Between the Lines: Weekend Wrapup, Oct. 20, 2003

With the slate of games providing very few premiere matchups, other than the obvious Boston College-North Dakota doubleheader, the weekend contained many interesting happenings nonetheless, on and off the ice.

• Ohio State marched into Munn and pummeled Michigan State to a 9-1 tune. I’m not really sure you can call the wins an upset, but the decisiveness of the victories, on the road, were pretty stunning. I felt Michigan State would have a good year last year, but it took most of the season to get heated up. This year, I figured they would carry that over to this season.

The same people who were calling for Ron Mason’s head because he couldn’t win NCAA games, now are calling for Rick Comley’s head already, just one season and four games into his tenure, a tenure where he’s trying to completely change the team’s system, and currently has just one senior. I’m a little surprised at Michigan State’s failures myself, but, please, it’s about two years too early to be blaming Rick Comley. Give it a chance.

• Quinnipiac channeled the memory of Mercyhurst’s 2001 NCAA tournament game in Ann Arbor, a 4-3 loss for the Lakers — the first-ever MAAC representative — against a big bad Wolverines team on their way to the Frozen Four. Quinnipiac was right in the same boat, taking a one-goal lead into the third period Friday night, before Michigan rallied for two goals, winning 5-4 on the back of four scores from Brandon Kaleniecki.

But then Quinnipiac did it again the next night, tying the game 2-2 in the third period before Jeff Tambellini completed a hat trick and a 3-2 win for Michigan. On both nights, the Bobcats were heavily outshot. But you can call one night a fluke, not two. Consider that Quinnipiac’s history against the ‘Big 4’ ain’t exactly pretty — Cornell 6-1 in 2002 NCAAs, and Maine 9-0 the same season. Quinnipiac would probably lose the next 10 times against Michigan too, but let’s give credit to Quinnipiac and Atlantic Hockey, for taking strides in closing the gap against the big boys.

• We spotted Paul Martin on the dish Saturday night, scoring his first NHL goal for the New Jersey Devils. The former Gophers defenseman left a year early, and jumped right into the Devils’ lineup, along with fellow WCHA wouldbe-senior backliner David Hale of North Dakota. Here’s an organization that wins Stanley Cups by not being afraid to play guys like Brian Gionta and John Madden, and yet it continues to amaze you how many other NHL teams still haven’t gotten it. Five years from now, when Zach Parise scores 30 goals for the Devils, maybe it will finally dawn on some of these knuckleheads.

• I’ve been watching this great baseball postseason like everyone else. But few things are as dumb as baseball fans that boo when the opposing pitcher throws a pickoff attempt to first base. It’s almost as dumb as the “that’s a balk” catcalls when a pitcher fakes a throw to second. It apparently doesn’t dawn on these fans that their team’s pitchers do the same thing. Nothing is as dumb, though, as the booing on the fake-to-third, throw-to-first play — except actually doing the fruitless fake-to-third, throw-to-first play.

• Nice to see Clarkson get off on the right foot under new coach George Roll, following the scandal which led to long-time coach Mark Morris’ departure early last season, and the subsequent effort of the overwhelmed Fred Parker as interim head coach. Clarkson got a win and a tie on the road against Bemidji State, which is no slouch as the CHA favorite this season. Last year, the Golden Knights split at home against Bemidji, a couple weeks after Morris’ dismissal. It gets tougher, though, with Colorado College coming to Cheel Arena next weekend.

• In the spirit of long-time White House reporter Helen Thomas, who uttered the priceless phrase “This is the worst president ever,” we say: “Grady F-in Little. Worst … decision … ever.” ‘Nuff said.

• Mike Gilligan picked a heckuva year to retire, leaving incoming coach Kevin Sneddon with this start to his season: No. 1 Boston College, No. 2 New Hampshire, No. 7 Boston University. Ouch. Welcome to Burlington, Kevin. But thanks in large part to the play of goaltender Travis Russell, the Catamounts hung in those games, getting two losses and a nice tie against BU. In the mish-mash that is the ECAC, there’s no reason Vermont can’t finish in the top half of the league this year. The Cats get a break next weekend with just one exhibition game, against Canadian school St. Francis Xavier.

• Britney Spears and Halle Berry on the same Saturday Night Live episode? Isn’t that like someone taking you to Vegas for your birthday, and then winning two grand in craps?

• Maine has just four seniors, and found out during the summer that its best defenseman, Francis Nault, had exhausted his NCAA eligibility. Its top five scorers, accounting for more than 50 percent of its offense, was not returning. And Jimmy Howard, its phenom freshman goaltender from last year, proved himself extremely vulnerable down the stretch. Conventional wisdom had Maine taking a dip in the Hockey East standings and national prominence.

And not just because of that. Let’s face it — there is still a large contingent out there who is waiting for the bottom to fall out of the program, not believing Tim Whitehead is up to the task, long term, of replacing legendary Sean Walsh. Yeah sure, they said, the Black Bears made the NCAA final in 2002 in Whitehead’s first year, but that was just riding the emotion of Walsh.

Well, I’m not putting Maine in the Frozen Four just yet, and Whitehead doesn’t yet have Walsh’s credentials, but I think it’s high time to dismiss any notion that Maine’s program is just going to fall off the map. Sorry Black Bear haters, but it ain’t happening. A 3-0 record, including wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin, to start the season, newcomers on fire, and the goaltending holding up. The program is in good hands.

• Jamie Russell is not used to 7-6 games. As the coach who ran the defense the last few years at Cornell, he was part of a unit that was just about the stingiest in the nation. The last time Cornell allowed six goals was January 2001. A 7-6 game, then, may be a culture shock to Russell, but considering his Michigan Tech Huskies were down 6-3 in the third period, he’ll take it. Saturday night’s comeback was huge for the program, which has been mired in the dumps for a while. The stunning comeback came at home, and it came against their Upper Peninsula rivals, Northern Michigan. “It’s one of those games that will people will remember for an awful long time I’m sure,” Russell said.

• Who did we see on the ice at Union on Saturday night for their between-periods shootout contest? Which randomly-selected fan was plucked out of the crowd to compete? Why, it was none other than the son of ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco. Fishier than a Florida ballot box? You be the judge.

• You want to win me over forever, get broadband into the press box. As such, it was with great glee I covered the Philadelphia Eagles home opener on Sept. 8, a Monday Night game against Tampa in the brand spankin’ new Lincoln Financial Field. The press box has broadband access at every seat. However, if you are not prepared, this can bite you in the proverbial fanny. You see, at home, I have a router with a built in firewall. No need for a software firewall. No such luck at The Linc. I went over a month before realizing I had a derivative of the Blaster Worm on my laptop. When I realized it, I noticed the save dates of the dubious files were none other than Sept. 8. The worst effect of this was to slow down my Internet connection — which means I guess I can stop cursing Comcast, at least over this. But now I know, and you do too: Zone Alarm … don’t leave home without it.

• I get the feeling this amazing start by the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers is not just an emotional reaction that’s bound to fall apart. They aren’t going to go undefeated this season, but this is a pretty good team, that would have been legitimate contenders for first place in their division with a healthy Dany Heatley, and may be anyway. It’s still remarkable, in any event, to see what they have done in the face of tragedy — in this case, the loss of a teammate in a car accident in which another teammate was driving. How can you not be rooting for them?

By the way, is it OK to say we really feel for Dany Heatley as much as we’re heartbroken about Dan Snyder, who lost his life? We in the college hockey community didn’t really know Snyder, but many of us know Heatley as “one of us.” Of course we feel for Snyder’s family. And of course Heatley was wrong, and will have to pay for his actions. But thinking of what Heatley — someone with all that promise — now has to live with, and what he has possibly lost, is heartbreaking in and of itself.

• I am torn over what to do. I’m not really a fan of kung fu movies, but I am a big fan of Quentin Tarantino movies (“I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.“). Many critics have killed his latest movie, but my most respected resource, Roger Ebert — the world’s greatest film columnist (not movie critic) — gave it 4 stars out of 4. Should I see Kill Bill? Or plunk down my $10 for Lost In Translation, with the most underrated actor of our generation, Bill Murray. Uma Thurman or Scarlet Johansson? When you have two young kids, and get to the movies twice a year, you have to mull these kinds of questions long and hard.

• Of course, we can’t just forget about the premiere matchup, the clash between No. 1 Boston College and No. 4 North Dakota. It appeared early on that Boston College was separating itself from the rest of the field, with a dominant opening 25 minutes of Friday night’s game. The Sioux’s defensive concerns were in full display, with bad giveaways and bad penalties, and BC took a 3-0 lead. But suddenly, North Dakota reversed itself, and showed it was in fact to be taken as a serious national title contender. Brandon Bochenski picked up a hat trick, and suddenly, North Dakota won.

At the same time, Boston College — which looked so flawless in the first period — had its worst fears realized. It was the fourth straight game where the defense broke down in the third period, and much-maligned Matti Kaltiainen did not look sharp. In fact, before Friday’s game, all of Boston College’s goals had been allowed in the third period, in two wins and a tie. The Sioux did have two second-period goals to break that trend, but then scored four in the third.

That disturbing trend was broken the next night, when BC held for a 2-1 win. Credit here really has to go to both teams — to the Sioux, for breaking out of their funk in Game 1, and to the Eagles, for responding with a great defensive effort the next night.

For Boston College, the plusses included: getting all their guys back in the lineup after probation, suspension and injury came into play early; a great penalty kill that didn’t allow a goal; the defensive response in Game 2; and the fact that an already loaded lineup was boosted by the addition of forwards Greg Lauze, a transfer from Merrimack, and freshman Brian Boyle, who each scored Friday. The minuses: the continued concern over those third-period goals; Kaltiainen’s inconsistency; and the injury to Ben Eaves on Saturday.

For North Dakota, the plusses included: bouncing back strong in Game 1 after looking very poor early on; getting solid play from two goaltenders, Jordan Parise and Jake Brandt; and the play of freshman stud Drew Stafford. The minuses: still needing to watch the penalties, especially from Andy Schneider, who took over the captaincy after David Hale’s early departure; the power-play going 0-for-13, albeit against a great Eagles PK unit; and a mere one-assist weekend from Zach Parise, who may not be 100 percent following the previous weekend’s knee injury.

• And now, I just have to say this …

Fifteen minutes after my initial knee-jerk reaction over Rush Limbaugh’s comments three weeks ago, I settled down into figuring out what I really had a problem with over what he was saying. After all, his comments — that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was overrated because the liberal media wants to see black quarterbacks succeed — were not really racist so much as they were just typical Rush Limbaugh, which is to say bombastic, sanctimonious, and thoroughly disingenuous. And he was using sports to perpetuate a political myth, which is bad enough in politics, but just plain absurd in sports. The good thing is, the absurdity of it was exposed, because he basically hyper-extended himself.

In defending himself from his comments Limbaugh said he’s been critical of white quarterbacks too. But what he said about McNabb was that he was overrated by the media specifically because he was black. If he wasn’t Rush Limbaugh, he might have been able to make the point with more subtlety. He may have said, “I think McNabb is overrated. Maybe we just are afraid to criticize him sometimes because we don’t want to appear racist.” He’d have been dead wrong, but it might not have caused as much of a stir.

McNabb is definitely having a bad year, and he has his flaws, too — happy feet, throws the short ball too hard. And perhaps he is overrated — it’s debateable. But, for one, do you really think the hard-as-nails Philadelphia media gives anyone a free pass? Please. Black, white, the Philadelphia media is an equal opportunity ripper. Rich Kotite, Ray Rhodes, Rodney Peete, Bubby Brister, doesn’t matter. And do you really think there’s no one in the Philadelphia media criticizing McNabb? And if anyone is giving him a pass, perhaps it’s not because he’s black … perhaps he gets the benefit of the doubt because he’s a) been to two Pro Bowls and two NFC Championship games; b) he has just about the worst group of skill players around him as anyone in the entire NFL; and c) he happens to be, as I can attest first hand, one of the nicest guys in the world.

But this never occured to Limbaugh. Or if it did, he disingenuously ignored it in order to make a political point. And ultimately, that’s what is most offensive to me. Limbaugh has done more than any other American figure to poison the dialogue in this country. Politics were always nasty, but this “liberal media” thing is a complete myth. Everything that goes wrong, or everything you disagree with, is instantly blamed on the So Called Liberal Media bogeyman. That’s bad enough in politics, where I think it’s not only unhelpful, but complete baloney. But it’s worse in sports, which really has nothing to do with any of that. Sports reporters are hardly the constituency of the nation’s liberal progressives.

Charges of bias are easy when you use selective examples. Here at USCHO, every time we write an article about a Boston school, we get accused of “East Coast Bias.” Or, if we endorse a Minnesota player for the Hobey, we get accused of “West Coast Bias.” North Dakota fans accuse us of “Big School Bias” whenever we have a photo of a Michigan player on the front page. I worked at a newspaper for five years, which was located in a town with two high schools. People from each side of town were constantly complaining that we were biased towards the other side. Never mind that I grew up 200 miles away and couldn’t care less.

The whole thing is ridiculous — but this is what happens when you make blanket statements void of subtlety.

By reaching to make the connection between “liberal media” and overrating Donovan McNabb, Limbaugh helped expose the whole “liberal media” concoction for what it is: A witch hunt intended to rally your side by finding a scapegoat to villainize.

It’s offensive to me not because it’s racist — but because I’m a journalist.


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