Friday, November 5, 2010

Less Than Golden

After three weekends of emotion-fueled hockey (which may or may not have been a good thing), Penn State takes on the West Chester Golden Rams this weekend, Friday at the Ice Pavilion, Saturday at WCU's home rink, Ice Line (incidentally, Penn State-Brandywine also plays there).

West Chester is a previously-stout program that has fallen on some hard times. From 2003-04 through 2008-09, the Rams were participants at the ACHA national championship tournament each season. At the 2009 event, WCU made a Cinderella run to the semifinals, upsetting Iowa State and Delaware before falling to Lindenwood. However, last season's 16-16-1 mark snapped streaks of six straight nationals appearances and seven straight winning seasons. This season is off to a disastrous start as well with a 3-8-0 mark. And unlike Central Oklahoma, that record has nothing to do with scheduling - the only top 10 team WCU has played is No. 9 Delaware. The result? A weekend score of Delaware 21, West Chester 2.

Some may be quick to ascribe West Chester's struggles to their leaving ECHA for the much-tougher ESCHL prior to last season. While that's a fair point, it's probably news to Penn State, who has continued to engage in tough contests with the Rams, usually featuring WCU goalies who face a barrage of shots and come out standing. The highlight of West Chester's 2009-2010 season was undoubtedly a 4-3 shootout win at the Ice Pavilion on October 17th, in which then-freshman Matt Murnane turned aside 43 shots.

The shootout is a very common occurrence in the series recently. While PSU has obliterated WCU through most of history, that changed on January 10, 2007, when the Rams stunned Penn State 5-4 in a shootout behind 44 saves from Corey Hackney and Bob Kenworthy's shootout winner. From that game until now, the Icers are 5-1-2 against West Chester, with two of those five wins coming in a shootout. In other words, a skills competition has decided four of eight games between the teams since January 10, 2007, with only a 7-1 Penn State win last season standing out as a one-sided affair.

Murnane, the goalie who stole last season's Rams win, returns this season, although that alone might not be enough to call goaltending a West Chester strength. The giant-slayer has a 5.91 goals against average and an 0.873 save percentage this season. What's more, those numbers are the best among the four goalies the Rams have used this year. To be fair about it, they see an average of about 45 shots per game - you'd let a couple extra goals by too under that assault.

It would be one thing if WCU was playing a bunch of 9-8 games, but they don't really score all that much in support of their questionable defense and goaltending either - 3.82 goals per game, which drops to 3.00 if you remove a 12-6 romp over Penn State-Berks, who didn't record a single vote in the most recent rankings (a dubious distinction shared by only 17 of the 55 Division 1 teams). The scoring the Rams do have is led up front by Steve Meade (9 goals, 8 assists), Tim Higgins (3 goals, 8 assists) and Tom Scocozza (5 goals, 4 assists), as well as by defenseman Steven Jones (5 goals, 6 assists).

WCU head coach Shawn Dorsey had one explanation for these stats following that Delaware series on October 15th and 16th:
"Our current slide that we are on is due completely to lack of effort. There has been a terrible lack in consistency in the effort department, and until that improves, we are going to continue to plummet. This is the biggest reason why our scores have looked lopsided lately, and as a coach it is very disheartening to see my guys just quit. I'll never be a person that accepts losing, but I think that I could tolerate it more if the guys were working hard consistently."
So in short, we have questionable goaltending, no effort and spotty scoring. And a coach willing to trash his team to the student newspaper. Pretty damning. Although a team that has a fundraising event called "Beef and Beer" can't be all bad, can it? Just in case you want to go:
Saturday 11/13/10 7pm-11pm.. At Goshen Fire Hall, 1320 Park Ave. West Chester, PA 19380. Tickets are $25.00. Please contact Dom Bellizzie at or 267-784-6644
To boldly declare that the Icers will roll would demonstrate ignorance of recent history. To act like there's a legitimate chance of another shootout or an upset would demonstrate ignorance of current reality. Feel free to choose your own side, but I'm going with the latter.

Outside Reading

The View From the Booth gives a "they always find a way to bring it against the Icers" line. Still can't see it. I've never been one to subscribe to the "something will happen again because it's happened anywhere ranging from two to 100 tmes before" logic. If we do struggle with this team, it's evidence that we might not be that good more than evidence of hockey goblins. Good interviews though, nice to see Tim O'Brien believes in my power play momentum theory, and Coach Balboni gives the completely-unrelated-to-performance reason we probably won't see Teddy Hume in net tonight or tomorrow.

In the Collegian, the Icers are saying the right things about playing a complete game and not taking West Chester lightly. The statuses of Nick Seravalli (groin) and George Saad (knee) are still up in the air, although both are close.

In case you missed it, an architect for the Pegula Center is coming today following the Board of Trustees meeting, after finalists made their presentations yesterday.

One Final Note

I won't be able to do live Twitter updates for Saturday's game, sorry about that. However, I should be able to watch it late that night and have Weekend Observations up shortly after.

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