Northeastern Seeks Direction
By the end of the season, the Huntington Hounds
might live up to their nickname. Right now, though, they’re
Northeastern coach Greg Cronin knows he has
a tall task at hand in developing one of the youngest teams
in Hockey East into a winner. There isn’t a single
player on the team who knows how it feels to win a postseason
game. Heck, the program hasn’t reached the Garden
since 1994, when the Garden really was the Garden, people
could smoke indoors in Massachusetts, and Whitey Bulger
could still walk the streets of Southie.
captain Joe Vitale share the team lead in points with
two goals and three assists through six games.
But the Huskies entered this season with lofty
expectations. They fought hard down the stretch last year,
finishing at an 11-8-3 clip after Dec. 1, 2006, and finding
a potential star in goalie Brad Thiessen. They found out
through a 2-4-0 start this season, however, that expectations
don’t mean a whole lot.
“I think in most times when you’re
building a program, some coaches are blessed with an even
distribution between the classes,” Cronin said. “So
as you’re trying to create a culture, you want that
culture to really be executed by the older guys. They have
the maturity and the wisdom to be able to demonstrate that,
not only during the game but during the week in practice.
“We don’t have that here, so
we have to learn every game. We’ve played six games.
Given the fact that there’s no seniors on the team,
our young guys have to absorb information very quickly and
demonstrate the ability to adapt and execute a game plan.
And that game plan is going to revolve around our identity.”
The Huskies haven’t exactly been bad
through the season’s first month, save last Friday’s
7-4 beatdown by New Hampshire at Matthews Arena. But they’ve
learned quickly how much experience matters. After beating
Providence in the season opener, Northeastern lost consecutive
home games to North Dakota, Maine (twice), and New Hampshire.
NU trailed the Sioux 1-0 in the third before falling by
a 3-0 score. On Oct.26, the Huskies were tied 2-2 with Maine
midway through the third, before a breakdown in their own
zone allowed the Black Bears to score the game-winning goal.
The following night, the Huskies trailed 4-1 in the third
period but fell to Maine, 4-3. Two hard-fought games turned
into two losses, causing Cronin to say his team left that
weekend with an “identity crisis.”
“We’ve been there in every game,”
Thiessen added. “We just haven’t been able to
pull it out in the end, just a few little mental mistakes
here and there that can happen with a young team.
“I don’t think you can fault us
for not working hard. I know Coach Cronin talks to us about
working hard and working smart. You can work hard, but if
you’re not working smart and doing the right things,
it’s kind of all for naught. We’ve brought the
same intensity. I think maybe just sometimes we’ve
been out of place defensively, or a mistake here and there,
and those have been costing us.”
Thiessen has also struggled this season. After
going 11-17-5 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .921
save percentage to put himself on the map last year, he’s
got a 3.19 goals-against average and .890 save percentage
while starting all six games this season.
He was pulled after giving up five goals in
two periods against UNH last Friday, but Cronin stuck with
his netminder Saturday. Thiessen responded with his best
game this season, stopping 23 shots in a 2-1 win at the
“The first five or six games here, I
can’t say I’ve been happy with the way I played,”
Thiessen said. “It’s been a bit of a struggle
so far, but going into Saturday, I just put everything behind,
went in with a new mindset, focused on the little things
that made me successful last year."
“He’s been good, but he hasn’t
been great,” Cronin said of Thiessen. “He was
great for most of the year last year, and I think he was
very, very good against UNH the second night. Brad’s
strength is his ability to stay poised and to be confident,
and fortunately, he’s been that.
“That’s what’s going to
enable him to be a better goalie as the season progresses.
He’s hit some potholes the first three weeks here,
but it hasn’t affected him at all psychologically,
which is a huge bonus with a goalie.”
The win at UNH wasn’t just huge for
Thiessen, though. It was paramount for the program, marking
the Huskies’ first victory against the Wildcats in
19 meetings, and the first triumph at the Whitt since Feb.
28, 1998. It also gave Northeastern a measure of momentum
as its tough early-season stretch continues — the
Huskies' next three games are home against Vermont, home
against Boston University, and at UNH again. For Cronin,
the win over the Wildcats gave him the sense of satisfaction
that his team was listening and, more importantly, learning.
“What we learned against UNH was when
we don’t play structured hockey, we’re vulnerable
because we give up odd-man rushes, and we’re not a
team that can trade odd-man rushes with a team like UNH,”
Cronin said of the difference between games during last
weekend’s series. “They automatically realize
that if they’re not responsible with the puck, and
they’re not responsible away from the puck, it’s
going to be an ugly night. And that’s the first step
in our ability to play competitive hockey. We learned that
right out of the gate.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Not your average Joe: The
Hockey East Association announced Tuesday it has extended
the contract of commissioner Joe Bertagna through the 2010-11
season. Bertagna has been with Hockey East since 1997, and
he’s the longest serving commissioner in the conference’s
“Hockey East continues to be regarded
as one of the finest hockey conferences in the country,
and Joe deserves considerable credit for that,” said
Dana Skinner, chair of the Hockey East Executive Committee,
in a statement. “His passion for the sport of hockey
combined with his extensive insight of collegiate athletics
will prove valuable as the league establishes new standards
of excellence in the coming years.”
Among Bertagna’s many accomplishments,
he engineered a multiyear television deal in his first month
on the job and sparked the interest in the Hockey East tournament,
which sold out for the first time in 2000. To Bertagna’s
credit, he has never changed the format of the tourney,
which changed its structure almost every year from 1985-96.
Since his arrival, Hockey East has expanded to 10 teams,
adding Vermont prior to the 2005-06 season.
Bertagna also played a large role in forming
the Hockey East women’s league.
Great Weekend Getaway
Boston Coll. at New Hampshire
It’s no accident these two teams were tied atop
the preseason coaches poll. Last year’s Hockey
East regular-season champion (UNH) and tournament
champion (BC) figure to be fighting it out deep into
March and possibly April yet again. This showdown
provides our first mano y mano glimpse.
What To Do While You’re There:
Head to Stoke 701, which has probably been turned
into a shrine by now. Or, if you just want a good
slice, head to Durham House of Pizza (DHOP, as the
locals call it).
we have any reason to believe Hockey East was actually
looking elsewhere, but the league’s decision
to re-up Joe Bertagna was a great move. Hockey East
has made great strides under his watch (see his accomplishments
listed above). He’s very visible at the rinks
and always makes himself available to the media. Hockey
East will only improve over the next four years.
0-for-20 on the power play heading into this weekend's
games at Northeastern and Merrimack, and has given
up a shorthanded goal.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Maine goalie
Ben Bishop is probably the league’s MVP to this point.
He was the Hockey East Goaltender of the Month for the third-straight
October, and he earned the league’s Defensive Player
of the Week honors for the first week of November. Bishop
has allowed just one goal 24 times in his career, and he
is 22-0-2 in those contests.
win at UMass Lowell last Thursday marked the Warriors’
first victory over the River Hawks in 11 meetings. It was
also Merrimack’s first Hockey East victory in 19 games
dating back to a 2-1 win over UMass Jan. 5.
• UMass beat
Merrimack 5-1 Saturday, the eighth straight win for the
Minutemen over the Warriors at the Mullins Center.
College has killed 44-of-46 penalties this season for a
95.7 percent success rate, the second-best mark in the nation.
The Eagles have also scored six power-play goals in their
last four games, and their 25.7 percent success rate on
the power play this season ranks fifth nationally.
University’s seven goals in a 7-4 win against UMass
Lowell Saturday marked BU’s highest ever output at
first five games were at home this season, the first time
that’s happened since 1948-49, when the Huskies opened
with 10 straight at home.
opponents aren’t just beating the Catamounts, who
are 0-3-1 this season — they’re pretty much
beating everybody. UVM’s opposition has a combined
13-2-3 record thus far.
The Catamounts play Northeastern Friday, which
is a good thing for UVM goalie Joe Fallon. The senior is
5-0-2 with a 1.00 goals against average against Northeastern,
and he’s registered four of his 17 career shutouts
against the Huskies.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached