This Week in Hockey East: Jan. 28, 2010

Not-So-Dire Situation After All

A week ago, my colleague and friend Dave Hendrickson painted a bleak picture in this exact space for Hockey East prospects for bids to this year’s NCAA tournament.

At the time, Dave had every right in the world to feel that way. Hockey East had just three teams inside the top 14 in the PairWise Rankings. He made a point that because there really are no non-league games remaining for the Hockey East teams (except for two Beanpot games versus Harvard), that it would be improbable for many Hockey East teams to make positive moves in the PairWise.

And then last weekend happened. Four teams made positive ascents in the PairWise Rankings last weekend. Massachusetts, which began the week at 10th, now leads the Hockey East contingent in the PairWise, now tied for fifth (and did so by splitting a weekend series with Vermont). With two wins, New Hampshire jumped from 15th to seventh. Vermont, the other half of the split from the UMass series, moved from a tie for 12th to a tie for 10th. And Massachusetts-Lowell, the other Hockey East team to earn two wins last week, moved from 22nd to a tie for 17th and still can have tournament aspirations.

The only teams to move in a downward direction were Boston College, which lost twice and dropped from ninth to 12th, and Maine, which was idle and dropped from 20th to 21st.

So what does all this mean? Right now … nothing. Let’s keep in mind that the PairWise only matters on the final day of the league postseason tournaments and the movement of teams throughout can be extremely volatile and dynamic, depending on what is happening among other teams.

Is it panic time for Hockey East? I’d say no. For the teams that put their head down and drive toward the finish line, picking up a number of wins along the way, they’ll hear their name called on March 21. Any team that’s in the PairWise right now controls its destiny.

Playing With a Heavy Heart

For Sunday’s game against UMass, there was no doubt that Vermont goaltender Rob Madore was the star of the game. Madore made 31 saves, including 12 in the third period with the game in the balance, to pick up his second shutout of the season and third of his career in a 3-0 victory.

Shutouts always mean plenty to goaltenders — it’s their hope for an outcome every time they step on the ice. But Sunday’s shutout meant the world to Madore, whose uncle, Rick Madore, had died suddenly of a heart attack earlier in the week at age 51.

“He had a tough week, and his ability mentally to stay focused, and physically to perform,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon after the game. “The way he played — we don’t give out game pucks, we’ve done it maybe once or twice in my career — and our captains presented him with the game puck.”

Madore spent his week prior to the UMass series traveling back and forth to State College, Pa., to be with his family.

“The guys were so great in helping me deal and being supportive,” said Madore. “They let me do what I needed to do to help my family get through this.”

Madore, who made 28 saves but was on the wrong end of a 3-1 loss in the series opener, said that playing hockey last weekend was a good distraction from his family’s loss, but also that the loss was a good motivation for his play.

“It was nice that maybe I got to play for something a little bigger than myself this weekend,” said Madore. “It was nice to come away with the win, and that’s kind of for my cousins, and my aunt, and I hope things are going all right back at home.”

York’s Ire

Of all the coaches in Hockey East, one of the least vocal when it comes to officiating is Boston College’s Jerry York. His grandfather-like demeanor rarely ever turns to anger when he’s behind the bench.

But last weekend, when his club dropped two games — in both of which he felt his team played well — to Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell, York’s ire was directed squarely in the direction of the officials.

On Friday night, in a 5-4 overtime loss to BU, York let loose on referee Tom Quinn when the zebra whistled Cam Atkinson for tripping with 38.4 seconds remaining in regulation and the game tied at 4. York immediately hopped over the bench, opened the door and stood in the door frame seething with anger.

“I was more upset about a non-call earlier,” said York when asked about the call. “It’s just consistency. You let one go and call one with 38 seconds left.”

In York’s defense, the officiating crew that also included referee John Gravallese, had let a number of infractions go on both sides throughout the game’s final period. Quinn had whistled the Terriers for a penalty at 12:47 that led to the Eagles tying goal, the period’s only other called infraction.

The penalty that York screamed about in the closing minute certainly was a penalty. But Gravallese was just feet away from the play, which occurred at BC’s offensive blue line, while Quinn, who called the penalty, was positioned near the far goal, nearly 100 feet away.

York’s frustration carried over on Saturday night at Lowell. With his team trailing, 1-0, in the third, the Eagles twice had goals waved off by referee Jeff Bunyon. Accepting of both calls, York was less patient when the linesmen ruled no icing on a long clear from the Lowell end with BC attacking in the closing seconds of the game. The BC defense, expecting the icing, stopped skating allowing Lowell’s Kory Falite to pick up the puck and score into the empty net.

York’s tirade on Saturday was magnitudes worse than Friday as he felt his team was robbed one final attempt to tie the game.

“The linesman said it hit one of our sticks,” said York. “[The Lowell defender] is in the top of the faceoff circle and ripped the puck out of the zone. I don’t understand how that’s not icing.”

The two losses on the weekend for BC had major standings implications. With New Hampshire sweeping its two games against Providence and BU, respectively, the Eagles now are a full five points behind the Wildcats in the race for first place in Hockey East.

It’s quite possible that those losses and their standings implication combined some disagreeable calls on the ice is what set off the generally mild-mannered Jerry York.

And to the ‘Pot of Beans

The 58th Beanpot Championship is just days away and one has to admit that this year’s Championship might lack a little luster. In most years, the majority of the participating schools (for those who live in a cave, those schools are BC, BU, Northeastern and Harvard) are entrenched in stellar seasons and find themselves in the national rankings.

This season, only BC is ranked and, for that matter, only the Eagles are above .500 entering the tournament. That, though, doesn’t mean that fans on Monday night should expect to see bad hockey.

“Sometimes there are a bunch of nationally ranked teams, sometimes none of us are ranked,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “But because it’s the Beanpot, there’s always emotion. There’s always intensity. So I’m sure you’ll see some great hockey.

“We’re all so evenly matched. Hopefully it’s not like watching two golfers shoot 90. But I think we’re all a lot better than our records.”

Notables

• Sneddon might have been happy with his team’s victory on Sunday, but that didn’t keep him from showing disdain for a non-call as Colin Vock scored an empty-net goal to seal the 3-0 victory over UMass. Vock received a vicious two-handed slash from UMass’ Will Ortiz. Referee Kevin Keenan put up his arm for a penalty but it was negated by the goal. After the goal, Sneddon had a long conversation at the bench with Kennan, apparently pleading for a five-minute major and game disqualification.

• Only four teams in USCHO.com’s top 20 earned two victories last weekend, and Hockey East produced two of those clubs. UNH and UMass-Lowell both earned two victories on the weekend and both were rewarded in the recent USCHO.com national poll. Each jumped three spots — UNH from 16th to 13th; Lowell from 19th to 16th.

• Merrimack kept alive its most improbable home and road records this past weekend, losing Friday night at Lowell, 5-4, before earning a 2-1 overtime win at home over Providence. The Warriors have not won this season on the road (0-11-0) and have just one loss in the friendly confines of home (8-1-0). The only home loss came to New Hampshire, which Merrimack will face in a home-and-home series this weekend beginning Friday night in North Andover.

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

Maybe I’m opening my mouth too early, but I don’t feel like this year’s Super Bowl brings with it a lot of hype. Maybe it’s because it’s the league’s two best teams. Maybe it’s because outside of New Orleans and Indianapolis, not a lot of fans care about the game.

Personally, I don’t have a strong rooting interest. Peyton Manning and his hundreds of TV commercials annoy me. New Orleans, to me, has something indescribable about it that makes me have a hard time band-wagoning.

I guess this will become a year where I simply watch the game for the commercials. And with today’s economy, I’m not surprised if they’re a dud as well.

Back to hockey for a second, many of you may have read the recent dialogue going back and forth between Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi and current player and former Michigan standout Jack Johnson.

Lombardi lambasted his player publicly for playing a haphazard style of hockey in the past. He went further to state that Johnson got no coaching at Michigan playing for Red Berenson. It was a true slap in the face to the legendary coach (who, for the record has the longest active streak of NCAA tournament appearances … obviously, Red knows nothing).

But Johnson, to his credit, wasn’t going to let his GM publicly criticize Berenson. Johnson, days later, told LA Times writer Helene Elliott:

“I’m a Michigan man. I’m very proud of it. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Michigan has produced more NHL players than any other school. Even the U.S. development program, people rip that and they just don’t know anything about it and don’t know what they’re talking about.”

About Berenson, Johnson said, “[He] is one of the finest coaches and men that I’ve met. For my general manager to rip me as a person and criticize me as a person and as a player and call me an awful hockey player is irresponsible and unprofessional.”

Personally, I have to say that Johnson’s response took a lot of guts, knowing that lashing out at your general manager on an issue that really isn’t completely germane to the day-to-day activity of your current career could result in (albeit unwarranted) problems.

I’m extremely happy that Johnson not only stood up for himself but also for his former coach. It shows that every now and again a collegian’s school pride certainly can transcend the big-time paycheck that lives in the NHL.

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