This Week in the Hockey East: February 3, 2000

The First Two Mondays In February

The 48th Beanpot Tournament is shaping up as potentially one of the best in a long time.

"This particular year, all four teams playing have a realistic chance to join the 12 teams in the national tournament in March," says BC coach Jerry York. "That makes this tournament a little more special because of the quality of the teams."

Boston University will be looking for its sixth straight Beanpot championship and boasts an eight-game unbeaten streak (4-0-4) in January. Boston College is coming off a sweep at Maine and has posted a 6-2-1 record since New Year’s Day. And Northeastern is knocking on the Top 10 door with an undefeated 3-0-3 month freshly under its belt.

With the three Hockey East teams a collective 13-2-8 in January, Harvard looks like the one underdog, especially considering its recent stumbles (five losses in its last six games). But the Crimson have run hot-and-cold this season and wouldn’t be the first team to take the Battle for Boston by toppling the favorites.

"We didn’t have a great record coming into the Beanpot last year," says BU coach Jack Parker. "Sometimes teams that haven’t had a successful season get even more geared up because this is something that they can hang their hat on and say, ‘Hey, we won the Beanpot!’

"But all four teams are having real successful seasons and are looking for other things at the end of the year as well."

Boston University was uncommonly predictable in January, taking three of four points each weekend. What’s even more impressive is that the Forever .750 Terriers pulled their deja-vu-all-over-again act against the likes of Boston College, Maine and New Hampshire.

"We had a meeting when we came back from UNH last [Friday after a 3-3 tie]," says Parker. "I said to them, ‘Boys, see if you can follow me here. Tie-win, win-tie, win-tie, tie… lo and behold, they all said ‘win.’ That’s higher education at its finest."

The Terriers are now 15-6-6 and would be a potential number-one ranked team at 15-4-6 if two losses were expunged from the record, those being the ones suffered while without four key players who were participating in the World Junior Championship.

"We’re playing pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement," says Parker. "I think our best hockey is still ahead of us.

"We haven’t been real consistent. We’ve won some games in which we played great for two periods and horribly for one period and we lucked out that we didn’t pay too big a price in the period that we didn’t play well.

"So for the most part, we’re looking to be more consistent. We’re looking to be a little more focused for 60 minutes."

While much of the credit for BU’s success this year has gone to its stellar freshman class — and understandably so — the Terrier upperclassmen have also risen to the occasion. In the pressurized environment of the Beanpot, that veteran experience is likely to prove critical.

"It’s important in any game that the upperclassmen are the leaders of the team," says Parker. "Our captains — Tommi Degerman, Chris Heron and Carl Corazzini — are having their best years.

"Isn’t that nice that they’re having their best years when we need them the most because we do have a very young team, a big freshman class and a big sophomore class. They have really helped us out that way.

"I think the freshmen will be jittery [on Monday]. Everybody gets jittery the first time in the Beanpot. So it’s nice to have three classes who have already been in the Beanpot and won it."

Boston College has shaken off some earlier-season inconsistencies and is hitting its stride at seemingly just the right time. Last weekend, the Eagles accomplished a rarity, sweeping Maine at Alfond Arena.

"Our club is getting better," says York. "We’re getting solid goaltending. We’re really playing well defensively. We’re not giving up very many goals and we’re getting some timely goals. I feel pretty good about the club."

The Eagles are not only leading the league in goals scored per game (3.92), they’re also first in least goals allowed per game (2.12). In fact, they aren’t just leading in the latter category. They’re blowing away the rest of the field.

The gap between BC as the number one defensive club and UMass-Amherst at number two (2.69) is larger than the one between the Minutemen at two and Merrimack at number nine (3.08).

That type of defensive dominance is what tends to win the tight games against closely-matched rivals.

"That’s always the bottom line," says York. "You can score five or six goals an awful lot, but when you get into those championship-level games, it’s always low scoring. You’ve got to be used to playing that kind of defense."

Recent Beanpot history, however, hasn’t been kind to the Eagles. Since dominating the tournament from 1954 through 1965 — winning it eight of the 12 years — BC has taken the ‘Pot only once in each subsequent decade (1976, 1983, 1994). During much of that dry spell, the Eagles have fielded one of the top teams in the country.

"I’ve got a lot of people," says York, "that are saying to me, ‘When are you going to finally win one of those Beanpots?’ We’re trying awfully hard and it’s a major goal of ours.

"Each year they resurface the ice and you start over. It’s certainly one of our key objectives. We’re focused and we want to win one. We’re not going to say it doesn’t bother us. We want to win one.

"But it is difficult, especially this year with three other teams that are really solid teams."

This Monday, BC will face one of them in the underrated Huskies. Often in the past, Northeastern has alternated from sacrificial lamb to charming long shot. Not this year, however.

"Someone asked me about them as a spoiler," says York. "They’re no longer spoilers…. [Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder] has a team that is a legitimate national power…. They get my vote for one of the top 10 teams in the country."

The Northeastern Spoilers-No-More enter the tournament with a penchant for overtime games, having gone into extra time in seven of their last nine contests. In those seven, the Huskies have posted a 3-1-3 record.

They’re also gaining Top 10 support, based in part on their third-toughest schedule in the nation to date and their undefeated January, but also on their taking five of six points from Maine in December and gaining splits with BC and UNH.

Despite this giant-killing track record, BC is considered the favorite.

"I don’t think our players are taking it as us being underdogs, but I think we are," says Crowder. "We’ve got Boston College, which all of a sudden in the last few games is playing extremely well. They went up and swept at Maine which isn’t the easiest thing to do.

"We’ve split this year [with BC] pretty much right down the middle. Goals for and against favors them by one.

"But they’re a team that was picked number one in the country and has gone to the national tournament the last two years. So, yeah, we’re an underdog."

Last weekend, Northeastern got off to a slow start against Merrimack in its lone game. The Huskies fell behind, 2-0, and despite strong play the rest of the way could only manage a tie. However, Crowder doesn’t expect a slow start from his players on Monday.

"These are the easiest games in the world to coach," he says. "If anything, you’ve got to try to bring down their excitement level and try to get them to be a little more flatliners.

"We’ll be ready. We play [BC] enough. We know the guys to watch. Their defense has done a great job getting into the offense as of late and that’s an area that we’re going to have to have some concern over.

"How we backcheck is probably going to be far more important than how we forecheck."

Crowder doesn’t expect to tinker with the Huskies’ style despite BC’s explosive offense.

"We’re not going to change," he says. "We’ve had success with what we’ve done. To change it would not be in our best interest.

"But if you look at Jeff Farkas, Brian Gionta, Blake Bellefeuille, Mike Mottau and Bobby Allen, they’re probably five of the best college hockey players in the country. We’ve got to be careful.

"We can not hurt ourselves. Hurting ourselves is, one, not paying attention to them and, two, finding ourselves in situations penalty-wise where we’re putting them on the power play."

Note: if you’re lucky enough to have tickets for this Monday’s games, or if you’re simply planning on watching on TV, pay special attention to the starting times. Unlike past Beanpot first rounds, the games will be at 5 p.m. (BC-Northeastern) and 8 p.m. (BU-Harvard).

Comedy Hour At The Beanpot Luncheon

The sharp wits and quick quips were in full force at the Beanpot Luncheon held at Legends this past Monday.

Crowder suggested before the program that the coin flip to decide home teams be "heads I win and tails Jerry loses."

After York then opened the prepared remarks with glowing comments about Northeastern, Crowder headed to the podium to offer his comments. En route, he walked past the BC table and snatched York’s notes.

Crowder unfolded the papers and with a pained expression said, "Jerry, none of those nice things about Northeastern are on here."

He read on, put a hand to his chest and exclaimed, "Actually… wow!"

Crowder then proposed an off-ice contest with Boston College.

"We’re going to have a height-off between [Roger Holeczy] and Brian Gionta," he said. "And if Roger loses, I’m going to have Billy Newson come up."

In short order, emcee Steve Nazro announced that Bob Kurtz would be performing play-by-play duties on PAX 68 along with Mike Eruzione (a.k.a. "America’s Guest"). He added that neither could attend the luncheon, but that their colleague, John Holt, was representing them.

Nazro quipped, "John Holt is doing all of Eruzione’s work, which is not exactly surprising."

To no one’s surprise, however, it was Parker who stole the show.

Nazro had explained that the Beanpoters was a loose organization that met at Durgin Park before the games.

Parker fired back, "Steve mentioned the Beanpoters are a loose organization. Is that loose morally, Steve? A few of them I know are that way."

Parker also nudged Harvard captain Trevor Allman on his dead-ringer likeness to Buddy Holly.

But the quip of the day revolved around the absence of first-year Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni. Assistant coach Ron Rolston had explained that Mazzoleni was flying back from Ohio, where he goes back every Sunday to visit his family.

Rolston, who is sharing an apartment with Mazzoleni, added, "He’s got a couple little ones, six and eight, who really don’t understand the situation of him being in Boston and them being in Ohio."

Parker brought down the house with the following response.

"Ronnie mentioned that it’s hard for Maz’s six-year-old son to understand what’s going on. You know, his Dad is living with a man in Boston…. It’s hard for me to figure, too."

UNH and Maine — Which One Rebounds?

A week ago, this contest had all the makings of Ali vs. Frazier, Red Sox vs. Yankees and New England Patriots vs. New York Jets.

Then New Hampshire dropped three of four points — albeit in controversial fashion — to BU while BC swept Maine at Alfond Arena.

While this past weekend did take just a hint of luster off the Sunday afternoon contest, this rivalry is sufficiently intense to bounce back by the drop of the first puck.

New Hampshire tied BU at the Whittemore Center, 3-3, and then lost on the road, 4-2. But for many UNH fans, the story of the weekend was that all three controversial goal calls went BU’s way. The Wildcats could have played better, but didn’t get any breaks.

"Overall, the guys played pretty good hockey over the weekend," says coach Dick Umile. "It was disappointing in that we only got one point out of it. We competed and played pretty well down at BU, but we got nothing to show for it.

"Obviously, there are certain areas we have to improve on. I’m not saying we played great, but we competed hard and it was a weekend of hockey where it could have gone a different way and we could have gotten three points.

"But obviously we didn’t."

Nonetheless, the Wildcats are still well-positioned both nationally and within Hockey East.

"We’re a point out of first place," says Umile, concisely putting the past weekend into perspective.

An ongoing UNH concern, however, is the performance of its special teams. Mention of the "s" and "t" words are almost sufficient to prompt a groan of frustration from Umile even though New Hampshire and BU matched each other with one man-advantage goal on the weekend.

"Obviously, we’re not happy with our power play," he says. The Wildcats rank seventh best within Hockey East in both power play and penalty kill percentage. "I don’t think our shorthand is playing bad, but it just seems that pucks are going in.

"But our power play is not great. That’s for sure. It’s definitely something that we need to get going down the stretch here. We definitely need to improve that."

So what’s the problem with the UNH man advantage? A technical one? Personnel?

"It’s definitely not technical," says Umile. "A power play is only as good as how you move the puck around. It’s not technical. You can only do some many things on a power play. We’re just not moving it around too well."

Although the Maine game is Hockey East’s marquee matchup within the league, Umile and his staff aren’t thinking that far ahead.

"Honestly, we’ve just got to focus on Merrimack College on Friday and then we’ll talk about Maine on Saturday," he says. "Sunday becomes a nonfactor if we don’t pay attention to Merrimack.

"And it’s going to be a real important weekend for Merrimack, especially with Lowell winning two last week. Just look at the league. It’s crazy what’s going on.

"So right now we’re just talking about Merrimack. But [Sunday against Maine] will be important. No doubt about it. It always is when we play Maine." Maine stumbled into February with a 1-4-1 record since Jan. 8, including BC’s stunning 3-2 and 3-0 sweep of the Black Bears at Alfond Arena last weekend.

"BC played the way that I, and I think many others, thought they were capable of playing," says coach Shawn Walsh. "I was very, very impressed with how tough they were defensively.

"If they continue to play that way, that’s a team that, in my mind at least, becomes the favorite to win it. They were very, very impressive."

Despite the sweep, Walsh still likes what he saw in his own club on the second night, 3-0 loss or not.

"We played exceptionally well," says Walsh. "We out-attempted them, 64-34, but we just couldn’t buy a goal.

"I told our team the same thing I told them last March when we lost to BC in the Hockey East semifinal, that if we play that well every game, we’re going to go a long ways. And if we play as well as we did Saturday night, we certainly will.

"We’re not going to panic at all. We’re 1-4-1 in our last six, but every game has been a one-goal game. Even the 3-0 game was 1-0 with seven minutes to go. So we’re right there."

Walsh also notes that Maine’s two worst weekends — the BC sweep along with Northeastern’s sweep back in early December — came after the Black Bears were off for a week while their opponents were still active.

"We’ve had two layoffs this year where the other teams had played the week before and we’re 0-for-4," he says. "Obviously, I’ve got to take a good look at our scheduling." Actually, Maine’s schedule down the stretch is the easiest, by far, of Hockey East’s Big Five. Following this weekend’s game at UNH, the Black Bears play nothing but teams six through nine in the standings.

Of course, this year’s league results have shown that the old cliche of "on any given night" is undoubtedly true. Nonetheless, Maine will have the best opportunity to do some leapfrogging in both the standings and the national picture.

This week, however, UNH and its dominance (9-1-3) at the Whittemore Center stand in the way.

"They showed me their mettle when they beat us [at Alfond Arena] the second game after we buried them the first game," says Walsh. "They were a much different team.

"And they’re clearly a terrific team at home. It’s a whole different game on the big sheet. We’ve just got to be very, very smart."

A Lowell U-Turn

Just a couple weeks ago, the River Hawks looked to be in trouble. They sat in last place, had lost eight of their last nine games and appeared to be the favorite to be the odd man out come playoff time.

Today, however, UMass-Lowell is the owner of a three-game winning streak. Following offensive explosions against Princeton (6-2) and Providence (7-2), the River Hawks then shut out UMass-Amherst, 3-0. Most importantly, the latter two wins came against the exact same teams that Lowell must beat out for a playoff berth. "The difference for us," says UML coach Tim Whitehead, "is that in the last three games we’ve gotten the two things that we’ve been missing for a while: scoring and consistent goaltending. We’ve gotten both of those and when you get those things you’re going to win a few games.

"But we’re not doing anything special. We’ve just keeping it simple and trying to outwork the other team. We’re not doing any big strategy [changes]."

For a while, Lowell’s inability to bury its chances threatened to worsen as players pressed harder and harder. The six- and seven-goal explosions against Princeton and Providence, however, could have been just the bung-puller that the River Hawks needed to get the scoring touch to flow.

"There’s no question that it was very important for us to score some goals for our confidence," says Whitehead. "Early on in the season, we had trouble scoring and our goaltending was not always consistent. As a result, we dropped a lot of close games.

"But we’re not making too much out of the fact that we’ve won a few in a row. We just want to keep things simple, keep working hard and if we end up on the winning side of things, that’s great."

In looking at the four teams fighting for three Hockey East playoff berths, the River Hawks own the scheduling edge with the fewest number of games remaining (five) against the league’s Big Five. (Merrimack faces six, Providence seven, and all but one of UMass-Amherst’s remaining games are against Hockey East Top 10 teams.)

"We’re done with worrying about things that are out of our control," says Whitehead. "We just have to worry about ourselves and who we’re playing. These are big games for all the teams, not just for us.

"So as far as how we’re attacking the stretch run, we’re just going to worry about ourselves and how we play and just play the game and play it hard."

What’s The Problem In Providence?

If someone spiked the Friars’ New Year’s Eve punch, it sure was with something nasty.

By the end of the calendar year, Providence College had rebounded from a 2-6 start with nine wins in 10 games. Included in that stretch were two over Northeastern and one over Colorado College — two opponents that have flirted with the Top 10 — and an impressive Dec. 30 victory over #9 Rensselaer. By all account, the Friars were just inches away from a national ranking themselves.

Then the bottom fell out. They fell to a 1-6-1 mark in January and saw senior center Jerry Keefe leave the team.

"Obviously, nobody is happy that we’re playing this way," says PC coach Paul Pooley. "I don’t think anybody should be happy that we’re playing this way. We’ve really struggled in January, including myself.

"We’ve really been fighting it. No question.

"We’ve gotten into bad habits. From the RPI game to now is a major, major difference in terms of the way we’ve played on the defensive side of the puck. We just haven’t gotten it done since then."

PC now sits in last place in Hockey East, quite likely the first time that has happened this late in the season. In all but 1986-87 and 1987-88, when the Friars finished just above last-place New Hampshire, they have always been comfortably distant from the cellar.

"Obviously, every game we play now, we’re going to be the underdog," says Pooley. "People are probably licking their chops a little bit, thinking that Providence is down and out and they’re going to get a win.

"That’s something that we have to rally around. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re ready to play and understand that we’ve got to work hard for 60 minutes every time.

"My goal is for us to start playing well again, number one. And then take one game at a time."

If the Friars can put a couple wins together, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them go on a roll like they did back in mid-November. The talent to be considerably more than a last-place team is certainly there, but with this year’s roller coaster of a team, who knows?

"Confidence is a big thing," says Pooley. "We’re last, but you look at the other teams and they’re not far ahead of us. We could be right there and I feel real positive that we can do some things to turn this thing around.

"Things can turn around with the right type of effort and defensive commitment. I really feel that."

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question looked at the then-upcoming Maine – Boston College series and asked: what two brothers went in separate directions, one becoming a Black Bear and one an Eagle?

A popular, but incorrect, response was Trevor and Jeremy Roenick. The latter signed a letter of intent to go to BC, but never became an Eagle.

As it turns out, there are two correct answers. The more obvious of the two is Blake Bellefeuille, currently a senior at BC, and his brother Brian, who transferred to Maine from Illinois-Chicago and was a Black Bear from 1987-1990.

Ty Edwards nailed that answer well before anyone else.

Michael E. Mullowney Jr., however, dug up a more obscure set of Black Bear – Eagle brothers. He pointed out that the Braccias also qualify. Richard Braccia played for BC from 1985-1989. Rob Braccia began his career at Lowell, but after half a year transferred to Maine where he played during the 1986-1987 season.

A tip of the fedora, then, to both Ty Edwards and Michael E. Mullowney Jr..

As an aside, a few weeks ago this column noted that Jack Parker and Harvard legend Ralph "Cooney" Weiland preceded Niagara coach Blaise MacDonald in use of the phrase, "Hockey is a slippery game played on ice."

Alert reader Mark Divver points out that legendary New York Rangers coach Emile Francis should join Parker and Weiland based on a Francis quote in A Year on Ice, The New York Rangers Roller Coaster 1970 Season by Gerald Eskenazi.

Eagle eye Mark certainly deserves a tip of the fedora for unearthing that one.

This week’s contest poses the following question. Six Hockey East schools lost players to the U.S. National Team during the World Junior Championships. Excluding games in which a player was with Team USA, which of those six Hockey East teams can boast the longest current undefeated streak? And which team is the runner up?

As a potential tie-breaker, name the players that the two teams lost to the tournament.

Send your responses to Dave Hendrickson.

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

Like everyone else, I’ve got a few words to say about the Super Bowl.

It goes without saying that the game itself was one of the best. So let’s move on to all the external stuff….

Was it really just six of us that ate all that food? You know you’re with former football players when five pounds of jumbo shrimp vanishes that fast.

Faith Hill can sing the national anthem for me anytime.

And, good grief, it’s hard to believe that Tina Turner is 60 years old! That ain’t aging gracefully; it’s close to not aging at all. Tina performing "Proud Mary" may have been one of the worst lip-synchs of all time, but it still provided a great flashback to seeing her on the Flip Wilson Show all those years ago.

Which makes you wonder: was Ike Turner dumb as rocks or what?

The best part of the pre-game show was Barbara Walters and six or seven other women doing their best to try to prove that sexist sows can squeal as loudly as their male counterparts. It was terrific to hear them wax on about the pleasures of watching men in tight uniforms.

A double standard? Certainly! A roomful of males uttering the same comments about women on a pre-game show would have been unacceptable.

Nonetheless, that segment provided guys everywhere with that greatest of gifts: a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Now we can be pathetically superficial and simply say in dismissal of any complaints, "Hey, it was okay for Barbara Walters…."

Of course, I, ahem, deplore such superficiality. Oink. It really was Faith Hill’s voice that I was attracted to, not her skin-tight leather pants. Oink. I didn’t even hardly notice them skin-tight leather pants. Oink.

Well, since Barbara Walters is allowing me to be honest, Faith Hill’s pants and voice were both pretty spectacular.

My apologies to any offended by the above comments. But, hey, it was okay for Barbara Walters….

Is one of the great Super Bowl traditions dead? As riveting as the game was, the commercials were every bit as awful. Remember a decade or so ago when Apple Computers stunned everyone with its Big Brother/IBM spot? Or the Bud-Wei-Ser frogs? Or, ahem, the Victoria’s Secret gem that had half of male America rushing to that company’s website?

Collectively, this year’s Super Bowl ads laid an egg. There were a few good ones. The e-trade dancing monkey was brilliant when followed by the words, "We just wasted two million dollars. What are you doing with your money?"

The Mountain Dew cheetah chase was good, too. But a good chunk of the rest was nothing but flotsam and jetsam.

The biggest disappointment among the advertisers, however, was Budweiser. Yeah, the dog’s-worst-day-jumping-the-fence spot was a good one, but spare me the birth of a Clydesdale and some of the others of that mediocre ilk. The King of Beers had always been the King of Commercials until this past Sunday.

And lest I be accused of burying my message, let me come right out and say it. Hey, Budweiser, skip the dogs and the Clydesdales and all those other secondary animals and… Give… Us… The… Ferret! We want The Ferret and we want him now!

Speaking of which, I have a few parting words for my female readers out there: "Wicky-wicky-wicky."

Thanks to Jim Connelly for his assistance.