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by Ken Schott

Parting Schotts

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College Hockey Slap Schotts season finale — Union falls short of Frozen Four

By Ken Schott
Monday, April 1, 2013

Peaks and valleys, up and downs. Those were the themes to the 2012-13 Union hockey season.

Coming off its first Frozen Four appearance, it took Union nearly the entire season to figure out what it was going to take to get an opportunity to make a second straight trip to the Frozen Four. Unfortunately, the Dutchmen ran into a juggernaut named Quinnipiac.

The Dutchmen’s Path to Pittsburgh was blocked by the Bobcats on Sunday night. Thanks to a dominating three-goal, one-assist performance by Matthew Peca, the Bobcats ended the Dutchmen’s season with a 5-1 victory in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional final in Providence, R.I.

It was a tough way for the Dutchmen’s season to end. But, in a way, the game summed up how the season went.

The Dutchmen weren’t aggressive against the Bobcats They struggled breaking the puck out of their own zone. They fell behind, 3-0, thanks to Peca’s hat trick in a 3:12 span. And then it was 5-0 past the midway point of the second period. The game and the season were over.

It seemed like the Dutchmen were trying to find an identity all season. In probably was a hangover from last year’s run to the Frozen Four. Maybe the team thought that it could just turn it on whenever it wanted to. As I had written a while back, the Dutchmen seemed to be in a haze when they came out of the first trimester exam break in late November. Despite sweeping Penn State Thanksgiving weekend at Messa Rink, the Dutchmen looked lethargic. There was no energy. A few days later, Quinnipiac came to Messa and skated the Dutchmen out of the building with a 4-0 win.

That started a two-month odyssey for the Dutchmen as they tried to find an identity. There would be many games that they failed to hold on to third-period leads in several games. They took some uncharacteristic penalties.

To me, the turning point of the Dutchmen’s season came in a 4-2 loss at Cornell Feb. 23. After dropping a 4-1 decision to Colgate the night before, an angry Union coach Rick Bennett told me that there would be some lineup changes for the Cornell game. But no one expected Bennett to bench senior right winger Wayne Simpson, the team’s top goal scorer.

Union fell behind, 3-0, in the first period. But the Dutchmen settled down and played better. They cut the deficit to 3-2, but couldn’t get that tying goal.

That would be their last loss until Sunday.

Union dominated St. Lawrence and Clarkson to clinch the final ECAC Hockey tournament first-round bye. Then, the Dutchmen swept Dartmouth in the quarterfinals to earn a chance to defend their ECACH tournament title in Atlantic City, N.J. Union captured its second straight title with dominating efforts over Yale and Brown.

Watching Union roll past defending NCAA champion Boston College in Saturday’s East Regional semifinal was a thing of beauty. But, ultimately, that took a lot out of Union. There was nothing left in the tank for Quinnipiac.

“They looked like a team that just wanted to be in the Frozen Four,” Bennett said. “I think they really showed it, and we looked like a team that had been there instead of a team that wanted to really get back there. It’s tough to say that to you. They set the table all year long, and they deserved to play in [the 5:30 p.m. semifinal], and we deserved to play that 9 p.m. game. Maybe it does catch up to you, but that’s life.”

If there is one lesson the Union players who will be returning next season is never, ever take a game off. You can’t let games, especially non-league games that will have consequences down the road in the PairWise Rankings, get away. Otherwise, playing catch up trying to earn an NCAA tournament berth will end up taking a lot out of you.

Player watch

With the season over, it’s time to see what Union players will be signing with pro teams.

For the seniors (forwards Kyle Bodie and Wayne Simpson and defensemen Greg Coburn, Ryan Forgaard and Shawn Stuart), the chance to play in the minors are dwindling. There are three weeks left in the AHL regular season, and the lower-level minor leagues are in the playoffs.

Two players to keep an eye on are junior goalie Troy Grosenick and sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Although Grosenick didn’t have the same kind of numbers this season as he did last year, he still had a solid junior campaign with a 17-10-5 record with a 2.12 goals-against average. Since he is a free agent, Grosenick will attract attention from NHL teams.

Gostisbehere was drafted in the third round of last June’s draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Between injuries and age, the Flyers could be interested in signing Gostisbehere. But they also may believe he needs one more year at Union to develop his game further.

Junior forwards Daniel Carr and Josh Jooris could get some looks from NHL teams, but they should return for their senior seasons.

Denver fires Gwozdecky

Stunning news out of Denver on Monday as the school announced that George Gwozdecky won’t return as the Pioneers’ head coach after 19 seasons. Gwozdecky won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and 2005.

Gwozdecky compiled a 443-267-64 record with Denver. The team was 20-14-5 this season, and lost to New Hampshire, 5-2, in Friday’s NCAA hockey tournament Northeast Regional semifinal.

“We certainly wish George the best in his future endeavors, and we are thankful for his 19 years at the helm of our hockey program,” vice chancellor for athletics and recreation Peg Bradley-Doppes said in a statement. “He certainly had his fair share of success, returning the program to the pinnacle of the collegiate hockey world during our great run in the middle of the previous decade. In addition, he has always run our program with class and professionalism, which has certainly made our fans proud to be Pioneer supporters.

“We must now turn our attention toward a new direction for our hockey program with another innovative coach taking the lead for our inaugural season in the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference.”

Sounds like he was forced out, don’t you think?

Including an eight-run at Miami (Ohio), Gwozdecky has a career record of 593-391-85.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to be the varsity hockey coach at the University of Denver for the past 19 years,” Gwozdecky said in the press release. “I’m extremely proud of the work that we have done to continue to build on the great Pioneer hockey tradition. Our consistency of success on the ice and in the classroom over the years has been a focal point of our work, and I am very proud of what we have achieved. I will forever cherish the relationships that we have built in the Denver community with our fans, our staff and most importantly our former and current players. I want to wish them all the best.”

RPI head coach Seth Appert, who served as an assistant coach under Gwozdecky, was stunned when he heard the news.

“I’m shocked,” Appert said. “I’m sad. Those are some of the people that I’m closest to, not just hockey, those are people that are family to me and my family. It’s really tough right now.”

Appert said he spoke to Gwozdecky and other Denver hockey staff members weekly. But Gwozdecky never mentioned anything about it.

Asked if he would be a candidate for the opening, Appert declined comment.

Union up in USA Hockey Magazine Poll

Union moved up from 13th to 10th in the USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today college hockey poll. The Dutchmen edged New Hampshire, 202-201, for the 10th spot.

There is no USCHO.com/NCAA hockey poll Monday. The final poll will be announced April 15.

USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine 2012-13 Men’s College Hockey Poll

(First-place votes in parentheses)
Rank School Last Week’s Ranking 2012-13 Record Weeks in Top 15
1 Quinnipiac, 500 (22) T-1 29-7-5 17
2 UMass-Lowell, 487 (12) 3 28-10-2 17
3 St. Cloud State, 420 11 25-15-1 14
4 Yale, 380 15 20-12-3 17
5 Minnesota, 364 T-1 26-9-5 26
6 Miami (Ohio), 352 5 25-12-5 26
7 North Dakota, 286 7 22-13-7 26
8 Notre Dame, 254 4 25-13-3 26
9 Boston College, 240 6 22-12-4 26
10 Union, 202 13 22-13-5 15
11 New Hampshire, 201 10 20-12-7 23
12 Minnesota State, 145 T-8 24-14-3 13
13 Wisconsin, 101 T-8 22-13-7 7
14 Denver, 59 12 20-14-5 26
15 Niagara, 55 14 23-10-5 8
Others receiving votes: Providence, 11; Western Michigan, 11; RPI, 5; Boston University, 3 Canisius, 3; Brown, 1.

Epilogue

And so, this concludes another season of the College Hockey Slap Schotts blog. As always, I want to thank you for reading my blog during the year. And for all those following me on Twitter (@slapschotts) and the two Facebook pages — The Daily Gazette On Ice, and my "Slap Schotts" college hockey segment page — a big thank you. It is always great to hear from you.

While the blog may be done for the season, the college hockey news never ends. Please keep checking my Parting Schotts blog for all the goings on.

Good Monday! Good Hockey! Good Offseason!

 
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