Monday, April 25, 2011

Revolving Door

It's one of the items that we touched on in our last posting about a week and a half ago, but even then, we had no idea just how crazy and how fast the coaching carousel would spin... or just how much impact it would have on the ECAC.

Here's the rundown.

Michigan Tech: Still looking for a coach after alum and long-time Michigan assistant Mel Pearson left them at the altar at the very last minute. Much of the most recent talk has been about Nebraska-Omaha associate head coach Mike Hastings, who coached the USHL's Omaha Lancers from 1994 to 2008.

UMass-Lowell: Norm Bazin, the head coach at Division III Hamilton for the last three years, will be the new head coach in Lowell, and the first alum to ever coach the program. Prior to that, he spent eight seasons as an assistant at Colorado College. So the Lowell coach doesn't touch off another search elsewhere, at least not at the Division I level.

Clarkson: If you'd asked me two weeks ago which coach in the ECAC was most likely to lose his job, I'd have told you that it was Harvard's Ted Donato, with the qualifier that he wasn't likely to get the boot. Unfortunately for George Roll, he was the right answer, he lost his job last week without much in the way of an official explanation. We can presume that the three straight losing seasons were more than the alumni, who are used to winning all the time, were willing to tolerate. I'd thought Roll would get at least one more year to turn the team around, especially considering that he brought Clarkson within a goal of playing in the Frozen Four in 2008. A lot of what happened to the team in the last two years was hardly his fault - most notably, a rash of injuries last season and some legal problems for some important recruits.

It's Clarkson's loss, in my view. Roll is a proven winner - it's the ECAC and the college hockey landscape that has changed. It's not going to be easy for Clarkson to be as dominant in the ECAC as they were for decades, but Roll knew what he was doing. The only message this firing sends is to anyone who would have interest in the job. You get very little margin for error.

At any rate, the names that were immediately thrown around are a couple of guys who have been behind the bench in Potsdam before, US Under-18 Team coach Ron Rolston and Cornell associate head coach Casey Jones, but it's worth pointing out that those guys have had their names thrown around for every opening in college hockey since the Clinton administration, including the one at RPI in 2006, regardless of prior links.

And let this be a lesson to the tiny but whiny minority of RPI alums and townies who have been agitating for Seth Appert's head. We've said it about a million times, but it still needs to be said - it's a dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb idea. Uber-dumb.

Providence: Found their man in Union's Nate Leaman. Notably for RPI fans, Ben Barr will follow Leaman from Schenectady to Providence. That begot...

Union: The Dutch wasted no time whatsoever in promoting the associate head coach, Rick Bennett, as soon as the Leaman move became official. Bennett ironically is a Providence alum, who spent five years as an assistant with the Friars before joining Union in 2005 when Paul Pooley was let go. He was promoted to associate head coach in 2007. Hard to say right now what this means for Union but they were clearly comfortable with the idea even before Leaman left, so they must believe he will be able to carry on Leaman's work in Schenectady.

Penn State: All the buzz was on Minnesota-Duluth's Scott Sandelin and Wisconsin women's coach Mark Johnson, but instead, it'll be Guy Gadowsky, the man that brought Princeton hockey back into relevance. Word came out on Easter Sunday that Gadowsky was the choice to become the first varsity hockey coach at Happy Valley, and he was formally introduced today. Therefore...

Princeton: Still too early to tell who might be a candidate for the sudden opening at New Jersey's lone entry in Division I college hockey, and truth be told, the level of fan buzz at Princeton is so generally low that we may not find out much until the process is over unless there's a present coach who ends up in the mix for this one. Eh, why not. How about Ron Rolston or Casey Jones?

Elsewhere: For a short time late last week, there was concern that something was happening at Western Michigan. It was announced that WMU had a press conference ready to go regarding the future of the head coach, which lately has been code for "he's leaving" or "he's getting canned." For Jeff Blashill, however, it was merely a much deserved raise and extension, intriguing especially considering the question marks surrounding WMU and the rest of the CCHA in the light of the pending Big 10 conference, which will likely tear the league asunder.

Also, just to throw this in - interesting story out of Tucson, AZ. Yes, that's right. Leo Golembiewski, who has run a very successful semi-independent club team at the University of Arizona since 1979, may be on his way out. Few people realize that the U of A has a fairly noteworthy club program, known as the IceCats, that draw just as many fans as many ECAC teams do on a regular basis. Golembiewski has been running almost every element of that program for 32 years, but it appears that Arizona is ready to step in and wrest most, if not all, control away. Arizona, to me, has always been an interesting "what if" candidate for Division I expansion given the popularity of the IceCats, so this may bear keeping a semi-interested eye on.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What We're Looking at This Offseason

As we mentioned on Twitter this past weekend, a warm, warm welcome to the University of Minnesota-Duluth as they join us in the fraternity of champions as the 18th inductee and the first new member since Maine in 1993. UNH, sorry, your hazing period continues.

We observed last season that there really isn't much of an offseason at all, especially the way things went down last year. We're hoping to not be quite as busy this year as we were last year, what with news coming fast and furious, left and right. But there is still plenty to examine between now and the next puck drop in October (or, more likely, September when the women get their season underway).

Here's what we're going to spend time observing in the next 5 1/2 months.

* The exodus continues
Last season saw a remarkable number of underclassmen around the nation sign professional contracts. This year, we've already seen 17 underclassmen make the jump - including two from the ECAC in Allen York and Clarkson's Mark Borowiecki. Does RPI have anyone left to worry about? No. York was the only threat to leave and thankfully, he left quickly. That gives the Engineers plenty of time to plot out the post-York era. It's always better to know sooner rather than later. But we will certainly be watching to see who else leaves from around the nation.

* The coaching carousel
There are an abnormal number of coaching vacancies out there right now: Michigan Tech, UMass-Lowell, and Providence are all without a captain at the helm, and you can throw Penn State into the mix as well since they begin play in the 2012-13 season and they are going to need to begin stocking their roster post haste. Then, of course, the possibility exists that some of those positions will be filled with current head coaches, especially the high profile positions at Penn State, which would start the process all over again at the losing institution.

Again, this is a situation where RPI is probably fairly insulated. Seth Appert, one would have to expect, might be a hot commodity, but he's just signed a contract extension that keeps him in Troy financially secure through the 2017-18 season. That doesn't mean he'll be here that long, but it does at least indicate that he'll be back next year. You don't sign a long-term extension and then bolt that summer.

There are two coaches with local interest who have been brought up in discussion for open positions, however. Former RPI assistant Jim Montgomery, who brought top talent to Troy and assembled one of the best teams in the USHL this season, has had his named tossed around for the Michigan Tech position. Also, newly minted Penrose Award (national coach of the year) winner Nate Leaman at Union apparently interviewed for the open position at Providence yesterday.

Rumor has it that the men's coaching situation could also potentially have an impact on the world of women's hockey as well, since Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson, fresh off his fourth national championship at his alma mater, is rumored to be a top candidate for the Penn State job. The Nittany Lions, of course, have a women's team starting as well, and that team needs a coach too.

* New programs
Sort of redundant, of course, since we just talked about Penn State, but on the women's side, Division I will welcome a team from the college hockey wilderness in Lindenwood University. Since you don't have any idea where Lindenwood University is, here's the info: They're in St. Charles, MO, which is suburban St. Louis, a growing hotbed of hockey. Last we heard from Lindenwood, they were being courted by the men's CHA as a potential sixth team to keep the conference afloat, but they were still an NAIA school back then and couldn't do it. They join the NCAA next season.

The school has long been an ACHA (club hockey) power, with the Lady Lions winning four national championships in the last six years, with an absolutely stupid record of 241-26-11 since the program began in the 2003-04 season. No, you aren't reading that wrong. With the varsity program set to get underway just about six months after its announcement, they're probably just going to promote the entire team. It'll probably be a rude welcome as they embark as the second independent in women's hockey, but we'll keep an eye on the program nonetheless.

For what it's worth, the Lindenwood men's club team has been fairly dominant of late as well, having reached four consecutive national championship games, winning the title in 2009 and 2010. There are currently no plans for the men's team to move to varsity.

* Big Ten
It's not happening next season. It's not even happening in two years. But three seasons hence, the college hockey landscape will be irrevocably changed.

We're going to have a feature or two on this as a summer cooler in the coming months, but suffice it to say that there are pieces on the chessboard that will be moving well before the Big Ten begins play. Will any of those pieces move this summer? We'll find out.

* Who's coming?
OK, you say, finally, we're getting back to RPI. (After everything that happened last season, you should be thrilled.)

As of right now, there are seven recruits who are currently expected to be at RPI in the fall: forwards Jacob Laliberté, Matt Neal, Mark McGowan, Ryan Haggerty and Zach Schroeder, and defensemen Luke Curadi and Curtis Leonard. There have been some murmurs that Schroeder may spend next year in juniors first, but nothing that would be considered firm, so unless something changes, he's expected on campus in August.

There are two other recruits who may be part of the Class of 2015, or they may push off to the Class of 2016: forward Mark Miller and defenseman Chris Bradley. Apparently, Bradley's name has already appeared in the student directory (as has McGowan's, but at his age he has to come to school in the fall), but the USHL's Youngstown, where Bradley plays, has indicated that he will be back with them again next year.

There's also a bit of a question with Jason Kasdorf, who had been tapped to be York's replacement in 2012. The Engineers certainly need another goaltender for next year with York gone, and the question is, will Kasdorf come into the fold early, or will another goaltender be recruited?

We'll know for sure when the freshman class is officially announced. Last year, that took place in late May, but it could happen earlier if things firm up in time. There will be, I'm sure, continued fear and loathing over the long awaited Laliberté until his name turns up in the official announcement simply because he had been expected in each of the last two classes. But there's really no reason to expect that he won't be this time around. At his age, he has to move up or move out, which means his only other option, really, is major junior, which if he was going there, he probably would have done it already.

* Recruiting
Boy, what a perfect segue, right? As mentioned last year, recruiting never stops, so we'll be looking for some additions to the Class of 2016, too. Right now, Kasdorf and forward Mike Zalewski are the only known recruits expected in 2012, with Miller and Bradley coming along as well if they don't end up in Troy this year. Surely, more will be forthcoming regardless, and some of them will possibly commit this summer.

Of course, we're not limited to 2012 - RPI already has one recruit for 2013 in forward Jake Wood and one for either 2013 or 2014 in forward Drew Melanson.

Women's recruiting is less well known, but we do know of seven incoming recruits for 2011: goaltenders Brianna Piper and Kelly O'Brien, forwards Eleeza Cox, Taylor Mahoney, and Ali Svoboda, defenseman Kathryn Schilter, and then Mariana Walsh, who played forward for one of her teams and defense for the other. That's already more recruits than graduating players, but of course roster depth was an issue this season, so that certainly appears to be getting addressed.

* Schedules
Finally, we'll be looking at schedules being firmed up. For the men, there are three games that need to be confirmed. The first is the exhibition game scheduled for October 1, which will likely be against another Canadian team. The second is the yearly non-conference game against Union, which is supposedly taking place in Schenectady next season (I don't know when the last time this game took place in Troy, but you know Union needs the ticket sales, so they can have it). The third one is supposed to be a home game against Bentley, but the rumor mill says that it might end up being a road game at UNH.

On the women's side, we're flying blind for the time being. What's the schedule going to look like this year? No idea. Frequently, we can look to the past year's schedule in order to take some guesses. Non-conference series are often returned in the second year - for instance, the women traveled to Syracuse this past season after hosting them in 2009-10, and the men will host Colorado College next year after traveling there this year. Does that mean we might see the national champions from Wisconsin? It's not outside the realm of possibility - the Badgers played a weekend series at Robert Morris this past year. There's no doubt there will be some Hockey East teams on the ledger as well.

And of course, once the schedule is confirmed, Know Your Enemy will be returning on Wednesdays starting in mid-May and running through September. Only five teams on the schedule this year that weren't touched on last year (Minnesota State, Notre Dame, Ferris State, UMass-Lowell, and Army), so it'll be a slightly easier undertaking - we won't rehash the entire history of those teams we discussed last year, just update you on changes since last season.

And that's all. Ho hum. Just don't expect much here at WaP until May begins... April's when we decompress from the season. Apologies in advance. We'll still hit you with one or two more things before the end of the month, and of course, be sure to follow our Twitter feed for any breaking news.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thank You

Gosh it's been a while. Not posting on a daily basis seems... odd. A second new job, coupled with the end of the season will do that. Gary and I are jetting off to the Frozen Four tomorrow, but before we left, we just wanted to say... thank you.

Thanks to all of our readers (and listeners) who made this a fantastic season at WaP. We tried to grow a little bit this year and I think we accomplished that with the podcast. We tried some things that didn't work, like the live chats during games (partially, I think, because we were usually at said games), and some things that unexpectedly went very well, like the Judgment Day live blog when we watched as the pieces fell into place for RPI to make the national tournament.

But most of all... thank you to the players who have worn the cherry and white for the last time. You all left an indelible mark on the Institute. Thank you for all the great years we had to watch you grow as hockey players and student-athletes, and we wish you the best of luck in the future as leaders in your respective fields.

#23 Ashley Gaylord - Forward - Claverack, NY - Business Management
#24 Sydney O'Keefe - Forward - Prior Lake, MN - Business Management
#27 Kendra Dunlop - Forward - Granum, AB - Business Management
#33 Sonja van der Bliek - Goaltender - Toronto, ON - Business Management

#4 Bryan Brutlag - Forward - Lakeville, MN - Mechanical Engineering
#5 John Kennedy - Defenseman - Saginaw, MI - Chemical Engineering
#7 Jeff Foss - Defenseman - Moorhead, MN - Mechanical Engineering
#10 Scott Halpern - Forward - Boca Raton, FL - Business Management
#15 Tyler Helfrich - Forward - Calgary, AB - Business Management
#20 Kevin Beauregard - Forward - South Windsor, CT - Computer and Systems Engineering
#21 Chase Polacek - Forward - Edina, MN - Business Management
#30 Allen York - Goaltender - Wetaskiwin, AB - Business Management

Monday, April 4, 2011

A View From The Catwalk: Green Bay

One of the perks of being a WRPI broadcaster is you get to take an ocassional long road trip.
For me, it was Denver and Columbus; for others it's Huntsville, Minneapolis, and Alaska. However, I got to go to Green Bay to air the first game that RPI would play in the NCAA Tournament in sixteen years. The last time I witnessed an RPI NCAA game I was a skinny 14 year old teenager. Now, trying to find a flight from Albany "International" Airport to Green Bay was no easy task, but it was possible. Green Bay (which wasn't very green, there was still a couple of inches of
snow on the ground) is a nice little town. We arrived at our hotel where the team and the band were also staying, for a little R&R after a long and stifling plane ride. (I'm 6'4", the plane that I was riding in was so small I felt like a sardine.) Trying to find something to do in Green Bay would be hard if it wasn't for two words: Lambeau Field. This shrine to Packer football is awe-inspiring, even for a Giants fan.

This however, is pretty much the only thing to do in Green Bay in late-March. (There are others, but of the three major attractions, two were closed.) After doing all of the touristy stuff, it was back to the hotel for a little R&R before the big game the next afternoon.
Unfortunately, the picture on the right
taken while the teams were warming up would be the only time where the scoreboard would show a tie score. RPI came out well, but were unable to hang with North Dakota. The game hass been documented plenty of times, so I won't rehash it. This trip was a great opportunity to see three other teams that we rarely get to see live, so from a college hockey aspect, that was fun. Overall, Green Bay is a nice little town; but if anyone is ever considering going out there; make sure it is in the summer when everything's going. RPI had a great season, so maybe I'll get to take another trip to the NCAA's next year.