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This Week in Hockey East

College Hockey:
This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 2, 2006

Dave Hendrickson is not available this week because he is modeling for a statue that will stand alongside the Statue of Liberty in recognition of his many accomplishments. While reports have confirmed that he will be holding his laptop case to his chest with his left hand, we have not been able to confirm whether his right hand will hold aloft a pen or a fork.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Amidst these days of spectacular fall foliage, I have vowed to turn over a new leaf.

For those of you who have read my columns filling in for Dave Hendrickson in the last few years, you are accustomed to seeing me bash him with more zeal and frequency than a birthday piata set upon by hyperactive quintuplets on steroids.

But when I read Dave’s column last week, I had a change of heart… a transplanted heart, even. Dave not only managed to cover about seven of the league’s teams in one column — including quotes from the majority of league coaches — he capped off this journalistic gem with a plug for “my new book” as the icing on the penalty-kill. What a guy!

Dave did so much last week that I felt that our loyal readers could have me write no more than a haiku about Merrimack without getting short-changed over a two-week period. So here goes:

The proud Warriors
Own two-game unbeaten streak:
Burst of sun melts ice shavings

Right now I probably could call it a column, thanks to Dave. Instead, though, I am inspired to do what I can to match his tireless efforts. Just think of fingers straining over the keyboard week after week, his hands more active than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (according to various allegations).

So instead of writing a short column and continuing to bash Dave this year, I will write the usual length piece for you and also try to find creative ways to laud him at the beginning of each column I write, just as I did today.

We’ll see how long it takes for him to beg me to start bashing him again.

Tracks of My Tiers

If you listened to the two-headed monster who wrote this year’s season preview and followed last weekend’s results, you may well be referring to Dave Hendrickson and me as Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Like many Hockey East aficionados, we talked about the league having two tiers. The top six (Boston College, Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, Providence, and Vermont) were perceived to be contenders for home ice and the Top 20. And then there was the other four teams (UMass, UMass-Lowell, Northeastern, and Merrimack). The consensus seemed to be that they would be far removed from the upper echelon.

While that may yet prove to be the case, what did we see last weekend? Lowell beats BU, on the road. UMass beats UNH, on the road. Merrimack beats Providence, and, once again, home cooking leaves a feeling of indigestion. For good measure, Northeastern loses in OT and then splits with Michigan — you guessed it — in an away series.

So perhaps the so-called division might be a tad underrated. Then again, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy is not getting heady after pulling in three of four points this weekend. And he hasn’t really bought into the six-team upper tier to begin with.

“If you want to make the two tiers the top four and the bottom six, then maybe,” Dennehy said. “I’ve been involved with Hockey East since 1986 and over the last 20 years I don’t know how many times, Maine, UNH, BC, and BU have been the top four. I’m being completely honest.

“I know Providence has done it a couple times; I think Northeastern’s done it a couple times. But nobody consistently, especially over the last six years. So it’s almost like until you dethrone one of them, if there’s going to be a two-class system, it’s those four on top and then everybody else. I think what you’ve is got that the league’s strengthening as a whole.

“Hockey East has said for years and years that it was the best league top to bottom in the country. And I think what you have is some of those teams that might be competing for playoffs have improved. Hopefully we’re one of those teams.”

So were last weekend’s events more of a fluke? “I don’t think it’s a fluky thing, but they’re not giving out home ice in October,” Dennehy said. “They’re giving it out in March and, as tough as our schedule might look right now, I look to January and February and that’s when the league gets decided.

“I think it’s a small data sample, to be honest with you. I think you can pick out any one instance and make of it what you want. Someone may emerge to crack that top four that hasn’t in a while. That would probably be good for our league, but it’s not going to happen in a weekend; it’s going to happen over a year. So, hey, if there are teams in this league that can do that, I think it’ll only make us a better league.”

Warrior Weekend

Merrimack beat the run-and-gun Providence Friars on Friday and then coughed up a two-goal lead on Saturday against Brown before salvaging a tie. For a program that went 6-23-5 last season — and then lost its leading scorer, Rob Ricci, for all of this season due to a violation of team rules, you might think that Dennehy would be feeling celebratory about garnering three of four points over the weekend. But that’s not entirely the case.

“I don’t want to take any wind out of our team’s sails,” Dennehy said. “I don’t think we played very well, but it’s a results-oriented business and when you take three points, especially when you haven’t done that in a long time, you’ve got to come away with some sort of happiness.

“I’m satisfied with the results, I’m just not satisfied with how we attained them. I thought we’d done a real good job — we were 0-4 — but we had gone from giving up 31 shots our first game and reduced that number every game until we gave up 21 against Holy Cross. Didn’t get the type of results we wanted, but we were playing better. I know that if we play the way we played this weekend against the class of our league that we’re going to be very unhappy. So, as a coach you’re always looking ahead, and I know we’re going to need to play a heck of a lot better to be able to broach any type of success against the Maines and Boston Colleges of the world.”

It made me wonder aloud if Dennehy was afraid that getting wins without playing well was effectively “rewarding the wrong behavior.” That’s a theme that came up pretty often in my day job in academia.

“My wife works with Special Ed children and she’s a behavioralist,” Dennehy said. “And I don’t want to reduce us to animals, but when the bell rings, the dog salivates. So, yeah, to a certain extent. We talk a lot about process; we talk a lot about how if you focus too much on the winning, you’re not going to do what it takes to win. You need to focus on the building blocks of that and the winning will take care of itself.”

With Ricci out of the mix, I asked Dennehy if there were specific guys he was looking to for point production. “In all honesty, earlier on in the season we were looking for anyone to step up and score,” he told me candidly. “Everybody wants to be a goal-scorer, but in order to be a goal-scorer you’ve got to score goals. So we were looking for anyone to emerge.

“I think coming into this year — knowing that Ricci wasn’t going to be able to play — we looked to a guy like Mike Alexiou to come back off a down year last year due to injuries, rebound. To his credit, he’s got himself in fantastic shape, lost a lot of excess weight. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here, which is a short time. But if you’re talking about 30-plus games, we need that, because you can’t count on freshmen scoring.

“Even though we’re playing a number of freshmen, upwards of 10 a game, they’re going to get some points, but they’re going to ride that rollercoaster of their freshman year. You need some of your veteran players to come in and kind of carry the workload. We’re still looking for some of that. But it’s good to see Lex get off to a good start.”

Charles River Ha

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.


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