Welcome To Our Roller Coaster
You want wire-to-wire consistency?
There’s New Hampshire and then… um… well… nobody.
As befits a team challenging for the top spot in the PairWise, the Wildcats have been a model of consistency this season, losing back-to-back games only once while rolling to a 19-7-2 record. Within the league, they’ve been even better and have extended their latest run to 11-0-1.
After that, forget it.
Even those who like to kick teams when they’re down wouldn’t be entirely accurate if they said that Maine and Merrimack have been as consistent in a negative way as UNH has been positive. Although both have struggled mightily for the past couple months, both got off to strong starts before the wheels came off. Maine opened the season 4-2-1, having taken five of six points on the road at Boston College and first-half wonder Northeastern. Merrimack won its first three games and stood 6-4-1 the week of Thanksgiving.
Every other Hockey East team has enjoyed pavement-too-hot-to-walk-on, radiator-gushing torrid stretches and endured bone-chilling, teeth-chattering arctic winters.
Entering 2008, Massachusetts had climbed to fifth in the polls after consecutive wins over highly ranked UNH, Notre Dame and Colorado College. The Minutemen stood at 10-3-5.
Then the cosmic switch got flipped and they went from lights out to… well, lights out. Only a single point over the next seven games. In 2007, UMass was 10-3-5; in 2008, 2-8-1.
Exhibit B: Northeastern.
The Huskies opened the season with a win, lost four straight, then became the talk of the league with a 9-0-2 stretch that included two wins over UNH and one at BC. How ’bout them Huskies!
Flick the switch, though, and the next six games are just 1-4-1, all against opponents that had entered their home-and-home series with records of .500 or below.
Exhibit C: Boston College.
The Eagles came within a November 30 win of going 0-for-the-month. That cold spell put them at 3-4-5, a far cry from expectations.
Flick the switch. BC went 12-2-2 in its next 16 games.
Exhibit D: Boston University.
The Terriers opened the season 0-4-1 and at the holidays were an unthinkable 4-10-2. BU? A record of 4-10-2? You’ve got to be kidding!
Forget the flicking of a switch. BU needed the jolt from a defibrillator.
And got it. The Terriers have since posted an 8-4-2 record with three of the losses against BC and UNH. Except for games against those two juggernauts, BU hasn’t lost a league game since Dec. 7.
Exhibit E: Massachusetts-Lowell.
If not for a couple wins against Alabama-Huntsville — Hockey East snobs attach asterisks to all wins over teams from the upstart conferences — the River Hawks would have opened the season 0-3-4. Snobbery or no, their first league win didn’t come until Nov. 20.
But before you could trot out the rebuilding word, Lowell recorded wins in seven of eight games with the only loss coming against UNH.
Exhibit F (as if further exhibits are necessary): Providence.
The Friars opened the season with four losses and soon after stood at 1-5-1. A mirror-image stretch of 5-1-1 righted the ship and they extended the success to 11-4-1.
Exhibit G : Vermont.
The Catamounts opened 0-4-1, won three of four, then endured another tough stretch of 1-4-5. At 4-9-6, their season appeared over.
Hit that switch. They’re 6-2-1 in their last nine.
The evidence of a Jekyll-and-Hyde, hot-and-cold league seems overwhelming.
For some teams, the causes were predictable. BU struggled with its goaltending early. Several teams dealt with the growing pains of youth at key positions.
Other reasons were more unique.
For BC, the loss of Brett Motherwell and Brock Bradford altered the face of the Eagles’ roster and required November’s adjustments.
“We had two genuine All-American candidates in Motherwell and Brock Bradford that we lost for the season,” BC coach Jerry York said recently. “We’ve had to become a different type of hockey club.”
In the case of UMass, dealing with unprecedented success presented obstacles.
“Every coach in our league has probably read Pat Riley’s book The Winner Within,” Cahoon said a few weeks ago. “In the book there is a chapter referred to as “The Innocent Climb” and then after that there’s a chapter called “Mastery.”
“The Innocent Climb always ends with a stumble and a fall because you’re going through it blind for the first time. It’s new to you or to the guys that are playing for you. It’s not until you really have mastery in place — a complete understanding of how you do things and why you do things and consistency in doing those things — that you enjoy the success that the BCs and the North Dakotas and the Michigans of the world seem to enjoy year in and year out.”
The case-by-case analysis could go on. Youth, goaltending, attrition, growing pains…
All true, but the extreme volatility of results throughout the league begs for a more comprehensive explanation. One that takes note of every league team except for Maine and Merrimack making the PairWise’s Top 25.
“It’s a tough league,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “Every team has had a pretty good stretch. It’s a grind game in and game out.
“The margin of victory is so small — the bandwidth is so narrow — that you have to be on top of your game every night, and if you’re not, you’re going to get beat because there’s an awful lot of good teams in this league and parity certainly has arrived.”
Ah yes, the P word. Parker isn’t alone in using it.
“It’s parity in the league,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said. “It’s a tough league, and confidence and consistency [are] so important to success right now when there isn’t a lot of difference between talent levels.
“When teams start to lose that confidence [after] they drop one or two, it’s hard to gain that back. When our team’s confident and playing well, I think we can compete and beat anybody in this conference. When we are showing our signs of youth, and not playing confident, I think we can easily lose to anyone in the conference.
“I think teams are kind of going through that. There is so much parity within the league that quite often it’s easy to fall in those roller coaster rides.”
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
This applies only to those of you who write fiction. The rest of you can tune in again next week.
If you write fiction of the fantastic — fantasy, science fiction or horror — you owe it to yourself to consider Odyssey, a six-week workshop held each summer at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. I made the same recommendation a year ago and most of what I say is a February rerun, but you owe it to yourself to consider attending. I did two years ago and my only regret is that I didn’t do so much earlier.
You’ll work your butt off, but it’ll be worth it. Over 50 percent of all graduates go on to be published. (If that figure doesn’t impress you, you don’t know publishing.)
Jeanne Cavelos, winner of the World Fantasy Award for her editing, runs Odyssey. I can’t imagine a better editor to work with. She is amazing.
Top writers, editors, and agents in the field serve as guest lecturers. This summer, the workshop runs from June 9 through July 18. Its writer-in-residence is Nancy Kress, and guest lecturers include award-winning authors Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Barry B. Longyear, and James Maxey; New York Times best-selling author Craig Shaw Gardner; and literary agent Jenny Rappaport.
The application deadline is April 10. For more information, see www.odysseyworkshop.org.
If you have to scramble to make the deadline, do it. If you have to use every last hour of vacation time owed you, do it. If you have to hock your flat-screen TV and forgo eating out to pay for it, do it.
Not all sacrifices are worthwhile. This one will be.
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.