Thursday, December 30, 2010

Vermont 7, US National University Team 1

UVM recap // USA Hockey recap // Box score

It wasn't that bad.

That's what kept running through my head as the clock melted away at the end of this one. Not a horrible thought to have either, considering I spent most of the first intermission desperately looking for the clip from Miracle of the 1980 US Olympic team getting shelled by the Soviets at Madison Square Garden in one of their final pre-tournament tune-ups. Hey, it was a pretty bad first period.

Despite a similar-looking margin on the scoreboard in the last two periods, Team USA played much better over the final 40 and spared themselves that indignity. Still, the 1980 comparison might not be entirely inaccurate, and when thinking like Herb Brooks, scheduling this game makes a lot of sense in hindsight. Team USA is unlikely to face anyone better than Vermont over in Erzurum. To that point: co-WUG favorite Canada is sending a team of stars from the Ontario University Athletics conference of the CIS over to Turkey. The CIS is on a level slightly beneath a major NCAA program like Vermont, so call a team of OUA stars equal to Vermont.

You can quibble with my order of the hockey universe I suppose, but either way, we know where the bar is and the distance between it and Team USA.

The game itself went much as most expected. UVM's Connor Brickley, fresh off of being one of the last cuts from the US National Junior Team, took out his wrath on the USA Hockey crest to the tune of two goals, an assist, and the game's first star.

He was far from alone on the scoresheet, in fact, every Catamount forward registered at least one point in the game. HT Lenz and Sebastian Stalberg each put up a goal and an assist. Tobias Nilsson-Roos, Jack Downing and Drew MacKenzie were Vermont's other goal scorers. Nilsson-Roos' effort was particularly devastating to Team USA's hopes of putting up a competitive result, as his centering feed bounced off of bodies in front and past goalie Erik Hudson 6:03 into the second, just after the WUG team had played arguably their best stretch of the game.

But enough about that, go read a recap or a Vermont blog for more on how awesome they are. Or you can rewatch the webcast if condescension towards an overmatched opponent is more your cup of tea.

For somewhat obvious reasons, I spent a large chunk of the game concentrating on the USA defense, and believe it or not, I liked a lot of what I saw. Alan Dionne was Team USA's best player in this game in my opinion. He was steady in his own end, and generated a good amount of offense on the other, although none of it ended up in the net, largely because of the US's inability to get traffic down low, especially early on against UVM star goalie Rob Madore. Dionne's Rhode Island defense mate, Dan Lassik, was the quiet partner but also extremely effective - in fact, he earned a +1 rating in a game his team lost 7-1. Dionne was not on ice for any Catamount goals, Lassik was only on ice for Brickley's first period power play tally. And these were the guys logging the most ice (probably) on the back end - not too shabby.

Others weren't quite as good. Jacob DeSano had a rough three games as a whole, and Kent State's Michael Lepre, a guy I actually like a lot most of the time, had a brutal game. He looked physically out of place at times, and one of his turnovers led directly to Brickley's second goal. Maybe I'm being homer-ish here, but I can't help but think this team might be able to use the steadiness of a guy like Dan Petrick (a team alternate) somewhere in the bottom four.

Back on the positive side - Team USA got stellar goaltending from Erik Hudson when Vermont was dominating play early, including spending 40 percent of the first period on the power play. His 25 saves, 28 shots stat line probably doesn't do it justice, considering the quality of many of the 28. Dan Pyne also played well over the second half of the game.

Speaking of that much-maligned (by me, anyway) penalty kill, it was great tonight. It looked like the coaches were trying several different combinations in that area, and most of them were effective, resulting in a 4-for-5 effort, even with the no icing on the PK rule in effect against a Division I opponent. I'll take that. Both shorthanded and at even strength the forward group played disciplined, positionally sound hockey, and the result was several races won to loose pucks, taking away some second and third chances for UVM.

I haven't mentioned the Team USA goal yet (yeah, that kind of game), but it came off the stick of Kevin Kranker after Tom Ciaverilla won a battle in the corner and got the puck to Kranker in the high slot, who then beat John Vazzano through traffic.

Kranker almost had another goal in the first period, when Madore shot out of the net to win a race to a long stretch pass to prevent a breakaway. The puck deflected to Kranker, who was following the play up, but he misfired on a gaping net from just inside the blueline. He made up for that late in the second period when he retrieved a loose puck from a vacant crease to save a goal.

The Michigan-based line of Michael Macari, James Telfer and Brandon Contratto was also pretty good throughout, totaling eight shots as a group.

Finally, not much to report from a Penn State standpoint.

Tim O'Brien: one shot, -2 rating (also on ice for the UVM power play goal)
Eric Steinour: three shots, -1 rating

Oh well, still a good pre-tournament series as a whole for both of them, and considering reasonable expectations, for the entire team as well. Here's hoping for a payoff from these games next month.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Head Coach Candidate: Tony Granato

Photo: University of Wisconsin

Third in a series taking uninformed, uneducated guesses at the candidates to become the first head coach of Penn State's NCAA men's team. The first was on current Icers coach Scott Balboni, the second on Denver coach George Gwozdecky.

A couple months back, Joe Battista raised eyebrows (well mine, anyway) when he suggested that NHL coaches were part of the coaching search. Armed with that knowledge, it seems only natural that given Battista's background and connections, the NHL coaches in question are currently employed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Today, we look at one of those coaches, Penguins assistant Tony Granato, perhaps best known as the only player in NHL history to be overshadowed in the hockey world by his sister.

Granato does have a college hockey background, as the Chicago-area native spent four years at Wisconsin, scoring an even 100 goals in four years for the Badgers - his exploits in Madison from 1983 through 1987 earned him induction into the school's hall of fame.

It's probably worth pointing out that Granato wasn't a one-and-done type of guy who had only a token college career. He was captain of the Badgers his senior year. He was a Hobey Baker finalist. He was WCHA student-athlete of the year. Sports Illustrated named him one of the top ten athletes in Wisconsin history. A background like that means that he truly understands all that college hockey has to offer. It also means that he might be open to the idea of returning to NCAA hockey despite coaching solely in the NHL to this point.

Following college, he embarked on a 15-year professional career with the Rangers, Kings and Sharks. His best season was 1992-1993, where his 82 regular season and 17 playoff points helped Los Angeles to its only-ever Stanley Cup finals appearance. However, the upward trajectory of his career was quickly halted by a series of injuries, the most notable of these coming in February, 1996 when a blood clot was discovered in his brain. Granato defied those who thought his career might be over as a result, returning for the 1996-1997 season and winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (which is awarded annually to a player exemplifying the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey) in the process.

Shortly after retirement in 2001, Granato began his coaching career with the Avalanche. His time in Denver can best be described as bizarre. In the middle of the 2002-2003 season - his first as a coach, and just two removed from his playing days - Colorado head man Bob Hartley was fired, and Granato assumed his job. The Avs went 32-11-8 over the rest of the season, winning the Northwest Division title. Then, after a reasonably successful (100 points, second round of the playoffs) 2003-2004, Granato was relieved of his duties after just a season and a half - but retained as an assistant on new coach Joel Quenneville's staff. He remained in that position until Quenneville left, then was one again named head coach of the team for the 2008-2009 season. Granato's second run in that job was even shorter than the first, as he was fired after one season, despite the team being destroyed by injuries that year.

After leaving Colorado, Granato joined Dan Bylsma's staff in Pittsburgh. Now in his second season with the Penguins, his primary responsibilities are the forwards and the penalty kill. The Pens had the league's ninth best penalty kill last season, and so far this season, they rank a close second to the Habs.

Why he'd be a good hire: A guy with the letters "NHL" on his resume would give instant credibility to Penn State hockey, as well as serve as a recruit magnet. He's been through the battles with a successful college program and succeeded at the highest levels, and he played for a great, national championship-winning coach at Wisconsin in Jeff Sauer. As a player, he was heart and guts personified, and as a coach, he's been successful, winning a division championship and carrying a lifetime record of 104-78-33 in his total of 2.5 seasons.

Why he wouldn't: The "pro" thing is a double-edged sword, as in a lot of ways coaching in college is an entirely different job. You have to recruit. You have to be a front man for the program in a way not even familiar to NHL head coaches - Joe Sakic was the face of the Avalanche during Granato's time there, Granato would be the face of Penn State hockey. Part of that is schmoozing the big-money donors, something for which not everyone is cut out. You have to be committed to player development in addition to game strategy and management. You have to keep players on track academically. And while he was a highly-decorated player at Wisconsin, who knows whether he really has any desire to step behind an NCAA bench. Some also question his coaching ability - being fired twice in 2.5 total seasons has never happened to Jerry York.

In fact, the same guy who opened the door to a possible Granato candidacy, Battista, seemed to close it at least halfway (but not entirely) for some of those reasons on December 3rd, in an interview with Steve Penstone.
"I know personally, the way college hockey is right now in the NCAA, an understanding of the rules of...recruiting, the game, eligibility, etc., that's critical. Because you much as it'd be nice to bring in a big-name former NHL player...if they don't have college coaching experience, we're taking a big chance. So they'd have to really show us something before we'd be willing to take that kind of a chance."
It sounds to me like Battista originally liked the idea a lot better than he did after thinking about it for a month. While there's always the possibility of "something being shown" (to borrow from the quote), Granato should probably be relegated to longshot status on the back of that interview.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saint Michael's 3, US National University Team 2

SMC recap // USA Hockey recap // Box score // Play-by-play and shot chart // Photos

Despite losing in this second game of the pre-tournament Vermont series, there's a lot to like about the WUG team. It has an extremely deep forward group that can be assembled in a number of effective ways, defensemen that contribute to the attack without sacrificing much at home, and stout goaltending. A lot of this led to long stretches of dominant play at even strength against NCAA Division II Saint Michael's.

However, it was following one such sequence from Team USA to start the game that the Knights ended up with the game's first goal just 2:17 in, a transitional effort off of a rebound on the other end that saw Alex Davidson streak down left wing, fight off defenseman Jacob DeSano to get the puck to Michael Jangro, who found Fran Briand in front to cash it in.

That lead held up until 9:07 of the second, when a strong US forecheck led to another series of repeated chances. In this particular instance, Rhode Island's Devin Sheehan went cross-ice to Icer Tim O'Brien in the right-wing circle. O'Brien then found Brandon Contratto on the doorstep, and he made a nifty move to get the puck around Saint Michael's netminder Brendan Rimmer on the glove side.

However, much like yesterday's game against Castleton, penalty issues would again haunt Team USA. But unlike yesterday, the ACHAers didn't have a four-goal margin for error. Just 14 seconds after Contratto's goal tied things up, Alan Dionne took a boarding penalty. That one was successfully killed, but 38 seconds after that kill ended, a tired PK had to go back to work following Michael Macari's hooking infraction. A 5-on-4 quickly became a long 5-on-3 when Mercyhurst's Mark Loecher also went off for a hook 24 seconds later. The Knights took advantage with goals on both ends of the two-man advantage from Reave MacKinnon and Colby MacDonald 19 seconds apart.

Another similarity to yesterday was the fact that both Penn Staters on the team were involved in the scoring. Team USA cut the deficit to 3-2 when Eric Steinour found Adrian's Tom Ciaverilla in the slot with a quick pass off the rush, and Ciaverilla beat Mike Dizgun, SMC's second goalie. Steinour and Ciaverilla joined Kevin Kranker on what was generally the WUG team's best line throughout the game.

One interesting aspect to this game was the use of an experimental rule enforcing icing at all times, even against a penalty kill. The NCAA had considered making it a universal rule change in the offseason, before an extreme uproar caused the rules committee to back off, ratifying it only for exhibition contests such as this one.

If there was a reason for people to be concerned about that rule change, it certainly wasn't demonstrated by Team USA's power play. It was 0 for 5 on the evening (1 for 11 when adding in the Castleton game) and was especially out-of-sync on the first three attempts, where the US struggled getting set up in the zone, and once there struggled to hit the tape with consecutive passes. The last two were much better - including 10 shots on the last one, which started under somewhat controversial circumstances. SMC recap:
The best chance for Team USA came when sophomore Tyler Pilmore cruised on a breakaway with two Purple Knights trailing closely behind. [Morgan] Bell dove to disrupt Pilmore briefly, allowing Saint Michael's sophomore goalie Dizgun to make the save. Bell got called for tripping on the play, which had the Team USA bench screaming for a penalty shot. After the officials discussed the play, it was determined that the trip happened after Pilmore took the shot, which allowed the Purple Knights to kill the penalty and hold on for the win.
In all, Dizgun was bombed with 21 shots on goal in the final frame (to just four for the Purple Knights). However, none found the back of the net, including during a frenetic extra-man push as time expired.

One final note: I'm sorry if I misidentified any players in this post. I tried to corroborate with the box score and other accounts where I could, but that wasn't possible in every case. Why am I apologizing? Well, look at what I was working with - and no, play-by-play was not included.

I don't know what it means when the gear thingy is off, but the guy moving the camera should probably turn it on, straighten the camera out, and quit trying to whistle to that one techno song they play at every hockey game during stoppages.

Next up, of course, is the showdown with Vermont tomorrow night at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Win (!), lose close, lose big or draw (?), it will be one of those events that will come up in message board arguments for years to come. Regardless of what happens, it's hard not to be encouraged with how the WUG team is shaping up - as long as it stays 5-on-5.

Monday, December 27, 2010

US National University Team 5, Castleton State 4 (OT)

Castleton State recap // USA Hockey recap // Box score

In the first game of a three-games-in-three-nights tour of Vermont-based NCAA programs, the United States World University Games team survived a furious four-goal rally to defeat Division III's No. 14 team, Castleton State, 5-4 in overtime.

Because the game was not broadcast in audio or video form, I'll have to rely on the accounts of others who saw it live to write this post. One such person is the guy running the ACHA Men's Division 1 Twitter account (@achamensd1), who I'll quote heavily here, along with the recap from the Castleton side, linked above. Team USA jumped out to a 4-0 lead midway through the second, partly on the strength of first-period goals from Icers Eric Steinour and Tim O'Brien.
Goal USA - 21 steinour, 9 lepre, 16 ciaverilla. Steinour bangs home the rebound of the lepre point shot. 1-0 USA 1st period.

Goal USA - 10 obrien, 6 dionne, 2 loecher. O'Brien crosses the blue line and puts it on net and it finds the back of the net. 2-0
Just because this is a Penn State blog after all, here's a more detailed view of those two goals, courtesy of the CSC write-up.
Team USA broke through just over 13 minutes into the contest as Eric Steinour (Carlisle, Pa./Penn State) scored off a rebound. Michael Lepre (Kent, Ohio/Kent State) rifled a shot from the point that Castleton goalie Seth McNary (Woburn, Mass.) turned away stick-side, but Steinour was able to control the loose puck and beat McNary high on his glove side. Tim O’Brien (Bethel Park, Pa./Penn State) made it 2-0 for Team USA, converting with less than a minute to go in the opening period. O’Brien received a centering pass from Alan Dionne (North Scituate, R.I./Rhode Island) and bounced the puck off McNary’s pad and in.
With those first assists to Lepre and Dionne, some early validation was provided for the way the roster seemed to be assembled with a large number of offensive defensemen. Western Michigan's James Telfer added a breakway goal early in the second, and Team USA looked to be in cruise control. Starting goalie Erik Hudson from Iowa State gave way to Drexel's Dan Pyne midway through the game after a perfect 12 saves on 12 shots and Adrian's Tom Ciaverilla scored on a give-and-go with Oakland's Kevin Kranker for what appeared to be an insurance goal and a four-goal lead that held up into the last five minutes of the second period...

...then the penalty troubles started. First, it was CSC's leading goal-scorer Stuart Stefan with a power move around Oakland's Jacob DeSano on a delayed penalty to make it 4-1. Next up, Steinour and Dionne simultaneously took 5 and 10s for contact to the head at 18:20 (don't ask me how that went down with nobody sitting for the Spartans). While the extended 3-on-5 kill should probably be considered a success in the grand scheme of things, as it ultimately could have been crippling, the Spartans did chip another goal off of the lead on a redirection by Justin Alonzo.

Team USA carried the 4-2 lead into the third period, but two more power play goals from Ryan Delorme and Brett Zeggil brought Castleton all the way back to even with 4:40 left in regulation.

Ironically, it was penalties to the Spartans that stemmed the tide and allowed Team USA to sneak out of Rutland with the win. Castleton took 19 minutes in penalties in the last three minutes of the third period, resulting first in a 5-on-4 power play late in the third, then a two-minute 5-on-3 to start overtime after CSC took their own contact to the head major and a tripping minor. Just when it looked like a glorious opportunity might be squandered, Michigan-Dearborn's Michael Macari banged home a rebound of a Telfer shot to lift the WUG team to victory with 34 seconds left on the major and 1:07 left in overtime.

Next: a 75-mile trip up US Route 7 to St. Michael's College for a game with the Purple Knights tomorrow night. The SMC people say that one will be broadcast on FastHockey, but as of right now it doesn't appear on FastHockey's schedule. So we'll see.

UPDATE (12/28, 8:50 a.m.): Poster dabears17 on Hockey101 offers some insight regarding those USA majors late in the second, the first of which involved PSU's Steinour:
first 5 minute was for contact to the head, the second was for face washing infraction
So it sounds like Steinour with a dirty hit, Dionne with a facewash in the scrum that undoubtedly followed the whistle.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Payday Memorabilia: 2001 WUG Puck

Cheesebag cross-promotion time: with the World University Games team exhibitions next week, I thought it would be a good time to drop this one: a USA Hockey puck signed by all four Penn Staters on the 2001 US University Select team that competed in Zakopane, Poland - the first team the ACHA sent to the event on behalf of USA Hockey.

The players: Greg Held, Mike Blevins, Josh Mandel and Scott Curry (who wore an A in Poland). They actually signed with their numbers for Team USA, which is kind of cool, although with the numbers being the same as their PSU numbers on three of the four, maybe it was just Curry making the effort there (he was No. 15 with the Icers). Essential stats:

         GP   G   A  PTS PIM
Held      4   0   3   3   2
Blevins   4   1   0   1   4
Curry     3   0   0   0   0
Mandel    4   0   0   0   4

Held's three points were good for a share of the team lead with Ohio's Sean Kass. The 2001 team went 1-3-0 in the tournament, including a huge upset of Russia, and finished eighth of nine teams (thank you, Korea). Believe it or not, this stood as the ACHA crew's best performance at the event (placement-wise, not record-wise) until 2009's 3-2-0 record leading to a seventh-place finish.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Birth of the Icers

While cleaning out my closet, I came across a media packet I stole a long time ago. Okay, maybe I didn't steal it and they just passed them out at a postseason awards banquet. Pick whichever fits what you want to think about me. Anyway, it contained a copy of the following article from the November 17th, 1971 Daily Collegian - the first in the Collegian's long history of Icers coverage, which I've transcribed for you here. Enjoy.


Ice hockey returns to Penn State
Hockey gets warm reception

By Bill Guthlein
Collegian Sports Writer

Sport fans are in for a new treat this season at Penn State. Football will no longer reign as the number one physical sport, and the reason is a faculty member named Larry Hendry.

Hendry, a member of the chemistry department, is the general coach of the newly-formed Penn State Hockey Club. A NCAA hockey official, Hendry was surprised Penn State had no club.

"When I came down here there was nothing to do (hockey-wise). Of course I was discouraged but now I'm very pleased we have gotten something going here," he said.

Members of the team give Hendry a "lions" share of the credit for the club's existence. Robert Bernheim, a colleague of Hendry in the chemistry department, is extremely happy with the new activity. He praises Hendry for the work he has done.

"It's simply a matter of putting in the time and the effort to get the club working. Hendry is a real mover and organizer," he noted.

Jim Graulty a junior from Pittsburgh considers Hendry to be the lifeblood of the club.

"He's just great," Graulty observed. "He went to Ithaca to get the team hockey sticks at cost. He's the kind of guy that can mean a lot."

The other coaches are Dick Merkel (he helps line and goalies), Jim Hodgson (wings and centers), and Frank Dougherty (defense). These coaches will probably play in competition.

Although this is the first hockey organization Penn State has fielded since the 1940's, the club has gained support from both participants and spectators. Even the community has joined in to help the untested team along. The Pittsburgh Penguins gave the team some goalie equipment.

Ecstasy is the general tone of this club. The President of the club, sophomore Roy Scott has stated, "I'm amazed we're here at all. All we seemed to need was a chance to get started, someone giving us a chance to play. We proved we have the support."

Currently the club has 130 members, 30 on the A squad. Hendry finds he needs more ice time than the 10 p.m. - 1 a.m. Monday through Friday schedule the club now has because of the overwhelming membership. Hendry is working on a schedule now.

"We hope to play 10 to 12 games this season. There will be a scrimmage against Bucknell on November 19 between 10-11:15 (p.m.). It's free, so anyone can come," he said.

There is a tentative game against Bucknell for November 30. This is still subject to administration approval.

Hendry is optimistic about a high student interest in the game, "I expect 1500 people at each of the games."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fall Semester Review: Ice Lions/Commonwealth Campuses

On Monday, we checked in with the Lady Icers at the semester break. Here's a quick look at how the ACHA Division 2 Ice Lions and the ACHA teams sponsored by four of Penn State's Commonwealth Campuses stand halfway through the season.

Before we get into it, I'm pre-emptively apologizing for any minor factual inaccuracies contained within. Information on these programs can be pretty hard to come by, especially at the D3 level, where I had to combine the incomplete work of a few different websites (which often disagreed with one another) into what's hopefully a generally accurate end product. In one case, Brandywine's game against Robert Morris on December 5th, I was unable to find a final score, so I completely ignored it with respect to the team's record. Other than that, I believe everything I'm saying to be correct while at the same time acknowledging the chance that it's not.

None of that is meant as a criticism of these programs, as I'm sure they all do a tremendous job with what they have available to them and represent the university well.

Ice Lions (ACHA Division 2)

You know at the end of Identity, when you think Amanda Peet is the serial killer's surviving personality, but it turns out to be that kid? Not John Cusack or Ray Liotta, but that stupid kid you forget even exists until the end of the movie? That's sort of how I feel about the Ice Lions. I mean, really, raise your hand if you had the Ice Lions as the last surviving ACHA team at University Park. @ACHAInsider on Twitter says that's exactly what's happening.
Just heard #Penn State will NOT keep their ACHA D1 team when NCAA team is formed. Will consolidiate to one team at the D2 level
The (allegedly) new ACHA banner-carriers at PSU find themselves 10-4-3 at the break, and No. 10 in the Southeast Region of Division 2. Included in that mark: a stout 6-4-2 against teams ranked in the top 15 of their respective regions. Two of the four losses came after a 6-2-2 start, when the Ice Lions were obliterated by a combined 17-2 count in two games at Southeast No. 7 Ohio State.

Showing tremendous resilience, Penn State rebounded to win the next four, including a three-game sweep at the MACHA Showcase against Rowan, St. Joseph's, and Temple. Of particular imporance was the St. Joseph's game, a 4-2 win behind two goals from junior Ryan Gannon.
Friday and Saturday were games they knew they should have won, sophomore goalie Ryan DeMuth said. Playing St. Joe’s definitely provided a preview of what to expect when the two teams face off again on January 30, DeMuth said.

“We know we can beat them again,” DeMuth said.
Following the showcase was a road showdown with Southeast No. 2 UMBC to close the semester where, despite holding a 4-2 third period lead, the Ice Lions fell 5-4 in overtime. Still, playing one of Division 2's best to a near-stalemate might help fuel a strong close to the regular season - something the Ice Lions need to stay in the regional top 10 and qualify for the regional tournament February 25th through 27th, hopefully leading to the ACHA National Tournament in San Jose March 15th through 19th.

Other than the St. Joe's rematch, the first games back, January 14th at Southeast No. 5 Liberty and January 15th at Southeast No. 4 Virginia Tech stand out as huge. The Hokies also come into the Ice Pavilion on February 12th.

Penn State Berks (ACHA Division 1)

Two years ago, in just their second season at the D1 level, the Blue Lions posted a good 20-8-2 record and backed into the 16th seed at the 2009 national championships when host John Carroll declined their bid. The "run" ended with a first-round 14-2 trashing at the hands of eventual champion Lindenwood that took two days.

Since then? 6-15-1 last year, and 0-13-1 so far this year. So much for momentum. What happened? Well, if you believe message board chatter, former coach Eric McCambly had big aspirations (of the NCAA Division III variety) for Berks. Then he jumped ship to Canton when he found that those aspirations were more in line with Canton administration's goals, leaving his former program in turmoil. The story doesn't really fly considering current coach Sandy Cohen was in place for that good 2008-2009 season. More likely, it has a lot to do with Berks joining the ECHA this year, and while schools like Navy, Drexel and Towson are cannon fodder for the Icers, it's much tougher competition than former Berks conference mates Rutgers, Cornell and St. Bonaventure.

With a roster that includes exactly one senior, the Blue Lions will be looking for small victories during the spring to build for next year and beyond. The remaining schedule is highlighted by a trip to Navy's historic Crabpot Invitational on February 26th and 27th.

Penn State Behrend (ACHA Division 3)

Behrend began the season well enough, winning two against Canisius on September 11th and September 24th. Since then, however, it's been mostly downhill, to the tune of 2-10-0 since the opening games. The 4-10-0 overall record includes a 1-8-0 against College Hockey East competition. With four of those losses by one goal and two others by two goals, the Behrend Lions have been competitive, just unable to turn the corner. Jordan Shelleby (8 goals, 9 assists) and Nick Winarski (8 goals, 6 assists) lead an offense that seems to score even when losing big. Bryan Massey and Ryan Naples split goaltending minutes straight down the middle, although both have struggled.

The second half schedule includes a trip to the University of South Florida Charity Tournament in the Tampa Bay area January 14th through January 17th.

Behrend also sponsors a team in the lower-level College Hockey Association, although at 1-9-0, they haven't fared any better.

Penn State Altoona (ACHA Division 3)

Behrend's conference rivals are 8-8-2, and 5-3-1 in College Hockey East to sit atop the South Division. Altoona is unique among teams in this post in that they have one more game remaining in their first half, tomorrow night at Robert Morris (PA - DIII version).

The team struggled early on with top competition (witness a 12-0 loss at the hands of North No. 1 and last year's national runners-up Hope on October 15th), however, three wins against teams in the Atlantic top 10 since November 19th are evidence of improvement. The biggest of these might have been a shootout win over Richard Stockton, behind two goals and the skills competition winner from Jamesy Rossi. This comes in addition to winning both games against Behrend this season, always a priority for the Blair County crew.

Following a trip to St. Vincent College to open the spring semester January 16th, Altoona has the advantage of playing six straight home games to close out the regular season - which may prove important as the current No. 6 team in the Atlantic Region tries to maintain a grip on a spot in the regional tournament. In particular, home dates with Atlantic No. 1 California (PA) on January 29th and South No. 14 Liberty on January 21st and 22nd loom large.

Penn State Brandywine (ACHA Division 3)

Brandywine is another team with its sights set on the Atlantic regionals, as they currently sit in a tie for 10th with Pitt-Johnstown thanks to a 13-10-1 record, although with losses in five of their last seven and nine of their last 14, they appear to be trending in the wrong direction. The slide includes a combined 2-5-1 in three recent tournaments - the SUNY-Albany Tournament, the Atlantic City Showcase and their home PSU Brandywine Tournament.

The good news: Brandywine closes the regular season with seven games, four of which are against teams they have already defeated this season by a combined 13 goals. Also, Brandywine defeated Pitt-Johnstown 3-2 behind a goal from Tom Elmer with 5:07 left in the teams' only meeting this season, which should provide an advantage in a possibly tight vote to determine the final regional top ten. Vincent Masciantonio and Dan Di Monte power the offense along with Elmer, and the team receives quality goaltending from Kevin Lowthert.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Head Coach Candidate: George Gwozdecky

Second in a series taking uninformed, uneducated guesses at the candidates to become the first head coach of Penn State's NCAA men's team. The first was on current Icers coach Scott Balboni.

Would a national championship-winning coach who has been at one of the premier programs in the country for 17 years actually consider the Penn State job? According to some, yes he would.

George Gwozdecky's a guy that's been kicked around the rumor mill a few times, although not with quite the same intensity as Mark Johnson. But he's certainly been mentioned, going right back to the first day the position existed.
I saw one article stating that PSU had an "impressive list of candidates, including a current college head coach" that they were looking at. Today, I heard a rumor that the current college head coach they may be looking at is Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. That would certainly make sense, given that Gwozdecky was reportedly unhappy with his contract situation at Denver, and his name was weirdly floated as a candidate for the vacant Ohio State job. With Penn State potentially joining college hockey's strongest conference and Denver's situation a little less clear, there's perhaps a possibility that Penn State could steal him.
Even the Denver Post acknowledged it.
DU coach George Gwozdecky has four years remaining on the 12-year contract he signed in 2002. Coincidentally, 2014 could be the year Penn State will be ready to officially join Division I and become founding members of the proposed Big Ten hockey conference, along with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Please excuse my reach while I connect the dots.

Gwozdecky, who is seeking a new deal at DU, is/was a Big Ten guy, and you know Penn State is going to hire a veteran college coach with big-league roots and NCAA championship plaques on his walls. Gwozdecky, 57, could be that man. He won NCAA championships as a player at Wisconsin and an assistant coach at Michigan State.
That contract argument crashes and burns for the simple fact that we're hiring the coach in mid-2011, so a buyout is going to be required. Still, his name's out there.

Actually, Gwozdecky's appeal to me has very little to do with his bevy of accomplishments at Denver. While he did pull that program out of a two-decade funk, I look to the job he held right before moving out west, at Miami from 1989 through 1994. With the then-Redskins (program founded 1978), Gwozdecky took a program with an all-time 161-237-14 record to that point, and had them in their first-ever NCAA tournament in year four. What's more, he coached Enrico Blasi, a protege who would later coach under Gwozdecky at Denver, then take the reins of the Miami program and build on what Gwozdecky started, bringing the RedHawks to five consecutive NCAA tournaments, including a second-place finish in 2009.

Prior to Miami, Gwodecky's abbreviated resume looks something like this:
  • 1984-1989 - Michigan State (assistant coach). Won CCHA regular season or tournament championship each season, including both of the above in 1984-1985 and 1988-1989. Won the 1986 national championship.
  • 1981-1984 - Wisconsin-River Falls (head coach). 67-30-2 record. Made first NCAA tournament appearance in program history in 1984 (Division III version).
  • 1974-1978 - Wisconsin (player). Under legendary coach "Badger Bob" Johnson, won the 1977 national championship.
Basically, the guy's a winner. And has rumors surrounding him. Here's one more:
Prior to actual interviews, One runs a successful program, Big Ten background.
Okay, so a head coach with a Big Ten background. Here's everyone with one of those, including playing and coaching: Chris Luongo (Alabama-Huntsville), Dave Smith (Canisius), Scott Owens (Colorado College), Bob Daniels (Ferris State), Red Berenson (Michigan), Rick Comley (Michigan State), Don Lucia (Minnesota), Dean Blais (Nebraska-Omaha), Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame), Mark Osiecki (Ohio State), Bob Motzko (St. Cloud State), Mike Eaves (Wisconsin) and Gwozdecky.

Take out Luongo, Smith and Daniels for not meeting the "successful" part of that. Lucia's coaching the flagship program in the hockey state. Jackson's program is building their own arena to keep him around. Berenson's obviously not coming. Blais is almost as unlikely. Osiecki won't bail after one year on the job. Owens, Motzko and Eaves are coaching their alma maters - I'm not saying nobody ever leaves their alma mater, but it does make it seem a lot less likely.

So who's left? A guy who hasn't left the state of Michigan in his entire career and a guy with proven career mobility, nothing to prove in his current job and a contract dispute. Hmmm...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fall Semester Review: Lady Icers

Shouldn't all sports photos be team pictures?
Today and Friday, I'm going to take a look at how a few Penn State-affiliated hockey teams other than the Icers are doing halfway through the season. This post is all about the Lady Icers, while Friday I'll hit the Ice Lions and take a quick spin around the commonwealth campuses.

I think it's sort of forgotten sometimes that all of the excitement surrounding the addition of NCAA men's hockey is mirrored on the women's side. We're adding two varsity teams in 2012, and the women's team has the advantage of not bringing Big Ten hockey with it - most assume the women's team will join one of the existing eastern conferences, the ECAC or Hockey East, since Michigan and Michigan State don't have women's NCAA teams, making the Big Ten a non-starter on the women's side.

Somewhere, my doppelganger might be documenting all of this in "TYT: Women's Edition." If he is, I don't envy him, because it's hard to get more than superficial information. There's no Steve and Barb Penstone broadcasting on UStream. The Collegian articles exist, but not with the daily frequency the Icers get. I probably don't have a doppelganger (although this guy is a candidate). Even the ACHA website doesn't feel the need to post the rankings and says that star goaltender Heather Rossi is five-and-a-half feet taller than anyone else on the team. It's a shame, because they probably deserve more than they get in that department.

The team is successfully following up on last season's No. 7 ranking its return to the national championship tournament after a three-year absence with a 8-4-0 mark and identical No. 7 spot in the poll (as of November 5th - a new ranking is due out Friday). This probably sounds better when it's pointed out that three of the four losses came against Lindenwood, winners of four of the last five national championships. And Penn State was extremely competitive in two of those games, losing 2-0 and 2-1.

Highlights? Plenty of those to go around. On October 23rd, and sitting at 3-4-0, the Lady Icers put together a gritty, come-from-behind 4-3 win at arch-nemesis Rhode Island on the strength of third-period goals from Michelle Clarke and Chelly Deiling. That win started a five-game streak to close the semester.
“This was a big character win for [the team] because it showed that they could really buckle down,” [head coach Mo] Stroemel said.
In the very next game on November 11th, the Lady Icers had the opportunity to play in the Consol Energy Center, the brand-new home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and blasted California (PA) 5-1.
“We walked past the Penguins locker room [before the game],” said [Dana] Heller, a junior forward and a Collegian photo staff member. “There was a giant mural of Pens players from the past.”

Penguins center Tyler Kennedy and defenseman Deryk Engelland were part of the pregame festivities before Kennedy dropped the ceremonial first puck — to Heller.
Hard not to be at least a little in awe of that environment, but Penn State scored the last three goals of the game to crack open what had been a close game through the first 40 minutes.

According to junior defender Lydia Scott, the Lady Icers are right where they need to be at the semester break.
“[Winning against Elmira was] really important because we can end[ed] the semester 8-4 which we’ve never done before,” Scott said. “I think that will give us a lot of momentum going into our games in January, even though we have a month off."
The Lady Icers open the spring with seven straight home games, starting with a pair of big ones that will determine first place in the ECWHL, January 7th and January 8th against Rhode Island. Those seven games and the six after that lead up to the ECWHL playoffs on February 26th and 27th and hopefully a return trip to the ACHA national championships from March 10th through March 13th.

The road to Kalamazoo will be tricky, however, as it will not include some key players and a head coach for four games. For the first time, USA Hockey is sending a women's team to compete at the World University Games, held from January 27th through February 6th in Erzurum, Turkey, and the ACHA is supplying the players. Included on the team: head coach Stroemel, defender Lindsay Reihl, forward Denise Rohlik and goalies Rossi and Katie Vaughan...wait, both goalies listed on PSU's roster? Is that a good idea?

Maybe not, but in the big picture, going behind the 8-ball for four games might be worth the trade for this kind of excitement:
“It was the first or second week of school, and I was just sitting in my apartment and Mo called me,” Reihl said. “He was saying, ‘How are your classes? How is the year starting off?’ And then he was just like, ‘Oh, and do you want to come to Turkey with us?’ I just jumped up and started screaming. I was so happy. And I said, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ ”
Vaughan couldn’t contain excitement when she heard the news about playing at the well-known international event. When she received the call from Stroemel, she screamed into his ear.

“It’s been my dream since I was six years old to play for team USA and to wear that jersey,” Vaughan said. “It means the world.”
“I think it’s a big honor to be the first coach to take the women’s team over,” Stroemel said. “I think that anytime you are selected to take a national team for USA Hockey, it’s a pretty big deal. There is a lot of pressure, but there is also a lot of recognition that goes along with it.”
“This is so amazing,” [Rohlik] said. “I can’t believe that I was actually selected to do this. This wasn’t something that I really saw happening in my hockey career, at least not now. I’ve been playing for four years, and I just never saw this ever happening.”
The defense rests, your honor.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend Observations: Niagara

Collegian recap // Box score

So that's pretty much what we all wanted to see to close the semester, is it not? The Icers were flat-out dominant against an overmatched opponent. Shots were 54-16 PSU. Power plays were 11-3 PSU. Fights were 1-0 PSU. It wouldn't be a Niagara game without one of those.

That last statistic is courtesy of Marek Polidor, who didn't take too kindly to Niagara's Frank Cosentino taking a run on his goalie, Matt Madrazo. Polidor scored the quick takedown, and until the two were separated, used the opportunity to try caving Cosentino's face in, cage and all. I guess that's okay if you keep your gloves on. The captain was tagged with a game disqualification in addition to the major and will miss the spring semester opener, at Ohio on January 7th.

I don't think I talk enough about Polidor, so I'll take the opening here. While I'm sure this isn't a universal opinion I'm sure, Polidor's actions to me were just the latest captain-ish move in a long series of them - he makes as many effort plays as anyone on the team, and takes up when things need to be taken up. And in this case, not only did he have a teammate's back, but he may have jump-started the team in what was a 2-1 game at the time. The Icers didn't score on the power play from Cosentino's goalie interference, but they did on one that began 47 seconds after that one ended, with Niagara's penalty killers undoubtedly in need of some oxygen.

Perhaps I'll change my opinion if Ohio ends up torching our PK in that Friday game without Polidor's efforts in that department, but for now, it was great for the team.

Speaking of the power play, am I worried? Taylor Cera's goal on the power play after the power play was Penn State's first in 12 attempts. Two more followed. The second came after 4:08 of consecutive power play time, 1:31 of which was 5-on-3. The third - Mac Winchester's first PSU goal, congratulations on that - was on the 11th man advantage at the end of a blowout game. I'm not trying to sound dismissive of successes, just realistic about the circumstances. All in all, the Icers are three for the last 18 (16.67 percent).

The old adage says that your goalie has to be your best penalty killer, and Dane Wakefield certainly was that for Niagara. I've seen a good number of goalies on underdog teams come into the Ice Pavilion and play well under adverse circumstances over the years, and despite the eight against, Wakefield's on that list. I'm not trying to sound dismissive of failures, just realistic about the circumstances. To me, the puck movement was there, the chances were there, Wakefield just stopped them. Tip of the hat to the kid. Worried? No. But definitely something to watch going into the spring - you can't play the "hot goalie" card every single time, after all.

And how about that puck movement (I am on with my transitions today)? An inordinate number of Icers goals came off of outstanding passing plays., many of which involved the top line of Chris Cerutti-Tim O'Brien-Paul Daley. A couple of those worth highlighting:
  • On the first goal of the game, Tim O'Brien showed great patience while heading towards the corner and waiting for his linemates to get to the front of the next. His pass found Paul Daley's stick through a mess of traffic, and Daley deflected it home.
  • The final goal in a barrage of three goals in 5:28 made the score 5-1. This time, it was O'Brien finishing on a one-timer from the circle on a give-and-go with Cerutti that spanned about 140 feet by 55 feet of the ice surface.
  • Giving another line some attention, Kurt Collins made a great pass from the wall to find Dominic Morrone, who sniped it from the high slot.
Defense and goaltending? Not really a ton to talk about there, thanks to that 54-16 on the shot counter. I picked on Kevin Miller last week, so I should point out that he did a couple nice things to keep the play alive on the Morrone goal I just talked about. That seemed pretty typical of this game - little plays to feed the offense that don't result in scoresheet credit (other than Winchester's goal, and a Rich O'Brien assist, of course). They also did an effective job keeping Madrazo clean for the most part.

Madrazo got his third straight start, so it's obvious his status as starter wasn't affected by last Saturday. The freshman was flawless, other than a deflection on a Niagara power play that he couldn't do much with, and played the puck out of trouble several times. Wandering goalies always make me nervous, but hey, Madrazo doesn't seem to have nerves, so why should I?

Your quick status check: the Icers are 13-5-0, ranked No. 11 (with another ranking due out next Friday), and face a brutal January schedule. For my part, I'll continue with my regular series (Payday Memorabilia and Head Coach Candidate) through the break, as well as update the first semesters for the Lady Icers, the Ice Lions, and some of the commonwealth campus teams. And there's always those WUG tune-ups, including the tilt with Vermont.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Time Niagara Bailed the Icers Out

There was once a time when it happened, believe it or not. What could Niagara possibly have done for Penn State? To tell that story is to tell the story of a third team, the Eastern Michigan Eagles (nee Hurons).

EMU was generally a very solid team that finished in the ACHA's top eight every season from 1989-1990 through 2002-2003. For a brief moment in time, they touched greatness. The Eagles came within 1:05 of beating the Icers for the 2000 national championship, before Todd Dakan sent the final to overtime, where Alon Eizenman won it. They rolled to 34-3-2 and a No. 1 ranking in 2000-2001 - a season that was abruptly halted by No. 9 Delaware in one of the great upsets in ACHA tournament history.

So what happened to all of that? Well, uh, this.
The team was suspended from the university club league for four years [in November, 2003] for violating the university's student code of conduct that forbids hazing, according to The Ann Arbor News.
Hazing? How?
Reports indicate the incident occurred Sept. 12, when a public safety officer spotted smoke while on patrol near a house in the 500 block of Pearl Street, according to the paper.
At about 1:45 a.m., the officer saw a man walking across the street in a party dress but found the fire had been put out, the paper reported.
One occupant of the house told the officer the hockey team was initiating new members. No one would identify the residents of the house, except to say they were hockey players, the paper reported. The officer told the paper the residents were apparently having fun with new members, "running through the streets in dresses and receiving odd haircuts." The officer reportedly talked to several men in the house who were wearing dresses. One also had a sexual slur written in black marker on the back of his legs, according to the paper.
Oh, ok, carry on. Or not, if you're EMU hockey. Ultimately, the punishment was reduced from the ridiculously excessive four years down to just the rest of the 2003-2004 season, with a probationary period in 2004-2005, during which the Eagles were ineligible for the ACHA tournament.

All of which is well and good, but what about the Icers, who had the Eagles scheduled for the at-the-time customary home weekend on the first weekend in December, 2003? In comes Niagara, willing to play two at the Ice Pavilion roughly 22 days after the EMU story broke. Without the Purps stepping up to help, the Icers would have gone from Thanksgiving weekend through January 9th without playing a single game. And while those games (5-1 and 9-1 PSU wins) didn't directly lead to Niagara's appearance on the schedule each December, it at least served as a sign of things to come.

The epilogue to the EMU tale: The reduced sentence still decimated the program, to the point where they're well on their way to a fifth losing season in six years, after having one in their entire pre-suspension history. Backlash from former players has led to an "I played for EMU Hockey when they were good" group on Facebook. Just be careful before you join, because Paul Fassbender will ferret out any impostors.
Why is Rob Cupit in this Group. He is still playing. I think they have won 10 games the last three years combined
Ouch bro. You going to take that from a guy who probably wore a dress at some point?

Applying the Purple Nurple

Does the guy in black look like a goalie to you? And how did that guy above the Molson ad get such a good parking spot? Photo: Niagara official site

The Icers close out the fall semester tonight with the sort-of-traditional Friday-only engagement with the Niagara Purple Eagles, or "Purps" as they apparently call themselves. I watch too many cop shows to ever get used to that.

Niagara has served as a stand-alone game at the end of the semester in each of Scott Balboni's five seasons as coach. While the result has generally been an Icers romp, the December 15, 2006 game, a 3-2 Penn State win, stands out as a cautionary tale. Last season, the score was a more typical 10-3, behind George Saad's hat trick, two goals from Tim O'Brien, and a three-point night by Rich O'Brien. Then again, those three have a gongshow that resulted in a defenseman playing goal to thank for their stat padding. Seriously.
The main melee started after Penn State forward Paul Daley went to the ice and was hit by a Niagara player. [Niagara goalie Patrick] Janokowski once again was involved as players on both sides got into altercations.
As referees rushed in to break up the main brawl, Icers forward Tim O'Brien took a Niagara player and tossed him to the ice and skated to the bench.
"There was a little scrum in front of the net and it kind of dragged out towards the red line," O'Brien said. "He had my stick and I just kept pushing him in the head until he let go of it and he never did. It was nothing big."
Janokowski was ejected from the game following the incident and Niagara was left without a backup goaltender. A 30 minute delay ensued as the Purple Eagles sent defensemen Patrick Martin to the locker room to suit up and get in net.
"It kind of baffles me when a team doesn't have a backup goalie, and knowing that, he's still doing that," O'Brien said. "I don't know what he was trying to prove. Obviously it didn't work and the game ended up being 10-3, basically on his shoulders so I don't think he was doing the smart thing at all."
Despite their problems against the Icers, self-inflicted or otherwise, the Purps strike me as a pretty well-run organization, at least in the completely superficial sense. Which is admittedly pretty unexpected in cases where an NCAA team is on campus as well, meaning they're probably not getting the "varsity, just without scholarships" treatment, as at Penn State, Rhode Island, Delaware, Ohio and others. They have an up-to-date website with fresh content, like player profiles. They hosted an outdoor game last year, and will again this year. They even keep everyone up-to-date on recruiting efforts, unheard of in the ACHA. Compared to Towson, which is pretty much the exact opposite of all of that, gathering information on Niagara for this post was ridiculously easy.

A large share of the credit for that is probably due long-time head coach Larry Brzeczkowski, a guy who has a better understanding of Icers history than you might think, as a player at Buffalo State, a former archrival of PSU's, back in the early 90s. Brzeczkowski has assembled a large staff to keep things running smoothly - one that even includes a team dentist [insert bad "toothless hockey player" joke here].

The Purps (do I have to do this for the whole post?) have also had more on-ice success than failure, as they presently sit at 11-8-0. They opened the season with a big upset in an overtime thriller at Liberty, and shortly after found themselves on a seven-game winning streak. However, that all came to an abrupt halt with an ugly 7-0 loss at Pittsburgh. The slide continued with four more losses, including a weekend sweep at the hands of Youngstown State, thanks largely to a flu epidemic within the team. Since the hot start, Niagara has lost five of the last eight to fall out of the ACHA rankings after achieving a season-high No. 24 in the November 5th edition - although they did win their last game, 11-4 over an abysmal St. Bonaventure (Note: The stats I'm about to use exclude that game).

If any kind of turn back in the right direction is to continue against the Icers, it will probably fall heavily on their offense, which averages 5.79 goals per game and has only been held under three twice, while scoring seven or more six times. A lot of that offense comes from Joe Baldinelli (12 goals, 26 assists), who impressively carried a 4.0 while leading the team in goals last season, Marc Degiuilio (14 goals, 11 assists) and junior captain Trevor Kenney (10 goals, 22 assists), who recently bagged his 100th career point. Incidentally, Kenney also participates in that quintessential hockey player pastime of golf on a pretty serious level. The forward group is also supported by a strong freshman class, including former A(tlantic)JHLers (and roommates) Carl Lehtola and Erik McKown (16 combined goals).

Dane Wakefield is the expected starter in goal, and while his stats (4.41 goals against, 0.869 save percentage) aren't great cosmetically, I'm willing to bet that's due at least in part to Grant Fuhr Effect, with the amount of offense in front of him.

In front of Wakefield, defenseman Tyler Guarasci - another freshman - is out with a broken hand suffered last weekend. Another steady defenseman, Pat Roth, missed last Saturday's game with the infamous upper body injury. While Niagara does look to have good depth on D, it will certainly be tested tonight, with WUG Team USA member Kevin Morrison, George Antzoulis and Drew Mencer logging significant minutes. Morrison and Antzoulis add some offensive punch, while Mencer is of the stay-at-home variety.

Next stop: the dead zone. Although with the WUG tune-ups and Ohio looming (as well as a total of seven of eight on the road in January), I suspect that we won't run out of stuff to talk about.

Outside Reading

Steve Penstone finds that the team has a healthy outlook following last Saturday's ugly loss.

The Collegian offers reinforcement for that and also lets you know what the team's been up to this week, both on and off the ice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Payday Memorabilia: Bill Downey jersey

First off, the essential playing career details.

Bill Downey
Right Wing
Born May 12 1981  -- Pittsburgh, PA
Height 6.01 -- Weight 180 -- Shoots R

                                        --- Regular Season --- 
Season   Team                    Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
1999-00  Chicago Freeze          NAHL   47    4   11   15   49
2001-02  Pennsylvania State U    ACHA   26   12   16   28   29
2002-03  Pennsylvania State U    ACHA   32   15   20   35   21
2003-04  Johnstown Chiefs        ECHL    4    1    0    1   18
2003-04  Pennsylvania State U    ACHA   37   21   30   51   20
2004-05  Wheeling Nailers        ECHL    5    0    0    0    0
2004-05  Asheville Aces          SPHL    4    0    1    1   20
2004-05  Johnstown Chiefs        ECHL    2    0    0    0    0
2004-05  Richmond Riverdogs      UHL    15    2    2    4   21
2005-06  Wheeling Nailers        ECHL   44    4    3    7   13
2006-07  Reading Royals          ECHL    2    1    0    1    4
2007-08  Reading Royals          ECHL    1    0    0    0    2

Downey wore the blue and white with great distinction, averaging well over a point per game for his career, serving as captain in his senior year of 2003-04. And of course, there's those three ACHA national championships in 2001, 2002 and 2003. He was truly one of the great Icers of his era. Four years after his last game at Penn State, he returned as an assistant coach in 2008, a position he held for two seasons.

He left Penn State for a second time to become Harvard's director of hockey operations this season, the latest step in what's been a very successful (and mobile) post-playing career. It probably isn't logically deficient to think that Penn State will meet the Crimson for a weekend set or two come 2012. PSU, of course, will have dates galore available in those first two seasons as an NCAA D-I independent, just ask Alabama-Huntsville.

Oh, right, the jersey itself. As you can see from the patch on the back hem, it came from MeiGray, which is a great place to look if you want an Icers-related jersey that's a little bit different from the third jerseys and 1998-2000 models that everyone else wears - Curtiss Patrick and Justin DePretis are among those with pro jerseys on the site.

The Wheeling Nailers have one of the best, most recognizable logos in minor league hockey, and this jersey manages to avoid the usual pitfalls of minor league jerseys. Somehow, it even managed to escape that staple of jerseys in the ECHL or lower: the giant Best Western (or comparable) ad below the number - I'm sure this being a road jersey didn't hurt on that front. Borrowing the numbering style of the Penguins is a nice way to nod to the parent club without going overboard.

I have it on good authority that this particular jersey is from 2004-2005, not 2005-2006, which explains the fact that it has almost zero wear, as Downey only played five games with the Nailers that season. I'll be honest though, I very rarely wear it because it's a parachute. It's a 56, but from back when 56 meant something.

New Page Addition

While working on my pre-Niagara post for Friday, I couldn't remember if the Purple Eagles had made the ACHA national championship tournament in recent years. I didn't think so, but I wasn't sure. So naturally, I used that as an excuse to develop a list of tournament appearances by team. It goes back to 2003 for now, because that's as far back as the internet allowed me to go easily, but I hope to continue to build it backwards at least a couple more years.

As with the other pages - the Icers numerical history and the results by opponent - the links are located on the right side of the main page, just under the Twitter boxes.

Some interesting factoids that popped up while putting it together:
  • Penn State, Ohio, Illinois and Iowa State are the only teams to make each tournament since 2003.
  • A Robert Morris (IL or PA) has been in the tournament each year since 2005, but both have never made it in the same year.
  • Oakland had the worst title defense since 2003, finishing 11th in 2008 after winning it all in 2007.
  • Kent State has the most tournament appearances - five - without winning a single game on the championship track.
  • Lindenwood and Illinois each have two championships, but the Icers have arguably been the most productive team with an average finish of 2.75 while appearing in every tournament. Buffalo and Rutgers sit on the other end of the spectrum, finishing (and starting) 16th in their only nationals trips. Penn State-Berks gets a nod there too, as they were a probable 16th-place finisher in their only visit, had their consolation game not been cancelled.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Why I'm Optimistic

In my post covering the Delaware games, I tried to take a positive tone, which I felt was appropriate, even though I'm sure it violates some blogger's code somewhere or something. The cold truth is that the Icers split, and as ambiguous as a split can be, I have a hard time taking it as a disaster when the split is with a team that is ranked eight slots higher. If Penn State loses Friday and wins Saturday, or wins 7-0 and loses 3-2, you might feel better about it, but it's 1-1 no matter how you slice it. Don't agree with me? Well, Paul Daley does:
“In perspective, it’s not that bad of a loss. We split with a team ranked ahead of us, knowing we didn’t play our best the second game. We have to go back to what we do.”
Put that together with the Towson weekend and beating Niagara (hey, I'm not on the team, I'm allowed to do that), and the Icers will have won four of five to close out the semester after the disaster at Rhode Island. Not exactly juggernaut stuff, but certainly something to build on. That spring schedule still looks imposing with Ohio (in Athens), Delaware (in Newark) and Rhode Island looming. However splits in those three series, combined with taking care of business against West Chester and Bobby Mo - and I believe that PSU has proven capable of that - get Penn State's final nationals resume to 22-8-0, including five wins against likely top 10 teams. Not the best we've ever seen, but probably enough to at least wear white jerseys for the first round. And given recent history (Central Oklahoma, Liberty), I'm okay with being an underdog in the second round.

More than anything else though, the reason I'm optimistic is because I caught a glimpse of the team's capabilities on Friday with a fully-stocked roster for the first time all season. Four lines that can hurt you, including the Icers' "best player" on the presumptive third line. The Icers' worst line Friday (Cerutti-Morrone-Collins) had been the best the week two weeks before, so we know they can play. A defense corps that might be coming together as the season goes on (the mistakes have been fewer and less glaring in my observation, anyway). A young goaltender who has been a revelation, despite a rough patch on Saturday - and if the other, more experienced goalie finds the form that we've seen before over the semester break, PSU is once again deep there. A power play with too much talent to go 0-for-the-weekend very often, as has happened twice this season.

Lost in the fact that we had so many injury returnees was the lineup shuffling that had to be done as a result. Meaning that things will only look better going forward as guys learn and re-learn how to play with each other, at least according to Taylor Cera (and me, which is why I'm including it).
The main factor going forward will be chemistry, Cera said. Now healthy, the Icers will need to get a feel for each other on the ice, while continuing to learn to play together.

“We need to keep building off what we have,” Cera said. “It showed early what we’re capable of. We had a couple of goals in the first couple minutes.”
So there you have it. A finally-healthy team that will only continue to improve. And while it's unlikely that the Icers will sit in their customary position as one of the two or three favorites come March, it certainly seems possible that they'll be playing their best hockey at the right time and be one of those teams the favorites hope is on the opposite side of the bracket. None of that sounds all that horrible to me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weekend Observations: Delaware

Collegian weekend recap and sidebar // Friday box score // Saturday box score

I'll be honest, I have no idea how to write this post. Generally, I'll try to handle both games simultaneously while looking for common themes and storylines. However, Saturday's game was pretty much the exact opposite of Friday. In a sense I guess, the Icers tied the weekend. They say a tie is like kissing your sister, but I've never bought that expression, because the implication is that kissing your sister is part good.

It almost feels like I have to veer in one direction or the other, and in this case, I think it's okay to keep it generally positive. I admittedly would have been okay with a split coming into the weekend, and a split is what we got. Consider that:
  • Delaware hasn't lost in regulation all season. They're ranked No. 3. They have quality players up and down their roster.
  • The last time Penn State played a top 10 team, the results were historically bad.
  • A Blue Hens sweep would have been an unmitigated disaster, and PSU avoided that catastrophe.
One huge positive that extends well beyond these two games: the return of all injured Icers.
"George is our best player." - Assistant Coach Josh Hand
"George," of course, is George Saad, the extremely talented but frequently injured forward. He made his return to the lineup from a deep thigh bruise this weekend, and it was clear pretty much from puck drop Friday that this was not to be a token appearance. Saad made the effort plays early on - diving to clear the zone and stripping the puck at the blueline and dumping it back to allow a line change that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Then the offense started. First, it was a nice pass from the corner to a driving Taylor Cera, a fellow injury returnee, for the first goal of the game. Later on, Saad came in one-on-one with freshman Delaware defenseman Kevin Redmond, who might as well have not been there. Saad knocked Redmond over, regained control of the puck and scored. He added points on both Icers goals Saturday as well, including a goal when a Rich O'Brien blast went wide and rebounded from the end boards on to his stick.

Despite Hand's comment and Saad's play, Tim O'Brien showed that he has no plans of relinquishing any "best player" titles, at least not until he graduates. He made a great individual play of his own, a steal that ended up Delaware goalie Nick Casella after he circled around to the slot and fired it home. Then, he spent the next eight seconds of game time winning the faceoff, cruising down the ice, taking a pass from Eric Steinour, who won a battle along the boards, and scoring again. We now call that Pulling a Longo.

Just about the only thing O'Brien did wrong Friday night? His awkward-looking goal celebration after his first goal. Whatever  you think of Alex Ovechkin's cellys, it's clear that the yellow laces are not the culprit behind his mojo. Still, O'Brien remains one of the most entertaining players ever during stoppages, whether he's dancing to the Penn State version of Rock 'n Roll as performed by Section E or chirping from the penalty box.

Sometime late in the first period Saturday, I thought I had the goaltending situation all figured out. Matt Madrazo got the shutout Friday, his second in a row after blanking Towson on November 19th. He was great early on Saturday, playing his usual aggressive style. I started to get it in my head that I was going to use this platform as a coronation for the freshman.

Then, right as I decided to head down to the lobby to angle on Saad's pink-and-black jersey (can you tell I like the guy?)...bang, Chris Galgano pounces on a loose puck in the slot to tie it at 1. Then three minutes later, Brandon Weiner scored through a massive crowd in front. I actually had taken a position directly behind Madrazo for that goal, and trust me, he couldn't see a thing - credit Delaware with a tremendous screen. Then the second period started, and a bad outlet pass and a blown coverage later, another one is behind Madrazo. Seconds later, yet another, and still another after that. Three goals in 35 seconds, five in 6:46, and Madrazo found himself at the end of the bench.

Hume finished out a game that was already lost, and did fairly well (16 shots, 14 saves over the final 37:50), but not enough to stop the regression of the battle between the pipes back into muddy waters.

Defense-wise, it's a little frustrating. I think the group as a whole has made progress from the beginning of the year, but then you take a guy like Kevin Miller, who has been pretty steady all year, yet had a weekend he'd probably like to forget. On the other hand, you have the tandem of Rich O'Brien and Dan Loucks (the injury returnee I haven't mentioned yet) teaming up to prevent what looked like a sure goal on Delaware's first power play Saturday, when the game was 0-0. Carey Bell looked good to me as well. That seems pretty typical of the group to me - it's very up and down right now. Which is better than mostly down, as at the beginning of the year, I suppose.

Back to the positives. I have to say that in the face of an ugly game (both on the scoreboard and after the whistles) I was impressed with the Icers' refusal to quit on Saturday. In what was a 5-1 game late in the second, Penn State generated a lot of positive momentum, resulting in Saad's goal. Delaware's Nick Lepore crushed the comeback in its infancy with an answering marker shortly after, but still, guys like Loucks, Mark Polidor and Chris Pronchik in particular kept the energy going in a time of great distress. That will serve Penn State well somewhere down the road.

Finally, I might as well show off my haul from the jersey auction. Little kids and hockey moms beware - I will snipe you.

Saad owns you. What owns me? The reek from this thing in the hotel room Saturday night.
DeLo's a personal favorite too.