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!