Athletics under the microscope at Amherst

Amherst is in the process of reassessing the place of athletics at the college, with top concerns including:

–the relative lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity among athletes (73% of male athletes are white while only 35% of non-athletes are white; only 6% of male athletes are low income while 31% of non-athletes are)
–creeping roster size (primarily a lacrosse and track issue)
–the social divide between athletes and non-athletes (reflected in the tendency of athletes to congregate in particular dorms and to dominate the party scene and exacerbated by the size of the athletes’ cohort at Amherst (35-38% of the student body))
–the tendency of athletes to concentrate in certain academic disciplines (economics, political science, and history) and to avoid some disciplines (like the sciences) and to exhibit other academic shortcomings (favoring large over small classes and writing senior theses at a much lower rate than non-athletes)
–a concern about the growth in the length of the season and number of games due to a substantial increase in post-season play
–a concern about concussions (the report cites 4 and 6 concussions for members of the men’s hockey teams in 2013 and 2014 and suggests that 3 concussions should result in the end of an athlete’s Amherst playing career)

On the positive side for athletes, the report noted that athletes have higher graduation rates than non-athletes and, likely most important from the administration’s perspective, are more likely to be donors to Amherst (for example, in 2015 76% of 1960s’ graduates who were athletes contributed versus 56% of non-athletes) and to make large contributions (a whopping 78% of the members of Amherst’s Founders Society (those whose cumulative gifts total $1 million or more) are former athletes). The documentation of athletes’ much-stronger-than-average financial commitment to Amherst over the long term is not surprising but is an eye opener in explaining just how important this ongoing commitment is to an institution like Amherst and likely many other NESCAC schools.

It is unclear what, if anything, this study and the ongoing assessment/review will mean for the place of athletics at Amherst. Williams’ undertook a similar study several years ago  with long-term negative consequences for several of the men’s “team” sports (most notably football) but with no apparent impact on men’s hockey or any of the many “individual” sports in which Williams excels (swimming, track, tennis, etc). More committees are to be involved in the review process at Amherst and many of the existing recommendations are on the soft side. Its impact on the hockey program is even harder to discern. The hockey team does not suffer from creeping roster size (quite the opposite, in fact, as the Amherst roster is more often than not one of the leanest in the NESCAC) but does suffer from the lack of racial diversity (as do all NESCAC and other college hockey teams) and is one of the teams that tends to have  longer seasons due to Amherst’s frequent post-season success. Finally, there has been considerable concern about the place of athletics at Amherst in recent months due to the recent exposure of bad behavior (of the sexist and misogynist sort) on the part of some members of the men’s cross-country team.

Here is a link to Amherst President Biddy Martin’s statement on the study, which includes a link to the study but also says that the study will only be available online for a limited (and unspecified) time period. Due to the fact that the report may soon not be accessible to the public via the Amherst website, here is another link to the study, which is entitled The Place of Athletics at Amherst College.

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“Lord Jeff” mascot/knickname likely to land in the dustbin of history

Amherst sports teams have long been known as the “Jeffs,” the “Lord Jeffs,” or the “LJs” in honor of Lord Jeffrey Amherst. Lord Jeffrey Amherst was the commander in chief of the British forces that conquered much of what is now Canada in the French and Indian War (1754-63) that preceded the Revolutionary War and drove the French out of the northern part of North America. During and after this war, a number of North American towns were named after Lord Amherst, including Amherst, Mass., Amherst, N.Y., Amherst, N.H., and Amherst, Nova Scotia, with the town of Amherst, Mass., being incorporated and named in 1759 during the height of Lord Amherst’s prominence. Amherst College was founded some 62 years later in 1821 and was named in honor of the town in which it was located, backdooring its way into an unplanned but long lasting affiliation with the Lord Jeffrey Amherst name.

Lord Amherst’s name has achieved ignominy in recent years as a result of a well-documented plan to use smallpox-infested blankets to infect Native Americans, who participated in a 1764 uprising against the British after the French and Indian War, and his written declaration in connection with developing those plans of a desire to “Extirpate this Execrable Race” in reference to Native Americans.

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ECAC hockey soon to be a thing of the past in New England

Maybe the ECAC East fans will stop complaining about the demise of the interlock at long last!!

The ECAC Northeast is to be replaced by the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC), with regular season play to start for the 10-member conference in the fall of 2016 and the first post-season tournament to be played in the winter of 2017. Conference members are to include existing CCC members Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Salve Regina, University of New England, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Western New England College. Associate members of the new conference will be Becker, Johnson & Wales, and Suffolk.

The ECAC East is to be replaced by a new conference, apparently to be named the New England Hockey Conference. Members of the new 9-member conference are:  Babson, Castleton, New England College, Norwich, St. Anselm, St. Michael’s, Skidmore, Southern Maine, and UMass-Boston.

At the end of the day, the only really change is that UNE moves from the old ECAC East to the new version of the ECAC Northeast (the Commonwealth Coast Conference, the conference in which it already competes in most other sports). This article from the Maine Hockey Journal highlights why the change in conference affiliation will likely be good for the UNE program. The new leagues are expected to retain the same AQ rights in NCAA post-season play for the conference winner as the prior conferences did.

The NESCAC will chug along unaffected by these developments.

A Polar Bear cub begins his career at Bowdoin in fine fashion

The games were played on the soccer pitch, to be sure, but the performance of Bowdoin freshman Stevie Van Siclen was nonetheless impressive. Van Siclen, manning the nets for the Polar Bears, performed a rare feat this weekend, back stopping Bowdoin to its first ever NESCAC soccer championship on Sunday from the sixth seed and putting together back-to-back shut-outs and penalty kick wins in semifinal and championship games on the road. Van Siclen shut out no. 4 Middlebury on Saturday in the semifinals and then did the same thing to the no. 2 seed (and championship host) Amherst on Sunday in the championship game but Bowdoin didn’t score in regulation or the two OTs in either game so both games were decided by penalty kicks. Van Siclen came up big in both games, saving three of five PK shots in the Middlebury game and two of six PK shots in the finals with Amherst. We all know from this summer’s World Cup how brutal the penalty kick round is for soccer goalies, with the giant net and the shooter standing just 12 yards away,  so quite a performance for Van Siclen at the beginning of his Bowdoin career.

The downside for Bowdoin is that the win will delay the start of Van Siclen’s hockey career. Van Siclen is a two-time all-ISL forward (the Rivers School), with good hockey genes (he is the brother of Johnny Van Siclen (Amherst ’13) and former Colby player, Mike Van Siclen), and is one of Bowdoin’s top recruits in the class of 2018.  The win gives Bowdoin the conference AQ, meaning the Polar Bears (and Van Siclen) will be off to the NCAA play-offs this coming weekend and Van Siclen will be kept off the ice for at least the first week of the hockey season.

Other NESCAC hockey players in action this weekend in the NESCAC play-offs included Middlebury sophomore Greg Conrad, who tied for no. 1 in the league in points (with 22) and no. 2 in goals (with 8). Also having a superb season and closing out his college soccer career in the quarterfinals was Trinity senior Tim Shea, who tied Conrad for the no. 2 spot in goals and tied for fourth in points. Van Siclen finished no. 2 in save percentage in his first year of play with an .843 save percentage.

Amherst just crushing the rest of the NESCAC in the Movember battle!!

At least that is what a quick glance tells us as the Amherst hockey team has crossed the $6000 threshold and is cruising toward $7000, with help from some former LJ players on the contribution front. The Movember undertaking involves raising money to deal with health issues that are unique to men (like prostate cancer), with temam members growing mustaches to draw attention to their fund-raising endeavors. Middlebury is barely in the game with  a mere $60 raised to date . . .

Lots of ties between Union and the NESCAC

Last night’s 7-4 trouncing of the University of Minnesota by Union College was a sight for sore eyes. Union is a tiny college (2200), with a long and rich history (founded in 1795),  no athletic scholarships, rigorous academic standards, a smallish on-campus arena in size much like the Bowdoin or Middlebury rinks (2250 seats), and only one NHL draft pick on the roster (versus the 14 gracing the Minnesota roster). The Golden Gophers have a great hockey tradition and their treasure trove of five national championships. And then there are the Boston College Eagles, who were ousted by Union in the NCAA semifinals by a 5-4 score, who also have five national championships and an equally impressive hockey resume. So a remarkable and impressive achievement for the Union hockey program as the modern ECAC garnered back-to-back national championships for the first time ever in HC Rick Bennett’s third season at the Union helm.

We all know that Union was a founding member of the NESCAC decades ago (in 1971) and that it was pushed out of the NESCAC after hockey-related recruiting violations under legendary hockey coach Ned Harkness in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons. The scandal at the time was enough to cost the Union president his job and the downgrading of  the Union hockey program to something akin to club status for a few years. The Union program was reinvigorated relatively quickly and was very much in the thick of things by the 1983-84 season,  playing an ECAC West and a D3 schedule and running a hockey program very much resembling the five older NESCAC hockey programs at the time (Bowdoin, Colby, Hamilton, Middlebury, and Williams). Union did not start playing D1 hockey until 1991-92. Union is one of a small number of D3 schools that “play up” in hockey to D1 (RPI, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, and RIT are all also D3 schools playing D1 hockey); as a practical matter, this play-up option is effectively no longer available for D3 schools. If you go to page 73 in the Union media guide, you will get a sense of Union’s pre-D1 history. Union had a solid program prior to the 1991 upgrade to D1 status but had no championships on its resume except for an ECAC (West) championship in 1985. And doing the first 19 years of Union’s life in D1, its records were almost all in the mediocre-to-poor side until the 2009-10 season and then started to really take off as soon as Bennett became the head coach for the 2011-12 season.

Aside from the Harkness piece of its history, Union seems to have generally done it right. There was one embarrassing episode earlier this season involving an on-ice brawl after the game with RPI and some poor behavior by Union HC Rick Bennett in physically accosting the RPI coach but there was an almost immediate apology by Bennett and quick action by Union to impose of a two-game suspension on Bennett.

Perhaps because it draws from the same player pool to a significant extent, it is easy to spot a fair number of relationships between Union and NESCAC players and to appreciate the fine line between D1 and NESCAC-caliber players:

–In the fall of 2010, Union superfrosh Mike Vecchione (no. 5 scorer on the team) played with a boatload (nine) of future NESCAC players in midget hockey with the GB Bruins U18 team: three future Jeffs in Mike Cashman (F, ’15), Aaron Deutsch (D, ’15), and Jake Turrin (D, ’15); two future Middlebury players in Riley Dickie (F, ’16) and Steve Brown (F, ’16) (no longer playing hockey for the Panthers): two future Bantams in Ryan Cole (F, ’17) and Paul Burns (D, ’15); a future Eph in Sean Dougherty (G, ’15); and a future Jumbo in George Panatazapoulos (F, ’15). Mike Cashman actually outscored Vecchione the year they played together on the GB Bruins. Vecchione was a product of Malden Catholic HS and was the same birth year as most of the future NESCAC players but went on to play 2 years of junior hockey in the USHL and ended up at Union after UNH lost interest in him during his first year in the USHL. Malden Catholic is also where Hamilton’s Mike DiMare (F, ’14) got his start; both had almost identical high school records at Malden Catholic, with each the Catholic Conference MVP and a member of the Boston Globe’s “superteam” in his senior year (DiMare in 2007 and Vecchione in 2010).

–Middlebury’s Connor Frick (D, ’16) and Williams Craig Kitto (F, ’15) were teammates on the Jersey Hitmen in the EJHL with Union junior forward Max Novak (no. 7 scorer on the team). You can see that Kitto scored almost as many points as Novak during their year together on the Hitmen. Before joining the Hitmen, Novak also played for the Hill School in Pennsylvania and was a classmate of Bowdoin goalie Steve Messina (’14).

–Union’s Matt Hatch (F, ’14) played on Exeter’s high-scoring no. 1 line in 2009 with two other PGs who ended up in the NESCAC: Bowdoin’s Dan Weiniger (F, 13) and Colby’s Nick Kondiles (F, ’13). Weiniger scored more points and received more post-season accolades than Hatch at Exeter. Hatch played another year in the BCHL with the Albernini Valley Bulldogs where he put up good numbers while Weiniger and Kondiles headed for the NESCAC without an intervening year in juniors. Bowdoin goalie Max Fenkell (’15) was also a teammates of Hatch’s at Exeter and followed Hatch a couple of years later to Albernini Valley for the year prior to his transfer from Colgate to Bowdoin. Colby co-captain Brendan Cosgrove (D’ 14) also played with Hatch during his year at Exeter.

–Union’s Kevin Sullivan (F, ’14), the no. 4 scorer for Union this year and the one who scored the back-breaking 6th goal for Union in the championship game,  was a classmate and linemate of Bowdoin’s Kyle Lockwood at Berkshire, with both graduating in 2010 and heading straight for college. As seniors, Lockwood and Sullivan shared the team MVP award. Other members of the Berkshire team that year included Conn College’s Keith Veronesi (F, ’14) and Mike Sinsigalli (F, ’14) and Colby’s Ben Chwick (F, ’14).

–Union’s sophomore d-man Sebastien Gingras (’16) and forward David Roy (’16) were teammates of Amherst’s Chris Roll (F, ’17) and Hamilton’s Kenny Matheson (F, ’16) for two years in 2010-11 and 2011-12 with the Brockville Braves in the CCHL (then the CJHL) and one year with Bowdoin’s Ryan Collier (D, ’15) in 2010-11.

There are likely other overlaps but these came quickly and easily to mind . .

Intro-to-the-season video from a Trinity freshman

A lively and fun video that is designed to get Trinity “pumped up” for the upcoming hockey season. This video was apparently produced by Trinity freshman Ryan Coles.

Now, if Trinity would only get around to posting that roster for the season which it tweets is a mere 55 hours away.