Last weekend’s series between Boston University and Massachusetts caused pain and angst for both clubs. True, maybe that pain is a little less for the Terriers, who mustered a tie and win from the home-and-home set. But both coaches left the series with growing concerns.
For BU, slow starts are beginning to be the norm. The Terriers dug themselves a multiple-goal deficit for the third and fourth times this season last Friday and Saturday. Friday, BU rallied from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 tie. Saturday’s deficit was worse, falling behind 3-0 before taking a 4-3 lead, allowing the Minutemen to tie the game and then winning in overtime on a Matt Nieto goal.
If last weekend was an isolated incident, there might not be cause for concern. But given that BU fell behind Providence 3-0 in a 5-3 loss and behind Holy Cross 4-2 in a 5-4 loss, it might be time to raise a red flag.
“I was pleased that they didn’t lose their poise and they kept competing,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “But we haven’t put 60 minutes together and we had that problem last year too.”
Parker felt Friday’s two-goal deficit was worse than Saturday’s; he felt his team had been outplayed on Friday. On Saturday, Parker felt his team simply needed that first goal to get it going and once it came the floodgates opened.
“We got a goal to make it 3-1 and that ignited us and from there we controlled the game,” said Parker. “It was a good, competitive night for us after going down 3-0, but we’ve got a long way to go if we want to be a competitive hockey team.”
While Parker may have some concerns, his opposing coach last weekend simply has frustration.
You can say what you want about BU’s comebacks, but for UMass taking just a single point from games where you have multiple-goal leads is painful and damaging.
“Incredibly disappointed with our inability to sustain a level of play that we work so hard to create,” said UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon. “There are a lot of lessons that we’ve been working like hell to try to impart on these guys. Sometimes I think it’s taking effect, then other times I think it’s falling on deaf ears.”
Cahoon then summed things up more simply.
“We managed to beat ourselves,” he said.
There is no doubt that UMass is an improved team from a season ago. The maturity of getting a year older for what was a young club last season should be shining through at this point. When you look at leads of 2-0 and 3-0 against a nationally ranked team like BU, maybe you think that maturity is beginning to materialize.
But then you look at collapses in those same games and wonder what to make of it.
“Everything we did in the first period that was so good and effective went out the window,” said Cahoon. “Things that we work on in practice weren’t even considered [after getting the lead], never mind executed.”
When all is said and done, Cahoon and his staff are left to shake their heads. While there’s plenty of time remaining in the season, it’s obvious that at this point frustration is beginning to show.
“Most people think the coaches are the solution, but generally speaking, I think the players are the solution,” said Cahoon. “If they can play as well as they did in the first period or as well as we play from time to time, why is it we can’t put that together for 60 minutes? I don’t have that answer and we’re working toward that.
“I won’t buy into this being an extension of a year ago. A year ago, we were really weak. A year ago, we were immature. I won’t buy into that.
“We’re just too pigheaded. We won’t play a certain way. When we stop being so pigheaded and they start playing for each other a little bit more, maybe we’ll start winning a few games.”
Peacocks and pucks
Hockey East announced on Wednesday a two-year deal with NBC and NBC Sports to provide national exposure for the conference.
NBC Sports Network, which will be the renamed Versus network come Jan. 2, 2012, will broadcast a 16-game college hockey schedule this year that includes three regular season Hockey East tilts, one game from the Hockey East quarterfinals and the entire Hockey East championship tournament from the TD Garden.
While most will look at this and figure it is directly tied to Notre Dame’s decision to join Hockey East for the 2013-14 season (NBC has an all-sports contract with Notre Dame), according to commissioner Joe Bertagna this deal was well in the works prior to the Fighting Irish’s decision.
“We actually had this agreed to before that,” said Bertagna, noting that the two-year terms of the deal were partially agreed to because, at the time, no one knew Notre Dame’s hockey future. “The timing [to release the news] now is that Versus wanted to announce everything they are doing [across college hockey] first before individual leagues would announce theirs.”
Reading the announcement, it seemed as though NBC and Versus trumped regional cable sports network NESN. That, though, is hardly the case, Bertagna said.
“We’re not breaking away from NESN,” said Bertagna. “NESN will still have New England [for the Hockey East tournament]. Versus will have it nationally.”
Thus, for residents inside of NESN’s service area, the NBC Sports Network/Versus broadcast of the Hockey East tournament will be blacked out. Bertagna said he is not sure whether NBC will use the NESN feed along with NESN announcers for the games, noting that is an option as is bringing their own talent as well.
The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Bertagna did address a number of rumors that have intimated that Hockey East or any other league would stand to make substantial money because of a TV deal with a national television network.
“It’s very rare, whether it’s local or national that any [network] is paying any fees to the conference,” said Bertagna. “The money [networks] are spending is the production money.
“Hockey is not like basketball or football. I have to laugh when I read some things online from fans that we’re going it for money. People don’t make money on college hockey. It’s a very rare program that makes money on college hockey.”
What the NBC deal will do for Hockey East is further increase exposure for the league’s brand and its member teams, something that Bertagna sees continually as having an impact.
“The biggest thing is the branding of the league and the recruiting,” Bertagna said. “One of the things that is starting to increase is the number of players from warm-weather states. That number has been going up every year.
“The ability to have these kids in non-traditional areas see our games is important. People are able to see these games who wouldn’t be able to be exposed otherwise.”
Since watching last weekend’s Boston College/Massachusetts-Lowell series, I’ve been touting to many the fact that the River Hawks may be the most improved team in Hockey East.
You may think I’m crazy given that Lowell was swept by the Eagles 4-2 and 6-3. And Saturday’s loss, in which the River Hawks spotted BC a 6-1 lead through two, certainly made me think twice about my statement. But I stand by what I say because this Lowell team is very different from the five-win club it was a season ago.
What’s changed is the octane level. Lowell is ready to play a faster game than in recent years. Even when the River Hawks went to the Hockey East title game in 2009, they didn’t play with the pace that this year’s club is.
The difference is strictly mentality, if you ask first-year coach Norm Bazin. This year’s version of UML is about changing from defense to offense quickly and then plastering shots.
To date, the River Hawks lead Hockey East in shots per game. They have battered opposing goaltenders with pucks, posting a minimum of 35 shots in each of the team’s five games.
What now separates an improved Lowell team from a competitive Hockey East club is the ability to translate those shots into goals.
Lowell is averaging just 3.00 goals per game, and that’s something that needs to change, Bazin said.
“[Getting shots] has been a focus. We want to produce more offense and we want to get after teams and that’s not going to change,” said Bazin. “We’ve got to pick and choose how we’re going to go about our business and execute defensively. We had more than enough shots [against BC] to produce, now we have to do a better job of finishing.”
• Congratulations to New Hampshire coach Dick Umile who, with a win on Saturday over Northeastern, captured his 300th career Hockey East win. He joins BU’s Jack Parker as just the second coach to reach 300 league wins.
• Also congratulations to UMass-Lowell alums Mike Nicholishen and Ken Kaiser, who both were enshrined among the school’s Legends of Lowell Hockey last Friday as part of the fourth annual Riley Reunion Night, which tips its cap to former Lowell coach Billy Riley. Nicholishen is the school’s leading scorer among defensemen and led the River Hawks to the NCAA regional final in 1996. Kaiser was part of two of Lowell’s NCAA Division II championship teams in 1981 and 1982. He also holds the school record for goals in a game (nine, vs. American International in 1981).
• And a third congratulations to BU’s Travis Roy, who was given the university’s prestigious Young Alumni Award last weekend as part of Alumni Weekend. Roy’s story is well documented — he was paralyzed just 11 seconds into his first game in October 1995. Since then, Roy has written a book about his life and has become a motivational speaker across the globe.
• BU’s Nieto, with his overtime game-winner on Saturday, extended his goal-scoring streak to eight games dating to last season. Nieto is one game short of the school’s record of nine, set by Chris Drury in 1996.
• If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the overtime winner by Maine’s Brian Flynn against Providence last Friday night. Rarely do you see a player on his knees with his back to the net score a goal. Forward to 5:40 below to see the goal:
[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=028Ahi3qC28 width=500]
And finally, not that it has anything to do with anything, but …
Has Julian Edelman’s alleged misconduct at a Boston nightclub finally taken beer and fried chicken out of the news? Not that I want to see a young man’s career tainted by a (likely) alcohol-infused mistake, but if it means Boston sports radio is ready to talk about something that doesn’t have something to do with the Red Sox clubhouse, I’m all for it.
It may have been a bad trick for Edelman, but for this writer’s ears, strangely it has become a treat.