Hockey East Column: Oct. 26, 2000

What A Weekend!

Hockey East posted a 12-1-1 record last weekend (13-1-1 if you want to add Maine’s exhibition victory over the U.S. Development Team). All but two of the wins came against teams from the traditional four conferences.

Hockey East’s weekend record broke down as follows: 5-1-0 against the CCHA (7-2-1 for the season); 2-0-0 against the WCHA (2-3-2 for the season); 3-0-1 vs. the ECAC (6-1-1 season); and 2-0-0 over the MAAC (3-0-0 season).

Arguably, the only fact to diminish the accomplishment was the predominance of home contests. Only Boston College’s two games (at Denver) and Northeastern’s two (at Notre Dame) were on the road.

That said, Hockey East is indisputably off to a great start with an 18-6-4 nonconference record. Although league games begin this weekend, there will still be plenty of the non-league variety, led by No. 1 Wisconsin visiting No. 2 Boston College on Friday night. That one should be a barnburner.

There is a D in Providence

Perhaps the biggest surprise last weekend was that the Friars not only swept their visitors from the CCHA — Miami and Lake Superior State — but they also held them to a total of one goal.

After all, the loss of four defensemen from last year’s squad had left PC with only three players with experience at the position. Seniors Jay Leach and Matt Libby formed a solid core along with sophomore Shawn Weiman, but that meant that at least three freshmen would be dressing every night. Freshmen blueliners are supposed to equate with adjustment periods, mistakes and red lights flashing behind your net.

Instead, the Friar defensemen have been rock solid as a whole with freshmen Stephen Wood and Regan Kelly looking particularly impressive as parts of the top two pairings. Dominic Torretti hasn’t looked out of place either in more limited ice time.

Of course, a lot of the blueliners’ success has come with a little help from their friends up front.

“Our speed is evident in the first two games; we can get on people defensively” says PC coach Paul Pooley. “Our forwards are doing a good job collapsing in the D zone. [Our opponents] are getting some shots, but they’re not getting third and fourth opportunities.

“Leach and Libby played really good [both nights]. But so did all the guys.

“And our goaltender has been strong both nights.”

Boyd Ballard shut out Miami on Friday night and Nolan Schaefer held a stronger Laker team to one goal the next evening.

“I made the decision to go with both before going into the weekend,” says Pooley. “Boyd hasn’t played back-to-back games in a while and Nolan has looked sharp in practice. We have a nice tandem.”

The Friars dominated Miami and LSSU on special teams. For the weekend, they were 6-for-16 on the power play and allowed only one goal during 17 penalty kills.

“Our PK has been outstanding the first two games,” says Pooley. “That’s been what’s given us momentum and confidence.”

As a freshman, Kelly has been an integral part of the power-play’s effectiveness, quarterbacking it efficiently from one point.

“Regan is pretty smart,” says Pooley. “He moves the puck. We’ve got Drew back there and three forwards up front who can find the open man. Keep the puck moving … and somebody is going to be open.”

For Kelly’s part, he didn’t necessarily envision breaking into Division I hockey on the top power-play unit.

“I didn’t really expect that,” he says with a laugh. “I knew I’d get an opportunity to play, but this has just been overwhelming. This has been terrific so far.”

He isn’t resting on his laurels.

“I definitely need to work on my footspeed and getting my shot away quicker,” he says. “Those are my main [personal] goals.”

Pooley is also impressed with some of the more subtle aspects to his team’s play. Everyone can see pucks going into the net, saves being made and specialty team percentages. But what can often get missed are the little things that lead to those big things.

“Faceoffs, hits and giveaways control hockey games,” he says. “Win all three categories — that’s what we want to focus on.

“At the end [of the game against LSSU], Cody Loughlean puts his shoulder into a guy and knocks him down. That’s the toughness you need. You don’t need penalty toughness. You need the toughness of [making hits] and taking a hit to make a play.

“[Last] weekend — especially [against Lake State] — our team did the things that I ultimately want us to do. Play good defensively. Cycle the puck. Be tough. Be physical. I was very, very impressed.”

Unfortunately, Providence will have to face Boston University on Saturday without Kelly because of a fighting disqualification near the end of the Lake State game. Nonetheless, the Friars will go into their first Hockey East game with the confidence of two wins under their belt.

“With a young club, that’s very important,” says Pooley. “You always tell them how good they can be and what vision you have for them as a hockey club. But by getting a little success in the first two games against good clubs, it gives them a little motivation to work harder in practice and come back and do the things they need to work on.

“Confidence is everything. That’s what we needed early on.

“We’re young and it’s a very positive beginning for us. I don’t think people expected us to do what we did this weekend. That’s okay.”

Around the Arenas

Boston College returned with two 3-2 wins over Denver last weekend. Six different Eagles scored goals with Ales Dolinar and Bobby Allen getting the game-winners. Tim Kelleher saw his first action in the nets, splitting the series with Scott Clemmensen.

The Eagles play their first Hockey East game on Sunday against UMass-Amherst, but most eyes will be glued to their Friday contest against Wisconsin. As the number-one and -two ranked teams, Wisconsin and BC enter the game with 10 wins between them and not even a tie to blemish their records.

Wisconsin has six of the wins, but just how good the Baajuhs are is still an open question. (“Baajuhs” is Boston-speak for Badgers.) They’ve played two-game series against UMass-Amherst (projected seventh in Hockey East), Michigan Tech (projected last in the WCHA) and MSU-Mankato (projected seventh in the WCHA). Four of the six have been at home.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with a 6-0-0 record. But Wisconsin has yet to face anything approximating the iron of any league. Considering that the Badgers had to go into overtime to beat MSU-Mankato on Saturday, it remains for this weekend’s games to show how strong the Baajuhs really are.

BC, on the other hand, has yet to play at home. The Eagles defeated Notre Dame (projected fifth in the CCHA) on neutral ice, but the wins over Nebraska-Omaha (projected third in the CCHA) and Denver (projected sixth in the WCHA) all came on hostile ice.

Does the BC road show against somewhat tougher opponents than Wisconsin’s mean BC is the better team?

Who knows? Ask again at about 9:30 p.m. on Friday.

Boston University turned in a much better performance last weekend than its season-opening loss to Rensselaer. The Terriers righted the ship against Vermont, 3-1.

“[It was] a lot better result because there’s a lot better effort by a lot of people – most importantly our defense,” said coach Jack Parker. “[Chris] Dyment, [Pat] Aufiero, [and John] Cronin all had sharp games. Mike Bussoli played really well.”

Perhaps most importantly, goaltender Jason Tapp played a strong game. All eyes have been on him since Rick DiPietro turned pro.

“[Tapp] played very, very well,” said Parker. “He played just the way we’d like him to play: real excited to play and real enthusiastic and real positive out there. I thought he was forcing the issue: instead of sitting back and playing the puck, he was playing them.

“He played [against Vermont] like he played the second half of the season for us last year. He was real confident; he was on the puck, and he was very aggressive.

“I was talking to him about worrying about what everybody else was thinking: ‘Geez, BU’s going to be pretty good if you can just be a decent goaltender and blah blah blah.’ I told him, ‘Just go out and have some fun and stuff, [instead of] thinking about talk radio. This isn’t what you should be doing here.’ I think he got that monkey off his back, too.”

For the third straight time, the Terriers have just one game on the weekend. This time, they’ll travel to Providence to face the undefeated Friars.

“We’ve got a long way to go to become a real good team,” said Parker, “but we made some strides [against Vermont.]”

Maine won its Black Bear Classic last weekend, beginning with the expected victory over the U.S. Development Team. An exhibition game for NCAA purposes, the contest was tougher than many expected even though the U.S. team had given evidence of its strength over two weeks earlier with a win over Michigan State.

“They’re a good team,” said Maine captain Doug Janik. “It’s the best young players in the country and they come at you.”

In the title game, the Black Bears mauled St. Lawrence, 8-2, prompting SLU coach Joe Marsh to say, “Once they get rolling, they’re so tough to stop.”

Tommy Reimann, named tournament MVP, scored two goals against the Saints. Matthias Trattnig added a goal and two assists.

The Black Bears scored three times on the power play, all in the first period.

“We’re starting to jell,” said defenseman Peter Metcalf after the game. “The special teams were the key tonight, but this team is really starting to come together.”

UMass-Amherst dodged a bullet — twice — against Colgate. Extra-skater goals by Tim Turner and Martin Miljko in the last 1:35 rescued a tie against Colgate, 4-4. The latter was Miljko’s second of the night, his first game action since Jan. 2.

Based on the early returns, it looks like coach Don Cahoon may have a freshman find on his hands. Thomas Poeck, who scored in the season-opener against Wisconsin, added another against Colgate.

Not surprisingly, the Turners — Jeff and Tim — continue to lead the Minutemen scoring, Tim with six points and Jeff with four.

UMass-Lowell probably took second place to Providence in terms of having the most surprising success on the weekend. After a 6-1 win over Connecticut to open the season, Lowell took a major step forward with a 4-3 win over No. 12 Rensselaer.

The River Hawks rallied from three straight one-goal deficits.

“It was important for us to come from behind several times in the game and it was a good sign for this team,” said coach Tim Whitehead. “Every time they struck, we struck back and we wore them out in the end.

“We were one goal better in this particular game. It was a good team effort. Every single guy stepped forward.”

One week after holding UConn to just 10 shots, Lowell limited the Engineers to an even more impressive (considering the opponent) 16 shots.

“We played good team defense and our forwards helped out by backchecking hard,” said Whitehead. “That’s important for us this year.”

As a result, the River Hawks now head into league play with a 2-0 record.

“We were playing a good hockey game and we came back and gutted it out,” said Whitehead. “That’s not false confidence; they earned it. So they should be excited going into next week.

“But we’re just taking it week by week. It’s important to help build confidence, but the guys know that the next game is just as important as this one.”

Merrimack picked up two wins against UConn over the weekend, 6-2 and 4-2, but according to coach Chris Serino fell short of its play against Michigan and Michigan State one week earlier.

“We’re a defensive team that creates offense from defense,” he said after the first win. “But tonight we didn’t play any defense. We usually have backcheckers swing back, but tonight they’d just stop and wait for someone to pass them the puck.

“We’re a team that plays defense by preventing the other teams coming through the neutral zone. Tonight we did whatever we wanted and wasted a lot of energy.

“Overall, I was happy with the effort, happy with the fact that we won, just not happy with the way we played.”

The Warriors’ play became even sloppier then next night.

“I’m happy that we got two wins, but we didn’t compete tonight,” said Serino after the 4-2 win. “We had a ton of scoring chances but we didn’t deserve them.

“UConn outplayed us and battled harder than us. They had better chances, but we had guys that could score the goals. That was the difference.

“What it boils down to is players thinking they could do more than they could do. We’re a great team, but not great individuals.

“The positive point, though, is that a couple of years ago, we might have lost this game.”

Merrimack did pick up a vote in the Top 15 poll. That, however, was most likely a reflection of its strong play two weekends ago rather than last week’s expected wins over UConn.

The Warriors have a great shot at getting their record to 4-1-1 this weekend. They open as a slight underdog at UMass-Amherst and then travel to Union where they’ll be a modest favorite. Two wins are possible, but the sub-par play that they survived against UConn won’t cut it against UMass and perhaps not against Union either.

New Hampshire had a few anxious moments against Lake State, blowing a 3-1 third-period lead only to pull out a 4-3 win with a late Matt Swain goal.

“We had some chances to put the game away and we didn’t do it,” said coach Dick Umile. “We took some stupid penalties. If we’d stayed out of the penalty box, it would have been different.

“But the guys battled back and we found a way to win.”

The top line of Darren Haydar, Lanny Gare and Matt Swain figured in all four goals with Gare and Swain getting two each until a late scoring change shifted one from Gare to Jim Abbott.

With Gare and Swain at the post-game press conference, this writer attempted a little levity.

“You each had two goals tonight,” went the question. “What’s wrong with that other stiff on your line?”

There was plenty of laughter and one of the two joked, “Yeah, who’s he?”

Then a look of concern crossed a face. “That wasn’t a serious question, was it?”

Assured that it wasn’t, Swain offered his idea as to why the line has totaled 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in just five games.

“I think we have a little bit of everything,” said the senior. “We work hard in the corners, have finesse, speed and puckhandling.

“Darren has been the sniper. Gare-y is the guy who’s rough and tough in the corners. And I guess I’m the passer. We just complement each other really well.”

One night later, UNH clobbered Miami, 7-2, prompting RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi to say, “They’re a far superior team to us at this point in the season. They have a great transition team. You have to limit their outnumbered rushes, and we didn’t do that.”

Unlike the win over Lake State, UNH got well-distributed scoring — 15 Wildcats got points. Core-Joe Ficek led with two goals and freshmen Steve Saviano and Nathan Martz got their first collegiate tallies.

“I was real pleased with the way we played tonight,” said Umile after the game. “Last night we had one line that was scoring, tonight it didn’t matter what line we put out there.”

The lopsided result was also a welcome change from the recent stomach-churners.

“It’s fun to play a game like this because it doesn’t happen too often in our league,” said Umile.

Northeastern suffered Hockey East’s lone loss last weekend, splitting at Notre Dame. The Huskies’ downfall in the opener came in a second period in which they gave up 14 shots, but five went in. Mike Gilhooly played in the nets, giving up six goals on 38 shots.

Jason Braun tended the NU nets in the win the following night, stopping 34 of 37 shots.

On the plus side, freshman Scott Selig and Mike Ryan continued the scoring touches they showed in the season opener against St. Lawrence. Ryan opened with a hat trick and an assist; against Notre Dame he had an assist on Friday and two goals on Saturday. Selig now has a goal in all three games as well as two assists. Graig Mischler centers the two and now has six assists.

Willie Levesque, Chris Lynch and freshman Trevor Reschny all got their first goals of the year, with the later two scoring twice.

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question was: one NHL team started this season with a line made up of a three-time Hobey Baker Award finalist, a two-time Hobey finalist and a one-time finalist. Who are the three players? Warning: these aren’t necessarily Hockey East alumni.

The question came courtesy of WCHA Correspondent Todd D. Milewski, who also supplied the answer. The Los Angeles Kings started the season with a line of Steve Reinprecht (Wisconsin, Hobey finalist in 2000), Jason Blake (North Dakota, Hobey finalist in ’97 and ’99) and Nelson Emerson (Bowling Green, Hobey finalist in ’88, ’89 and ’90).

First to get the answer was Craig Powers, who earned the right to select the following cheer:

All hail Northeastern!

This week’s esoteric question involves a player who competed against Hockey East last weekend and has a last name beginning with “B”. That last name is close to a word found in a Tom Wolfe title. What is the name of the player and the book by Wolfe?

Take your shot at choosing a positive cheer for your favorite team by mailing your answer to Dave Hendrickson.

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

Last Thursday, I stopped by the post office, got a note that I had a package waiting for me and then had a very special moment.

Out of the package slid two copies of a book.

My book. Well, not all mine. I’m one of 20-something contributors. But I held in my hands a book with one of my short stories in it.

The book’s title is Food and Other Enemies: Stories of Consuming Desire and my own story is called “Yeah, But Can She Cook?” It begins on page 86.

I want to tell you, it was a very, very special moment.

It’s hard to describe what it meant to flip through the pages of that oddball story. And smile at the parts that gave me such joy to write. Especially the part that made the book’s editor say, “When I read that, I fell off my chair laughing.”

It didn’t matter that I had a sore throat. That I’d gotten four hours of sleep the night before. Or that I had deadlines up the wazoo.

My book was out!

It was a wonderful, wonderful day.

(For information about ordering Food and Other Enemies, drop me a line.)

Thanks to Scott Weighart, Jim Leonard, Josh Gibney, Jim Connelly and Jayson Moy for their assistance.