Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend-ish Observations: Liberty

Collegian Thursday recap
Collegian Friday recap
Thursday box score (Penn State 7, Liberty 3)
Friday box score (Liberty 3, Penn State 2)

Now that it's over, possibly forever unless we schedule them again next season, I'll come clean on one thing, then move on: I have about as much tolerance for Liberty University as LU has for homosexuality. I'm a little bothered that we even play them, given some of the backwards thinking that's a part of the culture there. I'd prefer to see their program shrivel up and die because no respectable opponents were willing to give them the time of day. And yes, I do take it a little personally that we didn't carry our Thursday momentum through to a sweep. I wish nothing but bad things for that program and school.

I needed to say that, thanks for indulging me. Anyway...

I'll start with Thursday and sort of blend into Friday as I go. First off, I actually have to give head coach Scott Balboni a ton of credit for the win in game one. As part of the answer to what was considered a sluggish weekend by most against Ohio, Balboni shook up the forward lines and ended up arranging them this way:


There was an immediate payoff, as Pronchik scored on a breakaway 3:22 into the game, then drew a penalty a few minutes later, which led to a power play goal and a 2-1 lead. However, things went a little differently for the next half of a game - sure, the defense was putrid (more on that in a minute), but the offense disappeared as well into a cloud of too much individualism and not enough patience. A lesser coach might have been tempted to tweak the lines again to get something going, but Balboni stood pat and the result was the Icers' best period of the season - driven in large part by the O'Brien and Morrone lines. In fact, each of the top three lines generated at least one even-strength goal Thursday night.

At some point during the first period Thursday, I considered writing something in this post about the improved play of defenseman Dan Loucks. After all, it was Loucks with the beautiful stretch pass to spring Pronchik for that first goal, and I thought he had gradually gotten better since a rough start to the season at Pitt. Then he put an outlet pass right on the stick of Liberty's Rick Turner, who turned it around to beat Teddy Hume for a 3-2 Flames lead, chasing Hume from the game.

Loucks wasn't the only Penn State defensemen guilty of careless play. Liberty's first goal came directly after Rich O'Brien couldn't control a pass around the boards, and the second one, while more directly connected to a Daley-Polidor miscommunication at the blue line, actually began when O'Brien flubbed a point shot. That turnover led to a Turner breakaway, which led to that other error.

Credit? How about Dan Petrick for understanding the defense's shortcomings, then helping to lead a turnaround with his play? He had this to say after the second period (starts at 1:31:11):
"Really it just [came] down to us playing with a nice balance of effort and discipline, and there were times in that period where we had the effort, we were running around and we gave up plays. There were other times we had discipline, we didn't have the effort, we were getting beat to the puck."
From that point forward, the Icers checked in with their most dominant effort against a good team in quite a while - and that included the defense corps, as goalie Dan Ivanir was barely challenged (6 shots in 35:17) after relieving Hume.

I'd love to say that the high of that third period carried over into Friday night, but it simply did not. Special teams were the key early on, as the Icers managed to kill a five-minute major for boarding to Cera - Rich O'Brien stood out as particularly effective on that one - then scored on both ends of a 5-on-3 to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. After Brent Boschman tied the game up early in the second, what had been a well-played game slowly dialed the intensity back to zero.

The Icers' penalty kill came up huge again late in the game when Carey Bell went off for slashing at 15:40 of the third period, but what looked like a game-deciding penalty passed uneventfully. That turned out to not matter shortly after when Jonathan Chung found Stephen Moller, who fired a game-winner home from the top of the circle with 1:45 left. Still, special teams clearly stands out as the biggest positive from Friday night.

By the way, yes, I'm fully aware that Hume has been pulled in his last two starts. I didn't even mention it in my Ohio Weekend Observations, nor did I mention it until now in this post, because I really don't consider it an issue. Hume is a great goalie who was largely victimized by bad play in front of him. Period. I only mention it as a segue into the play of freshman Mathew Madrazo Friday night, in his first start for the blue and white. Despite the loss, I thought he played tremendously, showing great poise in the crease, challenging shooters, not giving up rebounds...basically everything you look for in a goalie. He finished with 31 stops on 34 shots. I don't think it's any great insight on my part to say that Penn State's goaltending is in great hands once Hume's career wraps up.

I started this post talking about forward lines, I might as well close it the same way. Given that the last two periods Friday night looked pretty similar to most of the Ohio series, are we primed for another shakeup, or will Balboni leave them alone and let some chemistry develop? What about George Saad and his bruised knee? Will he be back, and if so, where does he fit? We'll find out next Friday at 9, when West Chester comes in for the front end of a home-and-home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Quote Machine Strikes Again

During the first intermission of Penn State's 7-3 win against Liberty Thursday night, Steve Penstone interviewed Hockey Czar Joe Battista, as well as former Club Sports Director Vance McCullough (interview starts 50:20 in). Here are a few highlights, starting with Battista.

On whether he's focusing on large or small gifts to meet the goal of raising and additional $10 million to help finance the Pegula Center and scholarships:
"Well, we take 'em all. [Laughter] When it's all said and done obviously, it'll be easier to go after as many of the major gifts prospects as you can, and we'll have a plan in place to allow people that want to give - can't do it at the seven-figure level, but still want to be involved, and I don't think anybody out there that's supported the program should think 'well, my little bit isn't going to make a difference,' but I think a lot of people don't realize that the way our system works for pledges, you can give over a five-year period. So you can pledge X amount of dollars over a five-year period, people that are retired can do estate gifts...obviously we've got a core base of fans here that absolutely loves the game. I think if you haven't been turned on to hockey, once they see the building, once they start to feel the atmosphere of that Big Ten hockey, they're going to fall in love with the sport. Because it's essentially, in its simplest form, it's wrestling, football, soccer, lacrosse...all combined."
Gotta love Battista. As always, he'll answer your question and give you the answers to about eight more you didn't even think to ask. Back in the day, I'd be able to get enough material for about three articles by saying all of six words. And does anyone doubt that he has $10 million more in fundraising up his sleeve?

Did he let something slip regarding the Big Ten? Probably not, when putting it together with what he just told the Duluth News Tribune.

On the arena progress:
"November 4th is when we interview the three finalists for the architect, and then we'll be just a couple weeks later looking to pick the construction management group, and that's not typical, because normally there's a design period, and then you hire the construction team."

"We've got tons and tons of pages of notes and over a thousand pictures [from visits to other facilities around the country]...and we're not going to have the biggest arena in the country, but we're going to do our darndest to build the best arena in the country."
A flaw in the recording chopped out about 20 seconds between those two paragraphs, but I think the gist of it is intact. It's great to hear things are moving along, and even better to hear the amount of work being put into ensuring that the Pegula Center is the best facility anywhere.

On the head coach search and timeline:
"There'll be an open, national search. [It's not begun yet?] No, and we will, in all likelihood, hire a national search firm to narrow the list down. We're going to give a lot of thought to what is it that we think is most important, and I believe in my heart that the single most important thing at the college level is the ability to recruit athletes - student-athletes. Because we're going to expect things a little different here, we gotta bring in the kind of kid that can handle the Penn State academic rigors and still excel at the Division I level, and I think fans would say that we'd all be disappointed if a coach came in and tried to cut corners and take shortcuts, and it's our job as the stewards of the program to make sure that doesn't happen. We're going to start this process probably in late February, that way coaches will be able to consider it, but we're going to wait until late April or May to actually make our decision, so we can include potential coaches that are either in the Frozen Four, or maybe even in the NHL, you never know."
NHL coach, eh? Interesting...

It's hard to use graduation rates in college hockey to measure emphasis on academics, since hockey loses a ton of players early to pro careers, especially at the highest levels. But Mark Johnson's Wisconsin women's team posted a 100% GSR in the recently-released 2003 cohort data. Just sayin'.

On a related note, McCullough fielded a question asking whether there was concern about players leaving early for professional careers:
"With this being a start-up program, I don't think there's any real danger of that right off the bat. They're going to ramp the scholarships up relatively slowly. It's not like we're going to bring in 17 kids right off the bat. So I think there will be a developmental phase for this team...there are maybe going to be hard knocks on the way on the ice, but I think they'll reach their potential and be among the great Penn State teams."
Maybe I'm naive, but this was actually news to me - I wasn't sure how we were going to handle bringing in a roster full of NCAA-caliber players. I just hope that a perception of the first couple years being throwaways doesn't result from that approach and damage the initial recruiting efforts.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WUG Tune-Up Games Announced

Yesterday, USA Hockey announced a set of three games pitting the 2011 World University Games (WUG) team - made up of top players from across the ACHA - against NCAA programs. Let's go to the press release.
The 2011 U.S. Men's National University Team will travel to Vermont from Dec. 27-29 to play games against NCAA opponents Castleton State College, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont.

The games are part of Team USA's preparations for the 2011 Winter World University Games, which will take place Jan. 27-Feb. 6, in Erzurum, Turkey.

The U.S. will face NCAA Division III Castleton State College on Dec. 27 in Rutland, Vt., before traveling to South Burlington, Vt., to face NCAA Division II Saint Michael's College on Dec. 28.

Team USA will play its final pre-tournament game against NCAA Division I University of Vermont on Dec. 29, in Burlington, Vt.
The highlight, of course, will be that trip to Gutterson Fieldhouse on the 29th. While the Catamounts have made the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons, including a Frozen Four trip in 2008-09, I really believe the ACHA crew can hold their own. It being a third game in three nights won't really help matters, but win or lose, it will be an event mentioned in every "ACHA vs. NCAA" discussion held for the forseeable future.

Penn State is represented on the WUG team by forwards Tim O'Brien and Eric Steinour, as well as coach Scott Balboni, who will serve as an assistant to Michigan-Dearborn's Dave Debol. Defensemen Dan Petrick and Kevin Miller are alternates, so keep your fingers crossed for a couple injuries on Team USA's blueline, if you're that kind of person.

Team USA posted a best-ever (since the ACHA started supplying the players in 2001) 7th place finish at the 2009 Games in Harbin, China. The highlight of the tournament for the Americans was undoubtedly a shootout win over Slovakia - with the winner coming from the stick of Penn Stater Lukas DeLorenzo.

Stay tuned to TYT for plenty more on the exploits of the WUG team - I'm a geek for international hockey, especially when there's a Penn State tie-in.

Christians vs. Lions

Another week, another Penn State opponent that's something of an unknown. This time, the ironically-nicknamed No. 15 Liberty University Flames roll into the Ice Pavilion for a rare Thursday-Friday set tonight and tomorrow. Depending on your outlook, LU is either a team not playing up to their usual standards that a redemption-driven Icers team should bounce, or a team that has given PSU fits in the past and is coming together at the right time. But hey, that's why the games are so much fun.

I still think of Liberty primarily as the team that ended the Icers' run of 10 consecutive ACHA championship game appearances with a 4-1 win over Penn State in the second round of the 2008 tournament in Rochester, NY. And while the Liberty series lacks the rich history of the one with our previous opponent, it's proven to be just as much of a struggle. It began with a tougher-than-expected 2-1 win at the 2007 ACHA championship tournament, and also includes four regular season games. The Icers have a 3-2-1 record in the series, although the Flames see it more as 3-3-0, thanks to one of Liberty's wins coming in overtime.

After a slow 3-3-1 start to this season, LU has come on of late, sweeping Oakland two weeks ago (something Ohio failed to do) and throttling two lower-division teams (UMBC and Kennesaw State) last weekend. The feeling from the Liberty side of things is that the Oakland series turned around their season:
In coach [Kirk] Handy’s opinion this game stood out more than others.

“I think it was a turning point for us this season,” Handy said. “The effort hadn’t been there in past games, but tonight it was and the guys were all working as a unit.”

Coach Handy isn’t the only one that has noticed the significant changes the team is making as a whole.

“We played as a team and we’re really coming together now,” forward Jonathan Chung said.
Did it turn around their season? Given that tonight represents their first D1 game since Oakland, I suppose we're about to find out.

The Flames are led up front by Brent Boschman (11 goals, 14 assists), the aforementioned Chung (5 goals, 15 assists) and Adam Docksteader (12 goals, 7 assists), the team's top three scorers. Quality scoring depth exists throughout the top two lines, with seven forwards averaging one point per game or better. That's Icers-quality balance, and Liberty's forwards are known for being a physical group as well.

One quote in that last link was mildly discouraging, from the Icers' Paul Daley:
“In this game we’re going to be forced to play physical. We won’t have a choice, that’s just the way they are. We’ll try to outmatch them, be more physical than they are and hopefully we’ll just give them a taste of their own medicine.”
Whatever happened to dictating the game with your own style? I think any brutally honest assessment of the last four games would reach the conclusion that Penn State let the opponents' style win out too often. Ohio slowed things down and effectively neutralized the Icers attack. Both Ohio and UCO had the generally disciplined PSU squad playing shorthanded far too often. To me, a successful pair of games will involve the Flames trying to give Penn State a taste of its own medicine, not the other way around.

Incidentally, if the first link in the post didn't make it obvious enough, Liberty was founded by Jerry Falwell, and claims to be the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world. Leading scorer Boschman's favorite Bible verse is Genesis 1:1 (yes, they're listed on the team website), so I'm going to make the assumption that he's not one for thick books and just answered with the first one he saw.

Towering (6'4") goalie Blair Bennett gets the majority of the minutes between the pipes, and while his goals against average is a shaky 3.99, he also faces a ton of shots -  roughly 42 per 60 minutes. This is almost certainly due in part to a thin defense corps (and possibly some forwards who don't like that backchecking doesn't show up in a box score, but that's purely speculation on my part). Senior Mike Morrison and junior Mackenzie Bauman are solid as a top defense pairing, but inexperience and a general lack of warm bodies (Liberty's website only lists five defensemen on the roster) make things a little sketchy after that.

Like I said at the top, it's tough to get a good read on these games. Penn State playing up to capabilities should be able to use depth to take advantage of Liberty's spotty defense and find enough defense of their own to earn a sweep, but then again, have we seen the Icers at their best all season? On the Flames side of things, do we see the team they say they now are, or the one that was upset by Niagara?

Outside Reading

Quality photography can sometimes be hard find in the yellow-orange confines of the Ice Pavilion, but View From the Booth comes to the rescue, sharing some great work from a couple of goalie dads.

In the Collegian pre-series piece, Tim O'Brien explains why practice was different this week.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Payday Memorabilia: Ohio Jersey

This will be a regular feature on the day before my paydays. Why then? Because it's my favorite day to hit up eBay and blow my earnings before they're even technically in my account, that's why. Except for this first edition, which I'm posting on a Wednesday due to the Icers playing a game tomorrow.

And actually, most of the stuff featured on here will just be items I've accumulated on my own over the years, no internet auctions needed. Like this Ohio Bobcats game-worn jersey, purchased from the pro shop at Bird Arena on October 10, 2009.

Here's what I know about this jersey:
  • That patch on the right chest commemorates the 50th anniversary of Ohio hockey (1958-2008).
  • The CSCHL logo is screened on the left chest.
  • These were worn during the 2007-2008 season (the patch says that makes sense). Given OU's illustrious history of cycling through a vast array of mostly hideous jersey designs every year or two, it's unlikely that they wore them for more than a season or so outside of that.
  • I know that I don't know the identity of the player who wore this jersey. But if you have a 2007-2008 Ohio roster hanging around, feel free to share.
Here's a better look at that patch, since patches can make a sweet jersey legendary:

A couple years of getting curb-stomped as an original member of the CCHA (2-24-0 conference record from 1971-73) are included in the 50. Not included: An opponent that enjoyed trying to get to Athens.

As Ohio jerseys go, I actually like this one. I'm not a big fan of shiny (not to be confused with "shinny"), but I'm a huge fan of tail sweeps, and this jersey delivers. Also, it's green, as an Ohio dark jersey should be, as it, not silver or black, is their primary color. One final positive: it doesn't smell like Ohio. The entire state, not just the university.

Just in case you're upset with me for putting money in the pockets of Penn State's longtime rivals, here's a picture of the Icers' celebration following Steve Thurston's game-winner with 0:01 left in overtime that night. Apologies for the fact that Jim Balsillie's people have yet to figure out how to make a decent camera.

Front: PSU owns OU yet again. Rear: White trash.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Obligatory Big Ten Opinion Piece

"Death, taxes, opinion on Big Ten hockey" pretty accurately lists the three sure things in life, at least when it comes to college hockey enthusiasts since September 17th (and really, before that as well). So in my editorial meeting last week, I said "Hey, we should be the 7,997th news article or blog post on the Big Ten's potentially sponsoring hockey. Maybe they'll give us free Frozen Four tickets for life!" What follows are the fruits of that faulty logic.

The quick background: with Penn State now in the fold, there are six Big Ten member institutions that sponsor NCAA Division I hockey. Minnesota and Wisconsin currently play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). Since six is both the minimum number of schools in a conference to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and the minimum number of schools needed for the Big Ten to sponsor a sport...I think you've figured it out by now, so on we go.

Oh, one more thing that's important to know for this post: the CCHA has 11 teams, since former member Nebraska-Omaha defected to the WCHA this season. The CCHA rejected an application from Alabama-Huntsville to fill that slot, and commissioner Tom Anastos is on record as being interested in Penn State. Here's a mindless blog post from someone not happy about that. Sorry for being more attractive to a conference than a branch campus about 17 billion miles removed from anyone else with a program. Our bad.

To be perfectly clear, Big Ten hockey is probably going to happen. Among the latest evidence comes from WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, via USCHO poster mksioux on October 18th.
Bruce McLeod was on TV during the Friday night North Dakota-Bemidji State game. He said that [Big Ten commissioner] Jim Delany has personally told him that he fully expects to start a full-fledged BTHC by '14 or '15. McLeod said he has proposed a scheduling alliance whereby Minnesota and Wisconsin would play eight games per year against WCHA teams on a rotating basis (presumably one two-game series against four teams). If agreed upon, for example, that would mean each WCHA school would play Minnesota every 2.5 years and would get them at home once every 5 years.
In Colorado Springs, home to both Colorado College (WCHA) and the Air Force Academy (Atlantic Hockey), the freakout is in full swing. It even seems to be a foregone conclusion in ECAC Hockey, where they aren't directly affected, but are still worried about ripple effects.


Here are a few reasons why I don't think it's the best idea ever, for Penn State or for college hockey.

1. That conference is HARD. Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State among the most storied programs in college hockey history. Toss in the Bostons U and C, North Dakota and Denver, and that's probably your top eight. Ohio State isn't quite on that level, but they're not a meatbag either with four NCAA tournament appearances in the last decade. So what's a start-up program to do? When will Penn State break out of sixth place with four Goliaths and a mostly regular-sized but pretty fat guy lying on top? Where are the conference wins going to come from?

Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that Penn State will have everything in place to be successful at the highest levels, and banners don't put on skates and play. But the growing process would be greatly facilitated with a few Bowling Greens and Western Michigans to climb over first in the standings, as would be the case in taking that 12th slot in the CCHA. Success breeds success, and small successes lead to large ones.

2. At best, it's neutral for college hockey as a whole. At worst, it damages it. This much is clear: nobody seems to agree on the effects of removing the Big Ten schools from the CCHA and WCHA. Will small programs like Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, which depend on the larger programs for revenue in several ways, die off? Will they reach some sort of agreement to play the big schools out of conferences (including home games) and mitigate the issues? Is everyone overstating things? If you have any idea, you're lying. Here's what I feel like I do know: it's not going to be a positive.

There's been some thought that Penn State is the beginning of a tidal wave of schools adding NCAA hockey programs, and that any programs we may lose will be replaced. Based on what? The tremendous number of major conference programs we've added in the last 15-20 years (whoops, wrong list)? The fact that every school has a sugar daddy with $88 million lying around, dying to build an adequate facility and endow scholarships? The expansion of athletic programs generally in these robust economic times, especially in the south and west (wait, scratch that one)? I'm just not buying it. We need to protect the schools that have already invested in the sport from uncertainty.

3. Why not stash Penn State in the CCHA? Seriously, why not? There could then be a scheduling agreement where the Big Ten schools all play each other regardless of conference lines, then a Big Ten championship is awarded to the team with the best record. The Ivy League already does this, and I have yet to see a compelling argument against this setup. Everybody wins this way, except Alabama-Huntsville, who is counting on the Big Ten shakeup to lead to a conference home.

Here's a Penn State-driven reason for promoting the CCHA: better scheduling. That's usually a pro-Big Ten argument (familiar schools to Penn Staters leads to more interest), but I'm turning that one around. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are already in the CCHA. So is Notre Dame, which has far more drawing power to the non-hockey fan than Minnesota or Wisconsin. And if you are a hockey fan? Then you'll recognize that CCHA member Miami is one of the best programs in the country too, and you'll get excited for those games. And hey, you can still bring in the Gophers and Badgers via the Ivy League setup. Add it all together and you have quality and name recognition to burn without an overwhelming conference schedule.


I'm getting towards the end of the post and haven't even mentioned the Big Ten Network yet. There's a reason for that - I think it's an overrated factor in all of this. First of all, the lack of Big Ten hockey doesn't keep them from broadcasting games, they have in fact aired several hockey games involving the Big Ten schools, usually when they play each other, but sometimes when they play other schools as well. Yes, the rights issues are a concern, as Big Ten Network is at the bottom of the pecking order. But at the same time, when the defection of several power schools is at hand, I think the WCHA and CCHA can figure out a way to give Big Ten Network what they want, to give a little and get a lot. You do have a middleman in that situation, the opposite of what makes Big Ten Network successful, but how much money are we really talking about here? Which leads to...

Secondly, as much as we all love hockey, it's still a niche sport. The ratings still suck. And I'm supposed to believe that the powers that be will move heaven and earth to get a game of the week on Big Ten Network's Friday night schedule? Please. From a ratings and revenue standpoint, they'd be better off replaying one of their passel of horrible studio shows five times.

So what do Delany and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez see that I don't?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weekend Observations: Ohio

Collegian weekend recap
OU Post weekend recap
Friday box score (Penn State 3, Ohio 1)
Saturday box score (Ohio 6, Penn State 3)

Well, the home Ohio weekend has come and gone, and the Icers are no longer undefeated. That'll happen with too many turnovers, too many bad penalties, and a well-prepared opponent capable of making you pay for it. As with last week and future weeks, here are my disjointed thoughts.

Penn State seemed to be in a funk throughout most of both games, which ties in with something I said last week: the Icers are at their best when playing in control, not emotionally. Fortunately, there was enough concentrated life in the third period Friday to at least get a split from the weekend.

On Friday's eventual game-winning goal (start at 1:02:21), Eric Steinour had a tremendous sequence, where he laid a big hit just in front of the tunnel to the locker rooms, then seconds later knocked the puck loose, allowing Taylor Cera to pick it up, walk in, and score. Cera had plenty of room to do so because OU's defensemen were both slow to get back in front of the play after chasing the puck through the corner. Hopefully that goal, Cera's first of the season, gets him going a little bit, as he had to watch Paul Daley take his spot with Tim O'Brien and Chris Cerutti. Daley acquitted himself well, so that should be a mini-battle to watch going forward.

Much credit is due Ohio's Brett Agnew, who was given increased responsibility for the weekend due to an injury to Nick Rostek. Agnew's answer? Points on five of OU's seven goals on the weekend, including a hat trick Saturday. Yikes.

Yes, the officiating was awful over the second half of the game Saturday, with several muggings - Michael Longo a couple times, including after an offsides whistle - resulting in no call. The capper might have been Cerutti getting nailed for diving on a hook by OU's Jared Fuhs. But I refuse to go on an officiating rant here, the game was lost well before things got out of hand with the zebras. And on rewatching the Longo clip, it looked like the tackle on the offsides happened because Longo shot the puck after the whistle, a no-no. The rest followed from that, with Longo ultimately getting called for a retaliation penalty. Both players probably should've gone for it, but as officiating errors go, it's somewhere south of Crime of the Century status.

Anyway, remember this quote from Tim O'Brien after an incident last Saturday against UCO?
“I put our team in a bad position there and just let my emotions get the best of me. It won’t happen again the rest of the year.”
Fast forward to OU Saturday and O'Brien takes a misconduct for his actions following the Bobcats' sixth goal. So did he break his promise? I'm guessing he doesn't think so:
“I don’t know, that ref I guess was just out to get us. You can’t do anything about it. I don’t know why he gave me 10 minutes. I was just tapping my stick at him telling him nice call.”
No worries Tim, you wear your heart on your sleeve, but that's why we like you so much.

Dominic Morrone, despite battling a groin injury, might have been the Icers best player over the course of the weekend, but particularly on Saturday, where he was in on both of Penn State's power play goals (1G, 1A), with the goal coming on a highlight-reel end-to-end rush. He also had the empty-net clincher on Friday.

One thing that might be understated in all of this: Ohio's schedule probably prepared them for a high-intensity, big-time series much better than did Penn State's. The Bobcats had a weekend against current No. 2 Davenport (who themselves earned three of four points from a weekend with No. 1/two-time defending champs Lindenwood), as well as a decent Oakland team. Meanwhile, the Icers' best opponent (by a lot) was a Central Oklahoma team who now sits at 3-7-1. Brutal schedule, yes, but 3-7-1 is 3-7-1. And other than Penn State, they really didn't show up in any of those seven (plus one).

The good news? Penn State's now been in one of those series, and it should serve the Icers well going into Liberty and then the ESCHL schedule.

Friday, October 22, 2010

O-H, They Go

Throw on your "We OU 1" t-shirt and lock up your farm animals, the Bobcats are making their annual visit to the Ice Pavilion tonight and tomorrow. The ACHA's best rivalry is long on history (11 combined national championships) and short on goodwill. Essentially, if you only make it to two games all year, make it these two. You'll thank me later. I'll save the sappy nostalgia post for the trip to Athens - this one's about functionality.

Know Your Rival

Just like Central Oklahoma last weekend, No. 2 Ohio comes in as a bit of an enigma. They opened their season with two wins by a combined 30-0 against the Goderich Sailors, a completely overmatched Canadian Jr. C team (and a bad one at that). The Bobcats have played four home ACHA games since then: a sweep at the hands of the No. 7 Davenport Panthers (one loss in a shootout), a former D2 juggernaut making some serious noise in its first season at the D1 level, and a split with No. 9 Oakland. Despite the quality of the opposition, with a 1-2-1 ACHA record, OU stands to fall from their high perch when the new rankings come out just before game time tonight.

The major storyline for Ohio is the fact that they have a former NCAA Division I goalie between the pipes, Blake MacNicol. The one-time Alabama-Huntsville netminder actually served as the Chargers' primary goaltender in 2007-08 before being passed on the depth chart by Cam Talbot, then suffering a hand injury that limited him to 37 minutes over two games last season. I'll let OU coach Dan Morris finish the story.

Morris said he is confident with three new goaltenders heading into the season, including University of Alabama-Huntsville transfer Blake MacNicol.

"We brought Blake in for that specific reason: his experience," Morris said.

MacNicol, the son of former Ohio hockey player Alex MacNicol, was redshirted last season after a hand injury and felt he was "over-recruited" this year, Morris said.

"He wanted play his senior year. He's always felt that Ohio U has had a place in his heart," he said. "We gladly accepted him after Paul Marshall's departure."
For what it's worth, MacNicol's UAH career ended with a 12-16-6 record, a 3.24 goals against average, and a 0.898 save percentage (full stats here), primarily against teams like Robert Morris, Niagara and Bemidji State in the now-defunct CHA. In three ACHA games so far, he's 1-1-1, 3.64 goals against average, 0.895 save percentage. Before we had a pending NCAA Division I team of our own, I obsessed over things like that. Now, not quite as much.

Up front, the Bobcats are led by a lethal top line of Nick Rostek-Tyler Pilmore-Michael Schultz, which has combined for 5 goals and 10 assists in the four ACHA games. Secondary scoring comes largely from Zach Tisdale and Brett Agnew, as well as defensemen Steve Osacky and Zack Barbis. Ohio appeared to have some defensive issues in allowing 70 shots and 9 goals in the two games against Davenport before tightening things up with 46 and 4 versus Oakland. Then again, facing teams made up largely of NAHL and OJHL players (as well as a couple transfers from recently-defunct NCAA Division III Minnesota-Crookston) will give most ACHA teams defensive issues.

Whatever OU is, they're sure to provide a stiff test for an Icers team that has seemed to improve each weekend, yet is still not without issues of their own.

A Decisive Trend

The Icers have played Ohio four times each regular season since 1998-99. In each case - except last season, when the sites were reversed - the two games at the Ice Pavilion have been in the fall semester (usually October), while the games at Ohio's Bird Arena have been in the spring (usually February). To say that the venue is important to the series is a drastic understatement.

In the home games since 1998-99, Penn State is 20-2-2, outscoring the Bobcats 92-46 (or 3.8-1.9 per game). Yet when the series shifts to Athens, OU holds a 13-9-2 edge, narrowly outscoring the Icers 71-65.

Just to complete the picture, the teams have also met at the ACHA national championship tournament four times in that span, with the Icers holding a 3-1-0 advantage, including a 5-0 win in the 2003 national championship game at Bird Arena (technically a neutral site game, despite the hostile crowd).

Pregaming It

A couple things to check out before the game:

If you have any interest in hockey's tradition at Penn State, going back to the first games in 1909, here's Steve Penstone's interview with Lou Prato from the first intermission last Friday (starts at 1:11:06, ends at 1:19:09). Prato is a guy who clearly drinks a ton of blueberry juice, and his insight into the much-too-sparsely-documented history is worth a look.

On Penstone's View From the Booth, Coach Balboni gives the Icers a C grade to this point. I completely agree with the grade and his explanation of said grade.

In the Collegian pre-game write-up, Marek Polidor's not happy about being ranked below OU. Don't worry, you won't be in a few hours.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pegula Center Speculation: Agganis Arena

This is the first edition of a feature in which I take a quick look at rinks known to have been visited by some combination of Joe Battista, Terry Pegula and Tim Curley, in order to possibly get some sort of insight into Penn State's future facility. Okay, we probably won't get any insight, because who knows for sure what the power brokers are thinking, what input the to-be-determined architect might have, etc. Basically, I'm an arena geek who is having trouble waiting 3.5 years for our building. This was originally to be a monthly-ish feature, but given the news that we're going to have an architect selected next month, I'll probably pound these out more frequently. No point in the feature after we already know what the Pegula Center's going to look like, after all. Random Wednesday work for you? Great, glad to hear it.

Stop #1 is Boston University's Agganis Arena, now famous as the location visited by Battista when he received the text confirming Pegula's donation. First, the essential facts:

Opened: January 3, 2005
Cost: $225 million (includes entire John Hancock Student Village, which also contains housing and a rec center)
Capacity: 6,221 for hockey (in PSU's neighborhood)
Official Site

In news that won't apply to us, BU's women still have to play at the older facility, Walter Brown Arena. Ouch. In news that might, BU does an outstanding job booking the facility for events other than BU men's hockey games, both with ice (2009 Women's Frozen Four) and without (numerous concerts and basketball games) despite being in a large city with lots of venue competition.

Here's a look at the interior:

My legal department tells me that this is public domain. However, my legal department is Wikipedia.

I'll go ahead and say it: even though this is the first in the series, this is probably my favorite seating bowl. In my opinion, there's no need to over-complicate things in an arena this size with multiple tiers, unusual luxury box locations and things like that. A single level around the ice surface with a ring of suites around the top is the way to go. You can almost picture the seats in blue, a chipmunk at center ice and some ACHA banners on the far end. It might be worth pointing out that the (very) preliminary sketch of the interior of the Pegula Center looked to have a very similar layout for the main rink (bottom of the page). Then again, it probably isn't worth pointing out, as things can obviously change.

Even the exterior of the arena doesn't look like something that would be out of place among PSU's new-ish venues, including Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, the Bryce Jordan Center and the Ashenfelter Multi-Sport Facility.

Obviously, I want the Pegula Center to be uniquely Penn State, but if it borrowed heavily from Agganis Arena, I would not be at all upset. If I have a complaint about it, it's that it seems kind of sterile. Some brickwork or some other form of manufactured new-old ambience wouldn't kill the place.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pegula Center Tidbits

It was probably pretty easy to miss last week, with a pair of revenge games at hand for the Icers (or if you don't obsess over these things), but Hockey Czar Joe Battista keeps leaking Pegula Center details.

Yes, I'm calling it the Pegula Center, just to get a head start. "Arena" doesn't sound right with "Pegula" ending in an A, and "Pavilion" (one I've heard a couple of times) just sounds cheesy with the alliteration. Besides Penn State's current facility, the only other hockey facility I can think of with "Pavilion" is a shameless computer plug. "Pegula Center" just sounds best to me, so that's what it is on here until it actually has a name.

Anyway, Battista's first info drop was on the Big Ten Network's Tailgate show, which broadcast from Penn State on October 8. In case you missed it, here's the much-anticipated segment featuring the Icers. Here's Battista at the 1:33 mark:
"There's 1100 seats [at the Ice Pavilion], 1400 with standing room only. In the new building, there will be 6000, and hopefully with standing room only 6500...and maybe more."
Hmmm...sounds to me like we're creeping up from the 5000-6000 number given by Tim Curley at the announcement press conference back on September 17. Hopefully it's due to some great feedback and interest early in the process.

Battista (with a first assist going to Penn State president Graham Spanier) gave us another cookie in the October 11 Daily Collegian, this time laying out a construction timeline.
Battista said the Request For Proposals (RFP) have been sent out to multiple architects and all have responded with their qualifications. He said the possible choices have worked with Penn State in the past, and all have experience with ice arena design.
“We’ve cast the nets very broadly to begin with,” Spanier said.
Spanier said the Board of Trustees Architectural Selection Committee will narrow the choices to 12 before selecting three-to-five finalists to visit State College and make a formal presentation. The committee is made up of Board of Trustees members, an architecture professor, a student and representation from the Office of the Physical Plant (OPP).
Battista said the finalists will be notified by Oct. 18. They will make their presentations in mid-November and then the board will decide.
“They’ve given us their qualifications. Based on their past work, on their thoughts, and their philosophies, we’ll decide which one is the best fit for what we’re trying to do,” Battista said. “It’s exciting, I can tell you.”
A few weeks after the decision on the architect, the board will follow the same process again to decide on a construction team. Battista said they hope to break ground in the next 9-12 months, in either late-summer or early-fall 2011.
Battista also reiterated the necessity of the Pegula Center's versatility:
“To me, we have to make this thing pay for itself,” Battista said. “So we have to have enough locker rooms to be able to host a lot of tournaments. We want to be able to have lockers for public use and areas for youth and high school area programs to store their equipment. We want the intramural players to have a place. That’s how you make money in a facility like this.”
As exciting as the announcement of the facility was, it will be just as exciting to see the details continue to trickle out over the coming months.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weekend Observations: Central Oklahoma

A few random thoughts from the Icers' sweep of No. 16 Central Oklahoma this past weekend, since you can see so much more in person than you can through a grainy UStream video.

Penn State has maybe the deepest group of forwards I've seen, as all four lines are legitimately capable of generating offense. The top line of Chris Cerutti-Tim O'Brien-Taylor Cera was particularly deadly all weekend, but George Saad and Eric Steinour combined for two goals Friday, including the overtime winner (although that one was mostly Saad). Saad also was victimized by UCO goalie Nick Holmes several times.

An Icers trademark over the years has been a relentless forecheck, and this current group is certainly up to that legacy, particularly on the penalty kill, where the forwards have enough speed to make you work in your own zone without sacrificing on the back end. This was evident on the first goal Friday, where outstanding work by Cerutti ended with an easy goal for O'Brien.

However, I'm still not entirely sold on this defense group yet. Still too many turnovers, a couple of which ended up behind Teddy Hume, one of which ended a power play, and still not enough offense. I'll exempt Kevin Miller from that blanket statement, I thought he had a good weekend. I'll exempt Rich O'Brien from the offense part of it as well.

This was my first in-person look at the new hybrid icing rule, which allows for the traditional icing to be waved off if it looks like the icing/attacking team will win the race to the puck. I have to admit, I'm not a fan. The idea is that game flow will be improved with fewer whistles, but linesmen will still be able to whistle the play down to prevent big collisions and injuries. It's supposed to take the best from both icing worlds, but to me, it takes the worst. My understanding is that icing is to be called when the race is tied at the faceoff circles, but this wasn't always happening, and not blowing it dead there doesn't prevent the hits. Still, I'm willing to give it time for adjustment, as I think it's a good idea in theory. Besides, it was hilarious to hear fans unfamiliar with the rule yell at the linesman for "missing" an icing, so that by itself might be worth it.

While on the surface the three-goal total margin in revenge games against a team that had struggled with top competition might be a letdown, the flow of each game clearly favored Penn State. I think the Icers were their own worst enemy at times - for example, Friday night, the team clearly came out with guns blazing, hitting everything in sight, generating quality chances...but when none of those early chances found the back of the net, the team started pressing a little and got sucked into some of the after-whistle stuff. These were clearly games circled on the calendar, but too much emotion can be a negative, contrary to popular belief.

The physicality of both games wasn't done justice by the Collegian article - the Icers were clearly out for blood, and credit UCO for answering the bell, giving back some hits of their own, and getting under Penn State's skin on at least one occasion.

The ACHA at Penn State: A Sort-Of Requiem

I'm in a reflective mood this Monday afternoon, after a weekend of Icers hockey with Central Oklahoma that resembled a Michigan-Dearborn series from days of yore.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that a very, very rich man and his wife recently gave $88 million to Penn State so that the school can start NCAA Division I hockey programs in 2012 and move into a sparkling new facility sometime in 2014. But this post isn’t so much about that as it is about something else that happens in 2012: the end of the American Collegiate Hockey Association's (ACHA) run as the top level of hockey played at Penn State.

You know what the ACHA is to me? It’s sitting in a tiny, freezing rink watching John Carroll play Youngstown State, trying to figure out if my wife and I are the only people there who don’t have a son on the ice. It’s saying “no, not THAT one” after telling someone you’re going to the national championships and then being asked how Boston College looks to take the whole thing. It’s being laughed at by your brother when you tell him Penn State was eliminated by Central Oklahoma last year (a school I admittedly have never heard of outside of ACHA hockey), and of course the inevitable “No, Ohio University, not Ohio State. No really, they’re good.” It’s also taking everything that makes being a hockey fan in the United States hard and multiplying it by 1000. Or more.

And that goes a long way towards explaining why it’s been such a blast.

There’s something in me that likes being a little different. It allows me to survive as a Penn State fan in Ohio, and as a hockey fan in an area that has two seasons: football season and off-season. I think part of it is that I like feeling like I’m in on something that nobody else gets. Not that there aren’t others – Penn State’s Section E is well known, as is Gang Green at Ohio University. Several other teams have great support from their universities and community as well. Outside of the right circles though, the entire thing is a complete non-entity.

But not to me. I’m in on the secret. I’ve been having a blast following it for years, and hey, the quality of hockey ain’t so bad either.

Without the ACHA, my now-wife and I never work for Hockey Management Association at Penn State and establish a bond with the team and the sport that remains strong to this day. I served as program editor in 2001-02, and the long nights at the Pollock computer lab (and the neglect of my classes that fall) paid off with a finished product that I still treasure today. That job will be handled by professionals in the athletic department starting in 2012, and while I’m sure the result will be a more polished program, it will also be a lost opportunity for hundreds of future Penn State students.

Without the ACHA, the memories aren’t quite the same either. How many of these would have happened with an NCAA program?
  • Staying up late every Friday and Saturday hoping that someone, somewhere would remember to e-mail the ACHA listserv with the scores of the big CSCHL games, the only reliable way to get game results back in the day, after all.
  • Don Coyne (my first favorite player) surprising me to introduce himself in the lobby of the Fred Rust Ice Rink in Delaware while I was stuffing my face with Cheez-Its at nationals in 1999.
  • My being thrilled when Penn State played Ohio for the national championship in Ames, IA in 2004, because Ohio was the only school that reliably had broadcasts on the internet back then. I also remember instant messaging play-by-play to my best friend at work since he couldn’t get audio.
  • The rinks being evacuated because of a toxic gas buildup at 2009 nationals (those PPs aren't for "power play"), then witnessing the Illinois-Oklahoma quarterfinal, one of the great games I’ve seen at any level once the schedule got back on track (although it being a work night, I just was hoping SOMEONE would score).
I’ll close this post with the following advice: Penn State is not starting hockey in 2012, it is simply opening an exciting new chapter of an already great hockey tradition. I urge you to get out there and embrace the team we already have. Get to nationals or the ACHA Showcase if you can and experience wall-to-wall hockey (it’s a truly wonderful thing, all day long, two rinks). Enjoy the quirks, like the trademark orange-ness of the Ice Pavilion or the debates about how Lindenwood manages to recruit USHL kids to play club hockey. And let’s close this chapter of Penn State hockey with an 8th national championship, because there’s nothing quite like going out in a blaze of glory.

While 2012 will be a very exciting time for all of us, we’re going to miss what we have right now, trust me.

Who am I and why am I here?

My name is Kyle Rossi, and I’m a hockey junkie and a Penn State alumnus. For quite a while, I’ve been involved with the Icers on a variety of levels – as a member of Hockey Management Association, as a reporter covering the team for the Daily Collegian (briefly, anyway, and only because the guy who was really assigned to the beat hated hockey), and as a fan. I now hope to add “as a blogger” to that list.

I don’t aim to be purely a news source for Penn State hockey, because quite frankly, I can’t compete with Penn State hockey’s
tremendous official site, the fantastic View From The Booth blog done by broadcaster Steve Penstone, or the great coverage from the Collegian. I highly recommend any of those sources, they’re as good as you’ll find in their respective areas.

Instead, I hope to add my own unique views on Penn State, hockey, and life as a guy pretty well obsessed with those two things. There will be that trademark blogger snark on occasion, although most posts will not in fact be written while in my parents’ basement in my underwear. I’ll talk about the games themselves, although probably not in journalistically-correct recap form. When something happens off the ice, I’ll talk about that too, although I can pretty much promise that I won’t be the one to break the story. In between, I’ll mix in a healthy dose of perspective, some glimpses into some of my memorabilia collection, and a few other regular features.

And the name? If you have to ask that question