Thursday, March 31, 2011

2011 Hobey Hat Trick Revealed

It's down to the final three contestants in the 2011 Hobey Baker Memorial Award race. The trio includes Cam Atkinson of Boston College, Matt Frattin of North Dakota, and Andy Miele of Miami.

Atkinson, who just signed a pro contract with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets and will not return to the Heights next season, is second in the nation with 31 goals, one year after registering 30 tallies and helping BC to the 2010 national title. He scored his final collegiate goal in BC's 8-4 West Regional first-round loss to Colorado College on March 25.

Frattin leads NCAA Division I with 36 goals this season, and is second in the nation with 60 points. He's also the only one of the trio that will be playing in the 2011 Frozen Four, after the Fighting Sioux rampaged through the Midwest Regional in Green Bay with lopsided wins over both Rensselaer and Denver on March 26-27. Frattin, who collected a goal and two assists last weekend, is property of the the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Miele leads all college players with 47 assists and 71 points, although his season and career ended with Miami's 3-1 loss to New Hampshire in the first round of the Northeast Regional on March 26. I'd say he's the favorite, judging by his point totals, plus he seems to have avoided arrest issues that have afflicted his competition, although none of those incidents occurred this winter.,_frattin,_miele_in.php

Frattin and Atkinson have seemingly cleaned up their acts. It's been well-documented how Frattin was suspended from North Dakota after two arrests, left campus to sort out his life, and came back stronger for it. Atkinson's one-time troubles with the law actually took place two months before he ever skated for the Eagles. It all depends on how much weight the committee gives to character issues, although both players have been pretty active in their communities, as has Miele, a pro free agent.

Still, the Hobey Baker Award is supposed to encompass a number of factors, including playing ability, statistics, character and academics. Selfishly, I'd like to see Atkinson win it, having met him at last year's Northeast Regional, and also with his being a (now) fellow BC alumnus. Still, 36 goals are hard to ignore - and so are 71 points. It may very well come down to so-called character, which could put Miele in the driver's seat.

The 31st Hobey Baker winner will be revealed on April 8 on ESPNU at 7:00 p.m. EDT. That's one day after the Frozen Four commences in St. Paul with Minnesota-Duluth taking on Notre Dame, and North Dakota facing off against Michigan, both on ESPN2. The national championship game itself, and the final college contest of the 2010-11 campaign, will be televised on April 9 at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN.

Friday, March 25, 2011

That's the End of That

After Jimmy Hayes scored 19 seconds into Friday's game against Colorado College, it looked like Boston College was on its way.

It was - right out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The BC senior class and goaltender that had never lost an NCAA game made a quick exit from the nationals just one year after winning it all, by losing to Colorado College, 8-4, in the West Regional at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Tigers tallied three power-play goals and two shorthanded markers, and built leads of 4-1 and 7-2 after the first two periods of play, respectively.

BC looked absolutely shell-shocked after falling behind so far, so fast. Their passes were off the mark, they had trouble slowing opposing players down or getting the puck out of the zone, their shots went wide or were blocked, and they skated like someone had taken sandpaper to their skate blades. The Eagles hadn't been routed that badly in an NCAA Tournament game since a 6-3 regional final loss to North Dakota in Worcester in 2005. They hadn't been beaten that soundly in any game since perhaps the 2009 Beanpot opening round when they fell to Northeastern by a 6-1 count - but that BC team pretty much struggled the entire season.

This Eagle squad won 30 games and was coming off a pair of Hockey East titles, not to mention last year's national championship. And in less than one period on Friday night, it all fell apart - thoroughly - and now it's wait until next year.

It was almost as if CC was energized by that first BC goal. The Tigers quickly rebounded to take a 3-1 lead in just over eight minutes as the line of Jaden Schwartz, Rylan Schwartz and Stephen Schultz combined for eight points. They scored on a shot through a partial screen, a rebound, and on a one-timer following a steal behind the BC net.

And they weren't done - when they were, they had finished with four goals and six assists for 10 points in a decidedly one-sided affair. BC hit three posts, but that didn't take away from the 39 saves made by CC netminder Joe Howe, several of the spectacular variety when it looked like BC could possibly claw its way back into the contest.

I don't know if anyone saw this outcome coming - I know I didn't. It turned into a skeet shoot that, despite two BC third-period goals, only ended after William Rapuzzi wristed home a shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation. And BC goaltender John Muse, who earned the Walter Brown Award this season as New England's top college hockey player and was a perfect 8-0 in NCAA Tournament play, finished his college career on the bench after surrendering seven scores over the first two periods.

It was an ignominious ending for Muse and classmates Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney (one assist combined on Friday), who all played major roles in helping BC to two national titles. Unfortunately, there won't be a third, although the ending shouldn't tarnish their accomplishments of the last four seasons.

CC moves on to face Michigan, which ousted Nebraska-Omaha by a 3-2 count in OT, while BC goes home to Chestnut Hill to ponder just what the heck happened after a season that saw them win three tournaments and a regular-season crown. And also to ponder who will be back in Maroon and Gold in the fall.

Besides the departing senior class, there's also a good chance the Eagles may have seen the last of underclassmen Cam Atkinson, Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kreider and Hayes, all of whom have been drafted by NHL clubs, and all of whom may elect to go pro rather than try to pick up the pieces next year. Then again, there could also be a hotshot freshmen or two waiting in the wings, a la Chuck Kobasew in 2000.

The ending, or rather the way it happened, with BC so dominated in its season finale, though, does put a damper on the 2010-11 campaign. Now I know what Miami and Wisconsin backers both felt like last year after BC pasted them by a combined 12-1 count at the Frozen Four in Detroit. It's an empty feeling, no question, to play well all season and then to get to this point and get embarrassed on a national stage.

It's also the first time BC has lost its opening NCAA Tournament game since Jerry York got the Eagles back to the nationals in 1998, although they're still 33-9 overall in that span. Twenty years ago BC was coming off a two-step sweep by Alaska Anchorage, and was 13-29 overall in NCAA Tournament play. The last 14 seasons have indeed been very good for BC Hockey.

More was expected this year, though, because of that standard of success that Boston College has set for itself. You could argue that BC shouldn't have been in the West Regional at all this spring, but that's the way the tourney is set up - no games against conference opponents in the first round. They weren't allowed to play Hockey East rival New Hampshire in the first round; and since UNH was the host school in Manchester and a fourth seed, BC as a first seed had to go west.

Some reward for winning Hockey East, but that's the way it is. An argument could be made to have conferences host the regionals instead of individual schools, like the CCHA is doing in St. Louis this year, but not sure if that would pan out for all four regionals. Besides, schools seem to like hosting ...

Hats off to the Tigers. It was a great run by BC again this year, but it ultimately fell four games short of the ultimate prize that would have made it perfect. Makes one appreciate 2001, 2008 and 2010 all the more.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

We're less than 14 hours away from the final revelation of the bracket for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Championship, with the Atlantic Hockey, CCHA, ECAC, Hockey East and WCHA title contests all being contested as I type this. Some berths have already been locked up via the Pairwise Rankings, while a few are still up for grabs.

I'm not going to pretend I know all the ins and outs of the Pairwise system, but right now it looks like Yale, North Dakota, Boston College, Miami, Merrimack, Denver, Michigan, Union, Minnesota-Duluth, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Nebraska-Omaha, UNH and Colorado College are all in, along with either RIT or Air Force. Rensselaer may still be alive as well for one of those coveted final slots. All will be finally unveiled on Sunday morning on the NCAA Selection Show at 11:30 a.m. EDT on ESPN2.

The NCAA Women's Division I Championship will be contested Sunday afternoon when Boston University meets Wisconsin, which barely got by Boston College yesterday. Kudos to the alma mater (BC) for coming close in its second-ever trip to the Frozen Four, I'm only sorry I didn't get to see it on TV. It sounded like it was a great game, and hats off to BC senior goaltender Molly Schaus for standing on her head to keep her team in it until the final minute of play. Her successor has some big skates to fill next fall.

Of course, "silly season" has already begun in the men's ranks. Alaska Fairbanks defenseman Joe Sova today gave up his final year of eligibility to sign with the NHL's New Jersey Devils; and even though he isn't the first college player to turn pro early this year, he certainly won't be the last, either.

Can't wait for the Regionals to start on Friday - I'll be watching from home this year, but I also get to watch more than one game at once this weekend. Drop the puck!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Niagara Haczyk Story Now Online

Story I recently wrote on New Jersey native and Niagara University senior captain Bryan Haczyk is now up at U.S. College Hockey Online:

He's having a career season after attending a development camp with the NHL's New Jersey Devils last summer and seeing power-play time this winter. I wish him well as he finishes up college (he already has his bachelor's degree) and prepares to move on to the pros.

Niagara hosts Canisius on Saturday in an Atlantic Hockey Association play-in game at NU's Dwyer Arena.