This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 11, 2007

Interesting Times At The Heights

There were plenty of eyebrows raised when Boston College coach Jerry York stripped the captain’s and assistant captain’s letters off Brian Boyle and Joe Rooney, respectively. No doubt the rumor mills in some locations shifted into high gear. Drugs? Police charges? Barroom brawls?

“It’s strictly an academic issue,” York explains. “Both Joe and Brian weren’t going to class to my liking. They’re eligible as far as institutional [criteria]. There were no felonies committed, no problems other than just not going to class.

“To be a leader, to wear a C, you have to show great effort academically. If you’re not an A student, that’s fine, but [you have to] work hard academically like you work hard in hockey. There is a correlation between leadership that carries on off the ice as well as on the ice.”

As for how that might affect a player’s mentality, York minces no words.

“It has nothing to do with hockey,” York says. “It makes you a better person. It’s not going to affect hockey one way or the other. Practicing hockey, [working on your] skill level, watching tapes — that makes you a better hockey player. This will make you a better person.”

The reprimands won’t necessarily last the rest of the season.

“I’ll watch their behavior academically just prior to the Beanpot and make a decision,” York says. “Clearly, I will be checking with professors and making sure they go to class.”

While York’s actions have intended consequences off the ice, they might also spark Boyle on ice as well. Last summer, the senior turned down lucrative offers to turn pro and most expected that he’d put up monster numbers this season. While his seven goals and nine assists are hardly chopped liver, they’re rather pedestrian compared to expectations.

“We certainly feel that he has to be a real force in the games — if he’s not scoring, at least knocking people down and being a real physical player,” York says. “I think he’s at his best when he’s very physical and, of course, scoring goals.

“He’s working real hard at it. We’re pushing him real hard at this end. We expect him to really step up in goal production as the season progresses.

“The other teams, of course, know exactly who he is and they’re shadowing him and working very hard defensively on him. That makes it more difficult. But I think he’s capable of doing a lot better for sure.”

Boyle has been shifted to left wing, with Benn Ferriero taking over at center on the top line.

“We’re trying to create a little more offense,” York says. “Benny has played center in the past for us. I think Brian plays more along the wall. He’s more of a power forward rather than a clever little center-ice man. So I think his contributions can be more effective as a power left wing for us.”

Meanwhile, Nathan Gerbe and Dan Bertram returned from the World Junior Championships hoping to show the extra jump in their step that many pick up during that marquee event. Bertram won the gold with Team Canada; Gerbe the bronze with Team USA.

“It’s an unbelievable experience,” York says. “It’s a [lifetime] memory situation for all the players that play in the World Juniors. To wear, with Danny, a team Canada sweater or, with Nathan, a USA sweater, it’s a terrific feeling.

“I think all the players that play in the World Juniors benefit from it. Maybe not immediately because they’re tired especially when it’s overseas, but Nathan has a bronze medal and Danny has a gold medal and they’ve got memories now for the rest of their lives.”

Coincidence or not, Gerbe scored a goal and Bertram assisted twice in BC’s Wednesday night win over Merrimack.

A past member of Team USA, goaltender Cory Schneider, got to relax during the break now that he’s too old to be eligible, which perhaps is a good thing considering the workload he carries.

“I think the rest was certainly good for Cory, but also it was a long time without stopping shots,” York says. “So it was great to see him come back and play so well against Northeastern and Providence.

“I think he was a little bit rusty, but he’s going to be a workhorse and play every game that he’s eligible for us health-wise. We’ll need him down the stretch here.”

As for that stretch run, the Eagles need to crank up the performances to solidify their position within Hockey East and in the national picture.

“The team has been up and down during the course of the year,” York says. “We really haven’t hit the stride that I think we need to be a consistent winner in Hockey East. It’s proven by our record. I feel that we have our second half surge left in us.

“Every game now, points are so important to our team. New Hampshire is having just an incredible year as far as wins and loses and how they’re playing the game. For our team we need points. We need to put a good stretch of play together here.”

Up And Down And Back Up Again

It’s been quite an interesting season so far for the Maine Black Bears. They opened 8-0-1, going until Nov. 12 before recording their first loss.

But what a loss — an 8-2 thumping by one of their primary rivals, New Hampshire, and at home, no less. Then came another defeat at Alfond, this one to Boston College, followed by a third straight downer at Vermont.

Since then, however, the Black Bears have been almost perfect during a 6-0-1 stretch, including one of the league’s few bright moments in the holiday tournaments, wins over Western Michigan and Cornell to take the Florida College Classic championship.

“We’re excited about the possibilities here, but obviously it’s early and UNH has jumped out to a pretty serious early lead,” coach Tim Whitehead says. “We’ve got a lot of ground to make up.

“It’s a very competitive schedule that we’re up against, but we knew that coming [into the season]. We knew Hockey East would be very strong again this year. With Vermont joining the league, our conference is even that much stronger.”

Freshman Teddy Purcell has been a major sparkplug all season long, but especially of late, scoring two goals in each of the last three games. He’s now recorded points in all but two of Maine’s 19 games, totaling 12 goals and 16 assists.

“Quite frankly, we probably made a mistake not bringing him in last year,” Whitehead says. “When I saw him in the [USHL] Buc Bowl last fall, I [thought], ‘This guy should be at our place right now.’

“We knew he’d be ready this year. Obviously, you never know a guy is going to be this productive, but he’s certainly made the most impact of a freshman forward since Michel Léveillé for us.”

Another underclassman, sophomore goaltender Ben Bishop, has taken his game to the next level, recording a 1.97 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

“Bish’s improvement has been great,” Whitehead says. “This year, his challenge has been to become an elite player at this level and I really think he’s doing that. He had a dip in November just like the rest of our team, but he’s bounced back strong as he always does.

“He’s really improved as a puck stopper. He’s always had a great presence in the net and the ability to impact the game handling the puck. Now he’s really emerged as a great puck stopper, too.

Joining Bishop on Whitehead’s “Most Improved” trio are senior forward Mike Hamilton and junior defenseman Travis Ramsey.

“Ramsey has become more assertive in every way,” Whitehead says. “We lost arguably our two best defensive defensemen from last year in Travis Wight and Steve Mullin, so there was a big hole that needed to be filled.

“Ramsey had already been their protégé for the last couple of years and [this season] he has really asserted himself in the penalty kill, five-on-five, and the occasional cleanup duty on the power play. Just his overall physical presence [has been important].

“Hamilton has elevated his game in every area. He’s really playing a complete game of hockey. I moved him to center and he’s really taken off with that.

“He’s strong down below the dots. He can skate with anybody. He’s strong on the puck. He’s got his scoring touch back and he can [move] the puck.

“He’s just a real positive team player. He can play in any situation: power play, PK, five-on-five, and in the first and last minute.”

Whitehead hopes all those assets will continue to produce wins this weekend when Maine hosts Boston University for two games that could go a long way in determining the Black Bears’ chances of closing the gap with first place.

“[BU is] very quietly right in the hunt for both the NCAAs and the Hockey East title,” Whitehead says. “They’re building a lot of momentum mostly with defensive play right now.

“They’re playing very smart hockey. They take care of the puck and they know where to put it when they don’t have a play. I’m just very impressed with their team.”

Positive Signs

Until its loss on Wednesday night to BC, Merrimack had taken two of its last three league contests. The Warriors defeated Massachusetts before the break and then split a home-and-home series with the Minutemen last weekend.

“It’s not so much about the opponent as it is how you play,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said in the lull between the weekend and the BC contest. “At least that’s how the coaches look at it.

“The players have different levels of belief based on their own performances. So having a good performance the first time against UMass helped us believe that we could play with these guys.

“We’ve been playing better over the last three weeks anyways (not including the long lay off, obviously). We just weren’t getting the results.

“Goalscoring is such a [scarce and important] commodity and we have a tough time doing it. When we score goals, we’re going to be in games. We’re going to be able to play with anybody because I know we can defend.

“It’s when we have trouble putting the puck in the net that things really break down. So we’re not at the stage where we can exchange chances with people, but if we’re able to capitalize on ours then we can play with most teams.”

Getting four points on the weekend each from freshmen Matt Jones and Pat Kimball was an additional encouraging sign.

“It’s an upperclassmen-laden league,” Dennehy said. “It always has been. Who’s probably the best freshman in the league this year? You could argue probably Teddy Purcell. Well, Teddy got his first goal in the league this weekend. So as well as he’s played he hadn’t scored in the league until Friday.

“I knew coming into this season it was hopefully going to be a Tale of Two Halves with our team. It’s going to take your freshmen at least half a year to get themselves acclimated. Some guys will get out of the gate faster than others, but overall you look to them to have an impact the second half of the season.

“Hopefully this is a sign of things to come with Pat Kimball and Matt Jones.”

Freshmen now rank as four of the team’s top six scorers.

“[That’s a good omen for the future] only if everybody continues to get better,” Dennehy said. “Just because you’re a sophomore doesn’t mean you’re going to garner the same ice time you did your freshman year unless you’re moving in the right direction.

“I see progress with our players on an individual basis, young and old. I think that has translated into the team itself. So we’re encouraged. I think we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves. We need to make sure that we continue to make progress.”

Calling His Team Out

BU coach Jack Parker was characteristically blunt after the Terriers settled for a scoreless tie with Northeastern one night after defeating Providence, 5-1.

“We weren’t mentally ready to play,” Parker said. “I could tell at the pregame meal that this team was [of the attitude that], ‘We’re all set now; we’re on track now.’ They constantly want it to be easy.

“It’s bad leadership. That just goes right down the line when seniors don’t take hold of it and make sure it doesn’t happen. And some of our seniors and juniors were our biggest offenders. Guys who had great nights last night were horrible tonight.

“I said, ‘Are you guys kidding? You’ve got to change this now because what we’re doing is awful.’ And they didn’t.

“It’s as if they want to be college students playing a sport. We could be playing volleyball. You know, ‘We’re in second place in the intramural volleyball league with a Friday night win; let’s go have some fun tonight.’

“They don’t want to be hockey players; they want to be something else. They don’t want to pay the price you have to pay to be focused and ready to go, game in and game out, practice in and practice out.”

Raising The Bar

After the same game which prompted Parker’s diatribe, Northeastern coach Greg Cronin had a more positive view, albeit without becoming complacent. Combined with the Huskies’ defeat of Boston College the night before, Northeastern went to 4-2-1 in its last seven games.

“You look at the schedule and you see BU and BC back to back and you get three points, you’re happy,” Cronin said. “But at the same time, as I told [the players] after the game, you’ve got to keep raising the bar. It’s a heck of a lot better than a loss, and you’ve got to keep putting points in the bank and going up in the standings.

“What I like about our team is we didn’t have [Mike] Morris, we didn’t have [Andrew] Linard, we didn’t have [Chris] Donovan. We’ve got some cavalry coming in, so hopefully we’ll be able to sustain the kind of hockey that we’re playing.

“But that game is over and now we’ve got Vermont coming.”

Wesleyan Sweeps!

There will be a separate article one of these days about Wesleyan’s four-game sweep of Europe, but those games didn’t count in the standings. Last weekend’s sweep, however, of Southern Maine and Salem State was huge.

Goaltender Mike Palladino allowed only two goals on the weekend, stopping 30 shots. “Dino” now leads NESCAC with a 1.70 GAA. His .927 save percentage ranks second.

The power play, which had been struggling, had a monster weekend, going 4-for-9 against Southern Maine and 2-for-6 over Salem State. Kudos especially to the top unit, typically comprised of Will Bennett, David Layne, Taylor Evans, Jeff Beck and Dallas Bossort.

When you finish a weekend 6-for-15 on the power play while your opponents go 1-for-12, you’re going to win a lot of games.

Basing the standings on winning percentage, the Cardinals are now in a three-way tie for third place in the NESCAC. Overall, they are 5-3-2, their best mark at this point since 1988-89.

Another huge weekend beckons with a trip to New England College and St. Anselm’s, followed by a Tuesday matchup with Trinity.

Playoff home ice, bay-bee!

Trivia Contest

In a rare moment of magnanimity, last week Scott posed a trivia question that did NOT involve anagrams, long names, short names, or anything else that forced our more masochistic readers to comb for hours or to wake up in a cold sweat barking answers into a digital voice recorder.

He posed a somewhat easier brain-teaser, asking readers to name THREE current or former Hockey East players OR coaches who either have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada OR who have a RELATIVE who was has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Scott knew of three players who fit the bill but wisely refused to swear that there weren’t more than that … especially since both Scott and I have sailed about as smoothly as the Titanic when it comes getting our own trivia questions correct this season.

Sure enough, there were more than three possible correct alternatives. Scott had in mind Chris Bourque of BU, son of Ray Bourque — certainly the easiest one to remember. He also was thinking of former UMass forward Jeff Blanchard, nephew of the legendary Bobby Orr, and Fernie Flaman, former coach of Northeastern who was a THIRD famous blueliner.

However, Scott overlooked a current player, Vince Goulet of Providence, son of former NHL great Michel Goulet. Figures.

The first to get this one correct was Bob Murgia, who beat out Paul Gentile by 47 minutes! His cheer is:


This week’s trivia question honors BU coach Jack Parker and his 750th career win by asking for the date and opponent of the following Parker wins: his first, 500th, 600th and 700th.

E-mail my trivia account with your answers. If you haven’t heard back by Tuesday, assume that someone else beat you to the right answer.

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

I can’t imagine a more perfect gift than what my daughter Nicole gave me for Christmas. She found a book entitled Why A Daughter Needs A Dad: 100 Reasons.

Here’s a sampling: “A daughter needs a Dad … to teach her what it means to always be there.” “A daughter needs a Dad … to help her take the risks that will build her confidence.” “A daughter needs a Dad … to show her that true love is unconditional.”

But what really set off Niagara Falls was what she wrote on the inside cover:

Thanks for giving me all of this and more.
I love you!