This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 28, 2002

Scott Weighart is filling in for Dave Hendrickson.


It has been a curious year for the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks thus far. At this point last season, Blaise MacDonald’s charges were 10-2-0 overall, 6-2-0 in Hockey East. At the moment, they find themselves at 4-8-0 with a cellar-dwelling 0-7-0 conference record.

But don’t feel too sorry for the River Hawks. For one thing, MacDonald isn’t looking for pity. For another, they are a much better team than their record indicates. Incredibly, Lowell has been outshot only once this season — and that was one of its wins (a 4-1 victory over Colorado College). In their last two games, the River Hawks played at the Whittemore Center and Walter [nl]Brown Arena, undoubtedly two of the toughest rinks in the league for visitors.

Against UNH and BU in those contests, Lowell put up 34 and 38 shots respectively but lost one-goal games. In fact, the ‘Hawks outshot the Terriers by the stunning margin of 38-17 and dominated the game until the last six minutes. Once again, a deserved victory slipped through their fingers.

“Whose idea was it to keep score?” quipped MacDonald after the loss.

“We talk about what are we trying to accomplish here — we talk all about the process,” added MacDonald. “We’ve played very well in most games. Tonight was probably not our best game, but we put together close to 60 minutes. We probably had been playing 50 great minutes. But we try to take out the positive teaching moments, and they’re plentiful. Quite honestly, the goals we give up are more individual breakdowns then they are team breakdowns.”

Another problem area for Lowell has been inconsistent goaltending. Between Chris Davidson and Dominic Smart, the team’s save percentage is a shaky .842. On the bright side, this seems to be leading to a team-wide commitment to cut down chances.

“They know they’ve got problems in the goal, so they just deny, deny, deny, and they played fabulous defensively,” said Terrier coach Jack Parker after the 3-2 BU win. “The biggest reason [for the lack of BU shots] was that we spent way too much time in our zone. You’re not going to get shots from 200 feet away, and we couldn’t get the puck out of our zone on the breakouts.”

MacDonald is not about to hit the panic button, given that his team seems close to turning the corner.

“It’ll come: Everybody gets their runs and their chances,” MacDonald said. “I would say we haven’t had the best of puck luck, but you make your own puck luck. So we need to do just stick with what we’re doing.”

The toughest thing for the coach has been the sense that his fourth-year players deserve better results based on how much they contribute to the team. Obviously, the rocky start in the won-loss column will make it impossible to compete for the top spot in the conference standings. Even getting home ice looks like a long shot at the one-third mark of the schedule.

“I’m most disappointed for our seniors,” MacDonald said. “I’m blessed with an unbelievable senior class, and I want so badly for them to have success. Mark Concannon’s a good example: he’s playing so hard, and he’s been snakebitten.”

The team’s struggles likely have led to many overlooking a player who quietly has been racking up some of the most impressive offensive numbers in the nation. Team captain Ed McGrane has notched 11 goals in 12 games, leaving him tied for the third in the nation in that category. Only Joe Tallari of Niagara has a better goals-per-game average than the centerman from [nl]Hamilton, Ont. Altogether, McGrane has 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points in just 12 games.

In a conference teeming with excellent forwards, only Lanny Gare of the Wildcats and Providence teammates Jon DiSalvatore and Peter Fregoe have amassed more points than McGrane.

“I’ve said it before — I think he’s one of the best players in the country,” MacDonald said. “I would not trade Ed McGrane for one player in the country. He plays great defensively; he plays with grit. He’s not a soft player by any stretch of the imagination. He can pound guys, and he can make plays.”

Despite all of McGrane’s personal success, the results have left him scratching his head.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played on a team like this,” McGrane said. “It’s one of those situations where you play great, and you lose by one goal every night — you’re still coming up on the short end of the stick. It’s just one of those experiences that you’ve got to learn from and build off of.

“I think it comes from the seniors,” added McGrane. “You’ve just got to stay positive, every single practice and every single game. You’ve got to feed off of that and find a way to win; it’s as simple as that.”

MacDonald remains philosophical, keeping the big picture in his players’ minds.

“I sit here very happy with my ballclub,” MacDonald said. “I wouldn’t trade this team for any team in the league in spite of the fact that we’re 0-7. The St. Louis Rams were 0-5, and they have a shorter season, so I like where we’re at. I like to believe that we’re a team that nobody’s going to want to play in January and February, and that’s when the men’s league really starts.”

But if Hockey East coaches may need to stock up on their Maalox before playing the River Hawks in the coldest months, the players themselves are the only ones who will bear the brunt of the situation in the short run — they don’t return to action until they host St. Lawrence and Clarkson on December 6 and 7.

How does MacDonald feel about the long layoff?

“It’s a good thing for me; it might be a bad thing for the team because they’re going to hear me yelling at them in practice all the time.”

Don’t be surprised if it’s the River Hawk fans who are yelling — gleefully — on quite a few occasions once Lowell hits the meaty part of the schedule.

Looking Out For Number One … Cubed

The poll is a curious sight this week. Three different Hockey East teams received seven or more votes as the top team in the nation: 11 voters picked first for top-ranked Boston College, 10 opted for third-ranked UNH, and seven picked fourth-ranked Maine. Obviously, this is a strong statement for the current quality of play in the conference.

“That’s incredible,” Wildcat coach Dick Umile said. “What I make of the logjam is — having played against Boston College and Maine this weekend — I’m not surprised because of the caliber of the teams. They’ve got depth; they’ve got everything. Usually the top teams in our league are some of the top teams in the country.”

“I think what’s happened is the conference as a whole has gotten a lot better. If you look at UMass and Merrimack, what they did last week, you’ll see it’s affected all the teams,” added Umile. “We’re bringing more players into the league because of the strength of the league and its reputation as a whole.”

Umile also noted that “there’s an awful lot of parity between the top teams in the league.” Indeed, many games between the Hockey East powerhouses this season could have turned out differently based on just one penalty or one bounce. Umile found that out when visiting Orono last weekend.

“The winning goal was kind of a crazy bounce that got behind us and of all people going in on a breakaway is [Martin] Kariya,” Umile said. “But we had our chances; I thought [Maine goaltender Jim] Howard played well. I thought it was one of our better hockey games. We might have even played better and generated more scoring opportunities than we did against Boston College. We just didn’t score the goals, but we played extremely well in a very difficult place to play.”

Personally, based not only on record but on their play recently through last weekend, I had Maine first in my rankings. “Mine too,” BU’s Parker said. “I had Maine, BC, Colorado College, UNH.”

Given that Parker was the only Hockey East coach to put Maine on top in the preseason poll, his judgment is looking pretty good thus far. Albeit with two road games coming up next weekend at Conte Forum, Maine is the only undefeated team remaining in conference play this season.

“I knew they were going to be tough,” Parker said. “They came in here and rammed us around pretty good. There’s no question that they’ve got a lot of talent and work real hard.”

With BC getting upset by Dartmouth on Tuesday night, don’t be surprised if the Black Bears garner a few more first-place votes.

Yet despite all of these interesting developments at the top of the polls, Umile is still most amazed by what’s going at the bottom of the conference standings. He just can’t fathom Lowell being 0-7-0 in conference play.

“That’s the most incredible thing — they’re a real good team,” Umile said. Told of MacDonald’s comment about no one wanting to play the River Hawks in January and February, Umile chuckled and said, “No one wants to play them now or then!”

Hockey Philanthropy

There are always reminders of how many great people there are in the hockey community. Kudos are due to Providence coach Paul Pooley, who received the Partners in Philanthropy Award on Tuesday, November 19 at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

One of 92 Partners in Philanthropy award winners, Pooley was acknowledged for his longtime support of Meeting Street, a home for disabled children. The annual Mayor’s Cup game between Providence and Brown has been used as a substantial fundraising sources for the children’s home. Pooley also has recruited several of his players to volunteer at Meeting Street.

The Never Ending Story

Did you notice that former Terrier Rick DiPietro was recalled by the Islanders last weekend? This minor item in the transaction column gave me flashbacks of being responsible for writing the recap of the quadruple-overtime NCAA East Regional game between St. Lawrence and BU back in 2000.

Sitting in the press area with USCHO’s Dave Hendrickson and Jim Connelly, I think it was somewhere around the fifth or sixth intermission when I became positively giddy. Given that the BU band had long since exhausted its repertoire, I started trying to come up with songs that I wish they had learned for just this occasion: Perhaps Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s song about “the show that never ends” (“Karn Evil 9”); “The Never Ending Story,” Mercury Rev’s “Endlessly,” The Psychedelic Furs’ “Forever Now,” Boston’s “Long Time.”…. I could go on for hours, just like that game.

I can’t even imagine how exhausting the game was to play, as simply watching it for the purposes of capturing it in prose wiped me out. Given that there were no instant replay facilities available to us, I became obsessed with the possibility that I would sneeze or blink and miss the goal that would conclude one of the longest games in NCAA history.

Robin Carruthers’ game winner was pretty sudden — and I didn’t really see how the play developed, but at least I basically saw it happen. Afterwards, what impressed me most was how calm Parker was in the press conference. He professed no great disappointment despite missing an opportunity to square off against BC in the semifinals, and mainly talked about how proud he was of his team and how complimentary he was about the officiating under the demanding circumstances.

Given that I seem to have a soft sport for the fourth-liners, what I would have liked to see almost happened late in the third OT, when Terrier Mike DiMella — looking for his first collegiate goal — had an excellent scoring chance but was denied by Saint netminder Derek Gustafson for one of his 70 saves. Gustafson is now playing for the Houston Aeros in the AHL, hoping for his next chance at the big time with the Minnesota Wild.

DiPietro, of course, stopped 77 shots in that game, helping to stake his claim as the first-ever goalie to picked first overall in the NHL Draft.

Trivia Contest

Given that I’m filling in for Dave Hendrickson in writing this column for a few weeks, Dave thought it would be best to give readers a fairly straightforward question last week. So, as Murphy’s Law would have it, the answer proved to be extremely elusive.

Here’s what happened: During the recent BU-BC game, Eagle d-man Andrew Alberts received a penalty for playing without his helmet. In the press room after the game, someone asked if anyone could remember the most recent time such a penalty was given in Walter Brown Arena. A few people, including Jack Parker, recalled it as being Tony Amonte and that the referee was Richie Fowkes. Thus, a Hockey East Trivia Question was born.

However, when the responses started coming in to me last week, I was struck by how many people named Freddy Meyer. Reader William Redfern, though not the first to name Meyer, even cited an exact day: November 4, 2000, versus Merrimack.

After receiving this remarkably specific “guess,” I eagerly looked back at the USCHO recap of that game, only to find that the deadbeat covering the game for us failed to acknowledge it in the article! I finally called Boston University Sports Information Director Ed Carpenter, who dutifully dug through his archives and confirmed that Meyer had indeed received a penalty for playing without his helmet at 13:13 of the third period. Ed also told me that the referee that day was Jeff Bunyon.

The first reader to identify Meyer was Mike Klein, while the first to name Amonte was Steve Meline. No one joins the “Get-A-Life Hall of Fame” by being able to name the ref who called the penalty on Amonte, negating a Terrier goal. The ref in question was Richie Fowkes. However, William Redfern did come up with Bunyon (as well as the date and the opponent), so he can be considered a viable candidate.

“I don’t remember that one,” Parker said. “The reason why I remember the other one is ’cause it cost us a win [against Providence]. We scored a goal in overtime, and they disallowed the goal. I don’t remember the Meyer thing.”

Now, before anyone makes fun of Dave for not knowing the answer to his own trivia question, I should come clean and note that I was the “deadbeat” who covered the very game in which Meyer received that penalty. I couldn’t remember that and even had to have Dave remind me about Amonte via e-mail — although I was in the press conference where it was discussed just days before.

Oh, well. As former Vice President Dan Quayle once said — and I’m not making this up — while speaking to representatives of the United Negro College Fund: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”

How true indeed.

For a winning cheer, Mike Klein selects: “Fear the dogs! GO BU!!”. Steve Meline opts for, simply, “GO BU!!!”.

This week’s question attempts to prove that the term “hockey literature” is not necessarily an oxymoron. After reading the following excerpts of a fairly contemporary short story, identify the story and its author. E-mail Scott Weighart with your guesses. The winner will be notified by Monday; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it. Here are four excerpts from various parts of this improbable story of a hockey team on the outskirts of Houston:

The games were sometimes violent, and always fast. We could never get the hang of the rules, and for us the best part was before the game, when the players crawled around on their knees with their marking crayons, laboring to draw the colorful, crooked lines, already suited up, and wearing the pads that would protect them.

They skated with their bellies in, those nights, bumped into their opponents without apologies and knocked them to the ice (or were knocked to the ice themselves), and charged around the ice with short savage chopping steps of their skate blades, as if trying in their anger to mince or hash the rink into a slush. Some of them would breathe through gritted teeth and shout, making low animal sounds.

The Juggernauts had a player we all called Larry Loop. He wasn’t their captain or anything — they were a band, not a team — and Larry Loop was large and chesty, and he raced down the ice in those crunching little high-knee steps whether they were playing against ax murderers or a seminarian’s school…. He was big, and the oldest man on the ice, grey-headed, tufts of it sticking out from behind his savage, painted goalie’s mask — though he was not a goalie — and more often than not when he bumped into people, they went over.

When he scored, he went wild. He would throw his stick down onto the ice and race off in the opposite direction, in that funny little stamping run, and throw his masked face back, up at the low ceiling, and beat on his chest with his heavy gloved hands, and shout, “I am in LOVE! I am in LOVE!”

It was funny, and it was frightening, too, to Kirby and me, like a visit to New York City for the first time, and we liked to believe that all the wildness and uncertainty and even danger in the world was contained there on that tiny skating rink, set so far out in the prairie, in the spring, heavy overhead blowers spinning, inside, to prevent the ice from melting.

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

  • As you might have inferred from this week’s trivia question, I probably should sign up for a 12-step program for reading addicts. With this in mind, here are a few haikus that I have written about some of the best books I’ve read this year.
  • First, for The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd:

    Think The Paper Chase
    but in an art school and yet
    darker and weirder.

  • Second, for The Magus by John Fowles:

    Long, literary,
    This mind-bending novel is
    A hall of mirrors

  • Third, for Bel Canto by Ann Patchett:

    Opera and suspense?
    Terrorists co-exist with
    Artsy hostages.

  • Some other great books I read this year included Best American Travel Writing 2001 (edited by Paul Theroux); Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner; The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles; and Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow. For somewhat lighter reads, the best bets were Will by G. Gordon Liddy; I Thought My Father Was God (edited by Paul Auster); and Basket Case by Carl Hiassen. I also would recommend Connie Willis for those who like science fiction with compelling plots and realistic characters.
  • If you’re interesting in being on the distribution list for my free newsletter about books — entitled The Pick of the Literate, just e-mail me: [email protected].
  • I’ll have some reflections on this year’s music in next week’s column. After that, Dave should be out on parole and back for his weekly musings.