Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Osiecki Takes Over at Ohio State

So Ohio State went the outside route in hiring Wisconsin assistant Mark Osiecki to coach the Buckeyes. Good move for OSU, Big Ten or otherwise - Osiecki is a proven coach and recruiter, and they needed a shakeup at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

I was in the tail end of my first season as Michigan State's SID when John Markell took over the Ohio State program and then led it to new heights in his 14-year tenure. That elevation included six NCAA Tournament invitations, topped by an NCAA Frozen Four appearance in Boston in 1998. Perhaps things simply stagnated for both Markell and the Buckeyes after so long together, but he should be thanked for his contributions while this new chapter in program history unfolds. Markell's tenure also followed a 20-year stretch by Jerry Welsh, so Osiecki becomes just the third head coach behind the Buckeye bench since 1975.

A member of Wisconsin's 1990 NCAA Championship team who helped the Badgers get back to the national title game this spring, Osiecki spent seven successful seasons as the coach and general manager of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers before returning to his alma mater. Prior to his juniors stint, he also helped North Dakota claim a national crown in 1996-97.

Now he's taking the reins of a program that seemingly has the resources, along with potential that hasn't always been realized. Don’t expect the Buckeyes to suddenly sell out all 17,500 seats at Value City Arena on a regular basis, but hopefully Osiecki can get OSU to compete regularly for the CCHA title and an annual NCAA berth.

Now if he could just do something about the fact that the Buckeyes are forced to play at the old OSU Ice Rink when they host the first round of the CCHA playoffs …

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

NCAA Players Abound in 2010 NHL Playoffs

They may not be burning up the statistical scrolls, but former NCAA Division I college players have so far been all over the first round of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Look at Los Angeles, back in the post-season after an eight-year hiatus (seven, if you count the ill-fated and idiotic 2004-05 NHL lockout). Goaltender Jonathan Quick (Massachusetts) had stopped 90 of 98 shots in his Stanley Cup debut to help the Kings to a 2-1 series lead over Vancouver and former U.S. Olympic teammate Ryan Kesler (Ohio State). Quick has gotten support from teammates such as Jack Johnson (Michigan), who has posted five assists so far in his own playoff inauguration, while Kesler had put up four assists for the Canucks.

New Jersey’s fortunes will be largely attuned to how well the former North Dakota Fighting Sioux duo of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac fare up front. Zajac scored the Devils’ only goal in Game One against the rival Flyers, while Parise tallied a goal and assisted on the game-winner in Game Two. The Devils then got two power-play goals from veteran forward Brian Rolston (Lake Superior State) in a Game Three overtime loss at Philadelphia, which has gotten one assist apiece so far from Matt Carle (Denver) and rookie James van Riemsdyk (New Hampshire). Andy Greene (Miami) has a goal and an assist for the Devils, while Darroll Powe (Princeton) is a +1 in three games for the Flyers and was often seen a-waltzing and a-facewashing with Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk in Game Three.

Buffalo’s fortunes may turn on when (and if) sniper supreme Thomas Vanek (Minnesota) gets back in the Sabres’ lineup to help out goaltender Ryan Miller (Michigan State), who surrendered just two goals in Game 3 in Boston but still absorbed a loss. Blake Wheeler (Minnesota) has two assists in three games so far for the opposing Bruins.

Colorado won two of its first three games against top-ranked San Jose, with Paul Stastny (Denver) chipping in with three assists after recording a team-best 59 helpers in the regular season. Rookie forward Brandon Yip (Boston University) had collected a goal and an assist in his first foray into the pro post-season, while John-Michael Liles (Michigan State) scored the Avs’ first goal of this year’s playoffs. On the other side of that series, veteran Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle (Miami) suffered the ignominy of launching the shot that ultimately wound up behind his goaltender in overtime of a 1-0 loss in Game Three. Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin) had gotten San Jose to overtime in Game Two, in the only contest claimed by the Sharks so far.

Jimmy Howard (Maine) has struggled in his Stanley Cup debut, surrendering four goals in a 4-2 loss in Game Three against Phoenix that put his Detroit Red Wings down by a game after three contests. Justin Abdelkader (Michigan State), who scored twice in the Finals last year, chipped in with a goal in Game Two in a 7-4 Wings’ win in Arizona. Lee Stempniak (Dartmouth) and Adrian Aucoin (Boston University) each had an assist in the first three games for the surprising Coyotes.

Montreal got off to a good start in edging No. 1 Washington in their opener, although the Capitals rebounded to win the next two meetings. Michael Cammalleri (Michigan) led the Habs with a goal and four assists through three games, while Brian Gionta (Boston College) had a goal and an assist. Mike Knuble (Michigan) has three assists so far and Tom Poti (Boston University) has two for the Caps, who would have also had a UMass alumnus in rookie surprise John Carlson had he not elected to go the major junior route with London (OHL).

Defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh rebounded for a two games-to-one lead over Ottawa thanks to three points from Bill Guerin (Boston College), two from Chris Kunitz (Ferris State), and one from Alex Goligoski (Minnesota). Brian Elliott (Wisconsin) had stopped 66 of 76 shots so far for the opposing Senators.

Have to look a lot harder to find former collegians in the Chicago-Nashville match-up. Jonathan Toews (North Dakota) has one assist so far for the higher-seeded Blackhawks, while Colin Wilson (Boston University) had been held pointless in his first two career Stanley Cup playoff outings with the Predators.

Multiple players with college ties, eight different playoff series, and as many as four games in one night - yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the hockey year. After the NCAA Tournament, that is.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Boston College 2010 NCAA Champs

Looks the NCAA Championship trophy is just going back up the Green Line.

Boston College won its fourth national title ever, and second in three years, with tonight's dominating performance in a 5-0 win over Wisconsin before a record crowd of 37,592 at Ford Field in Detroit. The Eagles again blew the game open in the third period, tallying two goals in a span of 2:02 to make it 3-0, and then added two more scores to put the favored Badgers and Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Blake Geoffrion away and bring another title back to Chestnut Hill.

Senior forwards Ben Smith and Matt Price each scored goals in their final appearances for BC, with Smith tallying the game-winning goal and also earning Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player accolades, and Price hitting an empty net. Sophomore forward Cam Atkinson scored twice, giving him a nation-best 30 goals, and junior goaltender John Muse stopped all 20 shots he faced, including several tough ones early on, in earning the shutout and his eighth win in eight career NCAA Tournament games.

Hockey East has now won three consecutive national championships, with BU's victory last year sandwiched between a pair of BC crowns. Since April 2008, the NCAA trophy has figuratively traversed a round trip of just 14 miles - and who knows, it could stay out East again next season.

I'm a little surprised that BC won both games at this year's Frozen Four by such lopsided scores. Wisconsin had a good team, and so did Miami; but speed kills, and BC has plenty of that. Their forwards may be undersized, but they're tough to catch and know what to do with the puck when they get an opportunity. They also know how to string goals together in bunches, as evidenced again tonight, and the freshman defensemen sure look like they grew up fast.

A lot of people wrote the Eagles off after they surrendered seven goals in winning the NCAA Northeast Regional final two weeks ago in Worcester, but apparently BC Head Coach Jerry York and company made the right adjustments over the last two weeks. Besides recruiting players with speed and skill, they also recruit players who buy into the team concept and who play defense - a testament to that was how hard BC players backchecked tonight, even when they had three- and four-goal leads.

They never really let the Badgers get going, or the Red Hawks before them, and now the Eagles are national champions. Again.

The football stadium experiment for the Frozen Four may not have been a complete success, but is there any doubt for college hockey fans that this is the best time of the year? Maybe the NCAA Hockey Tournament doesn't have the national following or media coverage that that other tourney with the bouncing orange ball does . It probably never will, either, but so what? For those of us who love this game, it's our own well-kept little secret. Getting the whole country involved would be nice, but it's not necessary.

The only negative tonight for me and many others is that it's six months until the puck drops again in college hockey rinks. The memories of tonight, though, will last even longer for us Eagle alumni. And this fall I'm going to try to get to BC's Conte Forum BEFORE they raise the championship banner, instead of getting stuck in traffic on the Mass Pike.

Congratulations, Eagles, and see you in October.

Friday, April 9, 2010

One Down, One to Go

Boston College got the job done against Miami last night, blowing open a two-goal game with four scores in just over six minutes en route to a 7-1 win at Ford Field in Detroit in a national semifinal.

The Eagles used their speed to great advantage in going up 3-0 before the second period was four minutes old, and dictated the overall pace of the game. Ben Smith scored two goals and set up another, Joe Whitney had a goal and two assists, the Eagle defense was suffocating, and John Muse made some key stops in net in helping BC to its third national title tilt in four seasons.

On to tomorrow’s NCAA Championship Game against Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

BC Can Win Tonight

The naysayers for Boston College have been out since before the NCAA Northeast Regional ended in Worcester two weeks ago.

"BC can't play good defense."
"Their goaltender has too many holes."
"They're going to get embarrassed at Ford Field."

And BC won the Regional, by the way.

Maybe I'm biased because I'm an alumnus, but I have confidence that BC can top top-ranked Miami tonight in Detroit and move on to the NCAA Championship game at Ford Field on Saturday evening.

As to the first criticism, BC's biggest problem on defense is that they're young, and start no less than three freshmen in Patch Alber, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson. (It might be four if Patrick Wey wasn't sidelined with mononucleosis.) They're willing to hit, and they move the puck well; but sometimes they don't get it out, or don't rub opponents out, which is what happened in the 9-7 regional final win over Yale. The blueliners need to play a little grittier and not panic when things break down, and keep enemy forwards from skating to the net with impunity, and I'm sure they've worked on those shortcomings since March 28. The BC forwards will also have to continue to come back and help out defensively, and get in the face of opposing point men when they have the puck.

As for the second stigma, BC edged Alaska, 3-1, in the first round of the Regional, and Muse had a lot to do with that. If he didn't play the way he did that afternoon, there's a good chance the Nanooks move on to play Yale, and not the Eagles. Also, Yale was actually a pretty potent team this year, averaging more than four goals per game (no cracks about the ECAC, please), plus no less than three of the goals the Bulldogs scored against BC were on deflections in close. Those are tough for any netminder to stop, and Muse can't do it all by himself. Luckily he won't have, to if teammates apply themselves (see above).

As to the third charge - they've been to this stage before. The juniors and seniors on this year's BC team helped the Eagles to a national title two years ago in Denver, and they know what it takes to win it all. The seniors also know what it's like to come up on the short end in the last game, a la Michigan State in 2007, and you can bet they don't want to repeat that experience in their final weekend as collegians.

Concerning intangibles, the Eagles most of all have a solid coaching staff, led by Jerry York - you don't think they've worked on things the last 11 days to shore up the weaknesses that presented themselves at the Regional? Plus, the Eagles have shown they can definitely score goals this year - Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons, Joe and Steve Whitney, even Matt Lombardi as of late - and with their speed and tenacity up front, they can still light the lamp as well as anyone. (Hopefully the temporary ice surface at Ford Field holds up and permits them to use their skating ability.)

It won't be a cakewalk, of course. Miami is a very good team, with their own group of talented players who have been to the Frozen Four before. The Red Hawks (the old Redskins) would like nothing better than to erase last year's last-minute national heartbreak against BU, plus three years of coming up short in the NCAAs to the Eagles. They also have the memory of Brendan Burke to spur them on this time out.

But BC is here, and while they're here, the Eagles might as well win it. Whether they win 2-1 or 10-7 doesn't matter, which is as much as what York said in Worcester following the Yale shootout. As long as you're on the left side of the score, it doesn't matter how you do it, just so long as you do it.

BC can win tonight's game. As for Saturday - well, let's see about tonight first.