After a trip to the National Club Ice Hockey Tournament last season and a 15-6-2 campaign that included his team's first Crab Pot Tournament title since 1983, U.S. Naval Academy coach Jim Barry is anxious to watch that puck glide across the ice at Dahlgren Hall.
Barry's Mids open their 1991-1992 season at home at 6 p.m. tomorrow against the University of Maryland. The Terps are off to a 5-1 start, and the fact that his Mids have yet to play has Barry concerned.
"Maryland is much improved from last year, and with six games under their belts, they should be pretty tough," said Barry, an economics professor at the academy who begins his fourth season at the helm of the Navy club hockey team.
Navy defeated Maryland twice last year by four goals each time.
His Mids also play Sunday at Dahlgren at 4 p.m. against Lehigh University of Pennsylvania.
Barry is excited about this year's prospects with a host of returnees headed by tri-captains Tim Fetch, Steve Godinho and Jake Skala, not to mention offensive threats Jeff Fogarty, Steve Roberto, Rob Doherty and Eric Fontaine.
Goalie Richie Doyle is also back from last year's squad.
"We only graduated four players and have no freshmen on this year's team, so we may not have as much depth, but we should be strong. We'd better be, because we have a tougher schedule," said Barry.
The team lost one key player in its scrappy captain, Steve Jennings.
Jennings, from hockey country in Weymouth, Mass., graduated. He was the team's spiritual leader and a guy who seemed to get everybody fired up.
Club teams do not have varsity status, but this ice hockey squad has drawn a lot of attention the last couple of years under Barry. The Mids regularly pack them in at Dahlgren Hall, where admission is always free even in these recessionary times.
Last year the Mids gave their loyal following a lot to cheer about by winning consistently at home and then taking their own prestigious 14th annual Crab Pot Tournament in February.
Navy was taken to the limit before edging Fordham University, 6-5, in overtime during the Crab Pot.
Fogarty,a converted football player, notched a hat trick in one tournament game and was one of five Mids to tally a goal in a 5-3 championship victory over West Chester College of Pennsylvania. Doyle rejected 31 West Chester shots in the finale.
A couple of weeks later, the Mids made their first trip to the nationals for club hockey.
Navy was one of eight teams selected and seeded by Club Sports magazine to participate in the nationals, and the Mids distinguished themselves.
After dropping their first two games in the tournament by scores of 7-3 to host Arizona and 4-0 to defending national champion Penn State, the Mids ended by tying Eastern Michigan, 4-4.
"Eastern Michigan had beaten Arizona by 8-4, and our tying them was a real moral victory. The teams out there were great. It was high-level club hockey," Barry said.
"The people out there told us we were the class of the tournament, and the trip was a big thrill for our kids."
After a rookie season of 9-8-0, Barry, a native of Massachusetts and a former Boston College player, led the Mids to a 14-8-1 log in the 1989-1990 season, drawing a national club ranking of 12.
After breaking into the top eight last year and bringing the Mids national acclaim, Barry hopes to take the Mids to greater heights this season by returning tothe nationals, which will be played at Penn State (Feb. 26-29) undera new format.
Barry and a group of coaches have formed the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The group has set standards similar to those established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for big-time Division I hockey.
"I'm on the tournament selection committee, and we will choose the best club teams from all over the country to come into Penn State for the nationals," Barry said. "And we hope to be among them.
"If we do get there, it will be because of a really tough schedule."
Long before the bids go out to the nationals, Navy has dates with such club powers as Villanova and College Military Rail of Montreal, a trip to Arizona and stepped-up competition in its Crab Pot, Feb. 1-2.
"Villanova is always tough, and CMR took it to us twice last year, by scores of 9-4 and 10-2," said Barry, whose team has been invited back to Arizona because of the impression it made at the nationals.
Navy is scheduled to play in Tucson, Jan. 3-4, against Arizona, a team that finished second in the nationals a year ago.
Barry also changed things in the Crab Pot, making it a little tougher for Navy to win this season. Besides the host Mids, Maryland will play along with West Virginia and Worcester Polytech of Massachusetts, a team Barry said always plays great hockey.
After the Crab Pot, Barry hopes to receive word that his guys have been invited back to the nationals.
"We did well last year and willhave to really earn it this time around, but we have a group of guyswho should know what they are doing," he said.