This Week In Hockey East: Feb. 8, 2001

Beanpot: The Dream Matchup

It’s not the Beanpot title game that Harvard and Northeastern were looking for, but Boston College vs. Boston University hits the spot as far as most fans are concerned.

“That’s that matchup that most people would like to see,” said BC coach Jerry York after his Eagles dispatched Harvard, 4-1, but before BU topped Northeastern, 5-4. “It’s got the most history to it and it’s got archrivals involved.

“I have no rooting interest, but I think most people would like to see a jam-packed BU-BC game.”

Boston University players, however, showed no reticence in stating their preference after they advanced.

“We always want to play BC,” said Terrier forward Brian Collins. “Coach [Jack Parker] always says, ‘Let’s root for the Eagles. We don’t want to play anyone else.'”

Parker was quick to clarify before Crimson or Husky supporters took offense.

“A BC-BU final is a little more exciting for everybody involved,” he said. “That’s nothing against Northeastern or Harvard. We have a bigger rivalry with BC than we do with the other two schools and they have a bigger rivalry with us.”

Based on recent Beanpot history, the clear favorite is Boston University. As the six-time defending champion, the Terriers can boast a 14-game ‘Pot winning streak that began on Feb. 14, 1994. They have not lost since the tournament moved from Boston Garden to the FleetCenter in 1996. Their current senior class will be looking to become the fourth straight group to graduate without ever having lost a game in the tournament.

“I don’t know what it is,” said Dan Cavanaugh. “You come in as a freshman and you hear so much about this tradition about BU and how we’re supposed to win these games. When we prepare for these games, we come in thinking that there’s no way we’re going to lose.

“I think that helps us out a lot. Coach believes in us and he tells us we’re supposed to win this tournament. With that, we just go out and do what it takes to win. Luckily, we’ve been pretty fortunate.”

In terms of sheer talent, however, Boston College is a near-prohibitive favorite. The Eagles sport a 21-6-1 record and are ranked second in the nation. They are also likely to get back super soph Krys Kolanos, who missed last week’s action with a worrisome shoulder injury. Kolanos will be a game-time coaches’ decision on Friday night at Providence. Most likely, he’ll be held out of the lineup that evening with the hope that he’ll play on Monday.

By comparison, the unranked Terriers have posted an uncharacteristically mediocre 12-12-2 mark after a dreadful 2-8-1 start.

All of which has both sides trying to portray themselves as the underdog. According to BU, BC is the favorite as the consensus best team in the East. According to BC, the Terriers are the champs so they’re the favorite.

“The public wants to see a new winner,” said Cavanaugh. “We take that and feed off that. BC is playing well and they’re hot, but the same thing happened last year. Maybe it’s a mental thing. … We believe we’re going to win every [Beanpot] game.”

In all likelihood, however, the Terriers will have to perform better against BC than they did against Northeastern on Monday if they are going to emerge as the victors.

“I don’t think we got Northeastern’s best game tonight and I don’t think they got our best game tonight,” said Parker after the semifinal win. “I would hope that we’ll give BC our best game next week and I’m pretty sure BC is going to give us their best game.

“If you look at the stats, BC has 20 or 30 more goals than anyone else in our league. We’re going to have to play great defensively. …

“If it’s a high-scoring game, we’re going to be on the wrong end of it. We’re going to have to work like hell to make sure it’s not a 7-4 game because they’re going to win it. They’re capable of doing that to anybody, not just us.

“We’re the six-time defending champs, but that doesn’t mean anything. You don’t win ballgames on last year’s sweat.”

Beanpot Humor

(Although the Beanpot Luncheon was scheduled too late for these quips to make last week’s column, it’s never too late for a laugh.)

When Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni reminded the audience that Athletic Director and all-around legend Billy Cleary would be retiring on June 31, he set himself up for a considerable amount of ribbing. Of course, June has only 30 days.

Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder pounced first, asking Cleary, “Does that mean you’re retiring or is the day never going to come?”

Parker defended Mazzoleni. Sort of.

“Mazz is not a Harvard guy,” said Parker, “so it’s okay for him to say June 31st.”

Parker’s then took aim at Beanpot Director Steve Nazro’s praise of the luncheon’s upgrade from beans in the old days to steak.

“Was that steak?” asked Parker. “I thought it was liver.”

His best barbs, though, referred to Harvard’s never-ending, albeit legitimate, complaints that it is at a disadvantage for two reasons. First, the team is just coming out of exams. Second, the ECAC’s travel-partners approach to scheduling makes it so that the Crimson still must play two league games on the weekend before the Beanpot semifinal.

“Fortunately for us, we only have to play on Friday,” said Parker. “Hockey East really takes care of the Hockey East teams. They don’t schedule [two games on the weekend]. Obviously, Harvard doesn’t have any pull in the ECAC.

“And all our schools have changed our exam schedule so we don’t have to take exams. Ever. It’s nice not to have to worry about any of that. Most of our guys are here for the season and not the reason anyway.

“Harvard has to vie with Boston College, but they also have to beat the Harvard system as well. They can’t even get support from their own league.”

Parker also fired away at a member of his own BU contingent, who was wearing a sweater of a very un-Terrier-like color.

“We’ve got our number-one fan here, Elliot Driben,” said Parker, “but he’s got his Dartmouth green on now that Dartmouth is going pretty well.”

He even noted that while assistant coach Brian Durocher was away recruiting, “our goaltender coach Mike Geragosian could be anywhere.”

BU captain Carl Corazzini didn’t let the laughter stop when Parker sat down. The senior thanked Sports Information Director Ed Carpenter “for telling me that I didn’t have to talk today” and then sent a zinger Parker’s way.

“I’m not surprised that he was the longest speaker for the coaches,” said Corazzini to a burst of laughter. “I’ll just let him keep talking because the longer he talks, the closer I am to missing practice.”

Two Personal Beanpot Reflections

  • It did this father proud that my son, Ryan, and his hockey buddies made the right choice last Monday. Leave the game early and make the 10:40 train or be stuck waiting for the midnight run? They stayed to the last buzzer.

    All of which led to an amusing moment back in the train station. Waiting for the train, the four boys found themselves among the BU players who were similarly waiting for the team bus. Unable to avoid the temptation, they casually strolled next to BU forward Jack Baker to compare heights. The conclusion: Baker (5-7, 161 pounds) was no taller, but a good deal wider.

  • As for yours truly, Monday night’s Beanpot made for a shrill alarm clock on Tuesday morning. It wasn’t just that I didn’t finish writing my Flashback to ’78 story until 1:20 in the morning. Or that about 15 miles north of Boston the roads became very slow going.

    No, the killer was that at 2:50 in the ayem, I had to shovel my way into the driveway. And before I was finished, a plow came along and gave me a little more snow to work with.

    That, my friends, was adding insult to injury.

    The Second Best Team?

    Who has been the second-best team in Hockey East since Dec. 1? The answer will probably surprise you. It’s the UMass-Lowell River Hawks.

    In that time span, they have compiled a 5-2-3 league record. Both losses came at the hands of Boston College and were only by a single goal. And lest you suspect a weak schedule during that stretch, five of the 10 games were against opponents in the nation’s Top 10.

    As a result, Lowell has gone a long way to make up for its brutal 1-6 start in Hockey East play. The River Hawks now have a legitimate shot at playoff home ice.

    “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said UML coach Tim Whitehead after temporarily moving into fifth place on Saturday night. One day later, Maine leapfrogged the Hawks into fifth. “Next weekend anything could happen.

    “We just have to worry about ourselves, just keep playing hard and playing smart. Just take one game at a time. If we do that and stay healthy, we’re going to be in a good situation.”

    One of the key ingredients in Lowell’s success has been the play of goaltender Jimi St. John.

    “We’re going into every game knowing we’re going to win it and if we don’t win it, it’s our fault,” said St. John. “Every one of the games coming up are games that we should win.”

    St. John was named Hockey East’s ITECH Goaltender of the Month for January.

    “I’m just in a good rhythm,” he said. “The guys are playing good in front of me. It helps when not a lot is getting through to me and I’m seeing everything.”

    St. John, who had not seen a lot of action prior to the holiday break, had plenty of competition throughout the league for the monthly honor, but proved his worth with a 1.82 GAA, a .918 save percentage and a 4-1-1 record.

    “He really deserved it,” said Whitehead. “He’s stabilized our team defense and the guys are doing a good job in front of him. That goes both ways. It’s been a great combo, the way the team is playing defensively and the way Jimi is playing.”

    Two of the key members of that defense have been freshmen Jerramie Domish and Darryl Green. While Ron Hainsey gets most of Lowell’s blueline accolades — and deservedly so — and Laurent Meunier has been the impact freshman with 26 points, Domish and Green have also been major contributors.

    “They’re doing a great job,” said Whitehead. “It’s very important for those guys to step in and contribute right away and they’ve done that.

    “They’re different players and they both contribute in their own way. That’s what you need, everybody filling their role and doing what they do best. Both of those guys are doing that.”

    At 5-8 and 196 pounds, Domish is yet another River Hawk defenseman who is the antithesis of a redwood, both in stature and mobility. Chris Gustafson and Josh Allison are both 5-10.

    “We’re getting a pretty good stable of short, stocky defensemen,” said Whitehead. “As long as they’re tough and they can move, why not?”

    Amazin’ Aquino

    Last Friday night might have been a coming of age for Merrimack forward Anthony Aquino. In a 5-5 tie with New Hampshire, the unsung star netted a hat trick, assisted on the other two Warrior goals and finished plus five for the evening. The comeback from a 5-2 third-period deficit could eventually spell the difference between a playoff berth and getting out the golf clubs on Mar. 3.

    The 18-year-old sophomore — 18-year-old sophomore! — is now tied for first place with BC’s Brian Gionta and Krys Kolanos in Hockey East overall scoring with 37 points. He’s tops in the league with 22 assists, a remarkable feat considering that the power play is where many of a player’s easiest helpers occur and that is a Merrimack weakness (11.9 percent).

    Is there any reason to believe he isn’t one of Hockey East’s top forwards?

    “I think he’s as good as any forward in Hockey East right now with maybe the exception of Gionta,” says Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “He’s one of the premier players in this league. He’s been a consistent performer. He’s gotten points almost every game for us.

    “You’re going to see nights like [the UNH game] when all of a sudden everything clicks in for him because he’s still so young. He hasn’t even scratched where he’s going. That game at UNH shows you a little bit of what you can expect to see over the next couple of years from him.”

    There are both obvious strengths to Aquino’s game and subtleties as well.

    “In order to be a pro, you have to be good at everything and you have to be exceptional at one thing,” says Serino. “Anthony is very good at everything and he has exceptional speed. He can separate himself from someone in a heartbeat.

    “He’s not only fast straightaway, but he gets up to top speed in something like three steps. It’s quickness and speed, not just speed.

    “If you just have speed with nothing else, you may not be good. But he’s also got great hands. He passes the puck very well, which I don’t think a lot of people really know. He finds open guys and he creates space.”

    Serino has to think a bit when asked what other players he’s coached Aquino reminds him of.

    “He’s a lot like Tommy Nolan [UNH, 93-94, 95-98] in that quickness that he has,” says Serino. “But where Nolan was at when he left UNH, Aquino’s probably already there. And he’s got two more years left.”

    The One That Got Away, Returns

    One can only wonder where Merrimack would be in the standings, not to mention where Aquino would be in the league’s scoring race, if Greg Classen had stayed for his junior year. Instead of 12-15-3 overall and 5-11-2 in Hockey East, the Warriors might have 17 or 18 wins and be close to .500 in the league.

    “It’s only crossed my mind about 85 times,” says Serino. “He makes your power play better. You put [Marco] Rosa with Aquino and Classen and you have one of the best lines in Hockey East. Maybe the best line in Hockey East.

    “You’d have [Nick] Parillo to play with [Ryan] Kiley and [Vince] Clevenger and the senior line — [John Pyliotis, Joe Gray and Ron Mongeau] — that does a pretty good job defensively. It just changes your whole complexion.”

    Classen turned pro last summer when the contract offered proved to be too good to pass up. He made the Nashville Predators out of training camp and he’s stayed with the parent club other than a 14-day stint in the IHL and an stretch on the injured reserve. Last Thursday, he scored a goal and assisted on another in Nashville’s comeback win.

    “I’m happy for Greg,” says Serino. “He made the right choice. The money was there. He’s playing in the NHL. He meant a lot to our team, but you recruit good players and that’s going to happen.”

    Classen showed surprising dedication to Merrimack last weekend by stepping off the Predators’ red-eye Los Angeles-to-Nashville flight that got in at 5 a.m. and then boarding the 7 a.m. flight to Boston so he could spend the NHL All-Star break watching the Warriors.

    “He made a mark here,” says Serino. “In two years, that’s saying a lot for a kid, the mark that he left on people and the way the players responded to him coming back. It was like he never left.”

    Seeing Classen in the stands inspired Aquino to his three-goal, two-assist performance.

    “I saw him in the stands in the second period and said, ‘I have to do some more stuff here,'” said Aquino in a story by the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune‘s Kevin Conway. “I had one goal and one assist at that point and said, ‘That’s not good enough.'”

    Classen’s presence even prompted some fanciful temptation for Serino.

    “To be honest, I had him in a uniform,” says Serino. “But my little guy said, ‘Dad, you can’t do that.’ It was a game-time decision, though.”

    The Odds-On Favorite To Be The Odd Man Out

    UMass-Amherst’s season took a turn for the worse last weekend when the Minutemen lost to BU, 5-1, and UMass-Lowell, 4-1. The two losses dropped them just one point out of last place.

    “It’s tough to take positives after getting swept and losing by four goals one night and three goals the next night,” says coach Don “Toot” Cahoon. “In terms of assessing certain players and making progress in certain areas, yeah. I know a little bit more about everybody and there are some things to take.

    “But it doesn’t sell very well. I might take it back to the office and we’ll put it to use and it might help us down the road. We’ve got some young kids that we’re looking at and I’m pretty happy with their development. And I know a little bit more about who I want to go to war with.”

    Nonetheless, the losses put UMass in serious jeopardy of being Hockey East’s odd man out of the eight-team playoffs. The Minutemen finish the season with two games each against Maine, Boston College and New Hampshire. Although they snared three points in those same games last year to squeak into the playoffs, it remains a tough row to hoe.

    “Unless they allow some trade opportunities in college hockey, we’re going to take our guys and we’re going to go to work every day and stay positive with them, create a good teaching atmosphere and then put our best foot forward,” says Cahoon. “There’s nothing more I can do at this point.

    “I don’t think we’re going to panic. I don’t think we’re going to quit. And I don’t think we’re going to be any place other than in the playoffs when it’s over.”

    Cahoon is in the position of heading a program which has a much better long-term future than short-term.

    “You deal with everything on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “The guys know that we’re trying to build something, but the most important thing is that we’re getting better in each and every area. We’re just focusing on the little things, day in and day out.”

    In such a long-term vs. short-term situation, however, sometimes a coach is faced with the possibility of sacrificing the senior class and going exclusively with the younger players.

    “That’s a case-by-case situation,” says Cahoon. “I wouldn’t make the general statement that I’d sacrifice the whole class, but there certainly are some individual players who have to measure up and make that same effort and commitment day in and day out. So it’s not a class thing; it’s a case-by-case situation.”

    One positive case in point is Martin Miljko. The junior was left home from the season-opening trip to Wisconsin because he wasn’t in the shape Cahoon required.

    “In fairness to him, he’d just gotten off a knee injury and it was his first competition back,” says Cahoon. “I think he was just starting to understand what I was expecting in terms of energy and effort.

    “Since he got back into the lineup, he’s worked pretty hard with few exceptions. He’s been pretty dependable game in and game out.”

    Miljko is now the second-leading scorer on the Minutemen with 11 goals and nine assists.

    “If you were to look at what he brings to the table, he brings an offensive threat,” says Cahoon. “He has a real good shot release so he gets his goals. He’s probably not as hard-working defensively as he is offensively, but we’re working on that.

    “You can’t live without his offense. It’s hard to find guys who can put the puck away. If he works at being diligent on the defensive end, he’ll be a real good two-way player.”

    Others, however, have shown themselves to be, in Cahoon’s estimation, lacking and not likely to be building blocks for the program.

    “There are guys who just don’t deserve to play ahead of the guys who I am playing,” says Cahoon. “We’re going to go with these guys and we’re going to add to the equation and it will have a way of playing itself out. If I thought that they were in a position to help us more than the guys that we’re putting on the ice, then I would be rotating them through there. But I think that right now the kids who are in the lineup, for the most part, are the kids who belong in the lineup.”

    While there may be ups and downs in the season, Cahoon is happy with the team’s work ethic.

    “I think everybody is working really hard,” he says. “Work ethic is the most critical aspect to what we’re doing. That and to be resilient and not get down because you’re losing a game or because it isn’t bouncing the way you want it to.

    “We knew it was going to be a tough challenge to begin with, but hopefully we can maybe get into a little bit of a flow, if you want to call it that, so that we can take a run at a real critical time during the year.

    “If you have the right psyche and you’re getting the right effort out of everyone and they learn to play together and minimize their mistakes and play within themselves then maybe we can do that.

    “Then you add to it by getting players who have a lot of dimensions who can add to the equation.”

    A senior like Jeff Turner now finds himself in the position where, barring some miracle in the next month, he won’t be getting to college hockey’s Promised Land. His sophomore brother Tim might, but it isn’t looking good for Jeff.

    “The number one thing, especially for the seniors right now, is to stay positive and keep teaching,” says the elder Turner. “Every game is a new game. We know that this program is heading in the right direction.

    “It’s important for us to leave our mark with the underclassmen and set an example of hard work and, not only dedication, but not getting too low with the lows and too high with the highs because right now we’re in a low and if it continues it could spiral down.

    “But [each game] is a new night and if we can get it going in the right direction it would put us back in the playoff hunt.”

    Miljko, for one, isn’t about ready to start thinking about next year, especially in light of the leadership shown by seniors like Turner.

    “Coach Cahoon talks about turning the program around and building it into one of the premier teams, so it is in the back of our minds,” says Miljko. “But we’re taking this season one game at a time.

    “It’s not fair to the seniors on this team to just throw it away. We’ve got to work on this season. It’s what we’re playing for right now.”

    TV Update

    It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but the Fox Sports Net “wild card” games have been decided: Feb. 16, UNH at BC; Feb. 24, Northeastern at BU; and Mar. 4 BC at BU.

    Random Notes

  • UNH now has gone five games without a win, a note unhappily offered up by Wildcat fan Rick Stevenson. How long ago did that last happen? Surprisingly, it was just last year at an almost identical point in the season, from Jan. 21 through Feb. 4. What makes this cold spell feel worse is that last year’s record was 0-2-3 while this year it’s 0-4-1.
  • Maine has the opportunity, on paper at least, to make up some ground as the Black Bears next face the sixth-, eighth- and ninth-place teams in the standings: UMass-Amherst, UMass-Lowell and Merrimack. They then finish their regular season with two against Providence.

    That same schedule last year netted Maine a 7-0-1 record. However, these opportunities on paper may not be so easily converted into wins.

    “It’s more difficult this year because the teams we’re playing are better than they were a year ago,” says coach Shawn Walsh. “Lowell is a better Lowell; Merrimack is a better Merrimack; UMass is a better UMass and Providence is a better Providence. So it’s going to be easier said than done.”

  • BC’s top line in the Beanpot could be affectionately called The Smurfs. It consists of Gionta, Ben Eaves and Tony Voce. Gionta is 5-7 while the two freshmen are both listed at 5-8. Take the latter number, however, with a grain of salt.

    “[Brian] is the tallest,” says York with a grin.

    Yours Truly on WJAB

    For those in the radio listening vicinity of Portland, Maine, you may want to tune in to WJAB (1440/95.5) on Friday mornings. I discuss college hockey with “Billy B. and the Shoeman” for about 10 minutes or so.

    The emphasis is on the Black Bears, but general topics get covered as well. Some weeks I’m moderately interesting; other times I’m barely coherent. Unfortunately, I’ve been told that I have a face for radio and a voice for newspapers.

    It’s at different times each week, typically from 7 a.m. on. This week’s time: 8:30.

    Trivia Contest

    Last week’s question looked beyond the boundaries of Hockey East and asked what was unique about Lake Superior State forward Kyle Anderson from New Year’s Day to Jan. 26?

    There were a few humorous replies. One speculated that during that time Anderson actually kept his New Year’s resolutions, only to break them in rather interesting ways on the 26th.

    Another came from a Lake State fan who wondered if Anderson had been on the ice for all 14 goals scored against the Lakers in that stretch. (LSSU lost to Michigan, 5-0 and 2-0. It then lost to Michigan State, 2-0, 2-1 and 3-0.)

    The correct answer was that Anderson was the only player to score on Michigan State’s All-Everything goaltender,Ryan Miller from Jan. 1 through Jan. 26. In six games, Miller tossed an unconscious five shutouts plus the Anderson goal, which actually deflected in off a Spartan skate.

    The ultimate irony is that the lone goal to get past Miller was also Lake Superior State’s only one of the month.

    The first to answer correctly was Jim Love, whose cheer is:

    “Keep the faith, ‘Cat fans – Go Blue !!”

    This week’s question asks what unique achievement do Merrimack’s Anthony Aquino and Dartmouth’s Mike Maturo share?

    Send your answers or wild guesses to Dave Hendrickson.

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