Monday, April 25, 2011

Coaching Carousel: Good Luck, Gads

The coaching carousel in NCAA Division I hockey has been a veritable merry-go-round the last few weeks, especially where the ECAC is concerned. Clarkson recently released George Roll, while Nate Leaman shifted from Union to Providence, and was replaced on the Dutchmen bench by assistant and former Friar skater Rick Bennett. Speaking of Hockey East, UMass Lowell alum Norm Bazin is now in charge of his alma mater.

The nascent program at Penn State, though, which will (finally) start intercollegiate play in late 2012, made perhaps the biggest splash of all by hiring Princeton's Guy Gadowsky over the weekend to be its first-ever varsity head coach. Gadowsky led the Tigers to both ECAC and Ivy League titles and their first-ever back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths in his tenure, along with consistent Top-20 recognition, after inheriting a team that had won just five games the season prior to his arrival from Alaska Fairbanks. He also oversaw a similar reclamation effort during his time at UAF, and led the Nanooks to the brink of the big dance.

Having regularly covered Princeton from Gadowsky's second season on up until this past winter, I'll admit I have some mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand, I'm genuinely happy for him. He's paid his dues and brought the Tigers some success, and deserves to have an opportunity like this at a big-name, Big Ten school. I'm sure he's gotten a bump in pay and will have more resources to work with, including a new 6,000-seat arena. Plus, how many coaches could resist the lure of being able to start a Division I program from scratch? (Although according to Monday's press conference that officially introduced him at Penn State, he doesn't consider it to be starting from scratch.)

Selfishly, more than a small part of me wishes that he was staying at Princeton. I'm sure a lot of Tiger fans do, after what he was able to accomplish there the last seven seasons. He's always been a class act, and always been gracious with his time for post-game interviews. Heck, sometimes he'd even apologize to me if I was waiting to get a quote or two because he was busy talking to a recruit or something along those lines. Not that a D-I coach had to apologize to me, but that's the kind of person he is.

He really is a genuinely nice Guy, and having a common link to UAF was neat, even if our respective tenures in Fairbanks were about a decade apart. Most people probably wondered what we were talking about when we discussed the Governor's Cup, which took place more than 4,000 miles away from central New Jersey, but it was nice to have that kind of rapport with him. It will be weird next year to walk into Baker Rink and not see him standing on the Princeton bench anymore; but rationally, I realize he's doing what he has to do, and as I said before, he deserves this opportunity. I hope his successor at Old Nassau can do half as well.

Onward and upward, then. I wish him and the Nittany Lions much success, and hope that sometime over its first couple of seasons, Penn State can make the trek from Happy Valley to Baker Rink for a two-game set. Thanks, Gads, and good luck out there.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Second Most Wonderful Time of the Year

After the NCAA Hockey Tournament and the Frozen Four, it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No, I won't say that claiming the national championship trophy is as storied as picking up Lord Stanley's prize - it's just that college hockey is as sudden death as you can get. Win four and you're number one; lose one and you're done.

The Stanley Cup champion, meanwhile, will have slogged through four rounds of attrition, and as many as 28 games in all before getting the chance to hoist the celebrated 35-pound silver chalice. The first round is arguably the best, with eight series going on in all, and as many as four games on TV a night.

I've still got college players on the cranium watching the pros play in the post-season, though. San Jose beat Los Angeles in the opener of their Western Conference series on Thursday night as Joe Pavelski wristed a shot past Jon Quick in overtime. The first thought that came to my mind was that Wisconsin just put the puck past Massachusetts - and they won't be the last former college skaters in the spotlight as the first round turns into the second, and third and fourth. Perhaps another former NCAA player a la Jonathan Toews will again be the very first player to hold the Cup high when everything is finally sorted out sometime in June.

The only bad thing about the playoffs, NHL or AHL or ECHL, is as the number of participating teams dwindles and you finally get down to the last two, you know another hockey season is almost over and then it's going to be wait until October again.

Luckily that's not for almost another two months.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Congrats All Around

Congratulations to BC's Brooks Dyroff on winning the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Congratulations to Miami's Andy Miele on collecting the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. And congratulations to Minnesota-Duluth for earning its first-ever men's national hockey title with tonight's 3-2 OT win over Michigan at the Xcel Energy Center on a goal by senior forward Kyle Schmidt. An exciting ending to another NCAA hockey campaign - and half a year from now it all starts all over again.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's U-M vs. UMD on Saturday

It'll be Wolverines against Bulldogs on Saturday night in St. Paul for it all. And really, who out there had that final pairing picked when the brackets were announced on March 20? Yet here we are.

Minnesota-Duluth again used a trio of power-play goals to record its latest victory, and held on to beat Notre Dame, 4-3, behind Kenny Reiter's 31 saves in the first semifinal played Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center. In the nightcap, Shawn Hunwick made 40 stops and allowed a first-period tally by Ben Winnett to hold up as Michigan blanked No. 2 North Dakota, the school favored by many to win this year's national championship, by a 2-0 count.

Michigan will be looking for its 10th national title and first since 1998, along with its fourth straight win over a WCHA team, when the puck drops tomorrow night. UMD will be seeking its first-ever NCAA crown in its first Frozen Four since 2004, and its first national final appearance in 27 seasons.

It's been quite a ride so far this spring in the NCAA Division I tournament - some expected outcomes, several exciting finishes, and even a few surprising upsets. All the final answers will be revealed on Saturday when the 2010-11 college hockey campaign concludes.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Early Signings - and More to Come

We're not even at the Frozen Four yet, but Division I players with college eligibility remaining have been setting sail for the pros for weeks now.

Boston College lost would-be seniors Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes to Columbus and Chicago, respectively, although I can't say either player's signing was a complete surprise. Atkinson scored 61 goals the last two seasons and is now a Hobey Baker Award finalist, while Hayes just recorded a 21-goal campaign - and is also 6-foot-5 to boot. He's already played a game with the AHL's Rockford Ice Hogs, while both he and Atkinson already had a national championship ring from last season.

The Eagles' sophomore class may not be intact for long, either. It's wait and see if the New York Rangers will come calling for Chris Kreider's services, or if Carolina will try to pry Brian Dumoulin from the BC blueline. Dumoulin has reportedly said he's going back to school next fall, but that probably won't stop the Hurricanes from trying to get his signature on a contract before training camp starts.

Hockey East had earlier lost two rising juniors in Boston University's David Warsofsky and Maine's Gustav Nyquist, who went to Boston and Detroit, respectively, and are now both in the American Hockey League. Warsofsky has already skated in four contests with the Providence Bruins, while Nyquist posted a goal and an assist in his first two games with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

RIT lost junior forward Tyler Brenner to Toronto after he just missed out on a second trip to the NCAA Tournament with the Tigers. The Maple Leafs had earlier signed Wisconsin junior defenseman Jake Gardiner.

The ECAC wasn't immune, either, as junior netminder Allen York chose to go to Columbus after helping Rensselaer to its first national tournament berth in 16 years. Clarkson defenseman Mark Borowiecki said goodbye to a potential senior season in Potsdam and is now in Ottawa's system, as is former Michigan State rearguard Derek Grant, who passed up his last two years in East Lansing and in the CCHA.

It also wasn't an earth-shattering revelation that Stephane Da Costa left Merrimack this week after a pair of 40-plus point campaigns at the NCAA level. The France native inked a deal with Ottawa, and is set to make his NHL debut this weekend. That puts him head of other early signees, most of whom were expected to earn their indoctrination in the AHL. That includes Denmark native and former St. Cloud State defenseman Oliver Lauridsen, who is now with Philadelphia's affiliate in Adirondack.

Denver sophomore defenseman Matt Donovan recently walked away from his last two years with the Pioneers to sign with the New York Islanders, and has since reported to the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Also in Bridgeport is former Mercyhurst forward Phil Ginand, the first NCAA skater to sign early this spring.

The current college hockey season will end next Saturday night. The current silly season, as I call it (with a big nod to NASCAR) has a whole summer - and even autumn - to go.