Scott: Jim, last week might have been a little quieter off the ice than the previous one, but on the ice there’s plenty to go over. Let’s start with the most recent and most obvious result of note — Boston University winning its 29th Beanpot Monday night with a 5-2 victory over Northeastern. You were there, you talked to the folks in the building, and I’m curious first about the losing team. When it was all over, what was the feeling from the Huskies? Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin talked before and after the game both about its importance and about perspective: yes, it was the Beanpot title game, but it was still one game regardless. The Huskies really had to think this could have been their year. Does this loss stay with them as the Hockey East race moves along, or do they put it behind them and concentrate on the rest of the season?
Jim: Wow, you start with a whopper of a question — probably one that is on a lot of people’s mind: Will the Huskies wilt and die? At this point, I don’t think so. After the game, it was impossible to get a good read. That team was still in shock having given up two shorthanded goals with the game in the balance late I the third period. I think when NU went on the power play down, 3-2, that they felt it was time to tie the game. Instead, 90 seconds after the power play began, the score was 5-2. So immediately after the game, and Greg Cronin even said it, the loss — and more importantly how the loss happened — had not yet sunk in. But I think that all of what Cronin said throughout the tournament about approaching this as a single game did sink in. These players seem poised to make a run at a Hockey East title and an NCAA berth. I think come season’s end, we’ll still be talking about Northeastern. The interesting question is what will happen to BU. In the late ’70s and through the ’80s and part of the ’90s, the Terriers used Beanpot titles as springboards to the NCAA tournament. But since 1997, that’s hardly been the case. Sure, the Beanpot titles came, but that was the end of the team’s success, having not returned to the Frozen Four since three years before the new millennium. It will be interesting to see exactly how this team can stack up in the national picture between now and April.
Scott: Agreed on BU. What will be particularly interesting is how freshman netminder Kieran Millan handles himself down the stretch and into the NCAA tournament. Many will wonder about the ability of a rookie goalie to carry the load, but of course two of the last four NCAA champions have had freshmen in net: Peter Mannino with Denver in 2005 and then John Muse just last year for Boston College. Let’s hit another big game last weekend, one where I would have gladly paid full price just to see the last minute: Princeton at Cornell Saturday. The game started an hour late because Princeton’s team bus broke down en route to the rink, and even once the puck did drop both offenses were AWOL until the very end, with Cornell holding a 1-0 lead late. Defensive struggles are nothing unusual at Lynah, but what happened next was: Princeton pulled Zane Kalemba for a six-on-five and scored the tying goal in the final minute, then netted the game winner less than 20 seconds later courtesy of Taylor Fedun. I can only imagine the silence in the rink at that moment, but there’s a larger problem here for Mike Schafer’s crew: after reeling off an 11-game unbeaten streak, the Big Red have gone 2-3-1 in their last six and have scored just four goals in their last four games while being passed in the ECAC standings by Yale. I don’t care how good the D is, a goal per game cannot get it done. Thoughts?
Jim: I think when I saw Cornell play right before the New Year in Florida, one of my main concerns about this team was its ability to score goals. The Bid Red possess the ability both defensively and in net, but the offense has seemed anemic at times. I will admit that the late start might have thrown off both teams, so of the 60 minutes, 20 might have been wasted. That still left two whole periods, though, for Cornell to rebound. Plus, as you point out, this team hasn’t been playing well in general recently. So I think it’s fair to question how this team, once sitting atop the PairWise, will handle itself down the stretch. The Cornell-Princeton game wasn’t the only one lacking offense. Yours truly saw two games this weekend and in those 120 minutes of hockey saw just two goals (plus one empty-netter). Boston College blanked Massachusetts, 2-0, with an early goal and an empty-netter in the final minute. The next night, Maine upset New Hampshire, 1-0, on a shorthanded goal to start the second. It seems every year around this time that some teams’ offenses fly right out the window — either that or defenses are just that good late in the season. Any thoughts on which?
Scott: Hmm. This sounds like a research project to me. Some goals are the result of great individual effort and some come from ice vision or positional play, but others are just defensive breakdowns. It’s conceivable that a D corps might get more comfortable and better in sync late in the season, or maybe it’s that when the schedule gets short and the end is in sight, teams grow more conservative by design or unconsciously. Still, I’d love to carve out some time to look at the numbers and see if scoring totals decline as the season goes along. What do you think?
Jim: With my mind, a project like that might take until opening night next season. With yours it would take about two days. I say that’s your homework over spring break, though you’re certainly thinking along the same line as I am. I think that good teams really improve defensively as the season progresses. There are times on the bigger stages that you see some offensive outbursts, but I think that’s more due to players’ nerves leading to poor play in the defensive zone. So what’s on your radar screen this week?
Scott: In the WCHA there’s a lot brewing. We have Colorado College-Denver on Friday, though the teams play just the single game this weekend; the final game of the season series between the Rocky Mountain rivals is also the last game of the regular season for each team, on Saturday, March 7. The Tigers really need this game, at home, to get them going; CC is just 2-3-2 in its last seven games, No. 19 in the PairWise and fourth in the WCHA standings with Minnesota (three points behind the Tigers) and North Dakota (one point ahead) holding two games in hand on the rest of the league. No one is an easy bet for home ice in the WCHA yet — not even Denver or Wisconsin, which are tied for first place but have tough games remaining. On paper, Minnesota has the most favorable schedule from here on out, starting with a home series against Alaska-Anchorage, but the Gophers have been unpredictable lately. And in the CCHA, I’ll be interested to watch Ohio State’s push for the NCAA tournament. Coming off a split with Notre Dame, the Buckeyes are 13th in the PWR and have Michigan State this weekend before closing with Michigan and Miami. Given the season the Spartans are having, these are games that OSU simply has to win. Out East?
Jim: Well, I should start things off with a battle of Falcons. White-hot Bentley will host our first-half fave Air Force in a key Atlantic Hockey series. Bentley has been playing well lately and sits in third place, still within striking distance of both RIT and Air Force. If Bentley is to have a chance, though, it must sweep or at least take three of four points at home this weekend. In Hockey East, I’ll be keeping an eye on the scores from Orono as No. 1 BU heads north to face Maine. In its day, there was no better battle than these two clubs. And after Maine’s upset of New Hampshire, believe me that the Black Bears would love to spoil things for the Beanpot champs. In the ECAC, I’ve got my eye on Yale as they take the Union/Rensselaer trip this weekend. The Eli are playing incredibly well lately. Plenty of great action on tap that we’ll surely be talking about next week. Until then …