This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 3, 2002

First Semester Awards

Last week we looked at the Hockey East teams and graded their first semesters. Now let’s look at the individual leaders at the halfway mark.

Coach of the Year: Blaise MacDonald (UMass-Lowell). As noted last week, the River Hawks are the one team in the league that isn’t a little better than expected but rather a lot better. This one is an empty-netter.

Player of the Year: Cam McCormick (goaltender, UMass-Lowell). Darren Haydar has given McCormick a run for his money, but if a goaltender posts a 0.62 GAA and a .972 save percentage then only a Paul Kariya-type season can catch that.

Top Forward: Darren Haydar (UNH) UNH coach Dick Umile moved Haydar to center at the start of this year and the 5-9 roadrunner has responded in a big way. He’s now leading the country in scoring (18-26–44). (See “Hobey Talk” below.)

Top Defenseman: Jim Fahey (Northeastern) Strong defensively, Fahey has also ranked among the league’s top 10 scorers (9-17–26, 5th overall), a rarity for defensemen.

Top Goaltender: Cam McCormick (UMass-Lowell). Well, duh!

Co-Rookies of the Year: Sean Collins (UNH) and Colin Shields (Maine). Collins (14-16–30) has more points, thanks in part to playing on a line with Haydar, but Shields (17-7–24) has been tracking the nation’s top goalscorers almost from day one.

Best Defensive Forward: Marco Rosa (Merrimack). Only a sophomore, Rosa is a very complete, two-way forward. He’s outstanding defensively and isn’t exactly shabby (4-15–19) in the offensive end either.

Hockey East’s Biggest Surprise

Without question, one of the best stories of the first half has been Ryan Cordeiro‘s contributions at Merrimack after sitting out a year due to his transfer from New Hampshire. In 16 games prior to the break, Cordeiro totaled 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points. Considering his UNH statistics of 4-10–14 as a freshman and 3-1–4 in just 12 games as a sophomore, Cordeiro has certainly blossomed as a Warrior.

“If you’d told me that I would have 21 points before Christmas,” he says, “I’d have laughed and been, like, ‘Yeah, right!'”

Cordeiro scored goals in Merrimack’s first three games, including a three-point night in the season-opener.

“I got a couple bounces, a few points, a few goals,” he says. “It’s confidence, all confidence. Once you get a few, they keep bouncing your way.

“When I was at UNH, when I got the puck, it was like a hand grenade on my stick and I just wanted to get it away from me. Now I’m like, gimme the puck. I want the puck. I [used to] get the puck on the wing and I’d usually just throw it out. Now I get the puck and see [Anthony] Aquino breaking and, boom, I’ll hit him.”

The junior, who had always been the go-to guy in schoolboy hockey and all-star teams, had struggled at UNH, in part because of the standard adjustment to joining a team comprised of other players used to being the go-to guy.

“I had a tough time at the beginning when I first got to UNH,” he says. “I was playing on the third line and not playing that much. Coming out of [Catholic Memorial High School], I’d always been the top guy. It was tough because we’d be winning and I’d be [upset]. Coach [Dick Umile] saw that and would yell at me that this wasn’t CM. It took a little while.”

Cordeiro bounced between the third and fourth lines in his freshman year, except for a brief but successful stint on the second line. Following UNH’s trip to the national championship game, Cordeiro hoped for more ice time as a sophomore, but instead went backwards, dressing for only 12 games.

“I had no confidence,” he says. “It was tough. It was a tough road.”

He determined that he had to make a move.

“Umile was awesome,” he says. “After the season I told him I was thinking of leaving. You have to ask them for a letter and they sent out my letters.

“He gave me until June to make my decision. He just let me do my thing. Most coaches would have said, ‘See you later.’ If I said that I wanted to come back, he would have honored my scholarship. He really great.”

Cordeiro laughs and adds, “Well, he was really great until I started talking to Maine. He didn’t like that. He wanted me to come here [at Merrimack], I know that. He was really good about it. I was very impressed with how he handled it.

“I don’t have any regrets. My freshman year at UNH was fun, making it to the national championship game and playing in it. That was unbelievable. As a kid you dream about that.

“So I don’t regret going there, but I think that everything happens for a reason. I think I’m here at Merrimack for a reason. I like it here a lot so it was a good move.”

After the transfer, however, came a year of nothing but practices. For a kid who had experienced a steady diet of games in high school, midget leagues and summer all-star teams, the withdrawal pains were not easy to handle.

“[In the] summertime,” he says, “I was, like, ‘A year off? It’ll be awesome. I’ll lift and work out. Nice and relaxing.’ I’ve been playing since I was three years old and going strong.

“The first month I seemed like a regular guy here. Then the [next] two months were tough. You’re practicing every day and then Thursday they’re not calling your name in the lineup. It was like, aw, man! Just watching and watching.

“By Christmastime [though], I’d accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to be out there and it was a lot easier. Then the season was over and I jumped right back into it.”

Ironically, that time off may have helped Cordeiro become a better player.

“I had played for so long,” he says. “I didn’t lose the love for the game. But I just kind of took it for granted. But after sitting out, I’m just refreshed. I love hockey and can’t wait to get out there. You just get regenerated, loving the game again, just ready to go and prove to some people that I can really play.

“Up at UNH, they maybe thought I couldn’t do the job because I didn’t play [much] up there. I’m proving to everyone and myself that I can play at this level. I think I’m doing alright now.”

Alright, indeed. Other than Aquino, Cordeiro has been Merrimack’s top offensive force, ranking second in points and goals scored.

“I’m just going to keep working hard,” he says. “Basically, all this stuff is just coming off working hard. That’s all I do. I don’t give up. I go right to the net. Not many of my goals are like toe-drags and top corner shots. I just crash the net and pucks bounce my way.

“It’s funny. I’ve kind of changed my game since I’ve been here. In my first year at UNH I was always go, go, go, real fast. Always moving. Now, I’m more patient. I conserve my energy and look for the spot to go to. I see the ice better.

“Obviously, if the puck goes into the corner, I’ll go work hard into the corner. It’s hard to explain, but I’m more patient. I know when to turn the jets on and when to turn them off. That’s the biggest thing I’ve caught on and started to do this year and it’s working. But once the puck is in the corner, I’ll go all out.”

Aquino and the World Junior Tournament

Canada could win the World Junior Tournament on Friday in the goal medal game against Russia, but still might have made a bad roster move in leaving off Merrimack’s Anthony Aquino. Canada has taken the political route in selections before, opting to reward players in major juniors over those who have headed south of the border to play in U.S. colleges.

Keep in mind that BC’s Krys Kolanos wasn’t good enough for them last year, but is now on pace to be a 20-goal scorer in his rookie season in the NHL. Hmmm. Good enough for the NHL, but not good enough….

“Hobey Baker!”

As noted by WCHA Correspondent Todd D. Milewski, Darren Haydar is garnering Hobey Baker support beyond just the Granite State. Here’s a portion of what Milewski wrote after the Wildcat Wonder earned his ninth point of the Badger Showdown:

When a scoring change was announced late in the game, giving Darren Haydar his career-high sixth point of the night, some of the hundreds of fans left in the Bradley Center started the “Hobey Baker” chant.

That’s not the surprising part; Haydar will get that treatment from New Hampshire fans for the rest of the season.

The surprising part is where the cheers came from – a group of fans in Wisconsin apparel.

Haydar scored three goals and assisted on three others as New Hampshire took the championship of the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown on Friday with an 11-3 thrashing of Brown.

“I said to Darren, the best compliment you received this weekend was the fans from Wisconsin saying ‘Hobey Baker,'” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “There’s no question he’s a Hobey Baker candidate; I’d be shocked if he wasn’t a finalist.”

Haydar, who took home honors as the tournament MVP, claimed the nation’s scoring lead – he has 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points.

“I feel really good right now,” Haydar said. “It’s always a good feeling when you’re scoring goals and your team’s scoring and winning. It’s a little frustrating when you’re not, so I don’t want to think too much about it, don’t want to jinx myself.”

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question noted that UMass-Amherst has two Finnish players, but they have different native languages. A correct answer would name the two players and their native tongues.

Chris Higgins was first to respond that Samuli Jalkanen speaks Finnish and Toni Soderholm speaks Swedish, going on to correctly add that in Finland around 94 percent speak the former, while most of those that still speak Swedish as their native tongue are concentrated in the southern part of the country. Pretty impressive, Chris! His cheer is:

UML Hockey- Blaise-ing a trail back to the Fleet Center and “Hit’em up Hawkey style.”

A cheer is also in line for the reader who suggested that trivia question, Antti Jalkanen, who is Samuli’s father. Antti offers both “Go UMass, Go!” and the following, which becomes this week’s question:

“Hakkaa päälle Suomen poika, ettei Ruotsi meitä voita!”

Take your best stab at what that translates to and email it to Dave Hendrickson.

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

Some local football writers have taken to opining that the Patriots would be better off without the first-round playoff bye considering that they had a bye last week and are in quasi-bye territory this week against a Carolina team on the verge of setting a record for consecutive losses. To go three straight weeks, say those writers, like that is to invite disaster when they actually do play a tough playoff team.

Here is why those writers are wrong. Not to be a geek about it, but it all boils down to mathematics. To avoid getting swamped in numbers, let’s assume that all the AFC playoff teams are equal and that each team has a 50-50 chance to win. Therefore, if a team gets a first-round bye, it has a 25 percent chance of making the Super Bowl. (They play two games: .5 times .5 equals .25 or a 25 percent chance.) If a team doesn’t have the bye, its chances fall in half to 12.5 percent. (They play three games: .5 times .5 times .5 equals .125 or a 12.5 percent chance.)

Even if the rust-factor drops the Patriots from a 50 percent chance of winning the first game after the bye to only 40 percent, that still gives them a 20 percent chance of reaching the Super Bowl. (.4 times .5 equals .20 or a 20 percent chance.)

The rust factor does make me nervous, but not that nervous.

All of which means that this Sunday you should plug your nose and root for the Jets.

Thanks to Todd D. Milewski.