Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

There's little question that Guy Gadowsky picked Princeton hockey up out of the gutter and placed them into what may well be their longest extended stretch of respectability in the long history of the program - after all, that's what caught the eye of the athletic department at Happy Valley when they scooped him up to become Penn State's first varsity coach. Now, as the third ECAC team we've profiled gaining a new coach this season, the question is whether the Tigers will be able to maintain their better play.

Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Bob Prier (1st season)
2010-11 Record: 17-13-2 (11-9-2 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: RPI leads, 63-29-9
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 5, 2011 (Princeton, NJ)
Last PU win: February 25, 2011 (Troy, NY)

2011-12 games: December 2, 2011 (Princeton, NJ); February 18, 2012 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Derrick Pallis, sr.; F Brodie Zuk, sr.; G Mike Condon, jr.; F Rob Kleebaum, jr.; F Eric Meland, jr.; D Michael Sdao, jr.; F Andrew Ammon, so.; F Jack Berger, so.; G Sean Bonar, so.; F Andrew Calof, so.; F Aaron Kesselman, fr.; D Tom Kroshus, fr.; D Kevin Mills, fr.

Key losses: F Mike Kramer, F Kevin Lohry, F Matt Arhontas, D Taylor Fedun, D Cam Ritchie

Previous KYE installment:

Princeton bounced back well from their horrid 2009-10 campaign with a solid year last season, finishing in a tie with RPI and Cornell for fourth place but settling for the #6 seed in the playoffs. As expected, it was some of the younger players who paced the Tigers, especially Calof, who led the team in scoring, and Bonar, who put up solid numbers while earning a plurality of time in net.

When it came to putting the puck in the net, however, seniors led the way, and the graduations of Kramer, Lohry, Arhontas, and Fedun, who combined for 43 goals, is going to sting a little bit. Fortunately, there were other young scorers like Kleebaum and Ammon that also produced solid numbers, not to mention Calof himself, who had a knack for setting up practically anyone on the ice.

Bonar and Condon largely split time in net overall last year, and with a new coach it will remain to be seen whether the Tigers are going to go this route again. It has been said that some of Bonar's solid numbers were built up earlier in the season against weaker opponents, but he came to Princeton with solid bonafides and should be considered one of the league's top young netminders. Overall, the team does need to do a little better than it did defensively last season if they are going to improve, and there's no immediate sign that's going to happen, especially with the loss of Fedun and Ritchie on the backline.

Of course, the addition of a new coach throws a wrench into things. At Union, Rick Bennett appears to have the talent to help him adjust quickly. At Clarkson, Casey Jones looks like he's going to need to start from scratch. Bob Prier is somewhere in the middle. After nine years in Canton under the tutelage of Joe Marsh, he may have a team that will allow him to emulate Marsh in Princeton and be successful.

All in all, the Tigers do need the usual step-ups from returning forwards and some contributions from their younger guys in order to be successful this year, but it may be too early to tell whether Princeton's destined for great things - they have the personnel to vie for top honors if everything falls into place - or whether they're going to be an also ran of the ECAC. The smart money has them somewhere in the middle of the pack this season.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tsunami Watch: Settling Point?

While we dry out a bit here in Irene-ravaged Troy (which was almost wholly to blame for this not running yesterday), here's the latest on the conference carousel that may soon be grinding to a halt.

Last week, the rumored WCHA-CCHA merger that had been discussed came to fruition as the WCHA offered membership to the remaining members of the CCHA with the exception of Notre Dame, which is still on the fence between the NCHC and Hockey East (and, apparently, becoming an independent).

Alaska, Lake Superior State, and Ferris State quickly accepted. Thus, the WCHA currently looks like this in 2013:

Bemidji State
Ferris State
Lake Superior State
Michigan Tech
Minnesota State
Northern Michigan
St. Cloud State

There's one thing that all of these schools have in common: Division II. That may be one of the things that is causing hesitation for the other two WCHA invitees, Bowling Green and Western Michigan, both of whom play at the highest level of Division I.

That leaves the following remaining question marks.

Notre Dame: Once again, it was something other than Notre Dame which moved first. We all thought the Irish would be the first to make a move... they're now almost certain to be last. Well... maybe next to last.

The options are still pretty much laid bare on the table. They're one of three remaining CCHA teams, so they can't reasonably stay there - not that that's ever been something that was realistic to begin with. They've got a standing offer from the NCHC, and Hockey East wouldn't say no if they wanted to join there.

If Notre Dame preferred to align themselves with the Big Ten, there's another option that the Irish could be considering - independence. Now, this wouldn't leave the Irish as independents in the style of Alabama-Huntsville, which will be in its second season of fully cobbling together a schedule this year, but rather, would be a situation where the Irish had long-term scheduling arrangements with other leagues, almost certainly with the Big Ten and probably with the NCHC as well. Such an arrangement would allow Notre Dame to keep playing the schools they're already used to playing without having to tether themselves to the Big Ten (which they've famously refused to do for decades) or a conference largely consisted of less prestigious institutions in the NCHC. They wouldn't be able to vie for an automatic bid and they'd have to find a way to keep playing into March (when the conferences are in tournament mode), but with the scheduling arrangements, a good Irish team with a solid record would probably be in contention for an NCAA bid without much problem.

Bowling Green: The Falcons are in an interesting position. They have the WCHA invite in their back pocket, but as a Division I school, they could arguably have the clout to join the NCHC, which would probably like to grow larger than just six schools - not to mention that BGSU's MAC cohorts, Miami, are already there. They're almost certainly going to wait to see what Notre Dame does before making a decision.

Western Michigan: The Broncos are, even more than BGSU, waiting to see what Notre Dame is going to do, in part because their proximity to South Bend could potentially allow them to latch on with the Irish as a travel partner in either the NCHC or Hockey East. It remains to be seen if the latter would be interested at all in WMU, though the former has apparently already extended an offer. Now they also have an offer from the WCHA. Options abound. It's amazing what one outstanding rebound season combined with a new commitment from administration will do for a program.

Atlantic Hockey: The WCHA-CCHA merger kills any chance that the four potential departures - Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, and Robert Morris - had of being able to leave, since they had interest in playing in a revamped CCHA that will no longer exist. Those schools - and RIT as well - still have interest in improving their station in college hockey, however. What options do they have? Honestly, they don't have many places to turn. They could seek to join the ECAC, but even with the WCHA filling back up again, there's not much of a reason for the ECAC to expand (further diluting the pool for the automatic bid). For the time being, they're probably stuck where they are.

Alabama-Huntsville: The WCHA-CCHA merger is kind of a nightmare scenario for the Chargers... unless they can somehow petition the WCHA to become its 10th, 11th, or 12th member. The problem is, we're already talking about a league that is going to have to figure a way to include a pair of schools as isolated as Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage, bringing on another isolated team - and another D-II school - might be a dicey proposition.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

It's really not fair to call Quinnipiac the "new kids on the block" anymore. It seems like just yesterday they were replacing Vermont in the ECAC, but they've now been in the league for seven years and although they've been difficult to pin down in pre-season outlooks in the past, they've certainly shown over the last six seasons that they're no pushover.

Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2002
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Rand Pecknold (18th season)
2010-11 Record: 16-15-8 (6-9-7 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 6-5-6
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: November 15, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2011-12 games: December 3, 2011 (Hamden, CT); February 17, 2012 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Yuri Bouharevich, sr.; D Mike Glaicar, sr.; F Scott Zurevinski, sr.; F Ben Arnt, jr.; D Loren Barron, jr.; D Zack Currie, jr.; D Zach Davies, jr.; G Eric Hartzell, jr.; F Jeremy Langlois, jr.; F John Dunbar, so.; F Connor Jones, so.; F Kellen Jones, so.; D Jack Callahan, fr.; D Dan Federico, fr.; F Matthew Peca, fr.

Key losses: D Zach Hansen

Previous KYE installment:

Something about RPI/Quinnipiac brings out the ties... in 17 total games between the schools, six have been ties, including both of last year's affairs. The 2010 women's playoffs sort of bore this out as well, but let's not go there.

Basically, when you look at the series it's almost as though the three possible outcomes have an equal chance of coming true - roll a three-sided die, or something. Perhaps not coincidentally, that's practically how Quinnipiac's ECAC season went last year as well - their six wins were tied for next-to-last in the league, but at only nine losses, had just as many in that column as the Engineers, Tigers, and Big Red, who all tied for fourth.

A good chunk of those ties - including both with the Engineers - came in a frustrating stretch run in which the Bobcats went 1-3-5, but the Q finished strong, spanking Brown in the first round before taking Cornell to the limit in the quarterfinals, dropping Game 3 in overtime. It was a finish that had all the hallmarks of a young team learning how to win late in the season.

And make no mistake - Quinnipiac was painfully young last year, as Hansen and two little used players were the only graduating seniors. While there really weren't any "blow you away" scorers on the team outside of Langlois (18 goals) and Zurevinski (14 goals, 25 points), the Jones brothers certainly showed their ability in what were a pair of solid freshman seasons, and were part of what was at least a fairly balanced attack, as six different players notched at least six goals on the year.

They add to that attack one of the more impressive incoming freshmen in Matthew Peca, who will likely be a candidate for Rookie of the Year, if he plays to potential. So while the Q's overall output last year was fairly low (2.44 goals per game), that will probably be improving this year.

Defensively, the Bobcats were average last year and endured a shakeup in net. Dan Clarke, who'd had an outstanding sophomore campaign for the Q (impressive enough to earn my pre-season nod as the top goaltender in the league last year) struggled early on and was usurped between the pipes by Eric Hartzell, who put up numbers most teams wouldn't have too much issue with at 2.22/.927. Hansen was a stalwart on the blueline, but he led a squad of mostly sophomores back there. If Hartzell plays this season as he did last year and those younger defensemen improve the way most young defensemen have under Rand Pecknold (who was recently extended behind the bench), the Bobcats could be solid here as well.

Overall, Quinnipiac projects as a team that will be a tough win for much of the league. Unless Langlois, Zurevinski, or Peca go berzerk, they don't have that one guy that is going to stand out as being an individual star, but they do have a well-rounded team, and last time we checked, hockey's a team sport. They have the chops to vie for a first-round bye... or more, if everything falls into place. Overlook them at your own peril.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Répondez s'il vous plaît (We Appreciate Input)

First off... an apology on the lack of updates in the last couple of weeks. A number of factors to blame - an extended stay in California combined with what finally looks like a little bit of national calm (relatively speaking) making for very little to update.

A while back, we asked for opinions on our podcast series that we had last season. A few SNAFUs notwithstanding - perhaps most famously, the ghost in the machine keeping us from having a successful chat with CC beat writer Joe Paisley on two different occasions - they seemed to go very well and we were able to have some outstanding chats with coaches, players, and members of the media.

There's a bit of work that goes into a podcast - there's pre-production, finding guests, looking at topics of discussion, etc. It does cost money as well (which, thankfully, we were able to defray with the generous donations to our tip jar that we received over the course of the year, and we don't thank you enough for those).

Last season, the amount of time available for that pursuit was in great supply, since I was, erm, seeking employment for much of the season. Thankfully, that's no longer the case, but my awesome 9-to-5 cuts down on the ability to put in that extra work and still be able to maintain WaP's main element - the website.

When last we asked about how people felt about the podcast, we got... well, we didn't get any response. Which is OK, it was kind of asked in an "oh, by the way" manner. But now, we'd really like to hear from you. Did you love the podcasts and want to see them kept somehow (perhaps, in a different format, or with a different host with more available time)? Did you dislike them and avoided them like the plague? Were you indifferent?

Please, do comment... there are plenty of ways to do so: hit us up on Twitter... leave a message on our Facebook page... hit the comment button below... heck, send an email (tomyousieve [Shift+2] gmail [dawt] com).

I did enjoy the podcasts, personally, and would love to be able to continue to offer them, but ensuring that they're something people actually want... well, that's fairly important, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Union

For the second consecutive offseason, there's been a great deal of drama in the Capital District as it pertains to college hockey, only this time, it's at the other end of Route 7. Fresh off their first major title of any kind in Division I - the ECAC regular season championship, which was powered by an outstanding stretch run - Union brings back a significant chunk of the team that was so successful last season, but will also be missing several key elements, including a pair that had not been expected to be missing, which has been enough to raise a number of questions about the Dutchmen coming into the year.

Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1985 (Division III)
Coach: Rick Bennett (1st season)
2010-11 Record: 26-10-4 (17-3-2 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-23-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last UC win: November 12, 2010 (Schenectady, NY)

2011-12 games: November 15, 2011 (Troy, NY);
December 10, 2011 (Lake Placid, NY); January 14, 2012 (Schenectady, NY)

Key players: F Kelly Zajac, sr.; D Nolan Julseth-White, sr.; F Jeremy Welsh, jr.; F Wayne Simpson, jr.; F Kyle Bodie, jr.; D Greg Coburn, jr.; D Shawn Stuart, jr.; D Ryan Forgaard, jr; F Daniel Carr, so.; F Josh Jooris, so.; F Matt Hatch, so.; D Mat Bodie, so.; G Troy Grosenick, so.; F Tyson Fulton, fr.; F Trevor Mingoia, fr.; F Max Novak, fr.; F Daniel Ciampini, fr.

Key losses: F Adam Presizniuk, F Stephane Boileau, F John Simpson, F Justin Pallos, D Brock Matheson, G Keith Kinkaid

Previous KYE installment:

We've recounted (and of course, snickered at) Union's long, tortured tenure in Division I, but last year they did in fact climb to the top of the ECAC hill for the first time, but as has been their curse in practically every season, the playoffs were not kind. For the second consecutive season, the regular season champion fell to a bottom-of-the-barrel team that had taken down RPI in Troy the previous week. The Dutchmen did earn their first ever trip to the Division I NCAA tournament, where they earned a #2 seed to set up a potential all-ECAC quarterfinal against #1 Yale in the East Regional. Unfortunately, they were held scoreless by the #3 team, which would eventually go on to win the national championship - Minnesota-Duluth.

All told, however, it was a season that has to be looked upon as an unqualified success for Union even if they'd had the potential to do much more in March than they were able to accomplish. That they did it with a sophomore goaltender who won the Dryden Award as the league's top goaltender was even more impressive.

The drama began shortly after the season ended. Kinkaid signed an NHL deal with the New Jersey Devils, which will keep him in the Capital District next season, only he'll be playing his games at the Times Union Center in Albany instead of at Achilles Center in Schenectady. Shortly thereafter, the man who brought Union out of the depths to the top of the pile, head coach Nate Leaman, departed to accept the top spot at Hockey East's Providence College, wisely taking with him the man we've always believed has been his muse, former RPI captain Ben Barr.

The good news for Union? The vast majority of the scoring that propelled them last year is coming back, with Presizniuk the only major loss offensively. Welsh, unless he signs late, will not follow Kinkaid in forgoing his final two years at Union. Zajac returns for his senior season, and two young guns who were among the best freshman scorers in the league last year in Carr and Jooris. Boileau was a senior leader, but missed a good chunk of time to injury last season.

That returning offense is enough to make Union a very solid team next year on its own. Even on nights when Kinkaid was not on top of his game last year, the Dutchmen still pumped enough goals to come out on top more often than not, especially down the stretch. The biggest questions for Union, unquestionably, come in the two places they unexpected lost personnel - behind the bench and between the pipes.

Union moved quickly to replace Leaman with Rick Bennett, who had been one of Union's assistant coaches - so quickly, in fact, that they more than likely had the contingency planned long before Leaman left. As we mentioned with Clarkson (and will mention with Princeton when the time comes), it's never a sure bet how a team will react to a new coach. In this case, Bennett isn't coming in cold, having already coached (and in many cases, recruited) the players he'll be working with.

In net, replacing Kinkaid hasn't been easy. Grosenick is the only returning goaltender, and with Kinkaid so dominant last season, he didn't get much playing time (though he did fairly well when he was). Julian Laplante was supposed to be coming in to be the second goaltender, but he instead followed Leaman to Providence (along with one other recruit). Scrambling to bring in another netminder, Union moved up the timetable on Niskayuna native Colin Stevens, who they had hoped would be able to spend another year in juniors to prime him for college hockey, instead he'll probably have the opportunity to compete with Grosenick for the starting job this year.

At the end of the day, despite the loss of Kinkaid and Leaman, Union still boasts a solid team with great offense and a defense capable of making life easy on the goaltender no matter who it is. Unless the coaching or goaltending question marks take a serious turn in the negative direction, there's no reason to suspect that Union won't probably have another very good season this year.

Especially when Bryan Hicks is in the house.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Brown

New coaches frequently bring with them new expectations, though you could be forgiven for thinking that a new coach at Brown wasn't going to be bringing anything new to Meehan Auditorium. Brendan Whittet is, however, starting to make a name for himself in the ECAC even if the results on the ice have been a little less than what he'd like to see up to this point.

Nickname: Bears
Location: Providence, RI
Founded: 1764
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1993
Last Frozen Four: 1976
Coach: Brendan Whittet (3rd season)
2010-11 Record: 10-16-5 (8-12-2 ECAC, 9th place)
Series: RPI leads, 53-22-6
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 28, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Last Brown win: March 7, 2010 (Troy, NY)

2011-12 games: November 12, 2011 (Troy, NY); January 20, 2012 (Providence, RI)

Key players: D Jeff Buvinow, sr.; G Mike Clemente, sr.; F Bobby Farnham, sr.; F Jack Maclellan, sr.; F Chris Zaires, jr.; F Garnet Hathaway, so.; F Mark Hourihan, so.; D Dennis Robertson, so.; D Matt Wahl, so.; D Joey DeConcilys, fr.; F Matt Harlow, fr.; F Massimo Lamacchia, fr.; F Matt Lorito, fr.; D Taki Pantziris, fr.

Key losses: F Harry Zolnierczyk, F Jesse Fratkin, F David Brownschidle, D Jeremy Russell

Previous KYE installment:
For Brown, a lot of what was successful in 2009-10 was also fairly successful in 2010-11. The Bears had a tough schedule to fight through, and they did a fairly decent job of it early on before they faltered late. Much as they did in the season in which they upset RPI and Yale on their way to a third-place finish in the ECAC tournament, the Bears relied on scoring early and holding leads in order to be successful, but their offense and defense, overall, wasn't overly superb.

Payback was a... well, it wasn't sweet for Brown last year, that's for sure, as the Engineers swept the season series with a combined goal tally of 9-2. RPI knew better than to let the Bears hang around and they jumped on them early in both games.

Zolnierczyk, in addition to being the team's agitator-in-chief (128 PIM in 30 games), was also the team's leading scorer. Fratkin and Brownschidle were important role players, but both should have others that can step in and take their place (like Zaires and Farnham). Maclellan will certainly be the focal point for opposing defenses this season, as he is the only solidly proven goalscorer the Bears have left. Zolnierczyk and Maclellan combined for 30 of Brown's 84 goals all by themselves, and were the only two reach double digits.

Clemente's numbers last year were, as in his first two years, fairly pedestrian. Brown does boast one of the best defensemen in the league in Jeff Buvinow, but he's only one man.

However, things are looking up. Robertson, Hathaway, and Wahl all had very solid freshman campaigns individually, and Whittet brings in this year one of the better overall classes in the ECAC. The incoming class includes a number of players who could well be able to make a difference not only this year, but in years to come, bringing up the profile of Brown hockey.

The Bears still aren't quite reaching up into the upper echelons of the ECAC - they're likely to be in the bottom half of the league again - but much as with RPI a few seasons back, the groundwork is pretty clearly being laid for what could be a talented team in the coming years.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Scouting the Ivan Hlinka Tournament

While the World Junior Championship summer camp gets underway in Lake Placid (with no RPI representation this year as Jerry D'Amigo has aged out of the tournament), Seth Appert and the Team USA U-18 selects are underway in the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, which takes place in the Czech Republic and Slovakia every season.

This year, Team USA highlights some of the best players born in 1994 - some, not all, since defenseman Seth Jones is in Lake Placid looking to potentially earn a slot on the WJC roster. Traditionally, USA Hockey uses the Hlinka as an opportunity for younger standouts to get international tournament experience.

RPI defenseman recruit Chris Bradley, who is expected to join the Engineers in 2012, was a member of last year's silver medal winning team, so there's some recent history - he committed to RPI about six weeks after that tournament ended.

There's no doubt that Coach Appert's number one priority in this tournament is a gold medal for his country - as well it should be. But, of course, if he happens to make a good impression on a young, talented, uncommitted young hockey player... all the better.

First off, most of the roster is already accounted for. Three are already playing major junior, so they can be scratched off the list. Another 12 have already committed to schools, although only one school (BC) has two recruits on the roster (Ted Doherty and Brendan Silk).

RPI, in the past, was linked to at least one player on the roster - Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, who hails from near Syracuse. We'll likely never know exactly how close we came to landing him, he chose Michigan way back in September 2009 (at the age of 15).

So with that said... these players listed below are not inherently linked to RPI. Just because a player is good doesn't mean he's the type of guy who's going to make it in Troy - there are a number of elements, including academics and personality, that go into an Engineer and that's something we just aren't privy to. This is more just an examination of who's out there.

G Cal Petersen (Waterloo, USHL)
6'2", 179
Petersen does have the basic size that Appert looks for in a goaltender, but even if he's the right fit, the goaltender position can depend much more upon who's already on the roster, and in this case, there are already a pair of young goalies who will be coming in soon in Scott Diebold and Jason Kasdorf. It's possible Petersen (or another '94) could replace Merriam in 2013, but there'll already be two solid goaltenders on the roster.

D Justin Wade (Fargo, USHL)
6'2", 210
Of all of the uncommitted players on the roster, Wade might just be the one that would fit into Appert's system in Troy the best. Frame-wise, a bigger version of Bradley, and scout Dan Sallows calls him a "prototypical shut-down defenseman." That kind of play, plus his size, make him just the type of defenseman Appert has been trying to stock the blueline with. Sounds like Wisconsin is pretty big into him.

F Luke Johnson (Central HS, North Dakota)
5'11", 165
Johnson may or may not return to Central for his junior season, as he may choose instead to join the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, but it's worth noting that Central is in Grand Forks, and his father was a standout for the Sioux. Basically, they get the right of first refusal here.

F Sam Kurker (St. John's Prep, Massachusetts)
6'2", 200
Kurker is almost certainly on RPI's radar at the very least - he told the Boston Globe in March that academics are very important to him and that he was stressing the SAT because of Ivy League concerns. Throw in the fact that his father played for Union in Division III in the 1980s, and he's got local connections. As a big, physical scoring threat, he'd be a great addition in Troy if the stars align correctly (and a nice tit-for-tat since Union's got a player in Josh Jooris whose father played at RPI), but he does seem destined for the ECAC at any rate.

F Tim Lappin (Tri-City, USHL)
6'0, 175
Lappin has impressed in the Tier I Elites with the Chicago Mission, and was slated to be teammates with Scott Diebold this year in Tri-City before Diebold diverted to Troy instead. Lappin has been on scouts' radar for some time (going back as far as 2008), though there's not an awful lot of information out there on the Internet about him, other than that he does seem to prefer college over the major junior route according to the Tri-City press release about his selection.

F Jordan Masters (Muskegon, USHL)
5'11", 160
There could potentially be some interest here as well, since Masters is from the Rochester area, and as with D'Amigo, Bradley, and Nieves, Appert clearly isn't afraid to go for top talent from within the state. He's certainly got room to fill out since he's a bit of a stick figure (unless USA Hockey is just using his vitals from a year ago), but this is definitely a kid with scoring talent.

F Louie Nanne (Edina HS, Minnesota)
5'10", 170
Name look familiar? It should. His grandfather is Lou Nanne, one of the biggest stars of the 1960s for the Golden Gophers, captain of the 1968 US Olympic team, hero of the Minnesota North Stars for 10 years, followed by 10 years as North Stars GM, and he was one of the architects of the Miracle on Ice. In other words, don't worry, he's got Gophers written all over him.

Team USA has an exhibition game against the Czech Republic and a tournament game against Finland already under their belts. Tomorrow they face Russia, and Wednesday they face the hosts Slovakia. If they advance, the semifinal game is on Friday, with the gold and bronze medal games on Saturday, so it's a bit of a whirlwind tournament.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Running For the Border

Lost in all of the discussion of the shell game going on amongst Division I conferences this offseason is the continuing war between the CHL and the NCAA over talent - and there is new evidence that the NCAA is losing the battle.

The 2011 NHL Entry Draft was somewhat noted for its lack of collegiate talent in the early rounds. The first selection linked to a college team was defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, who just finished his freshman year at Northeastern, selected 14th overall by Dallas. That followed on with North Dakota recruit J.T. Miller, taken next at 15th by the Rangers, and a pair of Miami recruits, Connor Murphy and Tyler Biggs, by Phoenix and Toronto respectively, at 20th and 22nd. That was it for first round picks - four.

Now, it looks even worse. It's actually down to one. Miller and Murphy have decided to reneg on their commitments and will instead play major junior in the Ontario Hockey League, Oleksiak has left Northeastern and will also play in the OHL, and throw in early second round choice John Gibson (Anaheim), a Michigan commit, who is also bound for the O. Of the top eight draftees who had college hockey connections a little over a month ago at the draft - either as commits or current players - fully half have now defected north of the border.

RPI was indirectly hit by this last season, with recruit Nick Quinn eventually choosing the OHL over college shortly after decommitting, though his choice not to come to RPI may have been affected by other elements, not the least of which was his unexpected cut from Dubuque by Jim Montgomery due to a misinterpretation of USHL rules. There's also Jerry D'Amigo, who ended up finishing his season last year in major junior with Kitchener after he struggled in the AHL, but again, that wasn't a direct correlation - he signed a pro contract, which is why he left RPI, and was probably a little disappointed to have ended up in the OHL.

The Engineers have won some battles, too. D'Amigo and Brandon Pirri were both highly coveted by their OHL teams, both ultimately chose RPI during the summer of 2009. Incoming freshman Jacob Laliberté had also apparently been pursued by Gatineau of the QMJHL that same summer.

Make no mistake - the "war" we talked about last summer has largely come about because some very talented players who in years past probably would have been pushed 100% to the CHL are now considering and in many cases playing NCAA hockey in the United States, both Americans and Canadians. This speaks to the still-growing value of college hockey as a route to the professional ranks. Though this year's draft wasn't the best in that respect, recent drafts have had college and college-linked players performing extremely well (along with American players in general).

The CHL, however, isn't ready to admit that the NCAA can be a fertile ground for talent to grow, not while they're losing good players. They're also willing to take advantage of NCAA rules which force a player who chooses major junior to stay on that route, since the NCAA considers the CHL to be a professional league since many of its players are paid. Once they reel a player in, there's no going back, though NCAA players always have the option to change direction - like Oleksiak did.

College commitments are almost always adhered to within the college community - after all, no coach wants his own commits poached, so he's not likely to go after another's. The CHL certainly doesn't respect those decisions and in many cases will relentlessly pursue top college-bound players up until the point where it becomes obvious that they will not change their minds. It does speak a bit to the character of some (not all) of these players that their commitment - their word - doesn't mean much.

Don't forget, though, that the NHL plays a role here. Some teams out there have proven themselves to be friendly to college hockey - especially teams like Toronto (Brian Burke), New Jersey (Lou Lamoriello), and Washington (George McPhee) who have administrators with links to college. But there are a number of teams out there that clearly accept the CHL's line - Montreal, Anaheim, and Dallas among them. Atlanta was long known to be fairly hostile to college hockey, we'll have to see whether a wholesale management change during their move to Winnipeg will change that for the Jets, who have Jason Kasdorf's draft rights.

For the time being, however, the role of college hockey's PR arm, College Hockey Inc., continues to be important. Paul Kelly has the arduous task of winning hearts and minds for the NCAA experience, and while there's still a long way to go, the effort is being made, and the die has been cast. The CHL may emerge victorious this summer, but the battle continues.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Yale

It's been over 20 years since an ECAC team even played for a national championship - that would be Colgate in 1990. This week's profiled team, for much of last season, seemed as though they would potentially make a run at snapping that run. In fact, this team probably brought more national attention to the ECAC than it's had in at least a decade, but they faltered down the stretch.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1952
Coach: Keith Allain (6th season)
2010-11 Record: 28-7-1 (17-4-1 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 52-39-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 29, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: December 3, 2010 (New Haven, CT)

2011-12 games: November 11, 2011 (Troy, NY); January 21, 2012 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Brian O'Neill, sr.; F Kevin Limbert, sr.; F Chad Ziegler, sr.; D Kevin Peel, sr.; D Nick Jaskowiak, sr.; F Andrew Miller, jr.; D Colin Dueck, jr.; F Kenny Agostino, so.; F Trent Ruffolo, fr.; D Bennett Carroccio, fr.; F Matt Killian, fr.; D Alan Thompson, fr.

Key losses: F Broc Little; F Chris Cahill; F Denny Kearney; F Brendan Mason; D Jimmy Martin; D Mike Matczak; D Ken Trentowski; G Ryan Rondeau

Previous KYE installment:
Yale's long tenure as the #1 ranked team in the weekly poll was the subject of much consternation in the Internet discussion circles last season. We made our opinion known very firmly at the time - they most certainly were for real and in the middle of the season had a legitimate claim to be the best team in the nation. Literally every single part of their game succeeded at a high level for much of the year, including their goaltending, which was the major question mark coming into the season. Ryan Rondeau had a tremendous year in net, propelling the Bulldogs to the cusp of their first Frozen Four in almost 60 years.

Champions are not made in December and January, however. They may be bred then, but they're made in February and March, and that's when Yale struggled last season. Well... struggled might be too strong of a word - the Bulldogs were actually 11-3-1 in the last stretch, but they did drop some games at inopportune times, and began to look a little more human. It started with a rough trip to the Capital District, losing back-to-back games for the only time all year against Union and in the Freakout! against RPI. The Eli defense started to look a little more human following that weekend.

Yale did, however, put away their second ECAC title in three years with a solid run in the league tournament. After being upset by St. Lawrence (for the second time in four weeks) in Game 1 of the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs whipped off four wins in a row to claim the championship, including three straight shutouts and a 6-0 pasting of Cornell in Atlantic City.

The nominal home team in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Yale was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but played poorly on the big stage, requiring overtime to get past Atlantic Hockey champions Air Force before spotting three goals to Minnesota-Duluth, the eventual national champions, in the regional final.

Overall, still a roundly successful year for Yale all things considered, but they certainly do take a pretty solid hit talentwise. Little, Cahill, and Kearney were all key elements of Yale's ruthless offense throughout their careers, Martin and Matczak were excellent at moving the puck, and Rondeau of course took the team's lone weakness last season and turned it into a strength.

On any other team, those losses would easily mean a rebuilding season, but Yale was beastly enough last year that they should still be a solid contender, perhaps even one of the early favorites to lead the league as they have been for the last several campaigns under Keith Allain. O'Neill and Miller were the top scorers on the team last season, and Agostino is a star in the making after an outstanding freshman season that was a little overshadowed by the team's successes. There are also plenty of other names that could step in and have an impact, including freshman Ruffolo.

At the end of the day, Yale is still going to be a dangerous team offensively. The question here is with defense. The Bulldogs lose three of their regular starters, and it will be incumbent upon names like sophomore Gus Young (who made only five appearances last year), Carroccio, and Thompson to pick up the slack - though Peel and Jaskowiak do provide senior leadership. The bigger question is once again in net - like last year, Yale will come in with three goaltenders and no firm top choice. Juniors Jeff Malcolm and Nick Maricic both had rough freshman campaigns and limited action as sophomores behind Rondeau - Malcolm played in two games and had a GAA of about four, and Maricic came on in relief on three occasions. They are joined by freshman Connor Wilson, out of Chicago of the USHL.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, Yale's outlook is very similar to where it was at this time last year - perhaps not quite as strong if only because of the youth factor (nine freshmen), but if they get some good goaltending, they could be a very, very difficult team to take down. RPI has met the Bulldogs blow for blow over the past two seasons (going 3-1-0 and outscoring them 16-8), though they may be hard pressed to do it again without Allen York and Chase Polacek in the lineup, both of whom were frequently huge against the Elis. Ultimately, given the similar uptempo styles of the Engineers and Bulldogs, the games between the two sides will be contests you almost certainly will not want to miss, because they're going to be fun no matter how they turn out - they're much different than your average everyday ECAC matchup.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Excellence, Leadership, and Community

You know what today is? It's Monday. Yes, it's the first of the mooooooooonth. First day of August. Last full month without college hockey since the women get underway with an exhibition game in late September. Freshmen will begin arriving on campus this month, with captain's practices and then classes shortly to follow.

There's one other thing going on today that should be considered, however - the lifting of the NCAA's four-year moratorium on Division I membership. For the last four years, no school has been allowed to move their athletic program from D-II or D-III (or the NAIA) into the nation's top level.

With all that's going on in this offseason, it does beg the question - is this something RPI should consider?

During the Prop 65 debates in late 2003, the Institute began investigating contingency options for the proposal's passage. Having been a minor party to some of the discussions at the time, the option to move the entire athletic program to Division I was certainly explored. One of the more popular rumors had RPI and Johns Hopkins (which was similarly fighting for its lacrosse scholarships) joining the Patriot League, a D-I conference which consists of American University, Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, and Navy as full members, with Fordham and Georgetown included for football (replacing Army and Navy, which play as independents at the highest D-I level).

A couple of weeks back, we discussed the possibility of RPI having the opportunity and the option to move to Hockey East. We discussed some of the pros and cons from both RPI and Hockey East's vantage point. BC Interruption, an all-BC blog, examined those pros and cons a few days later, coming to the conclusion that the con of RPI's Division III status might be a hurdle that would keep them from being considered, which was one of the things we expected Hockey East might not be too thrilled with.

But even if we lay Hockey East aside for a moment, is Division I a good fit for RPI? It's not outside the realm of possibility, especially if we're still talking about the Patriot League, which in many ways is Division I's answer to Atlantic Hockey. It started out as a cost-containment league without any athletic scholarships to speak of whatsoever, but that changed a little over a decade ago when American University was added to the conference's numbers. Today, athletic aid is available in every sport but the usually scholarship-heavy sport of football, which is limited to need-based aid, just as with all aid in Division III.

In 2003, when the idea was approached, it was obvious that the Institute's facilities were a huge stumbling block moving forward. The East Campus Athletic Village only existed on paper - but now that it is a reality, it is far less of a concern. ECAV Stadium and ECAV Arena are admittedly small by Division I standards, but neither would be the smallest and both have room for growth. Houston Field House, too, is just yards away if a much bigger capacity is needed for basketball games - they have been held there in the past, and the renovated Field House has been called a centerpiece of the ECAV.

RPI's position as a "small school" in the grander scheme of things, is largely linked to their Division III status. Yet, in the Patriot League, by enrollment, the Institute would be outpaced only by Lehigh and American. By selectivity, if that's an important metric, RPI actually fits better in the Patriot League than it does in the Liberty League, its current home.

There are a number of positives that could be gained from a move to Division I. Remember that Ivy League connection we said the school cherished about its ECAC membership? Well, basically every Patriot League program has at least one or two non-conference games against the Ivy League on a yearly basis.

Locally, there's really not much of a college football scene outside of RPI and Union - though UAlbany's clearly trying to grab the brass ring with their new stadium proposal. A Division I (FCS) program, even one without scholarships, would be an instant attraction.

Division I would also potentially grant RPI access to the biggest sport scene of all in the Capital District - college basketball. It's owned by Siena, but UAlbany has their own following, and a third team could make for some very interesting local rivalries indeed.

The impetus for ECAV is found in the pages of the Rensselaer Plan, a set of operational guidelines the school has followed for over a decade which has as its stated goal, "[t]o achieve greater prominence in the 21st century as a top-tier world-class technological research university with global reach and global impact." Now, athletics doesn't directly make us that world-class technological research university. But at its core, the Rensselaer Plan is about striving to be the best in everything that we do as a school, as students, faculty, and alumni alike. It could be argued that Division I athletics would be a part of that aim. As the plan says, "three fundamental markers will drive our actions: excellence, leadership, and community."

Of course, there are plenty of downsides to the idea, too. Those traditional rivalries we talked about in the Hockey East discussion wouldn't just be compromised, they'd be gone. No more Dutchmen's Shoes. No more baseball and basketball rivalries with Union and Clarkson. Those would definitely be a thing of the past, and that definitely wouldn't be easy to say goodbye to.

Hockey's special status would potentially be in jeopardy as well. Hockey is part of the school's identity in part because its Division I separation from the rest of the athletic program sets it apart. If the school were to change that, it would potentially be threatened by the two sports much more followed nationally - football and basketball.

There's also the scholarship question. Does the school want to commit to scholarships for its athletes in other sports? Would some sports get the shaft - to include a potential ax? If so, which ones?

This is all just food for thought as the possibility becomes real again. We don't have an opinion on whether RPI should try to make this move, because the negatives are very difficult to tangle with, and the positives are far from assured. What do you think?