Thursday, June 30, 2011

Breakout Past: 2006 ACHA Showcase Pass

The Icers headed west on I-80 to Boardman, OH in October, 2006 for the fourth annual ACHA Showcase in sort of an early-season tune-up for the 2007 ACHA National Tournament, held at the same site. That site, the Ice Zone, also served as the home of the Youngstown Phantoms during their time as an NAHL team prior to jumping to the USHL in 2009. Also of note: the showcase marked Scott Balboni's fifth, sixth and seventh games as PSU's head coach.

Because my memory is lacking, I'm going to lean pretty heavily on the Collegian for details of the Icers' three games, against Oklahoma, Minot State and Weber State.
For Penn State, the Showcase began with a game against No. 7 Oklahoma on Friday afternoon. Unable to get into a groove early, the Icers fell behind. Despite outshooting its opponent, the team suffered its second loss of the season, 5-3.

"They really just capitalized on their chances," junior defenseman Keith Jordan said.

Head coach Scott Balboni thought his team lacked intensity in the loss to Oklahoma, and made sure that the players regained their composure going forward.

"We tried to take a more business-like attitude and come out more focused," Balboni said. "We weren't as focused in the Oklahoma game."
Oklahoma was in the midst of establishing themselves as an upper-crust ACHA team, and taking down the Icers undoubtedly helped towards that end - as did their wins over Lindenwood and Scranton the next two days to complete a sweep. From the Penn State point of view, a recovery followed quickly.
The Icers came back strong on Saturday, beating an overmatched Minot State, 7-0. Backup goaltender Nick Signet got the shutout as starter Matteo, who was removed in the middle of the Oklahoma game due to an injury, sat out Saturday and Sunday's contests.

"It's a big opportunity," Signet said of getting the start. "When you get your shot you have to use it wisely. Matteo left me some big shoes to fill."

Jordan was pleased with the way the team responded after Friday's disappointment, noting that the Icers did a good job in "burying" a team from the start.
Another win followed, this one against a better opponent.
On Sunday, Penn State took on No. 14 Weber State, taking the same no-nonsense approach to the match-up. Signet was once again strong, allowing only one goal to get by him in a 5-1 win.

"I felt like I was watching everything and seeing the puck really well," Signet said.

As far as the team's performance, the goaltender added that this was the best he's seen them play all year. Balboni agreed with that assessment.

"We played really strong for about 85 percent of the weekend," Balboni said. "As teams and as lines we are really starting to get it together. We obviously always want to win every game we play. Even though we have two losses on our record we are continuing to get better."
In a twist that probably merits its own post at some point down the line, that Weber State team featured a senior defenseman named Aaron Dufford who, yes, is John Dufford's grandson. The younger Dufford had a great career at WSU (including a spot on the 2005 World University Games team), then briefly coached the team before moving on to the Park City Pioneers, the semi-pro team that he helps manage when not playing.

Besides the teams I've already mentioned, the showcase included Ohio, West Chester, Michigan-Dearborn, Arizona, Duquesne, West Virginia, North Dakota State, Kent State, Western Michigan and Mercyhurst. Along with the Sooners, the Flashes, WMU, Dearborn and Ohio also emerged from the weekend unscathed. Minot State, Weber State, Scranton, Mercyhurst, West Chester and Duquesne were the opposite of unscathed.

To be honest though, my favorite part of the showcase wasn't an actual part of the showcase, it was a Youngstown State home game against John Carroll at the same rink after the showcase games had concluded for the day on the Saturday the 21st.

How to best describe the game? Well, make a list of every club hockey stereotype you can think of, then roll them into one game. The ACHA site says that YSU's 12 dressed skaters were shut out by the Blue Streaks 4-0, but that doesn't come close to measuring the full spectacle of what I witnessed. I still struggle to find the words for it nearly five years later ("gongshow" doesn't do it justice), and I was so moved by the experience that when JCU unloaded their jerseys worn during that game on eBay, I pounced. Some people attend Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and I'm pretty sure I've attended the opposite of that.

Apparently, this jersey was worn by Louis Grandinetti, a forward from Seven Hills, OH who recorded no stats in the game but had a decent run playing in games not depicted in ACHA marketing literature. The fact that I never bothered to look that up until today tells you everything you need to know.

Interestingly enough, I was able to re-capture the magic to some degree a few years later in a game between the same two teams - this one at John Carroll. The 4-3 Blue Streaks win featured a couple hockey dad fights and nearly a hockey dad-coach tilt involving former YSU boss Rocky Russo. Amazing how much can happen, even when you only make it to ticket no. 19.

I was not comped.

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