A No-Win Situation
Do you pitch to Nomar Garciaparra and let him hit a first-inning home run, or do you walk him intentionally in the third and seventh innings and let Troy O’Leary follow him with a grand slam and then a three-run homer?
Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove faced just such a no-win situation on Monday in the American League playoffs and, as a result, the Boston Red Sox bounced his team from the playoffs.
Do you leave the golf clubs in the trunk of the car on a beautiful autumn afternoon and paint the house, or do you hit the links and spend the winter staring at the ugly result of that choice, not to mention hearing nonstop complaints about your sloth-like character.
That’s another no-win situation.
This time of year, collegiate hockey programs are faced with yet another type of no-win situation, namely taking on teams from north of the border in exhibition matches.
"If you win, you don’t win by enough and if you lose, it’s a fiasco," says UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen, mindful that some fans view anything less than Northern Michigan’s 20-2 pasting of Laurentian as falling short of the mark.
Mallen’s Minutemen did lose to Acadia, 4-1, last weekend, but they were joined by #10 Denver, which fell to Alberta, 5-4. Two years ago, Providence College suffered a similar fate, dropping a 6-3 contest.
"We lost to Guelph a couple years ago and it was like, wow!," says PC coach Paul Pooley. "Their goalie was tremendous. We had something like 45 shots and they had 15 or 20, but beat us. It was eye-opening."
At least in the past there were two carrots at the end of the stick for these no-win games. First, a team could include the "automatic" win in its won-loss record. It wouldn’t count in terms of NCAA tournament selection, but still provided a pleasing, if superficial, W.
Second, a team could pad its statistics with the game’s results. The seven points that a Hobey Baker Award candidate might total in an 11-0 blowout could prove decisive in the hair-splitting that must select one star over another.
Not so anymore. At the 1998 Frozen Four in Boston, the four major conferences agreed that there would be no more discretion in the matter. Neither the wins nor the statistics would stand.
"Now that they’ve made the decision that they’ll all count as exhibition games," says BC coach Jerry York, "the Ws and Ls aren’t as much of a factor as they were a few years ago. At some points, we were counting them as wins and losses. Now, we just approach it as strictly an exhibition."
In perhaps the lone exception, Maine has arrived at a unique and clever solution.
"We typically include our exhibition game in our J.C. Penney tournament, which makes it important," says Black Bear coach Shawn Walsh. "We eliminate the no-win factor. If you want to play in the championship game, you’ve got to win that game. We’ll have the very same situation next week."
For most teams, however, the no-win mantra still applies. What’s more, the specter of a game disqualification adds a significant additional downside. Although the result doesn’t count, a DQ — always possible in lopsided contests during which an embarrassed opponent looks for an outlet for his frustrations — carries its automatic one-game minimum suspension over to the "real" matchups.
BC’s Mark McLennan is the latest victim of this one-way street and will miss Friday’s game against Bowling Green because of a misdeed last weekend.
Nonetheless, when put into perspective, the benefits still far outweigh the "no-win" risks of an embarrassing loss or suspension.
"Whether it looks bad or not, it [comes down to] why you play the games," says UNH coach Dick Umile. "You play the games as exhibition games to prepare yourself for the season. Hopefully, you don’t lose, but the bottom line is that you’re playing the game because you can get into real game situations, see where maybe you’re a little sloppy and try different combinations."
Which is exactly what Mallen did last weekend. With the score tied, 1-1, after two periods, he lifted his stellar goaltender Markus Helanen, and throughout the game employed an overflowing bench.
"My philosophy was to give as many players as possible the chance to play against another team to see what they looked like," says Mallen. "Some people may view it differently, but under the circumstances that we have, that was the best situation for us.
"We played 16 or 17 forwards in the game and seven defensemen. We kept out [Toni] Soderholm, who had a twisted knee, but could have played.
"We allowed some goals with some real young players on the ice in the third period, but it was a real good test for us overall. Markus Helanen played real well in goal the first two periods and we saw some real good things among some of our younger players."
And for those who are ready to write off the Minutemen before the first official game, a history lesson is in order.
On Oct. 12, 1996, Ottawa visited UNH, which was coming off a disappointing 12-18-4 season. The Wildcats machine-gunned 76 shots on goaltender Joel Gagnon, but could only come away with a kiss-your-sister 3-3 tie.
Was New Hampshire doomed to another losing season fraught with poor goaltending and an inability to bury the puck?
The 1996-97 Wildcats finished as Hockey East’s top scoring team (5.42 goals per game) and tied for the second-best defensive team (3.17 goals per game). They shared first place with BU, advanced to the Hockey East championship game and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. So to all panicked UMass fans, here’s one word of advice.
League Notes And Quotes
#1 Boston College Coach Jerry York on the 7-1 exhibition win over Queens:
"It gave us a chance to look at some [game] films and now go back and work on some hockey situations that we were not very good at, specifically forechecking and [overall] coverage. You can practice, but you need some games [to evaluate that]."
On freshman goaltender Tim Kelleher, who stopped all seven shots in his one period of action:
"He probably had the most difficult shots against him in that second period. He’s very athletic and I thought he played well."
On freshman Krys Kolanos, whose hat trick and two assists raised many an eyebrow:
"We saw that last year when we recruited Krys. We really think he’s an excellent hockey player. But he’s a very humble, quiet young guy who has come into the program and is working real hard. I think as the season progresses, he’s going to be a very good player for us."
On facing Bowling Green, a program where he coached for 15 years prior to returning to BC:
"[My first few years here] they still had a lot of players like Mike Johnson and Brian Holzinger, who I had recruited. So it was an emotional series. Now it’s just a good, solid team.
"[BG coach] Buddy [Powers] feels his team is better than it’s been in a couple of years, so it will be a good matchup."
On then hosting Merrimack in a matchup of the preseason top and bottom picks in Hockey East:
"It’s our first game in Hockey East and it’s always a significant game when you start your conference schedule. Historically, our league has always been very difficult to make forecasts of. We’ll approach it as a tough early-season opener."
#2 Maine Coach Shawn Walsh on the home opener after considerable practice time, but no exhibition games:
"We’re very anxious to play. We’ve been going for over two weeks and we’re more than interested in seeing somebody else rather than our teammates."
On how the team has looked in its practices:
"Our forwards are ahead of our defense. We’re deep and we look to be explosive, but again that’s only at practice speed. It’s hard to say [how we’ll look] once we elevate everything a little bit more."
On goaltenders Mike Morrison and Matt Yeats, who as replacements for the departed Alfie Michaud, represent the Black Bears’ biggest question mark:
"They’ve been solid. Neither one has elevated himself above the other one, so as we go into it we may see both of them this weekend. But I want the pressure of competition, so we may go with one and if he plays great on the first night, we keep him in there [the next night]."
On opening against Minnesota (the top vote-getter outside of the top 10 in the USCHO preseason poll) and new coach Don Lucia:
"It’s an unknown and we can’t do a lot of preparation, so it’ll be a feeling out process early in the game. Playing Minnesota makes it a little more unique in that you know you’re going to get tested and you know that you’re going to know more about yourself at the end of the weekend."
#6 New Hampshire Coach Dick Umile on the 5-0 exhibition win over Ottawa:
"The score is not that important. It’s how we played and I thought we played okay considering how early it is. At times we played well and at times sloppy, but that’s what you expect. We did play well defensively.
"We got into a lot of game situations: shorthanded, power play, four on four and down two people. That was good for us."
On once again opening the season against Vermont:
"[UVM coach] Mike Gilligan is a friend and is one of the premier coaches in college hockey. I know they’re going to be quicker and stronger than they were last year.
"It’s the first game and a lot of things can happen. It’s not necessarily how good the teams are, but how well prepared they are. You’re going to make mistakes and hopefully you keep them down to a minimum.
"Specialty situations will probably be a factor and most of us haven’t done a whole lot with that yet. Games early on are tough and obviously Vermont and UNH are a real rivalry."
Providence College Coach Paul Pooley on the 8-2 win over Queens University:
"Obviously, we weren’t tested that much and we played a lot of guys. But it’s good to get into a situation where you’re playing against somebody else rather than yourself so you can see what adjustments you have to make, or can change some lines around, or change a little bit of your systems and just see what things you have to work on."
On the play of the freshmen, all of whom played except goaltender Nolan Schaefer: "They all played pretty well. [Peter] Fregoe did a nice job. [Jon] DiSalvatore did too. Dougie Wright really accelerated his game. They all did."
On the Ice Breaker Tournament and first-round opponent Notre Dame:
"We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a tough test for us. What did we learn about ourselves [against Queens]? Who knows? Notre Dame has been tested, losing to Michigan twice. Two games against Michigan is going to leave them more game-tested than our one game against Queens. So they’re going to come out of the chute a little more experienced than we are right now."
Coach Bruce Crowder on how the team has looked in practices:
"It’s interesting, coaching-wise, that it doesn’t seem like I’m doing as much teaching this year. I can say something and they know what I’m talking about without me explaining it. And we’re still healthy, which is always a big plus.
"I like the way we’re skating and moving the puck, but it has only been practice. You don’t really know until you start playing the games."
On hosting Bowling Green:
"We played them pretty strong last year and split in their barn, but they’re supposed to be a good team in the CCHA this year. We’re just going to worry about what we’re going to do.
"Our conditioning is not going to be where they’re at because they’ve had two exhibition games and we’ve haven’t played any. But then again, they have to play on Friday and we don’t."
Standout sophomore defenseman Toni Soderholm is expected to return to the lineup.
Coach Joe Mallen on freshmen defensemen Kelly Sickavish (who picked up an assist) and Sammy Jalkanen in their action against Acadia:
"Both Kelly and Sammy played regular shifts and they played very well overall and showed some good promise."
On facing Colgate, the preseason pick to finish fourth in the ECAC:
"We have a lot of respect for Colgate. They seem to have a very good team this year and are very well coached. Playing at their place in a small rink will be quite the challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.
"It’s going to be a good chance for the team to get away, get together, get focussed and get ready for that big Hockey East weekend we’re going to have the following week."
For the first time since 1995, the River Hawks will not be opening against sister school and rival UMass-Amherst, as they will instead be travelling to #5 Michigan…The two schools have never met either in the regular season or postseason…The Wolverines, who ranked number two nationally in this writer’s preseason opinion, may have seen their national title hopes dashed by
a freak injury to goaltender Josh Blackburn, who could be gone for the year.
Coach Jack Parker on the encouraging wins over Air Force (8-3) and Alaska-Anchorage (5-3) to take the Johnson Nissan Classic:
"We’re very, very pleased with how we played and the result. We played strong defensively, shutting down a pretty quick team [Alaska-Anchorage] in the championship game with only two shots in the second period and five in the third. Defense was a big question after last year’s problems, so that was really good to see.
"All the right guys scored. [Tommi] Degerman had four assists, [Chris] Heron had a goal and three assists and [Carl] Corrazzini had two assists and could have been the MVP instead of Heron. That’s our first line and it played very, very well."
On the goal-scoring by defensemen Chris Dyment (three), John Cronin (two and an assist) and Mike Bussoli (one):
"We got more goals from our defense than we did all last year."
On facing Rennselaer and Niagara this week in the ECAC Faceoff:
"RPI has three or four great offensive players. Their sophomore star Matt Murley is one of the top players in their league. And they’ll have their big house of fans, an even bigger house [at the Pepsi Arena] than when they usually play at home.
"We got a good look at Niagara, which was playing the other two games in Alaska. The first game they looked a little leg-weary [losing to Alaska-Anchorage, 4-0,] after flying in a day late, but they impressed in the other game [3-0 over Air Force]. They’re a good skating team that is a little opposite us in that they have 13 seniors."
Coach Chris Serino on the 4-1 win over Ottawa:
"We had some lapses defensively, but I thought we played hard. We got scoring out of three of our four lines and the line I feel the most comfortable with — [John Pyliotis, Chris Halecki and Vincent Clevenger] – didn’t score, but played well. That’s a good sign.
"I like the way our goaltending played, especially Tommy Welby and Jason Wolfe."
On hosting Holy Cross, a strong member of the fledgling MAAC:
"We’re the type of team that is very balanced so I think we can use four lines, but can be beat by anyone if we don’t play well. That’s a concern I have.
"I’m glad we’re playing them on opening night, because if you can’t get the adrenaline flowing for opening night, something’s wrong with you. I don’t care who you’re playing.
"And Holy Cross is a pretty good team. They won the MAAC [Tournament] last year. I know Paul Pearl; he’s a really good coach and they’re very disciplined. Maybe the competition level is lower in some people’s eyes, but we don’t look at it that way."
On then facing #1 Boston College on Tuesday:
"I won’t say it’s impossible, but we’ll have to play very, very well to beat them. We’ve got to play tremendously on defense and we’ll have to get great goaltending from [Tom] Welby. That’s the way we beat them last year.
"But we don’t have [Rejean] Stringer and [Kris] Porter to rely on now. Hopefully, we’ll do what we did against Ottawa and all of our lines will put some pressure on them.
"You look at BC and they may have six of the top defensemen in the league. Not on the team, but in the league. And they certainly have three or four of the best forwards in the league.
"It’s like playing an all-star team. They have three or four legitimate Hobey Baker candidates on that team. It’s going to be tough."
A Parting Thought Of No Relevance
Since all of Hockey East is within the boundaries of New England, let’s hope that the league stands united in supporting the Red Sox against the New York Yankees.
Folks, this is not optional.
This is Good versus Evil. It’s Mom’s apple pie versus Russian vodka. It’s a lifetime marriage with a loving partner versus one tawdry affair after another with superficially beautiful, but soul-less, airheads. It’s…
I guess I should have quit with Good versus Evil.
Thanks to Ed Saunders, Hockey East Director of Media Relations, and USCHO’s Mike Machnik for their assistance.