Games played right after the holiday break can be unpredictable. As a coach, you hope your players stay in tip-top shape during a time that may include a big Christmas dinner, a few family holiday parties, etc. You also hope that a number of days without practice don’t lead to sloppy play on the ice upon return.
For Hockey East teams, a number of coaches had to be pleasantly surprised with their team’s performance upon return to campus. For fans, though, a number had to be surprised at which teams played well this past weekend and which teams were absolute disasters.
You may recall that a few weeks ago in this column I discussed how I felt that Hockey East was becoming a two-tier league, with Boston College, Boston University and New Hampshire creating the top tier and everyone else making up the bottom.
Well, this past weekend, that entire philosophy was turned upside down.
BC, BU and UNH posted a 2-3 record. That doesn’t tell the whole story. New Hampshire lost 4-1 to Dartmouth before needing overtime to get past Bemidji State in the consolation game of the Ledyard Classic in Dartmouth.
BC easily got past an Alabama-Huntsville team that has just one win against a Division I team this season. The next night, the Eagles were shellacked 8-1 against host Minnesota at the Mariucci Classic. And BU was whitewashed for the first time in more than three years, losing 6-0 at Denver.
Ugly weekend for the league’s top trio, to say the least.
But then there was the league’s “bottom.”
Let’s go right down in order of where these teams are in the standings. Providence was idle, so no excitement or disappointment there. Vermont captured its tournament for the third time in five seasons with wins over nationally ranked Union and Princeton.
Massachusetts knocked off Bemidji State and nationally ranked Dartmouth to capture the Ledyard Classic. Merrimack was the only team to struggle, tying Princeton and falling to Union to finish third at the Catamount Cup.
Massachusetts-Lowell and Northeastern both played single non-league games, the River Hawks rallying for a 3-2 win over Bentley and the Huskies crushing Harvard 5-1 behind a four-goal game by Cody Ferriero.
And then there was Maine. Sitting in last place in the standings and needing to get off to a fast start in the second half, the Black Bears knocked off Minnesota-Duluth and then rallied past Cornell to capture the Florida College Hockey Classic.
Final numbers: Top three teams — 2-3; bottom seven teams — 8-1-1.
It’s hard to say what this means for the second half of the season, but if this is the indication of a trend, we’re in for a wild ride.
Ferriero’s special night
Saturday night was an interesting night for Northeastern’s Ferriero. Every player wants to get his name on the score sheet as often as possible. For Ferriero in a 5-1 win over Harvard, he did that in many ways.
As mentioned earlier, Ferriero had a breakthrough game offensively, scoring four goals. The career-milestone performance is what coach Jim Madigan hopes to see from the junior forward.
But Ferriero added four additional mentions on the score sheet, taking four penalties in the game.
Madigan said that’s something that comes with the territory for Ferriero.
“We need Cody Ferriero to score,” Madigan said. “He’s a streaky scorer and he did that last year. He had some good looks. That’s the nice part … he had some real good looks.
“He’s going to get penalties. We want him playing an aggressive style. I don’t want to take away from his aggressiveness. I want him to be more disciplined, but I don’t want him to not be aggressive.”
The hard-hitting Ferriero leads the Huskies in penalty minutes thus far with 34. But after his four-goal outburst, he is also third on the team in scoring.
Asked if there is a way to rein Ferriero in a bit so he might focus more on scoring, Madigan said there is simply no way.
“He knows just one way, that’s full-steam ahead,” Madigan said.
Penalty problems for the Terriers
While losing 6-0 to Denver might be frustrating to Boston University coach Jack Parker, even more upsetting was his team’s lack of discipline in the game.
Seemingly playing much more disciplined before the break, that all went out the window on Saturday night as his Terriers team took 17 penalties for 56 minutes, including having two players booted from the game.
Penalties began early for BU. Denver’s first goal was a power-play tally when Matt Lane picked up an early elbowing penalty. After Denver’s Scott Mayfield received a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct for contact to the head, BU’s Alexx Privitera canceled out two minutes of the major with his own minor for contact to the head. During the ensuing four-on-four, Denver scored twice to take a 3-0 lead.
In the second period, things got worse. Privitera was ejected late in the frame during a scrum after the whistle when he kicked a Denver player on the ice. The ensuing game disqualification will result in a one-game suspension for Friday’s game against Rensselaer.
Late in the third period, which saw both teams march players to the penalty box, Patrick MacGregor was assessed a five-minute major for contact to the head roughing and a game misconduct. Denver once again scored on the power play (for the third time, along with the two four-on-four goals) to account for the 6-0 final.
“We took some stupid penalties,” Parker said after the game. “People will sit, once I watch it. They’ll sit for the next game at least.”
Some injuries could make that decision a difficult one as sitting players might result in a short-handed lineup. According to Parker, though, that won’t come into consideration.
“If someone has to be sat, we’ll play with less than 18 skaters if we have to,” he said.
Gaudreau finally a force at World Juniors
It took some time, but Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau has settled in at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, and is suddenly a major contributor.
With just a single assist through Team USA’s first three games (in which the team posted one win and two losses), Gaudreau exploded in the Americans’ two most recent games — a must-win round robin game against Slovakia and the U.S. team’s first elimination game, a 7-0 quarterfinal win against the Czech Republic. (Note: The U.S. plays Canada in a semifinal early Thursday morning Eastern Time.)
Gaudreau’s incredible goal-scoring explosion — two vs. Slovakia and a hat trick against the Czechs — probably isn’t a surprise to those who watch Gaudreau regularly at BC. More surprising was the fact that Gaudreau hadn’t gotten in the goal column in three previous games.
Much of the goal deficiency to that point seemingly was related to Gaudreau getting comfortable. Prior to the Slovakia game, coach Phil Housley changed the lines, placing Harvard’s Jim Vesey along with AHLer J.T. Miller on Gaudreau’s line. The immediate chemistry paid off.
In Wednesday’s quarterfinal victory, Gaudreau scored all three of his goals from the same spot on the ice — parked just outside the right post ready to jam a rebound or bury a pass. It’s a spot familiar to Eagles fans, most used to seeing him in a similar spot waiting to cherry-pick from a spot he rarely misses.
For Hockey East, Gaudreau is the league’s lone highlight from Russia. Providence goaltender Jon Gillies hasn’t seen much time, playing a backup role to veteran starter John Gibson. Boston University’s Matt Grzelcyk was the team’s final cut, being sent home before the Americans’ second round robin game.
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.