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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Homecoming fan invites
Three recent HEA exes to start AHL showcase

Cue the succession of “What if?” wonders.

The first period of the 2009 AHL All-Star Classic, slated for two weeks from tomorrow night at Worcester’s DCU Center, will reunite the contesting crease custodians of the 2006 NCAA championship. Victorious Wisconsin graduate Brian Elliott, now a full-time Binghamton Senator, will tend the Canadian cage versus BC-Eagle-turned-Manitoba-Moose Cory Schneider, the starting stopper for PlanetUSA.

For Schneider –one of six one-time Hockey East satellites on the PlanetUSA squad and eight in the game altogether- it will mean his first business trip back to his native Bay State and a fond return to the site where his Eagles claimed their passport to the 2006 Frozen Four. There, one will recall, the likes of Elliott and the Badgers followed through on their perceptible home ice advantage to wrest the title at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center.

Granted, the Badgers’ underprivileged entry into the 2008 tournament that submitted to North Dakota in their own Madison mansion ought to debunk the notion of unwavering home ice advantage. Still, Worcester has been a regular host to postseason collegiate action ever since it flooded its first professional pond for the departed AHL Icecats in 1994. And it has functioned as a haven for Jerry York’s capstone class, which has won six of seven games at the DCU Center this decade, springing from there to the final frontier in three of four tries.

So fans are free to have fun contemplating and debating the infinite –albeit never to be known- possibilities if the selection committee of three years back had calculated their assessments a few twitches differently. Maybe Wisconsin would have had the luck of a Miami Redhawk there.

Frankly, there’s enough evidence to spawn a silent, for-kicks conjecture that crossover collegiate/minor pro buffs came together in masses to arrange this trivia-enriched rematch. In the not-too-distant past, you had Schneider and Elliott contesting in just a routine east-west college classic. In two weeks, they will lodge their respective flags on their moorings as masked representatives in the “A’s” annual chapter of Canada Against The World.

Additionally, Schneider will ally once more with Nathan Gerbe, now a first-year scoring beacon with the Portland Pirates. Gerbe, who made Worcester the penultimate stop in his supernatural tear to the title with the Eagles last spring, has since reappeared and potted a hat trick (couple with an assist) as part of the Pirates’ 5-3 tip-over of the Sharks November 5.

Gerbe’s former backstop, though, has been confined almost strictly without the Eastern Time Zone since latching on with the Vancouver Canucks’ organization. Come the All-Star weekend, Schneider will return to the oversized barn an hour west of his native Marblehad, Mass. for the first time since he pitched a pair of 5-0 shutouts over Miami and BU to pilot the Eagles to Milwaukee.

And then there’s Gerbe being paired up with BU alumnus Chris Bourque on PlanetUSA’s top line, which amounts to three one-time Hockey Easterners starting this celestial exhibition. It nearly poses grounds for suspicion that the AHL’s “You Decide” selection policy was as locally prioritized as the NHL’s allegedly was in Montreal, where you have four Habs raring to start that game in their full-time rink.

Some seeing Red, for now
Cornell University –the ECAC’s most recent Men’s Frozen Four ambassador, reeling back to 2003- laid claim to one of the fifty first-place votes in the first USCHO poll of 2009. Meanwhile, the first installment of the PairWise Rankings gave Cornell (9-1-3 coming into the weekend) the throne.

Evidently, the panelists bestowing those honors to the 8th-rated Big Red was uncontrollably wooed by their wresting the Florida College Classic over rival Colgate by mere teethmarks in a shootout, then oppressing the bubble-based UMass-Amherst, 5-2, last weekend. That tournament clincher, incidentally, went down as a tie for both parties, but Cornell has nonetheless woven a 5-0-1 ride and remains the lone team in the nation with one solitary loss. That might be where the other skate drops: these guys came into the weekend still with a lumpy 16 regular season engagements to deal with. And they’re still a stride behind conference cohabitant Princeton.

Speedy recovery
A few ice chips beyond the halfway mark of the season, it is fairly easy to assert that Maine foreman Tim Whitehead has already fastened one of his hands on the Bob Kullen Award as Hockey East’s outstanding coach. Seven-and-a-half years removed from filling the late Shawn Walsh’s untimely vacancy, Whitehead has fortified his psyche through a handful of adverse off-ice occurrences, a slew of tournament frustration, and, most recently, an egregious non-playoff run. Fastidious Orono residents would surely prefer that the Black Bears spike back to certified contention without delay, but give Whitehead credit for easing them back to a present middleweight stature in the Hockey East standings and a supra-.500 overall record.

Quick Feeds: With only two more nonconference games (Maine vs. Bentley this Friday; New Hampshire at Dartmouth on Saturday) plus Beanpot action still to come, Hockey East has virtually secured a winning record against all fellow Division I men’s leagues in 2008-09. That ought to beef up the Sweet 16 membership from the measly two schools of last year, no?...Hockey East has enlisted the Providence-based Swing Juice energy drink manufacturer as its newest corporate partner, spelling its second newly established tie with a Rhode Island company this season. The league had previously declared new linkage with the Naukabout apparel company in early October…Casual quote of the week from the men’s league’s midseason teleconference: “No football questions,” said BC skipper Jerry York when the media was handed the floor before him…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: the bubble-based UConn women entertain a two-game series with almighty Meryhurst (who entered the past week #4 in the nation) over in Storrs on Friday and Saturday. Going into this weekend’s action, the Huskies have paced themselves on a six-game winning streak since absorbing back-to-back blankings from PC and BC in mid-November.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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