This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 6, 2003

The End of the Goalie Rotation

In year’s past, many teams would rotate two goaltenders all the way into the playoffs, at times continuing the practice all the way to the national championship game. Garth Snow and Mike Dunham. Derek Herlofsky and Tom Noble. Matt Carney and Mike Ayers.

This season, however, not a single adherent remains in Hockey East. Five teams decided early on one goaltender, who has carried the load almost exclusively: Sean Fields (Boston University), Gabe Winer (Massachusetts), Joe Exter (Merrimack), Mike Ayers (New Hampshire) and Keni Gibson (Northeastern).

Four rotations remained: Matti Kaltiainen and Tim Kelleher (Boston College), Jim Howard and Frank Doyle (Maine), Dominic Smart and Chris Davidson (Massachusetts-Lowell) and Nolan Schaefer and Bobby Goepfert (Providence).

One by one the rotations died. Kaltiainen won the top job from Kelleher at BC at the end of December.

“I just thought Matti was the hotter of the two at this time,” BC coach Jerry York said. “Generally, somebody steps forward and said, ‘Coach, you’ve got to play me.’ Matti’s done that.”

At Lowell, where the River Hawks had suffered terrible goaltending problems, Smart asserted himself when he came in midway through a Jan 10 loss. He’s played every minute since and is giving the River Hawks their best netminding of the season.

“As you start getting down the stretch, your goaltenders like to get more work — your number one goaltender if you do in fact have one,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “It’s normal at this time of year [to decide on a number one] because you’ve played a lot of games. One of the two or three goaltenders has had a chance to separate himself from the other one or two.

“At that point, you want to go with the hot hand. Whoever’s playing well, you want them to continue to play. Goalies thrive on that. Oftentimes, through October, November and December [it isn’t clear who your top goalie is]. December is such a disjointed month where you play a couple games and then it’s a long break, then a Christmas tournament.

“So it takes a while to determine who’s your number one guy, who’s The Man. At this point in time, most teams are able to say, ‘Okay, here’s our guy. We’re going to play this guy and see what he can do.’ … Let’s go with the hot hand. Whoever’s playing well, keep playing him.”

Seven down. Two to go. Providence and Maine.

The Friars cried uncle first. Goepfert was playing just too well to leave him at only half-time duty, so he became The Man. At least temporarily. He played in four straight before Schaefer interrupted the streak with one midweek nonconference game. Goepfert returned to the PC nets for the next league game, but got the hook midway through. Schaefer responded in both that contest and the following one, winning Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors. As a result, he seems likely to get the nod on Friday even though PC coach Paul Pooley is playing his cards close to the vest.

“At this point, our concern is wins and losses,” Pooley said. “Over the first half, the thought process is a little different. If two guys are going good, they can feed off each other. But now we’re just going with who’s going best. Nolan has played well lately.”

Maine coach Tim Whitehead remained the last holdout going into the titanic clash last weekend with UNH, but sounded noncommittal.

“We’ve never said that we’re going to stick with a rotation or not stick with it,” he said. “What I have said is that we want to give both of our goalies an opportunity to help our team and gain the experience that they need so that down the stretch we can call on either guy and know that we can depend on him and that he’s had experiences that have prepared him for that situation.

“Both of these guys are first-year goalies so they need those experiences. So we’ve tried as consistently as we can to give both of our goalies those opportunities. But down the stretch, let’s see where it takes us. If one goalie clearly elevates above the other down the stretch then we may go with one instead of two more regularly. But when we get to that point, we’ll know it.”

As it turned out, Whitehead knew it. It was time to go with Howard, who led the country in save percentage (.942). A lot of teams would love to have Doyle (2.33 GAA, .915 Sv%), but Howard is special.

“Jimmy has been remarkably consistent all year, but he had come off a few particularly excellent games,” Whitehead said. “He’s really played well of late so we felt we had to put our best foot forward. Jimmy had outplayed Frank the last couple weekends. On Saturday we didn’t protect him very well even though he played great. So we wanted to give him the opportunity to get right back in net.”

Getting past the specific netminders, though, larger forces seem to be at work. So many teams used rotations in the past; why do none of them now?

“The strength of the league is one of the big reasons,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “Every game is so important. You’ve got to win every game. The last few years we’ve rotated early and then gone to one guy late, whoever earned the job. We rotated Ricky DiPietro for the first half of his freshman year and then went with him [as the number one]. People thought we were nuts, but we wanted to give the other guy a chance. We also wanted to keep Ricky focused and not too full of himself.

“This year, we’re caught with a junior and a freshman. If we had two juniors, it would be different.

“But the strength of the league is probably 90 percent of it. [Each coach is thinking], ‘This next game is a big game. We’ve got to get this one.’ That’s more important now, so everyone is going with their number one guy.”

The “Soccer” Goal

Unless you’ve been living on a planet outside the orbit of Hockey East, you’ve seen the replays of Sunday’s New Hampshire-Maine contest and the clear evidence that Lucas Lawson kicked the game-winner in with seven seconds left in overtime. UNH fans feel cheated and understandably so. This could decide the regular-season title.

That said, it was an impossible play for referee Scott Hansen. As easy as it might be to demonize the officials whenever anything goes wrong, Hansen had no chance in this particular situation. What clearly was a redirection off the skate in slow motion didn’t appear problematic in real time, especially given the position of Ayers’ stick relative to Lawson’s skate. The Fox Sports New England tape didn’t show a single UNH player claiming a skate redirection. What made the call even tougher on Hansen was the flow of action as the seconds counted down.

“The play was at the UNH blue line and there was a delayed offsides,” Hockey East Supervisor of Officials Brendan Sheehy said. “Maine transitioned; they passed the puck up to the far blue line. The referee is at the near blue line where he was going with the flow of the play with the UNH rush.

“[He] transitions, skates back and is out by the blue line when the goal is scored. It’s impossible for one guy, especially in a rink like UNH, to be on the goal line. It’s impossible. No one can do it. The NHL has two referees. He hustled to get into position.

“Fans can scream all they want. The official just didn’t see it. There are players going in front of him. He may have been looking at something else. It was a bang-bang play that went off the guy’s skate and unfortunately the puck went in.”

Even if Hockey East had every arena equipped with cameras, there still wouldn’t have been any remedy. “You cannot use instant replay [during regular season games],” Sheehy said. “Only in in-season tournaments and the NCAA tournament.”

So what do cheated UNH fans take away from the loss?

First, that all such breaks even out over the very long haul. Second, that Maine’s Colin Shields had hit the crossbar just a minute earlier and, but for a inch or so, could have ended it before the controversial play.

Third, and most importantly, the Wildcats should never have allowed the dangerous play to develop. With 20 seconds left, a sloppy, uncontested pass resulted in a delayed offside. Had they connected on that pass or just dumped it in, they would have gotten the last gasp opportunity, not Maine.

Even worse, what was the defense doing on the transition? Both defensemen were within 10 feet of Maine’s left-wing boards. That might happen at times after play has settled down in the defensive zone, but with the opponent on the rush? Center Nathan Martz was covering in front, but one of the two defenseman sure looked out of position on the replay.

Yes, Maine got a point that it really didn’t deserve. Yes, that could make a big difference in the Hockey East race. But surely the Wildcat players also realize now that they left the door open and Lucas Lawson slipped right through.

Sweep City

Ben Eaves had quite the week. He earned Hockey East Player of the Week and Player of the Month honors and then was named a Walter Brown Award finalist.

The Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners’ Association then added icing on the cake by selecting him as its January national Player of the Month. Eaves totaled eight goals and 11 assists in eight games.

When it comes to picking an All-America team, he’ll be one of the no-brainers.

Probability Theory 101 with Professor Jack Parker

When asked to explain how BU could be appearing in its 19th Beanpot championship game in the last 20 years, he turned mathematical.

“If you flip a coin seven times and it comes up heads seven times, what are the chances it’s going to come up heads the next time?” he asks. “It’s still 50-50. So everything that happened before doesn’t make any difference.”

While we leave the Liberal Arts majors to scratch their heads over that one, it only seems reasonable to wonder why BU’s Beanpot coin has heads on both sides.

“Goaltending is always huge in the Beanpot,” Parker said. “Our goaltender stood on his ears [on Monday]. He had to. He didn’t make a lot of saves, but he made a couple nine-bellers.”

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Jimmy Howard, goaltender supremo? Es-yay. Jimmy Howard, Secret Agent? Ix-nay.

Howard inadvertently tipped Maine’s hand regarding the usually secret identity of the team’s goaltender. His comment after Saturday night’s loss made it unnecessary to check with Sherlock Holmes to deduce who’d be in the Maine nets on Sunday.

“You know, goals go in,” he said. “What makes you know how good a goalie is, is how he bounces back the next night. So maybe I will tomorrow night.”

Inside the Head of a Great Goalie

Howard explained how he was able to make a spectacular save on a Sean Collins and Colin Hemingway two-on-none rush.

“On a two-on-oh, the person’s always going to pass,” Howard said. “If you don’t pass on a two-on-oh, I guess you’re being very selfish. So I figured Collins is a good player and he’s going to be unselfish so he did exactly what I thought he was going to do.”

Seventh Men and Women

A couple weekends ago, Maine and UNH fans had the opportunity to give their teams a big boost by turning hostile rinks into bipartisan ones. Black Bear fans invaded Merrimack’s Volpe Center while Wildcat supporters ventured to UMass’ Mullins Center.

“It’s so tough to get tickets [at home],” Whitehead said after a win at Merrimack. “We’re sold out for the rest of the season up there. I think for a lot of the folks in the Portland area, this is an opportunity to see our team play. We’re just grateful that they do make the trip and there wasn’t a lot of snow this weekend. As a result, we got a great turnout.

“It’s certainly a great boost when you come back to the bench on the road and you see a lot of friendly faces and everybody supporting you after the tough shifts. It just lifts up our team. It’s a lot of fun playing with that type of support.”

Umile shares Whitehead’s appreciation for the fans who go far and wide in support of their teams.

“It gives us an equal standing in the stands, but even more importantly it’s the support and the enthusiasm that our fans bring to our program,” Umile said. “We can go to other venues and it just makes the arena that much more exciting when you have a larger crowd.

“We’re fortunate that our fans go wherever we go, [even] up to Maine, depending on how many tickets we can get. Because of the proximity of some of the schools we play, they’re able to get tickets at Lowell and Merrimack where they can’t get them here because we’re sold out all the time and there’s a waiting list for season tickets.

“For those schools that are close, it’s an opportunity to go to a game. Some of the fans are our regular hard-core fans and then there’s the people that can’t get tickets to our home games.”

Overlooking and the Beanpot

With BC and BU preparing to clash once again in a Beanpot championship, the two squads will still need to take care of business on Friday.

For Boston College, that’ll be no small challenge. The Eagles travel to Orono to take on Maine in one of the most important games of the year. Obviously, there’ll be no “Beanpot tune-up” talk on Chestnut Hill.

For BU, though, the temptation to look past UMass will be a little tougher to overcome. When the Minutemen were routinely finishing at the bottom of the Hockey East standings, this was the perfect matchup heading into a ‘Pot final. Their recent struggles may provide more temptation to older Terriers who might erroneously lump this UMass team in with previous ones.

“We’ve already talked about that,” Parker said. “We’ve got a big game for home ice advantage in Hockey East the way Don Cahoon has his team playing. I know they had a step back last weekend because they had a flu bug going through their team, including the goaltender, so they’ll be ready for us. This will be something we’ll really have to work on to get these people thinking about what we have ahead of us on Friday, not what we have ahead of us on Monday.

On a Hot Streak Again

UNH’s Lanny Gare had hit a dry spell going into last weekend’s games against Maine. In the last five contests, he’d earned only a single assist after a previous three-game outburst of seven goals and two assists.

“I’m not to sure if I can put a finger on it,” Gare said when asked what was different after scoring twice on Saturday. “Coach has been getting me to stay a little more focused on the game and not get caught up in some of the BS that goes on. I know when I do that I’m a much better player and tend to snap out of those scoring droughts.”

Umile added, “We’ve moved Lanny to center. He’s obviously had a really good season, but he’d gone from center to wing for us when we moved [Josh] Prudden [to the line]. He’s capable of playing [on the wing], but I think [moving him back] is a big factor why played so well tonight, because he’s really into the game when he plays center.”

Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia question went back to the note in the Jan. 6 column about Jack Parker turning down a penalty shot and asked in what year the NCAA Rules Committee gave coaches that option.

Jason Morgan did more than just answer the question. He also noted that it was decided at the NCAA rules committee meeting in Kansas City on May 15-17, 1984. The rule change went into effect for the 1984-85 season, showing up in the 1985 rulebook.

Jason more than earned the right to the following cheer:

“Go Cats, kick it the rest of the season (like Lawson does in OT)!”

Geez, I wonder what Jason is referring to?

This week’s question is a two-parter: what Hockey East team boasts a defenseman who is tied for the team lead in goals scored? Also what other league team had that same distinction until the weekend of Jan. 24? Email my trivia account with the two teams and the defensemen. 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 was:

Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.

The judge, a formidably heavy-featured man, rolled up the sleeves of his black robe as if to physically chastise the two young men standing before the bench. His face was cold with majestic contempt. But there was something false in all this that Amerigo Bonasera sensed but did not yet understand.

“You acted like the worst kind of degenerates,” the judge said harshly. Yes, yes, thought Amerigo Bonasera. Animals. Animals. The two young men, glossy hair crew cut, scrubbed clean-cut faces composed into humble contrition, bowed their heads in submission.

That comes from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, one of the truly great popular novels of our time. First to identify it was Ankur Patel, fresh off his entry into the Trivia Hall of Fame. Will he enter our Literary Hall of Fame as well? Time will tell. Ankur recommends Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

This week’s challenge involves a poem. (Note to macho types: I gave you The Godfather last week so don’t complain.) It begins like this:

Wind rocks the car.
We sit parked by the river,
silence between our teeth.
Birds scatter across islands
of broken ice. Another time
I’d have said: “Canada geese,”
knowing you love them.
A year, ten years from now
I’ll remember this —
this sitting like drugged birds
in a glass case —
not why, only that we
were here like this together.

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…

Okay, I’ve extolled the virtues of the Miller Lite ad and such things in recent weeks, essentially contending that it’s okay to be a little superficial when it comes to superficial matters. Beer ads are not indicative of our health as a civilization. To those who would disagree, I’d just say: lighten up.

But let’s be serious for a moment. If someone is a model, male or female, then looks do matter. Obviously. To deny that would place one’s agenda on a level I simply can’t comprehend. And physical attraction is a factor for most in choosing your life-mate (or evening-mate, as the case may be).

That said, I take it as a given that looks should not matter just about everywhere else. When I read a book, cross a bridge or get a burger, I don’t care what the person who created that thing looks like. Is the book interesting? Will the bridge withstand the worst possible winds without falling down? Does the burger taste good?

And anyone who discriminates based on looks in positions where looks aren’t relevant isn’t just a dope. Said person is evil.

So where is all this going?

There are times when I wonder whether MTV and its imitators haven’t become a major evil. Not because they might be corrupting our nation’s youth. (Although I’m appalled at the thought of teenagers spending hour after hour on that swill. If I didn’t have anything better to do with my life than sit there like a vegetable, it’d be time to get out the sharp objects.)

No, my problem with MTV-types is that they’re corrupting not our youth, but our music. As an example, let’s look at Christina Aguilera. (If you’re a male, the Neanderthal in you may be saying, “Yeah! Let’s look at her!” Down, boy. We’re trying to be serious here.)

Ms. Aguilera generated a lot of controversy with her “Dirrty” video, which bordered on soft porn in some eyes. My own reaction was that even though it might have been easy on Neanderthal eyes, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard to my ears. Who listens to this crap?

(Yes, I know that I’m opening myself up to charges of fuddy-duddyism. Everyone’s golden age of music is when they were a teenager. For me, that was long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.)

I mentally put Aguilera’s new album into one of two categories: “music I just don’t get” or “a hottie who’s selling her body and doesn’t have anything else to offer.”

Then I heard “Beautiful.” Here was a song that could be an anthem for all those lonely souls who are sitting at home on prom night, crying in their ice cream while despairing that no one but Mom and Dad (if that) will ever love them.

I am beautiful no matter what they say
Words can’t bring me down
I am beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can’t bring me down
Oh no, so don’t you bring me down today

My impression of Aguilera changed mightily. But not all the way. I could accept “Beautiful” as just such an anthem, but only so far. Why? Because it rings just a little bit hollow considering that it’s on an album called “Stripped” with an eye candy cover. And especially because it follows a video like “Dirrty.” How can a song like that ring true if you’ve seen Christina strutting around in her panties?

By comparison, let’s look at a parts of a comparable anthem from my generation, Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
and high school girls with clear-skinned smiles
who married young and then retired
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen, I learned the truth

And those of us with ravaged faces
lacking in the social graces
desperately remained at home
inventing lovers on the phone
who called to say ‘Come dance with me’
and murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen.

Now from a standpoint of pure lyrical excellence, Ms. Ian blows away Ms. Aguilera.

More than that, though, when Ms. Ian sang of “ugly duckling girls like me,” it resonated in ways that Christina and her “Dirrty” panties just can’t. If we’d seen Janis Ian prancing around wearing almost nothing — and I have no idea whether that’s something that the Neanderthal would want to see or not see — it would have stripped away even the poetic beauty of “At Seventeen.”

Taking it one step further in an attempt to bring this full circle, great music shouldn’t depend on looks. It didn’t matter what Janis Ian or Janis Joplin or Mama Cass looked like in their panties. It only mattered whether they could write and sing great music. Popular music has a long, sad history of treating women like meat, but MTV has ratcheted that problem up several orders of magnitude.

Give us fewer flesh-deep cuties, both male and female, and more talented singers and songwriters like Janis Ian. Let’s see the modern equivalent, especially the modern female equivalent, of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steven Tyler and Meat Loaf.

We want substance in our music. Music may not be as superficial as beer commercials, but unfortunately the gap seems to be closing all the time.