This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 5, 2006

Dave Hendrickson is unavailable to write this week’s column. He was last seen in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, unwisely taunting a horde of New York Ranger fans by telling that Wesleyan would “kick butt” against their beloved team. Tune in next week for a complete report on his subsequent medical condition.

Designated Goalie

Over 22 years after the likes of Ron Blomberg introduced sports fans to the designated hitter in baseball, I would like to nominate Joe Pearce of Boston College to the role of designated holiday tournament goalie.

“That’s what it looks like,” Pearce said.

Consider the situation: In over 2 1/2 years on the Eagle roster, Pearce has played a total of seven games. His record is 3-2-1, but his record in two holiday tournaments is now 3-0-1. And that one tie was a shootout win against Ferris State in the semifinal of the Denver Cup last weekend.

“It’s been a little weird with when I’ve been getting my opportunities to play,” Pearce said. “It’s almost always around these Christmastime tournaments. They’re fun to play, and I’ve been fortunate enough to play a few good games.”

Pearce’s collegiate career has indeed been strange. After being named the MVP of the Great Lakes Invitational in a rare appearance as a freshman, he ended up riding the pine all of last season and for the first three months of this, his junior season. Last weekend, Pearce suddenly was thrust back into the limelight at the Denver Cup with a challenging foe in Ferris State.

“Yeah, it’s difficult,” admitted Pearce of playing in big games after long layoffs. “But you try to prepare yourself the best you can every day in practice. You know in the back of your mind that you’re going to get your chance, so you always come ready to play. That’s just kind of the way I approach it.”

What a story: One can only imagine that the Bulldogs were licking their chops going into that shootout. Granted, they had just been outshot 46-29 by BC, including a 5-0 margin in overtime. But they had to like their chances after goaltender Derek MacIntyre stopped 43 of 46 chances through 65 minutes, especially given that they were facing the ultimate back-up: Pearce had not played a minute in any game since March 2004. Pearce agreed that it looked advantageous for the Bulldogs.

“Yeah, probably, looking at it on paper,” Pearce said. “I’m a kid who hasn’t even played a college hockey game in two years. But we do a lot of shootouts in practice here at BC. I don’t know; I just have fun with it. I enjoy the challenge of a shootout, and I felt real confident; I wasn’t looking back at anything. It was a fun experience.”

Pearce stopped three of five Bulldog shots despite guessing wrong on what the Bulldogs’ shootout strategy would be. “Going into the shootout, the ice was awful by that time,” Pearce said. “So I was just anticipating a lot of shots, not a lot of tricky dekes because realistically you just couldn’t keep the puck on your stick.

“But Ferris State kind of did the opposite of what I thought: Some guys tried to make deke plays in front of me. I just stayed with the guys. They got a couple on me, but our guys buried every chance. That made it easy on me; I just had to make a couple of saves. I felt real confident in following guys in reading the play and reacting to the shots pretty calmly.”

Meanwhile, Chris Collins, Joe Rooney, and Brian Boyle scored to send BC into the championship game, where the Eagles topped Princeton after the Tigers upset host Denver in the semifinal.

For Pearce, it marked the second time in his seven-game career that he was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. I don’t think anyone else will ever top the efficiency of that feat. Pearce picked up wins against Michigan (34 saves) and Michigan State (15 saves) for the BC team that won the Great Lakes Invitational two years ago.

It must’ve been a pretty small crowd in Magness Arena for a BC-Princeton final. Congratulations to BC and to Vermont, who not only won the Sheraton/TD Banknorth Catamount Cup over the holiday break, but didn’t even give up a goal.

The next question for BC fans is whether it will be Pearce or stalwart first-stringer Cory Schneider against Northeastern on Friday night. After the US competes for the bronze medal in the World Junior Championships on Thursday afternoon, Schneider apparently will take a red-eye flight home.

“I guess they’re flying in by Friday at 11:00,” Pearce said. “They’re coming on a flight from Vancouver; I don’t what his status is for the weekend, but if push comes to shove and they need me to step in, I can do the job. I’m just here, plugging away every day. If I get another chance, that’s great.”

Niagara Flows Over UNH

It was a good week for the Purple Eagles as well as the Golden Eagles. Visiting the always challenging Whittemore Center, where road teams generally go to bury their hopes of victory, Niagara emerged with a startling 6-2 win over New Hampshire. My first reaction was that I was glad I didn’t have to interview Wildcat coach Dick Umile after the game. Intensely competitive, Umile is always terse after a loss — many press conferences last in the neighborhood of one minute.

That said, a couple of days to reflect on matters had him seeing the glass as both half-full and half-empty. This makes sense: Let’s not forget that UNH did outshoot Niagara by a whopping 51-29 margin but still were beaten decisively.

“The frustration was that the way we started the game got us in a hole,” Umile said. “It’s always about being prepared and ready to go, and obviously we weren’t. We didn’t finish it very well. But hey, that being said, we’ve got to move on. You can’t dwell on the past, and you just worry about the next game.

“I’m not going to take anything away from Niagara. They came in here to the Whittemore Center and beat us, so they get a lot of credit for that. We generated a lot of shots, so obviously they’re goaltender played very well, but they were opportunistic and they scored when they had their opportunities to score. The opportunities were maybe two to one, but they did a lot of better job of finishing their opportunities.”

After an impressive stretch earlier this year when the Wildcats won six of seven games in league play, UNH is now just 2-4-2 in its last eight games. What’s changed over the last month and a half?

“It’s not having the ability to score goals,” Umile said. “Obviously we’ve had opportunities to score — we had our opportunities the other night — and I believe that’s all part of preparation. We just need to concentrate harder on our preparation. Our power play hasn’t scored at the rate we’d like to be scoring: We’re getting chances, but we’re not finishing them. It’s a fine line — you get a goal here or there and things could be a lot different from where we sit right now, but that’s all behind us and we need to focus on not giving up grade-‘A’ shots defensively, and we need to finish offensively.”

So the bad news is that UNH is at 9-7-1, the worst record the program has had in early January since 1996, the last time it finished a season below .500. Only Maine has a longer streak of winning seasons among Hockey East teams. However, the good news is that most of the damage to this season’s won-loss total has happened outside of conference play. In league play, only BC and Providence have better records than the Wildcats’ 7-3-2 mark. The good AND bad news is that now UNH faces a pivotal two-game weekend at the Whitt, hosting No. 4 Vermont in the most intriguing matchup on the Hockey East schedule this weekend (although BC at Providence on Saturday comes close).

“It’s a real test and obviously they’re playing well as a team,” Umile said. “They just had a successful Christmas tournament coming back from break. Not only did they play well, they didn’t have a goal scored against them. So Fallon played well, the team played well defensively. But the fact of the matter is we’re 9-7: not where we want to be, but it’s not the end of the world.

“We’ve missed a lot of opportunities in our non-league games, and now we have to focus on Hockey East. This weekend is a great opportunity. Depending on how this weekend goes, we could be feeling real good about ourselves.”

The coach is looking for the whole team to respond to the challenge. The top line of Daniel Winnik, Brett Hemingway, and Jacob Micflikier has been good but could do more when it comes to finishing… and Umile also knows this team will not win big if that’s the only unit to score consistently.

“We need people to step forward,” Umile said. “People talk about our first line, and they’re very talented, but they need to do more with their opportunities. We’re more concerned as a team in getting other people to chip in every night: That’s what gets you to be a successful program — not one player or one particular line. Until we get that going, we’re not going to be pleased.”

We’ll see how pleased Umile is after two challenging games this weekend.

A Van der Gulik Sighting

Joe Pearce wasn’t the only Hockey East player to make a noteworthy season debut last weekend. Boston University co-captain David Van Der Gulik, the Terriers’ leading goalscorer and point producer last season, finally played against Merrimack last season after suffering since last March with a nebulous injury. Initially diagnosed with an inflamed pubic bone, Van Der Gulik hoped to be able to play by January. However, he acknowledged after Saturday’s game that it was very much in doubt whether he’d be able to play at all this year.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on, and that was why this injury was so frustrating. I’ve seen so many doctors and specialists and physios. The problem was this wasn’t a normal injury, so they didn’t know what to expect. There were definite doubts that I was going to make it back. I just had to listen to how my body was feeling, and my body was really up and down the last semester until the last month when I started feeling pretty good, and I was skating again.. It was only the last few weeks that I was practicing hard and I knew I was definitely coming back.”

Understandably, it was hard to watch the Terriers’ mercurial fortunes from the sidelines. “It’s hard to be there and not be able to help your team; it’s just very difficult,” Van Der Gulik said. “And not being able to practice as well for such a long time. I was just trying to be happy and trying to be for the team in the later half of the semester. But what can you do? The team’s really struggling, and then the next night they play well, and you’re happy. It’s been really hard to find that consistency, so hopefully we’ll do that in the second half.”

Curiously, the senior winger from British Columbia received a different diagnosis in recent weeks. “The latest doctor I saw diagnosed me with a sports hernia, which is torn abdominals,” Van der Gulik said. “He said it’s probably going to be sore. I probably shouldn’t have been hitting out there as much as I did tonight, but you can’t control that when the game’s going. But I just hope to stay healthy as long as I can, and if I get sore I’ll try to play through it for the second half.

“There’s a surgery for a sports hernia that I’d probably get after the season, but you can’t be the judge: If I got too sore, maybe I’d have to go for surgery earlier, but hopefully I’ll play the whole year.”

Before the game, Terrier coach Jack Parker cautioned that Van Der Gulik wasn’t in terrific game shape and might not play too much. Before the night was out, Van der Gulik notched an eye-popping eight shots on goal as well as getting an assist on Kevin Schaeffer’s game-winner. He also had Terrier fans holding their breath when he left the ice after one of those big hits late in the game.

He ran into a guy and got bumped, got the wind knocked of him, that’s all,” Parker said. “He checked a guy right at the end, but I thought he gave a lot of good hits and played really hard. He’s not really in great shape; I was thinking of holding him out of this game and let him start next weekend. I said to him ‘I was thinking of holding you out and then I thought maybe of playing you one game this weekend and then one game next weekend, so you won’t have to play back-to-back games at first.’

“He said, ‘Why don’t you let me play this weekend, and let me play Friday night and then see how I feel? I probably could play Saturday too.’ So the way he looked tonight, he played very well. He had a whole bunch of chances. Glad to have him back, and I thought that line played very well.”

Obviously, his teammates are excited to have him back. “Besides being on the ice and being a great player, he’s obviously a great leader,” Schaeffer said. “He brings a big presence to our locker room. He’s a guy who gets people motivated, and he also keeps things loose in there. He’s got a real good sense of humor. So it’s huge having him back in the locker room as a player, not just a spectator.”

Van der Gulik agreed that consistency is the Terriers’ nemesis so far. The team has tantalized fans with big wins against the likes of Denver, Vermont, and BC while faltering in many other games.

“We definitely have the skill and solid defense and goaltending,” Van der Gulik said. “We’ve played big against big teams and weak against weak teams, so that’s always better: It’s better than beating weak teams and playing bad against better teams. In the clutch coming down the stretch, it’s going to help that we show up for the big games because there’s going to be more big games than not coming down the road.

“A team like tonight, it’s not as easy to get up for as BC and Maine, but these are the games that we’ve got to win. We have Northeastern coming up, and that’s just as important as Maine or BC — you can’t take these games [against teams lower in the standings] lightly.”

In addition to seeing Van der Gulik back in the lineup, Terrier fans also can expect to see more of Karson Gillespie between the pipes. John Curry has been reliable, but it’s hard to keep the other guy on the bench when he’s stopped 71 of 72 shots in two games for a .986 save percentage. Gillespie will get the call on Friday when BU hosts Providence.

“No question Gillespie’s playing the next game — we already told him that,” Parker said. “We’ll see how it goes. Probability is we’ll rotate them around for a while. Gillespie played so well in his last two efforts. I was going to play him tonight [against Merrimack] right off the bat, but he wasn’t getting in as early as Curry was after Christmas. I also thought that since John had already seen Providence twice, we might play Gillespie against them.”

Press Conference Hijinks

Boston Herald scribe John “Jocko” Connolly had the best line at the Merrimack-BU press conference. I asked Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy what his beef was with referee John Bunyon’s five-minute major call on Rob Ricci for hitting on behind, given his demonstrative display after the fact. To my surprise, Dennehy responded as follows.

“I’d rather not talk about the officiating,” Dennehy said. “I’m disappointed in my actions: I tell my team to play with poise and to not let situations like that rattle them, and I’ve got my daughters behind me and I’m swearing like a truck driver. It all trickles down from the top, and if I maintain my poise maybe we kill those penalties. That’s all I’ll say about that.”

I followed up by asking if he really believed that he had caused the Terrier goals because he had become upset.

“It trickles down from the top,” he repeated. “If President Bush gets on the TV screaming and yelling, I think the rest of the country’s going to be upset at what’s going on. Not that I’m President Bush by any means, but it all trickles down from the top. I haven’t been doing this that long, but long enough to recognize that.”

Dennehy left the room shortly thereafter, prompting Jocko to say, “Boy, that President Bush gets blamed for everything these days!”

Parker came in and kept the humor going, ribbing Dennehy, who formerly was an assistant coach at Massachusetts under Don “Toot” Cahoon.

“For starters, the good news is that Mark Dennehy learned a lot from Donald ‘Toot’ Cahoon,” Parker said. “Because I went over to see him before the game, and he didn’t have his sport coat; he forgot his sport coat. Donald taught you well!”

Dennehy apparently had to borrow his brother’s sport coat for the game.

Parker didn’t get to laugh last on the wardrobe front, however. Rising from his chair after concluding his comments, Parker caught a thread of his tie on the table and basically destroyed it.

“Do you think I can expense that?” he asked.

Knowing how superstitious Parker is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he trashes another tie after Friday’s game if BU can beat Providence.

Trivia Contest

With Christmas coming up, Dave Hendrickson decided to be a Scrooge and not give readers a trivia question to savor over the holidays. To make up for this, I will start the New Year with what I hope will be another substantial challenge.

This week’s question is entitled “Autolink Madness.” If you read USCHO faithfully, you surely have noticed that the first mention of any D-I, D-II, or D-III team name in any USCHO article becomes a hyperlink to that team’s USCHO home page. Generally, this works out just fine. If I mention that BU will play Harvard in the first round of the Beanpot, you’ll be able to click on that first reference to Harvard and jump right to the Crimson’s home page.

Unfortunately — because this feature kicks in automatically — it also happens at times when your faithful USCHO scribes would rather that it not happen. For example, if I write that UNH will travel to Amherst to play Massachusetts, I’ll get a link on the word Amherst to the D-III Amherst Lord Jeffs of the NESCAC. This also happens with the first or last names of players. If, say, I had to write about a player named Johnny Minnesota — or, more realistically, Bill Bentley — it would give me an autolink to those programs’ home pages. Heaven forbid that I write about the late actor who played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island, as Bob Denver gives me an autolink as well.

So your challenge for this week is to see how many past OR present Hockey East players OR head coaches (men’s hockey only) you can come up with who would trigger this autolink because their first or last name is the name of a current D-I, D-II, or D-III program. Offhand, I can think of four pretty quickly. I’ll also let you count any player who has committed to play for a Hockey East men’s team starting next year or the year after that. That would give you at least one more.

This should test your knowledge of Hockey East history as well as your logic in looking through the names of the current hockey programs to see what might work.

Because this might be another tedious trivia contest to judge, we will spare Dave from this burden. E-mail me with your answer. The winner will be notified by Monday afternoon; if you haven’t heard by then you can figure that someone else topped you.

Submit suggested trivia questions to Dave’s trivia e-mail 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…

Right now it looks unlikely that my son Timmy, 6, will follow in the footsteps of Ryan Hendrickson to become the second son of a USCHO Hockey East columnist to play college hockey. We bought him some nice skates recently, and in recent weeks he’s motored around at both Agganis Arena and Walter Brown Arena, skating without anyone holding his hand for the first time (although I skate right behind him to catch him when he frequently falls).

My wife figured that he might be getting interested in playing hockey at last and asked him if he wanted to join. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I like me just the way I am.”