Who’s Going To Finish Last?
While the first half results would point to Boston College as the favorite to finish first in Hockey East, the identity of the team destined for the cellar is a lot less clear. Given that everyone else will at least have their shot in the playoffs, a lot rides on the Anti-Race For Last Place.
Here’s a look at today’s standings.
Team (HEA record) Pts
Boston College (6-1-1) 13*
Providence (5-3-1) 11
New Hampshire (4-2-2) 10*
Maine (4-3-2) 10
Boston University (4-4-1) 9
UMass-Amherst (4-4-0) 8*
Northeastern (2-4-3) 7
Merrimack (3-6-0) 6
UMass-Lowell (1-6-2) 4
* holds one game in hand
Don’t bet on last place going to UMass-Lowell even though the River Hawks currently sit in the cellar with a 1-6-2 league record. They got off to a rough start, but finished the first half with 2-2 and 0-0 ties with New Hampshire as well as a 7-2 romp over Colgate.
When Lowell gets caught in a wide-open transition game of odd-man rushes, it has problems. But when it forces play down low and along the boards, it matches up well with almost any team in the league.
“That’s the toughest team we’ve faced down low,” said Merrimack coach Chris Serino in November. “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.”
Arguably, poor goaltending hurt the River Hawks while they lost their first four league contests. BU coach Jack Parker noted, “Their goalie couldn’t stop a balloon the first few games.”
However, that may be ancient history. Earlier this month, Cam McCormick earned co-Defensive Player of the Week honors by matching Ty Conklin blow for blow in the two ties with UNH. In his last five games, McCormick has allowed a total of only eight goals. If he maintains anything close to that pace, Lowell will make up a lot of ground in a hurry. (More on McCormick next week.)
Merrimack may be in eighth place, two points ahead of UMass-Lowell, but has played .500 hockey overall and also looks like anything but a cellar-dweller.
The Warriors have gotten encouraging — and critical — performances from their horde of freshmen defensemen and goaltender Joe Exter. Both positions were question marks going into the season, but Serino has every reason to believe that those newcomers will be even better over the second half with a semester under their belts.
Not to mention that, like Lowell, Merrimack entered the holiday break playing well. The Warriors have won five of their last seven, invariably with strong defensive efforts.
“In the games that we’ve won [in that stretch], we’ve played well and gotten good goaltending,” says Serino. “We’ve given up either one goal or no goals.
“We can play. I know we can play.”
Northeastern is only a point ahead of Merrimack, but to this observer looks more like an NCAA bubble team than one for which last place is a possibility. The Huskies may be a .500 team right now, but have faced a Murderer’s Row of opponents. Of their 15 games, 11 have been against teams which have spent time in the Top 15.
On paper, at least, their schedule is much easier over the second half. They would seem to be a better bet to win home ice in the playoffs than freefall into last place.
UMass-Amherst has without question recorded the worst overall record in Hockey East (4-11-2). That said, the league standings don’t care about overall marks. The Minutemen may be 0-7-2 in nonconference games, but are 4-4-0 in Hockey East and hold a game in hand as well.
Coach Don Cahoon may well be approaching the nonconference games with a more experimental, feel-his-team-out attitude than in league contests. In the four key team statistical criteria (see the sidebar), UMass ranks higher in all four in league games than overall. So perhaps its horrible nonconference record is irrelevant rather than an omen of things to come.
The Minutemen also finished strong going into the break, defeating Providence, 3-1, and giving Maine a scare, 3-2.
If you consider teams any higher in the standings, you then encounter Boston University and Maine. While both teams have had disappointing first halves, it would be inconceivable for either to finish in the cellar.
Inconceivable. It’s a term that seems apropos of the last-place possibilities of most of these candidates. (Fans of the movie The Princess Bride may find it particularly apt.)
So what will decide which school is the odd man out come playoff time?
“I honestly believe that the team that finishes ninth will be the team [whose] goaltending goes suspect down the stretch,” says Serino. “On a night when Lowell’s goalie stinks, they’re going to be in trouble. BU is going to be in trouble when their goalie is bad. We’re going to be in trouble when our goalie is bad.
“No one has enough firepower — with the exception of BC — to beat you on a night when their goalie isn’t good. BC has the firepower to win a 6-5 or a 7-6 game on a night [like that.] I don’t know if anybody else [does.] We can’t open the game to do that; [BC] can.
“I don’t know who it’s going to be [in last place]. But whoever it is, it’s going to be because of goaltending.”
Solomon In The Press Box
The Dec. 15 game between Merrimack and Dartmouth included a unique scoring problem that required some sharp thinking by Sports Information Directors Tom O’Brien and Bill Garfield.
With 12:02 showing on the clock, Dartmouth’s Peter Mahler went to the box. Almost two minutes later, Jamie Herrington scored a shorthanded goal to give the Big Green a 3-0 lead.
Almost two minutes. The clock showed one second left on the infraction. However, it also showed 10:02 left in the period.
If the penalty were listed as coming at 7:58 of the period and the goal at 9:58, then it wouldn’t be a shorthanded goal. Yet clearly it was.
Had 1:59 elapsed or 2:00?
Until the final minute of the period, no digits to the right of the decimal point are shown on the scoreboard. As a result, a goal that comes with 10:02 left on the clock may actually occur with 10:02.9 remaining. If the penalty began with 12:02.0 left, then in fact there is still one second — or more precisely, 0.9 seconds — still to be served.
(Math enthusiasts will recognize this as a problem of truncation rather than rounding. Mathphobes can help themselves to some aspirin.)
Clearly some adjustment had to be made since it was indisputably a shorthanded goal. O’Brien and Garfield huddled and eventually agreed that the penalty which was originally recorded at 7:58 would be tweaked by one second to 7:59. That way, the goal would be correctly listed as occurring while four-on-five.
It was a Solomon-like resolution to a bizarre circumstance. The NCAA later confirmed that the adjustment had been appropriate.
A tip of the fedora to Garfield and O’Brien, both good guys and quick thinkers.
Offense From The Blue Line
What Hockey East defenseman leads his team in scoring?
It’s UMass-Lowell’s Ron Hainsey, one of the best-kept secrets in the league. The sophomore has totaled 19 points on five goals and 14 assists to pace the River Hawk scoring and rank seventh in Hockey East (first among defensemen). Already he’s almost doubled last year’s output (11 points).
“Ron is really shooting the puck a lot better this year,” says UML coach Tim Whitehead. “He’s developed a one-time shot and he’s using it.”
“He sees the ice so well,” adds Lowell goaltender Cam McCormick. “That’s why he gets so many points.
“Like all of our D-men, Hainsey works his butt off in the defensive zone.”
Indeed, the first-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens hasn’t been satisfied with being a one-dimensional threat. Without question, he’s upgraded his defensive play since entering the league.
“Those are parts of his game that he’s working on and they really have improved,” says Whitehead. “That’s why you’re seeing the confidence in his game. He’s stronger and he’s smarter and more aware defensively.
“He’s getting an opportunity to play against the other team’s best players. That really challenges you and he’s been up to the challenge.”
Hainsey credits this past offseason with his first-half success.
“Not to say that last year we weren’t in great shape, but I think that this year there was definitely an upgrade in the way we prepared for the start of the season,” he says. “Personally, I’m two times in better shape at least than I was at this time last year.
“I’m just continuing to work on the same things: D-zone coverage and really snapping the puck off on the power play. It’s paid off so far.”
The River Hawks will be without Hainsey for either three or four games while he represents Team USA in the World Junior Tournament for the second time.
“It’s a higher level of hockey and it’s real exciting, obviously, to play for your country.” he says. “Last year, I don’t think much was expected of me going in, but by the end of the tournament I was one of the four D out there come overtime in the bronze medal game against Canada.
“This year, I’m going to look to be much more dominant in my role with that team. But it’s exciting just to have the opportunity to play for the world championship.”
Quip Of The Week
This writer was talking to Whitehead about Hainsey’s progress when the defenseman walked into the Tsongas Arena interview room.
“What’s been the key to his big increase in point production?” I asked Whitehead.
In a loud mock whisper, Hainsey inserted, “He’s become a superior shooter!”
Eventually a question was posed to Whitehead about Hainsey’s skills in his own end.
Again, in a mock whisper, Hainsey inserted, “He’s superior defensively!”
The laughter was even harder this time.
Conclusion: Hainsey is a superior defensemen and a superior wit.
Last week’s question concerned the recent double double goose egg in Hockey East. UNH and UMass-Lowell skated to a scoreless tie on Dec. 2; four days later, BC and Northeastern duplicated the feat.
The question asked: for all four teams when was the last time that they were involved in a scoreless tie, if ever? Also, when, if ever, was the last time that Hockey East had two scoreless ties in the span of eight days or less?
Wayne T. Smith responded, “For BC and NU, it was 2000-12-06; it goes back a bit farther for UML and UNH, four days to be precise, to 2000-12-02. This has to be one of your easier questions to answer. The fifth question seems to have just as obvious an answer.
“The second-to-last time is a bit more of a challenge.”
Well, Wayne got me on that one. Luckily, he didn’t just stop with his technically correct wisecrack. He also was the first to provide the “second-to-last-time” answers: Northeastern and UMass-Lowell had never before played in a scoreless tie. Boston College tied Maine on Jan. 10, 1998. New Hampshire tied Amherst on Feb. 1, 1929. (No, folks, I wasn’t there to see that one.)
Additionally, the league has never seen two scoreless ties within eight days. As Wayne notes, “In the 15 seasons from the 1986-87 season, Hockey East has never had more than one 0-0 tie. Most years college hockey had none or one 0-0 ties!”
I think we all can agree that Wayne has earned the right to this week’s cheer. It is:
“M-A-I-N-E Gooooooo Blue!”
This week’s question offers a change of pace in that it has nothing to do with hockey. Sir Isaac Newton lived to be 85 years old. A year or two before his death, he announced what he considered to be his most impressive achievement. What was it?
Send your guesses to Dave Hendrickson and take your shot at the first cheer of the New Year.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Reader Lou Fuoco responded, “You know, Hendrickson, I used to think you were ok until this week when you touted that total waste, Mariah Carey. Are you sure it wasn’t your head that was in the oven an extra 40 minutes?”
At the risk of offending those who are Mariah fans, let me clarify. Other than her Christmas CD, I don’t own any of her other albums. She’s just not my cup of tea. However, the black gospel choir style of Mariah’s “Joy To The World” is very much my cup of tea.
Which is also why U2’s live version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is among my favorites. I just love that sound. It’s almost instinctive to select track five on Rattle And Hum and crank up the volume.
Sorry ’bout that, Mariah fans. But my affection goes only about as far as the Christmas CD. Although I don’t mind her cover photos.
What’s right is that it is visually spectacular thanks to current special effects wizardry. Ever since reading Into Thin Air, I’ve been obsessed with mountains like Everest and K2. I’ve got plenty of high altitude books and videos, but none of them capture the visuals as well as Vertical Limit.
What’s wrong about Vertical Limit, however, is that it includes some of the most moronic writing I’ve ever witnessed. It’s even worse than some of those early novels I attempted 20-25 years ago. (Folks, insults about writing do not get any lower than that.)
If your sister were trapped high on K2, would it occur to you to carry nitroglycerin to the scene? Not unless, I would think, you really hated her. With all the explosions, it’s a wonder K2 was left standing at all.
And there were so many obvious Mountainclimbing 101 errors as to be absurd. In the most egregious one, an expert climber creeps to within two paces of a sheer precipice, where her companion is hanging by his icepick. Not only is she not tethered to anything — not tethered to anything! — but she then stomps hard on the snow to see if it will break off. It does, but not enough to send either of them over the edge nor enough to put the idea of a tether into her empty head.
I can accept impossible premises in supernatural movies. In fact, those are some of my favorites. But if a movie is based on reality, it shouldn’t insult my intelligence with metronomic regularity.
Vertical Limit might be better named The Three Stooges Find Nitro On K2.
The sad thing is that the visuals were so good, I’d go see it again. Which, I guess, is one more reason we have so many stupid movies.
“I LOVED it!” said one reader. Click here for information about Dave Hendrickson’s latest short story, “Yeah, But Can She Cook?”