What’s Wrong With UNH? or Step Back From That Ledge, My Friend
What a difference a couple weeks can make. Just 14 days ago, the Wildcats held a 3-0-0 record, a number-five ranking nationally and were scoring at a rate of over five goals per game.
Now, following a 6-0 whitewashing administered by RPI, 2-1 squeakers over UMass-Lowell and UMass-Amherst, and then a 5-1 disaster at Yale, the New Hampshire landscape looks very different.
And not just because of the Wildcat fans who are poised to jump off bridges from the wooden-covered relic in Plymouth to the steel edifice outside Portsmouth.
"We’re 5-2 and who knows?" says coach Dick Umile, fresh from the UNH war room. "We’re not playing great right now. But in the game that we lost, 6-0, we probably played one of our better games."
Say what? If the 6-0 loss was one of the better games, then…
"It’s weird," says Umile. "A 6-0 loss… you’d never guess that that’s how we played. We did a lot of good things in the RPI game, but they executed on some great scoring opportunities and beat a good goaltender [Ty Conklin]. But it was one of our better games.
"Then in the Lowell game, Ty played well and won that one for us. And he obviously helped us win the game against UMass when UMass played well.
"But we’re not playing well right now and expectations are always high for the program. That’s okay, but we’re a different team [this year]. As coaches and players, we’re just concerned with how we’re playing.
"And we’re not happy with the way we’re playing. We’re not playing well defensively off the puck and we’re not handling the puck well."
Defensively, the Wildcats have given up 23 goals in their seven games (3.29 per game). That’s a canyon-sized gap from last year’s league-best 2.19 average. And it’s not as if they’ve hit the toughest part of their schedule either. All of their opponents to date except for RPI were projected in the preseason to finish in the bottom half of their leagues.
Of course, losing blueliners Jayme Filipowicz, Steve O’Brien and Christian Bragnalo was expected to provide some early defensive bumps in the road.
What is surprising, however, is the offense scoring a total of only five goals in the last four games and being outshot in the last three games by UMass-Lowell, Yale and UMass-Amherst. Jason Krog was a terrific collegiate player and was a big loss, but couldn’t a pylon center a line with Darren Haydar and Mike Souza on it and have the trio still be successful? After all, the "S" line of Souza, John Sadowski and Jason Shipulski had been an effective unit as freshmen two years ago.
A line of Krog, Haydar and Souza amounted to an embarrassment of riches, didn’t it? After all, Krog might have been number one in the nation’s scoring race last year, but Souza was fourth and Haydar seventh. The filet mignon of that trio didn’t turn into canned Spam without Krog, did it?
Yet after seven games, Haydar totals only seven points and Souza five. And what about the other waves of forwards that UNH once sent after opponents?
"We had one line last year that scored an awful lot of goals and everybody else chipped in," says Umile. "[Now] we’re getting people chipping in here and there, but we’re not [scoring in bunches]. We lost a pretty good piece of that line and we’re still trying to find the best combinations. We’ll play around with them."
Umile opted to break up Haydar and Souza to start the Yale game, reuniting the "S" line, but after a bad first period pulled the plug on that experiment. For now, Sadowski will stay between the two star wingers.
What may have been overlooked is the offensive impact of losing not only Krog but also Filipowicz and O’Brien. The two stellar blueliners not only played terrific defense, they also quarterbacked the league’s second-best power play. Last year’s 22.7 percentage conversion rate has plummeted to 14.9 percent.
"Defense means a lot on your power play," says Umile. "We lost a lot. The three top people on that one unit were Krog, Filipowicz and O’Brien. Obviously, we’ve got to try some different people there. But the guys are doing okay."
And, power play aside, it can almost never be underestimated the offensive impact of defensemen who can break the puck out of their own end.
"The defense is always important," says Umile. "It gets you out of the zone. It keeps people from getting into the zone. We’ll make some adjustments there."
UNH fans may just need to adapt to a different style team than they’ve seen in recent seasons. "We’re not going to be the offensive team that we were last year," says Umile. "We accept that. But it’s okay if we have to win 3-2 or 2-1. We’ll learn how to win that way. We’ll accept winning that way. As long as our number is larger than the other number, that’s all I care about.
"[We’ll be] okay as long as we keep getting better and better. Ty’s playing well and the defense is getting more and more experience. Some of the lines are playing well and some of the lines aren’t playing well. Hopefully, we can tie things together."
And so, UNH Nation, it’s time to step back from that ledge, my friend.
#2 Maine vs. #3 Boston College
It’s easily one of the marquee match-ups of the young season, one sufficiently attractive that it’s a surprise it wasn’t held back until January for a Fox Sports New England telecast.
Last year, BC knocked off Maine in the league semifinals before defeating New Hampshire in overtime for a Hockey East title. Weeks later, the Black Bears returned the favor in the NCAA semifinals and then they toppled UNH in overtime for a national championship.
Number two takes on number three. It’s tough to get any better.
"It’s a match-up, Maine vs. Boston College, that over the last couple years has produced some outstanding college hockey games," says BC coach Jerry York. "We understand going into the game that it’s going to be an up-tempo, very, very quick-paced game. There’s not much ice when these teams play each other because of the close checking, but it’s at a high tempo.
"We’re certainly looking to utilize our home-ice advantage. Early indications are that it will be a complete sellout approaching 8,000 spectators here on Sunday afternoon. It’s going to be one of those early-season match-ups between two very good teams that has conference implications and national implications. I know our squad has a great deal of respect for the Black Bear program."
The Eagles enter the weekend on a high note. They jumped out quickly against Lowell on Sunday and
finished with a 4-1 win.
"There were stretches where we played well and stretches where Lowell controlled the tempo of the game," says York. "But that’s why our league is so good.
"Our lapses weren’t in the offensive zone; we had lapses in our defensive zone. But we did move pucks well. That’s probably the best part of our game at this juncture. We can make four or five passes that lead to [quick scoring opportunities]."
In addition to eliminating the defensive zone lapses, York sees a few keys to his team’s success on Sunday at 2 p.m.
"To win, we’ll have to get fine goaltending and win the penalty game," he says. "We’d like to win that penalty game with fewer penalties and more scoring chances in power-play situations.
"Also, our defensive corps has been our mainstay so far and our goals-against are down so within that context we’ll have to limit their chances and hopefully continue to play good defensive hockey."
Of course, the Eagles can’t look immediately to the Maine tilt since they play Northeastern on Friday night. And the Huskies proved their mettle last weekend, traveling to Orono and coming away with a 2-2 tie. If ties are supposed to be equivalent to kissing your sister, then this sis looked a lot like Cindy Crawford.
"It was a good step for us," says NU coach Bruce Crowder. "The previous weekend, we went out to Wisconsin and played pretty well, but didn’t get anything for it.
"But I thought we played well up in Maine. We got some good goaltending and our special teams were good. They have to be in this league. The thing I probably liked the most is that our kids showed a lot of composure."
That tie was the first blemish in Maine’s record and toppled the Black Bears from the number-one ranking, dropping them to number two.
On Sunday, however, they rebounded with
an impressive 5-2 win over Providence College.
"Those second and third periods were the best hockey we’ve played this year," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "Actually, all 60 minutes were tremendous, but the first period we had to kill off four straight penalties.
"They scored on a five-on-three and a five-on-four, so they took advantage of the power plays and tied it, but we outshot them, 32-9, over the last two periods. We really got all cylinders and all our work habits going.
"We were determined after Friday’s performance [in the tie]. We weren’t happy with our performance, but a lot of the credit has to go to Northeastern. We played very well in the first period and they weathered it. Gilhooly made some good saves.
"And in the second and third periods, I thought Northeastern outplayed us. They outworked us and we didn’t have the jump we had in the first period, probably because they stepped it up."
Had complacency crept into the defending national champs after they’d climbed to the top of the polls with a 5-0 record?
"I think there’s been complacency all year," says Walsh. "It happens until you realize that you’re not infallible. But we lost that complacency for Sunday’s game. We were very upset and played much harder.
"But I also don’t want to take anything away from Northeastern. They’ve got a very good team."
Just like BC, Maine must play a potential "trap" game on Friday. The Black Bears will face off against Merrimack.
"We’re going to make it clear in our team meeting that there’s one game and that’s Friday’s game," says Walsh. "That’s the way we always prepare. We’re not even going to discuss BC until Friday night at 10 o’clock.
"I respect [Merrimack coach] Chris [Serino] enough to know that he’ll have his team playing really hard. And anybody in their own rink in this league can beat anybody."
And then on Sunday afternoon, it’ll be the season’s first Clash of the Titans.
"They’re just a tremendously talented club," says Walsh. "They’ve got as good a five individuals as you can play against and their supporting cast seems to be getting better."
Out of My League
This only affects Hockey East peripherally, but did anyone else notice what Yale did two weeks ago? With five of the Bulldogs’ players suspended, including All-American Jeff Hamilton, they faced #5 Michigan at Yost Arena. All the excuses in the world would have been available after the inevitable shellacking.
Instead, Yale almost escaped with a point, losing 3-2.
Three days later, the Bulldogs faced UNH. Playing once again without Hamilton, they won, 5-1.
That, folks, is some heavy-duty resilience.
Odds and Ends
You know how you always think of a retort too late to actually use it? Well, file the next two items under the category of missed writing opportunities.
Missed opportunity number one: An earlier column discussed Merrimack’s 6-5, 250-pound defenseman Stephen Moon and 5-9 penalty-killing waterbugs, Nick Parillo and Nick Torretti. The title for that section was a dumb one. It should have been "Moon and the Munchkins."
Missed opportunity number two: Last week, Maine held the distinction of being both the number-one team in the country and also listed at the bottom of the official Hockey East standings. You see, every other team except the Black Bears had played at least one league contest.
In the USCHO version of the standings Maine trailed all teams that had recorded at least one point, but was ahead of teams that had lost their league games and thus still had no points. In other words, in the middle of the pack. The standings released by the league, however, showed the #1 Black Bears at the very bottom.
It was a matter of no significance whatsoever, but would have given rise to a perfect title. Instead of "A New Number One" the title of the section should have been "The First Shall Be Last and the Last Shall Be First."
Okay, so maybe you didn’t grow up memorizing the King James Version…
One other note: Hey, caring for the environment is a great thing, but we’ll know that recycling has gone too far if the folks responsible for tossing the fish after the first UNH goal even thought about reuse after the 6-0 loss to Rensselaer.
Last week’s trivia question was: At UNH there has been a long-standing tradition of tossing a fish onto the ice when the Wildcats score their first goal of a home game. In Whittemore Center history, how many total pounds of fish have been tossed?
The correct answer, courtesy of UNH Sports Information Director extraordinaire Steve Jones, is 1,255 pounds. That is one motherlode of fish!
Apparently, most readers couldn’t even hazard a guess, based on the trickle of email that came in, and those that did weighed in on the low side. The closest response was 700 pounds. A tip of the fedora to "Chester and Wild E. Cat."
This week’s trivia contest will also honor our winner. The question is: What happened the last time that Wild E. Cat threw the fish?
Mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson. Media representatives and Wild E. Cats, past and present, are excluded.
League Honors (October, Nov. 2-7)
Player of the Month Jeff Farkas, Boston College – (SR, F) scored eight goals and added eight assists for 16 points in just five October games.
Goalie and Rookie of the Month Mike Gilhooly, Northeastern – compiled a 2-1 record in four appearances, stopping 91.3 percent of the shots and recording a 2.29 goals-against average.
KOHO Player of the Week Blake Bellefeuille, Boston College (SR, F) factored in all four BC goals in a 4-1 win over UMass-Lowell, scoring once and assisting on three others.
Rookie of the Week Mike Gilhooly, Northeastern – led the Huskies to a 2-2 tie at #2 Maine, making 24 saves.
Defensive Player of the Week Doug Janik, Maine – (SO, D) scored a goal in both games this weekend while leading the Black Bear defense.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Has something funny gotten into the water?
First, the Associated Press Player of the Year Award was announced for baseball and, to no one’s surprise, it was Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez. Atlanta’s Chipper Jones got a few votes, too, but the knee-slapper was that some media kook voted for Texas Ranger pitcher Aaron Sele over Martinez.
It’s one thing to opt for an every day player like Jones over a once-every-five-day hurler. Almost certainly wrong in this case, but defensible. But another pitcher? Aaron Sele over Pedro the Magnificent?
Apparently, those warnings in the sixties about LSD flashbacks were true.
But heck, everyone knows there are nuts in the media. Many might consider this writer to be Exhibit A.
Surely, however, the managers and coaches would get their votes right.
This year’s American League Gold Glove Award for the top defensive first baseman went to Rafael Palmeiro. The problem is that Palmeiro played only 28 out of 162 games at the position. The rest of the time he was a designated hitter, albeit a great one, because of a pair of arthroscopic knee operations before the season started.
In other words, someone who played no defensive position at all in over 82 percent of the games was named a top defender.
It seems that those managers and coaches should pay more attention to who is playing the game and spend less time spitting tobacco, chewing sunflower seeds and scratching themselves.
Don’t be surprised if a future column or feature uses these two recent examples as inspiration and doles out The Bonehead Awards. If there’s anyone qualified to make those selections, it would be your humble Hockey East Correspondent.