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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Missing the point
College hockey must professionalize its OT approach

With an earnest pouring of unadulterated objectivity going into this week’s column, this author checks back at the upshot of last Sunday’s Providence College-Connecticut women’s get-together and offers Hockey East the same arms-out, silently gaping-mouth look that every coach offers a zebra on at least a semiannual basis.

Really? The Friars keep a stride ahead of the Huskies for virtually fifty smooth minutes, slip in the climax en route to an overtime loss, and have no partial credit in the standings for it?

Granted, the WHEA –together with the CCHA and the women’s sect of the WCHA- has refined its approach to dealing with deadlocks as far as making sure a full victor emerges from every settlement of tempestuous ice chips. If it comes down to a shootout, both clubs are compensated for most literally working overtime in the form of a single point.

Bravo. But they’re only halfway there, and the rest of the NCAA’s branches have not even started their evolution process.

Given the tougher-than-calculus jumbo that ensues every time one glances at the Women’s Hockey East standings this season, trying to pry apart “legitimate wins” (in the words of PC coach Bob Deraney) from shootout wins/ties –which are all different in the league and national classifications- it is certain the NCAA will collectively revisit this over the summer. More than likely, it will be agreed that each and every conference must give the pollsters a break and settle on one universal tiebreaking procedure.

Here’s a refreshingly straightforward tip: learn from the pros. Make a three-point purse out of every game requiring at least one nanosecond beyond sixty minutes of play.

The NHL and most every minor pro league have had the right idea even before The Show scrapped its black-and-orange shield in favor of its post-lockout black-and-silver makeover. Teams falling short at any time beyond regulation have rightfully earned a single point.

And most perplexingly, there is overwhelming opposition amongst the pundits in the pro game and next-to-no advocacy around the college game, where this well-founded format is still missing.

This sportswriter-in-training asks “Why?” The rationale is plainer than a practice puck. The key phrase is “regulation tie,” which by definition is the condition of being too good to defeat within the standard sixty-minute time frame.

When that happens, both teams have defied the longtime laws of the game. Three full-length periods were not enough to settle this tussle. More often than not –and it was certainly the case at UConn’s Freitas Ice Forum a week ago- the deadest of dead heat makes itself conspicuous at ice level. It should be similarly reflected in the standings.

And, of course, you could always do that the USA Hockey youth way: rev up the Zamboni and the showers as soon as that third period buzzer rings, leaving everyone to accept a lovely smooch from their siblings.

Or, in order to appeal to a climax-hungry audience, you can split the standard two-point package, then break out the spare and toss it out for grabs. Acknowledge that neither party is inclined to give an inch within the conventional time span and proceed to find out who has the ultra-appetite for victory.

The classic counterpoint to this notion: if teams are drawn near the dusk of regulation, and are mindful that they can extract a point if they melt the clock and fast, they’ll make haste to do just that and approach the bonus round indifferently.

Even if that is applicable at times, shame on those teams. Who really wants to compromise with their adversary –especially a divisional rival or conference cohabitant- like that? Regardless of who claims the third point, squandering an opportunity to finish things off in regulation could always come back to haunt either party; just the same as any regulation falter that could have tilted the other way.

Which is probably why, when Deraney was queried on the issue this past week, he dismissed the alternative format as an irrelevant hypothesis. Even if they were properly compensated for restraining UConn beyond regulation, the Friars would still have been stinging over the two points that could have/would have/should have been. Empty and half-empty bear no distinction in those fall-from-ahead crushers.

Come what may, lessons ought to be learned on both contesting sides of the puck when a game is dragged beyond regulation. And they usually are. While the losers cannot and do not lay claim to an automatic, wholesome “moral victory,” the true victors typically need a tool of minor self-nicking to ask, “Why couldn’t we have finished them off sooner?”

Look at the local major league pucksters, the radiant Bruins. They’re technically undefeated (6-0-2) in their last eight as of Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa. But half of those six wins required extra action and the consequently gave a three of their Eastern Conference chasers a tangible consolation prize.

The resultant new sense of parity is making the President’s Trophy nominees feel swiftly claustrophobic. Foreman Claude Julien and his understudies expressly stated after that come-from-behind effort that they didn’t flaunt their best. That fire-lighting philosophy is only strengthened by the reminder that they couldn’t deck the Senators flat, that they couldn’t cast them off empty-handed, and that there may be consequences for that later.

If that can’t spice up a molecular playoff push, what exactly can do it better?

Sweeping the nonconference wishbones
With only last night’s Brown-Merrimack tussle and tomorrow’s Beanpot consolation clash between BC and Harvard yet to be recorded, the Hockey East men’s league has secured a cumulative supra-.500 record against every other conference, leaving next-to-no realistic means of slippage come the NCAA tournament. Together, its inhabitants have gone 17-12-0 versus the ECAC, 8-4-2 against the CCHA, 6-4-2 over the WCHA, 3-2-0 against the now hospice-ridden College Hockey America, and 10-1-1 over Atlantic Hockey. Amongst individual programs, only the Friars and UMass-Lowell were bested in the majority of their seven interleague swings, each going 3-4-0. And the league’s current nonconference winning percentage of .646 is the best it has seen since achieving a .705 efficiency rate in 2002-03.

Near future should be set
Friar Puck has confirmed at least three of its four popularly proclaimed commitments, including second-generation PC skaters Chris Rooney and Alex Velischek. The respective sons of Tim Army’s ex-teammate Steve Rooney and Randy Velischek submitted their NLIs on Tuesday together with Tyler Landman –who with radiant rookies Matt Bergland and Rob Maloney will equal an icebreaking trinity of Minnesotans in the program. Meanwhile, winger Jamie Ferullo, slated to become the umpteenth constituent of the unofficial Friar-New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs pipeline, is still unlikely to commit for any time earlier than Fall 2010. But given the general dysfunction that initially brewed from an overpopulated dressing room of 31 early this season, there’s no rush for much of a roster refill.

Quick Feeds: Cowl colleague Chris Mammen, who monitors and chronicles the PC men’s team for the campus reader-base, has politely declined an invitation to submit regular updates on the Tim Army Corps for the Free Press. However, we have pinned a link to the Cowl’s sports section to our list of linked web pages for fans seeking at least some beat coverage of teams this author is not specifically assigned to. I just don’t want to be the journalistic equivalent of a puck hog…There’s still no immediate explanation as to why, for the second year in a row, NESN devotes its lone, two-minute women’s Beanpot segment on Sportsdesk exclusively to Boston College…Can anyone find the logic in this? Spectators at Schneider Arena have regularly had their ears treated to the Dropkick Murphys’ cover version of “Tessie,” but never “Time to Go,” the Murphs’ original puckcentric composition…This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: Impossible not to take note of tomorrow night’s Beanpot final, pitting a pair of Top 10 constituents. But for the sake of geographic diversity, the startlingly stealthy Yale men’s team –who came into this weekend 8-1-1 over their last 10 and #12 on the Pairwise leaderboard- will visit RPI on Saturday for the Engineers’ “Big Red Freakout.”

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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