Like Autumn, the Division III hockey season begins slowly, almost quietly. Some teams have already played four games, while other programs have just this week begun practice, and won’t see game action for another two weeks.
There have been some surprises and some controversy already, so let’s recap what may have slipped below the radar as the season got underway.
Most of the major news of this young season, both on and off the ice, has to do with SUNYAC teams.
League play for the SUNYAC begins this weekend, and all eyes will be on Plattsburgh as it travels to Fredonia and Buffalo State, minus some star players.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in the USCHO.com Division III Preseason Poll and the only SUNY team yet to see NCAA action, were rocked by a hazing incident involving seven upperclassmen. Plattsburgh is handling the situation internally and has not released any names. Sources indicate that the players involved have been suspended from one to four games, and the suspensions may not all be served simultaneously. Stay tuned for more details.
The other seven SUNYs were making news on the ice, as each team has already participated in at least one tournament so far.
Back on October 20 and 21, Fredonia hosted its fifth annual Invitation Tournament. The Blue Devils started off sluggishly in both games, eventually overcoming Neumann, 4-2, but never getting it together against RIT, losing 7-2.
Last weekend saw many more tournaments, including Potsdam’s Pepsi Invitational, a three-team round-robin affair won by the host Bears. Cortland finished second, losing to Potsdam (5-3), but beating Neumann (8-1).
In Buffalo, Fredonia got back on track by going 2-0 in the All Sport Invitational, as did the host Bengals. Johnson & Wales and Lawrence went winless in yet another non-traditional setup.
Last, but not least, the Chase Rochester Cup tournament was held for the second straight year to determine local bragging rights for the 2000-2001 season. Brockport made some noise by overcoming a 4-0 deficit to beat the Hobart Statesmen, 6-5 in overtime. Geneseo dropped an 8-4 decision to RIT in the other semi, but went on to win the consolation game over the Statesmen.
Brockport was seriously outgunned against RIT in the Rochester Cup final, losing 10-1. Golden Eagle super sophomore Brandon Marineau, who scored the overtime game-winner against Hobart, did not dress against RIT. He had been benched by coach Brian Dickinson for picking up his second consecutive misconduct penalty the night before. Marineau had also been whistled for a misconduct in Brockport’s 9-7 exhibition win over Humber.
ECAC West teams are a respectable 5-3 so far, but take away RIT’s 4-0 and things look a lot worse. For a second year in a row, the Elmira Soaring Eagles traveled to Oswego and laid an egg in their first game of the season, this time losing 7-3.
Things don’t get any easier this weekend when seventh-ranked Elmira hosts No. 10 Wisconsin-Superior for a pair. Intensity may be even higher than usual at the domes, based on the off-ice brawl last year between these two squads at the “Hive” in Superior.
“All eyes will be on that weekend series,” said head coach Glen Thomaris. “(Superior is) a big, physical team. Both games should be fun and exciting for the fans to see.”
Hobart got off to a rough start under new head coach Mark Taylor, blowing a 4-0 lead against Brockport in the Chase Rochester Cup semifinals, and then losing to Geneseo, 3-1, in the consolation game.
The Statesmen redeemed themselves with a mid-week win over Cortland State, and now face a pair of upcoming games against Neumann and Buffalo State. Hobart should be favored in both games.
RIT got off to a fast start, capturing the Fredonia and Rochester Cup championships on consecutive weekends. The Tigers, ranked No. 6 in the USCHO.com poll, outscored their opposition 31-10 in those four games.
Captain Derek Hahn was named MVP in Fredonia, notching two goals and four assists on the weekend. Hahn was missing from the Tiger lineup in the Rochester Cup, however, for personal reasons. No problem for the Tigers. RIT’s other captain, Jerry Galway, captured the Chase MVP hardware with three goals and four assists.
Manhattanville got things off on the right track with a 5-2 win at Lebanon Valley. The Valiants will travel to RIT this weekend to kick off the ECAC West conference schedule. Last season, Manhattanville came within five minutes of upsetting the Tigers at RIT.
Just like every season, expect the unexpected in Division III’s toughest conference. Ninth-ranked Wisconsin-River Falls was pushed to the brink by Marian two weeks ago, escaping with a 1-1 tie and a 3-2 overtime win. But last weekend, the Falcons easily handled Minn-Crookston, which beat Marion for the MCHA title last season, 10-1.
Wisconsin-Superior had an easier time with Marian last weekend, 8-0 and 8-1.
Number-four St. Norbert won the first conference game of the season, defeating Wisconsin-Eau Claire 6-1. The Green Knights limited the BluGolds to just 14 shots on goal.
Six more teams begin conference play this weekend, everyone except Wisconsin-Superior, which travels to Elmira for a pair, and St. Scholastica, which is idle.
Division III’s newest conference is taking its lumps in nonconference play, going 0-11-1 so far. A highlight was the performance of Marian goaltender Terry Dunbar, who made 81 saves in the series with Wisconsin-River Falls (1-1 tie and 3-2 overtime loss).
Interestingly, Dunbar also made exactly 81 saves the following weekend against Wisconsin-Superior, but allowed 16 goals in the process as the Sabres lost 8-1 and 8-0.
Conference play begins the weekend of November 10.
Play starts this weekend in what should be a wide-open race in the only conference to send two teams to the nationals last season. St. Thomas captured the top spot in the MIAC preseason poll, but the Tommies won’t dominate the way they did last year after losing a huge chunk of their offense. Expect Concordia and St. John’s to battle with the Tommies all season long, and watch out for dark horse Augsburg.
“This team may be the best team, talent-wise, since I’ve been here,” said Auggie head coach Mike Schwartz. “There really aren’t any glaring weaknesses. We have three solid lines of forwards coming back, our defense is a young, but talented group, and our goaltender is one of the best in the nation.”
Only two teams (J&W and Lebanon Valley) have seen action so far. Conference play begins this weekend when defending champs Wentworth hosts Stonehill.
Be patient, ECAC East fans. Your season starts in two weeks.
Ditto for the NESCAC.
Strictly opinion — call me a geezer, but I’m not in favor of the newfangled round-robin tournaments. The format is fine for when you have only three teams (like the Pepsi Invitational in Potsdam), but if you have four teams, you should have championship and consolation games the second day.
Instead, under the new and “improved” format, you have predetermined pairings to ensure that teams from the same conference or region don’t play each other. It’s already happened in the All Sport in Buffalo and the Elmira and Bowdoin/Colby tournaments are also set up that way. I think the excitement of the championship game is lost when all the games count equally.
And what’s wrong with traditional enemies squaring off? In many cases, that makes for a great game — a rivalry with even more on the line.
If the traditional format is good enough for the Frozen Four and the Beanpot, it’s fine with me.