Josh Sciba's daughter got a glittering new necklace over the holidays.
It was delivered not by Santa Claus, but by the Team USA Under-18 women's hockey team, which defeated Canada 2-1 in overtime for the gold medal at the IIHF World U-18 Championship in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Jan. 2.
Sciba hopes that his involvement with that team as an assistant coach could be the gift that keeps on giving for his Union women's team in the form of an extra little recruiting boost. The teenagers may not ever wind up on the Dutchwomen's roster, but the fact that Union's coach had an important role toward Team USA's gold medal should bolster the profile of the program.
"Anything we can do to help Union continue to promote our brand and make this program a lot better, that's what we're striving to do," Sciba said last Wednesday, less than a week after he returned to the U.S.
"How I'm coaching those athletes is the same way our staff is coaching our players here. So it's an extension of what we're doing here."
Sciba was also an assistant to Maura Crowell, the University of Minnesota Duluth head coach, when Team USA settled for silver last year, losing 3-2 to Canada in overtime of the championship game in Japan.
This time, Team USA made it to the gold medal game against arch rival Canada again and pulled out the victory despite a Canada power play during overtime.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Sciba said. "Being fortunate to be a part of it for two years, winning silver the first year ... winning gold was the icing on the cake for the whole experience. The travel to Vienna, to Bratislava, being around the staff, the players, that team was pretty special this year.
"I had a ton of fun with all those coaches. Meredith [Roth], Maura, Breanna Decker, who was an Olympian ... the things you learn from those people is unbelievable."
Last year, Sciba's role with Team USA was as a defensive coach, specializing on the penalty kill system, then worked with the forward in the early stages with this team before returning to defense and the PK.
Traveling to Slovakia with Team USA meant that he had to take leave from his Union team for 2 1/2 weeks in the middle of their season. On Jan. 2, the Dutchwomen were able to watch the latter stages of the gold medal game at the home of the team's student manager in the Boston area, where they would play Harvard later in the day.
"It's really hard to say no to those opportunities," Sciba said. "It's time away from this team, which is unfortunate. But it's really hard not to want to represent my country.
"When we got to overtime, we killed off a huge 4-on-3 penalty, and you could feel from the group that we weren't going to lose that game. They were high in confidence and believed in each other, which was really cool. Hearing the national anthem and winning gold was awesome."
The whole coaching staff received gold medals, and Sciba said his daughter had been wearing his around the house.
If there's some residual recruiting benefit for the Union program, all the better, he said.
Sciba is in his fourth season coaching the Dutchwomen and is trying to build up a program in a sport where a relatively small number of schools get most of the best players.
"The biggest thing we sell first is the school sells itself," Sciba said. "The education you're going to get here is phenomenal. The trimester system is unique and probably not like a lot of other places. The kids get an opportunity to take three classes a semester. You get some days where the kids don't have class where you can really focus on hockey. But they're very diligent with their time. We have a huge chunk from Thanksgiving to the New Year where we're able to have more like an NHL type of schedule. Then they have a spring semester where the kids can also study abroad, which is a huge selling point.
"The other thing is just opportunity. We have a program that's trying to grow and get better. We're still not there yet, but we're getting there. And I think people want an opportunity. They want to come and play Division I hockey, they want to play at a program that's growing and they want to come in as a freshman and make an impact."
For the second week in a row, ECAC Hockey gave its men's Goalie of the Week award to RPI sophomore Owen Savory, after he made 37 saves on Saturday night in a 3-0 shutout of Colgate at Houston Field House. He also collected his third assist of the season.
It was his second straight shutout, after beating St. Lawrence 3-0 on the road with 25 saves.
Savory became the first RPI goalie with back-to-back shutouts since Jason Kasdorf blanked Harvard and Dartmouth on Feb. 1-2 of 2013.
MORE POWER TO UNION
At 13.3, the Union men's power play percentage, at 51st, remains much closer to the bottom of the 60-team Division I leaderboard in that category than it is to the top.
But after a 4-for-6 weekend, the Dutchmen jumped a few spots upward while benefiting from the return of junior forward Parker Foo to the lineup after he missed the first 17 games with a shoulder injury.
He tipped in a slap shot from the point by Vas Kolias in a 3-2 home loss to Colgate last Friday and tipped in another on a blast from Joseph Campolieto in a 3-3 tie with then No. 2-ranked Cornell on Saturday.
"The power play clicking was a huge help," Foo said.
"[Assistant coach] John Ronan did a great job of getting those guys organized tonight [Saturday] and last night [Friday], because they gave us a chance to win. Both nights," Union head coach Rick Bennett said. "The credit goes to them for paying attention, sticking to our system, and then the biggest one is executing."
BIG RED MOVE UP
With a 3-0 win at RPI and the 3-3 tie at Union, Cornell moved into a tie with North Dakota for No. 1 in the USCHO.com Division I rankings while receiving 21 of 50 first-place votes to 17 for North Dakota.
The Big Red took over sole possession of No. 1 on the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll with 20 first-place votes to eight for the Fighting Hawks.
Other ECAC Hockey men's teams that are ranked include Clarkson (7/7), Harvard (16 USCHO.com) and Quinnipiac (t20). The USA Today poll only goes 15 deep.
DUTCHMEN BUCK UP
At 6-15-2 overall, Union may not be looking at the national picture in any sense, but the Dutchmen have put themselves in position to think about a big push in the second half of the conference season to get home ice for the postseason.
If nothing else, the 3-3 tie with one of the best teams in the country was a breakthrough Union, with 13 new players on the roster, has been building toward.
"You're going to continuously learn from game to game, but this one is going to reveal some good, and a lot of things we need to work on," Bennett said.
"We want to build on it, similar to Providence. What did we learn after we tied Providence? We're going to find out soon enough. But we want to grow from this experience."
"Obviously, they're a great defensive team, and we're a team that's been struggling offensively, so to get that [three goals] is huge for our confidence," Foo said.
"It was their first game in an environment with a team like that," Kolias said of the new players. "That team is hard defensively, hard offensively, hard on pucks, getting pucks to the net, in front of the net, they're absolutely menaces. And for those guys to get that experience and play the way they played and be about the battle, it's huge."
In light of an injury to freshman forward Owen Farris, Bennett has tinkered with using the senior defenseman Kolias as a forward in recent games.
He was listed as a wing for the Colgate game and was back on the blueline against Cornell.
"I'll play anywhere. I'll be honest, I love the game," Kolias said after Saturday's game. "If he wants to lace me up at goalie, kick me out, let me go." ...
The Union and RPI men's and women's teams will hold a pre-Mayor's Cup press conference Thursday morning at Times Union Center.
The women's teams will play each other at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 25, followed by the men's game at 6.