This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 20, 2003

Hockey’s Most Exciting Play

On Jan. 17, fans at the Whittemore Center got to see Preston Callander attempt a penalty shot after he was hauled down on a breakaway. The Whitt, frequently a very noisy building, became even more deafening when he scored. Which begs the question, should more such calls be made on borderline breakaways?

“Maybe they should call it more often,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile says, “because there’s no question that it’s an exciting part of the game.”

In the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, Hockey East experimented with shootouts to resolve tied games. Teams played the traditional five-minute overtime, but if the contest remained deadlocked it went into a shootout. Five points were awarded for traditional wins while two points went to the shootout loser and three points to the shootout winner.

“I wasn’t a proponent of it,” Umile says. “I just didn’t like the way the game would end in a shootout. It was for the spectators, but you might have done a great job tying a game and all of a sudden you lose in the shootout and just feel miserable.”

That said, would the NCAA Rules Committee consider tinkering with the rules to encourage more in-game instances of “hockey’s most exciting play?” Don’t hold your breath, according to former member and current Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna.

“The only time I can recall in my four years [on the committee] where the excitement of the game might have triggered something is the change we made when a guy comes out of the penalty box and doesn’t have to come back [into the defensive zone] and tag up,” he says. “There really was the sense there that everybody can relate to when that long pass is made and you’re about to see a breakaway and then the whistle would blow. It was such a deflating experience. And there were still critics. That was an example that showed the committee is not unaware of the excitement of the game, but they don’t want to go too far in that direction.

“The penalty shot is such a huge benefit to a team, my gut feeling is that most groups in this position don’t want to expand [how often it is called]. They want to be clear that it’s called when it’s supposed to be called because something is so serious that that’s the only way to address it.

“They went this year with awarding goals for the first time. College hockey was one of the few rulebooks that never allowed any goal just to be given. So they did show some progressiveness saying that you can’t get away with murder, knocking the nets off [and so on]. A penalty shot doesn’t do it justice; we’re actually going to give a goal.

“So they are very careful whenever they deal with the subject of goals. A penalty shot is just short of awarding a goal. It’s certainly giving a team a great opportunity.

“My experience has been that most referees don’t really want to give one. If it is borderline, they’re really cautious. Most officials don’t frivolously give those things out.”

Turning It Down?

So when might a coach opt to decline a penalty shot and just take a power play? Boston University coach Jack Parker did so earlier this year for sportsmanship reasons when a new goalie was being inserted late in a game his Terriers had well in hand. Parker did not want the substitute facing a penalty shot for his first action. But why else might a coach opt out?

“Somebody suggested that maybe if they didn’t have a lot of confidence in their guys taking penalty shots,” Bertagna says. “Or if you were trying to nurse a lead and you didn’t so much need another goal, but you really needed to make sure that the other team didn’t score. Say you’ve got a power play. Then you might make it a two-man advantage because you can defend for those two minutes with a two-man advantage and prevent the other team from tying the game up.”

Email your alternate ideas for discussion in a future column.

Excellence on the Ice and in the Classroom

Yes, a student-athlete can be both of those things even at the Division I level. There are numerous exceptional examples, such as Maine’s Gray Shaneberger, who earned Hockey East’s Top Scholar-Athlete Award for the 2000-01 season with a 3.82 grade point average. Earlier this year, he also won the league’s Player of the Week honors.

Shaneberger, whose weekends as a teenager frequently involved travelling 1,000 miles round-trip from his New Jersey home in search of top competition, considers that demand to have been an academic positive rather than a negative.

“Because my time was so limited, it made me focus on what I had to do for school,” he says. “There was no time to procrastinate or slack off. I think my [strong] academics is in large part due to the time constraints of playing all this hockey growing up.”

Each year at Maine, Shaneberger has earned a berth on the Hockey East All-Academic Team as well as Maine’s Dean Smith Award for the top Scholar-Athlete (sharing the award with Todd Jackson last season) and the Dale Lick Academic Achievement Award.

“My outlook on academics has always been this: I truly believe that if you do well in school, you’re going to do well on the ice,” Shaneberger says. “If you’re disciplined in what you do academically, then it shows on the ice.

“It’s happened to me a couple of times where I say that I’ll get to a paper the night before it’s due. Then you’re up all night and it’s not a good paper and then the next day at practice you’re just not focused.

“So my whole [approach] is you get things done in a timely fashion, hand it in before it’s due and you don’t have to worry about things like that on the ice. Your mind is solely on hockey, as it should be. That’s how I approach school. I get it done first and then just concentrate on hockey.”

Of course, with the time demands on a Division I athlete, something has to give. That’s become doubly true this season for Shaneberger after graduating last May summa cum laude with a bachelor’s of science degree in natural resources. He’s now pursuing a master’s in environmental ecological sciences.

“I don’t have time to do all the social things that maybe I’d like to do, like go to the movies or stuff like that,” he says. “Especially this year, I’ve put in so many hours of work. So I don’t get to go out to the movies and things like that. Social things.

“But to me, it’s worth it. If I’m going to be doing well in school, there’s a strong correlation that hockey is going to be up there for me, too. It’s really a small sacrifice when you think about a movie or going out to eat. I’ll have time to do that later.

“When I first came to school, I had two goals: to play hockey and get an education. The thing with academics is that honestly I want to pursue hockey to the fullest that I can, but I also don’t want to limit myself to my dreams of being a hockey player. Then if it didn’t work out, I’d be left with nothing. That’s why academics is so important to me.”

The “Soccer Goal” Redux

Emails poured in after this column two weeks ago examined Lucas Lawson’s game-winning goal in the New Hampshire-Maine contest, a goal that clearly was kicked in.

There was the lone Maine fan who contended that even in slow-motion replay you couldn’t tell for sure that Lawson’s skate redirected the puck past Mike Ayers. To which there was only one reply: “You need your eyes examined.”

The much more common refrain came from UNH fans who lambasted yours truly as an apologist for referee Scott Hansen. (Heaven knows I didn’t hear from all of UNH Nation. Otherwise my email inbox would have been crushed under the deluge. So this refers to a minority of Wildcat fans, but the number was significant.) Their argument typically boiled down to: “There can be no excuses. A referee simply has to get down to the goal line or else he isn’t doing his job. Hansen blew the call.”

Yes, Hansen did blow the call. Unless you’re Mr. Magoo, that much is clear. However, he — Hansen, that is, not Mr. Magoo (and yes, there is a difference) — had no chance. It really was an impossible situation. To insist that a referee must get down to the goal line in a bang-bang transition opportunity is simply absurd. Hansen was at the blue line most distant from Lawson’s goal, as he should have been, when UNH took a delayed offsides. With the way the puck transitioned the other way, not even a rested Paul Kariya could have gotten down to the goal line in time, much less a referee who has no other skaters to give him a breather.

So Hansen should not be demonized.

But on the Other Hand

That said, am I the only one who is disturbed at the number of too-quick whistles that are deciding games? The latest example occurred in the game between Massachusetts-Lowell and Boston University last weekend. With their goaltender pulled, the River Hawks scored what appeared to be the tying goal only to have it disallowed because referee John Gravallese had prematurely blown his whistle. Unlike the controversial “soccer goal,” this was no transition play; Gravallese had time to get into position, but perhaps anticipated Sean Fields covering up the puck, an action that never occurred.

Back in November, Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald was able to muster some sense of humor after a game in which Gravellese blew his whistle prematurely on a delayed penalty call, which also cost the River Hawks a goal.

MacDonald quipped, “Maybe Grav should have drunk decaf.”

It was a funny line then even though the disallowed goal could have meant a tie in the one-goal game instead of a loss. With the games now remaining down to just a few, however, and the River Hawks looking like the odd-man out for the playoffs, not even MacDonald could make light of the blown call.

“There couldn’t be an explanation,” he said.

For those of us who would like to believe in justice in the standings, however, the Terriers still deserved the win since Gravallese had also incorrectly disallowed a BU goal earlier in the third period. On that play, he had no chance and deserves no criticism. The puck deflected in off Ken Magowan’s upper left thigh at the same time that his right leg made an obvious kicking motion. To any of the officials, it must have looked as though the kicking motion resulted in the goal. It was the wrong call, but given the situation it was another impossible one.

So in that contest, two wrongs may have made a right.

But there certainly have been other pivotal examples to the contrary. What about BC’s disallowed goal in the Beanpot championship game? This was another delayed penalty call in which BU never got control of the puck. Sean Fields made the save, but that isn’t sufficient. He never had control, yet Hansen whistled the play dead just an instant before BC scored.

I’ll skip further examples even though they exist. Suffice it to say that referees should be making every effort not to anticipate some action before it actually happens. Or before it never happens.

Upon Further Review

Since we’re talking about mistakes, let me clear up a couple of my own. To begin with, I wrote on Jan. 2 about Lowell’s Ed McGrane, who at the time was tied with Northeastern’s Mike Ryan and Maine’s Colin Shields for the league lead in goals. I noted that McGrane didn’t have linemates as illustrious as some of his fellow top-scorers, using Marty Kariya and Shields as one example.

Cory Voisine wrote that Kariya and Shields may play together on the power play, but not five-on-five. That’s true and is an admitted brain cramp on my part. However, I’d contend that the overall point still holds since seven of Shields’ 13 goals have come on the man advantage.

A more egregious mistake occurred when I wrote on Feb. 6 that Lowell goaltender Dominic Smart “asserted himself when he came in midway through a Jan 10 loss.” Scott Kaplan noted that Smart played only 54 seconds in that contest. Of course, Scott is completely correct. It was following that game, not during it, that Smart asserted himself. Brain cramp number two.

Of course, I’d be loathe to disagree with Mr. Kaplan anyway. He once threatened to change the sign of his that reads “DAVE ROCKS” ever so slightly if I didn’t sometime join the group of River Hawk fans who tailgate before games at the Tsongas. He noted that “RO” could very easily be changed to “SU.”

The steak tips were delicious.

A Thumbnail Look at Remaining Games

There’ll be no return of DUMBEST (Dave’s Unbelievably Moronic Barometer to Estimate Standings and Titles). Kudos to the reader who noted that it “shows what totally useless things you can do with numbers” and another who changed the last three letters in the acronym (“E” to “A”…) so that it better suited its author.

Nonetheless, here’s the quickest of looks at the games that still remain.

BC: NU (2), UNH (2)
ME: @ UMA (2), BU (2)
UNH: @ UML, BC(2)
BU: PC(2), @ME (2)
PC: BU(2), UML
UMA: ME(2), @ MC
NU: BC(2), MC, @ UML

Not A Good Week For Teams At The Top

Maine took only one of four points at home against Providence. Boston College mustered only a split with Merrimack. UNH took three of four points from Northeastern. Of Hockey East’s ranked teams, only BU could claim a weekend sweep.

The league’s elite, however, had plenty of company. Other than the Terriers, only Minnesota, Ferris State and Minnesota State-Mankato could claim unblemished weekends among the nation’s top 15.

Winning and Dropping

BU fans must have wondered if the USCHO computers were closet BC fans when they checked out the PairWise Rankings following the Beanpot championship win over the Eagles. BU had entered the evening tied for eighth in the PWR and defeated the number three rated team. So how did the win result in a drop to 10th place in the Pairwise?

The key is that BU was tied with three other teams in eighth place: St. Cloud State, Ferris State and Ohio State. After the Beanpot, Boston College lost three PWR comparisons that it had previously won, including those with Ohio State and Ferris State. As a result, those two teams moved ahead of BU while not playing.

(Northeastern’s loss to Harvard also removed the Huskies from the ranks of those “Teams Under Consideration,” but that did not factor into BU’s drop.)

Of course, the volatility continued through last weekend, when BU leapfrogged back over both of them into a tie for sixth place.

Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia question asked you to name the top two scoring lines in the history of Hockey East based on point totals alone (not points per game). It included only those from games that counted in league standings. (So points achieved in contests against the WCHA during the era of the interlocking schedule counted, but otherwise nonconference games did not.)

The two lines were: Boston College’s 1986-87 unit of Craig Janney (74 points), Dan Shea (60) and Tim Sweeney (45) followed by Maine’s 1992-93 trio of Paul Kariya (63), Jim Montgomery (49) and Cal Ingraham (45).

Nobody got the answer perfectly, so I’ll allow myself the following cheer:

Go Pingree! Go Ryan! Go Wesleyan!

(See the “Not That It Has…” section for an explanation.)

Since it was such a difficult question, though, there’s still a winner. For the third week in a row Jason Morgan earns the honor. His only failing was that he put Kevin Stevens on Janney and Shea’s line instead of Sweeney. In fact, Stevens (58 points) led the scoring on the Eagles’ remarkable second line that season, which also included Ken Hodge (50) and Steve Scheifele (23). None of the six forwards earned Player of the Year honors, however. That distinction went to a so-so BC defenseman by the name of Brian Leetch.

Jason, who now is one win away from the Trivia Hall of Fame, offers the following cheer:

“Let’s go UNH, it’s time to hunt some River Hawks.”

This week’s question asks what team has the longest (in terms of calendar time) scoreless streak on the power play this year? Email my trivia account with the team and the games that started and ended this unenviable streak. 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 challenge came from a novel by a writer far more famous for another classic:

In the office in which I work there are five people of whom I am afraid. Each of these five people is afraid of four people (excluding overlaps) for a total of twenty, and each of these twenty people is afraid of six people, making a total of one hundred and twenty people who are feared by at least one person. Each of these one hundred and twenty people is afraid of the other one hundred and nineteen, and all of these one hundred and forty-five people are afraid of the twelve men at the top who helped found and build the company and now own and direct it.

This begins the second chapter of Something Happened by Joseph Heller, whose most famous work is Catch-22. Once again, the winner is Ankur Patel, who is now poised to enter the Books Trivia Hall of Fame with just one more win, having already done so with the hockey trivia questions. His suggestion commemorates Sunday’s 300th episode of the Simpsons: The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer edited by William Irwin, Mark T. Conard, and Aeon J. Skoble.

This week’s challenge turns to nonfiction for a change.

When the 173rd held services for their dead from Dak To the boots of the dead men were arranged in formation on the ground. It was an old paratrooper tradition, but knowing that didn’t reduce it or make it any less spooky, a company’s worth of jump boots standing empty in the dust taking benediction, while the real substance of the ceremony was being bagged and tagged and shipped back home through what they called the KIA Travel Bureau.

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…

Congratulations to Pingree coach Buddy Taft, who last Friday earned his 300th win. He’s a real class act for whom any athlete would be privileged to play. Here’s what one of his captains had to say in the Salem News:

“I think Coach Taft is very realistic and understanding. He expects a lot and you want to give him what you have. And he’s just a great person off the ice. I happen to have him as a college advisor, but he cares about everyone on this team.

“I know of some coaches who only care about wins and losses and they don’t bond with the kids, but Coach Taft isn’t like that. He goes out of his way for the kids. He turns everything over to them and wants all the credit to go to the players.”

Any serious hockey player on the North Shore should consider playing for Taft at Pingree. I should know. My son, Ryan, has loved the school for the past four years and is the captain who was quoted above.

And speaking of Ryan… he’s in for some congratulations as well. This week he received his Early Decision II acceptance letter from Wesleyan University. He’ll be playing for the Cardinals while attending that exceptional academic institution.

Folks, that is what’s known as having the best of both worlds. It’s the payoff for working hard on the ice and in the classroom.

I couldn’t be more proud of this terrific kid. Love ya, Ry.

The “Excellence on the Ice and in the Classroom” segment is excerpted from “Gray Shaneberger: Big Fish in a Big Pond,” which originally appeared in the Friends of Maine Hockey Newsletter.

Thanks to Lee Urton for his contribution.