Hungry to Survive Dog Days
If Northeastern’s first-half surge to
the top of the Hockey East standings was considered a surprise,
common sense should suggest the Huskies’ recent plunge
was merely a matter of time.
But that’s just not the case.
Northeastern has completely changed its perception
under coach Greg Cronin, who is in his third year on the
NU bench. Once considered a free weekend on a team’s
schedule, the Huskies have now sent a message that they’ll
play 60 minutes of bruising, smashmouth hockey.
forward Joe Vitale says a lack of intensity is the culprit
behind the Huskies' current 1-4-1 skid.
That intensity lifted Northeastern to an 11-game unbeaten
streak (9-0-2) earlier this season, which tied the record
for the longest run in school history.
And, according to junior Joe Vitale, it’s
been the absence of that intensity that has translated into
a current swoon.
“We haven’t come out with the
same intensity and the same energy as our opponents have
the last couple weeks,” Vitale said. “Obviously,
we have a young team, and we have a lot of learning to do
in that regard. Another thing is we’ve been kind of
sticking to our systems all year, and it’s gotten
us very far. But teams are getting smarter, our opponents
are getting smarter, and they’re countering us very
well. We’ve got to adjust with it, and we’ll
get back on track here pretty soon.”
“The intensity has to be there,”
junior Dennis McCauley echoed. “Everyone needs it.
It drives teams. It puts worry in other players. You’ve
got to be intense. Otherwise, what else are you going to
Since the hot stretch, the Huskies are 1-4-1,
and they’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
After getting swept in a home-and-home with Providence last
weekend, Northeastern has slipped into a tie for third place
in the Hockey East standings, and it doesn’t have
any games in hand.
The Huskies went from being able to win every
type of game — the blowouts, the comebacks, the overtime
thrillers — to finding themselves on the business
end of three straight beatdowns. They’ve been outscored
15-5 in their last three games, their worst defensive three-game
stretch since October 2004.
They went from knowing they would win every
game to being a bit unsure of themselves.
“It’s so interesting of a dynamic,”
Cronin said. “We couldn’t lose a game for two
months. We’d always believe we could come back. We
were down to Bowling Green, a good team, 3-0 [in the first
round of the Badger Showdown on Dec. 28] and just steamrolled
them the rest of the game to win 4-3. We go up to Maine
and wax them, 7-3 [on Jan. 4], up there. The believability
is contagious, and then we stumbled the next week. Then
we struggled against Vermont.
"It’s amazing the fragility just
sets in. … Hockey is a goofy sport.”
But the Huskies have been through this once
before this season. They dropped four straight before ripping
off that aforementioned 11-game unbeaten streak. Vitale
doesn’t think turning it around should be much of
a problem — they just need everyone to buy into the
system again. And that starts with showing up each and every
single day with their lunch pales ready to go to work.
“We’ve almost had times where
we’ve taken nights off, and our goalie, Brad Thiessen,
has kept us in games,” Vitale said. “So with
that being said, [we think], ‘OK, well, we can take
another night off, and Brad will save us again.’ Well,
Brad and some other players, including myself, are struggling
a little bit, so we need our other players to step in and
fill those roles. All of our young kids aren’t used
to that yet, filling those big, major roles in games, but
they will soon. Once we get going again, we’ll pump
on all cylinders, and we’ll be doing good.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve
had bad weekends as a result of having bad weeks of practice,
and we almost kind of saw it coming. We were taking off
practices, and sure enough, in games, we don’t really
show up as well as we hoped to, either. It all starts in
practice. Victories aren’t won on Friday and Saturday
nights. They’re won Monday through Thursday in practice.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Spilling the Beans: The annual
Beanpot Luncheon was held Tuesday at the TD Banknorth Garden,
but the event didn’t have its typical pizzazz due
to the absence of Boston University coach Jack Parker, who
was on the disabled list with a bad cold.
The luncheon tends to peak when the coaches of the four
teams – BU, Boston College, Northeastern and Harvard
– take the podium, crack a few jokes and do their
best to turn the afternoon into something of a roast. That
wasn't the case this time around (see: Bench Minor), but
there were a number of highlights from the afternoon.
The podium was located next to a giant poster
of The Beatles in the Legends room at the Garden, and BC
coach Jerry York was lobbying for Beanpot tournament director
Steve Nazro to hang something with a little more of a hockey
“You’re one of the few in the
room who would recognize that,” Nazro quipped.
Earlier, Northeastern junior forward Dennis
McCauley of Billerica, Mass., which is 40 minutes north
of Boston, said he reserved 45 Beanpot tickets for friends
“It’s Boston,” McCauley
said. “It means everything. I’ve been watching
it my whole life. It’s been a dream of mine ever since
I was younger and could skate, I wanted to play in it.”
When Northeastern coach Greg Cronin was informed
of McCauley’s generosity, Cronin laughed, “Forty-five
tickets is a lot of [expletive] people to take care of for
Cronin also believes his Huskies could be
the crowd favorite in this year’s tournament. Northeastern
hasn’t won the Beanpot since 1988, the longest current
drought in the field. Even Harvard has won a pair of ’Pots
“I don’t want to go out on a limb
here, but I think a lot of people are rooting for Northeastern
because it’s like the hapless Red Sox,” Cronin
said. “For years, they can’t get that Beanpot,
and the Red Sox couldn’t win the World Series. Some
people would like to see them win it. Some of it is sympathetic.
Some of it is the passion of Northeastern alumni.”
And, go figure. Boston University, which has
won 28 of the 55 Beanpots, enters this year’s tourney
with the worst overall record among the four teams (7-13-4).
BU co-captain Pete MacArthur is looking at this as an opportunity
to turn this operation around, especially with a first-round
date against Boston College.
“It’s going to be fun,”
said MacArthur, who has won the Beanpot three times. “I’m
glad we get to play BC in my last Beanpot. We played them
every year I’ve been here in the Beanpot so far, so
I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Great Weekend Getaway
at Boston College (Fri.)
Providence is 4-2-0 in league play in January and
has vaulted itself into third place in Hockey East.
The Friars are four points behind second-place Boston
College and have two games in hand. If they catch
the Eagles looking ahead to Beanpot Monday, the Friars
will find themselves in a nice position for the regular
season stretch run.
While You’re There: Head down
to the corner of Newbury and Dartmouth and grab a
bite to eat at Joe’s American Bar & Grill.
minds of Boston sports fans may be elsewhere this
weekend, there’s very little turnaround time
for Monday. The Beanpot kicks off with a bang, as
Boston College and Boston University get down during
the prime-time matchup. And when is the last time
BU was a first-round underdog in this tournament?
from the “Seen and Heard” item, Tuesday’s
luncheon lacked a punch. A great time, to be sure,
but none of the coaches succeeded in grabbing the
spotlight with Jack Parker on the sidelines
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Boston College
has won all four of its completed season series so far:
Boston University (2-0-1), Merrimack (2-0-1), Vermont (2-0-1)
and Maine (1-0-2).
• Boston University has had a different
player score the game-winning goal in all seven of its victories
this season. It’s hard to say what’s more surprising
— that unique stat or the fact that BU only has seven
wins heading into February.
• The Terriers will try to sweep the
season series with Merrimack for the fourth straight year
when they host the Warriors Friday night.
• Maine goalie Ben Bishop passed the
2,000-save mark for his career over the weekend.
• The Black Bears allowed the Eagles
to score a power-play goal last Friday, ending Maine’s
streak of 34 consecutive penalty kills. It hadn’t
allowed a power-play goal since Nov. 25 against Vermont.
• UMass Lowell has lost two straight
for just the second time this season.
• Merrimack went unbeaten in non-conference
play (6-0-1) for the first time since joining Hockey East
in 1988. The Warriors have also won 10 games this season
for the first time since 2003-04, and they’ve scored
at least four goals in a game seven times this season after
not doing it at all last year.
• New Hampshire already has a nice home-ice
advantage at the Whittemore Center, but it’s also
got a solid away-ice advantage against BU at Agganis Arena.
The Wildcats are 4-0-2 all-time at the Terriers’ new
• UNH forward Matt Fornataro became
the 66th player in school history to notch 100 career points.
• Wildcat goalie Kevin Regan won his
59th career game over the weekend, breaking Mike Ayers’
previous program record.
• Providence has 11 wins this season
after winning just 10 games last year. The Friars’
last five victories have come over ranked opponents.
•Vermont set a new single-season school
record with seven ties, and its eight overtime contests
(1-0-7) are two shy of the program record of 10.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached