Strolling down memory lane with some Hockey East highlights

Massachusetts-Lowell’s run last season ranks among Dave Hendrickson’s top 15 memories from covering Hockey East for USCHO (photo: Melissa Wade).

This will be my final column for a while. In about two weeks I’ll be undergoing heart surgery.

No, I didn’t see it coming, even though I’ve known about my congenital defect for over 25 years. It’s just that previous ultrasounds showed no immediate threat. I ran five miles a day, at least three days a week, and felt healthy.

However, the latest “routine test” resulted in the following words from my cardiologist: “You need heart surgery. Absolutely no exercise. No lifting heavy objects. Just relax.”

Connecting the dots between heart surgery and relaxation makes me think of those blindfolded contests during intermission. A lot of groping around in the dark.

I’m scheduled to be in Mass General for seven days, with three months after that to a full recovery.

So I’ll see you all at the Frozen Four, at the Northeast Regional in Worcester and almost certainly at the Hockey East championships.

However, I’ll miss my first Beanpot since USCHO’s inception in 1996. And I’ll miss a lot of other games, too.

But I’ll be back.

Almost certainly.

Or at least I sure hope so. Time to address the elephant in the room.

The odds of death or stroke during my surgery are about 1 percent. Now I’d like to think that at Mass General I’m in the best possible hands, and I’m also in better health than the typical heart surgery patient. So I think those odds improve for me. Not to mention that anyone facing The Big C or other life-threatening diseases would happily swap their odds with mine.

I understand that. I feel very confident that I’ll be back with my patented boyish charm and screwball humor (even though my boyish days are behind me and I’ve never had much charm).

But I do have the occasional bout with morbid thoughts, so let’s get this out of the way.

If by chance the 1 percent possibly becomes my reality, I want to thank all of you for reading me. I hope I entertained and informed you. I want to thank my wonderful USCHO friends, especially Jim Connelly, with whom I’ve shared this space the last few years and a room at the Frozen Four for a dozen or more. Thanks to all the Hockey East administrators, SIDs, coaches, players and people in other roles. You’ve been great to work with.

And not to be totally maudlin, but the Mr. Morbid part of my personality insists. If you ever have a chance to do something nice for my wife Brenda, my daughter Nicole or my son Ryan, then you’ll be doing me a favor. I’ve been blessed, blessed, blessed with that most amazing hat trick a guy could ever hope for. (Nicole’s husband, Greg, and Ryan’s fiancee, Stephanie, are included, but I wanted to stick with the hat trick motif.)

OK, end of the morbid talk. Back to the fun. Onward to a stroll I’m going to take you down my memory lane.

I’m going to list my favorite 15 memories since I first started writing for USCHO in May 1996. I’m sure I’ll overlook some whoppers and you’ll let me know about them. Maybe I’ll even miss so many that I’ll need a “Top 10 that I overlooked” column when I return.

Without further ado, here’s my personal top 15.

15. The pastoral setting outside many Whittemore Center games

When I was 12, my family moved from Maine, where I could run for miles through the woods in back of our house, to Lynn, Lynn, the City of Sin. Talk about contrasts. As a result, I enjoy pastoral settings.

And no place in Hockey East has done that for me more often than outside the Whittemore Center before a New Hampshire game. With snow filling the air and crunching beneath my feet, the air crisp and clean, and church bells ringing, I feel transported back to my childhood and a smile creeps over my face.

(Note: if those bells aren’t church bells, don’t tell me. I like it better this way.)

14. Northeastern fans call me out

Before the latest renovation at Matthews Arena, I’d sit in the press box overlooking the ice quite close to the student section at one end. Back in those days, a photograph accompanied the column so a lot more people recognized me by sight.

On this night, the second period was almost over and I began to write about how the Huskies were en route to an upset. (I’d picked them to lose by more than a goal.)

My subconscious suddenly picked up on a chant coming from the student section.

“Dave …

Dave …

Dave Hendrickson, you suck!”

My head shot up and I looked across to my “tormentors.” I stood, laughing uncontrollably as were the fans, and bowed in respect.

It doesn’t get much better than hearing a chant that you suck.

13. Appearing in the Garden’s “Ring of Honor”

OK, if I’m going to be accused of being self-indulgent, I might as well get it over with right away.

One year at the Garden during the Hockey East championships, someone programmed the Garden’s scrolling message board that circles the arena with the names of “Hockey East Legends.”

My name was included because I won the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award in 2001. Although I most certainly didn’t deserve to be grouped in with the likes of Brian Gionta, Chris Drury, Jason Krog and all the others, it was still a stunning thrill, one of the most surreal moments of my life.

12. Getting the freedom to write an occasional off-the-beaten-path piece

Kind of like this one.

I’ve written many, many traditional columns and features for USCHO and overall, I’m proud of my work. Occasionally, I might not be happy with a piece that simply must be finished before I leave the rink. But in general, I put everything I’ve got into what I do.

That’s led to some memorable (at least to me) traditional pieces as well as some that might well define the term unconventional.


I’m thinking of my piece which took Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine and applied it to Hockey East. Or “The End of a Rotten Day.” Or the series I was given latitude to write about my son Ryan’s hockey career: “Hendu’s Story” (parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI).

I’d like to think that I earned a good deal of that artistic freedom, but I certainly have appreciated it.

11. Getting the opportunity to write a unique traditional piece

When no Hockey East team reached the Frozen Four in 2011, I felt a bit like a kid whose puppy had been stolen. League schools hadn’t just reached the Frozen Four, they’d advanced to the championship game 13 of the previous 14 years.

Thanks to some work done by my USCHO friends — and due in no small part to the reputation USCHO had accumulated — I got the ultimate lemons-into-lemonade opportunity. I was given access to the Hockey East officiating crew that finally got its opportunity to work a title game.

The resulting piece is a traditional one, but at the same time, very unique.

I’m glad I got the chance to write it.

10. Watching the growth of USCHO

I’ve been here since the beginning.

I can recall one mystified coach who hadn’t yet been introduced to the concept of websites saying, “So is this like email or something?”

I can recall press boxes that we weren’t worthy to enter and coaches that didn’t really have time for us.

Until, that is, the size of our audience and the quality of our work dictated the respect we’ve now earned.

It’s a transformation I view with pride.

9. Merrimack’s emergence from doormat status

Starting with the 1997-98 season, these were Merrimack’s Hockey East records: 4-20, 7-16-1, 6-12-6, 7-14-3, 6-16-2, 7-13-4 and 6-16-6.

Then things got bad.

This bad: 1-22-1, 3-19-5, 3-22-2, 6-18-3.

Some Hockey East fans just wished Merrimack would go away … go back to Division II.

The Warriors have gotten off to a slow start this year, but that program’s emergence under coach Mark Dennehy has to warm the cockles of all but the most hardened cynic’s heart.

8. Boston University’s 1997 upset of the unbeatable Michigan Wolverines

My first Frozen Four for USCHO sure got that event off on the right foot. Michigan had pretty much gone wire-to-wire as the consensus No. 1 team that year. The Wolverines were viewed as unbeatable.

Hockey East’s lone representative, Boston University, was viewed by most as mere cannon fodder for the mighty Wolverines. I was told by one WCHA fan, a total stranger, that BU would have been lucky to finish sixth in his conference.

Hello, regional rivalries.

As it turned out, the Chris Drury-led Terriers stunned Michigan 3-2. They fell in the championship game, but what a great start to a great event.

7. Massachusetts-Lowell last year

Lowell, then known as the Chiefs, enjoyed a couple Frozen Four near-misses in the mid-1990s. Both times, the Chiefs had to go out west to play Michigan State on its own ice. Both times it won, but then fell the next day to a rested foe, a less-than-ideal aspect to the 12-team tournaments of the day.

But that proved as close as Lowell would come until last year. Not far removed from the potential elimination of the program, the River Hawks enjoyed their first regular season Hockey East title, first Hockey East tournament championship and first trip to the Frozen Four.

That was great to see.

6. BU’s incredible Beanpot run

This doesn’t rank higher because it came at the expense of two other Hockey East teams, Boston College and Northeastern.

No matter how you slice it, BU’s Beanpot success from 1995 through 2007 was astounding. The Terriers won nine of 11 Beanpots, winning even in years like 1999 when BC was bound for the Frozen Four.

Of course, it’s no coincidence that the only two goaltenders to post .950 career Beanpot save percentages were Terriers netminders from that era (Michel Larocque and John Curry), and Sean Fields (.937) wasn’t far behind.

But watching Terriers players go to the podium as victors year after year was an impressive sight to behold.

5. Maine’s 2002 run to the national championship game

The Black Bears felt they had an extra man on the ice that year, riding the spirit of their beloved coach Shawn Walsh, who died on the eve of the season.

Walsh certainly had his haters, but I loved his enthusiasm for the game and how he would call me just to shoot the breeze about the sport he loved. I’m not stupid; I knew he was also fishing for some nugget of information that would give him an edge. But he sure loved the game.

A family friend played on that team and Walsh’s positive influence showed through.

The Black Bears lost in a controversial overtime to the hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers. But one of my all-time favorite images from that game endures: After Maine’s Mike Schutte scored, stunning the crowd into silence, he held his index finger to his mouth in a shushing gesture.

4. The 1999 Frozen Four in Anaheim and the Maine-UNH title game

I certainly beat my chest that year, with three Hockey East teams in the Frozen Four. And it felt good, in those relatively early years of USCHO, to look down in the press box at all the California writers, who wouldn’t have known how to spell Hobey Baker much less know what he represented, scouring printouts of the USCHO previews, like deadbeat students cramming for a final exam.

The only thing that keeps this event ranked lower than the other national championships won by league teams is that it came at the expense of another league brother.

UNH fans have a right to agonize over this result as much as Maine fans have to exult over it. The contest went into overtime and truly came down to a bounce of the puck. Either team could have won it.

Euphoria and agony rolled into one.

3. Hockey East wins four NCAA championships in five years

It’s easy to forget how many years the league came up as bridesmaids until BC kicked off the string in 2008 (followed by BU in 2009 and BC again in 2010 and 2012). But from USCHO’s first Frozen Four in 1997 through 2007, Hockey East was in the title game 10 of 11 times but won only twice, with one of those the 1999 all-Hockey East final. For the non-math majors out there, that means Hockey East lost to some other league eight of nine times.

“Why can’t your guys win the big one?” I kept hearing at the parties after the championship game.

I don’t hear that anymore.

(And as an aside, I still get a kick out of the teasing I got from the 2010 BC team, which I had picked to finish seventh in Hockey East because I was convinced John Muse’s hip surgery would make him as inflexible as Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell and doom the team. With a smile, BC coach Jerry York reminded everyone of my prediction from the podium after the title game.)

2. Boston University’s NCAA miracle in 2009

The Terriers were so good that year, one league coach referred to them as “the only professional team playing college hockey.” But in the national championship game, they trailed Miami 3-1 as the seconds ticked away.

BU coach Jack Parker pulled goaltender Kieran Millan with 3:32 remaining, but still no goal. Then with less than a minute remaining, lightning struck. Twice.

Zach Cohen scored with 59 seconds remaining and Matt Gilroy’s great feed to Nick Bonino resulted in the tying goal with 17 seconds left.

Colby Cohen scored in overtime to win it all.

I always hope a Hockey East team wins, but a key member of that Terriers team played on a line with my son in prep school. I really liked the kid, so that miracle felt even better than others.

1. In 2001, BC wins its first national championship since 1949

The close-but-no-cigar disappointments had almost become sadistic. But it threatened to get even worse for Boston College. In their fourth Frozen Four in as many years, the Eagles led North Dakota 2-0 with five minutes left until …

… BC’s too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty led to a power play and with the goalie pulled, a six-on-four goal. Then in the final minute, North Dakota added a second extra-skater goal to send the contest into overtime.

Fortunately for BC, Krys Kolanos broke the shackles for the Eagles in a goal for the ages, and the excruciating drought dating back to 1949 was over.

And finally, not that it has anything to do with anything, but …

Pentucket Publishing released my latest novel “Body Check,” a hockey romance, just before the holidays. It’s proving to be a very popular item. Published under the name D.H. Hendrickson, this novel is definitely R-rated for the spicy you-know-what scenes. (Hey, they’re a requirement for a contemporary romance.) Here’s a description.

Sportswriter Olivia Turnbull covers the Blades, Boston’s professional hockey team. She’d never break the taboo against dating one of the players. The temptation never even crosses her mind.

Until, that is, the Blades trade for Chad Finnegan. She and Chad enjoyed a torrid love affair during their college days and when he arrives, one look dooms them both.

Their love breaks all the rules, but the forbidden fruit tastes too sweet until they learn that it could cost them everything.

Body Check provides an insider’s view of newspapers, sports writing, and hockey, but most of all, it tells a captivating tale of star-crossed lovers.

Available on KindleNOOK, Kobo, Smashwords, and other formats. $5.99

And if you’ve been holding out for an electronic edition of “Cracking the Ice,” that should be released within a week.

As always, you can follow my fiction writing news on
my website.

Thanks again and I hope to return soon.