This Week in ECAC Hockey: Dec. 4, 2008

Unlike your fridge, this column isn’t packed with leftovers from last week. This column won’t start turning yellow or dripping on your floor or absorbing neighboring columns, it hasn’t been declared a federal biohazard and it doesn’t smell like feet. It doesn’t have any tryptophan, either, so hopefully it won’t put you to sleep.

Freshly fried nuggets of unidentifiable hockey byproduct, ahoy!

Now Playing in Sweden …

… the Stor Grön of Dartmouth College. (That’s “Big Green,” in Swedish.)

The Hanover hockey club is going intercontinental this month, playing four games in ten days in Copenhagen and Stockholm. (The Big Green will be the Grote Onnozel in Denmark, for those of you who were wondering.) Fortuitous scheduling concluded the Green’s first-semester docket last weekend, leaving the team a week off for finals before the European tour.

“We set up this trip … as kind of a bonding experience for the guys, and also as a cultural trip,” said head coach Bob Gaudet. “We’re going to a hockey-playing area; we’ll attend a pro game in the Stockholm area [as fans] … and play against some good competition.”

The games — one in Copenhagen and three in Stockholm — will feature the Big Green (or however they’re introduced) against local junior teams. While the opportunity may have been available to schedule a professional opponent, Gaudet prefers to pit his young players against foes of roughly the same age. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to show some of the up-and-coming Scandinavian talent exactly what college hockey has to offer.

“There might be some type of recruiting possibility,” the coach allowed. “It’s been a long time since a D-I team took a trip to a [European] hockey-playing area.”

And that much is definitely true. While other NCAA sports feature regular exhibition trips abroad, college hockey has been rigidly domestic: the only international contests I can recall have been the rare Canadian excursion, à la Rensselaer’s match with Vermont in Quebec earlier this fall. The NCAA allows programs to take an international trip once every four years, and Dartmouth is taking the association up on its offer.

The entire team will be traveling, including injured players, and Gaudet is looking forward not only to the experience, but also to playing some games under a lot less pressure. Lines will be jumbled, all three goalies are expected to play, as will other players who don’t get much ice time in ultra-intense ECAC contests. The individuals aren’t even on the hook for the trip; funds have been stockpiled for the past few years to make this journey a reality.

The idea had been percolating in Gaudet’s mind for some time now, but a previous attempt was foiled when Dartmouth’s former travel partner, Vermont, left the conference for Hockey East. The window of time originally prospected for the trip was suddenly cleaved by a necessary Harvard game in the middle of DC’s winter break.

But now it has all come to fruition. Gaudet is even optimistic that some alumni of the College on the Hill will find their way into the stands; the alma mater claims that “’round the girdled Earth they roam,” and the words may well ring true.

“Eric Przepiorka [’06] plays in southern Sweden,” said the coach, “and he [hopes to] see us in Denmark. Steve Higgins played with me at Dartmouth, and he’ll be over there … there are about 40 Dartmouth alumni in Sweden, and I’ve heard from some people who are excited to hear the College is coming over.”

As for the first semester’s results, Gaudet has been pleased with his team’s surprising success. Much of that has been the product of universal dedication on the part of its components.

“I mentioned it before, we have good depth in terms of guys at each position. [Goalie Jody] O’Neill has played all but one game for us … but we have good solid goaltenders pushing [him too],” he said. “There’s a good mix of guys on a daily basis pushing to get better.”

The team’s six leading scorers are composed of five sophomores and one frosh (Doug Jones), and the offense has been stellar for the program picked 11th in the league by the coaches, media, and myself. Freshman O’Neill has held the opposition to under two goals a game, and is stopping over 94 percent of shots faced.

“I don’t blame people for picking us down this year,” said Gaudet. “In a two-year stretch, we lost some incredible firepower … and marquee names, for this level.”

But the wheels keep on turning in the Granite State, thanks in no small part to the leadership of the captain.

“Rob Pritchard’s … a guy that typifies our team. He will do whatever it takes to be successful,” praised Gaudet. “He’s selfless, well-spoken … there’s no class structure on our team. Rob sets the tone; he’s a good example on the ice and in the classroom.”

The comprehensive work ethic of the Big Green has kept the team on track, and the seasoned coach said that “the effort and execution has been consistent.

“We just keep chipping away,” he said.

Still Some Noise in the ‘Tute

Don’t count the RPI Engineers out just yet.

The club may have a woeful 2-10-1 record, but coach Seth Appert isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the season; there are still plenty of rounds left to fight.

“You gain confidence from winning games,” he said. “We went through [this] a little bit my first years here … when I was at Denver, one year before winning 32 games (which they did in 2001-02) we were staring at a 2-7-0 record to start the year, and we finished fairly strong (19-15-4 final record). We had 11 wins my first year at Denver (11-25-2).”

Of course, the Pioneers went on to win back-to-back national championships in the springs of 2004 and 2005, and haven’t had a losing season since 1999-00. Appert has seen stories of redemption firsthand.

“We need to focus on what we can control,” he said. “[The fans] want us to win and expect us to win. I understand their frustration, but I see where we’re headed in the future.”

Already looking at a few well-reviewed recruits for next year, the current Engineers aren’t looking that far ahead.

“Right now we need to be consistently focused on being a better defensive team,” said the coach, reiterating past assessments that RPI is not “a four-goal-a-game team” right now.

“We have guys gripping the sticks a little tight,” he added. Rensselaer has only scored three goals twice all year — never more — but has been held to a goal or less in nine of 13 contests. “It’s almost comical how many easy chances we’re missing,” Appert mused. “At one point, it was 0-0 against Northeastern (on Saturday), and we had 24 square feet of net to shoot at,” but rushed it, he said.

Because of all the chances that the ‘Tute is generating, even if they’re not going in, Appert isn’t worried about getting over the one-goal hump. The goals will come with a little luck, which breeds a little confidence … or perhaps the other way around.

A couple combos that have looked good so far have been the Chase Polacek — Tyler Helfrich duo (“could be better, but playing well”) and Matt Angers-Goulet — Seth Klerer (“two of our best defensive forwards and penalty killers”). Freshman Josh Rabbani has also received attention from both his coach and the fans, who love his energy on the ice.

“He’s one of our most consistent players,” praised his coach. “He provides a physical element, which we don’t have a lot of,” as well as a presence down low.

Overall, Appert is an energetic and optimistic guy, and those are infectious qualities. On the whole, he says, you have to keep things in perspective … even if it’s just a hockey perspective.

“When looking at our record, it’s frustrating, no question about it … but we’ve played five league games. We have more than 75 percent of our season ahead of us.”

Facts are facts, and Appert is out to prove that rumors of RPI’s demise are invariably fictional.

Worst in the Rear-View?

Clarkson is hoping hard that the toughest part of its season is fading into the past. Dropping to 2-7-3 (and 1-5-0 in league) in the wake of injury after big-time injury, the Golden Knights might just be — dare we say it? — getting healthy at last.

Coach George Roll reports that Matt Beca and Chris D’Alvise are back in the saddle, able to play despite being “not a hundred percent” just yet; he’s optimistic that what’s left to recover can do so through active duty.

“I still think we’ll be there in the end,” said Roll. “We had a poor start, but injuries are only part of it. We’re squeezing the sticks, there’s no getting around it. We just couldn’t finish.”

The coach blames himself, in part, for failing to instill in this year’s team the importance of hard work, consistency and sacrifice.

“This group hasn’t gone through [a true test] before,” he said, alluding to last year’s senior class, which went 13-23-3 its freshman year: Roll deemed it “the worst season in Clarkson’s history,” which it literally was in terms of losses and winning percentage.

That class learned from its early hardships, taking the program to the NCAA tournament each of the past two years, and advancing to the second round for the first time in 17 years last spring.

This year, there are no remaining players from the squad that lost nearly two dozen games. They don’t know what a lost season feels like, and Roll wants them to understand that it’s not a prerequisite for success down the line.

“That’s my fault, as the head coach,” he said. “They need to be pushed. When you start losing, you start taking shortcuts … not sticking to the systems,” he explained.

Such undisciplined play not only sabotages your own game plan, but allows opponents to capitalize on your broken-down system. But then, sometimes you just run into good opponents.

“Every team we’ve played, I think, played well against us,” Roll said. “Princeton is right up there with Colorado College,” he added, having seen both at Cheel already this fall.

Hopefully the hockey karma will begin to even itself out for Clarkson as we near the end of 2008. For now, though, things refuse to come easy to the Green & Gold.

Philip Paquet is still dressing in street clothes due to a nagging and indeterminate pain. Roll’s hoping it’s not a high-ankle sprain — the same thing that sidelined Sidney Crosby for a few months last year — because those can be notoriously slow and finicky healers. Also on a sour note, sophomore striker Brandon DeFazio is out indefinitely with an unnamed ailment.

A road swing at Cornell and Colgate await the battered northerners, followed by a two-fer at Bowling Green to close out the calendar year.

The Great Debate

ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell (it’s about time I finally saved his cell number, isn’t it?) confirmed that “the league’s administrators voted for the fall of 2010 to have league-wide replay in place.”

Thus, the league is committed to total instant-replay capabilities at each of its 12 rinks by the start of the 2010-11 season. In my book, any such promise is better than nothing … even if it’ll be a few years too late to help Dartmouth.

The Big Green were 38 seconds away from a 1-0 win over No. 2 Boston College on Sunday when controversy struck. The Eagles lifted the goalie for the extra attacker, and were chopping furiously around O’Neill’s right post when the battered puck spurted across the crease and onto the stick of Brian Gibbons. The sophomore popped the puck up and into the gaping goal, only to be robbed by the glove of a lunging O’Neill.

Or was he? Referee Tim Benedetto was on the goal line, and ruled that O’Neill caught the puck when it had already entered the goal. A five-minute discussion ensued — with the other officials, the goal judge, and both benches — before the original call was upheld, much to the chagrin of the 4,230 filling Thompson Arena. Dartmouth went on to lose the game, 2-1, in overtime.

Would instant replay have settled the issue, or even helped in any way? It wouldn’t have hurt, but even NHL video reviews are flawed.

One major complicating factor is that — to the best of my knowledge — an official must actually see the entire puck cross the goal line in order to award a goal. I have seen, on numerous occasions, potential goals waved off because either a) a puck was airborne and captured on video from an insufficient angle as to determine its location relative to the goal line, or b) the puck was shielded from the cameras by a player or goalie, and its precise location was unknowable.

In fact, I’ve seen goals waved off in the latter case when all properties of physical logic dictated that the puck was in the goal … but it was also underneath the goalie, and when he slid himself out of the net, the puck came with him. The refs didn’t actually see the puck across the goal line, so the goal wasn’t awarded.

To come back to the initial point, video replays might not have helped at all in the Dartmouth-BC game. But my related concern is this: did Benedetto actually see the puck cross the line?

Once again, I’m opining on a topic that I didn’t witness firsthand. That said, I’m going out on this limb because it’s not a unique situation in the game.

Benedetto was properly positioned relative to the play, standing on the goal line to O’Neill’s left — the goalie’s glove side. Perhaps the rookie ‘keeper caught the puck so deep in the goal that the webbing of his glove was tangling with the twine of the net; that’s clearly a goal, and for all I know, that’s what happened.

But equally likely is that O’Neill snared the disc somewhere near the plane of the net. This is where Benedetto’s decision becomes nebulous. In case you’ve never seen one up close, goalie gloves are big, bulky, multi-colored and oddly shaped: anything but transparent, in other words. Even with the ref on the “clean” side of the play, and the one to which the shot eventually occurred, how likely is it that he clearly saw the puck cross the plane of the goal in its entirety, despite the collective obstructions posed by potential players, the post/crossbar, the net itself, and O’Neill’s cavernous mitt?

For the record, I have no doubt that Tim Benedetto believes he made the right call; when you’re in his position, you have to be entrusted to make the right call quickly and consistently. There is no room for vacillating as an official in any sport. But, if the play in fact went down as I most recently imagined it, how hasty should Benedetto have been in reaching such a significant conclusion? And why — if there was no replay to review — did it take five minutes to do so?

Merely postulating, folks. Merely postulating.


I spoke with an officiating crew from Hockey East last weekend about ECAC Hockey’s previously mentioned protocol penalty.

Only one of the linesmen had worked an ECAC game so far this year, but all four stripes were familiar with the situation. I indicated that I couldn’t find the rule prohibiting post-period on-ice congratulations in the rule book, but one of the referees said that it’s in there, forbidding players from taking the ice without the officials’ permission. I’ll have to check the exact wording on that, but there you have it.

More Watching of the Unis

This just in, we finally have an image of the new Princeton alternates. Big on the orange, with a crest-supporting white stripe with black edging that continues around the sleeves at the elbows, with orange numbers in the middle of the arm-stripe. More or less what was expected, but still pretty cool.

Also, Yale apparently kept us in the dark about a design switch. Gemini is making the sweaters, same as last year, but the collar, stripes and text have changed a bit. Note last year’s look first. Note the thin stripes on the arms and body, and the spacing, arc and thickness of the lettering. Also, it’s obviously a lace-up collar. This year’s edition has a flat-front collar — not sure what the technical name for it is, but it sure ain’t a tear-drop or V-neck — and thicker letters set on a tighter arc. The stripes are thicker, and the logo was shifted from the left shoulder to front-and-center. Personally, I preferred last year’s.

Condolences to the Ross Family

The ECAC Hockey community’s thoughts and sympathies go out to St. Lawrence captain Jared Ross, who lost his brother to cancer last week. Our best wishes are with you through trying times.