January 20, 2005
Lessons Learned
UNH tries to take something positive from a tough loss to Dartmouth

By Nate Ewell

 Hockey East Notebook

Offense hasn't been a problem for Preston Callander and the UNH Wildcats.

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A 9-8 game featuring a dramatic third-period comeback can be wildly entertaining for fans, and can be a springboard for future success for the team that comes away with the win.

But what about the team that blew 7-3 and 8-5 leads? What happens now to New Hampshire, a team that has been cruising along in the top 10 all season, only to lose that stunner against in-state rival Dartmouth last week?

“I think it’s a good thing that it happened now and we got it out of the way, to be honest,” said senior forward Preston Callander. “Things were almost going too smoothly. That game pushed us in the right direction.”

That perspective helped head coach Dick Umile – who, like his players, acknowledged that he never experienced a game quite like the Dartmouth loss – use that experience to deliver a message. After two days of practice and a players-only team meeting, the Wildcats turned in an impressive 8-2 win over Yale.

As they return to Hockey East play exclusively for the rest of the regular season, including a showdown with No. 2 Boston College on Saturday, the Wildcats hope the lessons of last Wednesday have been learned.

“The offense has been good, but you can’t just forget about defense,” Umile said. “You can never not play defense, especially against a good team like Dartmouth. You hope that it can be a teaching tool. You always have to play defense.”

The players, to their credit, got the message.

“One of the things was that we were taking defense for granted,” Callander said. “The whole team was – we were expecting our goaltenders to bail us out and we were leaving them in impossible situations.”

With that message received, the seventh-ranked Wildcats could become even more dangerous in the Hockey East race. They’ve been a good defensive team for most of the year – their 2.10 goals against per game ranks third in Hockey East play, and other than the Dartmouth aberration, they have gone two months without giving up more than three goals in regulation.

The offense, meanwhile, hasn’t been a concern, led by the first line of Callander, Sean Collins and Brett Hemingway. They rank 1-2-3 among Hockey East players in scoring, and they are ably supported by players like defenseman Brian Yandle and forwards Daniel Winnik and Jacob Micflikier.

At 8-1-1 in Hockey East New Hampshire stands in third place, points-wise, but the Wildcats have the conference’s best winning percentage. Saturday’s meeting with BC, featuring the conference’s two teams with one loss, could help determine the conference championship – not to mention whether UNH has successfully learned its lesson.


Bret Tyler

Happy Returns – Bret Tyler made a big splash – especially considering his 5-foot-8 frame – early this season for Maine, showing an ability to move the puck and jump into the play. Esteemed Boston Herald reporter John Connolly went so far as to compare the former Junior Bruins star to Chris Imes, the one-time Black Bear All-American.

Over time, however, Tyler's size seemed to catch up with him, hurting his defensive zone play. And his offensive numbers, with just six points entering last weekend, weren't reflecting his skill.

That earned Tyler healthy scratch status for three straight games as the Black Bears recovered from a three-game winless skid. But when head coach Tim Whitehead plugged him back in the lineup Saturday night at UMass, he made the most of his opportunity.

Tyler scored two goals, his second and third of the year, to lift Maine to a 5-2 win. His second, on the power play midway through the second period, showed the kind of offensive savvy that makes him valuable. With Mike Hamilton providing a screen in front, Tyler didn't try to blast a slap shot from the point – instead, he put an accurate wrist shot on net that gave his team a 3-2 lead.

Just like Imes might have done.

Nothingness – A scoreless tie – just the second in school history – was a strange way for UMass Lowell to wrap up its non-conference schedule (at 9-0-1) and extend its unbeaten streak to 12 games (9-0-3).

More oddities: the River Hawks used two goalies to record the shutout. Chris Davidson pitched a scoreless first period as a surprise starter before yielding to impressive freshman Peter Vetri to start the second.

"Vetri was late for warmups, and you can't have your goalie late for warmups," head coach Blaise MacDonald told the Lowell Sun. "He had a valid reason, as it turned out. I told him he would play at some point, but that he wouldn't start."


Great Weekend Getaway
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Boston University at Maine (Fri.-Sat.)
These two teams have a well-earned reputation for good defense over the past few years, but right now they stand 1-2 in conference offense. That could make for some exciting hockey, and both games are available on NESN if you can't make the trip north.

While You're There: Wear blue on Friday if you want to fit in with the crowd. It's Maine's first "Go Blue Day" of the spring semester.

Stick Salute

For our money, Steve Rushin is right up there with Gary Smith as the best writer on the Sports Illustrated staff. But Rushin, despite his Minnesota roots, might have gained a slight edge with his terrific take on the BC-BU rivalry in this week's issue (subscription required).

Bench Minor

With UMass Lowell and Boston College, especially, Hockey East has had some streaking teams lately. But with the good streaks also come the bad, and as Merrimack and Providence enter this weekend without wins in their last four games, it's not hard to see why. Both have scored just five goals in their four-game skids.

• Nine current and future Boston College Eagles dot the mid-term rankings for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, released this week by Central Scouting. Dan Bertram, at No. 32 among North American skaters, leads all current Hockey East players. Another entry in the rich-get-richer category comes from Maine goaltending recruit Ben Bishop, the seventh-ranked North American goalie. The Black Bears, of course, already boast junior Jimmy Howard and highly regarded freshman Matt Lundin in net.

• With seven weeks left in the regular season, the race for the Hockey East scoring crown is wide open: seven players are within two points of the league lead.

• Congratulations to Peter Trovato from UMass, one of five finalists for the Hockey Humanitarian Award. Trovato founded the Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund which honors the sacrifices of the state's soldiers in the war on terrorism.

• Like Maine's Bret Tyler (above), Carter Lee of Northeastern responded to his first ice time in a while with two goals. Lee had a much longer wait than Tyler, however, as he played Saturday night against Providence for the first time since Nov. 23. Lee, who head coach Bruce Crowder says has an NHL shot, displayed it with the first two goals of his career in the 6-0 win.

• Just a few more days to visit hobeybaker.com and nominate your favorite players for consideration in Vote for Hobey. The nomination phase closes on Sunday.

• INCH sends our condolences to Maine head coach Tim Whitehead and his family. Whitehead lost his mother, 87-year-old Eleanor Ferguson Whitehead, last week. Memorial contributions in her memory can be sent to: Ross Manor, 758 Broadway, Bangor, ME 04401.

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

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