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CHRONICLING ECU & C-USA SPORTS
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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 9, 2006

By Al Myatt

Ice Pirates' first campaign fires up interest

©2006 Bonesville.net

East Carolina has completed its first competitive season in — Would you believe? — ice hockey.

The Pirates played pucks pretty well, going 14-7 overall and finishing second in the Blue Ridge Hockey Conference.

One highlight was a 4-2 win over North Carolina before 675 fans at ECU's home rink, Bladez on Ice (Red Banks Road) in Greenville, on Jan. 27.

"I don't want to say that was an upset," said goalie and team president Brent Falcon. "But they (UNC) were a Division II club team and we're Division III. That really helped us push forward the rest of the season."

The Ice Pirates are coached by Dr. Wayne Cox, of Physicians East, who played three years collegiately at St. Mary's in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Cox was assisted by Todd Carter, a former Junior A level player in Nova Scotia, and Murdoch Rogers, who has no formal hockey background.

Mike Ormsby, the team's leading scorer, has finished his eligibility but Falcon thinks the Pirates will be even better next season. Ormsby, who is certified as a strength and conditioning trainer, will move into a coaching role next season.

"We've got about six guys coming in from community colleges in upstate New York," Falcon said. "We've seen four of them play and they are good. We've heard from 10 or 12 more recruits from e-mail. We should have 45 to 50 next year at tryouts and we'll take 21. It will be a really competitive tryout."

The team gets some financial support from ECU's department of recreational services and rink time for games at Bladez is exchanged for admission — $5 for adults and $3 for students with ID. The team pays for its practice time.

ECU hockey began organizing in October of 2004. Falcon, a junior marketing major with a minor in communications, handles much of the paper work such as scheduling, correspondence with the league office and lining up sponsorships.

The ECU hockey team typically plays its home games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, prime times to build a following, which the Pirates have done, averaging about 450 fans. Some of ECU's opponents are not as fortunate in their relations with rink ownership. The Pirates have played some road games in the wee hours of the morning because that was the only time the ice was available.

The 2005-06 campaign is barely over, but Falcon's excitement is still going strong.

"I can't wait for next season," he said. "We've shown that ice hockey is a sport that can thrive in Greenville."

You can check out the team's web site at www.ecuicehockey.com.

O-Line: Front ... and center

The credit given the offensive line is often inversely proportional to its value. It's said that the only time the guys up front really get noticed is when the quarterback gets sacked or the backs have nowhere to run.

One function of the current spring practice is making sure the O-Line doesn't call too much attention to itself in 2006. That job belongs specifically to offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Steve Shankweiler, who is in his third term on the Pirate staff.

Only two players return with starting experience — tackle Eric Graham, an integral component up front for three seasons, and walk-on guard Matt Butler — but "Shank" has faced graduation voids before.

"It's pretty much the same every year," he said. "The only thing that changes is the calendar."

Shank's crash course in blocking was mastered by Guy Whimper last season. Whimper, a tight end who created his mayhem on the defensive front in high school and when he first arrived at ECU, played just one season of offensive tackle for the Pirates but is now rated as a fourth-round NFL draft choice.

Now converted tight end Josh Coffman, who has added about 50 pounds during a redshirt year to get up to 292, and Terence Campbell, a redshirt freshman in 2005, are the top candidates to step up despite limited experience.

The Pirates have been without several players due to injury. Drew Sutton (ankle) is expected to miss the entire spring. Senior Lance Neisz (knee) and redshirt freshman Stephen Heis (shoulder) are not expected to be ready until the third week of drills at the earliest.

But Coach Skip Holtz has expressed relative confidence in four-fifths of the personnel comprising the offensive front.

"The real question mark right now is center," Holtz said at the outset of spring workouts.

That evaluation had not changed the first time the Pirates put on pads last Saturday.

"We must have put the ball on the ground 10 times in the center-quarterback exchange," bemoaned Holtz.

The Pirates have moved Fred Hicks from the defensive side to center. Larry Lease and Thomas Wingenbach are also candidates to do the snapping to James Pinkney this fall.

"We can't let the quarterback carry the load," Shankweiler said. "We've got to do things to help him. The best way for a quarterback to be productive is to have a sound running game and good protection."

And the best way for the offensive line to develop at the moment is through repetitions in spring practice.

"That's about the only way," Shank said. "Baptism by fire. Put them in there and let them do it. There's really no other way to learn."

Everything but the center situation is falling into place.

"I continue to be pleased with the way the top four have come out and handled their work," Holtz said. "Eric Graham and Matt Butler have really done some good things so far and that's a credit to their confidence level. Other than having actual game-day experience at their respective positions, Josh Coffman and Terence Campbell are very close to playing at the level we expect."

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:30:00 AM
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