January 14, 2004
The Conference Shuffle

By James Jahnke

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook

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With Findlay folding and Vermont switching leagues, a lot of questions have been raised as far as conference affiliations and alignments for next year.

Who's going to be playing whom and in what leagues in 2004-05? Heck if we know. But we're keeping an eye on it. Most of the rumblings we've heard have centered on Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac, Holy Cross and Robert Morris as the major movers and shakers. Other, more far-fetched possibilities have been floated (Alaska Anchorage to the CHA, perhaps?), but for now, we'll stick to the four aforementioned schools.

Rumored to be headed to: CHA or ECAC

The preeminent Atlantic Hockey powerhouse would love to increase its scholarship limit from the Atlantic Hockey maximum of 11 to the NCAA cap of 18. The easiest way to do that? Join another conference.

Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio Jr. has stated his desire to change the league's scholarship rules, but that doesn't mean it's a sure thing. A jump to the CHA or ECAC would be. Moving to the CHA would probably be more feasible for the Lakers, whose lack of a Northeast locale, in Erie, Pa., might preclude an ECAC invitation. Also, Mercyhurst's women's team is already a CHA member and the league is reportedly highly interested in the men's squad.

But Lakers coach Rick Gotkin told INCH he hasn't heard a word about a possible move.

"It's exciting and scary," Gotkin said. "I think we're just going to sit tight and play this thing out for now. But, if the complexion of Atlantic Hockey were to change, we might be forced to look at something else."

Rumored to be headed to: CHA, ECAC or Hockey East

Like Mercyhurst, the Bobcats have long wanted to increase their scholarship limits. Also like Mercyhurst, the Bobcats' women's squad will be a member of the CHA – starting next season. Quinnipiac, a small, private, academically sound institution with a solid hockey program, could also be an attractive option for the ECAC. (An ECAC committee held its first meeting regarding future membership on Wednesday.) Finally, Quinnipiac has been mentioned as a possible candidate should Hockey East decide to further expand to 12 teams. Ah, rumors. Quinnipiac athletics director Jack McDonald, a former chairman of the Division I Ice Hockey Championship Committee, told the New Haven Register that the school is open to joining another conference.

"There's no question Quinnipiac is preparing itself to play at the highest level," McDonald said. "Everyone wants to advance themselves. The ECAC and Hockey East have storied histories, and if an invitation were to come, we'd welcome it."

Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold told INCH that the university is happy with its relationship with Atlantic Hockey and a change is not essential. But the Bobcats certainly are interested in awarding more than 11 scholarships.

"We want to do what's best for Quinnipiac hockey," Pecknold said. "We want to move forward. We're happy with our league, the leadership of Bob DeGregorio and the teams we play.

"This is a tumultuous time in college hockey. We want to find a league we're comfortable in, we can succeed in, and where we're surrounded by quality academic institutions."

Holy Cross
Rumored to be headed to: ECAC

When Vermont jumped ship for Hockey East, Holy Cross was often the first school mentioned as a possible replacement in the ECAC. The Crusaders have a lot in common institutionally with ECAC teams, and their success this year in Atlantic Hockey (12-1-1 league record) might prove that they could hang with tougher competition.

One thing's for sure: They're not downplaying the prospect.

"It's possible," Holy Cross Athletic Director Richard M. Regan Jr. told the Boston Herald. "We haven't really had much time to think about this. I think we have the same attitude there that we have on any league we're in: That we're generally comfortable where we are, but we always keep our eyes open to see if there's something that makes more sense. Clearly, it's something we'll think about."

Crusaders coach Paul Pearl also told INCH the school would be interested in the ECAC if the league came calling. As of yet, that hasn't happened.

"I think we'd look at everything, as everyone does," Pearl said. "But I don't want to discount our league at all. We've just gotten it to the point where it's more respected nationally. At this point in the season, I think this only serves as a distraction.

"Last year, we had Fairfield and Iona dropping hockey and we had to answer all those questions. Everything had been such a positive this year until this came along. The timing certainly isn't what we would want."

Robert Morris
Rumored to be headed to: CHA or Atlantic Hockey

Robert Morris will join the Division I ranks as an "expansion" team next season. The Colonials have yet to declare a conference affiliation, but Atlantic Hockey and the CHA are both expected to extend invitations in the coming months. To date, no offers have been made.

CHA commissioner Bob Peters told the Bemidji Pioneer that Robert Morris has applied for CHA membership for its women's team for 2005-06.

"We would feel comfortable with them in the (men's) league, (too)," Peters said. "It's an option."

Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley told INCH that the school is going to "sit back and see where the dominoes fall" for the time being.

"We're going through the processes right now," Schooley said. "We're looking for the league that's the best fit for us. There's no need to make a knee-jerk reaction right now."

So, to sum all that up, everyone's willing to listen to overtures from other leagues. As you'd expect, right? It will be interesting to see which domino falls first.

Another thing to keep in mind: If one of Atlantic Hockey's Division I core members (read: anybody but Mercyhurst, Bentley and American International) leaves the conference, the league might lose its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament because it would have fewer than six full-time DI schools.

So if the ECAC and/or Hockey East raid Atlantic Hockey for expansion, there could be a scenario where teams from the CHA and Atlantic Hockey would be forced to combine into one conference. It's a very real possibility, according to several Atlantic Hockey coaches.


Air Force's Hawaiian Norwegian
– Air Force freshman forward Theo Zacour is the reigning CHA Rookie of the Week after scoring a pair of goals in last Thursday's win over Wayne State. Overall, the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder is tied for third on the Falcons' roster with 13 points and his seven goals are tied for the team lead this year.

Theo Zacour

Even more interesting, however, is the fact that Zacour was born in Hawaii and grew up in Oslo, Norway. His father, Zack, a Pittsburgh native, also attended the Air Force Academy. While in Colorado Springs, he met a local girl named Randi, who eventually became his wife. The military family moved around a bit, leaving Hawaii for Oslo when Theo was 2 years old, moving to Colorado Springs when he was 5, then back to Oslo when he was 8.

Theo lived there until heading to Ontario for junior hockey at 16.

While in Norway, Theo's parents lived off-base and put Theo through the regular Norwegian school system.

"My parents were big on integrating us," Zacour said. "So I got to become multicultural, which not a lot of people get to do."

Although Zack Zacour retired from the Air Force a few years ago, he and Randi still live in Oslo. Theo visits twice a year.

"They just love the lifestyle over there," Theo said. "It's a lot more relaxed than in the States. My dad's teaching third grade now."

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Niagara at Findlay (Fri.-Sat.): Like some off-ice drama with your hockey games? Then head to northern Ohio where Findlay will play its first home games since the school announced it was cutting the program after this season. Coach Pat Ford was outspoken in criticizing the administration's handling of the situation, even going so far as to say the team will refer to itself as "The Oilers" (without "Findlay") for the rest of the year. It will be interesting to witness the team's emotional status, as well as the crowd's reaction, when the Oilers take the ice Friday.

Oh yeah, and Niagara will be there, too. The Purple Eagles trail first-place Bemidji State by two points in the CHA standings, but they have two games in hand on the Beavers.

While you're there: Findlay will be rocking this weekend (moreso than usual). The school and the city are co-hosting the 7th annual Findlay Chili Cookoff from 5-7 p.m. Saturday in the same building as Clauss Ice Arena. Proceeds from the cookoff benefit Cancer Patient Services of Findlay and Hancock County. Last year, the event raised $7,000. Buying a ticket to the cookoff will also grant you admission to either Saturday's hockey game or UF's men's or women's basketball games that weekend. The male roundballers are ranked 13th in the nation in Division II. Plus, as if you needed another reason to go, Brutus the Buckeye will be at the cookoff. I'm psyched for gridiron recruiting season!

Stick Salute

Congratulations to Brian Cavanaugh and the Canisius Golden Griffins for their home sweep of Quinnipiac last weekend. The Griffs haven't made much noise this season, but they have quietly – very quietly – sneaked into a tie for third place in Atlantic Hockey. Eight of their next nine games are on the road, but Cavanaugh's charges are undefeated in their last four games and 4-1-2 in their last seven after starting winless in their first nine.

Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold heaped much of the praise for last weekend's sweep on Canisius junior goaltender Bryan Worosz. Worosz, who stopped 23 shots in a shutout Friday and 18 more Saturday, "was the difference in the games," Pecknold said.

Bench Minor

I realize it was against Maine, but did you see that Sacred Heart mustered just one shot in the first period of its 6-0 loss to the Black Bears on Saturday? Ugh. In all, the Pioneers were outshot 33-11 for the game. Sounds a little bit like when Maine held Holy Cross to one shot in the second period of the Black Bears' 7-0 win over the Crusaders in October. Memo to Atlantic Hockey teams with future games in Orono: Shoot! From mid-ice, if you have to!

On the ice, the Falcons head to West Point for a rivalry series against Army this weekend. Adding to the excitement, Friday's tussle will be aired nationally on CSTV.

"Everyone's been talking about this for a while now," Zacour said. "I've never played against Army, but the coaches told us they're the two best games of the year. I'm sure emotions will be running high."


• With Friday's 2-1 win over Bentley, Rick Gotkin passed former Lakers baseball coach Joe Jordano for first place on the school's all-time wins list in any sport. Gotkin added another victory on Saturday, giving him 287 in 16 years in Erie. Jordano amassed 285 wins in 10 years on the diamond before leaving for Pitt.

• It took a long, long time, but Army finally broke the three-goal barrier against AIC on Friday. The Black Knights' 5-2 win marked their highest offensive output all season. By two whole goals! They reverted to old form on Saturday, though, tying the Yellow Jackets, 2-2. Army is the lowest scoring team in Division I, averaging just 1.79 goals per

Bemidji State earned its first ever road win against Niagara, 3-2, on Saturday. The Beavers had been 0-8-1 at Dwyer Arena before the series-splitting victory. Despite the close final score, Bemidji held a sizable 43-19 advantage in shots in the game, including 21-8 in the third period.

Apparently, Niagara spent everything it had on Friday. The Purple Eagles raced to a 4-0 first period lead and a 16-4 shots advantage in the series-opener. In the end, Niagara won 6-3 and outshot Bemidji 37-22 in game one.

• The good news in Buffalo is that star Niagara forward Joe Tallari might finally be finding his stride. After an abysmal first half (3-5—8), Tallari has three goals and three assists in his last four games. He had two goals and an assist Friday, as his line (along with Justin Cross and Hannu Karru) contributed nine of Niagara's 16 points in the game.

Air Force senior forward Adam Larson picked up his first career point with a goal in the Falcons' 5-2 win over Wayne State last Thursday. The little-used 22-year-old from Apple Valley, Minn., registered an unassisted marker early in the third period to account for the final goal of the game.

He played in 11 games as a freshman in 2000-01, but didn't play at all the last two seasons. He has dressed three times this year with the one goal to show for it.

Quinnipiac junior forward Matt Craig is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury, Pecknold said. The London, Ontario, native leads the Bobcats in scoring this year with 9-5-14. He was picked as the Atlantic Hockey Preseason Player of the Year by the league's coaches this fall. He didn't play against Ohio State or Canisius last week, and he's not expected to play against Holy Cross on Saturday.

Meanwhile, junior forward Bobby Acropolis (an INCH All-Name Team candidate) returned to the ice last week against Ohio State. He missed the first half of the season with an injury.

• Despite the final score, Holy Cross got props from Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder after the Huskies' 5-2 win Saturday night. "I said to Paul (Pearl) after the game that I don't know if we played a team all year that played us as tough defensively," Crowder said to the Boston Herald. "I thought their defensive zone coverage was excellent. To me, it was very stifling. Their kids competed extremely hard. It was a real hard, tough victory for us."

Pearl said the compliment was nice to hear, until he "looked at the tape and saw that their third goal was a complete defensive breakdown on our part."

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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