November 18, 2004
All-New Northeastern

By Nate Ewell

 Hockey East Notebook

Keni Gibson made 77 saves in a pair of wins last weekend.

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Bruce Racine admits that when he returned to Northeastern after a 15-year professional hockey career, he barely recognized the place.

New dorms and other buildings have changed the look of campus dramatically. Even venerable Matthews Arena, which received a $1.6 million upgrade in 1995, had a new look since his playing days.

But Northeastern bears at least one resemblance to the days when Racine – now an assistant coach – was patrolling the crease and leading the Huskies to two Beanpot titles and a Hockey East title: the hockey team is winning. The Huskies are unbeaten in five straight heading into this weekend's series with New Hampshire and 2-0-0 in Hockey East.

That kind of success hasn't come often the past few years, especially in back-to-back last-place seasons. Racine won't take any credit himself, but his impact can be seen in the play of senior goaltender Keni Gibson, who made 77 saves in the two wins last weekend and has a .909 save percentage on the year.

"Obviously we have a great goaltender," Racine said, in explaining the team's success. "Keni's playing extremely well, and giving us a chance to win every night.

"We also have guys who are really buying into what [head coach] Bruce Crowder, [assistant coach] Gene Reilly and I are trying to teach them. I think we have a really good group of guys here."

As much as he's enjoying himself – "I have no regrets at all so far; it's been great," Racine said – this isn't a position he saw himself in even a few months ago. He never wanted to retire, but a torn groin and a painful hip problem forced him to stop playing.

After a long AHL, IHL and NHL career Racine had taken his game to Finland, where he flourished for two years before an injury early in the 2002-03 season. He battled back and returned to the ice at the end of that season, then took six months off to try to heal his groin. Ongoing efforts to come back, even into this past summer, kept leading to setbacks. Along the way he became a father and moved back to North America, splitting time this past year between his hometown near Ottawa and his wife's hometown of St. Louis.

"I was really having a rough time of it, to be honest," Racine admitted. "I really missed the game, and I missed being involved with the game."

He looked online, saw that Northeastern had an opening, and called Crowder. Now he's back at Northeastern, where he's a legendary figure and a Hall of Famer, helping his old team return to glory. A month into his first season as a coach and Gibson's last with the Huskies, and already the time is flying by.

"I thought that the other day – that I'd love to work with Keni for more than one year," he said. "He's been great to work with – I've been really proud of him. That's definitely the best part of this job, being able to give the knowledge I've gained in my career, not only to Keni but all the guys."

Certainly Northeastern and its fans can appreciate Racine's impact as much as he enjoys the job. And if things keep going this way at Matthews Arena, it will seem more and more like old times.


Wounded Warriors – Injuries are proving to be absolutely devastating at Merrimack, a team that has limited depth to begin with. The Warriors were missing four top forwards in Tuesday nights loss to New Hampshire.

Just how bad is it? Only 11 games into the season, there are just eight Warriors who have appeared in every game.

"We're sticking together as a team," said senior forward Steve Crusco, a co-captain who scored the team's only goal Tuesday night. "That's pretty much all we can do right now. The injuries aren't an excuse because everybody on this team can play. We're really close as a team, so we're hoping that can pull us out of the slump and get us through."

With the forward corps depleted, credit defensemen Jeff Caron and Bryan Schmidt for carrying the offense. They lead the team in scoring with 11 points apiece, and have been especially good on the power play, where Merrimack has a respectable 17.9% success rate. All five of Schmidts goals have come with the man advantage.

Reversal of Fortune? – A common Democratic pick-me-up the past few weeks has been the reminder that if 70,000 votes in Ohio had switched allegiances, we’d have a new President-elect today.

Consider, then, the case of UMass Lowell: reverse the outcome of three goals and the River Hawks would be perfect in Hockey East play. Instead, like John Kerry, they’re winless heading into this weekend’s home-and-home with first-place Boston University.

It’s a frustrating situation for Lowell and head coach Blaise MacDonald, who entered the season with high hopes that his team would be at the top of the conference standings, not the bottom. Those hopes aren’t dashed yet – in fact, he’s seeing signs that keep them alive – but the River Hawks could really use a win or two this weekend.

“I liked the first 40 minutes of the game,'' MacDonald told the Boston Herald after Lowell gave up a third-period lead to lose to Maine last Saturday, 5-4. “I'd like to think that's the type of team we have. We showed a lot of determination and poise. But then we got away from our game plan and became a different team.''


Great Weekend Getaway
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Boston University vs. UMass Lowell (in Lowell Friday, in Boston Saturday)
Hard to believe this is a matchup of first-place and last-place teams. Still, it feels like both have something to prove in this series. Is BU for real? Their 5-1-0 record over the last six certainly suggests they are – as does their 4-1-0 conference mark. Lowell, meanwhile, is better than its 0-3-0 Hockey East record, but as long as that left column remains empty, the words ring hollow.

While You’re There: Last year’s Division II Player of the Year, Elad Inbar, is now playing professionally overseas, but the River Hawk basketball team is in action on campus Saturday afternoon. Yeah, we’d be more intrigued if Elad was still around, too.

Stick Salute

To the league, NESN, and the Cod Rock Productions group that will kick off the Inside Hockey East television show in January. It’ll be a great addition to our television lineup (probably the best reality show on the air), and here at INCH we also like the name.

Bench Minor

We'll serve this one ourselves for bashing the Lowell Lock Monsters last week after they sent Steve Saviano to the ECHL. He has since been recalled, showing that the Lock Monsters know what they're doing (or they read INCH).

• Hockey East had three of the top six skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Service’s Preliminary Ranking of college players, released this week, and 10 of the top 30. Dan Bertram, the dynamic Boston College rookie, leads the pack at No. 1 among college players.

Maine goaltender Matt Lundin is the second-rated netminder at this point. In all seven of the nine Hockey East teams had players ranked (sorry, UNH and UMass Lowell), with BC, BU, Massachusetts and Providence each having two players ranked.

Included in the rankings are a number of players who elected not to opt-in to the NHL draft a year ago. One of those in particular, Northeastern defenseman Steve Birnstill, appears to be gaining ground thanks to his decision. Birnstill, who has assumed a heavy workload during the Huskies’ fast start, is ranked sixth among college players; he finished last season 22nd among college players (61st among North American skaters) in the CSS rankings.

New Hampshire defenseman John Doherty, who had played in just four of nine games this season, has left the team. A second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Doherty is expected to join former UNH goaltender A.J. Bucchino – who also left the team this season – on the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL.

Boston College, which looks likely to relinquish the nation's No. 1 ranking after its loss to Harvard Tuesday night, has a chance to end a two-game winless streak at Providence Friday night. The Eagles are 4-0-0 against ranked opponents but 0-2-1 against non-ranked opponents.

• Not surprisingly, Jack Parker had the best quote from this week's media tour of the nearly completed Agganis Arena, quoting an NHL Hall of Famer: "Long before it was finished, I took Chris Bourque around. His father was saying, 'I hope you're appreciative of this. I never played in a building this nice and I played 22 years in the NHL.'"

• Freshman Tyler Sims got a second straight start for Providence after winning his debut against Wayne State. He took the loss this time, at New Hampshire, but still has a .948 save percentage. He and senior David Cacciola will probably continue to sharing the goaltending duties for the Friars, who have two tough challenges this weekend: at home against Boston College and vs. Maine in Portland.

• Be careful who you call a clutch-and-grab team. It's hardly an exact measure of style of play, but the list of Hockey East teams by penalty minutes per game has some surprising results. Four of the five most penalized teams are those often considered the most skilled in the conference – Boston University, Maine, Boston College and New Hampshire, with Merrimack mixed in there for good measure.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.