First Semester Report Cards
It’s the time of year when grades make their appearance, desired or not, so let’s look at results across Hockey East. Keep in mind, though, that they all are to some extent Incompletes.
There’s plenty of time for first semester disappointments to turn things around and post successful seasons. The reverse is also true. The best of first halves is no guarantee that a team won’t fall flat on its face in the second half.
Let’s proceed with the final note that these grades are a combination of performance and preseason expectations.
A+ UMass-Lowell (12-2-0, 6-2-0 HEA). This is the easiest grade to assign of them all. League coaches projected that the River Hawks would finish sixth in Hockey East, one point ahead of seventh place Northeastern. Other than BU coach Jack Parker volunteering at every opportunity that Lowell concerned him a great deal, few considered the Hawks legitimate contenders.
Instead, they are now third in the country in the Pairwise Rankings. If the season ended today, they’d not only be a NCAA tournament team, they’d be the number one East seed, sitting on a bye in Worcester, Mass.
If that isn’t worthy of an A+, nothing is.
Even so, there are dangers ahead for the River Hawks. Yorick Treille, Laurent Meunier and Baptiste Amar all join the French National Team soon for the Olympics, knocking three key contributors out of the lineup for as many as nine league games.
Fortunately, Lowell has been the antithesis of the One Man Show or a One Line Team this year, so the Hawks may be able to weather the French Olympic storm better than most prognosticators, including yours truly, anticipated before the season started.
A- New Hampshire (11-3-2, 6-1-2 HEA). UNH came within one loss in the North Country of earning an A. Prior to that road trip, the Wildcats had established themselves as a team that routinely throttled opponents in the first period, no matter whether they were languishing in the standings or a previously undefeated Denver squad.
Terrific team defense has been the key along with specialty teams that in Hockey East games rank first in power-play percentage (27.1) and penalty kill (87.8) as well.
Darren Haydar has been playing the best hockey of his career, anchoring a first line with David Busch and freshman phenom Sean Collins. Perhaps even more importantly, the second line of Josh Prudden, Colin Hemingway and Lanny Gare has been almost as prolific.
In recent weeks the only negative has been the trip to the North Country, during which the normally stingy defense allowed a total of 12 goals. An 8-5 loss to Clarkson was the stunner, followed by a 5-4 squeaker past St. Lawrence.
Aberration or a chink in the armor? It’s almost certainly the former, but that’s why the straight A Wildcats fell to an A-.
A- Boston University (11-4-1, 5-2-1 HEA). BU hasn’t been as big a surprise as Lowell given the Terriers’ projection to be among a cluster of five teams atop the league, but they have been among the country’s top 10 for most of the season.
Their sophomore class, which barely made any impact as freshmen, has made major contributions. Most importantly, Sean Fields has established himself as one of the league’s top goaltenders.
Inconsistency, however, has plagued BU. Parker has often noted his team’s penchant for hot-and-dry spells within games.
This inability to put a solid 60 minutes together may have begun to catch up to the Terriers in the latter portion of the semester. After a 6-0-1 start that caught everyone’s attention, they have since posted a lukewarm 5-4-0 mark that bears watching.
B Maine (8-5-3, 4-2-1 HEA). The Black Bears perhaps deserve an Incomplete more than any other team based on the loss of legendary head coach Shawn Walsh during the preseason. The effect remains incalculable, but recent signs appear encouraging that they will again be a team on the national stage.
Maine posted a 5-1-1 mark going into the break, with an impressive finale of taking 3-of-4 points from a streaking Boston College club.
The offense ranks first in Hockey East, led by freshman standout Colin Shields, whose 16 goals are only one shy of leading the country, along with Niko Dimitrakos and Tom Reimann. Although Reimann’s shoulder is a major question mark, the Black Bears have good depth up front.
Mike Morrison has been strong in net, helping cover for an inconsistent start by Matt Yeats. With both of them playing well going into the break, Maine could be poised for another strong second-half run.
B Boston College (8-6-2, 4-4-1 HEA). BC opened slowly with a 2-4-1 record that looked like one of a rebuilding club. Coach Jerry York’s request to judge his team by its play in the second half, however, rang true when the Eagles won five straight.
Even a Nov. 30 overtime loss to UNH had all the look and feel of a win with dominant play in the third period and OT. Only a loss and tie at Maine to close out the semester offers any cautionary drag on second-half expectations.
J.D. Forrest has been a force on defense, logging 30 minutes in many a game, while Ben Eaves and Tony Voce have led the offense. The fact that three sophomores are the primary go-to-guys on this team illustrates what a young squad this is. Not to mention that significant injuries to any of the three would be devastating.
C Northeastern (8-7-2, 2-5-1 HEA). The Huskies were projected for seventh place, which is exactly where they stand right now.
On the plus side, they’ve won five of their last six. Unfortunately, none of those wins came in league games. Despite the success outside of the conference, Northeastern has now lost five of its last six Hockey East contests.
This is a team that could go in either direction in the second half and it may only take three weeks to see which way the wind is blowing. The first three weekends of January include series with BU, Maine and Lowell. After those games, the Huskies could be back in the league picture or relegated to battling for one of the last couple playoff spots.
Reasons do exist for optimism. Mike Ryan, who missed early games because of recovering from mononucleosis, has played at an All-Hockey East level of late and Jim Fahey ranks as the league’s top defenseman. Freshman goaltender Keni Gibson (5-1-0, 1.67 GAA, .929 Sv%) has been impressive after being sidelined with a bad back.
Still, the proof will be in the pudding….
C Merrimack (6-10-0, 2-6-0 HEA). Here’s the other team fully deserving of an Incomplete. With charismatic head coach Chris Serino giving way to Mike Doneghey because of throat cancer treatments, the inevitable adjustment period ensued and it took until Nov. 30 for the Warriors to get their first league points.
Using that date as a starting point, however, they’ve won two of three Hockey East games and are .500 overall. After giving up frightful numbers of shots in the early going, resulting in a league-worst defensive ranking, Merrimack is now playing much better in its own end with a recent 2.5 goals against average the positive evidence.
Anthony Aquino remains one of the league’s most dangerous forwards and has the surprising Ryan Cordeiro helping to fill the net. Marco Rosa looks like the league’s best defensive forward.
C UMass-Amherst (6-10-0, 2-7-0 HEA). Heading into the last four games of the semester, the Minutemen looked to be in as good shape as they could expect to be considering their youth. They stood at .500 overall and just one game under that mark in league play.
Then they faced four straight games against Maine, BC and BU (twice), which sent them into the break with four losses. Since confidence can be a fragile thing on a young team, coach Don “Toot” Cahoon could face some tough challenges ahead in the second half.
In goaltender Mike Johnson and blueliners Samuli Jalkanen and Toni Soderholm, the Minutemen have a good defensive core but still rank near the bottom among Hockey East teams in goals against.
Offensively they are dead last and by a healthy (or rather unhealthy) margin. Tim Turner, Martin Miljko and freshman Greg Mauldin lead the talent up front, but 1.89 goals per Hockey East game (2.19 overall) amounts to a real problem.
D Providence (7-9-1, 4-6-0 HEA). There really has been only one disappointing team in the league this year. The others that have struggled were expected to do so.
Not so with the Friars, who have been the King Kong of disappointments. Picked to finish first in Hockey East, albeit by the slimmest of margins, they have played almost as if that prediction was a millstone around their necks.
With arguably the best offensive returning talent in the league, they rank seventh in the league in scoring. Despite the presence of Devin Rask, Peter Fregoe, Drew Omicioli and Jon DiSalvatore, PC has the worst power play in the league (11.8 percent overall, 10.0 percent HEA).
It’s hard to make sense of what has happened to the Friars, especially considering that the easiest part of their schedule (at least on paper) is behind them. They’ve played all three of their games against Merrimack and two of their three against UMass-Amherst and Northeastern.
That means that only two league games remain against teams behind them in the standings and 12 against teams ahead of them. An optimist may view that as an opportunity, but PC is 0-for-3 so far in those games against the iron.
Next week: the first semester individual awards along with an interview with one of the biggest surprises.
If this column seems shorter than usual, it’s because shoulder surgery has rendered me a one-handed hunt-and-peck typist. Look for the usual verbosity to return when I get my right hand back and can type faster than one-word-per-minute.
Last column’s question noted that the phrase “Onnea Peliin” found its way onto a Hockey East team’s chalkboard recently and asked for the team, the language and, roughly speaking, the translation.
“Onnea Peliin” appeared in BC’s locker room thanks to goaltender Matti Kaltiainen. It is Finnish for “Good luck for the game.”
A surprising volume of correct answers were led by Ankur Patel, whose cheer is:
“UNH — New Hampshire’s Team. Haydar for Hobey!”
This week’s question stays with the same topic. It notes that UMass-Amherst has two Finnish players, but they have different native languages. Name the two players and their native tongues. Be sure to match the player with his language. Send your answers to Dave Hendrickson.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Cherie helped Brooks win the Westminster Tournament a couple weekends ago, especially with one third-period goal followed by the game-winner with five seconds remaining against two-time defending champion Greenwich Academy. Way to go Cherie, my co-favorite number 18!