Thursday, October 30, 2014

Now it feels like hockey season

Yes, Quinnipiac has been playing all month. But around these parts, it doesn't truly feel like college hockey season until both Yale and Quinnipiac get going, especially when there's big news sprinkled into the mix. Jack McDonald announced he will retire in June (here's my column with reaction from Jack and some of his staff). Also made my way over to Yale on Wednesday afternoon and was at Quinnipiac practice this morning. A few notes to hold you over until Friday night...

** Keith Allain didn't love his team's effort against Alberta last Friday night, but said it was the perfect opponent in that situation. The Bears are as good as any NCAA team and provided a real test to a Yale team still finding its bearings after a week of full practice. "It was a good game for us to figure out where we're at. Systematically, structure-wise, we're where we probably should have been one week into practice. Hopefully we'll be a week ahead of that on Friday night. Our compete level and work ethic (against Alberta) was not up to the standards of Yale hockey. For us to expect better results we have to work harder and compete harder."

** Yale had numerous injuries last weekend, especially for so early in the season. Mitch Witek, Tommy Fallen, Matt Killian and Adam Larkin were the only healthy full-time defensemen. Allain said the Bulldogs are still dealing with injuries, and there will be scratches this weekend. But they will have six defensemen ready for Friday, though he wouldn't elaborate on who would be back in the lineup. "We have nine defensemen in our program. To think we could only dress four for that game on Friday. That's a situation I've never experienced before."

** Allain says Yale's forward lines likely won't be solidified until after Christmas. "We're always trying things, sometimes injuries force you to try other things, but you expect to grow all season long and I think we're a long way from a finished product right now." Defense will be solid once everyone is healthy. Most questions with the Bulldogs center around who will pick up the scoring slack left by Kenny Agostino and Jesse Root. John Hayden is an obvious candidate. "I think we have the potential to get scoring from a number of areas. We expect Hayden and Frank DiChiara to score more than they did last year. I think Mike Doherty should score for us, Matt Beattie should score for us. I'd like Nico Weberg to produce more. And I think we'll get a great deal of offensive production from our blue line. We're going to be a team that will have all five guys in the attack. I expect a number of our defensemen to be in the top part of our scoring." It's the way Allain likes to play, and he knows this team has the talent on the blue line to execute.

** Yale leaves for Newark and the Prudential Center today. The opener against Princeton at the Liberty Hockey Invitational is by design, and the only reason Yale agreed to continue with the tournament. Allain isn't comfortable opening with teams not dealing with the same restrictions on start dates for practice and games, and feels it's a disadvantage (see Alberta exhibition.) The inaugural LHI was an all-Ivy affair, but tournament organizers widened the field by dropping Dartmouth and Brown in favor of Hockey East opponents Merrimack and UConn. Yale is committed to the event the next two years, but insists on opening with Princeton.

** The format this weekend leaves an open day on Saturday. Yale will skate at the Prudential Center and take in that evening's Devils-Blue Jackets game.

** Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold expects to have forward Travis St. Denis back for this weekend's series with Northeastern. St. Denis was injured midway through a game with UMass Lowell two weeks ago, and sat out the loss to UConn in Bridgeport.

** Pecknold said his team has been working to shore things up in all areas, chalking much of the mistakes of the first four games to a team still finding itself. Quinnipiac has a history of blitzing through the month of October, so its 1-2-1 record, which includes a 4-1 loss to UConn, is disconcerting. Still, the Bobcats could easily be 3-1 right now. There's a ton of talent and potential. It just needs more seasoning.

** Got a chance to speak with freshman forward Landon Smith for a feature set to appear in tomorrow's paper. Look for that online later today.


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