Putting together a schedule

December 4, 2005 on 11:47 pm | In analysis | 1 Comment

I’m in Dallas for a few days, but this was written Nov. 21 for the Hockey Night in Boston preview. Apparently I wrote too much, as it didn’t quite make it. So here’s a brief look at the scheduling process … what a friend of mine from Rice would call an investigative blog.

Investigative blog – Scheduling
Coaches may not be able to control how their team plays on the ice, but they almost always have plenty of influence on who their team plays in non-league games. New Jersey coaches have anywhere from 5 to 13 non-league games to schedule, and each coach has his own style on this inexact science.

Non-league schedules are usually a good indicator of what a coach thinks of his team and division. After reaching February unbeaten last year in the relatively weak NBIAL, Indian Hills coach Phil Murphy is making the most of his limited non-league options this year by playing five top public schools, including two before Christmas.
“Since the NBIAL is new and somewhat unknown, we felt that we needed to play some Red Division teams and the top Morris County teams to become more recognizable with the other teams throughout the state,” Murphy said. “With the diversity in our schedule, we hope to improve our state ranking with the [seeding] committee when the time comes.”
Morris Knolls head coach Walt Keiper, on the other hand, is stepping out of the public ranks to test his defending public state champion. The Golden Eagles face central Jersey preps Princeton Day and Hun and two Gordon Conference teams, Hudson Catholic and Pope John.
“We play night in and night out against some of the top public schools in the state,” Keiper said of his league schedule. “Picking up games against private schools is a change for our program and will only strengthen the team. … I feel if you want to improve your program, you need to play tough opponents every game.”
In south Jersey, the difficulty of non-league scheduling is often compounded by obligations to the all-sport Shore Conference, which includes 18 of the 23 schools defined as ‘southern’ by the NJIHL. CBA head coach Mike Reynolds, for example, had 20 of his 21 games decided for him — 16 Gordon Conference games and four games in the Shore A Division.
Similarly, the central Jersey all-sport Skyland Conference will award a hockey championship this year, forcing public powers like Ridge and Bridgewater-Raritan to cancel already-scheduled games in favor of contests with first-year program Hillsborough, even though all five Skyland Conference teams already play in the holiday Somerset County Tournament.
Many NBIAL coaches have rankled under the 18-game league schedule imposed by their athletic directors that limits non-league opportunities. Still other coaches are limited by travel restrictions and ice time; teams in the lower divisions of the CVC and MCSSIHL often play non-league games against league teams, just to fill out the schedule.
But the most interesting part of the scheduling equation is the rule for state tournament qualification, which requires non-Gordon teams to have at least a .500 winning percentage as of the second Saturday in February to make the tournaments. Mid-level public coaches like Morris Hills’ Ed Higdon and Rumson/Fair Haven’s Dave Smith, among others, have to carefully plan their schedules around this deadline. This means realistically assessing their team’s chances of winning 50 percent of its games while trying to get as much exposure as possible against different regions of the state in hopes of a high seed.
Morris Hills, for example, competing in the Mennen Division for the first time since the advent of the MCSSIHL’s hierarchical division structure in 1986, can realistically expect to be 1-3 games under .500 from its league schedule. Higdon has carefully crafted his non-league schedule with six games against MCSSIHL teams from the Haas and Charette Divisions, simultaneously scheduling Paramus, Princeton, and Bayonne as ‘reach’ games. One can project Morris Hills’ record anywhere from 9-12 to 15-7, but the smart money would be on the Scarlet Knights finishing within two games of the .500 mark.
“You call all over leaving messages and trying to match up available ice-time, frequency of games in a week, and honoring commitments from last year,” Higdon said. “The state tournament is a factor, and I know that if we don’t play good hockey this year, we could miss the tournament.”
Smith, coaching his Bulldogs in the parity-ridden Southern White, has an even tougher puzzle to solve. After 12 league games and 4 Shore B matchups, he has 7 games in which to improvise. A 6-6 league season is a real possibility, and the additional Shore B games could easily see a 1-3 record. So he has to plan to go at least 4-2-1 in his non-league games to make the state tournament.
“Obviously, you need to keep in mind the goal of being .500 at the deadline, but it can be self defeating to place too much weight on that goal,” Smith said. “Every coach is guilty of looking at the schedule in advance, but I’m of the opinion that there’s no use qualifying for the state tournament if you can’t realistically envision advancing several rounds.”
With the Shore Conference encouraging crossover games, Smith scheduled four games against Shore C teams, which should be enough to get Rumson over the hump. His three remaining games? Tests against southern public power Middletown North, CVC middler WWPS, and Central Red veteran West Essex.
“We feel we can compete in the Southern White and should be no worse than .500 there,” Smith said. “We also know the Shore B could be a disaster for us, but under the best circumstances, it will toughen us up and make us better. Of our optional games, we’ve added one against a much higher-ranked opponent, two against opponents that should be of relatively equal strength, and four against regional rivals who are ranked below us, but all of whom should show up prepared to battle.”

Finally, HNIB New Jersey ranks the five strongest non-league schedules for public schools, given preseason information.

1.Indian Hills — Phil Murphy was 5-for-5 with his non-league games, scheduling three of last year’s four public semifinalists plus Northern Red powers Bayonne and Clifton.
2.Randolph — Having your own ice certainly helps, as Rich McLaughlin lined up Don Bosco Prep from the Gordon Conference in addition to four serious public contenders — Bridgewater-Raritan, Ridge, Middletown South, and Indian Hills. The Rams will also skate in the Montclair tournament.
3.Bridgewater-Raritan — Excepting three required Skyland Conference games, Patrick Alvin scheduled three of his remaining five games from the state’s top public division, a fourth with the best public in the south, and a fifth with the CVC’s top public.
4.Ridgewood — Not a regular powerhouse, but the Maroons face four Red Division teams, including Red Bank Catholic, plus relative unknowns Ramsey (twice) and Princeton. The two games with Glen Rock hurt but could be a must for the state tournament.
5.Morris Knolls — I hate to pick another big gun, but Walt Keiper deserves some props for scheduling the big boys. If only the season opener could’ve been Knolls-CBA to settle last year’s score. Knolls takes on PDS, Hun, Pope John, and a weak Hudson Catholic squad in addition to public tests against Bridgewater-Raritan, Indian Hills, and Toms River East, plus the Cron Tournament.

1 Comment

  1. Great analysis. It is a real science putting together a non-conference schedule that will challenge your team, at the same time making sure you will be over .500.

    Comment by A Head Coach — 5 December 2005 #

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