This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 22, 2009

Back Where They Belong

Back in November, if you looked at the results each weekend or scanned the standings, you’d have wondered what was going on in Durham, New Hampshire. UNH managed only a single win for the month and that came over a Providence squad that went oh-fer the first semester within the league.

Since when did the Wildcats go 1-5-2 for a month, regardless of the strength of their schedule?

Well, it’s now safe for UNH fans to be around sharp objects because the Wildcats have gone 6-0-1 since that rough stretch, moving to within striking range in the league standings and a tie for 11th in the PairWise.

“We struggled in the month of November for a lot of reasons,” UNH coach Dick Umile says. “We forgot about how we got there and didn’t play as well as we were capable of playing defensively. We had some injuries.

“We bounced back with a really important weekend where we won two games against a very good Lowell team. We got back to paying attention to the details, doing the little things well, and competing harder.

“We’ve come out of the break picking up where we left off and have put a good little run together.”

An offense that had been struggling has caught fire, scoring at a 4.29 goals per game clip since saying goodbye to November.

“We were getting the opportunities before but for some guys the puck wasn’t going in,” Umile says. “Now they seem to be going in. They’ve worked at it.

“We’ve made changes in some of our line combinations but guys like Jerry Pollastrone is scoring. Greg Collins has really stepped to the plate. We put him into a position to lead and he’s doing that. Mike Sislo has been scoring.

“We’re getting scoring from everybody. The other night against Dartmouth we had six different scorers so everybody is contributing. We’ve gotten balanced scoring and we’re playing better defense and getting some offense from the better defensive play.”

There’s still room for improvement, though, in the defensive end is where the Wildcats have surrendered four goals in three of the last five games.

“No doubt about it,” Umile says. “I don’t want to try to score four or five goals to win a game so obviously giving up four is more than we want.

“But I think overall we’ve played better defense. We’ve had some moments in a particular period that haven’t been great and we’ve had a couple power-play goals scored against us so we need a better job there. So I think we’ve improved, but we still have a way to go if we want to be at the top of this league, that’s for sure. Our league is a bear right now from top to bottom.”

UNH’s resurgence will be put to the test this weekend when the Wildcats take on Boston University in a home-and-home. BU ranks tops in the league in overall offense, defense, and special teams.

“It will be a good test,” Umile says. “We had a good game against them early in the season, [winning 2-1], but a lot has happened since then.

“They’re not only playing well offensively and defensively, but you just don’t want to get penalties against them. They had six power-play goals over the weekend, four against BC and BC is usually pretty good killing penalties and they’ve got good goaltending.

“I’ve seen BU on tape and they’re moving the puck extremely well. They’re playing well from the net out, offense and defense. This will be a battle, but we’re looking forward to it.”

Paging Boston College, Paging Boston College

While UNH has righted its ship, Boston College has taken numerous broadsides. The Eagles, winless since the end of November, have gone 0-4-2, falling into fifth place, two games below .500 within the league.

Last weekend, they led Massachusetts-Lowell going into the final minute of regulation but surrendered an extra-attacker goal to send the game into overtime, where a Lowell power-play goal kept them on the skids.

If that hadn’t acted as a wakeup call, presumably facing their archrival, Boston University, should have. Instead, BC lost, 5-2, getting outshot 46-21.

“We’re in a funk, no question, for these last three or four weeks,” BC coach Jerry York says. “We’re just a step behind the play. We’ve got to play at a higher, quicker tempo, whether it’s defending or on offense. We’re not quick, and that’s our trademark, quick and fast.

“We’re not on the top of our game. Our best hockey has got to be in front of us because it hasn’t been since Christmas. We’re just not playing very well.

“We’re not playing at the tempo that we have to play at. We’re a little slow and a little more methodical than I’d like. [When you play at that tempo], you’re a step behind on defense and you’re not getting quality scoring chances.”

York knows there are no easy fixes.

“We’ll just keep working,” he says. “There’s no magic formula to it. We’ve got to get back to playing Eagle hockey. Keep sawing wood.”

Catamounts Still Roll

Although Vermont suffered its first league loss since Nov. 14, the Catamounts’ split on the road against Northeastern has to be considered yet another positive sign for a team tied for fifth in the PairWise.

Vermont lost on Friday night in a battle of strength vs. strength, namely the Catamount power play against the Northeastern penalty kill.

“Their penalty kill was very strong while our power play was awful,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said after the game. “We looked like we lost our skill on the power play.

“A lot of our key players had off nights. In order to beat a great team like Northeastern, you need to have a full deck of cards of everyone playing well and executing.”

The full deck was in play the next night.

“I’m very pleased with our response after [Friday] night’s game,” Sneddon said. “These guys have never let us down that way. Whenever we have a tough game, we always come back and play so much better the next night. That’s the sign of a good team.”

Sneddon has broken from his goalie rotation of junior Mike Spillane and freshman Rob Madore. For the past two weekends and probably for the immediate future, the rookie has taken the number one job.

“Robbie is just in a groove right now,” Sneddon said. “He’s played so well. We felt Rob was a little bit more focused and Mike had lost a little bit of confidence through some tough days of practice. That can be the difference.”

Sneddon is emphasizing to his squad what has become clear this season: every league game will be a battle and if you’re not ready you’ll be in trouble.

“I told our guys not to think of this [series against Northeastern] as a big weekend where we had to step up,” he said. “We have to do that every weekend.”

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

Tuesday was a great day for this country.

In my lifetime, African-Americans have not only been denied the right to vote, they have been killed while trying to claim it.

In my lifetime, their children have gone to segregated, substandard schools, perpetuating vicious cycles of poverty, either in the South by fiat or in the North, by virtue of neighborhoods they were constrained to remain in because their black faces were not welcome in lily white suburbs.

Now, in my lifetime, I have witnessed an African-American elected president. It gives me hope that some day the injustice, hatred, and division that has for too long scarred our land will be something only for the history books and not for the morning newspaper.

And so I exit this column, humming Buddy Guy’s “Skin Deep.”

Underneath, we are all the same …

Thanks to Scott Weighart and Keith Lavon.


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