November 29, 2007
Flipping the Script in Hockey East

By Jeff Howe

Welcome to Bizarro Hockey East, where Maine is in last place and Northeastern is in first. No, this isn’t a dream. Go check out the standings; we’ll wait right here.

Want more? Boston College hasn’t won in a month, Boston University is tied with Merrimack in eighth place, and Massachusetts sits alone in second, three points behind the Huskies.

Hockey East Notebook

Senior forward Pete MacArthur and his Boston University teammates enter this weekend's showdown with Boston College tied for eighth in the Hockey East standings.

National TV Schedule

And with UMass just four points ahead of Maine, Northeastern’s three-point lead on the rest of the league seems somewhat gargantuan. After beginning the year 1-4-0, the Huskies sat just a point out of the Hockey East basement. Now, riding a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) for the first time since January 2002, they’re the class of the conference. Just don’t tell NU coach Greg Cronin.

“It’s a slippery slope we live on right now in Hockey East,” Cronin said. “If you slip, you could find yourself in the middle of the pack or in last place in a matter of a couple weeks. We’re aware of that.”

Even though Cronin’s squad is done with Hockey East action until the new year — Northeastern’s got Brown and Union before break and then heads to Madison for the Badger Showdown — he’s got a valid point. The schedule is a bit chaotic in December with teams playing out of conference, getting ready for exams, taking a couple weeks off, and heading across the nation to play in holiday tournaments, but the standings could see a complete shakeup in just one weekend.

“Looking at the league in late November, it reminds me of the Tour de France in that there are a pack of bicycles and nobody has broken away yet,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It is going to be an extremely close race, and we’re really trying to stay in it. As the year goes on, hopefully [we’ll] break free of the pack. … The pack is very tight as we approach December, and that is usually not the case.”

Heading into November, York’s Eagles were in first place after a few league games (Maine was in second), but they’re just one of a few teams that have displayed their schizophrenic personalities. Regardless of how early we’re at in the season, seeing BC, BU, and Maine all sitting at the bottom half of the conference is about as dumbfounding as imagining life without the internet.

“I think some people are surprised that Maine is at the bottom of the league, BU and BC are in the middle of the league, and UMass and Northeastern are at the top of the league,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “But I said in the preseason that the two schools most likely to push the usual suspects out of the top four were UMass and Northeastern this year. They’ve certainly lived up to my billing so far. There’s a long way to go, however, and I think teams like BU and BC can certainly get things revved up enough that we should be fighting for the top four spots."

“We are disappointed with the results so far, but not necessarily surprised to be honest with you,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, who doesn’t want his team looking at the standings, which he deems “depressing.”

“We are working on improving each week and focusing on making small gains in all areas, and if we do that, then we will continue to improve. And I think that we can surprise some people down the stretch.”

Maine having to sneak up on teams? That could be the season in a nutshell. Last summer, this looked like the season that could see a major shuffle in the standings, primarily due to the early departures of impact players like Cory Schneider, Jon Quick, Teddy Purcell, and Torrey Mitchell.

Besides, the groundwork for this season's unpredictabilty was laid last year when UMass closed out the regular season with four straight wins to claim fourth place and crash the Big Four’s party. It marked the first time since 2003-04 that a team outside BC, BU, UNH and Maine hosted a playoff series in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.

This might even be the first time since 1996-97 that two teams outside the Big Four host a playoff series. Never have there been three intruders. What's more, no one other than BC, BU, UNH and Maine has entered the league tournament as the No. 1 seed. Only four times — and not since UMass Lowell in 1995-96 — has a team other the usual suspects been a No. 2 seed.

Now, those “bottom feeders” are watching.

“This league will be determined in late January, February, and March, as it always is,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said. “It’s too early to say that any of the perennial top four are out of home-ice contention. Knowing how good the coaches are in this league, I expect everyone to improve.”


Boston's Backyard Brawl: Winner gets the Green Line. Losers walk.

It’s that time again. Boston College and Boston University, separated by just a few Comm. Ave. potholes and an Irish pub or two, have a big home-and-home series this weekend, playing at Conte Forum Friday and Agganis Arena Saturday.

Typically, these two teams are looking to create some separation between one another as they fight it out for first place in Hockey East. This year, however, the Eagles and Terriers are simply trying to keep their heads above water in the league’s tight race.

“I think it’s going to be a terrific atmosphere at both universities,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We expect sellout crowds both Friday and Saturday night. It’s two teams that I expect to contend for home ice and championships. Both of us have to get going to catch some of these teams that are playing so well this year. This is a pivotal weekend for both our clubs. It’s not the be-all and end-all of your season, but it’s certainly a key part as we finish up the first half of the year and head towards exams.

“I’ve been impressed with the games we’ve played with BU over the past few years. They’ve been very quick, very fast, and a lot of intensity. I think it’s a rivalry that keeps getting better and better, and we look forward to this challenge this season.”

These two teams have been playing at a dead heat since the 1996-97 season. The Eagles and Terriers have met 50 times in the last 11 years — each winning 23 games, with four ties mixed in.

“The BC game is different than any other game we ever play in any year,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It’s amazing how much intensity there is, how much electricity there is in the dressing room and in the practices. People that wear these two uniforms, I think, get more ready to play these games.

“We usually bring out the best in each other. There have been times like last year when we played them in the playoffs where we didn’t play very well, but we played very well in games before that. I think the same thing holds true for BC. There have been a few games where they haven’t played well against us, but for the most part, we bring out the best in each other because we’re so ready for it. In reality, I’ve obviously been around a long time. No game has ever matched that. … The BC-BU thing is just something subconscious. It is on a completely different level.”

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Boston U. at Boston Coll. (Fri.)
Boston Coll. at Boston U. (Sat.)

While Sunday’s exhibition match between UMass and the US Under-18 Team looks like a doozy, we’ve got to defer to this weekend’s home-and-home between BC and BU. Fueling the fire in this already-hot rivalry are the teams’ current standing in Hockey East. The Eagles (2-3-4, eight points) are in a four-way tie for fourth place, while the Terriers (3-3-1, seven points) sit in eighth.

What To Do While You’re There: Grab a steak at Abe & Louie’s, the best joint in all the land.

Stick Salute

Northeastern could have rolled over and died after losing four straight and starting out the season 1-4-0. But that didn’t happen. The Huskies are 5-0-1 in their last six.

Bench Minor

Boston College enters its weekend set with BU oh-for-November. The Eagles, winless in their last six (0-3-3), haven’t been victorious since Oct. 28 at Merrimack. BC’s only wins this season have come vs. Merrimack (twice) and Rensselaer.


• UMass coach Don Cahoon used sophomore defenseman Martin Nolet at forward against Union Sunday, but says he has no firm plans with regard to Nolet’s position in the future. This isn’t new for Cahoon, who used Mark Matheson primarily as a forward during his senior season after starting his career on the blue line.

• What was the key to UMass Lowell’s sweep of Merrimack last weekend? “I took a page out of Richie Umile’s book,” UMass Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald said. “I was sick of getting ties, so I went to the mock turtleneck and got a victory.”

• BC coach Jerry York said Tuesday he hopes to have Brock Bradford skating in mid-January and back on the ice in late January or early February. Bradford broke the humerus in his left arm in the Eagles' season opener against Michigan in the Ice Breaker Tournament in St. Paul, Minn.

• Boston College may want to stick to playing 60 minutes of hockey if at all possible. The Eagles have played six OT contests this season, going 0-2-4.

• Senior Pete MacArthur became the 56th player in Boston University history to score 50 career goals when he tallied the game-winner in Saturday’s win over Cornell at Madison Square Garden.

• Maine scored an even-strength goal, a short-handed goal, a power-play goal and a goal with an extra attacker in Sunday’s tie with Vermont.

• UMass is riding a 12-game unbeaten streak (8-0-4) at the Mullins Center.

• Merrimack forward Matt Jones leads Hockey East with nine goals and has been a great addition to Rob Ricci’s line — so much so that coach Mark Dennehy joked last weekend might have been the first time in Merrimack history a team has shadowed the Warriors’ top line. Dennehy also took a line from Reggie Jackson’s book, calling Ricci “the straw that stirs the drink.”

• New Hampshire forward Mike Radja registered his first career hat trick in the Wildcats’ 5-2 win over Brown Saturday. Matt Fornataro also set career highs with four points and four assists the same night.

• Northeastern has mastered the art of lulling its opposition into a false sense of security. The Huskies have allowed their opponents to score first in nine of 11 games this season, but NU is 6-0-3 in those games.

• Providence is 6-for-12 on the power play in its last four games. The Friars are 2-1-1 over that stretch.

• Vermont has scored 14 goals during its three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1), the most goals in a three-game stretch since scoring 14 during a three-game winning streak in February 2004.

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