Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brandwene Named Women's Coach

In a move that had me slapping myself for not considering the possibility, Penn State named Icers and ACHA Hall of Famer Josh Brandwene the inaugural coach of its NCAA women's program today. Brandwene, of course, in addition to playing for the Icers (including on the 1990 national championship team) was a long-time ACHA coach and executive leader whose career path took him to the head coaching jobs with three frequent Icers opponents - West Virginia, Delaware and Michigan-Dearborn. He's also the only four-term president in ACHA history. After departing collegiate hockey, he gained experience with the women's game on the prep scene at the Kingswood Oxford School from 2008-2010.

Just to contribute something original to this post, here's Brandwene's Icers Hall of Fame write-up from the 1996-1997 Icers program:
Josh Brandwene, an Icer from 1987-1991, won the Outstanding Defenseman Award in his first two season with Penn State hockey. He was an ICHL first-team all-star three times, and a member of the 1990 ACHA national championship team. In 1990, he was team captain and president of the Hockey Management Association. He received the PSU Most Valuable Player Award, the ICHL MVP, and made the ACHA first team at the national tournament. Josh received his degree in Exercise and Sport Science in 1991...he lives with his wife Leona (PSU '91).
Steve Penstone is reporting that Lady Icers coach Mo Stroemel will have a role with the program as well.

A press conference to announce the hiring is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, so I'll handle this a little like I handled Guy Gadowsky's hiring for the men's team. Press release now, write up Brandwene's comments tomorrow, fill in the rest as we go.

On that note, I'll dump it off to a slightly truncated PSU release at this point, which is as comprehensive as you'd expect for something about a guy who's known Joe Battista for a long time.
Veteran coach, former Icer and ACHA Hall of Fame inductee Josh Brandwene has been named Penn State's first varsity women's ice hockey coach. Brandwene will lead the Nittany Lions' transition into NCAA Division I competition, which starts in the 2012-13 season.
Brandwene brings 20 years of coaching and administrative experience at the international, collegiate and prep school levels to Penn State. He most recently was the head coach of the girls' ice hockey team (2008-10) at Kingswood Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. Brandwene was then asked to re-build the Kingswood Oxford boys' ice hockey team, serving as head coach in 2010-11.
"We are proud to welcome Josh back to Penn State as the first head coach of the women's varsity ice hockey team," said Tim Curley, Penn State Director of Athletics. "His wealth of experience and unique hockey background have prepared him to build our program and we are excited to have him on board."
"I am honored, humbled and thrilled to return to Penn State to lead the women's ice hockey program at this amazing time in the hockey program's history," said Brandwene. "I truly love every aspect of building a successful program. To have the opportunity to build a program the `Penn State Way,' here at this place that has meant so much to me and shaped who I am as a person and as a coach is a dream come true."
Brandwene's previous coaching experiences included a stint as the assistant coach of the Team USA men's ice hockey team at the 2003 World University Games as well as the head coach of the men's ice hockey teams at ACHA power Delaware and top New England prep program Northfield Mount Hermon (MA) School.
Brandwene's accomplishments include an ACHA runner-up finish with Delaware in 2001.

A standout defender for the Penn State Icers, Brandwene was a member of the 1990 ACHA National Championship team. He earned team Most Valuable Player, league MVP and first team All-Tournament honors his senior season, and broke the Icers' career record for points by a defensemen (previously held by former Icer head coach and current Associate Athletic Director for Ice Hockey Operations Joe Battista).
"I have known Josh and his family for almost 25 years," Battista said. "He was my first recruit as an Icer coach in 1987 and a big part of our early success. He has the perfect skill set to be a successful coach and mentor to the student-athletes in our women's hockey program. He has incredible passion for Penn State and coaching and has impeccable values, boundless energy and enthusiasm, and shares our culture for Success With Honor.
"Josh has been a builder everywhere he has been, taking each team to unprecedented levels of success," Battista added. "His accomplishments reach beyond any one team or institution as evidenced by his impact on a national level as the only four-term president of the ACHA and a member of the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) Board of Governors. We are proud to welcome him home."
During his tenure as the girls' hockey coach at Kingswood Oxford, Brandwene helped re-build a program devastated by graduation and led the New England Division II prep school team to a runner-up finish at the Canterbury Invitational Tournament and four victories over Division I prep programs.
In 2004-05, Brandwene began a three-year stint as the head boys' varsity ice hockey coach at the Northfield Mount Hermon (MA) School. Brandwene led the program to the New England Prep School Hockey Conference-East Championship (2004-05). In three seasons with the program, Brandwene coached and helped place more than 20 graduating student-athletes who have gone on to play Junior A and collegiate hockey.
Brandwene began his coaching career immediately after graduation in 1991 as the head coach at Farmington High School in Connecticut. His three seasons at Farmington included the program's first state tournament berth in five years and a 1993 trip to the state tournament semifinals. While at Farmington, Brandwene was also a two-time Gold Medal winning coach at the Nutmeg State Games.

Big Ten Networking

I want to apologize up front, because this post doesn't apply to the vast majority of you. That's not to say that I'm alone, however. In fact, 15,000 households in the Medina, OH area and over 400,000 households in Ohio and Pennsylvania suffer from the same problem. If you're one of the 18,000 Penn Staters living in the affected areas, I sincerely hope that you don't live in one of those households.

Symptoms of this affliction include reflexively seizing control of the remote as soon as I visit anyone else's house, flipping on Big Ten Network, and leaving it there for the duration of my visit, regardless of what's on. Because I can't do that at home. Yes, still. Nearly four years since BTN's launch, and nearly three years after BTN carriage worked its way out of the headlines following its agreement with high-profile holdout Comcast, "providers" like Armstrong, Blue Ridge, Adams and MetroCast - all of whom "serve" Pennsylvanians - still don't offer the channel or the 115 PSU events that have been on BTN during the 2010-2011 academic year.


It certainly hasn't been easy for me, an Armstrong subscriber. Switching cable providers is not an option, and neither are newer technologies like AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. While DirecTV is available, I don't feel secure that my signal would hold up to the weather we've had the last couple weeks. So I've spent the last four football and basketball seasons planning trips to Happy Valley around the television schedule, knowing that it's my best chance to watch BTN games. I don't like watching games where I care about the outcome in bars, because a) I'm a yeller and b) I get annoyed trying to focus on a TV relatively far away - and rest assured, the Penn State game doesn't get the sound in Ohio. But I'll do that if necessary. And while I'll eventually have season tickets, I'm not there yet.

Armstrong has a page set up on their website giving their side of the story. Quite frankly, I find it an insult to my intelligence. Furthermore, it was written by Armstrong president Jeffrey A. Ross, a Penn Stater (making a shallow attempt to use that fact to enhance his credibility). The impasse revolves around Armstrong's refusal to put BTN on their basic tier, instead insisting that it be on their digital or some other premium tier. Here's how Armstrong justifies that position:
We have spent a lot of time and effort to insure that our Basic line up only includes programming that reaches a broad audience. We normally put special interest programming like the Big Ten Network on our digital line up, which allows customers the choice to pay the extra amount for additional content. Examples of other sports networks available in this manner would be NFL Network, NHL Network, Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, ESPNU and Versus, among others.
Armstrong certainly has an unusual definition of "programming that reaches a broad audience." You see, things like EWTN, TV Land, Nicktoons, ABC Family, Inspiration and the ridiculously obsolete TV Guide channel are on the basic tier. That's not to say that there's not worthwhile programming to be found in those places, but I know that I've never watched a second of those channels since subscribing to Armstrong, and I'll wager that many of you haven't either.

Oh, and you know what else is in their basic lineup in my area? SportsTime Ohio and Fox Sports Ohio. Yep, if you regularly show live games involving teams of local interest, you get the basic treatment. That's a key distinction between BTN and Versus that Armstrong won't make, so I will. And let there be no mistake about it, Ohio State is a "local team" in Cleveland-Akron-Canton, despite being located in Columbus. The Columbus Blue Jackets are not.

I won't include the entire text of what Ross wrote, but I find it riddled with deceptive arguments, and even scare tactics. Like this one.
Perhaps, most importantly, the stance by a sports entity that all subscribers must pay or they will restrict access sets a dangerous precedent going forward. This issue is part of the restructuring of college sports presently underway. All major sports entities are looking for ways to generate additional money. The potential consequence for consumers is very significant.
Wait, sports entities want to generate money? Wow, what a bombshell. Here's what they're not saying: that boogeyman of "everyone must pay or access will be restricted" also applies to ESPN, to give one basic-tier example. It's just than in the case of ESPN, there's an assumption that most support that model. I believe the same is true of BTN in Big Ten states, but rather than attempt to find out, Armstrong would rather appeal to some vague "people don't like paying more" argument, or treat a few customers calling in to complain about prices as a scientific sample.

I've said a lot in this post, but words are one thing and actions are another. So here's my action: if Big Ten Network is not on Armstrong by this fall, I will no longer be an Armstrong subscriber. Period. Because soon enough, Armstrong isn't just harming my ability to support my school, they're harming my ability to do this blog...remember watching the segment above on Big Ten Tailgate last October 8th? I don't, and there's going to be plenty more of that soon enough. And quite simply, I can't do this effectively without access to a sizable chunk of PSU hockey coverage.

More importantly than telling you all of this though, I'm going to let Armstrong know about my promise. Maybe your situation isn't identical to mine. Maybe you're on Blue Ridge, Adams, or MetroCast. Maybe you don't blog about a Big Ten school's sports team. Maybe you favor a different Big Ten institution. But whatever your position, whatever your reasons for supporting your university, contact your provider, take a stand, and stick to it. Enough is enough. They say we don't - or even shouldn't - care about watching, I say we inform them otherwise in a language they understand.

(877) 277-5711 // info@zoominternet.net

Blue Ridge Communications
(800) CABLE-77 // Email form // Request a Channel form

Adams Cable Service
(888) 222-0077 // Contact form // frontdesk@echoes.net

(800) 633-8578 // Contact form // Channel request form // support@metrocast.com

Monday, May 30, 2011

Three Stars: May 23-29

Leaverton in his USHL days.

3. Olczyk Honored With USHL Curt Hammer Award

Check out what the newest Penn State hockey player just won:
The Curt Hammer Award has been presented annually since the 1988-89 season in honor of the late Curt Hammer, and recognizes the USHL player who distinguishes himself both on and off the ice by demonstrating outstanding performance skills, pride, and determination. 
And just how did he earn that? Well, in addition to his on-ice performance and leadership...
Olczyk has played a significant role in the team's signature fund raising event, "Face Off for Charity."  The annual dinner event involves Musketeers players serving as waiters and competing for the highest amount of tips.  This season marked the second time that Olczyk has collected the largest amount of tips among the Musketeers as he set a new record with $1,200 earned for charity.  During the event, he also addressed the large crowd by reading an account from one of the children at the Boys and Girls Home and Family Services, the benefactor of "Face Off for Charity."

Olczyk quickly became a fan favorite during his USHL career.  One of the charitable items auctioned by the team each season is "30 Minutes of Ice Time with a Musketeer."  The winner of the auction in each of the past three seasons has chosen Olczyk, and he has graciously and eagerly spent the 30 minutes of ice time teaching skills to a young hockey player one-one-one.

The Musketeers captain has also made more school appearances in the Sioux City area than any other player.  At the appearances, Olczyk has read to young students, spoken to entire classrooms, and provided encouragement to children in the community.  The Musketeers organization has leaned on him to be an important voice for the club, recognizing his ability to effectively speak to people.  That has been frequently on display during countless interviews with television, radio, and newspaper outlets that Olczyk has conducted during both hockey and community events.
Sounds like our kind of guy.

2. @UWChuckSchwartz

According to Mr. Schwartz, probably the most plugged-into-recruiting guy I've encountered to date:
I've heard that Penn State has been talking with Sioux City (USHL) defenseman David Donnellan who is a transfer from Western Mich.
Don't know how serious it is but I know that Guy has talked with him. Can almost guarantee he would accept an offer if it was made.
Great with me. In case you have horrendous short-term memory and/or glossed over the team name in the first tweet, yes, Donnellan was Tommy Olczyk's teammate last season with the Musketeers. The quick history of the 6'0", 185 pounder from Eau Claire, WI: he played for three USHL teams in two seasons, spending all of 2009-2010 with the Youngstown Phantoms and putting up 23 points in 59 games. He committed to Western Michigan for this past season, but left the team over the holiday break after playing just five games at WMU, unhappy about his lack of ice time. He had four assists in his 29 games with Sioux City.

1. Gophers doing well in classroom
(Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Buried in this article about Minny's APR score, we get this nice bit of info:
In the WCHA, junior defenseman Doug Leaverton of Colorado College is transferring. Leaverton is 6-4, 210 but played little late in the season at CC. He plans to transfer to another college team and is considering Ohio State or Penn State.

If he goes to one of those schools, he would have to sit out the 2011-12 season as a transfer and then be able to play one season as a fifth-year senior.
I have to dispute the article's assertion about the whole fifth-year senior thing, because everything I've seen (including CC's site) indicates that the Painesville, OH native was a sophomore, and only in his second year in the program - he was with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL through 2008-2009, then spent 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 in Colorado Springs.

I'll monitor both Leaverton and Donnellan and report accordingly - getting a couple of DI-ready d-men at what still has to be considered an early stage would be fantastic.

Best of the Rest

Icers Update: Memorial Weekend Edition
(Black Shoe Diaries)

I put this one at the top of the "rest" deliberately, because I could have just copy/pasted it in lieu of jamming 14 links down your throat.

Coach Balboni's Letter to Icers Players, Staff and Fans

Balboni gets a ton of credit from me for handling a brutally tough situation with all the class in the world. Once you start to cycle through the possibilities of how this thing could have played out, it's not hard to see how a PR disaster was one possible outcome, had Balboni chosen to make things difficult.

In a sense, how you handle Balboni is how you're handling hockey's past at Penn State, and a poor handling of hockey's past has the potential to alienate the many who helped the program to where it is today.

Chip Off the Ol(czyk) Block
(View From the Booth)

I always link VFtB as a matter of course, but I really had to in this case, just because I want to squeeze as many Olczyk mentions as possible into this post. My post on his commitment is the second-most-viewed ever on TYT, and I fully expect this one to hit the top ten based on my efforts here.

Adam Burish is laughing at how Barry Alvarez pushed for Big Ten hockey harder than anyone, but now wants to rip off the conference tournament format and location from the conference Wisconsin's leaving.

Wisconsin Hockey Hates Money, Hockey

Originally, I was going to link Andy Baggot for like the eighth week in a row as we inch towards establishing a Big Ten playoff format, but I found this to be a much more entertaining read on it - and I don't even agree with them.

If you need a more serious read on the possibilities, here's a decent one from the Detroit News.

Pegula, Salzburg Share 'Characteristics for Success' with Penn Staters

Joe Battista is engaging as always in comparing commencement speeches at different Penn State campuses, enough so to get on here when he's not talking about hockey. I once read Good To Great for a book report at work (sounds cheesy I know, but it turned out to be a great idea) solely because JoeBa was holding it in a poster at the rink once upon a time, and it didn't disappoint.

NCAA Division I 2009-2010 Academic Progress Rate

Guy Gadowsky's former program was one of just four schools (Boston University, Brown and St. Lawrence being the others) with a perfect 1000 APR in the most recent data.

Some see the search for Ed DeChellis' replacement as a referendum on where men's basketball ends up residing within the hierarchy of Penn State's sports teams.

A PSU hoop fan's dream
(Centre Daily Times)

In case you missed it (I'm not sure how that's possible), PSU basketball coach Ed DeChellis stunningly resigned to take the same job at Navy. While speculation (with an occasional dose of actual news) is running rampant concerning his reasons for the move and potential replacements, more to the point of why we're here...
It's a tough time for an opening, but at Penn State it's a critical time.

Why? Because it's soon going to be Hockeytown around here, and anyone who doesn't think that doesn't realize the appeal of hockey in Pennsylvania.

Thanks to an $88 million gift, Penn State will have a great new arena and a growing team.

The fans will come, and they'll pack the place. Just wait and see.

And what will happen over at the Jordan Center? Well there will be more empty seats for Nittany Lions hoops if the program is not delivering.

The new coach has to act fast right from the start to build the team and build interest in the program. Otherwise, the fans will be lost to hockey.
And it's not like that was the only time that thought ended up somewhere on the internet. I don't think it's quite as simple as people say, to be honest - the chatter surrounding the basketball search (see Lebo, Jeff and Brown, Larry) compared to the relative lack of the same for hockey tells me that the two sports aren't yet that close in terms of popularity. And while NCAA hockey and the coming facility both have the Penn State community worked into a frothy lather, that's temporary if not backed up by winning. I do have complete faith that this program will win, but if it takes a few years (not at all unreasonable), what happens then? See you in 2017 for the answer, I suppose.

PA native Daley to play at PSU
(Lions 247)

The latest in the series of write-ups on our 2011 recruiting class on Lions 247. Maybe it's the sick highlight video, but I'm particularly excited about this one.

About the monkey........
(Fredonia State Hockey)

Fredonia head coach Jeff Meredith recently took up the blogging thing, and I'm entertained by their apparently porn-addicted monkey. The DIII Blue Devils come to the Ice Pavilion on November 5th, so keep tabs on this blog for some unique insight on their program.

Raw Numbers: Hockey's Growth in the United States - 1990-2010
(The United States of Hockey)

Chris Peters knows USA Hockey as well as anyone on the planet, so his blog comes with my personal recommendation. This post looks at the growth in the number of USA Hockey memberships since 1990 on a state-by-state basis. Here's what he had to say about Pennsylvania:
It’s been no secret that Pennsylvania is a growing hockey state. As of 2009-10, Pennsylvania ranked fifth in the nation in membership, bumping the traditionally strong Illinois to sixth. The Penguins and Flyers had some of the premier teams of the 1990s, with Pittsburgh winning two Stanley Cups at the beginning of the decade. Those Stanley Cup wins did not fuel growth as rapidly as some other locations, however the sport has been on a gradual rise since then. Having two very popular NHL teams in one state certainly doesn’t hurt. Interest in hockey is at an all-time high and it’s continuing to expand.
Number 5? I'll take that. Notably, PA's 27,549 memberships are slightly over half of Minnesota's 53,450. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and Minnesota State as major college programs in the state. Pennsylvania has...Penn State. I think we'll be fine.

Strange Days
(College Hockey News)

Here's Adam Wodon's nut paragraph in an excellent piece about the ripple effects of Big Ten hockey. This has the potential to make the college football realignment dud of last season (all Swedish, no Finnish in hockey terms) look like the time I moved my bedroom television to my mancave.
The wheels are already in motion for many other schools, as the residual effect of the Big Ten decision begins to take shape. While nothing is public yet, and nothing is set in stone yet, things could start happening sooner than you think. That's because a) no one wants to be left holding the bag when the chips start falling; and b) conferences have agreements where any team that wants to move, must give a certain amount of advance notice, typically around a year and a half.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Balboni Resigns

Icers head coach Scott Balboni resigned today, news first reported by long-time friend of Penn State hockey Mark Horgas, bringing an end to the unstable situation at the top of PSU's soon-departing ACHA program that had existed since the hiring of Guy Gadowsky on April 24th.

This, of course, removes any remaining doubt that Gadowsky and assistants Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay will coach the Icers for the 2011-2012 season, the final year of ACHA competition. Here's the pertinent portion of the press release, which confirms that fact:

Penn State men's ice hockey coach Guy Gadowsky and his staff will coach the Penn State Icers in the 2011-12 season, their final year of American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) competition. Current Icer head coach Scott Balboni has agreed to step down as coach so that Gadowsky and his staff can begin to coach the current team and evaluate the players and 2011 recruits for the future varsity team.
The move accommodates the accelerated time frame for the transition to NCAA Division I status in 2012-13. Coach Gadowsky and assistant coaches Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay are on campus and have begun preparing to coach the Icers next season. Gadowsky and his staff have the challenge of leading the transition to play in the proposed Big Ten Hockey Conference by 2013-14 in the new Pegula Ice Arena, a full year earlier than originally planned.

"We are very appreciative of all the hard work and efforts that Coach Balboni has put into continuing our tradition of a strong ACHA club program during his 13 years as a member of the Icer staff," said Tim Curley, Penn State Director of Athletics. "We wish Scott and his family all the best and thank them for their contributions to the growth of hockey in Happy Valley."

"I am grateful to Coach Balboni for agreeing to allow my staff and I the opportunity to begin coaching the Penn State Hockey team right away," Gadowsky said. "It will give us the opportunity to evaluate the players and work with the team in preparation for the move to varsity play in 2012-13 and the inaugural Big Ten Conference season in 2013-14. We are excited to build on Penn State's strong ice hockey tradition."

In his five seasons as head coach, Balboni led the Icers to a 150-34-9 record, winning at least 30 games on four occasions. The 2006-07 Icers were ACHA national runners-up and the 2008-09 Icers advanced to the ACHA semifinals.

"The past nine months have been very exciting for Penn State hockey," Balboni stated. "After much thought and consideration about the future direction of the program, I believe it is in the best interest of the overall program to step down now as head coach of the ACHA Div. I Icers team. I can assure you that Coach Gadowsky and his staff are excited and are working to have as seamless a transition as possible and are looking forward to working with current players, recruits, boosters, HMA, support staff and fans both during this final season of ACHA play and leading into varsity play in 2012-13.

"I would like to thank Tim Curley and Penn State for all that they have done over the years to support the Icers and for their continued support to assure that everyone is being treated as fairly as possible in this transition period," Balboni added. "I also want to personally thank all the players, alumni, boosters, HMA, support staff and fans that have made the last five seasons as the head coach so special to me. I am proud to have been associated with Penn State hockey for 13 seasons and I am proud of all we have accomplished together. I plan to remain a fervent supporter of Penn State hockey."

Balboni's accomplishments also include the first three ESCHL regular season and tournament championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010. He served as Joe Battista's assistant in two separate stints, from 1997-1999 and 2002-2006, runs that includes the 1998 and 2003 ACHA national championships.

TYT extends its best to Coach Balboni, as well as its gratitude for his years of service to Penn State hockey.

More on Balboni: Head Coach Candidate: Scott Balboni

Wayne State Drops Women's Hockey

Just two days after I dumped on Wayne State a little in my Head Coach Candidate post on coach Jim Fetter, the school has announced that their women's program will now join the WSU men on the scrap heap of defunct college hockey programs (yes, I now feel bad about what I said, in case you're wondering). Here's the press release, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the school's release when dropping the men's team:
Wayne State University will discontinue sponsorship of the women’s ice hockey program effective immediately. The decision was necessary due to continuing reductions in state appropriations to higher education.

“With all the successes we have enjoyed recently with championships, high academic achievement and graduation rates this action leaves an empty feeling and is a disappointment for our women’s hockey student-athletes, our alumni and the department,” stated WSU Director of Athletics Rob Fournier. “This last resort consequence only underscores the economic reality that confronts higher education in the State of Michigan today. In the end, the cost and expenditures of our most expensive operating program determined this difficult decision. Importantly however, the educational objectives of our women’s hockey student-athletes will be protected.”

All current student-athlete scholarships will be honored provided they meet satisfactory progress standards under NCAA guidelines. Releases will be offered to those who wish to transfer to other schools this summer, where they will be eligible to participate immediately as the normal residency requirements of the NCAA are waived.

The Warrior women’s hockey program recently concluded its 12th season and ninth as a member of College Hockey America (CHA), which includes Mercyhurst College (Pa.), Niagara (N.Y.) University, Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, and Syracuse University.

During its tenure, the women's hockey program compiled a 138-209-29 (.406) record. In terms of conference play, WSU recorded an all-time CHA mark of 48-59-7 (.452) in nine seasons, tying for the CHA regular-season title in 2007-08.

WSU had 26 All-CHA recipients (10 First Team and 16 Second Team), plus another nine student-athletes who were voted to the CHA All-Rookie Team. There was one All-American and one CoSIDA Academic All-American in the last 12 years. In addition, there were 81 CHA All-Academic team selections from 2002-03 through 2009-10. The CHA did not recognize All-Academic honorees this past year.

Of the current sixteen (16) sport programs, women’s hockey is the most expensive and has the largest operating budget.
The team, to their credit, isn't taking this lying down and has started a Facebook group in an attempt to fight the decision.

This news certainly affects Penn State, as it was widely assumed that the women's program would join Wayne State and the schools listed above in College Hockey America. But without the Warriors, CHA is down to five schools, even with PSU on board - one shy of the six needed for an autobid. Can you imagine joining a conference with no autobid? Me neither. This is something that could potentially push PSU elsewhere, like Hockey East or the ECAC.

Problem is, the ECAC is locked in at a nice, even 12 teams - the same 12 that are in the men's side of the conference. It doesn't seem likely that they'd be willing to break that structure, even for a Penn State. Hockey East has UConn as a women's-only member (the Huskies men play in Atlantic Hockey), but they're at an even eight teams. And from PSU's perspective, those two conferences would require increased spending in terms of travel and just about everything else, and it's not yet certain how much will be spent towards having a competitive women's program.

Could the four-time ACHA national champs be the key to Penn State's conference alignment?

Before you start worrying about the Penn State women being banished to an Alabama-Huntsville-like purgatory though, remember that a potential savior resides in the west - St. Charles, MO to be specific. Yep, I'm talking about Lindenwood, who recently announced that they were elevating to NCAA Division I in women's hockey as well. While LU will be an independent in 2011-2012, there's certainly a good possibility of the Lady Icers' frequent nemesis joining up with CHA after that to fill the hole left by Wayne State, which puts the idea of PSU being a sixth CHA team back in play.

Here's hoping, because it could be a mess otherwise.

A poster on USCHO raised an interesting idea as well, in the event that Penn State were to hire Fetter.
Purely speculating, but it will be interesting to see if Coach Fetter ends up at Penn State....along with a bevy of his players. Instant team for the Nittany Lions.
While scoring the remnants of an 8-21-2 team might not explode headlines, like I said in my previous post, I think Fetter's a quality coach in a bad situation (this news certainly proves half of that statement right). And some NCAA-level upperclass transfers, even from a bad team, would certainly ease the transition. It's definitely something to keep an eye on as our coaching search reaches its conclusion.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Breakout Past: Chiefs vs. Titans, 3/27/2004

On March 27, 2004, my best friend Tim and I set off from Selinsgrove, PA in his Pontiac Aztek, destination Johnstown. Our mission? To see former Icers Curtiss Patrick and Bill Downey play a game of professional hockey, as they had joined the ECHL's now-defunct Chiefs down the stretch of the 2003-2004 season fresh off of their senior years at Penn State.

If you've never made that drive, I can't recommend it enough. I learned, for example, that there is a town called "Water Street" in Pennsylvania. I guess it just started out as a street or something, then grew to the two or three streets it has today. It's a great drive for singalongs as well - I think we made about 20 cycles through American Pie, and keep in mind that this was without a CD and still before iPods were really a thing. So my belated thanks to the radio stations in the middle of nowhere.

Upon arriving at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena - which yes, looks pretty much exactly like what you see in Slap Shot - we learned that the cast of the seminal hockey movie was appearing that night. Well, not Paul Newman or the Hansons/Carlsons, just the people you don't really care about. We also learned that Downey was no longer with the team. Thanks for nothing, internet.

Unfortunately, I remember absolutely nothing about the game itself, not even who won. I do remember watching Patrick closely on every shift (since he was pretty much the only reason we were there by that point) and thinking he did pretty well for a guy who had his name misspelled on the roster.

As it turns out, according to the stats below, one of Penn State's connections to the legendary hockey family was also gone before they cared to figure out the whole "two s" thing - I attended his second-to-last game with the team. But he did go on to have arguably the most successful pro career of any Icers alumnus. He spent most of the next four seasons in the Penguins organization with the Wheeling Nailers, including a cup of coffee with the AHL's Baby Pens. He may be the only Icer ever to record points at the AHL level too (as far as I know, he is). While his time there was short, he did make an impression on Robb Rhodes of Brownsville, PA and his two sons, as told to The Hockey News:

Last season my family and I drove the four hours to Hershey to watch our American League affiliate team, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, do battle with the Bears.

After the game my two sons (Mite and Squirt age) persuaded my wife and I to take them to the Pens bus even though they came up short in the match.

We informed the boys the players would probably just want to be left alone and board the team bus, but to my surprise we were met by an enthusiastic Penguin player named Curtis Patrick; yes, of the same Patrick family that has given us a multitude of HHOF inductees.

Curtis was more than happy to coral his fellow teammate over to my sons to sign their playoff pucks and talk hockey to the boys for a few minutes.

The Patrick family is to hockey what the royal family is to England.

My sons will never forget meeting one of hockey's true ambassadors of the sport. That means so much to our family.
Okay, they're not so good with the s thing either. Forgiven. Here are Patrick's complete stats:

Season   Team                       Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
1998-99  Auburn Junior Crunch       OPJHL  49    1    4    5  157
1999-00  Rochester Junior Americans NAHL   47    0    4    4  211
2000-01  Pennsylvania State U       ACHA   34    3   15   18  100

2001-02  Pennsylvania State U       ACHA   24    4   12   16   73
2002-03  Pennsylvania State U       ACHA   23    8   31   39   64
2003-04  Pennsylvania State U       ACHA   35    6   37   43   88
2003-04  Johnstown Chiefs           ECHL    8    0    0    0   11
2004-05  Wheeling Nailers           ECHL   47    2    1    3   99
2005-06  Wheeling Nailers           ECHL   50    3    8   11  160
2006-07  Wheeling Nailers           ECHL   38    1    3    4  129
2006-07  W-B/Scranton Penguins      AHL    10    0    2    2    2
2007-08  Wheeling Nailers           ECHL   20    1    5    6   83
2007-08  Springfield Falcons        AHL     1    0    0    0    2
2008-09  Basingstoke Bison          EIHL   17    1    3    4   92
2008-09  Wichita Thunder            CHL    44    2    5    7   86

And finally, here's the Chiefs program from that evening of March 27, 2004:

A program that's very proud of the fact that it costs $2. The contents of this folded-in-half piece of thick paper amount to a blank scorecard and a whole lot of advertising. Another folded-in-half sheet of paper with rosters, game notes, standings, and yes, more advertising is stuffed inside. I think I could do better. Oh wait, I have done better.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Head Coach Candidate: Jim Fetter

Fetter and former Wayne State goalie Lindsey Park, after the two helped helped the West team win the NCAA Skills Challenge at the 2010 Frozen Four in Detroit

Fourth in a series taking uninformed, uneducated guesses at the candidates to become the first head coach of Penn State's NCAA women's team. Previously: Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti, Lady Icers coach Mo Stroemel, Minnesota-Duluth coach Shannon Miller.

It turns out that I timed this short series perfectly, because with this post, I've officially exhausted the list of names I've seen associated with the Penn State women's job (and this connection is of the particularly weak message board variety). But the good news: according to Mark Horgas, the final interviews are this week, and the coach should be named by this weekend. As we saw on Easter, you can't go on break from 5 p.m. Friday until 8 a.m. Monday, weekends and holidays are fair game for an announcement.

So are any of the four coaches I've mentioned among the final interviews? I have no idea. Unlike with the men's coaching search, this one's been all about jumping on absolutely anything I see, put together with more guessing than even I'm accustomed to. So in the likely event that I haven't posted about the person who gets hired, I'll first post the PSU press release, then follow up by digging a little deeper, as I try to do in these posts.

Anyway, today's subject is Wayne State head coach Jim Fetter, a Waterloo, ON native and 1995 University of Lethbridge graduate who has resided in Detroit since August 2003.

Most men who coach women's hockey can trace their history with the women's game to a very specific point. Fetter's no exception. He got into coaching right out of college with a couple different (men's) midget programs, but quickly grew frustrated and decided to take a year off to evaluate his career choices.
In 1998, after taking a year off from coaching, his alma mater was just starting out its women’s hockey program. For weeks leading up to the new season, Fetter received continuous phone calls requesting he take the position as head coach, yet he refused.

“I kind of wanted to take the year off to evaluate what I wanted out of coaching if I wanted anything out of it, and during that time I was looking to go to major junior,” Fetter said.

Fetter admits he was skeptical about women’s hockey. By late August, Fetter received yet another phone call asking to help run a weekend practice.

“I went out to run practice on a Saturday, it was an hour and a half, and I was kind of impressed,” Fetter said. “Came back the next day designed the practice a little tougher, kind of put on a test physically, mentally and again they rose to the occasion and kind of impressed me.”
He never looked back. After that first year with the Pronghorns, he made one more transition - to U.S. college hockey - as one of Rick Filighera's assistants at Maine in 1999-2000. That turned out to be another single-season stop on the way to Mike Sisti's staff at Mercyhurst from 2000-2003.

We've already seen the tremendous success the Lakers have experienced, and Fetter was pretty close to the ground floor as he started there in year two of the program. More specifically, he was there for the beginning of Mercyhurst's ridiculous (and still active) ten-year streak of winning both the regular season and playoff championships, first in the GLWHA, now in CHA.

It's not uncommon for women's hockey coaches to have experience starting a program in the relatively new sport, but Fetter has helped get two off the ground. Perhaps Wayne State AD Rob Fournier had that in the back of his mind when hiring him from Mercyhurst in 2003. After all, the Warriors had a pretty new program themselves (founded 1999), but original head coach Tom O'Malley stumbled to a 21-86-5 record, leading to the job opening.

On the surface, it was a slow build at WSU - the Warriors lingered around .500 for Fetter's first four years. But underneath, there were signs of progress. In Fetter's third year (2005-2006), he was the CHA coach of the year as the Warriors finished second in the CHA standings, but had a pair of freshmen - Melissa Boal and Sam Poyton - tie for the league scoring title and take home first-team all-conference honors. The next year brought a trip to the conference championship game, WSU's first-ever win against a ranked program, and a co-CHA coach of the year honor for Fetter.

Former captain Lindsay DiPietro
The major breakthrough was 2007-2008 with a 22-9-3 mark. The Warriors snapped a 33-game winless streak against Mercyhurst - and even chipped away at their conference dominance by tying for the CHA regular season title and winning the top seed for the playoffs by virtue of a winning record against the Lakers.

Boal, boosted by playing for an improved team, elevated her game to an even higher level and was named a Patty Kazmeier Award top ten finalist. Boal and linemate Poyton were again first-team all-CHA, along with senior goalie Valery Turcotte. And yes, Fetter was coach of the year for a third straight time. However, the dream of winning an NCAA tournament at-large bid (remember, no autobid for the CHA) ended with an overtime loss to the nemesis Lakers in the CHA championship game.

21-9-2 was the follow-up to that in 2008-2009, but once again, Mercyhurst blocked the way to even greater success - WSU was 0-5-0 against the Lakers, the last defeat again coming in the conference title game. To be fair, Mercyhurst made the NCAA championship game that season, so there are worse teams to go 0-5-0 against.

After that? The bottom completely fell out. 17-39-6 is what the last two seasons have produced. So what happened? You can probably start with losing 2009's senior class, which included Boal, Poyton, captain Lindsay DiPietro and defender Natalie Payne - the team's top four scorers by a wide margin (Payne had 1.6 times as many points as fifth-place Veronique Laramee-Paquette). You can probably continue with the fact that Wayne State isn't the easiest place in the world to win - the school dropped their men's program after 2007-2008, and the team plays at an off-campus public rink with 500 seats.

Basically, the facilities, finances and name recognition at Wayne State aren't bottom of the barrel. The barrel is in fact resting on top of them. The death of former Warrior Brandi Frakie undoubtedly put a damper on this past season as well.

Really, guys?

Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure Fetter didn't forget how to coach overnight. If that was the case, he wouldn't keep receiving calls from Hockey Canada.
In the summer of 2006, he was selected to Hockey Canada's National Women's Program Coaching Pool. Fetter served as an assistant coach for Team Canada's Under-18 squad for 2007-08 and has also worked summer evaluation camps with the U-22 and National women's team. For the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons, he was chosen as an assistant coach for the Under-22 team before being selected head coach in 2010-11.
Fetter would be a nice hire in my opinion - one who has been successful, one who could blossom with the chance to be a part of a big-time athletic department, and perhaps most importantly, one who won't cost all that much. We'll find out soon enough if the Penn State administration agrees.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Olczyk, as in...Olczyk

Sioux City Musketeers forward Tommy Olczyk announced yesterday via Twitter that he will be coming to Penn State this fall. And yes, before we go any further, he is the son of former NHLer turned Penguins coach turned analyst Eddie. And his older brother, also named Eddie, is a junior forward at UMass. Of course, you're probably already aware of Tommy's family situation if you watched last night's Bruins-Lightning game to hear the elder Eddie plug Penn State hockey on national TV while sharing the news of Tommy's choice.

Tommy Olczyk

Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
5'8", 184 pounds
Long Grove, IL
DOB 11/10/1990

USHL Player Page

Season   Team                   Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
2007-08  Sioux City Musketeers  USHL   30    4    5    9   19

2008-09  Sioux City Musketeers  USHL   55    5    9   14   51
2009-10  Sioux City Musketeers  USHL   60    6   12   18   26
2010-11  Sioux City Musketeers  USHL   60   10    9   19   20

Olczyk, through the Musketeers' press release, outlined the quick courtship:
"I didn't hear from them until Gadowsky was hired," said the Long Grove, IL native. "I was contacted by one of their recruiters. He was a Penn State alum who I think played club hockey for the team. He was the one who kind of opened up my eyes and ears to the great thing that is starting there. And then a few weeks ago I spoke with Coach Gadowsky and he let me know they were really interested. My dad and I both went on a visit and we loved everything we saw. They are building something special there and something the whole Penn State community will be proud of."
He elaborated on his excitement further:
"It's the best feeling in the world," said Olczyk. "I've waited four years for the right thing and I've finally found it. It's a great opportunity and it's going to be a great experience."
I'm pretty excited too, for the simple reason that the Olczyk family and I go way back...to the finest video game ever produced, NHLPA '93.

My brother used to run my show with the Jets and the North Stars on that game. Of course, I was the Whalers and Kay Whitmore is a sieve...but I'd get the last laugh by hitting reset with two seconds left (it doesn't count as an L if it wasn't final, and I was undefeated in that game) and denting his skull with my controller, which sometimes made his head bleed, true to that game's form. Stay classy, 12-year-old me.

Now, years later, a younger Olczyk comes to Penn State following four seasons with the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers, and time prior to that with the Chicago Mission Tier 1 AAA program. This is heady stuff, indeed.

This past season, he had a goal and an assist in a 5-4 overtime win against Tri-City on February 18th and another multi-point effort came on December 8th against the Sioux Falls Stampede. Four of his 19 points came in the last eight games of the regular season, including a game-winning goal against the Stampede on March 26th. That late hot streak was not without significance, as the Musketeers needed to play well down the stretch to secure the Western Conference's final playoff spot with a 31-23-6 record, before losing in the opening round of the playoffs, again versus Sioux Falls.

While the stats might not look overly impressive at first glance, Olczyk is definitely a case where you have to consider the intangibles. A fourth-round pick of the Musketeers in the 2006 USHL Futures Draft, Olczyk ended up wearing a letter for two seasons, and was also captain of the Mission U16s prior to that. He plays in all situations - one of his ten 2010-2011 goals was a shorthanded marker, on New Year's Day against Waterloo. His famous father, a guy who certainly has the credibility to be a demanding hockey dad if required, is happy with how he and his brother developed in the USHL - both on and off the ice.
"Hockey-wise, the idea of teaching takes the forefront," he said. "It's about playing without the puck, enduring a grinding pro-style schedule and maturing because you're playing against men."

"But what the league doesn't get enough credit for is that these players and teams become part of the community. If you look at the percentages, very few make it to the very top of the pyramid, so developing them as people is just as important as their growth as players."
Olczyk was a significant part of the community, as demonstrated by his nomination for the Curt Hammer Award, given to a USHLer who distinguishes himself off the ice.

Philadelphia and PSU sports blog The School Philly beat me to posting about Olczyk by what seemed like an eternity and had some great insight as well:
Aside from having an NHL legend as a father, Tommy’s possession of the “intangibles” will surely please recently hired coach Guy Gadowsky. After four seasons with the United States Hockey League’s Sioux City Musketeers, the 5′ 8″ Olczyk has been described as a veteran two way forward who will contribute on many levels as a scrappy forechecker, as well as a locker room leader.

While Tommy Olczyk may not be the most talented prospect Penn State Hockey has brought on board since announcing they would join the NCAA Division 1 ranks, his consonant-riddled name will be the most recognizable on the blue and white Penn State sweaters next fall.
More recognizable than the two Daleys? Okay, neither Paul nor Josh are related to Dallas Star Trevor, but still, it's the same name...oh yeah, speaking of intangibles, you want to see Olczyk throw down? Of course you do.

And finally, here he is flashing some personality in giving a tour of the Musketeers' facilities:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Edgeworth Checks in to Hockey Valley

Valley Jr. Warriors defenseman Steven Edgeworth has confirmed to me that he is Penn State-bound this fall. Well, specifically, here's exactly what he said.
"It is on a tryout basis though as Gadowsky hadn't seen me play this past season."
Right off the bat, that raises a couple interesting questions. First off, is that what we're doing with everyone Gadowsky hasn't seen play? If so, that could impact a large chunk of this year's class, although in my amateur assessment, there's zero reason why a quality EJer would have an issue playing at Penn State in 2011-2012. Beyond that? It's anyone's guess at this point, although the EJ is a perfectly viable recruiting outlet for Hockey East, the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey (yes, even including 1990 and 1991 birth years). The way I see it, this coming season will be a proving ground for a lot of these guys, and it will play a large part in dictating how we recruit leading up to the inaugural NCAA season. I don't think Gadowsky will be afraid to pull in a recruiting class of 25 next year if he needs it, but at the same time, I don't think he'll need it.

The second question concerns the fact that it's Gadowsky, not Scott Balboni, making the call on Edgeworth's status for this coming season. While some were quick to jump on Gadowsky's "I get to coach the team" comments at his introductory press conference and assume that he'd be coaching the final Icers season, that wasn't the original plan. I certainly don't think it was decided to do something different at the point he said that, a day after he was hired. It may not even be decided at this point - note that as of today PennStateHockey.com still has a listing for both "varsity head coach" and "Icers head coach." My sense is that Gadowsky will be the guy behind the bench, as he and assistants Keith Fisher and Matt Lindsay are ready to go full tilt on this thing.

Anyway, on to Edgeworth...

Steven Edgeworth

Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL)
6'0", 180 pounds
Phoenix, AZ
DOB 7/30/1990

EJHL Player Page

Season   Team                   Lge    GP    G    A  Pts  PIM
2008-09  New Jersey Hitmen      EJHL   37    1    8    9   14

2009-10  New Jersey Hitmen      EJHL   28    0    6    6   12
2010-11  Topeka Roadrunners     NAHL    3    0    0    0    0
2010-11  PH Fighting Falcons    NAHL    1    0    0    0    2
2010-11  Valley Jr. Warriors    EJHL   23    3   14   17   36

Dude is stoked about having to try out.
Just prior to joining the Hitmen, in 2007-2008, Edgeworth teamed up with Alex Cantor and Jeremy Langlois (who led Quinnipiac in goal scoring last season) on the Phoenix Polar Bears, the dominant team in the Tier III Junior A Western States Hockey League. The Polar Bears competed at the 2008 USA Hockey national championships, but their tournament run ended with a 4-2 loss to those same Hitmen in the semifinals, although not before Edgeworth had a goal and two assists in Phoenix's four games. The New Jersey brass was impressed enough with the Bears' trio to bring them all aboard for the 2008-2009 season.

Once with the Hitmen, Edgeworth teamed up with PSU commit P.J. Musico and current Icer Ryan Seibolt on one of the EJHL's perennially elite teams. Musico only faced 21.7 shots per game in his 14 games in 2008-2009, so without a doubt some quality defense was taking place in front of him.

The Polar Bears trio, along with Musico and Seibolt, powered their way to a 34-7-4 record and the EJHL championship that season, by defeating another perennial power, the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs in the final. By virtue of that title, Edgeworth went back to nationals in 2009 and helped defeat his former team by a 5-1 mark en route to the championship game, where the Jr. Monarchs got their revenge. 2009-2010 wasn't quite as successful from a team standpoint. While the Hitmen's record actually improved to 32-5-8, they lost to South Shore in the EJHL semifinals (thanks in part to Jake Friedman's second-period goal) and missed out on the national championships.

Following very brief stops with the Topeka Roadrunners and Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the NAHL this past season, Edgeworth landed back in the EJHL, with the Valley Jr. Warriors. With his offensive output on the upswing (a team-best 0.74 per game among defensemen and points in 12 of his 23 games, including three in the last one against Capital District), he helped boost the Warriors into the quarterfinals, where they fell to Tim Carr's Jr. Monarchs.

Three Stars: May 16-22

If Terrelle Pryor is allowed to be paid over the table for a change, the biggest impact may be on hockey, its much-romanticized mix of small and large schools at the DI level, and its notable lack of all-sports conferences outside of the Big Ten. 

3. Key transitional period awaits Pletsch in CCHA leadership role

Technically, this dropped late last week, but since it's not something that's dated this week and since last week's Three Stars was running long...basically, good luck guy.

2. Facelift
(View From the Booth)

I can't believe the black rubber floors at the Ice Pavilion are gone. Insanity.

1. Paying College Athletes And What It Could Mean
(Victory Bell Rings)

Ben Jones nailed this one, which is saying something, because it's a complex issue with a lot of layers, not to mention a story you may have missed, given that it's now the offseason for all but a handful of college sports. If you think the rest of college hockey hates the Big Ten now, just wait and see what happens if this comes to pass. Suddenly the discrepancy in television money or the possibility of a declining gate without Michigan in the conference aren't the only concerns faced by Pletsch and the CCHA leftovers. Anyone think Lake State can afford to tack on an extra $5,000 per scholarship to recruit competitively? Me neither.

Best of the Rest

Talking Hockey
(View From the Booth)

Steve Penstone got in with Bob McKenzie, the penultimate hockey dad (he literally wrote the book on it, one that comes with my personal recommendation) who also happens to be one of the most respected media personalities in the hockey world. The interview certainly didn't disappoint, as it touched on Penn State, the Big Ten, college hockey in general and McKenzie's experiences watching his son Mike play at St. Lawrence.

Recruiting overview: Gadowsky making strides
(Lions 247)

Andrew Dzurita gives us a nice status check on our recruits. I linked the related message board thread instead of the article, because he's also trying to check in with the 2012 and 2013 Princeton commits to see if they're sticking - so far, he's confirmed that 2012 Kyle Rankin is still Princeton-bound.

Hockey East Open to Expansion
(College Hockey News)

Speaking of that whole Big Ten thing, here's a little on the ripple effect, as seen through the eyes of a conference left untouched in the immediate sense, but one that could be a factor in the aftermath.

Big Ten weighs playoff formats
(Wisconsin State Journal)

Given my relative newness to obsessing over NCAA hockey stuff, I'm still not sure what to make of the WSJ's Andy Baggot. Sometimes he seems pretty clutch with good information. Then other times, he acts like Bob Woodward while writing stories about how yes, the Big Ten will have a conference tournament, but no, the format and location have not been decided. Nice hustle, scoop.

Cornell hockey assistant Jones makes jump back to Clarkson
(Ithaca Journal)

Nice to see a former Head Coach Candidate subject get a head gig. Well deserved, even if some USA Hockey honks think Ron Rolston got jobbed (not literally obviously, since he didn't get the job).

Gadowsky to Bring High Octane Offense to Penn State
(American Junior Hockey)

Money quote:
Gadowsky has enough experience to understand how to properly evaluate prospective players. He stresses the importance of seeing players in person as much as possible. Since hockey is such a multi-faceted game, it requires more research than other sports, when deciding who you want to be on your team.

"Hockey is a little bit different," Gadowsky said. "It is difficult to look at a video tape or highlight film and really judge someone. We want an excellent student and an excellent hockey player and we try to see a player play personally so we can evaluate them properly."
Penn State Worthington Scranton Graduates
(The Valley Advantage)

...had a topical commencement speaker. With all due respect to The Namesake, I'd rather see Jodie Foster. I mean, she graduated magna cum laude from Yale, I think she'd be tremendous...


I'm going to play hockey for Penn State?
(Yahoo! Answers)

They say there are no dumb questions, but this one comes awfully close. And yeah, because I'm a horrible, horrible person, I kind of enjoyed reading the extremely rude answers (hint: "get a life, bender" is contained within).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Head Coach Candidate: Shannon Miller

Third in a series taking uninformed, uneducated guesses at the candidates to become the first head coach of Penn State's NCAA women's team. Previously: Mercyhurst coach Mike Sisti, Lady Icers coach Mo Stroemel.

If you don't follow NCAA women's hockey, you probably have no idea who Minnesota-Duluth head coach Shannon Miller is, despite the fact that she's been every bit as successful as her much-better-known rival in Madison and is one of the pre-eminent coaches in the sport. Since I'm pretty much guilty on that count as well, I'll learn along with you.

Right up front, I have to admit that there's not a whole lot tying Miller to Penn State other than an apparently keen interest on our part in everything UMD has to offer - including the arena and the men's coach. And also right up front, I really don't see much incentive for her to leave. She's paid better than Mark Johnson (even post-extension), and she's proven that she can win multiple national championships in Duluth. I suppose there's always the challenge of building something new and the possibility of even more money though.

Through following our pursuit of Scott Sandelin, we know a couple things:
  1. Duluth AD Bob Nielson, who doubles as their football coach, is tight-fisted either by necessity or by choice.
  2. Miller made more money than Sandelin, a situation that had to be unique in college hockey - until Sandelin finally signed a recent extension. But before that, Sandelin pulled in a $160,000 base salary while Miller makes a base of $180,000 (for what it's worth, Miller's contract is through 2013, so some buyout would have to take place, although possibly not a monumental one).
Those two facts lead to two assumptions on my part:
  1. If Penn State wants Miller badly enough, Penn State can get Miller. UMD will not win a bidding war...
  2. ...although there might be a certain expectation of PSU on Miller's part. She's obviously not used to being treated like a second-class citizen.
While it's presumed that a guy like Johnson would only leave the Wisconsin women for a men's job, Miller seems to be more attainable for this particular situation. Really, and this goes for all candidates, I think the hire will say a lot about our athletic department's goals for the women's program. Are we gunning to be one of the nation's elite, or is this a matter of "well, we had to do this for Title IX, we're just trying not to lose too much money on the deal?" I hope it's the former, and hiring Miller would obviously be a sign of that being the case.

Miller is a 1985 University of Saskatchewan graduate and was a police officer in Calgary from 1988-1996. Of course, she was also involved in hockey during this time, including founding and coaching the 18U Alberta Women's Hockey team (the first girls minor hockey association in Calgary) in 1989 and continuing with Team Canada both in the Women's World Ice Hockey Championships (1992, 1994) and in the Olympics (1998).

On September 10, 1997, Minnesota-Duluth announced that it was starting a women's hockey program, and on April 20, 1998, Miller was hired as the first coach of the program fresh off of her silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics as head coach of Team Canada - not a bad way to start a program.

Here's a shameless copy/paste of UMD's Miller bio (with some minor updates from me since it doesn't include 2010-2011), because it does a good job capturing her Bulldogs career, and the spoils that come with her 313-87-34 career record:
As the only head coach UMD has ever employed, Miller...has led the Bulldogs to [ten] NCAA playoff appearances and four NCAA Championship titles, including three straight (2001, 2002 and 2003). She has led UMD into six NCAA Frozen Four berths, including two NCAA Championships in the past [four] seasons (2010 and 2008).  No other hockey program in the country has won five titles, let alone three consecutive NCAA trophies.

Aside from her record haul of NCAA titles, Miller reached her [300th] career win faster than any other head coach in NCAA Division I history on [Nov. 20, 2010].  As the third winningest coach ever in Division I women's hockey, Miller is just one of two NCAA Division I coaches ever to have collected 200 wins after just eight seasons behind the bench.  Miller is also just the fourth head coach ever to win 250 games while remaining at just one, very lucky,  NCAA Division I program.

For her efforts, Miller was named the 2000 and 2003 Western Collegiate Hockey Association Coach of the Year and the 2003 American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) Women’s Division I Coach of the Year. Along with the incredible NCAA runs, her Bulldogs have captured [three] WCHA regular season titles (2010, 2003, 2000) and five WCHA playoff titles (2010, 2008, 2003, 2001, 2000).
That's pretty big time. Here's a link that goes into more detail on some of the highlights of Miller's tenure.

Eleven former Bulldogs have participated in the Olympics, but interestingly, only three played for the United States (Jenny Potter) or Canada (Caroline Ouellette and Haley Irwin). So much like we saw with Mike Sisti, Miller has a demonstrated ability to go where the players are.

Potter is the leading scorer in US women's Olympic history.

One other Olympian, Sweden's Maria Rooth, returned to Duluth this past season as Miller's assistant. She still stands as the program's all-time goals leader, and while the Patty Kazmeier award has never visited the UMD campus, Rooth was a three-time top 10 finalist (2000-2002). Of course, one other international player, Russia's Iya Gavrilova, might be a reason why Penn State won't touch Miller. I'll let the Minnesota Daily explain:
Duluth forward Iya Gavrilova, a freshman from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, is currently under investigation by the NCAA and the school. Gavrilova played on two teams in Moscow, where players have been known to receive payment, food, board and transportation.
That would be a serious violation of NCAA regulations and could result in the Bulldogs forfeiting every game Gavrilova made an appearance in, a total of 19 WCHA wins.
Ultimately, according to Duluth play-by-play man Bruce Ciskie, UMD had to forfeit their 2007-2008 WCHA regular season title and the wins, although they were allowed to keep their 2008 WCHA playoff and NCAA championships.

I'll venture to guess that even if PSU were willing to lay out to get Miller, that would scare them off. A whiff of impropriety, even if Miller was completely without blame in the situation, is surely the last thing the administration wants, right now or ever.

And basically, we're talking about one of the top programs out there, with Wisconsin really the only other school with an argument for the No. 1 spot in women's college hockey history. Just in case that wasn't completely obvious by this point. Like I said at the top, I'm not sure there's much incentive for Miller to leave that situation short of wanting a new challenge and a massive payday (that I'm not sure we'll be offering on the women's side) - but there's no doubt that this hire would set the new program off to an explosive start in the unlikely event that it happens.