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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Keeping it a tournament of winners
Recent Badgering glitch reexamined at committee meeting

On the surface, it was a soda-spitting, rapid-eye-rubbing occurrence when North Dakota negated a 2-0 deficit in the third period and overthrew Wisconsin, 3-2, in overtime, in the Midwest Regional Final, right in the Badgers’ Madison mansion that is the Kohl Center. Given the egregious history of school’s hosting the first phase of the NCAA tournament and aristocratically claiming a passport to the Frozen Four, the Fighting Sioux’s achievement ought to have steamrolled the rest of Sports Illustrated’s nominees for the weekly “Sign of the Apocalypse.”

Upon further review, though, a solid roster of stats gave the Badgers little chance of busting the 2008 men’s hockey bracket. And thanks to further review formally proposed Thursday by the NCAA’s D-I ice hockey committee, such choppy occurrences will be averted in future tournaments. In other words, pending fundamentally logical approval by the NCAA no later than September, teams wishing to vie for the national title will need to have posted a mathematically clear-cut winning record. That didn’t apply to Wisconsin this past spring.

A branch to this movement also touched upon the blurry contemplation over continuing the automatic bid policy –which is of particular concern to the now four-member, perpetually plebeian College Hockey America. But the lava-based core of the controversy is about setting reasonable limits on the more gluttonous conferences.

Wisconsin, after all, was one of six –count it, six- WCHA tenants filling in the Sweet 16 pool. Leading up to Selection Sunday back on March 23, the Badgers had rung up a 15-16-7 transcript and, thanks to a first-round sweep from St. Cloud State, could only sit and watch as five of their conference cohabitants stirred up the Final Five in St. Paul.

Yet, much to the excruciation of puckheads on the right half of the Appalachian Mountains, Hockey East and the ECAC sent two a minute teams apiece to the national platform while the CCHA and WCHA combined to send 10 representatives, including a Badger team proudly flaunting a .487 winning percentage.

Those who cite teams who click in the stretch drive say it should have been an easternmore scarlet squad –Boston University- challenging the Sioux that weekend. A sound case could also be made for the Vermont Catamounts, who went 6-2 in their last eight regular season ventures and were spotted at TD Banknorth Garden for the first time this past season.

Instead, the Badgers were preferred on the apparent belief that they had fared better through a more anguishing overall schedule. True, in their only CCHA encounters, the Catamounts and Terriers were swept by Miami and Michigan respectively –in October no less. And in their only WCHA game, BU tied Alaska-Anchorage, 4-4, on opening weekend, technically settling them on a .500 record against the hegemonic conference.

Wisconsin, meanwhile performed no Hockey East tussles, and its only ECAC test was a shootout loss to Colgate in their own holiday tournament. What exactly does that prove? Incidentally, the Raiders went on to curtain their season at exactly .500. In fact, eight teams in the ECAC –which allots its members a whopping 12 non-conference dates to round out their 34-game regular season- finished in the black on their overall records, a handful of them posting substantial overall logs in interleague games.

Add those six teams who aren’t NCAA invitees Clarkson or Princeton to BU, UVM, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Army, and Rochester Institute of Technology, and you’ve got twelve teams with a better showing in 2007-08 than the Badgers. That, along with such close-to-.500 candidates as UMass-Lowell (.486), Nebraska-Omaha (.475), Northeastern (.473), and even the Friars (.458) should be enough to have the Championship Committee entertaining thoughts of introducing a hockey NIT.

More to the point at hand, in a vat that deep, at least one of those .500-or-better clubs had to have done enough to earn permission to play beyond the Vernal Equinox; which is why any western partisan dissent that cites the 2003 and 2007 Maine Black Bears is irrelevant. Both of those Maine teams missed out on Hockey East championship weekend due to an overhaul at the hands of UMass-Amherst. But at least, leading up to the selection show, the 2003 edition had a watertight winning percentage of .697 and, in 2007, boasted a fairly snug .595 rate.

Granted, in 2007, Hockey East distributed a league record five representatives to the regional sites –one more than there were vying for the Lamoriello Trophy over Championship Weekend. And this past season, the WCHA matched that act by sending six teams after five played for its banner at the Xcel Energy Center.

But in the former case, the WCHA sent a reasonable three teams, trailing the CCHA’s four representatives, all of whom were safely above the win percentage poverty line. There wasn’t quite the same balance this time around. And even if there was, Wisconsin allegedly would still be wearing the special treatment cloak for its pre-arranged hosting of the Midwest Regional, and the “what about their record?” uproar would still be on the table.

The Championship Cabinet should know how to clear it off. Then it can move on to purging the campus site absurdity.

Camper Amber makes the cut
On Thursday, two days after the weeklong trial camp in Lake Placid, rising sophomore Amber Yung made the cut to join the US U-22 select squad in the annual August series with Team Canada. The Friars’ burgeoning two-way backliner, who kilned 15 points in 36 games as a rookie, thus becomes the first PC product to join in on the traditional late summer classic since Karen Thatcher and Sonny Watrous were welcomed aboard for the 2004 series. She will be the seventh Friar to have played for the U22 Selects, joining an all-time roster of Ashley Payton, Meredith Roth, Jessica Tabb, Thatcher, Watrous, and Rush Zimmermann.

Yung will be accompanied by five of the other eight Hockey East associates who took their hack at a roster spot. When the pool was dissolved from 34 to 22, those still standing included Boston College’s Meghan Fardelmann, Molly Schaus, and Kelli Stack and New Hampshire’s Kacey Bellamy and Sam Faber.

The Eh Team, which swept the trio of test drives last summer at the enchanted US Olympic Center, will host this year’s event in Pierrefonds, Que., with games slated for August 20 and 22 –both 7 p.m. face-offs- and a dip back into the players’ squirt days with a 9:30 a.m. draw on August 23.

Extreme Makeover: First Period
As they promised last year, Yale University began what it designates as “Phase I” of its endeavor to spruce up its antique barn, Ingalls Rink, which is the seventh-oldest among active Division I venues and fast approaching its 50th year of service to New Haven’s aspiring puck scholars. According to a recent university press release, among the interior items promised for completion between now and when everyone breaks in their new skates are as follows: a refurbished bench area, a face-lift to the restrooms and concession stands, a second press box, a new ice surface, and a new walkway to that revised pond for the traveling teams. The PC women will be one of those first visitors to see the progression when they pay a midweek matinee visit to Yale on December 30.

Phase I will put the Bulldogs’ home slate on noticeable hold (the women will have their annual Canadian friendly October 26, a good month after the conventional date) and a hefty lineup of other projects –comprising Phases II and III- will continue up until the autumn of 2009.

Swede and sour
The national champion Minnesota-Duluth women’s team padded on two additional Swedes –Jenni Asserholt and Pernilla Winberg- to their recruiting class to go with goaltending pin-up Kim Martin and forward Elin Holmlov. Sure, Duluth may offer the most fitting environs for an adventurous Scandinavian –as is further evidenced by two Finnish Bulldogs in Heidi Peltarri and Saara Tuominen. But like the acrobatic vacuum Martin, the two newbies come to the States in infamy for their roles in the upset of Team USA from the 2006 Turin Olympics. Incidentally, Winberg was credited with the deciding goal in the shootout of that icebreaking semifinal showdown. One other thing, Duluth is slated to boast arguably the most diverse roster in the nation with the six Scandinavians plus a Russian (rising sophomore Iya Gavrilova) and nine Canadians. Perhaps a few aspirant powerhouses, especially on this coast, want to consider a little more overseas dipping?

Double order
Like an engagement and a subsequent wedding, the NCAA’s introduction of the two-ref system effective full-time in 2008-09 happened again and again until it finally “happen happened” through a Wednesday convention amongst the Playing Rules Oversight Panel. Virtually guaranteed ever since a sample of conference commissioners –Hockey East’s Joe Bertagna included- gave it the concurring nod and when it was used experimentally for sprinkles of the 2007-08 season, it was formally proposed last month before the Sharpie stamp was placed. (PC teams got a glimpse of an officiating quad crew when the women visited Ohio State in mid-November and in the men’s Mayor’s Cup game). And so, if for no other reason, skating Division I zebras everywhere may rejoice knowing that they shall never again be welcomed to the ice by a pep band’s rendition of “Three Blind Mice.”

Gerbe still gushing
Stan Fischler, the ageless, quintessential paradigm for all hockey scribes in training, saw no deceleration from Boston College discard Nathan Gerbe in a petite summary of the Buffalo Sabres prospect development camp. In a recent online correspondence to the New England Hockey Journal, Fischler wrote of the mighty mite who signed on for the pros after his junior year ended, “Gerbe stayed on the ice far past the end of practice – too the point where the nets had to be taken away from him.” Is he just a puckaholic or addicted to achievement? Well, Gerbe did finish his collegiate career by slugging an old-time 20 points in eight post-season games towards redeeming the two-time national also-ran Eagles.

Quick Feeds: Since the free agency go-gun fired its cue on Tuesday, only one player fresh of a collegiate campaign per day has signed on, most notably would-be Minnesota senior Blake Wheeler, who landed on his blades in the Bruins organization after the Phoenix Coyotes pitched his rights into the open. The only other signings to date are Minnesota’s Stu Bickel to Anaheim on Wednesday and Denver goaltending standout Peter Mannino to the NY Islanders on Thursday…Brown Universityalumnus and 2004 Hobey Baker finalist Yann Danis, feeling caught in a goaltending gridlock in the Montreal Canadiens system, has signed to join Mannino in pursuit of the Rick DiPietro/Garth Snow apprenticeship with the Islanders…Would-be Maine freshman Kevin Gagne, noted as a nascent two-way connoisseur, pitched in another scar to the cheek of Tim Whitehead by fore-going his commitment to Orono in favor of a reported five-year contract with the Quebec Major Junior League’s Saint John Sea Dogs…Rand Pecknold, Quinnipiac men’s skipper since 1994, had his contract extended through the 2012-13 season. Meanwhile, 2003 Brown alumna Cassandra Turner assumed an assisting position in the new Bobcat women’s staff…USA Hockey recently declared its intention to rerun it’s “Hockey Weekend Across America,” which it first embarked on this past winter. The release on usahockey.com reads: “Similar to the highly successful first-ever Hockey Weekend Across America, staged in the United States from Feb. 15-17, 2008, next year's event will also feature themes for each of the three days. Friday's theme will be Wear Your Favorite Jersey, Saturday's will be Bring a Friend to the Rink and Sunday will be Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes.”…The most devout PC students, prospective students, and alumni ought to know that Peter Farrelly –of Fever Pitch and Dumb and Dumber fame, among other things- is himself a Friar alum. But you probably weren’t aware that his equally achieving brother, Bobby, is a certified veteran of Division I hockey. According to the Internet Hockey Database, Bobby logged one game’s worth of action during the 1977-78 season with the RPI Engineers.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Red Sox Commentary

Why delay the penalty?
Just make them do time and move on

Brace yourself for the following layout. If you clear your head well enough and scan it over in an unhurried, superficial manner, you should find the data more preposterous than pre-calculus. And we’re not even dipping into the startling divisional leaderboard aspect here.

The Red Sox and Rays kick off this week with a three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla. for their first convention since Boston claimed a sweep at Fenway June 3-5. In the finale of that series, the combustible twigs that were Coco Crisp and Tampa Bay hurler James Shields served to kindle a brawling bonfire around the mound after Shields bonked the batter in the hip.

And now, Crisp’s services will be no good for this series as he is completing a five-game suspension. Just the same, Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura will miss Game 1 as he rounds out a three-game sentence for the role he played in the June 5 tussle.

This despite the fact that it will have been 25 days and the Sox have played 21 games since the incident that warranted these suspensions. Both Crisp and Iwamura heard the final ruling on their team’s respective appeals to their initial suspensions last Friday, exactly 22 days after the fact.

Cut the cute talk that this somehow lessens the risk of another basebrawl popping up in the renewal of this newfangled statistical rivalry. We’re swinging at a real screwball when it comes to MLB’s disciplinary precision and timing.

Not that this anything new. In fact, it’s customary. But the coincidental bookending sets of Sox-Rays games make this strange saga more overt and ought to bunt baseball’s governing offices towards further review of suspension appeal.

No time like the present to think this over. After all, they’ve already been touching the instant replay bases and, if all goes according to plan, will have umpires putting the right stamp on every home run in another month.

What should be the on-deck issue behind that isn’t so mathematically tough. Again, 22 days and 18 games passed for each of these teams before all punishments were finalized. That’s more than thrice the number of games Crisp was left free to play in and six times Iwamura’s participation log in the time that disciplinary officials spent mulling everything over.

It’s gale-strong mind-sweeping when you really think about it. If MLB officials want to formulate a more firm, orderly method of handling flare-ups like this, which they should, they ought to look no further than their field-based authority figures. Every time a manager hurdles out of his dugout to question an umpire’s call, ejection is imminent. The dispute is wadded up and disposed of in seconds.

Just like the 20th Century Vole movie producer in a classic Monty Python bit, if there’s one thing baseball shouldn’t have to stand, it’s people who are indecisive. And unlike the umps, indecision is an egregious trait of the league’s disciplinary department.

To make one more point about umpires, they are the only participants in the game who should have the word “appeal” –as in when the plate patroller asks a baseliner whether a check swing went too far- in their vocabulary.

By now, at least a dozen times, everyone has seen the highlight of Crisp taking that pitch to the thigh, exchanging off-target swipes with Shields, and in effect summoning everyone to the scene (because, apparently, a non-frictional 1-2 stance in the division isn’t enough to hype a series between these teams). If you’re in charge of keeping these guys in line, you ought to be able to knead a reasonable conclusion as to everyone’s degree of infraction much sooner than this. So why be so submissive as to promise them “Well, okay, we’ll look at it again. Carry on with your season, and we’ll get back to you later”?

When confronting similar issues, disciplinarians in some other sports believe in a phrase they like to call “suspended indefinitely.” That phrase applies to an offending player or coach, not to the mind of an outside-the-lines authority.

It’s not that hard. Crisp and Iwamura should have been sidelined for a set number of games that at least hovered around equivalency to their respective roles in the June 5 tussle. And those suspensions should have expired at least two weeks ago. And the whole debacle should be buried.

But that won’t be so easy with all the broadcasters reminding their viewers and listeners why certain players are scratched from the lineup every half inning.