Friday, July 29, 2011

Ill Communication

The tears of many taste of bitterness.

Penn State hockey is probably not going to win any popularity contests anytime soon - among NCAA or ACHA people.

The source of the ACHA hate is fairly obvious, as the ability to play for the ACHA National Championship with better players than would have otherwise been around has soured some people (I'm sure there's a twinge of jealousy in the commentary as well). Examples are readily available in one recent thread on the ACHA message board Hockey 101.

"It is a sham that they're being allowed to play ACHA and compete at Nationals."
"An ACHA team of Varsity recruits playing in the Natty Light League bites the bag."
"First of all I agree this loop whole [sic] is a joke and it makes the ACHA looks have a team like Penn State bringing in DI level player to use the ACHA as practice for 1 year so they can get ready to make the jump to the NCAA DI. That is BS and someone should stop it."
Ummm...sorry? I can't say that and sound sincere, so that's the best you're getting from me.

Some of it borders on the delusional, as in suggestions that PSU is no better than Oklahoma or that EJHL guys can't be DI-caliber players. While the Sooners have a number of good former NAHLers on their team, that logic fails for the simple reason that OU wasn't really any better than PSU last season, before the Icers added anyone. I'll even take it a step further and say that they didn't deserve to make nationals. At some point, you have to stop looking at the junior league someone played in and start looking at what they're doing right now, and on that count, I'm not impressed.

On the NCAA side of things, we've all heard plenty about how Penn State ruined college hockey by a) wanting an NCAA program, b) accepting $88 million and c) not defying the conference with which it cast its lot long ago. PSU's been blamed for everything from Alabama-Huntsville's awful situation to the entire existence of the NCHC, along with its fallout. But there's a new complaint, brought to light by a quick comment at the end of College Hockey News' article about Mercyhurst forward Taylor Holstrom's transfer to PSU.
The transfers have raised concern among some in the college hockey community, particularly Penn State's ability to take advantage of the transfer-period loophole to lure players.
The time to take advantage of this is quickly ending, and to the best of our knowledge, the haul amounts to two good players from Mercyhurst and two WCHAers who (in part because of valid reasons like injuries) didn't contribute all that much to their teams last year. Boo hoo. While playing an extra year of ACHA allows things like that, it's a double-edged sword - it also took away our ability to be a legitimate player in the John Gaudreau sweepstakes. The former Northeastern signee got a release from his letter of intent when coach Greg Cronin left, but...

If PSU goes varsity this year instead of next, one has to believe the Philly-area product and fourth-round Flames draft pick would have given more consideration to Hockey Valley. Maybe he would've even gone back to the USHL to join the program in year two and avoid some of the growing pains. Admittedly, it still would've been an extreme longshot (right now, he's taking visits to New Hampshire, Vermont and Boston College), but the ACHA year closes the window entirely, as well as on Gaudreau's brother Matt, who may eventually bail on his Northeastern pledge to follow John.

Zach Hyman is another case where the ACHA year killed any chance PSU might have had otherwise. Hyman was actually committed to Guy Gadowsky at Princeton, then reconsidered when Gadowsky left. Despite the presence of Princeton's former coaching staff, PSU was quickly ruled out because of the extra season. Now Hyman (this year) and brother Spencer (in 2012 or 2013) are both going to Michigan, where they may burn Penn State down the road.

I've said this before, but it bears repeating: I'm positive that a lot of what we're seeing right now is the result of changing our building plan mid-stream. Let's go back to something Joe Battista said in March, in response to the Big Ten's firing things up in 2013.
“It’s a year earlier than we originally thought,” Battista said. “So we are going to have to ratchet everything up. We will definitely have to hire the full staffs earlier than we had initially planned to. At the same time, it also means having more revenue coming in earlier because the arena will be built and ready for play.”

Hiring the staffs sooner will ease the transition from the current ACHA D-I club program to NCAA. Battista said it is necessary to have the staff, including the coaches, work hand-in-hand with the club teams, the ACHA Penn State Icers and Lady Icers, in their final seasons.

“The new coaches will have an opportunity to influence the systems the Icers will play next season to help the transition to the D-I team,” Battista said.
So basically, as of March, Battista and company:
  • Expected to have an extra "varsity" year of building the program before Big Ten play.
  • Didn't plan on having the NCAA coach leading the Icers this season.
  • Generally speaking, planned on a slower timeline for building the program - including assistant coaches and, in all likelihood, players.

Gadowsky's hiring helped escalate the building plan.

This season's schedule was first tentatively announced on April 7th, 15 days after Battista's quote was published. I'm going to guess that they were working on it well before Battista's statement, because that's certainly not a "get a pot of coffee on and see you in the morning" type of thing (like most of my posts). Gadowsky was hired on April 24th (17 days after the schedule), and by all accounts, he's joined the Big Ten announcement in kicking things up a few gears. One thing he probably didn't do: recruit players for Penn State before April 24th.

Add that all together, and I really don't think that the Icers initially planned on this year being fundamentally all that different from last year. This year's team was supposed to be the the 2012-2013 team, and the first varsity team will probably closely resemble what was originally in the plans for 2013-2014. Obviously, that all changed, but it was too late to substantially adjust things like the schedule. And we're certainly not going to take our foot off the gas with recruiting to compensate.

By the way, think it's easy to fix a schedule? Try it. I did, and was promptly called out by none other than Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley for forgetting about NCAA game limits and that fact that PSU, even as a club team, counts towards them. And I was just doing it for one weekend. I can only imagine trying to bounce all of Washington & Jefferson, Pitt, Rutgers, West Virginia, Mercyhurst (ACHA version) and Lebanon Valley.

If you manage to successfully upgrade our schedule, leave your suggestions in the comments, then call Bill Downey. Actually, call Downey first, I can wait.

Bottom line: understand what you're talking about before you criticize. The realities that led to where we are today are more complex than they appear on the surface.


  1. I think any other ACHA school would be doing the same thing.

  2. Absolutely...and in a way, I think Lindenwood and Davenport already are, just without the same immediacy. Neither of those schools plan on being in the ACHA forever, they're already varsity programs in every sense (controversial as that is in ACHA circles), except for the fact that they're technically not.

  3. I'm thinking that these new conferences will actually be a boon to college hockey and draw in more ACHA teams. Maybe Illinois, Indiana, or Iowa could up their programs and add to the Big 10. Although it may be awhile, I would love to see the clubs west of the rockies form a Pacific conference (with both AK schools). All that's needed are tv contracts and bingo.