By Peter Langella
When I was playing and coaching in the NESCAC-ECAC East interlock, this was about the time of year when everybody associated the team was about to explode. Especially when I was playing at Norwich. We'd trained really hard for a couple of months with strength coaches and Marines, we'd played some pick-up games, we'd had some Captains' Practices (I know they're not allowed to be called that anymore, but what the heck am I supposed to call them?), and we had to watch a bunch of the other leagues start playing games before our coaches could even get on the ice with us.
It was absolute torture!
So when I saw news reports on TV about how the Norwich teams were already out on the ice with the men preparing for their match-up against Dartmouth, I couldn't help but smile jealously. The underclassmen there don't know how good they have it. Some people used to tell us that the long wait combined with the compact season made us hungrier – that it made us appreciate our privileges as hockey players more – but I never agreed. Two weeks may not seem like much, but it's huge. That means there's a couple more weekends throughout the year with only one game, and weekends with only one game means less of a grind and wear-and-tear on the body.
Healthy players win games.
I feel bad for teams that still have the shortened season. Yes, you heard me right, that means I feel a little bad for teams in the NESCAC. Just a little. I can remember playing in the Primelink Shootout after Thanksgiving one year and losing to Potsdam. It was only our second weekend of play, and it was their fifth. Even though we were more skilled, they were more settled, having had more time to work on things like their powerplay, which wore us down. We ended up winning our league and making the NCAA's, but a bad loss like that early in the season could've come back to bite us if we'd been involved in the Pool C discussion.
October 15th has always just seemed like the date everyone should be at, as things are more even that way. I know there's talk about moving everything back to November 1st so that the championships can be combined, and while I don't necessarily agree with that choice, at least it would finally put everyone at the same start date.
Equality is a good thing.
I really enjoyed watching Norwich and Dartmouth play last October, and I was even more excited to see them go at it again. I applaud a team like Penn State for scheduling as many DIII games as they have this year. I really wish the rules were tweaked to allow more of these exhibition games to happen. Imagine how great it would be if Division I teams all across the country were facing off against our favorites in DIII instead of the usual Canadian sides. I think it would help grow the sport.
If I had a dollar for every high school player I've ever heard say "DIII hockey stinks," I'd be an awfully rich man. More of these exhibition games would go a long way toward changing that culture because class and effort shine through, no matter what the score is. And that's what the majority of the teams we root for exemplify best: class and effort.
The players love to play. And college hockey is a special thing, regardless of division.
So I as get ready to start a new year of fandom, I think about all of you, heading with whomever it is you head to the rink with, and I wish you well. And I wish your team well. We all get a fresh start. Every team can write a new story for themselves. Every player has a chance to become something more than he or she thought they could be.
And all of us, the fans, can believe that anything's possible for our school, at least for a little while.
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.