This Week in Hockey East: Dec. 4, 2003

It’s Baaaaaccckkk!

I’ve tried to ignore it, but it won’t go away. I can no longer whistle past the graveyard; my mouth is too dry. The boogeyman is on the loose.

The Hendrickson Jinx is back.

It’s about as welcome as a pulled hamstring during tryouts, a zit on prom night or a trip to Wal-Mart for Paris Hilton.

If you just crawled out from under a rock and haven’t noticed, let’s examine how my words have become the kiss of death.

A month ago I featured UMass-Lowell’s Ben Walter for his stunning 10-goal start in the first seven games. A week later my trivia question centered around that feat. Walter has scored one goal over the last seven games.

That same column also praised Providence for its 4-1-1 start. Need I tell you that the Friars are 1-4-2 in their last seven?

The next week I featured New Hampshire freshman Jacob Micflikier after his six-goal, two-assist, five-game introduction to college hockey. Since then? Two goals and no assists in eight contests.

Next victim? Maine’s Todd Jackson. Seven goals and three assists in his first six games. Yours truly congratulates him on his start and… one goal and one assist in his last seven. I could protest that his drop-off actually preceded his appearance in my column, but I’m sure Black Bear fans will judge me guilty nonetheless.

How could I not extol Mike Ayers’ stunning fourth-straight shutout over BU? How could he then avoid giving up six goals in little more than two periods against Providence and then five to Lowell, both losses. Sorry, Mike. Sorry, Mike’s mom.

Two weeks ago, the boogeyman wasn’t just breathing hard in the closet. It was scratching at the door, chuckling insanely, and slobbering in anticipation of its next meal.


I speculated that perhaps the Boston University Terriers were over their offensive woes following a 6-2 win over Merrimack. After those words, however, they managed only two-of-eight points in the next six games, averaging only two goals per game.

I wrote about Providence’s second line of Torry Gajda, Chris Chaput and Jonathan Goodwin. Since then? Two goals. Oh, and did I mention the crucial five-minute major and game misconduct by one member of the trio in a 3-2 loss to Maine?

I also proclaimed Boston College goaltender Matti Kaltiainen’s previous status as “the weak link” in the Eagles’ national championship aspirations null and void. I pointed out that other than one extra-skater goal by UNH Kaltiainen had allowed only a single goal in six straight games. What happens the very next night? Four goals allowed on just 19 shots.

But wait, it doesn’t end there.

Last week I opened with UMass-Lowell’s amazing performance, taking of five-of-six points from BU and UNH. The River Hawks had only one game last weekend. They lost. Of course.

I proclaimed that UMass was for real. Sorry, Toot. The Minutemen then managed only a single point in a weekend series with Nebraska-Omaha.

I declared that the UNH freshmen constituted a very impressive group. Care to guess how many goals they scored? Bupkiss. Of course.

Yeah, I could resort to past practices in dealing with the jinx. Wow, the Miami Dolphins sure are a juggernaut. They’ll slaughter the Patriots this weekend. And the New York Yankees should be unbeatable with Javier Vasquez and their millionaire march from the bullpen. The Red Sox should just quit right now.

But just in case the jinx only pertains to college hockey — a possibility that I don’t really believe since my anti-whammy did win the Patriots a Super Bowl two years ago — I’m taking an alternate tack.

We’re not going to look at any team strengths right now; instead we’ll apply the anti-whammy to a team weakness and see if some good will come of it.

In particular, let’s talk about the BU offense.

Toothless Terriers?

BU may rank a respectable fifth in overall league scoring — 3.08 goals per game, just slightly ahead of Lowell (3.00) and UMass (2.93) — but that’s only because the Terrier defensemen have been carrying a disproportionate share of the scoring load. Ryan Whitney (5-4–9), Kevin Schaeffer (4-4–8) and Dan Spang (3-5–8) rank second, third and fourth in team scoring.

With the exception of Ken Magowan (7-2–9), the veteran forwards are struggling mightily. This has been particularly true for the three top returning scorers from last year: Frantisek Skladany, Mark Mullen and Brian McConnell. All three finished between 25 and 35 points last season, but collectively have now scored just two goals with 10 assists.

As a result of the offensive struggles — plus, to be fair, some unexpectedly inconsistent goaltending from Sean Fields — BU has only two wins since October, one of those being a nonconference pounding of Yale. Within the league, the Terriers are merely 2-3-2, and that’s with only two of those games against teams projected to win home ice.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but could we be seeing another repeat of BU’s infamous off-years in 1998-99 and 2000-01 when it recorded identical 14-20-3 marks?

Seemingly, there’s far too much talent for that to happen. And the team continues to work hard. The Terriers are winning the territorial battles, ranking third in Hockey East in shots per game (32.25).

The problem is that with the notable exception of Sunday’s 7-2 win over Yale, they continue to shoot blanks. And even those seven goals carry an asterisk since six of them came from defensemen Ryan Whitney and Kevin Schaeffer.

Exhibit A came a week and half ago against Harvard when 16 third period BU shots all went into the save column for Dov Grumet-Morris.

“That adds up to a loss,” coach Jack Parker said after the game. “We’re just so snakebitten, so concerned about getting a goal that we’re getting real frustrated…. We’ve got a lot of good players without many goals, and that’s real frustrating.

“Skladany hasn’t had a goal this year, and I think he’s playing very well. He’s going to the net, getting his chances; he’s flying around. It’s not as if he’s floating around saying ‘I give up’ or ‘I’m just in the periphery trying to get a goal.’ If he was doing that, I’d bench him, but I like how hard he’s playing given that he’s frustrated.

“So is McConnell. He had a couple of great chances tonight; Mully had a couple of great chances tonight. Those three guys are playing hard. I have no qualms about how hard they’re playing. Sooner or later they’ll get some goals for us.”

The Dartmouth game was a step forward in terms of quality of play — the Terriers recorded 46 shots — but once again the result was a mere two goals.

“I loved the way we played tonight,” Parker said. “I like everything about our game. I told our guys that one of our goals should be that when the game is over, when you come into the dressing room you want to be able to say you deserved to win, and we deserved to win tonight. [But] two goals on 46 shots — that’s one of the problems.”

Skladany, in particular, had great opportunities that he couldn’t cash in on.

“He absolutely could have had four tonight,” Parker said. “We’ll take his ties and belts away from him; that’s for sure. He had one goal at the break last year, and then he caught on fire. He’s playing much better than he was at this time last year, so sooner or later it will go in for him. Same with McConnell, same with Mullen.”

When the team scored seven goals against Yale — including a befuddling three on four second-period shots — Terrier fans might have thought the drought was over until they realized that only one goal came from a forward.

“All in all, I think the freshmen and sophomores — [especially John Laliberte and Kenny Roche] — are playing real well,” Parker said. “The juniors and seniors are really struggling. They’re not getting goals, and it’s really hurting us. And it’s not for a lack of effort.

“We would have been much better off if the forwards got those goals. Those guys are talking to themselves. We may have won 7-2, but Skladany didn’t get any, McConnell didn’t get any, Mullen didn’t get any. When we are going to start getting some goals from these guys?

“And more importantly, they’re saying, ‘When am I going to start contributing to the team?’ It’s not a selfish thing. They want to help our team.”

Blueliners With Hats

BU defensemen Ryan Whitney, a junior, and Kevin Schaeffer, a freshman, sent observers scurrying for the record books when both recorded hat tricks in that 7-2 win over Yale. It had been a while since either one had turned the feat.

“Before I came to BU,” said Whitney, “I had one my senior year when I was out playing with the [National Development Program]. Some days it just hops in, so I got lucky enough today.”

For Schaeffer, the wait had been longer.

“The last hat trick I had was probably playing Pee Wees,” he said. “But sometimes it goes your way. Lucky bounces.”

Considering the forwards’ struggles, the blueliners may have been looking to step up more into the action to help out.

“I think so,” said Whitney. “We’re all trying to score and get shots to the net. We’re just trying to step up.”

Not even as veteran a coach as Jack Parker, however, could recall two defensemen recording hat tricks on the same night.

“Did Bobby Orr ever play with Brad Park?” he asked. “Maybe it would have happened once if they played, but they didn’t. It’s very rare. Pretty good show by those guys. I know that’s never happened on a team that I’ve coached.

“They played well. Kevin Schaeffer’s playing well in all phases of the game, and I think Ryan Whitney in the last six or seven games has looked like the All-American defenseman that we thought he’d become. He looked absolutely terrific out there. He’s had a great run, so he seems to have the monkey off his back.”

Parker did have to set the record straight, however, when Whitney noted, care of BU Sports Information Director Ed Carpenter, that the last BU freshman defenseman before Schaeffer to get a hat trick was Tom Poti.

Whitney said, “It’s real impressive, and Kevin’s been having a great year, and everyone’s real happy to see it.”

To which Parker responded, “He ain’t no Poti.”

Winning The Old-Fashioned Way

A month ago an undefeated Maine team traveled to Boston College and New Hampshire for weekend games only to head back to Orono with its tail between its legs. Having lost 4-1 and 6-3, respectively, the Black Bears had to avoid the snowballing effect that bad weekends sometimes cause.

And avoid the negative snowballing they have done. In fact, if there’s any snowballing, it’s in the positive direction. The Black Bears have taken seven-of-eight possible league points since the downer weekend to position themselves nicely in the Hockey East race.

“I thought we bounced back really well after that tough weekend,” coach Tim Whitehead says. “But we were playing real good teams, so it wasn’t like I was shocked that we weren’t able to beat them. Obviously you always want to win those games, but at the same time we learned from those games.”

Lessons such as how to allow only five goals in the last four games. Remarkably, the BC and UNH losses are the only contests all year in which Maine has allowed more than two goals. This places the Black Bears atop the league in team defense with only 1.85 goals allowed per game.

Goaltenders Jim Howard (1.81 GAA, .925 Sv%) and Frank Doyle (1.86 GAA, .922) have turned in carbon-copy strong performances game after game.

“It’s like pitching in baseball; it’s the backbone of your team,” Whitehead says. “We feel we recruited the right guys there and they’re improving. Each month they’re getting better and more experienced. We feel real fortunate to have such quality guys at that position. They give us an opportunity to win consistently.”

The goaltenders, however, were projected to be a team strength. The bigger surprise has been on the blue line where graduation left some big holes. Returnees Prestin Ryan, Troy Barnes and Matt Deschamps would be joined by newcomers Jeff Mushaluk (who had redshirted), Tom Zabkowicz and Mike Lundin.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise,” Whitehead says. “That was our big concern coming into the season, losing our top three guys. But we knew we had two good freshmen coming in. We knew they were real good players.

“What has excited me the most is how the upperclassmen have emerged into bigger roles. Prestin and Barnesie and Jeff Mushaluck have done a really good job for us and Matt Deschamps has really elevated his game from last year. So the three returning guys plus the three new guys have been a good mix.

“We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’re real pleasantly surprised how quickly they’ve been able to get up to speed.”

Recovering From The Loss

There was much rejoicing in the MAAC — oops, Atlantic Hockey — after Quinnipiac became the first team from that conference to defeat a Hockey East school. And deservedly so. The stronger the new conferences become, the better it is for the sport as a whole.

But one school had to get the tail side of that coin and it couldn’t be pleasant for Merrimack to be the first victim.

“To be honest, we didn’t even think about it being a loss to a MAAC team or anything like that,” coach Chris Serino says. “It was just a tough loss for us. We won 4-1 the night before and [in getting the win Quinnipiac] really didn’t do anything to create offense. We just turned the puck over. It was incredible. They had a five-on-three goal and they got a goal when one of my defensemen just gave the puck away in front of the net.

“It was a game that we certainly could have won, but we’ve been so up-and-down this year it’s incredible. We seem to play at the level of the team we play. Which is not very good for us. We have to get to a more consistent level.

“Plus we’re banged up pretty good, too. We have [Derek] Kilduff, [Blake] Stewart and [Matt] Johnson out of the lineup. Those are three of our top nine forwards. That’s hurt us a bit, but that’s no excuse.”

And it isn’t going to get any easier. Having just completed a four-game nonconference sequence that involved hosting Bemidji State and Quinnipiac, Merrimack resumes a gauntlet of Hockey East games that borders on the sadistic. The Warriors’ five most recent league games all came against Top 15 teams — UMass (twice), BU (twice) and BC (once) — and the next four are against Top Five teams: Maine (twice), UNH (once) and BC (once).

“The [nonconference] games looked like a momentum [builders],” Serino says. “But I’ll tell you what, Bemidji State was a pretty good team. I thought they were very good. We won one of those two games and I didn’t think we should have won either one of them. They outplayed us both games.

“Our schedule has been pretty brutal, but that’s the way it goes in this league. Hopefully, we steal a few of them. Obviously, you want to be playing your best hockey in January and February and I think we will be.”

Quotes of Note

  • Jack Parker on his team scoring only two goals against Dartmouth despite playing very well and recording 46 shots and then scoring three goals on four second-period shots against Yale in a poorly-played period: “As well as we played in all three periods against Dartmouth, that’s how poorly we played in the second period tonight. Who knows? ‘Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? Only the Shadow knows.'”
  • TV reporter to BU’s David Klema: “You’re leading the team with seven assists. What’s working for you this year?”

    Klema’s response: “I don’t know. I pass the puck to guys and they score.”

    Stunning Stats

    (This comes from colleague and good guy Scott Weighart.)

    Last week, Brown got outshot, 38-18, and won, 8-0! That’s not easy to do. For either team.

    Scoring Favorites

    Goal of the Week: He steals the puck from a defenseman and breaks in all alone on the left side. He dekes the goalie, cutting across left-to-right, waits until there’s an acre of open net to shoot at and puts it in for his first collegiate goal. The winner? Ryan Hendrickson, Wesleyan University. (Yes, I am a very proud father.)

    Assist of the Week: (I didn’t see this one, but got the skinny from a person who I trust.) He takes a pass at center ice and skates in on the goalie. Instead of shooting, he moves to the right of the net, drawing the goalie to him, and then leaves a drop pass for the trailer, who puts the puck into the wide-open net. The winner? Luciano Aquino, Maine.

    Trivia Contest

    Last week’s contest paid tribute to Norm Bazin, hoping that his emergence from his hospital bed will match his senior year emergence at Lowell. The question asked how many goals Bazin scored in his freshman, sophomore and junior years combined and how did that compare to his senior year performance? The answer was four goals in each of his first three years for a total of 12, but an eye-popping 20 as a senior.

    A big Get Well goes out to Bazin.

    The first to answer correctly was Keith R. Burdette, whose cheer is not for any Hockey East team:

    “Go Big GREEN!!! Beat the Black Bears!”

    This week’s question asks which Hockey East team recorded a tie with what other league team earlier this year for the first time ever. Give the two teams and the date of the tie. (UMass does not count for this question since its program didn’t enter the league until 1994.) Email my trivia account with your informed answers or wild guesses. 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…

  • Curt Schilling for what appears to be little more than flotsam and jetsam? You’ve got to be kidding me!
  • Man, I’d love to see the ARod-for-Manny deal. I’d feel badly about losing Nomar, but ARod for that Yankee-loving, one-dimensional airhead would be highway robbery.
  • At this point Theo Epstein could trade Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and Johnny Damon for a bowl of chili and I’d have to assume Theo knew what he was doing. I believe.
  • And make that two with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli.
  • Kinda makes the penny-wise, pound-foolish clowns running the Beancounters (aka, the Bruins) look all the more inept, doesn’t it?
  • The Celtics are down right now, but they at least make it three major professional teams in the area.
  • No, not four. Three. I don’t consider winning the Concessions Stanley Cup to be of interest.
  • Okay, let’s finish on a lighter note.
  • Specifically, is there really going to be a pay-per-view Lingerie Bowl during Super Bowl halftime? Oh my. Who is the demented genius who dreamed this up and why have I been writing USCHO columns when I could have been mining my infantile, shameless-pig imagination for the likes of this? The Lingerie Bowl? Readers, I love you all, but I’ve missed my calling. And it’s enough to make me cry when I think of the lost fringe benefits…

    Thanks to Scott Weighart and Jack Weiland.