BOSTON — Boston College was the unanimous choice of Hockey East coaches for first place in the annual preseason poll, released during the league’s Media Day held at the FleetCenter in Boston.
Being picked for first has been somewhat of a jinx the last two years. Boston University received the dubious honor a year ago and wound up tied for fourth, losing the standings tiebreaker to Providence. And the year before, the Friars didn’t receive any votes for first but still led a close pack, yet ended up seventh.
Commissioner Joe Bertagna even jokingly referred to the choice for first as the “kiss of death.”
“I think it just shows there’s a lot of balance in the league, and it’s hard to pick a winner when you have a lot of good programs,” said BC coach Jerry York of his colleagues’ track record of late.
But York’s Eagles, ranked third in the nation in the first USCHO.com poll of the season, were the last team to make good on the league’s expectations. BC finished atop the standings in 2001 and won the NCAA Championship, a goal that this year’s squad has as well. It would mean a return to the FleetCenter, also the site of the 2004 Frozen Four.
Still, York remains cautiously optimistic when talking about his team’s chances.
“Hopefully we’ll prove the soothsayers right this year,” said York.
“We need to keep our top kids injury-free. That will be a big, big factor. And Matti’s [Kaltiainen] continued development in goal. I think he’s coming. Now he needs to make that next step.”
Comparisons have been made between that 2001 BC championship team and this one, and York doesn’t shy away from them. BC returns skill and depth at every position, led by senior forward and 2003 Hockey East Co-Player of the Year Ben Eaves (18-39–57).
“[Krys] Kolanos, [Chuck] Kobasew, [Brian] Gionta — we had some real firepower up front. I think we have some similar type guys this year,” York said. “Defensively, [Bobby] Allen, [Brooks] Orpik and [Rob] Scuderi were top, top end guys, and we think with J.D. [Forrest], [Andrew] Alberts, [John] Adams and the other guys, we’re a little deeper defensively. Goaltending, Matti’s got to continue to get better; [Scott] Clemmensen had a great senior year. But we’re in the ballpark.”
— UMass coach Don Cahoon
New Hampshire, which shared the regular season title last year with BC, won the postseason tournament and advanced to the NCAA final before losing to Minnesota, was second with the only other first-place vote.
That vote came from York, since coaches are not permitted to rank their own teams.
Why UNH? Goaltending. Senior Mike Ayers was the other Co-Player of the Year in 2003.
“Ayers coming back will certainly be a key for them,” said York. “They lost some good players, but goalies are so important.”
It’s probably no surprise, then, that the third and fourth teams in the poll, BU and Maine, also have strong goaltending — the Terriers have senior Sean Fields and the Black Bears counter with the duo of Jimmy Howard and Frank Doyle. Both teams made the NCAA tournament last season with BU falling to UNH in the regional finals and Maine to Michigan in the regional semifinals.
But the other big story, besides BC’s unanimous first-place ranking, was the highest ranking ever for Massachusetts — fifth. The Minutemen posted a Division I best 19 wins and finished sixth, taking out Maine on the road in the league quarterfinals before a hard-fought 5-4 loss to UNH in the semifinals.
That came after an eighth-place selection by the coaches at the start of the season. If UMass did sneak up on anyone last year, that won’t be the case this time around.
It presents new challenges for 2003 Coach of the Year Don Cahoon, who returns nearly all his key players, including second-team All-Star defenseman Thomas Pck, dynamic junior forward Greg Mauldin and All-Rookie Team member Stephen Werner.
Yet the Minutemen won’t take anything for granted.
“We have to use last year as the creation of a new foundation, but it’s starting all over again,” said Cahoon. “We can’t be worried about expectations or what people think. We just have to do the day-to-day work.
“Anything beyond that is a mistake for sure.”
Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern and Merrimack rounded out the poll from fifth to ninth. But only four points separated the River Hawks, Huskies and Warriors in the final balloting.
Hockey East sports information directors also presented the annual Joe Concannon Media Award to long-time BU hockey play-by-play man Bernie Corbett. The award is named for the late Boston Globe writer who passed away in the summer of 2000.
Besides broadcasting, Corbett also authored two books about college hockey in 2002, The Beanpot: 50 Years of Thrills, Spills and Chills and Boston University Hockey, a pictorial history. His acceptance speech was long on nostalgia and laughs.
“I’m fortunate enough to make my living, as the late great Joe Fitzgerald of the Globe once said, in life’s toy department,” Corbett said.
“I think we’re all in this room fortunate to be involved with the great game of college hockey.”