Between the Lines: Post-Frozen Four Edition
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
* I guess it's safe to say the replay rule will be under review at the upcoming coaches convention in Naples, Fla. It's the type of thing that doesn't become an issue unless it happens in the NCAAs, when every goal is automatically reviewed. If Maine's goal in the NCAA final wasn't automatically reviewed, no one would have spotted Mike Hamilton's toe in the crease in a million years. Then once it happens, you realize the silliness of the rule. Don't blame the officials, they called the rule as it's written in the book. Everyone did the right thing. But there's a reason the NHL did away with the rule. Hamilton's toe in the crease had nothing to do with Derek Damon scoring. ... Then again, consider that college hockey enjoys cut and dried processes, right? Just look at the tournament selection process. Perhaps, despite its obvious flaws, it's better to have such a cut and dried rule. That was assuredly the original intention — to take the decision out of the referee's hands. Ultimately, though, some discretion is in order. ... To their credit, every man, woman and child surrounding the Maine program refused to use the disallowed goal as an excuse. Like Todd Jackson said, it wasn't a goal so why bother talking about it.
* Everyone seems to forget the other goal that was disallowed in an even bigger spot. Minnesota-Duluth had the potential tying goal waved off with 32 seconds left in Thursday's semifinals. The referee immediately ruled that the Duluth player drove into Denver goaltender Adam Berkhoel and knocked the puck in. The replay official backed up the ruling. No one seemed to complain here either, even though there was some evidence on the replay that the Duluth player was cross-checked about 20 feet in front of the net, causing him to lose balance and slide into Berkhoel.
This is not to say that Piotrowski deserved the public flogging he got from the state of Maine, but you'd have to think Cole would just rather avoid the mess. In talking to Cole and numerous other dignitaries, no one would acknowledge that as a factor at all. No matter since Kotyra was a deserving candidate anyway, and called a fine game.
* Finally getting a chance to see Denver up close for its last three games, it was a pleasure watching a warrior like Ryan Caldwell perform. Playing on two knees that require surgery, he sucked it up and played awesome defensive hockey, and scored the tying goal against Duluth in the semifinals. And he did it with charm, calm, humor and good sportsmanship. He was everything this sport is about, and an absolute treat to watch, and he can play on my team any time. And hopefully he can, next year, with the New York Islanders. Said his coach, George Gwozdecky, "His knees are shot. He probably practiced with us twice in the last two months, and those practices were [during the Frozen Four]. You talked about the ultimate warrior: he couldn't practice; he couldn't get on the ice. He had to rehab from Sunday through Friday afternoons so Friday night he could step on the ice. He gave it his all."
* Are we all curious what Lukas Dora did to earn a suspension for the National Championship game? Sure. It's only natural. But, frankly, it doesn't really matter. It serves no real purpose to find out the exact nature, so we may as well just leave it as is. And it's a mistake to believe that just because George Gwozdecky decided to sit his third-leading scorer for the final game that it was a humongous egregious activity Dora got involved in. It's completely within Gwozdecky's nature to simply apply the same set of rules he's applied all year, and not read into it any further than that.
* Seen around Boston: Mark Mazzoleni hanging out with officials from the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers all weekend. That, according to some, was cause for innuendo. But don't read too much into that either. Mazzoleni is simply good friends with people in the Green Bay management from their playing days together. Further, despite conventional wisdom that Green Bay head coach Mark Osiecki would leave to become an assistant at his alma mater Wisconsin, that apparently isn't going to happen.
* Overheard in Boston: Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder, coming off his ninth season with the Huskies, is getting a contract extension, but it's only for one year. In fact, Crowder is telling recruits that, if they're going to Northeastern, make sure it's because you like the school because he might not be around too long. So far, all recruits are staying put. Crowder has been much-maligned for never being able to get Northeastern anywhere close to where Crowder took Massachusetts-Lowell previously. Speculation had been rampant this could be his last season.
* It's a sad state of affairs at Princeton right now. A great institution where some great student-athletes have passed over the years, Princeton is a place that's hard enough to recruit without having to deal with its current situation. After athletic director Gary Walters fired coach Len Quesnelle in March, and jettisoned the rest of the coaching staff, he went on a one-month sojourn following the men's basketball tournament, apparently fulfulling his duties as part of the men's basketball committee. And while he won't return phone calls about the hockey situation, the coaching office sits empty. The consequences of this came through in full force this past week, when two top recruits bailed out. Like we said, it's hard enough to get recruits, but as ECAC recruits go, the word is these two guys were pretty good. Now, instead, Nick Dodge is headed to Clarkson and Jean-Francois Boucher is going to Yale. You can hardly blame them for switching. There's not even anyone they could call right now to cajole them about the Princeton situation.
* It's been said already, but major kudos to Denver coach George Gwozdecky for bringing his team to Friday's Hobey ceremony in support of Minnesota-Duluth's Junior Lessard when Lessard's teammates had to fly home. What would you expect from one of college hockey's true gentlemen. In fact, could we media types have asked for four better coaches to deal with in Boston than Gwozdecky, Tim Whitehead, Jerry York and Scott Sandelin? In a sport known for good guys, these guys are near the top of the top.
* We've always known Maine fans to be passionate, friendly and hospitable. But they were disappointingly quiet as a churchmouse for 95 percent of the Frozen Four. What happened?
* It's probably fitting Denver won the whole thing this year; did you see the people on the ice from the ice hockey committee? Committee chair Ron Grahame is a former Denver goalie, now the assistant AD. Frank Serratore, the Air Force coach and CHA representative on the committee, was the coach at Denver prior to George Gwozdecky. The Hockey East rep, New Hampshire AD Marty Scarano, was formerly the AD at Colorado College (OK, that's a stretch). And the previous committee chair, Quinnipiac AD Jack McDonald, who was home watching on television, was the former AD at Denver. He's the one who fired Serratore and hired Gwozdecky and Grahame.
* Anyone who saw the ECAC's Tim Kotyra officiate two games at the East Regional in Albany knew he deserved a chance at the Frozen Four. He did a tremendous job, flat out. When it was mentioned to Paul Duffy, head of ECAC officiating who doubles as a replay official at the NCAAs, that Kotyra did a great job and deserved a game, Duffy quipped, "Tell that to [NCAA director of officials] Frank Cole." When Kotyra was not assigned one of the semifinals, it looked like his window of opportunity closed. Officials are not assigned until the night before, depending on a variety of factors. As such, a number of referees are at the site waiting to see who will be picked. Not all guys who are there wind up working a game. In the building for the weekend was Steve Piotrowski, the highly-regarded CCHA official who has worked many important games before, including finals. However, when it came time to make the decision, Cole picked Kotyra for his first NCAA final. It was a welcome sight to ECAC fans looking for any positive vibe to come out of their much-maligned league. But was Piotrowski passed over because of any concern over his history with Maine? Piotrowski was the one who ejected Shawn Walsh from what turned out to be his final game, at the 2001 NCAA regionals. The next year, Piotrowski called the overtime penalty against Maine in the finals, leading to Minnesota's championship-winning power-play goal. Maine fans have been accusing him of all sorts of atrocities since. This is not to say that Piotrowski deserved the public flogging he got from the state of Maine, but you'd have to think Cole would just rather avoid the mess. In talking to Cole and numerous other dignitaries, no one would acknowledge that as a factor at all. No matter — since Kotyra was a deserving candidate anyway, and called a fine game.
* The National Championship game wasn't an end-to-end thriller, but we may never see the likes of those last two frenzied minutes again. What was striking was the unbelieveable calm in the face of pressure that Denver showed. It was indicative of their whole loosey-goosey week. Just after the 5-on-3 was called, you could see Denver captain Ryan Caldwell laugh, as if, "Aw geez, what now? Well let's just do it." Said Gwozdecky, "Sometimes it's just your time. And I told the team that. I really believed that coming into this Frozen Four. You have to be good; you have to persevere — you know you're going to have some battles, but if you have the kind of character, and you've got the kind of team put together believe in themselves and that will fight and die for each other, throw their faces in front of shots and battle, that good things are going to happen."
* I've heard all about how college softball's championship game outdraws the Frozen Four on ESPN. But there is too much anecodotal evidence out there — including USCHO's ever-growing readership over the last eight years — that college hockey is still growing fast. And it could be on the verge of another explosion, with more and more areas showing the effects of burgeoning youth programs. Thanks to the Dallas Stars, Texas is churning out players now, and the same is true for Denver. "Those of you who were around Denver before the Avalanche were around know that there were only a few ice-skating facilities and only a small group of young kids playing," Gwozdecky said. "Now it's exploded. Almost every month a new building opens up in Denver and the surrounding area. There are thousands of kids playing the game on the ice and on roller blades. There's no question that the Pioneer program has been the fortunate recipient of a lot of those kids. You take a lot at our roster right now with J.D. Corbin who opened a lot of eyes on Thursday — he's a freshman, and he's got speed to burn. There's a guy by the name of Teddy O'Leary, a sophomore who stepped in [Saturday] and had a heck of a game. Luke Fulghum, number 17. We've got six guys on our rosters from the State of Colorado, with more to come. That never would have happened ten years, 15-20 years ago. It's a great to see."
* I like to think I have a nose for news, but this is ridiculous. Anyone who saw me around the FleetCenter last Friday couldn't help but notice the gash across my nose. If you didn't notice, credit the wonder of makeup. Unfortunately, you can only do so much with this face. But you all will be happy to know that I survived to tell the story, and all is well. I wish there was a better story to tell than some Fleet employee was high-tailing it through a door while I was bending over, thus smacking the handle of a door across the bridge of my nose. I told a couple lovely ladies that I got hit by a puck while practicing. Alas, I cannot keep a straight face ... or a straight nose, as the case may be. I tried explaining to some people that a couple coaches who didn't like my column finally cornered me in the locker room. False, but good to know I can take a punch, if need be.