Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Nationals Day 5: PSU 3 vs. Oakland 5/Semifinals

This isn't the way it was supposed to end for the most successful team in ACHA history.

In their club hockey swan song the Icers, buoyed by four NCAA Division I transfers and several others with hopes of playing for the coming varsity program, would take the ACHA by storm and cruise into the sunset with the Murdoch Cup. Everyone just knew that the only proper ending for the storied program was an eighth national championship and a record-extending sixth since the ACHA's founding in 1991-1992.

Then again...

...the last Icers Cup was in 2003, nine seasons ago. A brutally honest assessment of Penn State in recent seasons would show a program that has remained close to the top of the pecking order, but one that has been passed by others. After 2003, PSU stopped winning championship games. After 2007, they stopped making them at all. Heartbreak has overtaken happiness. So maybe it's even more appropriate that Icers history ends with a cloning of one of those moments of lesser fortune.

In 2007, Will McMahon was largely to blame for stopping the Icers cold in the national championship game, as Oakland won the title in its first year of Division 1 play. McMahon scored eight times, adding four assists, during the Grizzlies title run in Boardman, OH. The best of his tournament MVP and ACHA player-of-the-year season came in OU's Murdoch-clinching 5-1 win over the Icers when the 2010 ACHA Hall of Famer scored four of the Grizzlies' goals and assisted on the other.

Five years later, the role of four-goal-scoring nemesis was ably played by Jordan MacDonald, a senior from Rochester Hills, MI. To be sure, the 220-pound MacDonald plays a different style of game than the diminutive McMahon - but both are equally effective at terrorizing defensemen, as it turns out. Exhibit A: With Oakland clinging to a 3-2 lead in the third period, Dan Loucks retrieved a loose puck near the Icers blue line. Before the senior captain could make a play with it, MacDonald was on top of him, ripping the puck away, then coming in unabated on Matt Madrazo and scoring. Exhibit B: After Nate Jensen scored to slice the OU lead back to one at 4-3 and with the Icers again pushing for a tie in the last two minutes of the game, Eric Steinour won an offensive draw back to Jensen, who swung the puck across to Peter Sweetland. Once again though, the opportunistic MacDonald quickly approached, outmuscled a PSU defenseman for the puck, and took it himself on the resulting 2-on-1. Game over. Season over. Icers over.

MacDonald (center, with white sack) received a hero's welcome from Oakland supporters upon emerging from the locker room.

That's not to say that Penn State didn't have its moments. Michael Longo, who had a fantastic tournament, answered MacDonald's first goal with a one-timer blast from Bryce Johnson, who also had a fantastic tournament, in the right wing circle. Jake Friedman answered MacDonald's second with a drive through traffic late in the first period. But really, the story of this tilt was MacDonald, his selfless teammates that put on a shot-blocking clinic through long stretches of Icers territorial dominance, and goalie Matt Toter, who stopped most of what the shot blockers didn't, 35 saves in all on 38 PSU shots. It's also about a team that has performed the once-unthinkable task of playing in last Friday's first round as a 13th seed - essentially needing to win one more game than the tournament favorites - then slaying No. 4 Arizona State and No. 1 Penn State among its four wins en route to Wednesday night's final.

Unfortunately, another storyline has to be the absence of PSU's leading scorer, Justin Kirchhevel. The Alaska-Anchorage transfer from Brookings, SD was parked by Guy Gadowsky for his role in an altercation with Oklahoma goalie Nick Holmes in the Icers' quarterfinal win Sunday night. For the little that it's worth at this point, I sincerely do not believe that Kirchhevel playing would have changed the outcome. Regardless, the head coach's decision was not about the present, but about the future and about the type of program he will run at the NCAA level. Even if I'm incorrect in my assessment and Kirch would have propelled the Icers to victory, Gadowsky is to be commended for a tough decision. "Success with honor," while slighly cliche in PSU circles, is not mere lip service. If success comes at the price of our principles, then we'd rather not have success.

One of my favorite photographs is of Steve Yzerman as the Red Wings legend stepped off of the ice for the final time in his career, following his team's elimination by the Edmonton Oilers in 2006. With one of Yzerman's skates on the ice and the other about to land off of it, it's literally his last moment as an active player. Here's my attempt at something equally poignant to represent the end of the Icers.

Let the record show that senior defenseman Dan Petrick, a local product who grew up with the program, was the last to exit the playing surface. Much like the baseball greats in the movie Field of Dreams who disappeared into a cornfield, he and his teammates, the Icers, are now a part of history after similarly disappearing behind a plastic curtain.

Other Game

Lindenwood press release // Box score

Behind two goals apiece from Mark Zeszut and Nick LePore, the Delaware Blue Hens earned their way back to the ACHA championship game for the first time since 2001 with a 6-3 win over Lindenwood. LU, on the other hand, will now miss the Murdoch Cup final for the first time since 2007 (a season that, incidentally and as mentioned, ended with an Oakland title).

In defeating the Lions, UD exorcised demons beyond simply not appearing in the penultimate game of the ACHA season for a decade. Twice in recent years (2008 and 2011), Lindenwood has defeated the Hens in the semifinals, with last year's defeat at Delaware's home Fred Rust Ice Arena coming as particularly stinging. The semifinal in 2012, though, belongs to the Hens, who managed to keep LU at arm's length throughout the game. Following a scoreless first period, Zeszut struck both first and second. From there, every time the Lions sliced UD's seemingly perpertual two-goal lead to one, the Hens had a quick answer - within 1:13, 4:05 and 1:08, to be specific. That's one mark of a champion, a designation Delaware will try to make official Wednesday night for the first time in program history.

Wednesday Tournament Schedule

3. Delaware vs. 13. Oakland, 7:30 p.m., West Rink

Final Tournament Placement

3. Penn State
4. Lindenwood
5. Ohio
6. Minot State
7. Oklahoma
8. Adrian
9. Arizona State
10. Liberty
11. Iowa State
12. Robert Morris (IL)
13. Illinois
14. Davenport
15. Central Oklahoma
16. West Virginia
17. Rutgers
18. Kent State
19. Drexel
20. Mercyhurst

Leading Tournament Scorers

                  Team   GP   G    A   Pts.
Jordan MacDonald  OAK    4    6    2    8
Bryce Johnson     PSU    3    2    6    8
Michael Longo     PSU    3    4    3    7
Adam Novack       OAK    4    4    2    6
Frank Matyok      OAK    4    2    4    6
Spencer Bonomo    ADR    2    4    1    5
Neeco Belanger    LIN    3    4    1    5
Colin Long        LIN    3    2    3    5

Dustin Hopfner    OAK    4    2    3    5
Jason Michaud     DEL    3    1    4    5
Chad Hudson       OKL    2    3    1    4
Travis McKinney   OKL    2    2    2    4
Niklas Bunnstedt  LIN    3    2    2    4

Grant Gorczyca    LIN    3    2    2    4
Jordan Spear      ADR    2    1    3    4
Craig Martin      OKL    2    1    3    4
Darrell Boldon    ADR    2    1    3    4
Taylor Holstrom   PSU    3    1    3    4
Steve Brancheau   LIN    3    1    3    4
Brandon Johnson   OAK    4    1    3    4

Leading Tournament Goalies

                  Team   GP  Rec.   SH   SV   Pct.  GAA
Justin Wisniewski KSU    1   0-0-1  65   63   .969  1.59
Phil Graveline    DAV    2   1-1-0  83   79   .952  2.02
Matt Toter        OAK    4   4-0-0  135  126  .933  2.14
S.J. Broadt       DEL    3   3-0-0  --   --   .---  2.30
Nick Clarke       ILL    1   0-1-0  30   28   .933  2.43
Mark Schacker     ASU    1   0-0-1  36   33   .917  2.48
Rob Borcky        WVU    2   1-1-0  74   69   .932  2.50
Tory Caldwell     UCO    2   1-1-0  72   66   .917  2.65
Nick Holmes       OKL    2   1-0-0  50   45   .900  2.68
P.J. Musico       PSU    1   1-0-0  23   20   .870  3.00


  1. It seemed like the team was over confident for the whole series. The Kirchhevel line was basically non existant and his benching for the last game was warranted. There seemed to be a lack of desire to plant themselves in front of the net as each team collapsed their defense. You have to pay the price.
    Finally. Coach Gadowsky said that he wanted each of his players "To taste the playoffs". What happened to Dell, J. Daley, Edgeworth, and Seibolt? It is a shame these guys went all year and didn't get a chance to contribute. Maybe their enthusiasm would have made a difference. What kind of message did this send to these guys for next year?

  2. Well, Edgeworth was hurt (wrist), so that's the story with him. I've struggled to figure out why Josh Daley didn't play more all year, even while EVERYONE was in the lineup at some point. Pure speculation on my part, but without being aware of an injury, I wonder how his grades are. Dell's been great when called on, whether as a D or F.

    Oakland is the team that proves every cliche in the book. Play as a team. Sacrifice for each other. Have discipline. And they've now taken down two of the four best teams in the ACHA in this tournament. They have a great shot at making that three with a Murdoch Cup tonight.

    I don't want to say that this is definitive in any way, and many succsessful people do prepare mentally differently than others, but....I follow a number of Delaware players on Twitter, probably just as many as I do from PSU. While the Icers were busy shilling for lululemon (!/JakeFriedman/status/176909562539020288) during the off day, I don't think I saw a single tweet from a Delaware player that wasn't nationals-related. Most weren't tweeting at all. Take it for what it's worth, which is probably not very much. I tweet all the time, sometimes when I'm preparing to do something important, and I don't think it affects me. But UD's in the finals and we're not, so they did something right, and without any former DI players on the roster.

  3. PSU just never got into a rhythm during the whole tournament. For myself, watching the WVU game threw up all sorts of red flags. I was fearful of the Oklahoma game, and an upset seemed to me possible, even perhaps probable. If not for that scrum at the end of the 2nd period, who knows what the final score could have been.

    To be honest, although I was nervous about the Oklahoma game, I never thought they would lose to Oakland. However, in the playoffs if you are not playing your best, you get beat in 1 game situations. It was amazing to watch 3 or 4 Oakland players dive to block a single shot.

    However, it's on to next year and a new beginning and I can't wait!!

  4. Kyle,

    Got to agree with you 100%. Heard that Daley was not injured. Don't know about his grades, but sometimes junior players, 3 years removed from high school, struggle in the first semester. Regardless, he has size and scored 30 goals in a tough Cnadian league. He is not as strong in the corners, but plants himself in front of the net; something we didn't see very often. Let's hope that if it is his grades, they improve for next year. He would be a big addition.
    As far as Dell, he did everything asked of him, even more. He has grit and has showed that he can score. Again, another great addition for next year.
    We shall see what next year brings against tougher competition.

  5. I don't know if they were overconfident so much as maybe they just didn't have a good feel for how to play against the better teams. Yes, they beat Delaware and came back against Oklahoma earlier this year, but those games were few and far between and the last tough one was, what, five weeks ago? I never played hockey on anything like a high level, but just from playing in the street, I know that everything happens so fast that it's as much about instinct and habits as much as it is game plan and systems.

    Therefore, playing Kent State, etc, on the run up to the playoffs was a huge disadvantage, albeit probably unavoidable. Blowing teams out like that is not good preparation to play better competition, in fact it might be worse than just practicing because it gets the team into a rhythm and style of play that just won't work against somebody decent.

    Next year will be completely different, of course. The hazard in the next year will be not to lose too much confidence when things start to go badly. I think Guy will be much more comfortable with how to manage that problem then how, for example, to get guys to learn something from a 12-1 victory.

  6. This ties into that, but I still can't figure out why we pulled out of the ESCHL this year. It would be one thing if we played a true transitional schedule (see the women and their eleven NCAA games or whatever it was) and just didn't have the dates to commit to a conference, but we clearly did not. While playing RMU(PA) and West Chester doesn't alleviate anything, it also would have involved two more games against Delaware. And the league tournament in late February with UDel and URI instead of Duquesne and Kent State.

    ACHA conferences are very fluid, to the point where they make NCAA conferences look stable. So I doubt we were asked to leave to help them move on in some way.

    Hopefully I'm betraying a confidence here, but I don't think he'll mind now that it's over: Gadowsky was frustrated with the lack of competitive games as well. How do you improve from a 12-1 game? What do you gain from it? Basically, you're tossing a few on the board against someone who doesn't belong on the same ice without much effort, then hoping they don't slash you in the ankle for the last 35 minutes or so. Not really a great way to progress as a team. I'm just hoping we don't get on the other end of that now though! Onward and upward.

  7. I don't know about the conference situation. That would have helped and I don't see how it benefited anyone for PSU not to be in the league this year. Perhaps they had some kind of plan for more DIII games and then it fell through too late or perhaps there was some kind of conflict with the ESCHL, either petty or legit.

    Also, some of the games were less competitive than expected. The early season series with Illinois and Ohio were much more lopsided than ever. Either way, post-Oklahoma series especially, the season wasn't as helpful as could be hoped.

    But it's water under the bridge now. The mix of next years' opponents that I've heard so far sounds pretty reasonable.

    And lots of credit to Guy, Joe, and Josh, et al for always staying upbeat and rolling with this unusual situation.