February 9, 2007
Huskies on the Hunt

By Jeff Howe

Last year was as tough on Greg Cronin as any hockey season he has ever had to go through.

Hockey East Notebook

Mike Morris is a quiet leader for a young and improving Northeastern team.

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He inherited a Northeastern squad that lost Jason Guerriero's 48 points and Keni Gibson's presence in net. He was brand new to Hockey East. He was installing a new system. And his team just simply couldn't win. In fact, they did so just three times on their way to a ninth-place finish in the league.

"Last year, coming in here was a tough march," Cronin said before the Beanpot. "We had one win [at this point], and we were scraping and clawing just to try to get a tie or a point. I've never been through anything like that in my life. Professionally, it eats right through you.

"I am very compassionate for the players on the ice who had to go through it. They had to walk around campus. I could hole myself up in the office there, close the doors and wrestle with pillows there around the office and call a psychiatrist. The players are out there in the public walking through campus. I felt badly for them."

This year has been a bit different. Though they lost to Boston University in the first round of the Beanpot, the Huskies were riding a 6-2-2 streak into the tournament, a resurgence that started at the turn of the calendar year.

Northeastern was winless in league play and tied for dead last in Hockey East heading into the last weekend of November. It wasn't much better a month later. NU had two conference wins and was tied for eighth with UMass Lowell as 2006 turned into 2007.

But a 7-2 whipping of Holy Cross in the UConn Holiday Classic consolation game turned the tide, setting off the 6-2-2 stretch. The Huntington Hounds sit in seventh place in Hockey East and are virtually assured to make the playoffs with a seven-point lead over ninth-place Lowell, even after Lowell's 1-0 win on Thursday night.

"They've all finally realized that Greg knows what he's talking about, and if they play the way he wants them to play, they'll have some success," Jack Parker observed. "It's hard to learn how to win. We played them at the end of the year last year when we were fighting for first place and they were in last place and weren't going anywhere. They were as hard of a team as we had to play all year because he kept them going and kept them focused. That paid off this year because they were losing and still playing hard.

"I was amazed at how well they were playing and not getting rewarded for it. They had a lot of ties but weren't getting Ws. Now, they're getting wins, and that makes them even more dangerous because they realize, 'Oh, I see what he's talking about, and there are rewards at the end of this tunnel.' They'll be very, very difficult for anybody at the end of the year because they're playing so well."

Freshman Brad Thiessen has been a rock between the pipes since the beginning of January. He has started all 10 games in 2007, recording two shutouts and beating Boston College and Maine. In his nine starts before the Beanpot, he had allowed just 13 goals.

"One of the things I like about Brad is you can sink your teeth into him every once in awhile if he is not doing well, and he doesn't go sit in timeout and play with his toys," Cronin said. "He'll come right back at you with the way he plays in practice. He responds to it in a real mature way. We've been very blessed to have him because you don't build a program without a goaltender."

You also don't win without a bit of scoring. Mike Morris is back from another injury and has scored 18 points in 20 games.

"It's been tough so it's nice that we're playing pretty good hockey right now," Morris said. "It's a good time of year to start playing well. Hopefully, we keep it going."

Morris' most valuable attribute may not be his ability to light the lamp. He provides an invaluable amount of leadership for a team that plays 14 freshmen and sophomores.

"He is a very quiet guy and a very composed person, but when you watch Mike, we tell the younger guys to watch him, watch the way he practices, watch the way he plays the game, watch his stick movement, watch his hips," Cronin said.

"When he is on his game and on his rhythm, he is arguable one of the best players in the league, and I don't think there is any doubt he is going to play in the NHL someday. To have him healthy and to have his timing and his rhythm is going to be a huge bonus for us down the stretch."

Cronin's youth is also coming of age. Freshman Chad Costello leads Northeastern with 10 goals and 20 points. Kyle Kraemer, another freshman, is third with 14 points, and sophomore Joe Vitale has 13 points, three shy of his total last year. More importantly than their visits to the red light district, however, has been their education of how to win a game.

"You can't inject those kids with maturity," Cronin said. "You're not going to just show up to the rink and magically have maturity and composure and confidence. It takes time. It's a process, and the process gets accelerated when you win games. Then, they start to believe in themselves more. They're just starting to believe they can win games, and they believe in themselves. That's how it starts."


Long lost letters: When Jerry York stripped Brian Boyle and Joe Rooney of their captaincies during winter break, he said he would reevaluate their statuses before the Beanpot. Apparently, their off-ice performances made the grade.

Boyle boasted his 'C' and Rooney rocked his 'A' during Monday's opening round action of Boston's favorite hockey party, and all appeared normal for the maroon and gold.

"They did everything we asked them to do over the course of the month of January and into early February," York said. "I was proud of the fact that they were able to get back on the railroad tracks. I think both players were very proud that they were elected captains, and now they have their 'C' and 'A' back. It will probably give them a lift. That's for sure."

York was unimpressed with the two seniors' efforts in the classroom last semester and admitted to making the move to make them better people, not better hockey players. It served as a great wakeup call for both of them.

"I learned that I have to be more focused off the ice in terms of going to class," Boyle said. "That's all it was. On the ice, I felt like I was the same guy. As far as my teammates, I was the same guy that pushed a little extra. I was giving a lot and expected a lot. I was disappointed to lose it, but I responded and so did Joe.

"I'm fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to wear it again. It doesn't really change how I approach games. I didn't try to think about it. When I got it back, it was something special, and it was a good feeling. My preparation was the same. The locker room was the same. It was hard to describe because having that on was a great honor."

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Vermont at Maine (Fri.-Sat.)
Third-place Vermont and sixth-place Maine are separated by just three points in the Hockey East standings, so this series will play heavily in how the league shakes down over the final four weekends. The Black Bears have struggled to go on a serious run since the turn of the year but have a chance to make a push against the Catamounts this weekend and a two-game trip to Boston College next weekend. Vermont's last four weekends have been a bit deceiving. UVM's seven-game unbeaten streak (4-0-3) was the longest in the nation until its loss to Providence last Saturday. Two of those ties, however, were at Merrimack, which was tough to swallow after sweeping BC.

While You’re There: The original "While You're There" directed readers to Miller's for some pre- and/or post-game grub. Alas, Miller's no longer exists, another addition to our Cocktail Napkin from season two that featured classic but defunct college hockey eateries. Mike Eidelbes

Stick Salute

This is regrettably very long overdue, but I'd be greatly remiss if I failed to mention him in this space. Jack O'Neill – a legendary sportscaster, radio personality and public address announcer at UMass – passed away Dec. 15 after a battle with cancer. O'Neill was a fan favorite in Amherst, and was always a joy over the loudspeakers when the Mass Attack hit the ice. He briefly stepped away from the mike last year when he fell ill but eventually returned, giving everyone one last taste of his love for the program. If everyone goes about their daily lives with one-tenth the passion he displayed for his, we'll all be in better shape. Jack O'Neill is greatly missed.

Bench Minor

Without getting into heavy detail, the signs for the press meal at the Verizon Wireless Arena last Friday night were a bit poorly placed. Actually, they were very poorly placed. We'll leave it at that.


• Brett Hemingway was a victim of the UNH game program cover jinx over the weekend. He missed the Wildcats' loss to Maine Friday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena with a groin injury that he suffered during the week. It was the first game he missed all season. The typically durable Hemingway missed just two games last season after playing every contest in his sophomore campaign. He was back in the lineup for Saturday night's victory over the Black Bears.

• Mike Radja returned to the UNH first line Friday night after missing six games with a knee injury. Bobby Butler and Josh Ciocco took Hemingway's spot at right wing. Radja scored the game-winner last Saturday.

• Ben Bishop left Saturday night's rubber match with UNH after a collision with Trevor Smith in the second period. Bishop remained in net for 86 seconds before being replaced by Dave Wilson, who gave up two goals in the 2-1 loss. Bishop was seen walking with a limp to the team bus after the game.

• Providence earned a couple firsts in Saturday night's triumph over Vermont. The Friars scored two first-period goals for the first time all season. Their win over the Catamounts marked the first time PC has beaten UVM since Dec. 27, 1997.

• Boston College's sophomore class has accounted for 51 percent of the team's offense. Leading the way are Nathan Gerbe, Benn Ferriero and Brock Bradford. Ferriero recorded his 50th career point with an assist during the Eagles' loss to UMass last Friday.

• John Curry has five shutouts in his last 10 starts and a national-best six shutouts this season. He has 12 in his career, placing him one shy of BU's all-time record.

• With UMass' 5-3 win over BC, the Minutemen won the season series with the Eagles for the first time in program history. They are two Hockey East wins shy of tying the school's all-time mark of 12 set in 2003-04.

• Lowell senior forward Todd Fletcher scored his first goal of the season against UMass last Saturday night.

• Merrimack goalie Jim Healey has been on a tear of late, lowering his goals against average over the last five games from 3.32 to 2.65, and raising his save percentage from .889 to .909.

• UNH has won 20 games for 11 consecutive seasons.

• Vermont has 10 Hockey East wins, matching its total from last season.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.