This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 23, 2003

Enough Already

As some of you have pointed out, this column’s jinx factor has reared its ugly head in 2003.

(An aside: why am I convinced that my editor will juxtapose the words “ugly head” with my photograph?)

The Jan. 2 missive featured Lowell’s Ed McGrane. Since that time, the senior has scored one goal in six games and only one point in his last four. Sorry, Ed.

The following week, BU’s six-game winning streak led this column. Before the night was over, Providence had invaded Walter Brown Arena and defeated the Terriers, 3-2, in overtime. Two more defeats followed at the hands of arch-rival Boston College to make for an 0-3 record since my extolling the Terriers’ virtues. Sorry, Jack.

Last week, this writer opened with a discussion of the ups-and-downs of many of the league’s teams and concluded that one major reason was that Hockey East is so strong from top-to-bottom. That weekend there were two nonconference games. You guessed it: two losses. Sorry, Joe.

Following that item was praise for Massachusetts’ “Cardiac Kids.” Yup, the same Cardiac Kids who lost two one-goal games last weekend to New Hampshire, including one in overtime. Sorry, Toot.

Apparently, intentions alone are sufficient to bring on Hendrickson’s Curse. The Jan. 2 column was supposed to also feature Merrimack, which had been on a four-game win streak. However, holiday-related communications problems prevented the compliments from flowing toward North Andover. Even so, the intent was still there. The Warriors record since then: 1-4-1. Sorry, Chris.

My apologies to all of you. It’s time to put an end to this. As a result…

Let’s hear it for the WCHA, CCHA, ECAC, MAAC and CHA. Hockey East stinks! The league is overrated. It should have zero teams in the Top 15. Heck, it should have zero teams in the Top 30. There are 60 Division I programs? Hockey East schools shouldn’t be in the Top 51! NCAA legislation should be passed so that none of those Hockey East losers are granted berths in the national tournament.

Jim Howard, Joe Exter, Michael Ayers and Bobby Goepfert? Sieves!

Martin Kariya, Lanny Gare and Ben Eaves? They wear double-runners!

Jack Parker and Jerry York — a total of 1326 career wins? Pure luck!

Intermission

Ahem. Let’s dust ourselves off after that one, skid the Zamboni all over the ice and move on…

Three, Four and Two

Although the ups-and-downs that have been prevalent for so many teams this year could change things, three races are developing in Hockey East. Maine, New Hampshire and Boston College are in a three-way race for the regular season crown. UNH and BC are atop the league standings with 21 points, but Maine lurks just one point behind with a game in hand over the Wildcats and two games in hand over the Eagles.

Boston University could vault back into the top group with two wins over UNH this week, but finds itself in the unaccustomed position of playing more for home ice than the number-one seed. The Terriers are just .500 in Hockey East and are joined by Massachusetts, Merrimack and Providence in a four-way race for the last playoff home ice berth. The quartet are all within three points of each other and the most distant of them, the Friars, hold a game in hand over BU and Merrimack and two over UMass.

Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell, which split last weekend, will battle for the final playoff berth. As with the other two races, one team (the Huskies) hold a slim margin, in this case one point, while the team trailing holds a game in hand.

Of course, all of the above comments could be rendered obsolete by Saturday night.

TV Talk

Opinions about Hockey East’s TV contract with Fox Sports New England range from one end of the spectrum to the other. On the plus side, FSNE’s “Game of the Week” is a first-class production all the way and one that the league isn’t required to fund, unlike the deals many other leagues have. On the down side, FSNE also carries the Boston Celtics and is contractually obligated to carry them live. That leaves — hold your nose, please — Hockey East championship games on tape delay.

Some new issues have also arisen, prompting some serious examination of the contract, which expires this spring. The league has already had numerous conference calls on the matter and has its TV committee in high gear.

“Let me say at the beginning that we’ve been very happy with our relationship with Fox and the quality of our games,” Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna says. “The more I see other broadcasts, [the more I appreciate Fox’s work]. They do a terrific job with what they put out there.

“[But] there are three elements we have to deal with. One is our tournament. The one problem we’ve had, obviously, is that as long as they have the Celtics, it’s unlikely that [the entire] tournament — the Fridays and Saturdays — are going to be clear. This year, we’ve got both semifinals live, but the final on tape delay. That’s always been a problem to us because we want our events on live.

“Some cynics think that we’ve contributed to this to drive ticket sales, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re selling tickets fine. We want the games to be seen. So that has to be a component going forward.

“The second [issue] is because Fox spends so much money to put our games on, they have the right to establish the playing rules. They hold exclusivity to cable so if you want to watch a game on cable, you have to watch it on Fox. We understand that they’re trying to protect their investment.

“What’s happened in the six years since we started with them is that the league profile has gotten even more visible than when we started so different schools have found that they have new opportunities to get their own games on. Some of the restrictions from the Fox deal are preventing some of our schools from expanding their own local packages. So that’s an issue that we’ve got to discuss.

“And third, there’s a new national college sports TV network that is going to start next month. [It’ll be a] soft launch, but hopefully a year from now everyone is going to know about CSTV, College Sports TV. The one sport that they’re getting the most inquiries about from fans is college hockey. They’re going to try to make college hockey a centerpiece of what they do.

“Obviously, we don’t want to miss out on that opportunity to have our games nationally available on CSTV, so going forward we’ve got to weigh all the benefits of having a league package like what we’ve all enjoyed versus some of these other issues that have come up.”

If those three major concerns sound like Hockey East has already chosen to drop FSNE and the “Game of the Week,” think again. A final decision isn’t likely until the post-season tournament.

“Inherently, I find that not having a league deal and walking away from that and letting all the schools maximize their games just seems dangerous to me,” Bertagna says. “I think our package is the envy of a lot of the other leagues. Some of our fans don’t like certain things, but the fact is that I don’t know if there’s another league that has 14 or 15 games paid for by the network.

“So I’m reluctant to walk away from that. On the other hand, we do have schools who are chomping at the bit to have a little more freedom to expand their packages or in some cases start packages.

“There is a model out there for another way of doing it. The WCHA does not have a Game of the Week. They let each school do their own thing and then they market their tournament, which I believe Midwest Sports Channel does. Ironically, I’ve heard from some of my friends in the WCHA that they’re talking about how they can get a Game of the Week going.

“It’s obviously a huge issue for us and we want to make sure we do the right thing going forward.”

A Goaltender’s Worst Nightmare

On Saturday, Boston College defenseman John Adams tried to hit Ben Eaves at the far blue line from deep in his own zone and originally was credited with a 140-foot shorthanded goal. Not until video replays after the game showed that Eaves got a piece of it did the scoring get changed.

“[Adams] gave me a saucer pass and he had a little too much sauce on it,” Eaves said. “I reset my stick and tried to knock it down and got a piece of it. The goalie misplayed it and that was it. It was spinning really hard. [Adams] put some really good sauce on it.”

The unfortunate victim was BU goaltender Sean Fields. The spinning puck handcuffed him and slipped slowly through his pads and into the net. A similar embarrassment befell UNH goaltender Michael Ayers earlier this season against Lowell when a dump in from the red line bounced past the All-Hockey East star, also for a shorthanded goal. In Ayers’ case, UNH rebounded from the early setback to win, 6-2.

Fields, however, was not so lucky. The goal from “downtown” came midway through the third period and cost BU its lead over BC. A more artistic game-winner from BC’s Ryan Murphy with less than two minutes remaining gave the Eagles a big win over their arch-rival while saddling Fields with a crushing loss.

BU coach Jack Parker defended his goaltender, who was too distraught to meet with the media, saying, “We got a bad bounce for the guy who’s been our MVP all year. I know he feels pretty bad about that.”

Many fans might scratch their heads and wonder how a goaltender can make an unconscious save at one moment and then let in a nightmarish one like Fields and Ayers did.

“Sometimes the more time you have to think about something, [the more trouble you get into],” says Bertagna, whose collegiate career was as a goaltender at Harvard. He also runs highly regarded goalie clinics and camps. “I really think an element of these long shots is that you get into a rhythm as a goalie. Something happens and you react. Something else happens and you react.

“When you have all this time between the action and your reaction, you become your own worst enemy because you have the opportunity now to think of the number of different ways you can play it as opposed to just playing it.

“I was lucky. The two worst goals I gave up in college were games that we ended up winning so it dulled the pain a little bit. But both of them were long shots. One of them was at BU, a shot from the red line that all of a sudden I was thinking, ‘Do I want to receive it? Do I want to steer it? Do I want to direct it to a certain [area]?’ I had all these thoughts going through my head, so when I eventually settled on what I was going to do, it was pretty sloppy execution.

“A lot of times, the poor kid just has too many ways to play it going through his head. You’re almost better off having that quick shot that you just react to and you don’t have time to think.”

If you have trouble relating to that, here’s what Bob Rotella, one of the country’s top sports psychologists, says (in Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect) about the problems an athlete gets into, especially under pressure, when he or she thinks about something that should just be instinctive.

Consider the balance beam. If you lay a four-by-four inch beam on the floor and ask people to walk from one end to the other, it’s easy. Most people will instinctively focus their vision and attention on the far end of the beam, their target. And they will walk confidently and casually until they reach it.

Now mount the beam forty feet in the air, with no net underneath. Physically, the task remains the same as it was when the beam was on the floor. Mentally, though, it has changed dramatically. Mounting the beam high in the air introduces a strong fear of failure.

Most people, in such circumstances, will respond by starting to think about mechanical things they didn’t worry about when the beam was on the floor. How, exactly, does a person keep his balance? And how does he put one foot in front of the other? Toes in or toes out? Body sideways or facing straight ahead? Eyes on the end of the beam or on the feet? Arms limp or extended to the sides?”

Check out Ken Dryden’s The Game for even more insight…

You Have Read It, Haven’t You?

Bertagna’s latest USCHO contribution, In Praise of ‘The Jock’, is easily my favorite piece of the new year and a heavy favorite to remain that way until Dec. 31. If you haven’t read it, you’re really missing something.

Impressive in Defeat

Merrimack may have tied No. 1 Maine, 5-5, on Friday night, but the Warriors impressed even more in a 2-1 loss one night later.

“Honestly, we feel that we stole three out of four points,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “It’s a good feeling to know that we found a way to grab those points, but we feel fortunate, quite honestly, that we did get them because they’re a good hockey team.

“I am thoroughly impressed with Merrimack’s team. Thoroughly. They compete hard, they don’t take unnecessary penalties, they never give up and they’re just a very good hockey team. I’m very impressed with how they’re coached and how they play. We certainly don’t want to see them in the playoffs, that’s for sure.”

Merrimack coach Chris Serino told his team that if it played that well the rest of the season it would get a lot of Ws, but still expressed frustration that the Warriors went home that night empty-handed.

“I’m at a loss for answers,” he said. “What do I tell my guys? They played their [butts] off and lost the game.

“There’s nothing I could say to them. They played as hard as they could play. They competed. They did what they had to do. They just couldn’t put one in.

“I’m never happy when we lose. But I can’t look them in the eye and say to them, ‘You didn’t do what we asked you to do. You didn’t do it at an all-out pace.’ They did what we asked them to do and they did it at an all-out pace. They worked their tails off.”

Quotes of Note

  • Serino on the media’s Three Stars of the Game selections on Saturday, which didn’t include Merrimack defenseman Bryan Schmidt: “Were you guys drinking up in the press box? Schmidt was immense tonight.”
  • The typical media reaction to Serino’s comments about Schmidt: “Yeah, he was.”
  • Whitehead on the Black Bears’ shorthanded goal, which proved the deciding factor in Saturday night’s 2-1 win: “I’m going to replay that penalty kill about six or seven times and sit back and enjoy it.”
  • Serino on Maine: “They’re not the number one team in the country for nothing…. If we play our best and they play their best, nine out of ten times we’re probably going to lose. I don’t know if we played our best [in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat], but I thought we played pretty damned good.”
  • BC’s David Spina on teammate Ben Eaves: “The thing about Benny is he just has this extra something that a lot of players don’t have. He just opens the ice up and gives you that extra second to score or make a play. Every time you’re on the ice with him, it’s a special moment.”
  • BU coach Jack Parker on Brian McConnell’s misconduct penalty last Thursday. “I asked the referee [Scott Hansen] what it was all about, and he told me, ‘He tapped his stick at me and stared at me.’ [Incredulous laughter from the press.] That’s what he said. ‘He tapped his stick at me and stared at me.’ That’s why [McConnell] got a misconduct.”
  • Parker on BC coach Jerry York’s second-period tactical adjustment that lead to a 3-1 win last Thursday: “The real story of the game was that we were really after them in the first period and dominating the period even though we were down, 1-0, as far as territorially and physically when the game was going at a pretty good piece. Then in the second period, they started trapping with a 1-2-2 trap down low and in center ice and slowed the game down to a crawl. We just couldn’t generate anything through center ice. [It] slowed the game, and [they] got two power-play goals to boot. Real good move by Jerry and real good execution by the team to play that and to slow the game down like they did. That took us out of complete rhythm; we never got anything going.”
  • UNH coach Dick Umile on Preston Callander’s penalty shot goal: “He’s got unbelievable hands. We’ve seen him do that all the time in practice. He didn’t have much room to put that in.”
  • Umile on UMass after UNH squeaked out a 2-1 overtime win: “I can see why they’ve won some important games.”
  • UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon after the tough loss at the Whittemore Center. “Well, it’s a great place to play.”

The Apology

A fan who’d sent a mean-spirited letter a year ago wrote to me last week with a heart-felt apology. I attempted to respond, but there was something wrong in the reply-to field so it bounced. If you’re the person, send me your email address and I’ll respond. I wish you the best.

Trivia Contest

Last column’s trivia question asked why BU’s 7-2 win on Jan. 5 over Northeastern was a “primo” game. There were two reasons, one very easy and one difficult. The easy one was that Ryan Priem scored his second collegiate goal and second in three games. (Priem. Primo. Get it?) The obscure one was that Frantisek Skladany also scored and before coming to the Terriers he graduated from Stredna Priem in his hometown of Martin, Slovakia.

The latter fact eluded even our Trivia Hall of Fame candidates so I’ll give myself a cheer and honor my favorite team and the best son a father could ever hope for:

“Go Pingree! Way to go, Ryan!”

In retrospect, I should have referred to a “Priem-o” game even though that would have made the first answer too easy. It might have made the second one more manageable. At least I would have avoided the torrent of obscure items I was bombarded with. Quickest to respond and filled with the best of the obscurities was Ankur Patel, who offered:

1. It’s the first Hockey East goal and point in Priem’s career.
2. It’s the first game Andy Warren (BU) has played in this year.
3. Jekabs Redlihs (BU) scored his first power-play goal of his career.
4. Mike Bussoli (BU) scored his first power-play goal of the season.
5. It’s the first game this season that Scott Selig (NU) hasn’t played in.
6. It’s the first game in Keni Gibson’s (NU) career that he got a five-minute major (and got tossed).

And here’s the clincher: Ankur found that “Primo” was Priem’s nickname back when he went to high school at the Blake School. Ankur even found the link where is says so under Priem’s baseball profile.

As a result, Ankur wins his fourth trivia contest in the last five weeks and becomes the first member of the Trivia Hall of Fame. For the rest of this year, he’ll be recognized in the sidebar, but will be ineligible to win unless a question stumps everyone else. His cheer is:

“Go Cats! Beat BU!”

For those keeping score, that’s five straight weeks for UNH fans. Coach Dick Umile may be unhappy to see Ankur retired until next October.

This week’s question is a two-parter. What Hockey East team failed to outshoot a single opponent until last weekend? Also, what Hockey East team had not been outshot by another league team until two weeks ago? Email my trivia account with the two teams and the opponents that broke the two streaks. 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 passage opened a terrific thriller written in the seventies:

Every time he drove through Yorkville, Rosenbaum got angry, just on general principles. The East 86th Street area was the last holdout of the krauts in Manhattan, and the sooner they got the beer halls replaced by new apartment buildings, the better off he’d be. Not that he’d suffered personally during the wall — his entire family had been in America since the twenties — but just driving along streets peopled with Teutonic mentalities was enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge.

Especially Rosenbaum’s.

Everything set his teeth on edge. If an injustice ever dared to creep into his vicinity, he grabbed it and squeezed it with all the bile left in his seventy-eight-year-old body. The Giants moving to Jersey set his teeth on edge; … ; the Kennedys set his teeth on edge, the commies, dirty movies, dirty magazines, the spiraling price of pastrami — you name it, Rosenbaum started gnashing.

This September day, he was particularly choleric. …

That comes from William Goldman’s Marathon Man, which is one of my all-time favorites. Goldman, who has focused on writing screenplays in recent years, has a style to die for. All but his earliest novels are terrific and his books on screenwriting are must-reads for those interested in that artform. If I notice his name on a writing credit for any movie (such as the forthcoming Dreamcatcher, based on the Stephen King novel), I make a point of seeing it.

First to identify Marathon Man was Bill Schneller, a librarian in the Providence Public Library. Let’s hear it for the librarians out there! Our lives are much richer because of them. Bill recommends Blue Highways : A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon.

This week’s passage is:

Your first wife married you for better or for worse. Your second wife, particularly if you were sixty and she was a twenty-eight-year-old number like Serena — why kid yourself? — she married you for better.

Email me with the author and title to get your opportunity to state your own favorite next week. 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.

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

  • Two weeks ago I extolled the virtues of the Miller Lite “catfight” ad. Several readers wrote to ask whether I’d seen the extended version, which ends with the words, “Let’s make out.” You have got to be kidding me! There’s a version that ends with those magical words? Somebody is abridging my T ‘n A? This is outrageous. I’ve gone back to the tape and there’s no “Let’s make out” in my version.
  • Whaddya mean, “What tape?”
  • Hold on. Let me explain… No, really, I’m not as pathetic as that sounds… I just had the tape recording…
  • Hey, was that a trap? Is there really no “Let’s make out” version?
  • Your Honor, I have been set up!

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions.

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