Looks To Avoid Recent History
The New Hampshire Wildcats find themselves
in a familiar position. They've got a comfortable lead in
the Hockey East standings and are all but assured of winning
the league's regular-season crown barring an unforeseen
Well, they're hoping they don't have a feeling
of déjà vu.
Radja is getting hot at the right time, as New Hampshire
enters a critical portion of its schedule.
Last season, UNH was 17-3-1 in the league
and had a six-point lead over Boston University for first
place with six games to go. But the Wildcats went 1-4-1
down the stretch and hung on to win the league crown by
a single point over a surging Boston College. Then, they
lost to BC in the Hockey East title game before being outed
by Miami in the first round of the NCAA tournament –
in Manchester, no less, which is a mere 40 minutes from
"You've got to remember what happened,"
UNH senior forward Mike Radja said, "because last year
we started losing and just thought, 'Oh, well we've won
a bunch of games. It will just turn around. It will figure
itself out.' And it never did. This year, we're kind of
looking back on that, figuring out what happened last year
and tweaking it. Everyone seems to be buying in."
The Wildcats sure hope so. They enter this
weekend's series against Providence with a 14-4-1 mark and
have a five-point lead over BC with eight games to play.
But avoiding a late-season swoon is one thing. Radja and
the senior class would like to accomplish a little more
when the stakes are at their highest.
The UNH seniors are 90-42-15, including this
year, and they've gone to the NCAA tournament each of the
last three seasons. But they've never won the Hockey East
tournament, and their record in the national tourney is
2-3, having never advanced to the Frozen Four.
But Radja believes the culture of this team
"Our captain, [Matt] Fornataro, has been
doing a good job at just letting guys know what happened
last year [is something] we don't want to have happen again,"
Radja said. "Everyone has just got to come to rink
every day with the same attitude and on the same page, work
on all the little things and stuff like that. All the guys
are buying into it, which is good, and hopefully we can
keep the momentum that we've got going."
And the Wildcats are chock full of that. They're
coming off a weekend sweep of Maine in Orono and swept the
season series with their hated rivals for the first time
since entering Hockey East. UNH has won nine straight games
against league opponents and is the only team that has currently
clinched a playoff berth.
Plus, they can clinch the regular-season crown
next weekend, when they've got Boston College in a home-and-home.
If New Hampshire manages to sweep Providence this weekend
and then takes both games from the Eagles next week (although
those conditions could change based on BC's series with
UMass Lowell this weekend), it would clinch the top spot
for the league playoffs for the second straight season.
But Providence comes first in Radja's eyes.
The Friars stomped UNH, 7-1, at Schneider Arena late last
season, sending the Wildcats into a three-game tailspin
in which they were outscored 15-4. And don't think the third-place
Friars won't be up for the challenge. They've been eliminated
by UNH in the Hockey East playoffs in three of the last
four seasons, including two straight.
"Every time we play Providence, it's
always a good series," Radja said. "It's always
a battle. We know what to expect. We went down there last
time, and it was the same thing. We know it's going to be
a big one.
"We're playing pretty good hockey right
now, kind of the opposite last year when we came out hot
in November and December and then tapered off. We're playing
SEEN AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Brink of elimination: Boston
University coach Jack Parker came to a sobering realization
Monday night after the Beanpot consolation game. He noted
if his Terriers don't win the remainder of their games,
they more than likely will miss out on the NCAA tournament.
BU is 10-14-4 (8-8-3 Hockey East) with eight
regular-season games remaining, and it currently sits in
fifth place in the conference. Its next six games are against
Maine, Northeastern and UMass – all three of which
are in serious slumps – before the Terriers close
it out with a home-and-home against Providence. A serious
run through Hockey East looks manageable, but considering
the Terriers are currently riding just their second two-game
winning streak of the entire season (and first since Nov.
1-3), one might wonder if they'll miss out on their first
national tournament in four years.
Their opponent this weekend is in a much more
dire situation. Maine travels to Boston as the ninth-place
team in Hockey East, four points behind UMass for the final
playoff spot. While the Black Bears have been to three of
the last four Frozen Fours, including the last two, their
only hopes at getting to the NCAA tourney like in winning
the Hockey East tournament.
But they need to get there first.
After a pair at BU, Maine hosts UMass twice,
visits Vermont for two and then brings in UMass Lowell for
a pair to close out the regular season. But the Black Bears
need to take care of themselves first. They've lost five
straight, are winless in their last six and have gone 4-13-2
in their last 19 games. Like the Terriers, they're fighting
an uphill battle.
"We are in ninth place, and I think that
says it all," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "We
have to climb up here and get into the playoffs. We put
ourselves in a position where we can look to win the Hockey
East tournament if we are going to get into the NCAAs. We
have a long way to go, as we are not even in the playoffs
if the season ended today. We have our work cut out for
us, but we are excited for that challenge. We are determined
to do something special down the stretch here."
Great Weekend Getaway
at New Hampshire
This is the second leg of an important home-and-home.
While the Wildcats are in the driver's seat to take
the regular-season title again, Providence has its
sights set on home ice for the first round of the
playoffs. It is six points behind first-place UNH
and one point behind second-place Boston College.
If PC gets swept this weekend, though, it could end
up as low as sixth place.
While You’re There: Well,
it's Durham, so there really isn't too much. The UNH
campus is really nice, so take a stroll around before
grabbing a slice at Durham House of Pizza.
was driving the vehicle that happened to soak a reporter
in the middle of Wednesday's Hockey East coaches'
conference call. During Greg Cronin's session, a sudden
shriek pierced through the call, after which the reporter
responded by apologizing to Cronin. Apparently, a
car passed by and hit a puddle, which drenched the
flustered scribe, who felt the need to recreate the
shower scene from "American Psycho." Cronin
deadpanned, "Are you gonna make it?" Simply
1-7-1 since the New Year. In addition, the Minutemen
are 0-8-4 this season when failing to score at least
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Is Northeastern really better than
it was a season ago? The Huskies had scored 66 goals and
allowed 66 goals through their first 25 games this year,
the same exact totals they had through 25 contests last
season. But Northeastern had four more wins at that point
this year than a year ago.
• Mike Radja registered his 50th career
goal and 100th career point during last weekend's sweep
• Boston College juniors Nathan Gerbe
(14 points) and Benn Ferriero (13) have combined for 27
points in their 12 career games against rival Boston University.
• After beating UMass Lowell 6-2 last
Friday, Boston University improved to 20-2-1 in its last
23 games in the middle of Beanpot week.
• Maine goalie Ben Bishop played in
his 90th career game Saturday night when he suited up against
New Hampshire, which is the fourth most games in net in
school history. Scott King (110 games), Blair Allison (103)
and Alfie Michaud (98) are Maine's all-time leaders in that
• UMass Lowell is 0-7-3 this season
when scoring two goals or less.
• Andrew Braithwaite became the second
Merrimack goalie to receive a weekly honor by Hockey East
this season, as Pat Watson was named the Player of the Week
• With its 4-2 win over Merrimack last
Friday, Northeastern equaled its win total (13) from last
season and surpassed its Hockey East victory count (10 this
year) from a season ago.
• The Friars earned their first win
over Vermont at Schneider Arena since Oct. 29, 1993, when
they topped the Catamounts, 4-3 in overtime on Saturday.
• Vermont is 4-2-2 in its last eight
contests, all against ranked opponents.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached