Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two-Card Monty?

The next stop on the offseason express is the press release detailing the players coming into the Class of 2014 - some of which will actually be members of the class of 2013. Most years, this is a fairly anticlimactic occasion, as observers usually know well in advance who's in and who's out.

This year, it's different. We know a good number of names - 10 in all - of players who have committed to RPI (see the first eight right here). Not all of them will be coming this upcoming season, but usually there's at least a decent idea of what the full class is going to look like.

Who's In

We know forward Greg Burgdoerfer will be here, since he's already a student and practiced with the team throughout the past season after sitting out his transfer season.

We know defenseman Nick Bailen (14-31--45 in 67 games for Indiana/USHL) will be here, since the clock has started on his NCAA eligibility and he will start losing years if he doesn't show up next season.

We know forward Matt Tinordi (23-23--46 in 62 games for Olds/AJHL) will be here, as his name has popped up in the student directory for next year (usually an indication that they're incoming, he'll be a Management major, it looks like) and he's been committed to RPI for over two years now.

We know defenseman Guy Leboeuf will be here, as he has exhausted his junior A eligibility and has to move on to the college or major junior level to continue playing. Guy committed in February. He's a got a 6'4" 180 frame and put up 11 goals and 24 assists in 74 total games this year for the CJHL's Cornwall Colts. The word on Leboeuf is that he's more of a defensive-oriented defenseman, but he's got a heckuva slapshot. With a name like that, I'm sure you're thinking he's from Quebec, but actually, he's from West Palm Beach, Florida.

We're pretty certain Brock Higgs (28-46--74 in 65 games for Kingston/OJAHL) will be here. He hasn't popped up on the school directory yet and he hasn't exhausted his junior A eligibility, but there's been nothing at all to indicate that his plans are for anything but Troy next season.

That's the end of what we know for sure - 3 forwards and 2 defensemen. There will be more - it's just that we don't know for sure who those will be.

Who's Out

The only name we know for sure will not be arriving in Troy for classes in August is defenseman Luke Curadi (7-11--18 in 74 games for Penticton/BCHL). It has been published in a number of places that he will be joining coach Jim Montgomery with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints next season - so the Big Red One will not be in Troy until 2011. Instead he'll be honing his skills in probably the best junior A league out there for college-bound players and could be a real beast for the Engineers as a member of the Class of 2015.

Who's... um...

That leaves pretty much everyone else, who we're not 100% sure about - four names. Added to the mix is that we know there will be a second recruit playing for Monty and with Curadi next season in Dubuque - who that is for certain hasn't been officially nailed down yet.

Let's start with forward Jacob Laliberté (65-54--119 in 62 games for Cornwall/CJHL), the kid everyone's dying to see in the cherry and white. He's firmly in the middle right now - he's not officially in, he's not officially out, and he's not officially gone, either. We've been hearing some rumbles that he won't be in Troy next year, but those same rumbles didn't have him on his way to the OHL or the QMJHL either. The most recent discussion of Laliberté in the Cornwall Standard-Freeholder, the newspaper covering his current team, the Cornwall Colts, indicated that he was still committed to RPI, but openly questioned whether or not he would be back with Cornwall next year for a third season. It's been a soap opera with Laliberté for over two years now, and it's one that we may see go on for another year before it reaches its conclusion.

Defenseman Nick Quinn (7-13--20 in 37 games for Aurora/OJAHL and Orangeville/CCHL) is next on the questionable list. The Engineers need more than two defensemen to replace the graduating seniors (and Bryan Brutlag, if his move to forward is permanent) AND ensure some depth at the position. Quinn had been expected for next season, but missed the last two months of the junior season with an illness of some sort (although this hasn't reason hasn't been confirmed anywhere that I know of). The rumor mill says his arrival might be getting pushed back to 2011.

Third is defenseman Patrick Koudys (5-29--34 in 62 games for Burlington/CCHL), who may be like Quinn in reverse. Ever since his initial commitment to RPI in May of last season, he had been expected to be coming in 2011. Now, with Curadi not coming and Quinn potentially not coming, the rumor mill says there's a possibility of him arriving in 2010 instead. I tend to doubt it - he would still be 17 when the puck drops on October 8th to start the season, which means there's a lot of potential development time that you're throwing away to bring him in. He's already tall, but he's got room to fill out his massive frame still.

Last but not least, the latest name to pop up on the RPI recruit list, center Johnny Rogic. Rogic is a 19-year-old who put up 24 goals and 33 assists in 72 games for the AJHL's Alberini Valley this season, a team coached by RPI alum Nolan Graham. Recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg listed Rogic as an RPI recruit on his website at the beginning of this month from out of the blue at a time when we weren't expecting another forward for 2010, and it was thought that Rogic's inclusion may have been an early indication that Laliberté, another center, was not coming this season. The biggest question about Rogic, though, comes in the lack of other sources - Heisenberg is a very trustworthy source, but so far, he's the only one. A Google search for "Johnny Rogic RPI" pops up a thread where Heisenberg's addition was noted and discussed, and one of our tweets announcing Heisenberg's addition. No local newspapers talking about it, no confirmation on the Alberini Valley website, nothing.

So the question is begged - who is the second recruit heading to Iowa? It's almost certainly not Rogic, since the only question with him is finding a second source confirming his committment. That leaves four possibilities: Laliberté, Quinn, Koudys, or someone we aren't aware of yet. I talked to Montgomery at the banquet, and while he was forthcoming about Curadi, he was mum on the second recruit.

So who is it?

Quinn? Rumor has it from a possibly unreliable source that Nick Quinn is the second recruit going to Iowa. While it would be good to have Quinn together with Curadi as two highly anticipated blueliners under the tutelage of a coach we know will do a fantastic job with them, Quinn's official move to 2011 would be a big damper on the incoming class's overall makeup and would require some additional defensive recruits for next season. The cupboard may not be entirely bare at this point - John Kennedy committed in the April before his arrival and Jeff Foss in the May before his arrival - but most of the best talents coming in next year have already committed. The silver lining would be in potentially having a solid 2011 grouping of Quinn, Curadi, and Koudys already prepared to replace Kennedy, Foss, and Brutlag. One less thing to worry about.

Laliberté? It's certainly a possibility, and probably the best place for him to end up if he isn't coming to Troy. He's done pretty much all he can do in the CJHL considering the level of outright domination he put down this year, and going to Dubuque would put him with one of the coaches who no doubt helped recruit him in the first place with a chance to try and duplicate his gaudy number from the CJHL in a better league. It would be a good way to bridge the gap between the CJHL and the NCAA. Otherwise, he's treading water in Cornwall or he moves out of the picture by going major junior. The secrecy surrounding the second Iowa recruit may point to Laliberté as well - he's been the most heavily anticipated Engineers recruit in the system since Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo graduated from recruits to students, and his "will he or won't he" drama has been very carefully handled throughout.

Koudys? Less likely, but not outside the realm of possibility. Iowa would certainly be a good place for him to continue to grow, he's at the right age for the challenge that the USHL would present, and in working with Curadi, we'd have some Twin Towers coming in for 2011 with experience working together. He does still have some room to grow in Burlington with RPI alum Mark Jooris, though.

Someone else? Not impossible, but not likely. Heisenberg and other recruit watchers are pretty good about catching recruit news when it happens.

So when can we expect the announcement to come down? Last year's came on May 6, but the last recruit for 09-10 committed in February 2009 (Bryce Merriam), and there's no set date for it to be "due." If the wait drags out, it may mean there are more names to be added to the list. At any rate, stay tuned to our Twitter feed for breaking news on recruits as it comes in.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Haul

After the conclusion of both teams' end-of-season banquets, we have the final tally of awards and honors for the Engineers this season:

Chase Polacek
First Team ACHA All-American (East)
Hobey Baker Award Finalist
ECAC Player of the Year
ECAC Media Player of the Year
First Team All-ECAC
ECAC Media First Team All-ECAC
Second Team CHN All-American
Second Team USCHO All-American
Second Team INCH All-American
Two-time ECAC Player of the Week
ECAC Points Champion
ECAC Power Play Points Tri-Champion
ECAC Shorthanded Points Champion
Team Most Valuable Player

Jerry D'Amigo
World Junior Championships Gold Medalist
ECAC Rookie of the Year
ECAC All-Rookie Team
ECAC Media All-Rookie Team
INCH Freshman All-American
National Rookie of the Year Finalist
Team Rookie of the Year

Brandon Pirri
ECAC Media Rookie of the Year
ECAC All-Rookie Team
ECAC Media All-Rookie Team
Two-time ECAC Rookie of the Week
ECAC Assists Champion
ECAC Power Play Points Tri-Champion
ECAC Rookie Points Champion

Allen York
Second Team All-ECAC
ECAC Media Second Team All-ECAC
Ken Dryden Award Finalist
ECAC Goaltender of the Week (1/11/10)

Marty O'Grady
ECAC Rookie of the Week (1/11/10)

Paul Kerins
Team Most Improved Player
Team Most Inspirational Player

Erik Burgdoerfer
Team Best Defensive Player

Mark Zarbo
Team Scholar-Athlete Award

Garett Vassel
Team Community Service Award

Laura Gersten
Patty Kazmaier Award Nominee
ECAC Student-Athlete of the Year
Third Team All-ECAC
ECAC All-Star
Bill Cahill Memorial Award
Robert Conway Scholar-Athlete Award
Game-winning goal in the longest women's ice hockey game in NCAA history

Sonja van der Bliek
Patty Kazmaier Award Nominee
ECAC All-Star
Two-time ECAC Goaltender of the Week

Allison Wright
ECAC Best Defensive Forward Finalist
Frozen Four Skills Challenge Alternate
Team Most Valuable Player
Bill Cahill Memorial Award

Whitney Naslund
ECAC All-Star
ECAC Player of the Week (11/30/09)

Kristen Jakubowski
Team Most Improved Player

Taylor Horton
Team Rookie of the Year

Allysen Weidner
Willie Stanton Award

John Burke
ECAC Coach of the Year Finalist
ECAC All-Star Team Assistant Coach

Friday, April 16, 2010

Last Word on Detroit

Bill Bellerose, the chairman of the NCAA's Division I Men's Hockey Committee, wrote an open letter to the college hockey community on the Frozen Four in Detroit.

I think the majority of fans that were able to join us had a great time in Detroit. However, after reading the web (and receiving some emails), I thought I would take this time to address some issues and concerns that have been raised with the 2010 Men's Frozen Four.

Let me first start with the venue. Everyone at Ford Field and the Detroit LOC was tremendous to work with. They bent over backwards to meet the needs of the committee, teams and fans. In addition, the people of Detroit were very friendly, from the security people at the events to the hotel and restaurant staff that I encountered, everyone was welcoming of college hockey fans in Detroit. In addition, there were a ton of things to do, including Tigers home games and a fan festival at the host hotel.

With regards to the selection of Ford Field, my term as a committee member literally started about a month prior to selecting sites. The main discussion of the committee at the time was that by selecting Ford Field we could help promote the sport by allowing thousands more to see our premier event than had ever seen it before (also remember the economy was different at the time) and provide our student-athletes with a tremendous experience. Looking back on the weekend, I think we were very successful in that manner as approximately 19,000 more people were able to share the event with us this year than will be able to see it in Saint Paul in 2011, and in the process set a world record for attendance at an indoor hockey game.

Hopefully we exposed people to the event that were never able to see it before and we can capitalize on that next year during the regular season and for years to come. Not only were more people able to enjoy it from a size standpoint but also from an affordability standpoint because due to the size of the venue we were able to have some tickets priced as low as $40.


There definitely were opportunities for change if this scenario presented itself again. While the majority of sight lines were very good, there were some issues, especially with the seats right behind the team benches and the pitch of the temporary seating. In addition, some people mentioned the lack of atmosphere, but I thought looking at the seats full of 37,000 plus was a great atmosphere. While the noise certainly wasn't deafening, unfortunately we didn't have any overtime contests, or last minute game-winning goals, so it is very difficult to determine if lack of noise had to do with venue or closeness of games in the last half of the third period.

As a committee, our next order of business is to select sites for 2013 and 2014. As most fans are aware we will be at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul next year and at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in 2012. With the bids received I can assure you we will be in NHL or NHL-type facilities for 2013 and 2014. This is my last year on the committee so I can't speculate on where the committee will decide to take the Frozen Four beyond 2014.

However, if there comes a time when Ford Field bids again, and the committee at that time reached out for my opinion as the chair of the 2010 Men's Ice Hockey Championships, I would definitely tell the committee that it is something they need to take a serious look at. I am certainly not advocating that this is something we should do all the time, or even every four or five years, but I think it would be a mistake to say that we should never consider doing it again. We need to continue to be aggressive in trying to build and grow college hockey, and where that leads us I am not sure, but we certainly need to keep our eyes open.

It's certainly a fair assessment of what was a very different Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit. I've got my own little list to go along with it.

There were a few things that were bad about the Frozen Four. The ice looked awful. During every media timeout, there was a whole crew of people tending to the ice. The atmosphere was mostly subdued, but I really think that can be chalked up to three stinker games that provided zero drama. When the closest game of the weekend is a 5 goal drubbing, there's just nothing to get excited over, even if you're the team that's winning - atmosphere isn't generated when your team is pounding on its opponent.

But it wasn't entirely due to the crappy product on the ice. It was the pure size of the building as compared to the way it was set up and the number of people that were there. I'm sure that building can get loud during a Lions game, but when only half of the seats are being used, any noise that the crowd is making gets lost in the wide expanse of empty space. A number of RIT fans complained that the national championship was largely devoid of passionate fans from the competing schools, however, they were situated on the far end of the building from the side where both UW and BC fans were. Both of your humble bloggers were seated directly between the UW and BC sections, and we assure you, both were making solid sound (although there was considerably less coming from Badger fans, for good reason). Meanwhile, we had a hard time hearing RIT fans throughout the weekend for the same reason - we were just too far away from them.

Those are really the only complaints, though. The city of Detroit, for the second time this season for us, was an unexpected delight to visit. We had the opportunity to catch a Tigers game ahead of the national championship, visited Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan, and Yost Arena during the off day, and met plenty of friendly locals. I personally accounted for people representing the colors of 46 of Division I's 58 programs (sadly, only half of the ECAC, which was almost entirely represented by RPI and Cornell fans). It was an unforgettable experience and - this can't be underscored strongly enough - it's not a trip that any in our group would likely have made if the event was taking place in a traditional hockey arena setting, and we're sure that was true of a lot of the people who made the trip due to the availability of tickets. The event, as flawed as some of it was, exposed more people to the overall event that is the Frozen Four, and future Frozen Fours will be better off because of it.

Now, if the Engineers can make it to St. Paul next year... well, we might just have to do this again.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Frozen Four: Motor City Madness

I ended up running out of time for writing up the previews for the Northeast and Midwest regionals thanks to my travels at the West Regional in St. Paul. Big fail on my part. We'll both be at the Frozen Four (which starts today) this weekend, but fortunately, I wrote this a few days ago. Sweet.

#15 RIT vs. #3 Wisconsin
5pm, Ford Field, Detroit

Needless to say, only one of these teams was ever "supposed" to be in Detroit. RIT (28-11-1) has surpassed any and all expectations by becoming the first Atlantic Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four and they are certainly the buzz of the tournament. Given no chance against Denver or New Hampshire, the Tigers won a pair of matchups that they'd probably lose 7 or 8 times in 10 tries for an improbable trip to Detroit. They squeezed out a trap-filled victory over the Pioneers for the first upset, but then showed their versatility by stomping New Hampshire the next night. We'd thought RIT might have been ill-prepared for top competition, but we were obviously mistaken. They're not pushovers.

But this is a bigger stage - and Wisconsin (27-10-4) isn't a pushover either. The Badgers rebounded from their disappointing 3rd place showing at the WCHA Final Five with a pair of solid wins to claim the West Regional title two weekends ago, winning a tight back-and-forth war with Vermont before outlasting St. Cloud State. While the Tigers just being in Detroit is a major victory, anything less than the national championship is a failure for the Badgers.

The Tigers ended the seasons of three Hobey Baker finalists in Albany (Rhett Rakhshani, Marc Cheverie, and Bobby Butler). Can they make it five (and two of the three Hobey Hat Trick)? It's doubtful. This is another game where if these teams played 10 times, RIT would be on the losing end 7 or 8 times at least. They'll be the fan favorites, and even though it was also true in their last two games, they're a sucker's bet.

Prediction: Wisconsin 5, RIT 3

#4 Boston College vs. #1 Miami
8:30pm, Ford Field, Detroit

This game, meanwhile, was practically expected from the moment the brackets came out. The Redhawks (29-9-7) have been the prohibitive favorites for the national championship since the beginning of the season, even after their 3rd place finish in the CCHA Tournament (which, like Wisconsin, they avenged in the NCAA regionals two weekends ago). They're still the favorites now, even after a relatively weak showing in the regional round, where they outlasted a feisty Alabama-Huntsville team in a one goal game, then needed 2 overtimes to take out a white-hot Michigan team. As dominating as Miami can be, they haven't had it on display since the conclusion of the CCHA regular season.

The Eagles (27-10-3) are on an 11-game unbeaten streak (second only to RIT's 12-game winning streak) after running roughshod over the Northeast regional, turning in a solid 3-1 win over a game Alaska squad before outscoring Yale in an absolute barnburner, 9-7 in a game the Eagles led 9-4 at one point. Boston College will be seeking their third national championship in ten years after going 52 years between their first and second NCAA titles.

In terms of today's games, this one is easily the closer matchup and, minus the Cinderella factor, the more compelling one. Each of these teams will be facing a huge challenge on the other side of the ice. This one, honestly, could go either way. Miami, one would think, would be powered by coming so close to winning it all last season, but that hasn't shown in recent games. They do have the skill and firepower to run with Boston College. Maybe now, in front of thousands upon thousands of fans at Ford Field, that urgency will be on display.

Prediction: Miami 4, Boston College 3

The national championship game should produce a compelling game either way. Miami/Wisconsin, our prediction, would be a fantastic matchup of two top teams who hit road bumps in the conference tournaments and came back strong. A third RIT win would produce an inconceivable matchup with the potential to humble the mighty conferences of the nation. RIT/BC especially would be fire against fire.

It'll be hard to match the overall insanity of last year's Frozen Four, but with an intriguing field at a unique venue, the ingredients are there for a compelling final weekend.

Friday, April 2, 2010

State of the ECAC

RIT's improbable run to the Frozen Four this season gives Atlantic Hockey another step forward in its continuing development as a conference. Considered a laughingstock when they first formed in the late 1990s as the MAAC, the conference has been on an upward trend practically since the beginning. They received an NCAA autobid in 2001 (Mercyhurst), had a program deemed solid enough to accede to one of the four traditional leagues in 2005 (Quinnipiac), earned their first NCAA win in 2006 (Holy Cross), got within an overtime goal of the Frozen Four in 2009 (Air Force) and finally broke through this year (RIT). The only two things remaining on the resume for Atlantic Hockey is to earn an at-large bid and to win the national championship.

With Bemidji State's Frozen Four appearance last season and CCHA, WCHA, and Hockey East representatives also making Frozen Four appearances this season, it means that the ECAC has been the conference missing from the culminating experience of the college hockey season for the longest time.

Is the ECAC now a non-entity?

Let's look at the hard truths.

The ECAC hasn't had a Hobey Baker winner (Lane MacDonald) or a national champion (MacDonald's Harvard) since 1989.

The ECAC hasn't placed a team in the national championship game since 1990 (Colgate).

The ECAC hasn't placed a team in the Frozen Four since 2003 (Cornell).

Those are streaks of 21, 20, and seven years respectively. Yes, it's a partial indicator of the ECAC's current status in the college hockey world, but does it mean the ECAC is dying?

There can be little discussion about where the ECAC honestly places among the five conferences - it's fourth. The pundits can bicker and argue all they want about which conference reigns supreme between the WCHA, CCHA, and Hockey East, but the consensus ought to at least come down that the ECAC is behind those three conferences but ahead of Atlantic Hockey.

The NCAA Tournament expanded to 16 teams for the 2002-03 season.
Average bids per conference
WCHA: 4.38
CCHA: 3.75
HEA: 3.63
ECAC: 2.13
CHA: 1.13
AHA: 1.00

See that? With the CHA now defunct, it's pretty cut and dried - the ECAC hasn't been achieving the success of the WCHA, CCHA, or Hockey East, but they're easily more competitive than Atlantic Hockey despite the recent gains.

It isn't for lack of trying. Yale (2010), Cornell (2005, 2006 and 2009) and Clarkson (2008) all came within a single game of reaching the Frozen Four since the Big Red made their last appearance in 2003. Cornell was actually a trendy pick this year to get the Frozen Four slot that eventually ended up going to RIT.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Yes, a 3-bid season for the ECAC is considered something of an outstanding showing, where it's a disaster for the WCHA. No, the ECAC still hasn't been able to field 4 teams in NCAAs. But there's hope.

Conference dominance is somewhat cyclical. The CCHA from 2000 to 2002 was able to place only two teams (Michigan and Michigan State) in the 12-team NCAA tournament. From 2004 to 2006, they had no teams in the Frozen Four.

Yale will be strong again next season. RPI, Union, and St. Lawrence are on their way up. Cornell might take a step back but they're always pretty strong. Clarkson and Princeton are almost certainly going to rebound, as is Harvard.

So what is the state of the ECAC? Don't let an exuberant RIT fan convince you that they've passed the rest of the world by. They had a fantastic weekend last week and earned their place in the Frozen Four. But Brown earned their place in Albany this year, too. That didn't mean they were one of the top four teams in the league. This is the Tigers' moment, but it'll be all too fleeting. The truth is, they're a very dominant team in a pretty weak league.

The ECAC had a nightmarish year in non-league play. The league's 12 teams put together a total of 2 wins in 16 games against WCHA teams, 4 in 15 games against CCHA teams, and just 9 in 31 games against Hockey East, a whopping 30.6% winning percentage.

Against Atlantic Hockey, though? 18 wins in 27 games. Yes, 10 years ago it was headline news when Sacred Heart beat Cornell to achieve the then-MAAC's first ever win against a Big Four team. Now it happens with a bit more frequency, but the divide is striking.

The truth about the ECAC is this. It exists today as hockey's lone equivalent of the "mid-major" conferences in basketball. Not full of world beaters, but every once in a while, you get a team or two that comes out of it with a real chance to take everything. There isn't (and won't be) a steady stream of national contenders coming out of the ECAC, but it'll happen from time to time. Mark my words - there will be, in the future, a national champion to come from our ranks. It'll be real, and earned.

The tournament? The admissions standards? Those are questions for another day. We may not be the WCHA... but we're not necessarily the "EZAC" either.