March 1, 2007
Sorry, We're Not in the Mood

By Jeff Howe

The Wildcats own Hockey East's regular-season trophy, but they really don't care to see it. New Hampshire captured the crown Saturday night, but it was after a 7-1 loss at Providence – its most lopsided defeat of the season and its worst performance since the 9-2 nightmare against Boston University in last year's conference semifinal.


Hockey East Notebook

UNH senior Josh Ciocco and the Wildcats weren't in the mood to celebrate the Hockey East title.

National TV Schedule

UNH clinched its sixth league title (third outright) by way of BU's loss to Vermont the same night. While it serves as the symbol of a tremendous season, the accomplishment has still not served as a consolation to that gut check in Providence.

"It was actually pretty negative," Josh Ciocco said about Saturday's bus ride back to Durham. "I don't think many people were focused on the fact that we won Hockey East. I don't even think that we have even celebrated that yet to be perfectly honest. Coach has the trophy in his room right now, and I don't think any of us have even seen it yet. I really don't think it matters too much to us."

"I haven't seen it yet," Trevor Smith said. "I don't think anybody has seen it but the coaching staff. I think we'll bring it out [Thursday] for the team photo, but that's not the biggest of our worries right now. Our worries are the first round of the playoffs, beating BC and getting into the national picture."

The prospects remain high that UNH could see Providence during the quarterfinals of the Hockey East playoffs. The Friars enter the last weekend of regular-season play in eighth place – two points ahead of Lowell for the final playoff spot.

PC closes out with a home-and-home against Merrimack, and Lowell plays two at Vermont. Northeastern is locked in for a seven-seed, six points ahead of the Friars. PC owns the tiebreaker with Lowell by winning the season series, so it only needs to earn two points to clinch a postseason berth.

When the schedule is complete and the seeds sort themselves out, Ciocco hopes Providence remains in eighth.

"At this point after we lost that game, on the way back, I was thinking about how there isn't a team I'd rather play in the first round than [Providence] right now," Ciocco said. "I'm actually pretty excited about it now.

"My hope is that they don't think that this is the team they're going to face in the first round because it's not a mistake that we won Hockey East. We don't plan on playing like that the rest of the season."

"Like that," as Ciocco put it, was easy to explain. They didn't show up, and they took it on the chin as a result.

"I just think, mentally, we didn't show up to play the second night there," he said. "It's a tough rink to play in, but I don't think we showed up physically ready to win one-on-one battles. They came out and took the body to us pretty good. For whatever reason, we weren't ready to mentally engage like that. That was the problem."

The Wildcats can get back at it this weekend during their home-and-home with Boston College. They aren't planning on holding back to rest up for the playoffs, even with the league title already in hand. There is too much to prove – to themselves, especially. Plus, it doesn't take a whole lot to get up for the Eagles.

"It's BC," Ciocco said. "I don't think we need a ton of incentive. Anytime we play Maine, BU, BC, there's a ton of energy going into that week. I don't think there needs to be any ongoing incentive for us other than we're playing Boston College."

The Eagles are playing for something, too. With one point against UNH, BC will clinch the second seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with BU (the Beanpot doesn't count in league tiebreakers).

So, while the Wildcats haven't thought much about their shiny new hardware, they have been able to keep their focus on hockey. This isn't always easy to do for teams that clinch early. It's by no means a luxury, but they should be better prepared for the playoffs because of this mindset.

Plus, teams don't win regular-season trophies on one night of work. Sure, they'd probably have some extra jump if they won the league after beating Providence, but this is a reward that spans six months and 27 games.

"Whether we did it on our own or BU didn't get the point to stay in the race, the bottom line is that at the end of the weekend these guys accomplished winning the regular season," UNH coach Richard Umile said. "It's a little bittersweet because we really didn't celebrate it on Saturday night, but it takes nothing away from what they accomplished."


Just like old times: It seems as though whenever there is a lot on the line late in the season for UMass, the Minutemen are forced to go through the Black Bears. That's again the case this weekend.

UMass and Maine enter the final weekend of regular-season play deadlocked in fourth place in the league standings, which carries home-ice advantage in the Hockey East quarterfinals. As the schedule has it, they play each other twice in Amherst. Vermont, sitting a point back and hosting UMass Lowell twice, could slide through the backdoor, however.

In the 2003 playoffs, the Minutemen traveled to Orono as the fifth seed and swept the Black Bears to earn their first trip to the Hockey East semifinals in program history. Then, in 2004, Maine topped UMass 2-1 in a triple-overtime championship odyssey. The game, which lasted 109:27, was the longest in the tournament's history.

"It seems like we always see them down the stretch," UMass senior Mark Matheson said. "We know what to expect, and I think we'll be ready."

"I look back to my freshman year, and it was the same situation when we went up there," UMass senior Matt Anderson said. "It's been a pretty good history and a good rivalry between us so far. We're really looking forward to it."

"The past years are showing up again," Maine senior Michel Léveillé said. "The triple-overtime was quite a game. It was a tough series [the year] before that. In this league, everything is so tight. Every team is so good. Hockey East has always been a strong league from top to bottom, and that's what makes it so exciting down the stretch. It's always so tight, and you always know you have to fight for a spot down the end."

Now, they're at it again. Each team holds its destiny in its own hands. If the Minutemen prevail, they'll host a playoff series for just the second time in school history.

"We have home ice against them, so it's going to be nice," Matheson said. "I feel like we're the better team, especially in our rink. It's going to be a challenge."

"Obviously, we're really excited," Anderson said. "We could get home-ice advantage here. We're on the bubble. If we can keep our intensity level up and get some guys healthy, I think it's going to be a great weekend. I look forward to the opportunity and challenge."

The two teams have taken different paths to get to this stage. The Minutemen have put together their most consistent season since becoming a Division I program in 1995.

Maine, however, has been all over the place this season. The Black Bears started the season with seven straight wins and were 8-0-1 before losing three in a row to league competition. They got hot again to close out 2006 but have gone 7-7-0 since Jan. 12.

After recalling how hot the Black Bears were early this season, Léveillé said he was surprised they put themselves in a position to be fighting for home ice.
"The weird thing is we did get a good start, but when it came time to start Hockey East, that's where our slump started," he said. "That's why we're in such a battle in Hockey East. Right off the bat, we started with three losses in a row in Hockey East so that's why we're fighting for a spot for home ice.

"It's been an unusual year as far as a Maine type of team. As long as I've been here, we've had some ups and downs, but never had so many downs in a year, which has been kind of weird."

The Minutemen set themselves up for such an important series by sweeping their home-and-home with a tough Northeastern squad last weekend. On Sunday, with backup Dan Meyers in net because of an ankle injury to Jon Quick, UMass rallied from a 3-2 deficit for the 5-3 win.

"[Maine] wasn't on my mind until five minutes ago," Anderson said following Sunday's affair. "We knew we had to take care of business [Sunday] and Friday also. We know that you've got to win games to be in contention. We set ourselves up pretty well, and we look forward to the challenge."

Over the last three years, just one Hockey East team has won a quarterfinal playoff series on the road. It has happened just four times since 1999. Each team clearly has its eyes on the prize.

"We love playing at home," Léveillé said. "You always want the fans on your side like a seventh player on the ice. Home ice is always critical in every sport. You want to be playing in front of your fans, sleeping in your bed and being in a comfortable environment. It's an advantage for every team at home."

"They're a great team, historically one of the top teams in all of college hockey," UMass coach Don Cahoon said. "It's just going to be a real exciting weekend out at the Mullins Center knowing so much is in the balance. Playoffs start a week early for us."

Great Weekend Getaway
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Maine at UMass (Fri.-Sat.)
The UNH-BC home-and-home might be a little more high profile than this one, but there is a whole lot more on the line in Amherst. Depending on Vermont's weekend against Lowell, the Minutemen and Black Bears could end up playing two weekends in a row. Think UMass won't have somewhat of an advantage by forcing Maine to make two, 12-hour round trips over the course of a week?

While You’re There: The UMass men's lacrosse team plays its home opener against Yale Saturday at 1 p.m. Last season, the Minutemen made their first ever trip the national championship. If lacrosse isn't your thing, Rafters and the Hangar are two great places to spend an afternoon. The only two sports bars near campus have some solid food and a great atmosphere. If you're looking to get something spicy – like some of the best buffalo wings you'll ever have – go to the Hangar, also known as Wings. Rafters is a little more spacious and is a much better place to kick back and relax for a couple hours. If you don't like your first choice, don't worry, they're located next to each other on University Drive.

Stick Salute

The Friars threw their hat into the ring last weekend by giving UNH all it could handle Friday night in Durham before waxing the Wildcats in Providence on Saturday. A team with too much talent to enter the final week of the regular season in eighth place, Providence needed a weekend like that to get it going before the playoffs. The Friars should be a tough out should they find themselves playing next week.

Bench Minor

Merrimack finished in last place in the Hockey East standings for the third year in a row.


• This weekend's series between UMass and Maine could turn into a battle between the backup goalies. Ben Bishop suffered a groin injury and hip flexor in Maine's series with UNH during the first weekend of February.

But, he suffered a different groin injury Saturday against Merrimack which, according to Maine coach Tim Whitehead, will keep him out of action this weekend.

"As of right now, it's unlikely that he'll be in this weekend," Whitehead said on Wednesday afternoon.

Jon Quick sat out Sunday's contest with Northeastern after injuring his ankle during Friday night's action. Freshman Dan Meyers started his first career Hockey East game and stopped 21 of 22 shots to earn the win. Quick is being called "day-to-day" and is expected to play this weekend.

"I think Jon is going to be fine in a few days time, but it just didn't make sense to put him out there in harm's way," UMass coach Don Cahoon said after Sunday's game.

• Friar Jon Rheault had three goals and four assists in the weekend split with UNH to earn Hockey East Player of the Week.

• UMass defenseman Mike Kostka was the king of the empty net over the weekend, scoring an empty-netter to secure wins over the Huskies on Friday night and then again on Sunday afternoon. Kostka has a career-high three goals this season after scoring one his freshman year and two as a sophomore.

• Providence goalie Chris Mannix won his first ever start Saturday, allowing the high-flying Wildcats to one goal on 22 shots.

• Cory Schneider notched his 13th career shutout last Thursday against UMass Lowell, tying him with Scott Clemmensen for the program record. BC has won 20 games five years in a row. Saturday's win over Lowell marked the 101st victory for the senior class.

• Jacob Micflikier will serve a one-game suspension in Friday night's home finale against Boston College. Micflikier was called for spearing at 9:27 of the third period in Saturday's loss to the Friars, and earned a 10-minute game disqualification, which carries the automatic suspension.

• Maine has won 20 games eight straight seasons. The senior class picked up its 102nd win by sweeping Merrimack last weekend. Michel Léveillé scored his 50th career goal on Friday night.

• UMass set a school record by winning its 13th Hockey East game Sunday against Northeastern. The Minutemen have 16 wins overall this season, second all-time behind the 2003-04 team's 19 victories.

• After not scoring on the power play in 14 consecutive games, Providence scored four power-play goals against UNH this weekend. The seven-goal outburst was PC's highest total since Dec. 21, 2005, a 7-1 win over Colgate in the first round of the Providence Holiday Tournament.

• Saturday's 3-2 decision served as Vermont's first road victory over Boston University since Oct. 24, 1998, an 8-6 win at Walter Brown Arena.

• Hockey East announced its partnership with Eident Sports Marketing on Tuesday. They agreed to a multiyear agreement, and Eident will be responsible for exclusively managing and marketing Hockey East's sponsorship program.

• Hockey East and B2 Networks announced Wednesday that every playoff game not aired on NESN (which will carry one Friday night quarterfinal game, both semifinal matchups and the championship) will be broadcasted live over streaming video. It will cost $6 per game of $30 for the playoff package.

• Here are the Hockey East tiebreakers should they be necessary to determine playoff seedings: 1.) Head-to-head results. 2.) Number of wins in conference play. 3.) Best record against the first-place team, second-place team, third-place team, etc. 4.) Coin flip. Also, if more than two teams finish in a tie, the same criteria will be applied to reduce the number of teams tied, and the process will commence again.

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