This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 8, 2007

Beanpot: Same Old, Same Old

Once again, Boston University and Boston College will face off against each other in the Beanpot championship game. The last time that the two archrivals didn’t face each other for the title — other than those years when it was impossible because they met in the opening round, of course — was 1998. So this is pretty familiar territory.

Especially familiar for BU. The Terriers are now appearing in their 13th straight Beanpot championship game.

“Next week’s consolation game is a tough game to play in,” BU coach Jack Parker said after the Terriers defeated Northeastern. “It’s almost an aside to the championship game, with two teams getting ready to play for the big game, with all the hype and media attention that comes with it. But the game counts in the national standings just like any other game. It means a lot, but it doesn’t. So it’s good to avoid that whole mess.”

No disagreement there.

“It really is a remarkable streak, particularly with the quality of the four teams,” Parker continued. “It’s really like a coin flip. If you flip a coin, it’s supposed to come up heads fifty-fifty. But you might flip heads 35 times in a row. We’ve just been on the lucky end of the flip. I just hope I’m not here when it goes the other way.”

Well … if you think BU’s chances in a random Beanpot game are no better than a coin flip, then it’s time for the two of us to wager. BU’s Beanpot success has been extraordinary and has gone even beyond that which one would expect based on the traditional strength of the Terriers. But far more often than not, when they’ve won the Beanpot they’ve been the best team.

Put a superior team on a big stage and they’ll win a large percentage of the time. Not 23-of-37 and 10 of the last 12. But a large percentage.

And when they haven’t been the best team, they’ve had two big things going for them. First, success breeds success. BU just expects to win. And perhaps buried in the psyches of many opponents is the same expectation of a Terrier win.

“In a sense, we’ve kind of ruined the Beanpot because we win it so much,” BU captain Sean Sullivan said.

Beyond that, there’s goaltending. Invariably, when an otherwise weakened BU team has wrestled the Beanpot trophy from a superior foe, the Terriers have done so with goaltending.

Which brings us to team MVP John Curry. He leads the country in shutouts (six), ranks fifth in save percentage (.933), and third in goals against average (1.79). Even on those nights when Terrier inconsistency has provoked Parker’s ire, Curry has been a rock.

He now has back-to-back shutouts, but simply deflected the praise after the win.

“We played really well defensively,” he said. “We had a couple of breakdowns where I had to make some low pad saves. But the defense did a good job getting bodies in the shooting lanes and clearing out loose pucks. It was an all-around good defensive effort tonight.”

Based on how well the rest of the team played, Curry might not need to be the difference-maker on Monday.

“I thought it was one of our most thorough games of the year,” Parker said. “I thought we were terrific in all three zones. We did a real good job killing penalties; we got a couple of power-play goals. We did a lot of things really well. We probably played two or three other games that were close to that as far as our ability to control our destiny, so to speak. … In general, I thought it was a terrific effort as a team.”

On the other side of the ledger, Boston College has been maddeningly inconsistent, more so than BU. Perhaps a Beanpot championship will be the catalyst for a strong stretch drive.

“We’re hoping that’s the case,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We haven’t played as well as we’ve expected of ourselves. For stretches we have, but we’ve been up and down way too much for my liking.

“Most of it is just not playing for 60 full minutes. We play 20 real good ones and then sleepwalk through 20.

“But if we can get a Beanpot championship, I think that could really help us. Because now everything gets more interesting for teams.”

Goaltender Cory Schneider added, “It’s a big stage in these pro buildings. It’s where you’re going to play the Hockey East tournament and the NCAAs so if you win these types of games it really prepares you to battle hard for the playoffs. This is going to be a playoff game, basically. It does a lot for a team [to win it]. Hopefully we can and then just take off in the right direction down the stretch.”

Much will come down to the goaltending battle between Curry and Schneider.

“We try to use Cory as our real game-breaker,” York said. “We know if we have a lead in the third period, he’s going to make some real big saves for us.”

Schneider looks forward to the matchup.

“Curry has been fabulous all season,” Schneider said. “When I get a chance to watch him, it seems like every game is a gem from him.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been as consistent as I would like. Tonight was a good step in the right direction.

“For some reason I tend to play better against [BU] so hopefully it will be a goaltending battle.”

If it comes down to special teams, as playoff-type games often do, BC’s penalty kill will be a critical factor. It struggled early in the season, but has improved of late and has always been a threat to score shorthanded. The Eagles lead Hockey East with nine goals off the PK, including Nathan Gerbe’s key strike to defeat Harvard.

“On the penalty kill, we always want to be a pressure team,” Gerbe said. The sophomore has four of the team’s nine, putting him in a tie with several others for tops in the country. “We key on trying to block shots and getting our guys going offensively.”

The key this year for BC has been to keep the puck out of its own net more often on the penalty kill.

“We were in disarray for parts of this year with our PK,” York said. “We’ve scored shorthanded goals, but haven’t always defended well. Now we’ve got to do both. We’ve got to defend and we’ve got to score shorthanded goals.

“One doesn’t take away from the other. We’ve just got to get better on the PK itself. We’re quick and we’re creative so once the puck turns [the other way], generally their power play is not in a great defensive posture because they’ve been trying to score goals.”

Back To The Drawing Board

Northeastern now has to play the dreaded Beanpot consolation game in a near-empty building. The Huskies had entered their clash with BU on a roll — 6-2-2 in their last 10 — leading to considerable optimism that they could break the BU Beanpot stranglehold.

“We had a little swagger going,” NU coach Greg Cronin said. “You don’t go up to Maine and wallop them 6-1 and follow it up with an overtime loss and not feel good about yourself. But after the ten-minute mark of the first period, the tide changed. BU started to come on in waves.”

It then became a mismatch.

“I really felt that it was men against boys that game,” Cronin said. “When you play BU, it becomes a trench battle with the play along the wall. … I thought BU basically controlled the boards. We had very few second shots.

“The bottom line is they outskated us, outhit us, and out-possessed us with the puck. Game over.”

It’s Over!

The winless streak for Massachusetts-Lowell dated back to Nov. 4 and extended for 20 games.

Not any more. The River Hawks picked up an impressive three of four points on the road last weekend, tying BU and then defeating Massachusetts, the latter a team that had held a 9-1-2 record in its own barn.

“It was great for our players to finally see some rewards for their efforts,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “I thought at Boston University Friday night we played a spectacular game. I thought we were in total control of what we wanted to do the entire 65 minutes. We missed a couple of good opportunities and John Curry was the difference.

“And then the next night we didn’t play as well, but we did enough to win. UMass is a great team at home so three out of four points in two tough buildings to play in is good for our players.”

Goaltender Nevin Hamilton earned the league’s Player of the Week honors after stopping 49 of 50 shots on the weekend.

“In the BU game Nevin made two or three very good stops,” MacDonald said. “He made them look easy. And then the same thing against UMass the next night.

“Six minutes into the second period we were outshooting UMass, 16-3, but Nevin had just stopped a shorthanded breakaway they had. So he’s making the key saves and he’s making them look easy, which translates into a level of calmness and trust on our players part.

“You just have zero chance in this league unless you get that type of goaltending.”

Despite the 20-game winless stretch, the River Hawks have continued to believe in themselves.

“If you looked at all three of our BU games, my opinion is we could have won all of them by two to four goals,” MacDonald said. “That’s how well we’ve played against BU.

“People from outside our program could look at our record and just say, ‘Oh my goodness, it must be such a struggle.’ But for the players and coaches and people involved in our program, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a high level of enthusiasm on a daily basis. A high level of commitment. Zero pity-parties and zero finger-pointing. It’s a unified effort.

“We’ve lost nine games by a goal and tied six. A game is in the balance almost every time we play [even though] we’ve been playing 12 freshmen.”

Now that several key players are back from injury, it’s time for the River Hawks to make a run at the playoffs.

“We’ve been in the desperate playoff scratching and clawing mode for awhile,” MacDonald said. “We can’t let our guard down for one second against any opponent. But we have also made strides that we hadn’t maybe experienced early on. Our goaltending looks pretty darn solid. We’re back to be healthy again. Our power play looks better than it has all year.

“So there’s some real good things to build on. We’ll see what happens.”

Wesleyan – First Place!

Sole possession of first place! Nationally ranked for the first time in the school’s history!

These are heady times for the Wesleyan Cardinals. Of course, things are still tightly packed atop the NESCAC standings and with four tough games remaining anything can happen. No Cardinal is counting any chickens before they’re hatched.

But there sure are reasons for smiles in Middletown, Conn.

Congratulations to Will Bennett for being named NESCAC Player of the Week. His third-period game-winner against Connecticut College showed why he’s a great player. Speed, skill and a great shot.

One linemate, David Layne, continues to fill the net. He’s NESCAC’s top-scoring freshman. Another linemate, J.J. Evans, has taken his game to another level.

That line is a juggernaut, but the depth overall is impressive. Freshman Woody Redpath has come on strong, filling the net on a regular basis.

Defensemen rarely get headlines, but this is an excellent group led by assistant captain Brenton Stafford, Ed Klein, Dallas Bossort and Scott Burns.

And goaltender Mike Palladino continues to be a dominant force.

This weekend’s road trip to Colby and Bowdoin is a really tough one, but I’ll say it again… I really like this team.

Check out this article from the school newspaper, as well as the school’s hockey website.

Trivia Contest

Last week Scott posed the following puzzler:

“Name as many CURRENT Hockey East men’s players as possible whose last names appear in any American dictionary as other VERBS or ADJECTIVES (of course, you have to make the first letter of their last name lower case). Sure, there are several guys whose last names are nouns, but do we care about them? Not on your life. For example, if you could use former Hockey East players, NU backup goalie Elijah Gold would count … but not BU winger Jack Baker. We will make it a little easier by only counting current players … but watch out! There may be players whose names are commonly known as nouns but that also may be verbs!”

Predictably, Scott outsmarted himself with this question. He wondered if readers would realize that “curry” was a verb as well as an adjective. And he knew that people would be quick to think of Quick — Jon Quick, goalie for UMass — and to yip out some other obvious ones (Brandon Yip, BU). But he was by no means prepared to have someone come up with a whopping SIXTEEN current players in the league whose last names appear in dictionary.com as adjectives or verbs. Amazingly, all but one team has at least one player who fits the bill.

Here is the winning entry:

BC:
Cory Schneider
Ben Smith
Matt Price

BU:
Brandon Yip
John Curry

Maine:
Jeffrey Marshall
Ben Bishop

UMass:
Cory Quirk
Alex Berry

Lowell:
Chris Auger
Tommy Powers

Merrimack:
Justin Mills

UNH:
Trevor Smith
Brian Foster

NU:
None

PC:
Brad Cooper

UVM:
Jeff Hill

“Now hold on a minute!” Scott protested upon initially seeing this list. “Some of these seem about as plausible as Dave Hendrickson eschewing a pregame buffet!” Sure, if you think about it, you realize that names like Foster, Price, and Mills are clever alternatives, but some of these seem outlandish. With great dignity, though, our winner supplied definitions for some of the wild ones (though, ironically, he missed the more obvious Cody Wild from Providence):

Bishop-verb (used with object) 6. to appoint to the office of bishop.

Quirk-verb 1. twist or curve abruptly; “She quirked her head in a peculiar way”

Berry-verb (used without object) 7. to gather or pick berries. 8. to bear or produce berries.

Hill-verb (used with object) 8. to surround with hills: to hill potatoes. 9. to form into a hill or heap.

But the most amazing one of all:

Schneider-verb (used with object) 1. to prevent (an opponent) from scoring a point in a game or match.

How about that? BC fans can enjoy saying that their goalie is good at schneidering opponents!

The first to answer correctly was Jason Brown. His cheer is:

“After Saturday night’s performance, Kevin Regan for Hobey!!”

Scott has a potentially simpler one this week … though, for a change, no dictionary or database will help readers with this one. In honor of Black History Month, which is every February, this week’s question is: Which Hockey East team was the most recent (and perhaps only) team in league history to have three African-American players on the roster simultaneously? Name the team, the players, and the last year they all played together.

Email Scott with your answer. The winner will be notified by Tuesday; if you haven’t heard by then you either had the wrong answer or someone else beat you to it.

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

I had planned pearls of great wisdom for this section, but the wrath of Microsoft has descended. That hollow sound you hear is my head slamming against the wall.


Thanks to Scott Weighart, Jim Connelly, Lee Urton and especially my wife Brenda.

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