Back to Class: Cornell’s head coach is good at airing out grievances

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night for a doubleheader featuring Union College taking on Princeton at 7:30 p.m. ET followed by Nebraska-Omaha at Denver. 

If you’re not familiar with Cornell head coach Mike Schafer, you’re missing out on one of the more unique personalities in college hockey. He leads a consistently strong team year in and year out and he demands a lot of his team and from everyone else as well.

After seeing his team get swept by Denver University this weekend, he focused his frustration not upon the opponent but on the WCHA referees instead as Avash Kalra of College Hockey News shares.

“It’s disgusting,” said Schafer, who has won five ECAC tournament championships as head coach at Cornell. “I won’t come back to the WCHA. I’m just not coming back out here. I pride ourselves in traveling everywhere. It was a great game besides that. The kids competed hard. Both teams. They’re well coached. The rest of it was disgusting.”

What set him off? The penalties his team got hit for in their 2-1 loss on Saturday night.

Cornell had two players kicked out for contact to the head penalties and then a litany of penalties at the end of the game including a spearing major, a major for obscene language, and a penalty for abuse of officials. In all they piled up 76 penalty minutes.

While it’s good for headlines (yeah, hello, right here) and for getting attention, it’s not Schafer’s first go-around in sounding off at officials. Heck, he’s even been suspended for ripping ECAC officials in the media, in the playoffs no less.

Opinions on him are wide ranging. He’s much beloved in Ithaca and rather roundly disliked elsewhere in the ECAC and it’s usually because of stuff like this. It’s tough to win friends when you threaten to not go back to play a team because of the conference they play in and their officials. That kind of “I’ll take my puck and go home” attitude is seen as childish.

What gets lost here in all the bluster is his suggestion for conference neutral officials for non-conference games is a good one. It’s something that’s done in other college sports, so why not hockey?

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Quinnipiac on fire: Give it up to the Bobcats. They’re 10-0-0 in the ECAC and 16-3-2 overall. They haven’t lost a game since November 6 (to AIC of all teams) and are unbeaten in 14 straight. Coach Rand Pecknold is pulling all the right switches these days.

Denver snapping out of it: After cooling off for a spell, Denver University is on a roll. Their sweep of Cornell tacked on to a sound drubbing of Boston University gives them three solid wins in a row out of conference. That might come in handy when it’s really Pairwise time to pick the tournament field.

Alber out: Boston College’s Patch Alber is out for three months after injuring his knee against Alabama-Huntsville. BC can’t afford to lose veteran leaders on the blue line like him.

College Hockey, Inc. doing work: Give it up to College Hockey, Inc. for hiring former Notre Dame player Kyle Lawson and promoting the super excellent Nate Ewell to a top position.

(Photo: Adriano Manocchia via CHN)

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

 

 

Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

“He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

 

 

Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

“I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

Draft lottery odds

Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
Dallas Stars 5.8%
Florida Panthers 5.4%
Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%