This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 29, 2004

Oops, I Did It Again

There’s not much I have in common with Britney, but the timing of last week’s column certainly evoked the cutie’s big hit. Yes, the Hendrickson Jinx reared its ugly head yet again.

Last week’s column was already in my editor’s hands when word hit that Ben Eaves would be out four-to-six weeks with a fractured kneecap. The lead story in the column was, of course, how unstoppable Boston College was this season.

My apologies to Ben Eaves, BC coach Jerry York and all of Eagle Nation for unintentionally giving them the whammy.

Beanpot Talk: Boston College

BU coach Jack Parker captures it best when he says, “I can’t remember a Beanpot that is boasting three teams that aren’t having great years. Ourselves, Northeastern and Harvard are struggling compared to where we usually are this time of year.

“The only team that has held up their end of the bargain nationally from day one has been Boston College. They’ve had a great season so far and certainly are the favorite in this tournament.

“We played them three times and they kept losing players so we got closer to their score. I think they had eight guys out the last time that we played them and it was only a one-goal loss.”

With the other three teams all below .500 — a collective 22-29-12 — Boston College (18-3-3) is the prohibitive favorite.

“I think we’re playing very well,” coach Jerry York says. “What I like about our club is that we bring a good sense of defense to the rink every game we play. Offense can go back and forth, you run into a hot goaltender or crossbars, but defense can be there every night of the year. So I’m most pleased with how we’re playing defensively.”

The Eagles are also getting it done on the offensive end even with numerous players sidelined of late, most notably Ben Eaves.

“I consider him the best player in college hockey,” York says, adding with a laugh, “I’m biased because I coach him.

“It’s a major hole we have to fill in our lineup. He’s on all the different [special] teams [and he provides] his leadership and a lot of other things.

“Having said that, Ryan Shannon has really stepped up. Tony Voce has stepped up. But we’re not the same. I won’t fool you. When he gets back, we’re a way different hockey team. But injuries are a part of the game and we’ve got to survive this stretch.”

Eaves keeps himself from going nutty with frustration by holding out a glimmer of hope that he might play in the championship game. Last week, however, he was announced as being sidelined for four-to-six weeks with a fractured kneecap. Either Eaves is, shall we say, math-challenged or simply a competitor chomping at the bit. Still, it’s almost inconceivable that BC would risk a premature return. Getting Eaves back for the Hockey East championship game and the NCAAs is more like it.

In the meantime, BC is still the team to beat even without one of the country’s top players. Favorites have been toppled plenty of times before in this tournament, so there’s no taking anything for granted.

“I love what Bill Belichick was talking about,” York says. “Hey, favorites, underdogs and the [betting] line — it’s whoever plays the best.

“Timely goalscoring and really solid netminding is the key to this thing. If we can get that, we’ll certainly be a formidable opponent for anybody.”

And as for the “other” games during the two Beanpot weeks, York isn’t concerned that the Eagles will be looking ahead to Marquee Monday and stumble.

“Our goal at the start of the year was that we wanted to win a Hockey East championship,” he says. “That’s one of our major goals. We realize that you can’t slip and win the championship. So that’s kept us focused pretty good.”

Beanpot Talk: Boston University

In past years, it’s been the Terriers who have been the team to beat in the Beanpot. Not only have they won it 25 times out of 51, they’ve taken 21 of the last 34 and eight of the last nine.

That, my friends, is dominance with a capital D. Small wonder BU fans like to chant, “Where’s your Beanpot?” and refer to the February tourney as The BU Invitational.

That said, don’t count on an automatic repeat.

This year’s team has been the Trick-Or-Treat Terriers. Since the holiday break, they’ve been up and down with cyclic regularity. They traveled to Minnesota and impressed with two road ties against the fifth-ranked Gophers. Upon returning, however, they played poorly in a loss to Massachusetts. They rebounded with a spirited overtime win over Northeastern, but then reprised the trick-or-treat theme in weekend series with Boston College and Maine.

“I know we’re on a roller coaster, but I don’t know if we’re going up or down,” coach Jack Parker says. “We played very well in our last game — the way we’ve got to play — and I thought it was one of our best games of the year, a 1-0 win over Maine. But 24 hours before that we played as bad a game as we could play. Actually, we played very well in many areas of the game and then just made huge mistakes to give them easy goals.

“It makes me wonder which team is going to show up.”

Not that Parker is at war with his team, as coaches sometimes are at this point in a losing season.

“I really like my team,” he says. “I like my team as far as their effort, as far as their potential, and I like my team as far as the kids as individuals and how hard they’re working and how hard they’re pulling for each other.

“There hasn’t been any quit in this team. There hasn’t been any quit game-to-game or month-to-month. I really believe that our best hockey is ahead of us.”

Although BU has historically used its Beanpot success to springboard its stretch drive, Parker is just as concerned with winning the “other two games” surrounding the tournament. That attention befits BU’s 4-8-2 Hockey East record, one that leaves it in sixth place, just three points removed from the cellar.

“Winning this Beanpot would be very unsatisfying if we didn’t win the two games around the Beanpot,” Parker says. “If we didn’t beat Lowell and Providence and buried ourselves in the league, [that would be terrible] whether we won the Beanpot or not.

“To other schools, it might be different because they haven’t won it in a while and we’ve won a lot of them. It wouldn’t salvage our season. We need to salvage our season by doing well in the league.

“We’ve certainly have always had the goal: we want to win the Beanpot, we want to play well in front of this crowd and with this media [attention]. But we have to put games together around the Beanpot as well that are just as important to us to make sure that we feel better about ourselves.”

If, however, it’s just a matter of consistent focus that has ailed the Trick-Or-Treat Terriers, the Beanpot has been known to help that area.

“I don’t think there’s any question that over the years we’ve had teams come in here and play up to or beyond their potential because they were ready to go and because, in reality, everybody is focused here [at the FleetCenter],” Parker says. “It’s hard not to be focused. I don’t think we’re going to come in here and be flat. We’ve been flat in some other games, but I don’t remember too many teams coming into the Beanpot and being flat from BU or anyplace else.

“I always tell our guys, ‘You’re going to get this team’s best effort tonight. We have to make sure we give them our best effort.’ And 99 percent of the time, all four schools give their best effort in this tournament.

“Hopefully, we’ll play well in this tournament, but it isn’t going to be the saviour of our season.”

Perhaps the biggest key will be whether goaltender Sean Fields comes up big as he’s been wont to do in the FleetCenter.

“He looked like his old self against Maine on Saturday,” Parker says. “Frankly, that’s the best game he’s played. Even in games he’s won, he hasn’t looked as sharp as he has in the past. I just think it’s focus and hopefully, he’s gotten over whatever was keeping his focus out of focus and he’s back on track.

“We’ll see. This is a huge game for us Friday at Lowell. If he can put a second game together like he did against Maine, that’ll be the ultimate sign that he’s back.”

Beanpot Talk: Northeastern

Northeastern hasn’t won a Beanpot since 1988, but this is an adversity-tested group that has failed to give up during tough times. An 0-9-2 start has given way to a 7-2-2 mark since that point with the only losses to second-ranked BC and an overtime loss at BU.

“You go 0-9-2 and there are a lot of people trying to throw you under the bus,” coach Bruce Crowder says. “You find out a lot about the character of the kids you bring in.

“We’ve played 11 games that we weren’t too good at. we played another 11 that we are pretty good at. Hopefully, we’ll play the next 11 like we’re really good.”

Facing the defending champion, BU, in the opener, Crowder dismissed any talk of the Terriers’ off-year turning them into “just another team.”

“Unless it starts to change consistently, BU is the team to beat [in the Beanpot],” he says. “They’ve had a tremendous run in this event. You’ve got Harvard, BC and us all looking to try to change things, but you look back and they’ve ended up [champs] 25 out of the 51.”

Crowder also downplayed the inconsistency of Sean Fields in the opposing net.

“Their kid played extremely well against Maine the other night,” Crowder says. “I expect Sean Fields to be playing at his best. I can’t go in there thinking that maybe he’s going to give us one of those [bad] games.

“That ain’t going to happen. He’s been here before, he’s a good goaltender, and we’ve got to get to him and put pressure on him and put pucks and people to the net.”

It all comes down to his own team’s execution, but Crowder knows there’ll be no problems with getting his boys pumped.

“You don’t need any motivation [tricks],” Crowder says. “These are the easy games to coach. What you have to make sure is they don’t get too high, where they’re making mistakes because they’re just too excited. We’re just going to go out and play the way we’ve been playing and look for good things.”

And with the need to leapfrog over someone to exit the Hockey East cellar, Crowder expects even greater focus for the two non-tourney games this week and next.

“It’s kind of like when I played for the Boston Bruins,” he says. “You could have bet the farm on the Bruins the game before they went out to Los Angeles because it was the only warm climate city [in the NHL] at that time. So if you were playing Minnesota or Detroit, you could bet the Bruins were going to win if they had three or four days off.

“It’s the same comparison. These kids want to play in the Beanpot on Monday night and we’ve got a game to play before that happens and I know they’re going to play well.”

The Heavyweight Clash

When Maine hosts New Hampshire for two mega-battles this weekend, second place in Hockey East is most likely at stake, not to mention position in the national picture.

“It’s going to be a classic Maine – UNH series,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead says, adding with a laugh, “We’re fortunate that it’s in our rink.

“Win, lose or draw the fans here are going to be treated to a great weekend of hockey. Obviously, we hope to gain as many points as we can, but it’s going to be very challenging. [New Hampshire] is back on track and playing extremely well right now so we’ll have our hands full.

“But we’re also playing well. We had a disappointing result, 1-0, on Saturday, but I actually thought we played perhaps better on Saturday than we did on Friday [when we won 8-4]. So we’re pleased with where we’re at, particularly on the defensive side of things. We’ve been very consistent limiting the other team’s quality chances and keeping the score down.”

The Black Bears have been strong in virtually every area but one: the power play. Their conversion percentage of 15.3 ranks them dead last in the league.

“Our power play was real good last year; that’s been a difference, but we’re also replacing our quarterback from last year, Francis Nault,” Whitehead says. With a laugh, he adds, “And Marty Kariya wasn’t bad.

“In general, we do believe that that’s an area that has to improve if we’re going to win some of these 1-0 games. We feel that we’ve had some real good chances on the power play, but the bottom line is that we haven’t got it done. That’s what we have to focus on down the stretch here, not just getting chances but actually burying them.

“That’s easier said than done; it’s easy after the fact to say that we should have buried this shot or that shot. We’re halfway there. We feel like we will go on a bit of a run on the power play soon and hopefully it can start this weekend.”

While the man-advantage production hasn’t been there consistently, the scoring certainly has in the form of Colin Shields, Hockey East’s co-Player of the Week. He leads the Black Bears with 26 points on 13 goals and 13 assists including a 3-2–5 mark last Friday night. As soon as he scores his next goal, he’ll have already matched his numbers from last season.

“He’s playing great,” Whitehead says. “He’s really become a complete player at both ends of the rink. Last year he was hampered by injuries throughout the season and that really slowed down his production. I know he was disappointed with his results, but I actually thought that when he was healthy he played well last year.

“But this year has been different for him. He’s really emerged as one of our leaders on the team. He’s been very consistent in how he plays the game and as a result he’s getting consistent production in terms of [scoring]. He’s been a real bright spot.”

As has been the scoring depth. Ten Black Bears have already hit double-digit points with a host more just on the brink of breaking that barrier.

“We really feel that part of our team identity has been the fact that we’re able to get contributions from everybody and we’re not relying on one particular guy,” Whitehead says. “Certainly Shieldsie had a great weekend and is having an excellent season, but we do feel that we have a great supporting cast.

“I believe that we’re a little less talented than we were last year, but I think we’re a better team. Guys feel very confident that as a team we can score. It’s maybe tougher for us to score, but we’re about on the same level of production as we were last year.

“What we’ve obviously done is try to get more production five-on-five and try to manufacture some goals on the power play. We have not been consistently successful with that, but we’re still working at it. We certainly feel that we have the potential.”

New Hampshire has shaken off its pre-holiday struggles and will be looking to extend its four-game winning streak in the hostile confines of Alfond Arena.

“It’ll be a great weekend,” UNH coach Dick Umile says. “We put ourselves back in position to compete on the [national stage] and in the standings. Right now, second place is up for grabs. The head-to-head competition in this series is always [exciting]. It’s become a great rivalry.

“We’ve been playing well in all three zones now, we’re moving the puck better, getting the puck in the zone, generating offense and the puck is going in the net. We’re just playing good solid hockey since Christmastime. We picked it up a notch here.

“It’s a very fine line in our league. Half a step in our league can be the difference between winning games and losing them.”

With only a single goal allowed over the last three games, goaltender Mike Ayers is back at the top of his game. And according to Umile, Ayers’ so-so statistics before the holidays were misleading.

“I think that was deceptive, in fairness to him,” Umile says. “If you look at the goals that were scored against him, [Sports Information Director] Pete Souris found that 30-35 percent of the goals that were scored off him were on the power play. On the power play, sometime you don’t cover the guy on the backdoor. It wasn’t like he wasn’t making the first save; we were allowing the second and third shot to go in.

“I think he played pretty well. Maybe he didn’t play at the same level that he did with some of the spectacular numbers that he put up last year, but I think everybody else would love to have him playing for them. He kept us in a position to hang in there until we put it all together and to bring us back.

“He’s done his part. As a team we let ourselves down. We were very inconsistent just before Christmas.”

Leading the charge on offense, as he has done all season long, has been Steve Saviano. He’s recorded hat tricks in two of the last three games, the latter of which was his second Texas hat trick (four or more goals) of the season. Those sniper abilities are all the more surprising considering that he was primarily a playmaker last season when he scored nine goals, but assisted on 30 others.

“Steve would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t known as a big-time goalscorer,” Umile says. “But, in fact, that’s what he’s accomplished this season. It’s because of his commitment and his hard work. He does it all over the ice. He’ll chase it down, he can pass, he can now score goals. He’s worked on his shot.”

“That line [with Sean Collins and Nathan Martz] right now is playing well for us. They’re generating good scoring chances. Steve is being the recipient of good plays by Martz and Collins and he’s putting the puck away.

“It’s good to see that because he’s a great kid and he does a lot for our team whether it’s penalty kill, backchecking, or spectacular one-on-one play. He’s having a fabulous season. He’s one of the top forwards in our league right now.”

It’s quite the ironic role reversal that of late Collins has been setting up his old high school buddy instead of the other way around.

“Sean’s had an awful lot of opportunities, but the puck hasn’t been going in for him,” Umile says. “He probably generates as many scoring chances as anybody that has ever played here. He sets people up, too. Sean does it all.

“He’s really worked well with Steve whether it’s killing penalties or [even strength]. They scored a couple shorthanded goals recently that were spectacular. Sean’s having a good season; the puck just hasn’t been going in for him.

“He’s the guy that was known as the goalscorer, so people think he’s not playing well because the puck isn’t going in for him, but he’s doing a lot of good things for us right now, generating scoring chances for Stephen and other people.”

Wins, Great Goaltending And The PK

Providence College recorded another two nonconference wins last weekend, giving the Friars an 8-1-1 record outside of Hockey East.

“When you get in the league, sometimes it’s like you’re so familiar with the other team that that hurts you in that you know the strengths and weaknesses,” coach Paul Pooley says. “You just need to play your game.”

The challenge, however, will be bringing that success back into the league where they stand 2-7-5 and are only two points ahead of last-place Northeastern. The clock is ticking and points are needed.

“We’ve talked about one game at a time,” Pooley says. “We’re playing 60 minutes, but we’ve said it’s playoff hockey. This was our last nonconference weekend and we needed to get ourselves right and playing the way we need to play to win.

“It’s playoff hockey. We have to have a sense of urgency about everything we do. We’ve showed some signs of playing some really good periods and really good games, but we need to be more consistent in what we’re doing.”

One significant asset has been the play of the Friar goaltenders, who have won back-to-back awards as Hockey East’s Goaltender of the Week. Bobby Goepfert (2.89, .911 Sv%) is the number one guy, but David Cacciola (1.85, .940) has impressed as well.

“It’s been a positive for us,” Pooley says. “It gives you an opportunity to tie games or be in games. This weekend Bobby didn’t get a lot of work at times, but he made some key saves, especially Friday night when it was 0-0.

“David has played well for us, too. It’s a nice situation to have as a coach. We feel both kids can do that for us.”

Ironically, the biggest weakness has been on the penalty-kill, where the Friars 78.9 percentage ranks last in the league. It’s an anomaly since usually poor numbers on the PK are linked with weak goaltending, a link that fails in this case.

The trends, however, are good. PC hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in the last three games and only one in the last five.

“It’s been a point of emphasis because 45 percent of the goals we’ve given up have been on the penalty kill,” Pooley says. “It’s a stat that jumps out at you. If you can’t kill penalties, you can’t take them.

“And in this league you’re going to be taking penalties at times because of the physicalness. We’ve cut down on ours, but it’s a big part of your game. If you can’t kill penalties, you’re going to be behind the eight-ball trying to win games.”

Quotes Of Note

Bruce Crowder: “If you look across our league, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the ninth place team and maybe the second place team. I think that BC is on a different level from everybody else. They’ve been very consistent with that over the year. They’ve got some great players.

“But again, we played BC three times and I thought we played them very tough each time and we’re 1-2. It’s just the way college hockey is. There’s just a lot of parity.”

Northeastern captain Brian Tudrick on playing in his final Beanpot: “I wish I could play for the next 50 years. All the kids I played with before never won one. So if we actually get to win it, I’m calling them right up. ‘Hey, Mike Ryan, hey Brian Cummings, how’s your Beanpot?'”

Beanpot Luncheon Humor

Jack Parker on BU’s number one fan, Elliot Driben: “He’s with us win or tie. There were times when he was with us win or win big, so he’s improving.”

Bruce Crowder on the reactions to his team’s 0-9-2 start and 7-2-2 record since then: “My wife has come around; [now] she likes me. My dog has been pretty consistent.”

Jerry York on honored guest Jack Riley, who coached the 1960 Olympic team which defeated the Russians for a gold medal: “The last time I had a chance to play golf with him he showed me a card that said a 14 handicap and then he shot a 77. I think he did the same thing to the Russians; he had them all bamboozled.”

BU broadcaster Bernie Corbett on the choice of Bruins coach Mike Sullivan as the Beanpot’s Special Speaker: “In the words of former BU assistant coach from Helsinki, Finland, Perti Hasannan, ‘It’s a no-rainer.'”

Sullivan on his siblings: “I have a younger brother who played at Northeastern. My older brother and older sister went to BC. And, of course, I went to BU. So we have a little Beanpot within our family. None of us was smart enough to get into Harvard.”

And finally, although it didn’t emanate at the Beanpot luncheon, the best related cheer comes from the fans at Cornell, perhaps the national champs when it comes to such things. They adapted the sieve cheer for Harvard goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris, chanting, “Sieve hyphen sieve!”

Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest asked what unprecedented feat took place for Providence earlier this season. (It had never happened in the 52 previous seasons of Friar hockey.) I should have known better than to ask such an open-ended question, but there were three winners.

For starters, Providence experienced its first scoreless tie on Oct. 25 with Merrimack. Scott Holewinski got that one first and his cheer is:

“Let’s go Eagles! Bring the Beanpot back to The Heights!”

A second correct answer was that Providence tied the same team, in this case Northeastern, three times in just one season. Quickest on the trigger with that one was Chris Sayles, who cheers:

“Lets Go Maine…….Sweep the Wildcats!!!!”

The hat trick of answers, though, is a whopper. I can’t conclusively prove that it’s unique, but it simply has to be. Todd Cioffi noted that earlier this year Providence played a game involving four sets of twins: BU coaches Jack Parker and Mike Bavis behind one bench, PC coach Paul Pooley behind the other, and the Zancanaro boys, Brad and Tony, battling it out on the ice. Todd’s richly deserved cheer is:

“Go BU! Beat UML (and PC, and MC, …)! Give Walter Brown one last playoff series!”

With the expectation that there will only be one winner next week, the question is What goaltender won the Beanpot Eberly Award three times? Email my trivia account with the answer. 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…

  • Big-time congratulations to my niece Cherie Hendrickson, who will be playing for the Providence Lady Friars next year. She’s been a major player for Brooks School and deserves all the success in the world. Although you might not have guessed it because of her genetic link to this uncle, she’s a real nice kid. Unless, that is, you go against her into the corners for a loose puck.
  • Perhaps the most amazing statistic from the New England – Indianapolis game was that Peyton Manning completed as many passes to Ty Law as he did to Marvin Harrison.
  • I had to love Tom Brady’s quote about Warren Sapp. “He’ll get a good view from wherever he’s sitting.”
  • And although Bill Belichick is almost an anti-quote machine, the following directive to his team wasn’t bad: “Try not to get arrested.”
  • If this column weren’t already nearing novel-length, I could have certainly mined the following fact for all kinds of immature comic value (the only kind I know): the Patriots were assigned the locker room for the Houston Texans cheerleaders.

    Thanks to Scott Weighart.