Saturday, 29 September 2012

Penn State women’s hockey starting under a dark shadow

When the Pegula family proudly made their generous donation to create the Penn State ice hockey program, no one could have foreseen the scandal that would rock the university. As a new ice hockey program competing at the NCAA Division I level is hurled into the same throes as an expansion team in the National Hockey League, trying to escape the dark shadow of a tragic event only adds obstacles to the task of building a team.
For the Penn State Nittany Lions, their beginnings are mired against the backdrop of a football coaching scandal that crippled the football program while giving the university a black eye. In the wake of these events, every program will be under intense scrutiny. In the case of Penn State, it can only hope that it does not endure the same beginning as its sister team in the CHA, the Robert Morris Colonials. In its inaugural season, the club had a dismal 1-7-0 start and head coach Kevin McGonagle was dismissed.
Tragically, any athlete or team associated with the University will have the black cloud of the scandal hover over them for now. As unfair as it may be, it is a burden that the women’s ice hockey team may have to shoulder in their inaugural season.
Heading into the new look College Hockey America conference, the Nittany Lions will compete for a respectable third place finish against the Syracuse Orange, and newly admitted clubs, the Lindenwood Lady Lions and RIT Tigers. Two other team from Pennsylvania, the Mercyhurst Lakers (from Erie) and the aforementioned Robert Morris squad (from Moon Township) will battle for top spot.
Despite the obstacles that have been presented in light of the football scandal, there are other aspects to consider. As Sports Illustrated mentioned, it is one of the leading academic institutions in America, with the largest student run philanthropic organization. The ability to excel and perform amidst the dark cloud cast among them may still prove to be their finest hour.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Shannon Miller: a possible solution to USA Hockey’s Winter Games golden dreams?

During the offseason, a low key event occurred that may have long term ramifications for USA Hockey. While Canada celebrated gold at the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Burlington, Vermont, the Minnesota Golden Gophers attended a Minnesota Twins game, Shannon Miller became a United States citizen.
Having won five Frozen Four titles with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Miller is one of the most respected coaches in NCAA history. As a member of the Ethics Committee for US women's college hockey, and the NCAA Division 1 Championships Committee, Miller is as influential as she is accomplished. Using great acumen in her duties as head coach, Miller has helped open the doors to many. She hired legendary goaltender and one-time pop culture icon Manon Rheaume to be the Bulldogs goaltending coach.
Before Caroline Ouellette and Julie Chu won the Clarkson Cup together for the Montreal Stars, the two served on her coaching staff for the 2007-08 Bulldogs Frozen Four title team. Quite possibly, the greatest legacy of her game has been the success Europeans have had playing for her, a track record no one can match.
Prior to becoming one of the greatest coaches in NCAA women’s ice hockey history, Miller had assembled an impressive resume with the Canadian national women’s team. A former police officer in Calgary, Alberta, she was an assistant coach on the Canadian gold medal winning squad at the 1994 IIHF Women’s Worlds in Lake Placid. Three years later, she was promoted to head coach as Canada claimed their fourth consecutive gold at the IIHF Women’s Worlds in Kitchener, Ontario.  Heading into the 1998 Nagano Games, Miller was head coach of the first ever Canadian women’s hockey entry at the Winter Games. Despite earning silver, the effort was overshadowed by the exclusion of Angela James, a controversial decision.
Since those Winter Games, Canada has not relinquished the gold medal, while the United States have suffered a series of heartbreaking disappointments, including a bronze medal at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Should the US fail to win the gold at Sochi 2014, there will be some serious reevaluation at USA Hockey. Perhaps one of those changes would involve newly inducted US citizen Shannon Miller as a head coach?
As the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea represent the 20th Anniversary of the debut of women’s ice hockey at the Winter Games, would it not be the greatest irony if the coach of the first Canadian contingent coached the United States twenty years later? Herb Brooks went 22 years between coaching gigs for the United States men’s team at the Winter Games (1980 to 2002). In the meanwhile, he coached France at the 1998 Winter Games.

It is not uncommon that accomplished coaches at the international level coach countries that do not represent their place of birth. George Kingston, the first coach in San Jose Sharks history, coached the German and Norwegian national teams despite being born in Canada. Despite being Canadian born, Shannon Miller would be a suitable candidate. Years ago, a Canadian sports talk show suggested that the only way USA Hockey would have an opportunity at being dominant in the international scene was to hire a Canadian born person as a coach. Such words may come back to haunt them if Shannon Miller has the opportunity.