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Does Hockey East Have A Big Five?

Over the past few seasons, four Hockey East teams — Boston College, Boston University, Maine and New Hampshire — have been dominant on the national stage.

Of the 12 NCAA berths earned by the league over the last four years, the Big Four have accounted for all of them. Since the most recent decade began in 1990, Hockey East teams have earned 34 berths.  All but five of them went to the four perennial powerhouses, the exceptions being Providence (1991, 1996), UMass-Lowell (1994, 1996) and Northeastern (1994).

It looked that way at the beginning of this season, too.  The Big Four would be a tough nut to crack.

Lowell coach Tim Whitehead said, “For anyone that finished in the bottom half last year, something special has to happen to get into that top half of the league.”

Well, “something special” may be happening at Northeastern.  While BU and Maine have gotten off to so-so starts, the 4-1-0 Huskies stand one period removed from a perfect record and a legitimate shot at the number one ranking in the country.  Had they not given up five goals on 14 Notre Dame shots two weeks ago, they would have had a better claim after upsetting Wisconsin last weekend than anyone else.

What if…  Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda.  If “if ands and buts” were candies and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.

The fact is that they did give up those five goals in the second period against Notre Dame.  Just like the fact is that they did give up a soft goal against Wisconsin with 15 seconds remaining to let the Badgers back into a game that should have been wrapped up.

Goaltending remains a concern, as is Northeastern’s ability to export consistently their success at the Dog House to the road.   But there are plenty of reasons for Husky fans to assume that the impressive win over Wisconsin — not to mention the season-opener against St. Lawrence — was no fluke.

And the top one is maturity.  The junior-senior leadership rallied the Huskies to an overtime win after the deflating goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation.

“Maturity is one of the things we’re counting on this year,” said coach Bruce Crowder. “We gave up a really weak goal and could have folded the tent, but the kids rebounded and we went after them in the overtime.”

That maturity is also why they won one night earlier.

The Friday night contest against UMass-Lowell was exactly the kind that buried Northeastern last year.  Keep in mind that the Huskies sported a .500 record against the Big Four last year.  It was the teams lower in the standings that did them in.

“These games are the easy ones to coach,” said coach Bruce Crowder after upsetting Wisconsin.  “If you can’t get up for a team coming in that’s number one in the country, then you shouldn’t be playing the sport.

“That’s why [Friday night’s] game was so important. It was a real character builder for us, winning up at Lowell.  That’s an area we had to get better at and we did.

“I told the guys all week that there was only one game this week and that was on Friday night.”

Crowder then added with a smirk, “[After that win] I surprised them and told them there was a second game this weekend.”

As expected ,the defense has been strong.  Perhaps also as expected, the goaltending has been inconsistent.

The big surprise has been the scoring.  The top line of Graig Mischler at center with sophomore Mike Ryan on one wing and freshman Scott Selig on the other has been just about as effective as any in the league.  In five games, they have 11 goals.

“As a coach, you’re constantly looking for perfection,” said Crowder. “But they’re very offensive and they’re very skilled. There are other parts of their game that we want them to get better at, but [they are scoring] like we’re hoping for.”

In particular, Ryan appears to have come into his own after struggling as a freshman.  Last year he scored four goals total;  he now leads Hockey East with seven.

“I’d like to tell you it’s coaching, but it’s not,” said Crowder.  “It’s just that the kid is working hard.”

The offensive strength of the first line has taken some of the scoring pressure off the second unit.  Willie Levesque and Chris Lynch, who have had several different left wings, are grinders who don’t bury the puck consistently.  The first unit’s success has covered that up and let the twosome grind away effectively and have strong nights like Lynch’s hat trick against Lowell along with the nights when all their shots find the pipe or the goaltender.

On a down note, the Huskies have lost Matt Keating to a wrist that was cut by a skate in practice.  He will be out until December.

On the plus side, freshman Trevor Reschny has been effective in the early going, totaling three goals and being a constant breakaway threat.

“I hope [beating Wisconsin] sets the bar high for us,” said captain Jim Fahey. “We’ve got a great team in there.”

While it certainly is possible to overstate the importance of games in October and November, the upcoming weekend may tell a lot about Northeastern’s fortunes.  The Huskies travel to Boston College on Friday and then host Maine on Saturday.

“They’ve got to get in their mind that they expect to win every time they go out,” said Crowder. “It’s not going to happen every night, but if you have that mentality, it’s going to carry you a long way.”

Quip of the Week

Northeastern’s win over the River Hawks last weekend snapped a regrettable streak for Crowder.  Since leaving for Northeastern in 1996, Crowder was winless in seven attempts back at Lowell.

“I guess that’s why I left,” he said, “because if it took me five years to win here, I’d have been fired anyway.”

Thinking Long-Term

UMass-Amherst got a big victory on Friday, shutting out Merrimack, 3-0.  It marked the first time in five years that the Minutemen opened their league schedule on the plus side.

Unfortunately, they followed that with an ugly game on Sunday, losing to Boston College, 9-5.

“We felt on Friday night that we had organized a little bit for the first time this year,” said coach Don Cahoun.  “I was hoping we could carry it over from there, [but] we were a little disheveled again.

“It was very similar to the game [that opened the season] against Wisconsin when it was 9-6.  Hey, they just have more guns than we do right now.

“But a lot of it is that I’m letting these guys run and play a little bit to show me what they can do and not play very defensive-oriented.  That’s going to help the younger kids develop, but it’s going to expose some of our weaknesses against some of the teams that are more prolific than we are.”

Indeed, Cahoon has a couple freshmen who could develop into significant contributors.  Thomas Pock has scored three goals already.  Scott Horvath has two and adds a physical dimension to the UMass front line.  Horvath is 6-3, 228, and plays every bit of that.

Cahoon minces no words when asked about how he evaluates the benefits of playing more conservatively for better short-term results as opposed to more offensively to aid in the long-term development of players like Pock and Horvath.

“[There’s] no fear of failure,” he said. “You can’t just sit here and worry about what’s going to happen in the short term. You’ve got to look at this thing on a long-term basis.”

Recovery at Alfond

Hockey fans everywhere had to be pleased to see coach Shawn Walsh welcomed back behind the Maine bench on Friday night.

However, Walsh wasn’t the only one at Alfond Arena who was recovering from kidney cancer.  Anne Britt — mother of Richard Britt, the Maine trainer who died in a tragic accident two years ago — was also in attendance.  Like Walsh, she also had a cancerous kidney removed by Dr. Gennaro Carpinito, uncle to Maine forward Niko Dimitrakos.  Despite the recent surgery, she was in her regular seat to cheer on Shawn Walsh and her Black Bears.

Reportedly, Anne Britt’s operation was a success and early signs indicate that the cancer was localized and completely removed.

USCHO has been a strong voice in support of Shawn Walsh’s fight.  Here’s hoping that Anne Britt and other college hockey fans in similar circumstances across the country will also experience a full recovery.  The rinks are better places with them there.

Father and Son

Boston College forward Ben Eaves had a little extra motivation when the Eagles played Wisconsin on Friday.  Eaves’s father, Mike, scored 94 goals and assisted on 173 others as a Badger from 1974-78.  His 267 points puts him atop the all-time Wisconsin scoring list.

“I guess there was an [extra factor] in the back of my mind, knowing that he was a great player for them,” said Ben with a big grin.  “I wanted to give a good showing.”

Eaves the Younger did assist on BC’s second goal and has looked good at one point on the power play.

However, he left Sunday’s game against UMass with back spasms and remains day-to-day.

Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest involved a player who competed against Hockey East the previous weekend and has a last name beginning with “B”.  That last name is close to a word found in a Tom Wolfe title.  What is the name of the player and the book by Wolfe?

The player was Lake Superior State forward Jeremy Bachusz and the book was From Bauhaus to Our House.

Michael Fortino answered that one in the wee, wee hours of Friday morning.  As a result, he has selected the following cheer:

“We are the Terriers…and we smell your fear.”

This week’s question concerns four players from outside of the league who competed against Hockey East teams last weekend.  They are: two brothers, someone whose last name is also a city in Massachusetts and someone whose last name is a vegetable.

If you can name the four players (or at least a couple of them) mail your answer to Dave Hendrickson.

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

A couple weeks ago, I almost burned the house down.

Twice.

Our town water smells funny, so no one drinks water out of the tap.  I had a sore throat and needed to gargle with warm salt water.

So I put a little spring water in a pan and put it on a burner. I’d be back in a couple minutes, but meanwhile there was a problem with a feature article I was writing.  I sat down in front of my computer, frowned, deleted a few lines, tried something different, deleted those lines and …

… two hours later noticed the smell of melting Teflon.

The pan — bone dry for what must have been a rather considerable time — looked a little warped on the burner.  When I held it over the sink and turned on the water, the pan hissed and a mushroom cloud of steam escaped to the ceiling.

Telling myself what a moron I was, I put another pan on the burner with another inch or so of spring water.  My throat, of course, was still sore.

Assuring myself that the smoke detector would have gone off if the melting Teflon had turned into flame, I returned to my computer.  This time, I’d just fix one little thing and then return to the heated water.  Really.  I had learned my lesson.  Just one little thing.

Well, this time there was no melted Teflon and it didn’t take me two hours to emerge from my allegedly deep thoughts.  I didn’t last much longer than an hour.

The pan was bone dry again, of course.

Not wanting to go for the hat trick, I poured some salt into a glass of cold spring water and gargled.

It would be a relief if this had been an isolated incident.  But last Saturday, I promised to be ready to leave the house at 1:30.  Working on a different article this time, I happened to glance up at the clock, subconsciously note that it read 1:23 and then seconds later jumped up.

“1:23!”

I hadn’t shaved yet.  I needed a shower.  Badly.

Seven minutes is not long enough for me to look and smell presentable. (Seven hours isn’t long enough either, but that’s another sad topic.)

I was late.  It was not for the first time.

On Sunday, I was supposed to take something out of the oven at 4:20 and let it cool.  Since only a fool would trust me, the timer on the stove was set.  Not even I would fail to notice the ding, ding, ding, even though I was writing again.

At 5:00, I rescued the charred remains of supper from the oven.  I don’t know how I failed to hear the ding, ding, ding of the timer for forty minutes.  But I did.

You can say one thing about me.  I’m consistent.


If you like Dave Hendrickson’s writing, ask for information about his fiction in Food and Other Enemies ($14).