Three head coaches got their first victories behind the bench for their respective Hockey East schools last weekend. For Providence’s Nate Leaman and Massachusetts-Lowell’s Norm Bazin, the victories, while nice, were more business as usual, each having held the head coach moniker at other schools.
For Jim Madigan, who hasn’t stood behind the bench at Northeastern this millennium, you can’t blame him if he felt his team’s 4-0 victory last Friday night over New Hampshire felt a little bit sweeter.
“It felt good,” said Madigan. “More than anything, though, and I said this [to the team] last Friday night, was it got us to 1-1-1.”
Hyper-focused on making the Northeastern team better game after game, Madigan’s Huskies certainly came into form last Friday. Solid defense that limited Grade A chances for the Wildcats and making life easier for Huskies goaltender Chris Rawlings, Northeastern was opportunistic in cashing in on scoring chances.
Madigan said that the victory proved his team’s continued ability to improve night after night. After squeaking out a 3-3 tie with a last-second goal in the team’s opener against Massachusetts, Madigan’s Huskies were on the wrong end of a 6-3 shellacking by Maine two weekends ago. The ability to rebound from that and play a team that many believe should be incredible this season in New Hampshire is like icing on the cake.
“I thought we played very well against UNH. Guys worked hard all week long and responded in the game,” said Madigan.
Out of the gate, Madigan said he has relied on his upperclassman leadership to help guide the team and give it a personality. The most important part to that has been senior captain Mike McLaughlin. McLaughlin has not only led on the ice (he has two goals and an assist in the first three games) but he’s also been a crutch that Madigan has been able to lean on a bit as he breaks into his role as head coach.
“Immediately when I got the job I sat down [with Mike] that same day,” said Madigan. “I told him, ‘I’ve heard great things about you and I’m glad that you’re our captain.’
“The locker room is his. At this level and at the NHL, they always talk about having a good locker room and when you have that good leadership, which starts with the captain in the room, that’s tremendously helpful to any coaching staff and particularly a new coaching staff on the way in.”
Madigan looks for McLaughlin to hold himself to a high standard, something he says the senior does well both by keeping players in line and by leading the drills throughout the week in practice. McLaughlin also makes sure that everyone is doing the right thing on the ice, off the ice and in the community, says Madigan, which helps carries the coaching staff’s message beyond the simple words.
Another player Madigan will lean on as the season progresses is Rawlings. Coming off back-to-back seasons with more than 30 games played, Rawlings will have the reins of the team in goal, at least early on, with all the control in the world to keep that position.
“Rawlings has proven he’s a No. 1 goaltender in this league who has proved he can carry the load,” said Madigan. “From my end, Chris Rawlings is like my team — we’re getting better with each game.
“It’s comforting to know that you have a seasoned goaltender back there. When you’re playing some new system and breaking in some younger defensemen, he’s back there as a stabilizing force.”
Right now, the leadership of McLaughlin and stabilization of Rawlings has to be a nice luxury for a new coaching staff, one with high aspirations of carrying on a program’s recent success.
New Hampshire’s loss is Denver’s find
Last Friday night, the Boston College Eagles were frustrated by an inexperienced goaltender in Denver’s Adam Murray. While Eagles coach Jerry York might have looked out and seen a goaltender decked in crimson and gold, he might have felt like the opposing netminder was dressed in blue and white of league foe New Hampshire.
For years, York and most of the other league coaches have been foiled by fundamentally sound New Hampshire goaltenders the likes of Michael Ayers, Kevin Regan and Ty Conklin. The tie that binds these and many other famous goaltenders was their mentor, goaltending coach David Lassonde.
Last Friday, Lassonde made his coaching debut with Denver, having changed jobs over the summer after the last 17 seasons on UNH coach Dick Umile’s staff.
Having left his fingerprints on the Wildcats program, Lassonde immediately had an impact on the Pioneers club. When goaltender Sam Brittain had knee surgery in June, Lassonde needed to get backup goaltender Murray ready to be, at least for now, the No. 1 netminder.
Murray immediately faced a stiff test in the Eagles and looked positionally solid (who would expect any less, right?), making 21 saves in Denver’s 4-2 win.
After the game, when Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky was asked if he said anything to Murray to get him prepared for the game, he deferred to the newest addition to his coaching staff.
“I don’t say anything to Adam Murray. The guy to talk to is David Lassonde,” said Gwozdecky. “Dick Umile was kind enough to give David his blessing to accept a position here at Denver and he’s done a wonderful job with Adam.
“When Sam had his surgery last June, Adam has prepared not just physically but mentally. He’s wanted this No. 1 job.”
Gwozdecky joked that the only advantage Lassonde brings against Hockey East teams is knowing how to get to the arena. But he also said with all seriousness that Lassonde’s ability to step right in and work effectively with Murray has been critical.
“[David] knew that if there was one area where he could have an immediate impact, it’s in goal for us,” said Gwozdecky. “I think he’s done a wonderful job with Adam and preparing him not just from a technique standpoint but also between the ears.”
If Lassonde’s impact has been felt anywhere in Hockey East thus far it may be on the team he left, New Hampshire. Though there isn’t an immediate, direct correlation that can be drawn, statistics show that Lassonde might be missed in Durham. Matt DiGirolamo, USCHO’s choice as the top returning goaltender, has struggled for UNH in Lassonde’s absence. After three games, DiGirolamo is 0-3-0 (as are the Wildcats) with a 4.64 goals against average and a .835 save percentage.
Another voice: For Hockey East, 11 is OK
While my colleague Dave Hendrickson last week discussed commissioner Joe Bertagna’s thoughts that it might be acceptable to maintain an 11-team conference when Notre Dame is added to the league to begin the 2013-14 season, another powerful voice in Hockey East this week echoed the commissioner’s sentiments when Boston College’s Jerry York appeared on the first edition of USCHO Live!, the site’s weekly webcast radio show.
York supported Bertagna’s decision to not pursue a 12th team just for the sake of finding a member to balance the league. According to the 40-year veteran coach, another team would need to fit the mold of the current teams in Hockey East.
“With Notre Dame coming, that gives Hockey East tremendous status,” said York. “I think we can survive with 11. There’s ways to do that. Twelve would be ideal, but it has to be the right 12th team.
“It has to fit us in a number of different ways. We certainly like our geographical footprint. Notre Dame is the furthest west we could go. So it has to be a team that fits us and be willing to make the call that they’re interested in Hockey East. Right now, we’re not going to actively pursue anyone, at least that’s the feeling among the coaches.”
York was a bit nostalgic in his comments, as well, as he remembered back to his days in the CCHA while coaching at Bowling Green.
“It’s hard for me to imagine the CCHA not being as powerful as it once was,” said York. “Now it’s going to be a strange league with some WCHA teams.”
To listen to the entire inaugural episode of USCHO Live with further comments from York as well as a discussion with Boston Globe columnist John Powers, who recently authored a very complete analysis feature on college hockey’s reshuffling, click here.
And finally, not that it has anything to do with any but …
Keeping Dave Hendrickson’s tradition of closing with something completely off topic, I appeal to my Boston-area readers with my thoughts on the Boston Red Sox.
To me, the Red Sox season this year was doomed from the early going. I remember sitting in St. Paul, Minn., during the Frozen Four and talking with a number of writers, including the aforementioned Hendrickson, and they were all saying they would still be surprised if the Sox missed the playoffs after an 0-6 start. Two weeks later, that start expanded to an ugly 2-10.
At the time I said there was no way of a comeback and felt stupid as the Sox seemed in control in early September. But the Sox played as they showed they were capable in the early months down the stretch and missed the playoffs.
The Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs this year because they played poorly early and late in the season. Yes, they looked like the greatest team ever in between, but those first and last four weeks hurt the Sox.
So please spare me the talk of beer drinking and fried chicken eating. I guess if you cover the team every day you have to find something to talk about but please, to make fans believe that this team failed because Popeyes and Pabst made its way to the Red Sox clubhouse.
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.