Between the Lines
Departures, Ups and Downs, Hobey Race
Last week, Ben Finkelstein decided to leave St. Lawrence midseason to play in the USHL. This comes amid a trying season already for St. Lawrence, including an investigation currently being undertaken by a university-hired law firm after allegations were made about head coach Mark Morris' behavior towards players.
At this point, I am still gathering facts and info about both situations, which are most likely related. Most of what I know is educated speculation.
However, this column is called "Between the Lines," after all, and in this case it's not hard to draw conclusions. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to infer that Finkelstein's departure has to do with displeasure with the coaching staff.
This does not mean we know for sure whether Finkelstein, and perhaps other teammates, are in the right, or if Morris is completely innocent of any wrongdoing. We have no information, yet, either way. But it's clearly what Finkelstein believes.
After all, a top pair defenseman like Finkelstein, NHL drafted, doesn't leave midseason for the USHL because he likes the weather better in the midwest. That's not something that just happens. At least in the eyes of the player who is leaving. When we see players leave, it's usually a marginal player getting less playing time than he was hoping for, so he goes to major junior. This ... not so much.
I won't get any answers from the coaching staff, because Mark Morris refuses to speak to me. Nevertheless, I am not making a rush to judgment in this case. Though given what I've experienced in the past in regards to paranoia and grudge-holding, nothing would surprise me.
Still, nothing would please me more if the investigation proved nothing wrong took place.
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Team USA decided to take only four current NCAA players to the Winter Olympics, and none from the World Junior roster. I thought the number would be more like five or six, so I was a little surprised.
That said, it was cool to see so many old names on the list — guys who have been playing in Europe and way off the radar of college hockey fans in the U.S., all of a sudden back in the consciousness again.
Even Team Canada has nine former NCAA players on its roster, which is much more than it usually has on its World Junior roster, for example. This year, there were three NCAA players in the World Juniors, which is unusual unto itself, let alone nine.
And even South Korea will be fielding a team with a former NCAA on it. Mike Testwuide is a former Colorado College defenseman, who has bounced around European leagues before winding up in South Korea. He decided to become a citizen of the country, and now will be in the Olympics.
A lot of people are denigrating the Olympic games this time around, because it doesn't have NHL players in it, or even the best amateurs. Instead it's a mish-mash of whatever could be found. But for the players involved, it's still going to be a cool experience. Maybe everyone can just be happy for them and enjoy the games.
It even looks like, politically, things will be OK enough for the Games to happen without much incident. North Korea is sending a delegation to the Games, which will help diffuse things for now.
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Ups and Downs from the first 60 percent of the season ...
Clarkson — It's been a great run for the Golden Knights, and they have the goaltending to go far. They're doing it without many blue chippers, but Sheldon Rempal is close.
Cornell — The Big Red returned to the NCAAs last year, but still seemed a year away from one of those dominant Cornell seasons it used to enjoy in the 2000s. But they are taking advantage of a mediocre league this year, and could get a very high seed, and by the end of the year, should have the maturity it was expecting to have next year.
Niagara — Five wins last year, 10 wins so far this year for first-year coach Jason Lammers. There have been some stumbles lately, but it's already a good year.
Canisius — New coach Trevor Large hasn't missed a beat after the loss of former coach Dave Smith. The Griffs are in first place.
Notre Dame — Losing their top player and top goaltender figured to hurt, but the Irish, a Frozen Four team a year ago, are better than ever, having won 15 straight.
Colorado College — It's the fourth year for coach Mike Haviland, and his efforts are finally starting to pay off. The Tigers are still in last place in the NCHC, but its nine wins is more than any of the past four seasons.
Western Michigan — Hit hard by early departures to the pro after making the NCAAs last year, WMU was expected to take a step back. But the Broncs are No. 7 in the Pairwise. They've hit injury woes lately, so we'll see if they can sustain it.
New Hampshire — It was a good start for the Wildcats, and those looking for a feel-good story hoped that long-time coach Dick Umile's final season could be a fruitful one. But UNH has struggled for the better part of two months now, and it seems to be headed for another disappointment.
Wisconsin — The splashy transfer of one-time All-American Kyle Hayton to Wisconsin hasn't really worked out. Goaltending prevented Wisconsin from making the NCAAs last year, and it might do so again. Both Hayton and Jack Berry have save percentages just under .900. Hayton was around .930 each of his first three years.
Boston University — The array of studs that head coach David Quinn put together worked out last season, but after losing a few and replacing them with a new crop, it hasn't meshed as well this year. Quinn may learn the hard way what many other top-end teams have had to learn in the last 10 years — you're going to lose players to pros, and you can't win with a bunch of youngsters no matter how talented they are.
Penn State — This is only a minor disappointment, in the sense that I had Penn State as a top five team this year. That may still happen, but there's been a few inconsistencies, especially in goal, and some of the sophomores haven't taken off like I thought — yet.
Army — At 9-10-4, Army has been competitive again, but the big leap forward I was looking for from the Knights, hasn't yet materialized. Again, it's more a disappointing, like UNH, because we want the feel-good story of them finally making the NCAAs for the first time.
St. Lawrence — Players leaving left and right, dissension, injuries, under investigation, four wins, 0 ECAC wins. Can it get any worse?
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This has been a weird year with few guys really popping out. As a result, the Hobey Baker Award race is very muddled, moreso than any time I can remember.
If you're looking for top players on good teams, Adam Gaudette of Northeastern is as good a candidate as there is. Otherwise, there's Sheldon Rempal of Clarkson and Wade Allison of Western Michigan (currently injured).
Denver forward Henrik Borgstrom seems disappointing at just 15-15—30, but he's only played 21 games due to being away for World Junior. So if anyone has the ability to light it up in the second half and run away with it, it's him.
Harvard's Ryan Donato has been a consistent goal scorer, with 17 in just 17 games. But he has just 25 points, the team probably won't make the NCAAs, and Donato will miss time for the Olympics. That will make his candidacy difficult.
St. Cloud State defenseman Jimmy Schuldt is a possibility. He's 37th in points per game, which is the best of any defenseman, and the Huskies are No. 3 in the Pairwise right now.
This might be a year, therefore, for a goalie to finally win it again. That hasn't happened since Ryan Miller in 2000. Notre Dame's Cale Morris would seem to be a bang-up candidate, with the only possible negative being that he's a sophomore. He has a 1.47 goals against average and .956 save percentage, which is certainly Ryan Miller territory. Clarkson's Jake Kielly is also in the mix with a .950 save percentage, but Morris faces more shots per game.
If I had to pick right now, I'm going with Morris. Maybe Gaudette. But I think Borgstrom may be the guy in the end.