and Loathing on the Road in Hockey East
The glitz and the glamour; the five-star hotels
with Jacuzzis and balconies; the filet mignons at top-notch
restaurants; the first-class airfare with giant leather
seats. Oh, it must be nice for college hockey players to
hit the road, pick up a win and stroll through the town
to check out the nightlife in a foreign land, right?
Well, not exactly. Actually, it’s not
forward Josh Soares has logged a lot of frequent-busser
miles in three-plus years of road trips with the Black
Road trips for student-athletes are treated
like business trips — not vacations. They ship out
to win and, typically, the only people who know they are
there tend to be the hotel staff and the arena maintenance
For teams like Vermont and Maine, the two Hockey East schools
that hit the road two games at a time for the majority of
their weekends when they leave their respective campuses,
road trips have grown to be pretty monotonous.
They’ll practice Thursday afternoon,
load up the bus, hit the road, unpack at the arena, head
to the team hotel, grab some dinner, and go to sleep. Friday,
they’ll wake up for breakfast, head back to their
rooms, leave for a pregame skate at the arena, go back to
their hotel, head back to the arena for the game, and once
again, head back to the hotel. Saturday involves much of
And, as much as players have gotten used to
the long bus rides, they still hang over their heads as
the week progresses and the weekend draws closer. Most of
the trips Maine and Vermont take are in the four-to-six
“You still think about it,” Maine’s
Josh Soares said. “This past weekend, there was a
big snowstorm [during Wednesday’s ride to Boston College].
You’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to jump on
this bus during this snowstorm, and it will take even longer.’
At times, it does get to you. You just want to get there
and get things going. After several years, you do get used
to it, and it doesn’t bother me as much as it used
The monotony tends to continue at the hotel.
“Most of the time, you’re just
lying in your bed at the hotel room because you’re
pretty tired from the trip and a full day of class and practice.
Guys just usually relax before they go to bed,” Soares
But they still get to hit the town, right?
“If we do leave, we’ll just find
a gas station across the street, get a snack and then get
back to the hotel,” Vermont’s Torrey Mitchell
said with a laugh. “That’s about as far as we
To be fair, both Soares and Mitchell said
they do enjoy their time on the road. If they don’t
feel like sleeping — because college kids hate that
sort of thing, anyway — they’ll find other things
to keep them busy in their downtime.
It could be something as simple as hanging
out with their teammates. Some coaches have a mandatory
study hall to keep kids caught up with their work over the
insanely long hockey season. Other times, if the players
have family in town, they’ll spend some time with
“We try to keep it where we know where
the guys are at all times,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon
said. “Certainly, if they want to go for a walk locally
and grab a snack, that’s fine. If they want to have
lunch with their parents locally, that’s fine, too.
But, we’re certainly responsible for them once they
leave campus here so we typically like to know where they
are at all times.”
The latest craze in the Vermont locker room
“I’m the self-proclaimed No. 1,
but [Ryan] Gunderson beat me the other night so he’s
the new champion,” Mitchell said with a tone of slight
depression. “It’s kind of hard to swallow right
At this point in the season, the business-trip
atmosphere picks up a notch as the season winds down and
points are at a premium. Plus, all of the upperclassmen
are revisiting Hockey East cities they have already seen.
“When I first started playing, I went
around a little bit more,” Soares said. “Now,
that I’ve been there a few times, it doesn’t
really interest me as much. Out-of-conference games is a
little different. This year with Minnesota and North Dakota,
it’s refreshing to go somewhere different and travel
a little differently.”
Those non-conference trips tend to be very
different, actually, as they often involve an extra day
or two of travel time. Whether a team heads to the Midwest
or as far away as Alaska, coaches use those trips as team-building
exercises, doing things like hiking in the mountains or
whatever they can to let their players experience something
Alaska, however, wasn’t one of Mitchell’s
“Alaska, on the way home, was the worst
trip ever,” Mitchell said of last season’s roadie.
“It took us 24 hours to get home. We flew from Alaska
to wherever then down to Houston, then back up to like Chicago
or something. We were all over the U.S. It took us literally
24 straight hours to travel. It was long.”
Mitchell remembers another trip from his freshman
year –— this one with a little more mixed emotion.
Vermont was 1-4-0 and in the throes of a three-game losing
streak when it headed to Minnesota Duluth, the No. 1 team
in the country at the time, for a two-game set in October.
The Catamounts won 3-2 Friday and came away with a 2-2 draw
“We upset them big time on Friday, and
the papers the next day were saying how much of a fluke
that was,” Mitchell recalled. “Then, we tied
them on Saturday, and that was even better than Friday almost
because everyone was saying we got outplayed and got lucky.
But, then we played well and got the tie. We had the night
to celebrate because our flight was the next day.”
The three-point weekend was a subplot for
those in the locker room, though. “We had a nightmare
trip,” Sneddon said. “We spent 10 hours in the
airport, half the equipment got there for our practice so
we had guys borrowing stuff. Some guys couldn’t skate
because they couldn’t fit into other guys’ stuff.
We went through everything. Our equipment couldn’t
fit on the bus that they provided us.
“We were on one plane, and our equipment
was on another. We actually flew from Minneapolis to Duluth,
and while we were in the air, they never told us that we
were turning around. We thought we were landing in Duluth,
and when we landed we were right back in Minneapolis. Then,
we had to hire a bus company to take us up to Duluth unexpectedly.
You run into those situations when you fly out west. You
can’t do anything about it.”
“It sucked,” Mitchell said. “There
was the equipment [issue], then we got stuck at the airport.
It was a disaster. The next thing we know, we’re packing
up our stuff. We got three points against the No. 1 team
in the country. We come home, and we’re the talk of
Things get worse when players get sick. Sneddon
recalled a trip to Cornell a few years ago when his captain
ate a sandwich after a game and came down with a bad case
of food poisoning, resulting in a hospital trip.
Not all trips end badly, though. Maine has
routinely made a December trip to Florida, which is a very
welcome change of scenery from the Orono winters. Although
the players are kept away from the beaches until the holiday
tournament is over, the Black Bears certainly don’t
hibernate during their free time.
“We had the day off after the tournament
was over, and we headed out to the beaches,” Soares
fondly recalled. “We had some good times [jet-skiing].
We had 12-14 guys out there zipping around on Sea-Doos,
and the patrol guys telling us to slow down and separate
but we never do that. We end up turning around and having
“We always head over to Hooters and
get a team picture with some of the ladies there. It’s
a fun trip. It’s nice to go to a different climate
there with the warm weather and getting away from the cold
Well, it isn’t all glitz and glamour
but, apparently, road trips aren’t all bad, either.
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Not always cookin' at home:
Home hasn’t always been with the heart is for a few
Hockey East squads this season. Boston University and Maine
have been two prime examples
The Terriers enter this weekend with a 4-3-5
record against Hockey East teams at Agganis Arena, but an
8-1-3 mark against like opponents on the road. As they closing
in on home ice for the opening round of the conference tournament,
they have two more chances to straighten things out. After
trailing 3-0 to New Hampshire and rallying to earn a 3-3
tie last Saturday, they’ve got something to build
“It’s almost like a mindset too
now,” forward Pete MacArthur said after Saturday's
game. “We haven’t played well at home in so
long, we just have it in our heads like, ‘Oh, we’re
going to suck again at home.’ We didn’t [Saturday].
Hopefully, that’s out of our system.”
“I guess you could make up 10 different
fake answers,” goaltender John Curry said. “I
guess in the past, our mental preparation at home hasn’t
been the same as it has been on the road for whatever reason.”
The Black Bears have nearly identical records
in their home and road splits. They are 6-5-1 in league
matches at Alfond and 5-5-1 away from Orono. More importantly,
however, this is the first time Maine has lost five regular-season
games at home since 1997-98, which is also the last season
it failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“We haven’t had our best year
at home,” Soares said. “That’s for sure.
I don’t think it’s anything to do with the atmosphere.
I think, the players, it’s just a lack of focus. We’ve
been so successful in the past at home that we think we’re
playing at home and we can just win.
“We go through the motions at times,
and it’s hurt us this year definitely. Hopefully,
we’ve learned from that and can show up to play for
hopefully another two home games after this in the playoffs.”
UNH has a better road mark in conference games,
too, but it’s a rather insignificant statistic since
the Wildcats are 8-2-1 at the Whittemore Center and 9-1-1
on the road.
Entering this weekend, Hockey East teams are
a combined 53-46-16 against league competition in their
own barns. Lowell (3-6-1), Providence (2-8-2) and Merrimack
(1-10-1) are the only conference teams with losing records
on the road, but they are also the only three teams with
losing records at home.
Great Weekend Getaway
Vermont at Boston U. (Fri.-Sat.)
If UNH can earn at least a point in the two teams'
meeting Friday night in Durham, the Wildcats can win
the Hockey East regular-season crown Saturday at Agganis
Arena. UNH has won three in a row since dropping two
of three, and has outscored teams 9-3 in the process.
The Terriers tied UNH, 4-4, at the Whittemore Center
earlier this season, but will be fighting to avoid
a Beanpot hangover this weekend. BU (first) and UNH
(third) are representing two of the best defenses
in the country this year.
While You’re There: If you
get into town a night early, Boston College hosts
Maine on Friday. This will serve interest to fans
of both teams, since they can head to Conte Forum
and cheer against their chief rival.
hard not to be impressed with the recent play
the UMass Lowell River Hawks, who were left
for dead not so long ago but entered this week deadlocked
with Providence for the eighth and final playoff spot
in Hockey East. Lowell has won four in a row and is
unbeaten (4-0-1) in its last five since losing nine
in a row. Before the four-game winning streak, the
River Hawks were winless in their last 20 contests
(0-17-3) dating back to Nov. 4.
no “Hockey East Game of the Week”
on NESN Friday night because the Boston Bruins are
playing. The Bruins?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!
With two weekends left in the regular season, there
is still no conference champion, a huge traffic jam
of teams vying for home ice, and even a tie for the
final playoff spot! Yet, those stuck at home are relegated
to watching the Bruins, who have less of a chance
to clinch a playoff spot than Merrimack! Things I’d
rather watch on Friday night than the Bruins: A fourth,
fifth and sixth season of “The O.C.”;
Kevin Federline-Britney Spears reality series (post-haircut);
a 12-hour sex education video with my parents in the
room, and an intense tutorial on how to run the neutral
zone trap narrated by George W. Bush.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• New Hampshire can win the league crown
with three points this weekend in its home-and-home with
Providence. The Wildcats topped the Friars 2-1 in Durham
on Jan. 27, and are on a four-game winning streak over PC.
Since 2004, UNH is 10-2-2 against Providence with the only
two losses coming in overtime.
If swept by the Friars,
the Wildcats can also earn sole possession of the championship
if Boston University fails to earn at least two points in
its home series with Vermont and Boston College fails to
gain three points against UMass Lowell in its home-and-home
set. With two points this weekend, UNH will clinch at least
a share of the league crown and eliminate BC from title
contention. The Wildcats will win the league title outright
with two points if BU fails to sweep Vermont.
• Nathan Gerbe had three goals and three
assists in Boston College's home sweep of Maine last week,
garnering him Hockey East Player of the Week honors. As
a whole, the first line (Gerbe, Brian Boyle and Brock Bradford)
tallied six goals and 11 assists in the series.
• Jerry York won his 300th career game
on the BC bench Friday night.
• Dave Wilson’s third career
start didn’t go as swimmingly as his first two. In
Thursday night’s loss at Boston College, the Maine
backup stopped 15 shots but allowed four goals and was pulled
at 10:56 of the second period.
• The mother of junior forward Matt
Greene sang the national anthem prior to BC's contest with
the Black Bears Friday, and Greene turned in his second
career two-point night (1-1—2) for an encore. He notched
two assists in BC’s 8-3 home win over Merrimack on
Feb. 11, 2005.
• BU forward Eric Thomassian, who suffered
a severely dislocated shoulder in the Terriers’ Beanpot
championship victory over Boston College, is expected to
miss at least the remainder of the regular season.
• Two teams rallied from 3-0 deficits
to earn ties Saturday. After UNH took a three-goal advantage
at BU, the Terriers scored a pair in the second and one
more in the third. Providence’s comeback was a little
more dramatic. After falling behind by three to Northeastern,
the Friars scored all three of their goals in the third
to force a draw.
• Strange as it may seem to UMass fans,
the Minutemen were still in the hunt to win the Hockey East
regular-season title outright when Saturday’s action
• UMass Lowell freshman goalie Nevin
Hamilton has been one of the most surprising storylines
during the second half of the Hockey East season. Hamilton
has recorded a shutout in three of his last four games,
and the first of those shutouts served as perhaps the quirkiest
statistic of the season. In Lowell’s scoreless tie
with BU on Feb. 2, Hamilton became the first River Hawk
goalie to register his first shutout before his first career
win. He also had a shutout streak of 187:45 before allowing
a second-period goal Saturday.
• Merrimack is currently riding
a 12-game winless streak (0-10-2) in which it has scored
11 goals. The Warriors have been shut out three times, scored
one goal seven times and two goals twice.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached