Not that anyone asked, but here are a few things that put a smile on my face, along with some random ruminations.
• For starters, how about Jill Martin singing the national anthem? The seventh-grader took her knock-’em-dead renditions from Merrimack to the FleetCenter for the Hockey East championships and won over the crowd in a big way.
You could almost sense fans stiffening up before she started, afraid that they’d be witness to the musical equivalent of a plane crash, but by “the twilight’s last gleaming” they adored her. I’ve never cheered from the press box — it’s the signature of bush leaguers — but this time was an exception. The kid is cool as a cucumber and has a great set of pipes.
• And how about the setting outside the Whittemore Center on March 6? If Webster’s Dictionary needed some help with the word pastoral, it would have needed to look no further than Durham, New Hampshire, that evening. With each flake adding to the inches already piled up, you could hear the pleasant crunch of snow under your feet as you walked from the parking lot. Church bells pealed traditional songs, taking you back a few years. (Yes, I know that it wasn’t actually a church that the bells were sounding from, but those were church bells I was hearing and don’t anyone try to tell me otherwise.)
Call me a sappy old fool, but I could have walked out there for hours. Florida has the appeal of winter golf, but New England has some very special charms of its own, too.
• While we’re at it, how about the setting inside the Whittemore Center that first weekend in March? Maine facing UNH for all the marbles. And the Whitt rocking like never before. That, folks, is was college hockey is all about.
• I still get a kick out of the night one coach, not necessarily from the collegiate ranks, lost it regarding the officiating after a close loss. We’ll call the official “John Doe.”
“I want you to quote me here,” said the coach. “The referee stunk! John Doe stinks and should quit hockey. Quote me!….Well, he should, but don’t quote me….You’ve got to use common sense in this game and he doesn’t have it….Don’t write that.”
• And how about the coach who gave as the keys to a weekend that his team get good goaltending, play well on the power play, the penalty kill and even strength? Now that was a complete game plan.
• That exception aside, is there a conference with coaches any more quotable than Hockey East’s? Colorful, insightful and good guys to boot, every one of them. If fans got to know their rivals’ coaches better, there’d be less venom on message boards and email lists. Which to my tastes, would be a good thing.
• Although as light-hearted venom goes, it doesn’t get better than BC and BU fans chanting back and forth at contests between the archrivals. I hope those students are that creative on their term papers.
• Every kid in youth hockey (or high school, for that matter) who thinks that forwards are supposed to score and that defense is for the other guys should take a gander at a tape of the UNH-Providence Hockey East semifinal game. Mike Omicioli may have ended his career on a losing note that night, but his tenacious backcheck in the second period to break up a two-on-one showed what it’s all about. A tip of the fedora to the little guy with the huge heart.
• If there’s a better hockey song than “Bad to the Bone” I haven’t heard it. Of course, when I lace up the skates, it’s an all too appropriate scouting report.
• Northeastern had to be the best last place team I can remember. With that group of freshmen and sophomores, Bruce Crowder is going to have a squad no one wants to play in another year or two.
• And speaking of the future, it sure looks like UMass-Amherst has begun its rise in Hockey East. Don’t be surprised if sometime in the next five years the Minutemen gain home ice for the playoffs.
• UMass-Lowell has the league’s best pizza, hands down. (Not to mention a team that always seems to be among the league’s hardest workers). Perhaps this says more about me than the pizza, but I get salivating just walking into the Tsongas Arena. Which, by the way, doesn’t seem to have a bad seat in the house, either.
• River Hawk sports information director Eric McDowell came to Lowell this year from the Golden State Warriors. I wonder if he misses Latrell Sprewell, who gave “Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision” a whole new meaning.
• My favorite sound effect in Hockey East has got to be Merrimack’s John Savastano and his ear-splitting jet takeoffs. When the Warriors are hosting Air Force, it becomes even better. And if they’re playing poorly and a game is going down the tubes, be prepared for the sound of a flushing toilet.
• Someone spotted the Best Headline of the Year on the Michigan State athletics website: Hockey Dominates Awards at CCHA Banquet.
• If hockey players in general aren’t the nicest group of athletes to interview from high school to college to pro, then Adam Sandler is a Mensa member.
• At the NCAA East Regional this year, the Flower Show was being held next door. Walking from the parking lot toward the Centrum, I was alongside a father with a youngster in an oversized Maine jersey.
A Flower Show usher who was outside the building asked the kid with a smile if he wouldn’t rather see their show. I’d have instantly given the stranger a high-five if he’d come up with the evil line that went through my brain: “Son, are you going to clean up your room, or not?”
• Think anyone is still muttering nonsense about Dick Umile’s teams winning the big games? It takes time to get over that hump, but the Wildcats most certainly are now. Two straight years of overtime wins to get to the Frozen Four spells “clutch,” not “choke.”
• If men and women were meant to fly, we’d all have been born wearing CCMs. That, my friends, is what’s known as a shameless plug for an USCHO sponsor. I can’t be bought, but I can be rented.
• You know an athlete isn’t a math major when he says, “We’ve really turned things around 360 degrees.” Not to be a geometry weenie, but 360 degrees puts you right back where you started.
• A team really has an embarrassment of riches when it can pair two truly exceptional defensemen together. I’m thinking of BC’s Mike Mottau and Bobby Allen, UNH’s Jayme Filipowicz and Steve O’Brien and Maine’s David Cullen and Peter Metcalf. It’s no coincidence that those are the top three teams in Hockey East and three semifinalists for the national title.
• Do you think Fox Sports New England was glad Brian Gionta was around this year? What an array of highlight footage he gave them.
• There’s something special about those members of the media that really love the game. For some it’s just a paycheck or a step down from the pro game, but for others the love shines through.
Sean Grande comes to mind. Posters to USCHO’s message board like to bash him for perceived bias, but can anyone question his dedication to college hockey? One can imagine life being a lot easier for him just sticking with the Minnesota Timberwolves instead of building up those frequent flier miles. Was he great with Bob Norton in the NCAA East Regional or what?
• And how about the Boston Herald’s Jocko Connolly? One wonders if that paper realizes what a jewel it has in him. There aren’t a lot of writers who you’d find in a college hockey press box after earlier covering an afternoon football game. But it happens in the fall, even though he isn’t covering the game. The guy bleeds college hockey and is what aspiring young writers should hope to become when they grow up.
• And how about those college hockey radio voices? They toil for peanuts or nothing at all, simply because they love the game. It’s tough to single any one of them out because they all show tremendous dedication, but you’ve especially got to hand it to Mike Machnik, Merrimack’s color analyst. He’s a personal friend and USCHO contributor (and will want to kill me for this note), but fair is fair. The others that I’ve witnessed first-hand have had at least one stellar regular season to keep the batteries charged for the down times. Machnik hasn’t had that luxury during the Warriors’ building years in Hockey East, but game in and game out does a stellar job.
And I don’t hold against him the time that he introduced me as an intermission guest by asking, “So, Dave, are you prolific or just incredibly verbose?”
• I’d have like to have seen UNH’s John Sadowski, Jason Shipulski and Chad Onufrechuk put together so we could have called them the SOS line. Of course, the naughty part of me would have liked even better to see defenseman Sean Austin moved up front and paired with the S&S duo.
• If Pavlov were conducting his experiments today, he could have just used the Star-Spangled Banner on sports fans.
• I could go on and on, but then again, I’ve been accused of going on and on …
Don’t you just love this sport?