Friday, September 15, 2017

Good Guy Gavin Bayreuther

(This interview is excerpted from NY Hockey Journal)
Four Year Skating Saint Gavin Bayreuther
Gavin Bayreuther was a dynamic force in North Country Hockey the last four years, helping return Saint Lawrence University into an ECAC Hockey contender during his tenure in Canton as an offensively gifted blueliner. In the spring of 2016 coach Greg Carvel bolted SLU for U.Mass, yet Bayreuth chose to postpone his pro career with the Dallas Stars in order to graduate with his class at Saint Lawrence. NYHJ’s Tim Rappleye caught up with Gavin at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan,  

NYHJ: Why did you stay at St. Lawrence for a fourth year? Was it because you wanted to play for new coach Mark Morris?
G.B. We didn’t know coach Morris would be the coach until really that last week or two at school, it was kind of a mystery. The older guys had to step up and be leaders that spring. It was a really good experience, a leadership opportunity, I learned a lot. The school gave me so much during those three years, why not stay, why not get that education? Education is so important, and my family, especially my parents who are teachers at Cardigan Mountain School, it’s always really important. When coach Morris came in, it worked out really well, and I was happy to stay.

NYHJ: Coach Morris has a huge pro hockey resume. Did he talk to you about the next level?
G.B. He immediately handled the program like a professional. He coached us like pro’s, he demanded a lot from us, little things like he expected every pass to be on the tape and all that stuff as he would in the NHL and the AHL, he really stepped my game up.

NYHJ: ECAC has a reputation as a tough checking league. How has the transition been to pro hockey?
G.B. Obviously, it’s a big step. College hockey is college hockey, it’s really good hockey but when you try to take that step up into the pro ranks, you got to learn a lot, you got to keep it simple at the start. At times in college I would do too much with the puck, it may have or not have worked in college, but at the next level it didn’t. Coach Morris was really good, he helped simplify my game, rounded out my game.

NYHJ: You’re wearing the “C” for the Stars. It’s a very cool look. How did that all come about?
G.B. It was a really good opportunity, and I’m very grateful for it.
NYHJ: When did they let you know?
G.B. Really when I walked in. I’m one of the older guys here, I played 15 games with Texas in the AHL at the end of the year, so I was able to put my foot in the door, and I learned a lot from the older guys. I kind of just came in here, came to the development camp early in the summer and just tried to be a good leader, and just led by example. I worked my tail off and I think it paid off, and I was fortunate to wear the “C.”

NYHJ: Are you shooting texts to Carvy, or Morris while you’re out here?
G.B. I don’t talk to Carvy any more, I talk to Mo once in a while. I talk to (Mike) Hurlbut, the assistant coach, a good amount, (Matt) Deschamps, the other assistant. They did so much for me. They gave me a gracious four years.
NYHJ: And you did the same…
G.B. …yes, so I’m very grateful for that.

NYHJ: I see another Skating Saint on the roster, Eric Sweetman, did you use your influence to bring him out?
G.B. I definitely put in a good word. He was my road roommate for four years, he’s one of my best buddies. He’s always one of those defensemen who doesn’t stick out a ton, but it’s because he’s always doing the right thing, always making the smart play. Now that he has his opportunity here, I think it’s going to work out for him.

NYHJ: How’s the comfort level here. Decision making has to be a lost faster, no?
G.B. Oh yeah. You definitely have less time with the puck, and you’re playing with other pros, so it’s definitely a step up. You might have been able to hold onto the puck a little longer in college, now you gotta really be careful and make the right play, every time. That’s something I’m still learning, and I’ll probably be learning forever.

Monday, March 20, 2017

So Long, ol Joe

Venerable Al Sabotka has thrown his last Octopus
Unless you’re mired in nostalgia, going to Joe Louis Arena these days is a rocky experience. Trying to watch hockey replays on the video board is an exercise in frustration, as three pairs of digital cubes have gone out on the south sideboard, creating three virtual pucks to confuse the viewers. It’s amusing, yet maddening.

“We don’t want the video wall going out,” said Detroit’s rink maintenance icon Al Sobotka, the man best know for collecting thrown octopi from zealous Red Wing fans. “Those are in cubes, sometimes a cube breaks, side’s going bad. We just changed a few a couple weeks ago.”

$164 seats in decay
The seats wobble, and the upholstery is ripped, even in the most expensive seats. “Why spend a lot of money?” asked Sobatka, who will keep his job with Olympia Entertainment next year at the Little Caesars Arena. “We knew years ago that we’re was going to be moving, so why? We don’t own the building. It’s like if you’re renting a house, why would you want to put a lot of money into it?”

So The Joe is in a state of rapid decay: rust on bolts, shredded seats, ancient slices of pepperoni in the pot-holed pedestrian ramps to the tram stop. Two women from Traverse City who attended the Big 10 semifinals opted for dinner out in Detroit rather than see the Championship game due to the toxic fumes coming from the ice after each resurfacing. Joe Louis Arena is hockey’s answer to a dive bar: a tough sell unless you have learned to drink there.

The 2017 Big 10 Championship games are a far cry from the glory days of college hockey at The Joe. With both Michigan and Michigan State eliminated in Thursday’s quarterfinals, the alleged attendance for Friday’s semifinal doubleheader was 2,791. Realistic estimates for Friday’s opener was closer to 500 fans. And that included the team bands. 

Tony Granato, who spent two years behind the Joe Louis bench with the Wings as an assistant coach, referred to attendance when asked to wax poetic about the romantic rust bucket.

“I’d like to have seen a few more people in the seats,” said Granato. 

It’s a far cry from the glory days of the CCHA championships, when some of the best teams in the country would meet for a meaningful championship from 1982 to 2013. Michigan’s Red Berenson led his Wolverines to nine CCHA tourney titles at The Joe. He said his squads were all happy to perform in the home of the Red Wings.

“It was a thrill to get here,” said Berenson. “The slogan was, ‘The Road to the Joe.’ Don’t think all those players who played in Joe Louis Arena weren’t thrilled to play here. Maybe now the new Little Cesars Arena is maybe badly needed."

With the failing infrastructure of The Joe, the city of Detroit probably should have brought in the wrecking ball after the last CCHA tourney in 2013. The unique venue hard by the Detroit River has had plenty of college hockey history in addition to the CCHA playoffs, including 38 Great Lakes Invitational Tournaments and several NCAA games.

The 1990 NCAA Frozen Four was played at The Joe in 1990, where the Wisocnisn Badgers won their 5th NCAA title. Sabotka remembers it well, but preferred an earlier Badgers championship, at another hockey venue in Detroit.

“I remember when we had the NCAA at the Olympia in 1977,” said Sabotka. Wisconsin made that Frozen Four, and stormed the Big D. "That was just above everything that you’ve seen, with all the fans that came in from Wisconsin. They took the neighborhood over. I just spoke to Jack Berry (current Badgers goalie) about it from Wisconsin, he’s a local Caesar’s kid. 1990 we had NCAA here, it was nowhere near the one at the Olympia.”

Back in 19778, 6000 Badger fans travelled from Madison to see Mark Johnson and Mike Eaves capture Badger Bob’s second NCAA title back in 1977. With Michigan the other finalist, those finals at the Olympia remain the gold standard for NCAA championship games in terms of drama (overtime), dueling bands, and the respective fans' decibel level.

Sobotka, however, remains loyal to The Joe.

“I don’t care what people call it; saying it’s a dump, that’s a bunch of B.S.” said Sabotka. “We have a lot of pride in our jobs; we’re doing the best we can with what we have. It’s not easy. It’s still a great building as far as I’m concerned.”

After the Big 10 Championship, seven more Red Wings games are scheduled to conclude a dismal season of hockey in downstate Michigan, as the Wings, Michigan and Michigan State all suffered through losing seasons. 

Once hockey is over, a slew of concerts will keep the revenue flowing into summer. The last scheduled event at Joe Louis Arena before the wrecking ball arrives is a WWE event on July 29. Hockey fans should feel right at home walking the concourse srrounded the smells of stale beer and popcorn, black and white nostalgia of Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay. The ever loyal Sabotka will be down in the Zamboni pit until the very end.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

B.U. Men Shine Under Hottest Lights

Penguins rookie coach Mike Sullivan was living out a Kafka-esque nightmare Tuesday in Pittsburgh. A period away from closing out the NHL's best regular season team, his squad took three straight delay of game penalties for firing the puck over the glass. None of the network broadcasters had ever seen anything like it. The resulting manpower became 5 on 4, then 5 on 3, then 5 on 4, and then 5 on 3. When the ice chips settled, the powerhouse Capitals had tied the game at three, sending it to overtime.

Remarkably, Sullivan appeared calm throughout his tumultuous journey to Bizzaro-world. His face was only one shade closer to red as he sought an explanation from the refs after the third straight delay of game call. "I've never seen it in all the years I've been around the game, I'll tell you that," said Sullivan to in the post-game. "Three delay of game penalties in a row like that. That's a tough one to swallow, you know?" Sullivan's college coach, B.U. legend Jack Parker, knows Sullivan well and was one of the few that detected the immense stress his protege was under.

"When he had is arms folded in front of him, look how hard he was grabbing his stomach," said Parker. "It was like he was in a straight jacket."

Sullivan and the Pens weathered the unprecedented storm, ("It could have been a lot worse," said Parker), got to overtime and then overwhelmed the Caps with a non-stop flurry in the extra session. Former Terrier Nick Bonino was the man of the late-hour, pounding in the series-winner to catapult the Cinderella Penguins into the conference final. Kudos are in order for Sullivan for standing firm when America's top hockey pundits were loudly questioning his tactics.

In the third period prior to the delay of game triple nightmare, Pierre McGuire, a single stride from Sullivan inside the glass, wondered aloud when Sullivan would rein in his run-and-gun Pens, and collapse back into a defensive shell. He asked Sully point blank whether he was worried about all the odd-man rushes against during his in-game interview spot. Sullivan said his troops just needed to make better decisions with the puck. He would not take his foot off the gas.

McGuire and Milbury, From the Gallery
In the overtime intermission Mike Milbury was incredulous that journeyman minor leaguer Conor Sheary was getting the same amount of ice time as superstar Sidney Crosby. Parker leaped to Sullivan's defense. "I heard Milbury," said Parker by phone the next morning. "I always tell people It's real easy to coach someone else's team. Crosby doesn't kill penalties, that's why he was so fresh for the overtime." As far as McGuire advocating for a defensive clampdown? "I've always felt the 1-2-2 defense is like the prevent defense in football," said Parker. "It prevents you from winning the game."
Parker: "It's real easy to coach someone else's team."
Sullivan stuck to his philosophy, distributing ice time through all four lines who hunted pucks down all over the Penguins defensive zone. His fresh troops simply swarmed Washington in sudden death, choking the life out of the Caps with their relentless pursuit. The face of the Penguins franchise,"Sid the Kid," was all smiles in the jubilant post game, and couldn't wait to take on Tampa in a conference final that should resemble a track meet. "It will be fast hockey for sure," said the gleeful Crosby to McGuire after completing the traditional handshake line.

Sullivan has a history of facing down neighsayers. B.U. national championship hockey alum Todd Johnson recalls another bizzare Sullivan anecdote when he was in his original NHL coaching job with the Bruins. "During the lockout (2005), Mike coached a local pee wee team," said Johnson.
"He did all the right things, taught them all the game, shared ice time equally. You'd think the parents would be honored that a former NHL player and the coach of the Bruins was coaching their kids. Well what did they do? The parents had a big meeting and protested that their kids weren't getting enough ice time. What a joke, unbelievable."

After being confronted by passionate youth hockey parents, the slings and arrows from television talking heads is pretty routine for Sullivan. His triumph over both the bizarre circumstances in the series clincher and the NBC neigh-sayers brings to mind the Rudyard Kipling classic Poem "IF."

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
—you’ll be a Man, my son.

One of the biggest stories heading into the NHL's final four is the courageous leadership of Mike Sullivan. A man, indeed.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Back to the Future for Stan Fischler

The Maven
Stan Fischler is an incredibly spry octogenarian, often found riding his bike in Central Park or hustling for a game of "Paddle." He still blogs and reports on camera for MSG Network, patrolling NHL press rooms before games sharing R-rated jokes, and then writing his post-game hockey blog deep into the night. A quintessential New Yorker, he insists that he is from Brooklyn. RinkRap caught up with Fischler prior to Game 4 of the Islanders-Tampa Conference semifinals from Barclays Center. 

"I started watching hockey in '39. The Americans were still playing into the '41-'42 season, I'm living in Brooklyn. By that time I'm 10 years old, so I was very deep into hockey with what the hell is going on. And I knew that Red Dutton changed the name from the New York Americans to the Brooklyn Americans because he wanted to build a Brooklyn rink for the club downtown, right about where the Barclays Center is, where we are now. So I was very aware that something like that might happen, and of course the dream was, since I lived within walking distance, 582 Marcy, near Myrtle, I could walk to the games. That was a nice dream. Now I subway to Barclays. I take it all the time. I get on my home stop 110th and Broadway, I take the local to 96th and then I catch the 2 or the 3 and they go right to here.

What's the commuting time?
Oh about 40 minutes, or about five pages in a book. I read slow.

When did you start realizing that your dream of NHL hockey in Brooklyn might become a reality?
During the last lockout (2012), when they announced that the team would be coming here, I came here, they had a press conference, the commissioner Gary Bettman was here, Charles Wang of the Islanders. Already the building was done, the signing was the fait accompli, dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's. Naturally I was excited about it because I knew exactly where Dutton was... I used to play hockey at the Brooklyn Ice Palace where Dutton's Americans used to practice in '41-42, and the Ice Palace was only about a 10-minute walk from here. It was on Atlantic between Nostrand and Bedford.
You didn't ask me how I played hockey.

Well, how did you play?
The answer is badly.

There Used to be a Ballpark
Last Tuesday, when you saw all the pomp and circumstance of a Stanley Cup second round game in Brooklyn, that must have been a bit of a dream.
The first thing I did was get goose pimples. From the very first time I went to Madison Square Garden in 1939 I was absolutely awe-struck by the whole hockey scene, the ice, the color the whole thing. Even when I worked for the Rangers in 1954-55, the first thing I would do is walk into the building and just look at the ice, it always fascinated me. Of course the fact that this thing was in Brooklyn just knocked me out. Plus it was done very classy, with a color guard and with the anthem sung. What I did, which was sort of a reflex going back to when I was in publicity, I always looked around to see the crowd, to see a full house, a very intense, high decibel count, it was the equal of Nassau Coliseum, which I loved also. It was a combo. I get goose pimples for certain songs, and certain events, and of course when I think about hockey I think about the fact that it was my father that took me to a game. If it wasn't for that, who knows what would have happened?

Of all the New York boroughs, where does Brooklyn rank?
I grew up in Brooklyn. People ask me where I'm from, if I go to visit relatives elsewhere, in Israel with my  son, I say "From Brooklyn." Always Brooklyn. I went to Brooklyn College, my father and mother were both born in Brooklyn. I lived at 582 Marcy for 22 years, you can't get more Brooklyn than that.

I covered the Dodgers for the Journal American newspaper when they won the Series in '55, also covered Game 7 in '56 when they lost to the Yankees. Just recently when my grandchildren were here from Israel with my son Simon, we went to Coney Island, twice. Not for the rides, but for the beach because it was warm. You can't have more Brooklyn than Coney Island and Nathan's hot dogs and the whole schmear.

Didn't you play a lot of paddle ball on Coney Island?
I haven't played paddle for about three years. The last guy I played paddles with was Alan Kreda of the Times, and I beat the crap out of him, he can tell you that. Brooklyn is a good place for paddles. I was supposed to play Sean Avery and he backed out. Lame excuse, too. Of course, I love paddles.

Do these Islander games against Tampa remind you of "The Bums" heartbreaks against the Yankees?
Of courseI was there in '41 when Mickey Owen missed the third strike and Tommy Henrich goes to first base, DiMaggio comes up and starts the kill. That scar never goes away for anybody who was around then. The Dodgers theme was always "Wait Until Next Year," until finally '55. Losing in overtime the way they (the Islanders) did, it was "Wait Until Next Game."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Captain Calls out for Help

Forester Tradition Threatened

Dear Friends of LFC Hockey,

I played at LFC from 1974-1978 and had the honor to be one of the captains of the 1978 men’s team that won the NCAA D-II Western Championship and finished 2nd in the NCAA National Tournament.
The school and the hockey program gave me a lot when I needed it most, as a young financial aid kid from Lynn, Massachusetts. I am doing my best to give back to the current generation of men and women players and the legacy of LFC hockey, as well as the school in general.
I am writing to ask for your help.  We urgently need your support.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of LFC hockey. Will there be a 51st year? I am not trying to be melodramatic, just realistic.
We have a once in a lifetime situation with our school’s hockey programs.
We need to take immediate action to replace the ice infrastructure at our Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and we need your help.
This is your legacy... we are challenging all former LFC hockey players to come together as a united community and contribute now.
The ice refrigeration system at the rink is in hospice care and has been for this entire season. While the rink staff has “MacGyvered” the operating system since the fall, we were lucky to keep ice through the completion of the season this year as our teams continued their quest to win NCHA conference titles (one of the most competitive D-3 conferences in the country) and compete in the NCAA tournament.
The current refrigeration system will not allow hockey or the rink to continue next year at LFC. We need new ice.
I am asking everyone to give as much as they can.  We are looking for 100% participation.  We have 50 years of men hockey alums and 16 years of women alumni.  Every gift counts.  Historically, a relatively small group of alumni players and friends have given when the program needed financial help.  Now, we need everyone to participate if we are to be successful.
The tradition of our hockey program has been built on your legacy. I am calling on you to be there and help your teammates as we raise the funds necessary to replace the infrastructure and allow our tradition to continue and new memories and friendships be created.

Some background on the situation:
Five years ago, phase 1 of the Home Ice Advantage Campaign raised the funds to replace the rink’s roof, install new accessible seating throughout, update and expand the locker rooms, replace the boards and glass, renovate the lobby, modernize the coaches’ offices -- all which made the rink more efficient and improved the look and feel consistent with the top Division III facilities in the country. If you haven’t had a chance to visit, you would be proud and impressed with the outcome. It looks fantastic.
At the start of the Home Ice campaign, we were aware the rink had been operating with the current pipes, refrigeration and old technology for 47 years since 1969. Consultants were brought in and recommended the roof and ice system be replaced, new boards and glass purchased, and accessible seating installed.  However, we pushed the consultants to provide an experienced estimate on how long the current ice system had left before it died (since the estimated costs were $2million of the $4.5 goal) so that funds could be raised over time.  That estimate was a difficult one given the working condition of the system at the time but given the age of the pipes and equipment, a 10 year estimate was given.  Jackie Slaats, President Steve Schutt and the Board made the prudent decision to complete phase 1 as outlined above while the staff continued to care and nurture the existing ice system.  The other contributing factor for this course of action was that only $2 million of the original $4.5 million goal for the Home Ice Campaign was raised at the time the project was slated to begin so there were not sufficient funds to underwrite the roof and other necessary improvements plus replace the ice infrastructure. 
Now is the time we must deal with our current challenge and invest in the future.
The updated rink not only makes for a better overall experience for our current student- athletes and fans, but it is an invaluable asset to help our coaches recruit the best possible players who are considering LFC as well as other D-3 colleges in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the east (NESCAC.)  The arena complements the new recreation center, making south campus an impressive state-of-the-art athletic/recreation/wellness core for the College.
Let’s finish the job. We need to make a decision to start the ice replacement by April.  Please act now, and don’t think some white knight is going to save the day. You can make this happen.
Please push yourself to support this dire situation with as large a gift as you can.  Our need is $2 million.  Half of that goal ($1million) has already been pledged by a combination of alumni, friends of the College and community rink partners, but now we need every former player, as well as every friend of LFC hockey, to support the initiative to raise the remaining $1 million so that we can get to work on the $2 million dollar project.
Please, join me in protecting the tradition and ensuring the future of LFC hockey. or feel free to contact me at 617-650-3800 or Athletic Director Jackie Slaats at 847-735-5290 to discuss the project and/or your support.  Thank you.
Bonded together by LFC hockey,

Joe McCarthy '78 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Garteig Carries Bobcats Trophy Dreams

Despite any protests from fans of traditional powers Boston College and North Dakota, the undisputed #1 team in the country is the school that no one can pronounce correctly, QUINN-i-piac. Over the past four years they have won 102 regular season hockey games, most in the land, and will undoubtedly be heading to the NCAA tourney for the 4th straight year. Over that span they have won the Cleary Cup as ECAC Hockey regular season champs three of the past four years, have won an NCAA regional and advanced to the 2013 NCAA championship game. Yet despite all that success, one prominent piece of hardware has eluded them, the Whitelaw Cup as ECAC tournament champs, and it sticks in their collective craw.

Man in the Middle: Michael Garteig
"The Whitelaw Cup is something that's very important to us, something we've never done," said Sam Anas, ECAC Hockey 2015-16 scoring champion. "This year we really have to prove to ourselves and the program that we're able to win that playoff cup, and go on further in the NCAA's." Fellow alternate captain and second leading scorer, senior Travis St. Denis, wants to clutch the precious metal before his college career wraps up this spring. "We haven't won any serious hardware," he said to the New Haven Register. St. Denis is the only current Bobcat who played in the 2013 NCAA title game. "That's our main goal as seniors, to walk out with whatever trophy it may be, the Whitelaw Cup (as ECAC tourney champs) or a national championship." Sophomore defenseman Kevin McKernan is fully aware of the 'Cats history of falling in the ECAC semifinals each of the last three seasons. "In the past we've made it there and then kind of faltered off, in the tournament as well. The ECAC Championship in Lake Placid is our first goal."

Pecknold denies that the wide sheet in Lake Placid has been the primary reason for his squad's demise the past two seasons. "I don't think it hinders us more than anybody else, everybody has to adapt and adjust. It's a tough trophy to win. Playoffs is a little bit about 'Did you get a bounce, or a bad call, and what about the goaltending? Did the kid get hot, did the kid not get hot?' When you get to the semis and finals, it's one and done."

 Pecknold Eyes Prize: Whitelaw Cup
Pecknold has not forgotten how two of his best goalies from his tenure at Quinnipiac, Eric Hartzell and current senior star Michael Garteig, both laid eggs in the ECAC semis of 2013 and 2015, respectively. If the Bobcats are going to finally break through in Lake Placid, senior Garteig will have play like he did in the regular season finale against Yale, when he stoned the NCAA's hottest team 4-1 at the TD Bank Sports Center. He could very well face the second seeded Elis again March 19 at Herb Brooks Arena. Their last game in Hamden was a goaltending duel of the highest order, as Garteig outplayed All-American Alex Lyon yet again. "I think Alex Lyon is one of the best, if not THE best in the country," said Garteig to the assembled post-game media. "But I don't think I've ever lost to Alex Lyon." (5-0-3 to be exact). Pecknold stated the obvious: "Gartsy was great. He was our best player tonight, he made some big-time saves to keep us in the game."

Garteig: On the Hot Seat
Despite maintaining their #1 ranking for most of 2016, the Bobcats have scrambled at times, forced into overtime nine times over that stretch, often needing furious comebacks to stay atop the hockey world, as they recorded an unremarkable 3-1-5 in those OT encounters. That is why the finale over Yale was such a powerful statement. "The second half has been a little bit of a struggle for myself and the team included, I just know I could play better," said Garteig. "This weekend was really really good for the team, and also myself." The weekend included photo ops on both Friday (Cleary Cup for regular season title) and Saturday (the annual Fireman's hat for conquering Yale).

Should the top-ranked Bobcats win their ECAC quarterfinal series, Garteig will have a chance to nail two major goals in Lake Placid: 1) to redeem himself for last year's stinker that saw him cough up three soft goals in the first period of the semifinal versus Harvard; and 2) to become the first of Quinnipiac's pantheon of excellent goalies to bring the Whitelaw Cup back to Hamden. The late Dave Peterson, USA veteran Olympic coach, said that one-and-done playoff hockey should be called "Goalie, not hockey," because of the heightened significance of that position. The Olympic Center spotlight will beam bright and hot, directly onto the gold and blue shoulders of Michael Garteig.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Elis Lay Waste to Hockey Night in Jersey

Blue Wave Invades Baker Rink
Friday night began as a festive senior night at ancient Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, with septuagenarian Tiger hockey heroes Mo Cheston (1959) and John Cook (1963) conducting ceremonial faceoffs, Senator and former treasury secretary Nick Brady holding court in the south end zone, and half a dozen local Delbarton prep alums looking to leave their mark for both participants, Yale and Princeton. And then the Bulldogs killed the buzz. Dour Eli taskmaster Keith Allain relegated his two Delbarton players to the stands in street clothes and then turned his Bulldogs loose to torch Tigers goalie Colton Phinney (Chatham, N.J.) for four first period goals, dousing the party at Ol Nassau before it started.

This night belonged to Allain's men in blue: in a fitting pre-game a navy and white flag was hoisted in the parking lot accompanied by cigars and red wine. Ivy League tailgating in sub-freezing temps was somehow justified for the followers of this hockey juggernaut, Yale dismantled their orange rivals 6-0, the equivalent of it a tennis-set "bagel" to clinch a share of the Ivy League hockey title.

For the third time in six years the humorless Allain has assembled a national contender: four lines of
Allain: Testy Taskmaster
urgent forwards, a troika of elite senior defensemen, and the best goalie in the land between the pipes. Alex Lyon is the statistical king of NCAA hockey goalies with his .943 save pct and 1.46 GAA. Undrafted and enjoying a magnificent two-year run, Lyon has created an NHL feeding frenzy for his services, with an estimated 20 NHL clubs eager to sign the 23 year old Baudette, Minnesota, native as soon as his season ends. It may be a long wait. Three members of the Philadelphia Flyers brain trust, led by general manager Ron Hextall, jumped on I-95 for the hour drive Princeton to see Lyon in person for the second time. Hexi liked what he saw. "Nice skills, his size is okay," said Hextall after Lyon held off Princeton's only surge early in the first period. Did Hextall mind that Lyon only plays on weekends, and his season is shortened by Ivy League restrictions? "It depends on the student you are, but for some it's a fine way to go." The ECAC playoffs start next week, and Yale has a bye. The NCAA's start three weeks after that, and if Yale wins their regional, they have another two week wait for the Frozen Four. Lyon might make his suitors wait until April 9, and that's IF he chooses to forego his senior year and that world-class Yale sheepskin. He won't say, but insiders think he'll jump. Allain knows more than anyone that Alex the Great is Yale hockey's one indispensable man.

"Alex has been great all year long and I attribute it to hard work," said Allain. "He's really conscientious about preparing on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, he's got athleticism, he's smart, he approaches things like a pro." The ultimate endorsement coming from a former NHL goaltending coach. The demand for Lyon will never be as high as it is now, and his chance to grab the NCAA brass ring is peaking as well. This all adds up to win now for Yale, because the odds are good that Lyon is playing his final month of hockey in New Haven.

The War on Whitney Avenue: The Rivalry That Isn't

Ever since Quinnipiac joined the ECAC in the 2005-06 campaign, the hockey community in New Haven county rejoiced. "It's the greatest," said New Haven Register beat writer Chip Malafronte. The only guy who won't give the rivalry any love is Allain. "We share a league and we share geography, but the programs are very, very different," said Allain in a New York Times story earlier this season. He then pointed out that they recruit different players, and that Yale does not offer athletic scholarships like Quinnipiac. In his mind, Friday's win versus Princeton had greater significance than the Saturday showdown of ECAC superpowers. "We had an opportunity to share the Ivy League championship tonight," said Allain in the post game media scrum, referring to the fact that this final Ivy victory gave Yale a 7-1-2 record versus Ivy opponents, the same as Harvard, giving them both a share of the crown. "It's a very, very important game." And how about the following night
against first place Quinnipiac? "Two points in the standings." He would not utter another word about the game or the rivalry. Yale has not beaten Quinnipiac in nearly four years, since the NCAA title bout of 2013. 
Eli Glory Daze of 2013
This is the absolute best chance for Yale to knock off the team that has been at the top of the national polls for the past seven weeks. After Quinnipiac shut out the Bulldogs 3-0 at the Yale Whale back in December, Allain had a long list of team flaws that needed correcting: quickness to the puck; more efficiency on scoring opportunities, strength on sticks, and a faltering power play. Had these issues been addressed in the past 10 weeks? "We'll see," said Allain. "If we do those things well we'll be successful." 

Late in the game an injured Yale senior texted that this year's Yale club is better than the 2013 NCAA champs. All-American defenseman Rob O'Gara said the two teams are very similar in all aspects but one: "Our senior class has that experience (of winning it all), and that's something we didn't have freshman year." O'Gara fired home his 13th career goal in the first period and is playing like a colt.

"It's the end of the year, it's exciting," said junior power forward John Hayden, team leader with 15 goals. "I feel good, I feel fresh, I feel confident."

Connecticut's answer to BU-BC, less history, but more intensity. Cats and Dogs. Puck drop 7 pm.