The Icers and the Convoluted Mess (aka the ACHA Post-Season)

After a long and grueling two months of hockey, the Icers finally found a bit of a breather in mid-February. A home-and-home with lackluster Drexel, followed by the final home games of the regular season against #15 Oakland set up the opportunity for the Icers to gain some momentum heading into the post-season.

(No pictures from me this time from the Oakland series - somehow I found myself working stats all weekend. Just like the good ol' days...)

What Happened: The Icers started Valentine's Day weekend in Philadelphia, playing Drexel at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink. While I don't have the full game and scoring details, I have the summary and that's all one needs for this game. The Icers went up against a depleted Drexel squad, playing very short handed due to injury and illness, and came away with an easy 11-0 win. Timmy O'Brien, Steve Peck and Matt Kirstein had 2 goals each, and 5 more added a goal in this blow-out effort, in the process giving senior goalie Nick Signet his 50th career win and 13th career shutout.

The teams traveled to State College for their final meeting of the regular season. Drexel added only a couple more bodies to Saturday's game, and it almost seemed to be enough. The Icers only managed one goal in the first period thanks to Chris Cerutti's 11th of the season. But Drexel made it interesting with a goal 5 minutes into the 2nd period. And even though Marek Polidor's goal towards the end of the period gave the Icers the lead again, one couldn't help but flashback to November and the Drexel win despite being vastly outplayed by the Icers. But the Icers remembered, and combined with a tired Drexel team, made sure there would be no replay in February. The Icers would score five unanswered goals in the final period, helping to solidify a 7-1 win and the title of ESCHL regular season champions.

The next weekend the Icers hosted a newer foe - the #15 Oakland Grizzlies, the team that beat the Icers in the 2007 National Championship game. The Icers came into the weekend with fewer and fewer healthy bodies. Between the World University Games and a string of injuries, the Icers were down to just a couple of healthy scratches, including the 3rd goaltender. But as a testament to the depth of this Icers' program, assistant coach (and former player) Bill Downey had little to worry about.

A quiet and scorless first period, was just the wake-up phase for a seemingly sluggish Icers team on Friday night. But the second period found the team with a much more energetic stride in their skates, as Steve Thurston and Timmy OB would light the lamp, giving the Icers a 2-0 lead after two. Marek Polidor would make it 3-0 just two minutes into the 3rd, only to see Oakland bring it back to a two goal lead 30 seconds later. But the Icers weren't going to be happy sitting on the two goal lead, and once again Timmy OB and Steve "Sweet Lou" Thurston would score once more, giving the Icers the easy 5-1 win.

Friday's game ended before Marek Polidor could match his teammates' two goal performances. So less than 90 seconds into Saturday's match, he made up for it, giving the Icers a quick 1-0 lead. The two teams would trade a goal before the end of the period, giving the Icers the 2-1 lead. The second period found the goal lamps taking a break, but the penalty box doors picked up the slack. Nine minor penalties kept the play broken for much of the period, with the Icers Ryan Paradis getting the only goal of the period. The final period found a combination of the previous two periods - goals and penalty minutes abound. A couple of (unrelated) 10 minute misconduct penalties sandwiched a back-and-forth battle of goals. But at the end of the day, Oakland could not make a dent in the Icers' two goal lead, giving the Icers their second weekend sweep in a row, winning this game 5-2.

What it Means: With this set of 4 wins between rankings, the Icers have solidified their spot as the #2 team heading into the national tournament. The final rankings will be released this Friday, the ESCHL tournament this weekend and the final game against Pitt will all have no impact on the National Tournament in terms of seeding. Lindenwood will remain #1, Penn State at #2, Delaware at #3, Illinois likely at #4, and then the rest of the teams however the coaches feel is best.

The sweep of Drexel means the Icers get the #1 seed in the ESCHL tournament. Again, not sure how much this means, but at least it's pretty to have for the second year in a row.

Players of note:  Tim O'Brien continues to roll, scoring-wise. He's now the team leader with 26 goals.

Frank Berry's knee injury isn't as bad as it first appeared. Still, the senior Captain has been plagued with misfortune this season - nothing short of a true shame for the kid.

Some love for Taylor Cera and Mike Diethorn. Neither have been huge in terms of scoring, but both have been playing their tails off these past few games. Cera, because he's finally healthy; and Diethorn, because he's fighting to keep his spot in the starting lineup.

Dave Herel finally saw some ice time after missing much of the season due to injury. Kid has one heck of a shot, and having him healthy would be a nice addition to the lineup.

What's on the Horizon: Well, as I've mentioned previously, this weekend Penn State will host the ESCHL playoffs. With only 5 teams in the league, the playoffs aren't extremely exciting. Friday night pits lowly Drexel and Navy in a quasi-play in game. The winner gets the fortunate draw of the Icers and the Penn State home crowd on Saturday. The other Saturday game will put Delaware against URI, in what should be a fun contest to watch. Winner of those two games play Sunday at 1pm for the ESCHL title. Which means nothing, but I'll play along anyway.

After the ESCHL playoffs, there's a one game blip against Pitt - the ultimate in who-cares for the Icers. It'll be like week 17 of the NFL for the playoff bound teams - give the starters some final play time, but protect as much as possible for the real playoffs the following weeks.

The ACHA National Tournament is March 14th-18th. I'll likely split the next post to cover the ESCHL playoffs and Pitt game in one, and then a focus on the tournament in another.

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