Was it really 15 years ago that I interviewed Boston College coach Jerry York for a feature celebrating his 500th win? At first glance, my instinct tells me that it can’t have been that long ago. Had to only be 10 years, 11 tops. But time does fly and it’s been 15. He’s now at 901 and counting.
Then the math sinks in. Has Jerry York really accumulated 400 wins in just 15 years? The math couldn’t get much more impressive. In the 14 full seasons since York hit the 500 milestone, he’s averaged 26.5 wins a year. If you throw out his 18-win seasons following the 2001 and 2008 national championships, that average goes up to 28.75. Other than those two years when the celebratory losses to the pros were near-insurmountable, his worst season has included 24 wins.
Read that again. A worst season of 24 wins.
“You reach milestones like that by being able to coach for 40 years,” Boston University coach Jack Parker said after hearing the news. “The reason he’s been able to be a coach for 40 years is because he’s been a real successful coach; he hasn’t been fired. Sometimes coaches get fired, and they don’t get a chance to coach that long.
“I think the more remarkable thing is how many of those wins took place at Boston College, where he’s had an unbelievable turnaround. When he got there, that place wasn’t doing too well and they’ve been fabulous since his second or third year there.
“He might get credit for 900 wins, but they ought to talk about how many wins he’s gotten at BC and how many big wins they’ve gotten at BC. They’ve had a fabulous run while he’s been the coach there.”
Thus, it seemed fitting that York and Duke basketball coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski (923 career wins) met after Sunday’s BC-Duke basketball game. Somehow you suspect they were picking each other’s brains on ways to speed the trip to 1,000.
At the other end of the spectrum
From triumph to inexecrable tragedy.
Word of BU defenseman Max Nicastro’s arrest and arraignment on two counts of rape was stunning news. The Terriers program received a black eye in December when Corey Trivino was arrested on charges of indecent assault and battery and breaking and entering. According to police, he kissed and groped a BU student against her will.
Nicastro’s arrest, however, isn’t just a second black eye. If he’s guilty, it’s far worse than that.
If he’s guilty, then the BU hockey program will be the least of our concerns. Our concerns will be (or should be) with the victim.
I doubt that anyone outside of the prosecutor’s office or police directly involved in the case has enough information right now to make a rush to judgment. For those inclined to jump the gun, two words of warning should suffice: Duke lacrosse.
We’ll know soon enough whether to clear Nicastro’s name or perform a literary tarring and feathering.
Well ahead of schedule
When Nate Leaman took over the Providence job, he was inheriting a program that had missed the playoffs the last three years, accumulating a 13-52-16 league record in the process. Its offense had scored only 75 goals in 2010-11 and of them only 25 returned.
It looked like a long rebuilding process.
He’d worked miracles at Union, where he earned the Spencer Penrose Award last season as national coach of the year (and was a finalist the year before). Year by year, he’d built that program into what became an ECAC powerhouse. If he could repeat that success at Providence — a mighty big if — it would take time.
Well, check out the Friars. They’re playing .500 hockey inside Hockey East, positioned in sixth place, which should feel like Nirvana for Friars fans. They’ve got the broadest range of potential finish of any team in the league — mathematically, they could finish first or ninth — but with series remaining against Hockey East’s top two teams, they aren’t going to finish first or ninth. Almost certainly, they’ll finish solidly in the middle.
Which amounts to a gargantuan step forward in Leaman’s first year.
In October, he knew nothing about his team. Now he knows there are some important strengths to build on.
“I’ve been really impressed with the leadership of Danny New,” Leaman says. “He’s been a real consistent performer for us every game. That’s something that you’re always wondering about, how the leadership is going to be.
“The other thing is I’ve been really impressed with the work ethic of our players every day in practice. I’ve been really happy with the way they’ve come to the rink every day and busted their tails. It makes it fun for a coach to come to the rink when the guys are working that hard every day.”
As for that weak inherited offense that was returning only 25 goals, the Friars rank in the middle of the pack (sixth) in Hockey East scoring, averaging 2.83 goals per game.
“Obviously, Tim Schaller has been a huge plus for us, coming into the season with seven career goals and even though he’s hurt now, he has 14,” Leaman says. “Myles Harvey came in without a career goal and now plays the offensive role [on defense].
“Outside of that, it’s been a lot of freshmen. Ross Mauermann (22 points) has certainly stepped up and we’ve asked more out of him as a freshman than maybe any freshman that I’ve coached. We’ve asked a lot out of some of our young guys and I’ve been really happy with the way they’ve responded: Ross and Stefan Demopoulos and Drew Brown.”
As a result, the PC program is now miles ahead of any realistic schedule that could have been constructed over the offseason.
“Yeah, certainly [that’s true] for a program that hadn’t made the playoffs in three years and hadn’t won on the road for over a year and a half,” Leaman says. “There’s many more firsts this year that I didn’t realize coming in, but I’m happy with the progress.
“What’s going on right now is a lot more of the underground, behind-the-scenes work in building the culture that you want. I believe that if you build the culture the right way, it’s going to sustain its success. That’s something that I was proud about at Union. It was built to sustain and not be an up-and-down program.”
Of course, it isn’t time yet to call this season a success and put one’s feet up and bask in the accomplishments. Those accomplishments might not be over even though Providence is likely to play top 10 teams until it’s time to hang up the skates. On tap for the rest of the regular season are home-and-home series with Boston College and Massachusetts-Lowell.
“I really like how our schedule sets up for the last two weekends,” Leaman says. “It’s going to force us to improve and force us to play great hockey at the end of the season. We’re playing the No. 1 and the No. 2 teams in our league to close out the season and we know we’re going to have to play our best in order to garner points.
“So I really like how things set up for us and if we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs or home ice or win the league, I know we’ll have had to play our best and had success against them. That sets us up well for the playoffs, if we’re fortunate enough to make it.”
Let’s take a quick look at the playoff outlook for all 10 teams. Tiebreaker information will follow after the 10 snapshots.
First place: Boston College
Record: 15-7-1, 31 points
Potential finish: first-sixth
Remaining games: home-and-home PC(2), host UVM(2)
The Eagles rank as the favorites to take the regular season title, not just based on their one-point lead over Massachusetts-Lowell and two-point lead over BU, but also based on their opponents. You can never count the proverbial chickens before they hatch, but BC’s remaining schedule rates as second easiest behind only BU’s. The Eagles have won seven straight, and it’s their title to lose.
Second place: Massachusetts-Lowell
Record: 15-8-0, 30 points
Potential finish: first-sixth
Remaining games: home-and-home MC(2) and PC(2)
The River Hawks impressed greatly with their bounce-back win at BU on Saturday to keep their title hopes alive. Unfortunately, they seem likely to finish third based on the current standings and a considerably tougher remaining four games than both BC and BU.
Third place: Boston University
Record: 14-8-1, 29 points
Potential finish: first-sixth
Remaining games: at UVM(2), home-and-home NU(2)
Not finishing off the sweep over Lowell at home on Saturday likely cost the Terriers their umpteenth Hockey East title. With a win, they’d be tied with BC atop the league, hold the easiest remaining schedule, and hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles. Now, they may well leapfrog Lowell into second, but first will require some help from BC opponents they’re not likely to get.
Fourth place: Maine
Record: 13-9-2, 28 points
Potential finish: first-seventh
Remaining games: at NU(2), host UNH
Getting only a split at home against Massachusetts was a killer for any title hopes. Since the Black Bears must concede a game in hand to all their competitors, home ice is the only realistic goal remaining. Don’t be shocked if they finish tied with Merrimack for fourth place and have to travel to the Lawler due to a tiebreaker. That’ll conjure some ugly déjà vu memories from last year.
Fifth place: Merrimack
Record: 11-8-4, 26 points
Potential finish: first-eighth
Remaining games: home-and-home UML(2) and UMass(2)
Getting swept by BC dashed any realistic title hopes, but there’s a lot to be gained over the next two weekends. A lot. The Warriors still control their own home ice destiny by virtue of holding the tiebreaker with Maine. Since they’ve slipped to 16th in the PairWise Rankings, everything remains up in the air. A split with Lowell and a sweep of Massachusetts would be just what the doctor ordered.
Sixth place: Providence
Record: 10-10-3, 23 points
Potential finish: first-ninth
Remaining games: home-and-home BC(2) and UML(2)
While mathematically PC has the greatest range of possible finishes, anywhere from first to ninth, the Friars realistically are locked into the middle. With the toughest remaining schedule this side of Vermont, they’re not going to finish first and almost certainly won’t earn home ice. They’re also not going to miss the playoffs, though they seem destined to slip to seventh place. These four games against BC and Lowell, however, will tell us a lot about PC’s playoff upset potential.
Seventh place: New Hampshire
Record: 10-12-2, 22 points
Potential finish: fourth-ninth
Remaining games: at UMass(2) and Maine
The Wildcats have played their last game at the Whitt this season. They won’t earn home ice but shouldn’t miss the playoffs unless disaster strikes in this weekend’s series at UMass. Since they’ve suffered more quarterfinal upsets than their share, they’ll be thinking role reversal as they head on the road come playoff time. That is, if they take care of business just a little at the Mullins Center.
Eighth place (tie): Massachusetts
Record: 7-12-4, 18 points
Potential finish: fifth-ninth
Remaining games: host UNH(2) and home-and-home MC(2)
The Minutemen may have saved their postseason with a gutsy split at Maine last weekend, but there’s lots more to go. They have an easier schedule than Northeastern, with whom they’re tied for the final playoff berth, but could wind up the odd man out based on tiebreakers.
Not the first tiebreaker (head-to-head) nor the second (wins in conference play). If they finish tied with the Huskies, it’ll come down to the third tiebreaker, record against the first-place team (then second, then third …). In short, UMass fans become BC fans.
Eighth place (tie): Northeastern
Record: 7-12-4, 18 points
Potential finish: sixth-ninth
Remaining games: host Maine(2) and home-and-home BU(2)
The Huskies remain neck-and-neck with UMass for the final playoff berth but will need to outperform the Minutemen if they’re going to advance. (UMass takes the tiebreaker if the most likely first-place team, BC, finishes there.) They showed grit taking two ties from Providence last week and beat several top teams earlier in the season. They’ll need to do it again.
10th place: Vermont
Record: 3-19-1, 7 points
Potential finish: 10th
Remaining games: host BU(2) and at BC(2)
It’s over. All the Catamounts can do is play spoiler against BU and BC and look toward next year. They did upset UNH last weekend, but it’s doubtful they can reprise that against either the Terriers or the Eagles.
Courtesy of Pete Souris in the Hockey East office, here is the tiebreaker criteria and outlook.
2. Number of wins in conference play.
3. Best record against the first-place team(s), then the second-place team(s), then the third-place team(s), and so on.
4. Coin flip.
If more than two teams finish in a tie, the same criteria will be applied to reduce the number of teams tied from the top, and then the process will commence again.
BC wins vs. UML, 2-1-0
BC wins vs. MC, 2-0-1
BU wins vs. BC, 2-1-0
BU wins vs. MC, 2-1-0
Maine wins vs. BC, 2-1-0
Maine wins vs. BU, 2-1-0
Maine wins vs. PC, 2-1-0
UMass tied NU, 1-1-1
(UMass wins tiebreaker with BC in 1st, NU wins tiebreaker with UML in 1st, UMass currently wins tiebreaker with BU in 1st)
UML wins vs. BU, 2-1-0
UML wins vs. Maine, 2-1-0
MC wins vs. Maine, 2-0-1
UNH wins vs. NU, 2-1-0
UNH wins vs. PC, 3-0-0
NU wins vs. PC, 1-0-2
PC wins vs. UMass, 2-0-1
Inside the BU power play
Boston University’s Parker had some interesting comments about special teams after last Friday night’s victory over Lowell. In league games, the Terriers rank first on the power play (28.9 percent), tied for first with New Hampshire on the penalty kill (85.1 percent), and tops in net special teams (plus-17).
In last Friday’s game, BU scored three power-play goals.
“Usually we have a harder time playing five-on-four when a team plays a pro kill like Lowell does, but we moved it a little bit better tonight,” Parker said. “We move it around pretty good against BC because we like a team that really comes after you and tries to rush you.
“But Lowell played a pro kill like Merrimack, like UMass does, and like Harvard did against us. We struggled a little bit against those teams, but we still got goals. Our power play has been productive and at least it’s not demoralizing to us.
“Sometimes a power play can be demoralizing, but we got three goals tonight and we got a couple in the Beanpot so we’ve been pretty hot. We’re going pretty well on special teams. That’s the sign of a team that can win some things later on.”
Cracking the Ice
Thanks to Ben Weiss (Northeastern), Bob Ellis (Lowell), and Bernie Corbett (BU and Hockey on Campus) for having me on air recently to talk about “Cracking the Ice.”It’s been great to hear the enthusiasm for this book and talk to good guys about hockey.
I’ll be doing a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Peabody, Mass., at 2 p.m. on April 14. The Frozen Four will be history by that time so stop by and chat. I’ll also be doing one in Lincoln City, Oregon, but I doubt any of you reading this will be there for that one. There’ll be more so check my website for updates.
Here are some new quotes and reviews since last time.
“I found it to be a terrifically entertaining read. It keeps you turning pages. You don’t want to go to bed at night.” — Bob Ellis
“One of the most interesting books I’ve read this year, a one-of-a-kind book. … The descriptions of hockey are delightful. The author clearly has deep-rooted affection for this sport and it shows in the detailed dialogue and descriptions of hockey greats, hockey plays and the euphoric highs one gets playing this often-brutal, skilled, sport.” — Reading In Color
If you don’t find it at your local bookstore, get it at Amazon or Barnes and Noble online. If you’d like to order a personalized copy, drop me a line at [email protected] or send $16.95 (shipping included) via PayPal to that email account. Be sure to include address and personalization instructions. Thank you!