January 31, 2008
Huskies Hungry to Survive Dog Days

By Jeff Howe

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.

Hockey East Notebook

Northeastern forward Joe Vitale says a lack of intensity is the culprit behind the Huskies' current 1-4-1 skid.

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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 do?”

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.”


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 theme.

“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 and family.

“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 a tournament.”

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 since then.

“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
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Providence 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.

Stick Salute

While the 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?

Bench Minor

Stemming 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


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 barn.

• 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 at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.