Who’s the best goaltender in the country right now?
Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Miller?
All-WCHA selection Wade Dubielewicz?
All-American Nolan Schaefer?
At least according to the statistics, there’s a clear-cut best of the best behind which all other netminders must stand. And that’s UMass-Lowell’s Cam McCormick. The senior has won all seven games he’s played in, allowing goals in only two of them. He’s recorded mind-blowing statistics: a 0.60 goals against average and a save percentage of .970.
McCormick credits much of his success to his efforts during the past offseason. Having finished the 2000-01 year with 16 straight games of never getting off the bench, he worked on both the physical and mental sides of the game.
“I met with a sports psychologist in Vancouver probably about four or five times over the summer,” he says. “We went over different tapes and different mental preparing strategies that we worked on all summer. I basically just carried that over into this year.”
The sports psychologist’s friendship with Paul Kariya gave credence to the importance of the game within the game.
“If you weren’t good, you wouldn’t be here,” says McCormick. “What separates a good player from an excellent player is mental preparation.
“Paul Kariya will rent about two hours of ice by himself and he’ll just skate around with no pucks and just visualize the whole game in his mind, breaking out and making passes, getting passes and moving to open ice, just playing his whole game in his mind and there’s nobody out there, just him.”
There’s no question that McCormick’s mental approach this year has him playing some serious mind games on opposing forwards.
Dominant Again? Perhaps…
In recent weeks, Hockey East has reestablished itself as a force to be reckoned with. After a slow early-season start, the league posted a 16-3-1 record in nonconference games over the last two weeks. The primary recipient of this abuse has been the ECAC, which accounted for a 12-2-1 portion of the two-week mark. Hockey East’s domination of its Eastern brethren now stands at 19-3-1 for the season.
The true proof in the pudding, however, will come in the holiday tournaments when league teams face those from the WCHA and CCHA. No chest-thumping is allowed until then.
Top To Bottom
Hockey East has been able to argue, rightly so in this writer’s opinion, that its teams that finish sixth through ninth are what makes the league as strong as it is.
“There’s not a team in our league that can’t carry the play,” says UMass-Amherst coach Don “Toot” Cahoon. “I was at Merrimack last year when I saw Merrimack completely outplay, outhustle and outcompete BC and [BC] won everything across the board. That speaks volumes about the quality of our league when a team that is the last playoff team can beat the national champion. We’re all accustomed to that as coaches.”
Which means that just carrying the play against a top-ranked opponent doesn’t mean much for Hockey East underdogs.
“You never take a step forward when you don’t win,” says Cahoon. “I’ve been with too many teams that have come up short and we could pat each other on the back because we made a good effort…. But the bottom line is that you’ve got to find a way to get the job done. The fun is in the winning. It’s not all about the winning, but the fun is in the winning.”
Not Exactly What He Had In Mind
I had to chuckle over the following bon mot served up over the college hockey airwaves recently.
After a goalie robbed a snakebitten forward, one color commentator said, “[He’s] been stoned a bunch of times this season.”
I guess that would explain things….
A Late-Breaking Rookie
Northeastern freshman goaltender Keni Gibson was highly regarded coming into the season, but had to watch from the stands during the early going because of back problems.
“It was sore in the summer for a bit, but went away,” he says. “A month before I got here, it was fine. Then after our first exhibition game, it started flaring up. I tried to play through it, but that made it worse. It was some kind of nerve damage.”
With scary words like those, the Northeastern coaching staff took the cautious route. For two weeks, Gibson did nothing but ride the stationary bike.
“There was no point in rushing,” he says. “They knew they had two solid goalies. Braun-er — [Jason Braun] — was playing well and it was a long season. There was no reason to hurt myself any more.”
The conservative approach has paid dividends.
“I feel better than when I got here,” says Gibson. “I’m working hard with our strength coach to get everything going with my legs. I’m just working hard to get back in there.”
Which he has done of late, starting three of the Huskies’ past four games. Gibson backstopped recent wins over Clarkson, Princeton and Holy Cross, allowing a total of only four goals to give him a 1.50 GAA and .938 save percentage. As a result, he earned honors this past Monday as the league’s co-Rookie of the Week.
“It’s a good time to put him in,” said NU coach Bruce Crowder about Gibson’s first official game against Clarkson. “We had an opportunity to watch what Braun and [Mike] Gilhooly can bring to the table so far this year. Keni is the question mark so we have to get him in games and see what he can do.
“I thought he was pretty steady. He wasn’t spectacular, but sometimes that’s the sign of a good goalie when he’s just steady and gets the job done.”
Gibson has already found that he’s had to make adjustments to his previous style because of the speed and skill of the forwards he faces night in and night out.
“I can’t play on my goal line like I did in juniors,” he says. “Guys will just eat me up here. Every one of these guys was a superstar where he came from, not like juniors where they’ve got one superstar per team. So it’s quite a bit step.”
Familiarity Breeds Respect
Interim Maine coach Tim Whitehead was in familiar surroundings last weekend on the visitors bench at the Whittemore Center. Last year as head coach of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks, he stood there five times, twice during the regular season and three times in the Hockey East playoffs.
“I know them pretty well,” he said after the game. “Sometimes I feel that I can change their lines from my bench because I know them so well.”
A Tough Adjustment
Boston College goaltender Matti Kaltiainen has found life at Boston College a little more difficult than your typical freshman. Arguably, the Finnish native has had his easiest times on the ice, where the surroundings are, for the most part, familiar.
“The biggest thing is moving away from home and campus life and living with other young people,” he says in halting English. “It nice, fun, but there are some times that I wish to be home.
“The first month was very hard. It was hard to understand and hard to speak. It’s still hard to speak, but much easier to understand. It’s [getting] easier to speak also.
“I think school is going pretty good. I work hard to read and write, but it’s okay. It’s getting better.
“Biology [is the toughest]. I have to translate almost every word. It’s tough.”
Boston Bruins General Manager Mike O’Connell visited Kelley Rink recently to check up on his draft choice and had to come away impressed.
“Hockey is faster and [more] physical [than in Finland],” says Kaltiainen, who is no longer playing every day on Olympic ice surfaces. “Maybe I like it more, the small rink. I think it’s better for me.”
Meat On Them Bones
UNH freshman Eddie Caron sent the Whittemore Center crowd into near ecstasy recently when he scored his first collegiate goal. It was an important score, a backbreaker in a 5-2 win over Denver. Caron also looked impressive, putting the shot over goaltender Adam Berkhoel while being hauled down.
Most importantly, though, it was also a fitting conclusion to a strong weekend for New Hampshire’s native son.
“I don’t know if he’s out there socializing with the audience,” said UNH coach Dick Umile with a smile. “They went crazy when he scored.”
Umile added, “He had a very good weekend. He’s playing hard.”
Indeed he is. The 6-3, 220 pounder — who in this writer’s opinion looks even bigger on the ice — is a physical force out there and will be a big-time contributor before he’s done.
In that same game, the Wildcats got another first goal out of a freshman, defenseman Tyson Teplitsky.
“When we get some meat on his bones,” said Umile, “he’s going to be a pretty good player.”
And what about Caron? Does he need any more meat on his 6-3, 220, bones?
“No,” said Umile. “He’s got enough meat on his bones.”
Quip of Note
In case you missed it, UNH introduced special silver game jerseys for its post-Thanksgiving tournament. Although the Wildcats returned to their traditional whites last weekend, the silver jerseys may return for special occasions. The best commentary on them came from goaltender Michael Ayers.
Said Ayers, “My pads are all silver so I look like the Tin Man out there.”
Last week’s question asked what Hockey East line that played together earlier this year was named after a wolf-like animal. Explain why and give the names of the players.
The answer was Providence’s Coyote line of Jon DiSalvatore, Peter Zingoni and Chris Chaput, so named because all three came to the Friars from the New England Coyotes. For the first time in the history of this trivia contest, I believe, no one answered correctly. We had a winner in the maximum number of players dressed question a few weeks back, but no winner here. Go figure.
As a result, I’ll offer a cheer for my son Ryan’s high school team.
This week’s question asks another tough one. The phrase “Onnea Peliin” found its way onto a Hockey East team’s chalkboard recently. Take your best guess at the team, the language and, roughly speaking, what the phrase translates to. It’s doubtful anyone will get all three, so send your best attempts to Dave Hendrickson.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Borges apparently was attempting a variation on that same theme two weeks ago when he ripped Pats coach Bill Belichick for announcing that Tom Brady would quarterback the team the rest of the season. Borges opened one article by referring to Belichick as “personality-challenged” and then took another blatant stab in the supposedly factual Patriots Notebook section by referring to Belichick as “beleaguered.”
Beleaguered? Gimme a break. Red Sox GM Dan Duquette is beleaguered. Jeremy Jacobs is several steps beneath beleaguered.
But not Belichick . Not then. Not now. At that time, he was leading a rebounding team with a 5-3 record in its last eight games. The majority of Pats fans agreed with his decision. Belichick was beleaguered only in one ego-addled mind.
Here’s one observer who is happy the cheap shots blew up in Borges’ face.
I suspect Bledsoe will be elsewhere next year and wish him the best of luck. He’s been a class act. But to have pulled Brady at this point would be to put one individual ahead of the team.
The single toughest position to fill is on the defensive line, not wide receiver. Give me another Richard Seymour next year over another David Terrell.