Dave Hendrickson is taking a much-deserved break this week. But you know what they say: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Or is that “Out of sight, out of mind?” In any event, you can look forward to Dave’s return next week.
The Toy Department of Life
Last Friday, as reported by USCHO’s Jim Connelly, Massachusetts-Lowell revealed that it would forfeit nine games — including five wins, three coming in Hockey East — due to the fact that transfer forward Paul Falco had played several games for the River Hawks when he was ineligible to play. This development was a blow for the program, one that resulted in considerable upheaval in the Hockey East standings. However, Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald has always been exceptional at helping his teams through adverse situations.
“I look at college athletics: It’s a privilege to play; this is really the toy department of life,” MacDonald said. “It’s not like we’re talking about Homeland Security here. We’re talking two credit hours and a couple of ballgames that we played well and we won, and nobody can take away that feeling of fulfillment — playing for each other, the sweat, the locker-room atmosphere after the game.
“We felt like we accomplished that, and that’s the bottom line,” he added. “This was an honest mistake. If anything it will add to the resolve of this young team.”
Talking to his team, MacDonald ensured that the players realized that when it comes to misfortune, it’s all relative. “We had a few stick boys on Friday night, both recovering from cancer,” MacDonald said. “That’s what life’s all about; that’s adversity. Adversity is having your son or daughter over in Iraq. Let’s put it in perspective here.
“What I told the team Thursday before we found out — although the team had an inkling that something may happen — the quote that we used was, ‘You cannot change the direction of the wind; you can only adjust your sails.’ So the wind’s blowing this way, and we just need to adjust our sails to it.”
But in terms of getting back to business, what about what has happened to the Hockey East standings? Previously in a battle for home ice, the River Hawks are suddenly six points out of fourth and in a three-way tie for fifth, albeit with games in hand.
“We’re not looking at home ice; we’re not looking at any of that,” MacDonald emphasized. “We’re talking about very, very short-term objectives like ‘Let’s have a good practice today.’ We’re playing anywhere from 14 to 18 freshmen and sophomores every night. We’re just so young that we can’t look too far ahead.
“I feel very bad that it has adjusted the standings and affected some teams more than others. That’s what I feel most poorly about.”
Indeed, the forfeitures helped some teams and hurt others. The biggest beneficiary was Massachusetts, which had lost a pair of games to its state university counterparts during Falco’s ineligible span. The two wins by forfeit boosted the Minutemen ahead of Maine into second and left fourth-place UNH looking at a six-point gap between themselves and third place.
But there was no celebration out of Amherst — especially because Coach Don “Toot” Cahoon and MacDonald go back a long ways due to their mutual association with Boston University.
“I can’t blame Blaise at all; I feel really bad for him, having coached with him and known him as many years as I have,” Cahoon said. “His team won those games fair and square, and I’m sure it was inadvertent that Paul Falco was in the lineup under those conditions.
“I told our guys, it’s like those points just fell out of the sky,” Cahoon added. “They’re points that I don’t know that we deserve, but they’re there, and it’s not our fault that they’re there, so we just need to go forward. Having said that, I feel real bad for the Lowell program, for the Lowell kids, for having their situation diminished as a result of those forfeitures. So on our end, there’s no one jumping up and down like we won those games because we didn’t win those games.”
If the ramifications for Hockey East are clear, the same cannot be said for the impact on the PairWise Rankings. As of now, no one seems sure how the NCAA will interpret those nine games.
“My personal opinion — this is not an official university opinion or stance — is that given the situation, we should not be judged as having won or having lost those games,” Cahoon said. “They should probably be taken out of the equation altogether. That helps us more than losing the games, for sure. But I don’t know if in fact there’s a forfeiture that we can say we technically lost those games.”
Cahoon emphasized that he’s not going to worry too much about it for the time being — especially in anticipation of a tough home-and-home series with New Hampshire this weekend.
“I’ll ask people some questions as we go along, but I’ve got more important things to worry about right now,” Cahoon said. “All of this will be a moot point if our team doesn’t perform in the future, so we try not to spend a lot of time thinking about this.”
“We can’t just sit back and say, ‘Oh, now we’re in really good shape’ because I don’t think that’s the case at all. We’ll be in okay shape if we play well down the stretch; if we don’t, we won’t.”
Given how strong the league is from top to bottom, does it even matter much whether a team finishes second or fourth, in terms of who plays who in the quarterfinals?
“No, but amongst the coaches you’re dealing with competitors — people who want to finish as high as they can finish and certainly being the champion of the regular season is a great accomplishment,” concluded Cahoon. “You don’t want to diminish the fact of where people finish in the standings.”
Boston University’s win in Monday’s Beanpot semifinal marked the tenth time in a row and 20th time in 21 years that the Terriers managed to avoid the dreaded Beanpot Consolation game. At Monday night’s press conference, Terrier coach Jack Parker explained how he emphasized the importance of avoiding the Monday afternoon game, given that none of his current players had ever experienced one.
“That’s one of our mottos before we come in here, that we don’t play in the consolation game,” Parker said. “I told them, `Guys, you don’t know what it feels like.’ I know what it feels like. I’ve never been in it as a player, but I’ve been in it as a coach, what, three or four times? And I don’t want to be in that game.
“To come over here at 3:30 next Monday is absolutely a real tough night, so there’s a lot at stake in this game to get yourself in the final,” added Parker. “The Super Bowl is over now, and there will be all kinds of talk about this Beanpot coming up, a lot of press. To be sneaking in the building to play the consolation game is real tough. We’re very fortunate that we haven’t had to do this too often.
“I’ve said it many, many times: One reason is because we get great players, and also in the history of the tournament we’ve also gotten real good goaltending,” Parker said. “When we haven’t won it was probably because we didn’t get that. That’s important in any short series, and it showed up again tonight. We got great goaltending.”
In similar circumstances, Parker has steadfastly emphasized that it’s the players who win the games and that it’s the associate coaches who recruit those players.
Talking about the Terriers’ remarkable track record of reaching the Beanpot Championship, MacDonald reflected on his days as Parker’s associate head coach. “I just don’t think the success of BU — whether it’s the Beanpot or Hockey East or national prominence — it doesn’t happen by accident,” MacDonald said. “Clearly, it all starts from the top. This is what Jack’s strengths are: No. 1, he’s very intelligent. No. 2, you believe what he says, and you have unconditional trust in him and what he does as a coach.
“When he tells you that you’re ready to play and go out and win a Beanpot championship as a coach, you’d better believe you’re as confident as you could possibly be.”
So what should we expect on Monday? On paper, Boston College should win. They are arguably the best team in the nation, and they have beaten the Terriers in three regular-season games this year — even when badly shorthanded in the last two due to injuries. Yet the Terriers managed to beat BC last year when the Eagles were favored, and they pulled a stunning upset of their archrivals in 1998-99, when the Terriers finished with a 14-20-3 record while the Eagles went 27-12-4 and wound up in the Frozen Four.
On the other hand, BC had the better team in 2001 and did win, going on to win a national championship to boot. More recently, BC has swept BU in regular-season action for two straight seasons but still lost to BU at the FleetCenter twice — once in the Beanpot, once in the Hockey East semifinals. After BC waltzed past Harvard on Monday, head coach Jerry York was clear on his team’s needs.
“I’ve said this before: In good games, timely goals and outstanding goaltending generally produces victories,” York said. “Someone said, ‘Hey, you lost to BU in the Beanpot.’ You know, they’ve got a good club! We’ve battled pretty well,” added York. “Looking back on it, they’ve had some outstanding play from [Michel] Larocque, [Rick] DiPietro, and [Sean] Fields — some big games, some incredible performances. I think to win championships you need that.
“We’re going to have to count on Matti Kaltiainen to really step up and play very well because BU’s going to produce a lot of good chances against us,” York said. “And we’ll need to score some timely goals ourselves, but it’s a great matchup. As I’ve said before, hats off to the Terriers, they’ve played very well in the Beanpot, but our goal is to win one. Growing up, I learned that when you get knocked down, you get up and keep swinging. So our team will come out very, very hard on Monday night and aim to win a Beanpot.”
“BU will win,” said MacDonald decisively when asked his opinion on Monday’s championship.
“I think that it’s the team that has the experience and leans on it; BU has the edge in that department,” MacDonald said. BU is a team that has a great opportunity to continue to find itself in this game. They’re a lot like Adam Vinatieri: When it means the most, they play the best.”
So what do you want to bet on? BC has the edge in scoring talent, and of late Matti Kaltiainen has exceeded expectations and no longer appears to be the weak link. BU has the advantage in terms of history and tradition. Both teams will have key players out of the lineup: as noted below, Ben Eaves remains out for BC, while Kenny Magowan (knee) and David Klema (shoulder injury in Monday’s semifinal) will be out for the Terriers.
York is probably right when he says it will come down to goaltending. It could be a decisive BC win, but I think it’s more likely to be a classic, whoever wins.
Ben Eaves, Player-Coach
Whether or not the Eagles hoist the Pot on Monday, they likely will meet their feet without Ben Eaves, who is expected to remain out for a few more weeks after fracturing a kneecap in early January. Missing these big games in his senior season has been a trial for the stellar forward.
“I think Ben Eaves in my opinion is the best player in college hockey,” York said. “For him to not be able to play in his last year has been a very difficult thing for him. Four to six weeks they talk about [since being injured January 9], and we’re not sure if he’s going to be ready after four or after six. We’ll make a decision that’s going to ensure him that he’s full up before he comes.
“During this time period, we’ve brought him on the bench just to kind of keep him involved,” York added. “He doesn’t like it, but we force him to come down with us. In between periods, he talks to players. He’s one of those unique kids who I’ve had a chance to coach that has a great karma about him. People just gravitate toward him. We’ve got to cherish those type of players in college hockey because we don’t have enough of them.”
Last week’s trivia question was “What goaltender won the Beanpot Eberly Award three times?” Chris Sayles was the first to respond correctly, noting that BU’s Scott Cashman won the award — given to the goaltender with the highest save percentage — in 1990, 1992, 1993. Here’s Chris’s cheer: “Go Black Bears…..End the nonconference schedule as strong as you started!!!”
As for this week, here is a three-part trivia question for you:
1. Which former Hockey East centerman wore No. 19 for his college team and also wore that number last year while playing in the British Ice Hockey Superleague?
2. For three seasons, one Hockey East team had a pair of defensemen whose combined height exceeded 13 feet! Name the towering teammates.
3. There are at least two pairs of NHL teammates this year who also were Hockey East teammates once upon a time. Name the two pairs.
If you come up with all the right answers, you should be referring to at least three different Hockey East teams. Email me with your guesses. The winner will be notified by Monday afternoon; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it. If no one gets all three parts, we’ll award it to whoever comes up with the most correct answers in the quickest time.