Hockey East To The NFL
Perhaps Hockey East can become aligned with the National Football League, where parity is in greater supply than dominance.
Of the eight Hockey East teams in tournaments last weekend, all but Maine finished with exactly one win and one loss. Providence, Maine, Boston University, Northeastern and Merrimack all won their first-round games, giving hope of a banner weekend. In fact, by late last Thursday evening the league had raced out to a 3-0 start without its three nationally ranked teams — Boston College, New Hampshire and Providence — having yet played a game.
The promise of Dec. 28, however, fizzled out. Other than Maine, all the opening-round victors failed to close out championship game wins. And the league’s bellwether teams, Boston College and New Hampshire, lost their opening-round contests, as did UMass-Lowell, albeit to rebound with consolation-game victories.
All of which added up to Maine winning the Everblades College Classic with everyone else just treading water.
(UMass-Amherst, the lone tournament holdout, defeated Brown, 4-1, on Tuesday in a contest shifted from Saturday because of the anticipated winter storm.)
All of which confirms a contention of this space’s previous two columns. Namely, that Hockey East is uncommonly strong at the bottom, but not as dominant at the top as in recent years.
Put another way, last year’s hourglass shape has given way to a pyramid.
A Wild Weekend
The second-half league action is starting with a bang. There are some great matchups on tap this weekend.
BC vs. BU is a slugfest that needs no explanation unless you’ve just arrived from Pluto, Mars or Uranus. It’s no surprise that FOX Sports New England has chosen this rivalry to kick off its season.
The same goes for Maine at New Hampshire, which will be fodder for enough USCHO Message Board vitriol to heat a modest-sized home for all of January. The two rivals have put on some great displays in recent years, climaxed, of course, by the 1999 NCAA championship game.
It doesn’t stop there, however. UMass-Lowell vs. Northeastern has had a special edge ever since coach Bruce Crowder left the former for the latter.
UMass-Lowell vs. Merrimack? A return to the Tong Wars of Merrimack Valley Division II battles of yore?
Even Providence vs. UMass-Amherst, the one matchup that might seem to be lacking a little in the traditional grudge category, should still get the juices flowing. In case you haven’t noticed, the Minutemen have a five-game winning streak in this series.
No, that is not a typo. Win number five kicked the Friars into the holiday break in a foul mood.
As a result, this could be a very underrated matchup. Personally, I don’t see the streak going to seven. If it does, I promise to eat my “Nolan Schaefer For MVP” T-shirt.
The Curse of Jerry York
Did someone give Boston College coach Jerry York a set of voodoo dolls in commemoration of his 600th win? Why was it missing one member? And why are the dolls’ effectiveness diminishing?
Let’s take an (obviously tongue-in-cheek) look at how the coaches ahead of York in career wins have fared since York got no. 600 on Nov. 4.
Clearly, York’s set of voodoo dolls never included one for Michigan State coach Ron Mason. The Spartans have gone 10-0-3 since York’s 600th and are solidly ensconced as the nation’s top team.
Bemidji State coach Bob Peters, however, has posted a 1-12-1 record in that same time span. Of course, one might dismiss that as the growing pains of a program moving up to Division I. In that case, let’s move past retired BC coach Len Ceglarski since no voodoo dolls were needed to keep him stuck at 674 wins.
Which brings us to the case of Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer. At the time of York’s 600th, the Badgers had only recently been knocked off from their perch as the country’s number one team. They held a 7-2 record. After the addition of one Jeff Sauer voodoo doll to the Chestnut Hill scene, however, Wisconsin lost six out of its next seven.
As they say in the conspiracy business, Coincidence? I think not!
And how about that cross-town rival, BU coach Jack Parker? Assuming that his win over Merrimack on the same evening of York’s 600th occurred just minutes earlier, then we have an even more convincing case. What followed for Parker was a six-game losing streak, the longest of his career!
Coincidence? I think not!
Of course, this piece of tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery must note that Wisconsin and BU are now rebounding with winning streaks, blowing major holes in an already ridiculous theory.
Nonetheless, let’s just chalk that up to voodoo dolls that are just plain tired. They did their trick for as long as they could and now they’re spent.
You know, I’m suddenly feeling a very sharp pain in my own neck.
Around the Arenas
Boston College‘s defensive rankings took a beating at the Great Lakes Invitational. The Eagles had led Hockey East with 2.25 goals against per game, but fell to fourth after surrendering nine goals total in the 4-1 loss to Michigan State and the 8-5 win over Michigan.
Of course, it didn’t help that they were without J.D. Forrest and Billy Cass. Even though Forrest is only a freshman, he has quickly established himself as one of BC’s best blueliners. He was competing for Team USA in the World Junior Tournament. Cass, a sophomore, has been sidelined with a knee injury.
The Eagles also entered the tournament ranked atop Hockey East offensive rankings, but struggled against MSU. In particular, they failed to score on any of their six power-play opportunities.
They burst out against Michigan, however, led predictably by Hockey East’s number one scorer, Krys Kolanos (15-16–31), as well as Ales Dolinar (6-6–12), both of whom scored twice. The league’s top scoring freshman, Chuck Kobasew (10-10–20), added a goal and two assists. As a whole, the Eagles’ fabulous freshmen totaled seven points.
Between Kobasew in a tie for eighth in league scoring and Kolanos at the top, BC adds Brian Gionta (11-11–22) and Mike Lephart (9-13–22), both tied for fourth.
Small wonder the Eagles are easily the most explosive club in the league.
Boston University defeated third-ranked North Dakota, 4-3, to open the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown. Jason Tapp and Gregg Johnson, two Terriers who struggled mightily during parts of the first semester, were heroes.
Tapp stopped 66 of 72 shots on the weekend, getting both starts. His biggest save, however, came on a penalty shot by North Dakota’s Paul Murphy that arose after Dan Cavanaugh covered a loose puck in the crease. At the time, BU already trailed by a goal.
Murphy deked Tapp to the ice, but the junior snared the shot with his glove anyway.
“Since it was a tight ballgame, they take the game away by going up by two,” said coach Jack Parker. “That was a huge save.”
Johnson, a freshman, had scored only one goal in his first collegiate semester. Against the Sioux, however, he scored twice, including the game-winner with 37.6 seconds left.
With Terriers John Sabo and Fred Meyer participating in the World Junior Tournament, some forward line and defensive pair juggling was required. The end result was moving Johnson alongside Cavanaugh, perhaps BU’s best playmaker.
“[Johnson] has been real tentative,” said Parker, “… but I think he’s found a home with Cavanaugh.”
The Terriers’ four-game win streak, however, ended in the title game against Wisconsin, 3-2. A second period in which they were outscored 3-0 proved fatal. They fought back with two third-period goals, but it was too little, too late.
“We were horrible in the second period,” said Jack Parker. “Wisconsin really came at us in the second period and we couldn’t keep them off the scoreboard. …
“We had a chance to win it at the end. We had a chance to stay close and jump on them, and that was nice, too. The fact that we kept working and we outshot them 19-4 in the third and came at them pretty good were pretty good signs for us.”
Maine claimed the lone tournament championship among Hockey East teams with wins over Clarkson, 4-2, and Cornell, 2-1. Not surprisingly, defense was the key. The Black Bears assumed the top defensive ranking in the league by allowing two goals or fewer for their 12th and 13th time in just 19 games. They own a 9-1-3 record in such games, but are 0-5-1 otherwise.
Ironically, the offense in the Clarkson game came from a line comprised of Robert Liscak and two defensemen, Kevin Clauson and Francis Nault. That trio played a part in three of the goals prior to a final empty netter.
“I thought Liscak was the key guy,” said coach Shawn Walsh. “He was on for all three goals. He scored our second goal. He made that great pass from behind the net for the third one.”
Maine’s team defense cranked it up in the title game, holding Cornell to only 12 shots while taking 33. Cornell managed only three shots in the first period, four in the second and five in the third.
Not coincidentally, Walsh had benched Niko Dimitrakos, who can be a force offensively, but tends toward indifferent (critics might say invisible) defensive play.
“We were bees on honey tonight,” said coach Shawn Walsh. “Shots on goal show that. It was the most thorough team effort we’ve had this year. Interestingly enough, we sat out our top offensive player, Dimitrakos, because we thought he wasn’t playing hard enough and the team got the message.”
There was a small measure of controversy, however, when a Cornell shot found the back of the net just after the second-period buzzer.
“Well, the green light went on, so I knew right away they were going to have a hard time justifying it was a goal,” said Walsh. “The way we were playing, though, the right team won. When you dominate a game like this, you deserve to win, and our kids deserved to win.”
Walsh, as is his wont, added a unique local flavor — this time Floridian — to his commentary.
“We kept our streak intact,” he said. “We’ve won five tournaments in California and now one in Florida. We’re the opposite of the [Tampa Bay] Buccaneers. When the weather gets warm we’re really good.”
The tournament Most Valuable Player was Peter Metcalf. He recorded a plus-three ranking against Clarkson with two assists and scored a goal in the title tilt. Additionally, defenseman A.J. Begg and goaltender Matt Yeats were named to the all-tournament team.
UMass-Amherst bypassed the tournament scene and instead hosted Brown. In a game postponed to Tuesday after weather threatened the original Saturday date, the Minutemen posted a convincing 4-1 win.
They outshot Brown, 42-17, en route to their first nonconference victory. Tim Turner and Martin Miljko each scored twice.
It further marked the return of stellar defenseman Toni Soderholm from a knee injury. When he was sidelined, UMass stood at 3-3-1. In his absence, however, the Minutemen posted a dismal 1-8-1 mark. There’s certainly a healthy dose of coincidence in there, but not all. Soderholm can play.
UMass-Lowell lost to Nebraska-Omaha, 5-2, but rebounded with a 5-1 win over Alabama-Huntsville. The River Hawks were missing three players. Top defenseman and scorer Ron Hainsey was representing the United States at the World Junior Tournament. Top forward Yorick Treille remained out due to a concussion suffered on Dec. 9 against Colgate. No. five scorer Mark Concannon is sidelined for four weeks with a separated shoulder.
Goaltender Jimi St. John saw his first action since Nov. 12 and recorded a win. Darryl Green subbed for Hainsey as power-play quarterback and recorded a goal and an assist against Alabama-Huntsville.
The River Hawk penalty kill, which languished near the bottom of Hockey East ratings just a short time ago, allowed only one goal in 13 chances on the weekend. It has now successfully killed 29 of the last 31 opposing power plays.
Merrimack defeated Minnesota-Duluth, 4-2, but then fell hard to Western Michigan, 8-1. The loss kept the Warriors from winning their first Division I tournament.
Super soph Anthony Aquino scored twice against Duluth, earning Player of the Game honors. His shorthanded tally early in the third proved to be the game-winner; it was his fifth such goal, tops among D-I players. Aquino (9-14–23), who also recorded Merrimack’s lone tally against Western, now ranks third among Hockey East scorers. Additionally, even though he has only played in 57 games, he still trails only senior John Pyliotis in career points among active Merrimack skaters.
Goaltender Joe Exter also starred against Duluth, earning his sixth win in his last seven starts by stopping 14 third-period shots.
“I’m not sure we deserved to win this one,” said coach Chris Serino. “Our goaltender stole some good scoring chances from them tonight. He took the game away from them on some shots.”
However, things fell apart early and often in the game against Western Michigan. Before the first period was over, the Warriors trailed, 3-0; before the second had ended, 6-0.
“We got down by a couple of goals and a little panic set in,” said Serino, whose club fell back to the .500 mark (10-10-1). “We started running around and getting away from our game. Our two games here might be the worst defensively we’ve played all year.”
The game set the three-year-old Silverado Shootout tournament record for most penalties (25) and penalty minutes (99). Joe Gray was assessed a game disqualification and as a result will miss Saturday night’s matchup against UMass-Lowell.
On a positive note, backup goaltender Tom Welby stopped 24 of 27 shots in relief of Exter.
New Hampshire suffered a disappointing loss to Granite State rival Dartmouth, 6-3, in its Auld Lang Syne Tournament opener.
The Wildcats rebounded, however, one night later with a convincing 4-0 whitewashing of Miami. Surprisingly, it was only senior goaltender Ty Conklin’s fourth career shutout, but second in five games.
Lanny Gare scored his 10th goal of the season. Last year, as a freshman, he recorded only six.
The Wildcats now have six players at or above the 15-point mark: Darren Haydar (12-15–27, second in the league), Gare (10-12–22, tied for fourth), defenseman Garrett Stafford (3-16–19, tied for 10th), Colin Hemingway (6-10–16, tied for 18th), David Busch (6-9–15) and Matt Swain (7-8–15).
That’s a nicely balanced scoring attack.
Northeastern opened the Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Hockey Tournament in fine fashion, topping the host team in overtime, 3-2, on a goal by Scott Selig.
Goaltender Mike Gilhooly was instrumental in the win. In particular, he stopped what ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy called “a mini three-on-one in front” that came with under three minutes to go in regulation.
“He is really playing well,” said coach Bruce Crowder. “These last four games have been excellent and he was equal to the task. For the last month and a half we thought he wasn’t playing with confidence, and he wasn’t cocky. Any goaltender that I’ve ever dealt with that has been successful has been cocky and aggressive.”
Any win over a nationally-ranked opponent is a good one. This one was even more so given that it came in a hostile barn.
“This was a very big win,” said Crowder. “We’re trying to find a little bit of identity for ourselves. The last three games we played extremely well and to come in here in this type of environment, it’s a big win.
“The (RPI) kids were a little more tense. RPI was in their building and in overtime, and we had nothing to lose. A lot of guys were pretty loose, and we wanted to play with emotion.
“When we got to overtime I liked our chances.”
The win, which put the Huskies over .500, also set up a rematch against St. Lawrence. The Huskies had opened their season against the Saints, defeating them, 4-3. This time, however, the tables were turned with SLU getting of win of that same score.
After taking a 2-0 first-period lead, the Huskies were outshot, 20-9, and outscored, 3-0, in the second period. Although taking back the play with a 20-5 third-period shot disparity, they could only match goals and walked away with a loss.
“We got off to the kiss of death — a 2-0 lead — and thought it was going to be easy here,” said Crowder. “We let the kids know about it, but we came out in the second period flat. They got three goals behind us and we battled back in the third, and then it was a strange goal for them to win it, but I don’t think we deserved the win. We didn’t play well enough for it.
“We had some glorious opportunities and we had a chance to end it before we got to overtime, but we’re a team that just keeps trying to make the next step. We hoped to win the championship and get a little momentum, but we’re right back to .500 again.”
Providence knocked off Ferris State, 4-2, in the Wells Fargo Denver Cup opener, getting good goaltending from Boyd Ballard and two goals by Devin Rask.
One night later, however, the Friars ran into a buzzsaw. Denver, which has posted a 9-0-2 record since Nov. 18, topped them, 2-1.
Ironically, they had five-minute-major power plays both nights. Not coincidentally, they converted in the win, but couldn’t in the loss.
Matt Libby had a big weekend, earning Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors by leading a 12-for-13 penalty kill unit, a defense that allowed only two goals both games as well as adding two goals and two assists on the offensive end.
The Friar defense has now moved into a ranking short of only Maine with 2.39 goals against per game. When the offense produces, they win. PC is 9-0-2 when it scores at least three goals.
This weekend, Providence will be looking to end a who-would-have-thunk-it five-game losing streak with UMass-Amherst.
Last week’s question offered a change of pace in that it had 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?
When you hear the answer, you’ll understand why no one answered correctly. Did Newton think that the universal law of gravitation was his most impressive achievement? Surprisingly, no. His monumental work in mathematics? No. His work in optics? No.
Sir Isaac Newton considered his most impressive achievement to be … lifelong celibacy.
I won’t even dare add a punch line to that one.
I will, however, issue a cheer of my own, since I’ve finally stumped all of you. It is:
For those who might be offended at that, may I wish you a Newtonian love life.
This week’s question seeks to be a great deal easier. It looks back to the 1988 NCAA tournament when the field was expanded to 12 teams. Four teams currently in Hockey East were selected. Which four?
Also, which two advanced to the next round. And which two played each other?
Send your solid answers and wild guesses to Dave Hendrickson and take your shot at the first fan cheer of the New Year.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
My hat is off to Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. According to a story in the New York Post, Ilitch challenged Boston Bruins carpetbagger Jeremy Jacobs to (in so many words) stop sucking money out of his franchise and put something back in an attempt to actually make his team better.
I have only thrown something at my TV on two occasions. One was after the ball bounced between Buckner’s legs. The other was the Bruins’ too many men on the ice call against the Canadiens.
Jeremy Jacobs and his hired Scrooges, however, have torn what was once a passion for the Bruins into shreds. Are Harry Sinden or Mike O’Connell coming on the radio for an interview? Time to click that dial. I can’t even stand to listen to them.
So here’s a big cheer for Mike Ilitch, an NHL owner who cares. Now that’s a novel concept.
Thanks to Paula C. Weston, Kevin Conway, Todd D. Milewski, Jayson Moy and Eric J. Habermas.