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.

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….

West Coast Swing

Here is what Coach Johnson has to say on the UW website about the decision to open the season in San Jose:

“It will be a different area than we touched back in 2004 when we went to Southern California,” Johnson said. “A former teammate of mine at Wisconsin, Rod Romanchuck, I connected with him a few years ago when the youth national championship was being played in San Jose, and knowing he had a daughter that was attending Providence, it was a great opportunity to connect with the folks at Providence to show the San Jose community what Division I women’s hockey looks like.

“Similar to our trips to Fort Meyers, Lakewood and Vail, there will be a lot of young ladies and a lot of people that haven’t seen a Division I game, so it is an opportunity to help grow our sport. We will put a clinic on to help those young ladies not only see what Division I hockey looks like, but get a chance to go on the ice with our players.”

I don’t know what kind of youth hockey growth is happening down on the Peninsula, and I am curious to see what kind of draw these programs have. One is as nationally known as you can get in this sport, and one has a history to draw on, but neither have been big in the news recently. On the other hand, for locals the opportunity to skate with NCAA players is huge. And the games a great deal. Some Midwesterners on the USCHO boards seem to think $12 tickets are expensive, whereas generally you can’t even get inter-city transit for that little in the Bay Area. I certainly am going to take advantage of the rare opportunity.

Coaches Behaving Badly

The latest case is out of UConn, following situations earlier this year at OSU and Quinnipiac. The behavior seems largely obnoxious and unpleasant, rather than downright jaw-dropping as in the case of the Buckeyes. Part of the complaint is also that the coaching staff failed to rein in upperclass players who were engaged in hazing practices.

I tend to think that as with police brutality, what we are seeing here is not increase of incidence but increase of incidents becoming public. The situation has always been this bad, we just are more likely to become aware of it now. In the case of coaches using abusive language and turning a blind eye to hazing, we are also seeing a new and growing understanding of behaviors as unacceptable that would be considered normal a generation ago. Like sexual harassment, which is sometimes a component of inappropriate coaching, women have long been told that these problems are either something they must put up with in order to be considered tough or for the sake of the team, or their hysterical female emotions are causing them to overreact. For the good of our culture as a whole, including for men who have had to endure this same nonsense in the past and now also have found the courage to speak up, that’s finally changing.

All Hands On Deck

This seemed to be the attitude that UMN put into recruiting this year: here are a bunch of players of varying levels let’s see…. Which seems unusual for a national championship team returning most key pieces but I sure am not going to question their strategy until I have cause. By contrast Wisconsin only added three.

The Wrong Lesson

Back when I was so foolish as to write about other sports, one of the first stories that caught my attention, in part because I once found myself sitting across the aisle from her at an invitational,* was that of Jamie Carey.

Some of you more dedicated women’s sports nerds may remember this one.  Carey was a point guard at Stanford majoring in one of those ritzy complex systems programs, a combination of computer science and philosophy.  She also had a penchant for taking charges and other scrappy things beloved of coaches.  Unfortunately this caused her to suffer from what we would now term severe post concussion syndrome. She had headaches and dizziness.  She could no longer concentrate or remember well enough to do her mathematical schoolwork, and had to switch majors to something with more writing.**  Certainly there was no chance of playing basketball again.

Over time, however, her acute symptoms faded, although as I recall the cognitive ones didn’t entirely and she had to stay with the other major.  But Stanford refused to clear her to return to the court.  So she transferred to Texas, where (to be fair after extensive testing) they had her pop in a mouthguard and get back into the game.***   Texas was still a top ten women’s program at the time, and Carey helped them to their last major gasp of success before their recent woes.  When I first covered this story, about a decade ago, the sports commentariat was in agreement that it taught us about lawsuit-shy programs that didn’t serve their players’ needs, versus more flexible teams that prospered.

We got it backward.  Based on what we now know about the science of concussions Jamie Carey should never have played a sport with contact again. A mouthguard! For extreme post-concussion symptoms!  Pundits are fond of saying about professional male athletes that they are free to make their own choices.  The fact the players were working with incomplete information fails to come up, although certainly Carey was much more educated than many of her compatriots. She was extremely happy and successful playing at Texas. She even went on to serve as a backup in the WNBA and is now coaching for the U.S. national team.  I have no evidence to suggest she’s suffering from any serious deficits at the moment.  But our current research shows she put herself at risk for longterm damage.  I suspect this was something Stanford guessed at and I have to say I also suspect Texas, which is no slouch in the academic medicine department, did as well. But Texas wanted to win more than it was afraid of being sued if she developed, say, early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Again, I have no information to suggest that will happen in this particular case and I devoutly hope and pray it does not.  Yet ironically Stanford acted in Carey’s best interests even though at the time it was simply protecting itself against future liabilities.

I bring this story up now because of the news that Amanda Kessel is sitting out the year due to concerns about concussive symptoms.  The women’s hockey community is obviously pretty bummed.  However we also understand that this is about protecting Kessel’s longterm health, especially since there is no choice between a lucrative professional career and her cognitive function.  In some odd way female athletes are lucky in this regard.  There’s no money awaiting them to sacrifice their future.  We’d all rather that money was there, but it also makes prioritizing much easier.  The sport suffers without one of its most visible stars.  But if we’ve learned anything from mistakes made by teams and coaches in the past, it’s that the sport isn’t bigger than anyone’s ability to live a full post-sporting life.

*Not that I worked up the courage to actually talk to her, mind you.

**I am the last person to suggest such a major is less rigorous.  It simply emphasizes different skills.

***Fascinatingly, her current Wikipedia page emphasizes that it was an ankle injury rather than the concussions that caused her retirement from basketball at Stanford.  While clearly a big part of the equation, this was not the story that got emphasized during her career with Texas.