The Hockey East coaches picked them in the preseason to finish sixth in the league. The USCHO Season Preview pegged them one notch lower at seventh. Instead they’re number eight in the country in the latest USCHO.com Poll and arguably deserve to be higher.
The Providence College Friars have been the biggest positive surprise of the league. Their sweep of a home-and-home series with Northeastern last weekend propelled them to a 7-2-1 record and that number-eight ranking.
So is coach Paul Pooley surprised at the team’s torrid start?
“Not really,” he says. “We thought we’d have the type of kids who would work hard and expect to do well. They didn’t care if they were freshmen or sophomores. The seniors were really focused and hungry to be a really good hockey club.
“That’s what we’ve had since Day One. We came back to camp in the best shape of any team I’ve been associated with.”
Even so, Pooley wasn’t happy with what he saw in Providence’s 4-2 exhibition win over Acadia.
“We changed everything we did system-wise after that game,” he says. “We wanted to be aggressive and we still want to be aggressive, but it’s from a smarter perspective. We tried to keep it simpler and haven’t asked things of people that maybe we couldn’t do yet.
“It was nice to have a two-week break between the Acadia game and our first game against Miami [so we could adjust.] After the Miami and Lake Superior games, I thought we had things in order for the most part. I thought we could be a pretty good hockey club if we continued to work hard and do the things we’re capable of doing.”
Pooley doesn’t see a likely return to the original systems even though the players are maturing.
“If we do tinker, it will probably be with more of a defensive strategy than an offensive strategy,” he says. “What we’re doing now is giving us some opportunities to score. We’re scoring enough goals.
“We’re not scoring as many as I think we can because we’re missing a lot of chances, but at least we’re getting the chances. Hopefully the goals will come as the season goes along.”
The biggest question facing the Friars going into last weekend concerned their ability to transport their home success to the road. The preponderance of their games had been at Schneider Arena, where they were 5-0-1. They had split their two road contests.
“Last year we started with seven of the first eight games on the road,” says Pooley. “This year we’ve had a home schedule which has been nice because it’s given us the chance to grow as a hockey club. We’ve played well at home, obviously. That’s been a real positive for us, for us to learn and gain confidence.”
Providence held serve at home on Friday against Northeastern, running PC’s home record to 6-0-1 with a 3-1 win. Could the Friars complete the sweep with a win at Matthews Arena, where the Huskies had been undefeated? The Friars jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Northeastern tied it early in the third period.
Not only was the momentum going in the wrong direction, but several top Friars were out of the lineup. Top scorer Devin Rask had been assessed a game disqualification and automatic one-game suspension in Friday’s contest because of a disputed butt-ending penalty. Headaches had sidelined Regan Kelly for precautionary reasons after he took a big hit on Friday night. Doug Wright had broken a hand. Drew Omicioli was out because of a coach’s decision. Peter Fregoe couldn’t skate in the third period because of a hip pointer.
“We were playing three lines and they tied it up, 2-2,” says Pooley. “We had four freshmen and a sophomore going, but we found a way to win that game [despite] being so shorthanded.
“Saturday night we grew. Now we have to take it on the road again. Colorado [College] and Denver will be a tough weekend for us. It’s another opportunity for us to grow as a hockey club.”
A big reason for Providence’s success so far has been its top line of Rask, Fregoe and Jon DiSalvatore. The trio clicked last February when first assembled and has picked up steam ever since.
“They like playing together and they all add something different to the line,” says Pooley. “They’re not all the same hockey players, which is good.
“They feel that they want to be successful. You can’t tell Jon DiSalvatore that he’s just a sophomore because he doesn’t think that way. He wants to be one of our key players. Peter Fregoe has always been good hockey player. And Devin Rask is an older kid who expects to do well.
“You don’t put labels on those kids. Sophomore? Doesn’t mean anything to them. They’re hockey players.”
An even bigger surprise is the second line of Adam Lee, J.J. Picinic and Marc Suderman who combined for four goals in all of last year, but had four in the just Saturday night win at Northeastern. Picinic now has seven while his linemates each have another two.
“One of the things that has helped our team this year is the emergence of [that] line,” says Pooley. “That line is good defensively, but they’ve been scoring as well. That’s taken the pressure off Devin’s line because they’ve been able to chip in goals on a regular basis to help us.”
The biggest question mark for the club, however, had been on defense. Departures had left only co-captains Jay Leach and Matt Libby along with Shawn Weiman. In the USCHO Providence Season Preview, Pooley talked about his blueliners potentially becoming “one of our stronger suits as the year goes along,” but considering the youth involved that seemed a bit of whistling past the graveyard.
The freshmen defensemen have been a revelation. Jason Platt has been hurt, but Dominic Torretti has been solid, Stephen Wood even more impressive in both ends and Kelly has quarterbacked the first power-play unit.
“Those guys are good learners, they’re good hockey players and they’re smart,” says Pooley. “They have a good, solid attitude that they’re here to work. They’re coachable. They want to become good hockey players and they’ve all played a lot of hockey [even though] they’re all freshmen.
“They have the attitude that they’re going to go out there and follow the system. They’re going to follow Libby and Leach and listen to the coaches. It’s been great.
“Defensively now, we’re better than we were last year just because of the attitude we’ve had. Those kids keep the game simple. With Leach and Libby playing outstanding for us, they’ve just followed along.”
In goal, Nolan Schaefer has rebounded from an injury-plagued freshman season to post some of the best numbers in the country: a 5-1-0 record, a 1.67 GAA and a .951 save percentage. Senior Boyd Ballard has been pushed to the background by Schaefer, at least for now, but he also has strong numbers (2-1-1, 2.69, .920) and played well in Saturday’s win.
“Nolan worked really hard this summer,” says Pooley. “Coming in, he was in good shape. He has the type of attitude that he wants to be a good hockey player and he’s willing to work at it.
“Both Nolan and Boyd have really, really worked hard in practices and off the ice. They push each other and that’s been a nice thing to have. They’re friends, but they’re competitive and they both want to play.
“Having Boyd go out on Saturday night and play well after Nolan had played three games in a row is a positive for everybody.”
Despite the many positive signs, Pooley knows the Friars aren’t a finished product yet.
“We need to continue to get better at certain things,” he says. “Our power play is not what it needs to be. We’re still fooling around with that a little bit. We’re looking for one or two guys to put in the right situations.
“Our PK has been good, but I think it can be better. Our PK forecheck can get better.
“The other thing that we can do is get a third line. I see Mike Robinson and Cody Loughlean both in there, both freshmen who are playing very well for us right now. They’re really getting it. But we need to find somebody who we can put on left wing there and really solidify that. We’ll have a fourth line after we find out who our third line left winger is.”
Not A Happy Camper
UMass-Amherst coach Don “Toot” Cahoon was pleased but realistic earlier in the season when the Minutemen defeated UMass-Lowell and New Hampshire to go to 3-3-1 overall and hold a share of first place in Hockey East with a 3-1-0 league mark.
Losses of 3-2 and 3-1 at Nebraska-Omaha — one very tough barn to play in — might have been considered building blocks to better things.
But a 2-2 tie with Connecticut prompted Cahoon to say, “I give UConn high marks for coming to compete and give our guys real poor grades on that part. We’re not a good enough team that we can play without emotion.”
The wheels totally fell off the next game, a 9-2 shellacking at the hands of Rensselaer in which UMass trailed 6-0 at the end of one period. Reporters after the embarrassment found Cahoon in a quietly reflective mood.
“I’m just sitting back right now,” he said. “Some may look at it and criticize, but right now I am just sitting back and seeing what’s happening. I don’t know what to do right now, but when I do I’ll act with a real aggressive passion about it.
“Right now I am looking at who wants to play and who doesn’t want to play. There are some guys out here who obviously do and some who obviously don’t.
“When I do act, I don’t know how I will respond or how they will respond. I came into this situation [just this year] and I don’t know them well right now. I haven’t been through adversity with them yet.
“Who knows? Their ideas and my ideas may be worlds apart. I’m not looking to create problems, but if I do, then we’ll have to deal with them.”
Another Unhappy Camper
There are losses and then there are losses. Merrimack absorbed 6-1 and 7-2 poundings at the hands of Boston College this past week. In the first debacle, the Warriors were outshot, 31-13; in the second it was even worse: 56-22, including 26 BC first-period shots.
While the Eagles have shown an ability to really put the hammer down unlike any other team in the league, Merrimack coach Chris Serino was still livid after both games.
“We can compete 100 times better than we did tonight,” he said after the first loss on Friday. “Tonight, we didn’t just get outplayed, we were out-competed. I can accept being outplayed, but the day I accept being out-competed is the day I hang ’em up.”
Serino was every bit as blunt after Tuesday’s loss.
“We have to start all over,” he said. “We have to start with basic defense and work out. Defense is where it starts. We didn’t learn anything between Friday and tonight.
“We just didn’t play any defense. We may have well not even been in the defensive zone. We were nothing but obstacles for them to go around. There were a couple of shifts out there that were absolutely embarrassing. I’m almost ashamed to say we worked on defense.”
A Surprisingly Happy Camper
You might expect BU coach Jack Parker to make it a hat trick of unhappy campers after two more losses dropped the Terriers to a shocking 2-6-1 record.
Not so. While obviously unhappy with the end result, Parker has remained confident that his team’s strong territorial play will eventually translate into wins once the puck starts going in the net.
“It’s too bad you don’t add up the yardage; you just add up the score,” he said after Friday night’s 2-1 loss to UNH. “We got effort; we got opportunities, and I thought we played hard tonight. I just thought we were snake-bitten around their net.”
After Tuesday night’s 4-3 loss to Harvard, Parker opened his comments with, “Can’t you replay what I said last game?”
Any BU fan either in attendance or watching on TV had to groan at the glittering opportunities that fell by the wayside.
“Scotty Perry had an open net and pulled the goalie and shot it wide,” said Parker. “[Mike] Pandolfo had an open net and mishandled it; Freddy Meyer’s alone and shoots it off the inside of the pipe. …
“Those things will fall the other way for you sooner or later, but they better fall soon or we’ll be taking their ties and belts away from them in the dressing room.”
So how can Parker remain calm and not be taking away his own ties and belts?
“Our record is miserable,” he said. “Right now what’s wrong with us is we’re not scoring goals, but I’m happy with the way my team is playing right now, and I’m happy with our frame of mind and our attitude. We’re just not getting Ws because we’re not putting the puck in the net.”
There’s no point to tinkering with perfection, so here’s Jim Connelly’s description of the milestones reached by three-time All-American Brian Gionta in BC’s recent win over Merrimack.
Anyone who knows Boston College hockey knew that it was inevitable that senior captain Brian Gionta would one day leave Boston College with his name attached to at least one or two records. But not many knew that he’d achieve this all in one game.
Thanks to a three-goal performance as part of a 7-2 victory over Merrimack on Tuesday night, Gionta tied the Boston College record for career hat tricks (eight). He did so by scoring his second and third goals just 10 seconds apart, setting a Hockey East record for the fastest two goals by a single player.
Not enough? The three goals give Gionta 10 on the season, but more importantly 100 on his career, only the fourth player in Eagle history to do so.
“I don’t think it will really sink in until after the season is over,” Gionta said about his record-setting evening. Gionta also admitted that he knew nothing about scoring 100 goals until it was announced by the public address announcer, and until he was told by reporters, knew nothing about scoring the fastest consecutive goals.
“I try not to think about records,” Gionta said. “I don’t want to know where I stand on all-time lists, and won’t know until [the media] tells me.”
For Eagles coach Jerry York, Gionta’s accomplishment was more than impressive.
“He joins an elite group of guys with 100 goals,” said York. “He’s been great to watch and really a bonus for college hockey. It’s great that he’s stayed four years here.”
Gionta joins three other past Eagles in the 100-goal club: David Emma (115), Joe Mullen (110) and Scott Harlow (105). Gionta stands fifth on the all-time point list, behind his three century-club partners and Richie Smith. Only one point separates Gionta (197) from Smith (198).
A Few More Notes
As a result, for him to win at Walter Brown Arena had to be a very special moment.
“I was almost in tears out there after the game when everyone was like hugging me and stuff,” said Carney. “It’s been a long time coming, waiting for this. I’ve known I could do it all along, and it’s really been a confidence battle with myself. But it’s a double-edged sword: I’m sitting behind the best goalie in the country.
“He’s just great, and I’ve got to wait my turn.”
Conklin showed what a class act he is, too. Check out the tape. There was no one with a bigger smile on his face and ready with a bigger hug for Carney than Conklin.
“That tells you how hard it is for us to score goals sometimes,” said Umile. “Two posts on an empty net! I tell you, I thought, ‘This can’t be for real.'”
You’d expect the junior to be 4-0-0 with those figures or at worst 3-0-1, but instead he’s 1-1-2.
Quip Of The Week
This week there are co-winners.
The first comes from Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni, who noted that his team’s man advantage had scored only twice all season prior to its Tuesday game against BU. Against the hard-luck Terriers, however, it scored four times.
“It was 6.7 percent coming in,” said Mazzoleni, “so I don’t know if there’s a Pee Wee power play that’s worse than that.”
Matching Mazzoleni’s wit was the Boston Herald‘s incomparable John “Jocko” Connolly. When BC coach Jerry York was asked about his team’s unbeaten record on the road, but 2-3 mark at home, Jocko joked, “You’re playing for the West Regional.”
(Humor is always destroyed by an explanation, but here’s one for any newcomers. York groaned at the quip because a few extra regular season losses have sent BC to the NCAA West Regional the last couple years instead of staying in the East. BC advanced to the Frozen Four anyway.)
A big congrats to Hockey East Commish Joe Bertagna on the birth of Grace, his first daughter and third child. It’ll certainly be a Happy Thanksgiving in the Bertagna household this year.
Last week’s contest asked which Hockey East player would be Yogi Bear’s favorite. Judging by the response, quite a few of you are gazing at Yogi, Boo-boo and Jellystone Park on Saturday mornings.
The answer was Providence’s J.J. Picinic, who coincidentally is this week’s Hockey East Player of the Week. Yogi’s favorite line, of course, was, “Hey, Boo-boo. I think I smell a pic-a-nic basket!”
The first to answer correctly was Adam Kulczyk. Adam, now a two-time winner, extends the Northeastern domination of this year’s trivia contests. He has selected the following cheer:
“All Hail Northeastern!!!”
This week’s question has two parts. The first asks which Hockey East coach (past or present) once said to his fiancee, “I don’t want to go to [some city or town] by myself. Let’s get married.”
The name of the city or town has been removed to keep the question itself from being trivial.
The second part of the question is, what was the first name of his fiancee (and eventual wife)?
Send your answers to Dave Hendrickson.
Thanks to Jayson Moy, Scott Weighart, Michael Kobylanski and Jim Connelly.