Dear Santa: What Hockey East teams want for Christmas

 (Tim Brule)
Providence and Boston University go through the handshake line after a recent Hockey East contest (photo: Melissa Wade)

I’ve once again intercepted mail from Hockey East arenas to the North Pole and am sharing it with you.

On Boston College stationery:

Well hello, Santa, this is Jerry York.

It seems you brought us Christmas presents early this year. At 8-0-1, we’re sitting atop Hockey East and that sure is a position we love to be in. It’s the best start in league play in the history of our illustrious program!

To be honest, I didn’t expect we’d play this well this fast, not with all the losses from last year’s lineup. That’s forced us to play 12 freshmen this year, but the seniors have really contributed as have sophomores Casey Fitzgerald, Colin White, and Christopher Brown. (No, Santa, I’m not leaving out the juniors; we don’t have any!)

So all I’d like under our tree is more of the same, and to see all those freshmen continue to mature. And although I never like to make our team about me, I sure hated missing games while I had that eye surgery. I didn’t think Brownie was going to Wally Pipp me, but I love what I do and I sure hope I don’t miss any more games behind the bench this year.

That’s it, Santa. Help yourself to some milk and cookies, and go Eagles!

On New Hampshire stationery:

Hey, Santa, Dick Umile here.

I hesitate to ask for anything more since we’re already 5-1-1 in the league, several miles ahead of what most people expected when the league coaches predicted we’d finish 10th. And we just swept our rival Maine, which should put smiles on the faces of even our crankiest fans.

But I know that success (and the smiles) can evaporate fast. I recognize that those five wins have come against other teams expected to finish in the bottom half of the league, and we haven’t lit the world on fire in nonconference games. So we have a lot more to prove.

So how about just more of the same? Help us keep those wins coming at least a little bit against the top teams in the league.

Speaking of which, it would be really, really nice if we could again be included in that category. Top teams in the league. We were so good, so long, that some of our fans might have gotten a little spoiled. Maybe all of us did.

We want to be at, or near, the top when the season ends, not just in December. That would be really sweet.

Finally, just between you and me, thanks for sticking that bag of coal in Maine’s stocking. He-he-he.

On Boston University stationery:

Santa, David Quinn here.

I can’t complain, even though we’ve been a bit more inconsistent than some people expected. What did they expect with such a young team? I’d have been surprised if we were first in the country at this point.

But I sure would like to be first in the country when it’s all said and done. I love the talent on this team, and if we can keep maturing, I think we match up well with anyone.

And ya know, we came so agonizingly close two years ago. Sooo close. So if we’re in the picture come April, if we could get the right bounce of the puck and the helpful borderline whistle (or non-whistle) from the refs, that would be great.

But if that isn’t in the cards, just keep those great recruiting classes coming, and we’ll get it done sooner or later.

And as long as this doesn’t shift me into the “naughty” category from nice, I would ask that if we don’t win the national championship, please don’t put that gift under the Christmas tree further up Commonwealth Avenue, if you know what I mean.

On Vermont stationery:

Santa, this is Kevin Sneddon.

I suppose I can’t complain since we’re 9-3-2 overall and 4-2-1 in Hockey East. And yet, we don’t seem to get the respect of the two teams on Commonwealth Avenue, or even the one in Lowell. Or the one in South Bend.

How is it that our overall record is better than all those league teams except Boston College but we trail them all in the rankings?

I know that rankings don’t matter until it’s time for the PairWise, but we’re third in the league in scoring, second in team defense, fifth on the power play and second on the PK.

What more do we have to do?

And, of course, that USCHO knucklehead Hendrickson picks us to lose every game unless we’re playing the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Not that any of that matters.

I suppose we did get swept by Lowell and haven’t beaten a league team with even close to a winning record. So I guess we’ll just have to show them all this weekend when we host Boston University for two up here in our barn. So how about we get to deliver two shellackings to those “Best Recruiting Class in the Country” Terriers–that is their name, I believe, based on some publications–and send them scampering back to Boston emptyhanded?

I know that would be an early Christmas present, but it’ll get you a whole bag of our special chocolate chip cookies, coated with authentic Vermont maple syrup. Gooey, but good.

On UMass-Lowell stationery:

Norm Bazin here.

Santa, I’ll get right to the point. I thought we were having problems with consistency but then things got worse.

In our last three games, we have only a tie to go with two losses. That’s making all those two-of-four point weekends look a lot better than they did at the time.

We don’t really have any glaring weaknesses and 8-4-2 going into last weekend was good enough for fourth in the country, but UConn has knocked us down a peg and we need to get our–I guess they call it–our mojo back.

If we play the way we’re capable of playing, I’ll take my chances. The competition is tough and getting tougher every year, but I can see this team winning Hockey East yet again.

So if we can have that little extra focus and puck luck, that would be great.

On Notre Dame stationery:

This is Jeff Jackson here.

I never believed in writing letters to you, but I heard it was a crazy Hockey East tradition so I’ve done it. Well, this is the last time.

How about some Hockey East hardware for our last hurrah?

In our three years, we’ve had no regular season titles and only a single trip to the Garden three years ago and that ended in a semifinal loss. Last year’s third place finish was our best in this league, so how about a bump there and a return to the Garden with some luck of the Irish when we get there?

We want to leave Hockey East with a bang, not a whimper.

On Connecticut stationery:

Santa, Mike Cavanaugh. How are you doing?

We’re making progress with this program, in case you haven’t noticed. Our first year, we finished in a tie for ninth, then last year moved up a notch to eighth.

This year, we’ve improved to a .500 record that’s even better than it appears. We’ve split with 14th-ranked Notre Dame and fifth-ranked Boston University, and just this past weekend took three-of-four points from what was then fourth-ranked Massachusetts-Lowell.

So that .500 record is deceptive. I think we’re even better than that.

A lot of people haven’t noticed us yet, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m happy for us to lurk in the weeds and then, like a hungry gator, appear out of nowhere and chomp on an easy meal.

I guess that means I just want us to keep going in this direction. I’d love to see us earn home ice, and then win our first Hockey East playoff series. And a trip to the Garden for the first time would be awesome.

How about it, Big Guy?

On Merrimack stationery:

Mark Dennehy here.

Santa, after two tough years, we moved back up to seventh place last year. A 5-10-7 record isn’t great, but it was a step back to finishing in the top six like we did four straight years before that. If we could go 13-11-3, 13-9-5, and 15-8-3 back then, why not now?

We’re playing .500 hockey overall, and are just one game below that inside the league. We’re playing well defensively, as we usually do, but goalscoring doesn’t always come easy for us. We’ve got the second worst offense in the league and, not coincidentally, the second worst power play.

So a little puck luck in the offensive end would help a lot. We’ve also struggled on the road, so how about we get to export some of that Lawler Arena magic to enemy barns?

If Tiny Tim can have reason this time of year to say, “God bless us every one,” why not the tiniest school with the biggest heart?

On Providence stationery:

Santa, Nate Leaman.

What the heck! Two years ago, we won the national championship. Last year, we tied for first in the league. Three straight NCAA tournament appearances. Back-to-back as the league’s best defense and among the best offenses.

Now, we’re 1-4-2 in Hockey East?

Sure, we’re breaking in a new goaltender, but we had to do that a year ago after Jon Gillies turned pro.

I know the season is early, but I just want to see us get back to playing Friar hockey. If that happens, let the chips fall where they may.

Is that in your power, Santa, or do the boys just have to do that themselves?

Yeah, I thought so.

On Massachusetts stationery:

Santa, let me introduce myself. I’m Greg Carvel, the new coach here at UMass.

Of course, you don’t just visit Hockey East schools. You brought me some pretty good things at St. Lawrence in my time there, but this Hendrickson guy at USCHO is such a Hockey East Homer that he thinks you only visit his favorite league. So I’ll let that knucklehead maintain his illusions.

In any case, I’m not going to be like all the other coaches and ask for more wins and championships this year. I’m just trying to instill a new culture here at UMass. The wins will take care of themselves in future years as we bring in more of the kids we need to fulfill that image of what we need to be.

I’m really happy with some of the recruits we’ve got coming next year. We’re really on our way, I think. But if I say anything more, it might be an NCAA violation, so let’s leave it at that. I’m not sure I trust all of your elves to keep their mouths shut.

All I want for this year is to see is these kids working hard. They’re doing that. We just knocked off Notre Dame this past weekend and tied St. Lawrence over in Ireland. And there haven’t been the blowouts that plagued the team last year.

So all I’m asking for is more sweat and hard work from the team. You deliver sweat all the time, don’t you?

On Northeastern stationery:

Jim Madigan here.

You know, Santa, I’m getting a little tired of this big bag of coal you dump on us every fall semester.

Two years ago, we opened the season with eight losses and a tie in our first nine games. Last year, we started 1-11-2, and didn’t win our third game until Dec. 19. Oh, and all three of those wins were nonconference games. We started 2016 with an 0-8-3 mark in Hockey East.

I suppose all’s well that ends well, as Shakespeare would say. In the end, we won the Hockey East tournament for the first time ever. But we sure had an oversupply of angst along the way. Heck, when we were oh-for-the-league, I had neighbors and alumni who don’t know whether a puck is solid, hollow, or stuffed giving me advice.

Yes, we did win 13 straight second-half games–not even a tie!–culminating in the league championship, and I’ll never complain about that.

But here we are again in December, and I’m once again staring at the bag of coal. We may be the defending Hockey East champions, but we’re 1-6-2 in the league. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day!

Hey, if you can give us the same end of the season we had last year, I’ll be good with it, but I’m not feeling very ho-ho-ho right now.

On Maine stationery:

Santa, this is Red Gendron.

I just have two words for you: bah humbug!

The league coaches predicted we’d finish last, and that’s exactly where we are right now, 1-6-1. And even though the Alfond crowds seem to be crazy again in their support for us, and we’ve picked up some nice wins there including one over seventh ranked Quinnipiac and a sweep of RPI, we’re once again winless on the road.

We also got swept by our archrival UNH, sending us into the cellar with an extra measure of indignity.

Hey, we still have a lot of hockey to play. Look at what Northeastern did last year in the second half after they opened with a record pretty much like what we have now.

I’d take a great stretch run ending in a Hockey East championship. That would make me very happy indeed.

But if we’re going to finish in the cellar, I only have six words for you.

Bah humbug. Bah humbug. Bah humbug.

End of story.

A personal letter to all of you

Jim will be back next week, but this is my final column before the holidays so let me thank you for reading and wish you a very Happy Holidays!

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