February 22, 2007
Fear and Loathing on the Road in Hockey East

By Jeff Howe

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 even close.

Hockey East Notebook

Maine senior forward Josh Soares has logged a lot of frequent-busser miles in three-plus years of road trips with the Black Bears.

National TV Schedule

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 crew.
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 the same.

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 hour range.

“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 to.”

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 said.

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 go.”

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 them.

“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 is chess.

“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 now.”

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 new.

Alaska, however, wasn’t one of Mitchell’s favorite destinations.

“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 on Saturday.

“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 the town.”

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 fun.

“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 weather here.”

Well, it isn’t all glitz and glamour but, apparently, road trips aren’t all bad, either.


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 off.

“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
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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.

Stick Salute

It’s 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.

Bench Minor

There is 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.


• 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 began.

• 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 at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.