This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 7, 2002

The Biggest Surprise

There have been pleasant surprises aplenty in the league so far, but perhaps the best is how well Massachusetts is playing. After knocking off Northeastern last weekend — on the road, no less — the Minutemen moved to a 2-3 record, a fine achievement for a building program with only five players who aren’t freshmen or sophomores. Even more encouraging is that the 2-3 mark could be 4-1 had the breaks gone a little differently in two overtime losses.

“My attitude about the breaks is woulda-coulda-shoulda,” says UMass coach Don Cahoon. “Every team out there is saying, ‘Geez, if this didn’t happen or that didn’t happen, we could be in better circumstances.’ I haven’t said that.

“We feel that we’re skating a little bit better and we’re playing with a little bit more confidence. That all bodes well, hopefully, for the development of a better week-to-week effort.”

One key element to the success has been freshman goaltender Gabe Winer, who has started all but one game. Winer earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors last week as a result of his play in the win over Northeastern and the 2-1 overtime loss to high-flying Providence. Considering that goaltender was a major question mark for UMass coming into the season, Winer’s start looms large.

“He seems to be comfortable in the position,” says Cahoon. “He’s not rattled by the game situation. That oftentimes is the undoing of a young player. There are a lot of guys around the league who are very capable players, but when they get into game situations they can get really rattled.

“Gabe seems to be very calm and has a real good mentality. I like to use this phrase with goaltenders — their disposition for the position. He makes assessments of his play and doesn’t seem to get too up or too down. That, I think, will serve him well.”

Cahoon cautions, however, that Winer’s playing time isn’t going to continue at its present rate, which has been every minute since relieving Tim Warner in the season opener.

“Gabe certainly knows that it’s a game-to-game type of situation and we’ve got a couple other goaltenders that are very much in the mix and it won’t be all-Gabe, all-year-long,” says Cahoon. “That’s too much to ask of a young player, but he’s certainly going to be a mainstay for us.”

This early-season success will be put to a test this weekend when the Minutemen travel to the inhospitable confines of Alfond Arena, where Maine posted a 15-2-3 record last year.

“No question, [it’ll be a difficult test],” says Cahoon. “Our kids will grow from the experience regardless of the outcome.” He then laughs and adds, “But we’ll grow a lot more if we can play well and win. We grow, nonetheless, from just being in that experience.”

Thanks A Lot, Roommate!

You’re a senior and you’ve never gotten a hat trick in your collegiate career. You have two goals in this game, however, and your coach has sent you out to protect a one-goal lead in the final minute. The goaltender has been pulled and the puck gets pushed past the opposing defense and you’re breaking two-on-none with no one between you and your first collegiate hat trick.

With the Holy Grail seemingly in your grasp, you hear a whistle. The sure thing has slipped through your fingers. It turns out that there was one person between you and your first collegiate hat trick. Your roommate.

On Friday night, BU’s John Sabo experienced the so-close-but-yet-so-far hat trick that disappeared when his roommate, Freddy Meyer, tangled with an opponent behind the play.

Sabo took the situation in stride, though.

“It’s all right,” he said after the game with a laugh. “I was just looking at trying to get across the red line, but the whistle blew. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m just happy to leave here with a win.”

Meyer recounted his side of the story one night later.

“[John] game me a little hard time once we got back to our room,” said Meyer with a grin. “I didn’t really realize it. I was just holding on, [doing] whatever I could do to keep the puck out of the net. Later on, I found out that they were going on a two-on-oh.”

Perhaps Meyer will be sleeping with one eye open for the next week or two…

Looking at the 15-Second Faceoff Rule

The early returns on the 15-second faceoff rule are overwhelmingly positive, but there may still be some adjustments forthcoming.

The average time of a Hockey East contest has dropped from 2:25 to 2:09, based on October games other than those that went into overtime and those that were broadcast on TV (since the new rule doesn’t apply there). Eliminating 16 minutes of dead time has resulted in a faster overall pace and is a definite improvement.

That said, it may not quite be a finished product.

“It’s working,” says Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. “[But] there’s some sense from some of the coaches that they’d like tinker with it a little bit. The one suggestion [I’ve heard] is that the NHL, instead of doing five seconds for the visiting team to change then five for the home and then five to drop it, they go five-eight-five to give the home team a little more realistic chance to match lines.

“So if you accept the philosophy that the home team should have an advantage, the current system might be diluting that advantage. [New Hampshire’s] Richard Umile, Donnie Lucia from Minnesota, and Mike Eaves from Wisconsin have all said that they’d like the home team to get a little bit more of a break.”

All of which seems quite reasonable, a minor tweak to a major improvement.

Hitting From Behind

Saturday’s game between BU and UNH raised the ire of both teams’ fans based on the officiating of John Gravellese. One key sequence included an apparent Freddy Meyer leg check that was uncalled followed soon after by Meyer tackling a UNH player behind the play, but in full view of a linesman who was perhaps only 10 feet away. With neither offense whistled, a Wildcat took matters into his own hands and hit Meyer from behind.

BU coach Jack Parker brought special attention to the officiating in the post-game press conference, tip-toeing around the ban on criticism of officials.

“It was nice to do such a great job killing penalties,” said Parker. “The way the game was called, we had to kill a lot of penalties.”

He paused for effect and said again, “The way the game was called, we had to kill a lot of penalties.

“I’m concerned about hitting from behind, which is a dangerous part of the game. I’m concerned about hitting from behind and so is the NCAA rulebook concerned about hitting from behind. They want to make sure that we call that.”

After Parker was asked to clarify his comment, he said, “I’m referring to a lot of times. I know that hitting from behind is a situation that supposedly is going to be emphasized all the time. And we’ll have it emphasized in the future. I don’t think it was emphasized tonight.”

Hockey East is, in fact, in the process of reminding coaches and officials of the dangers of hits from behind and the need to penalize these infractions in all cases.

“Not so much from that game,” says Bertagna, “[but] what we do on a regular basis — somewhat monthly, maybe more so early in the year and then it takes care of itself — is we do bulletins, as I think every league does, to our officials.

“In the bulletin there [may be] things that have come down from the NCAA. Let’s say, as you get into the season you find some inconsistencies where changes made in the rule book [have resulted in] some contradictory sections because things [were changed in one place] and the language wasn’t cleaned up in another. So the NCAA tells us things they want to get out to the coaches [and officials]. Then, in our own observation, we’ll get some other things out.

“I believe that there’s an [upcoming] reminder to the referees [regarding] the gray areas. It’s hard in some of these areas [to know] whether it’s a boarding or a hit-from behind or whether it’s a major or a minor. They’ve got some discretion.

“The message we gave the officials in the preseason meetings was: when in doubt, come down on the side of the more severe penalty in the areas of hitting from behind. The downside of that particular call and a kid potentially getting hurt is so serious that we want to make sure that they’re making the right call and when they’ve got a choice and they’re not sure, make the more serious call. That reminder will be going out again.”

This writer’s observation is that while there was provocation in at least the most egregious hit from behind, no league can allow such actions. No offense warrants the possibility of a player spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Can Meyer play cheap at times? Yes. He’s a terrific player, but he can antagonize and instigate with the best of them. One night, a fellow scribe playfully set the over-under on Meyer jabbing an opponent with his stick at one minute. Yours truly took the over. Yours truly lost.

Leg checks, even when the result of attempted hip checks gone awry, must also be punished given the career-ending possibilities they entail.

So Meyer was no choir boy.

However, nothing excuses a hit from behind. This is not like one uncalled trip or slash canceling out another.

The guess is that next time a similar situation arises, Gravellese will make at least two calls that he didn’t make on Saturday night.

Playoff Tickets

It actually isn’t too soon to start thinking about Hockey East playoff tickets. They aren’t on sale yet, but will be in time for holiday gift-buying.

“Last year, we got them on sale before Christmas so they could be Christmas gifts,” says Bertagna. “We haven’t had that conversation yet with the FleetCenter, but we will [so] they’ll be on sale just before the holidays.”

Maine’s Nonconference Schedule

Some Black Bear fans are less than pleased with their team’s strength of schedule this year. Of the 12 games scheduled between Hockey East teams and those from the two new conferences — the MAAC and CHA — Maine has four of them. The team took care of business in the first two of such matchups last weekend, shutting out Mercyhurst, 5-0 and 7-0, but some have wondered why a perennial powerhouse is scheduling the newcomers more than any other team in the league. After all, Boston College and BU don’t have the new leagues at all on their schedules and UNH has only one such team, Connecticut, a potential rival state school.

The answer boils down to two facts. The first is that Maine is playing an extra two games this year because of its participation in the Nye Frontier Classic held in Anchorage, Alaska. The NCAA gives teams a two-game exemption to compensate for the difficult trek to Alaska. Without the exemption, the Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage programs would have difficulty surviving. So for starters, Maine had two more openings to fill than usual.

The other factor comes down to the bottom line. MAAC and CHA teams that are eager to play “the big boys” will naturally be more eager than are teams from the established conferences to come to Alfond Arena without a reciprocal trip to their home venue. It’s no coincidence that all four Maine games against MAAC opponents are at home.

Check out many of the perennial powers who routinely draw huge crowds and you’ll see a similar imbalance of home and away nonconference games. Opponents perceived as equals won’t accept a one-way arrangement, but will insist on an I-visit-you-this-year and you-visit-me-next year approach. Those programs which are still building, however, will take the monetary guarantee and hit the road.

“Sometimes it’s just the way it goes,” says Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We tried to get some opponents from other [traditional] conferences to come here and play in Alfond, but we couldn’t get anyone to come in, quite honestly. We were a little disappointed in that.

“Next year, as it turns out, we have to go out on the road to play some teams from the other conferences so we’re going to St. Lawrence for two games. The negative, of course, is that budget-wise this is the revenue-producing sport up here so it’s a negative that we’ve got to go on the road. But the positive is that it’s good for the team to go on the road and get those games.”

Quip of the Week

Freddy Meyer — a native of Sanbornville, New Hampshire — had a host of friendly faces watching him as the Terriers invaded the Whittemore Center.

“It’s always fun to have them see me play,” he said. “They came down in a bus, about 50 or 60 friends and family from my town.”

To which, one writer responded, “Was anybody left?”

A Little Perspective, Please

There were some interesting missives in the inbox this week, the most extreme coming from BU fans. I had picked the Terriers to lose games at Northeastern and New Hampshire, a fact that upset some readers on Commonwealth Avenue. Here’s one friendly note:

Hey Hendrickson, you better get your head checked…. You should feel ashamed of yourself for saying BU would lose both games this weekend. I expect an apology to all BU fans in next week’s column.

An apology to all BU fans? Gimme a break! Did all BU fans owe me an apology when the Terriers tied Vermont and lost to Merrimack, both games I picked them to win? Good grief.

Although I make the best effort I can to pick ’em right (so that I can lord my success over my colleagues at the Frozen Four), the picks are no life-and-death matter. Have fun with them, but don’t be offended.

I’ll further defend those particular picks. BU’s offense was struggling to score goals. Northeastern was coming off a tie against UNH while the Wildcats had taken three-of-four points from Minnesota and had yet to lose a game. Most importantly, though, both contests were on the road for BU. Last year, UNH posted a 16-2-1 home record while a Northeastern team that finished two games over .500 overall was 12-4-2 at home. Picking two BU road losses was quite reasonable even though they turned out to be incorrect.

Heck, think about the teams at the bottom of the standings. I pick against them more than two times in a row. I had one Sports Information Director ask me kiddingly once, “Are you ever going to pick us to win?”

Getting picked to lose two games isn’t the end of the world. On some weekends, it can even be a harbinger of four points.

Obligatory disclaimer: The above correspondent is not at all representative of BU fans as a whole.

Trivia Contest

First, some old business. A week ago, Tara would have been giving her cheer, but computer problems prevented her from submitting it. So here’s her belated cheer:

“Go Friars!”

As for last week’s question, it revolved around Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves coaching against BC, a team on which his sons, Ben and Patrick, play. The challenge was to name the one other (to my knowledge) D-I coach who similarly faced a team on which his son played. It turns out that there were more answers than one, a fact I would have been aware of had I been current in reading the column of my WCHA colleague, Todd D. Milewski.

Answer number one was Minnesota coach Doug Woog whose son Steve played at Northern Michigan in the early 1990s. First to get that answer was Louis Fuoco, whose cheer is:

“Gimme a B!”
“Gimme a U!”
“Whaddaya got?”

Answer number two was Army coach Jack Riley going against his son Rob, who played at Boston College in the mid-to-late 1970s. Quickest with that one was Seth Frink, whose cheer is:

“Go ‘Cats. This is our year!”

Answer number three, which neither Todd nor I had, but Allan P. Vaughan got, was Northeastern coach Fernie Flaman and his son Terry, who lettered at Harvard in 1968, ’69 and ’70. Allan’s cheer is:

“GO BU!!!!!!”

A fourth possibility which was not correct was Western Michigan’s Mark Wilkinson, who played for his father Bill until the elder Wilkinson left to coach at Wayne State. Those two teams never met during Mark’s junior and senior years, so that was a great guess that turned out to be incorrect.

May I be shot if I ever pose another question for which there are multiple possible answers…

This week’s contest finishes off the hat trick of lopsided early-season results. (The first two involved UNH’s 10-0 pasting of Vermont and Providence’s 11-0 over Iona.) On Oct. 11, Northeastern defeated Connecticut, 10-1. Name the season and opponent when the Huskies last won by that exact score. Email Dave Hendrickson’s trivia account with your responses. The winner will be notified by Tuesday; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.

Calling All Illiterates…

Last week’s two passages were from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.”


“Have you ever heard of a plan when so many things could go wrong?”

I love this series, which is by all means not just for kids. All books should be this much fun.

First to get this one right was Todd Cioffi, who provided a list of favorites, of which one is: Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen.

This week’s passage comes from the beginning — the second paragraph, to be precise — of a wonderful short story.

When I was five, a Clark Bar was as fat around as the gripping end of a Louisville Slugger, and pretty nearly six inches long, and they used real chocolate to coat it, and it crunched very nicely when you bit into the center, and the paper it came wrapped in smelled fresh and good when you peeled off one end to hold the bar so it wouldn’t melt onto your fingers. Today, a Clark Bar is as thin as a credit card, they use something artificial and awful-tasting instead of pure chocolate, the thing is soft and soggy, it costs fifteen or twenty cents instead of a decent, correct nickel, and they wrap it so you think it’s the same size it was twenty years ago, only it isn’t; it’s slim and ugly and nasty tasting and not worth a penny, much less fifteen or twenty cents.

Email Dave Hendrickson with the name of the story and the author. The winner, who will be notified by Tuesday, gets recognized and can mention the title of a favorite book of his or her own. If you haven’t heard by then, you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.

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

  • Last week I mentioned that Stephen King’s latest novel, From a Buick 8 “left me cold,” which some readers found ambiguous. To clarify, I think it’s one of the horrormeister’s least successful novels. King, who I admire greatly, experiments with a couple techniques, but I don’t think they work out very well. The entire book is told in retrospect, a succession of flashbacks related by various people. Flashbacks are always tricky for a novelist and telling the entire story as a sequence of flashbacks is a significant risk. Additionally, he uses a rotating first-person viewpoint. That is, the story is told in an “I did this and then I did that” form with the “I” person changing from chapter to chapter. I’m all for an established writer taking creative risks, but I don’t think this one turned out that well. Of course, I’ll still buy his next one the minute it comes out. And the one after that. And the one after that. The guy has earned the intense loyalty of his fans. Even the 1992-93 Black Bears lost one game.
  • How priceless is it that New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon has told Mo Vaughn to lose some weight? Were he still here, Mo would blame management for their insensitivity and lack of respect. Hey, I carry some extra lard myself, but I’m not a professional athlete being paid megabucks to keep my body in peak shape. Mo’s condition is a disgrace. That said, he’ll probably listen to Wilpon this time. Why? The Mets can terminate the rest of Bloated Mo’s bloated contract ($32 million over the remaining two years) if he doesn’t. Of course, it’s not about the money…
  • Let’s hope the Boston baseball writers and talkshow hosts don’t paint Bill James with the same brushstrokes as StatMan. James’ ideas have worked out pretty well in places like Oakland. If guys like Shea Hillenbrand looked more at on base percentage and never saw a batting average again, they might get a truer picture of what it takes to win.
  • Why Larry Lucchino hasn’t interviewed me yet for the Red Sox GM position is beyond me.
  • Okay, everybody. Hop back on the Patriots bandwagon….