October 18, 2006
Taking on the Challenges

By Jeff Howe

There has been some heavy murmuring over the lack of showcase non-conference matchups this season, and rightfully so. Just don’t find Maine guilty of skimping their schedule.

Hockey East Notebook

Bret Tyler's six assists in two games against Bemidji State has him atop the Maine scoring chart, and earning praise in the INCH Hobey Tracker.

National TV Schedule

The Black Bears opened their season by making a huge statement, knocking off Minnesota 3-1 in the Twin Cities, before heading back home to sweep last weekend’s series with Bemidji State in Orono. For dessert, coach Tim Whitehead’s crew will take a weekend tour to North Dakota for a pair of games between two of last year’s Frozen Four contestants.

Many teams are loading up on cupcake opponents before becoming fully engulfed in the league schedule, so why is Maine one of the few teams this year scheduling the class of the college hockey world?

“We’ve never shied away from the tough competition,” Whitehead answered. “We learn a lot about ourselves. Win, lose or draw, we’re going to be a better team when we play good competition. You’re not always able to get those matchups at the beginning of the year, and we were fortunate to stack up some good teams at the start. That’s what we try to do. We’re very pleased to have such a good schedule early because it helps you find out about your team and prepares you for the league competition as well.”

Whitehead has learned quickly through three games that his team may very well be – or can at least grow to be – on the same level it was at last year. Not coincidentally, Maine brought two-time defending national champion Denver into Alfond Arena during the second weekend of last season – which resulted in another two-game sweep for the Bears.

There was a lot to be learned that weekend, too. Whitehead found out that Ben Bishop, who stopped 38 of 41 shots in the two wins over the Pioneers, could fill the void left by the legendary Jimmy Howard, who surprisingly turned pro three days before the beginning of the school year.

Whitehead may have gotten a few more answers about his team again this October. With the graduation of last year’s leading goal and point scorer Greg Moore (28-17—45), plus Derek Damon (15-20—35), John Hopson (10-14—24) and Jon Jankus (7-11—18), the Black Bears lost 60 goals and 62 assists. But after putting up 16 goals through three games, scoring may not be as much of an issue as originally thought. Of course, it’s still only three games into the season.

Maine’s bench boss is looking toward a group of players to take over the spotlight left by Moore, and he is not changing the philosophy of how he hopes that will happen.

“We’ve always been a team that wins more by a committee than with one or two superstars,” Whitehead said. “That’s not to say that we don’t develop a lot of elite players, but we take a lot of pride in our training and how we prepare for our opponents. We rely on our players to develop while they’re here, and [Moore] is a great example of that. He started as a very good player for us, and then he became an elite player and one of the best in the country.

“We’re hoping that other guys – when their turn comes, which it now has – can rise up and bring their game to the next level. I think we have a couple guys who can do that. Michel Léveillé, Mike Lundin, and Ben Bishop are three guys who have elite potential, and it’s going to be a process but I think Léveillé is most ready to take that step.”

Whitehead also expects to see a big year from defenseman Bret Tyler, who chalked up six assists over the weekend and is currently the team’s leading scorer as a result. While fighting through a tough ankle injury last year, Tyler played in 33 of Maine’s 42 games, contributing seven goals and 16 assists.

"He is a heck of a player, and he is a tough kid, too,” Whitehead said. “I love the way Bret plays. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll block a shot then lead the rush. He is a fierce competitor, and he’ll put up the numbers. He's got a knack for making the right decision on the power play, getting the puck to the net and finding the open man. He is another guy who is emerging for us.”

While Whitehead has already learned a great deal about his team through three marquee non-conference games, maybe some other programs can take a look and learn a thing or two from Whitehead when it comes scheduling in the future.


York’s Lucky Peep on Sneep: Ty Eigner, who is the Brainerd (Minn.) High School hockey coach, owes a great deal of his success to Boston College coach Jerry York, who was Eigner’s coach at Bowling Green some 15 years ago.

Now, and maybe for the next three-plus years, York may owe some of his coaching success to Eigner, who helped York land his highest-touted recruit in this year’s freshman class. Defenseman Carl Sneep, who was the first Hockey East player selected in June’s NHL Entry Draft (second round by the Penguins, 32nd overall) played for Eigner at Brainerd.

York didn’t know about Sneep until Eigner, himself a defenseman, gave his old bench boss a ring.

“It’s funny how that works,” York said. “Ty Eigner, who was a captain for me at Bowling Green, just called me one late afternoon. I picked up the phone and he says, ‘Hey, Coach, I’ve got a terrific young player out here I’d like you to see.’ That’s how it started.

“It wasn’t through any [recruiting] festivals. It was just a phone call. I’m glad I answered the phone,” York concluded with a smile as though he just won the Massachusetts State Lottery.

In one game this year, Sneep has yet to factor in on any scoring, but he showcased a fine presence in the defensive zone, especially in one instance while keenly breaking up a Northeastern two-on-one in front of Cory Schneider.

With his skills still very raw – he also played football and baseball in high school as opposed to most recruits who play hockey year round – York knows he still has to develop his young blueliner.

“He hasn’t had a lot of hockey,” York said. “But I think he is going to be very good for us.”


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Notre Dame at Boston College, Friday, 7 p.m.
Hockey’s version of the “Holy War” takes center stage in Chestnut Hill on Friday night. Charlie Weis and a quarterback named Brady won’t be running the streets of Boston before this one, but when these two Catholic universities meet, there’s always an extra glow coming from the crowd.

While You’re There: If you can’t find something to do in Boston, you’re probably not a reader of this Web site. But we’re always willing to help out. After the game, jump on the Green Line and explore the night life. Stop at Harvard Ave. (find the old INCH stomping ground Our House), Kenmore (walk down Lansdowne Street to Tequila Rain), Boylston (find Whiskey’s) or Government Center (take a stroll to Faneuil Hall to one of INCH’s favorites: the Bell In Hand Tavern). So many choices …

Stick Salute

Tap the ice and raise ‘em high for a pair of milestone wins during Hockey East’s opening week. BC coach Jerry York captured his 750th career victory with a 5-2 win over Northeastern on Oct. 10. And Vermont head man Kevin Sneddon snagged career win No. 100 by taking the Ice Breaker Tournament championship on Oct. 7.

Bench Minor

This would be easier if the Arizona Cardinals were a hockey team, but since they’re not, we’ll pick on another easy target: the officials.

It’s understandable to want to try new things every hockey season to see what works and what doesn’t, but this four-official system for select games is just ridiculous.
There is a laundry list of things wrong with putting four zebras on the ice at one time, along with a slew of jokes worthy of a future cocktail napkin, but is there any need to have approximately one-third of the on-ice bodies wearing black and white stripes?

More refs means two things: more penalties (and a slower game), or more indecision resulting in a reliance on the other guy to make a tough call when one official doesn’t want to. If they’re really looking for another party to enforce the rules, just let the crowd reaction dictate play from now on. That’s about as reasonable as sticking four whistles out there at the same time. If three is a crowd, what on earth can we start calling four?

• Two freshman goalies – Dan Meyers from UMass and Ryan Simpson from Providence – earned their first career wins over the weekend. Meyers stopped 18 of 20 shots in a 3-2 win over Sacred Heart on Friday night, and Simpson blocked 22 of 24 St. Lawrence shots in a 4-2 decision on Saturday.

• Sticking with the freshman goalie theme, UMass Lowell’s Carter Hutton, who started twice over the weekend in lieu of the departed Peter Vetri, made 38 saves in a 3-3 tie at Minnesota Duluth on Friday. Hutton’s Saturday performance wasn’t as peachy in the rematch, as he allowed seven goals on 39 shots in the River Hawks’ 7-3 loss.

• Boston University’s sophomore line got off to a great start in the team’s season opener on Saturday. Brandon Yip (1-0—1), Chris Higgins (2-1—3) and Jason Lawrence (0-3—3) combined for three goals and four assists in the Terriers’ 4-4 tie with Rensselaer. BU’s top line of Kenny Roche, Pete MacArthur and Bryan Ewing was blanked on the night.

• Hats off to David Strathman and Randy Guzior of Northeastern, Teddy Purcell and Zach Still of Maine, Martin Nolet of UMass and Jeremy Dehner of UMass Lowell who all scored their first collegiate goals last weekend.

• Merrimack got off to a tough start this weekend, losing 6-2 to Alaska Anchorage and 5-0 to Colorado College, but through the pair of shellackings, Justin Mills finished +1 and was named to the Nye Frontier Classic All-Tournament Team.

• Two UMass players ended a pair of lengthy goal-scoring droughts over the weekend. Kevin Jarman lit the lamp for the first time since Nov. 25, 2005, against Colorado College, and Matt Burto beat a netminder for the first time since March 12, 2005, against BC in the conference quarterfinals.

• New Hampshire officially opens its 80th hockey season with a two-game series at Colorado College this weekend.

• The U.S. Under-18 Team played a pair of exhibitions against Hockey East elites over the weekend. BC scraped by with a 5-4 win on Friday before New Hampshire knocked off the youngsters 7-1 on Saturday.

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