Time For The Panic Button?
Boston University’s losses to UMass-Lowell and Northeastern last weekend dropped its record to 2-4-1 with a 1-3-1 mark in Hockey East. Is it time for Terrier fans to go bungee jumping off the Tobin Bridge without the cords? After all, this is the worst start — other than 1998-99 — for a BU team since the late eighties.
The school’s enviable record of 10 NCAA appearances in the past 11 years contains only one blemish: The Lost Year of 1998-99. That season the Terriers opened with four defeats, stood at 1-6-1 after eight games and 2-8-1 after 11. They finished 14-20-3, lost in the Hockey East quarterfinals, cleaned out their lockers and went home.
Is a similar fate in store for this year’s squad?
Although it’s too early to tell, the highly probable answer is no.
To begin with, 2-4-1 is a long way from The Lost Year’s 2-8-1 opening mark. If the Terriers lose the next four, then the Tobin may be worth talking about.
Until then, it’s worth noting that they also started slowly last year, opening with a 2-3-0 record before winning four straight. The Terriers would eventually come within a clanged post in quadruple overtime of reaching the Frozen Four.
Additionally, in 1992-93, they began at 2-3-1 and then 3-4-1, but finished 29-9-2 and did reach the Frozen Four.
So it all may be much ado about nothing.
That said, coach Jack Parker was none too happy with his team’s performance in the Friday night loss to Lowell, 4-2.
“The lack of intensity at times was appalling,” he said. “We’d dump it in and then we wouldn’t go get it. We’d overskate the puck and wouldn’t stop and go back. In general, it was a pretty poor effort by us.”
Parker muttered many similar words on many similar nights in The Lost Year. There was an ominous quality to hearing them again.
Fortunately, he felt very different about the Terriers’ effort against Northeastern on Sunday. They lost, 4-1, and played poorly in the second period, but had much to be encouraged about as well.
“When you lose 4-1, you think you’d be unhappy, but I was pretty happy character-wise in how hard we played,” he said. “There’s the old saying of two out of three a’int bad. I thought we played great in the first. I thought we played real hard and real smart in the third except for a couple mistakes. … I was real disappointed that we seemed to revert to the way we played against Lowell in the second period.”
Going into the season, BU looked solid except for the big question mark in goal caused by the late departure of Ricky DiPietro. His successors, Jason Tapp and Sean Fields, haven’t been All-Hockey East, but neither have they consistently been Swiss Cheese. Arguably, the goaltending could have been faulted in only two of the losses. Fields was spectacular in a win over Merrimack and the duo has been either solid or at least adequate in the other four games.
The problem has surprisingly been with the offense. Specifically, the even-strength offense. The power play has been the best in the league to date, scoring 27.3 percent of the time. However, while the Terriers have scored 12 goals on the man advantage, they’ve only added 10 other goals in seven games. Add the one strength to the other weakness and the net result is an average of only 3.00 goals per game, next to last in Hockey East.
The problem, unfortunately, appears to be getting worse, not better. In the last three games, the Terriers haven’t scored a single even-strength goal; in the last four, only one. With three of those four contests coming against teams projected to finish eighth and ninth in the league, those are ominous numbers.
“We couldn’t generate any offense other than on power plays,” said Parker after the Lowell game. “That’s the thing that has got me most concerned. Our five-on-five goal scoring has evaporated.”
Two nights later against Northeastern, he saw improvement but the same even-strength result: a goose egg.
“The way we’re playing five-on-five, at least we got some opportunities,” he said. “But we’re still not scoring goals. We’ve got to find a way to get them through the goaltender five-on-five.”
So with a 2-4-1 start that has included an anemic offense and some inconsistent goaltending, can it get any worse?
Ummm… Eighth-ranked New Hampshire is on tap this Friday.
Time to assume another Lost Season? Time to bang away on that panic button? Time to head for the Tobin?
Not so fast.
“I don’t like the fact that we’re two games under .500 in the league,” said Parker. “I don’t like the fact that we’ve struggled offensively. But in Providence I felt we played a really hard game. I felt we played real smart and real hard in both games against Merrimack. And I thought we played well [against Northeastern] except for spans of that second period.
“So I’m pretty pleased with our overall effort. I’ve been saying all along that I like my team, but the league is too hard.”
So what’s the solution? BU to the MAAC?
Actually, the Terriers’ days atop Hockey East may not be over. This season could still end happily for BU fans. One easily overlooked factor points to easier times ahead, notwithstanding Friday’s date with UNH.
“We’re 1-3-1 in the league and four of our first five games have been on the road,” said Parker. “This is a tough league to win on the road. That’ll be to our advantage later on.”
So is there going to be a Hockey East TV deal with Fox Sports New England or not?
It says here that it’s going to happen. All the details appear to be agreed on. The only things missing are the John Hancocks on the dotted lines.
The mystery, of course, is why it’s taken this long. Nonetheless, it’s all but certain that the deal will be completed.
Perhaps that’s akin to calling Florida for Gore at 7:49 p.m. over a week ago. But this is a marriage that works for both sides.
Let’s say that Maine or BU opened the season with wins over UNH and BC on the road and then lost to St. Lawrence in overtime one night before defeating Clarkson in OT the next. With a 75 percent winning percentage over very tough competition, where do you think the Black Bears or Terriers would be ranked?
Certainly somewhere in the top five in the country.
Let’s say, on the other hand, that a team of less prestige opened with a 3-3-2 record or, even worse, 2-4-1. Would such a team be in the Top 15 or even getting votes?
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to the early results this season, you’ll know that Maine has started slowly at 3-3-2 while BU has gotten out of the gate in even shakier fashion at 2-4-1.
Nonetheless, Maine is ranked 11th in the USCHO.com Poll and the Terriers are third in the list of “Others receiving votes.”
On the other hand, Yale has been dealt what this writer considers an egregious injustice. The Bulldogs sit at only the 14th spot despite a 75 percent winning percentage against competition that includes BC and UNH.
Don’t get me wrong. BU and Maine have built their reputations painstakingly over the years and deserve every last morsel of respect. And that respect gives me every reason to believe that both teams will soon be earning Top 15 status. However, reputations and respect shouldn’t be the primary factors in the national rankings.
Performance is what matters. And based on performance, Yale should be a Top Five team. Based on performance, Providence, with its 5-2-1 record that includes wins over New Hampshire and Maine, should be higher than 13th. And based on performance, Northeastern’s 5-2-1 record that has included games against a Murderers Row of BC, Wisconsin, Maine, BU and St. Lawrence deserves more than 10th place.
End of sermon.
While I’m at it, let me rail against the rare member of the media who doesn’t care enough to get it right. The overwhelmingly vast majority cares and cares deeply. They take pride in their work.
But recently I heard a broadcaster who couldn’t be bothered to pronounce the players’ names correctly. His team was playing against Merrimack and he butchered at least three names. Goaltender Joe Exter was “Exeter.” Vince Clevenger was “Clavenger” to rhyme with avenger. Worst of all, Ron Mongeau was pronounced “Mon-goo” instead of “Mon-joe.”
If someone is covering a game either on the radio or on TV, all he needs to do is pick up the line charts for that evening. A pronunciation guide is provided for any name that isn’t said the way it’s spelled.
How hard is that?
If you don’t care enough to get it right, go into a lesser calling where as long as you’ve got good looks no one cares if you spout inaccuracies. Lesser callings like, say, President of the United States.
The WWF and Hockey East
“That’s a big-time wrestling line!” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino after the Warriors defeated UMass-Lowell last Sunday.
While there were no scantily clad female managers, turnbuckles, fireworks or choreographed posturing, it’s easy to see what Serino is talking about. Kyle Kidney (6-2, 240) leads the impressive muscle on a line with Jeff Boulanger (6-2, 210) and Brad Rooney (5-10, 190). With Rooney dwarfed by his two wingers, one could call this trio “The Rose Between Two Thorns.”
Kidney and Boulanger are indeed thorns in the corners and in front of the net, where they’re almost impossible to dislodge. They’re a big reason why a coach like Serino will say after a game, “That’s the toughest team we’ve faced down low. They’re big and strong and they wall the puck off — protect the puck [with their bodies] — real well. We’ve played Michigan and Michigan State and Lowell is as tough of a team as I’ve seen down low.”
Kidney has gotten off to a great start offensively with four goals and three assists in seven games. In part, this has come from consistently using his 6-4, 240 frame to be a Thorn instead of trying to be a Rose.
“He’s focusing more this year on being a power forward,” said UML coach Tim Whitehead. “As a result, he’s getting his share of the points. In the past, I’d tell him that he was trying to be a finesse player sometimes. Not always, but too much.
“He’s not a finesse player. He’s going to get his points with hard work, hitting people and creating loose pucks and putting rebounds in from in front of the net. Those are the types of goals he’s going to get if he sticks to staying within himself and plays his game. This year he is playing more as a power forward.
“He’s never going to lead the country in scoring, but he doesn’t have to. He just has to be a consistent power forward. If he does that, he’ll be good defensively, he’ll be physically intimidating and he’ll get his share of points.”
The physical intimidation factor shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s an advantage the River Hawks hold over most teams and is a key component to their strategy of out-grinding teams.
“Kyle’s physical intimidation is very important, especially since he’s one of the captains,” said Whitehead. “For us to be successful in Hockey East, we need to be a physical team. So his playing that power forward role is very important to us.”
Home Ice Domination
What Hockey East team has a perfect undefeated and untied record at home? If you guessed Northeastern, Providence or UMass-Amherst, you were wrong. Close, but wrong. Those three — 3-0-1, 5-0-1 and 2-0-1, respectively — all have one tie as a blemish.
Boston College? Wrong! Not even close. BC and UMass-Lowell are last in the league in home records with .500 marks. (Yes, that’s right. Not a single Hockey East team has a losing record in its own barn.) Lowell is 3-3-0 while the Eagles have the bizarre combination of a 2-2-0 mark at home, but 5-0-0 on the road.
No, the lone team whose record hasn’t been sullied even by a tie is Merrimack. The Warriors have won all four contests at the partially refurbished Volpe Complex.
“We’re starting to make people scared to come into our building,” said Ryan Kiley after scoring the game-winner against Lowell on Sunday afternoon.
The acid test will come this weekend when Boston College invades North Andover, but the Warriors have already hosted BU and sent the Terriers home with a loss.
“We do have a sense of confidence playing in our own building,” said coach Chris Serino. “It’s funny, because I remember when I first got here I read some articles in the paper where the players said they’d rather play on the road than here.
“That’s certainly not true anymore. Guys love playing here.”
The Quip Corner
If Merrimack wins a game and Serino doesn’t say at least one very funny thing, it’s an upset of epic proportions. After Sunday’s win over Lowell, the Merrimack coach didn’t disappoint.
Kiley was describing his game-winner and said, “Coach says whenever I get close, don’t hesitate. Just shoot the puck.”
Serino shook his head, put a mock disgusted look on his face and muttered, “All of a sudden, they’re listening to me!”
A few minutes later, a questioner asked about the upcoming weekend.
Question: “You’re going to be undefeated going against BC on Friday.”
Serino: “Whoa, whoa, whoa!”
Question: “Undefeated at home, I mean.”
Serino: “I thought I might have been sleeping here for a while.”
Kiley: “That sounded pretty good!”
Serino: “I’ll remember that quote for a couple years from now.”
One week earlier, a Hockey East visitor offered another quote of note. Yale All-American Jeff Hamilton was asked about his team’s brutal opening schedule of UNH, BC, St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
“Yeah,” he said, “you can blame Coach for that one!”
Wanna bet a fourth-liner would have had a different response?
The End Of A Streak
It wasn’t up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting record, but Northeastern’s Sean MacDonald saw a personal 51-game streak come to an end Sunday night against BU.
However, while Joltin’ Joe was undoubtedly sad to see his end, MacDonald’s emotions were quite the opposite. His goal against the Terriers broke a 51-game scoring drought for the senior dating back to Nov. 13, 1998. “It’s a relief and it’s exciting, too,” he said. “It’s nice to contribute offensively to the team’s cause.”
MacDonald played with a separated shoulder and a sore leg, the latter courtesy of taking a shot in practice. After the game, he appeared for the media with large ice packs on the two injuries.
“I’m playing a little banged up, but it’s part of hockey,” he said with a shrug.
So did the goal make the injuries feel just a little better?
“Absolutely,” he said. “The goal and the win. The win is the most important thing. That’s a very good hockey team we beat.”
A Faceoff Primer
Northeastern’s Chris Lynch, the subject of last week’s trivia contest, scored a goal against BU on Sunday in the most fitting way possible: off a faceoff. One of the masters of the art, Lynch won two draws back to the point, but on the resulting shots BU netminder Jason Tapp made the saves.
The third time was a charm. He pulled the puck back to Joe Mancuso, who put it on net and Lynch scored on the rebound.
“He won two, they changed lines and then he won it again,” said coach Bruce Crowder.
Ironically, Lynch hadn’t been experiencing his usual faceoff success that game.
“I’d been struggling on faceoffs earlier in the night and then I won those three in a row,” he said. “It’s kind of ironic that on nights that I do well on them, I don’t get anything and tonight [I struggled] and then won a few and I put it in.”
According to Northeastern’s statistics, Lynch has won 130 of 198 faceoffs (65.7 percent) through the first eight games.
So what is his secret to winning draws so consistently?
“Experience and practice and the way I position my body,” he said. “I’m cheating without cheating. I position my legs where I’m off to one side and I’m leaning so I have the leverage to get [the puck] back. And it’s the quickness of the hands, too.”
Condolences go out to UNH coach Dick Umile and his family after the passing of his father. I never met the elder Umile, but if he was anything like his son, he was a fine, fine man indeed.
Last week’s contest asked which Hockey East player had not scored a five-on-five goal in over a year, but still had a hat trick to his credit?
The answer was Northeastern’s Chris Lynch, whose hat trick earlier this year included a power-play goal, one while shorthanded and a third into an empty net. His last five-on-five tally was in last year’s season opener on Oct. 16, 1999 against Bowling Green.
That is, until last Sunday night when he broke that streak against BU. Lynch, whose faceoff prowess is discussed above, already has six goals this year and has been a big part of the Huskies’ impressive start.
Thanks to Mike Trocchi, writer for The Northeastern News, for noting that statistical oddity.
The first to answer correctly was Mark Begley, who selected the following cheer:
“NORTHEASTERN… The new Hockey East POWERHOUSE!!!”
This week’s question asks which Hockey East player would be Yogi Bear’s favorite. (That’s the cartoon character, not Yogi Berra, the baseball player.) Send your answer to Dave Hendrickson.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Thanks to those who suggested either use of a microwave or a teakettle to avoid burning the house down as described two weeks ago in this space. And a big thanks to all of you for not suggesting a brain transplant.
Thanks also to those who noticed that there was no “And Finally” section last week and hoped for its return. Sorry, but last week’s column was almost novel-length as it was.
Time and space is short again this week, so here are a few thoughts on the astounding events in Florida.