Friday, November 19, 2010

Tiger by the Tail?

Rejected post title: "Tiger by the Motion Lines Emanating From its Decapitated Head?"

Friday's here - time to shake off whatever's left of the hangover from the pounding the Icers took last weekend (if you haven't already) and get back after it. Five games until winter break, and Penn State needs to get some positive momentum in a hurry, starting with tonight's game at Towson and tomorrow's game with the Tigers back at the Ice Pavilion. The good news: If Rhode Island is the best team the Icers play this year, which I believe can be argued, then TU just might be the exact opposite of that. And I haven't forgotten about West Chester or Drexel when I say that.

Back around the time I said "wait, Penn State has a hockey team?" to my now-wife, Towson State was a very respectable second-tier program, with a run of eight ACHA national championship tournament appearances in nine seasons from 1996 through 2004. Those from the old school might remember star forward Mike Rivells and his grandmother, who would always greet the team as they stepped on the ice. Or the tremendous job they did hosting nationals in 2002, complete with an ACHA video game (seriously - ask former Icers goalie Jordan Synkowski about it) in the lobby. I remember reporting on the 2000 final of the Nittany Lion Invitational, a game in which the Icers blitzed Towson goalie and tournament MVP Derek Rabold with more than 60 shots but were only able to manage two goals before an empty-netter.

There's little doubt, however, that the Tigers were one of the casualties of the "new" ACHA and the rise of programs like Oklahoma, Lindenwood, Liberty and others, club programs essentially running varsity programs sans scholarships, much like at Penn State. Suddenly, the first tier became much larger, the second tier became the third tier, and the former kings of the ECHA have missed out on nationals each of the last six seasons, with this year and its current 2-9-3 record not looking very promising either. Towson's 0-4-1 ECHA record places them only ahead of Penn State-Berks and its train wreck of a season in the conference standings.

Positives? Well, Towson did finally notch their first win against an ACHA Division 1 opponent last Saturday, by a 3-2 margin over West Virginia, behind two goals from leading scorer Tyler Reddy. Reddy, Kevin Carter and Steven Alfano make up a capable but possibly overworked top line, with undersized (5'7", 155 pounds) Tim Schlagenhauf serving as the lead defenseman. Depth appears to be a major concern for TU with exactly six defensemen listed on the roster (one of which, Brandon Stroup, is injured), and extremely sparse secondary scoring. It's a dangerous situation that can lead to games like the last one the two teams played, where Towson showed well early and even tied the game at three early in the second - until the Icers ran off 12 straight goals.

Stephen Kelly gets the lion's (tiger's?) share of the minutes in net and, considering the season his team is having, actually holds his own quite well with a save percentage of 0.886 facing 40 shots per 60 minutes. Kelly, along with Reddy, Carter and freshman forward Drew Zucker are all Pennsylvanians trying to knock off the home state flagship, a disproportionately large segment of Towson's best players.

One of the more interesting dichotomies I've seen since I started TYT: Towson's website looks like my high school HTML project and hasn't been updated since last season. But they have a weekly coach's show Wednesday nights on an internet station called HerbFM, not something you often see from an ACHA team. Tigers coach Ed Slusher seemed pretty confident on that show this week, in spite of his team's record.
"We'll give them a surprising game, we have guys that grow to the opponent we play."
Following a break for an interview with Steve "Pengrove," during which the Icers broadcaster clarified that we aren't starting the NCAA team next year and that we are in fact building a new arena (seriously HerbFM, two minutes of research would've helped your interview immensely), Slusher continued.
"We'll play a defensive game first, limit offensive chances, focus on getting the puck out of our is nice right now, because they're not winning. If we can pull it together and play our best game, we'll be right there."
Can Towson actually make a game out of either of these? Absolutely. If you're new here, it took some terrible officiating for the Icers to win last season's opener against the Tigers, in a game that would have otherwise been remembered for the way Penn State allowed Towson to stay in the game by taking nine penalties, which accounted for all three Tigers goals. I certainly don't expect that the coaches have let the team forget that in practices this week.

That said, and assuming PSU's anything resembling on its game, it's hard to see a repeat of that debacle in the works - since eliminating Towson from its last ACHA championship appearance in 2004, and even including the close call, the Icers have scored 51 goals in six games against TU (8.5 per game), while giving up only 16 (2.7 per game).

Ideally, that's what we'll see play out - a pair of games in which Penn State can roll and get things back on track, from Teddy Hume (if he even gets the chance), to the offense that got shut down last weekend. Because Delaware, white hot at 14-0-1, rolls into town next weekend, and the Hens won't be the least bit interested in letting the Icers figure everything out. They'll be trying to bury PSU in the bottom half of the ESCHL standings going into the winter break.

Outside Reading

Several Icers tell the Collegian that they need to convert chances better and that they can't underestimate Towson. Nice work on Rich O'Brien and Matt Madrazo ("Matt" and "Madrazo" are separate links) came earlier in the week.

Steve Pengrove...errr...Penstone raises the possibility of these games being traps. And he's not the only one.

Had to. Sorry.

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