Even before this week’s controversy involving Jack Parker, Hockey East fans were talking about the league’s officiating and, to no one’s surprise, it often wasn’t complimentary. Referees and linesmen are the equivalent of defensive defensemen. No one notices when they do a good job, but everyone notices when they make a mistake.
"If you look at the whole picture, the officials have done a really good job," says Hockey East Supervisor of Officials Brendan Sheehy. "They are called on to make hundreds of decisions literally every period and they’ve been on the money 90 or 95 percent of the time. I think they do an excellent job."
It’s that other five or 10 percent, however, that fans become fixated on, especially when it costs their team in the standings. No incident this season fueled the "they stink" talk more than Mike Souza’s disallowed goal in a Jan. 28 game between New Hampshire and Boston University. In a sequence in which play transitioned quickly from the other end, Souza rifled a shot past goaltender Ricky DiPietro, but neither the goal judge nor the linesman nor referee Jeff Bunyon saw it go in.
The game happened to be televised and by almost all accounts, the instant replay showed that it was in fact a goal. NCAA rules, however, stipulate that instant replay can only be used in the postseason and in tournaments.
When UNH had to settle for a 3-3 tie, Wildcat fans were understandably outraged. One media representative — though not one of the usual UNH beat writers — appeared ready to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to find out the name of the villainous goal judge so he could be appropriately tarred and feathered in print.
"The goal judge shook his head no," says Sheehy. "The puck went in and out so quick that it was almost impossible to see. I talked to some of the kids from UNH and some of them thought it went in and some of them didn’t think it went in before they saw the replay. It was a tough one.
"The gentleman in there was doing the best job he could possibly do. Souza shoots the puck pretty hard. It hit the water bottle. I think the water bottle added to the confusion.
"I was sitting behind the net and I didn’t see it go in. I saw a replay and I saw it go in. It’s just an unfortunate situation."
Some fans criticized Bunyon for not overruling the goal judge even though it was a tough transitional play for a referee to cover.
"We’re talking human beings here," says Sheehy. "You’ve got a sheet at UNH where it’s impossible to cover from goal line to goal line and be on every goal line. You can’t do it in the NHL and in the NHL you’ve got the red line [and the resulting two-line offsides] which gives the referees a chance to catch up. But here in the college ranks, a guy can make a pass from deep in the zone to the far blue line. It’s impossible to do.
"What people forget is that the lead linesman in that play was on the goal line. He failed to see it also because the thing went in so quick. The linesman was in position to call the goal, but he didn’t see it. It was a very, very difficult situation.
"I felt bad for UNH, but those things happen. What are you going to do?"
The vitriol even reached the point where some fans took pot shots at the presence of Jeff Bunyon’s father, Ned, at the game. Was he the official league observer that evening? (Hockey East employs an observer for each game to evaluate the officials’ performance.) Could he affect his own son’s evaluation?
"That’s hogwash," says Sheehy. "You can’t tell Ned he can’t go to games to watch his son officiate. He doesn’t observe his own kid and he never has. Ned never comments on his own kid, nor do I seek [his] comments on Jeffrey.
"Ned has been involved in this game in a positive sense for a lot of years. He helps us out with recommending new officials. People are way off base when they say that. In no way does he evaluate or have anything to do with Jeffrey’s performance."
Of course, the best judge for deciding goal-or-no-goal calls are the goal judges, who don’t have the multitude of responsibilities of a referee or, to a lesser extent, the linesmen. Coincidentally, Sheehy and Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna had already begun plans prior to the UNH controversy to evaluate the state of Hockey East goal judging.
"We discussed it at our meeting of the officials at Christmas," says Sheehy. "We’re going to take a good look at the goal judging situation at the end of the year. What we’ll probably come up with is we’ll want National Ice Hockey Official Association (NIHOA) referees to be goal judges.
"It has always been that the home teams are responsible for the goal judges. In the greater Boston area, we have one guy who assigns them independently for the schools. Most of the time, they [are] NIHOA officials. Maine has two NIHOA officials. But we just want to get more consistency throughout the league.
"You’ve got to leave yourself above suspicion. We just think we’ve got to make it uniform as a league with all the minor officials. That’s something we’ll be discussing after the playoffs."
Of course, it’s the referees who get the most attention among the officials, not the goal judges. Many fans peer with interest before a game to see which ref will be in charge of that night’s contest.
"What we set out to do at the beginning of the year is pretty evenly divide up the referees with the teams," says Sheehy. "We chart [it]. You get this team at home so many times and this team on the road so many times.
"We try to take a real good look at it so everyone sees all the referees the same amount. It doesn’t always work out, but, by and large, the variance may be one or two times."
Down the stretch, evaluations by the coaches, taken around the Christmas break and in February, combine with the observer evaluations to also factor into the assignments.
"As you get near the end of the season, you see how the coaches rate them and how the observers rate them and see how they’ve done with those teams in the past," says Sheehy. "You try to make a good decision and try to put the right guy in the right game.
"Some coaches don’t like a certain guy for a certain reason and with other coaches it’s a different guy. So we try to give them a good fair shot and make it fair for everyone going down the stretch."
With the postseason approaching, Sheehy will be deciding which officials will advance into the playoffs. Unlike in major league baseball, where those assignments are on a rotating basis, in Hockey East it comes down to who Sheehy feels has done the best job.
"Right now, I feel I have four of the top officials in the country," he says. "Talking to people from the other leagues, they concur and their coaches concur. And our fifth and sixth guys are very, very strong.
"It’s tough leaving one out come Hockey East playoff time, but I feel very confident that we have four A-plus officials."
FSNE Game Of The Week: BU-Northeastern
Boston University would appear to have all but clinched the regular season title and Northeastern’s odds of overtaking Maine for the final home ice berth appear slim.
Even so, this could be a real slobberknocker.
slobberknocker, n. A particularly excellent contest [origins: a boxer hitting an opponent so hard it knocks the slobber out of his mouth]
The two teams last met on Nov. 13, when the Huskies outshot BU, 33-16, but the Terriers came away frustrated because a Dan Cavanaugh overtime game-winner was waved off because of a skate in the crease.
Although the return to the bench of BU coach Jack Parker following his
Friday night suspension will add spice to the Sunday afternoon broadcast, the on-ice drama of this home-and-home series should be more than sufficient to catch a real fan’s attention.
"Every time I see them play, I think they’re as good a team as there is in our league," says Parker. "They generate a lot of offense. They generate a lot of shots on net. They’re a difficult team to come through center ice against. And they’re a physical team that matches up very well against us.
"I’d mentioned that I was hoping we’d get BC in the Beanpot instead of Northeastern because we don’t match up that well against Northeastern. I truly believe that. They present a lot of problems for us.
"They’re in a fight themselves for home ice. There’s a huge difference between being fourth and fifth so they’ll be ready for bear. They’ve had a great season at home so the [Friday] night game there is going to be a tough one.
"And unfortunately, they’re coming off a not-so-stellar weekend so they’ll be more ready. We know we’re going to have our hands full with one of the better teams in college hockey and certainly one of the better teams in our league."
Northeastern’s playoff outlook isn’t as bright now as it was three weeks ago. The Huskies lost five of six and fell to fifth place when Maine leapfrogged them in the standings.
"Beforehand, we were in control of our own destiny," says coach Bruce Crowder. "Now our destiny in terms of home ice is in somebody else’s hands. Obviously, if Maine wins out and we win out, everything stays the same. It’s just one those things that slipped through our fingers."
Other than a 6-2 win over New Hampshire, Husky scoring has fallen off sharply. Northeastern scored a total of only four goals in the five recent losses.
"The strange thing with our team is our inability to score goals," says Crowder. "We’re 1-5 in our last six games and in all six of those games we’ve outshot our opponent and outattempted them.
"Our guys play hard and I think we’ll play well [against BU]. It’s just a matter of whether we’ll score well. Unfortunately, that’s how games are decided.
"We’ve got to find the scoring touch, be hungry and whatever has happened in the past, put it behind us and just go out and play."
Crowder isn’t concerned about the recent loss of obvious motivating factors like an NCAA wild-card berth and a good shot at playoff home ice.
"About a month ago we were getting all caught up in that stuff," he says. "Basically we put it behind us and said we were just going to take one game at a time."
On the injury front, BU defenseman John Cronin is not expected back until next weekend. Northeastern sniper Todd Barclay is day-to-day, but indications are that he will return to his first action since injuring a shoulder in the Huskies’ Christmas tournament at Minnesota-Duluth.
Backs To The Wall
The UMass-Amherst Minutemen have their work cut out for them if they’re going to qualify for the Hockey East playoffs. Currently, they’re tied with UMass-Lowell for the last playoff spot and they lose the tiebreaker with the River Hawks.
Even though the Minutemen do hold a game in hand, their four remaining contests are home-and-home series with #6 Boston College and #4 New Hampshire. While Lowell’s games — two against Providence and one against Northeastern — are no stroll in the park, the River Hawks could easily lose out and still advance.
Even so, UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen remains optimistic.
"We feel that we’ve been so close to the top teams this year with our [three] one-goal games against BU and our one-goal game against UNH," he says. "Our guys have a lot of confidence going into the four games.
"Obviously, we have our backs to the wall. We know what’s at stake. We’re going to work and play our hardest and hopefully play our best hockey in these last four games and see if we can come away with the points we need to make the playoffs."
This week’s challenge is Boston College.
"They can come at you so many ways," he says. "Mike Mottau is a great player. Up front, you have to contend with all three top forwards — Brian Gionta, Blake Bellefeuille and Jeff Farkas — never mind the other guys who are good players as well.
"They’ve been pretty consistent all year long. They’ve played very well offensively and they’ve played very, very well defensively in terms of goals allowed.
"But we want to stick to our game plan and execute our game plan as well as we can. If we can take one of these games [this week or next] and get into the playoffs, I think we can be a dangerous team."
Freshman defenseman Samuli "Sammy" Jalkanen broke his arm in practice and is out for the year.
Around The Arenas
You gotta love a goaltender who says, "Man, they were running me so bad I got dain bramage."
Boston University is looking to complete the season undefeated at home. The Terriers are now 11-0-3 at Walter Brown Arena.
Tommi Degerman supplied a little humor to the Jack Parker suspension when asked how it was on the bench Saturday without the head coach.
"I don’t know, it’s a little bit more calm out there," he said, smiling. "Not as loud, you know."
Boston College split its series with New Hampshire. The win at Conte Forum on Sunday bolstered the Eagles’ home record to 11-1-1, but the loss at UNH dropped their road mark to just 7-7-0.
"I just think the Hockey East league is becoming a very difficult place to bring your team and win, whether it’s Merrimack or UNH," said coach Jerry York. "It’s hard to win on the road. But if you’re going to win a championship, you’re going to have to be able to win your share."
The Eagles are also looking to do a better job of staying out of the box. They buried themselves with penalties in the third period of the Beanpot championship game and got off to a four-penalty first period on Sunday.
"When you play aggressive, hard hockey — and we like to force the play — you’re going to get more penalties," said York. "But there’s a line there [between] what’s a good defensive play and what’s a penalty.
"If you play passively and sit back, you’re not going to get a lot of penalties, but we’re trying to be very, very aggressive. But there’s a line there… Anybody can play defense if they take penalties. [Just] tackle and grab. But [staying out of the box] is something that we’ve just got to get better at."
Although York hasn’t given up hope on a regular season title, he knows the odds are slim and is looking at another goal.
"Probably the most realistic one is trying to get that bye for the nationals," he said. "Two years ago, we had two Hockey East teams get byes. That’s a possibility this year, I would think, if we close fast, get a second spot [in the standings] and play well in the playoffs."
With Brooks Orpik out of the lineup on Saturday because of last Monday’s game disqualification, York went primarily with just four defensemen: Mike Mottau, Bobby Allen, Rob Scuderi and Bill Cass. Mottau logged 34 minutes of ice time that night, but returned to 28 minutes on Sunday when Orpik returned.
Which is not to say, of course, that 28 minutes is a day at the beach.
Maine got a big boost from freshman Martin Kariya over the weekend. After being a healthy scratch for five of seven games, he had a goal and an assist in each of the games against Lowell.
"Obviously, you’re not a very good coach if you have Marty Kariya out of your lineup for a while," said coach Shawn Walsh after the Friday night game in which the freshman was named the number one star. "He was clearly the best player on the ice. He set everything up. He got a goal and an assist, set up a breakaway and set up a two-on-one. What a lift he gave us!"
Kariya centered the fourth line that night. It was his first collegiate experience at center, but a position he played for two years as a junior.
"I’ve been tinkering on the fourth line and he clearly showed me he doesn’t belong on the fourth line," said Walsh. "He got more ice time as the game went on. He penalty killed. He played four-on-four. He’s going to take off now. I’ve got to keep using him."
Goaltender Matt Yeats can expect to start the rest of the season.
"He gets plenty of rest," said Walsh. "We did that with Alfie last year [play him every game down the stretch] and it seemed to work pretty well…. Matty Yeats is in a zone." UMass-Lowell goaltender Jimi St. John saw his first action in three months on Friday against Maine. He’d been sidelined with a broken collarbone. After just three days of all-out practice before the start, he played well.
"I just tried to come in today and do the easy stuff," he said. "Make the easy saves and focus on the little things and not try to do too much. After being off for three months, I didn’t want to come in and try to do too much or overplay stuff."
When asked if he knew which goaltender would start the following night, coach Tim Whitehead replied, "I haven’t decided," before adding with a laugh, "and I wouldn’t tell you if I had."
Walsh’s take on the River Hawks? "They forecheck harder than anyone in the league," he said.
Merrimack swept Northeastern last weekend, but will have tough sledding at Alfond Arena this weekend. The Warriors are 7-5-3 at home, but 3-9-2 on the road.
Anthem singer Jill Martin might need a few shooting lessons from Greg Classen based on her performance in a recent intermission contest at UMass-Lowell. But the kid needs no help in her specialty and will no doubt knock ’em dead again at the FleetCenter when she performs both anthems before the Hockey East playoffs.
Alex Sikatchev, a.k.a. The Russian Rocket, picked up his first collegiate point on Feb. 13 against UMass-Lowell. It was his third game, all against one of the UMass schools.
New Hampshire is off this week, a scheduling casualty of Hockey East’s odd number of teams. While ironman goaltender Ty Conklin should benefit from the rest, it’s not clear whether the layoff comes at a good or bad time for the rest of the Wildcats.
"I’ll tell you after [next] weekend when we play how the weekend [off] worked," said coach Dick Umile with a grin. "It’s not coming at a bad time — I hope.
"Ty is playing well… and he can use it, but we’ll be okay. We’ll use the time wisely, get a little bit of rest and get rejuvenated for the stretch run."
Providence is taking on UMass-Lowell this weekend in a home-and-home series. The River Hawks won the first meeting between the two teams, 7-2, at Schneider Arena on January 28 and have been surprisingly dominant of late in the Friars’ barn, taking four of the last five games there.
Rising to the occasion, however, hasn’t been a PC problem this year. The Friars have posted a 7-7 mark against ranked opponents.
Sophomore Drew Omicioli achieved a new career high in Friday’s win over BU with four points on two goals and two assists.
If I ever ask another question relating to football, please shoot me.
Last week’s contest posed the following question, courtesy of Mark Baumhardt: which Hockey East school faced St. Louis Rams hero Kurt Warner in a 1993 (football) playoff game?
The answer was Boston University, an ironic one since the school has since dropped football. Despite the irony, the torrents of email answering correctly — it seemed like half the BU student body — made the question far and away the easiest one posed this season.
The tip of the fedora goes to Alan Velasco, who not only was the quickest draw of them all, but fired before anyone else even had a hand on their holster.
This week’s question asks: which Hockey East sophomore has a father who played in Europe against the player’s current coach? Mail your wild guesses to Dave Hendrickson.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
A while back, the woman who was cutting my hair told me about an oddity on one of those daytime TV shows. Not Jerry Springer, but one of that ilk.
Perhaps oddity might be considered redundant in relation to such shows, but this one sounded even more weird than the usual "My Trailer Park Is A Secret Love Nest For World Wrestling Federation Transvestites Who Dream Of Someday Meeting Wayne Newton."
This particular show, according to the hair stylist, featured a man whose life’s goal was to become a lizard.
(And you thought your values were shallow.)
This man had shaved his head in a way that made it appear reptilian. He had then paid for surgery on his tongue to split it into a more lizard-like appearance.
As I heard this, I had to wonder about this guy’s father out on a golf course somewhere, swapping stories with his buddies.
"Yup, my son’s now a vice president," one of his partners would say. "Another five years and he’ll be the CEO."
"My daughter will graduate from law school in May," would reply another. "She’s number two in her class and has the pick of any top firm in the country."
And then there would be this other Dad. He’d nod in admiration for his partners’ good fortune, take a deep breathe and smile.
"Hey," he’d say. "My son is a lizard!"
Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions.