This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 1, 2007

Dave Hendrickson is not available to write the Hockey East column this week. To raise awareness regarding world hunger, Dave is attempting to eat enough to sustain one human being for a whole year in the two weeks between his last column and his next column.

The Spirit of ’76

You’d have to go back a long way to find a Boston University team that began the year winless in its first five games. All the way the back to the Bicentennial, in fact. For those of you old enough to remember, that was the era of disco, mood rings, beanbag chairs, and Charlie’s Angels. For Dave Hendrickson, it was the year of trying to imitate John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever while simultaneously coming to terms with turning 40.

“It was the 1976-77 season, Mike Eruzione’s senior year,” Jack Parker said. “So you know what the good part of that is?” Parker asked me.

“Yes, I do,” I replied, and Parker laughed heartily. “That team won the ECAC Tournament and went to the Final Four,” he reminded me.

So could a similar fate be in store for this year’s edition of the Terriers, currently 0-4-1?

“That’s a long way off,” Parker said. “I couldn’t have told you that that team was going to wind up like that either. I do know that it was nice to get our first win [in the ’76-77 season]; it was against Harvard over at Harvard in overtime, and Tony Meagher got the winning goal.”

That said, Parker — whose memory for hockey details never fails to impress me — saw some parallels between the woes of yesteryear and today. “I think it was a lot of the same stuff,” Parker said. “We were sloppy in our own zone — playing pretty well and then giving up a big break. We didn’t get great goaltending early on — it wasn’t horrible goaltending — and all of a sudden it just took off.”

Regardless of whether the current team does serious damage in the months to come, Parker is bullish on the Terriers. “Sooner or later we’re going to get a win, and we’re a good team. I’ve maintained that all along. I like my team; I like all the ingredients we have. I think we’re going to score goals, and I think we’re going to get better defensively. We’re not doing either one of those things right now, but we’ve got enough to be a very good team.”

Between CSTV and CN8, I watched the better part of the Terriers’ pair of games in Ann Arbor last weekend — when I wasn’t channel surfing to catch UNH on NHPTV or the Red Sox. On Friday, I actually was wowed by BU’s skating and tenacity regardless of the score. They appeared to play a terrific game; they just couldn’t score and gave up a few fateful rushes. But Saturday they did not match that effort.

“I would say you’re correct on both counts,” Parker said. “I thought Friday night we played very well. I think what happened was we played really well and didn’t get a W, and guys came out down and flat the next night because they put in a real good effort and can’t win a game. So psychologically that had something to do with it; we were flat as hell.

“But to their credit, after getting blown out in the first two minutes and not touching the puck the first four or five minutes, we settled down and played hard for a while. But then we’re playing okay, putting in a good effort in a 2-1 game … and we give them a goal.”

Much has been said about whether Karson Gillespie or Brett Bennett would be the heir to the throne in goal following the graduation of John Curry. So far both have been good but not outstanding — not great enough to steal a close game, obviously. Are we any closer to determining the primary netminder?

“Not yet. I think it’s too early to make that decision. Neither one of these guys has played a lot of hockey in the last couple of years. Gillespie’s been sitting behind Curry for his entire career, so he’s only played one or two games each year. Bennett only played one game last year sitting behind Curry, and the year before that he missed two-thirds of the year at Ann Arbor [with the U.S. Under-18 team] because of an injury. So we need to get the cobwebs out and get in game shape and in a game frame of mind and we’ll see what happens. If somebody separates themselves fairly quickly, we’ll make a move, but it’s every other game for a while.”

Besides, goaltending has not been the Terriers’ biggest negative to date. They have ample talent, and freshmen Colin Wilson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nick Bonino, and Colby Cohen obviously are big additions in terms of skill and poise. Wilson and Shattenkirk are already two of the team’s better power-play personnel. But the collective talent has only translated to 11 goals in five games thus far.

“We’re trying a few things differently on power plays; we’re trying a few things different in our zone, but in general we have stop squeezing sticks so tight,” Parker said. “One of the things I told them that I wanted them to do was that early on I thought we were trying to be too fine and overpassing the puck, so we were urging them to take some more shots. At the end of two periods on Friday at Michigan, we had attempted 57 shots to their 27, so we were trying to put pucks on the net and get things accomplished.”

With league games against Providence and Mass.-Lowell this week, BU has an opportunity to feel considerably better about themselves by beating two teams that are beatable without being pushovers by any means.

“I’m worried about their attitude more than ours,” Parker said, speaking of his team’s self-image in comparison to the perception of the Terrier coaching staff. “We had a meeting the other day and said, ‘Boys, the good news is that as far as I’m concerned we know you’re a better team than you do right now. It’ll come; don’t worry about it.’ So we’ll see what happens against Providence.”


When I called Wildcat coach Dick Umile on Monday and asked him how he was doing, his answer was jovial. “It’s all based on the weekend. If you win, then Sunday and Monday are good days.”

During my channel surfing on Friday night, BU was all over Michigan in the first period. Meanwhile, Colorado College burst out of the gate to take a 3-1 lead against their all-too-hospitable hosts. I told Umile that by the end of the night I was wondering what the hell happened in both games.

“It’s a crazy game, isn’t it?” Umile said. “It was pretty wide open. They were pretty opportunistic, Colorado, in that first period. It was very wide open, and obviously it settled down after that. We did a better job of slowing them down, doing a little more forechecking. So it was a good weekend, good hockey. Both teams played well: good atmosphere.”

By the end of the weekend, the Wildcats were the owners of a sweep against a top ten team, making them 3-0-0 to start the season despite playing ranked teams in all three games.

“The most important thing is that defensively we’re competing hard,” Umile said. “That’s one thing we want to do is play harder off the puck. From the end of last season, I think it’s something we’re going to need to improve in. You try to get better at it every week, so that at the end of the season — the playoffs, the championships — you’re sound defensively and able to keep them out of the scoring area. I like the way that the team competed; I think we’re making progress in that area but we’ve got a ways to go, and I like the balance of the team.

“I think we have a little of everything: some physical presence, speed, transition, and we’ve got five freshmen playing up front for us. I thought our freshman line [of Phil DeSimone, Paul Thompson, and Danny Dries] did a good job. So there’s balance in our team, and goaltending and defense are our strength.”

The upshot is that UNH is now No. 4 in the nation, the highest ranking of any Hockey East team. “That’s okay — wherever,” Umile said. “You know how I feel about that. You want to be up there. It says a lot for the program and what you’ve accomplished. Especially after three games against BU and Colorado, we’ll take three wins any day. But there’s a long, long way to go.”

The next challenge will be a Northeastern team that is on the rise… and which also seems to play UNH tough, even in years when they’ve had less talent than they have now. Umile had nothing but kudos for NU coach Greg Cronin.

“Greg’s done a terrific job; he’s changed the whole attitude,” Umile said. “They’ve always been a tough physical team to play, up and down, but he’s recruited some good skill players. They’re well-coached, and they have a good goaltender. I talked to the North Dakota coaches, and they thought [Northeastern] played very, very well. I know that they lost two games to Maine, and that’s disappointing at the start of the season. But they’re a good program, and that’s the most interesting thing when you look at the preseason polls, where Northeastern was. I tell you what, we thought that they would be right up there knocking at the door and trying to bump somebody off that top bracket.”

Backup netminder Brian Foster looked very solid on Saturday with a 31-save effort in a 4-2 win over Colorado College. But Umile was not prepared to say whether we would see Foster again as soon as this weekend, given that he’s playing behind a potential All-American in Kevin Regan.

“I haven’t made that decision yet. We’ll go game by game here. I probably won’t want make that decision till the end of the week.”

Northeastern could really use a win, but UNH has no glaring weaknesses. It should be a good test for both teams.

Weekend Warriors

You can be sure that Dave Hendrickson didn’t bet his last doughnut on Merrimack starting the year with a 3-0 record. Granted, those wins came against CHA opponents, and, yes, the Warriors reverted to form by getting stomped by Boston College last Friday and swept with a loss at home on Sunday. Still, bear in mind that Merrimack took just three games to match last season’s total number of wins, as the program suffered through a 3-27-4 record last year.

“It’s funny: There were games last year where we may have played better and not won just because of our inability to score,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “Scoring goals takes pressure off of every other facet of your game. It takes pressure off of your goaltending, and it’s obviously much easier to play with a lead than to come from behind. I think that’s been the difference where we’ve gone out and scored some goals, had some success.”

That said, playing a national contender like BC was a reality check. “As good as BC’s offense is, their defense is quite good too,” Dennehy said. “Their goaltender was quite good this weekend, which made it difficult to score, and that made it harder for us.”

Dennehy had an interesting analysis of his team’s 7-1 loss at BC on Friday night. “There’s a fine line between not giving your opponent any respect and giving them too much,” he said. “If you don’t respect an opponent like Boston College, they can run you over. But if you respect them too much, the same thing can happen. I think that was the case on Friday. We gave them too much space — sort of played it safe — and if you give good players time and space, they’ll make plays. That was Friday night in a nutshell.”

While the result was the same on Sunday in terms of failing to get the W, there was much reason for encouragement. The Warriors actually outshot BC by a 35-33 margin, including a 13-8 advantage in the first period and an 18-7 edge in the third.

“[On Sunday] we played more of our style of game,” Dennehy said. “We were in their face, up in the play. We shortened the rink on them. If the scoring chances were reversed, it might’ve been an ugly game. We had our chances; we just didn’t capitalize the way we had the week before. A lot of the credit goes to [BC freshman goalie] John Muse, who played pretty well.

“And then the other difference is the power play: They executed on their power play, whereas ours wasn’t very good. But the best part of this league is that you get to measure up against the best teams in the country. The good news is that we’re better than last year; the reality is that we still have a ways to go before were where we want to be.”

One early star has been freshman Francois Ouimet, plucked from obscurity as a star player in one of the less-scouted Canadian junior leagues.

“I’m not a genius, but it’s pretty easy to see when he has the puck as much as he has and what he can do with it that he can be a significant player,” Dennehy said. “We’ve been happy with Francois’ play — a little bit of a recruiting coup for us. We need to do that more and continue to bring in players of that caliber. Fraser Allen is another late recruit for us who’s arrived on campus and done a great job for us. You could argue that he’s been our best defenseman. He’s been playing in all situations. Our freshman class has chipped in; we’re still scraping off the rust of a few guys who’ve come back. I think we’ll only get better as the year goes on.”

Goaltenders Patrick Watson and Andrew Brathwaite have had their ups and downs thus far, but there’s no question that they still have room for improvement as well.

“I’m happy with the results for the most part, especially going into last weekend. Coming out is a little difference — obviously licking our wounds a little bit. The one thing that concerns me is that I don’t want to trade chances. We have the ability to score goals more than last year for sure, but at the end of the day I don’t think we want to be a run-and-gun team. It’s a little alarming that we’ve given up 30 shots a game. But I’m happy for the guys that we’ve got off to a good start; it’s a testament to their hard work.”

Trivia Contest

Dave has been too busy eating eclairs to come up with a trivia question thus far, so it’s high time that we get the competition rolling this season. In my usual sadistic fashion, I am going to give you a question without even knowing for sure what the best answer is.

Given that my last name means that I generally have been called last in school and anywhere else where the alphabet is utilized, I want to do justice to the end of the alphabet. So I am asking our loyal readers to give me a starting lineup — goalie, two defensemen, and three forwards — that would represent the players at those positions who are closest to the end of the alphabet in the history of Hockey East men’s hockey.

A few rules:

• You can only use a given last name once. If there were three former Hockey East players named, say, Zzywcyzk, you can only use one of them.

• The player needed to play for a Hockey East team when it actually was in Hockey East. So guys who played for that 1976-77 BU team — Dave Silk, for example — would not qualify.

• In terms of position eligibility for forwards and d-men — as well as for scouring the archives if so inclined — I would recommend that we defer to that most remarkable database,

If there is any justice in the world, the winner will be a guy who was a trivia winner last season: Kurt Zwald.

E-mail 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.

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

Tuesday the Red Sox held their parade. I talked to Jack Parker about it, and I agreed with his assessment that the 2007 Sox were more fun to root for than the 2004 Sox. It’s amazing how fast Dustin Pedroia has become a fan favorite. Even a student of mine who is an ardent Yankee fan admitted that he is a closet Pedroia fan. Most likely it’s because the average person can look at Pedroia and relate to him in stature and in terms of his somewhat modest physical gifts.

Yet the comeback of Jon Lester, the surprising poise of Jacoby Ellsbury, the improbable home run from Bobby Kielty, and the classy but quiet stardom of Mike Lowell gave us much to appreciate — especially in comparison to A-Rod and Scott Boras trying to upstage the series win with A-Rod’s announcement about not returning to the Yankees. I hope the Yanks stick to their guns and let the best player to never play in a World Series see if he can get a better deal elsewhere — not in Boston, I pray.

On the other hand, the USCHO e-mail list-serv has been full of USCHO staffers bemoaning how insufferable Sox fans have become. I am entirely sympathetic. There will always be bandwagon fans who love to root for teams on top. As someone who inexplicably adopted the San Diego Chargers as a favorite team at a very young age — I think it was the uniforms — I can’t relate.

I love rooting for underdogs. And I think that there are an awful lot of people who go to the Sox games just because it’s the thing to do. Hell, the one time I took my family this year, we squatted in some nice field boxes until the actual ticket holders arrived … in the bottom of the fifth inning! If you spend over $100 for a ticket and then miss half the game, you cannot be much of a baseball fan.

One other note for this week: As very few of you know — and probably even fewer actually care — my day job is working on the cooperative education faculty at Northeastern University, helping students find six-month, full-time jobs in their chosen fields.

As such, I have written a couple of books to help out young job seekers. My first and best-selling is called Find Your First Professional Job: A Guide For Co-ops, Interns, and Full-Time Job Seekers. The book teaches young professionals how to write resumes, interview strategically, and perform effectively once they are in a professional workplace. If you or someone you know could use such a book, you can only order the newest edition by going to this website.