Thursday, October 27, 2011

Boston College: Top 10 Reasons to Stay No. 1

Have started writing for Bleacher Report, and recently weighed in with my two cents worth on how the alma mater can stay at the top of college hockey this season:

Of course, it's a long way between now and April for the Eagles.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Goodbye, UAH

Media sources in Alabama have been saying that the University of Alabama-Huntsville is all but ready to announce on Monday that it will be dropping men's ice hockey as an NCAA Division I sport at the end of the 2011-12 campaign:

Thirty years of tradition down the proverbial drain. A sad day for UAH and especially for college hockey.

I wrote about the Chargers' predicament for back in August when the program was on the chopping block. I wasn't able to talk with UAH interim president Malcolm Portera on the phone, but he did send me the following e-mail message:

"I have no comment to make about the hockey program at UAH. The harsh economic realities that face all of higher education have motivated us to look at our entire athletic program. We are in the process of doing this. I am sorry, but this isn't an appropriate time to be commenting."

Two months later, and just one week before Portera steps down, and the UAH hockey program is gone - or at least, downgraded from varsity to club status. For all intents and purposes, that's being dropped.

I was working at Montclair State University several years ago when several NCAA Division III sports were (temporarily) downgraded to club status, including wrestling and men's lacrosse. Practically none of the MSU student-athletes welcomed the change in status - no one looked forward to competing against club teams, after facing off with other schools at the intercollegiate level.

It won't be any different at UAH, despite what some administrators are saying or even believing. Playing Alabama or Tennessee at the club hockey level will be nowhere near the same as facing off against Michigan or Michigan State in an NCAA Division I contest.

Division I hockey isn't an inexpensive endeavor, and the Chargers didn't draw huge crowds to the Von Braun Center, which was a neat facility when I visited it many years ago for a two-game series as a part of the Alaska Fairbanks entourage. The Huntsville fans were very much into the games, too, and UAH really had something unique going as the self-proclaimed "Hockey Capital of the South."

For a few more months, anyway. Like Fairfield, Findlay, Iona, Illinois-Chicago, Kent and Wayne State before it, Alabama-Huntsville (1979-2012) deserved a better fate.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michigan State Struggling at Start

Michigan State Football is off to a good start so far in 2011, having just bested rival Michigan for the fourth straight year.

MSU Hockey? Less so, as the Spartans are now 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (itself in its penultimate campaign) following a two-step sweep at Lake Superior State this past weekend. Both losses were by one goal (5-4, 3-2), the first one coming on a late tally by Domenic Monardo of the host Lakers, who are off to a 4-0 start for the first time in forever (okay, since 1995-96).

MSU returned three of its leading five scorers from last season, including captain and top-scoring blueliner Torey Krug. It did lose its No. 1 point-producer Derek Grant, who left East Lansing after just two college seasons to join Binghamton (AHL) last spring. The Spartans also returned both their netminders from last year in Drew Palmisano and Will Yanakeff.

The Spartan power play has connected three times in nine chances in the first four games this fall, and the penalty-killing unit has surrendered just one goal so far. So why just the one win to date?

It could just be a question of youth, with four freshmen and five sophomores having already skated this season for the Spartans. It could also be the fact that it's a new start for the program, with new systems and a new approach under a new head coach.

Former Spartan skater and CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos picked up his first win as MSU's new head coach with State's 3-2 overtime victory over Air Force at the Ice Breaker Tournament on Oct. 8 in North Dakota, with sophomore forward Lee Reimer scoring the tying and winning goals, and Yanakeff making 26 saves. Anastos will be looking for his first official victory at MSU's Munn Ice Arena this Thursday and Friday as the Spartans try to get back on track against CCHA (and future Big Ten Conference) rival Ohio State (2-2 overall, 1-1 CCHA), which just split a two-game series with Notre Dame.

The Spartans will then finish up the month at home against Robert Morris. Time for MSU to go right through, as its fight song says - or at least, get going with some wins.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Boston College Starts Season Strong

As badly as last season ended for Boston College, with a stunning loss to Colorado College in the 2011 NCAA West Regional, things started off exactly the opposite to begin the 2011-12 campaign. The fifth-ranked Eagles topped Michigan State, 5-2, and then battered tournament host and No. 3 North Dakota, 6-2, to claim the 2011 IceBreaker Tournament on Oct. 7-8 in Grand Forks, N.D. It's the third time ever that BC has claimed the traditional season-opening tourney, and it did so this time without the benefit of any sort of exhibition warm-up game.

Bill Arnold topped the BC scoring scroll with a goal and four assists in the two victories, while Pat Mullane tallied two goals and set up two others. Chris Kreider and Stephen Whitney had two goals and an assist apiece, with Kreider also copping tournament MVP accolades. Kreider also scored the game-winner against MSU in the third period on Friday to break a 2-2 tie, before Whitney and Barry Almeida added insurance tallies.

Eagles newcomer Johnny Gaudreau scored his first career collegiate goal in the win over UND, and also added three assists for his first four career points. BC overcame a 2-1 second-period deficit against the Fighting Sioux by scoring five unanswered goals, which came from Kreider, Gaudreau, Mullane, Arnold and Whitney.

In the other Ice Breaker games at Ralph Engelstad Arena, North Dakota edged Air Force, 4-3, on Friday night. MSU then edged Air Force, 3-2, in overtime in the consolation game on Saturday afternoon.

Parker Milner, now BC's No. 1 netminder, stopped 39 of 43 shots, while the Eagles' penalty-killing unit blanked nine of 10 man-advantage attempts. Milner also joined Kreider and Arnold on the All-Tournament Team along with BC blueliners Patch Alber and Tommy Cross. Rounding out the all-tournament lineup was Michigan State forward Lee Reimer and North Dakota winger Brock Nelson.

If there's something that BC needs to work on, it's the Eagle power play, which connected just once in eight tries in the two Ice breaker outings. North Dakota also won 35 of the 63 faceoffs contested between the two squads on Saturday, so there's room for improvement in the red circle.

Things won't get any easier for the Eagles, not with Denver coming to BC's Conte Forum on Friday, and the Eagles traveling to Hockey East rival New Hampshire on Saturday to open the conference slate. But hey, it's a long way from now to April.

Two games down, 30-plus more to go.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hometown Haczyk Seeking to Make NHL Devils

Originally published in the Nutley Journal on Aug. 24, 2011. Haczyk has been assigned to Albany (AHL) to start the 2011-12 season.

By Roman J. Uschak

A Jersey Devil is seeking to come home for good.

Bryan Haczyk, a Nutley native who starred for the Niagara University hockey team the past four seasons, recently attended his second prospects camp with the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark.

"It was pretty awesome," he said earlier this month. "It's really nice to be a part of the organization again."

He is hoping to become just the second Garden State native ever to skate for his home state NHL team. Brick native Jim Dowd, a former college star himself at Lake Superior State in Michigan, helped the Devils to their first-ever Stanley Cup title in 1995.

Haczyk (pronounced HA-chek) took part in his first prospects camp with the Devils last summer, but said the second time around was much more comfortable.

"It was easier to just play my game, and I thought I did well," he said. "There was a lot of talent out there, and I held my own and worked hard."

Haczyk, who was born in Secaucus and then moved to Jersey City, got his start skating at the Mud Hole in Nutley before playing his formative hockey with the New Jersey Devils Youth Hockey Club in West Orange. He then starred for Seton Hall Prep before going on to play three years of junior hockey, first with the New Jersey Hitmen, and then with the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.

Haczyk, 24, then skated for Niagara from 2007 to 2011, helping the Purple Eagles to an NCAA Tournament berth as a freshman, before exploding for career scoring highs as a senior team captain with 28 goals and 17 assists for 45 points. He finished his college career with 46 goals and 49 assists for 95 points, while also fashioning a 3.9 grade-point average and earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Now he's trying to fashion a professional hockey career in what is practically his own backyard, after playing away from home the past six or seven years.

"It's been awhile, but it feels great," said Haczyk of playing in New Jersey again.

The 5-9, 175-pound forward actually made his professional debut at the tail end of the 2010-11 campaign when he played three games with the ECHL’s Trenton Devils, where he registered one assist.

"My family only had to drive one hour to see me play," he laughed, as opposed to a seven-hour sojourn up to Niagara in Lewiston, NY. "It was pretty awesome being back home again."

He also said it's nice to be able to just focus on playing hockey and not having to worry about combining athletics with academics anymore, although he did admit to missing his friends at Niagara.

"I do miss that part of college," he said. "I definitely wouldn't change a thing, and it was a fun four years."

Haczyk will most likely continue his career for now in the minor leagues, as he has signed a one-year contract with the Devils' Triple-A level affiliate in Albany of the American Hockey League. He already has an agent, and has been working out on daily basis at the Prudential Center while also skating with some of the other Devils.

“He will play at the next level,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder of Haczyk last spring. “He has national league speed for sure. Someone will give him a chance at the AHL level, and then it’s where does he go from there.”

One adaptation Haczyk said he has had to make was to the playing style of pro hockey, which he explained is more weighted towards puck possession than the run-and-gun approach of college.

"It's been a bit of an adjustment, but I've felt I've gotten the hang of it," he said.

He also said that the Devils' blue-collar style of hockey, which emphasizes hard work and defense, suits him well.

"It's always been my game," said Haczyk. "My goal is to outwork my opponents on every shift, and I hope I'll fit in well and be successful in the organization."

He's also gotten a little used to seeing his equipment on display inside an NHL locker room.

"It's pretty cool to go to the building and see your gear hanging up," he admitted. "You take a step back, and it's pretty cool to think about the big picture."

The club wasn't simply attracted to Haczyk because he was born and raised in New Jersey, which the Devils have called home since moving from Colorado in 1982. It may have been that way at his first prospects camp last year, which was filled out with local players. The second time, though, was on his own merit.

"It was his senior season at Niagara, in particular," said David Conte, the Devils' long-time Executive Vice-President of Hockey Operations and Director of Scouting. "He had a very good year, and he's carried on with no guarantees. He has a certain character we like and respect."

Conte couldn't speculate on whether or not Haczyk would take part in the Devils' main training camp in Newark in September. He did say that, like all prospects, Haczyk's road ahead was full of potential, and would require some dedication, opportunity and luck.

"He's going to have a chance to start his journey, and see how it unfolds," said Conte.

One that could culminate less than 10 miles from home, at hockey's highest level.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Irish Make it Eleven

The University of Notre Dame will become the eleventh member of the Hockey East Association starting in 2013-14, the latest conference switch to occur at the NCAA Division I level this year.

The Irish had supposedly been seeking to stay out west, be it by joining the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, or perhaps even the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Conference that will also take in current fellow CCHA member Bowling Green. The nascent NCHC seemed to content to remain at eight schools, however, and the Irish looked (to Hockey) East, where the rest of their athletic teams (except football) already compete. Notre Dame will continue what has already been an annual rivalry with fellow Catholic institution Boston College, while forging new ones with Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, and the rest of the New England-based conference, which seems to put at least one school in the NCAA Frozen Four almost every season. Plus, UND is supposed to bring along NBC to televise its games, just like it has been doing for Notre Dame football for years.

Hockey East will likely add a 12th team in the future to balance things out; but whether that's Rensselear or Connecticut or even Alabama-Huntsville remains to be seen. Personally I'm hoping it's UAH, since neither the NCHC or WCHA seems keen on extending an invitation to the Chargers anytime soon, and Atlantic Hockey doesn't seem to have the financial backing to stretch itself that far geographically (unless UAH possibly agrees to pay for all opposing teams' travel to Huntsville and back).

But that's a story for another day in what has already been a wild 2011.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Former Princeton Tiger Taylor Fedun Injured on Icing Play

Former Princeton defenseman Taylor Fedun was hospitalized with a broken right leg suffered on Friday night in a preseason NHL game between Edmonton and Minnesota.

Fedun, who patrolled the Princeton blueline from 2007 to 2011, was racing back to touch up a puck for icing at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. when he got tangled up with former University of Michigan and current Minnesota Wild forward Eric Nystrom, who was reaching in with his stick to try and get the puck. Fedun, who signed as a free agent with his hometown Edmonton Oilers earlier this year, went awkwardly into the endboards, was taken off the ice on a stretcher, and will now have to recover from a major broken bone.

I saw Fedun play many times at Hobey Baker Rink when I covered Princeton for, and he was a steady, exciting player who always seemed to score key goals. Hockey fans, coaches, players and pundits alike have been up in arms about his injury last night being the latest evidence for introducing no-touch icing to the NHL level.

Count me among them.

If the NHL wants to speed up its game, this is one way to help that along. More importantly, it will help to prevent injuries like the one suffered by Fedun, who now may need a metal rod in his leg and who may never completely recover from this incident.

That's not to say I blame Nystrom for what happened. I knew his dad, former New York Islanders star Bob Nystrom, from when I interned with the NHL 17 years ago and he helped me with some on-ice clinics. I also watched him many times on TV and in person as a player when I was growing up, and he was tough but clean. His son has likewise never struck me as a dirty player; and I believe Eric Nystrom, who has played almost 300 career NHL games, was simply going for the puck and had no intent to injure Fedun last night. He's still being vilified for what happened, though, rightly or wrongly:;_ylt=AsKULGVGvZtOSn4nxzc.QPBivLYF?urn=nhl-wp13813

There are players in the game who wouldn't bat an eye about doing such a thing to someone else in such a situation. If they saw another player ahead of them in a race for the puck on an icing, some players wouldn't hesitate to give the other player a not-so-little nudge into the boards, whether or not that player could get his arms up in time to shield himself - and the boards and the puck are no one's friends in certain instances.

There's been enough questionable and even over-the-line happenings occurring in the NHL preseason this fall, such as former University of Wisconsin and current Detroit Red Wing defenseman Brendan Smith recently earning a five-game suspension for a shoulder to the head of former Boston College and current Chicago Blackhawk forward Ben Smith. (Repercussions from the 2010 NCAA title game in Detroit? Doubt it.)

The NHL still has to do more policing of high hits, but there's enough races that can be contested during the course of a modern professional hockey game to keep the fans interested. Icings don't need to be one of those races anymore.