This Week in the Hockey East: December 8, 1999

How ’bout Them Huskies?

After Northeastern administered the first loss of the season to top-ranked Maine last Friday, coach Bruce Crowder stood outside the Husky locker room and talked to the media.

"You have a number-one team coming into the building that hasn’t had a loss," he said. "You’d be a village idiot not to get excited about that."

Crowder paused and looked around.

"I hope that was politically correct," he said. "Are there any village idiots here?"

After the laughter subsided, Crowder went on to recite what he considered an even better line that he’d heard in the locker room. One that spoke to whether the Huskies would be satisfied having taken the first of the two-game set.

"The best thing about this," a player had said, "is we get to do it all over again tomorrow night."

While this writer has been bullish on the Huskies since before the season started, other members of the press might have dismissed the comment as mere braggadocio that would come back to haunt the lips it came from.

After all, surely the aroused Black Bears would extract their revenge the following night. They hadn’t risen to the top spot in the polls for nothing.

Instead, the Huskies did do it all over again, following up on their 3-1 win on Friday with a

6-3 eye-opener 24 hours later. What some might have taken for a one-game fluke, was anything but.

"I tip my hat to Northeastern," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "They’re a good club. I’ve liked their club from the start of the year. I don’t know how they’ve got six losses, but I really like their team.

"Anybody that goes into BU and into BC and outshoots them the way they did — [33-16 in a 4-4 tie and 38-20 in a 6-5 win, respectively] — is an awfully good club."

Sometimes, however, an awfully good club needs a weekend like Northeastern just experienced to realize just how good it can be. If that’s the case with the Huskies, the rest of Hockey East may soon be finding out that a Pandora’s Box has just been opened on Huntington Avenue.

"We know we’re a good team, but sometimes you need that confidence to let you know that you’re good," said senior sniper Todd Barclay, who leads the team with nine goals. "This weekend, we finally realized that if we play our style of game, we can beat anybody in the country."

In three games against Maine, the Huskies have taken five of the six possible points. And they also split the two they played against Boston College. So how have they lost six times?

Admittedly, Lowell took them to the cleaners in the third game of the season, but other than that stinker the Huskies have played well, even in the losses. On Oct. 29-30, #2 Wisconsin swept them by identical 4-2 scores and on Nov. 19-20, Providence goaltender Nolan Schaefer stood on his head, stopping 66 out of 68 shots to lead the Friars in another sweep, 3-1 and 4-1.

"We went out to Wisconsin and played extremely well, but got the doughnut for our efforts," said Crowder. "And Providence is no mediocre team. [Schaefer] was exceptional."

Keep in mind that the Huskies have played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country (based on opponents’ winning percentage). With all three games against Maine out of the way and two of the three against Boston College and Providence College, their 6-6-2 record may be deceptive.

"We’ve shown that we can play with anybody," said Crowder. "When we bring our A game to the table, we’re a tough team to play against. And I thought we brought our A game for two nights in a row [against Maine]."

If there has been any weakness for Northeastern, it’s been an inability to consistently convert the scoring chances they’ve created.

"We’ve been able to produce a lot of shots, but we haven’t been able to produce a lot of goals," said Crowder. "As soon as we figure that out, we’re going to be that much tougher to play against. We’ve outshot a lot of other teams, but don’t have anything to show for it."

The Husky defensive corps is talented, perhaps second only to Boston College in raw potential. Juniors Mike Jozefowicz and John Peterman and sophomores Jim Fahey, Arik Engbrecht and Rich Spiller provide a good mix of offensive skill, one-on-one defensive prowess and overall toughness.

There’s depth, too. After playing in 30 games last year, Matt Brown has dressed only once this season. And Doug Carlson hasn’t appeared at all after figuring in 17 contests in 1998-99.

"We’ve got some defensemen who are really good players, but they can’t break into the lineup," said Fahey. "This is a really strong group that can do a lot of things. I’d match us against anybody."

Crowder echoes Fahey’s pride in the Husky blueliners.

"Our defense is playing extremely well," said Crowder. "They’re in guys’ faces. They’re extremely mobile and that has really helped us a lot jumping on loose pucks."

In goal, freshman Mike Gilhooly garnered immediate attention this year, taking both the Hockey East Rookie of the Month and Goaltender of the Month awards for November.

"I didn’t really feel confident the first three or four games," he said. "I was just trying to get settled in, combining school with hockey. But our ‘D’ is really, really good and they helped me build my confidence up."

Gilhooly ranks as a rarity among netminders in that he most appreciates the basic saves, as opposed to the flamboyant ones that appear on the highlight reels.

"The saves that I love are the simple saves, the saves I make when I’m in good position," he said. "You can point to the diving ones, but my game is simple. I just play good angles and good position."

When Gilhooly tasted the early success, many were quick to paint last year’s number one, Jason Braun, out of the picture. His coach, however, wasn’t ready to forget the sophomore.

"The question before the game was, ‘Why are you starting Braun?’" said Crowder after his netminder stopped all but one of Maine’s 24 shots on Friday. "But I tell you, the kid has played well and he deserves to play.

"It’s going to be a good situation for us to have two good goaltenders."

If this past weekend is any indication, the Northeastern student body is increasingly getting behind this team. On the first night, the crowd grew from period to period, as if cell phones throughout Matthews Arena were sending out the message, "You gotta see what’s happening!"

"People must have gone back to the dorms and said we were winning," said a smiling Chris Lynch after the game. "I looked around in the third period and thought, ‘Wow! This is great!’"

The students have even begun a new tradition this year of throwing a flank steak onto the Matthews Arena ice after the first Husky goal. While clearly derivative of New Hampshire’s fish-tossing, the linking of a tough steak and the Dog House seems apt.

"I don’t know where that come from, but what the heck," said Crowder. "It’s a great group up there that has done a fantastic job with the Dog House.

That was one of the things that we were hoping to generate when [my assistants and I] came here. To not only get a better hockey team, but also to get more people excited about what’s happening."

And they were certainly excited after the sweep.

"It was just a tremendous college atmosphere," said Crowder. "The Dog House was going wild again. I looked at them when I went off the ice and mouthed the words, ‘Thank you!’

"I can’t say anything better than that. They’re a big part of this. This is their hockey team. It’s not owned by a multi-millionaire. It’s owned by those guys."

How far can this club go this year? Don’t be surprised if it’s one of those teams on the bubble for an NCAA tournament berth.

"I really like this team," said Crowder. "I think we can do some special things."

Levesque and the World Junior Tournament

When Northeastern’s Willie Levesque was named to the U.S. Junior National Team, he became the first Husky to earn that distinction. Team USA includes eight Hockey East players and will compete in the 2000 World Junior Championships from Dec. 25 through Jan. 4 in Skelleftea and Umea, Sweden.

"It’s a sign of what we’re trying to do with this program and the type of players we’re trying to recruit," said Crowder. "We were very fortunate to get Willie to come to school here. He’s had a great year and a half for us so far and I expect another great two and a half years.

"He’s probably going to miss four games, but he’s going to come back a better player. It’s good for us."

The hardworking sophomore seems primed to make the most of a great opportunity.

"I find it an unbelievable accomplishment," he said. "I’m playing for my country and I love my country. Every time I’m on that blue line, I raise my stick to that flag. I’ve got a lot of pride in my country and hope we’ll go out there and win the tournament."

Levesque is no stranger to Jeff Jackson, coach of the U.S. Junior Team. Jackson was the driving force behind the formation of the National Development Team, which attracts 17- and 18-year-olds to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they live and train under the coach’s watchful eye.

"My development was unbelievable on the national team," said Levesque. "I speak so highly of that program. It was the best thing I’ve ever done, the best decision I’ve ever made. I was on the ice all the time, working on my skills."

That hard work resulted in a berth on the Hockey East All-Rookie team last year. This season, he leads Husky scoring as a sophomore.

"I attribute all of my skill to hard work and desire," he said. "I don’t score [fancy] goals or make the best plays, but I work hard in the corners and go hard every shift. I’m on the ice for 45 seconds and I go for 45 seconds.

"It’s just hard work and paying the price."

Newson Gets Off the Schneid

As a sophomore in 1997-98, Billy Newson led Northeastern with 36 points on 16 goals and 20 assists. To some extent, as the 5-7 dynamo went, so went the Husky offense.

This year, however, scoring goals became like pulling teeth for the senior. After 10 games he was still looking for his first.

"It was difficult because we were losing," he said. "You know you’re supposed to be scoring goals — that’s one of your roles on the team — and you’re not getting any.

"But we’ve got a great group of guys. They kept me up and kept telling me, ‘It’s going to come. It’s going to come.’ They didn’t knock me even though it wasn’t going in."

Finally, Crowder sat Newson for the Nov. 27 game against Princeton.

"He was pressing pretty hard and sometimes you have to take a step back and watch a little bit," said Crowder. "Then he [came back and] played well against BC. That line got two goals for us."

And in the Friday night game against Maine, Newson finally got off the schneid.

"It was a little different than I planned to get it, but I’ll take them any way they come," said Newson with a laugh. "It hit the goalie and came right out to me. You can’t ask for too much more. Open net. You really know you’re cursed if that one hits the post or goes wide."

Crowder, however, saw a lot of important little things that led to the "easy" goal.

"He went hard to the net, he fought guys off, he stayed strong on his stick and it was there for him and he put it in," said Crowder. "It was a very good goal.

"We need those seniors stepping up. That’s important in college hockey. You’ve got to have your seniors playing well."

Trivia Contest

Put your feet up. This one’s gonna take a while.

John F. Jasionowski, a 15-year Providence College season ticket holder, has assessed this writer a two-minute penalty for an inaccuracy in last week’s answer.

The question had been the following: the Providence College public address system plays one particular Billy Joel song on a regular basis. What is the name of the song and what is the occasion that prompts its playing?

The answer was "An Innocent Man," which I noted could be heard after every Friar penalty.

As the car rental commercial would say, well, not exactly. It turns out that "Innocent Man" is played only after marginal calls in which the player’s innocence may actually be in question. Not after every Friar infraction.

Mr. Jasionowski went on to add that "An Innocent Man" wasn’t played at all in Friday’s game against Merrimack.

While pleading guilty to the general charge, I do, however, have an explanation for the song’s compete absence that evening. With 22 seconds remaining in the first period, a fight erupted, which resulted in each team being assessed 57 minutes in penalties.

After such an incident, clearly there were no innocent men.

Onward, then, to this week’s answer. The question concerned home towns of Hockey East award winners (Player of the Week, Rookie of the Week or Goaltender of the Week). It asked which player who had already been honored this season hails from a town that is named, in part, after a vegetable?

The correct answer was Merrimack’s Cris Classen, whose home town is Carrot River, Saskatchewan.

"That’s right next to String Bean River," quipped his coach, Chris Serino, after a Classen win.

Unfortunately, it’s two more minutes in the penalty box for yours truly since an email ambiguity — I’ll spare you the details — led me to tell one reader that he had correctly answered the question first when it turned out that someone else beat him to the punch.

I should have known that vegetables would be my downfall.

So this week there are actually tips of the fedora to not one, not two, not three, but four winning readers.

Wayne Smith, guru of the HOCKEY-L email list, takes top billing. He not only answered the question correctly, he offered up several alternate possibilities if the right Hockey East players earned the league honors. Those "good veggies" included another one of those great Saskatchewan names, Yellow Grass, as well as Peabody and a witty honorable mention of Needham.

Next in line is Brian Gentry, who originally appeared to have been first with Classen’s Carrot River.

Joshua Gibney also earns a tip of the fedora with an alternate answer of Cam McCormack, who arrived on the UMass-Lowell campus from Kantaloops, British Columbia.

And last, but certainly not least, is Jared Colbath. He managed to answer what was supposed to be next week’s question before I even got to ask it, which seems worthy of a double-tip of the fedora.

The question was going to refer to the only "Martian" who had won a Hockey East award this year. As Jared "ESP" Colbath pointed out, the answer would be UNH’s Jim Abbott, who hails from Mars, Pennsylvania.

Congratulations to the many winners and may I never ask a question about vegetables again.

That said, the trivia contest question this week is: what Hockey East sophomore comes from a home town where the Winter Olympics were held?

Pass the meat and potatoes and mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson.

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…

Picture Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker or whoever you might consider the most stereotypical, scandalized "man of the cloth."

And then take the opposite. That was my Dad.

He died eight years ago today. He stood as a stark contrast to TV phonies who might say one thing from the pulpit on Sunday and live another way Monday through Saturday.

You might have disagreed with my Dad’s politics or his religious doctrine. But you couldn’t doubt his sincerity or that he practiced what he preached.

We locked horns over many issues when I was a teenager. And as a genetic recipient of his near-legendary stubbornness, I’d still contend that I had been right every single time. But that’s beside the point. I always knew that all of his choices were based on his love for me and what he felt was right.

There are many memories. The time he offered his glasses to an official at a high school basketball game, thereby earning a technical foul for my brother’s team…. The time he had to preach in front of several hundred people without a suit jacket because I’d gotten car sick during the long drive and vomited all over him…. The time a mischievous son set the alarm on the digital clock Dad kept on the pulpit to go off in mid-sermon….

Oh, I was a pain in the neck in so very many ways. But he still loved me. And we could certainly share a laugh.

If there were just one thing he said that would show you how he lived, it would be this. When it appeared certain that cancer would claim him, he said, "I’ve spent my whole life trying to show people how to live like a Christian. Now it’s time to show them how to die like one."

Eight years ago, I thought I had never met a finer man.

I still feel that way today.