This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 10, 2005

Due to a “wardrobe malfunction” at Monday’s Beanpot semifinals, Dave Hendrickson has been suspended from writing this column for one week. Those unfortunates who witnessed this travesty of moral values are filing a class-action lawsuit aimed at recouping their considerable psychotherapy expenses resulting from the experience.

Husky History?

Now that the Boston Red Sox have silenced the “1918” chants by winning their first World Series in 86 years, it’s probably inevitable that Northeastern fans endured chants of “1988” during Monday’s Beanpot semifinals.

The world has certainly changed since February 8, 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president, CDs were outselling vinyl for the first time, and Rain Man was the top grossing film.

Seventeen years later — in the era of Dubya, iPods, and Coach Carter — coach Bruce Crowder looks to end the Beanpot tyranny of Boston University and, to a lesser degree, Boston College. In that timespan, BU has won 11 Beanpots, while BC has won three. Harvard won it in 1993.

Obviously, Northeastern will be the sentimental favorite for everyone except BU fans. In the abstract, even Terrier coach Jack Parker has acknowledged that it probably would be good for the tournament if Northeastern or Harvard were to loft the ‘Pot for a change. In practice, though, the Huskies know that BU’s talent level, let alone its Beanpot mystique, will give them plenty to worry about.

In the meantime, though, let us bask in the glory of the Huskies’ win in what turned out to be the longest Beanpot game in the tournament’s history. As of Monday night, we were under the impression that it was the third-longest game, but BU hockey historian Sean Pickett alertly pointed out that the Beanpot used to have ten-minute overtime periods.

Hence, the lengthy semifinals in 1965 (BU 5, NU 4 in 80:52) and 1994 (BC 5, NU 4 in 76:52) were shorter than Monday night’s marathon, which lasted 82 minutes and one second — just 69 seconds longer than the 1965 game. All the more reason for Crowder to be jumping up and down when Tim Judy’s shot magically sailed through traffic and into the net, unseen by Crimson goalie Dov Grumet-Morris.

“I’m so proud of these kids that I’m coaching,” Crowder said after the big win. “All year long they’ve battled and competed so hard against some of the toughest teams in the country, and Harvard was no different tonight. They just didn’t give up. We had a little adversity with some stuff in the overtime, and they just kept plugging. I can’t say anything better than that I’m just extremely proud of them all.”

Indeed, NU was on the short end of a questionable penalty call as well as a poor non-call against Harvard. Fortunately for the Huskies, the officiating didn’t factor into the outcome. Even more fortunately — given how many OT games end on a fluke bounce or some other random occurrence — the overtime gods smiled on the Huskies.

“Whenever you get into overtime… I mean, c’mon: Harvard just missed one,” Crowder said. “They shot won wide about a minute into the second overtime — hit a guy’s leg and went behind Keni — I mean anything can happen. You need a little bit of Lady Luck on your side.”

Given how difficult the last few years have been for the program, beating the eighth-ranked team in the nation to get his seniors into one last Beanpot championship was especially satisfying.

“I think it’s very special,” Crowder said. “These guys have been through a lot and persevered. We had a couple of tough years where we didn’t make the playoffs in Hockey East, but they stuck together. We lost by a point one year and by a tiebreaker the next year. They have not quit, and that’s just a sign that we’re getting great leadership from these two guys up here and Jason Guerriero and Donny Grover and [Jared] Mudryk. They’re all chipping in and doing different things, and Keni [Gibson]’s having a great run now — just one goal tonight and one goal against UMass.”

Whatever happens on Monday night — and the Huskies certainly will be considered underdogs for the second week in a row — Crowder expects a strong momentum swing for the stretch run.

“I think the Beanpot can be a huge catapult for the rest of the season,” Crowder said. We have a very big game on Thursday in Lowell against a team that’s extremely good and is playing extremely well. We’ll have our hands full. But from playing a tough schedule this year, we know that we can compete with anybody. If we got some bounces here and there, we have a good chance of winning some of those games.”

Given how hard-working this Northeastern team is, on top of having a hot goalie in Gibson and a handful of guys who can score, don’t rule out a historic Husky championship. BU had better not be taking this one for granted.

“The Beanpot’s unbelievable as far as the environment,” Judy said. “We just wanted to get to the championship game, and anything can happen. We’re looking forward to it.”

Consolation Phobia

BU approaches Beanpot consolation games the way cats approach the ocean. Its success in the first round of the Beanpot is uncanny. Consider how good Boston College has been since 1981: The program has won at least 25 games in 13 of the last 21 seasons, and it would be a big surprise if it fails to make 14 in 22 this year. Yet BC has not been able to beat BU in the first round since 1981: Monday’s loss makes it eight straight semifinal defeats at the hands of its archrival.

At Monday’s post-game press conference, Jack Parker was asked for an explanation. Some of his response has turned up in various articles, but I think it’s worth quoting his whole reply here, as it shows how thoroughly the venerable coach has thought about this phenomenon and how it sometimes reflects a little luck, timing, and selective standout performances as opposed to who might be the best team in Boston in a given year. I should note that the question ended by mentioning that BU has now reached the Beanpot championship in 21 of 22 years.

“38 out of the last 42 as well,” Parker said. “That streak started in 1964. I have a twin brother, and we went to dinner last year. When I sat down, my twin brother says, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah? What’s that?’ He said, ‘Forty years ago, we were seniors in high school. And to put that in perspective, 40 years before that was 1923.’ It kind of shocked me.

“And then I looked at how long this streak has been going — it’s been unbelievable. I’ve always said that, but I really think it’s been because we’ve always had goaltenders rise to the occasion, and obviously he did tonight. Goaltending is so important in a short series, and we got good goaltending tonight.

“But I also think that it’s always played at the right time for us. It takes me a long time to straighten my team out. I can really make a mess of it for a while. I always say that if the Beanpot was played in December, we’d be a mess. But it’s nice that it comes around at the right time for us, when the guys are leaning how to get me off their backs. Those are two big factors.

“I also think sometimes you’re very fortunate. Sometimes you don’t have that strong a team, and all of a sudden you’re not playing the best team in the tournament that day. When you have a real good team, you got knocked off, you don’t get upset. One thing we’ve always talked is that we don’t play in consolation games. We try not to play in consolation games. I was laughing last night when I heard the Patriots saying ‘We always win when there’s a hat and a t-shirt on the line.’ One of the loneliest games in the world is next Monday at 5 o’clock. I’m glad we’re not in it.”

BU-BC Postmortem

BU and BC have now split their four games this season, and we can only hope that there will be a fifth — maybe even a sixth — in the postseason. BC coach Jerry York repeatedly has emphasized how close all four games have been, given that each has ended with a pulled goalie.

I see the four games a little differently. If there’s any moral to the story of those four games, it’s that when BU plays with great physical and mental intensity, the Terriers can be a little better than BC on a given night. When BU lacked those twin attributes in the home-and-home series, the Terriers were fortunate to be in close games: BC was a LOT better in those two games than BU; the score was deceptive.

On the whole, BU has narrowed the skill gap with the Eagles this season, but hasn’t yet matched BC in terms of consistency. That may come. Yet the most interesting quote that York had on Monday was an excellent observation. After Ryan Shannon stepped up to express his disappointment on how his team reacted to the high-pressure atmosphere, York elaborated on that theme.

“I think what you have to do is learn from experience,” York said. “I think tonight we got frazzled — three straight penalties on us in the second period — and that can happen. I thought we lost our composure. Even though we killed off the five-on-three, we were just frazzled on the bench, and I didn’t like that about our team. I thought that we failed to get the puck out from three or four feet from inside our blue line. BU kept the puck in. Those are battles that we’ve got to win. I thought we played pretty well but not well enough to beat BU the way they played tonight.”

Although the Eagles dominated on the shot chart, the Terriers won dozens of physical battles inside the BC zone, whether keeping the puck in or tying up the puck behind the goal line for unbelievably long stretches in the third period, killing time with the lead. The stretch of Eagle penalties resulting from the loss of composure also was reminiscent of BU’s December win over its Commonwealth Avenue counterparts. It surprised me on both nights, as it’s generally uncharacteristic of BC.

If the teams face each other again this season, there will be plenty on the line. It will be interesting to see if the Eagles can keep their heads about them and play more up to their capabilities under pressure. Likewise, BU will have to reason that it has little margin of error when it comes to beating this team.

On Schedule

Okay, okay, I’m sure that some of you have heard enough about the Beanpot by now. So let’s take a look at how the Hockey East race is looking as the teams approach the last quarter of their conference schedules. Obviously, BC and New Hampshire are in the best shape in the standings at the moment. BC has 27 points in its 17 games played; UNH has 24 points but has a game in hand on BC. BU and Maine are tied with UNH in point total, but BU has played 17 games while the Black Bears have played 18. Thanks to their early-season woes, the red-hot River Hawks have just 17 points, but — like UNH — they have eight games left.

So the conventional wisdom would say that the best bets right now are BC, UNH, BU, and Maine in that order. But not so fast. Let’s take a look at who plays who in the home stretch:

• BC (seven games left) hosts Merrimack once and Maine twice while playing home-and-home pairs With Lowell and UNH. That gives the Eagles six of seven games against the top five, albeit with five of seven games at home.

• UNH (eight games left) plays home-and-home pairs against UMass, BC, and BU, and plays individual road games at Merrimack and Northeastern. So that’s four games against the top five along with five of eight games on the road.

• BU (seven games left) plays home-and-homes against UMass, Northeastern, and UNH plus a road game this Friday at Providence. Thus the Terriers have just two games against the top five but just three of seven games at Agganis.

• Maine (six games remaining) plays a pair at Providence and the pair at BC; the Black Bears host Lowell for a pair. So they get four of six games against the strongest teams in league and just two of six games at home.

• Lowell (eight games left) has home and away games against BC and Providence. The River Hawks play at home against NU; they travel to Merrimack for one game. They also have that pair up in Orono.

Observations? I didn’t bother asking any coaches, as I’m pretty sure I’ll hear the party line about one game at a time. And there’s no question that any upper echelon team in the league that sees a second-division team on the schedule and chalks it up as an easy win is downright foolish. Still, it seems like a few conclusions can be drawn here.

First, Lowell is a longshot to make up seven points at this stage in the race. If the ‘Hawks went 6-2 — splitting against Maine and BC while beating everyone else, Maine would have to go something like 2-4 to fall to fifth. And sweeping Maine in Orono is a tall order, even though it did happen back in early October when North Dakota came to town. If they do 6-2, they will end with 29 points. Meanwhile, if Maine sweeps Providence while splitting against BC and Lowell, it could end up with 32 points.

If this is correct, I can assure you that finishing fourth to claim home ice while not be an enormous cause for celebration. Yet right now, it looks like it will be difficult for Maine to do much better than fourth given who it plays and the fact that it has the fewest games remaining.

If BU can keep playing as in the last few weeks, it definitely can move up. The Terriers have the most advantageous schedule of any of these teams, and their chances of at least a split with UNH are not at all bad. Not to say that they definitely will go 5-2 or 6-1, but it could happen. That kind of finish would give them 34 or 36 points.

UNH still has an excellent chance of winning the regular-season championship. Minimally, the Wildcats would need a split against BC and BU. A 6-2 finish is entirely possible, and that would give them 36 points.

BC should be motivated to play hard against Merrimack this weekend, but the key will be whether the Eagles can do better than split against the likes of Maine, Lowell, and UNH. Keeping with the idea of plausibility rather than best case, let’s say they take three of four points against Maine while splitting with Lowell and UNH. That would give them a 4-2-1 finish and 36 points.

In other words, look for it to be potentially very tight in terms of 1-2-3 finish if all goes as it could.

Of course, it won’t. Maybe BU will have a post-Beanpot hangover and lose two or three points in its UMass series. Perhaps Maine will stun BC and take a win and a tie out of Chestnut Hill, or UNH will lose one of its perpetually hard-fought games against Northeastern. Let’s just say that there aren’t any Hockey East games that I’d be willing to bet my mortgage on.

The most amusing aspect of all of this is that teams might have to wonder who to root for or against in given matchups. When Maine played a pair against UNH last weekend, for example, some BU fans wanted Maine to win to help the Terriers have a better chance of finishing first or second. Others wanted UNH because it would keep Maine behind the Terriers, helping them avoid the dreaded fourth-place spot and a series with the dangerous River Hawks.

North Andover And Out?

The beatings go on for the Merrimack Warriors. After an encouraging 4-2 stretch in non-conference play in December, the New Year’s ball has dropped on Chris Serino’s team, which has gone 0-8 in 2005 thus far. It’s been a maddening season for Merrimack between an unbelievable rash of injuries, bad timing, and bad luck. Over that eight-game stretch, the team has been snakebitten offensively, scoring just 12 goals. Yet the Warriors have also lost by two goals or less in five of those eight games, including tight battles with some of the big boys of the league — BC, Lowell, and BU.

Serino admits that it’s been challenging for everyone to keep their chins up to take these punches. “It’s a little bit difficult because so many things have gone wrong for us, but I think the players have a good attitude,” Serino said. “They’ve been working hard; we’ve actually played pretty well. I think we’ve lost eight in a row here, and any number of them we could have won.

“We were in every game but one [a 6-2 loss to UNH]; we’re just having really bad puck luck right now. But I think that they know what they’re doing is right, and they’re working at it. I can’t sit here and tell you it’s really easy to keep them positive. As good as you play, you need to see something for your efforts. The sad part of us is we’ve played well and have had nothing to show for it.”

Last weekend’s loss against UMass was par for the course for Serino’s squad. “The fact of the matter is we played great in the first period and most of the second period, and we had nothing to show for it,” Serino said. “We got down quickly in the third period, and we went away from the things that we had been doing. We had plenty of scoring chances; the puck just wasn’t going into the net. And we tried doing things that we shouldn’t have been trying to do in the third period. I think it’s a frustration level, but that’s my job to make sure that they don’t get frustrated and that they stay with the plan as long as it’s working.”

This phenomenon is the one thing that concerns the coach most right now. “I don’t have any complaints with them,” Serino said of his team. “They work hard; they work hard in practice. If there’s one thing we need to do better, it’s to stay with the program even when things go bad. When you’re losing, you have a tendency to stray away more than you do when you’re winning. Because you know the formula works when you’re winning.”

Given that the Warriors are five points behind Providence for the last playoff spot — and also that the Friars are showing indications of figuring it out — it’s easy to assume that Merrimack will be lonely on the sidelines when the regular season ends.

“I think it is, but anything can happen,” Serino said. “But I think what happens sometimes is you start thinking ‘We’ve got to this; we’ve got to do that to get in the playoffs.’ We’ve got to concentrate more on each game and let the playoffs take care of themselves. You start looking down the road and thinking ‘We’ve got to win four; we’ve got to win five.’ Well, you have to win one before you can win anything. That’s what our focus is right now. We’ll focus on BC and how we can win or get points out of that game, and we’ll take ’em one at a time.”

Of course, it probably won’t help that the Eagles will be eager to get back on track after their deflating Beanpot loss. “It seems we get everybody at the right time for them,” Serino admitted. “You hold a little bit of hope out when they win [the first round of] the Beanpot, and they’ve got the finals coming up on Monday, but most of the teams in Hockey East are ready to play every night anyway, so I don’t think that makes a huge difference.”

The team’s leadership has provided a silver lining to this period of ongoing precipitation. “Our captains are playing well — Steve Crusco and Bryan Schmidt. As long as they’re playing well and playing hard and players respect them and follow them, we’ll be okay. More than anything, what we need is a win.”

There’s also some hope coming next season. “We have a goaltender coming in: Pat Watson,” Serino said. “We’re really excited about him. We think he’s a real good one; we think he’s a difference maker. We’ve had him signed for two years, and he’s spent two years out in the USHL. I think that not only will he be good for us; he’ll push [current top goalie] Jimmy Healey to be better too. He’s very athletic guy — a little bit of everything [in style]. He’s got the quickness and agility to react at the next level where a lot of guys don’t.

Given that no one else officially has signed a letter of intent, Serino couldn’t name names in terms of other recruits. But he is especially excited about one of them. “We have all eight of our defensemen coming back, but there was a guy out there we couldn’t pass up.”

Judging from online recruiting information, this player apparently would be Ontario native Brock Wilson.

So the trying times may well continue for Merrimack, but better days could be coming.

Beanpot Quotes

Addressing forward John Laliberte, who scored both Terrier goals on Monday, one reporter mentioned how Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald recently said that Laliberte reminded him of Keith Tkachuk with his muscular power-forward style. Before Laliberte could reply, Parker butted in with a quip about his diminutive friend and former associate coach: “Everybody looks bigger to Blaise MacDonald.”

Parker and the players were asked about the substantial BU cheering section: “I didn’t look up to the BU section until there was about four minutes to go in the game,” Parker said. “That’s the first time I looked up to my left, and I couldn’t believe how many students were in BU hockey jerseys. BC people were in t-shirts; we were in hockey jerseys. It was quite a display.”

Ryan Shannon was asked whether the BC players were conscious of BU’s track record in the semifinal and if it was a factor in the game. He made clear that his team needed to rise to challenges better. “We’re aware of it,” Shannon said. “You open up the Beanpot manual and you see ‘BU, BU, BU’ all the way down the line. But going into every game with BU, it’s a clean slate. I don’t think it really plays a role in the game; I just think that this particular team needs to learn how to play in a big venue with all these people watching and being able to execute under those high-pressure situations.”

York was asked about the pair of low-scoring games on Monday night. “Goals are just more difficult [to come by],” York said. “I was looking at the scoring records in the Beanpot, and each year for the last 15 years the scoring has gone down. So the leading scorer has 11 points, ten points, nine points… Now you can lead this tournament with just two or three points. Defense is just better in general, and the game’s are more like than this than the 5-4 games.”

Trivia Contest

Last week’s Beanpot-oriented question asked which current Terrier played for BC before coming to BU? Usually the answers are straightforward, but this one was deliberately tricky. Even so, a quick scan of the BU roster should have uncovered the answer: Matt Radoslovich played for Bergen Catholic (BC) before walking on to BU.

Joe LaCour provided this sleight of hand question so he gets the following comment along with his cheer:

“Only Matt might get this since we went to arch-rival high schools in New Jersey, though my time there was a looonggggg time ago (1973!!).

“Let’s go St. Joe’s!!!!”

“and of course the obligatory”

“Go get ’em Stars!!!!”

The first to answer correctly was John Devine. His cheer is:

“Sorry Northeastern, but the Beanpot is a Terrier birthright. GO BU!!!”

He also notes the following, referring to BC high alums past and future: “Last year, my pick would have been Mark Mullen, next year Steve Smolinski, but I’m just biased.”

As an additional note, Larry Grubman wrote in to note that current Terrier Bryan Miller used to play for one of Bergen Catholic’s biggest rivals, Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, N.J.

This week’s question is my last one of the season, given that I’ll be doing the very last column… but there’s no point in asking trivia questions when there will be no more Hockey East column for seven months or so. This is a completely absurd nine-part challenge. Using software readily available on various websites, I have come up with anagrams of the names of various former Hockey East players — one for each team, in fact. All played at some point in the last 15 years. Your challenge is to see if you can rearrange each set of words into the name of a former Hockey East player.

For example, if I was doing this with current Hockey East players, I could give you this one:

BATHER IN JELLO (Boston University)

If you rearrange those 13 letters, you get:

JOHN LALIBERTE (Boston University)

Get it? Here they come! To avoid being completely sadistic, I’ll give you the team name as a hint to solving each anagram. And I should mention that while some of these players were not superstars, none were fourth-liners or third-string goalie types. Obviously, disregard any punctuation marks that I’ve inserted in the anagrams. Lastly, I have used the names for which players were best known as opposed to their given names. Thus, I would use, say, “Ben Eaves” instead of “Benjamin Eaves” in generating an anagram.

TRY MORE ARENAS (Boston College)
HEED KERRY, FOLKS (Boston University)
NOSY HERNIA (UMass-Lowell)
ORBITAL MIRACLE (Northeastern)
FINE SPANIARD? NO! (Providence)

If no one gets all nine, we’ll award a cheer to whoever gets the most right in the fastest time.

Email Dave Hendrickson’s 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…

Given that this is the part of the column in which Dave generally updates you on the athletic exploits of his son, niece, nephew, or paperboy, I would be remiss from pointing out that Dave’s son Ryan notched his first collegiate hat trick last Friday, as Wesleyan blew out Castleton State 9-2. Apparently one of Ryan’s goals was slick enough to inspire one Wesleyan partisan — not Dave or any other member of the Hendrickson clan — to shout out “That was SICK!” as Ryan came off the ice at the end of the period.

Not sure if I can top that in my household. Let’s see…. My daughter Hannah, 8, finally mastered her cartwheels this week, although as of this writing no bystanders have shouted out “That was SICK!”

Congratulations to Ryan on his big game.

For those irate readers who were furious with Dave regarding his column ridiculing Harvard’s nickname, be sure to tune in to NECN this Sunday night on their Sports Late Night show from 11 p.m – midnight. You’ll have every opportunity to spit on the screen and hope for him to make humiliating Freudian slips.