Connecticut interim coach Dave Berard is getting his first taste of leading a college hockey program, and it’s been an eventful season so far for the former longtime Providence assistant coach who joined Bruce Marshall’s staff two years ago.
What started as Marshall’s 25th season behind the Huskies bench soon saw him take a medical leave in November and then resign earlier this month.
Berard, who had been running the team in Marshall’s absence since his medical leave, was officially appointed interim coach upon Marshall’s resignation on Jan. 6. A national search will commence at the end of the season, a critical junction for UConn, which is set to join Hockey East beginning with the 2014-15 season.
In the meantime, Berard has been dealing with the transition and uncertainty. Plus, he’s got an old-fashioned goaltending battle at the moment, something that you wouldn’t expect at UConn, which has unquestionably been senior Garrett Bartus’ team since he arrived in Storrs midway through his freshman season.
Bartus, who holds the school’s all-time record for saves (3,269) and wins (40), has not been the go-to guy since the holidays. He’s 1-2 in three starts in 2013 while fellow senior Matt Grogan has stepped to the forefront, posting a 4-1-1 record since the semester break.
Grogan has seen action in 10 games so far this season, equaling the total number of appearances he had in three seasons of backing up Bartus.
“You see it all the time, a player stepping up into a critical role,” Berard said. “Garrett had some academic issues around the holidays and we looked to Matt to step in. He played well in three games for us and when Garrett got those issues resolved, we decided to play them both. They both won against Penn State so we kept that up.”
Against Robert Morris and Mercyhurst, the Huskies had Grogan in net on Friday and Bartus on Saturday. In both cases, UConn won the Friday game and lost the following night.
“It wasn’t all about the goaltending, it was about coming back after a good win and letting down the next night,” Berard said. “We weren’t greedy enough to get the four points. Our game against Mercyhurst [5-0 loss on Jan. 19] was the worst we played in a long time.”
Grogan had earned a spot in the rotation based on those Friday night wins and No. 2 Quinnipiac was next up.
“We kept with the rotation and Matt got the start,” Berard said. “He played very well [48 saves in a 2-1 loss] and put us in a position to win the game. That’s all you can ask for.”
Grogan was rewarded with starts both nights in last week’s series with American International, winning 3-1 on Friday and tying 1-1 on Saturday. He made 53 saves on the weekend.
“At least we got a point on Saturday, which was an improvement,” Berard said. “Matt earned those starts and we were happy with the way he played.”
Despite Grogan starting an unprecedented three games in a row, Berard isn’t willing to say that he is now the incumbent starter, not when you have an all-star at the ready as well.
“Garrett has been great,” he said. “It’s been difficult for him. Since he got here he’s pretty much played every minute of every game. He’s not used to sitting on the bench, much less for [three straight] games. But he’s a good teammate and [Bartus and Grogan] have a good friendship. And Garrett knows he’ll play again.”
It could be as early as Saturday night. The Huskies travel to Rochester Institute of Technology for a weekend series.
“We’ll go with Matt on Friday and see what happens,” Berard said. “We’ll make adjustments if needed.”
The Huskies have been tinkering with their offense all season. Production has been down about a half a goal per game over last season when Cole Schneider was the main threat with 45 points. He left for the pro ranks at the end of the season, forfeiting his last two years of eligibility.
In addition to those points lost due to Schneider’s departure, other players have had trouble repeating their output from last season. Junior Brant Harris has 14 points so far after a 33-point sophomore campaign and classmate Billy Latta has six points, far shy of his 28 last year.
“There’s been some residual effect [to the loss of Schneider],” Berard said. “But we’ve been getting better and guys have begun to develop chemistry and learn what we need to do to score goals. The things that worked last year aren’t going to work this year and it took some time to realize that. We’re learning that we’re going to have to work harder for goals and do things differently, and I think that we’re adjusting at the right time.”
Connecticut has an almost identical record as this point last season (10-11-3 vs. 11-11-3 last year) going into the series at RIT. It’s one game at a time for Berard, who said he’s not looking ahead to the offseason when he’ll be competing to make his head coaching job permanent at UConn.
“I’ve been told that I will be considered for the job and I told them I want the job.” he said.
“I’ve been given a great opportunity to audition for the next two months. That said, that’s all that I am focused on, the next two months. I’m focused on this team and the players and giving them the best chance to win a championship. They’re a special group.
“Once the season is over, I’ll think about next year.”
Players of the week
From the home office in Haverhill, Mass.:
Atlantic Hockey player of the week:
Ryan Rashid, Niagara
The junior forward had four points to lead the Purple Eagles to a win and a draw against RIT. He had a pair of goals in a 3-3 tie on Friday and a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 6-4 victory.
Atlantic Hockey goalie of the week:
Jason Torf, Air Force
Torf allowed just one goal in two games against Robert Morris, leading the Falcons to their first home sweep of the season. He made 59 saves in total, including 30 in a 2-0 shutout on Friday. The junior has nine career shutouts.
Atlantic Hockey rookie of the week:
Andrew Gladiuk, Bentley
Gladiuk should be making space on his trophy shelf for the league’s rookie of the year award. He wins the weekly honors for the second week in a row and fifth time this season. This time out he booked four points, all on assists in the Falcons’ split with Holy Cross. Gladiuk has 26 points, tied for tops in the nation among rookies at 1.18 points per game.
Air Force, the preseason pick to win the regular season title, languished in the middle of the pack for the first two months of the season. But since the beginning of December, Air Force is 8-2-2 with its only losses coming at No. 1 Minnesota and at then-No. 15 Niagara. The Falcons have vaulted into second place as a result.
Strange stat of the week
Canisius dropped a 5-2 decision at Mercyhurst on Tuesday, and it was only the second time all season the Golden Griffins had lost a game where captain Preston Shupe recorded a point. Canisius is 9-2-2 this season when Shupe gets a point and 0-10-3 when he doesn’t.
It’s even better if the senior scores: the Griffs are 7-0 when he lights the lamp and 2-11-5 when Shupe is held without a goal.
A decade of great players: my take
Atlantic Hockey is celebrating its 10th anniversary this season and coaches and media are voting on an all-decade team.
Earlier this week the league announced that fans are also invited to participate. Votes from fans will be aggregated into a single ballot.
The players on the ballot are:
Forwards: Eric Ehn, Air Force (2006-08); Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force (2008-11); Adam Pleskach, American International (2009-present); Owen Meyer, Army (2006-10); Dain Prewitt, Bentley (2005-09); Brett Gensler, Bentley (2010-present); Cory Conacher, Canisius (2007-11); Vincent Scarsella, Canisius (2007-11); Dave Kostuch, Canisius (2008-10); Tim Olsen, Connecticut (2003-05); Matt Scherer, Connecticut (2003-07); Tyler McGregor, Holy Cross (2003-06); James Sixsmith, Holy Cross (2003-07); Jeff Dams, Holy Cross (2003-04); Pierre Napert-Frenette, Holy Cross (2003-06); Scott Pitt, Mercyhurst (2007-11); Ben Cottreau, Mercyhurst (2004-08); Dave Borrelli, Mercyhurst (2003-06); Dave Wrigley, Mercyhurst (2003-05); Scott Champagne (2003-07); Paul Zanette, Niagara (2010-11); Simon Lambert, RIT (2006-09); Nathan Longpre, Robert Morris (2010-11); Pierre-Luc O’Brien, Sacred Heart (2003-07); Alexander Parent, Sacred Heart (2004-08); Bear Trapp, Sacred Heart (2005-09); Nick Johnson, Sacred Heart (2006-10); Dave Jarman, Sacred Heart (2006-10); Garrett Larson, Sacred Heart (2003-05).
Defensemen: Greg Flynn, Air Force (2006-09); Tim Kirby, Air Force (2008-12); Zach McKelvie, Army (2005-09); Carl Hudson, Canisius (2006-10); Jon Landry, Holy Cross (2003-07); Cullen Eddy, Mercyhurst (2006-10); Jamie Hunt, Mercyhurst (2003-06); TJ Kemp, Mercyhurst (2003-05); Chris Tanev, RIT (2009-10); Dan Ringwald, RIT (2006-10); Denny Urban, Robert Morris (2010-11); Dave Grimson, Sacred Heart (2005-09).
Goaltenders: Andrew Volkening, Air Force (2006-10); Josh Kassel, Army (2005-09); Bryan Worosz, Canisius (2003-05); Tony Quesada, Holy Cross (2003-06); Ryan Zapolski, Mercyhurst (2007-11); Jared DeMichiel, RIT (2006-10); Shane Madolora, RIT (2009-12).
Voters are asked to pick, in ranked order, nine forwards, six defensemen and three goalies.
Here’s my ballot. Feel free to argue with me in the comments section.
1. Eric Ehn (Air Force, 2006-08): Ehn spent his final two seasons in Atlantic Hockey, and despite missing most of his senior year due to injury, had 89 points including 67 in just 46 league games. In 2007 he was AHA player of the year, a second team All-American and a member of the Hobey Hat Trick.
2. Jacques Lamoureux (Air Force, 2008-11): A prolific scorer, he put up 139 points including 79 goals in 116 career games at Air Force. Lamoureux was AHA player of the year, second-team All-American and a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2009.
3. Cory Conacher (Canisius, 2007-11): Conacher has made quite a splash in his NHL debut this season but also put up big numbers at Canisius, tallying 147 points in 129 career games. He was the 2010 AHA player of the year.
4. Owen Meyer (Army, 2006-10): Meyer was a huge part of the Black Knights offense, totaling 130 points in 135 games on teams that weren’t known for offensive prowess. He was first-team all-conference in 2009 and would have garnered more attention if he hadn’t played in the Ehn-Lamoureux era.
5. Simon Lambert (RIT, 2006-08): Lambert spent his freshman year in Division III and then the following season as a member of the Tigers’ Division I independent team, but over his last two seasons as a member of Atlantic Hockey he had 94 points in just 71 games. He led the Tigers to the regular season title in their first year of conference play and followed up the next season as a member of the first-team all-conference squad and as a Hobey finalist.
6. Ben Cottreau (Mercyhurst, 2004-08): A pure scorer and gifted playmaker, Cottreau had 61 goals and a whopping 156 career points in 132 games. He was the AHA rookie of the year in 2005, scoring champion in 2006 and second-team all-conference in 2008.
7. Pierre-Luc O’Brien (Sacred Heart, 2003-07): He tallied 158 career points, the most ever by an AHA player. He was the 2004 AHA rookie of the year and was first-team all-conference three times.
8. Paul Zanette (Niagara, 2010-11): He played only one year in the league, but what a season it was: 55 points in 35 games, including 43 in 27 league contests. He was AHA player of the year in 2011 as well as a second-team All-American and a Hobey finalist.
9. Brett Gensler (Bentley, 2010-present): Gensler’s full story has yet to be told, but the junior already has 103 points in 90 games. He won the league’s scoring title last season and was the first AHA player in history to win the Walter Brown Award, given to New England’s finest American-born player.
1. Dan Ringwald (RIT, 2006-10): He put up 123 career points, 30 more than any other defenseman in conference history. He was named to the first-team all-conference squad three times and was the AHA defenseman of the year in 2010, when he captained the Tigers to a Frozen Four appearance.
2. Tim Kirby (Air Force, 2008-12): He recorded 88 career points for the Falcons. He was the AHA defenseman of the year in 2012, twice named a first-team all-conference member and was a Hobey finalist, also in 2012.
3. Jon Landry (Holy Cross, 2003-07): He had 86 career points and was first-team all-conference twice. He was the defenseman of the year in the AHA in 2007.
4. Zach McKelvie (Army, 2005-09): He was the defenseman of the year in 2008 and twice was named a member of the league’s first-team all-conference squad. He posted 56 career points.
5. Denny Urban (Robert Morris, 2010-11): Urban played only his senior season in Atlantic Hockey, recording a whopping 40 points. He was defenseman of the year in 2011.
6. Chris Tanev (RIT, 2009-10): Tanev went pro after his rookie season and, along with Conacher, represents Atlantic Hockey in the NHL. He posted 28 points in his only AHA campaign, winning the league’s rookie of the year award and helping the Tigers to the Frozen Four.
1. Shane Madolora (RIT, 2009-10): The numbers are by far the best: 1.97 goals against average and a .932 save percentage, both AHA career records. He was the regular season goaltending champion in 2011 and twice earned first-team all-conference honors.
2. Andrew Volkening (Air Force, 2006-10): His 69 wins are by far the best in AHA history. In 127 games, Volkening recorded a GAA of 2.19 and a .924 save percentage. He was the AHA goaltender of the year in 2009 and was a member of the all-conference team twice.
3. Josh Kassel (Army, 2005-09): He led Army to its only regular season title in 2008, when he was named AHA goalie of the year and was a second-team All-American. That distinction gives him the nod over a host of other contenders for this third spot: Tony Quesada (Holy Cross, 2003-06), who led the Crusaders to the league’s first-ever NCAA tournament win; Ryan Zapolski (Mercyhurst, 2007-11), whose 109 wins are the second-most ever in the AHA; and Jared DeMichiel (RIT 2006-10), who led the Tigers to the 2010 Frozen Four as the MVP of the NCAA East Regional.
It was fun to look back on some great careers and I had to make some tough decisions in choosing these 18 players. Let me know how I did.