|Junior forwards Joshua Flamini (left) and Larry Barretta are vital to the Berks attack.|
One of my great regrets in doing this blog is that I haven't given more attention to the deserving ACHA teams representing Penn State's commonwealth campuses. So, in an attempt to begin to rectify that situation, here's a rundown of where each stands at the semester break.
Berks (ACHA D1)
Just a few years ago Berks, called the Blue Lions, looked like an up-and-coming program. In 2008-2009, they rode the tried-and-true horrible conference autobid formula to nationals, creating the awkward situation of two chipmunks on the tournament bracket (the Icers being the other, of course).
Two seasons later, they bottomed out in spectacular fashion, losing 24 straight to open the season (one in a shootout) before winning the final game on the schedule, the Navy Crabpot Invitational consolation game against Lehigh. I suppose in that context, 6-16-0 so far this season isn't all that bad.
Berks still lurks squarely in the lower regions of D1, playing out of the ECHA with mid-Atlantic teams like Lebanon Valley, Lehigh and Villanova. The league's position in the larger ACHA picture is reflected by the team's schedule, as the Blue Lions haven't played a team ranked higher than 21st in the latest poll all season. At the same time and despite their D1 status, they're still in the sights of top D2 programs like University Park's Ice Lions, victors by five and six goals against Berks this year (the second score was a little harsh, with two late garbage goals from the Ice Lions).
Following break, Berks' schedule ramps up a few clicks, with games against ECHA frontrunners Navy, Towson and Drexel in January. To stay afloat through that tough stretch, they'll need Larry Barretta and Sean Sowney to continue their high production level.
Altoona (ACHA D3)
People always talk about the NCAA men and women of University Park as young teams, but it's safe to say that Altoona, with its team perpetually made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores - it's a commonwealth campus, after all - has them beat.
This season's team is young even by that standard, with eight sophomores and 18 freshmen. Partly as a result, Toontown has struggled this season, with a 4-8-1 record and a last place spot in College Hockey East (CHE)'s South Division (which is also occupied by Pitt-Johnstown and St. Vincent).
Generally speaking, when things have gone right, big scorers like Conlan Sodrosky, Ben Kinch and Jeffrey Nelson have helped balance out what has been a porous defense to this point. Both sides of that Jeckyll and Hyde story made an appearance against St. Vincent on October 26th, when goals from Sodrosky (two of them) and Kinch helped Altoona to a 5-1 third period lead. The Polar Bearcats then cut it to 5-4 in short order, forcing Altoona to hang on for the last 3:39 of the game to get the win. St. Vincent is ranked tenth in the Atlantic Region of ACHA Division 3, qualifying the game as Altoona's biggest win of the season. One week later, in a 7-3 win over Pitt-Greensberg on November 3rd, James DiBerardinis and Charles Dunton stepped up with four-point nights.
Altoona will look to get the season righted and crawl back into CHE playoff contention with six straight conference games in the 2013 portion of the schedule, beginning with hosting system rival Behrend on January 12th in a game that will be covered by TYT.
Brandywine (ACHA D3)
By virtue of carrying the No. 5 slot in ACHA Division 3's Atlantic Region, Brandywine is the only one of the commonwealth campus teams presently with a poll ranking.
Division 3's tournament setup is identical to what the Ice Lions face in Division 2: The top two teams in each region at the end of the season advance to the national championships, while the teams ranked third through tenth play for two additional slots given to each region. As the fifth-place team then, Brandywine is in position to qualify for regionals, as it did last year with the ninth seed.
If there is a knock on the squad, it's that they've struggled with the sort of teams they'll need to beat to advance beyond that point. While their 13-6-0 record is packed with wins against ranked opponents - Fairfield, Fredonia, East Stroudsburg (twice) and Albany to name a few - they haven't beaten a team higher than ninth in their region. Meanwhile, the six losses have come against the likes of California (PA) (twice), Alvernia and Pitt-Johnstown, the Atlantic Region's first, third and sixth place teams - in other words, the teams that will likely stand between Brandywine and nationals.
As you might expect with a good team, the scoring has been nicely balanced, with Mike McGahey, Joseph Naselli, Francis Fourney, Brandon Benn, Billy Gregg and Andrew Haber all averaging better than a point per game. Andrew Hieber keeps things reasonably tight in goal, with a 3.05 goals against average.
Behrend (ACHA D3)
The CHE rival of Altoona has tracked fairly similarly with their southeastern frenemies, posting an overall record of 7-10-1 and trailing California (PA), Robert Morris and Fredonia in the league's North Division.
In fact, Behrend also claims a win over St. Vincent as possibly their biggest of the season. In that November 16th tilt, the Polar Bearcats led 5-2 early in the third period before Behrend stormed back with five unanswered in the last 16:34 of the game. Robert Banks had a hat trick and an assist in the game, while Jacob Grumski also put up four points. As momentum-generating as a win like that normally is, it was actually the exception in a seven-of-eight losing skid from October 27th through December 7th that turned Behrend's season in a southbound direction.
Banks and Jared Bagnato, who leads the team in goals with 12, make up a high-powered pair of defensemen with numbers that make most forwards jealous. Grumski and Kevin Backoefer, however, are not two of those forwards, as they also add plenty to an offense that - again, like Altoona - has to outscore a defense that allows 5.47 goals per game.
Another big win for Behrend came on October 21st, when Bagnato scored at 2:57 of overtime to take down Altoona, 3-2 in Erie. They'll attempt the season sweep, as mentioned, on January 12th before closing with road games against CHE teams Robert Morris, St. Vincent, Cal and Fredonia. The lone remaining home game is an out-of-conference matchup with D'Youville on January 26th.
Harrisburg (ACHA D3)
Harrisburg competes in the Mason-Dixon Collegiate Hockey Association with American, Dickinson, Johns Hopkins, Franklin & Marshall and Mount St. Mary's. Presently the Capital College representatives are in a tie for fourth place with an overall record of 2-7-0.
The team stumbled to the semester's finish line, with blowout losses at Dickinson (11-1) and at Bryn Athyn (14-5) on December 1st and 9th, respectively. In the Bryn Athyn game, Harrisburg managed two goals in a 2:05 span to cut its deficit to 6-3 midway through before things got out of hand.
November 5th was the date of Harrisburg's last win, 7-4 over Mount St. Mary's. Ian Thomson led the way with two goals and two assists, while Richard Hoffer buried a goal with three assists. Ian McKenna and Alex Shuey each chipped in a pair of scores as well.
A light spring schedule - just three games - begins January 26th at home, against American.