This Week in Hockey East: March 6, 2003

The Envelope, Please

The league awards, which will be announced at next week’s Hockey East Banquet, are voted on by the coaches, not media members. But here’s one scribbler’s thoughts on who should win in each category.

All-Rookie Team

Stephen Werner (13-21–34, +19; 7-13–20, +5 HEA), UMass
Matt Anderson (9-21–30, +8; 5-12–17, -5 HEA), UMass
Patrick Eaves (10-7–17, +10 in 13 games; 5-2–7, +8 in eight HEA games), BC

The Eaves choice is admittedly suspect at best since he hasn’t played a game since fracturing his neck on Dec. 7. However, he appeared well on his way to Rookie of the Year honors at that time, averaging close to a goal — yes, a goal, not just a point — per game.

Plus, his choice extricates this writer from a dilemma regarding the third forward, where there’s an abundance of legitimate candidates. Chris Capraro could have made it a UMass hat trick, joining Werner and Anderson. (Is that a great freshman class at UMass or what?) Mike Morris (Northeastern), Brent Gough (Merrimack) and Chris Collins (Boston College) lead the rest of the competition and would all look very much at home on the team.

But this vote is for the short-term dominance Eaves showed. Besides, there’s some precedent. Boston University’s Freddy Meyer earned a berth on the 2000 team even though he missed the first half the season.

Bryan Schmidt (9-11–20, +7; 6-9–15, +3 HEA) Merrimack
Jekabs Redlihs (4-10–14, +9; 3-6–9, +7 HEA) BU

These two candidates really distanced themselves from the field. Schmidt was clearly the most offensively productive blueliner while finishing with a strong plus-minus, second on a team with a losing record. Redlihs wasn’t that far behind and also was strong in both ends of the ice.

Jim Howard (2.21 GAA, .924 Sv%; 2.55, .918 HEA), Maine

For a while Providence’s Bobby Goepfert and, to a lesser extent, UMass’ Gabe Winer were in the running, but in the end Howard pulled away as the clear winner. Goepfert finished with pretty comparable statistics, but played in only seven league games, a figure that Howard doubled.

Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award: Andrew Martin, Massachusetts-Lowell, and Ryan Shannon, Boston College

Both of these two played significant roles on their teams while finishing with only a single two-minute penalty on the season. Nuff said.

Old Time Hockey Defensive Defenseman Award: Cliff Loya, Maine

Trailing only UNH’s Lanny Gare in overall plus-minus with a plus-23, Loya is a fixture on Maine’s penalty kill and often stays on the ice for the duration of any five-on-three disadvantages. The only Black Bear senior on the blue line, he’s anchored a unit that entered the season as a question mark.

Best Defensive Forward: Mark Mullen, BU

It isn’t often that a team’s number two scorer is also the league’s top defensive forward, but the shoe fits in this case. Mullen (11-13–24, +15; 6-7–13, +7 HEA) leads the league with three shorthanded goals, but more importantly has been the most important cog in a penalty kill that has been called on all too often by the sin bin-bound Terriers.

“We’ve had to kill so many penalties this year,” he said after a recent game. “I take pride in it. It’s such a big part of our game. If we’re going to win games, we’re going to have to keep the other team’s power play off the board. Every penalty killer on our team knows how important it is, so we all take pride in it.”

BU coach Jack Parker added, “He’s had a great year for us, no question about it. Since we moved him to center, he’s been that much more valuable because he’s put the puck in the net for us to give us a real strong line. He’s quick, he’s got cleverness and he can beat people on his own.”

Rookie of the Year: Jim Howard, Maine

He came back to Earth a bit in February, but for most of the season he led the country in save percentage and ranked among the leaders in goals against average. Even as a freshman he’s been compared favorably with the numerous elite netminders that preceded him at Maine. This choice was a slam dunk.

Bob Kullen Coach of the Year: Dick Umile, UNH, and Jerry York, BC

This was the toughest choice of them all. At the halfway point, Don “Toot” Cahoon (UMass) and Chris Serino (Merrimack) were the two leading candidates because of the way in which their teams, pegged for eighth and ninth in the league, were so dramatically outdistancing their expectations. Both clubs still finished well ahead of projections, but did come back to Earth a bit.

Providence’s dramatic February run interjected Paul Pooley into the race and Maine’s Tim Whitehead was a strong candidate through January, but the opinion here is that Umile and York should share this honor in the same way their clubs shared the regular season championship.

York, who has yet to win this award despite four straight years in the Frozen Four from 1998 through 2001, may not get enough credit at times because he and his staff recruit such a wealth of talent. His accomplishments may get downplayed because he seemingly always has a Ben Eaves or Brian Gionta or Marty Reasoner. But the question remains: who got them there and who keeps all those talented players working together? You don’t win a share of the Hockey East title without an excellent coach. His record speaks for itself.

Umile won the award last year to give him three of the last six. His Wildcats were expected to be strong contenders and have done precisely that. Like York, Umile’s record speaks for itself.

All-Hockey East Team

Ben Eaves (17-36-53, +12; 14-28–42, +10 HEA), BC
Lanny Gare (21-25–46, +24; 15-16–31, +18 HEA), UNH
Martin Kariya (13-35–48, +13; 8-23–31, +7 HEA), Maine
Colin Hemingway (17-23–40, +17; 14-16–30, +14 HEA), UNH
Tony Voce (20-21–41, +13; 15-17–32, +10 HEA), BC
Ed McGrane (19-21–40, -2; 13-15–28, -2 HEA), Lowell
Greg Mauldin (19-19–38, +16; 13-15–28, +8 HEA), UMass

This category is impossible. After the first few automatic choices, there’s a boatload of deserving candidates for far too few slots.

Do you leave out Tony Voce because he benefits from playing on the same line with Hockey East’s best player, Ben Eaves? Do you leave out Peter Fregoe, Jon DiSalvatore and Devin Rask because they spent most of the year together? How do you leave off Lucas Lawson’s league-leading 17 goals in conference games?

The solution was to use a tie to get seven forwards — the temptation existed to go with a four-way tie for the last spot to get a total of nine — and try to factor in linemates while also rewarding production. The end result is Hockey East’s top seven in league points except that McGrane and Mauldin leapfrog Rask, who led them by a single point but enjoyed the two stellar linemates.

This does mean that none of the Friar trio make the list nor does Lawson. Both omissions seem like injustices, but there’s a hole in every alternative. A mea culpa each to Fregoe, DiSalvatore, Rask and Lawson.

Freddy Meyer (5-15–20, +18; 4-10–14, +9 HEA), BU
Stephen Wood (9-18–27, +22; 6-11–17, +12 HEA), Providence
Francis Nault (10-25–35, +16; 7-18–25, +3 HEA), Maine
Thomas Pock (16-16–32, +1; 10-6–16, -9 HEA), UMass

Meyer is most well-rounded of the four. He’s the best defensively of the lot and is a mobile offensive threat as well. Wood has enjoyed a spectacular stretch run in which he earned February Player of the Month honors. Nault and Pock are the top offensive blueliners.

Mike Ayers (2.12 GAA, .928 Sv%; 2.22, .926 HEA), UNH
Joe Exter (2.93 GAA, .914 Sv%; 3.06, .911 HEA), Merrimack

It’s tough to leave out Howard, but Ayers and Exter have carried virtually their teams’ entire netminding loads while Howard has split duties with Frank Doyle. Ayers has been almost ridiculously consistent all season long and finished with the best numbers. Exter has been peppered with the most shots, but carried the Warriors on his back.

Player of the Year (Most Vital To His Team): Joe Exter, Merrimack
Player of the Year (Best Player): Ben Eaves, BC

So does Player of the Year mean best player or the one most indispensable to his team?

“We’ve never defined it beyond its title,” Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna says. “Casually, from talking to different people, I think most people think it’s the best player, which is obviously difficult when you look at the different skills of a forward, goalie or defenseman. Some people have said to me over the years — and I’m not just talking about Hockey East, but I’ve been counting ballots for 21 years, either All-Ivy teams, All-ECAC teams or All-Hockey East teams — that they like to factor in a player’s value to his team. That sometimes brings you in a specific direction as opposed to the most talented player.”

Well, let’s look at the award both ways.

If you’ve been around Merrimack coach Chris Serino after many games, you’ve gotten used to hearing, “I thought Joe Exter played great tonight.” Arguably, he’s been the single most indispensable member of any team in the league. The Warriors lead Hockey East in saves per game with an average of 31.2 and if saves are being made, Exter’s the guy. He’s been Merrimack’s goalie of record in all but two nonconference games.

“He’s really been outstanding for us all year long,” says Serino.

As for the league’s best player, that honor goes to Ben Eaves. He’s without question the top playmaker in the league and finishes as well as almost any other forward.

“He’s been everything we envisioned for him when we recruited him, but even more so off the ice,” York says. “We thought we were getting a player who could control the flow of the game with his stick skills, his strength and his intelligence. All that has come to fruition. He really has become one of those top four or five players in the country. He’s right in that mix of players.

“What we didn’t know, and what we’ve come to appreciate, is his impact on other players off the ice. He’s just a terrific leader. You don’t see that when you watch players play. Those other qualities just show what a remarkable young guy he is. We’re very, very fortunate to have him at BC.”

“The Hit” and the Aftermath

When BC defenseman Andrew Alberts leveled Merrimack’s Marco Rosa with a crushing check on Feb. 15, he set off a chain reaction that may still be continuing this week. The hit knocked Rosa backward into the boards where he fractured his wrist in three places.

“I was knocked unconscious, but I remember before it happened and thought it was a clean hit,” Rosa told Kevin Conway of the Eagle Tribune. “I thought he just got a hold of me and it was just unlucky what happened. But some of the guys told me that wasn’t the case. When I looked at the film, it was a pretty bad crosscheck.”

Merrimack coach Chris Serino submitted a copy of the game tape to the league office, requesting supplemental discipline of Alberts.

“I thought it was a deliberate intent to injure,” Serino told the Eagle Tribune. “I sent it into the league for review, but I don’t know what they’ll do with it. But I have an obligation to protect my team and will do whatever I have to make sure that happens.”

From the Boston College perspective, however, Alberts had no such intent.

“It’s very unfortunate that a player of Rosa’s caliber is out for the year,” BC coach Jerry York says. “We think he’s an outstanding player. But if you watch the play, it’s a collision, a hockey collision. Rosa was vulnerable for a good hard hit and we’ve got a big, strong player who is finishing his check.

“It’s a hockey collision, but certainly there was not an intent to injure a player. Andrew is not like that. He’s a big, strong kid; he’s 6’4″, 220 pounds. He brings force with him. It’s unfortunate what happened.”

The Hockey East office ruled that no supplemental discipline was in order.

“Schools can send tapes in at any time for us to review,” Bertagna explains. “More commonly, the tapes are when a coach wants us to review an official’s call or non-call, just as part of the ongoing process of evaluating officials. A less common situation would be a specific submission of a tape in quest of supplemental discipline.

“The tape that came in was not a TV game tape, but a school tape. I looked at it and our supervisor of officials [Brendan Sheehy] looked at it and other officials who passed through the office [did as well] just for a backup opinion.

“Everyone to whom we showed it thought it was an elbowing penalty, but no one considered that it rose to the level of supplemental discipline. We take that seriously in that if you take a game away from a kid, you better be sure it warrants that.”

Not that it matters, but this writer has also viewed the tape and concurs. Alberts certainly got his hands up, but given the tape quality it’s very difficult to determine whether there was a crosscheck or not. You just can’t see where the stick is and whether Alberts has only one hand on the stick or two.

It’s hard to make the leap from a crushing check with hands up too high to a deliberate attempt to injure. Rosa is a personal favorite whom any youngster should watch. The junior is a complete player and his loss is a terrible blow. You also have to respect Serino’s passion and devotion to his players.

But after watching and rewinding the tape 15 times or so, I come away with no intent to injure. My son Ryan, who’ll be playing college hockey next year at Wesleyan, came to the same conclusion. It’s a horrible outcome for Rosa and the Warriors, but not deliberate intent to injure.

So why bring it up now? Isn’t this old news?

In case you didn’t notice, BC hosts Merrimack in the quarterfinals this week. With Rosa out of the lineup for Merrimack, the games could get lopsided. It might be natural for some Merrimack players to look for payback given their feelings about Rosa’s injury.

Has the league addressed the issue with the two teams?

“While that’s a logical concern from any number of perspectives, it would be offensive for me to go to Merrimack or BC and be concerned,” Bertagna says. “You’ve got to start with the premise that people are going to be professional and that they raise the right values in a game. You’re bordering on inappropriate comments, from my position, to go in and say something before you’re facing some situation.

“I understand some people would say that we should be proactive, but I think we’ve got to start with the premise that these are good people. I don’t want to be in a position of insulting someone by saying, ‘I think there’s a chance you’re going to act out of line.’ It’s like you don’t go to a referee before a game and say, ‘Look out for number so-and-so.’

“What you do is give the more general message, which we do, that this is our showcase event. All eyes are on us. We want to put our best foot forward and we want the [rule] book called. I’m the site director at that series. If as the series unwinds I get different vibes or make different observations, then I’ll have an opportunity to speak. But I have to respect the people from both programs.”

Sizing Up the Quarterfinal Matchups

No. 1 Seed New Hampshire Hosts No. 8 Seed Massachusetts-Lowell

Regular season:
Nov. 8, UNH 4 Lowell 3 (at UNH)
Nov. 9, UNH 6 Lowell 2 (at Lowell)
Feb. 21, UNH 4 Lowell 4 (at Lowell)

Two years ago, Lowell entered the Whittemore Center as the underdog and emerged a victor. That year, however, the River Hawks were a number five seed going after number four UNH. The odds are much longer this time.

Which is not to say that Lowell doesn’t have a chance. For much of this year, the Hawks played other teams very tough only to lose because of goaltending. Of late, however, Dominic Smart has steadied the play between the Lowell pipes.

The key will be whether Lowell can make it an “ugly” game — the uglier, the better — forcing play along the boards and down low instead of a transitional game. If it’s wide open, it’s lights out for the Hawks.

No. 2 Seed Boston College Hosts No. 7 Seed Merrimack

Regular season:
Nov. 7, BC 7 Merrimack 0 (at Merrimack)
Feb. 14, BC 3 Merrimack 2 (OT) (at BC)
Feb. 15, Merrimack 6 BC 1 (at Merrimack)

Recent Merrimack injuries have sidelined Rosa and Derek Kilduff for the rest of the year while Blake Stewart and Nick Pomponio are battling through significant injuries. Meanwhile, BC gets Patrick Eaves back for the playoffs.

This has mismatch written all over it unless Joe Exter can stand on his head for 60 minutes. Arguably, this series has the least chance of going to three games among all the quarterfinal matchups.

No. 3 Seed Maine Hosts No. 6 Seed Massachusetts

Regular season:
Nov. 9, Maine 1 UMass 0 (at Maine)
Feb. 21, UMass 4 Maine 2 (at UMass)
Feb. 22, Maine 4 UMass 0 (at UMass)

UMass appeared to be faltering down the stretch, but the big win over Maine gives this young team hopes that it can perhaps pull off the upset. The Black Bears certainly have been inconsistent of late, totally unlike their strong play over the first half of the season.

The key may be how well the young Minutemen cope with Alfond Arena. It’s a tough place for any team to play, much less one with only four juniors and seniors in the lineup.

No. 4 Seed Providence Hosts No. 5 Seed Boston University

Regular season:
Jan. 9, Providence 3 BU 2 (OT) (at BU)
Feb. 21, Providence 5 BU 4 (OT) (at PC)
Feb. 22, Providence 3 BU 3 (at BU)

These two teams meet in the quarterfinals for the third straight season and fourth in the last five. The familiar foes went into overtime all three games this year and the Friars emerged with five of the six possible points. (On the season, PC is 4-1-3 in OT while BU is 0-3-3.)

The keys are whether PC goaltender Nolan Schaefer can continue to stop just about everything thrown at him and whether BU can limit its trips to the penalty box. BU got Schaefer started on his hot streak in January; if it continues, any opponent is going to have a tough time with the Friars.

A Little More Mystery Talk

Last week’s column protested the NCAA Selection Committee’s decision to keep the new adjustment to the Ratings Percentage Index a secret.

“This will add a little mystery to [Selection] Sunday,” committee chair Ian McCaw said.

John T. Whelan notes how this secrecy runs counter to the stated goals of the 1997 selection committee. Its meeting highlights state that the members “agreed to implement a detailed effort to educate coaches and the public about the selection process.”

Hmmm. My, how times have changed.

And if there can be any doubt as to how unpopular this secrecy is among fans, here’s a sampling of email that I received. This is excerpted from comments by Jim Love:

“Reading USCHO last week I felt like the NCAA was haughtily sneering at me, not once, but twice. First they tinker with the NCAA selection procedures, don’t bother to inform their own coaches, let alone fans, and then boastfully brag about how this change will add ‘mystery’ to the process, as if that’s a good thing. For many years the NCAA’s college hockey constituency has been well served by an ordered, TRANSPARENT process, the antithesis of the back room politics that still plague, for example, lacrosse and soccer tournament selection/seeding. But it’s worked SO well that the Committee now feels threatened by its diminished role, and so instead of upholding – and championing … a ‘gold standard’ that other sports should emulate, it punts its opportunity for courageous leadership and capitulates to embrace a flawed, secretive process proudly used by basketball and football….”

Congrats to Two Coaches

Congratulations to UNH coach Dick Umile on his 300th career win last Saturday, which was certainly a big one since it gave the Wildcats a share of the regular season title and the number one seed in the playoffs.

“It’s not about [the milestone],” he said. “It’s about getting the win and getting the No. 1 seed. I’m glad the pressure is off and we can get rid of that distraction.”

Hats off also to BU coach Jack Parker, who on Feb. 15 moved into third place among all coaches in career wins, passing Len Ceglarski. His 676 wins now trail only Ron Mason (926) and Bob Peters (744).

“All that means is I’ve been here a long time,” Parker said. “If someone else had been here for 30 years, he would have won a lot of games, too.”

Well, maybe. Lake Superior had been on quite a roll over many years when Jeff Jackson left in 1996. The Lakers had made nine straight NCAA appearances and won three national championships. Since then? Nada. Bupkiss. They’ve become CCHA doormats.

It doesn’t take much for the wheels to fall off and once they do it can be difficult to get a program back to its previous prominence.

Umile and Parker may underplay their contributions, but there’s a reason BU and UNH are in the mix year in and year out. And there’s a reason why young coaches study the tactics of these two to see what they can learn.

It’s All Toot’s Fault

Umile was discussing the topic that has struck most Hockey East coaches this year: how tough all the teams are from top to bottom.

“Our league has gotten stronger and stronger,” Umile said. “There’s no question that it’s the strongest it’s ever been with Donnie Cahoon in the league now. He’s making the thing a wreck.”

Quote of the Week, Take Two

After Colin Hemingway scored the tying goal against BC with 42 seconds remaining in regulation, a discussion ensued among the officials as to whether there had been a hand pass. The goal was allowed, but it certainly would have been a crushing blow had it been waved off since UNH needed the tie to bring a decisive game for the regular season championship back to the Whittemore Center.

How might Umile have reacted if it had been ruled no-goal?

“If that happened tonight,” he said with a relieved grin, “I don’t know what I would have done.”

When someone offered that Umile just might have said a word or two, the coach responded with a smile.

“Noooooo… You know me. I don’t say much.”

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question asked what contest this year involved two teams with the same nickname and head coaches with the same first name (e.g., “Head Coach Dave’s Donkeys”). The answer dates back to the Oct. 11 game between Northeastern and Connecticut, Huskies that are led by head coaches Bruce Crowder and Bruce Marshall, respectively.

Kevin Yetman (aka nanookfan) wrote:

There was only one other matchup of team nicknames involving a Hockey East team this year…Merrimack played Wayne State (Warriors vs. Warriors), but of course the coaches’ first names don’t match.

Outside Hockey East, the matchup of nicknames has happened, or will happen a few times. Lake State and Mercyhurst have played (Lakers), Bentley and Air Force (Falcons), Michigan Tech and St. Cloud (Huskies), and Mankato and
Nebraska-Omaha (Mavericks). However, NONE of these matchups have matching head coach first names.

That’s excellent research by Kevin, but the back-to-back winner as the quickest on the draw was Chris Sayles. His cheer is:

“Let’s Go Maine!!! Send the Minutemen on an early vacation!”

This week’s question asks what two teams have appeared in the Hockey East semifinals the most times? Email my trivia account with the two teams and the number of appearances. 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 novel in question opened with:

So then I have to go downtown to the University and forage for dollars again. It doesn’t take much cash to keep me going — $200 a month will do nicely — but I’m running low, and I don’t dare try to borrow from my sister again. The students will shortly be needing their first term papers of the semester; that’s always a steady business. The weary, eroding brain of [D.S.] is once more for hire. I should be able to pick up $75 worth of work on this lovely golden October morning. The air is crisp and clear. A high-pressure system covers New York City, banishing humidity and haze. In such weather my fading powers still flourish. Let us go then, you and I, when the morning is spread out against the sky. To the Broadway-IRT subway. Have your tokens ready, please.

You and I. To whom do I refer? I’m heading downtown alone, after all. You and I.

Why, of course I refer to myself and to that creature which lives within me, skulking in its spongy lair and spying on unsuspecting mortals. That sneaky monster within me, that ailing monster, dying even more swiftly than I.

This is from Dying Inside, an award-winning masterpiece by Robert Silverberg, one of the true grandmasters of science fiction. The first to answer correctly was Ankur Patel, who enters this column’s Literary Hall of Fame as he did the hockey trivia version several weeks back. Renaissance Man honors to Ankur.

His recommendation is one of his childhood favorites: Curious George by H.A. Rey. Ankur offered a “serious” alternative in case I objected to his choice, but as a father who still looks back with fondness across a lot of years to the memory of reading to his son and daughter, Curious George seems just right.

This week’s passage has one irrelevant sentence removed for clarity, but is otherwise intact.

“Where’s the TV?” Juan motions to the vacant space in the center of the wall unit. “Don’t tell me you launched it off the balcony again.”

That sometimes happens when I try to watch music videos. “It’s pathetic,” I say to my friend. “I’m not proud of myself.”

“Who was it this time?”

“One of those ‘boy bands.’ I don’t remember which.”

Juan looks a little uptight.

“You’re how old now — thirty-four?” I ask.

“Not tonight, Jack.”

“You should be top of the world, man. You’ve already hung in there longer than Keith Moon or John Belushi.” I can’t help myself.

Once again, this passage is easily found via search engines so you’re on the honor system to find the answer on your own. 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…

  • Since my CCHA colleague Paula C. Weston has taken to inviting winners of her contests to my house for dinner, let me reciprocate that hospitality. The 2005 Frozen Four will be held in her neck of the woods, so make your plans now. All Hockey East fans will converge on Paula’s place for one massive kegger. No need to RSVP.
  • The number of jazz albums I own is well into the three digits, but not one is of a vocalist. Give me any instrument… just as long as it’s a saxophone. Tenor, alto or soprano. But please hold the vocals. So when I heard of Norah Jones as a jazz-flavored singer I felt little compulsion to check out her debut CD. Not even after my daughter Nicole recommended her. I should have known better. Nicole knows her music. After Jones swept the Grammys, however, I gave the Come Away With Me CD a try. I was floored. This isn’t my usual style of music, but it is one exceptional album.
  • That said, I still think Bruce Springsteen should have won Album of the Year for The Rising. I’d be very surprised if 20 years from now we don’t look back and wonder how that masterpiece didn’t, just like we do now for Born to Run.

    Thanks to Kevin Conway for his permission to reprint quotes from his article in the Eagle Tribune. Thanks also to Lee Urton for his contribution.