And The Envelope, Please
The official Hockey East Awards will be announced Thursday evening. Then it’ll be the real experts — the coaches — who will have done the voting. But here’s one writer’s opinion about how the honors should be dispensed.
Some of these choices ignore the statistics. Ask any coach and he’ll tell you of 24-point scorers who are better players than those who top that figure by a good margin. Stats depend a lot on how good someone’s teammates are, not to mention the particular role he is asked to fill. So look at the numbers, but don’t be seduced by them.
Before moving to the official awards, let’s first select an All-Hendu Team comprised of players whose work ethic, perseverance and teamwork deserve special recognition. Then we’ll add an All-Underrated Team as a prelude to the traditional honors.
So without further ado…
Goaltender, Cris Classen (Merrimack): Every kid who is ready to throw in the towel at the first sign of adversity should look at Classen’s career. Relegated by most to the career backup scrap heap, this senior stood Hockey East on its head by winning the number-one spot with some of the best stats — and performances — in the league.
Defenseman, Keith Emery (Boston University): One reason this writer thought the Terriers would go nowhere this year is because Emery was projected to be in the regular defensive rotation. He hadn’t seemed like a typical BU-caliber recruit as a freshman and hadn’t particularly impressed as a sophomore. But Emery became one of the most improved players in the league this year and has proven his doubters wrong.
Defenseman, Arik Engbrecht (Northeastern): This sophomore redshirted all of last year with a back injury, but came back with a strong season. Hey, you thought a 5-10, 179-pound defenseman would just give up?
Forward, Doug Sheppard (Providence College): This ham-and-egger made himself into a team captain and top scorer as a senior after a modest beginning as a Friar. Not flashy, Sheppard plays a strong game in all three zones.
Forward, Willie Levesque (Northeastern): Is there a player in the league with a better work ethic than this sophomore? If there’s a loose puck in the corner, he’s one of the top guys you’d want going after it. And he may be the most proficient practitioner of the stick press around.
Forward, Chris Halecki (Merrimack): You might think that having a six-goal scorer centering one of your top two lines would be a problem, but Halecki contributed to the Warriors more than most casual fans noticed. He may not have been in many headlines, but he played terrific defense and did all the little things that go into winning games.
Goaltender, Cris Classen (Merrimack): As noted above, he hasn’t gotten a great deal of ink, but has been one of the league’s top netminders this year.
Defenseman, Dan Enders (New Hampshire): He doesn’t have the flashy offensive moves that tend to gain notice for a defenseman, but this senior has been rock-solid all year. And a great team leader to boot.
Defenseman, Josh MacNevin (Providence College): Offensive statistics are usually the most eye-catching thing about defensemen, but MacNevin was even overlooked last year when he had 35 points.
Forward, Greg Classen (Merrimack): Perhaps the best-kept secret in Hockey East, Classen is a terrific two-way player whose sole liability this year was one snakebit stretch when he couldn’t bury the puck. Even so, this kid makes things happen.
Forward, Barrett Heisten (Maine): This sophomore is another well-rounded player whose value can’t be encapsulated by his statistics. Terrific in the corners, he’s not far from being an All-Hockey East selection.
Forward, Anthony Aquino (Merrimack): This kid came into the league as a 17-year-old novelty. He’s still 17, but he’s no novelty. He’s got speed, skill and a nice touch around the net.
Forward, Anthony Aquino (Merrimack): As noted above, Aquino is already a terrific player despite his age. Next year, he’ll contend for All-Hockey East.
Forward, Peter Fregoe (Providence): He came into the league with only three years of eligibility remaining, so you’ll often see him listed as a sophomore. Nonetheless, this is his first year so he’s a legit rookie. It took a few games for this 5-9, 185-pound waterbug to adjust to the physical play of collegiate hockey, but since then he’s been very effective.
Forward, Krys Kolanos (Boston College): At the Christmas break, Kolanos wasn’t even on the All-Rookie radar screen. After scoring a goal in his first game, he’d been stuck in neutral through the holidays. Since then, however, he’s been immense, totaling 15 goals in 23 games.
Defense, Garrett Stafford (New Hampshire): Stafford has impressed from the first exhibition game. With major holes to fill on the Wildcat blue line, he’s been solid defensively and a fixture at one point on the power play.
Defense, Freddie Meyer (Boston University): Usually a rookie who arrives in mid-season wouldn’t get consideration for this team, but Meyer has been so good he just can’t be overlooked.
Goaltender, Ricky DiPietro (Boston University): No surprise here. BU’s biggest question mark going into the season turned into an exclamation point with DiPietro’s exceptional play.
Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award
Tommi Degerman (Boston University): He is the most deserving of the candidates to take assume the mantle from Maine’s Steve Kariya, who won this award three straight years. Degerman has consistently stayed out of the penalty box and been an exclusively positive force this year for the Terriers.
Old Time Hockey Best Defensive Defenseman
Doug Janik (Maine): He provides some offense, too, but if any one blueliner fits the profile of a hard-hitting, defensive stalwart, Janik is it. He’s been exceptional all season long.
Best Defensive Forward
Chris Halecki (Merrimack): As noted above, Halecki has been as strong a defensive forward as there has been in the league this year.
Bob Kullen Coach of the Year
Jack Parker (Boston University): This one is a no-brainer. If you need an explanation here, you haven’t been paying attention.
Rookie of the Year
Ricky DiPietro (Goaltender, Boston University): Another no-brainer in which the explanation is self-evident.
All-Hockey East Second Team
Goaltender, Ty Conklin (New Hampshire): He was a first-team all-star and a serious Hobey Baker candidate through the first half of the season. The second half hasn’t matched the first, but Conklin has stolen many a game for the Wildcats this year. UNH isn’t the scoring machine of year’s past, but still finished second in Hockey East. Conklin is the biggest reason why.
Defenseman, Doug Janik (Maine): Janik’s offense is highly underrated — he has a booming shot from the point — and he’s an exceptional defender.
Defenseman, Bobby Allen (Boston College): He’s often overshadowed by his teammate Mike Mottau, but Allen is a two-way star in his own right.
Forward, Cory Larose (Maine): Larose is one of Hockey East’s most under-recognized stars. A good case could be made that he deserves first team status since he is, after all, number three in points.
Forward, Mike Souza (New Hampshire): This season wasn’t entirely easy sledding for the senior. He did have a few snakebit nights, which got him pressing, which in turn affected his playmaking. But he did right the ship and remains one of Hockey East’s most dangerous snipers.
Forward, Jeff Turner (UMass-Amherst): This selection is likely to raise a few eyebrows since Turner’s point totals are below those of other, more-publicized forwards like BC’s Blake Bellefeuille and BU’s Degerman, Chris Heron and Carl Corazzini. But compare the UMass-Amherst offensive game plan and personnel with that of the Eagles, Terriers or other top contenders and then decide which player really had the better year.
All-Hockey East First Team
Goaltender, Ricky DiPietro (Boston University): There are other netminders in the league with better statistics, but keep in mind that the Terriers defense consisted of three rookies and two sophomores, both of whom played only half of last year. Goaltending statistics are team statistics, so forget them. DiPietro was the best.
Defenseman, Mike Mottau (Boston College): Another no-brainer. He isn’t already a two-time (to be three-time) All-American for nothing.
Defenseman, Pat Aufiero (Boston University): He can’t finish like his teammate Dyment, but from end line to hash marks Aufiero has few equals. Only Mottau is better.
Forward, Jeff Farkas (Boston College): He led the league in scoring and trails only teammate Brian Gionta in goals. When he on the penalty kill, the threat of his offense is almost enough to make you think "even strength."
Forward, Brian Gionta (Boston College): Ditto. Gionta got off to a relatively slow start, but is a constant threat to either go end-to-end or set an effective screen in front.
Forward, Darren Haydar (New Hampshire): Even though Larose out-pointed Haydar, this UNH sophomore gets the nod with his 21 goals. Only Farkas and Gionta are more dangerous.
(Note: the single most controversial omission is probably that of BU defenseman Chris Dyment. There isn’t another blueliner in the league who matches his 11 goals. Even so, this writer would contend that the four selections are still the best four overall defensemen.)
KOHO Player of the Year
The Hockey East media guide describes this award as going to a player "who has demonstrated superior play and leadership for his team." This still begs the question of whether the award goes to the league’s "best player" or the one who was "most indispensable." As a result, this column will recognize two winners.
Player of the Year (most indispensable) – Ricky DiPietro (Boston University): His fellow Terrier netminder, Jason Tapp, did come on late in the season, but for most of 1999-2000, DiPietro was the difference between first place and another fifth-place finish (or worse).
Player of the Year (best player) – Mike Mottau (Boston College): He may not be a Hobey Baker finalist because defensemen rarely get a fair shake compared to the headline-makers. Besides, he’s got Farkas and Gionta to split the vote. But no player in the league has excelled more consistently than Mottau. Headlines or not, he’s Hockey East’s top player.
Tape Delay? Eeeew, gross!
When it was recently announced that the Fox Sports New England telecast of Friday night’s semifinal and Saturday’s championship games would be on tape delay, Hockey East fans groaned. The supposed crown jewel of the TV package on tape delay?
What about Hockey East being the best conference in the nation? Tape delay in deference to the once-proud, but now stunningly boring Boston Celtics?
What did this say about Hockey East’s stature? That it was the New England sports equivalent of a banana republic?
And since the Celtics’ schedule was known long ago, why wasn’t the tape delay news announced earlier? Was this like hiding a bad report card from your parents for as long as possible?
"It was just the appropriate time for us and Fox," says Hockey East Director of Media Relations Ed Saunders. "We were waiting to see how the whole playoff picture was going to unfold and who would be on [TV] in the quarterfinals. We just wanted to wait and announce it all at once rather than deal with several issues separately.
"In no way has Fox been at all sneaky or tried to slip something by us. We’ve been aware all along. They’ve been working very diligently with us to make sure that they cover all their bases and make good [on our contract]."
As for the tape delay issue itself, it’s obviously unfortunate and a situation that everyone hopes to avoid in the future.
"We were constrained by the contract as it was written," says Saunders. "When it came up, Fox was [saying], ‘Obviously, this situation is uncomfortable for us, too.’
"It’s not like they just came down with a firm hand and said, ‘That’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s going to be.’ They found out at the last minute that they’d be having all of the Celtics games. We sat down with them and worked around that."
The current TV contract with Fox Sports New England expires this year and elimination of tape delay will be discussed as part of a potential renewal of that deal.
But Saunders hopes that fans will look at the big picture if tape delay again rears its ugly head.
"I am sure that this is an issue that will be brought up, but the realities of the contract and our TV situation are such that we’re really the only league that isn’t paying for television coverage," he says. "The ECAC pays for their NESN broadcasts. The partnership between the CCHA and Joe Louis Arena pays for the CCHA’s broadcasts. And the WCHA doesn’t have a league broadcast.
"We’re in a position where not only are we not paying for TV, but we’re also getting great coverage. We’re in three million homes, which we didn’t have with the NESN situation. I think the quality of the production has improved dramatically over the past few years from where we were five or six years ago.
"As a league, you have to weigh all the different variables and decide. Certainly we’d love to have our championship game on live. That’s something we’d aim to do in the future, but at the same time we have to look at what Fox brings to the table for us and weigh that against the other considerations."
Fox Sports New England has actually displayed considerable devotion to the broadcasts simply in its lobbying with its parent to be allowed to displace national programming with the Hockey East games.
"The reality is that Fox Sports National gives them a lot of direction in terms of picking up national programming and what they’re allowed to do with regional programming," says Saunders. "Each Fox market is allowed what they call their local franchises.
"[FSNE] doesn’t have the Bruins. They don’t have the Red Sox. They do have the Celtics, the Revolution, [Fox Sports News] and us. With their national programming, they characterize us as one of their four major franchises. Because of that, we’re allowed to have games at 7:00 whereas normally they wouldn’t because they’d have to pick up the national broadcast, like the boxing on Sunday nights.
"They’ve worked with Fox National to free up time to get us in and make up for the fact that they got caught off guard with the Celtics thing. In the future, that’s an issue that’s going to be addressed and hopefully we’ll come up with a solution that will satisfy everybody. I don’t know what that will possibly be, but we’ll sit down with them and discuss it."
Last week’s contest posed the following question, courtesy of Peter Biscardi: what hometown can boast the greatest number of Hobey Baker Award winners?
Paul Gentile gets the tip of the fedora for being the quickest with the right answer: Burlington, Massachusetts. Burlington is the hometown of the Fusco brothers — Scott and Mark — winners in 1983 and 1986, as well as 1996 runner-up Jay Pandolfo.
Paul also notes that Malden, Mass. had the ’86 and ’87 D-II Hobey winners (both years won by Tom Sasso of Babson College).
With this being the last week of Hockey East league action, this column is likely to change formats next week, so the above is the last trivia question of the year.
Thanks to all who participated.