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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
New England Roundup: New Hampshire

By Marc Thaler

Coaches in Divisions I and II boys' hockey can't complain about the state tournament formats for their leagues.

New HampshireBut coaches in Division III have a beef. It's hard to argue otherwise.

“I certainly think it was an oversight,” Marc Noel said of the issue. “Do something about it. Make it good.”

Noel coaches co-operative team Pembroke-Campbell, which competes in 16-team Division III, the largest of the NHIAA's three leagues for boys' hockey. Yet based on the percentage of clubs that qualify for the postseason in each tier, Division III is the lowest.

And it's not even close.

Division I features 15 teams. The top 12 squads (80 percent) compete in the tournament, which rewards the first- through fourth-place clubs with a first-round bye to the quarterfinals.

Division I features 12 teams. The top eight teams (67 percent) punch tournament tickets.

As for 16-team Division III, its top eight teams compete for a championship.

Just 50 percent of the field plays on.

Jim Daley, the NHIAA ice hockey committee chair, said in an e-mail that Division III was the smallest league when by-laws for this season were set. The addition of several co-operative teams (Pembroke-Campbell is one of six) and North Sutton's Kearsarge Regional, where Daley is principal, added greatly to the division's depth.

Noel's frustration is fueled by the lack of consistency across all divisions. He wants the NHIAA to adopt the Division I format. Simply add four teams to his league's tourney.

“Why can’t they change it? It’s not going to change the outcome (of the season),” Noel said. “It’s just going to allow more schools to get in.”

There's time to rule in favor of tourney expansion. Quarterfinals for Division III don't start until March 5. Simply play preliminary round games on March 2, the scheduled date for such contests in Division I.

Turns out it's not so simple.

“The set budget allocated for this season would not cover an additional round of tournament games,” Daley wrote.

Securing ice time is costly, particularly for schools that didn't factor a playoff round into negotiated deals with rinks prior to the season.

Next season, it appears, is the earliest Division III would see a change in its playoff format.

NHIAA executive director Pat Corbin said the ice hockey committee can request the NHIAA Council restructure the format for the 2011-12 season. In other words, there's nothing preventing the committee from waiting until the current two-year classification cycle ends after the 2011-12 academic year.

"This whole issue with ice hockey has been a topic of discussion," Corbin said. "I'm sure it'll continue to be because there is a discrepancy."

MAINE ATTRACTION
Danielle Walczak scored her 1,000th career point on Jan. 14.

The 6-foot 1-inch senior center for Durham's Oyster River High hit the milestone hoop with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of her team's eventual 51-38 Division II girls' basketball win over Windham. She finished with 27 points, hitting 10 field goals and sinking seven foul shots.

Walczak -- a scholarship recruit for the University of Maine women's basketball team -- split a double team in the paint to do it. Junior point guard Riley Maynard assisted on the big bucket.

"She entered the game needing 21 points," said Oyster River coach Dave Nichols, noting Walczak averaged 21.5 points per game at the time. "At the half she had 14 points, so we were pretty certain it was going to happen."

A four-year member of the varsity team, Walczak is the league's reigning Player of the Year, an honor given by the New Hampshire Basketball Coaches' Organization. She joins a distinguished list of female athletes who netted 1,000 points while playing for the Bobcats.

Nichols said the group includes Julie Sasner (Class of 1984, Harvard ice hockey), Johanna Michel (1986, Bates basketball and soccer), Jennifer Friel (1993, UNH basketball), Brittney Cross (2003, UVM basketball) and Jilliane Friel (2009, UNH basketball).

"Her future college coach, Cindy Blodgett, said last year when she came to a game that she loves to see Danielle play because she’s always getting better, therefore she must be a hard worker," Nichols said. "I have never coached a harder worker, or more moral person than Danielle. She seems to be doing something every day, all 365, to get better.

"Her teammates have huge admiration for her, as a teammate and a leader," he added. "She is the sole team captain, something we have never done. But the choice was easy."

GO FIGURE
The Division I coaches' pick for top player last season, then-junior David Madol, transferred from Manchester's Trinity High to city rival Memorial for his senior season.

You'd think such a loss would weaken Trinity's roster.

Yet, at this moment, the Pioneers are 7-1. They were the last Division I unbeaten to lose.

Team defense is always a staple of coach Dave Keefe's club. Prior to his team's 69-61 loss at Exeter High on Jan. 25, the Pioneers were allowing 41.7 points per game.

Balance on offense also explains Trinity's strong start. Shooting guard Zack Stevens averaged 8.5 points in the six games since the holiday break. In three of those contests, he scored at least 15 points to pace the Pioneers.

In that same six-game span, 6-foot-7 forwards Andrew Lauderdale (7.4) and Wol Majong (7.0), and 6-foot-10 Sylvere Aluko (5.8) each led the team in scoring at least once. Mabor Gabriel (5.5) hit double figures three times.

GARDEN PARTY
New Hampshire's No. 1 boys' cross country runner, Jeff LaCoste of Nashua's Bishop Guertin High, clinched a berth in the 104th Millrose Games. The renowned competition takes place Jan. 30 at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

LaCoste earned an invitation on the strength of his finish running the mile at the Jan. 22 New Balance Games. He posted a time of 4 minutes, 15.88 seconds, good for third place and one of two at-large berths, according to the New Hampshire Sunday News.

"I got off to a great start and stayed near the front. But I did not want to lead it and be outkicked at the end," LaCoste told the statewide newspaper, which noted ESPN2 will televise the Millrose Games from 8-10 p.m.

POWER-FUL PERIOD

Special teams ruled for St. Thomas Aquinas of Dover on Jan. 19. It's the reason STA, after losing its first seven games of the Division I boys' hockey season, beat Salem, 3-2, at Dover Ice Arena.

The Saints scored three power-play goals -- all during the second period. Eddie Conroy, Arran Moran and Christian Going gave the Saints a 3-0 lead.

It didn't take them long to strike.

Just 4:28 drained from the clock between Conroy's connection, the first goal, and Going's goal, the final score.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION
Soccer mentors Dave Pinkham and Hank Tenney were each named National Coach of the Year during the annual National Soccer Coaches Assocation of America (NSCAA) convention in mid-January. This year's convention took place in Baltimore.

Pinkham, the boys' mentor at Gilford High for 34 years, previously won the national award for Division II coaches in 2006. His resume includes a career record of 538-45-24. He has guided the Golden Eagles to 14 state championships.

According to the NSCAA, Pinkham's program owns the national record for longest win streak. The Golden Eagles won 133 straight matches from 1990-97.

Tenney, retiring after three seasons at Orford's Rivendell Academy, spent 27 years guiding the girls' program at Hanover High. His career mark is 432-79-17. He is also a past national award winner, earning the honor for Division II girls' coaches in 2001.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
Halfway through the boys' hockey season, defending Division I champion Concord is fighting to stay above .500.

The team's 5-4 league record entering action on Jan. 26 was hardly the mark expected of the overwhelming preseason favorite. The Crimson Tide returned 16 of the 20 skaters from last winter's title team.

A closer look at the team's record revealed this alarming statistic: Concord's four losses were all in one-goal games.

"I wouldn't say the players are feeling really good. We've had big expectations. We've stumbled at the halfway point," said 21-year Concord coach Dunc Walsh, who has guided the Tide to titles in 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 and last season. "But certainly we can turn it around. It didn't come easy last year. We've just got to work harder and get better."

Walsh pointed out last year's team was only slightly better at this point in the campaign. That edition, he said, was 5-3-1. It built momentum in the season's second half, and proved unstoppable as the No. 4 seed in the tournament.

But that group also had a super sniper, who has since graduated.

"No one realizes how big Kevin Marceau was for us," said Walsh, also noting his team a year ago featured two point-producing lines.

Concord skates a solid first line this season. Pat Lacasse (11 goals, 13 assists) centers Pat Cannon and Chris Acres. The wingers have combined for 13 goals and 12 assists.

Production dips considerably, however, when the trio isn't on the ice.

"I'm hoping by the time the tournament comes around," Walsh said, "we've won some one-goal games."

It could be the difference between one-and-done and another title run.

Marc Thaler is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at marc.thaler@gmail.com.