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This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 14, 2010

Reliving Gold

The events of Frozen Fenway last week, in which Boston University upset Boston College 3-2 in front of a massive capacity crowd at the old ball grounds, somewhat overshadowed on these pages one of the most remarkable international efforts in recent memory.

The United States World Junior Championship victory may be nearly two weeks in the record book but it’s still extremely fresh in this scribe’s mind.

Though 36 years old and kindergarten age when Mike Eruzione and the United States upset the Russians to win gold in Lake Placid, this year’s World Junior Championship will likely be a more memorable experience personally. Though I have no personal connection to the team other than to say that I’ve talked to a handful of its players covering the local teams and the NHL Draft, I can’t remember feeling more emotionally attached to any international tournament.

The way in which the United States captured gold is a story for the ages. From the New Year’s Eve debacle when the Americans seemingly had a long-awaited victory over the Canadians locked up, only to surrender a two-goal lead and lose in a shootout … to nearly facing a similar fate in the gold-medal game when another late Canadian rally forced overtime … to finally ending the Canadian curse when, of all players, a defenseman (John Carlson, who had committed to play at Massachusetts before signing a pro contract this summer — oh, the Minutemen would love to have him on their team!) skated on a 3-on-1 and picked a tiny spot short side to set off the greatest American celebration since Lake Placid. All of this made this year’s edition of the World Junior Championship extremely memorable.

For Hockey East, this year’s team may have seemed like an afterthought as BC’s Chris Kreider and BU’s David Warsofsky were the only two participants. But when you consider that Kreider was an offensive force in the tournament and Warsofsky was possibly the most stable defenseman on the U.S. blue line, Hockey East’s contribution to the team was quite significant.

One additional factor made the tournament more memorable, and that was the agreement between USA Hockey and the NHL Network to broadcast all of the U.S. games live. Having the games not only shown on TV, which itself is a step forward, but having United States (not Canadian — nothing worse than listening to Pierre McGuire’s homerism on Canadian broadcasts) announcers was a major bonus and certainly built interest in the team for me and many others.

Hopefully the performance of the World Junior team will be inspiration for the U.S. Olympic team that is about to embark on its own gold medal journey next month in Vancouver. The U.S. already hit the daily double with gold medals from the Under-17 team and the World Junior club, and a trifecta would certainly be sweet.

Snow Globe Setting

It was as if the Jolly Green Giant (or should I say Monster?) picked Fenway Park up last Friday night and shook it around like a snow globe. That was the Currier & Ives-like photos that summed up the first college hockey game played at Fenway Park.

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that BU upset BC in the men’s edition of Hockey East Frozen Fenway. The 3-2 victory before 38,472 fans made for an unforgettable evening for two teams of hockey players, their respective staffs and the fans and alumni who witnessed the game — whether in person or on TV.

“It’s something we’ll all remember as long as we live,” said BU coach Jack Parker, who along with the rest of his staff donned what looked like BU Terrier snowsuits to battled the elements, which included sub-freezing temperatures and intermittent snowfall for the 7:30 p.m. start.

The cold weather certainly didn’t take away from the enjoyment. Just ask BU’s Warsofsky, who, fresh off of a gold medal World Juniors victory, put together an unorthodox goal celebration after giving the Terriers a 1-0 lead. Warsofsky swung his hockey stick as if it were a baseball bat imitating a home-run swing of the park’s usual inhabitants.

When asked about it after the game, Warsofsky credited third-string goaltender Adam Kraus for the idea.

“He came up with it before the game, and I figured if I scored I’d go with it. I don’t know if the coaches liked it,” said Warsofsky.

“I didn’t see it,” said Parker, sitting next to the sophomore defenseman.

“Hopefully he doesn’t see it on film, either,” Warsofsky returned.

Joking aside, if there was one concern leading into the game it was the ice conditions. The Red Sox and the NHL had booked the ice for hours and days on end prior to the Hockey East games and the constant resurfacing along with literally thousands of skaters tearing up the ice made the surface rut-filled leading up to the game.

Come game time, though, it was a different story, according to Parker, who praised the NHL’s operations staff, which oversaw the ice maintenance from the temporary rink’s open in mid-December through its close last weekend.

“I was really concerned about the ice before the game started,” Parker said. “The NHL people told me don’t worry about it, and I thought that the ice was terrific. I thought that the ice was so much better [for the game] than it was at any other time we skated here. The only thing that was troublesome was that there was a little more snow than we were used to, but I don’t think it was rough.”

The success of the game already has people talking about a sequel at the hallowed grounds. That doesn’t seem overly likely as the ice surface itself belongs to the NHL, which of course used it for this year’s Winter Classic, and it wouldn’t be expected to return the event to Boston anytime soon. Other temporary surfaces surely could be purchased but the expense involved might be a bit too costly for any college league or team. And such an event is a novelty when it is done once, the appeal is massive. Repetition, though, leads to waning interest.

For one night, though, the college hockey snow globe that was on display at Fenway was an evening of perfection.

Panic Buttons

With February right around the corner, those Hockey East teams that find themselves underperforming may be ready to hit the panic button. For two of those teams, their recent play certainly will warrant some concern.

Northeastern seemed two weeks ago like it had hit its stride. An extremely impressive victory over Dartmouth, in which the offense cranked out seven goals, and an equally recognizable 2-1 win over Massachusetts-Lowell in the championship game of the Ledyard National Bank Classic had the Huskies positioned well for their return to league play.

But when last Saturday night rolled around, Northeastern laid an egg for two periods against Lowell, with this game counting in the Hockey East standings. For two periods, the Huskies appeared uninspired and fell behind, 5-2. Credit due, Northeastern rallied to tie the game and force overtime. But once in the extra session, the Huskies made a massive defensive miscue that led to Lowell’s game-winning goal.

Coach Greg Cronin was nearly inconsolable after the loss. He said that as disappointing as the slow start was, the defensive mistake in overtime that spoiled the comeback effort was even worse.

“For a team that scratches itself back in a game — and our whole identity is on defense — to have a defensive breakdown 120 feet from our net is a disgrace,” Cronin said. “We had two defenseman out there [in position] and [Lowell] nearly wound up with a 2-on-0.

“They slept. It was ridiculous to see it. You could see if happening from the bench.”

If that’s not bad enough, Cronin’s Huskies, believe it or not, played worse a night later when facing a hungry Massachusetts team. Another slow start, lack of discipline throughout and an overall poor offensive effort led to an ugly 4-1 loss.

“It’s puzzling,” Cronin said after Sunday’s loss and yet another slow start. “I don’t have an answer for it. If I did, it wouldn’t happen again.”

The Huskies are hardly the only team licking their collective wounds. Providence, which returned from a 31-day break this past Tuesday night only to put forth an ugly display, particularly offensively, in a 4-1 loss to BC, has lost six in a row and sits in last place with just five league points.

One year after missing the playoffs for the first time in the program’s history in Hockey East, the Friars seem positioned to repeat the feat. Coach Tim Army’s frustration level boiled over on Tuesday, so much so that he evicted his team from the locker room after a first period in which BC outshot the Friars, 22-1. The players were forced to make a between-period home in the lobby between the locker room and the visiting team bench at BC’s Kelley Rink.

“That was my emotions,” said Army, when asked about kicking his team out of its locker room. He admitted he had considered doing something to change up the feel between periods as the team has had slow starts to the second period, but the poor play was even more of a catalyst.

The move almost worked. Providence, which trailed 2-0 entering the second period, climbed to within a goal. But even that wasn’t acceptable to Army, who said he was disappointed with three straight power plays that ensued in which the team executed poorly. After BC added two third-period goals, the result was a 4-1 loss for Providence.

Asked if it’s time to push the panic button, Army acknowledged that the team’s playoff life is something about which he is concerned.

“I understand the reality of [the playoff situation],” Army said. “I want to insulate the players from it because we did miss the playoffs last year and I don’t want to put undue pressure on them. I just want them to play.

“I just want us to work harder and simplify things. If we play well, we’ll give ourselves a chance. We’ve got to kind of get going here and win some games, but the only way you’re going win games is if you work hard and compete.

“I was upset with the team [on Tuesday] but we’re beyond that now.”

Trivia Contest

When Dave Hendrickson and I began planning the column for this season, one thing we decided to eliminate was trivia. Though a brainchild of Dave’s, both of us realized that not only thinking up trivia questions, but fielding answers, etc., had become too much. (Personally, I never had to participate here at USCHO.com, but remember the pain of doing something similar as part of a previous column I used to write.)

When Scott Weighart filled in last week, one result was a rare sighting of a trivia question. Here’s what he asked:

“Earlier this year, former BU star Colin Wilson scored his first — and, thus far, only — NHL goal while playing for the Nashville Predators in a road game that his team ultimately lost to the Boston Bruins. But what former Hockey East player also scored his first — and, yes, only — NHL goal while playing on a visiting team that also lost against the Bruins that day … and in the same building?”

The answer was Jim Fahey, former star defenseman for Northeastern. Playing for the San Jose Sharks, Fahey scored his first and only NHL goal against the Bruins on Dec. 23, 2002.

The first of only two readers to get this one right was Ryan Ewell, who tells us that many people know him as “Chickens.” His cheer is:

“Let’s go Huskies! Why do you want a minute man when you can have husky love?”

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything to Do With Anything, But…

It’s been so long since I wrote this column that I feel like I have a million and one things to talk about. So here goes.

The Patriots’ end-of-season disaster took me by surprise, I’ll admit it. I always thought that any Bill Belichick-coached team could contend for a title no matter what the circumstances. But this season proved that theory very wrong. I hate to say it, but I think all of the problems began with the famous fourth-and-2 play against Indianapolis. While I never faulted Big Bill for the play call (he’s a genius if it works, right?), I think that, A) his defense hated his lack of trust that they could stop the Colts from 60-70 yards away and, B) the ability of a team to stage such a massive comeback late in the game became a feasible thought in the team’s head, thus the fact it happened twice more in the regular season.

The NHL ran a first-class event in Boston this year at the Winter Classic. The incredible, energized environment certainly made the realization of the cold disappear for a little while. And Boston’s comeback and eventual win created an electric atmosphere in the ballpark that I hadn’t seen since Big Papi’s back-to-back walk-off hits in the 2004 ALCS.

Was impressed to see Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan ranked fifth in the NHL Central Scouting mid-term rankings. Everything I had heard about the 2010 Draft is that it could be a down year for the college players. But if Sheahan can improve his stock value between now and April, we could be talking about a top-five pick for a player already enrolled in college.

I don’t understand what all the scuttlebutt is about Lane Kiffin leaving Tennessee for USC. It’s business. Big business, at that. The fact that he used Tennessee as a steppingstone to a bigger, better program shouldn’t be a surprise.

I had a number of friends tell me that they’re addicted to a guilty pleasure in life: MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” I accidentally fell upon it over the Christmas break and became addi

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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