This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 2, 2006

Dave Hendrickson is not available this week because he is modeling for a statue that will stand alongside the Statue of Liberty in recognition of his many accomplishments. While reports have confirmed that he will be holding his laptop case to his chest with his left hand, we have not been able to confirm whether his right hand will hold aloft a pen or a fork.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Amidst these days of spectacular fall foliage, I have vowed to turn over a new leaf.

For those of you who have read my columns filling in for Dave Hendrickson in the last few years, you are accustomed to seeing me bash him with more zeal and frequency than a birthday piñata set upon by hyperactive quintuplets on steroids.

But when I read Dave’s column last week, I had a change of heart… a transplanted heart, even. Dave not only managed to cover about seven of the league’s teams in one column — including quotes from the majority of league coaches — he capped off this journalistic gem with a plug for “my new book” as the icing on the penalty-kill. What a guy!

Dave did so much last week that I felt that our loyal readers could have me write no more than a haiku about Merrimack without getting short-changed over a two-week period. So here goes:

The proud Warriors
Own two-game unbeaten streak:
Burst of sun melts ice shavings

Right now I probably could call it a column, thanks to Dave. Instead, though, I am inspired to do what I can to match his tireless efforts. Just think of fingers straining over the keyboard week after week, his hands more active than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (according to various allegations).

So instead of writing a short column and continuing to bash Dave this year, I will write the usual length piece for you and also try to find creative ways to laud him at the beginning of each column I write, just as I did today.

We’ll see how long it takes for him to beg me to start bashing him again.

Tracks of My Tiers

If you listened to the two-headed monster who wrote this year’s season preview and followed last weekend’s results, you may well be referring to Dave Hendrickson and me as Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Like many Hockey East aficionados, we talked about the league having two tiers. The top six (Boston College, Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, Providence, and Vermont) were perceived to be contenders for home ice and the Top 20. And then there was the other four teams (UMass, UMass-Lowell, Northeastern, and Merrimack). The consensus seemed to be that they would be far removed from the upper echelon.

While that may yet prove to be the case, what did we see last weekend? Lowell beats BU, on the road. UMass beats UNH, on the road. Merrimack beats Providence, and, once again, home cooking leaves a feeling of indigestion. For good measure, Northeastern loses in OT and then splits with Michigan — you guessed it — in an away series.

So perhaps the so-called division might be a tad underrated. Then again, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy is not getting heady after pulling in three of four points this weekend. And he hasn’t really bought into the six-team upper tier to begin with.

“If you want to make the two tiers the top four and the bottom six, then maybe,” Dennehy said. “I’ve been involved with Hockey East since 1986 and over the last 20 years I don’t know how many times, Maine, UNH, BC, and BU have been the top four. I’m being completely honest.

“I know Providence has done it a couple times; I think Northeastern’s done it a couple times. But nobody consistently, especially over the last six years. So it’s almost like until you dethrone one of them, if there’s going to be a two-class system, it’s those four on top and then everybody else. I think what you’ve is got that the league’s strengthening as a whole.

“Hockey East has said for years and years that it was the best league top to bottom in the country. And I think what you have is some of those teams that might be competing for playoffs have improved. Hopefully we’re one of those teams.”

So were last weekend’s events more of a fluke? “I don’t think it’s a fluky thing, but they’re not giving out home ice in October,” Dennehy said. “They’re giving it out in March and, as tough as our schedule might look right now, I look to January and February and that’s when the league gets decided.

“I think it’s a small data sample, to be honest with you. I think you can pick out any one instance and make of it what you want. Someone may emerge to crack that top four that hasn’t in a while. That would probably be good for our league, but it’s not going to happen in a weekend; it’s going to happen over a year. So, hey, if there are teams in this league that can do that, I think it’ll only make us a better league.”

Warrior Weekend

Merrimack beat the run-and-gun Providence Friars on Friday and then coughed up a two-goal lead on Saturday against Brown before salvaging a tie. For a program that went 6-23-5 last season — and then lost its leading scorer, Rob Ricci, for all of this season due to a violation of team rules, you might think that Dennehy would be feeling celebratory about garnering three of four points over the weekend. But that’s not entirely the case.

“I don’t want to take any wind out of our team’s sails,” Dennehy said. “I don’t think we played very well, but it’s a results-oriented business and when you take three points, especially when you haven’t done that in a long time, you’ve got to come away with some sort of happiness.

“I’m satisfied with the results, I’m just not satisfied with how we attained them. I thought we’d done a real good job — we were 0-4 — but we had gone from giving up 31 shots our first game and reduced that number every game until we gave up 21 against Holy Cross. Didn’t get the type of results we wanted, but we were playing better. I know that if we play the way we played this weekend against the class of our league that we’re going to be very unhappy. So, as a coach you’re always looking ahead, and I know we’re going to need to play a heck of a lot better to be able to broach any type of success against the Maines and Boston Colleges of the world.”

It made me wonder aloud if Dennehy was afraid that getting wins without playing well was effectively “rewarding the wrong behavior.” That’s a theme that came up pretty often in my day job in academia.

“My wife works with Special Ed children and she’s a behavioralist,” Dennehy said. “And I don’t want to reduce us to animals, but when the bell rings, the dog salivates. So, yeah, to a certain extent. We talk a lot about process; we talk a lot about how if you focus too much on the winning, you’re not going to do what it takes to win. You need to focus on the building blocks of that and the winning will take care of itself.”

With Ricci out of the mix, I asked Dennehy if there were specific guys he was looking to for point production. “In all honesty, earlier on in the season we were looking for anyone to step up and score,” he told me candidly. “Everybody wants to be a goal-scorer, but in order to be a goal-scorer you’ve got to score goals. So we were looking for anyone to emerge.

“I think coming into this year — knowing that Ricci wasn’t going to be able to play — we looked to a guy like Mike Alexiou to come back off a down year last year due to injuries, rebound. To his credit, he’s got himself in fantastic shape, lost a lot of excess weight. He’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here, which is a short time. But if you’re talking about 30-plus games, we need that, because you can’t count on freshmen scoring.

“Even though we’re playing a number of freshmen, upwards of 10 a game, they’re going to get some points, but they’re going to ride that rollercoaster of their freshman year. You need some of your veteran players to come in and kind of carry the workload. We’re still looking for some of that. But it’s good to see Lex get off to a good start.”

Charles River Hawks

The weekend’s string of upsets continued on Friday night when Massachusetts-Lowell beat Boston University 2-1. Given how strong the league is from top to bottom, this might not be too much of an eyebrow-raiser.

However, bear in mind that this was a road game and that the score very easily could’ve been 5-1 if not for two or three highlight-reel saves by BU goalie John Curry. I kept waiting for Lowell’s four freshman defenseman to tighten up or for the team in general to panic once they realized they really could win the game. It never happened.

“We’ve played pretty well,” River Hawk coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We haven’t scored that much, but we’ve pressured the puck pretty well and showed some grace under pressure. We haven’t been jumpy. We played out in Duluth in a tough, hostile environment and played pretty well there and played very well against Northern Michigan. It’s a daily discovery when you have that many freshmen, and we had 11 playing tonight.”

Asked whether he believed that this group of freshmen could come in and play with such poise, he admitted that it was impossible to predict that. “You have no idea — the human element of athletics, you’re just not sure. Our freshmen are 18, 19 and coming from different programs, but the credit goes to the individuals. They push each other; they try to honor each other with their level of play. We’ve got a lot of rink rats. That’s the best thing.”

I remembered interviewing MacDonald years ago after he coached Niagara in that program’s first (and only) game ever at Walter Brown Arena against BU. The Purple Eagles lost but held their own, and afterwards MacDonald talked about getting his team to “embrace adversity.” I asked him if the philosophy is the same now with this young team.

“Embrace adversity, but also let’s put it in perspective and enjoy the moment,” MacDonald said. “It’s Friday night; we’re in downtown Boston in a beautiful building playing BU. Are you kidding me? Where else would rather be? I don’t care what the score of the game is; this is awesome.

“You know how many people when you were a little Mite wanted to be here, wearing that uniform right now? That’s kind of the attitude we have on this team, and they certainly embrace that. But in tonight’s game, coaches would like a little more run support, but to win the game the way we did bodes well for the maturation process of our team.”

One big worry for the team this year was the goaltending, given that sophomore Peter Vetri opted to transfer to Quinnipiac after last season. Freshman Carter Hutton wasn’t tested severely during Friday’s win, but he looked very composed and solid. For the weekend, he stopped 41 of 44 shots between the win at BU and the subsequent tie at home versus Providence.

“He played very well,” MacDonald said on Friday night. “He showed me tonight puckhandling and ability to clear the puck, and that’s a critical component for a young defense.”

Previously Hutton played for the Fort William North Stars of the fledgling Superior International Junior Hockey League, winning back-to-back league championships and qualifying for the Junior A National Championships last season.

“I came from a smaller Junior A league in Canada; it’s only about five or six years old now,” Hutton said. “Two years in a row we had a pretty strong team, but we had trouble making it out of the Ontarios. Then this year we were lucky enough to make it out to the national championship. I had a pretty good tournament and that’s what kind of turned some eyes on me. It helped out my career big time and extended it, that’s for sure.”

“He was a late addition from the coast — probably May or June,” MacDonald said. “He hasn’t even got his equipment in; he just got his catching glove last week. He was out in Duluth, and he had a yellow mask with stitches in it, and those people were all over him: Michigan reject. He doesn’t care. He’s the most Canadian kid I’ve ever met. I have dual citizenship, so I can say that.”

“I like when all the fans get going,” Hutton said. “It just gets you in the game.”

Of late Hutton is not only getting into the game but keeping his team in the games as well.

Dog Show

Listening to Boston University coach Jack Parker following his team’s listless loss to Mass.-Lowell last Friday night, one had to conclude that the Terriers showed about as much intensity as their canine counterparts in the Westminster Dog Show.

“We act like we’re going to get a goal any minute, so why worry about it? We act like we’re winning 5-1,” Parker said.

“It doesn’t matter who were playing. We’re hoping it’s going to be easy; they want it to be easy. We’re not going to win five games in the league playing the way we’re playing now. We aren’t good enough to play at the pace we’re playing at and to play with this lack of intensity. We have a lot of work to do to get back to at least being a competitive team.

“It’s a feeling of entitlement almost, a feeling of ‘You know who we are?'”

This attitude seemed surprising, given that the Terriers already had questions going into this season about who would step up offensively… and on Friday they played without Hockey East Rookie of the Year Brandon Yip as well as winger Bryan “Boomer” Ewing, both out for one to three weeks with shoulder injuries. Yet the young River Hawks never folded in the face of pressure.

“They seemed like they were a veteran team, and we looked like a team that thought we were going to win it at any minute,” Parker said. “We are so full of ourselves; we think we’re something we’re not. We weren’t ready to play, and we couldn’t possibly handle how hard they were ready to play. There’s no key to turn it on halfway through the second period. The first period was okay, and it just got worse as the game went on.”

With a rematch with Mass.-Lowell coming on the road Friday night followed by a home game against No. 1 Maine, it will be interesting to see how BU responds. The key will be how the team’s leaders set the tone in practice.

“There were definitely some technical things that we weren’t doing tonight, but it was definitely more of a competitive edge problem,” Terrier goalie and assistant captain John Curry said after Friday’s loss. “They beat us to loose pucks and just wanted it more. There’s no excuse for that. The seniors and the captains have to take responsibility for turning it around.

“I think it starts in practice by not being robots at practice but by having fun and energy. That’s where the leaders of the team need to take charge to make sure you have that confidence. You’ll be ready to play on Friday if you have that confidence and that chip on your shoulder from that week of practice.

“You won’t find a team in this league or in this nation as a matter of fact who is not going to be ready to play us. Teams want to beat us really bad. As soon as we figure that out and recognize that teams are going to want to beat us and bring their best game, the better we’re going to be.”

Captain Sean Sullivan agreed. “It definitely starts off in practice,” Sullivan said. “We have change our whole attitude starting Sunday. We’ve got to get in each other’s face. We’re being too passive, thinking people are going to lay down and let us take the puck from them, which wasn’t the case tonight.”

Stay tuned to see if these Terriers can make a quick transition from show dogs to junkyard dogs this weekend.

Hail To The Visiting Victor

One year removed from a 3-24-7 record, Northeastern is already garnering attention in this young season. While a 2-3-1 record may not impress you, consider that NU’s first six games were against BU, BC, Vermont, Michigan (twice), and Union… and only Union was a home game. In a hostile environment last weekend at Ann Arbor, the Huskies pushed national power Michigan to overtime before losing on Friday before showing resilience with a stirring 3-2 victory on Saturday night.

If NU fans needed any further reason to rejoice, consider that Mike Morris showed signs of returning to form by figuring in all three goals Friday night (two goals, one assist) and freshman Brad Thiessen proved to be a stalwart in goal, stopping 45 of 47 shots.

“Friday obviously was a close game,” NU coach Greg Cronin said. “I wasn’t happy with the way we managed their speed. One of our priorities was to try to minimize the odd-man rush situation, and I thought we got into way too many odd-man rush situations where we were trying to chase them because they’re a very talented, fast, skilled team that can kill you on transition.

“What really fueled a lot of our offense was our power play. It was outstanding. I think we had nine power plays, and we had three goals. I think we could’ve scored on every one of the power plays. And then I think they had seven, so they were 16 power-play situations — about half of the game was left to manage the odd-man rushes. If you evaluate our team based on that, I wasn’t happy.

“I was happy with the fact that we went to overtime against one of the top five teams in the country and surrendered that power-play goal in the end.”

So that set the stage for Saturday’s memorable upset. “So our priority the next night was to focus on managing Michigan’s strengths, and I thought we did a much better job. But again it was a penalty-filled contest. They had 12 power plays to our four, I think we had one with about a minute to go.

“Our success on Saturday night was driven by the fact that we kept them off the scoreboard five-on-five. They had one goal off a faceoff, but none of the goals were off odd-man rushes. We were never really in a tenuous situation where we were struggling against their speed, and our penalty killing was outstanding.”

Not having seen the game, I mentioned that Thiessen must’ve been huge in the net. But Cronin indicated that the save totals were misleading.

“You know what’s funny?” he said. “There were a lot of shots, and he made some brilliant saves. Their goalie made some brilliant saves as well. It was one of those games where it was a tight-checking game; the middle of the ice was very hard to penetrate. And when it did become a scoring chance, it was one of those exciting ones — a three-on-one one way and then a two-on-one the other way. A lot of those were generated off on special teams: We’d go down two-on-one on a penalty kill and miss the net; they’d come down three-on-one and you’d see one of those highlight-reel saves.

“But I think if you asked Brad, we did a great job in the third period of keeping Michigan on the outside. They really didn’t generate any chances until they scored that second goal off the faceoff, and then they got some excitement. But he’s a terrific goalie and one thing he does very well is he moves the puck well on a breakout. That takes the pressure off the D.”

After such a trying season last year, I asked if this was a particularly meaningful win for the program.

“Honest to God, I don’t put much weight on it,” Cronin said, shrugging. “The game against BU was a terrific game with an ugly ending. More importantly if you look at it and just focus on this stage of the season with six games under our belt, if you matched our schedule with any other in the country it was by far the toughest in the country. I look at it as an opportunity to grow as a group.

“And I’ve said it all along before we went out there, they said ‘What the hell are you putting that schedule together for? That’s a murderer’s row schedule.’ I said, ‘Well, first of all we get to see where we stand against the Hockey East elite. You’ve got BC, BU, Vermont at Vermont — always a very, very difficult series….

“And when you go against Michigan it gives you that visibility of where you are in terms of the gap between your team and the rest of the country. Michigan is a perennial power, and they’ve got as good of a skating team as I’ve seen in a year and six games of coaching college. So it gives us a chance to manage our own personnel in a six-game season against a very, very tough schedule. And number two, it gives us some visibility in terms of what our recruiting’s got to look like to close that gap. And that’s the only way to look at it. Let’s move on.”

Trivia Contest

Time to kick off the weekly Trivia Contest. With Halloween just go by, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether this one is more of a trick or treat.

Over the history of men’s hockey in Hockey East, name the player whose brother played D-I hockey the farthest away from him in terms of driving distance between the two schools. The brothers needed to play at those two schools during at least ONE of the same seasons. Go to Mapquest if you want to check driving distance between campuses and note the approximate mileage.

One not very useful example: Last year the parents of Brad and Tony Zancanaro only had to drive approximately 55 miles to see their sons play home games at their respective schools, BU and Providence. So whose parents would have had the roughest road trip from one weekend to the next in the history of Hockey East?

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 e-mail 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…

As noted earlier, Dave generously plugged my new book, Exceeding Expectations: Mastering The Seven Keys To Professional Success in last week’s column. If you go to this website, you can see excerpts from the book, an interview with me about it, ordering information, and so forth. But I thought I’d also give you an excerpt right here in this column — the one that directly ties in USCHO. So here goes.

Lessons In Preparation

As a paid hobby of sorts, I write for, also known as U.S. College Hockey Online. Over the last six years or so, I’ve covered dozens of games and interviewed countless players and coaches.

One of my favorite stories from this experience involved a post-game interview with Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker. As of this writing, Parker is has the fourth-most coaching victories in college hockey history with 715 wins over a 33-year career behind the bench. He is also a blunt expert when it comes to a post-game post-mortem.

After one loss a few years ago, Parker told the press corps, “It was obvious before we went out on the ice that we weren’t prepared to play. I looked around the locker room, and it seemed like no one wanted to be there. And it showed in how we played out there in the first period.”

One scribe posed a question for the veteran coach. “What did you do between the first and second periods to deal with the fact that the team wasn’t prepared to play tonight?”

Parker looked baffled, momentarily. “Nothing,” he said. “The time to be prepared had come and gone at that point.”

I told this story to a student back in April 2005. “Zeke Isaacson” had interviewed for a job with a Supply Chain Management employer. Going into the interview, he wasn’t sure how he felt about the job, so he didn’t prepare all that much. Over the course of a lengthy interview with the charismatic entrepreneur, Zeke started getting really excited about the job.

He was amazed to learn that the fact that he spoke both German and Korean could be a real asset in this job. That odd combination of languages also made him believe that he had an excellent chance to get the job. So when he didn’t get it, he came to my office, perplexed.

By then I had received all of the feedback from the interviewer. “I’ll tell you exactly what happened,” I said. “Basically, another student simply kicked your butt in preparing for this interview.”

I explained how that student came to me three or four days before the interview and assertively pumped me for information. I gave him the names of two previous co-ops, and that student called them up with all kinds of terrific questions: What did they think about the job? What were the supervisor’s pet peeves and priorities? What qualities would be most important to emphasize in the interview? Heck, what would the interview be like? That candidate walked into the interview already knowing a great deal about the position, and he proceeded to have a great conversation about the job rather than going into it knowing a few paragraphs off the job description.

To his credit, Zeke put that lesson to use within a week, beating out several candidates for an exciting new position in Florida. He was the weakest candidate on paper, but he didn’t skimp on preparation that time. He realized that you can’t call a timeout in an interview if you haven’t seized the opportunity to prepare in advance.

Thanks to my wife Ellie for transcribing Mark Dennehy’s quotes while I took the kids trick-or-treating.