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Union Change Leads Top 10

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, December 31, 2003

It was quite a year in college hockey during 2003.

There wasn't a dull moment, even during the offseason. From a repeat champion, to coaching changes, to an exciting postseason in the Capital Region and to unfortunate passings, 2003 was newsworthy.

Normally at the end of the year, I provide my top five events that shaped the year. But there were so many events to choose from that I have expanded my list to 10 items.

Here are my picks as the top 10 college hockey stories of 2003.

No. 1 Coaching change

On June 25, Kevin Sneddon left the Union hockey program after 10 years - the first five as an assistant coach, the last five as head coach - to take over the Vermont program after Mike Gilligan announced his retirement a month earlier.

The Dutchmen's search for a new coach saw some familiar names apply for the position, including former Clarkson head coach Mark Morris and ex-Union assistants John Micheletto and Kevin Patrick.

The list of candidates was reduced to four finalists in mid-July - Micheletto, Harvard assistant coach Nate Leaman, Wisconsin associate head coach Troy Ward and a mystery candidate who didn't want his name revealed for fear he may lose a job he had just taken. Sources have indicated that particular candidate was former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute head coach Buddy Powers, who had just been hired by Division III Wesleyan College. (Powers resigned from that position in September, citing family concerns.)

In late July, Leaman was introduced as the Dutchmen's new coach. The 30-year-old Leaman guided the Dutchmen to their best-ever Division I start, but the team is on a sixgame winless skid.

There were three other coaching moves affecting ECAC teams. Clarkson hired Greg Roll as its new head coach, Colgate's Stan Moore was named interim head coach after Don Vaughan took over as the school's interim athletic director and Cornell assistant coach Jamie Russell was hired as Michigan Tech's new head coach.

No. 2 ECACs at Albany

After a 10-year run in Lake Placid, the ECAC tournament final four made its debut at Pepsi Arena last March, and it was a success.

Cornell won the tournament in dramatic fashion, beating Harvard, 3-2, in overtime and preventing the Crimson from winning back-to-back titles. Big Red defenseman Mark McRae tied the score with 32.3 seconds left in regulation, and Sam Paolini won it 1:23 into the extra period.

The tournament featured the first all-Ivy League final four ever. Brown and Dartmouth were the other two teams.

The attendance for the two days was 15,232 fans, an increase over the 11,940 for the 2002 semifinals and final at Lake Placid. The championship game drew 8,296 fans, up from 6,518 a year ago.

No. 3 Cornell in Frozen Four

The Big Red reached the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo, and were the top-ranked team in the country heading into their semifinal match with New Hampshire. They had a chance to become the first ECAC team to win the NCAA title since Harvard in 1989.

Cornell saw a potential 1-0 first-period lead wiped away when a video review ruled that Shane Palahicky's tip of a Jeremy Downs point shot was barely hit with a high stick. The Big Red stumbled after that and lost, 3-2.

No. 4 RPI-Union playoffs

For the first time in its Division I history, Union had home ice advantage in the playoffs. The Dutchmen's first-round opponent was Capital Region rival RPI.

Union was favored, but Engineers goalie Nathan Marsters stole the series. He made 37 saves in Game 1's 2-1 win, and followed that up with 29 saves in the series-clinching 3-2 victory.

The last game was memorable for Ben Barr's two third period short-handed goals 50 seconds apart that rallied RPI to the win. Union goalie Kris Mayotte twice came out of the net to play loose pucks, and lost the battle to Barr both times.

No. 5 Minnesota repeats

Minnesota became the first team to win back-to-back championships since Boston University won consecutive NCAA titles in 1971 and 1972 when it beat New Hampshire, 5-1, in the title game.

Tournament MVP Thomas Vanek ignited a four-goal third period when he scored at 8:14, giving the Gophers a 2-1 lead. Just over three minutes later, Vanek assisted on Jon Waibel's goal.

No. 6 Tragedy at RPI

It was a difficult offseason for the Engineers as they lost two of their more beloved figures.

Equipment manager Tom Cavosie, the father of former RPI players Eric and Marc Cavosie, died in a boating accident during a fishing trip to Newfoundland in July. In early October, women's head coach and former men's assistant coach Bill Cahill died of a heart attack shortly after playing in a men's rec league hockey game.

No. 7 Union women

The Union women's program made its Division I debut in October with a 6-0 loss to Quinnipiac.

The transition hasn't been a smooth one for the Dutchwomen. Inexperience, injuries and a lack of depth have contributed to the team's 3-10-1 record.

No. 8 Achilles facelift

Workers were busy at Achilles Rink during the summer.

New ice compressors were installed, as were new boards and glass. Seats were removed to widen the walkways near the entrance. A new penalty box was built. The building also received a new center ice scoreboard.

The building also received a new name. It's now called Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center. Messa, a Union alum, donated $1.5 million for some of phases of the renovation.

No. 9 Key ECAC players leave

Some top ECAC players, all sophomores, decided to forego their remaining college eligibility and head to the pros.

The ECAC Co-Players of the Year, Cornell goalie David Le-Neveu and Yale forward Chris Higgins, bolted. LeNeveu signed with the Phoenix Coyotes, who drafted him in the second round of the 2002 NHL draft. Higgins, Montreal's first-round selection in the same draft, signed with the Canadiens.

Clarkson defenseman Randy Jones, the team's leading scorer last season, signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.

No. 10 Vermont leaving ECAC?

Nearly two weeks ago, Vermont announced it was contacting Hockey East about the possibility of joining that conference.

If the Catamounts are accepted, it will be the first change in the ECAC structure since Union replaced Army in 1991-92. A possible move to Hockey East probably won't happen until 2005-06, at the earliest.

RPI schedule

The Engineers will open next season with two games at Nebraska-Omaha Oct. 15-16, according to coach Dan Fridgen. The Mavericks are expected to play in the Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament the following season.

Despite the move of the tournament from Christmas time to Thanksgiving weekend Nov. 26-27, RPI won't be off during the Christmas holiday week. The Engineers will host a New Year's Eve game against an Atlantic Hockey opponent.