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College Hockey:
Commentary: Talking Terriers, stripes and Merrill

We’ll keep the same theme as last week … some thoughts about some happenings.

Boston University is No. 2

After a win at Maine in early December, Boston University lost 32 percent of its offense in 72 hours when Corey Trivino was arrested and Charlie Coyle left for the QMJHL.

So you lose your No. 1 and No. 2 centers, both bona fide scorers who provided a ton with size, skill and scoring. BU went to Notre Dame on New Year’s Eve and lost. Since then in NCAA games the Terriers are 3-0, beating Merrimack, Northeastern and Harvard.

Kieran Millan continues to play well in goal. It started to trend well for him in late November with a win at Boston College and has continued straight through to now. Chris Connolly, Adam Clendening and Alex Chiasson continue to provide leadership and offense and guys like Wade Megan and Sahir Gill are making timely contributions.

BU is No. 2 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Are the Terriers the second-best team in the nation? Probably not. Are they playing as well as any team in the nation? Probably so. With what they lost in personnel do you count them out? Absolutely not. Jack Parker has dealt with worse in his career. He and his staff will keep this ship afloat.

Tough night for the black and white

I’ve known Keith Sergott, Bruce Vida and Brian Troester a long time. This trio was three-fourths of the officiating crew last Friday night at Notre Dame in the game between Notre Dame and Western Michigan (Matthew Miller was the other referee with Sergott). They are good officials and they care about doing the job right.

It wasn’t a great night for the stripes. Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan took a run at Dane Walters of WMU late in the game and Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello was ejected for the high hit. In looking at the replay, Costello wasn’t within 10 feet of Walters.

I’m a big believer in using video replay when it can help. This is one example where the incident that occurred could be a positive because it was obvious to almost everyone that Sheahan was the guilty party and one look at a replay would have confirmed it. (The CCHA later handed down a suspension to Sheahan.) It might be time to put that stipulation in the video review procedure. It could only help the officials. You don’t need a TV game either for a good look. The team video should provide a decent enough angle on most of these hits and if it doesn’t you stick with your call.

I would not allow the replay to influence the severity of the penalty call, rather allow it to make sure you got the right guy. However, if the replay does show that what you thought was contact to the head from the angle you called it really isn’t (we had that in a televised game between BU and Maine that erroneously cost a player a game misconduct), you should be allowed to amend the call to what the tape showed you.

Just food for thought.

Good for the game

Add Andy Murray of WMU to the list of coaches who are good for college hockey. Picking up from where Jeff Blashill left off last season, Murray has the Broncos playing hard and looking up after sweeping Notre Dame.

Their game last Friday night at Notre Dame was as well coached a game between two experienced coaches (Murray and Jeff Jackson) as you will see. Nip and tuck, a chess match at times, well played. The game represented the product well. We should see the same type of game when Jackson and Red Berenson of Michigan square off on the CBS Sports Network Saturday night.

If Western Michigan’s games this season that I have seen (last Friday made six this year) are a harbinger of things to come, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has a what will be a fun team to watch home or road.

On the charge

Don’t look now but Miami has won three of four and seems to be tightening some screws that were loose early on.

You lose three elite centers in Carter Camper, Pat Cannone and Andy Miele and you are bound to struggle a little. The RedHawks are starting to find some mojo. Their series against Western this weekend is worth keeping an eye on.

On that same note, here comes Michigan. After a sweep of Ohio State, the Wolverines invade South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame. The Wolverines are hot and Shawn Hunwick is making my argument that he is the best goalie in the NCAA start to stand up. After an average start behind what was an average team, the entire gang in Maize and Blue has started to buy in and find ways to win.

A most unique rivalry

There are teams that you love and teams that you hate and then there are teams you love to hate. When Michigan and Notre Dame play, you get all three.

Mostly driven by football, these programs draw eyeballs on the ice and the hardwood because either you want to see one of them win or one of them lose. They are polarizing teams in that regard. When they play each other it is really interesting because as a Domer or Wolverines fan you root for your team but instinctively you hate the other and want them to lose.

It is different than when you root for the Irish against Western Michigan where you root for ND to win but really have no feeling for who they beat.

In the NCAA it might be the only one of its kind on a national scale. Ohio State-Michigan is in the ballpark. The football teams at Alabama and USC can draw fandom or ire but not on the national scale as ND or U of M. In the pro ranks, matchups that are similar in this dynamic to ND-Michigan would probably be Yankees-Red Sox, Cowboys-Raiders or Celtics-Lakers. Those are teams where you mostly love one, hate the other in the same game and most of the nation is right there with you. I’m having trouble with an NHL one. Leafs-Canadiens comes to mind in Canada. Most fans who root for one abhor the other.

On Jon Merrill

I was the analyst for NHL Network during the 2012 World Junior Championship. It was the first time I caught up with Jon Merrill since his suspension.

I sat with Jon in Camrose, Alberta, in the week leading up to the World Junior tourney, one of a few times we have chatted the past season and a half. We talked not about the suspension (the reason for the suspension has been widely speculated upon but never disclosed by Michigan) and what led to it, rather what he has done since being suspended to right the wrongs.

Like a player who suffers a career-threatening injury, Jon looked into the future and didn’t see hockey that clearly. I said to him that “adversity can introduce you to yourself. What did you learn about yourself?”

“When you hear that you can’t play and the game is so important to you and you don’t know your future as a player it is scary,” said Merrill, a highly touted NHL prospect whose rights are owned by the New Jersey Devils. “Hockey isn’t my whole life but it is such a big part and to not have it for so long it hurts and you miss it. You look in the mirror and say to yourself something has to change so you can go out and play again. The game flashed before my eyes and I had no idea if I ever would play again.”

With “Hockey Night In Canada” on the lobby TV and teammates shuttling around the lobby of the team hotel, Merrill and I talked about the external things that he needed to right his ship. One was the support of his family on ice.

“[Coach] Red [Berenson] has been a father figure for me,” Merrill said. “He has believed in me since I got to Michigan. … When everything happened he put the BS aside. He liked me as a kid and has been very supportive. So has U of M; the school has been very supportive. They steered me in the right direction. Without them I wouldn’t be here at the WJC.”

Many NHL scouts ripped USA Hockey for adding Merrill to the roster. What became obvious when I talked to a lot of them after the WJC was many thought he was suspended by the NCAA or still under suspension by Michigan as the WJC commenced. Neither was accurate and Merrill had as much right to be on that roster as anyone with his skill level. He was a consistent player at the tourney, playing at the highest level of amateur hockey (after not playing a game since the Frozen Four final against Minnesota-Duluth in April).

There is something psychologists call “The Five Stages of Loss” that people go through when they lose a loved one, go through a divorce or suffer the loss of something that is part of their daily lives. Merrill hinted at dealing with some of that. At first it was tough to get the motivation to participate in anything hockey-wise.

“Initially when the suspension started I wasn’t doing much of anything. Then coach let me start skating and then skating with the team. I skated at 8 a.m. four times a week and then with the team. I started doing hockey things like lifting and conditioning. I was also in a routine of going to class and some counseling meetings. It has been a tough grind but I’m coming along.”

Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. It is not what happened but how you handle what happened that defines you. Merrill is going through that right now and showing a lot of signs that he is starting to grow up by leaps and bounds in just a few months.

On a lighter note, Merrill said he made a conscious effort not to bring up the controversial goal Michigan was awarded in OT against Nebraska-Omaha with USA coach Dean Blais. Merrill’s Wolverines ousted Blais’ Mavericks in the NCAA regionals last year on a goal still being disputed to this day.

“Being here with Coach Blais, I have not brought up that goal against UNO and either has he and there is no way I’m opening that discussion up and taking any jabs on that,” Merrill joked at the time. “We’ll just let that slide.”

Lastly

I caught a little flak for not mentioning the play of Jaden Schwartz for Team Canada at the WJC. That was fair criticism. I was thinking more the NCAA guys on Team USA for the story but Schwartz is a dynamic player at Colorado College who was as good for Canada at the WJC as anyone.

That Schwartz looked as good as he did as the lone collegian on a team of major junior players is a credit to the NCAA development system and level of play. It is also a credit to Schwartz to adapt to a different type of play than he was used to on the big sheet at CC.

Players like Schwartz and the many other NCAA players who have played well for Canada at the WJC should continue to help the NCAA draw high-level kids from north of the border to U.S. college hockey. Paul Kelly and his staff at College Hockey Inc. are also a factor in this area.


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  • streaker

    I won’t go too deeply into officiating outside of the obvious: it is a thankless job that always will have its detractors. BUT, the CCHA officiating has been notoriously inconsistent (as is many of the other conferences’ officiating) and needs to improve. If players and coaches are held to higher standards, so should the officials. What occurred between Sheahan and Walters was only one of similar huge mistakes that have occurred this season. I cannot agree more with you assessment of using video to either correct or make the proper calls. 

    Speaking of using video and the UNO/Michigan game last March… the brave and proper common sense call was made. Kudos to the officials for getting that one right versus the screw job Michigan got from HEA officials in 2010, prematurely whistling a play dead as a winning OT goal is being scored. 

    Thanks for the nice piece on Merrill. Hopefully his maturity and sense of purpose will catch up to his talent.