There’s No Place Like Home
Home ice has always held its advantages. This year, however, those advantages appear to be particularly potent. The following are the current home and away breakdowns by team.
Team Home Away Boston College 11-2-1 8-7-0 Boston University 12-0-3 7-4-3 Maine 13-3-1 7-4-2 UMass-Amherst 5-6-3 5-10-1 UMass-Lowell 5-9-1 3-13-2 Merrimack 7-5-3 3-11-2 New Hampshire 11-1-4 9-6-1 Northeastern 10-3-1 2-9-4 Providence 11-4-0 5-11-1
That all boils down to a .693 winning percentage at home as compared to .407 on the road. (It doesn’t add up to 1.000 because of nonconference games.)
A few details leap out at you. Six of the nine teams have double-digit wins and four or fewer losses. Only two teams, UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell, have losing home records and one of them, the Minutemen, could finish at .500 with a win this weekend.
Potentially only one team finishing with a losing record at home?
Is this typical?
Actually, no. This season is different.
Last year, there were four teams with losing home records and two with better marks on the road than at home (Northeastern and UMass-Lowell).
Team Home Away Boston College 11-3-3 8-7-1 Boston University 5-8-2 6-11-1 Maine 14-1-1 10-4-2 UMass-Amherst 8-6-1 4-15-1 UMass-Lowell 7-10-0 9-9-0 Merrimack 6-9-0 4-15-1 New Hampshire 18-0-1 9-4-2 Northeastern 3-11-1 7-8-2 Providence 12-8-1 8-8-0
Overall, home teams held serve with a .593 percentage, a full 100 points lower than year’s .693 number. And lest one think that the disparity is just because the league is winning more nonconference games this season, the numbers indicate otherwise. The collective Hockey East road record of .448 in 1998-99 fell significantly to .407 in 1999-2000.
By the numbers, then, it’s tougher to win in the other guy’s barn this year. And that doesn’t include the upcoming playoff quarterfinals, a week which traditionally fattens home winning percentages even more.
Fans love to point the accusing finger at the men in stripes first and there may be a kernel of truth in this case. Except for the famed Mike Souza non-goal in the Boston University game at New Hampshire, most of the times when a coach has gone ballistic this year, it has been as a visitor.
So perhaps the officiating has been tilted slightly more homeward this year.
Or maybe not. Contrary to what bands play in nine arenas, they really aren’t Three Blind Mice. Any difference in officiating, perceived or real, wouldn’t make up any more than a trivial portion of a 100 point increase in home winning records.
Almost certainly the explanation is that even though the strongest teams in the league are as good as they’ve typically been, the bottom end of Hockey East has gotten a good deal stronger.
"Each program has enough of its own strength that when they’re at home, it gives them just enough of an edge," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "In the old days, it didn’t matter. You could overpower a team in their rink. But you can’t overpower anybody now in our league."
They’re The Champs
In the preseason, Hockey East coaches picked Boston University to finish fifth. One foolhardy writer — moi — even pegged the Terriers for eighth. They’d finished fifth the year before and then graduated some talented players and had nothing but question marks to fill those holes.
So when they took their sixth Hockey East regular season title in seven years, BU coach Jack Parker could savor the accomplishment. "We never dreamed that we’d win the Hockey East regular season," he said. "I really thought that we’d have a much better team this year, we’d have a much more competitive team and score a few more goals this year. But I thought we’d have a hard time getting in the top four. I thought we could be a much better team and not get any higher than we were last year.
"That month of January really did it for us. We went from being just another club in the league to taking care of BC, UNH and Maine all in one month. [BU took three of four points each weekend.]
"It was a huge month for us. We knew when the season started that it would be a huge month. To do what we did that month shot us up in the standings and shot us up confidence-wise as well.
"This certainly is a surprising year for me. It wasn’t surprising once we started rolling and saw how we were playing. We played almost the same way all year. We didn’t dominate anybody. We played smart in most periods.
"There were times that we’d give away a period, but didn’t give away the game because of it. We were so consistent, it really paid off. We won a lot of games by winning two out of three periods. But we didn’t dominate anyone.
"It was a real war. We got great goaltending and our defense was so much more improved this year than they were last year. [Pat] Aufiero and [Chris] Dyment had a full year to play for us instead of the half years they played last year [because of injury].
"The two freshmen coming in, [Mike] Bussoli and [John] Cronin, played real well. And then the addition of Freddie Meyer in the second semester really helped us. He’s been a great addition to this club confidence-wise."
The Terrific Turners
UMass-Amherst has the best pair of Turners since Tina.
Jeff Turner, a junior, has totaled 14 goals and 17 assists this year for 31 points. Those numbers place him 13th in points and ninth in goals relative to the rest of Hockey East.
"There’s no question to me that he’s definitely one of the better forwards in the league," says coach Joe Mallen. "I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves based on where we are in the standings.
"He’s a top 15 scorer in Hockey East now and I see great things ahead for him in the future. He can be one of the top five players in the league next year.
"He’s a heart-and-soul kind of kid. He plays as hard defensively as he does offensively and he’s one of the big leaders in our locker room."
Jeff Turner’s younger brother,
Tim, a rookie, got off to a lukewarm start, but since Jan. 14 has scored four of his five goals and added 12 of his 20 assists. His 25 points now place him just one behind rookie scoring leader, Peter Fregoe of Providence College.
"There’s nothing like playing with Jeff," says Tim Turner. "He’s a great player who makes things happen. In my opinion, I think he’s one of the top players in the league. He’s proven himself."
The two are becoming one of those combinations in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, a characteristic which probably reached its zenith when Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin worked their magic at Vermont. The Turners aren’t at that level — who is? — but could soon capitalize on instinctively knowing each other’s moves before they are even made. "The last 6-8 games, we’ve really started to click," says Jeff Turner. "We’re starting to find each other on the ice. Things are starting to go our way."
In Sunday’s big win over BC, the Turner brothers collaborated on three of UMass’ first four goals. (Brothers Jay and Justin Shaw assisted on the other.) When apprised of that fact, Mallen grinned and said, "I might head out tonight and see if I can get some more brothers."
Not a bad idea.
Around The Arenas
Boston University’s home game against Northeastern on Sunday was hampered by unseasonably warm temperatures that resulted in sub-par ice conditions.
"That’s what happens when it’s 60 degrees in this building," said coach Jack Parker. "We need a new rink."
He then paused for effect before adding, "Oh, yeah, we’ve got one coming."
When asked whether he’d rather face UMass-Amherst or UMass-Lowell in the playoffs, Parker equivocated.
"They both are scary for us because of what happened with us in games with both teams this year," he said. "If you look at the score, the territorial advantage and the shots, both teams really gave us problems both home or away…. So it’s going to be tough.
"Lowell really matches up well against us. And UMass has played us tough all year and UMass is the team that’s hot right now."
Defenseman John Cronin is expected back for the weekend. He could have played last Sunday, but was held out. Colin Sheen, however, is still unable to move his wrist all the way back.
After a 5-1 loss to UMass-Amherst, Boston College coach Jerry York offered no excuses.
"We never appeared to be on the top of our game," he said. "It’s a credit to UMass. They checked us very well…. The trap frustrated us.
"We have no excuses. They played a solid game and clogged the neutral zone and capitalized on the transition. You’ve got to give them credit.
"Our league is a tough league. I have no apologies for losing to anybody."
Maine extended its winning streak to six games with a weekend sweep of Merrimack.
"We’re obviously thrilled to have clinched home ice in the playoffs," said coach Shawn Walsh. "It certainly didn’t look [likely that we’d] make up that much ground three weeks ago when we were four points behind, knowing we would have lost the tiebreaker.
"But we’re playing very, very well right now. I like our line chemistry and the way we’re jumping.
"Merrimack played extremely well against us Saturday night. That’s as good a Merrimack team as I’ve seen. I tip my hat to Chris [Serino] for a great job with his club."
The Black Bears will be looking to ride that hot streak into the playoffs, but must travel to Providence for two games this weekend.
"It’s going to be a great challenge," said Walsh. "We’ve got to try to do what BC, New Hampshire and BU couldn’t do the last time they were in Providence and that’s get a win down there. They’re obviously playing very well, especially at home."
A lot of people, this writer included, counted UMass-Amherst out of the playoffs since it could qualify only by picking up points against Boston College last weekend or New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday. But a convincing 5-1 win over BC puts the Minutemen in the driver’s seat.
"We looked at this as a challenge, a chance for everyone to step up" said top-scoring junior Jeff Turner. "We knew that if we were going to make the playoffs, we were going to have to play a Top 10 team anyways, so we’re using this — I don’t want to say as a tune-up — but with a mindset that every game is a playoff game.
"If we can get through this adversity then we think that in the playoffs we’ll have a step up and we’ll be able to compete with the BUs, the UNHs and the Boston Colleges."
A little shinny hockey last spring might have played a part in the win.
Captain Nathan Sell did one of those captain-like things, hustling back after being foiled on a good scoring opportunity. That hustle paid off when he was able to make a key save with goaltender Markus Helanen down and out.
"Last spring I suited up and put the pads on and Markus played out when we played some shinny last spring," said Sell. "So maybe I can blame it on that."
"That was absolutely huge," said Mallen, who added with a smile, "the best save of the night was made by our captain."
If Lowell wins its game, however, the Minutemen must take at least a point in a home-and-home against UNH this weekend to make the playoffs. Mallen contrasted UNH’s strengths with BC’s.
"With UNH, they’re a real solid team across the board," he said. "When you look at BC, you’ve got the three forwards who really stand out, not to mention a lot of other guys. But with UNH, they’re consistent across the board.
"Everybody in the league has a lot of respect for Mike Souza, Jason Shipulski, John Sadowski and Darren Haydar, but they just seem to come at you with waves. They’re deeper and may even have a better fourth line.
"The key to them right now is trying to beat Conklin. I think Conklin, as far as the games I have seen, has played as well or better than any other goaltender in the country. He’s been that good."
UMass-Lowell must win it’s lone remaining game, Saturday against Northeastern, and hope that UNH sweeps UMass-Amherst. Otherwise, the River Hawks will not make the playoffs.
Merrimack had gone eight games with only one loss until last weekend’s sweep at Orono. Cris Classen remains the league’s top goaltender in save percentage with a .921 mark.
New Hampshire returns from a layoff last weekend.
Northeastern has completed a brutal February in which it lost seven of eight games despite playing very well in most of them. The latest came on Sunday at the hands of BU, 4-3.
"I’ll say it until the league can no longer let us play [because we’ve been] knocked out of the playoffs, but I still think this team has the capability to run the gamut," said NU coach Bruce Crowder.
"It might not show it in wins and losses, but it sure shows it with a lot of heart and the way they come to play."
Todd Barclay returned last weekend and scored a goal. It speaks volumes about the Huskies’ inability to finish that Barclay could miss 13 games and still be the team’s top goal-scorer.
"It’s no secret that goals haven’t been easy to come by over the month of February," said Crowder. "That’s frustrating, but at the same time the good news is that we got three [against BU]. Maybe next game, we’ll get six.
"That’s the way you have to take it. There’s no use beating on the kids, because they’re playing hard and giving it their all. For whatever reason, it isn’t happening for them."
One writer asked the difference between Northeastern’s 1-7 February and undefeated January.
"Goal scoring, exclamation point, slam dunk," said Crowder. "I can’t say it any better than that. [The 4-3 loss to BU] was the first time we got outshot in the last eight games. That’s the secret. We just didn’t score goals in that stretch."
He then added a characteristic quip for good measure.
"I can’t wait for March."
Providence hosts Maine for two games that could vault the Friars into fifth place. Currently, they are one point behind Northeastern, but hold the tiebreaker if they can draw even.
Maine won the earlier meeting with PC, 5-2, at Orono. The Black Bears have posted a 40-26-1 mark all-time against the Friars.
PC is 6-2 in its last eight games and has won four straight at home. Goaltender Boyd Ballard has been a big reason for that success. He now owns a 12-10 mark, a 2.77 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.
Last week’s contest posed the following question: which Hockey East sophomore has a father who played in Europe against the player’s current coach?
After the previous week’s deluge of correct answers to the Kurt Warner question, it seems fitting that this question stumped all but Jared Colbath. He gets the much-deserved tip of the fedora for answering Yorick Treille, whose father played with River Hawk coach Tim Whitehead.
Treille was also the answer to an earlier trivia question involving hometowns in which the Winter Olympics were held (Grenoble, France). That particular question prompted reader Richard Burkholder to respond with an email with the subject line, "C’est le Grenoblais: Yorick Treille."
To which I must confess to everyone, including Lynn English High School’s Ms. Zingfine that I didn’t learn bookoo French, but I’ve forgotten all of it.
This week’s question asks: who is the all-time leading NCAA scorer among defensemen. Hint: he played for a school that was in the ECAC at the time, but is now in Hockey East. Mail your wild guesses to Dave Hendrickson.