February 23, 2006
'The Biggest Weekend of the Year'

By Jeff Howe

 Hockey East Notebook

The top scorer in Hockey East, BC's Chris Collins, summed up the coming weekend quite nicely – even providing the title for this notebook.

National TV Schedule

In the last weekend of Hockey East regular season action, there will be a family feud, a rematch of last year’s league championship and – perhaps most importantly – a chance that, for the first time in the league’s 22-year history, four teams could wear the conference crown.

Boston College has lost four of its last five games while Boston University, Maine and New Hampshire have put together some impressive runs to distress the Eagles’ comfort level, and the four teams are separated by four points with just a pair of games left on the slate. BC’s eight-point lead has shriveled to two points over BU and Maine and four points over UNH.

The weekend’s marquee matchup is a home-and-home between the Wildcats and Eagles. If New Hampshire sweeps BC, Maine only picks up two points on UMass and BU only pockets a pair from Northeastern, there will be a four-way party at the top of the Hockey East standings – with UNH winning the tiebreaker for the top seed in the playoffs.

UNH’s leading point-scorer Daniel Winnik is excited for yet another important late-season series with Boston College.

“I figured it would be a big weekend,” Winnik said about his reaction to looking at the schedule for the first time last summer. “It seems like it is every year. My freshman year, we lost down there, and they clinched the regular season title. Last year, if we could have won a game there, we would have clinched it.”

The Wildcats also fell victim to BC in the championship game of last year’s postseason tourney, 3-1, at the FleetCenter. Eagle senior Chris Collins echoes his opponent’s sentiments.

“The last few years, we’ve had UNH in either the last week or one of the last weeks of the year, and it always jumps out on the schedule,” Collins said. “I think they do that for a reason, and it’s always a fun one at the end of the year.”

This season, though, there are bloodlines shared between the two programs, adding extra significance to what has become such a heated rivalry between the Eagles and Wildcats. Collins, who leads Hockey East with 26 goals and 51 points, will be skating against his younger brother Greg, a UNH freshman who has tallied five goals and an assist in his rookie campaign.

“It’ll be a lot of fun for both me and him,” Chris said. “We talk everyday. We’re best friends. I actually got out to see him last weekend in his game against Providence (a 2-2 tie with UNH on Friday night) and got to meet up with him after. We’re both really excited about it. Another nice thing is he is going to be there for my Senior Night, which is pretty special. My whole family will be there, and it will be nice to have him on the other side of the ice.”

The elder Collins plays his final regular season game at Kelley Rink on Thursday night, and although his parents will be on hand to support both of their sons, Chris already knows what colors they’ll be wearing.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll root for me; at least that’s what they tell me,” Chris said with a laugh. “I’m a senior, and I’ve been here for four years so I think they need to cut me a little slack and root for me because he has another few years under his belt.”

BC is the only team in the league that controls its own destiny as far as winning the regular season championship is concerned so if the Eagles take at least three points from UNH, they’ll lock up the title for the fourth year in a row, a feat no BC team has ever accomplished.

“Our seniors – Peter Harrold, Stephen Gionta and myself – are feeling a little lot of pressure because this could be our fourth regular season championship in a row for us. That is really important to all three of us, and we’ve been looking to do that since the beginning of the year. Now we’re still where we want to be; we’re two points ahead here, and we control our own destiny.”

If UNH finds a way to sweep the weekend or at least pick up a split, a whole new set of circumstances will open up for the Terriers and Black Bears, who can each still win the crown outright.

“Obviously, it’s a pretty big weekend for us,” said BU sophomore and Beanpot MVP Peter MacArthur. “If we can win the first game then win on Saturday night and get some help from UNH, then we can hopefully win the regular season title.

“I like our chances. Northeastern is going to come at us hard. We’re their biggest rival, and they’ve got nothing to lose. They would love to play the spoiler. They can salvage some of their season with a couple wins against us. It’s not going to be easy. They’re not going to just roll over and die for us. These are going to be two hard games.”

“The incentive to want to win this weekend is just based on the points system in Hockey East right now and our ability to finish as high as we can in the standings,” Maine’s leading goal and point-scorer Greg Moore said. “We obviously just want to make sure we can put ourselves in good position heading into the playoffs.”

The Terriers put together one of the most impressive winning streaks in the nation this year, a streak that reached 11 games. Over the last 15 contests, Boston University is 12-1-2. But even though BU has climbed leaps and bounds to get itself back in the hunt, MacArthur doesn’t think his squad will spend much time staring down the out-of-town scoreboard, a characteristic the Terriers had to shake when they were struggling in the early winter.

“Early in the year, one of our biggest problems was worrying too much about what other teams were doing while not really concentrating enough on ourselves,” he said. “But in the second half of the year, all of the coaches have been saying that we just need to focus on our next shift and our next period. We’ve been really focused on the task at hand. We can only control our own destiny. Let’s win one game then let’s win another game. We won’t be scoreboard-watching too much.”

But on the heels of BU’s impressive second-half march has been a similarly remarkable run by the Black Bears, who have won four in a row and are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. Maine has also held its opponents to just a single goal in each of its last seven victories. And while Maine has seemingly locked up a berth in the NCAA Tournament, it is still flying under the radar, especially in comparison to all of the publicity BU received – which sits perfectly well with Moore.

“We don’t want to give teams any more motivation to come and beat us,” Moore said. “We can just keep plugging away and keep trying to improve every week. It definitely helps when other teams are doing well because that takes the pressure off of us.”

BU also looks to have filled out its RSVP to the NCAA dance party, and depending on what happens in the weekend’s premier series, another team may also have a shot at the national prize. If the tournament started today, BC would be in, but if Jerry York’s club continues to struggle down the stretch, UNH may earn an invite instead. It doesn’t, however, look as though the 16-team field is big enough for both teams at this point.

“It’s very important when you look at the NCAA Tournament because right now we’re kind of a bubble team,” Winnik said. “If we were to sweep BC, it may put them as a bubble team, and we’d maybe switch positions.”

“It’s the biggest weekend of the year for us,” Collins said. “There aren’t just Hockey East regular season and playoff implications but national implications, too. We really have to win both games to get a chance at the NCAA’s, so our whole team knows how serious this weekend is.”

Each team knows what is currently at stake. They know what they have to do, and they understand what kind of help they need from others on the outside. Everyone likes their chances heading into the first weekend in March, but once the puck drops in their respective games, chances are just that – chances.

“I think we’re all ready for it,” Collins said. “I think we feel good about it as a team. I think we’re all real confident, and I think we’re just going to go out and get two wins.”

“Everyone in the locker room had the belief that we could do this, and we have turned the belief into a reality,” MacArthur said. “We’re going into the last two games of the season, and the regular season championship is right in front of us. We’re licking our chops and ready to get after it, and we’ll see what happens this weekend.”

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

UNH at BC, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
BC at UNH, Saturday at 7 p.m.
When the Hockey East schedule was first released, this was the series everyone immediately pointed to. The regular season championship is on the line for BC, and if UNH can sweep and get some help, the Wildcats will share the crown with the Eagles – and possibly others. These two met up in the conference championship game last year at the FleetCenter, and in the last weekend of regular season play, the spotlight will once again be focused on UNH and BC.

While You’re There: Stay in Boston until Friday so you can catch Boston University and Northeastern at Matthews Arena or take the 30-minute ride to Lowell, where the River Hawks host Vermont. If you choose the Lowell option, check out the scene in the Downtown area where you’ll find The Old Court, the best bar in the city famous for starting America’s Industrial Revolution.

Stick Salute

Hats off to all of the Hockey East seniors who played in their final home game last weekend and the ones who are about to this weekend. Special mention goes to the UMass senior class including defenseman Marvin Degon, who picked up a pair of assists on Senior Night and has been one of the most hard-working and first-rate individuals the program has ever seen.

Bench Minor

UMass goalie Gabe Winer may have had a déjà vu experience on Friday night at Northeastern after he was run over by a group of Huskies directly before they scored the game’s tying goal. Referee Jeff Bunyon once again chose to eat his whistle – which also happened during a game he was officiating between the Minutemen and Wildcats in Durham on Jan. 21, when Jacob Micflikier trucked Winer before a Joe Charlebois score.

And during the second-to-last weekend of the year, Bunyon – like most refs – is still consistently making inconsistent calls when it comes to the notorious hitting-from-behind penalty. Husky Louis Liotti was given the gate at 3:20 of the third for a hit he put on UMass freshman Alex Berry along the right boards, but just 2:20 later – directly in front of Bunyon – Brian Deeth put a similar hit on Minuteman Cory Quirk along the back boards but never received what would have been an equally warranted game misconduct.


M&M trouble: When Maine and Merrimack – two polar opposites in the Hockey East standings – were scheduled for a pair in North Andover last weekend, it didn’t appear that there would be a ton of newsworthy information coming out of Lawler Arena when all was said and done. Boy, was that a terrible assumption.

With time winding down in the third period of Friday’s slugfest, mayhem broke out along the Merrimack bench. According to the Maine Morning Sentinel, Maine forwards Brent Shepheard, Jon Jankus and Rob Bellamy got involved with players on the Warrior bench, including MC assistant coach Darren Yopyk, who also apparently started throwing punches.

“Shepheard got backed up into the bench, and guys started punching him, including the assistant coach,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead told Kevin Thomas of the Morning Sentinel.

Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy made the decision following the game that Yopyk would not be on the bench for Saturday’s contest.

“It overshadowed a pretty good effort by our guys,” Dennehy told the Morning Sentinel. “He’ll learn from this.”

Then on Saturday, Maine junior defenseman Mike Lundin had to have the tip of his right pinky finger reattached by a doctor after being slashed earlier in the night during Maine’s win. He also fractured a bone in the finger, according to the Bangor Daily News.

“It seems to be taking pretty well, but we’ll have to wait and see if the body accepts [the tip of the finger] back,” Whitehead told the Daily News. “If it does revascularize, that’s a step in the right direction.”

Whitehead doesn’t know if Lundin – whose brother, Matt, is a goaltender for the Black Bears – will be able to return to the ice this season.

“We’ll know more later in the week,” he told the Daily News. “We’re hoping he’ll have a chance to play in the playoffs, but we aren’t counting on it.”


With their two ties against Boston University this past weekend, Vermont has now gone into overtime in six of its last nine contests, including each of its last three. The Catamounts have now built up a 15-game unbeaten streak in bonus hockey (5-0-10) since January of 2004.

With his first-period score on Thursday night against UMass Lowell, Boston College’s Brian Boyle had scored each of BC’s last five goals against the River Hawks. He picked up all four goals against Lowell in an overtime win on Jan. 28 to start the streak, which was halted when Benn Ferriero lit the lamp in the second period on Thursday. Still, Boyle went on to record a hat trick in the 6-0 victory and then added a goal in Saturday night’s 6-3 defeat at the Tsongas Arena to give him eight goals against UML in three games this season. The BC center has now totaled 11 goals in eight career games against the River Hawks.

For the first time since a 5-1 loss to Providence on Jan. 6, Boston University failed to score at least three goals in a game on both Friday (1-1) and Saturday (2-2) night at UVM, ending a stretch of 13 games.

UMass senior goalie Gabe Winer notched his 50th career victory on Saturday night in the final game he’ll ever play at the Mullins Center.

UNH is the only team in Hockey East not to have lost a season series this year, but the Wildcats lost their first meeting with BC, 3-2, at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester on Nov. 1. They’ll need a three-point weekend with the Eagles to make sure that holds true.

By skating to a 2-2 tie at Northeastern on Friday night, the Minutemen became the 59th and final Division I team in the nation to register a tie.

Merrimack goalie Jim Healey swiped away Mike Hamilton’s bid on a third-period penalty shot, keeping Healey a perfect 3-for-3 on such attempts this season.

If Providence can skate away with a two-game sweep in its home-and-home against Merrimack this weekend, the Friars will tie their program record of 15 Hockey East wins, which was set in the inaugural 1984-85 season. Additionally, Cody Wild tied Sean Whitham’s PC record for most goals by a rookie defenseman (six), also set in 1984-85.

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