We have reached the day of my favorite holiday each year, Thanksgiving. What other holiday would a man of 250 pounds and a healthy appetite love more? Seriously, I ask you.
I do know that Thanksgiving isn’t all about the food (though I can’t wait for the scallops wrapped in bacon, Mom!). So I thought that I would use this space this week to talk about those things for which we should be thankful.
I know personally that I am thankful, this year at least, for getting married. A confirmed bachelor, I’m lucky enough to have found the right woman a couple of years ago and, though it interrupted my early college hockey schedule (I swear my 10 games in 19 days will make up for this), it was the greatest thing that has happened to my life.
When I look at Hockey East, though, there were some other wonderful marriages this season.
Massachusetts was married to Michael Pereira, who has buried six goals and 12 points in just nine games. There’s both Doug Carr and Marc Boulanger who have, in net, become the future of the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.
And then there are Sahir Gill and Charlie Coyle. Possibly the most dynamic duo of rookie forwards in the country, they are part of the reason that the Boston University Terriers are a top-of-the-pack team, not somewhere in the middle.
But I realize that Thanksgiving is much more than about me and my marriage. Every coach has something (believe it or not) to be thankful for. And here, thence, is my list.
We will attack this from the bottom of the standings to the top.
It is kind of unbelievable that the Catamounts reached Thanksgiving with just one win. I think this is a team that will break through at some point.
For now, though, coach Kevin Sneddon can be thankful for his goaltender, Rob Madore, who despite not having a great win-loss percentage has been his usual stalwart self. And the fact that Wahsontilo Stacey, fighting injuries, has been in the lineup and scoring. Sometimes you need a guy who can play through injury to be a competitive team.
After watching the River Hawks play Merrimack last Saturday, I think that club should be thankful to score goals. UMass-Lowell barely sustained any pressure on the Warriors, contrary to the history of that series. In fact, Merrimack won the weekend series against Lowell for the first time ever.
The fact is, Lowell is the most outscored team in Hockey East. The River Hawks are minus-16 in goals scored in league play. The next worst team is Vermont, which is minus-5.
There is plenty of reason to be concerned about the River Hawks. Injuries have hit this team hard, and it will take a yeoman’s effort to get this club back on track to maybe make the playoffs.
Can I really say that Don “Toot” Cahoon is thankful for having played Vermont on a Tuesday night before Thanksgiving?
Seriously, it may have been the Minutemen’s first win, but I hardly think it is the first game this team should’ve won. A fumble 10 days earlier against New Hampshire should’ve been the upset of the season.
Still, the aforementioned young guy Pereira is a great addition to a team that is currently led by T.J. Syner. Yes, the Minutemen lost plenty in the offseason, but this is a club that is likely building to the future.
If coach Greg Cronin is thankful for anything, it might be that his team won’t play anyone from Atlantic Hockey this season. The unfathomable truth that the AHA went 3-0 against the Huskies in consecutive games makes the average Hockey East fan want to cry.
Understand, this isn’t any disrespect to the AHA. I covered that league for years and know there is a lot of talent there. But Hockey East believed this year it was the dominant conference and losing to what most perceive is the worst league isn’t a good thing.
If the Huskies can be thankful for anything this holiday, it has to be its veterans. Three seniors in Wade MacLeod, Tyler McNeely and Steve Silva make up the top three scorers on the team. You have to believe that the older leaders will be the difference makers for this young team down the stretch.
What can one say about the Friars at the Thanksgiving break? I say coach Tim Army should be making the most of this holiday.
Plenty to be thankful for at Providence, namely that Alex Beaudry has been steady (and healthy) in net. I don’t know if the Friars would be a .500 team at this point without the steady goaltender.
I will say, if the Friars offense really turns it on at some point, this is a team to be reckoned with.
Merrimack bench boss Mark Dennehy should enjoy his turkey this year. He’s been at Merrimack for the worst of times (a three-win season comes to memory) and now is there for the best of times as the team earns its first national ranking this week.
If there’s something to be thankful for, it’s the team’s ability to persevere without the impact of standout Stephane Da Costa. Guys like Jesse Todd and Carl Stollery have played to their best while their best player is struggling, gripping his stick a little tight in scoring situations.
Trust me, Da Costa won’t go without points for long. And when he’s scoring, this is a team that is offensively talented and will have some major impact.
Black Bears coach Tim Whitehead likely won’t show much thanks until his two top defensemen, Jeff Dimmen and Will O’Neill, return to the lineup. Maine was 0-for-12 on the power play against Boston College last weekend and the absence of the two top blueliners was definitely a factor.
That said, Maine should be thankful for having players with tons of composure. That has shown late in games this season as the Black Bears have done an excellent job both maintaining leads and coming from behind. Both have and will be major factors as this club ascends the national rankings.
The Wildcats thought they lost a lot in the offseason — talented forwards and an all-league goaltender. That was the formula for a down season for UNH.
Instead, coach Dick Umile can be thankful for the fact his club has become one of the offensive forces in the nation. Each night, teams will see 40-plus shots from the Wildcats, and Tuesday’s late game, two-goals-in-11-seconds rally showed how potent this team can be.
Any issues? Just look at the fact that UNH needed two late goals to tie Brown. No disrespect to the Bears, but this wasn’t a game that should’ve been tied for the Wildcats.
It was easy to question whether BC coach Jerry York would enjoy his Thanksgiving turkey. But after a weekend sweep of Maine, little question remains that the Eagles bench boss is ready for the wish bone.
York will be thankful, obviously, for his team’s national title last April. But knowing the veteran head coach, he’s much more focused on repeating than worrying about last year.
Still, nothing to be unhappy about if you’re York. There has been plenty of solid play from the young and the old. Before getting injured, freshman Kevin Hayes showed he’ll be an impact player. And the club has plenty of veteran talent ready to make this team a possible repeat for the national title.
Though in first place, I’m not sure Boston University coach Jack Parker is ready to anoint himself “most thankful.”
His team is talented, no doubt. But the club is also responsible for being strong on the defensive end, to counter nights where the offense struggles. Personally, I consider this team a better defensive team than offensive.
I have seen few goaltending pairings as strong as Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser. It’s hard to tell which goaltender will play each night but certainly this is a team that won’t allow goals easily. Come March, that could make a difference.
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.