This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 14, 2002

The Jinx, One Last Time

This column has had some fun in recent weeks using praise of first the St. Louis Rams and then the New York Yankees in an attempt to derail those two juggernauts in the same way it inadvertently torpedoed Boston College and UMass-Lowell.

Many readers have written to plead that I ignore their teams. UMass-Lowell fan James Shirton has chosen a different tactic. He has applied the converse of the Hendrickson’s-praise-sinks-teams jinx to ask the following: “Could you say that the River Hawks are the worst team in Division I and that there is no way that they will win the NCAA Championship”?

Although I don’t pick sides, I do honor a sharp wit, so here goes, James.

Cam McCormick? Sieve!

Coach Blaise MacDonald? Moron!

French Olympians Yorick Treille, Laurent Meunier and Baptiste Amar? Figure skaters!

The River Hawks will prove they are the worst team in Division I by going winless the rest of the season!

As for the NCAA tournament, bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

(James, I trust your check is in the mail…)

Bad Behavior – Part I

In the span of just a couple days, three acts of bad behavior gained attention in three different leagues. The WCHA reprimanded Wisconsin and Alaska-Anchorage for a postgame brawl that resulted in six game disqualifications. The CHA suspended Niagara coach Dave Burkholder for his excessive criticism of officials.

Closer to home, Northeastern enfant terrible Justin Harriman filed assault charges with the school’s campus police against Boston University coach Jack Parker for an incident before a Jan. 4 game. Harriman is the megaphone-wielding member of NU’s Dog House.

According to The Northeastern News, Harriman’s charges allege that he was confronted by Parker about harassing the Terrier players as they came out of the tunnel to the ice before the game. As Harriman prepared to use a megaphone to taunt the Terriers anyway, Parker warned him not to do it and then pulled Harriman’s jersey over his head.

Parker admitted to confronting the fan, but said he was just trying to protect his players as Harriman got overzealous. Parker said there was a similar incident last year, where campus police warned Harriman not to get too close.

“I told him I didn’t want him using that horn while my players walked by for the safety of my players,” Parker said to the News. “When he began doing it, I went to grab the megaphone. I couldn’t reach and grabbed the jersey he was wearing.”

For starters, many opposing fans wonder how it is Harriman gets away with using his megaphone anyway. After all, aren’t such things prohibited from NCAA games?

“There is no Hockey East rule about noisemakers,” says Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. “We follow the NCAA rule and the way I read the rulebook, it specifically says ‘during play.’ It says you can’t have any electric amplification, which [his megaphone] would qualify.

“But I read that you can’t have it while play is going on. Lowell has their band that has an electric amplifier and bands can’t play. We don’t want as a league to eliminate the color if the kid is clever.

“What we told Northeastern was if he doesn’t use it during action and he’s not vulgar, then it’s just part of how we do things.

“I got a little nervous when I heard he was taking it to road games. But if he stays within those parameters, there’s nothing the NCAA or the league would have any reason to not allow him to do it.”

Personally, this writer appreciates Harriman’s antics to a point. Admittedly, I only hear a fraction of what he says, largely because I’m focussing on a game recap. So perhaps he crosses over the line, but there’s something to be said about anyone who spots a cell phone user during play and starts the chant, “Get off the phone! Get off the phone!”

“In a generic sense, we don’t want to eliminate things that are colorful,” says Bertagna. “They had the bell up at Clarkson; the siren at St. Lawrence. They throw the fish at UNH. I guess they threw lobsters at Harvard – Cornell last week. They must be doing all right financially.

“Cornell does a thing when they introduce the other team. Everybody puts newspapers up [and pretends to read]. Then when [the public address announcer] says, ‘Now, Cornell’ they crumple them up and throw them. By the time he finishes reading Cornell’s lineup, a guy has them all picked up in a trash bin. That’s all part of what we like our game to be.

“When I was in the ECAC, the Vermont athletic director wanted to eliminate road teams bringing their bands because the bands were annoying season ticket holders or something. We didn’t seriously consider that because that’s part of what we are.”

Of course, there’s nothing to prevent building-specific rules to keep Harriman’s megaphone from going to road venues. For example, Merrimack could have a Volpe Center rule that prohibits such devices. Harriman can then either abide by the rule or risk ejection.

Going down to the entrance tunnels and getting in players’ faces, however, reeks of out-of-control behavior. To mix a taunting fan with a megaphone and 20 psyched-up players walking by while wielding sticks is a recipe for disaster. How long before one of them takes a swipe at Harriman?

“It’s just getting into common sense,” says Bertagna. “I didn’t see the incident, so I don’t know exactly what took place. But I’m a little concerned that he’s an accident waiting to happen.

“I just hope he keeps it under control. They did a feature on him and the Northeastern section on [FSNE]. I just hope he doesn’t get too carried away with his sense of celebrity. He’s got a good thing going there.

“I think [NU coach] Bruce Crowder appreciates the Dog House there. That’s good. I just hope [Harriman stays in control]. If you’re going to lean in someone’s face, you’re kind of baiting someone.”

Bad Behavior – Part II

A couple weeks ago, UNH defeated BU at Walter Brown Arena, 5-3, completing a home-and-home sweep. With seconds to play, goaltender Michael Ayers leaped for joy and then waved to the BU fans on both sides of him, fans who had heaped plenty of scorn on the netminder as is their wont.

This prompted an unfortunate showering of that end of the ice with plastic bottles. Fans screamed more insults at Ayers, at which point he pointed to the scoreboard.

A similar issue came up previously in this column (and involved Mr. Harriman, no less). The same principle still holds.

If you dish it out, you’ve got to take it. If you heckle a goalie all game and he comes out on top anyway and gives you a wave, take it like a man (or a woman). Don’t be a baby and litter the ice.

Want to get Ayers back for his wave? Next time, come prepared to cheer even harder. Think of a witticism you can hurl his way. But if you think showering him with bottles is appropriate, think again.

(Note: I’ve gotten messages from more than one BU fan apologizing for this behavior. I certainly am not painting all the Terrier fans with the same brush. Until next time, let’s assume it was all freshmen.)

Bad Behavior – Part III

One fan wrote:

“A friend of mine, sitting near the [visiting] bench, leaned close enough to the coaches to tell them: ‘You are a classless team!’ The assistant coach looked right into my friend’s eyes and told him [to do something anatomically impossible.]”

Sorry, folks but in my eyes this completes the negative hat trick of fan behavior.

Coaches on the bench are under enormous pressure. Spectators have no intrinsic right to harass them and expect to get away with it.

Fan heckles coach on the bench. Coach tells fan to bleepedy bleep.

Sounds like the fan got no more than he deserved.

Degree of Difficulty

You probably knew that New Hampshire was at the top of Hockey East and UMass-Amherst was at, or near, the bottom. What you may not have also known is that those two teams are in those same positions in terms of the ease of their remaining schedules.

Here are the current Hockey East standings. (All teams have played 18 league games except Providence and Merrimack with 19 and UMass-Amherst with 20.)

 1 New Hampshire (12-3-3)     27 points
2 Boston University (11-5-2) 24
3 Maine (10-5-3) 23
4 UMass-Lowell (9-6-3) 21
5 Northeastern (9-7-2) 20
6 Providence (8-9-2) 18
7 Boston College (7-10-1) 15
8 Merrimack (4-13-2) 10
9 UMass-Amherst (3-15-2) 8

Now here’s a look at the remaining degree of difficulty for each team’s schedule, expressed in terms of the average place in the standings for all remaining opponents. That is, it uses a “1” for any game against first place New Hampshire, a “2” against second-place BU, on down to a “9” for any game against last-place UMass-Amherst. (Thus, the higher the average, the easier the schedule.)

Here are the results:

1 New Hampshire 6.17
2 Maine 5.67
3 Northeastern 4.67
4 Boston College 4.67
5 Merrimack 4.40
6 Boston University 4.33
7 UMass-Lowell 4.00
8 UMass-Amherst 3.75
9 Providence 2.80

Looking at it in more detail, here are each team’s opponents with all two-game series of the home-and-home variety except for Maine.

UNH: NU(2), UML, @UMA, BC(2)
Maine: at PC (2), UMA (2), at BU(2)
NU: UNH (2), BC(2), UML, @MC
BC: Merrimack(2), NU (2), UNH (2)
MC: BC(2), UML, NU, @UMA
BU: UML (2), PC (2), Maine (2)
UML: BU ((2), @UNH, @MC, @NU, PC
UMA: @Maine (2), UNH, MC
PC: Maine (2), BU(2) @UML

What does it all mean? New Hampshire is in a very comfortable driver’s seat in its quest to win a regular season crown. At the other end, UMass-Amherst is facing tough odds in its attempt to move out of the cellar.

All that said, this is a league where number one vs. number nine is no gimme. That’s why they play the games…

“Welcome Back, Ben!”

The first words out of Boston College captain Jeff Giuliano’s mouth in the locker room last Friday were, “Welcome back, Ben!”

It was no coincidence that BC’s win over Maine, 4-3, came with Ben Eaves back in the lineup. The sophomore had missed 12 straight games, the first few to play in the World Junior Championships but since then with a rib injury. The Eagles’ record with and without him shows how he might be the most indispensable player in the league.

With him in the lineup, BC is 9-4-2, averaging 3.67 goals per game. Without him, the record falls to 6-9-0 — including a six-game losing streak in January — and the offense drops to 2.80 goals per game. Going into last weekend, the power play converted 22.7 percent of the time with him, but only 10.5 percent without him.

Eaves’ 10-19–29 scoring line in just 15 games puts him at 1.93 points per game. Among the nation’s leading scorers, that number is exceeded only by Darren Haydar.

“He’s one of the top players in the East,” said interim Maine coach Tim Whitehead after Eaves scored a goal and added two assists to help defeat the Black Bears in his return game.

Eaves’ own coach probably appreciates his talents even more.

“He’s one of those few players who can really make a difference at this level,” said BC coach Jerry York. “He just makes other players better. He’s good defensively; he’s good offensively, so it affects both ends of the rink.

“He’s also an exceptional leader. He’s got a lot of [Brian] Gionta in him. He has tremendous respect in the dressing room. He makes a world of difference.”

After the long layoff, Eaves’ skill level was undiminished even if his lack of wind showed the aftereffects of the layoff.

“I was dying out there sometimes,” he said. “When I had to go all the way down from one end [of the rink] to the other, I’d be exhausted. I’d be, ‘Oh, man, please don’t make me go back.'”

Sitting out games had gone from frustrating to maddening as one after another of his fellow Eagles joined him on the sidelines with injuries.

“It was almost something you had to laugh at,” he said. “We were short guys to begin with with guys leaving in the summer, but then we had 11 or 12 guys come down with this virus. Everyone has been in and out of the hospital [with] freak injuries.

“You just have to keep your head down and just keep going and laugh at yourself a little bit.”

While practicing in a no-contact red jersey, he felt the temptation to come back early for the Beanpot opener against BU.

“That’s what I was hoping to return for,” he said. “I went in the Thursday before and was all excited to see the Doc, but she poked around [my ribs] and I jumped off the table a little bit because they weren’t quite healed up.”

This past Thursday, however, the poking proved uneventful. He was ready. No more sitting in the stands. No more red shirt in practice. A set of rib protectors would suffice.

With a goal and two assists, he appeared not to have missed a beat.

“You always have your doubts if you’ll be coming back to the level you were at,” he said. “But I’ve been skating for a couple weeks and getting my wind back and trying to get my strength back and working on my skills. I felt pretty good that when I got my shot, I’d step in and do the things I’d been doing.”

Haydar Hits 200

This past weekend, UNH forward Darren Haydar not only took back the top position among the country’s scorers, he also notched his 200th career point.

Your thoughts on the milestone, Darren?

“I’m exhausted,” he said.

After the laughter quieted, he answered more seriously.

“I’m honored to be in that club,” he said. “It’s a great feeling.

“Hopefully, we can go all the way this year. That’s my main goal. I’m not too worried about points. I want to get back to where we were my freshman year — [the national championship game].”

The likeable star has always been a fan favorite at the Whittemore Center ranging from the most elderly veteran of Lively Snively who can contrast Haydar’s moves with those of Ralph Cox or Jon Fontas, to those of teenage girls looking for a postgame autograph. (Heard one time from the latter group: “Ohmigod, he’s soooo hot!”)

This past weekend, he also showed some verbal dexterity to match that which he displays with a stick. A writer had asked UNH coach Dick Umile about freshman Sean Collins’ contributions.

Umile searched for the right words. “He’s been a pleasant, not a surprise, but –”

“– addition –” whispered Haydar.

Umile laughed and continued, “– addition to the team.”

The UNH mentor then added, “That’s why [Darren] has a 3.5 GPA.”

Back In The Saddle

With Michael Ayers, the other half of UNH’s goaltending tandem, having gone under the knife, Matt Carney’s return last Sunday was welcome news indeed for the Wildcats. As most fans now know, Ayers had a tendon in his wrist sliced open by a teammate’s skate on Feb. 1.

“As soon as I heard what happened on the radio, I drove right up,” said Carney. “I was hoping I could sign [a release] and play the next night, but Coach was looking out for me more than I probably was looking out for myself.”

Instead, Ayers donned a brace and bravely backstopped UNH to a tie. Days later, though, he had the surgery and was lost for 3-to-6 weeks.

Carney had been sidelined for a month after sustaining a concussion. Had he been unable to go, third-stringer Tim Collins would have started.

Instead, Carney was given the go-ahead to play and the Wildcat goaltending tag team continued.

“Getting cleared was huge for me,” said Carney. “I’m not saying anything about Tim. Tim did a great job up in Maine [after Ayers was taken to the hospital], but it’s been Mike and me all the way through.

“As soon as we lost Mike, knowing that I was going to jump back in was a big boost for the team and for me. I sat out for four weeks, just sitting around. I couldn’t even skate so my confidence dwindled down just a little bit more.”

One couldn’t tell that from his play on Sunday.

“You’ve got to give Matt a lot of credit,” said Umile after the game. “He’ll get back next week and be right back to where he left off. And he did a very, very good job tonight. He made a couple of key saves. He still has his reflexes.”

Carney’s assessment mirrored his coach’s. Not perfect, but not too far off either.

“I felt good,” said Carney. “It’s just little things like screens and some crease movement [that] was a little not-there-yet. But by next Friday, I should be there. I only had one week of practice before this.

“The team played great…. Our team’s defense is so good, sometimes the goalies don’t get to see the puck for 10 minutes.”

The defense also kept the Friars out of Carney’s crease, not that it was a concern of his.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that,” he said. “If you’re a goalie and you’re worrying about getting hit, then you’re not worrying about stopping pucks so you’re going to be in trouble there.

“[But] our defensemen are a tough group of guys. [Opponents] might come in [the crease] once or twice, but you can bet they’re not going to come back again after our guys get through with them.

“Guys were spraying me and snowing me and got punched in the head for it. It’s always good to know that your teammates are going to back you up.”

Breakout Time

Last year, UMass-Lowell’s Anders Strome contributed a grand total of one goal and one assist in 21 games. This year, he’s already got 12 goals, second on the River Hawks only to Ed McGrane, with four of them game-winners.

Last weekend he added two more significant tallies to his totals, scoring a big third-period goal to tie Providence and then the game-tying goal against UMass-Amherst.

“He’s had an opportunity to play,” said coach Blaise MacDonald. “He developed confidence early on. As coaches, we try to give players confidence and hope and allow them to evolve into the type of player they should be.

“I’m happy as heck for him. He’s getting what he deserved. He’s worked hard. He’s believed in himself and he’s getting the results that he deserves.

“The nice thing about our team is you see a lot of guys that could play different roles. Anders is the type of player that if he’s a fourth line center, he’s going to play that role very well and certainly outplay his opponent.

“If he happens to get out there against their first line, I still think he will lead the charge for that line to beat his opponent. He also has the skill level to play on the power play and with top-end guys.

“Those are the multi-dimensional players that you need to have when you’re Lowell.”

The Silent Game

Boston College looked very, very strong during the Beanpot consolation game, a contest typically played in lackluster fashion in front of a sea of empty seats.

“We addressed that issue a couple of times,” said coach Jerry York. “We said that it doesn’t matter who you play or when you play or what time you play. Hey, it’s game time and you need to play hockey.

“We don’t play 85 games like the Bruins. We play about half that figure. If you’ve got a chance to play, you have a chance to improve as a team.

“We tried to take consolation right out of the vernacular. We were playing a historic rival [Harvard] and we want to get better and make a stretch run.”

Turtleneck Talk

If you’re looking to buy some used ties cheap, you might want to check with UNH coach Dick Umile.

The Wildcats have been on a hot streak since he took to wearing a black turtleneck on the bench. Even their infrequent slipups, such as two weekends ago at Maine, have typically occurred when Umile deviated from the lucky black turtleneck.

“I didn’t wear black against Providence the last time we played them [and lost] because they were wearing black,” he said.

The Friars were wearing black again last Sunday, but Umile knew he’d stick with a winner this time.

“I said, ‘I’m wearing my black.”

The Linguistic Challenge That Will Not Die

Several weeks ago, the trivia question involved translating the Finnish cheer: “Hakkaa päälle Suomen poika, ettei Ruotsi meitä voita!”

The answer was something roughly like:

“Finland hits hard and Sweden falls …”

For those Swedes who would like equal time in their language, Christian Jensen and Robert Gyllenson supplied a translation of the anti-Swede cheer just in time for the Olympic broadcasts:

“slå på finska pojke så att inte svensken vinner mot oss!”

Not that Swedes would want to be using that exact cheer…

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question asked what significant on-ice characteristic having to do with the specific players involved (as opposed to the location of the schools, won-loss records, etc.) did all four Beanpot teams share in the opening round?

There was no way to ask the question without some vagueness, but there were many interesting responses involving characteristics of limited, if any, on-ice relevance. Best of all these was John MacKinnon’s note that all four teams sported players from south of the Mason-Dixon line (Harvard: Rob Fried (Macon, GA), BU: Kevin Bjeljac (Los Angeles, CA), BC: David Spina (Mesa, AZ) and Northeastern: Tim Judy (Bowie, MD).

However, the truly significant common factor was that the first round saw every team’s goaltender making his Beanpot debut. Three teams used freshmen; BU’s Sean Fields is a sophomore, but had not played in last year’s tournament in deference to Jason Tapp.

Kevin Parker was the first to answer correctly. His cheer is short and sweet:

“Go BU!”

This week asks one last Beanpot question and it’s a tough one. In the history of the tournament, only one penalty shot has been taken that has not been successful. Who took the shot and, for a tiebreaker, what year was it? (Thanks to Boston Herald legend John “Jocko” Connolly for the idea.) Email Dave Hendrickson with your wild guesses.

Thanks to Roger Brown for his heads-up regarding Umile’s turtlenecks.