This Week in Hockey East: Oct. 28, 2004

Tough Losses

There are losses and then there are Losses.

And no, this isn’t another jab at the Chokers from the Bronx. (Heh, heh, heh.)

This is a look at some tough, almost brutal, defeats that Hockey East teams have suffered of late, particularly in nonconference games.

Exhibit A was Boston College’s 3-2 loss at Notre Dame. The Eagles dominated in every area except for the final score. Shots? 52-17, including margins of 20-4 and 22-4 in the first and third periods, respectively. Attempts? 103-27. A look at the shot charts shows not a single Notre Dame attempt from the slot in either the first or third period. Those opening 20 minutes, which finished ominously (for BC fans) scoreless, saw the margin of attempts 49-5. The shot chart shows a BC end of almost unblemished snow-like white while the Notre Dame end shows grade A opportunities crammed next to each other like sardines.

Even so, a shorthanded goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation — perhaps the unkindest cut of all — propelled the Irish to the upset win.

“ND played a pretty conservative hockey game and relied a lot on acrobatic goaltending by [Morgan] Cey,” BC coach Jerry York says. “When they had an offensive chance, they were able to bury it. They had very few offensive chances.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game that had attempts [so lopsided]. We were 103 attempts to their 27. We created a lot of good offense. I was very, very pleased with almost all aspects of our hockey team and how we played. Generally that means you’re going to win a hockey game, but Cey played outstanding.

“You always make mistakes in a game, but it seemed like the three mistakes we made, they scored on all three. They had a great crowd that kept them in the game.

“It was a frustrating game in that we thought we played very well and met a lot of the different objectives we have going into a game and yet we weren’t able to win the game. That’s hockey, I guess.”

The injury bug has hit the Eagles hard on the blue line, the one place they had the least depth. Going into the season, the Big Three — Andrew Alberts, John Adams and Peter Harrold — gave BC strength at the position, but after that were question marks. Unfortunately, Alberts and Harrold were sidelined prior to the Notre Dame trip, Alberts lost for 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL while Harrold won’t return until next week at the earliest because of a shoulder separation.

“Both Andrew and Peter were sorely missed,” York says. “They’re very, very good players. That’s the one area where we’d like to stay as healthy as we possibly can, but we don’t have any control over that.

“We played three freshmen against Notre Dame. Two in particular are going to be very fine players for us: Mike Brennan and Brian O’Hanley. Both played an awful lot and played very, very well. We didn’t get Todd Perry in much because of all the special teams, but those two played a lot because they’re on special teams.

“I think the misfortune we’ve had with Andrew and Peter may help these guys to develop a little quicker.”

Fortunately, BC is in the middle of a very light portion of its schedule in terms of quantity, though not in quality. On the heels of the lone weekend game at Notre Dame, the Eagles have only Friday night singletons against North Dakota and Maine on the immediate horizon. “Only,” however, is a relative term since those schools are currently ranked fourth and seventh in the country, respectively.

“The shots won’t be the same [as against Notre Dame],” York says laughing. “That’s for sure. It’s going to be much more balanced.”

The defensemen have gotten a helping hand from a surprising source, top sniper Patrick Eaves. Although he’s a force on a line with Ryan Shannon and freshman Dan Bertram, the dearth of five-on-five play opening the season has put Eaves frequently back on the blue line.

“We’ve been using Patrick back on defense on four-on-fours and during PK, mostly because of the injuries to Andrew and Peter,” York says. “Patrick played defense growing up until about grade 10 so he’s had that benefit.

“We’re just so light on defense when Peter and Andrew aren’t playing [while] we’re deeper up front. It helps our club to be able to do that because we’ve got other good forwards. Patrick is our best goalscorer, but he shows his versatility when he goes back to play defense.”

And when he’s not helping out on defense but is back on his wing, watch out, as evidenced by his line’s three goals and five assists in a season-opening win over Denver.

“We’re not getting a lot of five-on-five play, but when they do get a chance to play as a line they’re moving pucks creatively and very, very quickly,” York says. “So they’ve got the makings of an excellent line because they use each other. It’s not that Patrick takes it and then Shannon takes it; they bounce it off each other and Danny is fitting in very well on the right side.”

Exhibit B for tough losses comes from Massachusetts. Two weeks ago, the Minutemen battled tooth-and-nail with sixth-ranked Minnesota only to have a scoreless tie broken the wrong way with 31 seconds remaining.

“We were pleased with the way we played,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon says. “They still had their chances, but we did limit their opportunities to 21 shots on goal while we managed 17. We were able to dictate how the game was played and that was one of our objectives going into the game.

“Minnesota is clearly a real good young team. They had a lot of young players in lineup as we did. It was interesting to see how that unfolded throughout the game.

“I was pleased with that game, but obviously at the same time was bitterly disappointed with a major breakdown at the end of the game. We not only had one faux pas defensively, but a series of three or four consecutive ones which led to the scoring chance.

“So that was a bittersweet pill to swallow in that we played well, but ended up with nothing out of it.”

After rebounding with nip-and-tuck wins over Canisius and Massachusetts-Lowell, UMass then was upset by Connecticut on an excruciating goal with five seconds left in overtime.

“The UConn game was the result of a lot of things,” Cahoon says. “I could say that the kids were looking by them, that the kids didn’t show them the same respect that they’ve shown other opponents and to some degree that might be true. But it also was the result of a long week and a real hard game played against Lowell on Friday night and then maybe too loose a practice on Saturday as a result of trying to regain energy. So we never seemed to have focus until the third period.

“It’s interesting that we can play the likes of Minnesota and some other real tough opponents and keep them in the low 20s and sometimes in the teens in shots against and yet we’ll trade almost 40 shots against UConn. So that tells you that the game was played very loose.

“I don’t want to take anything away from UConn either because they played with a purpose just as Canisius did when we played them. Those teams have some good players on them. The Olsen kid that plays for UConn — [Tim Olsen] — was very effective, very clever and has shown himself to be a real good player at this level. He gave us problems.

“We just have to do a better job of being ready for each and every opponent.”

Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that Hockey East teams assumed games against teams from the new conferences were, with few exceptions, automatic wins.

“There are a couple of teams in Hockey East that generate a lot of offense and most of the time that offensive prowess will separate them from a lot of the teams because there are so are few teams that have that offensive potential,” Cahoon says. “[But] we’re like most of the teams in Division I college hockey that have a few key offensive players but are built differently [from the powerhouses]. We don’t play the game to run away from an opponent. We don’t play the game for the big power surge.

“So when you let [opponents] hang around long enough, then if you’re not thorough enough to dominate the territorial play and to just have more puck possession and be able to limit those chances, you put yourself in a position to get beat.

“UConn played really hard. This is a big rivalry, a natural rivalry, and our kids have to learn to respect that UConn-UMass in every sport except hockey is a monumental event. To UConn’s credit, they came here more prepared and our guys got caught napping.”

With the season’s first home-and-home series set for this weekend against Providence, it’s imperative for the Minutemen to avoid any negative carryover effect.

“We can’t get those two points back,” Cahoon says. “If we had even gotten a tie in that game, it wouldn’t have been a factor in our overall schedule, plus or minus. It would have just been forgotten about.

“But the fact that we found a way to lose that game [leaves] a little sting there. So we’ve got to get by the sting and we’ve got to get on with business and just be a little bit more thorough when we get into those situations.”

Despite the loss, UMass stands at 3-2 with a win in its lone league game so there’s reason for Cahoon to be cautiously optimistic. However, he’s not about to make any predictions.

“I like the people and the team and I think we’ve got some built-in character,” he says. “The season is going to be a struggle. It’s going to be game-to-game, a battle for us to be in the thick of it on a regular basis. I have to stay away from trying to swallow the whole season because I have no idea where it’s going to take us.

“I think we’ve got a foundation here to continue to grow the program throughout the year. That means that if we cross every T and dot every I from here on in, we’ll have a respectable season and maybe even surprise. I know that as we take this group of people and move into the future and add to it, it looks promising.

“But it’s a day-to-day struggle. I like the kids. I like the personality. We’ve just got to stay the course. That’s the way that I go about my business and that’s the way that I try to encourage the people who work about me to go about their business. Where that leads us, no one knows, but I like our chances if we stay with it.”

Exhibit C for tough losses is Merrimack. After opening the season with a 5-3 win over Rensselaer in the Maverick Stampede semifinal, the Warriors fell in the championship game on a third-period shorthanded goal by host Nebraska-Omaha.

“It’s pretty hectic playing out there,” Merrimack coach Chris Serino says. “It was the finals of their tournament and a big crowd. We came back from being down, 3-1, and played pretty well. We scored a goal at he buzzer at the end of the second period and scored one in the first minutes of the third period and had it 3-3 and I thought we had total control of the game.

“Then with about six or seven minutes left in the game, we got a power play, but we turned the puck over and — bang! — goal. Game over. We continued to press the rest of the way, but [couldn’t get even].”

A week later, a similar rally tied Providence, 4-4, only to be for naught after a third-period power-play goal by the Friars resulting from a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty.

“We were down 4-2 in that game and we came back and tied it early in the third period and we’re playing pretty well,” Serino says. After mentioning the penalty, he sighs and says, “Right now, if something can go wrong for us, it goes wrong.”

The losing streak reached three games when Wayne State defeated Merrimack, 5-1, and threatened to go to four one night later. The visitors took a 4-2 third-period lead on that tough loss bugaboo, a shorthanded goal, but Merrimack responded with a three-goal barrage to gain the split.

“Friday night’s loss was one of the worst exhibitions of any team I’ve ever coached,” Serino says. “We did things wrong. We made poor decisions. We were just bad.

“We had played so poorly on Friday night, that Saturday night we were pressing. We were 4-2 and it was almost like, ‘Hey, guys, let’s relax and get going.’ From that point on — where I wasn’t sure if we could reach any lower point — we just turned things around and started to play.

“We moved the puck better and the result was that we scored three goals in a four- or five-minute span. We’d been awful on the power play to that point. On the power play, it’s all about making good decisions with the puck. And if we had two decisions to make, we took the bad one every time up until that time.

“Then all of a sudden, we started making good decisions and taking good shots. Pucks that were missing the net by six inches were now going in the net.

“I was pretty proud of the way we came back.”

As with UMass’s loss to UConn, Merrimack’s failure to sweep Wayne State likely raised a few eyebrows among Hockey East fans.

“The separation in college hockey isn’t that much anymore,” Serino says. “There’s a few teams in the country — maybe BC, Maine and UNH in our league and maybe a Michigan or Minnesota — that can go out and not play well on a night and win. But for the majority of college hockey, if you don’t go out and play well, you’re not going to win no matter who you’re playing.

“Look at the scores: New Hampshire 5-4 over Mercyhurst and Northeastern going out and pounding Michigan.

“There are no more teams that need 100 saves from their goalie to stay in the game. They’re capable of staying in the game [without that]. If both play awful then the better team is probably going to win, but if you’re on your game and the other team isn’t, you’ve got a chance to win every game. The parity is much better now.”

With Maine arriving on Friday, Merrimack has picked an inopportune time to accumulate injuries: Brett Gough (broken arm, 10 weeks), Jeff Royston (wrist, four-to-six weeks), Justin Mills (back, out since start of the season) and Ryan Sullivan (high ankle sprain, at least a week).

“The fortunate thing is that we do have depth this year so we can put a team out there that is still capable of winning,” Serino says. “We’re not going to replace Gough, but we can certainly replace the other guys.”

Besides, there are other pieces to the puzzle that still need to be put together.

“Our team is still trying to find an identity,” Serino says. “We’re playing too much like individuals right now and not as a team. We’re not good enough to do that. Once we find ourselves a little bit and play more together, we’re going to be a pretty good team. We show flashes of that at times.

“It’s a matter of guys trying to do too much and that may be based on the past when there wasn’t a great surrounding cast around them. But I think there’s a better surrounding cast now and I think they’re starting to understand that.”

One of the positive signs has been sophomore Matt Byrnes, who scored nine points last year but has already totaled eight, earning the league’s Player of the Week.

“He and Jordan Black have been my two best players consistently from day one,” Serino says. “They’re playing great. When we started the season, they weren’t on the power play, but now they are and they kill penalties for us. They were on the ice in the last minute when Wayne State pulled their goalie because they deserved to be out there.

“They were both big-time scorers in juniors and they came in here last year and were trying to concentrate more on playing defense than anything else and learning what we were doing. I think they feel relaxed and comfortable with that now. So after a year of them doing that, now they’re incorporating their own skills into what we do.

“They don’t think about what to do; they know what to do. They aren’t afraid to use their offensive skills within the scope of what everybody else is doing. They’ve become better all-around players. They’re very reliable defensively, but they’re also good offensively.”

Another Milestone Beckons

Jerry York will be celebrating his 700th career win with BC’s next victory. Stay tuned to USCHO for more coverage of this milestone, but in the meantime check out this piece, that appeared when he reached the 600 mark.

Power-Play Madness, Take Two

Two weeks ago, this column gave its support to the new officiating initiatives designed to cut down on interference and open up the game for skilled players. In the short term, most games have become brutal to watch as they’ve been reduced to infuriating exercises in special teams. In the long run, however, the product should be a better one, a point echoed by the commissioners in a conference call this week.

After his team’s win over Providence, 3-2, Boston University coach Jack Parker offered words too good to pass up in this space.

What’s the answer to all the power plays?

“Stop doing the penalties,” Parker said. “It better be [the answer]. Because the answer we had last year was that you can’t get anything going when people are grabbing and holding you. To get that out of the game is well worth making a mess of a few games until people stop taking the penalties.

“They call a couple of chintzy hooks? Don’t hook a guy. They call a lot of interference? Don’t interfere with a guy.

“If this keeps up — that there’s 28 penalties a game, five-on-three scoring, five-on-fours — then we’ll ruin the game. But it won’t be the referees that ruin the game, or the rulebook; it will be the players and coaches.

“So we’ve got to smarten up. Until we do, there’s going to be a lot of penalties. [Referee Conrad Hache] called it exactly as we were going to be told he would call it.

“I think it’s easier for referees to ref a game like this instead of trying to be selective about what they’re going to call. ‘Let’s see, there’s five penalties going on; which one should I call?’ This way they can call every penalty they see, and I’ve always said they see them all.”

And if it seems like the current power-play spree is tough to watch?

“What we were doing the last three years was horrible to watch,” Parker said. “Last year we had BC and Maine playing one-nothing games — two of the best, most talented teams in college hockey — NCAA tournament games, one-nothing, two-one. We’ve got to stop it, and we’re making a statement.

“What happens is people start crying, coaches start crying, and refs start saying, ‘I don’t want to listen to it.’ But they don’t have to listen to anybody but the commissioner and the chairman of the Rules Committee. If they don’t that, they’ll get fired.

“This isn’t wrestling; we’re supposed to let the skilled players play. In the NBA and NFL, they do not let things go by the boards so defensive players will have a huge advantage on the offensive players.”

Hear, hear.

I Guess He Belongs

BU forward Peter MacArthur has certainly impressed in the early going, scoring four goals in as many games. On Monday, the league selected him as its Rookie of the Week.

“He’s got a lot of skill,” Parker said. “He’s got the reputation of being a goal scorer, and he obviously is living up to that. He’s got a knack for the net, and he makes good plays.”

After missing the first half of last year to injury, however, MacArthur wasn’t so sure he was ready to make the leap from juniors to collegiate play.

“We recruited him [and] he was committed to come,” Parker said. “[But] he was saying, ‘Should I play another of juniors? Would you like me to play another year? I don’t have to come this year.’

“This was going on in March, April, May, June. Even in the summertime, he called me. He wasn’t confident that he was going to step in, and I finally said, ‘Hey, Pete, we’ve only got 12 forwards. If you don’t come, we’re in trouble.'”

Instead, the trouble has been for opposing goaltenders.

“I didn’t expect to play too much coming to a program like this, but Coach Parker does a great job of getting the freshman in the lineup,” MacArthur said. “I have to give him a lot of credit for the freshmen doing well.”

The rookie has also established a reputation as one very upbeat person.

“I’ve always been kind of a happy kid,” MacArthur said. “People say, ‘Why are you always so happy? We’ve got to do sprints today.’

“I’m like, ‘We get to play hockey.’ And a lot of us our doing it on a full ride [a full scholarship]. A lot of kids would love to be in our position, so why not enjoy it?

“You’re only here for four years. Then you’ve got to get a job.”

Alumni Game Humor

Prior to BU’s Alumni Game, Parker described the impressive lineup on the Alumni side. After going through a who’s who of big names, BU Sports Information Director Ed Carpenter added, “And if they get by all of them, [in goal] there’s Ricky DiPietro.”

To which Parker responded, “We’re going to run DiPietro.”

Scott Weighart’s excellent article about the game — and it would be an upset for Scott not to write an excellent article — includes the following priceless addition to a Chris Bourque quote:

“He’s nuts,” Bourque said, complimenting DiPietro.

One More Bandwagon Thought

Last week’s column discussed whether yours truly was or was not driving the Lowell bandwagon. Several devoted River Hawk fans sent very nice messages, including the following segment from Scott Kaplan which prompted a big grin:

“You’re not anywhere close to being allowed to drive the Lowell bandwagon. We’re kicking you into the back…. We’re driving the bandwagon, and we’ll let you know when and if we’ll let you drive.”

UNH’s Latest Hobey Hopeful

New Hampshire has had one top candidate after another for the Hobey Baker Award in recent years. But a sign spotted at the Whittemore Center last weekend offered an unexpected suggestion. The sign read:

Schilling for Hobey

Two thumbs up, way up, on that point.

Trivia Contest

Last week’s question asked: based on the results from each team’s opener and the past two seasons, who is destined to win this year’s national championship? And the answer: the last two champs, Denver and Minnesota, opened their seasons with wins over Ohio State, a feat which New Hampshire duplicated.

First to answer correctly was Jay Deschenes whose cheer is:

“Go Eagles! Beat UND!”

By the way, this nugget was shamelessly stolen from Paula Weston’s CCHA column — thanks, Paula! — so if you were smart enough to be reading her pearls of wisdom you’d have gotten the question right. (Note: Paula lives in Columbus, Ohio, the site of this year’s Frozen Four and she invites you all to one huge kegger at her place. Tell her I sent you.)

This week’s question is a sequel to the one asked in the season’s first column. A Hockey East player will be facing an opponent this weekend with the exact same name — first and last, with the same spelling — but a different position. Scott Weighart will be filling in for me next week so email him with the name, positions and teams. 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…

• Welcome, my friends, to Boston, the City of Champions.

• It wasn’t that long ago that a local curmudgeon responded to a downturn in Boston sports by calling the city Loserville. Well, it’s City of Champions now, baby.

• And Loserville is spelled N-Y-C.

• So get out the Queen CD and cue up That Song, overused though it may be, and crank up the volume.

• Because nothing can make today a bad day. A Microsoft blue screen of death on the PC monitor this morning? No big deal. Hotcakes cold at McDonalds? No sweat. Cause the Boston Red Sox ruuuuuuuuuuuuuule.

• I’m sure you’ve already heard it by now, but I enjoy this joke with every repeating. Question: What do you call 25 guys watching the World Series? Answer: The Yankees.

• Before I go any further, I’ve got to pay tribute to my Dad. He didn’t get to see the Sox win it all in his lifetime, but his devotion to this team never failed. I think of him often, but I did so with especially vivid clarity when the final out was made and 1918 became just another year. Dad, I have a bajillion things to thank you for, but passing on your attachment to this team is one that seems especially significant now. Thanks and I wish you could have seen it. Man, how I wish you could have seen it.

• I know the World Series was a dud in terms of drama, but that’s plenty okay with me. The crushing losses in 1967, 1975 and 1986 were all notable because many considered them to be the best Series of their decade. We’d all had quite enough drama in the Yankees series — I’m getting all choked up just thinking about it — so a “boring” sweep was a wonderful thing to see.

• Next up on the CD player: U2 and “Beautiful Day.”

• Wasn’t this the lights-out pitching staff we had envisioned in spring training with Schilling, Pedro and Lowe acting as a Murderers’ Row version of starting pitching? Schilling was everything advertised and more, the ultimate competitor, leader and craftsman. Pedro fell from dominating to merely very, very good for most of the year and Lowe completely plummeted to worse than mediocre heading into the playoffs. But the trio combining for 21 innings without a single earned run against the top National League lineup is exactly what we’d envisioned last spring in our fondest of dreams.

• And does Schilling get it or what? I’d pay to listen to him discuss his grocery list. Did you catch his quip where he suggested holding the Sox’ World Series ring ceremony next year in New York? Priceless.

• But, hey, he won me over with those bonuses and an extra guaranteed year in his contract being tied to a World Series championship.

• It’s likely to be a wild offseason for the Sox and one fraught with potential disasters. But if Theo hasn’t earned our trust by now, then we just ain’t been paying attention.

• How sweet it is!

I love that dirty water. Oh, Boston you’re my home.

Thanks to Scott Weighart and Dan Fisher.