February 28, 2008
UNH, Regan Rolling Toward Postseason

By Jeff Howe

Things were a whole lot easier this time around.

For the second straight year, New Hampshire headed into the regular-season stretch run with a huge lead in the Hockey East standings. This year, though, the Wildcats went on the attack.

Hockey East Notebook

New Hampshire senior goaltender Kevin Regan has a 1.52 GAA and a .952 save percentage during the Wildcats' current nine-game unbeaten streak.

National TV Schedule

UNH wrapped up the league title last weekend by convincingly sweeping a home-and-home with Boston College, then in second place and not long removed from a Beanpot championship. Last year, the Wildcats nearly collapsed, closing out the schedule on a 1-4-1 clip and managing to win the conference crown by a single point due to their strong start.

But there was none of that this year. UNH controlled much of Friday night’s play in a 2-0 win at Conte Forum before storming past the Eagles in a 5-1 drubbing Saturday at Lake Whitt, a game that ended with a victory lap around the rink to pay respect to their fans.

“I just think our intensity has picked up a little bit,” senior goalie Kevin Regan said after Friday’s win. “You can tell by tonight, playing playoff hockey, focusing on defense, obviously our power play has been big for us the last couple weekends.”

Playoff hockey with a five-point lead on a Friday in February?

“Absolutely,” Regan said. “BC is going to be there in the end. These are the teams you need to beat to go win championships. We tried to take a playoff atmosphere into this one.”

And that has been the exact difference between the last two seasons. The Wildcats admitted they let the play come to them at the conclusion of the 2006-07 campaign, figuring the wins came early so they might as well come late, no matter how they showed up to the rink. Last weekend, they could have taken just about anyone, and it all started in net with Regan, who made 54 saves in the two games and recorded his third shutout of the season.

“He’s standing on his head,” UNH sophomore Bobby Butler said. “He’s kept us in there, a shutout again [on Friday]. He is doing a great job. He’s really the backbone of our team right now. He’s just really playing well. I look forward to riding him all the way into the playoffs.”

Regan has been especially hot of late, but he’s been solid if not spectacular all season. He has started every game in the Wildcats’ current nine-game unbeaten streak (8-0-1), and has boasted a 1.54 goals-against average and .952 save percentage over that stretch. He is also averaging 30.7 stops per contest over the last nine games.

It’s a brief synopsis of his season-long effort between the pipes, but it’s taken nearly that long for most to notice. Regan has been named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week six times this season and was tabbed the league’s co-Player of the Week for his performance against Boston College. He’s even been honored by the conference in six of the last 10 weeks, but not one time has Regan been named the Goalie of the Month.

“Just practicing with him and seeing him come to the rink every day,” senior forward Mike Radja said, “he’s one of the hardest working goalies, and he’s always focused. I think he is overlooked compared to a lot of goalies.”

Regan also earned his 48th career Hockey East victory last weekend, moving him into second all-time behind Boston College’s Scott Clemmensen, who had 52 career league wins.

“It’s nice, I didn’t know anything about that,” Regan said when informed of the news. “I’m just grateful I’ve had the opportunity to play here for four years. Anything else is gravy for me.”

Last weekend was especially nice for Regan, who grew up in South Boston and had a “lot of family” in attendance. But his performance was mostly par for the course for his standards. Regan made all of the saves he was supposed to make, and he threw in a few of the stand-on-your-ear variety for good measure.

“He’s just played solid,” UNH coach Richard Umile said of Regan, who is 12-0-1 with a 1.45 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in his last 13 Hockey East contests. “He’s been doing that a lot. When we do make a mistake or give up a good scoring opportunity, he’s there to make the saves. He’s making the saves he should make, and then he’s taking away the great scoring opportunities. That’s what makes him special.”


Mounting up: Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon knew it was time to make a change. His team was just swept in a lopsided series (4-1 and 5-2) at Boston College in early January, and the Catamounts were tied for eighth place in Hockey East.

So, Sneddon and his coaching staff rolled up their sleeves, demanded more accountability, tightened the reins in practice and called for something of a program revolution. He called for his players to be more responsible off the ice, as well — during social situations and in the classroom — and strived to make practices tougher than games.

It was a complete overhaul, and it couldn’t have worked much better.

Vermont is 8-2-2 since getting blitzed at The Heights and is currently tied with Boston University for second place in the league standings. While Sneddon knew a change was in order, he admitted the timing was also right to clamp down on a team that was desperately searching for its identity.

“I think if we had pressed this hard as we did in January back in October with such a young team, we would have really struggled from a confidence standpoint,” Sneddon said. “It almost had to be the right time for us to say, ‘OK, this is how we’re doing it.’ Give credit to [the players]. They were ready to accept change. It was obviously the right time to push the heavy buttons that we pushed. They responded exactly like you’d want them to respond.”

Now, the Catamounts have a chance to make program history. They’ve finished in sixth place in each of their first two seasons in Hockey East and have yet to make it out of the quarterfinals, going 1-4 in the playoffs in the process. Vermont is riding a four-game winning streak and coming off a pair of wins at UMass Lowell, UVM’s first weekend sweep on the road since March 2003 at Clarkson.

As a result, Vermont has the inside track to host its first-ever Hockey East playoff series. If that happens, whichever team that is forced to make the four-plus hour bus ride through a potential blizzard to the brink of Canada will certainly have its share of adversity. Gutterson is a terribly hostile environment and could pose to be the most daunting road trip a team might face considering the combination of elements.

But the Catamounts still have some work ahead. They are a point ahead of fourth-place Boston College and three points in front of Northeastern and Providence. Vermont hosts a revitalized Maine team for a pair this weekend, and UVM is 1-1-1 against the Black Bears at home since entering Hockey East. And next weekend, Vermont travels to UNH for two games. UVM is 0-5-2 against New Hampshire since entering the league and lost 5-1 to the Wildcats at home on Feb. 1.

While the task at hand might be new and not the least bit challenging, Sneddon is confident his team can mount up down the stretch.

“It’s been a very interesting ride, and since we’ve been in Hockey East, we haven’t taken the ride, a pathway, a journey this way,” Sneddon said. “This is new for us. We were a team that was in eighth place at one point and were there for quite awhile. The two previous years, we started to grip our sticks tightly down the stretch because we were in the top four and hanging on for dear life. We weren’t playing great hockey, and we were focused on areas that we had no control over.

"We were focused on rankings. We were focused on the NCAA tournament. We were focused on, ‘Hey, we’re in a home-ice spot. We’ve got to hang on for dear life.’ We just weren’t playing very good hockey, and we were focusing our energies a lot of other areas. I think this year’s group, the strength lies in the fact that they’re able to focus on today and today only, and not worrying about anything else.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Maine at Vermont (Fri.-Sat.)
Maine is coming off a huge weekend sweep of UMass to keep itself in playoff contention, while Vermont is coming off an equally impressive road sweep of UMass Lowell to move into a tie for second place. The Black Bears are still fighting an uphill battle, as they’re two points behind the Minutemen for the last playoff spot. The Catamounts need to prove they can defend their home ice, considering they'll likely host a playoff series at the Gutt in a couple weeks.

While You’re There: If you want to get a real feel for the Vermont lifestyle, head to Main Street and grab a drink at Nectar’s, where legendary jam band Phish got its start. Or if you’re looking for a good Italian meal, go to Bove’s on Pearl Street for a highly recommended bite to eat.

Stick Salute

Boston University has risen from the dead to jump into a tie for second place in Hockey East by winning a nation-best six straight games. Leading the Terriers has been freshman Colin Wilson, who has four goals and five assists over that stretch. In the process, he has positioned himself as the strongest candidate for Hockey East Rookie of the Year, and has become one of the brightest young talents in the nation.

Bench Minor

Providence was swept in its home-and-home with Merrimack last weekend, 2-0 on the road and 3-2 at home. The Friars had been in a tie for third place entering the weekend but are now in a tie for fifth in the league standings. Perhaps it’s needless to say, but teams looking to clinch a rare home-ice playoff series can’t afford to get swept by Merrimack in late February.


• Vermont has taken another step closer toward building a new hockey arena, according to Sneddon. The university's Board of Trustees met recently and approved “almost a million dollars” for the planning of the new barn, among the advancements of other athletic facilities on campus.

Sneddon said it was a positive move in the right direction, and there is “a lot of energy behind it right now. People realize it’s important and needs to get done.” The next step will happen at the next Board meeting in the spring.

• UNH’s Kevin Regan, BC’s Mike Brennan, BU’s Pete MacArthur, and Providence’s Jon Rheault have all been named to the East squad for the NCAA Skills Challenge, which will be held April 11 in Denver. Of course, none of those players are hoping to participate in the event because that would mean their team didn’t qualify for the Frozen Four.

• UNH, BU, Vermont, BC, Northeastern, and Providence have all clinched a Hockey East playoff spot. UNH is locked in at No. 1, while BU, UVM, and BC could finish anywhere between second and seventh in the standings. NU and PC can finish anywhere between second and eighth.

UMass Lowell will get in this weekend by sweeping Northeastern, and the River Hawks can finish anywhere between third and last in the standings. UMass can clinch a spot this weekend by taking at least three points from BU, in addition to getting plenty of help from Maine and Merrimack.

• New Hampshire finished the regular season 9-0-0 against the other three members of the Big Four.

• UMass could have eliminated Maine from playoff contention with a weekend sweep. Instead, the Minutemen blew a third-period lead on Saturday and fell in overtime Sunday after a spirited comeback. In the process, Maine snapped a seven-game losing streak and eight-game winless streak, won a game after trailing in the third period for the first time all season, and won consecutive contests for the first time since winning four straight in October.

• Boston University senior Bryan Ewing had three goals and two assists in a home-and-home against Northeastern last weekend and scored the game-winners in both contests.

• Seven of BU’s 14 wins this season have come in February.

• Colin Wilson’s 32 points this season are the most by a Terrier rookie since Mike Prendergast scored 34 in 1991-92.

• If UMass senior David Leaderer plays the next four games, he will set the program’s all-time games played record on Senior Day March 7. All-around good guy Pete Trovato currently holds the school record with 145 games played.

• UMass Lowell has only lost three 1-0 games in program history, but two of them have come at home in the last month (Jan. 25 against Minnesota Duluth and last Saturday against Vermont).

• Current Northeastern assistant coach Shawn McEachern, who is a former Boston Bruin and Boston University standout, will be inducted into the BU Athletic Hall of Fame May 10. The Terriers will also honor program legend Jack Kelley before and during Friday night’s game against UMass.

• By taking two games against Providence last weekend, Merrimack earned its first home-and-home sweep since February 2000 against Northeastern.

• UNH has won 20 games in 12 straight seasons, the longest active streak in Hockey East. And the Wildcats will host their 12th straight HEA quarterfinal playoff series, also the longest active streak in the league.

• Northeastern’s Joe Vitale has 11 goals and 19 assists this season, making him the first member of the Huskies to record 30 points in a season since Jason Guerriero (48 points) and Mike Morris (39) did it in 2004-05. Also, Tyler McNeely (21 points) and Wade MacLeod (20) are the first Northeastern freshman tandem to put up 20 points since Guerriero (35) and Tim Judy (22) turned the trick six years ago.

• Providence senior goalie Tyler Sims played in his 110th career game last Friday, breaking Dan Dennis’ (1993-97) school record of 109.

• Vermont is 9-2 this season in one-goal games.

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