This Week in Hockey East: Nov. 19, 2009

Splitsville

We’ve just about reached Thanksgiving, and amazingly every single league series in Hockey East has been split.

And I mean split. No team has taken four points in a two-game series. Similarly, no team has taken three points from the same team.

Granted, Hockey East plays less two-game series than, say, the WCHA and the CCHA, but to get to this point and not have a single sweep is amazing.

Last weekend, that fact was brought to its pinnacle as all four two-game league series were split one game a piece. Three of the four saw one team win handily in the opening game only to lose the following night.

The most dramatic of those was Boston College and Vermont. The Eagles won Saturday night’s opening game, 7-1, in a game where BC coach Jerry York said “everything we shot went in.”

That was true for certain. The Eagles had just 19 shots on Friday night. Goaltender Rob Madore started the game for Vermont and allowed four goals on 12 shots. Mike Spillane relieved him in the third and stopped just four of the seven shots he saw.

“Everything they touched turned to goal,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said after the game. “Everything we touched turned to coal.”

You’d think with both of Vermont’s goaltenders struggling, Sunday’s second game would be a cakewalk. That was until Spillane made 30 saves in the rematch, frustrating the Eagles offense by holding it to just two goals and, in the process earning a 3-2 victory.

“This is the fourth Hockey East series this weekend to go to a split, which confirms what a lot of us thought: That this league is going to be incredibly balanced and a battle for all of us,” York said after the loss. “I thought we did a lot of positive things [on Sunday]. It was a better game and a better effort for us.”

With the holidays approaching, Hockey East’s season will become a bit more disjointed. After three teams play two-game series this weekend, many of the single games that comprise the three-game season series that each Hockey East teams play against one another, will get played between now and mid-January.

This may be where the top of the league separates from the bottom as the best clubs will begin taking two single games from league mates when not facing the same opponent on back-to-back nights.

Whitehead: “I Like my Team”

Things in Orono, Maine, haven’t been a cakewalk for coach Tim Whitehead and his Black Bears team for the last couple of years. After qualifying for the NCAA tournament in each of his first six seasons, including four trips to the Frozen Four, Whitehead’s club finished near the bottom of the league for the last two years — missing the playoffs in 2008 before qualifying in the eighth spot last season and bowing out in the first round.

In a town that is used to winning, the heat is certainly on this year’s Maine team. After cleaning house over the summer in a move Whitehead said eliminated some of the players who just didn’t fit into the Maine hockey culture, the Black Bears got off to a bit of a slow start.

Maine lost a two-game series at Union to open the season then dropped the first game of a two-game set at home against Michigan State.

But since the Black Bears returned a night later to beat Michigan State, which we all at this point in the season know is an impressive team, things have looked better.

The Black Bears posted three straight wins culminating last Friday night with a trouncing of Northeastern, 6-2, on the road. Over the three-game span, Maine scored 13 goals while allowing just five.

And that there seems to be the secret to this Black Bears team, which now sits at 4-6-0. In its four wins, Maine has allowed just eight goals total. In the six losses, its allowed 30, or an average of five goals per game.

The Black Bears sit in a tie for fifth place with six points in league play, but that is just two points behind league leader Massachusetts.

Whitehead, though, is very enthusiastic about this year’s team. What hasn’t yet translated onto paper in the form of wins is the chemistry that this team has built, something that was missing from last year’s bunch.

“I like this team a lot,” said Whitehead. “They’re a very coachable group of guys.”

Terriers Find the Win Column

Not exactly a headline you’d have expected to see at this point in the season.

BU earning a win was never big news in the past. But after a 2-6-0 start that included a four-game losing streak, last Saturday’s 6-4 win over Merrimack for the Terriers suddenly becomes news.

It’s been an ugly start to a national title defense for Jack Parker’s club. Before Saturday, BU eclipsed four goals just once, and that took overtime against Massachusetts-Lowell. And in the four-game losing streak that culminated in a 6-3 road loss last Friday night against Merrimack, the Terriers scored just seven goals, more than two goals below the 3.93 goals per game the Terriers scored to lead the nation last season.

There certainly have been reasons. Beyond losing a heap of talented players after last season, BU was without Nick Bonino, the most talented returning player, until last Saturday night.

Though it’s impossible to say that Bonino’s return sparked the Terriers offense (particularly given that he figured in just two of the six BU goals), his presence is certainly felt.

“It’s obviously nice to get Bonino back,” said Parker.

The veteran coach admits, though, that even having Bonino back, he’s not in full game shape in terms of conditioning just yet. He played on Saturday’s game last weekend because of that.

“It has nothing to do with his shoulder,” said Parker of the reason Bonino played on Saturday and not Friday. “He could’ve played [Friday] night. I didn’t think he’d be able to play two games in a row conditioning wise.”

Another welcome addition to the BU lineup last weekend was goaltender Grant Rollheiser. He played for the first time this season and will provide some relief to Kieran Millan, who was last year’s hero down the stretch for the Terriers but has struggled thus far this season.

Rollheiser allowed four goals on Saturday night in the win, but when you consider that three of those goals came with Merrimack on the power play, his 25-save effort looks more impressive.

Though what possibly makes the Rollheiser effort most impressive is the result: for BU, that’s a much needed win.

Upon Further Review …

This season marks the first year for Hockey East that video review will be in place at all games in all Hockey East buildings. In the past, video review of goals only took place during television games or in games played at the relatively-new Agganis Arena, which has state-of-the-art video capabilities.

But the league mandated that all rinks must have a system in place to review questionable goals and many schools made significant investment in camera systems and video equipment over the offseason to make this possible.

Last Saturday night against Vermont, Boston College’s new system got its first test. And after referee Kevin Keenan went into the review area to watch what to the naked eye appeared to be an innocuous play, the first video review was under way.

The play occurred past the midway point of the first period, with the game tied at one. Vermont’s Chris McCarthy swatted at a puck in front of BC netminder John Muse. It appeared Muse made a somewhat routine save but as he did, the goal light went on.

Keenean decided that he’d review the play. But after 10 minutes of Keenan appearing to look at the screen, Vermont was beginning to have déjà vu to last year’s NCAA regional, where a 12-minute review led to the Catamounts’ regional winning goal in overtime against Air Force.

This time, the decision wasn’t as pleasant as Keenan emerged after 10 minutes to make the “no-goal” signal. From there, BC exploded for the final six goals of the game in a 7-1 win.

The next day, two interesting items were revealed before the game. First, the puck indeed had crossed the goal line (though this writer’s eyes never saw it, I’m taking the word of a somewhat reliable source). Second was that BC’s instant replay system was not working properly.

Apparently, the video engineer working that game hadn’t properly marked the video tape to cue the segment of video that contained the controversial play. Thus, for 10 minutes, referee Keenan had just one angle to review — a center ice camera that gave him a worse angle than he had with the naked eye standing to the side of the net. He waited for the overhead view, the one not marked properly, but alas he couldn’t cue that camera.

The following night, BC officials ensured that the system had been fixed and that appeared to be true as a play in Sunday’s game went to review and within two minutes the referees had been able to look at all camera angle to determine that the puck hadn’t crossed the line on a Boston College bid to tie the game.

Certainly, Saturday’s instance is the growing pains of a new system and, in retrospect seemingly didn’t affect the outcome of the game. Though had the Catamounts been credited with the goal, being ahead 2-1 rather than tied and eventually, before the end of the period, behind by a goal could have swayed the momentum. That, though, we’ll never know.

And Finally, Not That it has Anything to do With Anything, But …

I must once again reference a hockey-related subject in this area that’s generally reserved for non-hockey talk. Those of you who thought I’d talk about the famous “fourth-and-2” play from Sunday’s Patriots game might have to wait for Dave’s return next week.

Instead I want to use this space to pay tribute to a friend. On Saturday morning, I got a phone call from a former UMass-Lowell hockey player who delivered the sad news that another former River Hawk, Ryan Golden, was killed in an automobile accident on Friday night.

Goldie, as many people knew him, was just 35 years old. He may not stand out to fans around Hockey East like the names Dwayne Roloson, Shane Henry or Greg Bullock, all who were teammates of Golden. But Ryan Golden will be remembered by many as the extra-large man with an extra-large heart.

Though a seventh-round pick of the Boston Bruins in 1993, this talented high school hockey star didn’t materialize to the superstar player in college. Instead, he was a role player who did his best when given the chance to play. He saw the Lowell program through some of its best years and in his four seasons, the Chiefs (which became the River Hawks), reached the Hockey East tournament at the Garden four times and twice those same Lowell teams qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Personally, I’ll remember Ryan not for his play on the ice, but for his friendship off. He and I lived together for my final two years of college. As one good friend said this week, “I still remember his laughs. He had two. His booming laugh from the belly and his ‘I’m up to no good’ laugh.” Anyone who knew him enjoyed either laugh equally.

Goldie was a man who probably never knew it, but touched a lot of people around him in such a positive way. He was great with little kids and was the star on the ice at the kids clinic the team would host throughout the season. In attending his wake on Wednesday night, I was touched by the number of young hockey players, presumably some of whom he had coached, who were in attendance.

We’re never prepared to lose a person in life — I’ve learned that after just 36 years here myself. But when someone young leaves the Earth, you can’t help but stop and wonder why.

I, personally, don’t like to push my religious views on anyone but being a Catholic and believing in an afterlife, I personally hope that Goldie is taking his first shift on Heaven’s all-star team today.

We’ll miss you buddy.

Scott Weighart contributed to this report

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