It’s been four years since Matt Anderson
has taken a lap at the Boston Garden. To him, it’s
seemed like nearly two lifetimes.
The UMass redshirt senior captain, of course,
will be taking the Garden ice Friday at 5 p.m. against Hockey
East regular-season champion New Hampshire in the conference
semifinals. The program appears to be on its way to its
first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the Minutemen
will be vying to win their first Hockey East title —
two things Anderson has dreamed to accomplish during his
days in Amherst.
The ultimate team player and a true extension
of the coaching staff, Anderson would never want this weekend
to be about him, especially while UMass is making its bid
to rise to national prominence. But, this weekend is about
Anderson in so many ways.
When he last touched the Garden sheet in the
2003 Hockey East semifinals, he admitted he was barely skating
at 75 percent. Anderson suffered a shoulder injury during
the first game of UMass’ quarterfinal sweep of Maine
in Orono a week before, sat out Game 2, but played when
the Minutemen fell to UNH, 5-4.
His shoulder was surgically repaired during the offseason,
and he redshirted in 2003-04. When the Minutemen marched
to their only appearance in the Hockey East championship,
falling to Maine in a 2-1, triple-overtime heartbreaker
in the longest contest in league history — Anderson
was relegated to street clothes along with the other 17,000
fans in the building.
So, here he is, back on the big stage and
ready for a bit of redemption.
It’s been anything but easy for Anderson
over the last five seasons. After tallying 10 goals and
21 assists in his freshman season, he appeared to be heading
down a path of tremendous success before he was derailed
by that tough shoulder injury.
When he finally returned in 2004-05, he joined
a team that was a mere shell of its former self, stripped
of its two leading scorers — Thomas Pöck and
Greg Mauldin. Their two-year run toward the top of Hockey
East was over, and the rebuilding process recommenced.
The same could eventually be said for Anderson.
On Dec. 9, 2004, Anderson was tagged along the boards during
a 4-0 loss to the Wildcats at the Whittemore Center. His
right ankle buckled awkwardly beneath him, shattering in
No. 1 New Hampshire
Record: 29-6-3 (21-4-3 HEA)
Wildcat note: Kevin
Regan became the first Hockey East goalie to shut
out his opponent in two games of a quarterfinal sweep.
He stopped 84 shots he faced in the sweep of Providence.
How UNH wins: The simple
turnaround in last weekend’s sweep? “Goaltending,”
coach Richard Umile said. It’s likely the team
with the best goalie wins this weekend’s championship,
and it shouldn’t be any different for the Wildcats,
regardless of how proficient their offense may be.
2 Boston College Record: 24-11-1 (18-8-1
Eagle note: Cory Schneider
broke BC’s all-time shutout record by blanking
Northeastern last Friday. Schneider’s 14th shutout
topped Scott Clemmensen’s old mark of 13.
How BC wins: The Eagles
have won a eight straight games and 10 of their last
11. Of course, that lone loss was against BU in the
Beanpot final, but BC would probably take its chances
with that exact same effort Friday night. The Eagles
don’t need to change the way they’ve played
over the last month; just control the tempo like they
did in their last meeting with the Terriers, continue
to pepper John Curry and pray he doesn’t stand
on his head again.
No. 3 Boston
University Record: 20-8-9 (13-6-8 HEA)
Terrier note: Brandon
Yip is the only player in Hockey East history to score
two OT goals in conference playoff action. He tallied
the extra-session winner in Game 3 against Vermont
last weekend, and lit the lamp in last year’s
championship victory over Boston College.
How BU wins: The Terriers
seem to relish playing in the Garden, winning six
in a row and eight of their last nine. They’ll
need another heroic effort from John Curry to beat
BC Friday night — or an epiphany from the offense,
whichever comes first. The Terriers have scored 17
goals in their last seven games, and have only reached
the four-goal plateau four times in their last 18
4 Massachusetts Record: 20-11-5 (15-9-3
Minutemen note: UMass
is riding a six-game winning streak, the second longest
active mark in the country. This is also the third
trip the Minutemen have made to the Hockey East semifinals,
and they have played UNH each of those appearances
How UMass wins: The
Minutemen have found a few ways to win over their
last six games, and not all of them have revolved
around budding superstar Jon Quick. UMass has outscored
its opponents 23-11 during the streak. It has come
from behind four times and led wire-to-wire twice.
The offense is getting production from all four lines,
and the defense closes in quickly in front of their
sophomore netminder. Scary thing is, as coach Don
Cahoon said last weekend, the Minutemen aren’t
even playing their best hockey of the year despite
He spent nearly a year and a half of rehabilitating
his shoulder, all for just 18 games. For a hockey player,
a member of the coaching staff, a regular fan of hockey
or anyone with a pulse, it just didn’t seem fair.
But again, Anderson came back.
“I just think it’s a terrific
testament to his will to stick to it, and his ability to
just be resilient overall because it’s been a challenge
for Matt, emotionally as well as physically,” UMass
coach Don Cahoon said. “You can’t imagine what
it’s like to have two injuries that almost become
career threatening. The second one, the ankle injury, it
really looked like at one point in time that he would never
It took him awhile to get back into a groove.
He showed brief flashes of his former self last season,
scoring 20 points for a UMass team that finished in eighth
place in Hockey East before being swept by Boston University
in the quarterfinals.
Things were different this season, though. He wasn’t
looked upon to be the team’s prime offensive option.
While he was still trying to find his way on the ice, he
didn’t have the constant spotlight on him. When his
line didn’t produce last year, the Minutemen tended
to struggle. This year, there are four balanced lines.
As UMass has heated up, though, so has its
captain. After notching 13 points in his first 29 games,
Anderson has scored four goals and two assists during the
six-game winning streak.
“For him to battle through and end up
bringing his game back to the level it is at right now is
really a great thing for all of us to watch because it wasn’t
easy,” Cahoon said. “He challenged himself,
and it really wasn’t until the last month or so to
being the Matt Anderson of old — making plays, having
fun out there, not squeezing the stick so hard and making
it difficult on himself, but really enjoying every moment
and being the good hockey player that he is.”
Anderson especially enjoyed last weekend’s
sweep of the Black Bears at the Mullins Center in front
of a record crowd for a two-game quarterfinal series. Even
better, he skated one last time in front of the largest
crowd (8,062) to ever witness a Hockey East quarterfinal
He didn’t let any of it pass him by,
either. During the second intermission, he took one last
slow lap around his home ice, gazing up at the crowd and
taking every bit of it in.
“I knew this was going to be my last
shot and my last game here,” Anderson said. “I
really took advantage of it. It’s just so cool. It’s
an opportunity few people get to experience.
“It’s pretty special to walk out
in front of 8,000 people. In between the first and second
period, I walked out a little late, and that’s what
you think about at night when you’re dreaming —
the crowd going crazy as you come out on the ice. It’s
a pretty special feeling.”
A complete turnaround from back-to-back eighth-place
finishes, this season has been the most consistent put forth
by UMass since entering Hockey East in 1994-95. The Minutemen
won 20 games at the Division I level for the first time
in school history.
It’s all been a part of the process.
“When you’re having some success,
there is a lot more positive energy,” Anderson said.
“But, if you’ve only had success in your life,
you wouldn’t appreciate it. When you’re down
and out, that’s what makes you who you are. What makes
us really appreciate what we’re doing around here
is the tough times. That is what life is about, how you
bounce back from whatever it may be. If everything was roses
all the time, you wouldn’t appreciate it.”
And, when it’s all said and done, Anderson
knows he’ll appreciate every moment he spent in Amherst.
There aren’t any cries for what could have been, no
pity requests while he was shelved with a pair of devastating
injuries, and no complaining when the team wasn’t
winning. He just hopes he helped start something that will
last well beyond this one season.
“I hope that some people can follow
in our footsteps,” he began, “to have the same
opportunity that I did.”
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached