Nothing interesting happened in Hockey East this week.
See you next week. Happy Thanksgiving.
Let’s try That Again
I don’t get to be a slacker?
You’re not buying that “nothing interesting” story?
Oh well, if you insist….
The View From The Cellar
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks: a 4-5-1 overall record, but 0-5-1 in Hockey East play and without a league point until Tuesday’s tie with New Hampshire. Big things were expected out of a team that was returning virtually the entire roster from last year.
Until, of course, you look at the opponents.
“I would like to thank our schedule-makers for: BC, at UMass, Maine, BU twice and at UNH,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said prior to Tuesday’s UNH game. “That’s a pretty easy start.”
Sarcasm aside, he added, “But we’re very well aware that if we’re playing a Hockey East team, it doesn’t matter if it’s area code 978, 617 or whatever. It’s going to be a tough, tough game. That’s why you play.”
And the River Hawks have not been playing like a last place team.
“We’re looking up at a lot of people for sure,” MacDonald said. “[But despite the brutal schedule] there have been four one-goal games, taking away the empty-netters. So the critical assessment is that it’s not that bad, but at the end of the day we might as well lose all those games 8-2. You’re still 0-5 [and after the tie with UNH, 0-5-1].
“In terms of the development of a young team that’s still trying to find its identity, we’ve played better this year, but the results don’t mirror the way that we’ve played. We’ve found a way to beat ourselves in critical moments, mostly with inopportune stick infraction penalties in the offensive zone 120 feet from our net.
“Or our goaltending and penalty kill don’t bail us out. And then on the other side, we have a chance to define the game with a power-play goal and fail to do it. That’s really the difference.
“We’re clearly not getting the results, but we’re playing better [than our record]. I would venture to say that we had more offensive grade A chances against Maine in 40 minutes than we might have had in two and a half games last year. But [with a one-goal lead], we started the third period taking a cheap, cheesy stick infraction penalty.”
The goaltending trio of senior Chris Davidson, junior John Yaros and freshman Peter Vetri has become a duo. Yaros, who had separated himself from the pack as the number one, broke his collarbone and is out until January. And Davidson had his worst performance of the season on Friday when he allowed six goals on just 19 BU shots, including five on nine second-period shots.
“We outchanced [BU] grade A-wise over two periods and we were down, 6-2,” MacDonald said. “I’m going to go way out on a limb and say their goalie was a little bit better than ours. In this league, if you don’t get great goaltending you have no chance.
“We need to find somebody who can give us the three to four huge saves a game that every team gets. We need that.”
Vetri, who might have been brought along slowly, has been “accelerated” in the wake of the Yaros injury and played particularly well against UNH, stopping 27 of 30 shots. He might be the answer.
“There aren’t many freshmen that are going to come in and carry the mail right from the get-go,” MacDonald said. “The fact is that Vetri has played very well. We think that [he’s] going to be a prime-time goaltender for us.
“[The tie with UNH] was only his fourth game, and he’s overcome some injuries and illnesses, so he hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm. The team takes away a lot of confidence that this guy can compete against one of the top teams in the country and make the big saves when he has to.”
In the offensive end, Ben Walter has been filling the net in a big way, scoring a league-leading 10 goals. After that, however, only Andrew Martin went into the UNH game with more than two goals. (He had four and scored a fifth.) Elias Godoy, who totaled 18 goals last year and Mark Pandolfo who added 13 have only singletons.
“That’s the alarming part of it,” MacDonald said. “We don’t have the guys who are picking up the slack offensively. We need to get more balanced goalscoring.”
None of which means that the River Hawks needed the tie with UNH to keep them from hanging their heads.
“I have the advantage that [the media and fans] don’t, in that we’re with these guys every day,” MacDonald said. “We see the upbeat attitude, the energy level in practice, and the excitement before games. We’re playing a game that we’ve played since we were kids and we love with a passion. This isn’t the middle of February.”
And although the mantra of “all Hockey East games are tough” bears repeating, the upcoming group of league games isn’t quite the gauntlet of those just completed. Up next are two games apiece against Northeastern, Massachusetts and Merrimack.
We’ll know a lot more about the River Hawks after that.
Ups And Downs
Last year, UMass had its breakthrough season when it finished third in Hockey East, earning its first home ice berth. This year, however, there have been quite a few peaks and valleys en route to a .500 record overall and in Hockey East. Of late, it’s been a valley since the Minutemen have only a win over Mercyhurst and a tie with Boston College in their last five games.
As a result, when this writer said, by way of introduction, “I have a few questions about how your team is going,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon responded with a rueful laugh.
“I’d like to ask you the questions,” he said. “I’m looking for answers.”
So where do the Minutemen stand right now?
“We really don’t know,” Cahoon said. “We’ve played so many different types of games [with] so many different types of performances. It’s not individually based; it’s collectively based.
“One game we seem like we have some offense. Another game we seem like we’re defensively tight. And then we have neither on some occasions. Obviously, the special teams have been a real challenge for us.
“We’ve been all over the map, quite honestly. I don’t know even how to describe us. I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to shape it a little bit more consistently.
“But I don’t know if I’m all that surprised because we’re asking so many people to do so much more than they’ve done before and also a lot of new young people to do way too much too early. We sometimes seem to be going on all cylinders and sometimes we’re in total disarray.”
One UMass statistic leaps out at you. The Minutemen are 5-1 at home, but 0-4-1 on the road. Friday’s 6-2 loss at Maine was followed by Tuesday’s 5-2 loss at Vermont.
“I don’t know that we’re a great home team yet, but there’s a little more level of comfort there,” Cahoon said. “A year ago, I thought we were a pretty good team on the road. We won some great games on the road the last couple of years. But that comes with some maturity, with a little bit of assuredness of how you need to play.
“We had a lot of kids in that rink at Maine [last Friday] that hadn’t experienced that before. Or if they had experienced it, they hadn’t handled all the minutes or situations that they were thrown into in that environment. They’d been there, but in a more limited role. It created a very unsettling performance.”
On the positive side, Gabe Winer has continued to progress in the nets, earning Hockey East Player of the Week honors two weeks ago. One shouldn’t read too much into his yanking after allowing four goals against Maine in two periods. (He got the night off against Vermont.)
“Uncharacteristically, it was a very average night for him,” Cahoon said. “But if we’d had Martin Brodeur in the net, it wouldn’t have made any difference because we couldn’t get out of our own way.
“Gabe, for most of the year, has been really on-focus. He hasn’t proven anything yet; it won’t be tallied up until he’s all done with his career. But I think at this point in time that you’d have to say that Tim’s a good goaltender, that he reads the play extremely well and he knows how to stop pucks.
“More often than not, he can be a difference-maker in any game that we play. we need his focus on a day-to-day basis and we need him to bring his grade A game to the rink more often than not.”
Matt Anderson has also returned from a year lost to injury and unlike his rookie season when he was more of a setup guy as reflected by his 10-21–31 scoring line, is doing plenty of goalscoring himself. He already has seven goals to go along 10 assists.
“He’s two years older and physically a lot stronger,” Cahoon said. “The thing that I notice is how much better he shoots the puck. This has allowed him to be a better goalscorer.
“And obviously there were few people on the team he played on [two years ago] — Timmy Turner, Greg Mauldin, Tommy Pock and Stephen Werner, who was off to a good start — who were scoring more goals. Now I think he looks around and sees younger kids and less-proven goalscorers and therefore he’s probably shooting the puck a little bit more than he was a couple of years ago.”
Leading those “younger kids” is freshman P.J. Fenton, who is making a great first impression with eight goals and five assists to trail only Anderson in team scoring.
“I knew that P.J. would be doggedly competitive, that he would just work like crazy to be effective in any role that played out for him, whether it turned out that he was a defensive forward or strictly a role player or whether he was going to be one of our go-to offensive guys,” Cahoon said. “That’s the way it’s played out.
“He’s incredibly focused; he’s a real hard-working kid. He lives in the moment; he’s not all caught up in the success that he’s had. He’s just a very honest performer and the puck is falling for him. He’s getting to rebounds, he’s getting to loose pucks, he’s making some nice plays. That many goals at this point in the season for a freshman is fabulous.
“My advice [to him] is don’t think a lot about it. Just work hard day in and day out and at the end of the year we’ll add ’em up. He could have a big year.”
The Minutemen head West next for games against two daunting opponents, Colorado College and Denver. There, Cahoon is likely to continue to tinker with the lineup as is his wont in nonleague games.
“I always do that, almost to a fault,” he said. “I try to use them to gauge what we might be able to do more effectively in the league. Truthfully, I think the last two years it’s hurt us in the national picture because we really approached [nonleague games] a little bit differently.
“Not from a motivation [standpoint], not from a wanting to win [any less]. There’s no difference there. You want to win games, but in terms of what you might do with lines or power play-wise or lineup-wise. That’s something that I have to weigh each and every time we play one of these games.
“The biggest thing that we’re getting out of our nonleague schedule this year is to help these kids that haven’t had this experience understand what it takes to play at this level over a sustained period of time.”
In The Rear View Mirror
Unless you’ve been off on some other planet, you’ve heard that Boston University will soon be opening the Agganis Arena, which promises to be a terrific new rink. Nonetheless, many will look back fondly at the Walter Brown Arena.
That even includes opposing coaches, who would be forgiven if their attitude was one of “good riddance” to a place where they’ve taken it on the chin all too often.
Two weeks ago, Merrimack coach Chris Serino had a surprisingly nostalgic good-bye.
“I’d love to play here a hundred more times,” he said. “It’s a great place to play; I like playing here. The crowds are into the game. It’s a fast-paced game here.
“It’s also probably the first college hockey rink that started all these new arenas. When it first came in, it was like the elite place. I’ll miss the place, but it’s nice for the kids to go in the new arenas and play, too.”
Blaise MacDonald has a more mixed view of Walter Brown. He’s been coming in as an opponent since 1996, first as coach of Niagara and more recently, the River Hawks. However, he also served as a key member of BU coach Jack Parker’s coaching staff during some of the Terriers’ greatest glory days in the nineties.
“There was a pretty good string of games here when I was associate coach,” he said after Saturday’s game. “I often think the best game was maybe the last game I was here. Not because it was my last game, but because we were beating BC, 10-3.
“This is a great place to come, and my experiences here were priceless.”
Donato’s Press Conference
USCHO’s Scott Weighart posed the Press Conference Question of the Year to Harvard coach Ted Donato after the Crimson toppled BU, 2-1. Weighart noted that the game could have been Jack Parker’s 700th win, but instead was Donato’s fourth.
After the laughter died down, Donato said, “That really puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?”
Donato went on to add, “I think a guy like Jack Parker is a tremendous role model for the kind of person he is and the kind of program he runs.”
The Crimson coach was also in a unique position to comment on BU’s Chris Bourque since as a Boston Bruin Donato played alongside the freshman’s father, a guy by the name of Ray Bourque.
“There were times out there when I wished he was still a seven or eight year-old because he’s a really talented guy,” Donato said. “It’s really been kind of nice to watch him play. He’s a very entertaining, talented, skilled guy.
“Having had the opportunity to play with Ray was one of the highlights of my career, so to watch Chris begin what very well will be a successful hockey venture was nice. I can’t say I was cheering for him tonight, but other than that, I wish him all the best.”
Quotes Of Note
Serino after his club, which has now dropped six of seven, lost to Northeastern, 5-1:
“The most disappointing part of tonight was I absolutely believe our kids came here and thought they were going to win easy. They absolutely thought we just played New Hampshire, we just came off of some tough games and this is going to be easy.
“[Northeastern’s] a good hockey team, one of the best we’ve played all year. And [we] didn’t respect them one bit, until it started to get embarrassing.”
Cahoon after the UMass loss to Vermont:
“We’re grinding, pressing. We’re playing sporadically well, but, not well enough over the course of 60 minutes.”
Maine coach Tim Whitehead on the Black Bear win over UMass:
“We wanted to get back our home-ice advantage — we have lost more games up here recently than we had in the past few years. We played with a lot of passion; it was a good step for us.”
MacDonald on the River Hawks tie with UNH:
“We came out and had our worst period of the year, and then the following 10 minutes of the second period we played the best 10 minutes of the season — the consistency that coaches love.”
Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder on UNH’s Mark Kolanos going end-to-end on the Huskies:
“That looked like he should be playing in the American League somewhere since the NHL is on strike.”
Parker on Pete MacArthur and Chris Bourque:
“We’re getting real good play out of all of our freshmen but certainly [MacArthur and Bourque] are something special. I think they’d be good without each other. But it’s almost like they’re Frick and Frack and they can really help each other.”
Terrier captain Brian McConnell on the difference between last season and this:
“I think [the turnaround] really started at the end of last year, the returning guys being upset. I didn’t want as a senior to go out losing, and [Bryan] Miller and [Matt] Radoslovich felt the same way. When you combine that with a freshman class coming in and providing great energy and bringing life to the locker room, it’s just been a fun team to play on so far.
“A lot of guys made up their mind that we’re going to be a successful team this year; we’re not going to quit. Last year we just got in such a rut, where you’d think, ‘Yeah, I might get a chance, but I probably won’t score because I haven’t scored all year.’ This year, the puck is flying in the net for some guys. When you’re playing good offensive hockey, it helps keep confidence going.”
A Thank You Note
Scott Weighart, who will be filling in for me next week and roughly every fourth column this season, is due a big thank you. After every Boston University game, he forwards me all the quotes from the post-game press conference and even highlights items that he thinks will be of use in the column.
Since BU coach Jack Parker is one of the most quotable people in the universe, that leads to a lot of BU material you read here. This week’s Ted Donato section was possible only with Scott’s help.
Scott’s been helping out in this way for a very long time now and although I always thank him, it’s only right that all of you should know just how much he contributes to this column even when it’s my name at the top.
The First, But Not The Last
Congratulations to my niece, Cherie Hendrickson, who recorded her first collegiate point in Providence’s sweep at Maine last weekend. The Friars are now 6-2-3 overall and 2-0-0 in Hockey East play. For the record, Cherie’s assist came at 19:02 of the second period on a power-play goal by Hilary Greaves.
Way to go, Cherie!
Last week’s question asked you to name all the Hockey East goalies who got their first career win this year. The answer included five freshmen, BU sophomore John Curry (over Vermont) and Merrimack junior Frank McLaughlin (over UMass). The freshmen were: Lowell’s Peter Vetri (over Union), BC’s Cory Schneider (Lowell), Maine’s Matt Lundin (Niagara), UNH’s Kevin Regan (St. Lawrence) and Providence’s Tyler Sims (Wayne State).
Scott Kaplan nosed out last week’s winner, Todd Cioffi, in a photo finish with the correct answer. His cheer is:
“Ben Walter for Hobey!”
This week’s question notes that one Division I coach outside of Hockey East is the brother of a former Hockey East player who went on to play professionally…. but not in hockey! Name the coach and player. E-mail Scott Weighart, who will be filling in for me next week, 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…
Here’s one thing I’m thankful for. Very thankful.
My wife was talking to our daughter Nicole on her cell phone when suddenly Nicole gasped, uttered something indecipherable and then the phone went dead.
She lives in Boston and it wasn’t clear whether she was in her apartment or walking outside somewhere.
The pulse rate skyrocketed. The blood pressure soared.
My wife redialed time after time. No answer.
It’s a joke within the family that you can frequently see double-digit missed calls on your phone if Mom is trying to reach you.
This, however, was no joke.
Redial. No answer.
Redial. No answer.
Nicole doesn’t have a standard phone. Just the cell phone. So there was no other direct way to reach her.
Redial. No answer.
Redial. No answer.
I was trying to be the voice of reason. Trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
But this would be scary at any time and I didn’t even want to think about the recent violent attacks in Boston against women.
So I was quickly becoming a basket case. But I couldn’t show it.
Redial. No answer.
Redial. No answer.
Me. The voice of reason. A scary thought in and of itself.
Eventually, the explanation, harmless and a little bit humorous, emerged.
Nicole’s phone, cradled between her head and shoulder as she talked, had simply fallen into a bowl of cereal that she’d been eating. And cell phones dunked in cereal and milk often don’t work very well.
A bowl of cereal.
So I’ve got one very big thing to be thankful for. Here’s to cell phones in bowls of cereal.
Thanks to Scott Weighart, Kevin Conway, Dan Fisher, Jack Weiland, Tyler Birnbaum and Matthew Conyers.