Monday, March 5, 2012

Hectic Hockey

Monday is the off-day at the ACHA National Tournament, a chance for the final four teams to recharge their batteries after two and three days of physical action.

It's also a chance for yours truly and the Executive Producer to recharge our batteries after spending three full days at the Hoover Arena. It also gives me a chance to put some thoughts together on what happened as far as the Icers are concerned.

As we all know by now, three of the top four teams have survived the opening rounds. Top-ranked Penn State will face #13 Oakland in the first semi-final at 5pm on Tuesday.

The Icers on Saturday overcame a slow start and knocked off 17th-ranked West Virginia 4-1 before dispatching #9 Oklahoma 6-3 in a wacky quarter-final contest that I'll dissect in depth later.

Oakland is this year's Cinderella squad. The #13 Golden Grizzlies easily disposed of Mercyhurst 8-0 in their play-in game on Friday. On Saturday they overcame a two goal deficit and upset #4 Arizona State 3-2 in the first overtime contest of the tourney.

Oakland opened Saturday's action by exacting a large measure of revenge on GLCHL rival, #13 Adrian, with a 5-4 win in a gritty, chippy affair.

Meanwhile, #2 Lindenwood takes on #3 Delaware in the late contest tomorrow, scheduled to faceoff at 8pm.

The Lions cruised past #15 Central Oklahoma 5-2 on Saturday, then held off a determined Minot State squad in the quarterfinal. The 7th-ranked Beavers trailed 6-1 after two periods but scored three in the third before an empty-net goal gave LU a 7-4 victory.

Delaware knocked off defending champion Davenport 3-1 on Saturday and then took part in an instant classic on Saturday. The Blue Hens and #6 Ohio needed 89 minutes to decide who would move on. Mark Zeszut's goal at 9 minutes of the second overtime crushed the Bobcats' hopes of a spot in the final four.

It was the second year in a row that Delaware went to 2 OT's in the quarterfinals. A year ago, on their home rink, they defeated Adrian before losing to Lindenwood in the semifinal.

Okay, on to the turmoil at the end of the second period. To set the stage, the Icers rallied from a 2-0 first period deficit to the Sooners and were tied 3-3 after 40 minutes on two goals by Bryce Johnson and another by Michael Longo.

At the end of the period Justin Kirchhevel and Oklahoma goalie Nick Holmes apparently had a literal tete-a-tete near the Sooners' net.

The OU players coming off the bench at the end of the period streamed toward the pair. Fortunately, cooler heads (for the most part) prevailed and after a couple of minutes everyone headed to their respective locker rooms, including the officials.

I must admit that surprised me. I did not see what transpired between Holmes and Kirchhevel, but I fully expected there would have been penalties called out of all of the activity. However, the officials went right to their locker room, bypassing the timekeepers' bench.

It's when the teams came out to start the third that the episode took a bizarre turn. The referee first went to Guy Gadowsky, then had a lengthy conversation with the timekeeper, and then went to Sooners coach Peter Arvanitis. While that exchange was taking place, the scoreboards lit up with a 5-minute major for Holmes and 4 minutes for Kirchhevel!

Holmes was already in his crease ready to go, and with his mask pushed back on top of his head, everyone in the building could see that he was incensed. After seemingly endless minutes of confusion, Holmes was escorted to the penalty box and backup netminder Colin Fernandes had to replace him.

The Sooners freshman had no chance to loosen up, and the Icers took full advantage. Tommy Olczyk and Domenic Morrone scored in the fist 1:01 and there's your hockey game.

The Icers shut down the Sooners the rest of the way, with Mike Longo adding an empty-netter for a 6-3 final score.

I will admit that I was critical of the officials and said that I thought that Holmes should have been done for the game. I also opined that both coaches should have been told of the penalties either right after the end of the period or early in the intermission. I stand corrected on the former, but stand by what I said on the latter. I'll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

To clarify, the NCAA rulebook says:
A player shall not head-butt an opponent with the face mask or helmet. Head-butting includes all cases in which a head-butting gesture is made, regardless of whether contact occurs.
PENALTY—Major or disqualification at the discretion of the referee.

According to Sec. 7(b), Holmes rightly sat in the box to serve his major, accompanied by a teammate.
If a goalkeeper incurs a major or misconduct penalty, the goalkeeper shall serve the time penalty; but a substitute player in goalkeeper’s equipment shall be allowed in the game replacing some other player. When a major penalty is assessed, a player without goalkeeper’s equipment shall go to the penalty bench with the goalkeeper and shall go on the ice in place of the penalized goalkeeper when the penalty time has expired. The penalized goalkeeper may not leave the penalty bench until the first stoppage in play after the expiration of the penalty.

More confusion arose when the PA announcer announced that Holmes was also assessed a ten minute misconduct. That led to many saying that he came out of the box too early.

However, the official boxscore shows no misconduct for Holmes. Therefore, he returned to the game at the correct point.

The photos here were taken by Barb during the first period of the Oklahoma game. She's been a great help all weekend (as always) and finally got a chance to enjoy the game as a fan. But she could only watch one period from the perch where she shot these photos before wanting to join our friends in the Icers family to cheer the boys to the win.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tournament Thoughts

It's been a busy few days since the Icers wrapped up an undefeated regular season and the end of the Icers era, but I finally have some time to put some thoughts on "paper" about what has transpired and what lies ahead in Strongsville, Ohio.

Friday's one-sided 13-1 win over Kent State propelled the Icers to become just the fourth team in the 40-year history of the program to go undefeated at home.

The last to accomplish the feat was the 2003-04 squad, one season removed from a fourth-in-a-row National Championship win over Ohio. Unfortunately, the Bobcats turned the tables that spring, beating the Icers in Ames, Iowa.

And so the Icers close out their history at the Greenberg Ice Pavilion with a record of 466 wins, 65 losses, 18 ties and 13 overtime/shootout losses. That works out to an unbelievable 85% winning percentage at home.

The home ice advantage is due in great measure to you -- the fans of the Icers. Your support over the years has bolstered teams through tough times as much as you have helped to celebrate the good times.

Everyone wants the Pegula Ice Arena to be the most intimidating college hockey arena in the nation. The old barn known as "The Berg" has been a hostile environment for the visitors for more than 30 years. I think that it's safe to say that PIA will be even more so!

Now on to the National Tournament. The Icers head to Strongsville riding a 13-game win streak in which they have outscored their opponents 82 to 16.

They've given up 3 goals twice (a 9-3 win over URI and the come-from-behind 4-3 overtime thriller against Oklahoma) while recording two shutouts (3-0 at Oklahoma and 8-0 over West Virginia at home). Don't forget - they also held Ohio to a goal in each of the two wins at the Bird Arena.

Clearly, Penn State has to be the odds-on favorite to capture one last Murdoch Cup. However, everyone knows that they can not take any opponent lightly.

Case in point - the 2008 tournament in Rochester, NY. The Icers went in with a record of 31-3-4, and as regular season and conference playoff champions of the ESCHL. However, they did not play well in a 2-0 opening round win over West Virginia. The next night they were smoked 4-1 by Liberty.

I do not expect that to happen this year. Ironically, West Virginia could be the opening round matchup. The Mountaineers face Rutgers in the Friday play-in game, with the winner facing Penn State at 5pm on Saturday.

If the Icers win the opener the road to Wednesday gets tougher on Sunday, when they'll face either the Sooners or Iowa State.

From a personal perspective, I had the pleasure of calling the last championship win at the Bird Arena in 2003. Ten seasons later, I hope to call the final seconds of the last championship victory for the Penn State Icers program.

Barb and I hope to see many of you at the Hoover Arena. Shouldn't be a problem, since we will be there all week!






Saturday, February 18, 2012

One of Those Nights

We have all had those days or nights when nothing goes right. For Barb and me, it seems that ours always happen on game night.

But sometimes, there's a spark that arrives that makes you realize that your problems don't amount to much. Such was the case on Friday night.

On a night when the Icers cruised to a 8-1 thumping over the Duquesne Dukes, nothing was going right in the booth. A wonky internet connection caused fits with the webcast. Definitely not what we wanted on Senior Night.

To add to the misery, both of us were battling head colds. No fun trying to do play by play while trying to keep the sniffles and sneezes in check!

Some much needed "pain relief" for us came during the first intermission in the form of a smiling and happy 5-year old named Colton Buckley.

Paul Daley, who has been heavily involved in THON activities, contacted me earlier in the day to ask if I could find time to talk to the Icers' Thon child. Gunner did not need to ask.

The Buckley family is one of the many THON families, but they are the Icers' THON family. It was such a joy to chat with Colton and his dad Denny about Colton's battle with leukemia. From what we observed in our brief time together, it is a battle that Colton will win.

Colton and his sister Madison took part in the shoot-the-puck contest, and after the game they were dishing and receiving passes from Steve Edgeworth for what seemed to be about an hour!

One of the unfortunate aspects of having just one camera for our webcasts is that we sometimes miss something taking place off-camera. Such was the case last night.

During our chat with the Buckleys, there was a proposal at center ice. Post-game, Colton had his picture taken with the entire Icers team, then got high-fives from everyone.

The grin on Colton's face lit up the building. Hopefully, it's a grin that won't disappear for many, many years.






Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Honored

Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.
Jesse Owens

The final Alumni Weekend in the storied history of the Penn State Icers turned out to be everything that I expected. Fun, intense, emotional, and above all - humbling.

The on-ice results were as expected - a pair of lopsided victories over Mercyhurst that kept the Icers' home unbeaten streak intact. The wins pretty much ensured that Penn State will be the top ranked team in the final poll that will be released on Friday.

I said several times what an honor it was and is to be inducted into the Icer Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2012. To join so many friends, former players and builders in the Hall is an honor that I will cherish.

It was humbling to share the Alumni Dinner podium with Scott Curry, who brought the room to tears as he recounted going from the low of being a teenager told he'd never play hockey again to leading the Icers to a National Championship and representing the USA at the World University Games, with Coach Gadowsky, who once again showed why he is the right man to lead the hockey program into the new varsity era, and with Jay Paterno.

Jay's inspirational and emotional speech helped to heal the wounds of the past and challenged the alumni to ensure the future and brought everyone to their feet for a lengthy standing ovation.

Before the dinner I received an e-mail from Dr. Lawrence Hendry, the first coach of the Icers. Larry congratulated me and asked if I "had the same lump in your throat that I did" when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I tried to keep the emotions in check during the Saturday webcast, but the lump arrived in full force as I stood at the podium that evening.

There are so many to thank for their encouragement and support over the past decade, notably Joe Battista, the players and coaches that I have pestered for interviews over the years, former broadcast partners Jason Mals, John Mulhern and Steve "Howie Meeker" Zodtner, fellow Hall of Famer Rodney Martin, the Icers Booster Club and all of the parents who have become lifelong friends.

Most of all, I have to thank Barb. I'm not sure that many wives would do what the "Executive Producer" has done going back to our days in cramped and frosty high school football press boxes in Colorado.

As Jesse Owens said, friends gather no dust. The true honor for Barb and I is the friendships we have made over the past ten years. They are friendships that transcend hockey.

To all of you, we can only say -- thank you!






Tuesday, January 31, 2012

From OU to OU

The Penn State Icers had little time to savor the weekend and season sweep of the Ohio Bobcats before getting ready for a visit by the Oklahoma Sooners.

The team bus arrived back in Hockey Valley around four on Sunday morning. I'd forgotten how much fun that return trip could be! Less than 36 hours later the coaches on Monday afternoon put the squad through an up-tempo practice with an eye on this weekend's visit by the Sooners.

Oklahoma, currently ranked 8th, is 4 and 2 since the Icers hung a 3-0 shutout on them in Norman on January 7.

After taking two from twelfth-ranked Illinois (6-3 and 5-0) and sweeping #2 Arizona State by identical 3-1 scores, the Sooners last weekend were swept at home by #10 Minot State by 3-0 and 3-1 margins.

I caught up with Coach Gadowsky and George Saad after Monday's practice. George had the tying and insurance goals in Saturday's 4-1 victory at the Bird Arena, giving him 8 goals on the season and 28 in his career.

Coach says the team played five good periods of hockey last weekend. They'll need to make it six this weekend against the other OU.




Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fitting Finale

The final games in the historic rivalry between the Icers and the Ohio Bobcats could not have been better.

Obviously, the two victories by the Icers at the raucous Bird Arena was the capper that the team and its fans wanted. There would be no "Saturday Swoon" by Penn State.

The Icers came out on fire and set the tone in the first thirty seconds. Despite going down 1-0 in the third minute, Penn State took a 2-1 lead to the locker room on goals by George Saad and Peter Sweetland. Peter's goal was his first in an Icers' uniform and would stand as the eventual game winner.

George added the insurance marker on a second-period breakaway, while Justin Kirchhevel put the final nail in the coffin in the third, finishing another great three-way passing play from Tommy Olczyk and Taylor Holstrom.

So the Icers sweep the season series for just the second time in the long history between these two programs. That is a testament to just how intense the rivalry has become over the years.

And so it comes to an end, unless the Icers and Bobcats meet in the National Tournament. It's been an honor to have been a part of the rivalry for the past decades, seeing the highs and lows of the battles from a broadcaster's perspective.

Thanks so much to all of the players that have made the rivalry what it is, and for making my job so enjoyable (despite the climb into the Bird broadcast booth). Speaking of that, all joking aside, thanks to Dan Morris and Marcus Marazon before him, for providing us with the perfect perch to make the calls since 2002.

We will miss it all and wish OU nothing but the best in the future. Okay, maybe starting in the fall!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Holey Schnikie!

With apologies for "borrowing" the signature phrase of ESPN hockey fan John Buccigross, I couldn't think of a better way to describe Friday's 2-1 come-from-behind victory by Penn State over the Ohio Bobcats after Rodney Martin beat me to what I planned to use!

Well played, sir!

Two third period goals by Taylor Holstrom ("Holey" to his teammates) overcame Zack Barbis' first period tally for the Bobcats. The Icers won their 20th of the season and in doing so handed OU their first home loss of the year.

Simply put, the first of the final two games at the Bird Arena lived up to every expectation. Simply put, it was a war from the opening faceoff.

The Bobcats, energized by Gang Green and the majority of the sold-out crowd at the Bird, exploded out of the gate and took runs at anyone in a blue sweater. The Icers responded in kind, leading to a steady parade to the penalty box in the first 20 minutes.

The Icers dominated play in the middle frame as the penalty parade continued. The teams settled down to solid end-to-end hockey in the third, with just four penalties called in the final 20 minutes.

The good news is that the Icers went 8-8 on the penalty kill. The bad news is that the Icers were 0-8 on the power play. Many of the penalties (both ways) were the after the whistle calls that frustrate coaches, and some of the Icers were guilty of letting the Bobcats get under their skin.

Both teams had their chances early on, and both teams were denied goals by the netminders' best friend - the goal post. Brett Agnew for OU and Eric Steinour were robbed by the red pipes in the first period.

The battle included the goaltenders. OU's Fedor Dushkin was spectacular, stopping 26 shots to earn third star honors. Meanwhile, P. J. Musico was named second star as he went toe-to-toe with the Rovno, Ukraine native, stopping 18 Bobcats blasts to record his 10th win of the season.

Vince Chandler and I talked about the rivalry between these storied programs and what it has meant to the ACHA. As I put it, two teams that have a "respectful" hate for each other.

That respect was displayed by the member of Gang Green who paid tribute to Coach Paterno before the game. On behalf of the Penn State family, thank you for your support.

So, now it comes down to one more battle at this venerable bandbox and one more climb into our broadcast booth. One more night that will see both teams leaving it all on the ice and one more night where I expect to be drained by the time we sign off.

And then -- one more long bus ride back to Hockey Valley. Oh well, three out of four ain't bad! Game time can't come soon enough.