Jackson, Blasi Talk Big Ten
by Joe Meloni and Michael King/CHN Reporters
MANCHESTER, N.H. Following this week’s announcement that the Big 10 will being playing as a Division I hockey conference during the 2013-14 season, many attempted to gauge the reaction of the coaches from the WCHA and CCHA teams on the outside.
Friday afternoon, with their teams 24 hours from kicking off their NCAA Tournament runs, Miami coach Enrico Blasi and Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson both expressed concerns over the Big 10’s effect on the smaller programs from each conference.
For Jackson, who coached Lake Superior State to a pair of national championships in the 1990s, the future of programs with less national esteem is a pivotal element of his thoughts. Similarly, Blasi, who played at Miami during the program’s less successful era, is focused on maintaining the CCHA’s status as one of the nation’s power conferences.
“We’re just listening right now,” Jackson said. “There’s talk of all kinds of different things, potentially. I think a lot of things are going to be determined at the coaches convention. There have been discussions already, everybody knew this was going to happen. It’s now like a lightning rod, it’s something everybody was preparing for. Right now, for the next two years, we’re proud members of the CCHA.
“I want to act, first and foremost, in the best interest of Notre Dame,” he continued. “My roots are from Lake Superior, and I certainly want to make sure programs like Lake Superior, that have great traditions in hockey, whether it be Michigan Tech, Ferris State or some other programs … is not going to put them in a position where they don’t have programs like Michigan or Michigan State in their buildings ever again.”
Despite the concerns of many, Blasi is confident the CCHA will continue its tradition without Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Drawing on the departure of programs like Michigan and Michigan State, Blasi drew on the formation of the CCHA itself in 1981 as reason for his belief that the conference will be strong.
“Unfortunately, the Big 10 is happening,” Blasi said. “We have two more years to play Michigan State, after that I don’t know what will happen. It’s definitely going to change the landscape of college hockey. Hopefully, if history repeats itself, there was a time when Michigan and Michigan State played in the WCHA. Then they left the WCHA, people said the WCHA would never last. Twenty years later, the WCHA is in pretty good shape. Hopefully, the people making the decisions at a higher level will think about college hockey as a whole, and we’ll do the right thing.”
While some teams find success by staking one or two lines with their best scorers and play-makers, others prefer balance among all four lines. During Merrimack's 25-win regular season, scoring balance was a key aspect of its success.
The Warriors sport seven players with at least 25 points, including three in the top 12 in Hockey East scoring.
Merrimack competed without senior forward Chris Barton during the final two rounds of last weekend's Hockey East Tournament. Barton suffered a hip injury against Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals. The return of the senior to the lineup will allow the team to reshuffle its lines, with the luxury of moving a player down a line.
"We have four lines that we can roll out all game," Barton said. "That's key to our game. We have guys that we can count on in different situations; that's what got us here."
Moses Parting the Pads
New Hampshire sophomore Stevie Moses has drawn the praise of the club’s senior leaders for his efforts. Since UNH coach Dick Umile placed Moses on a line with freshman Kevin Goumas and junior Mike Borisenok on Feb. 4, Moses has scored seven goals and assisted on six others in the 13-game span. In the previous 24 games, the winger posted the same totals.
One of the fastest players on a team known for its ability to transition from defense to offense quickly, Moses forces defensemen to prepare for his rushes, allowing Borisenok and Goumas to move more freely.
Currently, Moses has scored a goal in each of his last three games, including UNH’s lone goal in a 4-1 loss to Merrimack last Friday.
Throughout the nation, UNH’s top line is considered one of the premier units in the country. However, some were skeptical of the clubs depth. With Moses and his linemates entering the tournament as one of the Wildcats’ hottest lines, those questions appear to have dissolved for the time being.
For the UNH seniors, the emergence of a legitimate second line will help as they attempt to reverse the program’s recent streak of early round exits in the NCAA Tournament.
“At this time of year whether you're a senior or a freshman you have to have the mindset that you have to win,” UNH senior Paul Thompson said. “As seniors, I think we definitely have a little more urgency it's our last go at it there is no next year for us in college hockey. We've taken it upon ourselves to try to set an example this weekend to come out tomorrow and show the team the effort that we need but I think we're ready.”
Though seemingly on opposite ends of the college hockey spectrum, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson and Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy share much in common beyond Saturday's NCAA Tournament game.
Both have built respectable hockey programs at Catholic institutions capable of competing at the highest level, while Jackson coaches at an institution revered for its athletic accomplishment, Dennehy leads a program that is the most high-profile team on his small campus in North Andover, Mass.
Jackson remains impressed with the building job Dennehy's done at Merrimack.
"It was a slow progression the first couple of years that reminded me of my first years at Notre Dame," he said. "It was a change in the culture and bringing in the right student-athletes for your university and your core values of a coach. There are some similarities among our teams."
Jackson faced a different type of building job when he arrived in South Bend, Ind. The program had limited former success, but enjoyed substantial resources. The university is currently building a new on-campus arena, scheduled to be completed for the 2011-12 season.
Jackson inherited Notre Dame in 2005-06, the same season Dennehy started his Merrimack career. After a 13-19-4 season, Jackson has made the NCAA tournament in four of the last five seasons with the Irish.
“(Dennehy) has changed the culture and brought in the right type of athletes,” Jackson said. “It’s obvious their depth. I think there is also a lot of similarities between Merrimack and the teams I had at Lake Superior. It’s not easy. When you’re Merrimack, it’s the same as when I was at Lake Superior, you are competing against big name dogs and he’s making Merrimack a big name which is a credit to him.”