Star Treatment: Christmas Edition

Dec. 20, 2005

By Dave Starman

Special to


Some gifts for the week leading to Christmas and Chanukkah.


Boston University wins!


The announcement by USA Hockey of the 2006 US Men's Olympic Team shed light on the athletes that will skate for the first Gold for the Red, White and Blue since that magical fortnight in February of 1980.


They will be led by a former Division III player in coach Peter Laviolette, himself a former Olympian.  Assistant Keith Allain tended nets for Yale, while assistant Mike Sullivan is one of four former Terriers on the Olympic roster.


The other three include one year Terrier Rick DiPietro in goal, and forwards Chris Drury and Keith Tkachuk.


Second place, and this must make Jeff Jackson very proud, belongs to Lake Superior State.  The Lakers program, undergoing a resurgence this season in the CCHA, will see alumni John Grahame in goal, and Doug Weight and Brian Rolston looking to score goals.  Rolston was a member of Jackson's National Championship squad in 1992.


The Minnesota Golden Gophers are represented by a lone alumnus, and former National Champion, in the form of gifted defenseman Jordan Leopold.  As they were a few weeks ago, they are bested by WCHA rival Wisconsin, who'll be represented by a pair of Badger alumni in Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski. The other schools with multiple alumni on the team are Boston College (Brian Gionta and Bill Guerin) and Clarkson (Erik Cole and Craig Conroy).


Rounding out the squad are Michigan State defenseman John-Michael Liles, Vermont's Aaron Miller, University of North Dakota's Jason Blake, Michigan's Mike Knuble, and St. Cloud's Mark Parrish.


Blue Christmas: Extending condolences to the Gretzky family on the passing of Phyllis Gretzky, mom of the Great One.  Western Michigan forward Paul Szczechura played three seasons for Walter Gretzky in Brantford, Ontario, and credits the elder Gretzky "for making the game fun."


Maple Maven:  Known for his ability to slide through opposing defenses, Brent Walton continues to impress.  Coming into Western's weekend series at Northern, Walton had supplied five goals and one assist in the team's past four games, which was a bulk of the team's scoring in that span.  However, his expertise on the ice overshadows another topic which Walton knows well: maple syrup.  Elmira, Ontario is known for its syrup, and the big Maple Syrup festival runs each spring.  "We always go," Walton said, "me and some teammates that are from there.  It's a great event."


No, they are not twins:  Coincidence??  USA Hockey has two entries playing this week, at the World Juniors and the Viking Cup (under 18 tourney).  The coaches, both very accomplished in and outside of USA Hockey, are Walt Kyle of Northern Michigan, and P.K. O'Handley of the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks.  Looking quickly, they could be mistaken for twins.  Looking at their resumes, the parallels continue, as each has been a great success story.  Kyle has coached everywhere and makes his third appearance with Team USA at the WJC.  He's been a head coach in the AHL and the NCAA, and an assistant at the NHL level.  O'Handley has coached professionally in the ECHL, and won a Clark Cup in the USHL (2004) with the Black Hawks.  Looking at the NCAA landscape, players such as Joe Pavelski (Wisconsin), Pete MacArthur (BU), Tim Filangieri (BC), Mike Radja and Mike Fornataro and  Kevin Regan (UNH), Andrew Thomas (Denver), Drew O'Connell (Colorado College), Jake Schwan (Union), Reid Cashman (Quinnipiac), and Jordan Parise (North Dakota) have all come out of his program in Waterloo.


Chucko chucked:  Minnesota forward Kris Chucko of Vancouver was cut from the Canadian entry in the World Juniors.  It's a shame, because he's a hometown boy.  Chucko played in a weekend series in North Dakota two weeks ago, got back to Minny at about 3:30am, went to the dorms, packed, went back to the airport at 6:30am for a flight to Vancouver, and then right to the rink.  One wonders if that played a factor in failing to impress.  More likely, it's the role he's playing this season.  In talking with Chucko in North Dakota, one gets the feeling that he is being asked to contribute more defensively than last season.  His line, with Gino Guyer and Andy Sertich, has been matched against many other teams top lines and been asked to shut them down.  It's tough to score when you are in defensive transition.  However, one guy rooting for Chucko is me.  A class act on ice, soft spoken off it, the kid has the tools to be a very good NCAA player.  Maybe being assigned Grant Potulny's old #18 was a little much for an incoming freshman last season.  That's a big legacy to live up to.


Fine dining:  When in Grand Forks, stop in at the Potulnys' for dinner!  The Gophers did, and then went out and swept the Fighting Sioux.  The Potulny family served up Red River potatoes, walleye from Devil's Lake and steak from Grand Forks for the visiting Gophers the night before their game on CSTV with North Dakota.  The next two nights, their son Ryan was a dominating and unstoppable force as the Gophers won a pair.  Fargo native Danny Irmen, who played a season of high school hockey in Grand Forks, was equally as dominant.  Home cooking indeed!


Discovered:  CSTV play-by-play man Matt McConnell was a teammate of current Gopher Chris Harrington's uncle Paul back in Minnesota.  Known as the "mini rocket", McConnell now dazzles the men's leagues of northern Atlanta when not providing a great broadcast on CSTV Friday Night Hockey.


In heaven:  This is almost literally spoken, as the broadcast booth at the Ralph Englestad Arena is a local call away from heaven.  However, on our recent visit there, I was privileged to be in the booth between Minnesota TV and Minnesota radio.  The analysts were Gopher coaching legend Doug Woog, and another coaching legend in Minnesota, Glen Sonmor.  Sonmor was the man who led the North Stars to the 1981 Stanley Cup Finals against the Islanders.  So I have Woog reminiscing about all the great matchups against North Dakota, and Sonmor serving up his memories from that series in '81 (I was a big Islanders fan then), and I was, literally and figuratively, in heaven.  Two great coaches, two great careers, and two great story tellers.  Thanks guys, it's a night I won't forget.


This won't go away:  Like the uncle who comes for Christmas and New Year's (shows up New Year's and stays through Christmas), this Gophers-Blarney Pub story continues.  Now recruits are involved, and while thinking the first part of this was horses**t journalism, now we have an issue here.  You can't have 17-year-old recruits in the bar, with any member of the Gophers hockey family knowing about it.  I'm guessing that the truth has probably been stretched at times here by the station doing the report, but stop the madness.  The Gophers need to clean this up, and fast.  No matter how good a program they have, and they have a great one, how many parents will be comfortable with their underage kids either on a recruiting trip or as a team member being out in the bars getting hammered?  Also, it doesn't do wonders for the reputation of the school.  Things like this cost people jobs.  I'm guessing Head Coach Don Lucia cleans this up, and quickly. 


Have an effect?:  The WCHA will have the usual run to the top as the second half ramps up, and one team who could play a role is Minnesota State.  They have a series at North Dakota, and play host to Wisconsin.  They also play at Denver.  Remember two years ago, when they overcame a 7-1 deficit at home against the Pioneers and won 8-7?  That was the night after scoring in the final minute to tie the game 4-4.  "Napoleon had his Waterloo, we have Minnesota State," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. "They are like our achilles heel.  We just have so much trouble with them."  Keep your eyes on the Purple Bull in that series.  It could tell a lot about Denver.  Beating a rival is great, beating a nemesis is even better.


Apples to Apples:  One nice story this season is goalie Matthias Lange of RPI.  Near the top in the stats column in the ECACHL, the rookie goalie has been surprised by the amount of playing time he has received.  Through his eyes, he has had a great view of college hockey this season.  A recent chat reveals the toughest player he has faced this season in the ECACHL is Cornell's Matt Moulson.  (OK, a six degrees of separation moment here.  Moulson was a linemate of Ryan Vesce, Lange was a teammate of Ryan's brother Billy with the Apple Core in the Eastern Junior Hockey league).  Pete MacArthur of BU is the best player he feels he's faced this year.  Lastly, on his own team, he has high regard for Kevin Croxton.  Lange said of his teammate: "He tries real I let him score a few times, to keep his confidence up."  On a serious note, Lange says Croxton gives him fits at practice.


Closing remark:  Improvement takes commitment.  In hockey, much is made about contributing to the team, and committing to the team.  Several teams are looking for some magic formula to have a better second half.  It starts with commitment to the process by the players.  I can't remember what coach first told me this, but several teams could use it as we enter the second half.  For those players who could make a big difference in the second half, and to the players in general, I offer this New Year's greeting....


"The difference between contribution and commitment is like bacon and eggs.  The chicken made a contribution.  The pig made a commitment."


Happy Holidays.


Analyst Dave Starman brings a unique coaching perspective to CSTV's coverage of college hockey. As a coach in both the professional and junior ranks, Starman can see behind the surface of the play and identify what makes teams and players tick. Starman offers insight into the mindset of both coaches and players and provides context and analysis to the actions on the ice.




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