Atlantic Hockey Special: Dec. 11, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

With a light schedule on the horizon and the RIT-Air Force series the dominant story of last week, this column is a slight departure from the norm.

Friday, December 5, 5:00 a.m. ET
Rochester, N.Y.

Ouch. I’m not a morning person, but duty calls. I have a 7:00 a.m. flight to Colorado Springs to broadcast the RIT at Air Force series for WITR FM and the B2 network. Besides covering Atlantic Hockey for USCHO.com, I’ve been doing color and occasional play-by-play for RIT Hockey since 1996. The Tigers are coming off an ugly loss at Mass-Lowell and face a daunting task against the tenth-ranked Falcons. Air Force has outscored opponents 44-8 so far this season at home and the last time the Falcons lost at Cadet Arena was last season on January 12 — to RIT.

Friday, December 5, 7:00 a.m. ET
Rochester, N.Y.

My broadcast partner and fellow USCHOer Ed Trefzger and I have just been informed that our flight from Rochester to Chicago is going to be delayed due to mechanical problems. This is my fault. I am the Typhoid Mary of airline travel. Recent trips with Ed have resulted in lost luggage, cancelled flights, and hours upon hours spent in airports. Ed and I spent two wonderful New Year’s Eves (Eastern and Central time zones) at O’Hare trying to get back from the Dodge Classic in Minneapolis last season. Ed only has these kinds of problems when he travels with me.

Miraculously, all it takes is a minor repair and we are on our way, making a smooth connection through Chicago to Colorado Springs. Our luggage even shows up. Carrying the luggage on board was not an option since we are bringing radio gear with us, and have to take that on the plane for its safety. Security checks are always fun when you are toting unusual looking equipment with a lot of cords and wires. We get flagged for “special attention” every time.

Friday, December 5, 2:00 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Before going to the hotel, Ed and I stopped for lunch at the Phantom Canyon Brewery. As Ed said, “If it was in Rochester, it would be my favorite restaurant.” It’s Ed’s seventh trip to the Springs with RIT, and the third for me. We always hit this place and make it our first stop, but not our last, for the weekend.

Friday, December 5, 5:30 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

We’re at the sprawling Air Force Academy, the most beautiful college campus I have ever seen, nestled in the Rocky Mountains in the shadow of Pike’s Peak. We get to the arena and through security (there goes the radio equipment again) and up to the press box. We’re greeted by Air Force SID Dave Toller, one of the best in the business. Dave doubles as the color guy for the Air Force radio broadcasts.

We get set up and ready for the pregame. The main piece of equipment we use is the Vector, a mixer that allows us to communicate with the WITR studios via a phone line. Student engineer Luke Auburn is on the other end. He’s pulling a late shift tonight with the 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time start.

I’m able to talk briefly with RIT associate head coach Brian Hills before the game. The team came out on Thursday morning, as they usually do for away games. You don’t want any bus (or plane) legs on Friday. The routine for players on the road can be tedious — a long bus/plane ride, downtime in the hotel for chilling and doing homework, team meals, meetings, and workouts. It’s the games that matter, of course — the rest just comes with the territory.

Hills tells me that Jared DeMichiel will get the start for the Tigers in goal. DeMichiel saw limited action last season, backing up Louis Menard, but this season he’s platooned with Menard and recently has seen the lion’s share of the action.

Air Force will of course go with Andrew Volkening in net, as it has for every minute this season. Volkening has been outstanding, with a goals against of around 1.40 and a save percentage near .950.

Friday, December 5, 7:45 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

A wild first period comes to an end with the Tigers outshooting the Falcons 8-1. It’s the lowest shot total allowed by RIT in a period since its move to Division I.

The officiating, to put it kindly, is lousy. The guys in stripes are having an off night, and things will get worse as the game progresses. Just my opinion, but I’m not alone.

Friday, December 5, 8:20 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Mike Phillipich redirects a shot from Greg Flynn past DeMichiel and the Falcons score on the power play to make it 1-0. Approximately 500 stuffed animals come flying out of the stands — it’s a charity thing.

Friday, December 5, 9:15 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

I’m standing rinkside with a wireless remote waiting to interview RIT coach Wayne Wilson for the postgame show. Air Force has defeated RIT 2-0. With me is Theresa Spisak, USCHO’s WCHA correspondent. She’s recapping the game for USCHO, and is an unabashed Falcons fan. She’s allowed, since Air Force isn’t in her conference so she doesn’t have to stay neutral. And I can see the attraction. The Falcons are the feel-good story of the season, and last weekend made plenty of believers by beating Colorado College and losing at Denver in a hard-fought battle.

Wilson is pretty upbeat. He doesn’t want to talk about the officiating, but rather how he thinks his team played very well. The Tigers outshot the Falcons 30-24 but couldn’t get one past Volkening.

Also on hand was David Ramsey, a columnist for the Colorado Springs Gazette. He would collect some quotes from Wilson and then write a pretty unflattering piece about RIT and Atlantic Hockey. More on that later.

Back up in the press box, we finish our postgame show and I crash an impromptu press conference being given by Air Force coach Frank Serratore. He’s as usual: colorful, funny, straightforward and opinionated. He says his team got outplayed, and the Tigers “deserved a better fate.” Serratore says he can’t remember the last time his team got outshot at home, and said that the Falcons won because they had the better goalie. That quote made it into Theresa’s recap. More on that later, too.

Friday, December 5, 11:45 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ed and I are winding down at Phantom Canyon and ready to call it a night. Including the time difference, I’ve been up for about 21 hours, so a good night’s sleep is in order.

Saturday, December 6, 9:45 a.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

The free breakfast at the hotel ends at 10:00, so we’d better get moving.

Saturday, December 6, 2:45 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Guess where? Yes, back to Phantom for some lunch. Ed and I have been walking around downtown Colorado Springs. Rochester is getting snow, but I’m in a T-shirt. It’s sunny and 55. Feels like 75.

Saturday, December 6, 6:00 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Back at Cadet Ice Arena, we’re plugging in. The main topic at the hotel and rink is the Ramsey column. Toller is apologetic, explaining that Ramsey doesn’t cover much hockey. What Ramsey saw as a goonfest, the rest of us saw as a hard-hitting game between two teams that are establishing a great rivalry. Serratore called last night’s action “gritty” and Wilson called it “playing hard.”

I state my opinions on the Ramsey column on the air later. I’m a little more opinioned in that medium, so we get in a few digs and have a couple of chuckles at the guy’s expense. I think the word “dope” comes up more than once.

I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of hockey coaches in the 20 years or so I’ve been covering the game, and almost all of them will tell you how much they like their team and how they really should win most of their games. When they lose, it is often about how their team has played and not the other guys. I understand the mindset. Serratore’s comments about how he had the better goalie last night are hard to refute.

Volkening has some of the best numbers in college hockey, and pitched his third shutout of the season on Friday. But the Tigers are using at as motivation, and really believe that it’s they that have the better goalie. Ed and I argue about this in the pregame show. I think Volkening was better on Friday, Ed thinks DeMichiel was at least as good.

Saturday, December 6, 7:15 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

DeMichiel makes an excellent save on Josh Frider, and the rebound kicks to RIT’s Justin Hofsetter, who takes the puck up ice and beats Volkening five-hole 3:58 into the contest.

Saturday, December 6, 8:31 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Falcons score two goals about a minute apart, separated by the break in between periods two and three. Jacques Lamoureux gets a power-play goal with 42 seconds left in the second period to tie the game (and another 500 stuffed animals are launched) and then just 22 ticks into the third period, Hajner gives the Falcons the lead, redirecting a shot past DeMichiel.

Saturday, December 6, 9:02 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

RIT, still trailing by one, kills off an Air Force power play, and with two minutes to play, cashes in on an odd-man rush as Brennan Sarazin puts home a rebound to tie the game at two. “We had one of our power play lines take a long shift, which resulted in them getting a rush and tying the game,” said Serratore in his postgame comments.

Saturday, December 6, 9:18 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Tigers repeat history when Andrew Favot scores with 38 seconds left in overtime to give RIT win and a weekend split. That’s the same way this series went last January, with the Tigers getting an overtime goal on Saturday. Unbelievably, RIT has never been swept in a league series since joining Atlantic Hockey. They were two minutes away from having that streak snapped tonight.

Wilson says he’s glad for the win, but thinks his team played better the night before. Serratore calls it a “very gut-wrenching loss.” DeMichiel made some amazing savings down the stretch and in overtime, stoning Phillipich right before Favot’s goal.

Saturday, December 6, 10:00 p.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ed and I are at a pizza place next to the hotel. The Tigers are there for their postgame meal, and we’re at the old-folks table with the coaches and support staff. “Did you hear my comments to the USCHO reporter?” asks Wilson with a mischievous smile. “I said I thought we had the better goalie tonight.”

Saturday, December 6, 4:00 a.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ouch.

Saturday, December 6, 6:00 a.m. MT
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Our plane takes off, bound for Chicago and then Rochester. Apparently, I am no longer cursed as I am home with my family by 2:00 in the afternoon, Rochester time.

It’s been three straight weekends that I have been away broadcasting RIT hockey, and now I’m home for about a month and looking forward to some down time over the holidays. But I’m also looking forward to February when the Falcons come to Rochester for the final games of the regular season. If they are anything like the ones I saw this past weekend, they’ll be great.

Weekly Awards

Player of the Week for December 7, 2008
Matt Pierce — Mercyhurst

The senior had a whopping six goals in a 6-3, 11-1 sweep at AIC. Pierce got his first career hat trick on Friday, and then equaled that mark on Saturday. He had eight total points on the weekend.

Goaltender of the Week for December 7, 2008:
Jared DeMichiel — RIT

DeMichiel made 61 saves on 65 shots in two games at Air Force, helping the Tigers to a split with the Falcons. DeMichiel also assisted on RIT’s first goal on Saturday.

Rookie of the Week for December 7, 2008:
Phil Ginand — Mercyhurst

Ginand had three goals in the Lakers’ sweep at AIC. He now has 12 points on the season, tied for fourth on the team and tops among freshmen.

Midterm Break

This column (and columnist) is off until January 8, 2009. Have a safe and happy holidays and we’ll see you in the New Year.

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