A Game Every Day
Hockey East fans who went into withdrawal during the recent holiday break will be delighted with the upcoming slate of games. Delighted, that is, if they have their own private Lear jet to crisscross the country since, unfortunately, many of the games are a long hike from New England.
Fans whose modes of transportation are either the MBTA or an automobile that has only about a coin-flip’s chance of making the long trek to a distant tournament will need to content themselves with the occasional local contest, a radio broadcast or one of the many Internet broadcasts that are available.
Even so, there are Hockey East teams playing on nine consecutive days! Pass the eggnog and drop the puck!
BU Adds Meyer For Second Half
Freddie Meyer, a 5-11, 175-pound defenseman out of the U.S. National Development Team, is expected to join Boston University, potentially as soon as the Silverado Shootout this week in Duluth, Minn. Meyer had attempted an accelerated program to complete his studies much like Terrier freshman John Sabo, but unlike his past and future teammate had been unable to finish the requirements this past summer.
Based on the performances of other graduates of the U.S. National Team, Meyer will likely make an immediate impact on a squad that has already proved to be one of Hockey East’s best surprises.
"He’ll be an important player for us," says BU coach Jack Parker.
Seven Hockey East teams — all but UMass-Lowell and UMass-Amherst — have signed a total of 17 players to letters of intent for the 2000-2001 season. This does not include verbal agreements.
(BCJHL = British Columbia Junior Hockey League, EJHL = Eastern Junior Hockey League, NAHL = North American Hockey League, OPJHL = Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, SJHL = Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, USHL = United States Hockey League)
Boston College: Ben Eaves (F, Shattuck St.Mary’s), Tony Voce (F, Lawrence Academy), J.D. Forrest (D, US National Program)
Boston University: Kenny Magowan (F, Vernon-BCJHL), Gregg Johnson (F, Jr. Coyotes-EJHL)
Maine: Colin Shields (F, Cleveland-NAHL)
Merrimack College: Darren Clarke (D, North Battleford-SJHL), Marco Rosa (F, Wexford-OPJHL), Lou Eyster (F, Thayer Academy)
New Hampshire: Nathan Martz (F, Chilliwack-BCJHL), Mick Mounsey (D, Avon Old Farms), Mike Lubesnick (D, Sioux Falls-USHL)
Northeastern: Scott Selig (F, Thayer Academy)
Providence College: Jason Platt (D, Omaha-USHL), Dominic Torretti (D, Des Moines-USHL), John Luszcz (F, Jr. Coyotes-EJHL), Cody Loughlean (F, North Battleford-SJHL)
Around the League
Hockey East Standings
#1 New Hampshire (14-2-1 overall, 7-0-1 HEA, 1st) went into the break riding high on an 11-game unbeaten streak. The Wildcats have simultaneously played one of the toughest schedules in the country while sustaining only two losses, none within Hockey East.
"Obviously, we’re really pleased at the way we finished up the first half," says coach Dick Umile. "We were happy to go into the break after having a good weekend up north at St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
"We’re pleased with the way the team has played, especially the last three or four weeks. It’s a nice way to enjoy the holidays."
Without a doubt, Umile will be dancing in the streets if his club can duplicate its first-half performance down the stretch.
"It’s going to be very difficult," he says. "Every weekend you’ve got to come to play hockey. [In January], we’re going to play Dartmouth — a rivalry game between the two New Hampshire schools — and then at Maine for two, against Merrimack for two, Northeastern for two and then BU.
"It just goes on and on. We’re going to be playing all Hockey East teams [from there] and obviously our league is real strong. You’ve got to play every single night."
#3 Maine (11-2-2 overall, 4-2-2 HEA, T-3rd) went through October and November undefeated, but fell off that perch in early December when Northeastern executed a sweep at Matthews Arena.
The Black Bears went into the break on a high note, however, rebounding with a 4-2 win over #8 Boston University and a surprisingly difficult 7-4 triumph over Quinnipiac.
"I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at," says coach Shawn Walsh. "Given who we lost and the uncertainty in so many different areas, we’ve handled the pressure of being the defending national champion and that bullseye.
"We seem to play better against ranked teams and that’s a good sign for later in the year. We really step it up. [Against BU] we put together just a terrific performance, as an example."
Goaltenders Matt Yeats and Mike Morrison had formed a strong tandem in the early going, but Walsh yanked Morrison in his last two starts, a loss to Northeastern and the win over Quinnipiac.
"That’s a concern, but at the same time it’s shedding a little light on the fact that maybe we don’t have a rotating goalie situation," says Walsh. "Yeats has been so consistent and so solid that I’ll have to take a look and decide whether this is the time to go with him. I’ll see how practice goes after Christmas and then go from there."
The Black Bears will be without defenseman Doug Janik and forward Barrett Heisten during the World Junior Tournament, but expect to be getting back Tommy Reimann from post-concussion syndrome while also adding 6-4, 220-pound Kevin Clauson, who transferred last year from Western Michigan.
Reimann had earlier experienced headaches when he tried to exert himself, but going into the break had skated hard, albeit without contact, for a week and half without problems.
"It appears that he’s over his post-concussion syndrome," says Walsh. "Getting him back will be a positive. And Kevin Clauson becomes eligible and he looks like a guy who is going to step right in and play for us. He’s a big, big man who can skate and do some things."
As the Black Bears enter the second half of the season, Walsh sees one particular key to the team’s success.
"We have to play within ourselves," he says. "We really have to stay patient and not expose ourselves. That’s the reason that we’ve played well against good teams. We respect them and we play a more respectful game.
"All the success that we’ve had in the last 18 months sometimes forces us to step outside of our shadow. The minute we do that, we get in trouble.
"We’re a classic — in football terminology — ball-control team. The minute we try to pass too much we get into trouble."
#8 Boston University (11-4-2 overall, 6-1-2 HEA, 2nd) entered the break on a down note, losing at Maine, 4-2, but prior to that had been on an 11-game unbeaten streak. The Terriers have surprised many, including this writer, with their strong play in the first half.
"We’re way ahead of the game as far as where we thought we’d be at this point in the season with a very young team," says coach Jack Parker. "We’re very pleased with our overall record and very pleased with our standing in the league. We feel that we’ve grown pretty well, given the fact that we’ve had to endure a couple bad injuries on defense that will get solved next semester."
Blueliner John Cronin is expected back from his thumb injury and, as noted above, Fred Meyer will also bolster the defensive corps. Both will certainly be needed for the upcoming Silverado Shootout since BU will be without three players — tops in Hockey East — during the World Junior Tournament. Pat Aufiero, Rick DiPietro and John Sabo will all be competing for Team USA.
[Late-breaking update: Dan Cavanaugh has been added to the U.S. team as the result of an injury, bringing BU’s contribution up to four players.]
"We’ve always told the junior coaches," says Parker, "’Hey, take as many guys as you want and we’ll get by without them,’ because it’s an experience that they should not miss and they always come back as better players. Fortunately for us, they’re only missing two games and they’re both non-league games this year."
It remains to be seen whether the Terriers can duplicate their first-half success in the upcoming months. It shouldn’t take long, though, to get a pretty good idea.
"I think our best hockey is ahead of us, but our toughest games are also ahead of us," says Parker. "In the month of January, we have two with BC, two with Maine, one with Lowell and two with UNH. So it’ll be a real grind through the month of January and that will really tell us what kind of a hockey team we have.
"[We’ll need] more of the same: play with enthusiasm and play with confidence. We’ve done that thus far. We’ve played three poor games out of 17, so we’ve had 14 games where we’ve really been focused and really came to play. That’s got to continue."
Four consecutive losses from Nov. 12-20 had Boston College (8-5-0 overall, 5-4-0 HEA, T-3rd) reeling, but the Eagles have responded with three straight impressive wins: 4-2 over Northeastern and shutouts of 4-0 and 3-0 over Merrimack and Harvard, respectively.
"Our club is playing the best defense that it’s played since I’ve been here at BC," says coach Jerry York. "Our goals-against is way down from last year through the first 13 games. We’re on a stretch here with both of our goaltenders — [Scott Clemmensen and Tim Kelleher] — contributing. Our save percentages at BC have always been in the high- or mid-eighties, but now both are in the nineties. Both Timmy and Scott are sharp, they’re competing very well in practice and the benefits are easy to see when you watch us play.
"In our last five games before we broke [for the holidays] we just allowed six goals. I think that’s a great sign. We preach defense first and offense second. We’re very creative on offense and have some very talented forwards who will score more goals as the season starts unwinding.
"When you look at the categories in Hockey East, we’re one or two in goals-for, goals-against, power play and PK [penalty kill], so statistically we’re very, very solid. A couple goals either way and we’d be maybe 8-1 in the conference instead of 5-4."
Northeastern (7-7-2 overall, 4-4-2 HEA, T-3rd) played schizophrenic hockey in the first half, taking five of six points from Maine and two of four from BC but still ending at only .500. The best example of the Huskies’ Jekyll-and-Hyde tendencies came in their home and away records. At Matthews Arena, they posted a 7-1-0 record while they fell to 0-6-2 on the road.
Even so, Northeastern has played the third toughest schedule in the nation (based on opponents’ winning percentage, 60.87) and may have some easier sledding in the second half.
"I like this team a lot and we’re getting there," says coach Bruce Crowder. "I [haven’t] had a whole lot of disappointment with them as far as coming to play…. I think we can do some special things."
The Huskies had won three in a row heading into a Dec. 19 clash with Harvard, but had six players out of the lineup and lost, 6-5, in overtime. This is, however, a group that seems to fight through adversity, not the least of which was pulling out a 2-1 win over Dartmouth a week earlier during exams.
"I wanted us to be playing during exams," says Crowder. "The Hockey East playoff games come during our next exam period so I want our players to be used to it."
When asked how he thinks his team’s 10 points in Hockey East will hold up in the second half, he minces no words.
"I’m not worried about 10 points," says Crowder. "I’m looking more at 20 and 25 points. It’s a long season and we’ve had a tough stretch here. We’ve already played BC twice and Providence twice and Maine all three times and took five out of six [points] there. It’s going to be an interesting season here."
Merrimack College (7-8-1 overall, 4-5-1 HEA, 6th) shares the distinction with Boston University as the league’s most pleasant surprise. Looking like a dead ringer for the cellar going into the season, the Warriors are within a game of .500 and can count, among other feats, wins over Boston College and Providence College as well as a tie against Maine.
"We didn’t play very well in our last game," says coach Chris Serino about his team’s 4-0 loss to BC going into the break, "but aside from that I think we’ve made some major strides since the beginning of the season. I feel very comfortable with the way that we’re playing and hope we can continue that into the second half.
"I’m extremely comfortable with the way we’re playing defense right now and with the play of our goaltenders [Tom Welby and Cris Classen]. Hopefully, we can continue that into the second half. If we can, I don’t know how many we’ll win, but if we keep playing like this, it’ll
give us the opportunity to win every night."
While remaining very optimistic, Serino does have a few worries.
"We’re kind of thin, so staying healthy will be a major factor for us," he says. "A key injury here or there could really devastate us. We need to keep getting consistent goaltending and stay injury-free."
Providence College (9-7-0 overall, 3-5-0 HEA, 7th) has rebounded from a potentially disastrous 2-6-0 start with seven wins in its last eight games. The Friars have taken on the nation’s fifth toughest schedule so far (in terms of opponents’ winning percentage, 56.67) and hold games in hand against most Hockey East teams, so they could be as well-positioned for the stretch run as a team with a sub-.500 league record can be.
"I feel pretty good, but we’ve got a little ways to go to get better in certain situations," says coach Paul Pooley. "But I like what we have going on. I like the way we’re playing. On different nights, we have different people picking it up, which is a real bonus. But we still have a long way to go to get
Pooley has gotten significant contributions from the handful of freshmen he’s played up front, led by Peter Fregoe.
"They’ve really added energy and depth to our team," says Pooley. "They’ve really pushed the older guys for ice time. We’ve been able to give them some responsibilities and our lineup has been good because of that. We’re distributing our PK among a lot of guys, which gives our power-play guys some freshness.
"As a coach, some night you may just have three of your four lines going. Well guess what? You just play those three lines and the other line doesn’t play. It doesn’t matter what line it is."
Another freshman, Nolan Schaefer, has pushed incumbent goaltender Boyd Ballard.
"The competition makes everybody better," says Pooley. "If they don’t like it, then they’re going to fold. Boyd has really risen to Nolan’s play. Before Nolan started to play, Boyd’s save percentages — except for the first weekend — were all under 90 and the highest one was 88. Well, since Nolan has been playing, they’ve been 90 and above.
"Now that Boyd has played well, Nolan has to step it up because he didn’t play great at Merrimack [on Dec. 4]. His save percentage was really low and he let a couple soft goals in. Boyd came back against Dartmouth and got a shutout.
"That’s what you want to have happen, competition for playing time. In a positive way, not a negative way. That’s what makes everybody better."
Pooley sees some clear-cut keys to the Friars’ chances of success in the
"Specialty teams and goaltending will determine how people finish in our
league," he says. "Our league is a war."
UMass-Lowell (4-12-1 overall, 1-7-1 HEA, 8th) took on a brutally difficult schedule that included eight games against teams currently in the top 10 and another three against foes who have spent time in the national rankings. Boasting the fourth toughest schedule in the country, however, doesn’t necessarily lift the spirits of a 4-12-1 team.
"We knew going into the season that we had a very challenging schedule and a very young team to play it," says coach Tim Whitehead. "That’s not usually a great combination. Our record could be very different right now, but it’s not.
"That’s our challenge for the second half, not letting the first-half results affect
our results for the second half. We really do have to clean the slate and just say, hey, let’s learn from some of the adversity in the first half, stick together as a team and recognize that there is a ton of hockey ahead of us and that we are a good hockey team. We just have to prove it now."
It seems clear that the River Hawks are a better team than their record would indicate. They’ve had a bundle of close games against strong opponents.
"Anyone who has seen us play knows that we’re a real good hockey team," says Whitehead. "But at the same time, we’re not a great team or we wouldn’t be in eighth place right now. So in some senses, we are what our record is.
"We have to deal with the reality that we’ve had some frustrating losses. On several occasions, we’ve played well and lost. On some other occasions, we have
not put our best foot forward and deserved to lose clearly.
"The last two weekends in December, I think we let our situation get the best of us. I didn’t feel that we played our game. Before that, most of the games we had played some good hockey and there is something to be proud of in that, win, lose or draw.
"We needed a break and hopefully we can come back for the second half of the season with smiles on our faces ready to start again and begin a new half of the season with some excitement and just get a clean start and play some good hockey."
UMass-Amherst (4-8-2 overall, 0-6-1 HEA, 9th) entered the break on a positive note, gaining a split at Notre Dame, but has had almost no luck in league play. In its five Hockey East games in November and December, the Minutemen emerged with one tie and four one-goal losses, the last of which came at
the hands of BU with seconds left in overtime.
"I feel a little bit snakebit," says coach Joe Mallen. "Not a little bit. I feel a lot snakebit at this point. The way I look at it right now is that we’ve got UNH and BU as the number one and two teams in the league and we’ve got a 2-1 loss to UNH and a 2-1 loss to BU and an overtime loss to BU.
"We’re playing hard and we’re playing good hockey. We feel strongly optimistic about what we can do. It just seems like night in and night out we’re right there and we just have to get that one extra goal that we need.
"Our last five games against BU have all been one-goal games and that’s a program that has been around for a long time. How close are we? We’re that close."
The Minutemen do have some things going in their favor over the second half. First, the disproportionate share of away games to date — five at home and nine on the road — will tilt a little in their direction in the coming months. Second, UMass holds games in hand over every team in the league. The key, of course, is cashing in.
"Obviously, we’re going to have to dig our heels in and fight," says Mallen. "Last year, we really won a majority of our games in Hockey East down the stretch. That’s obviously our goal right now. And we’ve played a little more on the high end of the standings than on the low end.
"There are some things that we’re doing real well. We’re playing our system well, we’re playing good team defense, we’re staying out of the box and, for the most part, we’re getting a lot of shots per game. I think all those things will add up to some more wins in the second half."
Last week’s trivia contest question was: what Hockey East sophomore comes from a home town where the Winter Olympics were held?
Kieron P. Faherty responded with lightning-like speed, beating out the many other fans who also correctly responded with UMass-Lowell’s Yorick Treille. Treille originates from Grenoble, France. A tip of the fedora to Kieron and his blazing fingertips.
Although no one matched his speed and accuracy, many others offered an alternative to Treille, UMass-Amherst’s Toni Soderholm. Although Soderholm’s hometown of Helsinki instantly had the ring of verisimilitude, that ring proved hollow. Helsinki has never hosted the Winter Olympics.
As for this week’s trivia contest, it departs from the area of college hockey just this one time. With attentions diverted to the holiday season, it seems appropriate to ask a bundle of questions about this writer’s favorite movie version of A Christmas Carol, namely Scrooged, starring Bill Murray.
The winner will be whoever answers the most questions correctly.
Never seen the movie? Run out to your video store now. You’ll thank me. Mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson.
1. Bill Murray, playing a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge in the form of a top TV executive, is called Frank Cross. What is Cross’ middle name? 2. Early in the movie, Cross tells a stagehand to affix antlers to a mouse in a particular way. What is it? 3. What is Cross’ philosophy of treating people badly on the way up?
4. Cross and his brother walk past a group of jazz musicians early in the movie. Who is playing trumpet? 5. What unconventional audience does the head of the network suggest that Cross try appealing to? 6. The Jacob Marley character, a long-dead fellow TV executive, was legendary for what achievement? 7. What does Cross’ rival order at dinner? 8. What is the occupation of the Ghost of Christmas Past? 9. As shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past, what did Cross’s father give him for Christmas? 10. As shown by the same ghost, what did Cross later buy his girlfriend Claire for Christmas? 11. Who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present? 12. The Ghost of Christmas Present whacks Cross in the nose with a particular kitchen appliance. What is it? 13. Where does Cross meet the Ghost of Christmas Future? 14. Other than Tiny Tim, who says, "God bless us, every one!" at the end? 15. As the credits are rolling, Cross utters a line from "Little Shop of Horrors." What is it?
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Here are a few random observations gleaned over the last few weeks.
Does anyone else think the New England Patriots have been put together like a rotisserie team? There are lots of big names at the glamour positions, but not much to win the wars in the trenches. The Pats must forget the cornerbacks and wide receivers and running backs in the next draft and get linemen who can do more than backpedal and jump offside.
The few Red Sox fans who bemoaned the trade for Carl Everett because of the minor leaguers the team gave up really do deserve the tag, Fellowship of the Miserable. If you can trade a Single-A pitcher and a Double-A shortstop for a 29-year-old centerfielder who matched Bernie Williams’ production last year, that is the ultimate no-brainer. I will feel more comfortable when there’s a contract extension, but Sox GM Dan Duquette is building the right way: get pitching when you can and then focus on strength up the middle.
The best thing about the New Year will be that we will no longer be pummeled with the phrase Y2K.
For my money, Mariah Carey’s rendition of Joy to the World is still the best Christmas song.
And Jim Carrey’s version of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon is terrific as well.
Clothes stores are a necessary evil. Those who have seen my wardrobe are not surprised at that statement.
It’s depressing to see a mall without a bookstore. I’m a fan of music stores, golf shops and Victoria’s Secret — two thumbs up, way up, for the latter — but without a bookstore, a mall is as incomplete as USCHO without the weekly columns.
Speaking of which, I took it as a compliment that one fan of this column reacted to its recent holiday absence by appearing to go into the college hockey equivalent of the DTs. Thank you and I hope this overdose of words eases your pain.
May you all be fortunate enough on Dec. 31 to be spending it with a person who is a worthy recipient of your love and you a worthy recipient of theirs.
Thanks to Jayson Moy for his assistance with this week’s column.