By Peter Langella
First, I would like to congratulate all of the teams that are still playing, both men and women. It is incredibly tough to make it to this stage, no matter how good of a team you have, on paper, in practice, or during games. With at-large bids at a premium in DIII, it's pretty much a single-elimination tournament as soon as the conference playoffs begin, which makes it that much harder for even the best teams to avoid an off night and still have a chance at their respective titles.
So, if you or the team you root for are still having at it, way to go. It's an amazing accomplishment, and you've had a fantastic season.
Now I want to take a look back at some of the things I’ve observed this season that I think deserve some extra attention:
The men’s NESCAC is a great league. I heard a lot about their insular schedule and, in some cases, weak out-of-conference opponents, but they are solid teams top to bottom. Last week’s Oswego-Bowdoin NCAA first round game is a prime example. Oswego was red hot, having just upset both Plattsburgh and Geneseo in their own barns to win the SUNYAC title. Bowdoin was also playing well, winning the NESCAC as the number five seed in the conference tournament, but all I kept hearing and reading was that it was only the NESCAC. That Oswego was going to dominate. It ended up being an extremely close game that Oswego had to rally to win down the stretch. Trinity, Williams, Amherst, and Middlebury would have provided a similar test for the Lakers. These are seriously good teams, and I hope that people will be less quick to doubt them when they show up in the national rankings again next year.
Last Saturday’s Norwich-Elmira women’s quarterfinal was one of the best hockey games I’ve ever seen at any level or in any gender. The teams were very evenly matched, and both squads were playing an offensive, high-tempo brand of hockey that had the crowd on the edge of our seats more often than not. Ultimately, Norwich won in overtime on an individual effort by senior Torrie Charron that would have made T.J. Oshie proud. Just an exceptional move by an exceptional goal scorer, made even better that it was in overtime in the national tournament against the defending champs, who just happen to be her former team. Impressive.
The NCAA needs to remember that it is the student-athletes that make it what it is, especially at the DIII level. Because of this, the student-athletes should come first in their decision making process. More specifically, the NCAA tournament selection committee needs to make their process more transparent and the Final Four sites need to be chosen with more care. In the selection process, the weighting system the committee uses to make their rankings needs to be published in order to ensure that teams are being treated fairly from week to week and ranking to ranking.
The final ranking used to seed the tournament also needs to be made public. This veil of secrecy and mystery isn’t good for the sport. It makes players and coaches and fans question the process and suggest conspiracies, agendas, and blatant subjectivity. As far as the championship sites go, there have been some strange choices. On the women’s side, I’m very happy that the NCAA made the move back to campus sites, even though I think a better strategy would have been to hold both genders in one rink on a single weekend. On the men’s side, however, the decision to hold the championship weekend in Lewiston, Maine is puzzling to say the least.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope it’s an exciting weekend with an electric atmosphere, but I can’t help think it’s pretty unfair to the players who are going to be on the ice. The closest of the four teams is Oswego and their campus is about 475 miles from the Androscoggin Bank Colisée. I obviously understand that closer teams could have made it this far and that it’s important to grow the sport in new areas, but I still think it was too shortsighted. For example, St. Norbert, the without a doubt number one team in the country, will have to play in front of a largely neutral crowd with only a small group of their dedicated and traveling fans. They deserve more. They deserve a DIII hotbed like Lake Placid at the very least, a hostile campus site at the very worst. Again, it should be about the players before it’s about anything else.
Finally, I would like to give a personal shout-out to Norwich senior Travis Janke. He was a pleasure to watch over the last four years. He never won a championship because he arrived in Northfield, VT a year too late (which I can relate to, unfortunately), but he played extremely consistent hockey, producing point totals of 39, 39, 38, and 38, and showed great leadership skills in carrying this years’ young and over-achieving Cadet team as its captain. Thank you, Travis, for playing hockey the way it’s supposed to be played: clean and fast and with sharp vision and intelligence. Best of luck in your future endeavors.
Peter Langella played at Trinity College and Norwich University and has also coached at Williams. He is now a writer and librarian in central Vermont.