This Week in Hockey East: March 9, 2006

Dave Hendrickson is not available this week because he is recovering from stomach-stapling surgery. This procedure was paid for by Hockey East and the NCAA, which conducted a cost-benefit analysis and determined that the cost of the surgery would be more than offset by the savings accrued during the impending media buffets during the Hockey East tournament, the NCAA regionals, and the Frozen Four.

Fantastic Finish

What a wild weekend: Well after 9 p.m. on the last night of the regular-season schedule, we still didn’t know who would be the regular-season league champion, and it wasn’t yet clear whether UNH would have home ice or if they’d have to travel to Providence.

Multitasking to the best of our ability in the Agganis Arena press box on Saturday night, the media and league commissioner Joe Bertagna shifted their attention back and forth. Whenever there was a whistle in BU’s intense dogfight with Northeastern — a game that was tied 3-3 well into the final period — we would sneak a peak at the NHPTV webcast of the UNH-BC game, which was running later than our game and tied 2-2 with seven minutes left. When UNH went ahead 3-2, they showed the goal on the scoreboard, and the BU faithful erupted with chants of U! N! H! Not something one usually hears at a Terrier home game.

BU co-captain Brad Zancanaro savored the Hockey East regular-season title last weekend.

BU co-captain Brad Zancanaro savored the Hockey East regular-season title last weekend.

Bertagna reported that he had trophies ready to hand out at the Whit as well as at Agganis. The BU players counted down the Wildcat win in their locker room. It was a sweet moment for senior co-captains David Van der Gulik and Brad Zancanaro, winning the league outright for the first time in their last shot at it.

“Coming here, it’s finally doing what BU should be doing — winning championships,” Van der Gulik said.

However, the British Columbia native also downplayed the feat. “Coach said that this isn’t a goal of ours: It’s kind of a perk,” Van der Gulik added. “Every year our goal is to win home ice and to win the Hockey East championship. So this is definitely just a stepping stone. When you’re close, you’re really striving to get it, but we’re definitely shooting for a Hockey East championship.”

“We still have a lot more to accomplish,” Zancanaro added. “We’re fortunate to get first and all that, but what really matters for us is that in the playoffs we come out and get that playoff championship and then to the Frozen Four. That’s our ultimate goal.

“We’re 16-2-2 [in our last 20 games] and No. 3 in the country, so there’s definitely a more confident feeling that we can get it done no matter who we play. We have a legitimate shot at a Hockey East championship and a national championship.”

Terrier coach Jack Parker was reminded that he had predicted in the last month or so that no one was going to catch BC. He certainly wasn’t trying to lull his archrival into a false sense of security.

“I really didn’t think anybody was going to catch BC,” Parker said. “We just kept winning, which was nice, and we got some help. BC has not played poorly; they’ve played well. But other teams have risen to the occasion and beaten them. They might’ve played poorly against Lowell; I don’t know. But they played well tonight and [Thursday] obviously. So it’s not as if [they pulled an] el foldo, but we got a lot of help from people knocking them off. It’s amazing to me that it was that tight all the way to the finish and that one team won it by themselves.”

Yet Parker readily agreed with the notion that it only would be mildly surprising as opposed to a shocker to see any of the road teams pull off a quarterfinal upset.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Parker said. “It’s a real tough league, and it’s who’s playing well at the right time, and that’s been going on for quite a while now … The bottom line is I said to my guys this week ‘Look what’s going on this weekend. UNH is trying to get home ice; Providence is trying to get home ice. UNH and BC: If one of those teams loses, that could be detrimental to them in the national tournament picture. BU and BC and Maine are all trying to win first place.’ That’s a lot of pressure for people to play under, and I thought we handled it pretty well.”

Congratulations to the Terriers and to all the teams that made it such a fantastic finish.

Eight Is Enough

Now let’s turn our attention to handicapping each quarterfinal series. With Northeastern out of the mix, I spoke to Husky coach Greg Cronin a few days ago to provide some expert commentary on the playoffs. “There’s not going to be too many secrets,” Cronin said of the imminent matchups. “Hockey’s not like football: You’re not going into a bowl game where you have three weeks to prepare and put trick plays in. Ultimately your goaltender is a difference-maker, and your special teams are a determining factor in the game.”

No. 8 Massachusetts at No. 1 Boston University

UMass record in last ten games: 4-4-2
UMass record on the road this season: 5-9-2
UMass power-play percentage: .160
UMass opponents’ power-play percentage: .185
BU record in last ten games: 7-1-2
BU record at home this season: 11-5-0
BU power-play percentage: .160
BU opponents’ power-play percentage: .172
Season Series: BU 2-1-0 (home team won all three games)

After a wretched 1-7 start to this season, UMass bounced back and posted a respectable 12-12-2 mark the rest of the way. In keeping with that .500 record for the duration of the season, they enjoyed stirring victories over BU, Vermont (twice), Colorado College, BC, and UNH but have had these triumphs offset by losses to the sub-.500 likes of Bowling Green and Mass.-Lowell (twice). They have fantastic goaltending in many of those wins and some losses too: Jon Quick stopped 48 of 50 shots in last Friday’s 2-2 tie against red-hot Maine. Back in November, he stonewalled BU on 39 of 41 shots in a 4-2 win, so there’s no question that UMass is capable of beating the No. 1 Whether they actually will or not remains to be seen. Cronin noted that UMass has the goaltending to make them a threat to any team in short series: Although the Minutemen are a No. 8 seed, they might have been a tougher foe for Maine than Lowell. “I think UMass-Amherst is one of the few teams in Hockey East that has done well in Orono, and when you look at on paper they might have been more of a threat to Maine than UMass-Lowell has been historically,” Cronin said.

Regardless, the Minutemen draw BU. The big issue for the Minutemen is that they have scored two goals or less in 22 of their 34 games this season. If they score no more than two goals on Friday or Saturday, their season probably will be over.

BU ended their improbable regular-season championship run with a stunning 16-2-2 mark in their last 20 games. All the same, Parker disagreed with the notion that he would be going into the league tournament with an optimistic attitude about winning it all.

“I’m never optimistic,” Parker said after Saturday’s win. “I thought we had a pretty good run last year. We came back and beat Providence in the first round of the playoffs; I thought we were in pretty good shape. And then we got beat in the two of the most important games of the year.

“So we just had a quick team meeting and said, ‘The first season is over, and we’ve been successful. The question is, ‘What’s going to make it better than last year now?’ And that’s going to be to somehow win a championship in these next two tournaments. It’s amazing how many teams could sit down and say to themselves ‘We absolutely, positively could win a national championship this year. Vermont should think that they can win a national championship. There are a lot of teams in our league and every other league: Parity has arrived here. But I’m certainly not confident going into the first round of playoffs.”

No team can afford to be overconfident going into any Hockey East playoff competition. But unless Jon Quick and/or Gabe Winer stand on their heads between the pipes, I expect that BU’s balanced scoring attack will be too much for the Minutemen.

No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell at No. 2 Maine

UMass-Lowell record in last ten games: 4-5-1
UMass-Lowell record on the road this season: 4-12-1
UMass-Lowell power-play percentage: .167
UMass-Lowell opponents’ power-play percentage: .200
Maine record in last ten games: 7-1-2
Maine record at home this season: 13-4-1
Maine power-play percentage: .219
Maine opponents’ power-play percentage: .102
Season Series: Maine 3-0 (9-2, 4-0, 6-2)

Lowell is unquestionably the hottest of the road teams in the Hockey East playoffs. They have gone 4-1 in their last five games, sweeping Vermont and splitting with BC in the process. However, they are 0-2-1 in their last three road games. The River Hawks also have been a streaky team: Just before winning four of their last five, they had gone 0-4-1. Prior to that stretch — you guessed it — they were 4-0-1.

However, the River Hawks might have been unlucky enough to draw the team that they match up with the worst of any of the top four in the league. Maine is right up there with BU in terms of hot streaks, running up a 10-1-3 record since a three-game funk in mid-January. They have the most impressive special teams numbers in the league, leading all teams in power-play percentage (.219) and penalty-killing percentage (.898). It’s worth noting that UNH and Vermont are a very distant second in the league in the latter category, tied at .869. In fact, Maine is first in all of D-1 in penalty killing and fifth nationally with the man advantage. So on top of playing at Alfond Arena, it will be difficult for Lowell to overcome any special-teams situations.

Just in case you want to throw history into the equation, bear in mind that Lowell went up to Orono last March for the Hockey East quarterfinals and lost 7-2 and 5-1 on top of getting outscored by a combined total of 19-4 the three times the teams played this season.

All of which adds up for a major motivational challenge for coach Blaise MacDonald and his River Hawks. In some ways, Lowell reminds me of BU a few years ago, when the a fairly talented Terrier team underachieved and barely made it into the playoffs — only to beat No. 1 seed BC in the quarterfinals. Lowell has the talent to win a quarterfinal series in similar fashion, but it will have to exorcise some demons from the Alfond Arena first.

“I know that UMass.-Lowell has really struggled up at Maine and has for a long time,” Cronin said. “I think Lowell has got a lot of veterans, a lot of seniors who are battle-tested, and they want to go out with a Cinderella story, so I’d like to see them reverse their curse they have at Maine, and they an opportunity to do it.”

Despite a long history of struggling against Maine, Cronin believes that the River Hawks would be his “upset special” pick among the quarterfinal pairings. “I think that Lowell does [have a chance to pull the upset] because they’ve been on a roll here, and they’ve got a lot of seniors and that [goaltender Peter] Vetri if he’s really hot can win a game,” Cronin said. “Maine’s got the two young goaltenders that have done very well this year. I don’t know who’s going to play, [Matt] Lundin or [Ben] Bishop, but when you’ve got a freshman in net it’s a little more of a question mark, how they’re going to respond in a playoff environment. The other issue at Maine is whether they’re on Spring Break or not. Obviously there’s going to be a good crowd regardless, but the students become a real intimidating factor up there with that balcony.”

Well, Maine IS on Spring Break right now, so that may reduce the noise level to some degree. But it will take more than that for the River Hawks to both shrug off history and make some of their own.

No. 6 Vermont at No. 3 Boston College

Vermont record in last ten games: 2-4-4
Vermont record on the road this season: 8-7-2
Vermont power-play percentage: .201
Vermont opponents’ power-play percentage: .131
BC record in last ten games: 3-6-1
BC record at home this season: 11-3-1
BC power-play percentage: .157
BC opponents’ power-play percentage: ,152
Season Series: BC 3-0 (2-1, 2-0, 3-0)

If you look above at the performances of these two teams over the stretch drive, you would have to conclude that this matchup feature a resistable force pitted against a movable object. BC went into the Beanpot Championship came with a lofty 9-0-1 streak… only to go 4-7-1 the rest of the way, squandering their substantial lead in the league and ending up tied for a second and with a No. 3 seed.

Meanwhile, Vermont started off the year with a 7-0 run and were still 15-5-2 when they arrived at the Conte Forum back on January 20. They failed to score a goal in those two games against the Eagles, as Cory Schneider stopped all 55 Catamount shots in that series. UVM has struggled ever since — especially when it comes to scoring goals and winning on the road. Including those two games at BC, the Catamounts scored just 14 goals in their last eight road games for an average of 1.75 goals per game. Can they get off the offensive schneid against Schneider? Although their overall road record of 8-7-2 is impressive, they have gone just 2-5-1 away from home over their last eight games.

Ironically, BC may be fortunate to be the No. 3 seed instead of No. 2. Although Vermont has had a far better season than Lowell, the River Hawks are playing better right now and split with BC just two weekends ago.

How will the Eagles’ four freshmen blueliners fare in their first league tournament? The Eagles have allowed over 30 shots in 16 of their 34 games this season, and they have yielded 40 shots or more three times. Conversely, Vermont allowed exactly 30 shots in two games and more than that in just two others.

This would appear to give the Catamounts some hope of a road upset. However, like Lowell, they would benefit from having relatively short-term memories of their first-round foes. Cronin believes that BC will prove to be resilient this weekend. When I noted BC’s recent struggles, he was quick to respond, “But fortunately for them, they’re playing very well against Vermont. [BC is] another team that’s used to winning. They’ve been in Hockey East since its inception, and I think there’s a lot of believability with BC even though they’re struggling. I think those kids will rebound.

“I do like Vermont’s team. Their goalie — Fallon — could steal a game. I think the visiting team, all they’ve got to try to do is squeeze out a win in one of those first two games. Because anything can happen in a third game. That’s what makes it exciting: I’d love to see all of the series go to three games.”

No. 5 Providence at No. 4 New Hampshire

Providence record in last ten games: 3-5-2
Providence record on the road this season: 7-9-0
Providence power-play percentage: .184
Providence opponents’ power-play percentage: .161
UNH record in last ten games: 5-2-3
UNH record at home this season: 8-6-3
UNH power-play percentage: .191
UNH opponents’ power-play percentage: .131
Season Series: Tied 1-1-1 (UNH won the only game at the Whit)

If you’re a Providence fan and looking for a little hope in this one, here’s a curious fact: The Wildcats surprisingly had a better road record (9-5-4) this season than they put up at home (8-6-3). Otherwise, though, there’s nothing on paper that would lead one to bet the mortgage on a Friar win. As I reported in my Feb. 16 column, UNH had what was hands-down the toughest schedule in the league over the last three weeks, while Providence appeared to have the most advantageous slate. The two teams were tied in the standings as well.

So what happened? UNH ended BU’s lengthy win streak and earned a respectable split with the Terriers. For an encore, they impressively took three out of four points in home-and-home series with Providence and BC. Meanwhile, Providence ended up with a pair of disappointing splits against the ninth and tenth-place teams in the league on top of getting just the one point versus the Wildcats. Like Vermont, their troubles seemed to begin with a loss at BC. Starting with that 8-3 blowout, Providence has gone 5-8-2 over their last 15 games. Before that loss, they were the talk of the league with a 12-6-1 mark.

UNH is playing with confidence again, and when you combine that with their potentially explosive attack and pit it against the faltering Friars, this is another tough matchup for the visitors. “I think anybody who’s played at UNH recognizes that there is a significant difference in the way the game of hockey is played on that sheet,” Cronin said. “I doubt that [rink] is 200 by 100 [feet]. I bet it’s 205 by 105 — huge sheet. And they practice on that every day; they’re so used to making their decisions on that sheet. It’s a tough place to play in, especially when you’ve got to play up there for three in a row — particularly when you play in the tight rink that Providence plays in.”

All the same, Cronin predicts a spirited series — in part because of Providence’s up-tempo style. “They’re a good skating team, and I think [coach] Timmy [Army] does a great job of getting the defensemen involved in the play. And UNH does the same thing, so it should be an exciting game. Of all the series, that might be the most fun to watch. Both teams like to run and gun it. When you run and gun on a big sheet, turnovers are magnified.”

Final Thoughts On The Playoffs

Parker was not at all inclined to agree with my notion that we may have a dearth of upsets this weekend. “No question that [Lowell hasn’t] had any success against Maine anywhere: I think they’ve won twice since ’96,” Parker said. “[However], I wouldn’t be surprised if there were upsets in any of [the four series]. History doesn’t mean anything; Lowell’s playing very well right now. Sooner or later they’re going to beat Maine. Vermont lost because the BC goaltender played unbelievable. So I’m sure that Vermont’s not going to go into that game thinking that they’re going to be up against it here. One of the best games we’ve played all year was here against UMass, and it was one-nothing in the third period the last time we played them. And 4-5 is always a good matchup. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple teams got upset, to tell you the truth.”

This may prove to be the case. Yet I can’t help but think: If not for a little luck of the draw and a game or two going one way or another, we could have four potentially daunting opponents — on paper, at least — for the home-ice teams. BU must be happy not to draw Providence or Vermont: The Friars had their number earlier this year, and Vermont gave them all they could handle two weeks ago. Lowell beat BC just recently and also has beaten UNH and BU this season — just not Maine. UMass picked up an overtime win the last time they visited UNH, and they fought the Black Bears to a tie up in Orono last Friday night. Vermont beat Maine up in Orono and split the season series. How about:

Providence at BU
Vermont at Maine
UMass at UNH
Mass.-Lowell at BC

You never know how it will play out this weekend, but each home team probably would have been losing a bit more sleep if it had gone something like that.

And what happens once the teams get to the Garden? Based on how hot or cold the various teams are — as opposed to what seed they are — the conventional wisdom points to a BU-Maine finale. “I think Maine’s going to win it,” Cronin said, notwithstanding his earlier comments on a potential River Hawk upset. “They’ve had some ups and downs; we’ve played them four teams. They’ve got a lot of seniors. Again, they’re going to have to ride a hot goalie: Somebody’s going to have to do it.

“Everybody’s pointing to BU because they’ve been the hottest team in the country over the last 20 games, and I think it’s going to come down to Maine and BU. Maine’s got that momentum going now: How many seniors do they have now? Six or seven? They’ve been the second-hottest team in the east. I think Maine has the deepest forwards in the league, and they’ve got the most depth up front. I love BU’s depth as well, and I think Jack’s done a terrific job of developing those younger guys; they’re contributing a lot. But when you go into a playoff series, the team with the older players tends to do better because they’ve got the experience with the playoff pressure. So because of that I’m going with Maine.”

Husky Post-Mortem

It obviously was a difficult year on Huntington Avenue, as Northeastern finished with a 3-24-7 record. When you combine an extremely inexperienced team with some critical injuries, it usually adds up to a trying time on the ice. A car accident to forward Mike Morris put him out of the lineup all year before the season even began, and then two of the team’s better forwards got hurt during the stretch run.

“A couple of things come into play with that situation,” Husky coach Greg Cronin said on Saturday night, reflecting on a “humbling” first year behind the NU bench. “For one thing arguably your two best forwards are out of the lineup-[Joe] Vitale and [Ryan] Ginand. Ginand’s been out for a while. There’s a tendency when that happens with injuries for people to either rise up and compete, or they sink and they basically quit.

“All year long — we started out with injuries; we ended with injuries — the one common thread this year for our team as that we compete. The guys play hard: They finish checks, and they grind it out down low. Unfortunately, when you don’t have a lot of talent, your special teams get defeated, and that really affected us tonight. BU had two power-play goals. When you have that lack of depth, it manifests itself with special teams. And we failed with special teams this year more than any other area of the ice.”

Despite missing the contributions of Ginand, who led the team with ten goals despite missing seven games, and Vitale, whose 16 points tied Ginand for second on the team in scoring, there was reason for optimism in the stretch run however: Going 2-5-1 in your last eight games may not be cause for celebration, but it reflected positively on a team that entered that stretch with a woeful 1-19-6 record.

Most impressive of all, though, was the incredible heart that they showed almost all season. In Saturday night’s finale, they fought hard all game only to fall behind 4-3 in the third… and then they gave up a really soft goal. I thought that they might just pack it in: Instead they battled even harder and absolutely put the No. 3 team in the nation on their heels within two minutes of falling behind by two goals. NU captain Chuck Tomes was proud of his team in the wake of his last collegiate game.

“Definitely,” Tomes said. “All year, the whole year, no one gives up. Coach has told us in the locker room how we come to work every day no matter what the situation is. Even this week in practice, everybody — knowing that it was over — still came and worked hard every day, never stopped. It’s definitely something good in this group of guys.

“I remember the BC game: I don’t know when it was. We were down; they scored an empty-netter, then we had 47 seconds left and almost tied it. Kid just missed an open net with a second left after we were down by two goals. No one ever quits, and it’s one thing I’m definitely proud of with all these guys. No one put their head down or backed down no matter who were playing against.”

With Morris hoping to come back after a medical redshirt and with what appears to be a large recruiting class with several bona fide goal scorers in it, Northeastern is very likely to improve next season… especially if their work ethic can continue being as good as it was almost every game this season. “I was in Bridgeport [in the AHL]; we didn’t lose a game in 24 games once,” Cronin said. “It was like two months of not losing a game, and it’s easy to work in that environment, when you’re not losing. But one thing I learned this season is that our guy had a great attitude every day they showed up. They put a positive spin on everything, and they worked.. Our guys showed up every day, and they worked.

“The Harvard game in the consolation game of the Beanpot was an ugly game, but [otherwise] I don’t think there was a game in the second half that wasn’t a supreme effort. And if you look back at it, there were so many one-goal games. Tonight was a one-goal game with a goofy goal [that made it a two-goal game]. It’s been a storyline throughout the year. As we recruit, this season will be a situation that we can learn from. You’ve got 34 games of just ugliness. You’ve got to use that adversity as a foundation.”

Husky Post-Mortem, Part II

I enjoyed an extended conversation with Cronin a few days after the above comments, and we had an opportunity to talk more in depth about where the Huskies are and where they’re going. “The bottom line is we are what we are, and we finished 3-24,” Cronin said. “I think everybody had an opportunity to demonstrate what their talent was, what their commitment was, and what their worth was to the program. Obviously, I’ll take a good deal of the blame for a terrible season, but ultimately the people on the ice… I feel comfortable saying this: Everybody had an opportunity to be a difference maker-to reveal what they were as players and people.

“I said going into this season that I was going into it blindfolded, not knowing the personnel at Northeastern or the personnel in college hockey and that when the season was over… or even at Christmastime I’d know a lot more about our team and where we were going with the personnel we inherited. Anybody who’s followed the team would recognize that certain players did very well and seemed to be improving as the year went on. That’s why our record got better… Certain players emerged and developed an identity on the team, and other guys didn’t. Ultimately as a coaching staff you’re responsible for putting a team together that’s going to represent Northeastern consistently, on and off the ice.”

I mentioned to Cronin that I had checked out Chris Heisenberg’s website, which lists the unofficial incoming recruits for every team in the nation. Looking at the Huskies’ section on that website, two things stood out to me: First, the Huskies seem to have a lot of new players in the mix for a team that only played two seniors regularly this year; Heisenberg lists ten recruits. Second, they appear to be attracting several players who are among the best scorers in their respective leagues.

Of course, NCAA rules stipulate that coaches can’t comment on incoming recruits before they are officially signed, sealed, and delivered, so Cronin couldn’t discuss any specific names. That said, it seems obvious that Cronin and his staff are not exactly shrugging off a three-win season and sitting around hoping that things magically will get better with an almost identical cast of characters. Two seniors are graduating, but you’ll be seeing more than two new players on the team. Cronin opted not to comment as to whether any of the team’s undergrads might not be returning — a sensitive subject, undoubtedly.

“Quite frankly it’s taken most of my time this year, measuring what we have and how it’s going to compare to a team that’s going to win a championship,” Cronin said of his time spent on recruiting and putting his first real fingerprint on the program. He acknowledged that fans and supporters checking out these unofficial websites might be scratching their heads when they see the number of names of incoming recruits — a number that may grow in the months to come.

However, it remains to be seen exactly when some possible recruits will turn up on Huntington Avenue. Some may turn out to be part of the class of 2007: In many cases, teams get commitments from players who are young enough to be able to opt for another year at the junior level. For example, I recall that Terrier Peter MacArthur could have played one year in the USHL if he and the program thought it would work out better for both parties.

Still, Cronin understands how these unofficial reports can create confusion. “Only two seniors played this year, and when you have a team with only two seniors who played this year — [Brian] Swiniarski and [Chuck] Tomes,” he said. “So when you see a website [such as that run by Heisenberg] with like nine guys up there, [you say to yourself] ‘What the hell are they doing?’

“What you see is a reflection of a coaching staff that’s got several plans that are working simultaneously and in lieu of 3-24-7 season.”

So stay tuned, Husky fans. On the one hand, I think that Cronin will find that the depth of talent in Hockey East is such these days that he may find it more difficult to move up than what he experienced years ago in his days as an assistant coach with ascending powers Colorado College and Maine. However, I believe that the Northeastern program has an ultra-competitive coach who has been successful everywhere he’s gone and who will find a way to lure significant talent to Matthews Arena. And we can only imagine how fun it will be in that old-time hockey venue when the Huskies start putting this season’s woeful record into the rearview mirror.

Trivia Contest

For last week’s question, Dave asked readers for a humorously ironic or inappropriate song to be played as a hockey team steps onto the ice. What’s an example of “humorously ironic or inappropriate?” Making a Valentine’s Day CD that includes Warren Zevon’s “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Give me the college hockey equivalent.

The winner turned out to be Josh Levit, who tastelessly referred to Vermont’s hazing scandal of several years ago. He suggested that playing “Baby Elephant Walk” by Henry Mancini at a UVM game would qualify. I’m not sure if that’s what Dave was looking for, but Dave did acknowledge that he only recently realized that the song even existed: It turned up when he read Cell by Stephen King.

Josh offers a lengthy but ultimately conciliatory cheer for Catamount fans:

“Much love to the Terriers following Senior Night: regular season champs, but not done yet! Take care of business this weekend against Toot! Stephan Siwiec, you will never be forgotten by the true BU faithful. UVM fans: I only submitted to try to win, thank you for the great hospitality a couple weekends ago, and beat BC!”

This week’s question is one last sadistic challenge that I have devised for the masochistic faithful. This one is called “Men Without A Country.” Skiing in Colorado a few weeks back, I watched hours and hours of Winter Olympics coverage. This made me wonder the following: How many current or former Hockey East players were not born in a country that fielded a team in the men’s hockey component of this year’s Winter Olympics?

The following teams comprised the field in Torino (in order of finish): Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Canada, United States, Kazakhstan, Germany, Italy, and Latvia.

By my count, there are a minimum of seven current or former Hockey East men’s players from at least four different countries not represented above. And one note: I’m not being cute here and picking guys who were born in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia or any other now defunct country. So, no, guys like Frantisek Skladany of BU don’t count: Yes, he was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, but he certainly was eligible to play for Slovakia. I also don’t want to muddy the waters by someone claiming that a player born in Australia or wherever is now a U.S. citizen. Nope: I want guys who were born in places that they could not possibly have represented in this year’s Olympics.

I thought of three guys off the top of my head, and then there were two more for whom I knew the country and the team but could not recall the name. More research led me to two more. So if you can’t at least match my total of seven, I guess that the cheer will be mine! But there very well could be more. Email me with your answer. The winner will be notified by Monday night; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.

As always, you can also submit suggested trivia questions to the same email address and if your question is used, you’ll get a cheer as long as you were first to submit it. Please include something like “SUGGESTION” in the subject line.

And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…

Just so Dave Hendrickson doesn’t think that I’m only capable of bashing him, I have to pass along an anecdote that doesn’t reflect so well on me. Early this season, one of the USCHO editors sent out an e-mail asking if columnists wanted to update their photos on the site. Given that the plan was for me to fill in for Dave on a regular, scheduled basis, I took the proactive step of forwarding an updated photo of myself for use in the column.

Not only it was never used, I found that an ominous silence ensued from our crack editorial staff (not to be confused with an editorial staff on crack). I think even sent a follow-up message about it, but no one ever replied. As a result, I have a fun time imagining various possible reactions when people checked out the photo that I sent: Did it trigger a series of epileptic-like seizures, similar to what those Japanese cartoons evoked several years ago?

Somewhat more positively, was the photo like the movie described in the novel Infinite Jest: a sight so dangerously arresting that its viewers ended up dying in a state of catatonic bliss? Or more probably, was it akin to looking directly at the head of Medusa in Greek mythology? Her hideous face and hair of snakes turned any mortal who gazed upon the countenance of this Gorgon monster into stone.

All of which leaves me wanting to plead to you the same lines that the character of John Merrick, the Elephant Man, once muttered: “I am not an animal! I am a human being! I … am … a man!”

Speaking of men who really are intelligent and sensitive despite their freakish physical appearance, I would be remiss if I did not say a few more words about Dave Hendrickson in this, my last column of the season. Sure, I have thrown Dave under the bus a few times this season … and yes, I’ve then run him over, backed up to run him over in reverse, and then run over him again … and then I’ve rushed over to him, only to collect his fare. But deep down, I think Dave knows that I do this because I care.

Think of it this way: Dave is a like fine wine for connoisseurs of college hockey. By this I mean that he is unpretentious yet playful, zesty yet refined, and with a somewhat floral bouquet, and that he is generally available for $25 to $50. I don’t think he would want me to reveal his year of vintage, but let’s just say that it would be extremely attractive to any oenophile. (That’s a wine lover, by the way — not some deviant who must register with authorities when moving into a new community).

But how does a fine wine come to be? Initially it is just a bunch of grapes that some peasant with smelly feet must stomp on in a tedious yet necessary part of the process. That’s where I come in: My role is to stomp on Dave’s feelings like so many Bordeaux grapes, knowing that this thankless task ultimately will help yield the finest end product as Dave matures, ages, and finally has his words consumed by you, our readers, in the act of communion also known as being a fan of college hockey.

I am now too choked up to continue …

Thanks — really — to Dave Hendrickson, who gets to have the last word on all of this next week.