I recently had the opportunity to interview Joe Gieringer, a contributor for USCHO, to talk some college hockey. Joe has spent the last few years covering Miami University’s hockey team in a variety of capacities, including the color commentator for the team’s TV broadcast.
An avid student and practitioner of the sport, Joe is a career sieve but occasionally surprises with a few good games as a net minder in his recreational leagues. When not on the ice or in the press box, you can find him @thecinemasieve for all things cinema and hockey.
Chris Rydburg: There are a few big surprises that stand out for me this season across the NCAA. Whether it is Holy Cross’ rebound from a very poor 2014-15 showing to Michigan’s freshman standout Kyle Connor (in fairness we knew he was good, but this good?), there seems to be a lot of surprises this season.
Joe Gieringer: In terms of programs, Cornell might be the sweetest surprise this season. Playing in an ECAC that seems to be underestimated every year, they knocked off then-undefeated, No. 1 Providence in overtime just before the New Year, and the Big Red have climbed to No. 8 with a 11-2-2 record after starting the year unranked.
A big part of Cornell’s success comes from the guy between the pipes, Mitch Gillam, who has posted a stellar .935 save percentage as of January 11, good for ninth in the country with a 1.77 GAA.
CR: Yeah, Gillam isn’t necessarily a huge surprise, coming off a .927 campaign last season, but his goals against average is down by .22 and he is boasting a .800 win percentage, one of the best in the NCAA. Having four shutouts in 15 games certainly doesn’t hurt either. Tough for opponents to win games if they can’t score almost a quarter of the time.
Let’s move on to your biggest disappointment at the midway point of the 2015-16 season. I have a feeling I know, but I want to hear it from you.
JG: To this point, Miami has been the most obvious disappointment as far as big names are concerned. It took them two months to earn another conference win after an early-November home sweep of Western Michigan, and they suffered a seven-game winless streak over the holiday season that ended with a January 3 win over RPI.
Oddly enough, the RedHawks have actually led in 15 of their 19 contests this season, but have struggled late in games and have been outscored badly 5-on-5. There are some bright spots in their game, such as an NCAA-leading penalty-killing unit that has successfully survived 94.2 percent of man-down situations this season, but for the most part, it’s been tough sledding for the RedHawks.
A major issue for their team is neither goalie has been especially consistent and the offense has scored more than two goals in a game just three times all year. Miami’s four-goal effort versus RPI was its biggest offensive effort this year.
NCAA playoff hopes aren’t yet completely dead, but it will take a minor miracle – or at least a Cinderella NCHC tournament run – to qualify for the field of 16.
CR: Our poor alma mater! I’m not surprised you decided to pick on them. This season has been really disappointing considering the amount of top end talent they have on the roster and the steady direction of coach Enrico Blasi.
One bright spot for the Red and White has been super talented freshman Jack Roslovic, who has 18 points in 20 games for the RedHawks. Excited to see what he can do at the NHL level for the Winnipeg Jets who took him 25th overall in last year’s draft.
Hopefully Miami can rebound this year or at least set themselves up for a more successful year next season.
Going back to surprises, does anything else stand out to you this year?
JG: Consider this – the NHL boasts 11 goalies with a .925 save percentage or better. While the shooters aren’t quite as elite in college, the NCAA lays claim to 25 netminders with the same stats. Cam Johnson, Michael Garteig, Chris Nell and Evan Weninger the goalies for North Dakota, Quinnipiac, Bowling Green and Nebraska-Omaha, respectively, are the top four in this statistical category, and all four have serious potential as Hobey Baker candidates.
Obviously, they’ll be up there for the Mike Richter award as well, but I particularly like Nell and Garteig. Both are carrying their respective teams more than Johnson, whose defense is one of the toughest in the country.
CR: You mentioned some Hobey Baker hopefuls, who do you see taking the prize home for college hockey’s best player?
JG: Providence’s Jake Walman, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey and Nebraska-Omaha’s Jake Guentzel all have legitimate claims to a Finalist spot. The latter is especially fun to watch, as he plays in the high-octane, offensively minded NCHC and has had a hand in nearly half of his team’s goals this season. There’s still time for the Hobey race to take a drastic turn this or that way, but these guys come to mind around the halfway mark of the season.
CR: Are you at all surprised by the growth we have been seeing lately across the country for new college hockey programs? Seems to be a new trend these past few years from Alabama-Huntsville to Arizona State.
JR: Hockey’s growth at the college level has been pleasant to chart over the past few seasons. Be it the organization of the Big 10 or Arizona State starting up a program, everywhere you turn there is quality hockey popping up.
It’s only going to continue to grow in popularity, especially with the level of talent these programs are pulling in on a consistent basis. The amount of big NHL names that took the NCAA route into the show is ever growing as well. Don’t be surprised to see more schools out west, or even in the south, follow ASU’s example. There’s a desire in these non-traditional hockey markets to support college teams, and I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.
Chris Rydburg has spent the majority of his life in the Nashville area after his family moved down from Minnesota in 1996. A graduate from Miami University, (not the warm one in Florida) Chris was the color commentator for the Miami student radio program for the RedHawks hockey team during the 2009-10 season. He would later join the Miami University Athletic Department as an intern for the next two years. Follow him on Twitter @Rydch41.
Photo courtesy of UAH Hockey