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.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Raging Baby Bull

The Mercurial Jake Walman

* HIGH: Providence Defenseman Jake Walman enters soph campaign as player to watch for Team USA after impressive August World Junior camp;

* HIGHER: Walman blows away NCAA competition with barrage of goals in November, is named national player of the week as he pots hat trick, 4-goal weekend from defense position, continues to score goals at historic rate all fall, is lock to make Team USA for prestigious World Junior tourney starting on Christmas;

* LOW: 2 weeks before final USA WJC Camp,International Federation declares dual-citizen Walman ineligible for Team USA due to
lack of time representing his country.

* HIGH: Hockey Canada in unprecedented move, invites an American college player with ties to USA Hockey to THEIR Camp, eager to get the hot-shooting Walman onto their blue line to bolster their gold medal chances. Having been raised in Toronto watching Team Canada compete at the World Juniors religiously every Christmas, Walman is ecstatic to put on the Maple Leaf and represent his OTHER Country;

* LOW In a seemingly innocuous play in his last Hockey East weekend before departing for Canada's training camp, Walman separates his shoulder. He never gets on the plane, is out for a month. A very dark winter solstice for the ailing Walman;

HIGH February 13 Walman dominates UConn, back on the blue line for reigning NCAA Champs. He exudes supreme skill and energy over the entire ice: moving the puck briskly out of danger, pounding shots mercilessly at the Huskies goal, and throws the signature body check of the night with his previously damaged shoulder. He has passed all the tests, he is playing at 100%, his coach and the pro scouts in the stands sing his praises.

HIGH Feb 19 6:40pm ET: Walman enjoys a spirited warmup prior to the Friars showdown with first place Notre Dame. He moves non-stop, shooting, passing, virtually dancing the entire 15 minute session. He is playing with unbridled joy.

* LOW Feb 19 7:10pm ET: A mere twenty seconds into the game, Walman collides with a Notre Dame forward at center ice. It appears hardly noteworthy until you see Walman recoil in pain, and then shock. He crawls over the boards and is immediately taken down the hall to the medical room. Coach Leaman puts his palm to his forehead: he has just lost his most valuable player for the foreseeable future, Walman has blown out his shoulder again.

A tale of two Jakes
This nephew and namesake of Jake Lamotta, college hockey's Raging Bull, has been sent to the canvas AGAIN, this time in a knockout :20 into the first round. Will he get up again?