If you and your loved ones are healthy and you’re reading this column, then you have plenty of reason to be thankful.
Not that this particular scramble of words is a sign that you’ve been fortunate. This week’s mishmash isn’t likely to be any better than the swill I offer up any other week.
My point is that if you’re healthy and you actually have access to a computer, that by itself puts you in the very high percentiles of those on this planet.
Don’t forget the Big Picture. Give thanks.
As for Hockey East, here’s what teams around the league are thankful for.
What’s not to be thankful for? The Friars are in first place, stunning those, including yours truly, who consigned them to the depths of Hockey East this year.
More on them below.
The Wildcats are tied for first place with Boston College if the standings are based on percentage instead of points, just a shade ahead of Providence. And one could argue that they haven’t yet hit full stride.
They already have five players in double-digit scoring, including defensemen Brian Yandle and Craig Switzer. In Daniel Winnik, Brett Hemingway and Jacob Micflikier they have three of the most potent offensive weapons in the league.
And with the lowest save percentage between goaltenders Jeff Pietrasiak and Kevin Regan at .910, UNH has to like its defensive stance as well.
The Eagles, a very young team, should be much better in the second half than in the first. And yet here they are, tied for first place in terms of percentage and ranked sixth nationally. They’ve won their last four league games.
And they’re doing all this while last in the league in penalty-kill percentage, 75 percent, a figure bound to improve.
Chris Collins is filling the offensive void left behind by departed goalscorers, leading the league with nine goals.
The Black Bears are Hockey East’s top-ranked team at number four. They got off to an 8-1 start, including seven straight wins.
They lead Hockey East in team offense (3.50 goals per game) and team defense (1.50 goals against per game). Their special teams also rank first in the league, both the power play (24.4 percent) and penalty kill (93.9 percent).
You wanted more to be thankful for?
BU-haters might snidely comment that the Terriers should be thankful for a national ranking despite being one game below .500. That token of respect might be worth talking about if the poll didn’t go all the way to a Top 20. A month from now, no one will remember that.
What is worth being thankful for is that there’s always a next weekend.
BU can lose two straight to Rensselaer and a struggling Lowell team, but then come back the following weekend and defeat both Maine and Vermont. Having had some tougher times of late, getting only two points out of the last four games, there’s a weekend of nationally ranked Colorado College and Denver to get back on track.
And there’s John Curry, again getting the job done in the nets.
Vermont has certainly had an excellent introduction to the league, gaining a number five ranking.
The Catamounts’ offense trails only Maine within the league at 3.42 goals per game with a 24.4 percent power play. Brady Leisenring and Torrey Mitchell lead the league with 18 points. And the team defense also trails only Maine, allowing only 1.83 goals per game.
The River Hawks can be thankful for multiple brink-of-disaster wins. Following three straight losses, they came back with a big win over BU. Facing a brutal gauntlet of league games, they came back to defeat Merrimack.
Then following an awful loss to Maine, they gained a huge win over New Hampshire last Saturday.
Like its sister school in Lowell, UMass posted a huge on-the-precipice win over BU. That one came on the heels of a six-game losing streak. The Minutemen then built on that with another upset, this time over Vermont.
And freshman goaltender Jon Quick (2.17 GAA, .940 Sv%) looks like a future star.
The Huskies have shown grit throughout with some injuries sidelining significant players, most notably their one returning star in Mike Morris. Adam Geragosian has been a difference-maker in goal.
A recent win over UMass was huge, giving Northeastern its first league victory.
The Warriors have had a tough time in league play and are still looking for their first point. However, at least they can be thankful for nonconference play to keep spirits afloat. Wins over Bowling Green and Rensselaer could be pivotal in turning things around in the upcoming Hockey East games.
How ‘Bout Them Friars
When the Providence Friars opened their league schedule with three wins, it was a nice story. Former star comes back to coach his alma mater and gets off to a great start.
But most observers could be excused for expecting the team to come back to Earth sooner rather than later. The Friars, after all, had been picked in the preseason to finish eighth, so the three wins weren’t enough to convince the doubters even if they included back-to-back shutouts of a team with high expectations in Massachusetts-Lowell.
Now, however, the Friars stand at 6-2-1 within the league, still good for first place. And while it’s true that the toughest part of their schedule is still ahead of them, their tie with Boston University last weekend, one in which the Terriers had to claw back from a 2-0 deficit just to escape with a point, added just one more piece of evidence that Providence is for real.
“I’m certainly very happy with the way that we’re progressing,” PC coach Tim Army says. “Our guys have grasped quickly the things that we’ve implemented that we want to become part of our identity and it’s becoming much more natural to them.
“Our goal is to just simply get better every day, and if we do that we have an opportunity to play to our strengths. Then the opportunity to win hockey games will be there for us. But we need to control what we can control and that is the style of play and I certainly like the way that has come together.
“I like the togetherness of our team and certainly with some early season wins that’s helped to breathe some inner confidence within our team and obviously that’s very important.”
After opening the season with nonconference losses in the North Country, Army noted that he wasn’t focusing on wins and losses initially, but rather focusing on getting that style of play already alluded to. Now, however, Army is clearly getting the best of both of those worlds.
“I think they go hand in hand,” he says. “The only thing you can control is how you play. There might be some subtleties that you need to adjust to in preparation for a particular game or weekend, but primarily you’re going to focus on your game. We certainly respect all of our opponents… and make certain adjustments, but generally what we want to establish as our mindset is that we are going to play our game.
“We want to be a team that is in a position to dictate the tempo of the game and the pace of the game. We want the opposition to respond to us. When you get sometimes too caught up in responding to the opposition, you end up playing back on your heels and that’s what we want to get away from.
“If we maintain that focus on what we need to do to be successful and how we need to play then everything else will fall into place. Our belief is that as a group if we adhere to the process well then we’ll have an opportunity to have success with wins.”
During the offseason, new coaches like Army try to evaluate their returning players from videotape. What they see live once the preseason opens often is quite different. In Army’s case, he’s had many positive surprises.
“There were some guys that maybe I thought would be able to give us real good minutes, but have really stepped up and played exceptionally well,” Army says. “One is Torry Gajda. He has played very, very well. He just competes so hard. [Defensemen] Jimmy Pemberton and Dinos Stamoulis have played very, very well. They have given us some terrific minutes.
“Nate Meyers has played real good hockey. I knew Tyler Sims was a good goalie, but he’s played exceptionally well.
“Some of our freshmen, Matt Taormina and Cody Wild on the back end, have come in and they haven’t played like freshmen. And Kyle Laughlin has stepped up and also played very well as a freshman.
“You expect the older guys to contribute, but they have really been an integral part of this club and have a great deal to do with the direction that we’re going and the type of mood we have in that lockerroom.”
Perhaps most surprising has been that Army’s move to an up-tempo style hasn’t hurt the team in the defensive end. Even after surrendering 10 goals in the two nonconference losses that opened the season, Providence stands third in Hockey East, allowing only 2.45 goals against per game. That number drops to 1.89 in the games since the opening weekend. Since those games have all been league contests, that defensive prowess has been a big key to the team’s success.
“Tyler Sims has had a big impact on that,”Army says. “He’s given us such good goaltending over the first part of the season here.
“But [also] when I said earlier that we were going to emphasize the offensive side of the game and then we would allow the defensive side to sort of fill in for itself what I really meant was that if we skate and we’re aggressive in transition and on the attack then that will transfer to our play when we don’t have the puck.
“We’re a high-pursuit team through the neutral zone or in the offensive zone and then in our own end we defend aggressively and put ourselves in position to ‘contain and eliminate’ and get the puck back and get into our transition game. So they both really go hand in hand.
“We want to have an attack mentality when we’re on the rush. We want to create [numerical advantages] and really push the pace with the puck. But when the opposition has it, we want to gain it back as quickly as possible and that transfers to skating and pursuing and containing. That aggressiveness is on both sides of the puck.
“When I said early [in the season] that we wanted to create this offensive mentality, I knew that it would just simply transfer to the other side of the puck and it would really come out and be the same thing without the puck: a high-speed game.”
The first-place start, of course, doesn’t have the Friars resting on their laurels. The season is still young and myriad challenges remain, beginning with a holiday nonconference tournament and then Maine the following weekend.
There are always areas to improve on. Army cites special teams efficiency, but focuses on the general physical and mental challenges.
“On the physical side of it, our timing can be better,” he says. “We can still be a little bit more efficient in all areas of our game with and without the puck. Having our D read off of each other a little bit more readily, a little bit more comfortably. Our forwards recognizing situations and making the proper choices.
“But that will come through practice and creating an environment [there] where we present lots of different game options. That gives them a chance to gain that experience in practice.
“As it goes to the game, I’ve always said I want our kids to make their own choices, to be creative, to process information and make a decision in a game. What we’re trying to do is present as many different situations as possible [in practice] so they have more in that computer and it makes it so they are a little bit quicker at making decisions and reading situations and maybe making the best decision under a particular set of circumstances.
“Then from a mental standpoint, we need to consistently play on our toes and not get caught ‘in between.’ It’s constant teaching to get it really where it just becomes purely second nature and instinctive to play with this aggressiveness. At times during the course of the game you’re going to get in between but we have to fight that and keep pushing back and reestablishing our game.”
Kudos to “Lifelong Maine-iak” Nate Briggs for catching a brain cramp in last week’s column. His note allowed me to correct the error before most of you saw it.
For those of you stunned that an individual as close to perfection as I am might make an error, well, stick around…
Last week’s question had nothing to do with hockey or even sports as a whole. It asked what is special about the number 525,600 and how does it apply to an upcoming event in the arts?
The answer is that 525,600 is the number of minutes in a year, a fact noted in “Seasons of Love,” a prominent song in the award-winning Broadway musical Rent. A segment of the song goes like this:
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?
How about love
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Rent, the movie, opened on Wednesday. Since my daughter Nicole and I are huge fans of the show, having seen it nine times to date, it was a no-brainer to see the premiere.
The first to respond correctly was Tara O’Connell, a fellow Renthead. She prepared for the movie debut by attending the Broadway show last Friday and, oh by the way, also took in U2 at Madison Square Garden. As the rest of us turn green with envy, she gives the following cheer:
(Actually, that’s a double-edged cheer, both for her Providence Friars and her St. Anthony’s Friars.)
The best non-winning answer came from Tom Reale, who noted that at Rensselaer a year is measured not in minutes, but in gigaflops.
This week’s question looks ahead to this weekend’s Rensselaer Holiday Tournament and asks which team, other than the Engineers, has won the tournament the most times. Include how many wins with your answer. With Scott Weighart filling in next week, email him with your answers. 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.
As a reminder, submit suggested trivia questions to my trivia account and if your question is used, you’ll get a cheer as long as you were first to submit it. Please include “SUGGESTION” in the subject line.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
She isn’t my little girl anymore. My daughter Nicole is going to get married. Greg proposed to her this past weekend and she said yes. Her beautiful smile has been on display in abundance.
One of life’s most important challenges is finding the right person to spend it with. I’m so happy for both of them that they found each other and are looking forward to sharing their lives.
So Nicole isn’t my little girl anymore. As if her graduation from college didn’t already prove that. She’s a mature, intelligent young woman. She was my little girl two decades ago when she carried around Jenny, her stuffed animal, and I read her stories about Sesame Street characters and dragons who said Argle-Snargle-Higgeldy-Snoo. In the technical sense, she hasn’t been my little girl for quite some time now. It didn’t take a marriage proposal or graduation from college to prove that.
At the same time, however, she’s always going to be my little girl. Wherever she goes and whatever she does, she will always be my little girl. Nothing will ever change that.
Nicole, I love you.