This Week in Hockey East: Feb. 15, 2007

Dave Hendrickson is unavailable this week because he is competing against Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas in the Wienerschnitzel World Chili Cheese Fries Eating Championship this weekend. Go Dave! Let’s see if you have it in you… and if you can keep it in you, for that matter.

Bean Counters

Boston University winning the Beanpot is not exactly shocking news, but even Jack Parker found himself reflecting on Beanpot Championship tally to date: BU 28, Everybody Else 27. That’s pretty remarkable.

Nonetheless, it seems silly to reflect on the “BU mystique” after Monday’s win. Did BU’s history of success give them this championship? Well, it may have factored into their win over Northeastern. As the Huskies found out, bucking a long losing history in the Beanpot can be a formidable force to overcome. But Boston College certainly didn’t seem to be cowed on Monday night.

If anything, Monday’s win was most reminiscent of BU’s victory over BC in the Hockey East championship game. In both contests, the Terriers looked surprisingly shaky but managed to survive. If that analogy holds true, I’m sure that BU would rather not face BC again this season–given how they fared in the game after that championship win.

All of that said, one would have to say that Terrier goalie. John Curry has to be a surefire Hobey Baker nominee at this point. In fact, if I had to base the Hobey hat trick on the national stats right now, I’d go with T.J. Hensick of Michigan, David Brown of Notre Dame, and Curry. Yes, you can make a case for UNH goalie Kevin Regan with a gaudy 20-4-1 record, but someone would be hard-pressed to convince me that any other player in the nation has made such a difference between losses and wins or ties.

“John gives us so much confidence,” said improbable Beanpot hero Brian McGuirk. “Every time we come off the bench we know he’s there for us. He’s been playing great, and we really wanted to get a win for him. When they started to pour it on a little bit, he was there to weather the storm. It means a lot to get a win for him and the rest of the seniors.”

In the wake of his record-breaking Beanpot performance, Curry was asked why the February classic seems to bring out the best in him. “I can’t answer that question very well,” Curry said. “We come in here as a team with a lot of confidence because of the history. It adds a little pressure but it also can take away a little pressure at the same time. It’s pretty weird.”

Curry also humbly insisted that his blueliners do not receive ample credit where it’s due. “We had a couple of breakdowns tonight, but for the most part the defensemen are playing so well,” Curry said. “Every game everyone’s talking about how well I played, but the defensemen have played so well. And they’re keeping shots to the outside; they’re blocking shots. Blocking shots is the story of our year. Guys are taking them to the face, and that dedication really gives me more reason to stop the puck when they can’t get there.”

One thing that I really admired at Monday’s press conference was the praise that Curry gave to Terrier captain Sean Sullivan. When BU has faltered this season, Parker has lambasted “senior leadership” repeatedly. So it was nice that Curry made sure that his captain received some credit to go with some of the blame he’s absorbed over the year. “In between periods our captain stepped up and he realized that we hadn’t played our best hockey,” Curry said. “He showed leadership and stated that we are where we are and haven’t lost the game yet, and if we stepped it up we could take home the hardware.”

Also gaining points for humility was Brian McGuirk. No matter how much I tried–whether in the press conference or near the locker rooms afterwards–I couldn’t get a single self-congratulatory word out of him. “It’s been tough offensively,” McGuirk said of his season-long scoring drought before Monday’s game-winner. “Playing with different guys, it’s been tough, but my role on the team is to be physical, a guy who’s going to make it uncomfortable to play against, make our team hard to play against. That’s a role I’ve always accepted and a role I look forward to playing. If goals come, they come. If not, I’m not one to worry about stats. I just try to play it loose, and if goals come, they come.”

I couldn’t resist asking him what he would do if I made him the following deal back in early October: Would he accept the trade-off of not scoring until almost mid-February if it meant his first goal of the year would be the one to bring home the beans? “As long as someone scores! Goals will come if you keep working hard, and fortunately it worked out,” McGuirk said. “As long as someone gets a goal and we’re able to beat BC, it works out.”

One other sobering fact for Beanpot opponents: In the 2008 Beanpot, there will be about 17 guys in uniform who have won a Beanpot during their collegiate careers, and all of them will be wearing scarlet and white. Having that many guys on one team who know what it takes to win a Beanpot can only help going forward. “Definitely,” Chris Higgins said. “All throughout the game, we kept telling all the new guys that the feeling is going to be real special to get this win. We’re so happy to get the win for the seniors so they can go out on top, and we’re real happy for the freshmen that they had the feeling to win the Beanpot.”

At least fans won’t see the umpteenth BU-BC final next year. The archrivals play each other on the first Monday, so Harvard or Northeastern definitely will be in the mix at 8 p.m. on February 11.

The Eagles Have Landed

There wasn’t much for Boston College coach Jerry York to say after BU slipped away with a bit of pot luck. One curious disparity was that Parker felt that neither team played very well, while York felt that it was arguably his team’s best game of the season. “I thought our team played very well, played with a lot of heart,” York said. “We actually through the course of the night produced a lot of great scoring chances on John Curry. Unfortunate bounce on the end on a faceoff play: I’ll have to look at the film, but I think it was just a faceoff play.

“Not much we could say to our club, just said quickly to them that I thought it was the best game we played this year in terms of emotion and intensity and downright good play. Sometimes that doesn’t produce a win.”

I felt that the truth was somewhere in between Parker’s and York’s opinion. BU played a very solid game for the first 30 minutes. I think that there biggest problem was that my colleague Dave Hendrickson jinxed. Just minutes after he committed to writing a game feature on BU’s stifling team defense–just long enough to research the point and write a few paragraphs–the Terriers suddenly started looking like a team who thought they were playing a game to 1. Sure, it had been a good 25 minutes since Higgins’s opening tally, and they’ve won their share of 1-0 games this season, but they clung to the lead way too early.

Between that and a few power plays, BC started to play very well indeed in my opinion… or at least very well territorially. If there was a real negative for the Eagles, it was that they repeatedly made several good passes only to get off a weak shot or shoot wide. I’m sure that Nathan Gerbe will be haunted by one play in the third period. Parked at the far post, Gerbe watched a cross-ice pass come through the slot. He had half the net for the redirect but appeared to be surprised that the puck made it through a few players and sticks to get to him. It’s all over for BU if he gets his stick on it.

Another haunting moment in the press conference: A propos to nothing, York suddenly asked the press corps, “Was that McGuirk’s first goal of the year?” Hearing that it was, York responded only with silence. That was as fit a comment as any after a game where BC fearlessly took it to BU for the last 30 minutes but somehow couldn’t put the Icedogs away.

Husky Highlights

After Northeastern had their bubble burst by BU and followed that up with perhaps the low point of their season in an anemic 1-0 loss to Lowell on Thursday night, Monday’s consolation game win left coach Greg Cronin in a decidedly more upbeat mood.

“There was a lot of buzz a week ago today about Northeastern hockey, and there were quite a few people who thought Northeastern might’ve been a favorite going into the Beanpot,” Cronin said after the 3-1 win over Harvard. “I thought we had kind of a stinker of a game, particularly in the second and third periods against BU. We followed that up with a real stinker against Lowell on Thursday, so this game for us as a group was important… especially coming off a 5-2-2 stretch or something in January. With a number of guys either hurt or sick, to me this was one of those games where you really had to bite and scratch and kick and claw just to get a win out of it.”

Northeastern had faced hostile crowds and considerable pressure repeatedly this season when playing–and playing well–in tough road venues such as Alfond Arena and Yost Arena, but perhaps the felt the curious burden of positive expectations for the first time during the Beanpot. “It was kind of a strange mentality going into the game a week ago,” Cronin admitted. “Last year, we were trying so hard to get a win that there was a lack of enthusiasm and positives. Coming into the game against BU, we were expecting to play well–who knows what the game ends up in terms of scoreboard–but we played so poorly. After the game was over, they felt so let down.

“We had 14 freshmen and sophomores playing, and I really felt our freshmen felt pressure for the first time this year. I was saying to [Assistant Coach] Shawn McEachern before the game that there was a funny feeling in the locker room and maybe they felt a lack of Beanpot championships for Northeastern over the last 19 years. It left a real bad taste in the mouth with the way we lost. The aftertaste stayed in there Thursday night against Lowell, which was one of the worst games I’ve ever coached. Tonight, as the crowd started to fill up, we said on the bench that this is what it’s like to play in a Beanpot game, but next year you have to play in the final game to really enjoy it.”

I asked Cronin what it would take for Northeastern or Harvard to break the stranglehold that BU and BC have held on the ‘pot for the better part of two decades now. “That’s an interesting scenario here with BU,” Cronin said. “I haven’t been a part of the tournament, so I can’t speak to why BU’s been so dominant in the tournament. But I certainly felt that BU was dominant at times when they played us last Monday.

“Clearly there’s a mystique that’s generated out of BU’s success in the tournament. The bottom line is that in order to win championships–whether it’s the NCAA or Hockey East or the Beanpot–you need players. The way you reverse that is you recruit players that believe they can win. I don’t think that we didn’t think we could win the game, but I think BU’s players go into this tournament thinking that it’s their tournament.

“And until you get people like Northeastern had in the Eighties when they were in the finals six times and won four of them–they clearly believed they were going to win. And it can happen. But you need, number one, talented players, and, number two, players with the conviction that know they can win those games.”

All of which leaves the Huskies pursuing not just a playoff berth but also a team goal of reaching a .500 record. “We’ve made some vibes here my second year,” Cronin said. “We have 11 wins, and we had three last year. We have five games left, and they’re all Hockey East games. One of our goals at the break was to become a .500 team or better. So after the stinker at Lowell on Thursday, it was a must-win for us to get back into that pursuit of .500 or above .500.”

So don’t tell Greg Cronin that the Beanpot Consolation doesn’t count.

Yes, Orono

Going into last weekend’s play with a 3-5 record in their previous eight games, the Maine Black Bears turned it around with a satisfying sweep of Vermont. I told Maine coach Tim Whitehead that UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon talked earlier this year about how his primary emotional state is relief after a win following a drought. Whitehead didn’t see it quite that way. “Not exactly,” Whitehead said. “I think it’s more satisfaction with a job well done. Sometimes you feel fortunate if you feel the other team deserved a better fate. Sometimes you feel disappointed if you don’t. There’s a lot of feelings that go through your head after a game–part of it is relief, but I think more than anything it’s a satisfying feeling when you play well and win. Because a false win doesn’t bring you too much satisfaction to be honest with you. It’s still better than not winning, but…

Particularly satisfying was the fact that Maine pulled off the sweep behind freshman goalie David Wilson, forced into action after UNH forward Trevor Smith smashed into starting goalie Ben Bishop, causing a groin and hip flexor that has kept out of action for a few games now. “It’s been a great development over the last three games to see David emerge for us, so it’s really been very good for our team,” Whitehead said. “We brought [Wilson] in at the start to back up Ben with the hope that he would be able to gain more with time as the year went on. Had Ben not got hurt, I don’t know that we would’ve have been able to give him that type of opportunity, but now that he’s risen to the occasion he’s certainly earned more ice time. We’re excited to see him play down the stretch.”

As of Tuesday night, Bishop could’ve been deemed “probable” to play in National Football League parlance. “Not 100 percent sure yet,” Whitehead said about Bishop playing against BC. “He did practice [Monday] for part of the practice and practiced the entire day [Tuesday]. Then he’ll have one more day on the ice, so I’m not 100 percent sure that he’ll be playing on Thursday and Friday, but I think there’s a very good chance that he will.”

I asked Whitehead if he thought his team would be better off playing BC after a heart-breaking, deflating loss or if it would’ve been better to catch them with a bit of celebration hangover. “You never know; we’ll wait and find out,” Whitehead said, chuckling. “There’s always been speculation that BC or BU might have a letdown after the Beanpot, but from my experiences and from talking to Jack and Jerry, I’ve never seen that to be true.” Whitehead laughed again.

“We’re certainly not counting on it. As you said, these are important games for both teams. We have so much respect for BC and how they play. I’m sure the games will be very competitive.

“We need certainly to match their intensity. On their rink, they’re going to be jumping and excited about the weekend, so we need to play with a lot of intensity and then we need to play great team defense. They’ve got a lot of elite players that can burn you if you let your guard down, and we found that out the last time we played them [when BC beat Maine 4-3 up in Orono].

“Obviously, we have to solve Schneider. He’s a heck of a goalie, and goals are tough to come by when you play BC. You need to fight for every inch of ice and get to the net with it and put some pucks in the net, get some breaks that way. It’s a great challenge for us; we’re excited about it. It should be a great series.”

A Perfect Schedule?

It’s also a series that looms large in the standings. I wish I could give credit to the guy in the press box on Monday who pointed out this curious fact: In Hockey East play this weekend, we have the No. 1 team playing No. 2 in the standings; we have No. 3 playing No. 4, and so on down to No. 9 Mass.-Lowell playing against No. 10 Merrimack. Now I know why Dave Hendrickson wanted me to have to pick the winners of this week’s games: He couldn’t get his psychiatrist to increase his medication enough to handle the stress that would come with that challenge.

If those matchups were not enough of an indicator of tight action for you, consider also that only two points separate No. 3 from No. 6 in the standings. “From 2 through 6 is very, very tight,” Whitehead said. So as you said, I don’t know what difference it will make [whether a team finishes second versus third or fourth]. I have no idea who we’d play if we finished anywhere from 2 to 6. But certainly from our perspective, we want to finish as high as we can and host a first-round series. That’s going to be challenging looking at our schedule down the stretch [as Maine plays UMass and BC twice each on the road in addition to Merrimack twice at home]. At the same time, we’re excited about that challenge.”

Off With His Head!

If you read the USCHO message board with any regularity, I would have to say that Whitehead has it tougher than any other coach in the league with regard to criticism from his own fans. Sure, Maine may have been a top ten team most of the season and highly ranked in the PairWise Rankings, but during the recent losing stretch–or any string of losses, for that matter–the Orono natives sure get restless. I told him about the negativity on our message board and asked if it bothered him, given how unfair it seems in light of his success following an admittedly tough act in Shawn Walsh.

“No, I put more pressure on myself than any nutcase on the Internet,” Whitehead said, laughing heartily. “So I’m really not concerned with what people may or may not say. You know, there’s no way for them to put more pressure on me than I put on myself, so I don’t concern myself with those scenarios.”

So if our readers want to create a thread entitled Internet Nutcases Unite, don’t expect it to ruffle Whitehead’s feathers.

Called Shot?

Okay, so maybe it’s not up there with Babe Ruth supposedly predicting his home run in the World Series, but I do know that at least one person came out with the bold prognostication that Brian McGuirk would get the game-winner.

My wife was sitting with Maria Stokes, a friend of ours for well over a decade now. They often sit together at BU games. Before the overtime began on Monday night, my wife began fretting about how long the game might go. This is not without reason, as I have been the USCHO game recap writer for something like six of the 20 longest games in NCAA history.

Maria, however, had a different view. “I see it ending pretty fast,” she said. She went further to say that Brian would get the goal and that it would be the highlight of his season.

Now if she can just give me some stock tips or lottery numbers…

Trivia Contest

In honor of Black History Month, last week I asked readers the last (and perhaps only) Hockey East team to have three African-American players in the lineup simultaneously.

This was one that you either knew it or you didn’t–no combing of the Internet could help, as far as I know. The correct answer was the 1999-2000 Northeastern University Huskies, whose lineup regularly included Billy Newson, Leon Hayward, and Rich Spiller.

The first of only a few people to get this one correct was Craig Powers. His cheer:

Go Huskies, and go Irish!

And now for an annual tradition that will make some of you whoop with delight and others groan in despair! Yes, we have more Hockey East anagrams for you to unravel. Before you attempt to tackle these, note the following:

–There are five anagrams, featuring five different teams in Hockey East
–Each anagram features the first and last names of a pair of teammates
–All players have played at least 20 total games thus far in the 2006-07 season
–All names are written as they appear on the USCHO rosters. So I would use “Kenny Roche” as opposed to “Ken Roche,” for example.
–At times, I may add commas and apostrophes or leave out apostrophes if there was a name such as O’Sullivan. Just pay attention to the letters.
–If I came up with two good anagrams for one pair of players, I used both–just for fun.

Here we go:


E-mail Dave Hendrickson’s trivia account 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.

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…

• I would like to give an unpaid endorsement to Charles River Aquatics. Since Boston University built their new student village, this company has been using the old pool in Walter Brown Arena for swimming lessons for kids. My kids have been working with them since last summer, and I’m a true believer in this organization.

These days kids participate in many activities in which they get a great deal of praise and recognition for just showing up. Charles River Aquatics focuses on scrutinizing each swimmer’s stroke and providing individual instruction to foster improvement in technique. It’s really quite startling to pick up your child and be given an assessment of exactly where the inefficiencies lie in her breaststroke technique. Although the children eventually can compete in swim meets, the focus is on continuous improvement as opposed to either winning or just showing up. Highly recommended for those of you who have young ones within striking distance of the BU campus and who like the idea of CRA’s warm, constructive approach. Check out their mission statement on their website–it’s better than many corporate ones that I’ve read!

• I don’t know about you, but I’m going quite a bit of stupid spam e-mails lately. These are the ones that have really idiotic subjects, such as the following that I’m not making up: intuitive venom; recriminatory snook; or continuity; premises droppings. Now, who in their right mind is going to look at an e-mail and say to themselves “Wow, premises droppings! I’ve got to get me some of that!”

If they aren’t plugging Viagra or the like, these spammers are telling me that some stock is hot hot hot and that I should watch it like a hawk. Am I mistaken, or isn’t it true that hawks keep their eyes on things that are about to die?

I think a pretty safe assumption for us all to make is that if someone has a hot stock tip, then they would be inclined to keep it themselves… unless, of course, they are just looking to find a way to drive up the price of some otherwise feeble stock.

Likewise, I now forward all of the e-mails promising me countless riches from Nigeria to my friends and colleagues. I’m just so bored with raking in fortunes from the surprisingly large number of people whose tragic circumstances have left them with millions that they are looking to give to me, a complete stranger.