Blogs and Commentary

posted 03.25.2013 at 10.00 a.m. by Jac Coyne

NCAA Division II Notebook

Getting in about three hours of cardio prior to playing one of the best teams in the country — and one of the toughest games on the schedule — isn't the optimum pregame ritual, but sometimes it needs to happen.

That's what happened to Lake Erie when it hosted No. 7 Merrimack on March 16.

"We spent three-plus hours shoveling our field that day," said Storm head coach Greg Stocks. "We got three inches of snow between 7-10 a.m., and if this is last year or two years ago, we're calling Merrimack and saying 'Thanks for making the trip out, but we're not going to be able to get this game in.' Our guys wanted to show who we are this year. They got out there and got shoveling and said, 'Coach, we can get this done.' We were out there from 10 a.m. to after 1 p.m. and we had to push the game back a couple of hours. It's something I haven't seen a team do on a game day."

Lake Erie nearly capped off the shoveling exercise with one of the biggest wins in school history as the Storm led the Warriors, 8-5, late in the third quarter. Merrimack scored with one second left in the third and then opened up the fourth with four straight markers, eventually winning 11-10.

It was an excruciating loss for a team that has been trying to get over the hump the last two seasons, but Stocks was pleased with how his kids responded, especially in the 9-3 win over Wheeling Jesuit last Wednesday.

"They were almost mad that they let it slip away," said Stocks of his players. "This was one that they should have taken and we let them get back into it. Our guys wanted to get right back out there and show everyone that it was just a slip up. They took the game plan and really took it to Wheeling the next game to show everybody that, hey, we're still here. That didn't hurt us, and might have even made us stronger."

The strength of the team this spring is defense with the Storm boasting a young, but extremely stingy, group. Levi Jacob is the senior captain operating from his LSM position while junior Adam Bakular and freshman Zach Bruening operate on close defense with rookie Tom Lipomi in net. Stocks thinks the best of the bunch is close pole Justin Goodwin, a sophomore out of British Columbia.

"I think he is the most underrated defensemen in D-II," Stocks said of Goodwin. "He always draws the top assignment and last year he was the top ground ball getter who wasn't a faceoff guy. He is all over the place."

The backline has jelled thanks to the addition of assistant coach Steve Gartelman, who was a three-year starter in net for Limestone, including last year's run to the national finals.

"He has come in and the defense has really taken to what he has brought in," Stocks said of Gartelman. "We haven't had a defensive presence on the coaching staff the first three years. He has come in and taken to it. He's also an exercise major, and our workout and conditioning has been benefited. Kids are bigger, faster, stronger this year and we've seen huge improvements in the weight room and conditioning tests throughout the year."

One of the biggest obstacles facing Lake Erie is putting together a strong non-conference schedule. Some of it has to do with teams not finding Painesville, Ohio, to be a destination location, but much of it is due to the unwillingness of a lot of teams to tangle with the Storm. Lake Erie is outside of the national rankings, so it doesn't have that cachet, but is good enough to run with any team.

"We had a lot of teams that didn't want to play us," said Stocks, who thanked both Merrimack and Mars Hill for giving his squad a shot.

As the ECAC season heats up, highlighted by this weekend's game against Seton Hill at home, Lake Erie is still in the hunt for one of the South's four playoff spots. It's a heady spot for a relatively young program, but one that has been spurred by a sense of urgency out of Stocks first true senior class.

"We've had a senior here and there in the past, but this is the first full class," he said. "We've got 12 kids graduating. They know this is it and they are not letting the little things that happened in the past happen anymore. They are looking after themselves and picking up the underclassmen to make sure they are doing the right things, as well."

And they aren't afraid to shovel the field if it means getting a game.

- When long-time rivals like NYIT and LIU Post get together, sometimes the coaching is pretty easy. There's certainly no need for motivational speeches. At least there wasn't for Post head coach John Jez prior to the Pioneers' 15-5 thumping of the Bears on Saturday.

"Our schools are less than a mile apart from each other, so the players put it on themselves to play hard," Jez said. "It's a real important one for us and you gauge your season on how you do against teams like New York Tech, Adelphi and Mercyhurst. We haven't played well the previous couple of games, but they hunkered down and played really well today."

The most impressive unit was the Post defense. They held NYIT's top guns, Luke Miller and Cory Triola – who were averaging a combined 7.3 points per game entering the contest – to just three goals on five shots.

"We just wanted to tighten up their key players, and we did a good job with that," said Jez. "[Sophomore defender] Robbie Chiocco took a great handle on playing Luke Miller for most of the day. The majority of the time we had one or two short stick d-middies playing Triola on the inside."

The win puts the Pioneers a game clear of the pack in the ECC race, however a stiff match-up with Mercy awaits. Jez is hoping for a steady effort from game to game over the course of the rest of the season.

"We have to play consistently," he said. "We play a team like Roberts Wesleyan, who is not a bad team and had some good schemes, and only played them to a two goal game. Then we come out play a great team like New York Tech and handle them the majority of the game. We've got to play every week consistently now. Don't take people for granted."

- It's probably a good bet that Post will not be looking past Mercy on Saturday. Not after the Mavericks went to the home of defending champions and handed Dowling a 10-8 loss. Rookie netminder A.J. Pellati made 16 saves for Mercy while senior Mike Marzocca scored four goals along with one assist. The Mavs are now 7-1 heading into the match-up with the Pioneers. Combined with Molloy, which improved to 7-0 with a win over Dominican (N.Y.), the ECC is just as stiff as it's always been even with the departure of Mercyhurst, Seton Hill and Lake Erie.

- Dominican (Calif.) got a leg up in the race for the WILA championship by handing Colorado Mesa — the defending champs — an 11-8 loss on Saturday. Sean Donohue made 16 saves for the Penguins while Cody Bernstein had three goals and three helpers...after winning its first three games by four goals, Adelphi picked up a semi-comfortable win over Franklin Pierce, 10-5. The game was closer than it looked, however. The Panthers led 5-4 heading into the fourth...Pete Donnally scored seven goals and set up two others in St. Michael's 21-4 romp over Saint Rose...Michael Melnychenko had five goals and three assists in Chestnut Hill's 18-8 victory over Roberts Wesleyan.