to prepare [by now],” he stated. QU was outshot 42-20 — 3-0 in the OT period — and took nine penalties to Union’s five.

On the brighter side, the ‘Cats bounced back with a 4-1 win over American International the following day, with QU again scoring four times in the first frame.

It can only be presumed that the 15-year coach was a little more tense in that second period than circumstances would generally call for.

The Other Side of the Coin

Union, on the other hand, isn’t feeling half bad after clawing back against Quinnipiac.

“There were a lot of early mistakes by both teams,” said Dutchmen coach Nate Leaman, “but I’m really proud of the character of our guys to come back.”

But what about the 4-0 hole … on seven first-period shots?

“Wong is probably one of the best players not only in the league, but in the nation,” Leaman stated. “The puck is on and off his tape in an instant.

“[Goaltender] Corey [Milan] didn’t have a chance.”

The Dutch fell to Nebraska-Omaha in a 2-1 overtime contest in the Stampede championship, but Leaman considered the trip well worth the effort.

“I’m glad that game wasn’t decided by a shootout. It was a great college hockey game,” he said about the finale, wherein Milan stopped 30 of 32 in front of nearly 5,500 fans.

The Dutch have felt an immediate boost from a couple of frosh as well. Brian Yanovitch and Kelly Zajac were the only members of their class to play in both games, and their coach described them as “getting better every day.”

Unfortunately, Zajac’s collegiate career got off to a rough start: the center took a major hit-from-behind penalty and the accompanying game misconduct on his very first shift, 3:12 into the Quinnipiac game.

Union looks ahead to Rensselaer in the first round of the Governor’s Cup in Albany on Friday, and will face either Robert Morris or Colgate on Saturday. This gives Union a good chance to play three league opponents in non-conference contests.

“It gives us a feeling about where we stand in the league,” said Leaman of his team’s sneak-peek on the competition. “It gives us a better look. Just like the Quinnipiac game, almost all the [league] games come down to one goal … getting guys familiar with that level of play will only help us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Up Potsdam Way …

North Country rivals St. Lawrence and Clarkson traded dance partners last weekend, with each hitting Niagara and RIT. While St. Lawrence swept the pair (5-1 over NU, 2-1 over RIT), Clarkson had to settle for a split. The Golden Knights beat the Tigers 6-4 Friday night, but dropped a 4-3 decision to the Purple Eagles the following evening.

“I’m certainly not disappointed with our results,” pondered coach George Roll. “You want the sweep, but they are two talented teams [playing] in their buildings.”

What did get under Roll’s skin was how the Niagara game concluded.

First, sophomore defenseman Bryan Rufenach took a minor and a game misconduct for shooting after the whistle (and speaking his mind about it) with 1:12 to play and the Knights down a goal.

Then with a mere three ticks on the clock, senior Chris D’Alvise was knocked down in front of the Eagles’ net. D’Alvise got back to his feet and promptly speared the aggressor, earning him a major penalty and a game disqualification — barring him from this Friday’s big game against No. 1 Colorado College.

“I’m unhappy with the undisciplined play. Our kid got knocked down, gets up, and spears the [other] kid,” lamented Roll.

The coach has yet to determine how or if he will punish D’Alvise further for his indiscretion.

The impending visit from the CC Tigers will mark the first time ever that a top-ranked team has played at Cheel. (However, eventual champions have certainly played there, the most recent being Boston College last spring in a 4-2 ‘Tech victory.)

“It’s a great opportunity to play the top team in our building,” said the coach, who is certainly hoping for a repeat of last season’s BC triumph.

Perfect Where it Counts

The Colgate Raiders started the season the right way, dropping Massachusetts-Lowell and Bentley to start 2-0 for the second year in a row.

The UML contest was a tight one, with all the scoring taking place in the second period and the Raiders fighting off three River Hawk power plays in the third. The Bentley tilt was a different matter, as the ‘Gate gradually built a 4-0 lead by the third period, and freshman goalkeeper Alex Evin was only called upon to make 13 stops for his first career win.

“I’m relatively pleased with our start,” said longtime head coach Don Vaughan. “There are some questions to answer, of course … but our energy was great.”

One thing Vaughan and Raider Nation were especially happy to see were the stable and victorious outings by goalies Charles Long and the aforementioned Evin.

“Charles was tested more [24 shots against] … Lowell outshot us, and Charles made some big stops at critical times,” praised the boss.

The early play of freshman Austin Smith up front has also turned a lot of heads in Hamilton. Smith assisted on the game winner against UML, and scored his first collegiate goal against the Falcons. He played left wing Friday with Francois Brisebois and Jason Williams, and flipped over to the right side with Peter Bogdanich and Ethan Cox on Saturday. He finished at plus-one for each game.

“He’s a special player,” the coach intoned. “He sees the ice as well as any first-year player I’ve ever had.”

Heading into the Gov’s Cup, Colgate is healthy and eligible, which is a big plus for the crew, since — by Vaughan’s own admission — there is “not a lot of depth.”

Men Behaving Badly

(Aside: when Rob Schneider is intended to carry a show, it’s doomed to fail. This was what Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom should’ve produced; “Springtime for Hitler” clearly had too much potential.)

That’s what I get for letting my mind wander.

In any case, ECAC Hockey seems to have suffered more from “youthful indiscretions” this year than in recent memory. Defending Dryden Award winner Kyle Richter will have to postpone his defense for a year to think about his “academic” transgression (Harvard fully expects him to return to the team next season.) Andrei Uryadov only just returned from a trans-season, four-game team-dictated suspension at Rensselaer. Mike Willemsen and Dan Tuttle will be reinstated at Clarkson this weekend after breaking team rules.

That’s a lot of important players missing time for doing what can only be assumed were pretty stupid things. For the record, I’m not out to stir the pot or get anyone in trouble. I genuinely like this league, and pretty much everyone I’ve met in it so far. If there’s news worth reporting, sure, I’ll report it … but for my taste, I’d prefer to hear that every suspension was the result of a player pressing the snooze alarm once too often one day. Unfortunately, that’s just not usually the case.

For the kicker, as far as poor demonstrations of character are concerned: Kevin Koopman, a sixth-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2006, will not be playing hockey anymore. The would-be Brown Bear had barely unpacked his bags when he told head coach Roger Grillo, thanks for the Ivy League education and all, but I think I could do without that whole skating business.

For the sake of my flickering faith in humanity — and in hockey people — this is one story I hope I’ve got wrong.

Game of the Week

New Hampshire @ St. Lawrence: Sunday, 7:35 p.m. (TV: ESPNU)

It would be easy to pick the Colorado College-Clarkson double-dip as the games to watch, but everyone already knows that. This one, however, may fly under the radar a bit: it’s an afternoon game in the middle of a busy NFL Sunday.

The Wildcats hold a 31-14-1 all-time advantage over Joe Marsh (UNH ’77) and his Saints, but SLU triumphed over the Whittemore’s Olympic sheet and its die-hard patrons by nipping the favored Wildcats 6-5 in a wild one last January. The Scarlet & Brown are feeling feisty these days, coming off a sweep of cross-state Niagara and RIT, and having hung tough on the road with top-five Michigan in the opening weekend.

New Hampshire inched up to No. 4 in the College Oh My God This is a Long Name for a Poll this week after edging Boston University 2-1 last Sunday, and Rensselaer 1-0 on Friday. (To be fair, UNH overwhelmed everybody but Mathias Lange in the RPI game … but BU had them beat; just couldn’t finish.)

It’s not often that a top-five program makes the long trip upstate, so I hope the faithful give UNH something to remember them by. If Appleton doesn’t have full-throated fans hanging like monkeys from the rafters for this one, I’m going to have a very stern talk with each of your mothers (who should also be in the rafters).

In the interest of poor juxtaposition, I’ll mention that since ESPNU is broadcasting this match, the B2 network will not be doing so. Heads up.


• Union defenseman Mike Wakita is questionable for this weekend due to injury. The six-two junior has had some bad luck in that regard, playing only 17 games last season and 37 in his first two years in Schenectady.

• Clarkson will be without senior forwards Chris D’Alvise (game disqualification) and Shea Guthrie (broken hand) for Friday’s game against the nation’s top team. Whether or not D’Alvise plays Saturday in the finale with Colorado College remains to be seen. Freshman goaltender Paul Karpowich is getting the nod on Friday, according to Roll, who is baffled by junior Tim Potter’s recurring issue with cramps. (Potter had to leave the ice against Niagara in the 29th minute, suffering from cramps for the “third or fourth time” in his career at Clarkson, said Roll.)

• Rensselaer will be without the services of forwards Joel Malchuk and Kurt Colling yet again. The duo has already missed time this year, but with a bye week looming, coach Seth Appert hopes to have them available against Harvard in two weeks. The Engineers are also fretting about the nature of defenseman Mike Bergin’s injury. The freshman suffered a dislocated shoulder against Massachusetts on Tuesday on a questionable late-game hit, and Appert describes his situation as “out for an extended period of time.” His options currently appear to be rehabbing it and playing this year, or having surgery and shelving the season … Appert is leaning toward the former, but only time will tell which plan is best. Regarding the hit, Appert doesn’t blame UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon one bit. Appert said that “because of the emotion of the college game, sometimes lines get crossed … I don’t mind the physicality of it, but I don’t like two of our defensemen getting blasted from behind [in a 6-0 game].” (Minuteman senior Chris Davis was assessed a hitting-from-behind major and a game misconduct for a similar hit on Jeff Foss; the hit that sidelined Bergin went unpenalized.)