This Week in the Hockey East: March 9, 2000

The Second Season

If not for the home-ice dominance discussed last week, this weekend’s quarterfinal playoff series would appear rife with upset possibilities. The question, then, will be whether or not that factor will cool some hot road underdogs and put all the home teams into the FleetCenter.

Here’s a look at the matchups.

#1 Boston University hosts #8 UMass-Amherst

Dec. 3 Boston University 2 UMass-Amherst 1 Dec. 4 Boston University 4 UMass-Amherst 3 (OT) Feb. 4 Boston University 3 UMass-Amherst 2

After clinching first place, Boston University misstepped last weekend, tying Merrimack, 3-3, and then taking it on the chin from Boston College, 6-2.

"We seem to have wrapped up the league and then all of a sudden taken a couple games off," says coach Jack Parker. "You want to be going [into the playoffs] playing your best hockey, but there’s a reason why [we haven’t].

"Wisconsin wrapped it up and then they lost the next [weekend], too. There’s a rationale for it, but you hope that you can overcome the human nature of a natural letdown.

"The regular season is over now and everybody’s record is 0-0. We worked hard to get the home ice advantage. Now we have to see if we can take advantage of it."

Parker has no worries, however, that the letdown that hit his team this week will carry into the upcoming series.

"We have not had anything but a hard time with UMass the three times we played them," he says. "At their place, we scored with a minute to go in the game off a faceoff to win it. We scored with 20 seconds to go in overtime in our building to win it. And we had to come from behind in the third period and get two goals up there the last time we played.

"So we have not walked through them whatsoever. It will be a tough series and we know it. And they’re playing real sharp right now.

"There won’t be any letdown because we’re looking by UMass. We might not be ready to play because we’re not healthy or we’re not focused for other reasons. But it won’t be because we’re looking by UMass, that’s for sure."

Health is a concern, although all the signs point to a return for several players. John Cronin is a lock to return this week, barring a reinjury in practice. Pat Aufiero sat out the season finale against BC after aggravating a groin, but has returned to practice and is expected to play. Jack Baker, who bruised his ribs against BC, is also slated to be in the lineup.

In the nets, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Jason Tapp play the second game if BU wins on Friday. Tapp has played well recently, prompting Parker to say after the netminder surrendered six goals against BC, "He was one of the few guys who showed up to play."

But Rick DiPietro will open the series and if UMass-Amherst takes the first game, it would be hard to see Parker not going with the guy who got the Terriers into first place.

"Ricky will open up the playoffs and we’ll see how it goes from there," says Parker.

UMass-Amherst had to split with Boston College two weeks ago and then get a point in two games against UNH last weekend just to qualify for the playoffs. Anything less would have resulted in the Minutemen sitting at home while UMass-Lowell advanced.

"If I had a dollar for every person who thought we wouldn’t make the playoffs looking at our last six games, then I’d be a rich man today," says coach Joe Mallen with a smile. "All we wanted was the opportunity to get to the FleetCenter.

"Everybody says the same things about records being 0-0 and you start all over again and everything, but you win two games and you’re in the FleetCenter. That’s a huge motivational factor for every team in Hockey East."

After clinching the playoff berth with the tie at UNH on Friday, however, the Minutemen didn’t finish the regular season on a high note, losing at home to the Wildcats, 5-1.

"We didn’t play well," says Mallen. "I hope that’s actually going to be a little positive momentum, [showing us] that when things don’t go our way, how hard we need to work to be successful.

"Against BU right now, we have to play very steady and have good positional play. We’ve got to work for our breaks, play a strong road game and keep the fans out of it."

Keeping the fans out of it may be a little easier given that BU is on spring break. Nonetheless, Mallen knows that it’ll be tough to beat the Terriers, especially at Walter Brown Arena.

"I’ve felt since November that BU could be the top team in the league with Freddie Meyer coming in to bolster a real good set of defensemen," he says. "I’ve got a great deal of respect for their team. They can come at you with a lot of depth.

"Obviously, against BU you have to stay away from penalties at all times. We don’t want to put ourselves in a lot of special teams situations. We have to continue to play our system. When we play our system, we get good goaltending and we can counterattack. Then we can be in a position to beat anybody.

"If we can stick to our system and not get into a shootout, then we can put ourselves in a position of making it a three-game series. That’s got to be one of our goals.

"If you can get to a third game, I think the odds might swing to the underdog’s side. Then it comes down to a bounce here and a bounce there, conditioning and who’s injured and who’s healthy."

#2 New Hampshire hosts #7 Merrimack

Jan. 14 New Hampshire 4 Merrimack 2 Jan. 15 New Hampshire 6 Merrimack 3 Feb. 4 New Hampshire 2 Merrimack 2 (OT)

New Hampshire took three of four points last weekend, but still enters the playoffs with only a 2-3-1 mark in the last six games. Additionally, the Wildcats have been hit hard recently with injuries.

In Friday’s game, they lost Corey-Joe Ficek and David Busch for the season. Ficek suffered a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament; Busch broke his ankle, requiring surgery.

Lanny Gare, who sprained an ankle during practice the previous week, is a slim possibility, but more likely will have to wait another week. Which leaves UNH with only 12 available forwards, all of whom should dress.

Combining all that with Merrimack’s strong play of late makes this a matchup that bears watching.

"Any of these series are difficult and Merrimack has had a good season," says coach Dick Umile. "Our last game was a tie and it’s on everyone’s mind. I expect it to be a very competitive, difficult weekend."

Umile also recognizes that Merrimack is probably a lot more dangerous than your average #7 seed.

"[Merrimack coach] Chris [Serino] has his team playing well," says Umile. "But we came off this weekend playing well against UMass. So it should be a good weekend.

"But all the matchups are going to be tough in our league. If anything was proven this year, it was that the parity of the league is evident."

Merrimack continued its trend of playing everyone tough, gaining a 3-3 tie with BU on Friday. That added an exclamation point to a stretch dating back to Jan. 22 during which the Warriors have posted a 3-3-5 record, including ties or wins against BU, UNH and Northeastern.

"I would think that we’re probably the favorites," says Serino, his tongue firmly embedded in his cheek. "I would think that they’d be scared [witless] to play us."

All kidding aside, Merrimack has completed a surprisingly successful regular season after seemingly everyone picked the Warriors for the cellar.

"I think we’ve probably far exceeded anybody’s expectations but our own," says Serino. "Face the facts, I don’t think that anybody thought we’d finish anything but last. But we felt as a team that we could finish in the top five. I thought that because of our balance and I thought we’d be a better defensive team than we were last year. And we came pretty close to doing it.

"Going [into the playoffs], we feel pretty confident with the way we’re playing. Obviously, we’re going to need some breaks, but we feel that [goaltender Cris] Classen is playing pretty well and as a team we’ve been giving up shots in the twenties, which is pretty good with some of the firepower that’s in Hockey East.

"We feel pretty good about the way we’re playing. Since the end of January or beginning of February, we haven’t won a ton of games, but we haven’t lost many either. That’s a good thing for us, especially with them almost all Hockey East games. It wasn’t like we played nothing down the stretch. We’re getting better every game. That’s what’s encouraging to me."

Goaltending and special teams are always keys in the playoffs. Serino, though, doesn’t see special teams as the biggest key, but rather the absence of special teams.

"When you get into power plays and even four-on-fours, it really favors the more skilled team," he says. "The key for us is to keep playing them five-on-five. If we can do that, then we have a chance. But if we get into any kind of a shootout, even five-on-five, it’s over for us.

"We’re not like a UMass that sits back and waits. That’s not our style. But we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got people high to control the odd-man rushes because [UNH] will execute those if they get them."

Serino has also made it clear in the past that he considers the Whittemore Center to be one of the toughest places for a visiting team to play.

"It’s very difficult to take their fans out of the game," he says. "What you have to do is stop them from putting flurries on you when they keep the puck in your end for a minute or two minutes and they’re going at you. That works the fans up as much as a goal or two. So we’ve got to play well defensively."

Quips aside, Serino thinks his team has a shot and they’re going to go for it.

"I want my players to know that we’re going in to win, not just to hang on," he says.

#3 Boston College hosts #6 Northeastern

Nov. 12 Northeastern 6 Boston College 5 Nov. 30 Boston College 4 Northeastern 2 Feb. 7 Boston College 6 Northeastern 0 (Beanpot) Mar. 2 Boston College 7 Northeastern 2

Boston College finished the regular season with a bang, trouncing Northeastern, 7-2, and BU, 6-2.

"[Momentum] certainly helps," says coach Jerry York. "You want to be playing your best hockey…. We’ve had some ups and downs over the last month and a half, but for the most part, it’s been our best hockey. Certainly, [Sunday against BU] was a convincing display by us."

While third place wasn’t the original objective, York realizes that the most important hockey has yet to be played.

"If you’ve got a good team, you’re looking at a lot of different scenarios," he says. "We [wanted] to win a [regular-season] championship, but we also want to get a chance to go to the White House."

The Eagles almost set a Hockey East record this year for least goals allowed, but two in the third period of the final game put them at 50, one over New Hampshire’s total last year. BC did, however, set a new mark for best penalty-kill percentage (92.0) in league games.

"Those are two critical areas for us," says York. "All season long, the play of our team defense, highlighted by the goaltenders, kept the goals-against down. And the PK adds to that."

York sidestepped the question of whether it was better to face Northeastern in the quarterfinals or Providence. Instead, he quips, "I don’t think UMass-Dartmouth will come play us, will they?"

After noting that Northeastern defeated New Hampshire, Maine and the Eagles, as well as tying BU, York adds, "This year, the four teams that finished out of home ice all have a chance to go to the FleetCenter. I don’t know if that’s been the case the last few years. There’s not a lot of difference between the four that stay home and the four that travel.

"We’re concerned that we’ve got to play well to advance. They don’t [just] send you to the FleetCenter; you’ve got to earn it."

Although in January, it looked like Tim Kelleher was the goaltender to get BC to the Promised Land, Scott Clemmensen’s reemergence has put the junior back on top. He had to leave the game against Northeastern on Thursday because of a minor injury, but returned to play all 60 minutes against BU.

"I just thought Clemmer has been the sharpest of the two," says York of his decision to come back with Clemmensen. "They’re both running 1-2 in the league. But the last month or so, [he’s been sharp] and he didn’t get a chance to play against BU last time."

Northeastern limped into the playoffs with seven straight losses, a stark contrast to the club that went undefeated in January. At the beginning of the losing streak, the Huskies could at least take pride in the way they were playing and just hope that they’d start burying the puck. But last weekend, both Boston College and UMass-Lowell thumped them, 7-2 and 6-2 respectively. "It couldn’t be better," says coach Bruce Crowder with a rueful laugh when asked to assess his team. "Right now it’s a matter of us putting everything else behind us. There’s nothing left to play for in regards to the regular season. Now there’s everything to play for in the playoffs. That’s where we have to change our focus and come at the weekend with that attitude."

Northeastern’s disastrous stretch run frittered away home ice first, and then fifth place. As the sixth seed, the Huskies are now matched against BC, the team that no one really wants to face. They have their work cut out for them, but Crowder sees two keys to pulling off an upset.

"We’ve got to take care of things that we can control," he says. "One, we can’t be taking penalties or getting outside of our system. If we do that, it’s going to hurt us a little bit. Obviously, they’re very explosive.

"The other thing on the offensive side is that we’ve got to take advantage of the opportunities we do get. The last time we played them, they really took it to us the first period. It was 22-1 in shots in the first period and we came back in the second period and outshot them, 18-3. We got one out of the 18 and they got three out of three.

"It’s a series that our guys are going to be up for and excited about. We haven’t been in the playoffs for a couple of years. This is a good opportunity to right the ship."

#4 Maine hosts #5 Providence

Nov. 7 Maine 5 Providence 2 Mar. 3 Maine 6 Providence 6 (OT) Mar. 4 Maine 3 Providence 2

Maine took three of four points at Providence College last weekend to extend a month-long undefeated streak. Doubters might point to that stretch as including no opponents among the other home ice teams and also focus on the Black Bears’ difficulties against Hockey East’s other elite teams prior to that.

Coach Shawn Walsh, however, isn’t having any of it.

"We’re thrilled to be heading into the playoffs with an eight-game unbeaten streak," he says. "We’re very pleased to have gotten a tie and a win at Providence. Very few teams have been able to beat them down there. So for us to go down and get three out of four points is really a feather in our guys’ cap. I also like the fact that we’ve been behind in each of the last three games and have won two of them and tied the third."

Goaltender Matt Yeats surrendered six goals on 27 shots Friday night, but may have been more the victim of poor team defense. And on Saturday he was lifted after the first period, after which Mike Morrison tossed a shutout.

"I told the team that I was going to play Morrison at some point," says Walsh. "That was prearranged so he could get some action and Yeats could get some rest and watch PC, since we might play them this week.

"Yeats is our guy."

Walsh likes the look of his lineup, despite losing Robert Liscak for the next two weeks. "We’ve got good balance," he says. "Losing Liscak will hurt us for the Hockey East playoffs. He may be back by the NCAAs, but it does disrupt us slightly. But I like the way our lines are working."

Even so, Walsh considers Providence a scary team, based on its play last weekend against the Black Bears.

"I was very impressed with the Friars," he says. "They’ve changed over their team into more of a speed type of team. They’ll be a very dangerous opponent for us in the playoffs. Familiarity alone will create close, close games."

Providence may well be the sleeper among the road teams this week. The Friars have compiled a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games, of which six were against Top 10 opponents. As such, they almost certainly have been unfairly overlooked as a serious contender.

"I think everybody overlooks us anyways, no matter if we’re playing well or not," says coach Paul Pooley. "It doesn’t matter if we’re 6-3-1 in our last 10 or whatever. It’s just par for the course."

Most of the Friars’ recent success, however, has been at home where they’ve compiled an 11-5-1 record that is a mirror image of their 5-11-1 mark on the road. In particular, they haven’t beaten Maine at Alfond Arena since Mar. 24, 1989.

"We’ve got our work cut out for us," says Pooley. "There’s no question. We haven’t won in Maine for a long time. I haven’t won in Maine yet.

"But obviously the way BC played [on Sunday against BU], it’s probably good that we’re going to Maine [instead of BC]. They looked real good.

"Maine is tough at home and I’m concerned about a few things that we’ve got to work on, but going into the playoffs it’s do or die."

The Friars may benefit from having just played Maine this past weekend.

"I think it’s good," says Pooley. "We certainly learned their strengths and what we can do on them. Obviously, they play better at home, but when you play at home you’re more jacked up and you make more mistakes.

"We’ve got to play good defensively and weather the storm at times. We’ve been close up there a few times and had leads. The thing is we just have to get better, make some changes and go up there and give it everything we can."

Notes From The Whittemore Center

If you’re looking for stock tips or sure things at the race track, you might want to consult UNH Sports Information Director Steve Jones. Prior to Friday night’s game against UMass-Amherst, his game notes said that "the crystal ball says [Darren] Haydar will score" after two games without a point. Sure enough, the sophomore not only scored once, but twice.

It makes you wonder why people say that Jonesie has no talent…

Wildcat supporters who missed the exceptional Diamond Anniversary Classic game program back in November can still order a copy. It includes a 16-page history of the UNH hockey program, complete with photos and a lot of fascinating material. Compiled by Greg Ambrose and Andy Leahy, this is an item that no Wildcat fan should be without. In fact, anyone with an interest in the sport’s history would be well served ordering a copy.

Send six dollars, which includes postage and handling, to:

Friends of UNH Hockey c/o Athletic Dept University of New Hampshire 145 Main St. Durham, NH 03824

When Merrimack played at UNH earlier this season, the family of one Warrior player traveled down from Quebec and went home winners of the 50-50 raffle. Ty 2K may have been UNH’s slogan, but this family wound up with $2K Canadian.

Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest posed the following question: 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.

The tip of the fedora goes to Chuck Murray, who correctly gave the answer of Providence College’s Ron Wilson. Wilson totaled an astounding 250 points from the blue line.

(It should be noted that Chuck, who is either "a legend" or "infamous" for his contributions to the USCHO message board, became the first winner to request an acceptance speech.)

Providence Sports Information Director Arthur Parks provides the following additional facts regarding Wilson.

Ron is PC’s all-time leading scorer (78-172-250). His brother Brad is 10th (63-96-159) and his other brother Randy is 12th (67-87-154). All three Wilson brothers went to East Providence High School.

Ron Wilson was actually born in Canada. His father came to Providence to coach the Rhode Island Reds.

In his senior season at PC, Wilson was a co-captain with current Vancouver GM Brian Burke. His head coach was Devils’ President and GM Lou Lamoriello.

Wilson’s daughter Kristen graduated from Providence College last spring. During parent’s weekend, the Friars played UMass-Amherst. Bobby Orr was at the game, as was Wilson. The highest scoring defenseman in NHL history and the highest scoring defenseman in NCAA history were sitting within 20 feet of each other and probably did not even know it — nor did anyone else in the building!

This week’s question asks: what hometown can boast the greatest number of Hobey Baker Award winners? Mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson.

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

It was 4:05 last Saturday. I was standing on my feet clapping. There was a good chance that Ray Bourque was playing his final seconds as a Boston Bruin.

Then the buzzer sounded and I watched the referee skate over to the puck, pick it up and hand it to Bourque.

It was over.

I felt a thud in the pit of my stomach. Bourque, the symbol of everything that was right about the Bruins for the past 21 years, was as good as gone.

The sad thing is that he played for an organization whose primary goal is not to win the Stanley Cup, but rather to sell the most hot dogs, beer and four-dollar sodas. So Bourque has to leave to have one or two more shots at pro hockey’s Holy Grail.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge if there ever was one, does have several league championships to his credit. Unfortunately for Bourque and fans of the team, those titles are in a different category than Stanley Cups.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Bruins make more money than any other hockey team. I don’t begrudge owners a profit. But enough is enough. When it comes to making money, Jacobs has been a dynasty to rival the old New York Yankees and Boston Celtics.

One can imagine him circling his mansion each year with a dollar bill held aloft while the refrain of "We Are The Champions" blares.

Word has it that Jacobs will be behind the B’s bench next year. That way, he won’t have to pay anyone to do it, plus he’s convinced that he knows more about penalty killing than three-time Coach of the Year Pat Burns.

I like the idea. I just want a seat within earshot…

Thanks to Scott Weighart and Andy Dursin for their assistance.