This Week in the Hockey East: February 10, 2000

Beanpot Final: The Killer Bs

This Monday, it’ll be The Killer Bs — BC and BU — meeting in a dream Beanpot championship game. The Commonwealth Avenue archrivals advanced with an unprecedented pair of first-round shutouts, Boston College blanking Northeastern, 6-0, and Boston University over Harvard, 4-0.

The Valentine’s Day tilt will be the 14th time the two schools have met in the championship game. Boston University holds an 8-5 edge in those contests, including the last six in a row. Boston College’s last title win over the Terriers came in 1976.

The final outcome, however, will probably more closely reflect how the two teams are playing now than how they’ve played over the last 24 years. Both teams are on a roll. BU has a 10-game undefeated streak going and is now ranked third in the country. BC comes in at number five nationally and is 13-2-1 in its last 16 games.

"It’s a real good matchup," says Boston College coach Jerry York. "One, because it’s against our arch-rival. Two, because it’s for a championship. And three, because we’re both nationally ranked; we’re both enjoying good years.

"When you get BC and BU at the top of their games and play for a championship, it just intensifies the rivalry. We want to win a Beanpot and this is our opportunity."

York is mindful of BU’s recent Beanpot dominance, but also knows that his own club has played in many pressure-packed games the last two years while winning back-to-back Hockey East tournaments and advancing to the Frozen Four.

"We give BU all the credit in the world for what they’ve done," he says. "Their success in the Beanpot over the last five years is a really noteworthy accomplishment. I guess once you win one, you feel better about the next one.

"[But] we’ve been in a lot of big games over the past couple years. Our emotions will be running high, but we’re getting used to these type of games. The more you play them, the better you’re able to handle your emotions in a positive sense.

"We know that we’ve [been playing well] since late November — very good defensively and capitalizing on good offensive chances. Both teams are playing very well, so that’s a good indicator that it should be a very well-played game.

"We play similar styles. Our defensemen both jump up in the offensive zone. They’re becoming very dangerous offensively."

York hasn’t decided yet on his goaltender.

Scott Clemmensen has been red-hot of late, posting back-to-back shutouts over Maine and Northeastern. The two give him eight for his career, which ties a school record set by Jack Fitzgerald back in 1922-25.

Tim Kelleher has also provided consistently excellent performances in the Eagle nets.

"They’re two excellent goaltenders," says York. "I’ve had All-American goaltenders who I’ve had a chance to coach, but never two of this caliber. They feed off each other."

As far as Boston University was concerned, it got the matchup it wanted.

"I told the guys that it would be nice if it was a BC-BU final because we’re both going so well," says coach Jack Parker. Mindful that his Terriers still have two games left with the Huskies, who BC knocked off to advance, he adds, "I’m really leery of Northeastern, to tell you the truth. I think we match up a little differently with Northeastern.

"But BC-BU is a great rivalry. It even gets heightened in the Beanpot, so there’ll be an awful lot of talk this week about next week’s game."

In sizing up the opposition, Parker finds a lot to be impressed with.

"BC sure looked scary [defeating Northeastern, 6-0]," he says.

"They were questioning what to do in goal for there a little while, but now they have the opposite problem. Both goalies are playing great.

"Clemmensen has won a lot of big games for them. I don’t know who we’re going to see on Monday, but whoever we see will be a guy who is playing pretty well. And their defense is playing great in front of him."

By contrast, Parker wasn’t entirely happy with his own team’s play.

"I can’t say that I was ecstatic about our performance, because once again we didn’t play 60 minutes," he said after the win. "We were sputtering around, going pretty well in the first and then I thought our best period was the third, at least in terms of intensity and our defensive effort."

In the middle period, however, the Terriers had to rely on goaltender

Ricky DiPietro. The spectacular freshman came through, however, and has now lost only once in 17 games since the middle of October.

In the closing stages of the first-round Beanpot matchup against Harvard, he missed out on a coveted opportunity to go for a goal when he couldn’t get to a Crimson dump-in. With the Terriers killing a penalty and the Harvard netminder pulled for an extra skater, the time had been ripe for DiPietro to take his best shot.

"I figured that was my chance, if there was going to be a chance in the game and I blew it," he said after the game. "So I was pretty upset with myself.

"But that’s one of my goals, to eventually score a goal. I had the opportunity to, but I blew it, I guess."

Minutes later, Parker commented on his netminder’s exceptional puckhandling skills.

"He’s been doing that since he was 14 years old," he said. "He always had the skill for moving the puck and the confidence that he could get to the corner and move it out.

"He’s gotten much better at it. It gets me a little concerned when sometimes he overhandles it when he could easily leave it for his defensemen but he’s trying to make a big play.

"And as you heard tonight, he’s looking to get a goal!"

Parker then rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief.

The Jack Baker Show

BU sophomore Jack Baker shined both on the ice last Monday, when he achieved his first collegiate hat trick, and then in the postgame press conference, when he pulled no punches in describing the BU-BC rivalry.

"[If you’re at BU], you don’t like BC, no matter where you’re from or who you know on the team," he said. "I know half the kids on the team, but still I want nothing more than to go out there and kill them when we play them.

"And I’m sure they’re not going to hold back anything either."

Ironically, Baker’s final choice of schools two years ago came down to the two archrivals. That fact, however, doesn’t dull the competitive edge.

"As soon as I got to BU, it was all BU and screw BC," he said. "It’s just embedded that you have to not like BC. It doesn’t take long to understand that if you’re at BU, you don’t like BC and that when you play BC, that’s the biggest game of the year for you."

As a South Boston kid, he’s seen firsthand the Terriers dominate the Beanpot and can understand how the other three schools tend to root for anyone-but-BU.

"I was real little when BC was up in the national polls, but ever since then it’s been BU, BU, BU," he said. "That’s all that you’d hear. You kind of get sick of hearing about BU, as I’m sure everyone at the Beanpot is by now. But once you get to BU, you understand what it’s all about, why it’s so special to go to BU.

"I’m sure that half the people here tonight wanted us to lose. They just want something different. But we’re not going to let that happen. We like to think of this as our tournament."

In a quote that had Parker shaking his head and BC partisans ready to tack it on the locker room wall, Baker lobbed a bomb toward the Chestnut Hill end of the Green Line.

"We know that our goal is to get to the final game," he said, "but in past years it’s been a question of whether BC wants to get to the finals."

Ouch! Baker looked like he enjoyed delivering that salvo and would savor being the fly on the wall when his former buddies who are now Eagles hear it.

When asked whether he’d been waving the red flag in front of the bull with his comments, he switched from a conventional bomb to a nuclear warhead.

"Yeah, I might have been," he said with a devilish grin. "But people might question whether BC just likes being the consolation champs the last couple years."

Hockey East Playoff Projections

Here’s this observer’s predictions of what the league playoff quarterfinals will look like.

#1 seed Boston University hosts #8 seed UMass-Lowell.

#2 seed New Hampshire hosts #7 seed Merrimack.

#3 seed Boston College hosts #6 seed Providence College.

#4 seed Maine hosts #5 seed Northeastern.

UMass-Amherst is the projection to finish last, primarily based on its finishing schedule of exclusively Top 10 teams: Maine, Boston College and New Hampshire.

Maine is picked to sneak past Northeastern into the final home ice spot because its schedule is a reverse image of UMass-Amherst’s. The Black Bears play only teams in the six-to-nine position in the standings.

And the team to beat in the Hockey East playoffs?

Hey, anything can happen, but it looks like Boston College.

As one league insider put it, "Every coach that I’ve talked to has said, ‘I hope they don’t pick us to wake up against.’ What happened [to Northeastern in the Beanpot first round] is what all those coaches feared might happen when they played them."

Sweeping The Cellar

On Jan. 6, UMass-Amherst entered the weekend in last place, but two days later had left the cellar after a sweep of Providence College.

Two weeks later, UMass-Lowell performed the same leapfrog act with weekend wins over PC and the Minutemen.

Last week, the Friars became the third team in five weeks to emerge from the Hockey East basement with a weekend sweep. In their case, the wins came over Northeastern and Merrimack.

"It’s our version of cycling down low," says Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. "Somebody from here moves down to nine. Somebody moves up from nine to here."

Providence College is hoping that the latest upswing in its fortunes isn’t short-lived. It remains the league’s mystery team, one which fell from Top 10 contender to the Hockey East cellar in just one month.

One constant in the Friars’ roller coaster season, however, has been

team captain Doug Sheppard. The ham-and-egger has broken through to the 30-point plateau for the first time in his career and been a model of grit and hard work.

"We’ve definitely had a rocky season, up and down the whole way through," he said. "I just try to work hard and lead by example on the ice.

"Things are starting to pay off for me this year. I just keep getting bounces my way. That seems to be the big thing, just being in the right place at the right time."

Sheppard is the classic case of a kid who didn’t make a big splash early in his career, but whose persistence eventually paid off.

"Two years ago," says PC coach Paul Pooley, "when Dougie was a sophomore, I would never have picked him to be our captain. But with the maturity that he’s had in his game and his personal approach — a positive work ethic — there’s no question that he’s our captain.

"He’s having a great season because he’s focused on working hard. That’s why he’s having some success.

"Last [Friday], he got cut with a minute and a half left in the game, but we needed him for a five-on-six. He put his helmet on, got back out there, won faceoffs and deflected pucks.

"He’s the heart and soul of our hockey club."

Fox Sports New England TV Schedule

The weekends after this Sunday’s UMass-Lowell vs. Merrimack tilt are still officially listed as To Be Determined, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which games will be telecast.

Since FSNE is committed to carrying the Boston Celtics — ain’t that a pity! — and has indicated all along that it is trying to build up viewer support for a Sunday Game of the Week, it would be a major upset if the other games aren’t as follows.

Sunday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m., New Hampshire at Boston College Sunday, Feb. 27, 4 p.m., Northeastern at Boston University Sunday, Mar. 5, 7 p.m., Boston University at Boston College

With that trio, Hockey East is hoping for the kind of ratings that will lead to smooth negotiations for a TV deal next year and beyond with FSNE. Selective Notes and Quotes

Last weekend, New Hampshire coach Dick Umile split up Darren Haydar and Mike Souza for only the second and third times in their careers. Ever since last year’s season opener, the two have been on the same line. "We’ve had line changes throughout the season and throughout the games," said Umile after the Wildcats’ 1-0 win over Maine. "We change them up every period if the need be, depending on power play and shorthand [situations]."

When asked if the team’s lack of scoring was a worry, he answered from a position of strength.

"We had a lack of scoring tonight, but we’re very happy," he said. "We’re not a big scoring team. We had our chances [against Merrimack], but didn’t get them. Tonight, we only needed one to win.

"If we win 1-0, I’ll take that all year."

It was interesting to see Boston Bruins coach Pat Burns make reference to the Wildcats last week. Both Boston papers quoted Burns as saying, "Of all the teams we play, Toronto is one of the better teams in the NHL. But we’ve got to go after every single team.

"We can’t even take [the University of New Hampshire] lightly right now," he said with a laugh. "I think they’re No. 1 and we’d probably have a real good game against them.

"They’ve slipped to No. 2? Oh, too bad. But we’ve got to go after every single team."

Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder had one of the all-time best Beanpot quips.

"The gods weren’t with us tonight," he said after losing to Boston College. "I saw the priest go into the BC locker room beforehand. He didn’t stop at our place."

In that game, Roger Holeczy established a new Northeastern ironman record of 135 consecutive games played. The previous record was held by Jay Heinbuck, who played in a Husky uniform from 1982 to 1986.

In an ironic twist, Northeastern has just five losses in Hockey East, but three have come at the hands of Providence, which has only five league wins.

The Huskies’ string of killing off 26 consecutive opposing power plays was broken by BC’s Krys Kolanos on Monday. They have allowed only three power-play goals in the last 50 opportunities.

Merrimack defenseman Tim Foster is out indefinitely with a separated shoulder.

"I’m pleased with our effort," says coach Chris Serino. "We’re consistently playing hard every night and we’re causing some people some problems every night. It’s not easy anymore.

"I can complain all day about what we don’t have. But the bottom line is that you’ve got to make better what you’ve got. I think that’s what we’ve got to base things on. Maybe I’m biased, but I think we’re making better what we’ve got. We’re getting better.

"When you’re rebuilding something or you’re trying to get to a certain level, you’ve got to take little steps before you take the big ones. I’m biased, but I think we’re getting better and I like the way we’re playing. I like the way we can skate with other teams now and play up-and-down with them, not just hang on with them."

Maine has now fallen to 0-4-1 in its last five games and has been shut out twice in a row. Nonetheless, coach Shawn Walsh isn’t panicking.

"We just couldn’t score," he said after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to New Hampshire. "But that’s going to happen. You’re going to go through these spells. It’s a nuance of hockey."

Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest posed 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 undefeated streak? And which team is the runner up?

The intention was to be asking about the longest current undefeated streak. However, the word "current" was only added after answers came pouring in that reflected a stretch without a loss that was no longer active.

The longest overall undefeated streak goes to New Hampshire with 12 wins; Maine and BU are runners-up at 11. However, none of those are current.

Northeastern owned the longest current streak going into last weekend with nine undefeated games dating back to Dec. 3. The Huskies went 1-2 without their World Junior player, Willie Levesque.

The BU Terriers were nipping right on the Huskies’ heels with eight straight games going into last weekend and have since passed them and now stand at 10. BU lost both of its games without Ricky DiPietro, Pat Aufiero, John Sabo and Dan Cavanaugh.

So the correct intended answer was Northeastern and Boston University.

The one person who did hit that nail on the head was Noah Smith. Noah, however, is the excellent Hockey Sports Information Director at Northeastern and as such is ineligible. It is, after all, it’s his job to know such minutiae. Had he answered incorrectly, it would have been time to get him fired. Or reassigned to an inferior sport such as basketball or football.

So this week’s tip of the fedora goes to Kelli Littman, who responded quickest with the UNH answer. She answered before the ambiguity was cleared up and, since she can’t be expected to be a mind-reader, is our winner.

This week’s contest comes courtesy of Boston Herald college hockey writer nonpareil, Jocko Connolly. It asks you to name the two players who have competed for more than one school in the Beanpot.

Send your responses to Dave Hendrickson.

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

It had a very long life for its species.

The Gateway laptop computer that I’ve used at games for the last three and a half years finally bought the farm.

Its extreme compactness — it was less than two-thirds the size of a conventional laptop — caught many an eye and had some writers convinced that it was state-of-the-art. In reality, it had a slow 486 processor in it and a sufficiently limited hard disk that even Windows 95 was out of the question.

But who cared? I wasn’t running MHz-thirsty computer games in the press box. It was perfect for writing game stories. Sadly, even a slow 486 processor thinks faster than I do. And a lot faster than I can type.

My brother Ray graciously donated it to the USCHO cause several years ago — something for which I remain grateful — after it had outlived its business usefulness.

Since then, it has been my vehicle for hundreds of game stories, including those for three national championships.

It served me well.

R. I. P.