November 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I’m frankly surprised they’ve scheduled NCAA women’s hockey games on Thanksgiving weekend. Given these athletes a break.
Now I’m going to be a hypocrite and suggest which of those games you should watch. The big draw is obviously Cornell’s two game series with Boston College. At least one of these tilts should feature a ton of goals, as Cornell ranks first in team offense with BC third, and neither appears at the same level of defense (although 12 and 15 isn’t so shabby). Can BC control the breakout first line of Cornell while at the same time getting production from players other than Skarupa? The Big Red will carry a huge advantage on the power play so BC should consider playing conservatively. They Eagles do lead the nation in shorthanded goals, however.
On the undercard there’s Wisconsin/UMD, which will probably continue to support WWhyte’s contention that my gamble in the WCHA preview was even sillier than I previously thought. RIT versus Quinnipiac may be of some suspense in the Nutmeg classic, and I’m actually curious as to who comes out of the RPI clash with mildly resurgent St. Cloud State a winner.
Over in the semi-pro ranks, league-crushing Boston (in case you were wondering which nation has the deeper player pool) is off for the holiday. Calgary in its new (vermillion?) jerseys has three against Toronto while Montreal faces Brampton. Those teams clustered together at the bottom will eventually find their separation. Montreal can boast the strongest offense/defense combo among that group right now. While Brampton can theoretically score the defense is porous.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the American women’s hockey fans out there. Happy Chanukah to Jewish readers and players of all nations. Remember that with the social safety net being dramatically cut in the U.S. just in time for the holidays, food banks are facing severe shortages and high demand. Please give if you can.
November 18, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It was going to happen at some point this year, and if Wisconsin weren’t the culprit North Dakota was the WCHA team that seemed poised to do the honors. UMN is still the best team in the country, it just isn’t invincible anymore.
More significant from the point of view of the poll is Princeton’s tie with BC. More interesting, if not significant, is Saint Cloud State’s victory over Northeastern. Sometimes successful moments of rebuilding do not come from the recruits you expect. Meanwhile the CHA continues to intrigue for whatever the opposite of good hockey is (everyone is mediocre! that breeds competition!) , and Cornell and Harvard’s battle royale will surely be repeated in the NCAA playoffs.
Analysis to follow.
November 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Get used to what happened last weekend, because if we are truly to reach parity in the international game we’ll be seeing a lot more of it. I think this was a bit of a shadow play of what’s coming, however. Teams such as Finland and Sweden need to be able to play two competitive games in a row if they are to scale the North American heights. Finland might have managed it had the non-call on the penalty shot in the first gone the other way, but we’ll never know.
I didn’t see Sweden play but was impressed with the resilience of the Finnish team. Raty is their biggest weapon but they proved they can garner goals at this level as well. They do need to improve significantly on their power play, especially in the areas of finding the open player and getting shots off quickly. Canada, despite its Swedish shake-up, probably doesn’t have a ton to worry about. The team took far too many penalties in the final, but was able to escape a sometimes sluggish PK, which will need to be considerably sharpened going forward. Szabados and Labonte both had minor struggles in goal, but I expect Szabados to emerge as the Olympic starter. But Canada can still score like crazy which will make up for defensive deficiencies, although they do need to score consistently rather than streakily (two second period goals in the whole shebang). I think the relative youth of this particular squad helped them in that regard.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. camp there ought to be serious consternation. The U.S. came back and crushed a tired Sweden, but that’s too little too late. I was already leery of some of Stone’s roster choices and that has only gotten worse as I’ve watched the U.S. squad regress from actually being the better team to losing three in a row to Canada and then the shocking Finland upset. Yes, Raty clearly stood on her head, but when you take 59 goddamn shots (pardon my French) and only one goes in, your shooting and shot selection is part of the problem. One for seven on the power play is absolutely woeful, and that’s when they were handed two gifts in the form of delay of game penalties to Raty. This also goes to show that face-off percentage means nothing if you don’t capitalize. 67-17 advantage and one goal. Alongside the offense, we may also have something of a goaltending situation on our hands. An .862 SV for the tournament, dead last, is unacceptable. In short, every facet of the U.S. game needs to be reanalyzed prior to Sochi. It is too late to get some new defenders, but shaking up the pairings couldn’t hurt, as could line shuffling. I will have some detailed thoughts on that soon, not that it will influenced anyone
Although I am happy to see some competition at the top, including the improvements of the Russian and Swiss squads whom we will meet in Sochi, I would like to see that translate into everyone playing well, not the top teams contributing by dropping a level.
November 1, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Maine coach Maria Lewis, formerly an assistant at North Dakota and Mercyhurst, has resigned. Coach Lewis does not appear to have made a statement on her own behalf, so we don’t know her side of the story. The ostensible reason was a set of Level Three NCAA infractions. Lewis had been hired to resurrect Maine’s program, but that turnaround stalled last season. Granted that Hockey East is a very tough conference, Maine is also winless this year.
Level Three infractions are the second-lowest grade. In this case, they appear to have included scheduling extra practice time, and supervising practices that were supposed to be run by the team captain. The first, if true, is something for which I don’t have a lot of sympathy. D-I athletes work hard enough. The second is a problem with the NCAA’s wishy-washy stance on the student-athlete: if athletes are students, you need to allow them time to be real students. Don’t give me this ‘captain’s practice’ or ‘unofficial (but required) team work-out.’ These need to be banned. Even within women’s sports we have seen far too much evidence of programs that treat sports as their athletes’ full time jobs. You can’t do that AND argue that these athletes are being paid with a free education. They’re not getting the education. Be that as it may, Level Three infractions are not a big deal in the scheme of things one can do wrong as a D-I coach. A lengthy period of administrative leave followed by a resignation is odd. Posters on the USCHO Fan Forum are speculating that something else may have been involved.
Over my years writing about women’s sports, I have seen female coaches fired or forced to resign for weaker reasons than men, more often. At Rutgers a male coach can literally throw basketballs at his players’ heads while hurling homophobic slurs and only lose his job when some pesky video hits the media. Women are in a much more precarious situation. So I do find it possible that a coach whose team was struggling, and who was hired based on star recruiting but was recruiting solid players to Maine, could find low-level violations used as a pretext for her ouster. I am also editing this to add that, strange as it may seem, it is possible that Maine is that rare school that actually takes compliance seriously, and no matter what Lewis’ win/loss record she certainly erred in that department. I don’t want to leave out the possibility that we are actually dealing with exactly what it seems.
A few months ago, labor reporters Bryce Covert and Kay Stieger passed around a chart of coaching salaries by sport. The chart demonstrated that women’s salaries were generally grossly incommensurate with men’s. Those of us who have been around women’s sports were sadly unsurprised by this continued evidence of second-class status. But as someone who now specializes in hockey, I noticed something else about the chart: relatively speaking women’s hockey coaches make a lot of money. The men still make significantly more, but women who coach hockey out-earn pretty much all of their peers. I am interested to hear readers’ theories about this as a general phenomenon, but it also returned to my mind when I read the news yesterday of Lewis’ resignation. One poster on the Fan Forum noted that Lewis was being paid a fairly low salary ($45k, according to the Bangor Daily News), which s/he suggested was an indication that the school doesn’t value women’s hockey. Given the low profile of the sport, I would guess that many schools pay women’s hockey coaches well because of market pressure from other schools, but also don’t have a commitment to the sport. I wonder if Lewis built performance bonuses into the contract instead. Or it could be that the poster was right and it’s a sign of Maine’s overall feelings about women’s hockey.
As to the allegations that the problem might be more serious and Maine is trying to cover its bases: it is certainly unfortunate that the school has not even announced the resignation on Maine’s women’s hockey page. If this particular case were in another women’s sport, I would say that it was almost certain that some program-embarrassing personal malfeasance had come to the attention of the AD. Mostly for worse, my understanding of past semi-scandals is that women’s hockey just doesn’t care much about that stuff. But as far as I know there were not subterranean rumblings before this happened, and that normally occurs at schools where the coach is behaving badly (although there are also players who defend the coach no matter how bad her/his behavior. Another thing that sometimes happens, professional rather than personal, is that more serious NCAA infractions occur but the school chooses to report and punish the lesser ones, wanting to seem proactive in case the greater ones come to light. We have no real evidence that this is Maine’s situation. Until more of the story emerges I still think it isn’t so ridiculous to believe Maine legitimately wanted to change direction. I await Lewis’ word on the situation.
Programming note: the CWHL season starts tomorrow. In this Olympic year, they will no doubt be facing fan shortfalls due to lack of superstar power. It’s more important than ever for Canadians and Bostonians to show up at games.
October 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Renssalaer is hanging around with some teams, ey? They outshot both BU and Northeastern this weekend, and while they didn’t win either of those games that’s a positive stat. The flip side unfortunately is that Kelly O’Brien is letting in (marginally) more goals on fewer shots than her opponents. RPI has an interesting mix of players including some first-year defenders who could be promising. Given that RPI’s team name is The Engineers, here is my at least weekly appeal to the D-I players of the world to get some academically tough majors. You will not be playing hockey for a living. Gym teacher salaries are not that hot, nor mostly are those for personal trainers. But designing green tech or skilled nursing (especially in geriatrics!) is going to be really useful in the coming years.
Minnesota is attempting to put paid to my notion that there will be more parity among the elite this year by sweeping Wisconsin. I do believe I made that contingent on whether the Badgers offense could find itself, and it was once again stagnant in these games. Amanda Leveille is holding up very well in goal for the Golden Gophers thus far. This weekend sees a crucial series between UMD and UND (they always have to spell their names over the phone, I’m sure “no, N as in Nancy”). The Bulldogs got absolutely whacked in the third period of the opening match; Black gave up 3 goals on 12 shots. Today’s tilt should demonstrate whether they can play the whole game. Northeastern appears to have righted the ship after that strange opening drubbing by Syracuse and giving up four goals to RIT in a win. However a Week Five meeting with Cornell will be the real test of whether Desjardins and the defense have it together.
St. Cloud State has emerged with two draws from this part of the schedule, but their team motto is ‘unfortunately for us, we play in the WCHA’ so they will be running a gauntlet from here on out. Meanwhile, in the new-look CHA only poor Lindenwood is really out of it. Perhaps God did not intend people to play hockey in Missouri. Or perhaps top tier-two teams, and they certainly were that, don’t forget should think twice or thrice before making the leap. Meanwhile ‘Hurst has already lost twice, and given that their tough schedule hasn’t started yet either, they need to start seriously considering these past few years and make some corrections.
I know I have been long sans post. I may actually write a second one here in a bit while I’m keeping an eye on the live scoring from Grand Forks.
September 20, 2013 § 3 Comments
While the Olympics are depriving us of the chance to see some elite individual talent, they also make the conference races intriguing and potentially more competitive than they’ve been in some time. The teams who benefit are those whose biggest contributors are either too young or not quite elite enough to miss time playing on national teams. Today: the WCHA.
The WCHA is a boom and bust conference. The level of overall play is the highest and most physical in the NCAA, but it still tends to be dominated by one team in any given year. This will not be one of those years. The WCHA thoughtfully includes a little pronunciation guide for its players’ names, and lord knows most announcers seem to need it. Oddly, Minnesota has the most players it chooses to identify as pronunciation-challenged. The names we won’t be hearing are Kessel, reigning Kaz winner and all-everything last year, Stecklein, or graduated Bozek. UMN recruited beautifully from the U-18 national ranks, and obviously Hannah Brandt and Rachel Bona will be non-freshmen to watch. But a first-year goaltender in the WCHA? Even at Peters’ level of international experience, that’s a tough sell. I don’t think it will be as easy to win the conference for the Gophers as the coaches’ poll might indicate.
Over at Wisconsin, fans are missing out on the chance to see super-frosh Pankowski in action, but the return of Young Ammerman could spark the moribund offense. This is the year for the juniors to show that last year’s lackluster performance was an aberration and help Packer be the elite player we’re always told she is. They should keep the Bulldogs in third (or fourth according to the coaches’ poll), but I’m expecting surprises from this squad. Lacquette is on Canadian national team duty and Wong and Winberg are gone, but after a few disappointing recruiting years, Shannon Miller is back to her old ways. I mean, for Pete’s sake this team has an Australian. Also Swiss, Finnish, German and Swedish contributions. However the key is that for once Miller has picked up significant American help, AND ONE OF THE PLAYERS IS IN-STATE ALERT THE MEDIA . Minnesotan Morin comes in from the U-18 national team ranks, as does Crossman. Miller also wins awards for most miles traveled between U.S. cast members, from Alaska to Florida with Arizona and Michigan in between. And of course, there will be significant help from young Canadians like Krause and Black, with the onus on McParland on the score sheet.
In the secondary tier, North Dakota will be suffering extreme Lamoureux loss. They will certainly get their share of wins and Karvinen will tally her points, but making up for two of the best players in the country is nearly impossible. They’ve continued on the path of international recruiting, which as Miller’s teams have shown is a crapshoot which on occasion pays off, and picked up some strong Minnesota high school products; they’re basically Warroad Fifth Year at this point. A-B (woman needs a nickname) will have to be pretty spectacular in goal for them to approach the level of competitiveness they need. Teams should not be intimidated by anything they see from perennial middle-dweller Ohio State. They’ve brought in a couple of former Junior-level captains and have some third-year players from the PWHL/JWHL ranks who have yet to make a major mark, but no superstars. Bemidji gets to host the Final Face-Off this year, but the Beavers are far removed from their glory days of great goaltending that provided them with key upsets. Minnesota State opened last season strongly with some shocking results last year but then faded after what seems to have been a demoralizing trip to Mercyhurst. I know this is a blunt and not entirely useful statistic, but they had not a single player in the plus category on the whole roster. That puts quite a bit of pressure on Danielle Butters, who with all that did manage a .913 save percentage last year. Saint Cloud State has remodeled its arena, but the team it puts on the ice will still struggle. Just to choose one metric, its special teams were woeful last year and its overall shooting percentage was .058. Friend, the program’s biggest recruit in years, did not put up elite numbers in goal, although she obviously faced some of the same struggles as Butters with another plus-less player corps. Redshirt frosh Jenna Redford might help in that regard, but it’s hard to go it alone. And the vicious circle is it’s impossible to recruit without some kind of prior success, unless you have a player who is totally dedicated to being a big fish and turning a program around single-handedly, which can be a mixed blessing as a personality trait.
Although we are missing some elite talent, that should be compensated for by the level of competitive parity in the top echelons of the WCHA this year. Anything could happen, and it’s been a long time since that has been true.
September 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Speaking of strengths, here is…not one of mine. Not quick on the uptake. I realized just in time, like seconds before I would have made a fool of myself, that a number of NCAA players would be skipping this season to play for the national teams. I forgot that also applied to a large group of CWHL players. So basically everything I said about the draft is invalid for this particular season, since the composition of the top teams is currently totally different than it would be otherwise. At least they didn’t start playing the games before I caught on.