Hard Work Pays Off
If you’re looking for the season’s top feel-good story, it just might be Merrimack’s Frank McLaughlin. The junior goaltender hadn’t logged a single official minute in his first two years with the Warriors, but was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week after stopping 41-of-43 shots in his first collegiate start, a 5-2 win over Massachusetts.
Think of it. Heading into this season, he’d put in the many hours and considerable sweat of roughly 12 in-season months and another 12 months of off-season work. With no payoff for that effort.
And none was particularly looming on the horizon. McLaughlin entered the semester once again third on the depth chart behind Jim Healey and Casey Guenther.
McLaughlin did stop all 12 shots he saw in a period of action against St. Thomas, but that was an exhibition game. His first official minutes came three weeks later at the tail end of a 5-1 loss to Wayne State. It was a breakthrough — first official minutes are still first official minutes and there’s nothing wrong with saves on all six shots — but the final seven-plus minutes of the game were mop-up time. No one was confusing this with being introduced as part of the starting lineup.
After Merrimack’s 8-2 loss last Friday, however, coach Chris Serino tabbed the junior as his starter.
“Frank really put an effort into coming back and getting a spot in the rotation this year,” Serino says. “He’s not a kid who is satisfied with being the third goalie. We had a conversation at the end of last year and he asked what he had to do and I told him.
“He worked his tail off. He stayed down on the Cape and worked with Paul Vincent’s Pro Camp all summer long, worked his tail off, and came back much better. I played him for a period in the exhibition game and he played very well. We put him in for a couple minutes in a backup role in [the Wayne State] game and he played well then.
“The problem was, and I explained this to him, was that in practice he didn’t give me the confidence to put him in the game. But every time I’ve put him in the game he had done pretty well.
“Everyone has said to me [since his start and strong performance], ‘Oh, what a great move!’ But it wasn’t that far-fetched of a great move. I had two goalies who were struggling and fighting the puck and I had another kid who, although I was a little nervous with him in practice, had shown me in the short period of time in games that he performs in games.
“If there was ever a better chance to do it, [I don’t know what that would be]. My only hesitation was that it was a Hockey East game and we desperately needed to win one.”
Serino laughs and adds, “I dunno. If we lost, 5-0, they’d be saying what a dumb move it was on my part.”
Merrimack, however, didn’t lose. And McLaughlin became a rallying point in the Warrior dressing room.
Serino says, “I asked the guys, ‘How many of you, if you weren’t on scholarship and hadn’t played in a game in three years, would still be on the team? I don’t think too many. And here’s a kid who’s been here for three years, hasn’t played, and he’s still here and he still works as hard as anybody in the room. So I’m not asking him to win the game for you, I’m asking you to win the game for him.’
“Sometimes when we think about changing goalies, we think about the goalie winning the game for us. I just wanted them to understand that this wasn’t the case of Frank winning it for us. We owed it to him.”
McLaughlin now owns a 1.77 goals against average and a .959 save percentage.
Jimmy Howard, watch out.
Merrimack’s three-goal win after a six-goal loss ranks as the sharpest of U-turns in a season replete with weekend turnarounds throughout the league.
“It was demoralizing to get beat by that much,”Serino says, “but we deserved what we got because of our play from the net out. We had to do a little bouncing back and obviously the kids did it.”
Serino assisted the turnaround by requesting after the 8-2 loss that each player write down how well he had performed.
“On occasion I’ll ask them to do that because I can tell them how they played, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe it,” Serino says. “So I ask them to write to me to tell me how they played and what they had to do the next night for us to be better. And they did and I wrote back my comments to them.
“The funny part of it was that 18 of the 20 guys that played in the game on Friday night thought that they played okay to pretty good. So I just said to them, ‘Everyone agreed that we got our [butts] kicked. Two guys wrote that they [stunk]. If 18 of the guys in this room evaluated themselves as playing pretty good, there’s something wrong.
“They understood that maybe we weren’t evaluating ourselves properly here. Maybe we weren’t [playing as well as we assumed]. The point wasn’t to embarrass anybody, but to let them see that you can’t fix the problem unless you know the problem.
“If everyone thinks they’re doing pretty well and we’re losing, then obviously they think it’s the other guy’s fault and not theirs. That was the point.”
The point registered well enough for a 5-2 win.
“I thought we played 100 times better on Saturday than we did on Friday,” Serino says.
Not that it’s all downhill sledding from here. In the next five days, the Warriors face Boston University in a home-and-home series followed by a Tuesday night game against New Hampshire. After a singleton against Northeastern, the next league games on the docket are a two-game set at Maine and a home-and-home against Boston College.
In other words, after BU it’s five league games out of six against top 10 teams.
“We can’t worry about that stuff,” Serino says. “You’ve got to play them sooner or later. Is playing Providence or UMass-Lowell or Northeastern any easier?
“The games are all the same when you come right down to it. If you play well, you’ve got a shot to win; if you don’t play well, you’re not going to win. We have to look at every Hockey East games the same way.”
Another case in point for sharp U-Turns is Providence, which rebounded from a 4-2 loss to Wayne State to win the rematch, 4-1.
“It’s really tough to sweep in college hockey,” PC coach Paul Pooley says. “The teams are pretty even and because of the mental factor: you’re feeling pretty good about yourself while the other team got beat and they want to come back and redeem themselves.
“There’s not a lot of difference in college hockey teams. Everybody’s got scholarships for the most part and there are a lot of kids that can play the game. You’ve seen that this year. That’s throughout college hockey.
“For ourselves, execution is the name of the game with this young club. The times we play well, we execute. The times we don’t play well, we don’t execute. Bottom line. Work ethic and power plays and everything else being equal, execution is the name of the game.
“We’re growing as a hockey club, [but] I thought we’d be more consistent at this point. At times, we look good. At other times, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
While trying to win every single game, Pooley is keeping the big picture in view.
“We’ve always done well in February,” he says. “It’s because we get our lines [set], we commit to playing the way we need to play and we find chemistry. That’s the way we have to coach right now.
“It’s about development. It’s about who’s going to help us win games and do the things they’re supposed to do. Those are the kids who are going to play. It’s there [for us], but we’re still learning and growing and some guys still have to figure it out.”
Another Good First Impression
One Friar who has at least begun to figure it out based on a one-game sample is goaltender Tyler Sims. Sims was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week for stopping 36-of-37 shots in PC’s win on Saturday night. The stellar performance came in his first official collegiate game.
“He did a nice job for us,” Pooley says. “He was very composed and slowed things down. In the last six minutes when we were up, 3-1, he probably had eight or nine shots. He did a nice job of smothering his rebounds.
“He’s a very composed young man anyways, so he plays like that.”
After backing up senior David Cacciola in the first six games, Sims has inserted himself into the picture.
“Whoever deserves to play, plays,” Pooley says. “You’re not a senior. You’re not a freshman. You’re a hockey player. So we evaluate who plays best for us [and those guys play].
“I tell the guys, ‘It’s what you do with an opportunity that gets you another opportunity to go or doesn’t.’ And he deserves another opportunity to play.
“He didn’t play like a freshman; he played exceptional for us and he will certainly play more. He’s certainly into the mix in playing time.”
Not Just A Big Lug
Casual fans who look at the New Hampshire roster might see Daniel Winnik’s name and the 6-2, 210-pound listing after it and assume that he’s a grinder who just works the corners and provides a physical presence. Any offense from the big guy would just be a bonus.
Winnik may have had a modest four goals and 10 assists as a freshman last year in the loaded UNH lineup, but the potential for much more existed. And was on display last Friday night as his hat trick led the Wildcats over BU and resulted in Hockey East Player of the Week honors.
“Winnik obviously had a big game for us,” UNH coach Dick Umile said after the game. “He’s a good hockey player. He hadn’t really gotten aggressive until today and it was good to see him coming to the puck and being a little more aggressive.
“He’s a real smart hockey player. When he initiates it, he’s really good. We talked to him last week. He was waiting for things to happen and not initiating it. Tonight he initiated it and it paid dividends for him.”
Umile was never just recruiting size when he and his staff pursued the Mississauga, Ont., native, who was playing for the Wexford Raiders.
“It wasn’t size,” Umile said. “He was a smart hockey player. He was very good for a big kid in handling the puck. He really played well and understood the game.
“Last year as a freshman, we thought he was one of our best centermen. We put him out there in key situations. He’s good on the faceoff, he played very well in the defensive zone down low so he’s a real smart hockey player.
“He’s only a sophomore and he’s really come along.”
Winnik had begun his offensive breakthrough prior to the hat trick, recording a 1-3–4 scoring line in the first five games.
“I was hoping to get some more goals this weekend,” Winnik said. “Luckily I got some nice bounces and nice passes from [Michael] Hutchins and [Brett] Hemingway.
“I was definitely looking to contribute [more offense] this year, try to get on the board more than I did last year. I thought I had a pretty good year last year, but big things are expected of our sophomore class this year and hopefully I’ll be able to fulfill it.”
Being pigeonholed as just a bruiser has happened to a surprisingly limited degree.
“Some people see that,” Winnik said, “but a lot of the coaches I’ve played for haven’t really put me in that role. They’ve put me more in the more offensive, scoring-type [role], which I’ve been fortunate enough to have.”
A big part of that scoring ability has come from a keen nose for the right spot on ice at the right time.
“I guess it comes a little bit naturally, but I’ve been doing a lot of work on it,” Winnik said. “The coaching staff is doing a great job with me on finding that open hole and driving through it and coming through the opening and supporting the puck.”
The Size Of It
The UNH-BU game at Manchester, N.H., showed off a difference in all American Hockey League rinks. The blue lines and center ice red line have all gone from 12 inches wide to 24 inches while the end boards to the goal lines are now 11 feet apart as opposed to 13.
Although the idea is to provide more room in the offensive zone, the contrast with the Olympic sheet at the Whittemore Center gave the opposite impression.
“On this real small ice surface, things happen real quickly,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “The puck really moves around this rink real quick. We’ve never played here before.
“This is like Lowell’s rink. It’s an old-time hockey rink with not much room and the puck changes hands real quickly. So we had to react quicker and we didn’t at times. And we got frustrated because we were trying to make some of the plays that you make on the bigger rinks and you can’t do that here.
“You’ve got to make indirect passes and find your way through the maze and we didn’t find our way through the maze sometimes.”
Other than the occasional game at Manchester, Massachusetts-Lowell is the only regular home to the newfangled ice surface.
And, of course, Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald has an amusing description: “The blue lines and center ice red line have all put on weight.”
Since Lowell has had only one home game, the impact of the different ice surface is still up in the air.
“At first it [seemed] goofy, but I think it’s easier for linesmen to call the lines and it gives you some more room in the offensive zone and through the neutral zone,” MacDonald says. “Time will tell.
“I’m in favor of experimenting and have an open mind about it.”
Not that there wasn’t one negative associated with the first game-time impression.
“I would say that one of Patrick Eaves’ goals would have been offsides in any other rink, but it was onsides here because he caught it at the back end of the blue line and had the extra 12 inches to keep it in,” MacDonald says.
That said, over the course of the season, the unique differences could confer an advantage on the River Hawks.
“I really don’t know,” MacDonald says. “It may. It helps us every day in practice. A key battle zone in hockey is getting the puck out over that blue line in the defensive zone. So we have to be a little more thorough every day because we have 12 more inches to navigate. I think that helps us when we get to skinny lines.”
From The Mailbag
The e-mail of the week bore the subject “For the love of all that is holy” and came from a reader who asked to be referred to as “Matt, BUnit.” It was based on Scott Weighart, filling in last week for yours truly, picking Boston University to defeat New Hampshire, 3-2. Scott was as wrong as I had been the week earlier, picking Maine to beat the Terriers.
Okay, buddy. I know it wasn’t you this week, but it’s your column.
NEVER. PICK. BU. TO. WIN. A. FREAKING. GAME.
Don’t even let Weiggy do it!
You have to keep this under control. For the love of god.
I’m from South CT, real close to NYC, and I was born in NY, as was my Dad, so here are my teams:
The NY Yankees (Leave me alone.)
The NY Knicks (It’s not even funny how much they [stink].)
The NY Rangers ([Stink] even when there isn’t an NHL to [stink] in.)
And, the NY Jets. Who will go on a 9-game losing streak, I’m positive, just to tick me off.
So you see what my situation is.
BU hockey is all I have. And now they’re back at a measly .500, because your stupid column jinxed them.
Next week, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, PLEASE pick Merrimack to sweep us in the home-and-home.
I think your record can take the hit, but I can’t sit idly by and let another last year happen.
Okay, so let me get this straight. You’re a Yankees fan and you want me to pick a Merrimack sweep this weekend.
Heh, heh, heh.
Matt, I assure you that I just live to make Yankees fans happy.
Heh, heh, heh.
Because they’ve never given me grief before.
Heh, heh, heh.
Heh, heh, heh.
Why, the thought that my picks just might push a Yankees fan over the edge just… well… it just chokes me up.
Heh, heh, heh.
So, Matt, just head on over to the sidebar and see if I’ve put a Sheffield Smile on your face with some Merrimack picks.
Heh, heh, heh.
TWENTY-OH-FOUR, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap. TWENTY-OH-FOUR, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap.
Life is goooood!
Last week’s question required a little sense of Hockey East history. It was as follows: In an exhibition game this season, one Hockey East team played an opponent with a very curious lineup, numerically. This opponent had a trio of players who wore the same number. Name the three players, and identify the uniform number that they wore. One thing that makes this even tougher: Even if you had a program for the game, it wouldn’t help. The program omitted the name and number for one of the three in question! It also showed a different trio that shared a different number… but one of those players didn’t end up playing.
The game in question was BU’s game against its alumni. All the alumni wore their old numbers, meaning that many numbers were duplicated. But only one number were represented three times: Bob Lachance, Scott Lachance, and John Sabo all wore No. 11. Sabo was the name that was not listed in the program. There were three No. 3s listed in the program — Tony Amonte, Adrian Aucoin, and Chris O’Sullivan — but Amonte did not play.
First to answer correctly about the trio of number 11s was Rebecca Chao. Her cheer is:
“Terriers Snap! Go BU!”
First to get the number 3s was Jonathan Fox. His cheer is:
“GO BU! BEAT BC!!”
This week’s question asks you to make a connection between Vanna White and a recent opponent of Hockey East teams. It’s a loose connection, but explain it. E-mail my trivia account with your 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…
At my day job — which has a significant area of woods, ponds and fields — they’ve placed Styrofoam coyotes to scare away the geese. Nobody minds the geese per se, but their excessive droppings aren’t welcome.
Since the series against the ChokersFromTheBronx began, however, the coyotes have been wearing Red Sox T-shirts. I would have thought that the bright red apparel would have eliminated the illusion.
But the geese haven’t returned. As a result, I’ve concluded that they’re Yankees fans.
So the next time you’re out golfing and the fairways, or even worse the greens, are marred by goose droppings, just remember one thing: a Yankees fan did that.