The Cream of the Crop
Prior to the arrival of Joe Bertagna as Hockey East commissioner, the league typically selected a preseason All-Hockey East team. Under Bertagna, however, the practice was abandoned and for good reason.
“I’ve never done that in any league I’ve worked for,” he says. “I find that it’s unfair. Postseason honors are significant, [whether it’s] all-league, All-American or Hobey Baker.
“I think that anointing someone at the start of the year before they’ve done anything in that year may give them an unfair edge. People tend to remember things. If somebody is supposed to be a preseason all-league choice, then he gets that edge without ever having stepped on the ice that season.
“So I think it’s inappropriate. The kids who earn those honors at the end, should earn them on a level playing field.
“Especially on defense. The forwards usually take care of themselves and the goalies [do, too]. But sometimes when you’re voting for defensemen, unless you’re voting for a guy with a lot of points or a guy like [former BC Hobey Baker Award-winner Mike] Mottau, a dominating player, people are scratching their heads to see who the third or fourth best defenseman is and sometimes even the top one.
“If somebody has carried this mantle all year that he’s the preseason all-league defenseman and nobody is sure of [anybody] else, [people might think], ‘I haven’t heard anything negative, so he must be that good. I’ll give him a vote.’
“I don’t think that’s right.”
Clearly, Bertagna is right. However, there’s no reason why those of us not in an official capacity can’t have a little fun and make a few predictions of our own. As a result, here’s this writer’s view of who will be on the All-Hockey East team by the end of the season with some rankings thrown in for good measure.
These predictions don’t necessarily reflect the players’ performances last year, but rather their expected productivity this season. Statistics shown, however, are last year’s.
1)Anthony Aquino (Merrimack, junior, 17-25–42).
Aquino entered the league as a curiosity — a 17-year old freshman — but has become one of its marquee stars. Among returning players, only Providence’s Devin Rask topped Aquino in points last year and that was with linemates that had previously been far more productive than Aquino’s.
With no disrespect at all intended toward the other members of the Ba-Da-Bing Line — Nick Parillo and Marco Rosa — neither one is yet at the offensive level of Rask’s Peter Fregoe. Parillo has great speed and Rosa, a sophomore, will eventually be a very good one, but Aquino is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink.
“He just keeps getting better and better every year,” says Merrimack coach Chris Serino. “Obviously, he’s got fabulous speed, but he’s also a finisher. He’s become more consistent year-in and year out.
“He hasn’t even scratched the surface of where he’s going. He’s a tough kid, he’s got great speed and he’s got skills.”
Aquino may end up as the most frequently shadowed player in the league this year, but he’ll still put up points in bunches.
2) Devin Rask (Providence, junior, 23-28-51).
Rask ranks as Hockey East’s top returning scorer and by a healthy margin. He also has the luxury of familiar faces on his line since Fregoe and assorted wingers including Jon DiSalvatore and Drew Omicioli are all back.
As a result, it’s likely that Rask will once again be at, or near, the top of the Hockey East scoring race. However, that may be looking at things backwards. Instead one might predict that since Rask will be back, it’s likely that Fregoe et al will once again be highly productive.
“In a good way, we think he’s just a dog out there,” says PC coach Paul Pooley. “He just goes and competes. He likes traffic. He goes to the front of the net and he just works so hard. He has a real feel for the game. When you combine those attributes, that’s why he’s so effective.”
Rask’s hard-nosed grit makes him the antithesis of the prima donna who loves the power play and the fat statistics, but whose heart doesn’t go pitty-pat at the idea of working in the corners or killing penalties.
“Some of his best work is when he’s on the PK,” says Pooley. “He led the Saskatchewan league in shorthanded goals and he [might have even] set a record. He just loves that challenge.”
3) Darren Haydar (New Hampshire, senior, 18-23–41).
Haydar earned second-team All-Hockey East honors his first two years, but was omitted last season when over half of his points came in nonconference games.
While he won’t reprise the 61 points he had as a freshman unless UNH has recruited another Jason Krog to center for him, Haydar still seems destined to hit the big five-oh. When he flies down the ice, you expect things to happen.
“He’s just so clever with the puck,” says UNH coach Dick Umile. “He has complete control of the puck when it’s on his stick. One-on-one he’s as good as any player I’ve ever coached.
“He’s a very, very talented player who has a lot of confidence. This will be his fourth year and he hasn’t missed [a single] game, so physically he’s a tough kid who is a very, very skilled player. He’s an all-around hockey player.”
4) Ben Eaves (Boston College, sophomore, 13-26–39)
Last season, Eaves was typically overshadowed by linemate Brian Gionta or fellow rookie Chuck Kobasew or Krys Kolanos. He got off to a modest start, in part because of back problems, but had become a big-time threat in his own right by the second half of the season. (In his first 17 games, he posted a 2-10–12 scoring line, but jumped to 11-16–27 over the last 24 contests.)
With so much gone from the offense that led the Eagles to a national championship last year, Eaves will be expected to carry much of the scoring load on a suddenly very young team.
“His knowledge of the game is exceptional,” says BC coach Jerry York. “He really understands the game and that sets him apart from a lot of players, whether it’s defensively or offensively.
“He’s got outstanding skills, great work ethic and he competes. He’s got a chance to become one of the real top players that we’ve had here at BC.”
5) Martin Kariya (Maine, junior, 12-24–36)
Kariya may well follow in his brother Steve’s footsteps, breaking into the limelight after a collegiate apprenticeship of more modest initial production. He’s gotten progressively better, going from an 8-17–25 freshman campaign to last year’s 36-point total. The speedy playmaker averaged over an assist-per-game in the last dozen contests of the season, forming a symbiotic combination with defenseman-turned-sniper Michael Schutte. This was best exemplified by Kariya’s icewater-in-the-veins pass to Schutte on the doorstep for the tying goal with three seconds left in Maine’s NCAA tournament win over Minnesota.
“Martin is extremely focused,” says Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “I’ve been very impressed with his concentration level. He really executes.
“He leads by example on and off the ice. He’s very committed to improving and helping the team.
“As far as skills, he’s very quick, he’s got great hockey sense and he sees the ice very well. Pound-for-pound, he’s very strong and tough. He’s great on faceoffs. He’s very aware defensively.
“He’s just a real good all-around player. He’s great in all situations: power play, penalty kill, five-on-five and the key faceoff. As a result, he winds up on the ice a lot.”
6) Peter Fregoe (Providence, senior, 16-21–37)
Although overshadowed by Rask’s breakthrough year, Fregoe can take a lot of credit for that emergence. The two stars both stand at 5-9, but combine to beat you not only with speed, but a strong cycling game down low that usually is the specialty of those several inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. One way or another — breakaway or breaking you down down low — they’ll score.
The league’s top one-two punch, Rask and Fregoe typically form a trio with either Jon DiSalvatore, Drew Omicioli or Cody Loughlean. Whatever the third member, this line is likely to finish atop the league in points. Rask may be the All-American, but Fregoe deserves postseason consideration, too.
“He has all the talents,” says Pooley. “He can finish, he can make plays, he can play feisty and he’s very good on faceoffs. He has all the makings of being one of the top players in the league.
“He’s shown signs of that in his first two years where he’s put games together where he’s very dominant.”
1) Jim Fahey (Northeastern, senior, 4-23–27).
Fahey enters the season as the league’s top defenseman. An all-rookie team member back in 1999, he earned a selection as a second-team All-Hockey East performer last year. A strong player in both offensive and defensive ends, Fahey showed his leadership mettle in being named a Husky captain as a junior last season.
“One of the reasons he’s as effective as he is is that he’s very competitive,” says NU coach Bruce Crowder. “He brings that element to every aspect of the game [and every] practice. He’s just a guy who wants to succeed.
“The other big thing is that he reads the ice extremely well and picks his spots pretty well.”
With an otherwise very young group of defensemen that will often see four freshmen suiting up, Fahey will be expected to hold the unit together like Matt Libby and Jay Leach did for a similarly inexperienced group at Providence last year.
2) Garrett Stafford (New Hampshire, junior, 5-21–26)
Stafford had an even greater chance to show his offensive skills last year, more than doubling the 12 points he totaled as a freshman. A consistent performer both offensively and defensively, he may not look quite as flashy as some other blueliners, but he’s clearly one of the top few performers in the league.
“I don’t think he’s gotten the credit he deserves,” says Umile. “He’s a junior now and we played him a lot as a freshman and sophomore.
“He’s a very skilled defenseman. He can rush the puck, he sees the ice really well and one-on-one he’s very difficult to beat.
“He’s a kid who hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves. Hopefully this year, people are going to recognize him as one of the top defensemen in the league.”
3) Freddie Meyer (Boston University, junior, 6-13–19)
Meyer joined the Terriers in midseason two years ago and immediately gave the first-place-bound Terriers a lift. In what may have been an unprecedented achievement, he earned a berth on the All-Rookie team despite playing only 25 games.
Last season began slowly for him due to offseason back surgery, but by December he was hitting all cylinders. Limited to only 28 games, Meyer still finished with 19 points while playing some of the most solid defense on an inconsistent Terrier blue line. He should be a major factor in postseason recognition as long as he stays in the lineup.
“For starters, he’s a real competitor,” says BU coach Jack Parker. “He comes to play every night. He goes to win every battle. He’s real tenacious that way.
“He really knows the game and has good anticipation. He has a good feel for what’s going to happen next. That really helps when you’re playing defense.
“There’s no question that he’s a skilled offensive defenseman, but at the same time he’s very thorough defensively as well.”
Although at 5-10 he’s a few inches short of the prototypical blueliner’s size, he’s still tough to overpower down low.
“He’s such a competitor that he’ll want to get position first,” says Parker. “He’ll want to hold people out of grade A areas. For his size, he’s very strong on his skates. He’s got pretty good balance and leverage because of his strength on his skates. So he’s not going to get knocked around.
“He’s also not going to manhandle people out front, so he’s got to use his brains and his quickness as well.”
4) J.D. Forrest (Boston College, sophomore, 6-17–23)
With the departures of Bobby Allen, Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik, Forrest goes from being one of the cogs in the BC defense to clearly the biggest cog. He could command the number of minutes that Mike Mottau did two years ago given his prominence even as a sophomore on a very young team. He’ll be quarterbacking the BC power play and utilizing his deft lateral mobility at both ends of the ice.
“He’s a lot like Ben [Eaves] in his knowledge of the game, [skills and competitiveness],” says York.
“He’s smart and moves pucks well. He finds people in the open ice and can make those X-passes.
“He’s one of our national-level type of players.”
Like Meyer, he’s only listed at 5-10, but is anything but a defensive liability down low.
“Despite his stature, he competes very hard,” says York. “He’s good on his feet.”
1) Nolan Schaefer (Providence, junior, 15-8-2, 2.47 GAA, .915 Save%)
Along with teammate Devin Rask, Schaefer is the one other returning All-American in the league. He suffered an injury-plagued freshman season, but broke through last year with a dominating first half. On paper, he’s clearly the top goaltender in the league. With a strong team in front of him, he’ll be expected to backbone a Friar trip to the NCAAs.
“He’s very composed in the net,” says Pooley. “When he has to make that save, he’s quick and in good enough shape that he just makes it. His angles are good. He prides himself on his angles.
“He works hard. He knows what it takes to be successful and he’s hungry [to do that.]”
2) Matt Yeats (Maine, senior, 18-9-4, 2.40 GAA, .897 Save%)
Yeats found himself leapfrogged last season after entering it as arguably second best in the league only to Ty Conklin. His .911 save percentage and 2.60 GAA in the first of his three years of eligibility had established him as one of the league’s elite, a reputation that was further cemented when the led the Black Bears to the Frozen Four.
Last season, however, Schaefer and BC’s Scott Clemmensen moved higher on the totem pole as they excelled while Yeats failed to fully live up to his previous promise. So-so statistics of an .897 save percentage — with an even more underwhelming .892 in league games — might be attributed in part to some drop in the overall Maine team defensive consistency, but not entirely. For whatever reason, Yeats wasn’t quite in the same “zone” that he was down the stretch and through the playoffs in 1999-2000.
The expectation here is that he’ll regain that mental edge and fight off several contenders for a berth on the all-league team. He has all the tools, not to mention the league’s best backup in Mike Morrison to keep him sharp.
“He’s a competitor,” says Whitehead. “He moves very well. He’s very quick, he’s tough and he’s a good team guy.
“His positioning is excellent. He’s in the right place at the right time, so he makes things look pretty easy in there.
“He’s composed; he doesn’t get rattled easily.
“He’s got all the ingredients that make a good goalie.”
Odds and Ends
Is yours truly losing his marbles? Quite likely, but there is an explanation for this apparent inability to add. I, along with almost everyone I talked to, was convinced that the goal credited to Josh Allison in the second period had actually been tipped by Tom Rouleau. As a result, I wrote the game story based on a Rouleau goal, not one by Allison, a defenseman.
UMass-Lowell Sports Information Director Chris O’Donnell went the extra mile on this one, checking with the River Hawk locker room before sticking with the Allison decision. After hearing the news, I changed the goal description, but not the summary regarding River Hawk defensemen.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now to go find those marbles …
In honor of the late Ed Arrington, last week’s question asked: What Beanpot award did Arrington win? Give the official name of the award and what year he won it. The tiebreaker went to the first correct response which also added the relevant statistics.
In 1978, Arrington won the Eberly Award, annually presented to the goalie with the best save percentage in two games. The former Husky player and assistant coach made 51 saves that year, allowing seven goals for a .879 save percentage and a 3.50 GAA.
The first reader to get all that was Roger Smerage, whose cheer is:
“Go Eagles! Defending the Championship through April ’02!”
This week’s question asks which current or former Hockey East coach has won the league’s Bob Kullen Coach of the Year Award more than any other? The tiebreaker will go to the first reader who can also identify what years he won.
Mail your responses to Dave Hendrickson.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
And to think I used to care about them so much that I threw a plastic cup at the TV when they lost the too-many-men-on the-ice game against the Canadiens. Guy Lafreakingfleur! Now the B$ only evoke disgust with their management and a yawn.