About The Tobin Bridge…
Two weeks ago, this column discussed Boston University, which was then 2-4-1. It counseled fans that plans to jump off the Tobin Bridge were premature.
“If the Terriers lose the next four,” the column said, “then the Tobin may be worth talking about.”
Well, it’s four games later and four losses later, leaving BU at 2-8-1. The Terriers have now lost six straight, which prompts coach Jack Parker to invoke gallows humor and note wryly that the streak is “my personal best!”
So is it time for a one-way trip to the Tobin?
Stick a fork in the Terriers, they’re done?
Or have rumors of their demise been greatly exaggerated?
Without question, wins breed confidence and therefore more wins; losses prompt players to press and therefore result in more losses. The snowballing effect that worked to BU’s advantage for virtually the last decade is now working against the Terriers.
“We’re really pressing,” says Parker. “We’ve had great opportunities to make plays and put pucks by the goaltender and we have not done it. Although we’ve gotten a lot of shots, we haven’t scored goals.
“We’ve really pressed because when we make a mistake, it seems to jump in our net. We haven’t gotten real solid goaltending and we haven’t been as thorough as we have to be defensively. It’s a combination of making [the other] goalie look great and not stopping the puck at the other end as good as we’d like.
“I still think we’re playing hard enough. I have no qualms with how hard we’re playing, but we’re going to get real frustrated soon — if we’re not already frustrated.
“We’re obviously immensely disappointed with our won-loss record. It seems to me that [the players] must be asking themselves, ‘When are we going to get some rewards? We’re working pretty hard, but we’re only coming up with air here.’”
For starters, the offense is scoring at the rate of only 2.73 goals per game, next-to-last in Hockey East. It’s hard to imagine that six years ago the BU forwards were so deep that a freshman named Chris Drury remained stuck on the fourth line while the Terriers averaged 5.46 goals per league game en route to a national championship.
While those powder-keg days are over, just last season the Terriers were third in the league while scoring at a 3.57 clip. The assumption was that they would miss the contributions of Tommi Degerman (19-24–43) and Chris Heron (18-25–43), but that younger players would step up and fill the void.
What may have been overlooked is how much of a clutch performer Degerman was. He tallied eight of the team’s 25 game-winning goals. Nine of his 19 goals came in the third period or overtime.
Even so, has BU’s talent plummeted all the way into the basement? Or are all those missed opportunities a sign of better things to come?
It should be noted that goals aren’t always the end result of great scoring chances. Give two players the exact same opportunities and an effective finisher will score a high percentage of the time while a grinder with hands of stone will often shoot into the goalie’s chest, clang the iron like the band’s percussionist and complete the close-but-no-cigar hat trick by shooting wide. He will then bemoan the great chances that he isn’t converting.
So are the BU forwards talented but snakebitten? Or are they just not very good finishers?
“Most of [our drought] has to do with guys who finished pretty well last year,” says Parker. “Brian Collins got 13 goals last year. Mike Pandolfo did the same. Mike has one five-on-five goal so far this year; [Collins has two.]
“Carl Corazzini is scoring, but not at the rate he scored at last year. [Dan] Cavanaugh is doing the same, but not at the rate he was scoring. Nobody is scoring at anywhere near what we need five-on-five.
“Our power play has been pretty good, but our five-on-five has been anemic. Of late, our penalty killing has been terrible, too. We were running at 14 percent [opponents' power-play percentage] and now we’re running at about 20 percent. That’s a huge jump. We’re still running at about 27 percent on our power play.
“Ordinarily when you have a pretty good differential between your power play and your penalty kill, you’ve got a pretty good record. That’s not going with us because we’re so inept as far as five-on-five play is concerned.”
The trends aren’t particularly promising. During the six-game losing streak, the Terriers haven’t scored more than three goals even once while giving up four or more in all but one contest.
“Out in Denver and Colorado College, in the first four periods, especially the first period of the Colorado game on Saturday, we had opportunity after opportunity to generate offense,” says Parker. “Two-on-ones. Three-on-twos. But no goals, sometimes not even a shot. We’re getting to the point where we’re trying to be too fine.”
The most surprising problem, however, lies with the defense. BU didn’t lose a single player on the blue line and returned All-Hockey East selections Chris Dyment and Pat Aufiero along with All-Rookie Team member Freddie Meyer. Meyer missed the first four games recovering from back surgery, but he’s been in the lineup the last seven contests. Colin Sheen, who missed most of last season with injury, has also supplemented the blue line.
Presumably the defense should be the team’s strength. Instead, it has been anything but. While some might point to Dyment’s drop from 11 goals last year to the goose egg so far this season, the big concern isn’t with the blueliners’ offensive contributions but rather with their defensive shortcomings.
Aufiero, in particular, has been playing light-years short of last season’s all-league form. In many games, he has made poor decisions that have cost the Terriers. Having seen six of BU’s games either in person or on tape, this observer has been stunned at how Aufiero’s play has fallen off so sharply. Of course, he’s hardly been the only offender on the Terrier blue line, but certainly the most visible.
Could Rick DiPietro’s puck-handling and puck-stopping skills last year have given everyone an overrated view of the BU defensemen?
“In all probability, our team got a lot more confidence with Ricky behind them last year and he bailed them out a few more times,” says Parker, “but I don’t think it was a matter of, hey, he was hiding all their mistakes last year. We’re making glaring mistakes and [Aufiero] is one of our biggest problems. Our upperclassman defensemen have struggled, especially Pat.
“A lot of that has to do with making just glaring mistakes that [a defenseman might say,] ‘Hey, the goaltender could have bailed me out, but he didn’t.’ It’s hard to bail a guy out when someone is walking in on a breakaway or on a two-on-one.
“There was a lot of that this weekend. Individuals are making real bad decisions or not quite covering a guy they should have had. Mistakes usually wind up in the net if they’re glaring enough.”
The goaltending, which entered the season as the team’s big question mark, remains exactly that. Jason Tapp has struggled; only UMass-Lowell’s Cam McCormick and Jimi St. John have lower save percentages than Tapp’s .865 figure. Sean Fields had clearly outplayed Tapp until giving up five goals on just 24 shots in Denver.
BU has now leaped to an average of 3.55 goals against per game, next-to-last in the league.
“We’d like the goalie to bail us out a few more times than he has,” says Parker. “We could easily blame it on the goaltending not being terrific, but at the same time we’ve hung them out to dry a few times. We’ve given opportunities [that have] put a lot of pressure on the goaltender.
“We can help the goaltending out by playing more thorough defensively and not leaving them hanging out to dry like we have. Confidence is a big part of that position, obviously, and a big part of the defensive position.
“So it’s which comes first, the chicken or the egg? [A defenseman can say,] ‘I make a mistake; the goalie doesn’t make the save and I look bad.’ Or the goalie says, ‘Geez, he’s letting this guy go in on a two-on-one. It’s hard to make a save on a two-on-one.’ So it’s a combination of both of those things.”
Presumably, the talent is there on the blue line to fix the defensive problems. But is the talent there between the pipes to be successful?
“Sean Fields has given us three pretty good games up until his last game,” says Parker. “He didn’t play very well in Denver, but he played well the first three games. Tapper has played very inconsistent, although his last time out he played a decent game against Colorado.
“So I don’t think it’s a matter of, Geez, we’ve got to pack it in because we’re not going to get good goaltending this year. I still believe we’re going to get good enough goaltending to win a lot of games in this league. But we’re not going to get good goaltending unless we can help them out to get their confidence. They’re not going to get their confidence unless we can stop the major mistakes.”
Although too many trips to the penalty box prompted Parker to take action earlier in the season, that hasn’t been a concern during the losing streak other than an anomalous game against Colorado College. The Terriers have stayed in the single digits for penalties in all but one game.
“We took a couple of real stupid penalties against Harvard that really hurt us,” says Parker, “but for the most part we’ve been getting more power plays than the other team. I’m not saying that we couldn’t lessen our number of penalties, but I don’t think the number of penalties are killing us, with the exception of a couple situations earlier in the year and against Harvard.
“We haven’t been killing ourselves with penalties; we’ve been killing ourselves lately with penalty kills. Of late, we’ve been pathetic there. Harvard went 4-for-8, Denver got two [officially only one] and Colorado got 2-for-7. That’s eight [officially seven] power-play goals [against] in your last three games. That’s not doing very well.”
All of which points to numerous problems. However, at least some of those should be fixable, which would translate into more Ws.
“We could be winning games, 6-5, with the opportunities we’re getting, but we’re not because we can’t put it by the goaltender,” says Parker. “And we could be winning games, 2-0 or 3-2, had we gotten less glaring mistakes by the defense or a little bit more support from the goaltender.
“We haven’t playing like a team that is 2-8-1. But you are what your record is. What our record is [says] that we aren’t very good and we’re not generating what we have to generate at either end of the ice.
“But we’re still working very hard. And for the most part, we’re playing very well in our defensive zone. We’re not giving up a lot of shots. We’re not getting overrun by people. We’re getting the puck out of the zone. But every once in a while we make a mistake that you’d have a difficult time not putting the puck in the net on.”
Which leads to this weekend and an opportunity to begin a turnaround. BU faces UMass-Amherst in a home-and-home series. The Minutemen have also struggled in their last six games — all nonconference matchups — losing five and tying UConn.
“You’re going to see two teams that are desperate for a win, that’s for sure,” says Parker. “The biggest difference between them and us is that they’re 3-1 in the league and we’re 1-4-1 in the league.
“So they’re in pretty good shape in the league and we’re in horrible shape. But in general, we both have been going poorly. I’m sure that they’re not mentally feeling too good about themselves, but I’d find it hard to believe that anybody is feeling as badly about themselves as we are right now.”
Another Sub-Par Powerhouse?
While BU’s 2-8-1 mark is the biggest disappointment in the league, Maine’s 5-4-3 record is also a surprise. The Black Bears lost a lot of scoring off last year’s Frozen Four squad, but finding scorers has rarely been a problem in Orono and a strong defense returned as did talent between the pipes.
As a result, few people expected Maine to be only one game over .500 at this point. All of which begs the question, are the Black Bears really just a .500-or-so team or are they of NCAA tournament caliber?
“I don’t know,” says coach Shawn Walsh. “Defensively, we seem to be an NCAA tournament team. Offensively, we seem to be a non-NCAA tournament team. We’re just too inconsistent offensively, but not because we aren’t creating chances.
“Saturday night — [a 2-1 overtime loss to Dartmouth] — was a classic. We had three different open nets, including two where the goal light went on, and guys missed the open net. You go through that. We’re not alone in that this year in college hockey. It’s tough to score.
“We’ll be a team that no one wants to play. But at the same time, I’m not sure if we have enough offensive firepower to get where we want to get.”
Maine did lose its four 30-plus point scorers from last year (Cory Larose, Barrett Heisten, Ben Guite and Brendan Walsh), but still returned talent up front in the form of Niko Dimitrakos, Dan Kerluke, Martin Kariya and Chris Heisten. Add to that Tommy Reimann, coming off an injury-plagued freshman season, and a strong recruiting class and the usual Black Bear offense was expected.
Territorially, Maine has met those expectations, but what counts is that it ranks only sixth in Hockey East scoring with an average of only 2.92, a drop of almost a full goal per game from last year. Maine has never finished with a scoring average under 3.00 since the league began play in 1984.
Arguably teams as a whole play better defense now than in past years, but the same question facing BU also confronts Maine. Are the Black Bears forwards snakebit or are there simply not enough finishers?
“One of our finishers was declared ineligible,” says Walsh. [More on that below.] “We recruited Colin Shields to be a finisher.
“And Niko has only played three games. He’s lived up to his end of the bargain because he’s got three goals in three games.
“We’ve got to get healthy. We’re still missing [offensive defenseman Peter] Metcalf and [Brendan] Donovan. They’re key guys for us. We’re not as deep as we might have been.”
Metcalf has a sprained knee that has caused him to miss the last three games. He’ll probably miss the next four or five, the latter of which would put him out until Christmas.
Donovan has a bruised kidney and has also missed the last three games. He is expected to miss this weekend’s two matches against Northeastern and then return for the Boston University and Boston College contests the following weekend.
While the offense has struggled, the team defense has sparkled and keeps hope alive that this will be an NCAA year for the Black Bears. They now lead the league, allowing an average of only 1.92 goals per game.
Goaltender Matt Yeats had a couple rough outings to open the season, allowing last year’s backup, Mike Morrison, to move into a 50-50 split. Yeats has recently returned to form, but Morrison hasn’t shown any signs of relinquishing his share of the position. Named the runner-up to Providence’s Nolan Schaefer as Hockey East’s ITECH Goaltender of the Month, Morrison posted a 1.21 GAA and .953 save percentage in November. For the season, he now has a 1.02 GAA and a .958 save percentage, both marks the second best in the country.
“He’s solid,” says Walsh. “He’s been terrific and so has Matt.
“Yeats is back. He’s played really well. He had a couple bad periods earlier in the year, but now he’s fine.
“As a team, look at our numbers. In the last six games, we’ve given up eight goals in six games.”
NCAA 2 Maine 0
Maine has lost two players to NCAA rules this season. One, Colin Shields, was expected to be a major contributor this year. The other, Rob McVicar, is a goaltender who would not have been available until next season because of a stint in major junior hockey.
Shields was declared ineligible a few weeks back. A native of Scotland, he was playing junior hockey last year and taking a few classes at a local junior college. However, since he was in the country on a student visa, the registrar told him that to keep the visa he had to be taking a full-time load.
“So he put himself in a couple [more] courses, but didn’t really go,” says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. “But when he triggered full-time [status] in the NCAA rules, that meant he had to pass everything. He needed to pass a full year’s coursework, but he didn’t do that because he didn’t even attend some of the classes. It was really a technicality because of his nationality.
“He didn’t tell anybody, so we didn’t know it until he filled out a form and our compliance people caught it. He didn’t let us know and our mistake was that we didn’t ask him if he was going full time. I’ve never encountered anything like it. So we’ve got ourselves to blame, too.”
Shields continues to practice and work out with the team. He will become eligible next year.
“Every time he shoots the puck in the net, I shake my head because he’s a pure goal scorer,” says Walsh. “But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. I don’t want an ineligibility question at the end of the year.”
McVicar’s case is an even more unfortunate one. It all ties into the need for 18-year-olds to “opt in” for the NHL draft if they don’t want to wait an additional year. This action, however, ends their collegiate eligibility because they are then deemed professionals. A 19-year-old becomes automatically available to the NHL draft, so the only NCAA impact short of signing a contract is to opt in.
“He had declared himself eligible for the NHL draft last year,” says Walsh. “He was told by his major junior team that it was okay to opt into the draft. Then he found out after talking to various colleges that he couldn’t do that so he opted out a few days before the draft.
“It sounds like it’s no problem, but the NCAA said it’s black and white. Because you opted in, even though you opted out prior to the draft, you’re done. You’ll never play college hockey.
“It’s stupid! What’s a shame is that he was an engineering student who was doing very well in school and enjoyed it tremendously. Now he has to go back and play junior hockey without education because there are people in a bureaucratic office who don’t feel for the student-athlete.
“The rule is there, but the rule isn’t working.”
Worth The Wait
Merrimack’s Joe Exter is quickly becoming one of the feel-good stories of the year. Exter has paid more than his share of the dues, but is now reaping the rewards. He is the current Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week after stopping 55 of 56 shots in a Warrior sweep of Nebraska-Omaha.
A few years back, Exter played in a couple major junior hockey exhibition games and then sat out the rest of that season. Knowing that he would then have to sit out yet another year before he became NCAA eligible, coach Chris Serino debated on whether Exter would be a good gamble.
“I was thinking about taking him, but he hadn’t played for so long,” says Serino. “I liked him when he was at Cushing [Academy, but he wasn't going to] have played a hockey game for almost two years.
“I’ll never forget the day he came in with his mother and his father. He said, ‘Coach, just give me a chance.’ We committed to him and made him go play a year of juniors and then he came here.
“The look in his eye [convinced me]. I said, ‘There’s no way this kid can’t succeed.’”
After a rocky game earlier in the season, he has now become the number one guy in the Merrimack nets.
“I thought there’d be some rust on him in the beginning, but I knew that if we played him we’d have a good one,” says Serino. “The kid is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached. You can’t get him enough work.
“He reminds me a lot of [Ty] Conklin when we first got him at New Hampshire [when I was still there]. He’s a good-sized kid, but he makes everything look easy because he’s always in position.
“He’s steady. He’ll take a goal or two away from you and he won’t let any soft ones in. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Exter is low-key about his success, quickly crediting his teammates. But there’s no question that he’s a lot happier now than during last year’s Season Without Games.
“Every Friday and Saturday night was a low moment,” he says. “During the week, I just had to work hard. I honestly feel that the year off made me twice the goalie that I was before just by working with Mike [Doneghey], the goalie coach. I feel that was the biggest help in my whole career, just sitting back and relaxing and working on the little things I needed to work on.”
Quip Of The Week
Although this one-liner occurred on Hockey East Media Day before the season’s first game, it’s apropos for this weekend since Boston University faces UMass-Amherst in a home-and-home series. This marks coach Don “Toot” Cahoon’s first visit to Walter Brown Arena as head of the UMass program.
Cahoon served as an assistant to BU coach Jack Parker for many years and also was a member of the Terrier squads that won back-to-back national championships in 1971 and 1972. Players on those teams will be honored as part of Saturday night’s pre-game festivities.
As a result, it was natural to ask Parker what he remembered most about Cahoon. Before going on to extoll Cahoon’s many virtues, Parker quipped, “His appetite!”
With the early-signing period over, here is a list of those recruits who have signed official letters of intent. (No verbal agreements are listed.)
John Adams (Wayzata, Minn.) D, 6-2, (6-30–36, Breck – Minn. HS) All-State
Ryan Murphy (Ann Arbor, Mich.) F, 5-11, (11-18–29, US National)
Ryan Shannon (Watertown, Conn.) F, 5-9, (23-22–45, 24 games, Taft – NE prep) US Select-18 Team
Brian McConnell (Norfolk, Mass.) F, 6-1, 195, (US National)
Just Maiser (Edina, Minn.) F, 6-1, 195, (US National)
Ryan Whitney (Scituate, Mass.), D, 6-4, 200, (US National)
Bryan Miller (Wayne, NJ), D, 5-10, 175, (US National)
Ben Murphy (North Andover, Mass.) F, 5-9, 180, (19-39–57, 23 games, Cushing – NE prep) 2000 HNIB Tournament MVP and top scorer
Paul Lynch (Peabody, Mass.) D, 6-4, 200, (21-25–46, Valley Jr. Warriors – EJHL) 2000 HNIB Tournament top defenseman
Jonathan Junkas (Stoney Creek, Ontario) F, 5-10, 178, (11-30–41 as F/D, Hamilton Kilty B’s – OHA)
Tim Warner (Waltham, Mass.) G, 5-11, 180, (Avon Old Farms – NE prep)
Greg Mauldin (Holliston, Mass.) F, 5-10, 175, (Junior Bruins – EJHL)
Craig MacDonald (Canton, Mass.) F, 5-11, 190, (Nobles & Greenough – NE prep)
Peter Trovato (North Attleboro, Mass.) F, 6-0, 200, (Deerfield Academy – NE prep)
Matt Walsh (Arlington, Mass.) F, 6-1, 185, (Northfield Mt. Hermon – NE prep)
Jeff Lang (Westwood, Mass.) D, 5-11, 175, (Tabor Academy – NE prep)
Gerry Hickey (Hanover, Mass.) F, 6-1, 190, (19-13–32, 56 games, Cedar Rapids Rough Riders – USHL) team captain
Taras Foremsky (Calgary, Alberta) F, 6-1, 200, (10-22–32, 19* games, Fort Saskatchewan Traders – AJHL) 1999-2000 AJHL Top 10 scorer
Matthew Foy (Mississauga, Ontario) F, 6-1, 175, (20-13–33, 17* games, Wexford Raiders – OPJHL) current OPJHL no. two scorer
Casey Guenther (Boissevain, Manitoba) G, 6-0, 165, (3.75 GAA, .924 Sv%, 17* games, LaRonge Ice Wolves – SJHL)
(information not yet available)
Don Graver (Rockland, Mass.) D, (Catholic Memorial – Mass. HS) team captain, three-time US Select Mass. Team
Jaron Herriman (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario) F, (24-34–58, Cambridge Winterhawks – OHA) League’s top scorer
Tim Judy (Bowie, MD) D, (Sioux City Musketeers – USHL) current USHL no. three scoring defenseman, two-time USHL All-Star
Derek Allan (Davidson, Saskatchewan) F, 6-1, 190, (20-23–46, 11 ppg, 27* games, Nipawin Hawks – SJHL) No. six scorer in league, 1999-2000 SJHL All-Rookie Team
Chris Chaput (Pawtucket, R.I.) F, 5-10, 180, (18-15–33, 16* games, New England Coyotes – EJHL) current EJHL no. four scorer, USA Select-17 Team, two-time All-State
Eric Lundberg (Vernon, Conn.) D, 6-2, 195, (3-13–16, 14* games, New England Coyotes – EJHL) 1999-00 EJHL All-Star, team captain, 13th in NHL CSB rankings
Legend: HNIB – Hockey Night In Boston CSB – Central Scouting Bureau OHA = Ontario Hockey Association NE prep = New England prep school EJHL – Eastern Junior Hockey League AJHL = Alberta Junior Hockey League OPJHL – Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League Saskatchewan Junior League USHL – United States Hockey League US National – US National team in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Last week’s contest had two parts. The first asked which Hockey East coach (past or present) once said to his fiancee, “I don’t want to go to [some city or town] by myself. Let’s get married.”
The name of the city or town was removed to keep the question itself from being trivial.
The second part of the question was, what was the first name of his fiancee (and eventual wife)?
The answer was BC coach Jerry York, who said to his eventual wife, Bobbie, “I don’t want to go to Potsdam by myself. Let’s get married.”
Potsdam, New York, is the home of Clarkson University, where York began his coaching career. It is also known as being rather far out into the boondocks.
Additionally, one would hope that many of you are using USCHO’s Archive section to read some of these older articles. Click on “Archives” on the left sidebar and on the resulting page scroll down to the “Articles” section where you can select a list based on a topic or organized by date or author.
That said, the first to answer the trivia question correctly was Sean McGuinness, who offers this cheer:
“Let’s go Eagles!!!!”
This week’s question refers to a defenseman from another conference who played a Hockey East team last weekend. The player’s last name adds a vowel to that of a former defenseman on the opposing Hockey East team.
Send the names of both players to Dave Hendrickson and take your shot at next week’s cheer.
Thanks to Wayne T. Smith for his assistance.
USCHO covers Hockey East all week long on the Hockey East Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.