Oh, October. You beautiful, unpredictable month, you.
The 10th month on the calendar has claimed many a victim. It seems, compared to other college sports, hockey teams take a little longer to find their games, which makes for intriguing and surprising results in the early weeks of the year. That has certainly been the case to start this season.
Each of the teams that were ranked among the top four in the preseason have already lost a game, all to teams you wouldn’t expect them to lose to. Parity exists in college hockey, yes, but the top teams are supposed to be the top teams and therefore are deserving of higher expectations.
Boston College and Michigan were each felled in their opening games this season. Minnesota seemed to solidify itself as the No. 1 team with a convincing Week 1 sweep over Michigan State, but then was thoroughly outplayed in the front end of a weekend series with Michigan Tech on the road. Then it was No. 2 North Dakota, playing moderately shorthanded due to team-enforced suspensions and injuries, which only managed one goal against Alaska in a 2-1 loss.
So who’s No. 1 now? Miami is undefeated still, earning shootout and overtime wins over the weekend against Providence, but I don’t know if the record will guarantee them the No. 1 spot.
Do we give those other four a pass? Chalk it up to early-season inconsistency or a lack of rhythm? Maybe they’re all still trying to get that chemistry flowing with new teammates. Is it just a case of that annual early-season sluggishness that seems to dog many a college team?
It’s probably the latter and there’s a pretty clear cause of this sluggishness.
Coming up after the jump, a further examination of why October hockey is pretty bad, the eye-popping start for St. Lawrence’s Kyle Flanagan and some notes on a pair of the top free agents available in college hockey.
When I look at the rosters across college hockey, I see a lot of young teams, a lot of inexperienced goaltenders and a relative lack of start power among the senior class.
I’ve watched quite a few games in this young season and have failed to see one that I would classify as “good,” or even worse, I would call “enjoyable.” There’s been at least one team that looks completely out of it from start to finish.
That’s part of the early season. The games are never as good in October as they are in April. Everyone knows and expects that, but I think it’s fair to want better.
Part of the reason it takes a little longer to get going is the amount of contact coaches can have with their players on the ice in the preseason, therefore leading to a lack of proper preparation. This is one of those instances where the NCAA rules hinder college hockey a bit and is a likely culprit for early-season games lacking the skill and cohesiveness you’d expect from even a mid-season tilt.
According to the rules, the first formal practices, with a full coaching staff, can be held starting the Saturday 25 weeks prior to the national championship game. That means coaches don’t get on the ice often until the week of the team’s first exhibition game. This year, the first formal practices, began the first week of October, with most teams playing in at least exhibitions by Oct. 6.
Captains are allowed to run practices and those have some structure, but there’s a difference between those and having full instruction from the coaching staff on a semi-daily basis.
An important question: How does such a structure promote or assist player development? Some of the key learning experiences, especially for freshmen, will come in those early-season practices. Now there’s plenty more time for practice as the season goes on, which is a benefit of choosing college hockey over other options, but a little more time in the preseason would go a long way, I think. Even if it’s just one more week.
You’d get better performances in October and the players are getting properly prepared for the long season ahead.
Unfortunately, due to the length of the college hockey season, these rules are not going to change anytime soon. Football has less than half as long a season, but has all summer to warm up for their first games against the sacrificial lambs from the Football Championship Subdivision or some low-level D1 team. Hockey has mere days before they go live, and let’s not kid ourselves, results in October can matter in March.
This might just be yelling for the sake of yelling on my part, but these teams should be allowed ample preparation time for both the players’ and the fans’ sake.
Who are Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey?
You’ve probably heard about Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau and North Dakota’s Corban Knight and Danny Kristo? Maybe Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau and Pat Mullane ring a bell. Well what about Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey? Ever hear of them?
One check of the national statistics and those are the first two names you’ll see and both names are followed by the words St. Lawrence. That’s right, college hockey’s most dynamic duo through two weeks has been St. Lawrence senior Flanagan and junior Carey. Flanagan, who posted 37 points in just 28 games last season is off to a sensational start with five goals and 11 points, both national-bests. Carey is right behind him with nation-leading seven assists and 10 points.
Before you go spouting off about how the ECAC is weak and everything else like that, this offensive explosion has come against a pair of non-conference foes. St. Lawrence stunned No. 7 Western Michigan 4-3 on opening night and narrowly lost the second-half of the series 3-2. Over the weekend, SLU swept Maine, 5-0 and 5-1.
The pair has accounted for exactly half of the 42 points the Saints have collected as a team. It’s very, very early, but this is not new for Flanagan, who averaged more than 1.3 points-per-game last season. As one of the few seniors that are really going to have an opportunity to shine this year, it appears Flanagan should be one of those guys consistently mentioned in the early-season Hobey Baker conversation.
He’s already on our Hobey Baker Watch over at Eye On Hockey. It is highly unlikely he’ll be able to average nearly three points a night as he is now, but talk about an eye-popping start. If Carey and Flanagan can keep this up, they’re going to help SLU make some serious waves in the ECAC this year.
Top Free Agent Dmen Shining Early
After the flurry of free agent signings out of college hockey last season, there is sure to be some heavy competition again this year for the eyes of scouts in hopes of a nice little pay day.
Of the free agents in college hockey right now, a pair of defensemen are truly standing out.
Everyone knew coming into the year that Danny DeKeyser would be watched closely. He had contract offers from a lot of teams last season and surprised the hockey world when he decided to stay at Western Michigan.
There won’t be much more money on the table presumably, depending on what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement in the NHL, but DeKeyser is shaping up again to be one of, if not the best free agent on the market.
With four points on the season already, including a pair of goals, DeKeyser has shown a little more offensive touch this season. His real value still remains in his defensive play, but that strong two-way ability makes him all the more attractive.
DeKeyser had identical statlines in his first two collegiate seasons, posting 17 points. There’s nothing to suggest he’ll maintain a point-per-game scoring clip, but added production this year could give him a variety of options and some teams willing to invest in him with an immediate roster spot.
The other big FA who will garner a lot of looks this year is Nebraska-Omaha behemoth Andrej Sustr. The 6-8, 200-pound defenseman has shown improved mobility in each of the last three seasons.
Having seen Sustr when he was with the Youngstown Phantoms back in 2009-10, it was always clear that he had a future with his immense size and relatively raw tools. He’s certainly more refined and has brought more skill to his physical frame.
Sustr has four points in four games this year, including a pair of goals, both bullets from distance. He can really hammer the puck, but also has poise and patience to let the lanes clear. Sustr also has keen instincts on when to jump into plays and when to get back.
The physical game is right where it needs to be, as long as he doesn’t get overly aggressive, and he can certainly defend himself well, if you go back to his junior experience.
The Czech Republic native crossed the pond at age 16 to play junior hockey for the Kenai River Brown Bears in the NAHL five years ago. He plays a North American style, but still has above average puck skills for a man of his size and maybe it doesn’t even need that qualifier.
He’s only 21 now and with what he’s shown, there’s going to be a significant number of suitors come spring. He could choose to stay in school, but there’s a good chance the right opportunity will present itself for him to leave.
UNO will be on TV at least four more times this year, if you want to see what the big man is all about.
Inside College Hockey Calling it Quits
The world of college hockey might be a little worse for the wear coming out of this weekend. The folks over at Inside College Hockey have decided to call it quits after a 10-year run.
It took a lot of us a long time to figure out how to use this internet thing properly, but INCH has been nailing it since 2002. Consistently some of the most well-informed and unique commentary on college hockey came right from INCH. Whether it was their power rankings or Hobey Tracker or quite literally everything else, INCH proved that it really was inside college hockey and it brought the rest of us in with them.
I’ll be sad to see it go as an avid reader since my own college days. A lot of smart folks were behind that venture and they provided some great content over the years.
I don’t think that I would be able to do what I do without INCH doing what they did. Their work certainly showed the rest of us how it’s done.
Going to try to end these posts with more video when possible. Even though the goal of the weekend came in Houghton Friday night, that got its own post. So here’s a bonus: Austin Czarnik’s nifty shootout goal against Providence’s Jon Gillies on Friday night.
Shades of Datsyuk.