This is going to end up being a post done in mostly video form to help describe some of the nonsense that went on at the WCHA Final Five. Please excuse the mostly amateur hour commentary from yours truly in any of these videos as.. Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve done any variety of video and/or camera work especially with a device as simple and useful as the Flip Camera.
As I mentioned eons ago in my post leading up to the Final Five, one of my side-missions of the Final Five was to spot an iconic figure known as Siouxbacca. Amazingly enough, of the five things on my list, Siouxbacca was the hardest thing to spot. It’s not as if we didn’t look for him, but he was highly elusive.
Thankfully, my host for the trip Brent clued me in on another legendary figure at the Final Five: Mullet Man. Now, I know what you’re saying, “Gee Joe, a guy with a mullet at a hockey game? That should be really hard to find.” To that I say, “Shut your face.”
The truth about Mullet Man is that he’s got one of the iconic, legendary mullets. Think of Dog the Bounty Hunter and turn that mullet up to 1000 on the Awesome Meter. Thankfully, that search would not fail. The fun comes while you play “Where’s Waldo” with the video.
I know you’re all disappointed that there was no Siouxbacca. He, apparently, decided to not make an appearance this year, unless others saw differently that is and if you did please let me know, my friend Lindsey was able to provide photographic evidence that he does exist. You better believe this helps add to the Loch Ness Monster-like appeal too.
There he is, dead center of the video board from the 2009 WCHA Final Five. If you’re thinking I feel slighted that he didn’t make an appearance this year… You better fucking believe it.
As for the Xcel Energy Center itself, the facility is phenomenal and it was incredible to be at a building that was built specifically with hockey in mind. I checked out the games from various locations throughout from the lower to the upper levels to the very impressive Club level. Simply put, there’s not a bad seat nor view in the house. Obviously if you’re sitting way upstairs your views can get blocked by inconsiderate fools who can’t help but lean forward, but that’s a problem anywhere.
The hockey, to me, was outstanding. Aside from the Wisconsin-St. Cloud semifinal, most of the games were very entertaining. The folks who have been here more than a couple of times said they were really let down by both the atmosphere and the quality of games. I told them if they wanted to see they were living in the lap of hockey luxury they should come out and “experience” the ECAC Tournament one year so they can see mostly dreadful-to-watch hockey in front of small crowds with little-to-no fire to them. Their response was only to move out to Minnesota already and spoil myself. Frankly, that wouldn’t be so bad – but I digress.
One of the other things on the list that was completed was taking part in some honest to God tailgating, complete with being shown the ropes in what should now become a nationwide phenomenon: Beer Darts.
Sounds dangerous, right? Well… Not exactly. First, an introduction.
Not bad, right? Well now it’s time to play – and play I did. Thanks to my friend Kayla for taking reigns of the camera for this one.
I’ll just call that beginner’s luck.
Curious about what the first person perspective looks like while perched atop a cooler, drinking beer in 35 degree weather in Minnesota? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered there, too.
Where there’s beer to be had, there’s also food to be eaten and where else was there to go but the now world famous Matt’s Bar, home of Travel Channel’s Food Wars winning Jucy Lucy.
For what it’s worth, I’ve now been to two places featured on Food Wars and both have come up victorious (Duff’s Wings in Buffalo being the other). I’m open to being paid to come visit somewhere to help spread my special brand of good luck. This kind of good luck also applies to home teams in NHL games (home teams went 4-0-0 in games I attended this year). So, you know, if you’re really hoping to win in the playoffs… You know where to find me.
Anyhow, perhaps the coolest thing of them all, as far as hockey goes, that I got to experience (aside from the greatness that is the WCHA Final Five, easily the best college tournament in the country that isn’t called the Frozen Four) was getting to hitch a ride on the Zamboni. If your computer can handle it, I suggest watching this one in HD.
Big thanks go out to the event staff at Xcel for allowing a big mook like me to get on the Zamboni and to Brandon at Sioux Yeah Yeah for helping set it up. Even bigger thanks go out to Chris the driver for putting up with my shoddy camera work and asinine questions as we took the tour around the rink.
My conclusion on the trip: Perfect. Outstanding. A hockey-lover’s dream. I only captured a handful of the things actually going on around the Final Five itself because, honestly, I was caught up in soaking everything up myself. Videos from a small camera aren’t going to do the venue justice and they certainly aren’t going to do justice to the atmosphere of the entire thing.
Fans going bonkers over everything before and after the games and the easy-going camaraderie at the local watering holes afterward. Sure, everyone will be saying taunting, borderline awful, stuff to each other while the game is going on, but when it’s time for a beer to celebrate/drown sorrows in… Everyone’s patting each other on the back, having a laugh and most importantly, talking hockey. After all, the Final Five is the WCHA’s final outpost before the NCAA Tournament begins, and more often than not, fans of the WCHA want the conference to do well in the tournament because it looks good on everyone else. Why Boston College isn’t hated more out west than it is further down Commenwealth Avenue in Boston I’ll never know, but that’s just how it is in the college hockey world.
I’ve recommended to folks that seeing the Frozen Four in person is one of those sports fan bucket list sorts of things and after seeing the Final Five I’d add that to the list if you’re a hockey fan. The atmosphere is incomparable to anything else you’ll find in college hockey (and to think, I saw it during a supposed down year) and the knowledge of the game amongst fans is some of the best you’re going to find in any given location at any time, anywhere. Being as big a fan of hockey, college hockey especially, as I am this was akin to a trip to the holy land for a religious person. Of course, you could argue that hockey is my religion and I really wouldn’t fight you too much on that.
After years of talking about wanting to go to the WCHA Final Five, I’ve finally got the opportunity to go. For such a trip, I had to book it in advance knowing full well that more personal entanglements might have to be sacrificed in order to go. For one, there was the chance that RPI could advance to the ECAC Semifinals. That didn’t happen.
Secondly, there was the distinct possibility that Oswego State would end up in the Division III Frozen Four in Lake Placid and get to play on the 1980 Rink. That will happen as Oswego throttled Bowdoin 9-2 in the quarterfinals and the Lakers move on to face the St. Norbert’s Green Knights in the National Semifinals. I have to admit, the more I read notices and messages from the Alumni office about alumni meet-and-greets in Lake Placid it’s twisting my alumnus innards to pieces to not be there to watch them, potentially, win a National Championship in person. The fun twist is when Oswego State won the National Championship in 2007, they did so in Superior, Wisconsin located near Duluth, Minnesota while I was parked nervously in front of my television watching everything unfold on CSTV as the Lakers lost a third period lead against Middlebury to send the game to overtime where Garren Reisweber scored the game winning goal by wheeling around the Middlebury defense and deking the goaltender out badly.
Anyhow, this time around Oswego is in the Frozen Four in New York and I’ll be the one away in Minnesota. Being that far from the team worked out pretty well last time, so perhaps my lack of presence within an immediate drive of the games helps. After all, Oswego lost in the National Championship game in 2003 against Norwich while I was in attendance at Kreitzberg Arena in Northfield, Vermont. That’s one somber ride home.
Aside from all of that, still, there were even more activities going on including a great Montreal Tweet-Up event over the weekend that’s being hosted by the folks at All-Habs. So with all of these other things going on, I bit the bullet and bought my plane tickets for Minneapolis, Minnesota because it was high time I made the pilgrimage to what’s described as college hockey’s greatest conference tournament.
Usually when folks throw out plaudits like that, I take them with a grain of salt because they’re generally coming from folks who are fans of teams in the conference and they’re a bit biased. WCHA folks in particular are very proud of their conference and how they perform and hell, why not? Just take a look at the Pairwise rankings right now and you’ll see that four of the top six teams are from the WCHA.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Pairwise, it’s the ranking system used to slot out the teams for the NCAA Tournament. It’s not like the bogus rankings the BCS does in college football, there’s actual science to these and while some folks do have issues with Pairwise, the math and methodology is sound behind it and there’s no poll objectivity mixed into it to skew the numbers.
This trip to Minnesota, however, does offer me some grand opportunities aside from seeing potentially five awesome college hockey games (and one NHL game on Sunday, but that’s neither here nor there now). I’ve come up with a list of things I’m going to try and find, capture on a video camera and share with the rest of you later this week.
1. The Jucy Lucy
If you’re not familiar with what the Jucy Lucy is, then you need to go introduce yourself to The Travel Channel and the show Man vs. Food. In his adventure to Minneapolis, host Adam Richman (Twitter) checked out a handful of places including the Minneapolis war of madness between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club who have a contentious war over who the originator of the Jucy Lucy was.
What’s the Jucy Lucy? Picture a cheeseburger with the cheese melted inside the beef. Hungry? Mortified? Feeling ravenous for all things melted and wonderfully beefy? Yeah, I know you are. Ever since I’ve heard about the Jucy Lucy I’ve been fiending for one and one of the first things I’ll be doing in Minneapolis is heading to Matt’s Bar (which has been recommended to me over the 5-8 Club by most locals) and sampling the molten cheese beauty. Believe me, by no means am I a foodie of any degree, but Man v. Food has stoked my curiosity to check out places like these and hell, how do you go wrong with a cheeseburger with the cheese on the inside? You don’t… Unless you try to eat it too soon after it arrives at your table, then you might burn your mouth out like crazy to which you’ll need to stop by place number two…
2. Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit
Yes, that’s German and yes it’s a beer hall. I am a big fan of the German biergarten we’ve got in Albany (Wolff’s Biergarten) and while we’re not exactly going for food at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit, it was the featured place on Man v. Food so it’s got that street cred going for it.
I’ll not be having the Meterwurst and going for the challenge but I will be partaking of their $10 liters of beer and will do so even more if I lose a layer of skin from molten cheese at Matt’s. I’ve got a touch of German blood roaring through my veins and one of the things that blood cries out for is fantastic beer. Consider me sold, especially with the kind of setting they’ve apparently got at Gasthof’s.
Yeah, that’s exactly what it looks like. Siouxbacca is very real, he was even mentioned by Inside College Hockey last year and I’ve seen a photo of him. It’s truly one of the most wonderous sights I’ve ever seen on the Internet and is somehow a thousand times cooler than this.
What is Siouxbacca? He’s simply an incredible North Dakota Fighting Sioux fan who dresses up as Chewbacca and throws an old school Fighting Sioux jersey on over top of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear it was actually Peter Mayhew all cracked out and wearing a stolen Chewie costume but I don’t think he’d even be that dedicated. Maybe. I realize that if you’re not familiar with college hockey and how some fans might be this might seem crazy to you, but believe it. I’m going all Steve Irwin on this one and will be praying that Siouxbacca comes out to play this year but don’t worry, I won’t be challenging him to any games of hologram space chess, I should remain safe.
4. Honest-To-God Real Tailgating
It exists in college football and is legendary for the cookouts and alcohol consumption in mass quantities but a lot of folks don’t know it also happens in college hockey and boy does it ever at the Final Five. Thanks to some well connected friends I’ll get a good up close look at how the folks from Gopher Puck Live do things at the Final Five. I’m planning on being hazed a little bit for being the guy with the Eastern Bias but even without the Gophers being at the Final Five, the folks at GPL still get out there and still have fun and can throw down with the best of them.
I’ve heard rumors of games called “beer darts” being played and any number of other sorts of beer-related games but most of all it’s a chance for everyone to come out and treat it like the end of the year convention. I’m sure there’s some major shenanigans that go on out there, it wouldn’t be a college-like event without them, but things like this just don’t exist here in the east.
At the ECAC Tournament, team fans generally don’t mingle too much and the locations of the tournament don’t lend themselves very well to do any actual in the parking lot tailgating. Piling into a bar and downing overpriced slop beer is easy to do. Downing cheap beer in a parking lot while someone cooks a hundred pounds of meat on a grill is so much more satisfying.
5. Really Great Hockey
I know, it seems like such a sappy thing to say but it’s true. Look at what you’ve got set up in the other conference tournaments this weekend and you tell me which one you’d like to be in attendance for:
Atlantic Hockey: RIT vs. Canisius; Sacred Heart vs. Air Force
CCHA: Northern Michigan vs. Ferris State; Miami vs. Michigan
ECAC: Brown vs. Cornell; Union vs. St. Lawrence
Hockey East: Boston College vs. Vermont; Boston University vs. Maine
WCHA: North Dakota vs. Minnesota-Duluth; UND/UMD winner vs. Denver; St. Cloud State vs. Wisconsin
Sure, maybe some of you might want to check out the Hockey East tournament but with the WCHA sending the top five teams in the conference to their Final Five it sets up to be a huge war for bragging rights and to see who can take home the largest trophy I’ve ever seen in my life – the MacNaughton Cup. (Editor Note: Thanks to Mike in the comments for pointing out my ignorance here: Denver already won the MacNaughton Cup by being the regular season champion. Now they’re playing for the Broadmoor Trophy which is… Not as fun looking. Thanks Mike.)
You can probably see that trophy from space.
Winning the WCHA is a big deal for sure. You’re essentially the best team of the tournament in the best conference in college hockey. Sure that may not translate into National Championships for WCHA teams, but winning the MacNaughton Cup is a tremendous point of pride for teams in the WCHA. A lot of the teams in the WCHA have National Championships and those arguments amongst fans can be both silly and petulant but getting to wrap up the tournament with this trophy means a lot.
With this year’s field of teams being one of the best in years, it turns out I really lucked out to get my first taste of what many have been telling is the best experience you’ll have all year outside of the Frozen Four. Besides, if things do live up to the hype, the Frozen Four is in St. Paul next year and booking my trip to go a year from now might happen instantly.
Don’t look now, but big time college football and basketball aren’t the only ones to come under the watchful eye of the NCAA when it comes to recruiting violations. Division III hockey now gets to feel the whip.
The NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions has imposed one-year postseason bans on State University College at Buffalo and State University College at Geneseo for violations of financial aid rules.
The postseason ban for both schools applies to teams (primarily ice hockey) with student-athletes that had been awarded special grants for students from Canada. Both Buffalo State and SUNY Geneseo had awarded grants almost exclusively to student-athletes, particularly those in men’s and women’s ice hockey.
The SUNYAC playoffs have just six teams and with Geneseo being on the cusp of that, this hurts them badly because now they’re automatically out of the mix. The conference is made up of nine schools but SUNY-Morrisville is not eligible for postseason play yet as they just joined Division III in the last couple of years.
Division III schools have to recruit more creatively than Division I schools do because D-III schools aren’t allowed to give out athletic scholarships and grant in aid programs like the ones described in the NCAA report are used to help bring players over from Canada. Of course, most schools also find ways to do this so that they stay within the boundaries of the rules set by the NCAA so there’s that too. The impact this will have on the teams this year is pretty simple – no playoffs and they exist solely to play spoilers to everyone else in the SUNYAC. The playoffs thing is big mostly for Geneseo as they’ve been a perennial burr-in-the-ass to the conference’s traditional top two teams in Oswego and Plattsburgh. Geneseo is currently in a three-way tie for fourth place with Brockport and Cortland.
Buffalo State has been a perennial doormat for the conference for the better part of their existence and they were locked in a tie for last with the aforementioned Morrisville and destined for a first round playoff date with either Oswego or Plattsburgh. Instead, they’ll be at home with Geneseo and causing a bit of a shake up in Division III.
Why a shake up? Mainly because most of the other schools in Division III will be getting their books looked at closely when it comes to how they’re spending their money to bring in students from outside the country. From the looks of the report by the NCAA, both institutions have done their share to fall on the sword and punish themselves to keep the NCAA off their backs but there’s potential here for a blow to be felt throughout the rest of Division III because of this.
Obviously Division III schools aren’t generally making money off of intercollegiate athletics and if the NCAA is coming in and smacking programs around for cheating the system or cooking the books, school administrators aren’t going to have a high tolerance for that sort of activity, especially when it comes to state colleges who get a lot of money from the state government.
What these programs have done for themselves is made life a lot more difficult for their own success for the foreseeable future. Having school administrators watching over your shoulder any time you want to go recruit someone you want to add to the program is no way to live and trying to keep one’s nose clean while doing so, even though it should be simple enough to stay within the rules, is a pain in the neck when you’re a head coach. After all, you’ve already got 1,001 other things to keep track of and now with the college financial office watching closely with your job hanging on the line because of it… Well, that just flat out sucks to be in that position but it’s no one’s fault but their own for it and while it’s noble of them to mostly fess up for it on their own the immediate future at both Geneseo and Buffalo State looks grim. Look at the full punishment handed down by the NCAA:
Two years of probation from January 28, 2010, through January 27, 2012 (self-imposed by the institutions).
Termination of the Canadian grant program for incoming students, beginning with the 2009-10 academic year (self-imposed by the institutions).
Effective immediately, any of the institution’s athletics teams whose rosters include one or more student-athletes receiving Canadian grants shall end their seasons with the playing of their last regular-season contest and will not be eligible to participate in any postseason competition, including conference tournaments and NCAA championships. Further, any affected teams will not be eligible for regular-season conference championship consideration as long as their rosters include student-athletes receiving Canadian grants.
It’s not the death penalty for either of these schools, but it does effectively make their programs a lot worse off and it does so almost immediately.
Six weeks ago, the RPI hockey team last played a home game. A month and a half away from the friendly confines of Houston Field House sounds a bit insane except when you consider that those six weeks all come when the students at RPI are on winter break it doesn’t sound so bad. After all, home games without the bulk of your vocal home crowd suck ferociously.
For fans of the team that are only aware of the team while they’re at home, a few things happened. They beat perennial powers (albeit ones in a down year) Boston University and University of Michigan in front of their home fans. They swept a road weekend conference series at Quinnipiac and Princeton, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 2007. They were also humbled by a very tough Michigan State team to lose the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational and also dropped their final meeting with Union College over in Schenectady.
The loss to Union has some folks up in arms because it’s Union College and they’re a local rival and because head coach Seth Appert was quoted after the game saying this:
“I refuse to believe that they’re better than us. I believe in our guys, I have a lot of belief in that locker room, what we have in there. I have a lot of respect for Union. I think they’re a really good hockey team. I think they’re a Top 10 hockey team. But I don’t believe they’re better than us.”
Cocky words? Not at all. After all, each game with Union was decided by one goal this season (Union scoring an empty-net goal in the final game notwithstanding) and Appert did go on to heap a ton of credit on the Union program saying, “They’ve earned where they are. Don’t get me wrong by what I say in terms of that question. They’re in first place in the league and they’ve earned every minute of that.”
Obviously Seth Appert wasn’t going rogue on anyone and his faith in his own team is quite clear where it stands. Unlike teams in RPIs recent history, this year’s team hasn’t shown the penchant for fading and letting teams dominate them on the scoreboard like they used to. However, for this team to spend six weeks away from the friendly confines and play six games and come away with a 4-2-0 record in that span against a handful of difficult opponents in very difficult settings is saying a lot for this team.
In more than a few games this year, situations have arisen where previous Engineers teams would fold up the tents instantly. The game against Michigan sticks out as a prime example. It was a game where they were ahead, some shady calls are made against them and Michigan storms back to tie the game and then things hang in the balance. If that game happens even a season ago, RPI cracks and gives up two more goals to end that game and lose. Instead, Marty O’Grady says, “Screw this,” and scores on an impossibly accurate snap shot to put RPI up for good in a 4-3 win. RPI played this exact type of game two seasons ago against the Minnesota Golden Gophers and lost in front of a huge and largely Gopher-biased crowd. Things change and things are certainly different for this RPI team. Now they’re back at home and back on the hardcore ECAC schedule the rest of the way. This weekend they see a couple of teams who in seasons past have been in the upper-middle part of the pack and still lurk as dangerous.
Dartmouth College comes to town not having seen RPI since the Engineers unceremoniously disposed of the sixth seeded Big Green in the ECAC Tournament last year and if you think revenge isn’t on their mind, you’re crazy. The downside for Dartmouth is they’re just not very good this year. They’re severely lacking scoring and even more severely lacking good goaltending. Juniors Scott Fleming and Adam Estoclet lead Dartmouth in scoring with 15 points each and Fleming is the team’s leading goal scorer with eight. Only two other players on the team are in double-digits in points and their main goaltender, Jody O’Neill, has a save percentage lingering around .890 and a 3.79 goals against average.
This does not bode well for the Big Green against RPI who sits as one of the highest scoring teams in the ECAC averaging 3.10 goals per game in conference matchups while allowing just 2.40 goals against. Dartmouth, on the other hand, has been scoring 2.60 per game while allowing 3.60 per. Dartmouth, in this case, is going to have to turn the tables on RPI the way the Engineers did to them in last year’s playoffs. The Big Green stumble into this game losers of seven of their last eight and winners of four games all season.
As for RPI’s opponent Saturday afternoon, the Harvard Crimson, there’s reason to believe that perhaps the ship is finally being righted in Cambridge. After an uncharacteristic and abysmal start to the season where after opening their season with a win over Dartmouth Harvard went winless in their next ten games going 0-8-2 in those ten. Since then, they’ve won three of their last five games including a win over #6 Yale. Their two losses in that span came on the road against Minnesota so those can almost be excused since Minnesota is certainly the better team. Harvard’s gotten wins against Quinnipiac and Dartmouth (again) in that time and considering the Crimson were a team many believed would battle in the top half of the ECAC this would seem to indicate they’re getting their act together.
Harvard’s success has come at the hands of freshman and Montreal Canadiens first round pick Louis Leblanc. Leblanc and his linemates Michael Biega and Maple Leafs Lightning draftee Alex Killorn have been the one sure thing, scoring-wise, head coach Ted Donato can count on. Those three players are the Crimson’s three top scorers and Leblanc, of late, has been scoring goals in bunches while finally showing off the talent that made him the Habs top choice in 2009 (aside from being French-Canadian that is).
In goal is where things have gone a bit astray for Harvard. Junior Kyle Richter returned after a one year absence to attend to “personal matters” and he’s been less-than stellar. Meanwhile, junior Ryan Carroll has stepped up and provided some sense of sanity of late backstopping the team to their last two wins over Yale and Dartmouth. In about half as many games as Richter has played, Carroll’s goals against is almost a full goal lower than Richter’s and he’s sporting a slightly better save percentage. While I’m not sure Coach Donato wants to totally write off Kyle Richter, I’d bet that Ryan Carroll will get the nod this weekend for Harvard.
For as innocent as an RPI-Harvard might seem to be, all is not as indifferent as it might appear. For instance, one thing RPI is going to have to look out for against the Crimson is the antics of the flying Biega brothers. Whether its senior Alex Biega, junior Michael Biega or the latest addition, freshman Danny Biega the Engineers and Crimson seem to get together in scrummy fashion when it comes to them. It all starts with the sandpaper-like play of defenseman Alex who is no stranger to the RPI crowd and he’s usually good for a skirmish or five over the course of a game. Adding in the very talented Michael Biega and his ability to get on the board, that automatically makes him disliked on the road. It’ll be interesting to see which big brother Danny plays more like.
This game also offers RPI fans the opportunity to once again boo and mock junior defenseman Chris Huxley. Four years ago, Huxley initially committed to play at RPI but then jumped ship when then head coach Dan Fridgen was not retained by RPI. Through semi-shady dealings Huxley ended up reneging on his RPI commitment to go to Harvard, something which RPI fans have not forgotten about because each time Huxley touches the puck in Troy he’s booed by the faithful and even given an obvious last-name based nickname. If you can’t figure out what it is, I’m not going to help you.
The RPI Bedwetter Fan View Of The weekend:
“The Friday night game against Dartmouth lingers as a possible “Superman” game where Jody O’Neill has the game of his life and RPI is stuck looking for answers against a goalie that has the horseshoe firmly implanted in his rectum. The Saturday afternoon tilt against Harvard sits like a trap game. Harvard is a team that’s wildly down this year but playing better of late and RPI will find it hard to match up with Leblanc’s line. Allen York will give up some softies and RPI still won’t get anything done 5-on-5. I haven’t been happy since 1985.”
The Right Way To Look At The Weekend:
RPI should roll Dartmouth and the Big Green’s porous goaltending should do their part to help solve any questions about their play at even strength. I’ve got the feeling the game with Harvard is going to be a one goal semi-classic type of game. Maybe I’m giving Harvard too much credit here, but there’s too much talent all over that team for them to keep losing games all year long. That said, a solid game out of Allen York and Harvard doesn’t stand a chance.
Listen to this weekend’s games on WRPI online. 6:45pm Friday, 3:45pm Saturday.
Chances are good, however, that you didn’t miss it and you were left speechless by it wondering how the universe could survive such an onslaught by one of the arctic’s fiercest creatures. Well it’s time to strap on your Depends because the Alaska Nanook is back for revenge and he’s taking it out on Mother Earth. I’m sure you’ve seen the PSA with former ER star Noah Wyle talking about global warming and it shows a polar bear on an ice floe that’s melting.
This particular bear of the tundra isn’t having any of that shit and he’s taking aim on the rest of the CCHA as well as the rest of Planet Earth itself. Worse yet? He’s developed a Voltron-like ability to produce a light sabre-ish hockey stick from his paws and he can fly a fighter jet.
If this is the route evolution is taking, we’re better off melting down those ice caps in the first place. Call it a “preemptive strike” by the human race.
That said, after watching this video I’m ready to run through a wall. Let’s play hockey.
This post is about two weeks overdue at this point but such is life and my New Year’s Resolution was to actually follow through on promises to recap things that I say I will recap when they happen. Confused yet? Good… I’ve got you right where I want you then.
The trip started off on 12/28/09 with an overnight stop in Buffalo to prepare us for the driving the next day to Detroit. That evening, the entire gang of the Collar City Madmen hit Duff’s Wings in Orchard Park, NY. Given that location you can bet we were within shouting distance of Ralph Wilson Stadium and sure enough we rolled right past it on the way to Duff’s on this snowy, blustery Buffalo night. Hundreds of wings were consumed, a few beers were had and some bubble hockey was played.
That’s right – bubble hockey. For being a Buffalo-area sports-type place the whole restaurant was decked out in Bills, Sabres and Bandits jerseys. There was a Danny Briere jersey turned so that his name wasn’t showing to the people and there were a few more interesting autographed jerseys including one of Bills punter Brian Moorman. Sure, he fits in well with the autographed Thurman Thomas jersey.
The highlight of the decor for our hockey-mad gang were the different NHL pennants hanging from the rafters (Hartford Whalers represented) and the pucks hanging around the wall. Why was this important to notice? Easy.
This is what we call a good omen.
Here over the doorway to the restrooms, were these pucks which on first glance the skating Puckman celebrating the 1985 National Championship was the shining beacon for everyone. Of course after looking at this picture a day or two later I noticed the other part of this set up that told me this trip was going to be awesome: The 1980s Oswego State puck RIGHT NEXT TO IT.
Fate was smiling upon our merry band for sure.
We packed up the cars and moved out of Buffalo to head across Canada to get to Detroit on 12/29/09 and I can say without a doubt that Canada is the much more farm-friendly version of upstate New York, driving wise. When you ride along I-90 through New York the landscape is pretty dominated by trees whereas going across southern Ontario through Niagara wine country (including Wayne Gretzky Vineyards) there is very little in the way of trees to occupy any of the landscape and everything in the way of what I can only imagine what the Great Plains would look like. Farms everywhere.
I noticed this in southern Quebec on the way to Montreal over the summer as well and it struck me as odd then too and to see the same thing going down the highway through cities like Hamilton, Brantford and London it threw me off. It must be one of those comforts of home kind of things or the fact that upstate New York isn’t quite as immediately farm-like as some folks would like you to believe.
On the way through Canada we hit a rest area, the only one along the way oddly enough, to grab some food and sure enough we spot folks who weren’t part of our group there decked out in Rensselaer hockey gear. Being the inquisitive folks that we are and the fact we were in the middle of Canada we had to find out who they were on the way to go see. Turns out we ran into Brandon Pirri’s parents. They were a bit startled by our group and the fact that we were driving from the area out to Detroit to go see the team play. In fact, if I was to get a chance to ask them I’m sure they’d say there were horrified by our fandom but that’s neither here nor there.
I discovered that my timing at border crossings is quite outstanding as when our car came up to go back into the United States into Michigan, it was right after a shift change and, much like in July after the NHL Draft, we were the first car up for the new guard. We hand over our passports and enhanced IDs and I say right now that my enhanced driver’s license makes me look like a felon. Flat out, I look insane. Add to that I now have a bit of a beard going on and according to the border patrol agent, I looked older than what my license says. (aside: I look older than 30? DAMN IT!).
Piling on with further confusion is that Tim has a shaved head now (he’s got hair in his picture) and apparently Tim and Tyler looked like twins (…the hell?) it meant we got the once over and then over again by the agent. Whatever, she did her job and considering every knucklehead in the last few days was trying to fly to Detroit with bombs… We can understand. But honestly, four extremely pasty white guys with New York plates coming to Detroit, the chances were better that trouble would find us rather than us going to look for it.
As for the Great Lakes Invitational on 12/29 and 12/30 for us RPI fans, our entertainment came in the form of RPI beating Michigan 4-3 and getting some help from maybe some of the best and most loyal fans in all of college hockey: Michigan Tech. Their fans and some band members were eager to join up with us for the Michigan game and take part in our taunts and cheers and given how poorly Michigan Tech’s season has gone (including a 10-1 thrashing at the hands of Michigan State in the other game that night) having them jump on the bandwagon for the night was probably as fun for them as it was for us to help send the very partisan Wolverine crowd home disappointed.
For what it’s worth, Michigan’s goaltending is abysmal. Bryan Hogan may be the single worst goaltender I’ve watched in person since… Former Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer in the 2008 Frozen Four. Michigan does have a talented squad but they must really hate themselves some Bryan Hogan because he can’t stop anything thrown at the net.
For those of you who are Michigan haters, we came up with a few chants that really helped keep the crowd quiet so feel free to adopt them as your own.
“Worse Than Sauer”
“Where’s Jack Campbell?”
There may have been only about 20-30 of us in our vocal section made up of the Collar City Madmen and other RPI folks as well as the MTU fans who joined in, but after RPI jumped ahead 3-1 after Paul Kerins’ soft wrister found its way into the net, I can assure you that even a place as large as Joe Louis Arena that 30 people can be heard saying these things. We confirmed this with some of the RPI players we spoke to at the 12/31/09 Red Wings game who said they got a good laugh out of our vocal antics.
As for the GLI title game, well… Bryce Merriam looked nervous in warmups and he looked equally as nervous when the game started and RPI was in an almost instant 2-0 hole against a truly great Michigan State team. I know that sounds like I’m huffing and puffing and dropping to my knees for the team that won the tournament (they defeated RPI 6-1) but after having seen how some past great teams have showed up in Troy to hand RPI their heads, this Michigan State team did the same thing (albeit with a home ice and officials advantage).
This team beat a good RPI squad and did so after fending off a flurry of threats in the middle of the second period and skated away relatively easily with the win. The Spartans are very good. They’re as dangerously good as the Miami team with Ryan Jones a couple seasons ago and Corey Tropp and Jeff Petry are two of the more dangerous players I’ve seen on the ice. No, I wasn’t being secretly snarky about Tropp – he’s got a bit of a history, it’s a shame that there’s this incident as he’s also a pretty good hockey player as well. Jeff Petry was the guy who really impressed me though. I’ll confess to going into full-on man-crush mode. What a friggin’ player and just a dynamic defenseman for the Spartans. I said this at the tournament and I’ll say it here publicly because hey, why not? Michigan State is a definitive contender to be at Ford Field. They are very, very good and easily the best team I’ve watched this season.
As for the first of two NHL games we would take in, the Red Wings-Avalanche tilt on New Years Eve was special for me. It was my first Red Wings game in Detroit and after calling Joe Louis Arena “home” the previous two nights, there’s nothing that compares to the buzz inside an arena when the real home team is there and there’s nearly 20,000 people packing the place out and this holds true for Detroit.
Not bad seats, right?
As for the game, truly spectacular from this Wings fan’s perspective and a haunting one for the rest of our groups because, while some folks may not have been rooting for the Wings at all, they definitely weren’t prepared to see former Boston University forward Brandon Yip on the ice for the Avs. We all certainly weren’t prepared to see Brandon Yip score two goals in our presence, that’s for sure.
Thankfully for us, Darren Helm and former Maine Black Bear Jimmy Howard were the heroes of the day as Detroit went on to win the game 4-2. Helm had two goals (both shorthanded, one on an empty net) to seal it for the Wings and Jimmy Howard was college-like in his rock-solid play to help us ring in 2010 on a very high note. Here’s a few more photos from Joe Louis Arena, feel free to click on them to help make them look bigger on your monitors, I made them smaller so as to make the page easier to load.
As for our New Year’s Day jaunt back to Buffalo, the day’s drive was interrupted by a lunchtime stop in London, Ontario to grab some food and catch the Winter Classic (well, two periods worth). You’d think this would be easy to do given that it’s a hockey event and we were in Canada so finding a place open that could hold eight or nine people and would have the game on would be easy to do.
Not so fast. Being that it was indeed New Years Day we forget things like it being a holiday for most everyone, so our initial research into places in London that proclaimed lots of TVs and food proved to come up empty as hell. Luckily we spotted a Boston Pizza restaurant that was open and was definitely showing the game. Yeah… I know, city not known for their pizza proclaiming superiority – it’s like getting a Los Angeles Cheesesteak or Chicago Wings – whatever we were in Canada so anything goes. The wait staff was shocked to see so many of us and they were equally happy to bring us in because, hey, we’re ignorant Americans and we’re hungry.
The Winter Classic when broadcasted by CBC is a glorious wonder. Jim Hughson doing play by play and no NBC masturbatory bullshit. We were also spared from listening to the Dropkick Murphys during the pregame and we were already back in the car while Lenny Clarke murdered “Sweet Caroline.” Thank goodness for small miracles.
Upon reaching Buffalo, the temperature must’ve dropped about 30 degrees because it felt like we had landed on Hoth when we parked and walked up to HSBC Arena. Ice cold, windy, awful… Ahh, Buffalo. As for the game inside featuring the Sabres and Thrashers, well, it started off pretty bad for Buffalo as the Thrashers jumped out 3-0 in spite of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller doing everything humanly possible to keep the team in the game.
Then the Thrashers stopped playing… And the Sabres figured out that they’re leading the Northeast Division and they should play like it. Back they come to tie the game at three and get it to overtime where down at the opposite end of the ice from where our awesome luxury suite was located, this happened:
Unreal. Just a completely freaky goal but it sent us all home on a high note to end our Rust Belt Hockey Tour. Of the games we attended and someone in the gang had a vested interest in one of the teams, our record was 3-1 with RPIs loss to Michigan State being the only (understandable) blemish. Beating Michigan in Joe Louis Arena is the absolute highlight of the trip on a trip that didn’t have any lowlights to speak of.
We enjoyed Detroit quite a bit (no, seriously) and found a bar that welcomed us as much as we enjoyed it. We did a slight tour and checked out the sights that will be more popular in Detroit come Frozen Four time (Ford Field, Comerica Park, Hockeytown Cafe) as well as the more tourist-driven locations like Greektown and the General Motors building. For the bad rap that Detroit gets in general, sure, some of it is earned and there are some really rough parts of town… But you’re not going to those areas if you’re going there for games or other events. It’s easy for me to say as I was never there on my own and making my way around town but I’d absolutely go back again. Whether I go for the Frozen Four or not is up in the air as of yet, but I wouldn’t have reservations about going back.
Surrounding such a trip with tons of hockey games though is a must-do. Joe Louis Arena for being as old as it is compares similarly, to me, with the Carrier Dome in Syracuse as far as how the concourse is laid out and the amenities contained within it. The inside bowl of the arena is spectacular as far as sight lines go. For the GLI we were in the lower level along the goal line and it was a great place to be and the same can be said of our seats for the Wings game in the upper half 15 rows back in the 200 level. We were in the corner but it didn’t matter because the views were perfect and unhindered by anything and folks leaning forward in their seats wasn’t much of an issue either.
It doesn’t have all the fun bells and whistles a lot of the new arenas do and sure the concessions are a bit too expensive ($8.75 for a Miller Lite? Blow me.) but being able to duck off down to the Olympia Room to get away from the concourse is a good thing, even if that gets crowded too. I say this with my Red Wings fan hat on that the place is great, but I understand why folks are clamoring for something new and reverential to the team’s past.
This week I go on one of the more awesome, and slightly random, hockey-themed road trips I’ve ever done. This has become a bit of a thing for me, going back to April 2007 when I made it to Denver for the Frozen Four. That trip was so incredible and life-fulfilling that it’s inspired me to do other trips both great and small. Whether it meant going to last year’s Frozen Four in, now hockey-mad, Washington D.C., taking a short drive over the Berkshires to take in a Division III NCAA Tournament game or going to Montreal for the NHL Draft it didn’t matter – hockey was the reason and everything about each of those trips made it 100% worthwhile.
The great secret I’ve discovered is the road trip itself and when the college schedule was completed and it was announced that RPI would be heading to Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational I circled the date and started to ask around to some of the other RPI-mad fans I know to see if this might be something we could do and sure enough… Everyone else was more than fair game and driving (yes, driving) from here around Albany to Detroit seemed to be the way to go about it. More folks were contacted and more people were interested. Hey, more the merrier, right?
For two days, this annual Michigan-centric tournament takes over Joe Louis Arena and University of Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech have a battle to see who can be the GLI champion and get a banner hung inside the Joe to state as much. Every year a fourth team is invited and RPI got the call this time around. North Dakota was there last year, so it’s not as if a patsy is invited to secure an easy win for someone, although some Michigan fans seem to find RPI to be the weakest team to be invited in a long time. We’ll see how that goes as Michigan is having a bit of an off year.
Fun thing about getting this many heads together for a plan is other ideas pop up. The NHL schedule was released and sure enough, the “traditional” New Year’s Eve game at Joe Louis Arena was back on, after being called off for preparation for the Winter Classic last year. Detroit against Colorado is the game and so another call was made to secure tickets for the gang. Three nights in a row our band of RPI fanatics (now tentatively bearing the moniker of Collar City Madmen) would be holed up at Joe Louis Arena for a total of at least three games, probably four or five depending on how ambitious we are to see the other games of the GLI.
For myself, getting to see a Red Wings game at the Joe is the icing on the cake. Look at it this way, about 25 years ago my hockey fandom was kicked into high gear thanks to the local team from RPI winning the National Championship against Providence College… At Joe Louis Arena. It was that same local team that provided another local team, the Adirondack Red Wings, with a soon-to-be Hall of Fame player in Adam Oates (who was later unceremoniously traded by the Red Wings in one of the worst trades of all time) but helped make that connection to the NHL team I now follow. Fast forward to now and here I’ll be in the same arena getting to see BOTH of these teams.
This is about as close to a religious experience as this lapsed Catholic will ever get. I’ll be at the Joe where Oates, Puppa, Carter and Servinis helped lead RPI to their last National Championship and I’ll be getting my photo taken at Gordie Howe’s statue and finding ways to get as many pictures of Steve Yzerman’s banner as one person can get.
It’s my moment damn it, keep your remarks to yourself.
As Ron Popeil might say, “But wait, there’s more.”
This schedule for the trip means that New Year’s Eve will be spent hoping the Red Wings didn’t lose anymore players to injury and maybe pull out a victory and then finding a bar to hole up with the gang, usher in 2010 and then get right the hell to sleep because a road trip to Buffalo is in order for the day of January 1st. Sure, most everyone will be going bonkers over the Winter Classic in Boston but we’ll be getting geared up for Thrashers v. Sabres at HSBC Arena in Buffalo because, really, you can’t have enough hockey.
Oddly enough, for the limited number of NHL games I get to see live this will be the second time I’ve seen Atlanta play in the last three or four years. The last time I saw them was down at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers when the Thrashers won in overtime and Ilya Kovalchuk proved to me what a madman on the ice he can be. Just an unreal, sick talent. More fun than that, this helps make packing for a trip easy.
RPI jersey? Check. Red Wings jersey? Check. Old school Buffalo Sabres jersey? Check.
Good to go!
I know it sounds insane to be fired up for a trip to two cities in the Rust Belt of the USA but here I am writing this up in the wee hours of the morning before hitting the road to get to Buffalo and stay the night there before trekking to Michigan. What makes going to places like this in the dead of winter when the climate is at its bleakest and these cities are seemingly even less “fun” to visit? It’s hockey, stupid. Simple as that. It’s cities like these where hockey lives and breathes the hardest even when things financially aren’t at their best. The fans love their teams and when it comes to college hockey at Joe Louis Arena… Well, that’s a big deal there too because state bragging rights are more-or-less on the line and the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is vicious. Even going as an “objective” hockey fan for an event like this I would be fired up so you can imagine what the adrenaline rate is now having horses in most of the races involved here.
The NCAA has made it a point to have better “destination” cities for some of their bigger events (namely the Frozen Four) but it’s places like Detroit and Buffalo (and Minneapolis/St. Paul) where hockey encompasses the lives of the folks there. Sure some folks can get up in arms over selecting Ford Field as a Frozen Four venue (rightfully so) but their line of thought was right. For every Tampa Bay the NCAA picks out, they make sure to take care of St. Paul, Minnesota and the Denver too.
As for updates while I’m gone for the week… Don’t expect too much unless I witness something completely insane or I’m duly inspired and want to (potentially) drunkenly ramble when I return back to the hotel room. If you’re wanting in on crazy stories from the road or photos as they happen, I strongly suggest following me on Twitter @HockeyJoeGM.
Here’s your reminder to tune into WRPI as I’ll be doing color commentary for the RPI Engineers broadcast at 7:00 pm as the Engineers are in Boston to take on the defending National Champions from Boston University.
I don’t often do game previews for the college hockey weekends, but in this case I’ve got special motivation. The last time I watched Boston University play live and in person, they were busy doing this:
Not bad right?
This season’s Boston University Terriers are having a bit of a championship hangover. Gone to the NHL are Colin Wilson (Nashville) and Matt Gilroy (recently demoted by the Rangers to Hartford) and with that a lot of the glue that helped last year’s team run roughshod over the rest of the NCAA en route to the National Championship. Last year’s Terriers finished the year 35-6-4. This year’s team sits at a miserable 4-8-3 and just 2-7-2 in Hockey East competition.
Suffice to say, Terriers supporters aren’t feeling so hot about their team and it’s easy to see why when you take a look at the statistics. No one is scoring (Zac Cohen and Chris Connolly are leading the team with five goals) and only three players are in double figures in points (Kevin Shattenkirk with 2-10-12, Connolly 5-6-11 and Vinny Saponari with 3-7-10). To make matters worse, sophomore goaltender Kieran Millan has been lackluster between the pipes putting up stunningly bad numbers through 11 games played (3.47 GAA, .865 save %). No goals and no goaltending in a ruthlessly difficult conference will make things like that happen. BU rolls into Friday night’s game winless in their last three (0-1-2) and winning only once in their last six games (1-2-3). They’re not exactly a team on fire but thankfully for them, RPI is rolling into town feeling just as emo and downtrodden.
RPI just on Wednesday night was busy playing the role of the Miami Redhawks as Union College played the part of Boston University in a eerily similar reenactment of the National Championship game as RPI gave up two goals in the final minute of play to lose to Union College 5-4 in regulation. RPI has dropped four in a row and six of their last seven. After jumping out to a hot start, a myriad of issues have deflated the Engineers be it injuries, bad penalties, sloppy defensive play or just running into a damn good team. These things happen but when the opponents are named “Niagara” instead of “Boston College” the perspective is tough to gain.
That’s not to say that RPI is lacking bright spots. Junior forward Chase Polacek is the leading scorer in the ECAC (12-13-25) and RPIs offense is bolstered by freshmen phenoms Brandon Pirri (7-10-17) and Jerry D’Amigo (5-9-14). The offense is sort of getting its bearings with junior Tyler Helfrich getting back into the swing of things after missing seven games with an ankle injury but will be without senior forward Paul Kerins for the game against BU thanks to picking up a reckless and needless game disqualification against Union. Kerins who wasn’t counted on to be much of a scorer this year is fourth on the team in points (5-8-13).
The issues with RPI of late come down to defense and its effect on goaltender Allen York. RPI defensemen Bryan Brutlag and Erik Burgdoerfer have come under the discerning eye of the fans for their sometime reckless play both in their own end of the ice and in the offensive zone. Brutlag is notorious for jumping into the offensive flow of the game, sometimes pinching at inopportune moments and leaving his defense partner out on an island. Burgdoerfer has had bouts with turnovers this year and some of those mistakes have found their way into the net.
Ill-timed penalties (then again, what penalties are taken at a good time in the first place?) have also hurt the Engineers as the team’s penalty kill percentage sits at a meager .765 (75/98). While RPIs power play last year was a crucial thorn in its side, the penalty kill has become even more of a roadblock for the team, especially when down two men where opponents have scored on RPI seemingly at will.
What you can chalk up both RPIs and BUs problems up to is youth. These two teams are pretty damn young and while RPIs overall talent isn’t quite up to snuff with BUs, the gap isn’t as far off as it was last year when these two teams faced off in the Denver Cup, a game which BU won 6-2. RPI has added offense while BU has lost theirs. Kieran Millan is seemingly suffering through a sophomore slump while Allen York is getting his first season as the starter for RPI. BUs offense is going through the motions while RPIs is having a breakout year.
What does this mean for this non-conference game? Two teams trying to figure things out and snap out of a funk. While BUs problems can be chalked up to not exerting top effort consistently from game to game, RPI is looking to put in a complete 60 minute game and not end up unrewarded, like what happened in their 2-1 loss to Cornell last week.
You would have to expect that BU is going to snap out of it at some point and start winning games regularly and not be so inconsistent but RPI is going to have to maximize their opportunities to delay BU the chance to do that starting tonight. Of course if BU’s band starts playing songs by The Cure and folks come dressed up in their best ugly sweaters and dye their hair black… Maybe it’ll just be one of those nights where the game ends in a tie and everyone goes home happy to have not lost.
Boston University vs. RPI: 7:00 pm start from Agganis Arena – Boston, MA – Listen live at www.WRPI.org