After Further Review ...
by Tom Reale/CHN Correspondent
October is a month of rebirth for college hockey — a new season finally arises out of the ashes of April, and 59 teams hit the ice harboring lofty goals with the belief they can achieve great things. Champions are not made in October, but the list of pretenders can sometimes begin to take shape before Halloween. There are always some pleasant surprises (Michigan Tech, Notre Dame) and some less satisfying surprises (Vermont, Providence, Mercyhurst).
But the season is long, and we still have four more months to play in the regular season. A disappointing October doesn't always portend a disappointing season. An exciting and successful October doesn't always lead to a banner year — but it's a start in that direction.
Some teams are getting the feel for playing together, as lost seniors are often eerily present, while new freshmen become integrated into the team structure. If anything, October is a time for a feeling-out process to begin, a process which will last into November before anything can be known for sure.
Still, the first month of the 2006-07 hockey season brought some interesting, strange, unique, bizarre, and memorable moments. Without further ado, the streaks, stats, and other trivium you should take away from the month of October in college hockey ...
Long slide: Minnesota's loss to Maine in the Hall of Fame Game represented their fourth consecutive loss following their devastating end to the 2005-06 season with two losses at the WCHA Final Five and the now-infamous loss to Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time since a four game stretch in late November/early December 2000 that the Gophers had lost four straight games.
Bridging the gap: Canadian teams went 8-34-4 in exhibition matches with NCAA Division I teams in the month of October. Three of the four ties were achieved by the University of Ottawa, which went 0-0-3 in its only games, played on consecutive nights against Holy Cross, Sacred Heart and Connecticut.
Thunderbuzz: Speaking of Canadian teams, the University of British Columbia continues its quest to become the first Canadian member of the NCAA. Interestingly enough, UBC was not one of the Canadian teams to head south of the border for one of the many pre-season exhibitions in October. If the Thunderbirds gain acceptance into the NCAA, they'll have to get used to a different starting time than their country mates — the UBC season started in the middle of September. UBC takes a 6-4-0 record into November.
Filling the stands: The attendance at the Rensselaer-Boston University game in Troy on the 14th was 5,152 and listed as a sellout. It was Rensselaer's first non-Big Red Freakout game to sell out in 20 years, and the first non-Freakout game to crack the 5,000 mark since November 1999.
Elbow room: Quinnipiac has sold out the last six NCAA home games, including a weekend series with non-conference Robert Morris on the 13th and 14th, at Northford Ice Pavilion, which at 1,750 is the smallest rink capacity in the "Big Four" leagues. The move to the TD Banknorth Sports Center in January will increase potential crowd size to 3,286, catapulting the Bobcats to the fifth-highest capacity in the ECAC.
The teacher and the students: Denver head coach George Gwozdecky faced three former protιgιs during the first three weekends of the regular season, losing to Enrico Blasi and the Miami RedHawks at the Icebreaker tournament, splitting a weekend series with Bob Motzko and the St. Cloud State Huskies, and also splitting the home-opening series against Seth Appert and Rensselaer.
When it rains, it pours: Michigan Tech got goals from six different players in demolishing Alaska-Anchorage 9-0 in its WCHA opener on the 27th. The nine tallies for the Huskies in their first game equals exactly one-sixth of their entire WCHA scoring output from the 28-game schedule last season. It was MTU's first nine-goal effort since Feb. 14, 2004, also against the Seawolves, and their largest margin of victory since a 9-0 win over Lake Superior State on Jan. 28, 1983. Their win on the 28th to complete the sweep created the first four-game winning streak since December 1997, and Tech's 5-1-0 start is their best since the 1972-73 season.
Wake me up when October ends: American International slouched to an 0-5 record in October, dropping its season opener at Army, and then being swept on consecutive weekends by RIT and Lake Superior State. The Yellow Jackets have not won a game in October since 2002, when they picked up wins against Fairfield and Canisius. Over the last four seasons, AIC is a combined 0-16-0 in the season's kickoff month. Other than the Yellow Jackets, Bemidji State is the only remaining winless team (not including the Ivy League, which only began play in the last weekend of the month) as we enter November.
Aim high: Air Force's Eric Ehn leads the nation in scoring, posting an impressive 10 goals and 8 assists in only 7 games. He leads teammate Andrew Ramsey and Niagara's Ted Cook by five points on the national leaderboard, and is first in the country in goals and points per game (2.57), tied for first in assists, and tied for second in power play goals (4). Ehn has scored a goal in every game in which the Falcons have scored, missing the net only in the two games in which Air Force was shut out, at Alaska on the 13th and against Notre Dame in Florida on the 28th. The trio of Ehn, Andrew Ramsey and Mike Phillipich has combined for 18 goals (all but 8 of the Falcons' goals on the season) and 24 assists.
Irish Eyes are Smiling: Notre Dame's 7-1 victory over Boston College was the largest margin of victory over a team that participated in the previous season's national championship game since New Hampshire dropped a 6-0 decision to Rensselaer in October 1999. It was Notre Dame's first win by six or more goals since February 2002, and Boston College's first loss by six or more goals since January 1998. The 5-1-0 start for the Fighting Irish is their best since winning their first six games to kick off the 1998-99 season.
Isn't someone sitting there?: It was a bit of a catch-22 for the first night of NCAA hockey in the newly renovated Lynah Rink. For years, the magic number indicating a sellout crowd was 3,836, but following renovations, the capacity is now 4,300. On the 26th, the Big Red hosted Robert Morris to kick off their regular season schedule and drew a record crowd, but the draw of 4,004 fell just under 300 short of a sellout, snapping an 81-game sellout streak dating back to a two-game series in November 2001 against Alabama-Huntsville, which missed selling out by 36 and 4 tickets respectively.
Home sweet home?: Canisius dropped a 4-2 decision to Robert Morris on the 7th in its home opener at the Buffalo State Sports Arena, marking the seventh consecutive loss for the Golden Griffins in their first home game of the season. Canisius has not won the home opener since 1998.
Ryan who?: If the Minnesota Golden Gophers are missing guys like Ryan Potulny and Phil Kessel, they certainly aren't showing it early on. Led by the offensive outbursts of freshmen Jay Barriball and Kyle Okposo, Minnesota's 5.14 goals per game leads the nation, and at this rate are scoring over a goal more per game than they accomplished last season.
Another year wiser: Last season, Michigan Tech goaltenders Rob Nolan and Michael-Lee Teslak were at the bottom of the barrel statistically among the 75 goaltenders who received at least 1/3 of their team's playing time, with Nolan ringing up a 4.06 GAA, .888 save percentage, and a national worst .077 win percentage while earning a won-loss record of 0-11-2. Teslak's numbers were better, but not by much. Again splitting time, Nolan has already posted a 2-1-0 record with a 1.67 GAA and a .928 save percentage for the month, and Teslak's 1.33 GAA and .933 save percentage are both in the national top 10.
Circle the date ... November's Must See TV
November 3: Minnesota at Minnesota-Duluth — It's gut-check time for the Bulldogs. Just how far back have they come, and can the young Duluth defensive corps withstand the offensive barrage from the Gophers' young guns?
November 4: Michigan State at Michigan — Two rivals expected to, as usual, be in contention for the CCHA crown play the back end of a home-and-home series which could well shape the evolution of the CCHA chase.
November 10: Harvard at Cornell — Must we say any more?
November 11: Sacred Heart at Holy Cross — One of the new favorites in Atlantic Hockey travels to face the league's pride and joy in the second game of a home-and-home series which could become a passing of the torch.
November 12: New Hampshire at Maine — The rivalry continues. The Black Bears have had a perfect October at 6-0-0, while the Wildcats struggled in the last weekend of the season, dropping back-to-back home games to unfancied squads in UMass and Yale.
November 17: Niagara at Bemidji State — Widely expected to be the true battle for the CHA this year, these teams met in New York in October, with the Purple Eagles coming away with three big points. Can the Beavers even the odds, or will Niagara become the odds-on favorite to see hockey in late March?
November 18: Clarkson at St. Cloud State — Two squads expected to make noise in their respective leagues clash for the second time in as many nights. It's Clarkson's newly recharged offense against the defensive stylings of one Bobby Goepfert.
November 19: Wisconsin at Minnesota — It's always a big deal when the Badgers and Gophers meet. North Dakota notwithstanding, this series could provide insight into the early front runner for the MacNaughton Cup.