This Week in ECAC Hockey: Oct. 30, 2008

Ready or not, here they come!

No, I’m not talking about the ECAC regular season games. I’m talking about all the dreadfully punny and ubiquitous headlines you’ll be seeing over the next seven days. Halloween and Election Day? These are the events that make editors’ lives worth living. If any of them could write, they’d probably have a trade journal dedicated to witty titular wordplay. Keep your eyes peeled (who are we kidding, these titles will be everywhere) for headers beginning with “Votes Are In …” and “Trick, No Treat For …”

But hey, I suppose even editors have to get their kicks somewhere.

But on that note …

Hey, check it out, the regular season is coming up after all.

Oddly enough, Harvard plays two league games before almost anybody else even plays one. The Crimson hosts Dartmouth to kick off the league’s 2008-09 campaign on Friday, and then does some quick housecleaning before RPI comes to town on Tuesday.

Just as odd is the fact that those Cambridge club’s games come on All Hallow’s Eve and voting day. Shouldn’t affect the game on the ice of course, but hopefully the stands will contain some characters. I’ll be there, but I’ve been discouraged from appearing in costume. At least it will make recap leads pretty easy.

And as for that big election dealy, Cambridge is pretty much the hub of Northeast political activism. With any luck, there will be some clever signage in the crowd. Do you think public address announcer John Dolan will call polling updates with the out-of-town scores?

“… and in the third period, Obama leads McCain 48,721,606 to 45,912,937 …”

Just kidding, Harvard doesn’t give out-of-town scores.

And no, I checked … neither Harvard nor Rensselaer have ever played on Election Day before. Not that I’d know what to make of the results if they had.

Clog Dancing On Hold

The Dutchmen are on a little bit of a high after winning the Governor’s Cup in Albany last weekend. Union claimed its first tournament championship of any kind in 15 years, but after a fourth-place finish ended in a home-ice playoff loss to Cornell, coach Nate Leaman and the Dutch aren’t about to throw a parade for the October title.

If anything, Leaman wants his charges to believe that anything less than a trophy would be a disappointment.

Not only is this a different team, and a group that has tasted some measure of success before; “we have a better team, too,” Leaman stated. “We really expect to win that [championship] game, and every game we prepare for,” he said.

The coach was pleased with his boys’ attitudes over the weekend, showing a level of aggression and intensity that has been missing in past editions of the Dutch On Ice.

“What I liked best was after Mario [Valery-Trabucco] scored the eventual game-winning goal, I saw our intensity go up, our [aggression] go up … that’s as important as anything.”

John Simpson didn’t turn many heads last season, but for those who paid attention, it should come as no surprise that the sophomore now leads the team with three goals and five points through four games.

“He had one point at Christmas last year, but he led the centers in the second half [of the season],” Leaman pointed out. “He scored three goals in the Canadian Christmas tournament last year, and that really boosted his confidence. He’s one of the best skaters we have.”

Simpson demonstrated that earlier this year, burying an unassisted shorthanded goal to open (and unfortunately close) Union’s scoring at Nebraska-Omaha.

Rookie Kelly Zajac isn’t going to let Simpson steal the entire spotlight though. Leaman said that “The One NoDak Let Get Away” (my words, not his) was the team’s best forward Friday night against RPI.

While the team is looking fairly sharp, the coach expresses concerns about the Garnet & White’s slow starts thus far, pointing to first-period deficits in three of the team’s first four games. The power play is struggling at only eight percent as well, but Leaman isn’t worried about that. He counted 14 “grade-A opportunities” generated by the unit over the weekend, and is confident that the bounces will come with time.

The More, The Merrier

Joe Marsh is a world-class talker.

He’s one of those classic New England story-tellers; he’s a guy with a low, grinding, consonant-killing Boston rumble who could turn a trip to the mailbox into a thoroughly riotous two-hour yarn. To his great delight, I’m sure, his team is set up to guarantee him a captive audience straight through next summer.

His Saints carry a league-high 34-man roster, four more than runner-up Quinnipiac and 10 more than ECAC Hockey’s smallest squad, Colgate. The throng is composed of nine freshmen, five sophomores, a dozen juniors and eight seniors. What is Joe doing with all those guys?

“We have a couple of guys [in situations] like [junior defenseman Pat] Kelliher, who is going in for surgery” and is not expected to play this year, Marsh began. “You can have no more than 30 ‘counters’ for the NCAA,” he added, explaining that financial compensation (room, board, books, tuition, other fees) can only be split up a maximum of 30 ways on a team, so a number of his players are considered true walk-ons.

“We have some guys who haven’t seen any duty, and may not,” he said, but at such a small school and with such a tight community within the hockey program, Marsh can’t bring himself to cut a couple of his devoted and determined practice-players. Juniors Drew Weaver and Kelliher have played a combined two career games, for example, and as for first-year netminder Joe Spadaccini — the fourth ‘keeper on the roster and a true walk-on — well, I suppose Marsh just likes his goalies to come in quartets.

On the ice, the Saints are off to a strong 3-2-0 start, with the only losses coming at No. 8 Michigan to start the year. SLU also beat back former No. 4 (now No. 6) New Hampshire 4-1 at Appleton last Sunday for its second win in a row over the Wildcats.

Just as I’d hoped, the fans turned out despite the odd Sunday evening timeslot.

“It was our first home game, and the crowd was into it,” confirmed Marsh of the 2,675 in attendance.

McSnipers Brock McBride and Mike McKenzie took turns scoring and assisting on the Saints’ first two goals, with McBride scoring nine minutes in on the power play, and McKenzie netting the game-winner three minutes after that.

“McBride and McKenzie are key to our success,” said their coach. “Brock is one of the best skaters I’ve ever coached. We didn’t know for a couple weeks after, that he played against Boston College in the NCAAs two years ago with two broken ribs. He’s one of the best forwards in the league … he’s really, really strong, and NHL-level skater. His stride just never breaks down,” sang Marsh.

The coach obviously wouldn’t go so far as to equate McBride to former Vermont standout — and famously undersized — forward Martin St. Louis, but he made a rough comparison between their perceptions and their abilities.

As for Mr. McKenzie, Marsh felt he was more in the mold of dominant Boston College scorer John Cunniff: not the prettiest stride, but an uncanny nose for the goal.

“McKenzie’s a guy that gets you points,” he said simply. “The knock against him is that he’s not a strong skater, but he works and works and works at it. He has a very quick stick, he has poise with the puck, he gets the goalie to move,” he continued. “He has a great sense of knowing where the puck’s going to be … he has a knack for putting the thing away; wherever he goes, he’s pretty efficient [in his actions].”

Senior blueliner Zach Miskovic scored the side’s final pair, and the Saints finished two-for-eight on the man advantage.

UNH may have been fighting an uphill battle from the start though. Seems the team bus got stuck in a patch of rough weather en route, stranding the club for a matter of hours in the middle of the night. The team didn’t arrive in Canton until roughly 2 a.m.

“That may have been a factor,” mused Marsh, whose prolific clan gets a weekend off before commencing ECAC play. (Note to over-exuberant readers: “The Clan” is vehemently discouraged as a team nickname; might I recommend “Marsh’s Mob” … ?)

Glass Half-Full and Filling

The RPI Engineers have had it rough of late, but don’t be fooled by the record or the results: Puckman will be back with a vengeance.

So believes head coach Seth Appert, a gentleman positively glistening with optimism and energy. He likes what he saw in the Gov’s Cup consolation win over Robert Morris, including his offense’s potential.

“We generated plenty of offense this weekend,” he stated, despite the meager three-goal output. “We had three or four pucks that hit the post, lay on the goal line … we had more scoring chances than the opponents both nights.

“Things will balance out,” he said, adding, “maybe we won’t score four goals a game, but I think we can build to be a team that can score three.”

Appert was also pleased with the play of ‘Tute newbie Allen York, who stopped 40 Colonial shots Saturday evening.

“He’s very good. He faced a lot of shots, but the defense did a good job of taking away rebounds … most shots were from the perimeter,” assessed Appert. York is “big, quick, and competitive. He won a few puck battles in the crease that a lot of times freshmen won’t win.”

The Engineers open their league campaign at Harvard on Tuesday night, then host the Crimson in the return game on Friday.


• Brown sophomore David Brownschidle has been practicing, but is questionable for this weekend, according to coach Roger Grillo. Frosh forward Riley LaForge will likely be out another couple of weeks as well.

• Clarkson captain Philippe Paquet will have to miss four to six weeks with an ankle injury, said coach George Roll. Roll also said that impressive freshman goaltender Paul Karpowich will get this weekend off, meaning junior Tim Potter and/or freshman Richie LaVeau will face Carleton’s shooters in Saturday’s exhibition. Potter’s recurring cramps are hopefully a thing of the past, having been preliminarily diagnosed as a metabolic imbalance; an adjusted diet should solve the problem, said the coach. Finally, senior forward Shea Guthrie will be given an extra weekend to recuperate, but is expected to be healthy for Brown next week.

• Junior forward Cam MacIntyre and frosh forward Scott McNeill are out of Princeton’s lineup this weekend for unspecified reasons.

• Quinnipiac’s Rand Pecknold said that third-year forward Jean-Marc Beaudoin is “going to be getting a lot of power play time”, often playing with re-ignited game-changer Brandon Wong. The coach loves Beaudoin’s versatility, praising him as a well-rounded player and “probably our best defensive forward”.

• St. Lawrence senior sniper Kevin DeVergilio has finished serving a school-mandated four-game suspension and will be available for the Saints’ next games against Yale and Brown next weekend. Coach Joe Marsh referred to DeVergilio’s “school disciplinary situation” when discussing the matter, and said that the player had appealed SLU’s initial decision and had his original punishment reduced to the four-game sentence following the review. Freshman forward Rick Carden apparently suffered a concussion against RIT on October 18th, and his game status is unknown.

• Union third-year defenseman Mike Wakita remains questionable for this weekend’s single game against Connecticut. He skated in the Maverick Stampede to open the season, but hasn’t played since.