This Week in Hockey East: Oct. 11, 2001

We’ve Never Needed Them More

This season opens on the heels of the worst offseason in memory. On April 10, Northeastern assistant coach Ed Arrington died of carbon-monoxide poisoning. In late August, doctors diagnosed a malignant tumor in Merrimack coach Chris Serino’s neck.

Then came the horrific attacks of Sept. 11. Former Boston University player Mark Bavis, along with all the other passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 175, died when the plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

While the nation as a whole still grieved, college hockey suffered yet another broadside when Shawn Walsh lost his courageous battle with cancer on Sept. 24.

Now, with U.S. bombers flying over Afghanistan, most of us feel a combination of sadness, resolve and concern over the future. As well we should.

Considering the gravity of current events and all the grief we’ve recently endured, we may also feel some hesitation to enjoy our games to the fullest.

It may seem at first glance that a somber mood is now more appropriate than laughter or jubilation. Let’s not celebrate a goal too much or enjoy a slick stickhandling move or a hard check more than we should. Fun seems almost sacrilegious these days.

Fun, however, is exactly what we need.

Sure, in the grand scheme of things, killing an opposing power play is trivial compared to the deliberate killing of civilians on Sept. 11. Winning faceoff battles is laughably insignificant compared to winning battles against terrorism. Holding onto the puck fades to nothing compared to holding onto the ones we love.

But if we focus only on the grand scheme of things and insist on maintaining a somber seriousness at all times, we’ll all go a little nutty. There’s something cathartic, or at least mildly therapeutic, in losing ourselves in the sport that we love. As the pressures in “the real world” escalate, we need the release that we find in our insignificant-but-significant game more than ever.

And if we are to honor the memories of Ed Arrington, Mark Bavis and Shawn Walsh at all, we won’t hold back on our celebration of the sport they loved. We will instead enjoy it without reservation. To allow our sadness to consume us would be to dishonor their memories, not honor them.

They had fun with this great game, and so should we.

A Very Happy Ending: Curran Walks!

In an otherwise dismal offseason, one story of hope and inspiration stands out like a beacon in the night. Initially it appeared to be a tragic one when Providence goaltender Matt Curran fell off a Florida roof on April 15. Dropping 30 feet onto a concrete surface, Curran fractured his skull in two places, shattered his hip, separated his shoulder, and broke his nose, teeth, fingers and three ribs. Even more ominously, he suffered two broken vertebrae in his back that left him paralyzed.

“I was told by the doctors that the odds were one in 10 million that I would ever walk again,” Curran said to the Providence College Spectrum Digest, the school’s alumni newspaper. “They told me I had the same chance as winning the lottery.”

An outpouring of support ensued not only from family, teammates, coaches and friends, but also total strangers.

“The letters would start out, ‘You don’t know me, but… I’m praying for you,” said Curran.

Six weeks after hearing that he would almost certainly be paralyzed from the waist down, he lay in an Atlanta therapy room with his father massaging his toes. Suddenly, his father felt movement in a toe on his left foot.

The barely perceptible breakthrough led to his knee moving the following day. Telling himself that, “if you think once, just once, that you’re not going to walk, you’re not going to,” Curran put in overtime in the therapy room with his father. Eventually, his right foot responded, too, and he found that, while on parallel bars, he could put some weight on his feet.

On June 20, Curran amazingly walked out of the Shepherd Medical Center using one crutch.

“I didn’t want to go back to PC in a wheelchair,” he said. “Everyone there had done their part [supporting me]. I had to do mine. When I left the hospital, they said it was a miracle.”

Look for more on this story in the coming weeks…

White Out For Serino

When Merrimack hosts New Hampshire next Thursday, Oct. 18, it will not only be the Warrior home opener, but also a chance to give coach Chris Serino an emotional boost. In light of his battle with throat cancer, organizers are hoping to “White Out The Volpe For Coach Serino.” Fans are asked to wear white in a show of support for Serino. A white sweatshirt, jersey, sweater or even T-shirt for the cold-blooded will work.

Of course, this request goes out not just to Merrimack supporters but also the many UNH loyalists who follow their team on the road. Wildcat fans will have more than just the motivation of doing something nice for a fellow human being since Serino served for seven years as New Hampshire’s assistant hockey and head baseball coach before moving on to Merrimack.

Serino has poured his heart into this sport for a long time. It would be great to see a lot of heart going back his way.

Public Safety Night at Mullins

In case you missed the USCHO news brief, UMass-Amherst will open the season with a “Public Safety Night” at the Mullins Center on Saturday, Oct. 13. Local police officers, firefighters and their families will be admitted free to the team’s home opener against Niagara.

“It’s just our way of saying thanks for everything these people do for our community,” said coach Don Cahoon. “It’s unfortunate that it took some tragic events to make most of us realize how important the local police and firefighters are to all of us. This is a small token of our appreciation for what they do on a day-to-day basis.”

That’s a great idea that should be considered at every Hockey East venue.

Shawn Walsh’s Funeral

I didn’t go to Shawn Walsh’s wake and funeral to “cover” the events as a writer, but rather to pay my respects. However, I found myself asking to borrow a pen and jotting down a few notes just so that I would remember the things people said.

Despite the original purely personal motivation, I now offer you some of the most memorable moments, as best as I could capture them. Most are humorous, but few things heal better than humor.

  • “I’m sure Shawn is with God,” said Rev. Gerard G. Gosselin of Bangor’s St. John’s Catholic Church. “He’s probably telling Him how things should be run. Or how to improve His golf swing.”
  • Ted Sator, the former Buffalo Sabres coach who met Walsh at Bowling Green 30 years ago and had remained a close friend ever since, quipped, “I was the exception. I liked him right away.”
  • Sator recalled Walsh’s competitive fire with a story about how Walsh had become the “self-appointed manager” of a sadsack Dairy Queen softball team that was about to play the city champions. “Shawn went out and recruited six former Bowling Green [baseball] players who played pro ball. When the game began, the city champions were shocked to see ball after ball go over the fence. The final score: Dairy Queen 21, City Champs 2.”
  • Alan Miller recalled meeting Walsh at the first tee of a golf tournament. Miller said, “He shook my hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m Shawn Walsh. What’s your handicap and how much money do you want to play for?

    “Unlike Ted Sator, I didn’t like him the first time I met him,” said Miller, who continued with a humorous description of the man who would become a close friend: “Focused, driven, dismissive, brash, arrogant, organized, motivated, cocky and cheap.”

  • Former player Brendan Walsh told of his coach enlisting him to help recruit a potential blue chipper.

    “He told me we had to land this guy and that he wanted to study forestry,” said Brendan Walsh. “He said that after telling him about the arena, the team and the campus, I should tell him how much I loved being in the forestry program.

    “I said ‘Coach, I’m a [communications] major. [I’m from downtown Dorchester, Mass.] I’ve never been in a forest in my life.’

    “He said, ‘Okay, tell him your roommate is a forestry major and how much he likes the program.’

    “I told Coach that my roommates weren’t forestry majors, so he said, ‘Tell him how nice the trees are in Maine.'”

  • Humor aside, there were also moving descriptions of what Shawn Walsh meant to those around him. Brendan Walsh said, “I loved Coach…. He was one great guy. He had a huge impact on my life as well as other lives.”
  • Current Black Bear captain Peter Metcalf said, “He was the type of person who made a difference in your personal life. He made us better people.”
  • Rev. Gosselin told a story from Walsh’s final days. He could no longer speak, so he communicated by writing on a pad of paper. After noting the unusually negative attitude of one person he saw, Walsh inquired as to the reason and was told of some longtime resentment. Close to death himself, Walsh motioned the man to his side and wrote, “Let it go.”
  • Assistant coach and longtime friend Grant Standbrook perhaps summed it up best by saying, “He lived a long, remarkable life in a short period of time.”
  • What I’ll remember most about the funeral, though, is what one parent of a Black Bear senior said to me. “I’ve been hearing my son say things like, ‘Turn a negative into a positive’ and ‘If you don’t have the best of everything, make the best of what you have’ for the past three years. Shawn Walsh is where he got it from.”

Perhaps even more than the two national championships he won, Shawn Walsh’s most enduring legacy may well be all the lives that he molded in such a positive way.

Around the Arenas

Random tidbits from the first week:

  • “I thought we were going to be here until two o’clock in the morning,” quipped Boston University coach Jack Parker after his team’s penalty-filled win over St. Francis Xavier.

    Addressing some of the biggest question marks for the coming season, he noted, “I thought [goaltender Sean Fields] played well…. I was real happy with the freshman; I was real happy with [defensemen Pat] Aufiero and [Chris] Dyment. I thought they played extremely well.”

  • Boston College had the only game that counted last weekend, a 5-1 win at Vermont. Tony Voce showed that he may be ready to fill the enormous void left behind by Brian Gionta, Chuck Kobasew, Krys Kolanos et al. The sophomore registered a hat trick and assisted on the other two Eagle goals. In one of the great no-brainers of all time, he was selected Hockey East Player of the Week.
  • “The first week of practice was obviously a difficult week for us,” said Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead following an 8-0 win over Moncton. “This week, we got a lot more done. The players were more focused. They were trying to execute what we’ve worked on in practice.”

    Tom Reimann, a forward in his first two years at Maine, moved back to the blue line, but scored a hat trick anyway.

  • St. Francis Xavier defeated UMass-Amherst last weekend, 5-3. The good news about the freshmen included Matt Walsh and Greg Mauldin combining for the first goal. Less encouraging was goaltender Tim Warner stopping only 10 of 15 shots, although the betting here is that Warner will be a good one. No one likes to lose these exhibition games, but ultimately they don’t mean much, if anything at all.
  • UMass-Lowell kicks off its season and the tenure of new head coach Blais MacDonald on Friday against Niagara. Ironically, MacDonald came to Lowell from Niagara. However, don’t expect him to have trouble finding the right bench.
  • Merrimack outshot Ottawa 51-24, but Gee-Gee’s goaltender Jordan Watt kept his team in the game long enough to allow an extra-skater goal to tie it with 10 seconds left in regulation. Coach Chris Serino showed that he may be battling illness, but he’s still as plain-talking as ever.

    “In the first period we played real well,” he said. “Things were going our way until the second period when we just screwed around.”

  • New Hampshire dismantled Ottawa, 9-1, last weekend. Lanny Gare led the scoring with two goals and three assists, Jim Abbott added another goal and three assists while Darren Haydar put two past the Ottawa netminders. Patrick Foley, returning from a year lost to injury, also scored. The power play, a major problem last year, was anything but in this contest. The Wildcats scored five times on the man advantage and another time while shorthanded.
  • Northeastern tied Western Ontario, 2-2. The Huskies led 2-0 going into the third period, but Matt Dzieduszycki scored two power-play goals to deadlock the game. If the name sounds familiar, Dzieduszycki spent time with New Hampshire a couple years ago before leaving for junior hockey. Freshmen Husky defensemen Donnie Grover, Bryan Nathe and Tim Judy reportedly played well, an important sign for the upcoming season.

    “Guys like Donnie and Bryan did a real nice job tonight,” said Crowder. “Judy showed a lot of hustle and will be a great addition to this team. We only had four days of ice [time], so it is early to say how well they will fully adjust. They have a ton of talent and I look for all of these freshmen to be big contributors early on.”

    On the down side — way down — is the injury list. Definitely out for the upcoming weekend are top sniper Mike Ryan (mono) and junior defenseman Brian Sullivan (shoulder). Freshman goaltender Keni Gibson (back) and freshman forward Jared Mudryk (ankle) are likely also sidelined.

  • Providence defeated Western Ontario, 6-1, led by two goals apiece by Peter Fregoe and Peter Zingoni. Game reporter Sean Caruthers summed it up thusly: “as the game wound down, drowning in senseless penalties, [a Western Ontario bench player] waved a towel on his stick, imitating a flag of surrender.”

Quip of the Week

The most amusing line I’ve seen so far in a media guide this year comes from UMass-Lowell’s Ken Farrell. He was asked to finish the sentence, “I never could…” Some of his teammates said that they could never sing or never turn their backs on friends or even never dunk a basketball.

Farrell, however, said he could never “date a stripper.”

Don’t give up, Ken. You may eventually get a phone number from one of them. And it might not even start with 1-900.

Trivia Contest

As with last season, the first person to correctly answer a trivia question will not only be recognized in this column, but allowed to give a brief (roughly one sentence) cheer for his or her favorite team. Note to all the USCHO Message Board rabble-rousers: positive cheers only are allowed. This writer reserves the right to judge what is acceptable.

In honor of the late Mark Bavis, we’ll open with a question regarding his career at Boston University. What BU award did he share with his twin brother Mike, not once but twice?

Mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson.

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…

  • The best Broadway-style show this offseason was easily Mamma Mia!, a very clever and addictive musical built around songs by the Swedish group ABBA. I’ve never owned an album by the group and feared it would be another disappointment like Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a show built around a nonexistent story. But Mamma Mia works in every way. It does, however, leave Boston in less than a month so there isn’t much time left to catch it.
  • My favorite recent comment from a columnist came from the Boston Herald‘s Gerry Callahan, who wrote: John Harrington and Dan Duquette pumped more than $100 million into the [Red Sox] this year. [Bruins owner] Jeremy Jacobs, the billionaire, wouldn’t spend that kind of money for eternal life.
  • I don’t care what the C++ gurus say. Instantiate may be the single worst verb invention in the last 100 years.
  • What makes Barry Bonds’ breaking of the home run record even more remarkable is that he did it in the same season in which he broke the record for walks. That record combination may never be duplicated. And to top a slugging percentage mark that Babe Ruth still held just adds more icing to the cake. A truly amazing season for Bonds.
  • I’ve rooted hard against the New York Yankees all my life. I remember Bucky Bleeping Dent and the Carlton Fisk – Thurmun Munson wars and the Bill Lee – Graig Nettles brawl. But my favorite all-time sign at a ballgame may have been the one from the first games following the Sept. 11 attacks. It said, “We’re all Yankees.”

Amen to that.

Thanks to Scott Weighart, Ed Seero, John Gould, Jeffrey Mannix and Sean Caruthers for their assistance.