The Last Hurrah
This is the final column of the season. Next week we switch to previews, first of the NCAA Regionals and then the Frozen Four.
So thanks for your attention this year. Also, my apologies for being so inconsistent in responding to your emails. I tried, but it seemed that most came in when I was furthest in over my head. I promise to do better next year.
Onward, then, to the teams whose seasons remain definitively alive with the hope that you’ll be reading about those four once again next week with Maine added in to boot.
New Hampshire — The Number One Seed
New Hampshire didn’t end the regular season the way coach Dick Umile wanted, losing three straight after sewing up first place. However, the Wildcats took no prisoners in the quarterfinals, blanking Providence, 4-0 and 6-0.
“We got back at it,” Umile says. “Even though we won the regular season, I don’t think our team was happy with how we played, [losing] three games in a row. The captains and the leaders got together and obviously they were determined to play well in the Hockey East playoffs.”
At the head of that pack was goaltender Kevin Regan, named Hockey East Player of the Week for his back-to-back shutouts. His goals-against average now stands at 2.02 and his save percentage .936.
“Goaltending [turned us around this weekend],” Umile says. “Kevin Regan played well.”
UNH now takes on the number four seed, Massachusetts. Usually a number one vs. number four pairing tilts heavily in the top seed’s favor, but UMass is on a roll and took the regular season series from the Wildcats.
“We know we will be playing a team that beat us in the [season] series,” Umile says. “Right now, [UMass goaltender Jon] Quick is playing well. [UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon] has his team playing extremely well.
“Defensively, they make you work for everything; they don’t give you much. They keep you out of the Grade A scoring opportunities and they are a transitional team. They can bottle you up in the center zone and yet they are quick and have some players that can put the puck away.
“[Chris] Capraro is playing well for them. He is their finesse player that does it all for them. And [Cory] Quirk is playing well.
“Right now, they are feeling very good about themselves, beating Maine four times in a row. There are not many teams that can say that they’ve done that. They are playing well and that’s why they are playing in the Garden this weekend.”
That said, Umile has more than a few weapons of his own to test UMass’ mettle. Those weapons include six players who have already cracked the 30-point barrier and four of the league’s top 10 scorers.
“We do have guys that can score goals,” Umile says. “We have some talented guys with some talented sticks and when given the opportunity, we have been fortunate to score.
“[But] UMass plays a very tough game in the neutral zone and does a good job of keeping the puck outside. That will be a battle of wills here, us trying to get into the scoring area and them keeping us out of it.”
Boston College — The Number Two Seed
Of the four remaining Hockey East teams, Boston College is the hottest of them all. The Eagles have now won eight straight, including weekend sweeps of Maine and UNH. Together with its quarterfinal sweep of Northeastern, BC looks to be peaking at the right time.
“I think we’re playing our best hockey of the year at this juncture,” BC coach Jerry York says. “Now, having said that, it’s a matter of how you do the next time you put on the skates. We hope there is a carryover but you can’t assume, ‘Hey, we played well, we think that we’re going to play well in the future.’ We’re preparing hard for BU.”
As is the case with all four teams playing this weekend, BC is riding a hot goaltender. Cory Schneider may have had some inconsistency earlier in the year, but over the last 11 games he’s 10-1 with a 1.64 goals against average and a .947 save percentage.
“Our team is playing better, and when you do that your goaltender’s save percentage and goals against average certainly get better,” York says. “[But] I think he’s more focused. He looks in practice every day [like] a player that’s improving and improving.
“He’s coming off an All-American year as a sophomore and that was quite an honor for him. [But] right now, he’s playing the best that he’s played at BC.”
With the defensive corps depleted — Anthony Aiello (hip) will remain out while Carl Sneep (high ankle sprain) might return — Brian Boyle, Hockey East’s leading scorer, will remain on the blue line. Boyle, who has played there often on the penalty kill, showed his versatility recently, helping the Eagles where they needed it most.
“We fully expect to keep Brian on defense this weekend,” York says. “He’s played defense during the year, late in the game, [and] he’s played some penalty kills back there. So he’s had a little taste of it, but I thought he’s played remarkably well when you look at all of his minutes and his full body of work back there.
“It’s an interesting [question], where his best position is. You know, he can play fine defense; he can play fine offense. With us, he’s scored goals very well [and has] defended very well. He’s valuable at either spot for us and we’ll see him at both spots down the stretch here.”
Of course, there will be extra spice added to the semifinal game, as if such a high-stakes contest needs any extra spice. The Eagles will be taking on their archrival, Boston University.
“The rivalry has been terrific for years and years,” York says. “But when you start playing games later in the year, whether its Hockey East tournament games or regionals or the Frozen Four, it brings the rivalry to an even higher level.
“It’s great to play in the league. It’s great to play in the Beanpot. But now, all of a sudden, its ratcheted up more — the emotion, the significance of the win.
“I think both teams have played real well this week, and we’ve got a lot of respect for BU. I was at the game the other night with Vermont. That was a classic quarterfinal matchup. They impress me an awful lot.”
In this matchup of titans, BU holds the edge defensively as the league’s best in that category (1.81 goals against per game to BC’s 2.28) while the Eagles have displayed greater offensive prowess (3.22 goals per game to 2.59).
“We’re trying to really have a balanced year between offense and defense,” York says. “You can’t just win with a certain offensive set. You’ve really got to defend and make stops here. I think our numbers appear that way.
“But I think both of us have pretty good balance. It’s probably going to come down, once again, to goaltenders. I leave most games thinking, ‘The teams are comparable, but which goalie played better?’ That seems to be the team that wins the contest.
“It’ll be a great matchup between two of the premier goaltenders in all of the country in John Curry and Cory Schneider. I think it’s going to lean more that way — which goalie is consistent over 60 minutes?”
Boston University — The Number Three Seed
If it’s true that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, Boston University looms as the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the four teams at the Garden. While the other three semifinalists swept their quarterfinal series, BU lost the opener to Vermont before rebounding with a win to force a deciding third game. The Terriers then had to go almost 10 minutes into overtime to defeat the Catamounts and advance.
“I think it’s better to have a tougher series from an emotional point of view, to come into [the semifinals] on a high after having to battle like we had to battle,” BU coach Jack Parker says before adding, “If you get out of it without any injuries — and we did for the most part.
“Sometimes when you go through a three-night stand with every game being so physical and so intense, you wind up getting worn down and beat up. I don’t think that happened to us. We certainly came out of that with an emotional lift, having to win the last two games and the last one in overtime.”
BU has thrived on those type of close games all season long.
“Without question, what’s kept us alive all year is the fact that we’ve been pretty good killing penalties, we’ve been very good five-on-five defensively and we’ve gotten fabulous goaltending from John Curry,” Parker says. “Every game we’ve been in seems to be 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. We’ve played in a lot of close, low-scoring games, so we’ve been battled-tested that way.”
In addition to Curry, who has been All-Everything and was just announced as the league’s lone Hobey Baker Award finalist, the blueliners will again be pivotal to BU’s hopes of repeating as Hockey East champions.
“The real core of the defense has come from our seniors: Sully [Sean Sullivan], Kevin Schaeffer, who may or may not play this weekend, and Tom Morrow,” Parker says. “When you can have a senior with every group going out there, it makes you feel a little bit better. But when you have a senior going out with every group that has the experience and the talent that these three have, that makes you feel a little bit better, too.
“There is no question that our defensemen and goaltending have been the keys to our success this year.”
As noted in the BC section, the Eagles hold the advantage offensively, on paper at least, while the Terriers counter with superior team defense.
“There are some teams in this league that have a little bit more oomph up front, a little bit more firepower,” Parker says. “I think that BC and UNH have three-quarters of the top 10 scorers in the league and the only guys that squeak in there are a couple of Maine players. The problem is that they’re not shabby defensively either.
“I’m happy that we have a great defensive team. I wish we had a little bit more offense and I wish our power play was going at a better rate, which would make us feel better about our chances. In these type of games, usually defense wins, but you can’t win nothing-nothing.
“I’m hoping it’s a low-scoring game. If it isn’t, then we’re going to be on the wrong end of it. I’m
expecting a very physical game and I’m expecting a very emotional game. Emotions will get the physical aspects going.
“We know each other so well — it’s obviously a heated rivalry. I know that we’re excited to be back at the Garden and we’re excited to play anybody. But it makes it a little extra special to be playing your archrival.”
Massachusetts — The Number Four Seed
UMass earned only its third berth in the Hockey East semifinals by sweeping Maine, one weekend after sweeping them to get home ice. The last time the Minutemen got this far, in 2004, they upset the same New Hampshire Wildcats that they face this weekend and took the championship game into three overtimes before losing.
In winning 20 games, however, this year’s team has done what even the 2004 unit couldn’t do.
“We’ve gone through the peaks and the valleys that a lot of programs go through,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon says. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting off the bus with real good players that are real good kids. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve had some terrific players here, [and] times when we’ve had some good players but maybe not enough of them.
“[We’ve had] all the trials and tribulations that go along with losing tough games, playing well but not finding the way to win. It can bring a program down.
“Conversely, if you start to win some of those close games and become a little more consistent in your play, that can snowball as well. That is where our program is now. We are better athletically, and we have won some close games. Everyone feels a little better about themselves.
“It’s a fine line and it’s fragile. [But] I like our team, I like our leadership and I like our four seniors. They’ve been through the lows and the highs. They offer a perspective to the other kids on our team.”
One of the mental keys for the Minutemen has been staying in the present.
“We never looked at [beating Maine four straight] as a four-game proposition,” Cahoon says. “I think that would have been a little overwhelming.
“What we did was to segment the challenge by reducing it as much as possible, even as much as a period at a time. The kids have really bought into that concept and have really responded to it.”
Goaltender Jon Quick has also really responded. A difference-maker in the series with Maine, he earned Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors.
That said, he’ll be in august company this weekend. UNH’s Kevin Regan is the league’s reigning Player of the Week while Cory Schneider and John Curry both earned All-America honors last year.
All four can make strong cases for being named All-Hockey East.
“Any one of these goaltenders is deserving of the accolades they get at the end of the season,” Cahoon says. “All have been vital to their team’s success.
“Jon measures up on that front. He’s the backbone of our team, and I characterize him as the best athlete on our team. We know that we go as he goes.
“Most programs that get to this point in the season are getting great goaltending. It’s pretty hard to disguise that position. Jon is no exception.”
The Minutemen, however, are no one-man team. Chris Capraro has been immense up front and of late UMass has fit the profile of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
“If anything, we are characterized by being fairly well-balanced,” Cahoon says. “We don’t have anyone in the top 10 in scoring. We don’t have any one single prolific scoring line.
“It seems to be that across the board, we are getting contributions from everyone, which contributes to a healthy team environment. It’s a good situation that in a game, regardless of who is on the ice, you feel that you could get some contributions and production.”
The Minutemen will certainly need those contributions and production against UNH.
“They are an interesting match-up,” Cahoon says. “UNH is the most prolific scoring team in the league. They have a cadre of weapons. Its almost frightening how talented they are and how quick-striking they can be. You can seem to have them under check for periods of time, then you have the one [mistake] and the puck is in the back of the net.
“You’re not going to hold this team down for 60 minutes, so you have to take some chances. It gives me a lot to think about.”
Quote Of Note
Parker couldn’t help zinging Cahoon after following his friend and former assistant coach on Hockey East’s conference call.
“Toot used the word cadre. That’s pretty good for a former phys. ed. major.”
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon reflected on the season after his Catamounts lost to BU.
“[There were] so many positives to hang our hats on,” he said. “Certainly, you can look at stats and pick out negatives — scoring or something like that — but if you look at the way we competed against one of the toughest schedules in college hockey, we had a lot of great wins against tough teams.
“Last year we had good wins, but they weren’t necessarily against the better teams. I think for a young team we did a great job this year.
“I’m already looking forward to next year. I look at our top three lines, and they’re all freshmen and sophomores but one junior.
“[I see] players like Peter Lenes. He had a phenomenal, phenomenal last month and a half for us. He was a difference maker out there for us. So knowing what he’s going to do from the start as a junior next year is exciting.
“The best part of Peter’s game, aside from his tenacity and playing much bigger than his stature, is that he knew when we needed to get pucks in the net. Every time he had the puck on his stick tonight he was thinking shot. He’s a goal scorer, and when he gets in that area, it’s going to find the back of the net.”
Thanks to Scott Weighart for filling in every third week this season. Those weeks off were life-savers.
Even if he did lampoon me on such a regular basis.
And thanks to my wife Brenda for her heroic transcribing to bail me out week after week.
Scott may be a necessary evil, but Brenda is the best.
Last week Scott posed a narcissistic brain teaser. After making you endure a season’s worth of columns by Dave and Scott, Scott challenged you to come up the highest-scoring “Dave” (or David) and the highest-scoring “Scott” in Hockey East history.
Note that you could only count seasons in which the player played for a team that was in Hockey East at the time. So Vermont players from before last season didn’t count, for example. Likewise, if a player played one or more years before the league existed, you could count him … but you couldn’t count his totals for any year that he did not play in Hockey East!
Without consulting any source, Scott was able to come up with a Dave and a Scott who scored a total of 302 points while skating for their teams as Hockey East players. So Scott warned you that if you didn’t have at least 302 points, there was a better option out there.
Predictably, Scott kept his streak alive of not knowing the best answer to his own question. He had been thinking David Emma and Scott Shaunessy. In fact, the only other HE skater named Scott that he could think of when penning the column was Northeastern’s Scott Selig. Of course, he now claims that the best Scott did indeed pop into his head… but not until he was walking over to Agganis Arena on Thursday night.
Sometimes I wonder whether he has more ideas in his head or more hairs on top of his head: Those two numbers are pretty close! And arguably can be counted on one hand.
In any event, David Emma scored 239 points during his four years at Boston College, while Scott Pellerin notched 223 points for Maine. Some readers nominated Scott Harlow of BC, but Hockey East did not exist until his junior year, cutting his point total down dramatically for the purposes of the question.
The first to get this one correct was David Snow. His cheer is:
“This time of year brings but one plea, Anybody but BC! GO BU!”
Since this is the last column of the year, you’ll have to wait until October for the next trivia contest.
And Finally, Not That It Has Anything To Do With Anything, But…
Okay, I love the Patriots’ moves. I think J.D. Drew is going to prove the nattering nabobs of negativity wrong. And I promise to stop reading any sportswriter who suggests before it’s even April that Jonathan Papelbon should return to closing.
But this closing segment is for those of you who write fiction.
If you write fiction of the fantastic — fantasy, science fiction or horror — you owe it to yourself to consider Odyssey, a six-week workshop held each summer at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH. I attended last summer and my only regret is that I didn’t do so years earlier.
Jeanne Cavelos, winner of the World Fantasy Award for her editing, runs Odyssey. I can’t imagine a better editor to work with.
Over 50 percent of all graduates go on to be published. (If that figure doesn’t impress you, you don’t know publishing.) In just the last month or so, the Odyssey email list has announced one graduate being named a Nebula Award finalist and another taking first prize in the Writers of the Future contest, for which she earned a thousand dollars and an anthology publication. Other recent successes have ranged from first sales to book deals.
Last year’s group came from as far away as Great Britain and Alberta. They ranged in age from 21 to… well… even older than me.
You’ll work your butt off, but it’ll be worth it.
Top writers, editors, and agents in the field serve as guest lecturers. This summer, the workshop runs from June 11 through July 20. Its writer-in-residence is Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and guest lecturers include Michael A. Burstein, Rodman Philbrick, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Michael A. Arnzen, and George Scithers. The application deadline is April 13. For more information, see www.odysseyworkshop.org.
If you have to scramble to make the deadline, do it. If you have to use every last hour of vacation time owed you, do it. If you have to hock your flat-screen TV and forgo eating out to pay for it, do it.
Not all sacrifices are worthwhile. This one will be.