A Busy Week

Not for hockey, for me 😉 I have had no time to scout out this week’s matches, and what with the ECAC being like one of those math word problems on the SAT (“If Katie is older than Sam but younger than Leticia….”), I’m going to have to physically see more games before being able to make real assessments. The Colgate-Princeton-Quinnipiac-Cornell foursome should be interesting. Syracuse and Lindenwood will split. RMU will beat RIT handily, as should Bemidji State defeat OSU. I do hope I get a chance to watch some hockey soon.


Very Quick Picks For The Weekend

What is with all this one game nonsense?  Clarkson at Harvard anchors a not-particularly-scintillating weekend, in which the most competitive games may be Lindenwood versus Penn State. I think Tech takes it even if Harvard is the home team. Then Harvard will rebound in its revenge match against Dartmouth, which will probably also be beaten by Saint Lawrence, because the Saints’ offense can be pretty aggressive. We’ll see how long UND’s defense holds against Minnesota. The other WCHA match-ups should largely be walkovers.

Win A Big Game, Make The Poll

Yeah, we were all surprised that Dartmouth upset Harvard. But statistically it’s also possible that I could be killed by a banana falling from the sky (bananas: don’t trust them). This is not meant to imply the Big Green victory was that improbable, but ‘hey, they beat a ranked team once’ is not actually a very useful criterion. By that metric, we might be ranking Saint Cloud State, because in terms of prediction and evaluation, it’s probably more important to focus on game two of a series than game one (coaching adjustments! intangibles!). Yet there’s the flaw in that logic when it comes to back-to-back games is resting starters, as UND did by bringing in Shaw in game two.

Now is the time to buy on Northeastern, who can certainly take me to task for jumping to very early season conclusions. But they have been a ‘beat anyone, lose to anyone’ team during the current seniors’ run. It is also time to finally take a look at UConn, whom I hope to write more about soon. The season playing out will reveal Princeton to be a more successful squad than Dartmouth, although beating Mercyhurst right now says more about the time the Lakers are going to need to develop than about their opponents. BC’s utter thrashing of Cornell sent a message, as does the offense over defense UW sweep of Bemidji (I think Horgan got me there). The USA Today poll is not yet out but they ranked UW ahead of BC last week so canny or WCHA bias: take your pick.  WCHA bias has not proved to be a bad way to select a hockey team over the past X number of seasons.

Small Sample Size-Itis

Being dissatisfied with the way some of my predictions have gone so far, I am going to take a flyer on guesswork this week. There has been enough observable hockey to make a few conclusions: New Hampshire, Brown, Yale, and Providence will unfortunately all lose. But there are also a number of series that will provide a considerable amount of information about teams that are still sitting in the cloud of significant unknowns.  UW/BSU is obviously the most key of these (obviously a high scoring game favors the Badgers and vice versa). BC/Cornell, BU/Northeastern, and to a lesser extent Princeton/Mercyhurst are all important series.’Who is Cornell’ is the question we ask every year. It should also be clear that I think despite their rough last few games, BC suffered from the single elimination play-off structure primarily. The Huskies are yet again playing rope-a-dope with the universe, and Princeton has the potential to make noise in the ECAC this year but we’ll see how they match up out of conference.  Stay tuned.

Why New NWHL Fans Will Love Women’s College Hockey

[Cross-posted at Women’s Hockey Nation]

So you’ve discovered the NWHL. And how can you not love a league where the game is delayed because a team bus got lost on the way to the rink, and the players (well, player) break into spontaneous juggling. Perhaps you are a women’s sports fan but this is your first exposure to hockey. Perhaps you are a die-hard hockey person but have never watched the women’s game before. Perhaps you think this is all you need of the women’s hockey experience. Let me be the first to say: try college hockey!

I remember watching the inaugural WNBA game on the floor of some friends’  living room  in New York, and frankly being embarrassed at the awful quality of the basketball. It took about a decade for the NCAA to provide enough players to change the tenor of the pro league for good. In hockey, this process has already happened. The best college teams are creating the best pro players. Marie-Philip Poulin, whose name is mangled by more people who should know better on a daily basis, scored three goals in her first weekend in the CWHL. Tomorrow’s national team stars hone their skills weekly in D-I match-ups.

Those match-ups also provide a dose of good old-fashioned rivalry. The NWHL is also too young and too full of goodwill to have created team allegiances and enmities. We all love everybody! Bah! While women’s NCAA battles cannot compete in age with those in some men’s sports, they certainly match up in intensity. WCHA programs hate each other, as do those with geographical and historical ties, like upstate New York highway rivalries, the Beanpot teams, etc. There are also passionate, knowledgeable, long-suffering fanbases of many teams who will be the first to tell you of slights long-remembered and how annoying or inane various mascots are. This includes those who go back to the pre-NCAA era, another source of hockey lore.

With the new American league which isolates American and Canadian players largely in their own fiefdoms, we are also now not seeing the world’s best compete with each other anymore. Familiarity in this instance failed to breed contempt, but instead largely took the edge off the nastiness we used to see in the Canada-US encounters while at the same time greatly improving the play. Now the college stage is where Northerners and Less Northerners break bread together and make fun of each others’ accents and taste in music. If you want to see opposing national team players streak down the wing together, this is the place.

Also important is not just international but intranational diversity. Here in the states, Minnesota is the font of all things hockey, and they are shut out of the NWHL picture so far. It makes perfect economic sense for the four NWHL teams to be in easy reach of one another (even if the Pride need GPS to navigate Brooklyn). But the NCAA empire stretches into the hockey heartland as far West as North Dakota and as far south as Missouri (*Insert obligatory Missouri joke here, although I am listening to Eric Church while writing this so I don’t have much of a leg to stand on).

This is the most exciting time to be a fan of women’s college hockey. The balance of power is shifting in unpredictable ways. There has never been more parity and more young talent flowing to the game. Scoring records will continue to fall. Just a scant season ago, Clarkson won the national championship in stunning fashion over juggernaut Minnesota. This year could see the first Hockey East team to gain a national title in the NCAA era. New teams are being added and some conferences are becoming competitive for the first time. In short, if you love the NWHL, there is even more to love about the bigger, broader, even more bracing college hockey landscape.

Lindenwood Gets A Vote On the USCHO Poll!

That makes absolutely zero sense, but bless their hearts they’ve won some hockey games this year. It’s less puzzling that Northeastern, who lost to them this week, getting *two* votes.  I mean for Pete’s sake Penn State didn’t wasn’t named by anyone and they actually defeated a ranked team in what is clearly the biggest win in their young program history.  Polls exist to give us something to argue and laugh about.

Bemidji, having handled its first minor test of the year, now faces something more formidable in the upcoming home and home series with UND. Before the season I noted this rivalry is a coin flip and nothing so far disprove that. BSU has more potential offensive upside. I think they have a chance to take both games, although going into Grand Forks poses a challenge.

There is no sign of New Hampshire ending its streak of woe anytime soon.  RIT’s forward progress appears to be temporarily stalled. That RPI thrashing was a huge surprise to me.  Other than that, last week shook out exactly as one might predict.

It will an eve of destruction in the WCHA on the upcoming docket for UW and UMN. Take the over on whatever spread you have. Mankato has been hanging tough in the beginning of the season, which has been a recent season trend for them, and can probably stay up with Duluth for at least one game (they won’t win, of course, but one of these games will be close).

The Clarkson and BU clash will tell us a lot about whether the Terriers can rebound from that split with Penn State. Tech is unbeaten but has not yet faced a tough opponent. BU has a porous defense and Clarkson is disciplined and could rack up some goals.  It will be important for BC to dominate Maine, which has shown more defensive tenacity than expected, if it wants to maintain its lock on the second spot which I am sure it will happen. ‘Hurst will sweep Northeastern and take over a poll spot. If Colgate follows its current trajectory it should skate in circles around Providence (although obviously not to the degree they were frustrated by the Badgers). Princeton will beat Brown to open the ECAC slate.  The rest of the conference is still in pre-season form.

Change In Posting Schedule

I set it to MWF before I realized two of those three would be really busy for me.  I’m going to move to T-Th-Su.

Which means there will be a post later today to discuss this rather wild weekend, including the biggest win in Penn State’s young program history.  And Bemidji State!

Things We Learned At The Saturday San Jose Game

(That’s the UW-Providence game played at Sharks Ice in San Jose, which afforded me a rare chance to see an actual live game), not the Sharks)

*Live hockey >>>>>>>>>> televised hockey, which I’d forgotten.

*It always sucks to drive in and around San Jose: old roads, old lane markers, heavy traffic, confusing signage, etc.

*The PA people made it an entire game without playing a song by a person of color (and only one song by a woman). They had to use Ring of Fire three times, but they did it.

*There are, as expected, many Wisconsin alums in the Bay Area. But there was also a vocal Providence contingent.

*The differences between a top tier team and a (for now, sorry) not-top tier team are immediately visible. Not only were the UW players faster and more technically proficient, they just saw the geometries of the ice better. Or, as one Junior girl sitting next to me remarked in a fake Russian accent: “How do they do thees. I don’t understand.”

*I have been severely underestimating Sarah Nurse. Not only her play but her line’s play was exemplary.

*Danielle Hardy is gigantic in person and on skates. She literally looms over everyone else.

*I’ve always thought of Annie Pankowski as a goal scorer, but she is a great passer as well. Also, “why do they have her on the first line of the penalty kill and not on the first line of the power play…oh, that’s why.”

*Some of the Providence fans were concerned UW was running up the score. I understand their frustration, but am also hard-pressed to figure out how the Badgers could have avoided scoring on most of those plays, aside from the short-handed chances where they could have just launched the puck down the ice instead.  It’s also plenty humiliating to have a team just passing the puck around, right?

*Parents of athletes sound exactly the same whether their kids are playing Little League or Division I

More On Women’s College Sports And Abusive Coaches

Apparently basketball has a worse problem than hockey. Fewer than 40% of players in one survey found their head coaches trustworthy. I was about to link to the opinion piece in SI where that stat was quoted, but I did not at all like the perspective, which I felt was one-sided, or the attitude evinced by the piece. Coaches quoted, but no players. B****** just be crazy whiners, amirite?

As I said in my prior post on this topic, one reason we’re seeing more of these cases is that both female and male athletes are ceasing to take as gospel the idea that coaches can treat them any old way in the name of toughening them up. But I also think that while men are much, much more likely to suffer through this kind of behavior because fighting it will cause idiots to question their masculinity, there are complicated power dynamics with women as well. First off, there is still a preponderance of male coaches supervising female players, which can replicate the sexism found outside sports as well as sit in a weird relational limbo (Fatherly? Romantic? Professional? Some bizarre amalgam of all three?). Many female coaches feel they must emulate the worst of the toxic behavior in order to be taken seriously. Or they’re just power-hungry martinets, which is not uncommon in the higher-up coaching ranks. Add to this the insecurity of a female athlete’s life. There are fewer opportunities for scholarships, and this is probably the last step in their athletic careers. Their place in the team hierarchy takes on a special importance. A coach is in control of naming that place. In basketball, as well, players are often black and coaches white, which adds an extra layer of possibility to coaching abuse.

There’s a lot we can do to address these problems, but the first and most important step is continuing to see them as problems rather than something to be sucked up.

The NCAA: Already Interesting

Yeah I’m holding the Miller post until I gather more info.

Meanwhile her old program did not beat the living corn pone out of Lindenwood, though it will take awhile for a new coaching and recruiting philosophy in Duluth to take hold. That’s a huge moral victory for the Lions. Although a moral victory gathers no poll points. Nor did Minnesota destroy Penn State in game one, and Robert Morris skated to a tie with BSU in game two, which augers well for an competitive CHA this year. Saint Cloud State also beat the Raty-less Whitecaps in a somewhat surprising turn of events. Although there are some who would argue it was more surprising that a barnstorming team who has probably practiced twice did that well against the Gophers (or, the current Gophers, in a kind of intersquad match-up) in the first place.

Teams that got defeated by their CIS opponents: in trouble already (there are many fine players on those teams but they simply aren’t the semi-professional machines that NCAA D-I provides). Teams that allow multiple goals to PWHL squads? Also suspect.

The real question-answerer among the upcoming week’s games is Lakers-Bobcats. Can Mercyhurst integrate its crop of first-years quickly?  How much do the coaching change and graduations affect QU (a lot, has already been my take).  The outcomes of that series will go a long way in setting the tone for the year on the poll. This is a season of truth for Colgate’s sophomores: if the games are high-scoring, they triumph. If they are defensive, RMU can probably scrabble out at least a tie.  OSU, while technically more talented than Lindenwood, is also a team they can face with confidence after their opening series. If RIT can beat bottom shelf WCHA talent it will send a huge message to the rest of the conference. And BC had better darn well thrash the Bulldogs if it wants to send a message of its own, although really its problems began late in the season last year after a blazing start.

Semi-bold predictions: UW and BC sweep; Colgate a win and tie; OSU and Lindenwood two ties; ‘Hurst and QU split. RIT sweeps. Now let’s see how well that lines up with Marttila’s opinion….