Random Shots

CBS College Sports opens up its sixth season as the national college hockey package in America with Mercyhurst at Army Saturday night.

So what, you say?

I have to be honest here; any game involving a service academy is a special game. Remember, these kids are shooting pucks now, but they’ll be firing bullets and other projectiles in defense of our country in the future. I will never forget what an Army player told me six seasons ago when I asked him about why Army was such a great shot-blocking team. His answer: “We’ll be blocking bullets one day; pucks don’t really bother us.”

If that doesn’t grab your attention, you’re asleep.

On the flip side, one of college hockey’s longest-tenured coaches stands behind the Mercyhurst bench in the form of Rick Gotkin. Perhaps the game’s funniest coach, Gotkin is a straight shooter who tells like it is.

During his playing days in Division III, he didn’t play much (I can sympathize). His coach was E.J. McGuire, now the head of NHL Central Scouting, and in a game in which they were surrendering one odd-man rush after another, McGuire chastised his team between periods. He screamed at his defensemen, “Can anyone in this room tell me how to properly play a two-on-one? Gotkin, what happens when there is a two-on-one?”

Gotkin, who sat on the bench most of that game, replied, “I try to move down the bench to get a better look at it.” The room broke up laughing.

Speaking of hilarious coaches, congratulations are in order for Frank Serratore of Air Force on his contract being extended. He has done a great job there, as has Brian Riley at Army.

Army beats Miami: I’m okay with Miami getting beat by Army. Miami is a good program having a good year but a good, shocking upset can be the catalyst to a title run if it’s processed properly. We hit Miami for the weekend series with Michigan State next weekend on CBS College Sports.

The last thought on the World Junior Championships: We know that a fifth-place finish for Team USA isn’t really acceptable. However, for this to be a microcosm of the state of USA Hockey, as some fans have stated, is simply moronic. The U17’s had a good tourney in Vancouver over Christmas. The women’s program continues to flourish. The U18’s are always competitive against elite NCAA teams.

The U.S. team had a bad run and some bad luck in Ottawa. Get over it and move on. We have still won more gold medals at the World Juniors than the Cubs have won World Series in the last 100 years, and the Cubs are much better-funded. We all know that Team USA has to do better at this tourney, and it will in 2010.

Players to watch: Many players out there can be expected to have a good second half, and I’m betting Matt Rust of Michigan is one of them. I’m thinking Bryan Hogan is another. Here are a few more, including (but not limited to) Rhett Rakhshani, Jordan Schroeder, Alex Biega, and Brock Bradford. Want a goalie in there? Scott Darling of Maine.

Eastern bias my fanny! I sometimes get accused of eastern bias, which makes me laugh, but it scares me how quickly anyone west of the New York/Pennsylvania border can get their knickers in a snit anytime anyone out here in the Northeast says anything good about any team in the Northeast. Now, if you are in Big Ten country and have watched your football teams consistently get shelled in bowl games, I sympathize with your insecurities.

For the record, as a member of the Hobey Baker selection committee, the last two sets of Hobey Hat Trick finalists were the exact six I picked on my ballots, and the only easterner in there was John Curry, a native the state of hockey, Minnesota (though he played at Boston University).

The other funny thing is my eastern counterparts often accuse me of being slanted towards the CCHA. No matter what, I can’t win, so I’ve just stopped caring about it. I’m from the Northeast — deal with it. If the national champ comes from Hockey East again, you’ll get no complaint from me.

However, if I’m an athletics director with a new Division I hockey program and get offered any young head coach in college hockey to get me started, on my short list are Dave Hakstol (North Dakota), Enrico Blasi (Miami), Tim Whitehead (Maine) and Guy Gadowsky (Princeton). That’s two Western Canadians, an Ontarian, and a guy from New Jersey.

A little bias: However, where I am biased, and proud to be, is about the development of quality Division I players from Long Island and the greater New York area in the past 15 years. It is nice to watch Rob Scuderi, Mike Komisarek (starting in the All-Star Game), Chris Higgins, and Eric Nystrom play in the NHL.

Kevin Shattenkirk (New Rochelle, N.Y.) of BU is among the best five defensemen in the NCAA, along with Long Island’s Matty Gilroy. BC’s Tim Filangieri is an elite shutdown defenseman. Steve Schultz at Colorado College is having a very good college career, as is James Marcou from UMass and Jason DeLuca at Lowell. That doesn’t even get into the James van Riemsdyks of the world (middle New Jersey), or some of the great players who have come out of southern Connecticut like Max Pacioretty, now up with the Canadiens after a year at Michigan.

This area has also produced coaches who’ve had success at higher levels, including Lou Vairo, Frank Anzalone, Rick Gotkin, and Bob Mancini. How about Whitehead, from Trenton, N.J.? He’s only been to the Frozen Four three or four times this decade (and don’t give me any baloney about not winning one). Be proud of the players and coaches from your areas; they represent your passion for the game. The elite coaches here can coach anywhere in the country and be successful at any level, and they’ve proved it.

Maybe a change? I’m going to throw this out there as food for thought. P.K. Subban of Team Canada talked about how the team’s pre-World Juniors experience doing military-style exercises at CFB Petawawa (near Ottawa) with the Canadian Armed Forces was a great team building experience. “We came here as individuals and left a team,” said the talented and passionate defenseman.

So here is my thought. If players like Mike Richards of the Flyers, Jaromir Jagr (formerly of the Rangers) and Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh can rave about their team’s experiences doing preseason team-building and training with the U.S. Army cadets at West Point, is bringing the U.S. World Junior team to West Point before the event (as opposed to Lake Placid, N.Y.) a possibility?

I’ll be honest here. Lake Placid is the shrine of hockey in the United States. Thanks to the Miracle on Ice, every American hockey fan remembers Lake Placid in 1980. Just say the words “Lake Placid” and it makes U.S. hockey fans teary-eyed.

However, Lake Placid is rustic and, well, placid. Maybe a week at West Point, seeing how the future defenders of this country live on a day-to-day basis, will even further the pride and importance of wearing the red, white, and blue in 2010 and beyond. The intensity of being on post and the exposure to some of the chaos of real conflict just might bring out an edge we didn’t see in Ottawa.