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Trio of former NCAA players named to Korean Olympic team

MATT DALTON

The 25-man roster for the 2018 Olympic team from Korea is now set and it includes three former NCAA players.

Goaltender Matt Dalton (Bemidji State) and forwards Brock Radunske (Michigan State) and Mike Testwuide (Colorado College) will suit up next month in PyeongChang.

Seven players on the Korean roster have their roots in North America, but have become Korean citizens after playing for Asia League teams from the country for several years.

Women’s D-III picks: Jan. 19

Kaitlyn Klein of Gustavus Adolphus (D3 Photography)
Kaitlyn Klein of Gustavus Adolphus (D3 Photography)

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 19-20

No. 5 Gustavus Adolphus vs Augsburg
Gustavus is now two points back from the top of the conference table, and Augsburg is just a point back from there. The Gusties have just one win in their last three games and are looking to get back on track. Both teams are fighting for position in the MIAC as the postseason comes closer. I’ll pick Gustavus to sweep. Gustavus Adolphus 3-2, 4-3

Lake Forest at No. 4 Adrian
Lake Forest sits atop the NCHA, one point ahead of Adrian. The Foresters have the most prolific offense in the country, scoring nearly six goals a game. Adrian is coming off three straight losses –- two to ranked opponents –- and needs to regain momentum. I expect Adrian to sweep at home. Adrian 4-3, 5-4.

Saturday, Jan. 20

No. 3 Norwich at No. 2 Elmira
It’s impossible to choose who might win this one. The teams tied in their one meeting last year, and they’re virtually indistinguishable at this point. This should be one of the best games of the season and will likely decide which of these teams might get to host a game in the playoffs. I’ll pick Elmira at home. Elmira 4-3

Wednesday, Jan. 24

No. 1 Plattsburgh at No. 10 Amherst
This one should be all Plattsburgh. Amherst has done a great job this season and worked themselves up in the rankings, but upending the Cardinals is a tough test for anyone. They have the advantage of being at home, but I think Plattsburgh wins. Plattsburgh 4-2

ECAC Hockey picks: Jan 19-20

Here’s a look at the games scheduled for this weekend in ECAC Hockey. Highlights include travel partners Cornell and Colgate playing a home-and-home series, while Harvard travels to Clarkson both teams looking to keep their unbeaten streaks intact. All games start at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

Last time: 7-2-4

Overall:  42-23-8

Friday, Jan. 19

Rensselaer at Brown     

The Bears scored four unanswered goals to win 5-4 in overtime when these teams last met on Dec. 2. Linden Marshall was in net for RPI that night, but the freshman has played better since then. The Bears haven’t won since that last meeting, although Brown has three ties and several narrow losses during its current seven-game winless streak.  I think Marshall’s improved play should help the Engineers bounce back from the earlier loss when these teams last met. Rensselaer wins

Harvard at Clarkson                       

Clarkson’s fourteen-game winning streak is the second longest in Division I, but Harvard is quietly working on a six-game unbeaten streak of its own. If the Golden Knights’ streak is going to come to an end, this could be the game that it happens, but even so, Clarkson hasn’t given me any reason to doubt them. Clarkson wins

Colgate                at Cornell          

The Big Red have kept on rolling, as Cornell is in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak, while Colgate is 4-7 since getting off to a hot start to the season. This should be a tight, defensive game, but I think the Big Red have enough talent up front to generate enough offense for the win. Cornell wins    

Dartmouth at St. Lawrence

The Saints looked to have some momentum following a 3-0-1 stretch to begin the second half, but were swept last weekend on the road against Rensselaer and Union. Dartmouth is 4-1-1 over its last six games and has scored thirteen goals over its last three games. I’m not sure if the Saints can keep up with that kind of offensive output. Dartmouth wins                

Union at Yale                   

Yale is 5-1-1 over its last seven games, while the Dutchmen have cooled off a bit since a hot stretch back in the fall. The Bulldogs have gotten good goaltending and defensive play lately, and I think that will be the difference Friday night. Yale wins

Quinnipiac at Arizona State, 9:05 EDT

Quinnipiac’s seven-game road trip ends in Arizona, as the Bobcats will play the Sun Devils in a two-game series this weekend.  Any chance at an at-large bid is virtually gone, so it will be interesting to see if QU’s coaching staff tries out some different combinations in order to jumpstart the team for the stretch run.  Regardless, the Bobcats should get a win in their first ever visit to Arizona State. Quinnipiac wins

 Saturday, Jan. 20

Union at Brown  

Union used to have its share of troubles against Brown, but the Dutchmen have won three in a row against the Bears and are 7-2-1 in the last ten meetings between the two schools. Both teams are prolific third-period scoring teams, so expect some late goals. Union has a little more scoring depth and I think that will be the difference. Union wins             

Dartmouth at Clarkson

Like I said above, the Golden Knights have been playing well lately, and I’ve got no reason to pick against them. Clarkson wins

Harvard at St. Lawrence

After struggling to score for much of the first half, the Saints have averaged more than three goals in the second half. Even so, I’m not sure that they can keep pace with the Crimson, as Ryan Donato is averaging a goal a game this season and Merrick Madsen has returned to form in net. Harvard wins

 Rensselaer at Yale

Yale fell to 3-7 after a 2-1 loss at RPI in early December, but the Bulldogs have played well since then. I think that momentum continues Saturday. Yale wins

Cornell at Colgate, 7:30 p.m.

The travel partners conclude their series in Hamilton. The numbers say Cornell should win, but I think the Raiders find a way to win and split the weekend. Colgate wins

Quinnipiac at Arizona State, 9:05 p.m. EDT

The Bobcats entered the weekend with a .500 record since returning from the holiday break, while Arizona State split a home series with UMass-Lowell last weekend. I think both of those trends will carry over into this weekend as the Sun Devils come back for a series split. Arizona State wins

Weekend picks: Jan. 18

Kevin Entmaa of Adrian (Mike Dickie/Adrian Athletics)
Kevin Entmaa of Adrian (Mike Dickie/Adrian Athletics)

We’ve got some interesting matchups on tap this weekend, including No. 3 Adrian at Milwaukee School of Engineering, No. 1 St. Norbert at St. Scholastica, and No. 5 Oswego at No. 9 Utica. Our columnists pick those games and more.

East picks: Jan. 18

West picks: Jan. 19

Weekend picks: Jan. 19

Well, I regained the lead on Matthew, courtesy of Minnesota Duluth, as I went 5-2-1 (.687) to Matthew’s 4-3-1 (.562). On the year, I am 71-41-17 (.616) and Matthew is 70-42-17 (.6058), so it’s not like a lot separates us right now. The big series is in Duluth, so let’s see how we can do.

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 19-20

No. 15 Omaha at No. 5 Denver
Candace: Did the week off help Denver refocus and realize that its best players need to give 100 percent throughout the entire game, and not take naps and give up goals in bunches? Maybe. Denver 4-2, 4-2
Matthew: Omaha has looked a lot better lately, but defense is still an issue and Denver can exploit that. Denver 4-3, 4-2

No. 7 North Dakota at No. 14 Minnesota Duluth
Candace: I think Duluth is going to be a tough out through the second half. The Bulldogs are currently in a three-way tie for fifth, but I see them gaining more ground in that race. Still, I don’t see a sweep of North Dakota. Minnesota Duluth 3-2, North Dakota 3-2
Matthew: Duluth’s results at home this season have been pretty blah. This would be a good weekend to turn that around, but I’m seeing a split here. Minnesota Duluth 3-1, North Dakota 3-1

Colorado College at No. 11 Western Michigan
Candace: CC is in free fall right now, and traveling to Kalamazoo to play in Lawson won’t help their confidence. Western Michigan 4-1, 4-1
Matthew: Tough to see Western not sweeping here, especially with it being at home. Western Michigan 3-1, 4-2

Saturday, Jan. 20

No. 9 Minnesota State at No. 3 St. Cloud State
Candace: I go league homer pick always in games against other Minnesota teams. Being at home will help. St. Cloud State 4-3
Matthew: This ought to be a really good game, but I think St. Cloud will be a little too strong for the Mavericks. St. Cloud State 4-2

East picks: Jan. 18

Stop the world I want to get off!! They say that even a blind squirrel can find an acorn, and so too it must be true that one week of the season I would get it right and have a perfect week. Yes, I write proudly that my picks last week finished at 10-0-0 (1.000), including the Babson win over Hobart and the right night for Buffalo State to take down Elmira. Overall, I vaulted to 58-25-4 (.690) on the season, so time to not get greedy but pick wisely and see if we can add yet another good week back-to-back. Here are the picks as the regular season kicks into high gear for all the conferences.

Thursday, Jan. 18

Western New England at Johnson & Wales
The CCC has been very competitive all season, and don’t let the records of the teams fool you on the level of competition that will happen between the Golden Bears and the Wildcats. Going with the home team, but with an empty-net goal to put the win away. Johnson & Wales 4-2

Fitchburg State at Framingham State
The battle of the FSU’s is usually hotly contested. The Falcons from Fitchburg probably have just too much depth for their acronym sharing opponents from Framingham, and that leads to a somewhat comfortable win. Fitchburg State 5-2

Friday, Jan. 19

Elmira at Manhattanville
Last weekend wasn’t great for either team, but Elmira got a split at Buffalo State where the Valiants dropped a pair of games to Williams and Nichols. Home ice and league points have the Manhattanville back in the win column. Manhattanville 3-2

No. 8 Geneseo at Buffalo State
This is a tough place to play for the Knights and most in SUNYAC, but to stay at the top with Oswego, they are going to have to find a way to pull out a win against a tough Bengals team. Offense is the difference in this one for the visitors. Geneseo 4-3

No. 2 Endicott at Nichols
The first-place Gulls will have their hands full with an experienced Nichols team that has played well in front of goalie Colin Brennan. The hosts are less than gracious, but like most games this season, Endicott finds that late goal to get the win. Endicott 3-2

Saturday, Jan. 20

No. 5 Oswego at No. 9 Utica
The Lakers are the odd team out in the SUNYAC schedule, but certainly are not taking a night off against the Pioneers. This one will be a playoff-caliber game, and the visitors eke one out courtesy of a revamped power play chipping in when it counts. Oswego 4-3

Williams at Colby
The Ephs have righted themselves after a four-game losing streak around the break, but will be challenged in Waterville by Sean Lawrence and the opportunistic Mules. Things are tight at the top, and these two points are important for both teams. Williams finds a way led by forward David Italiano. Williams, 3-2

No. 15 Hobart at No. 11 Norwich
The Cadets saw the results of two other close competitors knocking off Hobart last weekend and certainly would like to put more distance between themselves and the Statesmen. Home ice does matter for Norwich, which gets yet another great game from Braeden Ostepchuk for the overtime win. Norwich 3-2

The second half is flying by, and the battles in conference play are hotly contested with every point having great import for teams looking to separate themselves from their nearest competitors and improve position in the standings. It is past the middle of January, and the stretch run has begun in earnest — “Drop the Puck!”

Wesleyan has chance to define its season

Dylan Holze of Wesleyan (Wesleyan Athletics)
Dylan Holze of Wesleyan (Wesleyan Athletics)

Despite Tuesday night’s 7-2 setback against the Plattsburgh Cardinals, the Wesleyan Cardinals have been very quietly having a very good season in the hotly contested ranks of NESCAC. At 8-3-3 overall and 4-2-2 in the conference, Wesleyan has seen a run of good play that includes a nine-game unbeaten streak that contained a key road win at Hamilton. While the results have been good, their coach feels the next few games could be impactful and define their 2017-18 campaign.

“It was a tough game,” said coach Chris Potter. “I give them [Plattsburgh] all the credit for taking advantage of their opportunities, but we came out a little flat and never really got it going the way we can play. Whether it was a combination of the long bus trip or the glass repair that delayed the game for a while, we just never got our rhythm, and they played hard to keep us that way, especially with their defensive group. They are a very good team, and we need to put it behind us and focus on the games we have left in the conference over the next five weeks.”

There are just five weeks remaining in the regular season, and all of them include critical conference matchups for Wesleyan, starting this Friday night at Connecticut College, which currently sits tied with Wesleyan for the final home-ice berth in the NESCAC tournament at the end of the regular season.

“I told the kids that the next few weeks will define their season in terms of whether we are a contender near the top of the league or battling to stay in the playoff picture. It was in our own hands to control our own destiny and determine what kind of team we want to be playing down the stretch. It is very difficult to win on the road in this league, so we have stay focused and have our best games in those situations. I thought our best game all season was on the road at Amherst followed by the win at Hamilton, which may be one of the tougher road trips we have to make in the conference. We will need to play well and pick up some points on the road and then take care of business at home in the next few weeks if we really want to contend in the conference.”

There are a lot of good pieces in their game to help the Cardinals have success, including some talented forwards like senior Dylan Holze, along with sophomores Walker Harris, Spencer Fox, and Tyler Wyatt. Add in the junior defenseman Chad Malinowski leading a solid D-corps and a tandem of solid goaltenders in Tim Sestak and George Blinick and Wesleyan has the pieces in place to make a run.

“I like our depth overall,” said Potter. “We don’t rely on one line to score, and we have been very good producing playing five-on-five hockey which is a big plus. At this point of the season, we have some bumps and bruises, but so does everyone else, and we need everyone in the lineup to step up their game a bit over the final weeks. If anything could be better, I would say a few more power-play goals could really help take some pressure off the offense and one or two more kills would be good too.”

Potter mentioned the next four weeks to his players, and there are five weeks remaining in the season –- bad math at Wesleyan U? No, the quirk in the schedule that has been a significant challenge for the Cardinals is the final weekend of the regular season where the two remaining games are the home-and-home series with travel partner Trinity. You need to go back to the 2012-13 season to find a Cardinals win against the Bantams in one of the two final games of the season, a fact that is not lost on Potter, and something he hopes this year’s team can change.

“Finishing the season with those two against Trinity clearly has been a challenge for us,” said Potter. “We have to find ways to get points out of that last weekend, but we should not put ourselves in a hole going into that weekend where we need those points to be in good position for the playoffs or seeding. You don’t want any weekends where you don’t get points, because in this league that means you are going backwards. Trinity has been a really good team on a national level for the past few seasons, but we still need to find ways to get points from them, and hopefully we can do that this season and build momentum into the playoffs.”

The Trinity weekend is a month away, and there is business to take of starting this weekend with Connecticut College and Tufts on the road.

“Both those teams are playing well right now,” said Potter. “Just last weekend they took four points each from games with Amherst and Hamilton, so we know it is going to be a good test for our team to get back to our game and take some points on the road.

The chase for the playoffs is on, and these Cardinals are hoping to really take off over the remaining 10 games of the season.

SUNYAC suspends Plattsburgh coach Emery three games for confrontation with linesman

BOB EMERY

SUNYAC has suspended Plattsburgh men’s coach Bob Emery three games as a result of an on-ice verbal confrontation with a linesman after the conclusion of the Cardinals’ game at Williams on Jan. 13.

Included in the three-game suspension was the team’s game against Wesleyan on Jan. 16 and games on Jan. 26-27 against Brockport and Geneseo, respectively.

According to Plattsburgh, the results of the three games will go toward his coaching record and not be credited to assistant coach Steve Moffat.

This Week in Atlantic Hockey: January home schedule posing challenges for Army West Point

30 Dec 17: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Army West Point Black Knights in a non-conference matchup at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, MN. (Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com)
Army West Point coach Brian Riley has led the Black Knights to a 9-10-4 overall mark and a 7-7-4 record in AHC play this season (photo: Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com).

October kicked off the 2017-18 season with an expected face atop the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Army West Point sat on top, 13 points in its back pocket. The Black Knights swept their archrival Air Force for the first time in 14 years, earning a shutout along the way. After splitting with Niagara the next week, it seemed like the academy was ready to grab the mantle as the league’s darling.

The good times didn’t last, however, and the season’s second month saw the team fall back into the pack.

Following a strong showing around the holidays, however, Army is back, roaring into the second half with a head of steam following four points in three games and an undefeated start to January. On the heels of a three-point weekend against Bentley, it stands to reason that the Black Knights, with a home-loaded schedule on the horizon, could fast become, once again, Atlantic Hockey’s team to watch.

“We were impressed with Bentley,” Army coach Brian Riley said. “They were a little banged up and shorthanded, but we had to battle back three times on Friday night. We played one of our best first periods on Friday, but (Bentley goaltender Aidan Pelino) was great in goal, so we didn’t score. I had that feeling that it was going to be a dogfight, and it was.”

Playing at Tate Rink for the first time in over a month, the Black Knights earned a hard-fought tie in front of their home crowd. A shorthanded goal by Brendan Soucie knotted the game at 1-1 in the second period, and Blake Box’s first of the season tied the game at 2-2 after Falcon goals. In the third period, Conor Andrle scored what became the game-tying goal after the team surrendered a go-ahead goal four minutes prior. The emotional lift set a tone for the rest of the weekend, and Army bulldozed Saturday night with a 4-0 victory.

“Bentley deserves credit,” Riley said. “But I give credit to our guys too where we battled back three times. That led to Saturday where we felt like we needed to win. Our guys got back to playing that complete game, and it started with special teams.”

The concept of a complete game seems to be a recurring theme around Atlantic Hockey. It feels, at times, like a cliche, and it can appear as one of those “coachspeak” buzzwords used in media sessions. But it’s holding true, a lesson learned earlier in the year when Army slipped up following its six-win start.

West Point split with Niagara a week after sweeping Air Force on the road. The win on Friday wound up as the team’s sixth of the season, but it wound up as the team’s last AHC victory for the entire first half of the year. A one-point weekend against Holy Cross begat a tie at Sacred Heart, which in turn preceded a pointless weekend at Canisius. Just like that, the first place Black Knights were a team in the middle of the pack.

“When we were losing in November, we weren’t playing poorly,” Riley said. “We were just always doing something that wasn’t going to put us in a position to be successful. We just weren’t playing a complete game. If it’s one thing we’ve learned, to win is such a fine line between that and losing. You have to find a way to play for 60 minutes in the league this year – 40 minutes, 50 minutes, and even 58 minutes might not cut it.”

It’s a lesson the Black Knights learned when they stepped out of conference play. Army beat nationally-ranked teams when it beat Colgate at home and New Hampshire on the road, and even two losses on the road at Minnesota provided valuable lessons applied when it hit the ice at Nassau Coliseum against Sacred Heart to start the second half.

“That was the toughest five-game stretch that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Riley said of the nonconference slate, which also included a game at Merrimack. “We played Colgate when they were nationally-ranked. UNH was nationally-ranked. Merrimack plays in a tough place at (Lawler Rink), and then there are two games at Minnesota. We felt that beating Colgate and UNH, then going out to Minnesota in a 1-0 game with four minutes to go gave our guys confidence that we can compete with these teams and have success.

“That was important because we were in a rough stretch going into those games. We came out of it a better team.”

That better team is now poised for a second-half run aided by the potential of playing at home for virtually all of January. The Black Knights hosted Bentley last weekend, then remain at Tate Rink for the next four regular-season games. Eight of the team’s 13 second-half games are within its friendly confines, finishing up the season with Sacred Heart at the end of February.

“It’ll only be good if we can win some of these games,” Riley said. “There’s no guarantees. It’s great to be at home, and we like playing in front of our fans, but we’re going to have Mercyhurst for two and Niagara for two. They’re very good teams. We’re going to be pushed and challenged to find a way to play the right way to win hockey games. It’s good to be at home, but we know that these are going to be big challenges.”

The Black Knights are technically off this weekend, though they travel to Canada to play the Royal Military College on Saturday. They return to league play next week when they host the Lakers on Friday and Saturday nights.

USA vs. Canada

That Army West Point-RMC Rivalry that renews this weekend is one of the very best in all of sports.

First played in 1923, West Point holds a 45-29-7 advantage over the Paladins, who last won, 3-2, during the 2001-2002 season. Last year, the teams played at Tate Rink, combining for 73 shots en route to a 5-3 win for the United States.

This year’s game shifts to Ontario, where RMC is 17-16-6 against West Point. The Black Knights currently hold a four game unbeaten streak in Kingston, going 3-0-1 as part of a 6-2-2 stretch since 1992.

It’s officially an exhibition game, and it won’t count towards anything in the NCAA hockey season. But that’s merely a footnote. It’s the longest-running international sporting event contested annually in the world, and it’s a unique chapter in the United States-Canada hockey rivalry permeating throughout the Olympics and IIHF competition.

“This has been the longest rivalry Army hockey has had,” Riley said. “It’s not like some teams who play Canadian schools at the beginning of the year and call it an exhibition. Their whole school will be at the game. It’s going to be great because the atmosphere will force you to be at the top of your game. And any time Americans and Canadians play each other, there’s an intensity that comes with that game. It’s a rivalry game that brings out the best in the guys that play in it.”

Leaders, Not Followers

So about that whole 60-minutes thing. Just in case you still believe it’s nothing more than “coachspeak,” here’s some stats that should rock your world.

Teams scoring first have a .653 winning percentage this season with 76 victories. 10 league teams are over .500, including Canisius, who at 9-0-1 is the only AHC team yet to lose after scoring first. The Golden Griffins are tied with Air Force for most victories; the Falcons are 9-2-1 after lighting the lamp first.

On the back end, teams leading after the second period are virtually assured of victory. AHC teams have led 96 times after the second period this season and have lost only six times with a 74-6-10 overall record. Over half of the league’s teams are undefeated in that respect, led by Air Force’s perfect 11-0 run.

Canisius and Bentley are both perfect, going 6-0 and 4-0, respectively. AIC, Army West Point, and Holy Cross, meanwhile are undefeated. The Crusaders and Black Knights both have seven victories but have tied twice and once, respectively, while AIC is 6-0-1 after two periods.

The remaining five teams split the six losses in a weird carousel or round robin. Sacred Heart led Mercyhurst, 2-1, but lost 3-2 in overtime. Mercyhurst led Canisius, 3-2, only to watch the Griffins rally for five goals in a 7-3 defeat. Canisius also beat Niagara, 4-2, after trailing 2-1, but the Purple Eagles rallied for a win over RIT by scoring twice in a 4-3 victory. RIT rallied past Robert Morris, 5-3, after trailing, 3-2.

For what it’s worth, there’s only one non-conference third period defeat; Niagara lost to Cornell, 5-4, after leading 3-1. It’s hardly a stain, though, since the Big Red have a solid case and argument for the No. 1 overall ranking in the national polls.

It goes beyond that. AHC teams are 64-20-7 when leading at the end of the first. Canisius once again leads the pack at a perfect 6-0, but Air Force, Army West Point and Bentley only have one loss when leading after 20 minutes. Air Force and Robert Morris hold the most wins, with eight apiece.

There’s a simple point here.

Teams have to score early, then compete for the rest of the game to put their opponents away. It might be stating the obvious, but it’s a lot more beneficial to fight for the full 60 than to expect to rally down the stretch.

Exercise Your Right!

Fan voting is officially open for the 2018 Hobey Baker Memorial Award, allowing an annual rite of passage where fans can have their say to the selection committee. 74 players are on the ballot this year, with nine players from eight AHC schools represented.

Three of the AHC nominees are underclassmen, including AIC freshman Brennan Kapcheck. Sophomore Noah Delmas will represent Niagara, and junior Dylan McLaughlin was named out of Canisius. The remainder are all seniors – Brady Ferguson (RMU), Scott Pooley (Holy Cross), Derian Plouffe (Niagara), Kyle Schmidt (Bentley), Jack Riley (Mercyhurst) and Myles Powell (RIT).

Fan voting closes on March 4 when the field is cut to 10 finalists. Voting is available at the Hobey Baker Award website.

Players of the Week

Here’s the latest, with help from the release from the league offices back here in the Bay State, where the weather doesn’t seem to know if it wants to snow or be 50 degrees already.

Player of the Week – Holy Cross’ Danny Lopez: Lopez had three goals and two assists as Holy Cross swept a weekend series against Sacred Heart.

Defensive Player of the Week – Canisius’ Cameron Heath: Heath had two goals in AIC’s 6-1 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday. He added three blocked shots on the weekend.

Goalie of the Week – Air Force’s Billy Christopoulos: The junior made 55 saves on the weekend to lead all AHC goaltenders in save percentage and goals against average. Saturday’s win was also his first career shutout.

Rookie of the Week – Canisius’ Grant Meyer: Meyer had three points in the Golden Griffins’ win over Sacred Heart on Saturday. His first goal was the game’s first, and his empty net goal sealed off the final victory for the club.

This Week in the WCHA: Lake Superior State, Alaska Anchorage looking to make late-season pushes

Aidan Wright of Lake Superior. Denver vs. Lake Superior at Magness Arena, 10/20/2017. (Candace Horgan)
Lake Superior State captain Aidan Wright looks to lead the Lakers into the WCHA postseason (photo: Candace Horgan).

There is more than a month remaining in the regular season, but time is running short for Lake Superior State and Alaska Anchorage.

It might seem like an odd statement, but it’s pretty close to reality for the ninth- and tenth-place teams in the WCHA.

For a quick refresher, the top eight teams make the playoffs and at this moment, the Seawolves and Lakers are dangerously close to falling too far behind before the calendar turns to February.

The Lakers have 15 points in 18 WCHA games, and are seven points out of playoff position. The Seawolves have 12 points in 16 league games, and only have two official NCAA wins (3-on-3 and shootout victories don’t count) overall.

And both teams are heading into one of their biggest challenges of the season. The Lakers and Nanooks travel to a team in the top-three of the WCHA standings this weekend, and flip-flop opponents the following week.

It’s four straight games where each team will be underdogs and if they don’t get results, they officially could be left behind by before February.

That’s the bad news.

The good news? Both teams have something to build on heading into high-pressure road series this weekend.

Lake Superior State defeated Ferris State 5-3 this past Saturday, winning for the first time since Dec. 2. On that same night, Anchorage defeated Alabama Huntsville 2-1, winning its first game since Nov. 4.

For the Seawolves it was they type of win they could build on heading to Bowling Green this weekend. In that 2-1 win Anchorage killed a pair of five-minute major penalties, and held strong in the third period when the Chargers pushed back with 13 shots.

“I was proud of our guy’s effort,” UAA coach Matt Thomas said after the win. “It was a gritty win. We had to kill penalties tonight, which makes the win even better.”

Thomas won’t be happy with major penalties against Bowling Green, who sits in third in the WCHA, but the coach can take solace in his team’s penalty killing and ability to limit quality shots against Huntsville. Even late in the game, when the Chargers were holding the puck more often, the Seawolves defense did it’s part in making sure goalie Olivier Mantha had a clean look at the puck.

Lake Superior State’s recent win was a bit more electric — there were eight total goals, but it was a reminder that the Lakers are a dangerous offensive team, and they just need to even out their streakiness.

The Lakers have been shutout five times this season, but they’ve also scored four goals or more in five games. As a team with six double-digit point producers, there is an offensive arsenal, it just needs to click more often.

That’s the Lakers lesson heading into this weekend against Northern Michigan, which recently jumped into second in the league standings — come out firing like they did when they scored three goals in the first period against Ferris State.

At this point the WCHA looks like a well-defined layered cake with three tiers. Three teams are already virtual locks to host first-round series, while five after that are clawing their way for the final home-ice advantage.

And at the bottom, it’s the the Lakers and Seawolves.

They can’t change that in one weekend, but they can start a key climb, and they have to, if they want to be playing after February.

While we are talking about playoffs, the Lake Superior-Northern Michigan tilt also comes with a trophy on the line. The Cappo Cup is awarded each year to the winner of the rivalry series, and after the teams split a non-conference series back in October, the Lakers could win a championship of sorts and keep their WCHA playoff dreams within reaching distance in one weekend.

Mavs participating in Hockey Day Minnesota

Minnesota’s annual celebration of “The State of Hockey” will have some WCHA flavor this season.

Minnesota State will participate in the daylong marathon of high school, college and pro hockey Saturday afternoon when they take on instate rivals St. Cloud State for a clash of top-10 teams.

The Hockey Day Minnesota event, rotated between Minnesota cities, is in St. Cloud this season. The day typically revolves around some outdoor games between area prep teams — this year’s high school games are on Lake George in St. Cloud — along with college games featuring Minnesota teams.

The Mavericks and the Huskies won’t be playing outdoors — they’re playing inside at St. Cloud State’s Herb Brooks National Hockey Center following women’s game between SCSU and Minnesota Duluth — but it’s the first time the MSU men’s team has appeared in the showcase event, which has been going since 2007.

The Mavericks played the Huskies once already this season — they met for a single game on Oct. 7 for the teams’ season openers in Mankato. The Huskies won that game 4-0, and up until last weekend it was the only time the Mavericks have been shut out all season. The Alaska Nanooks handed MSU its second shutout of the season on Friday, when they won 5-0 in Fairbanks.

It was near the end of MSU’s two-week-long trek to Alaska, and any signs that the long journey was starting to wear on the Mavericks were dismissed the next night. MSU won 5-1, with Brad McClure scoring a pair of goals.

All told, the Mavericks finished their journey to the Last Frontier with a 3-1 record and, following Saturday’s win, became the first WCHA team to clinch playoff spot. They have 45 points in 20 conference games.

However, MSU must turn its attention outside the conference for its next two games. After Saturday’s matchup with St. Cloud the Mavericks finish up their non-league schedule with a single home game against Minnesota Duluth on Tuesday. The Mavericks also lost their other meeting with the Bulldogs this year, falling 3-1 in Duluth.

Those two games represent some of the final chances the WCHA has to improve its non-conference record. After these two contests, the only other out of conference games is a series between Arizona State and Michigan Tech in mid-February in Houghton.

Right now, WCHA teams are 17-35-7 against the rest of the country. Last season, the league was 17-48-5. Neither is ideal, but a few more victories here can at least up the win total and maybe give the league an outside chance at an at-large bid if things go its way.

Ice Chips

— Alabama Huntsville recently completed a two-week trip to Alaska. The Chargers went 2-2 on the weekend with a pair of splits, setting themselves up well for the season’s final stretch. Perhaps more importantly about last weekend, however — that Alaska trip represented their final road trip of the season. The Chargers’ strange schedule this season saw them start the year with four straight road series before playing at home. They then got three home series before hitting the road again — this time for six consecutive weekends (give or take a few weeks off for a bye and holidays). And now, following a bye this weekend, the Chargers won’t have to leave Huntsville again this season. They play their final eight games at home as they push for a playoff appearance. They’ll host, in order: Bemidji State, Northern Michigan, Minnesota State and Bowling Green to close out the regular season.

— Alaska’s 5-0 shutout of Minnesota State last weekend was the first of the season for the Nanooks. Sophomore goaltender Anton Martinsson turned away 26 shots in the game to earn his first career shutout.

— Three times this season that Bowling Green has forced overtime with an extra-attacker goal in the final 90 seconds of regulation: Nov. 25 vs. Miami (Alec Rauhauser with 0:38 remaining), Dec. 2 vs. Bemidji State (Lukas Craggs with 0:54 remaining) and last Saturday at Northern Michigan (Cameron Wright with 1:29 remaining).

— Bemidji State lost and tied against North Dakota last weekend to close out its nonconference slate. The Beavers were led offensively by senior Kyle Bauman, who scored the Beavers’ lone goal Friday and added an assist Saturday. Bauman has at least a point in each of BSU’s last five games. He currently leads BSU with 26 points (9g-17a) and is now tied with Minnesota State’s Zeb Knutson for second in the conference in scoring.

— Northern Michigan went a perfect 4-for-4 on the power-play to open up a sweep against Bowling Green, including a pair of man-advantage goals by Troy Loggins, to win the opener 5-2. Darien Craighead’s second-period power-play goal stood as the game-winner in the first game.

Players Of The Week

Northern Michigan junior Troy Loggins (Offensive), Alaska senior Zach Frye (Defensive), Northern Michigan junior Atte Tolvanen (Goaltender) and Ferris State freshman forward Coale Norris (Rookie).

This Week in the NCHC: North Dakota optimistic after opening 2018 on inconsistent note

Rhett Gardner (North Dakota-22) 2017 Dec. 8 The St.Cloud State University Huskies host North Dakota in a NCHC matchup at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, MN (Bradley K. Olson)
Rhett Gardner and North Dakota are 2-1-1 since the calendar flipped to 2018 (photo: Bradley K. Olson).

Starting the second half of the season in the friendly confines of Ralph Engelstad Arena would have seemed to be the best of all possible scenarios for North Dakota.

However, a 4-1 loss to Omaha in the first game of the second half threw a wrench in that plan. In three games at home, the Fighting Hawks have only gone 1-1-1.

As coach Brad Berry is quick to point out, though, some of that is due to the caliber of opponents.

Regardless, the loss to Omaha served as a reminder to his young team.

“I don’t know if it was a wakeup call, but it kind of reminded us on how we have to play home or on the road,” said Berry. “We had a hungry Omaha team, and it seems like every team that we play is playing red-hot at the time. You see what Omaha has done in the past few weeks. They came in and we were second on puck battles, we didn’t play with a lot of pace, which usually we do, and then that’s what happens. Then the next night, took a couple of players out of the lineup, switched our ‘D’ around, and Cam Johnson backed up Peter Thome, so we made a lot of lineup changes, which kind of resonated with our group and ended up winning 7-0 and kind of played vastly different from Friday night. Like I said, those games we had on Friday, we haven’t had a whole lot of those.”

Last weekend, North Dakota turned in a dominant 5-1 victory over Bemidji State on Friday, but Saturday could only muster a 2-2 tie, in part due to the play of Beavers goalie Michael Bitzer.

“Well, looking back at it against Bemidji, previous nine games playing them, tying three, winning six, we knew we had a tough opponent,” said Berry. “They don’t give up much offensively. They’re led by Michael Bitzer, a top senior goaltender there, and we knew goals would be tough to come by, and I thought we generated a lot of offensive opportunities on Friday night, both power play and five-on-five, and we made the most of them. On Saturday night, we came home and we outshot them 12-3 in the first period and had five grade-A opportunities. We didn’t capitalize on our chances in the first period and limited them to 16 shots in regulation time. So we didn’t give up a whole lot, but didn’t capitalize on our chances, and I think that was the difference in the game. Michael Bitzer played an unbelievable game.”

North Dakota’s offense has been inconsistent so far this season. In its two wins in the second half, the Hawks have scored nine goals; in the loss and tie, they have two goals. Even back to October, that inconsistent offense has been an issue.

Part of that could be losing two world-class forwards to the NHL in Brock Boeser and Tyson Jost. However, North Dakota doesn’t have a single player averaging a point per game. Shane Gersich, who led the team in scoring last year with nearly a point a game, is down to .67 points per game.

“That’s kind of a loaded question, but with Gersich and (Austin) Poganski, they’ve been playing the right way the whole year,” said Berry. “Statistically, it hasn’t shown for them as far as getting rewarded for how hard they’ve worked and what they’re doing on a daily basis. As of late, it’s coming a little bit better for them as far as scoring goals and getting offense for them. As far as us playing more defensively to compensate for it, I don’t think so. We have a mindset here at North Dakota of hard play away from the puck, and we do that practice, we do that in games, and so that’s just a staple of ours. That’s how we play. We try to suffocate teams and not give them a lot of offensive opportunities.”

This weekend, the Hawks are on the road against a resurgent Minnesota Duluth, a team that Berry feels has a lot of similarities to his.

“I mean, I think the first thing that leads into this weekend is both teams are vastly different from last year,” said Berry. “They lost a lot of players, impactful players, and so did we. I think both teams were building their teams through the first half. They had some injuries the first half, so did we, and I think everybody is back in their lineup now, and they’ve got a group that has grown through the first half and is playing really good hockey right now. We’re the same way. It should make a great weekend here, and every time that we play against each other I think both teams match each other as far as how they practice, how they play, and their mindset as far as the compete and mentality, so it should make for a great weekend.”

St. Cloud looking to establish post-holiday consistency

Heading into the break, St. Cloud State was one of the hottest teams in the country, ranked No. 1 with a 12-2-1 record.

Since the break, the Huskies have struggled out of the gate, going 2-2-2. Some of that can be attributed to coach Bob Motzko being out at the World Junior Championship, but not all. This weekend against Western Michigan, the team gave up 11 goals in two games in a hard-fought split at home.

“We’re just a tad off, and that’s been our team,” said Motzko. “We’re 2-2-2 since Christmas, and you know also give credit to the teams we played that played very well. We’re in dire need of just getting back to strong detail in our game. One thing that’s hurt us, and I was told in Princeton and I can tell you from discipline is we took some very uncharacteristic penalties. And that led us to some goals-against on the penalty kill; so discipline. and we’ve got to tighten up our game.

“You do get off kilter when you take your two weeks off at Christmas, and I think we just need to get back to some strong practices and get back to good habits.”

Against Western, both games were back and forth, with St. Cloud unable to hold a lead in either game. Saturday, they won 4-3 on a late goal after giving up a tying power-play goal at 11:14 of the third. Friday, they had a 3-1 lead at the end of the first, but gave up four goals in the second en route to a 7-5 loss.

“I like how we battled,” said Motzko. “We were not on top of our game this weekend. You know, we’re coming off an emotional weekend with Minnesota. (The break is) going to roll around, and it rolls around on your schedule every year. We had to battle through very slow starts. We stuck with it on Saturday, and it wasn’t easy for us. Western played very hard and very good. So, that’s the positive that I take away, is we weren’t playing our A game. We just stuck with it and battled through, and it was very important. It was very easily a game we could have lost, and our guys battled through it.”

One of the positives for St. Cloud has been the production of junior forward Mikey Eyssimont, who since the beginning of December has come on strong. He had a three-point night in a 5-2 win over Minnesota two weeks ago, and a three-point night in Saturday’s win against Western.

“Well, there’s no question Mikey is finding the offense come a little more consistent right now, and like all great scorers, when you get on a little bit of a roll they start to feel that juice and get that confidence,” said Motzko. “It’s a great place for a scorer to be, and Christmas might have been just what he needed, take a little break and step away, come back and get hot, and we need that. We put him in a lot of key situations for us offensively with power play and minutes played, and it’s coming at a great time to get him going in the second half.”

This weekend, the Huskies only have one game, a Saturday contest as part of Hockey Day Minnesota against Minnesota State. The game will be indoors at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, but the women are playing outdoors earlier in the day against Minnesota Duluth on Lake George in St. Cloud.

“We just have to have a good week of practice again,” said Motzko. “I was gone for a long stretch there. I’m anxious to get back and get a good routine going again and the fundamentals of our play. I’ll tell you honestly that’s all we’re looking at right now is just a solid week of preparation and in our game, our detail, to get us going.”

NCHC players of the week

Offensive player of the week — Jake Randolph, Omaha: Randolph recorded six points in leading Omaha to a weekend sweep of Miami. Friday, in an 11-7 win, he had four points on two goals and two assists while earning the game’s second star. Saturday, he scored the second goal and assisted on the game-winner in a 4-3 win while earning the game’s first star. He finished the series plus-1.

Defensive player of the week — Corey Schueneman, Western Michigan: Schueneman helped the Broncos to a weekend split with St. Cloud State. Friday, he had a goal and an assist in Western’s 7-5 win, scoring on a power play to tie the game 3-3 and assisting on Western’s fourth goal while finishing plus-2 and helping the penalty kill go seven-for-nine. Saturday, he had another goal and assist and blocked two shots.

Rookie of the week — Phil Knies, Miami: Knies had five points on the weekend. Friday, in an 11-7 loss, he had three pints, scoring Miami’s third and fourth goals and assisting on a short-handed goal while finishing plus-2. Saturday, he scored twice in the third period and earned the game’s third star. He finished the weekend plus-3.

Goaltender of the week — Cam Johnson, North Dakota: Johnson helped North Dakota to a win and tie against Bemidji State, only giving up three goals on the weekend. Friday, he made 28 saves in a 5-1 win on the road, including 15 in the third period. Saturday in a 2-2 tie, he made 18 saves. He finished the weekend with a 1.44 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. His win Friday was the 52nd of his career, moving him to a tie for sixth all-time at North Dakota.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 18-21

It’s Super Saturday in New York! I’m super excited! I wish I could say the same about how I did with last week’s picks. Before we get to this week’s picks, here’s how Drew Claussen and I are doing so far.

Last week

Drew: 3-3-0 (.500)
Paula: 3-3-0 (.500)

This season

Drew: 68-40-10 (.619)
Paula: 74-34-10 (.669)

This week

Everyone plays but Ohio State this weekend. All times are local.

No. 13 Minnesota vs. Michigan State

Drew: Minnesota doesn’t have much to feel good about at the moment, but maybe the losses to Michigan can jump start a second-half run. If they don’t, this team is in danger of having to watch the NCAA tournament on TV. I’ll pick Minnesota to get two wins this weekend, but wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan State forces a split.

Paula: The Spartans played two strong road games against Wisconsin last week and picked up the 2-0 win Friday night. While Minnesota is trying to find a groove this season, Michigan State is trying to recapture the momentum it had at the end of the first half of the season. Minnesota is 115-45-16 all-time against Michigan State and the Golden Gophers swept the Spartans in Minneapolis the first weekend of November. With 14 points, Minnesota is three points ahead of the last-place Spartans. Thursdays game in East Lansing begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday’s game in Madison Square Garden begins at 8:00 p.m. Both games are televised by the Big Ten Network.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-3, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

No. 12 Penn State at No. 20 Michigan

Drew: I wouldn’t be surprised if this series was like the one the two teams played in late October, where the winning team of each game scored five goals. Both teams are really feeling it on the offensive side of things but both are still prone to giving up goals. I’ll pick a split.

Paula: Did you hear Mel Pearson sing a little Guess Who on his radio show this week? As far as I know Red Berenson wasn’t much for singing, but he never swept the Gophers in Minnesota, either. Michigan will be feeling its oats and the Nittany Lions will be stinging from their Saturday loss to Ohio State. Third-place Penn State is five points ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten standings, but the Nittany Lions will be thinking about the two points that separate them from second-place Ohio State and the chance to surpass the idle Buckeyes. The teams are 8-7-0 in their last four seasons, and Penn State lost a pair of games in Yost Ice Arena last season. Friday’s game begins at 8:05 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game starts at 7:05 p.m. and is not televised.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 6-4, Michigan 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 5-4, 4-3.

No. 18 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Notre Dame

Drew: It’s hard to find a reason to pick against the Irish other than the adage that all good things must come to an end. An early-afternoon game at United Center could be that tripping block for Notre Dame so I’ll pick the Badgers to win that game and force a split.

Paula: Drew is bold to pick against the kind of streak that Notre Dame is riding, and we all know that I’m not that brave. Wisconsin leads this all-time series 39-20-7, but the Irish swept the Badgers in the Kohl Center in early December. Wisconsin is making its first trip to South Bend since 2005. Friday’s game in the Compton Family Ice Arena begins at 7:35 p.m. and is not televised. Sunday’s game in Chicago’s United Center starts at 2:05 p.m. and is carried by NBC Sports Network.

Drew’s picks: Notre Dame 3-1, Wisconsin 4-3.
Paula: Notre Dame 2-1, 2-1.

Tweeting is super!

I’ll be tweeting live from Madison Square Garden during Saturday’s Minnesota-Michigan State game. Say hello (@paulacweston) please, and remember to follow Drew (@drewclaussen) as well.

West picks: Jan. 19

Friday, Jan. 19

No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wisconsin-Eau Claire
A big road test awaits the nationally ranked Pointers as they hit the road to take on the Blugolds in a crucial WIAC matchup. Wis.-Stevens Point has lost only once in its last 11 and features a high-powered offensive attack that has cranked out 71 goals. Tanner Karty leads the attack with 12 goals and 17 assists. The Blugolds have won three of four and are eager to make a statement that will go a long way in the determining the WIAC title race. Jake Hepfner is one of three players with at least 10 points. He’s tallied 13, including seven off goals. Wis.-Stevens Point 4-3

No. 3 Adrian at Milwaukee School of Engineering
The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games and look to keep the momentum rolling in a big road game. Since the beginning of December, the Bulldogs have been rock solid defensively, giving up only 11 goals. Goalie Kevin Entmaa owns a 1.77 GAA and has made 206 saves. MSOE needs a win badly. The Raiders have dropped their last four games and hope to pull off their third win against a ranked team this season. They have a pretty good goalie of their own in Zach Woodman, who is 6-5 and has a 1.84 goals-against average. Adrian 4-2

Lake Forest at Marian
The Foresters have struggled on the road, fashioning a 4-5 record, but they will no doubt be ready for this one. George Gerasimou has been phenomenal, scoring four goals and dishing out 12 assists to pace a balanced attack. He is one of seven players with at least 11 points. The Sabres have won five of six and own a 3-2-1 record at home. They are hungry for revenge after suffering a 3-1 loss to the Foresters earlier this season. Few players in the league have been better than Derek Thorogood, who has scored 11 goals and tallied 13 assists. Marian 4-2

Friday-Saturday, Jan. 19-20

Concordia at Saint John’s
The two teams are separated by four points in the standings. Saint John’s is in third place and has punched in 55 goals while giving up 38. Five players have tallied at least 10 points, including Brady Heppner, who has come through with seven goals and eight assists. The Cobbers have scored 50 goals and have allowed 50 goals. Mario Bianchi leads the team in points with seven goals and 13 assists, while Jacob Stephan and Sam Nelson have split time in goal, combining for seven wins. Saint John’s 3-1, Concordia 4-3

No. 14 Augsburg vs. Gustavus
With four consecutive wins, the nationally ranked Auggies are back on track and sit atop the MIAC standings, but they face a stern test this weekend in a home-and-home series with the second-place Gusties. Nate Flynn continues to lead the attack for Augsburg, scoring 12 goals and dishing out eight assists. Nick Schmit owns a 2.19 GAA. The Gusties have won only once in their last seven games and are hoping to regain momentum down the stretch of the regular season. Evan Erickson leads the team with six goals and six assists, fueling an offense that has scored 43 goals. Augsburg 5-2, 4-2

Hamline vs. St. Olaf
Russ Jordan just scored the 50th point of his career in a 3-1 loss to Saint John’s, and he’ll be a key to success for the Pipers in their home-and-home series with the Oles. Hamline has won two of three and begins this series on the road, were it is 2-4 this season. Jordan has scored eight goals and dished out seven assists. Winless in its last three games, St. Olaf is in the sixth spot in the standings, and a couple of wins could help it solidify its playoff chances. The Oles have four players with 10 or more points, including Drew Otto, who has tallied six goals and seven assists. St. Olaf 5-3, Hamline, 4-2

Saturday, Jan. 20

Wisconsin-River Falls at No. 4 Wisconsin-Stevens Point
The Falcons have lost just once in their last four games and are hoping to steal a big win that could jump-start their conference title hopes. Cayden Cahill will be one to watch for Wis.-River Falls. He comes in with eight goals and seven assists. Wis.-Stevens Point has one of the better defenses in the nation, allowing only 35 goals thanks to the effort of Max Milosek, who has won 10 games and owns a 1.72 GAA. Milosek has made 368 saves. Wis.-Stevens Point 5-2

No. 1 St. Norbert at St. Scholastica
The Green Knights hit the road for a huge NCHA showdown with the Saints. St. Norbert has rattled off four consecutive wins, giving up only five goals during the stretch. Goalie T.J. Black has played a big part in that success, fashioning a 1.32 GAA. He has allowed only 22 goals. Boasting an eight-game win streak, the Saints are one of the hottest teams in the country. They are 6-1 at home and are two wins shy of matching last season’s win total. Kyle Star and Mark Whiteley lead the attack, combining for eight goals and 20 assists. St. Scholastica 4-3

Young players have Cornell in good spot

Kristin O'Neill of Cornell (Cornell Athletics)
Kristin O’Neill of Cornell (Cornell Athletics)

There’s not a lot that seems to make sense when it comes to the Cornell Big Red’s season. Their roster is young — just seven of their 22 players are upperclassmen. Currently fifth in the ECAC standings, the Big Red are ranked No. 6 in the country. The lone Ivy League squad among the top conference and nationally ranked teams, they’ve played at minimum five fewer games than their competition. Yet somehow, with 11 games left on their regular season roster, Cornell is about as in control of their destiny as they could hope to be at this point in the season.

The race for the top of the ECAC is as tight as it’s ever been. The top six teams are all within five points of each other. Just two of those remaining games are against teams currently sitting above them in the conference standings. They’ll play eight games against conference opponents below them on the table, whose combined record is 14-41-5.

The contributions of their young talent have left the Big Red in a great position looking toward the postseason and really peaking a season or two before a glance at their roster would have you believe they should. The top three scorers on the squad are underclassmen. Sophomore Kristin O’Neill, freshman Madlynne Mills, and sophomore Jamie Bourbonnais account for 48 percent of the goals the Big Red have scored thus far and 44 percent of the teams’ points total.

Though she obviously doesn’t have an easy way to compare, Mills said her conversations with friends in other programs lead her to believe that no squad has welcomed, embraced, or integrated their rookies like Cornell has. Though many skaters finding themselves wanting to put their first year behind them, Mills said she and her fellow freshmen have been joking that they never want to stop being rookies because the transition and season have gone so well.

“We (all the freshman) have had conversations about how much we love being the rookies because of how well we are treated. This has been important in knowing that we have an important role on the team and we are just as valued as everyone else,” she said.

With a small core of upperclassmen, it’s been important for the younger players to take on bigger roles and more responsibility and thus far, they’re all handling it with aplomb. Instead of feeling lost or overwhelmed, Mills and her fellow freshman have seemed to flourish. She leads the team with 11 goals and has found herself an integral part of the team’s chemistry and success.

Cornell’s gritty style of play has also helped Mills ease into the college game. She’s able to focus on winning along the boards and getting the puck. The finesse of a prettier game will come with time and comfort on the ice, but in the meantime, she doesn’t feel pressure t o be perfect.

“The systems and the style of our team has made my transition easier because I know that I don’t have to be the most talented player to play within our system, I just have to bring my best effort to every practice and game,” said Mills.

Bourbonnais is one of those sophomores who’s taken on a bigger leadership role in just her second season. She feels like a veteran and puts that down to the same welcoming atmosphere that’s helped this year’s freshmen become so acclimated.

“Talking with girls on other teams I know that there is usually a bit of a divide between the freshmen and the upperclassmen, which is not at all the case on our team,” she said. “The girls on our team really make an effort to get to know the freshmen, and we have all become really good friends because of it. … Looking at the friendships on our team, classes really don’t matter to us. The freshmen have played a huge role in our team’s success.”

To have reached their potential with such a young team speaks volumes about the culture and program that’s been built at Cornell. The team’s chemistry on the ice is very much built on the respect the players have for each other off the ice.

Bourbonnais has been really impressed by the recruiting process set up by coach Doug Derraugh and his staff, especially now that she’s experienced it as a member of the team. Being able to share input on how a potential recruit fits with the team off the ice and on campus gives the team some ownership in the culture that’s built and the chemistry that’s created. It fosters open communication from players up to the staff, and that absolutely has translated to on-ice success for the team, she said.

That focus on the players as not just stellar student-athletes, but also above-average people, has helped rookies like Mills feel invested in the team, the culture and the program and, she said, helps her feel like a better prepared college student and adult in the real world.

“(Recruiting good people) is what starts off our team’s culture, but also the daily focus on being a better person,” said Mills. “The coaching staff also challenges us to be vulnerable with each other and connect in a deeper way than just average teammates. This further ties our team together on and off the ice.”

Elmira women grow stronger from tough circumstances

Kelcey Crawford of Elmira (Travis Larner/Elmira College Athletics)
Kelcey Crawford of Elmira (Travis Larner/Elmira College Athletics)

An overtime loss to Adrian in the national semifinal was not the way the Elmira Soaring Eagles saw their season ending last year. So far this year, they’ve avenged that loss and upended four-time defending national champion Plattsburgh. They are undefeated in conference and 13-2 overall as they head into a key weekend match against No. 3/2 Norwich.

With senior Sarah Hughson having a career year up front and senior Kelcey Crawford settling in for her first season as the full-time starter, Elmira is primed to make another run for the postseason and is feeling confident that this year will have a much happier ending.

It’s been an interesting and unique run for Elmira, whose coach left before last season to join D-I Penn State. The university promoted an assistant, but by the first week of the season announced she was leaving the program and men’s assistant Tim Crowley was named interim head coach.

The Soaring Eagles handled themselves well despite the off-ice distractions, and Crowley is back in the head coaching role, this time officially. Having had a season and then some to get used to his style and implement his systems, this season is as comfortable and confident as the team has felt, said Hughson and Crawford.

The Soaring Eagles are coming off a pair of wins against Utica, which served as an effective rebound for their confidence after losing twice in four games — once to Amherst and once to Plattsburgh.

Competing for the first time in the brand-new UCHC, the Soaring Eagles are learning to balance the highs and lows of their schedule while also trying to build toward the postseason. Though most coaches try to keep their team at a pretty even level throughout the season, it’s impossible for the players to ignore the importance of this weekend’s game with Norwich. Not only will it affect both team’s rankings, but there are quality win points on the line and the likelihood that the winner of this game will earn home ice.

“This game is huge, and I think we’re all just focusing on that,” said Crawford. “We know how big this game is going to be. We know what it means for our chances in March, so (we want to) give it everything we have and hope for the best. It’s just making sure that we are system strong. Being confident. Playing our style of hockey. We know it’s going to be a physical game, so we’re getting ready for that as well.”

On paper, there doesn’t appear to be much that separates Elmira and Norwich. Their team defense and team offense numbers are virtually identical. One big advantage Elmira seems to have is in Crawford.

After having split time in net in her junior year, Crawford is the starter for the Soaring Eagles. She admits that in the past she’s struggled with confidence and finding her role on the team, but that work with the team’s goaltending coach and the strength of the team around her have left her feeling as strong and sure of herself as she’s ever been. There’s more pressure, but there’s a lot more excitement as well.

Her personal confidence is backed up by the third-most-prolific offense in the country, leaving her about as sure on the ice as anyone can be.

“It helps me relax a little bit (knowing how good Elmira’s offense is); in the Adrian game, I made a little mistake and my team had my back and we ended up winning 5-1,” said Crawford. “They’re going to pick me up and they’re going to pick the whole team up. The defense is blocking shots and stepping up and then we have the forwards taking care of it in their end. It boosts my confidence. It’s awesome to be part of a team like that. They say, ‘We got you.'”

Though the immediate focus is on a pair of nonconference games this week, Elmira will finish out the season with a month of UCHC contests. While the team can’t help but think about the long-term implications of a win or loss against Norwich, those are all a bit hypothetical until the Soaring Eagles take care of business in their conference.

“Conference is huge,” said Hughson. “We like to stay on top the whole time through. It’s the first step to getting to where our final goal is. Winning conference and being number one throughout the season is always going to be our first step, and it’s not something we can overlook. Our conference games are just as important as playing big teams.”

It’s a delicate balancing act, being both short- and far-sighted about the season and trying to hone their skills and grow as a team when the schedule flips between nationally ranked squads and those who sit at the bottom of the UCHC table.

It can be difficult for a goaltender to play in games where they only face a few shots a period. Crawford said they’re more difficult than the games where she might face 60 shots. When she’s facing that much pressure, she doesn’t have time to think. She relies on her reflexes and muscle memory and years of working to become the type of goalie she is now. There is little-to-no thinking that happens in those types of games.

However, there’s something to be learned in each situation, she said. The lower shot-total games are the ones where she works on her own mental game and on keeping herself prepared for whatever might come her way.

The Soaring Eagles have already proven the can handle a lot of upheaval, and they’ve only grown and gotten better thanks to it. Rolling with the changes of last season brought them together as a program, and there’s a comfort level and closeness to the squad that might not otherwise have happened organically. They’ve weathered it all, come out stronger, and are focused on making the very best of the time they have left on the ice.

Whiteley and St. Scholastica look to continue hot streak

Mark Whiteley of St. Scholastica (Makenna Bridgman/St. Scholastica)
Mark Whiteley of St. Scholastica (Makenna Bridgman/St. Scholastica)

Mark Whiteley has been a consistent contributor on both ends of the ice throughout his collegiate career. Whether it was his freshman season at Marian when he earned a spot on the NCHA All-Freshman Team, or last season when he landed on the All-NCHA squad, the senior defenseman out of British Columbia has made his presence felt on the ice.

This season might be his best yet. He already has four goals and nine assists, but more importantly, St. Scholastica is storming through its schedule, rattling off eight consecutive wins to establish itself as one of the hottest teams in NCAA Division III hockey.

“It’s been a lot of fun coming to the rink every day,” Whiteley said. “The atmosphere is a lot of fun, and we feed off each other.”

Whiteley has taken a give-everything-you-have approach to this season, and that’s not a surprise. He is, after all, a senior, generating a sense of urgency inside of him.

“As a senior, with this being my last year, I’m playing every game as if it’s my last,” Whiteley said. “I’m doing what I can to help the team. Personally, I’m having a pretty good year offensively, and I guess defensively as well, and the credit goes to my teammates.”

The Saints are 11-5-1 overall and 5-4-1 in the NCHA, good enough for third place in the North Division. They are two wins shy of matching last season’s win total. This season didn’t start out looking like one in which St. Scholastica would be a contender. Things went south in a hurry after a 3-0 start to the year as the Saints dropped five consecutive games during a six-game winless streak.

Times have certainly changed. The Saints haven’t lost since falling 4-1 to Adrian Dec. 1. Their unbeaten streak stands at nine games.

“It took us a little time at the beginning of the year to grasp the systems,” Whiteley said. “Once we came together and bought in, we have been clicking on all cylinders. It’s been fun.”

Whiteley has been instrumental to the success, maintaining the consistency he has enjoyed since becoming a college hockey player. He scored four goals and eight assists as a freshman and finished with two goals and 12 assists as a sophomore, his first season with the Saints.

A year ago, Whiteley tallied three goals and 14 assists. He hasn’t missed a beat this year and credits a productive off season for being able to step up his game another notch.

“My overall fitness has improved,” Whiteley said. “I took this off season and did a little extra. I got extra workouts in and improved my speed, and it’s been paying off with getting up and down the ice and getting shots off.”

Whiteley isn’t the only one fueling this special season for the Saints. Kyle Star leads the team in points, tallying four goals and 11 assists, and four others have come through with at least 10 points, including Nate Pionk, who has managed to punch in four goals while dishing out eight assists.

Parker Mismash has tallied four goals as well. Jordan Fralich leads the team in goals scored with five. Stellar goaltending from Nick Trenciansky has been huge as well. He owns a 5-1 record and has racked up 158 saves.

Whiteley also points out that compared to a season ago, he and his teammates have paid more attention to one important thing.

“The little things,” Whiteley said. “We pay more attention to detail and have gotten good contributions from our freshman class. They have proven to be a big asset to us.”

Leadership can’t be overlooked either. Whiteley and his senior teammates have done a solid job of providing it.

“For me, I just try to lead by example, working my tail off day in and day out,” Whiteley said. “I do extra workouts and spend extra time on the ice, and my teammates see that and are eager and excited to join me.”

Whiteley can’t say enough about the experience he’s had at St. Scholastica. It’s one he won’t ever forget.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” Whiteley said. “The city is fantastic and beautiful, and I love the school. It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s bittersweet it’s coming to an end.”

However, it’s not over yet. The Saints still have games to play, including a showdown with top-ranked St. Norbert Saturday night at home.

“It’s a game we have marked on our calendar, but we don’t want to overlook Friday night (against Finlandia),” Whiteley said. “But we know the importance of that game with St. Norbert, and we’ve matched up well with them over the years. Anything can happen. We are rolling right now, and hopefully, we can continue to roll.”

MIAC
Concordia coach Chris Howe won the 100th game of his career Friday night after the Cobbers overcame a 2-0 deficit to knock off Saint Mary’s 5-4 in overtime. Howe is only the third coach in program history to get to 100 wins. He began his career at Concordia in 2008 and is only the third coach at the school in the last 40 years.

Augsburg scored five or more goals in a game for the seventh time this season in its 6-2 win over Wisconsin-Stout Saturday. They have outscored the opposition 63-38. It was also a special night for first-year goalie Daniil Gerasimov, who earned his first collegiate win.

NCHA
Derek Thorogood of Marian recorded his second hat trick of the season as he helped the Sabres knock off Finlandia, 6-0, Friday night. Thorogood pushed his season goal total to 11. He also has 13 assists. The senior forward has scored nine or more goals in each season of his career and needs only one more to get to 40 for his career.

A.J. Smith recorded a shutout in Northland’s impressive win over the Milwaukee School of Engineering Friday night. The Lumberjacks won the game 1-0. Smith made 39 saves for his second win. The junior has appeared in nine games this season, making 289 saves.

WIAC
Brennen Miller scored a pair of goals for Wisconsin-Stevens Point in its games against Augsburg and Saint John’s. The goals this past weekend are his first since Dec. 1. Miller, a sophomore, now has six goals on the year to go along with his three assists.

Zach Dyment made his fifth consecutive start in goal for Wisconsin-Eau Claire Saturday and helped the Blugolds to a 4-2 win over St. Olaf. He stopped 20 shots to earn his third win of the season. Dyment has made 122 saves in all this season.

In the poll
St. Norbert is still the No. 1 team in the nation and one of three teams from the West ranked in the top five. Adrian is third and Wisconsin-Stevens Point is fourth. Augsburg checks in at No. 14 this week.

This Week in ECAC Hockey: Depth proving to be a winning factor for hot Cornell squad

Alec McCrea (Cornell - 29), Luke Esposito (Harvard - 9) - The Harvard University Crimson defeated the visiting Cornell University Big Red on Saturday, November 5, 2016, at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Alec McCrea has posted eight points in 17 games this season from the Cornell blue line (photo: Melissa Wade).

If there’s one key factor to Cornell’s success this season so far, it has been the team’s balance up and down the lineup.

Six Big Red players are in double digits in points, led by Trevor Yates, who leads the team with 17 points (11 goals and six assists). Jeff Malott is second on the team with 15 points (four goals and 11 assists), while Anthony Angello has 14 points (six goals and eight assists) for third on the team.

Alex Rauter (six goals and seven assists), Morgan Barron (four goals and nine assists) and Mitch Vanderlaan (four goals and nine assists) each have 13 points.

“I think it’s been a lot of balance at all positions,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “You look at how each line can produce offense on any given night and we’ve had contributions in all of our defensemen. We’ve had both goaltenders contribute by stepping up and doing a good job in between the pipes.”

Out of the six forwards leading the offense, only two of them are underclassmen in Malott and Barron. Malott, who saw his time as freshman hampered by injuries, has taken the bull by the horns in his sophomore campaign.

Despite the injury-riddled season, he was able to contribute late in the 2016-17 season.

“He’s another guy that has played all over the place up front, left wing, right wing with different lines from the start of the year,” Schafer said. “I think he’s starting to find some chemistry a little bit with (Kyle) Betts and Alex Rauter. They have been on fire the last few games. Again, he represents our team. He’s very flexible and he’s a big, strong kid that can skate.”

Barron, a Halifax, Nova Scotia native, has taken an unconventional route to Ithaca, N.Y. The freshman spent the past two seasons with St. Andrew’s College outside of Toronto. Schafer said the New York Rangers prospect has always had the skills to play Division I hockey.

That’s only one aspect to becoming a college hockey player, but it’s Barron’s mental game that allowed him to go straight from Canadian prep school to Cornell.

“Kids are getting pushed back two and three years and I think the biggest adjustment is most kids have the skill to play Division I, but don’t have the hockey sense to come in and make adjustments at a faster pace,” said Schafer. “A kid like Morgan has those attributes, some kids need to go learn the game, a little bit more. Some kids can step in and play right away, and Morgan is one of those kids.”

On the back end, the defense has made freshman goaltender Matthew Galajda’s job easier. There’s no senior in the group, but are led by three juniors in Brendan Smith, Alex McCrea and Matthew Nuttle.

Schafer said while the group doesn’t have the experience as in year’s past, but have gained experience while on the job.

“The juniors have been through a lot,” Schafer said. “Those guys have clawed their way into the lineup after their freshman season and it develops. Even though it’s not an experienced group as they aren’t seniors, but they have paid their dues. It is important as they know what it means to be detailed as they had to fight their way into the lineup from their freshman year to now.”

Bulldogs establishing workman-like attitude

A team who quietly has had a good end to 2017 and a good start to 2018 is Yale.

The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 in their past seven games, with wins over Union, Sacred Heart, New Hampshire, UMass and Colgate. They forged a tie with Cornell this past weekend.

Their lone loss came against Minnesota Duluth at the Ledyard Bank Classic over the holidays.

What has been the biggest positive to their turnaround?

“The real key is the way we’ve been practicing really well,” Yale coach Keith Allain said. “I think the past three weeks now we came back, and we didn’t have school. Our guys have really have approached practice in a workman-like attitude. I think they have enjoyed pushing each other and that work has translated into some decent hockey games.”

The Bulldogs have been on the other end of the spectrum earlier this season as they lost five in a row just before the current run.

Allain said the practices in the first half were good, but the way they played in the first half of the season made the team find that extra gear.

Three of the five wins have come from backup goaltender Corbin Kaczperski as he has a 3-1-0 record this season with a 2.01 GAA and a.930 save percentage.

“I wouldn’t say I gave him a chance, he earned his chance,” Allain said. “He’s been a guy who has improved each month he has been with us. It got to the point where right before Christmas, I had to find opportunities to get him into the game because he deserved to play. Right now, we have two goaltenders doing the job for us and that has been beneficial for us.”

Sam Tucker, who has been the primary goaltender, has a 5-7-1 record with a 2.91 GAA and a .898 save percentage.

With an 8-8-1 record overall and 5-6-1 in the ECAC, the Bulldogs sit sixth in the standings.

For Allain, the focus is still on a game-by-game basis.

“I can honestly tell you, I didn’t know we were in (sixth) place until you told me,” Allain said. “I don’t look at the standings. We have a huge game coming up Friday night. We are trying to get two points on Friday night.”

The Bulldogs welcome Union to New Haven on Friday and Rensselaer pays a visit on Saturday night

Players of the Week

Odeen Tufto brought home both the Player and Rookie of the Week as the Quinnipiac freshman had a goal and four assists in the games with Dartmouth and Harvard.

Linden Marshall of Rensselaer is the Goaltender of the Week with a 1-1-1 record, a 1.61 GAA and a .950 save percentage.

13 ECAC players named to Hobey Baker fan vote

Of the 74 nominees, 13 will come from the ECAC for the fans to vote on to get to the top ten.

Union (Ryan Scarfo, Cale Maier), Cornell (Trevor Yates, Alex Rauter) and Clarkson (Jake Kielly, Sheldon Rempal) each have two representatives. Harvard (Ryan Donato), Princeton (Max Véronneau), Yale (Joe Snively), Rensselaer (Jacob Hayhurst), Brown (Brent Beaudoin), Dartmouth (Devin Buffalo) and Colgate (Colton Point) each have one representative.

Voting is open until March 5.

Phase II voting of the Top-10 will start on March 14 and runs until March 25. The Hobey Hat Trick will be announced on March 29 and the Hobey Baker will be awarded on Friday, April 6 in Minneapolis at the Frozen Four.

Scrivens named to Canadian Olympic Team

Ben Scrivens, a former Cornell player, is the lone ECAC alum named to the Canadian Olympic Team. The Spruce Grove, Alberta, native is in his second season in the Kontinental Hockey League and his first season with Salavat Yulaev Ufa after spending last season with Dinamo Minsk

With Salavat Yulaev Ufa, he’s 19-11-2 with a 2.29 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

This Week in Hockey East: Northeastern finding its stride, wants to ‘stay in the moment’

The Huskies celebrate their win. - The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.The visiting Northeastern University Huskies defeated the Boston College Eagles 5-2 on Saturday, December 9, 2017, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Northeastern celebrates its win over Boston College back on Dec. 9, 2017 (photo: Melissa Wade).

The latest team in the Hockey East driver’s seat is now Northeastern.

Last weekend, the Huskies swept one of the hottest teams in hockey, Maine, to extend their own hot streak to 7-0-2. Coupled with Boston College’s loss to Providence, Northeastern is only a point out of first place and holds a game in hand over BC. The Huskies also hold a three-point lead over the third-place Friars.

“I don’t think we’ve peaked,” NU coach Jim Madigan said. “I mean, hopefully you don’t peak ’til March, and there’s still a lot to our game that we have to get better at. Our kids know that and we’ll continue just to strive, stay in the moment and get better each and every game and each and every day at practice.”

A close look at the Huskies shows one reason after another for them to finish on top of Hockey East. They’ve boasted the league’s top offense pretty much from game one, averaging 3.68 goals a game. Supercharging that offense is a power play that converts at 28 percent, tops in the country.

“We’ve probably had the top power play in terms of percentage or goals scored the last three years,” Madigan said. “Dylan Sikura, Adam Gaudette and Nolan Stevens have been on the top unit over the last couple of years, and you’ve got some shooters there, but they’re very unselfish when it comes to finding the open man and moving the puck around. Sometimes, I wish they’d be a little bit more selfish in and around the net, but we’re always looking for that best option.

“That obviously helps provide momentum in our five-on-five play. We’re also starting to get some secondary scorers. Brandon Hawkins became eligible in December, and he’s got three goals and eight points in six games. Grant Jozefek and other forwards are coming around to give us that secondary scoring that we need.”

The other, potentially more important, factor that makes Northeastern so dangerous is that they’ve also got Hockey East’s second-best team defense.

“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on getting better in our own zone,” Madigan said. “It starts coming back into our zone off the back check and back pressure, and our defensemen move pucks really quickly, transitioning pucks, and exiting our zones as quickly as we can.

“We’re limiting the opposition shots and quality opportunities, which is the key. We’ve reduced our goals against significantly from last year to this year, and we need that to continue for us to be successful.”

Of course, a defense only goes as far as its goaltender. Add one more reason to like Northeastern’s chances. Freshman goaltender Cayden Primeau has taken over the position, playing every game since Nov. 28, and going undefeated in that time. He ranks in the top two or three within the league in every statistical category. And none of that is a surprise to Madigan.

“Everything he’s doing, we expected,” Madigan said. “He’s been a top goalie at the USA-15 level, -16 level, and -17 level. He backstopped the US team in the World Junior A challenge to a gold medal.

“He’s been as advertised. He knows how to prepare, he’s balanced, he’s even-keeled, and he’s humble. He’s open and receptive to coaching and he just keeps getting better each and every day at practice.

“So, am I surprised that he’s playing this way? No, because we expected it, but hey, it’s still a tough transition and so we’re really happy. We knew what we were getting.”

Arguably, the one possible Achilles’ heel for the team is the penalty kill. While every other statistic ranks first, second, or third in the league, the Huskies’ PK ranks ninth at 77.5 percent (albeit with better numbers in league play, sixth and 80.4). And it’s not as though the numbers are trending in the right direction. The PK has surrendered goals in the last four games (a cumulative 4-for-13).

Madigan, however, isn’t so sure those numbers capture the picture accurately.

“Early in the year, I would say that we didn’t have an identity to our penalty kills,” he said. “We’ve got an identity now.

“And as you know, figures lie and liars figure. Stats always don’t give you the full understanding, the breadth of where you are. Yes, we have given up a goal in the last four games, but I like where our penalty killing is now.”

Madigan points out that one of the goals surrendered was an extra attacker, six-on-four goal, and there have also been fluky caroms off blocked shots.

“We all look at the percentages, but it’s also the timing of your penalty kills,” he said. “We’ve killed off some big penalties in the third period, and that’s given us momentum to move forward.

“I like where our penalty killing is now.”

The sweep over Maine did vault the Huskies into the NCAA tournament bubble. They now stand 13th in the PairWise, with Providence the only other Hockey East team to be within the Top 16, at ninth. (This is due to the poor nonconference results Jim and I have bemoaned all season.)

On the bubble is a treacherous position to be in, but it’s as far from Madigan and the team’s focus as possible.

“All we’re worried about is UMass on Friday night,” he says. “Two years ago, we had our meteoric finish to the season. We couldn’t look at PairWise then.

“We understand its importance, we understand the significance of each game and how that plays into the PairWise, but we’re coaching and our kids are playing to the opposition who we play each and every night. If we take care of business, the PairWise will be there for us at the end of the season.”

The “middle of the pack,” plus another team makes its move

It’s easy to see where the top four Hockey East teams are really positioned in the standings since Boston College has played 15 league games and Northeastern, Providence, and UMass Lowell have played 14. Pretty clear cut.

Not so in the middle of the standings where a team like UMass holds five games in hand–five!–over Boston University and Connecticut, and that number was six until Tuesday night’s loss at Maine.

There’s a lot at stake for those “middle” teams with this year’s playoff format. The top five receive byes while teams six, seven, and eight host first-round series with nine, 10, and 11. Finishing fifth instead of sixth is a huge deal. Same with eighth versus ninth.

Merrimack, currently in eighth place in terms of points, holds three games in hand over BU and UConn, but gives up two to UMass. So the Warriors’ picture remains murky. They have, however, made a big move in recent games.

They came out of the break stunning second-ranked Denver, 3-2, then in league action defeated UConn twice, sandwiched around a loss to Providence. Those two wins could easily be the difference between hosting that first-round series and going on the road. (UConn is technically in seventh place, one point ahead, but as noted above, now gives Merrimack three games in hand and the head-to-head tiebreaker.)

“We’ve been playing a lot better than our record, to be honest,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “Our first 10 games in league, seven of them were against Boston College, Providence, and Northeastern. So we didn’t get any breaks with the schedule, and I don’t know that I did a great job of non-conference [scheduling] by adding at-Denver, at-Duluth for two, and at-Colgate for two.

“We’ve played pretty well and haven’t gotten rewarded. We had to try to maintain a positive attitude in the locker room, and we felt that things would start to turn. And they have.

“So we’re excited. We think we can make a second-half push here.”

Dennehy will be looking for more of the senior leadership and production he’s gotten so far. Jace Hennig and Brett Seney lead the scoring with 20 points each, and defenseman Jared Kolquist follows with another 16.

“Jared Kolquist is having an outstanding offensive season as a senior,” Dennehy said. “Brett Seney has always been there offensively for us, and he’s rounded out his game defensively. Jace Hennig really goes under the radar with a lot of people, but he’s a real good, smart, two-way hockey player, who can do a little bit of everything.

“And that’s leaving out Marc Biega, who we think might be one of our best defensive defensemen, and [junior] Ludvid Larson, who is quietly having a really strong year for us. Great on faceoffs and probably our best 200-foot player.

“So we felt our older guys were strong and could help carry the load, and that’s been the case so far.”

A major pleasant surprise from a player with almost no experience has been junior goaltender Craig Pantano. In two years, he’d seen all of 37 minutes of action, but when starter Collin Delia left in the late summer, a canyon-sized gap resulted. Pantano has taken advantage of that opportunity and then some, ranking fourth in the league in both goals-against average and save percentage.

When asked about Pantano’s success, Dennehy draws an amusing parallel.

“People love to mention how much of a genius move it was for the Patriots to draft Tom Brady in the sixth round, but if they really knew how good he was, why’d they wait until the sixth round to draft him?” Dennehy asked.

Um, yes, maybe Pantano did warrant more than 37 minutes those first two years.

“The most important statistic in goaltending is wins, and Craig has done a good job of getting in there and getting some W’s,” Dennehy says. “The guys have responded to him in the net, and the other two guys, [Drew Vogler and Logan Halladay] are pushing him as well. So it’s nice to have that position solidified.”

Scoring has admittedly been hard to come by at times. The team ranks tenth in scoring. However, a power play that trails only Northeastern’s in efficiency (21.1 percent) often sparks that offense.

“Our power play is dangerous,” Dennehy said. “We’ve got two units that if teams take too many penalties, we’re going to score some goals. At the very least, we’re going to gain some momentum.”

As noted earlier, a lot is at stake with playoff positioning, but Dennehy and his players can’t be distracted by that.

“If I lose focus on the game, then our players will as well,” he said. “We’re really going game-to-game and trying to just prepare for each opponent.

“We’re well aware [of what’s at stake]. Home ice for us is important because I don’t think people like coming to Lawler [Arena]. Flat out. I don’t think there are a lot of teams, not just in our league, but in the country, that like to come to Lawler. And our record over the last 8 to 10 years speaks volumes to that as well.

“It’s a tough place to play. We like playing there, so obviously getting home ice is one of the goals of our program.”

Travis Roy: Quadriplegia and a Life of Purpose

Over the years, I’ve written several pieces here at USCHO about Travis Roy and quadriplegia.

I’ve just released a compilation of those pieces that includes new introductions to each of them, and most significantly, a foreword from Travis himself. All proceeds go to the Travis Roy foundation, which funds research into a cure for spinal cord injuries and provides individual grants to survivors.

Travis Roy: Quadriplegia and a Life of Purpose is a tiny volume—a very tiny volume—but it’s for a great cause and there’s powerful stuff inside. Here’s one of the things Travis says in the foreword:

“I realize how fortunate I was to spend the first half of my life with a passion, thanks to my hockey career. It took me a while to realize it, but now I feel fortunate to have lived the second half of my life with a purpose.”

Maybe that doesn’t hit you in the gut, but it sure hits me.

I hope you’ll buy a copy either for its content or as a contribution to a great cause. It’s available in all major ebook formats for $2.99. Here’s a universal link that handles them all.

It’s also available in paper from Amazon for $9.99.

If you want a paper copy, but are anti-Amazon, email me at [email protected] and I’ll get you a copy when my shipment arrives.

Thank you for your support of this important cause.

Wednesday Women: Looking at the eight

Denisa Křížová of Northeastern (Northeastern Athletics)
Denisa Křížová of Northeastern (Northeastern Athletics)

Arlan: Over the weekend, teams ranked No. 2, No. 5, and No. 7 lost to unranked opponents. No. 9 Robert Morris was swept, but those losses were to No. 8 Ohio State.

In terms of the impact of what it may mean going forward, I’d say that the most significant result was No. 2 Boston College’s 5-4 loss to Northeastern. The Eagles remind me a bit of the Miami Dolphins team that Dan Marino took to Super Bowl XIX. With Marino throwing touchdown passes at will, the Dolphins looked unstoppable, and they were, right up until they met the San Francisco 49ers in the championship. The Eagles have three of the top four scorers playing Division I schedules in Daryl Watts, Caitrin Lonergan, and Makenna Newkirk. They have the highest-scoring defenseman in Toni Ann Miano. But with all of that firepower, it took overtime plus four goals from Miano just to gain a come-from-behind split with the Huskies on Saturday.

There looks to be a considerable gap between the rest of the field and the top four teams: Wisconsin, BC, Clarkson, and Colgate. None of those teams can match BC’s scoring punch, but each is considerably better defensively. Can the Eagles defeat any of those teams by simply outscoring them? Yes, I believe that is definitely something that they can do. However, given that they allowed four goals in each game to a a Northeastern squad that averages less than three per contest, it looks like the Eagles may have to win at the Frozen Four by triumphing in a scoring contest. Perhaps they will. None of the Badgers, Golden Knights, nor Raiders will have faced an offense anything like BCs. It may come down to who can best finish their chances, because when I’ve watched BC games, both teams have plenty of scoring chances.

Do you have a comparison for this season’s Eagles that is a bit more relevant to women’s college hockey than the one that I used?

Candace: I’m not sure if it’s completely relevant, though there were men’s teams in the early to mid ’90s that scored in bunches that ultimately failed to win the most important contest. I think you could in some ways compare BC to prior BC teams. Two years ago, the Eagles only lost one game, the national championship to Minnesota, That team had a dominant offense with players like Alex Carpenter and Hayley Skarupa, and they were better defensively than this edition of the Eagles. However, as the playoffs loomed, BC had more and more trouble scoring. Teams tighten up defensively as the season progresses, and scoring becomes harder to come by.

I’ve wondered for months whether Watts, Lonergan, and Newkirk can continue to score at the pace they have. They seem to be doing so, but BC’s defense is just not good. I supposed you can’t fault the Eagles too much on that front; any team would struggle with three of its normal starters playing in the Olympics.

I think we may also be not giving enough credit to Northeastern. This is the team, after all, that hung the only loss of the year so far on Wisconsin. Northeastern reminds me of Denver on the men’s side a little: talented, gets up for the big games, but sometimes struggles against teams it should beat. Northeastern has performed poorer on that front than Denver though. I wonder if this win can jump-start the Huskies, but I wondered that after they beat Wisconsin, and it didn’t seem too.

Sometimes the first few games after the break are a struggle. That was the case in Minneapolis. Sidney Peters was dreadful in net Friday against Vermont in a 4-2 loss. The next night, Minnesota was flirting with disaster again before an outburst in the third. What did that series tell you about Minnesota?

Arlan: Primarily that the dreadfulness in that game extended beyond Peters. The only game in recent memory where the Gophers have found themselves in such a deep hole with so much hockey remaining was the 8-2 debacle in their trip to Madison last season. That contest was different in that the Badgers ran over them like a runaway freight train. Vermont was up 4-0 with almost half the game remaining, having scored on half of its eight shots, and Minnesota clearly had no idea of what to do next. The players looked like they were trying to score four goals on every shift. It wasn’t that they weren’t trying, but there looked to be more panic than urgency, and the result was that they kept losing all of the one-on-one battles. It wasn’t until they had to kill off a five-minute major as the third period waned that they got back to playing effectively and scored a couple of times for a 4-2 final.

What caused the struggles? Maybe it is the pressure of trying to perform in front of the home crowd. After Friday’s loss, the Gophers were an imperfect .500 at home, 6-6-2, despite being winning all 10 of their road games. Perhaps it is easier to just focus on the job at hand with fewer distractions when they’re away.

Another factor is that I’m not sure who the leader of this team is. Sydney Baldwin and Cara Piazza are the captains, but can they get their teammates back on track when things go off the rails? As a senior, former Gopher Sarah Davis confessed to me that as a rookie she was intimidated by teammate and future captain Jen Schoullis. That might not be all bad, to be a little in awe of your captain when she’s trying to lead you. So much of the core of the current Minnesota team is made up of underclassmen, or transfers like Nicole Schammel, who may not feel it is their place to be telling everyone else what is what.

Minnesota misses the two points a game that Kelly Pannek brought to the table, but more than that, they miss her presence at the top of the line chart. At least offensively, it was Kelly Pannek’s team, at least when Dani Cameranesi was out. I haven’t seen a similar leader emerge this year.

However, there were two teams on the Ridder Arena ice, and the Friday result can’t be understood by looking solely at the Gophers. Vermont played a terrific road game, made the plays they needed to make, and deserved the victory. Coach Jim Plumer said people would look at the box score, see that his team only had 11 shots on goal, and think the result was a fluke when it was not. I think that he was both right and wrong. Was it a fluke that the Catamounts defeated Minnesota? No, their victory over Clarkson hinted at their potential, and they went toe-to-toe the week before with a ranked Providence squad. But scoring four times on eight shots, some of which weren’t all that threatening?

We’ve discussed before how Hockey East might shake out behind probable winner BC. I gained some insight from watching Vermont and chatting with Plumer, but have recent results given you any more clarity about that conference?

Candace: Not really. I had thought BU might have turned a corner when the Terriers came on strong in December, but recent results seem to show that BU, like everyone else, is talented but inconsistent.

I still think Providence is a top squad. They rebounded nicely Saturday after losing to BU Friday. The Friars skate well and have good scoring. They’ll get home ice for the first round.

After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Maine has been much improved. UNH had looked good, but got crushed by BC two weeks ago and just split with UConn, a team I think should have a better record than it does.

Obviously too Northeastern is a team to watch. If the Huskies can get to the Hockey East championship game and an NCAA berth is on the line, I wouldn’t bet against them, which will have whatever team is seventh in the PairWise very nervous.

Ohio State got back on track with a sweep of Robert Morris, a team that seems to be in trouble. What’s your take on the Colonials and the CHA right now?

Arlan: Add the CHA to the list of leagues where it looks like the gap is shrinking. Mercyhurst, Penn State, and Lindenwood all look to be better than they were last year. Syracuse, the conference runner-up in March, has fallen back to the pack, and defending champ RMU sits in second by a point.

In the wake of the Colonials getting swept by the Buckeyes, it looks fairly certain that none of the CHA teams will be getting an at-large berth. Robert Morris already has more losses than the five it suffered all of last year. Admittedly, four of those have come outside the conference, including three to OSU alone, but the Colonials are also behind their pace of last season within the circuit. What has changed? I’m sure that veteran goaltender Jessica Dodds has been missed to an extent. Current senior Elijah Milne-Price has far fewer games on her career resume, and her save percentage is a bit lower, but her goals-against average is roughly the same as what Dodds wound up with last season. Likely, the opponents are a little better this time around.

The CHA is the only conference thus far that has given us the unlikely result of a last-place team winning its championship. While RIT has not hinted at being on the cusp of such a shocker this season, it wouldn’t stretch belief a whole lot to spin a scenario where any of the other five teams would emerge on top and advance to the NCAAs.

Mercyhurst, in particular, looks to be finding its footing. After winning only twice in its first 12 games — half of which were versus teams ranked in the current top five, the Lakers went 8-4 over the next dozen. Michael Sisti has often tried to load up his team’s nonconference schedule in the hope that it will hone it for league play, and one certainly can’t argue with the results over the years. He doesn’t have a Brittany Howard type at the top of his line chart; none of the Lakers average a point a game. However, Mercyhurst only allowed 12 goals in its first pass through the league. If the Lakers can remain just as stingy, they won’t have long to wait for their next championship.

I’m going to go with the Defense Wins Championships theory in the CHA. Do you think that RMU’s slightly-better offense will make the difference, or do you see the winner coming from another direction?

Candace: At this point, I’m leaning the same way you are. I don’t think Robert Morris has had the same confidence since the loss to Mercyhurst in December. The Lakers have always been THE team in the CHA, While some other teams have gone to the NCAA tournament since the conference got its autobid, it’s always felt like teams need to overcome the mental hurdle of Mercyhurst. With the Lakers demonstrating that they are indeed, going to make a race of it, I think that mental challenge teams face in overcoming the Lakers may get Sisti’s team back to the top.

We haven’t really discussed the ECAC yet; the favorites all won over the weekend, but the team I think we need to keep an eye on is Princeton. The Tigers are suddenly hot, and I think they could make a big push for home ice. Regardless, I think Princeton is going to be a dangerous team in the ECAC playoffs. The personnel were all there; I think perhaps some of the inconsistency in the first half was the team adjusting to a new coach.

What is your opinion on Princeton right now?

Arlan: It looks like the Tigers may have turned a corner over the break. They’ve gone 4-1-1 since resuming play. Their low point came at the end of November when they were swept at Merrmack to sink to 2-7-3. It’s understandable if Princeton wasn’t quite sure of its own identify at the start after 21 seasons with Jeff Kampersal at the helm. At least it isn’t like Cara Morey is a stranger to the program, having been on Kampersal’s staff for the last six seasons.

You mentioned Princeton’s having the personnel to win, but Kampersal wasn’t the team’s only loss. It graduated three of the team’s top five scorers, including Kelsey Koelzer, who garnered all sorts of recognition as a Tiger, including ECAC Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-American honors, and a nod as a Patty Kazmaier Top 10 Finalist. Junior Karlie Lund currently leads the team in points, as she did as a frosh and again as a sophomore, but for the first time in her career, she’s producing less than a point per game. Goalie Steph Neatby hasn’t matcher her performance from her rookie season either, although she set the bar very high, to be sure.

A bigger concern in terms of numbers may be skaters rather than points. The Tigers have only been dressing 14 skaters in recent games. Everything gets more challenging when the numbers dip that low. There’s no margin for error if a couple more players get injured or become ill. It’s difficult to even run a full practice. If Morey can not only hold the team together but keep it improving through these challenges, then perhaps Princeton has discovered a coach that can lead the program through the next couple of decades.

As for earning home ice, the numbers are against the Tigers on that front. They only have six ECAC games remaining, while all the teams above them, save Quinnipiac, will play 10. They will be favored in four of those games, so it is at least possible that they could find themselves hosting, but they’d need some help regarding how things play out for other teams.

A bigger surprise to me is that Rensselaer currently holds the league’s final playoff spot, despite garnering but a single point in its last six league contests. What do you think: can the Engineers run their string to three straight postseason appearances?

Candace: I don’t see why not. Yale has been inconsistent, though Yale does have a more favorable schedule with two games against Brown and one against Dartmouth. Rensselaer meanwhile, has two games against Union, which these days are not guaranteed wins. I don’t see Dartmouth getting hot enough to move into consideration, so that last spot is going to be a battle between Rensselaer, Union, and Yale.

Rensselaer has had more consistent results against its remaining opponents in terms of close losses, and does have a win over Princeton earlier. The Engineers could really help themselves by sweeping the home-and-home with Union at the end of the month. If they split, then it becomes more wide open. RPI has good goaltending in Lovisa Selander, and that may be enough for them to overcome the lackluster scoring from their forwards. They also play pretty good defense in front of Selander. Someone has to finish eighth, and I think the Engineers just might.

Speaking of the Dutchwomen, I really would like to see them get the last spot instead of RPI. They’ve shown improvement over the last year, and given some of the struggles of that program in recent seasons, including not winning a game one year, I’d love to see them make the playoffs because I think it would be a major step forward and help them continue to improve. When I look at their schedule, they have the Colgate/Cornell travel pair twice, two against RPI, a weekend with the Dartmouth/Harvard travel pair, and then Princeton and Quinnipiac, whom they lost close games to. It’s just possible the Dutchwomen could win enough to jump into that final spot. Coco Francis provides a solid presence in net, and that can go a long way. The team still doesn’t get enough scoring; their two leading scorers average .625 points per game. The Dutchwomen may be one more recruiting class away from the playoffs, but it’s good to see that program developing under Josh Sciba.

Seeing program turn themselves around is always good. Speaking of, how about Maine? A year ago, the Black Bears didn’t even make the Hockey East playoffs. This year, they are third in Hockey East and look to have a home ice spot locked up for the playoffs. Further, they are currently eighth in the PairWise, and could play themselves into the NCAA tournament if things fall the right way. Even with last year’s rookie of the year, Tereza Vanišová, I am surprised at how well the Black Bears are going.

Arlan: I think we’ve all had trouble sorting out which team comes next after BC in Hockey East, so I asked Plumer his thoughts, given he actually gets to see these teams. He is very high on Maine.

In the past, I’ve observed that there was a sizable drop-off between Maine’s top-line kids and those toward the bottom of the rotation, but Plumer thinks that the Black Bears’ depth has markedly improved. If that’s the case, then maybe they can skate with a team like BC well enough to at least have the hope of pulling an upset. Because beyond the depth, Maine has a lot of the pieces in place that a team needs to be successful.

Vanišová has backed up her point-a-game freshman campaign with an even better sophomore season, piling up points at a rate that is 60 percent higher. She has an effective running mate in senior Brooke Stacey, who produces a point per game herself. Coach Richard Reichanbach isn’t reluctant to look outside his backwoods for talent; the Maine roster looks like something Shannon Miller would have put together in her heyday.

Vanišová is one of three players from the Czech Republic, and there are also representatives from Austria, Denmark, Norway, Russia, Sweden, three Canadian provinces, and five U.S. states, including two from Maine. All that diversity includes a core of four defensemen at or near double digits in points. Carly Jackson capably backstops the team with a .927 save percentage and a 1.78 goals-against average.

Added together, only 10 teams from the D-I conferences score more than the Black Bears do, and only four are more effective defensively. The numbers, including the seventh-best winning percentage, start to look more and more like those of a contender for the national tournament and less like a team that is rising up the Hockey East standings by accident.

The Black Bears currently sit at No. 8 in the PairWise, a spot that has no value given a CHA must advance. If Maine is to move up into the top seven and secure an at-large bid, at whose expense would it most likely do so?

Candace: It’s either Cornell or Ohio State, because with the CHA getting an autobid and Robert Morris the current highest team at 12, whatever team wins that conference is eighth. Cornell is currently seventh in the PairWise, and Ohio State sixth.

Cornell rebounded from dropping two decisions the weekend before tow win twice over Harvard and Dartmouth, though giving up three goals to the Crimson isn’t exactly a good win. The Big Red get good goaltending from Marlene Boissonnault, who has a 1.96 GAA and .922 save percentage, but the scoring is a little iffy. Kristin O’Neill averages 1.5 points per game, but after that, the next highest scorer is Madlynne Mills with a .900 points per game average, and then the next person after that is Jamie Bourbonnais with .687. If a team can shut down O’Neill, they’ve got a good chance to win. Cornell’s schedule is pretty favorable down the stretch, with two games each against union and Rensselaer and another series against Harvard/Dartmouth, plus Syracuse, Yale, and Brown. Those are all games the Big Red should win, so if they can avoid any losses there, they’ll probably still be high enough in the PairWise that Maine would need to beat Boston College and win Hockey East to get into the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State meanwhile, had been limping along prior to sweeping a reeling Robert Morris over the weekend. The scoring from freshmen Emma Maltais and Tatum Skaggs is a little down from where it was when the season started, but still over a point a game for each. Kassidy Sauve is again a rock in net with a .929 save percentage and 2.15 GAA, though the latter is the highest it’s been in her career, but not by much.

The Buckeyes host a hungry Minnesota team this weekend. As you mentioned earlier, the Gophers have been much better on the road, and they will be eager to avenge the loss and tie/shootout loss they suffered to the Buckeyes back in October. Losing to Minnesota won’t really hurt Ohio State in the PairWise. The Buckeyes need to avoid losing to teams like Minnesota Duluth, Bemidji State, and Minnesota State down the stretch. If they can, Ohio State will also likely be in, and Maine would again need to win the Hockey East tournament to knock someone out.

This Week in the Big Ten: Michigan moving up conference standings as Wolverines showing mettle

12 Jan 18: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the University of Michigan Wolverines in a B1G matchup at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, MN (Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com)
Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne earned both wins in net last weekend as the Wolverines swept Minnesota on the road (photo: Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com).

Mel Pearson was singing on his radio show this week.

After the Wolverines swept the Golden Gophers at 3M Arena at Mariucci for the first time since 1977 – the first sweep of the Gophers anywhere since 1991 – why wouldn’t Mel Pearson be singing?

The song was “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” by the Guess Who, and former Wolverine Andrew Merrick (1996-2000) – color commentator for Michigan hockey on AM 1050 WTKA – said, “I don’t know this tune.”

I can’t blame Merrick for that. I’m considerably older than he is, I grew up a Guess Who fan, and I wasn’t familiar with that tune, either. Given the context, though, there are probably a lot of Michigan fans who are eager to hear some familiar refrains from Michigan’s past.

Pearson himself told Merrick and play-by-play man Al Randall that this was one of his best weekends in his first year as head coach.

“Just the way the weekend transpired,” said Pearson. “The team we were playing against, a team that had just come off a big win. They’d beat St. Cloud, which depending where you look is ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country and Minnesota just beat them 2-0 the previous game, so when you look at it, it looks like a very daunting task to go in there and just try to win one game.”

The Wolverines never trailed in the weekend, outscoring the Golden Gophers 5-1 collectively in the first period of games. The games marked just the second time that Michigan recorded consecutive wins this season against a single opponent and the first sweep of a Big Ten team.

At home against No. 1 Notre Dame the week before their trip to Minnesota, the Wolverines dropped two 2-1 decisions. In the 5-3 Friday game against Minnesota, the Gophers outshot the Wolverines 27-19. Sunday’s 3-1 Michigan felt much more definitive with the Wolverines getting the better of the shot totals, 28-18, and the only Minnesota goal coming on the power play.

This week on USCHO Live! with my good friends and colleagues Ed Trefzger and Jim Connelly, Pearson said that he’s been able to see a progression of improvement with his young team, a team that featured eight freshmen and sophomore forwards and only one senior defenseman in the lineup against Minnesota.

“I think things started for us the week before,” said Pearson. “We played Notre Dame and we played two real good games with them. That gave our team some confidence. I think we learned how we need to play and how we need to compete. We got good goaltending. Our goaltending’s been a little inconsistent to say the least the first half, but our goaltender Hayden Lavigne has really come on. I thought that carried over to Minnesota and we really played well.”

Michigan’s sweep gives the Wolverines a 3-1-0 record against the Golden Gophers this season and secures for them the Mariucci-Renfrew Coaches’ Trophy, which harkens back to the old College Hockey Showcase days and is named after legendary coaches of both programs, Minnesota’s John Mariucci and Michigan’s Al Renfrew. This hardware returns to Ann Arbor for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

The wins improve Michigan’s Big Ten record to 5-7-2-1 and bump the Wolverines to fourth in the Big Ten standings. Michigan also jumped to a tie for 15th in the PairWise Rankings this week. The No. 20 Wolverines will be tested this weekend when No. 12 Penn State visits Yost Ice Arena. The teams split a pair of games in Pegula Ice Arena during the last weekend of October earlier this season, a 5-4 overtime win for Penn State followed by Michigan’s 5-2 win.

The losses to Michigan drop the Golden Gophers to 4-9-1-1 in B1G play and put Minnesota three points ahead of last-place Michigan State, the team they’re playing this weekend. The Gophers also dropped to a tie for 15th with Michigan in the PairWise Rankings.

Here’s to the dog days of January

Minnesota heads to East Lansing for a game against Michigan State (3-10-1-1 B1G) Thursday night before both teams travel to New York City to meet Saturday night inside Madison Square Garden.

It’s the Big Ten’s third annual Super Saturday, which features a basketball game between Ohio State and Minnesota in the afternoon before the main event of the Minnesota-Michigan State hockey game at 8 p.m.

“I know Madison Square Garden from playing and it’s a pretty cool place to go,” said Michigan State coach Danton Cole. “I know the guys are excited about it. Everybody’s talking about it. For the Big Ten, it’s a great thing to get out there. The conference has a footprint out there, but hockey really doesn’t.”

The event has been very well received in its first two seasons, with many fans making a day of it and taking in both basketball and hockey. Given the footprint to which Cole alludes, the event does garner the league some exposure for hockey.

It’s also good for the participants. I thought that the event might be distracting for players, especially at this point in the season, but Cole thinks the timing for the event is perfect.

“At some times at different points of the season, it can be kind of a grind – the dog days of January,” said Cole. “Going down to Little Caesars Arena [for the Great Lakes Invitational] was nice and playing in an NHL rink is always great.”

Hockey season is long and sometimes when a team is working earnestly to rebuild, the season can feel even longer. John Lethemon’s 30-save performance for his fifth career shutout on Friday gave Michigan State a 2-0 win that snapped a four-game losing streak. The Badgers won Saturday’s game, 5-2.

“It was good,” said Cole. “We played okay since the break. I don’t think we’ve been horrible, but we haven’t been great. With the young guys we would rather have been playing through that break.”

In the first half of the season, the Spartans had recorded eight wins, one more than they had for the entire previous season. That four-game skid made the first half feel like more than just a little while ago.

“Last week, we played four games in six days after the break,” said Cole, referring to the Jan. 1-2 GLI games and the series against visiting Ohio State. “This last week was a good week of practice and I think some of our guys applied what we went over in the series against Wisconsin. Even Saturday, we had a chance. It was a winnable game.”

Friday’s win, said Cole, was “so much better than just playing well. Moral victories. There’s no column for moral victories.”

With 11 points, the last-place Spartans trail sixth-place Minnesota by just a game. Cole knows that Minnesota is going to be coming into Munn Ice Arena with added motivation Thursday, but he says that he and his coaching staff are not going to talk about the chance to catch the Golden Gophers.

“What we’re pointing at is how we’re playing and what we’re going through,” said Cole. “I think right now we’re going to stick to how we’re playing. If you do the right things, the results will follow.”

The Buckeyes are road warriors

Inside Pegula Arena Friday night, the Buckeyes saw their six-game win streak end as it began, with a loss to Penn State. The 5-2 loss to the Nittany Lions was Ohio State’s first loss since Penn State beat the Buckeyes 4-0 in Columbus Dec. 2.

On Saturday, however, the Buckeyes returned the favor, snapping Penn State’s 11-game unbeaten streak with a 5-1 decision. Ohio State is now 10-2-1 on the road. The split keeps the Buckeyes in second place in the Big Ten and the Nittany Lions in third.

After Saturday’s win, Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said, “We got beat by a good hockey team last night and we came out here tonight and I think our guys just weren’t going to be denied.”

The Buckeyes watch as everyone else plays this week.

Good reads for a great cause

The first shift of Travis Roy’s college hockey career changed his life forever. In his very first game for Boston University, 11 seconds after he took the ice, Roy became a quadriplegic after going head-first into the boards. That was Oct. 20, 1995, when Roy was 20 years old.

Since that event, my good friend and colleague Dave Hendrickson has written quite about Roy, and all he’s written has been collected into a volume called Travis Roy: Quadriplegia and a Life of Purpose, available for purchase here in nall major ebook formats. The book features a foreword by Roy himself, in which he says, “I realize how fortunate I was to spend the first of my life with a passion, thanks to my hockey career. It took me a while to realize it, but now I feel fortunate to have lived the second half of my life with a purpose.”

All proceeds for the book go to the Travis Roy Foundation, which raises money for research into cures for spinal cord injuries and provides individual grants to injury survivors.

Travis Roy is a tremendous man, Dave’s a great writer, and this is something you’ll want to have.

Three stars of the week

It was a really good week for former CCHA teams in the Big Ten. And Notre Dame didn’t even play.

First star – Michigan junior forward Brendan Warren

Warren (Carleton, Mich.) had three goals in Michigan’s road sweep of Minnesota, including the game-winning goal in Friday’s 5-3 contest. Warren’s three-goal output in the series equals the total number of goals he had in 35 games last season and double what he has for 2017-2018 (6-4—10), his best goal-scoring season of his career so far. This is Warren’s second career Big Ten weekly award and his first of this season.

Second star – Ohio State sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski

Laczynski (Shorewood, Ill.) had five points to lead all Big Ten scorers with a goal and four assists, including an assist on Saturday’s game-winning power-play goal. Laczynski (11-23—34) has one more goal and one more assist this season in 24 games than he had in the 34 total games he played last year and he leads the Buckeyes in scoring. This is Laczynski’s fourth career Big Ten weekly award and third of this season.

Third star – Michigan State freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski

Lewandowski (Clarkston, Mich.) had three goals in Michigan State’s split with Wisconsin, including the game-winning goal in Friday’s 2-0 win. Lewandowski (14-13—27) leads the Spartans in scoring. This is Lewandowski’s fourth career Big Ten weekly award.

My ballot

1. Notre Dame
2. Clarkson
3. St. Cloud State
4. Cornell
5. Ohio State
6. Denver
7. North Dakota
8. Providence
9. Northeastern
10. Western Michigan
11. Penn State
12. Minnesota State
13. Omaha
14. Minnesota Duluth
15. Harvard
16. Michigan
17. Boston College
18. Northern Michigan
19. Bowling Green
20. Canisius

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