Between the Lines: Oct. 26, 2004
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
We're back and fired up for a season that seems truly up for grabs.
Crutch and Gab
Let me go on record as standing 100 percent behind the decision by the NCAA and conferences to instruct referees to strictly enforce the rulebook on obstruction, and to enforce it no matter when in the game it occurs.
Everyone agrees that this is not a panaecea for curing the scoring drought in hockey. There are still way too many other factors, most of which we've repeated ad infinitum: the increased quality and athleticism of goalies, along with the size of their pads, and the weight of their pads which make it easier for them to be athletic; the pads that help players block more shots and stand in front of the net; the use of video and more sophisticated defensive systems, and the use of coaching clinics that teaches these systems to youth coaches; and so on ... And my favorite: the size of the net, which I still contend needs to be enlarged.
But since all the other things that affect scoring are much more difficult to correct, the easiest step is simply to enforce the rulebook.
But now comes the hard part, actually adhering to the plan.
Inevitably, the griping has begun. For the most part, everyone was behind the move, and everyone still is. But you already hear an awful lot of grumbling about how it's ridiculous that so many penalties are being called, and there's so many power plays that nobody can get any rhythm.
Michigan State coach Rick Comley recently told the Lansing State Journal
"I know what (the NCAA) is trying to do and we all agree with some of the things they're trying to accomplish. But I hope common sense takes over here soon," he said.
Let's hope this "common sense" does not take over. The whole point of this exercise is that coaches make the worst arbiters of good officiating. Not because they're wrong, but because they all have a different opinion.
The commissioners and, by extension, the referees must remain steadfast on this. It's true that the game is ridiculous right now with all of the power plays. No one wants to see that. Some people, including quotes I've seen from many players, believe the intention of the crackdown is to create more power plays in order to increase scoring. Thankfully, the commissioners, led by Anastos, know that that is absolutely not the intention. Power plays are essentially boring. You work the puck around the perimeter for 30 seconds looking for a shot while the defense stands around and waves their stick. If I wanted that, I'd watch lacrosse. Yes, you may see more goals, but artificially.
The true goal, as it should be, is to open up play 5-on-5. That will lead to more scoring chances, which is great whether or not the puck goes in the net or not.
(read more of my take about this in the next issue of USCHO Magazine)
The general manager of Moncton's major junior team is trying to stir up trouble. In what can be described as nothing else but absolute poppycock, Allan Power told the New Brunswick Times & Transcript that Boston University freshman Chris Bourque was having run-ins with Jack Parker and was unhappy at BU. As a result, he held hope that Bourque would leave BU to play for Moncton. As some proof of this, the team cited the presence of Chris' famous father, Ray Bourque, at a game, even though the article admits that Ray didn't talk to any team personnel.
"We've got two guys in the Boston area and they're monitoring the situation with Chris Bourque on a weekly basis. So, we're kept updated on what's happening with him," Power told the paper.
"It appears similiar to Adam Pineault in that he's at Boston University and it's not a place that he particularly cares to be at this point in time. That's the impression we get. He admits he's not a scholar or not a student. That's the word we're getting.
"Allegedly, he's had a little run in with the coach already on some issues so we're just kind of sitting back watching and listening. We're just letting him know that he has an option to play in Moncton should it be needed in the future."
I've spoken to two people close to the program at BU — not to mention my own conversations and observations with both Ray and Chris Bourque at the NHL Draft in Raleigh last June — and this is clearly nothing but unadulterated balderdash.
I'm not sure what Mr. Power is trying to accomplish by making up this kind of nonsense. Pineault, who he took from Boston College, is so cleary a different case it's crazy to make a connection. Pineault should probably never been in college to begin with, and then he got in judicial trouble on campus, and decided to quit school instead of facing up to it. A far cry from the character Chris Bourque has shown so far.
The only thing I can think of is that Mr. Power is trying to stir up trouble for some unknown reason, or he's trying to cover his rear with his local fans for wasting a draft pick on a kid who will never see Moncton.
Top of the Heap
Where are hockey fans turning with the NHL out of business? It looks like college hockey is clearly winning that battle, for whatever it's worth.
Thanks to reader Vic Berardelli for this information: Eight NCAA Division I hockey games on Friday, Oct. 22, outdrew all but three of the 10 AHL games played the same night. That includes the 11,203 at The Ralph for North Dakota-Minnesota, and 10,718 at the Kohl Center for Wisconsin-Michigan Tech. The high AHL crowd was Hamilton at Philadelphia (10,152). Two others had more than at least college hockey's eighth-best, while the other seven AHL games had crowds lower than the Massachusetts-Mass.-Lowell match in Amherst.
This trend continued Saturday, and likely will continue even more, since in Philadelphia, for example, the crowds will get smaller as the season goes on while college hockey — where every game is important — will maintain its level.
Of the 12 AHL matches played, according to Berardelli, only four drew more than 5,200: Manitoba at Utah 10,074 (two NCAA matches outdrew that), Philadelphia at Hershey 7,352, Milwaukee at Chicago 7,194 and Edmonton at Manitoba 6,119.
And in Maine on Saturday, the AHL Lowell-Portland match drew 2,482 while 137 miles away at Orono, in the middle of nowhere, St. Lawrence-Maine drew 5,641. Meanwhile, the Quebec Major Junior League game in equally remote Lewiston, Maine, between Rimouski and Lewiston, drew 3,166.
Denver has bounced back from two losses to two top-tier teams, to take three in row convincingly. I'm still not sure about their chances for repeat, though, of course, you can say that about anyone, since it happens so rarely. The only thing that concerned me were the early comments that Denver was having a hard time because other teams were "gunning for them." Frankly, I think they're having a hard time because they lost four really good players. Forget the 16 returning letterwinners, you don't replace the likes of Adam Berkhoel, Ryan Caldwell and Connor James that easily, no matter how good the recruiting class is and remaining players are. Those were special, unique players whose value went far beyond the stat sheet. Denver coach George Gwozdecky surely knows this, and even though they have a talented recruiting class, they are all big forwards and guys like that will need adjustment time. Denver may still be a factor, but with a lot of other teams having been improved more and losing less key players, getting back to even the Frozen Four may be a stretch.
Things are looking up in the ECAC. The mood was lightened considerably simply by the league's decision this summer to finally jettison the Centerville albatross and become an independent conference in every way except the name. But now, thanks to great starts by St. Lawrence and Colgate in non-league play, the mood is even lighter. Wins by St. Lawrence over Michigan State and Maine have punctuated an extraordinarily difficult early schedule. Colgate's schedule hasn't been as tough, but the Raiders have started 4-1. Two great coaching staff and two great programs. Add on the high hopes at Dartmouth and Cornell, and you're looking at a four-way dogfight in the ECAC, and all among teams with the legitimate ability to win tough non-league games. The bottom will still be lowly, but overall, the ECAC may be stronger than the CCHA this year.
Speaking of the CCHA, great job by Ohio State to stamp out Miami's 4-0 league start with a sweep of the Red Hawks. Ohio State has had trouble in the NCAAs the last couple years, but the program continues to make great strides. Its most recent great stride is in simply being able to maintain a level of excellence even when good players leave the program. That's what John Markell appears to have done this year, with only three regularly-playing seniors, and no seniors in the top six of scoring. And the freshman class, with Tom Fritsche, Domenic Maiani, Kyle Hood and Matt McIlvane leading the way looks real strong. ... Meanwhile, Michigan State is off to another rough start. Coach Rick Comley has benched senior assistant captain Adam Nightingale for the last three games, and the team has had trouble adjusting to the new emphasis on cracking down on obstruction, with the power play not clicking. Things may get ugly there if things don't turn around soon.
Great job by Derek Schooley and Robert Morris, winning its first-ever game as an NCAA varsity program. So what that it was only Canisius, it was a win, and it was on the road. One thousand rowdy fans showed up for the first-ever home game the next night and saw a close 5-4 defeat to Canisius. The choice of Schooley to lead the program was a great one, and college hockey owes it to root for the likes of Robert Morris to make it. There's a long way to go, but Niagara showed that doing things the right way with a good coaching staff can make really good things happen relatively quickly.
Games to watch this week: Mass.-Lowell at RPI (Friday), the type of game both teams need to win in order to be taken seriously; North Dakota at Boston College (Friday), of course (CSTV's game of the week); Miami at St. Lawrence (two games), more of the "who is for real" factor; Denver at Wisconsin for a pair; and a Halloween tilt between Maine and BU, an annual affair with a history of weirdness.
If the Sox can win the World Series, can the Jets win the Super Bowl? Please.