February 20, 2003
Dark horses: Providence makes a late-season run

By Nate Ewell

 East Notebook

Jon DiSalvatore's 40 points rank fourth in Hockey East, trailing only Ben Eaves, Martin Kariya and Lanny Gare.

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Three teams have stood atop Hockey East all season – Boston College, Maine and New Hampshire.

But if the Hockey East Tournament started today, you’d have a hard time calling one of the big three the favorite to win it. The conference’s two hottest teams occupy the fourth and fifth positions – Boston University and Providence.

Not only are the Terriers and Friars on course to meet in the first round of the postseason, but they face off in a home-and-home series this weekend.

BU has won six in a row, and its Beanpot-related resurgence has been well documented. Providence, meanwhile, has posted a 4-0-1 record in its last five, including taking three points at Maine last weekend – the first time any team has done that in an Alfond series since BC posted a sweep Jan. 28-29, 2000. PC has outscored its last five opponents, 23-9.

Suddenly, the Friars – whose 7-0-0 start to the season was dismissed by many as the result of a weak schedule – have rebounded from a 4-10-1 stretch and are playing their best hockey.

“(Goaltender) Nolan Schaefer has certainly emerged, and he’s really been the key for us,” head coach Paul Pooley said. “I think we’re playing better defensively, and our transition game has been working better.”

Schaefer and freshman Bobby Goepfert – the United States’ star goaltender at the World Junior Championship – shared time for the first four months of the season, but Schaefer has emphatically earned the starting nod with a string of impressive performances. He's 5-0-1 with a 1.52 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage in his last seven games. Meanwhile, the offense – led by seniors Jon DiSalvatore, Peter Fregoe and Devin Rask – has clicked, producing 4.6 goals per game over the last five.

In short, it has all come together. And just in time, too, since a run to end the season would put Providence in position for an NCAA berth. The Friars will host the East Regional, but Pooley quickly dismisses any discussion of the postseason.

Hockey East: Last Five Games

Boston University

Providence 4-0-1
Boston College 3-2-0
Maine 2-2-1
New Hampshire 2-2-1
Merrimack 2-3-0
UMass Lowell 1-3-1
Massachusetts 1-4-0
Northeastern 0-4-1
Through games of Feb. 19

“We just think about the next game,” he said. “That’s all. Early in the year I think we started looking ahead a little bit, and it cost us. We can’t do that. And we can’t control what other people do.”

That early-season run might have inflated some expectations in Providence, but it also hinted at this lineup’s capabilities. In retrospect, the sweep of Minnesota State, Mankato – currently the third-place team in the WCHA – was more impressive than most thought at the time. The team has recaptured that spark, and according to Pooley, it starts with the work ethic displayed by Schaefer and the rest of the seven-member senior class.

“We have seven seniors and they’re all playing well,” Pooley said. “It starts with Nolan, and Jon, Peter, and Devin have been our best players up front. When we have success, they’re working hard and playing well defensively, and they’ve been doing that lately. That’s where leadership comes in for your hockey team. Your best players have to be the hardest workers.

“For a while in November and December, we were having real problems scoring,” he adds. “We always had guys who could score, but we weren’t getting the breaks. Now we’re getting more goals that are maybe blue-collar goals – a lot of hard working goals, and we’re getting a lot of goals that start from shots from the point.”


Yeah, What He Said

"Where you from, boy?"

Take some time to sift through the data in Inside College Hockey's States of the Game report, which breaks down the hometown for every player in Division I. It's got some fascinating tidbits, and I say that not just because I wrote it.

Among the interesting nuggets you'll find in the breakdown of players by conference:

• 46.75% of ECAC players are Canadian, the highest percentage of any of the six conferences.

• A shade over 35% of Hockey East players are from Massachusetts (76 players). Minnesota – a surprise to me, at least – and New York were tied for second among U.S. states with 14 players apiece in Hockey East.

• The MAAC has players representing 27 states, the most of any conference (edging the CCHA, with 26 states represented).

1. All about the D – For a team that scores goals at a pace that screams 1980s like leg-warmers and Thriller, it’s curious to hear head coach Tim Taylor describe the secret to Yale’s success. It's downright Generation Y.

“When we’re successful, we pay attention to detail in terms of our team defense,” Taylor said. “That’s not our strong suit – our strong suit is putting the puck in the net – so when we focus on defense, we have good results.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs have 86 goals in conference play, nine more than the next-closest ECAC team (Harvard) and an average of 4.78 goals per game. But their recent 8-1-0 streak has coincided with a distinct downturn in goals against – they’ve allowed 2.33 goals per game in that time.

In addition to a renewed commitment to defense, Taylor’s team has benefited from the emergence of freshman goaltender Josh Gartner. Gartner spent a rough final year in juniors with Green Bay, where he played sparingly, and Hamilton (Ont.), for a coach who had little patience with his goalies. “When I went to Hamilton late last year, I saw him get pulled and put back in. I really didn’t know what to expect,” Taylor said. “I quite honestly told him that he’d have to come in and be third out of three (in the depth chart).”

Once Gartner took over the starting job, the wins seemed to follow. Of course, it helps when the offense includes players like Chris Higgins and Ryan Steeves, just to start – really Taylor and his assistants have compiled an entire lineup of scorers.

“I think our offensive success has spread throughout our team and absolutely, it’s contagious,” he said. “We don’t have what I would call a classic checking line. Every one of our lines goes out there and the reason that they are Division I hockey players is because they have offensive talent. They put up the numbers in juniors, and they’re doing it again here.

“They all realize that they have a chance to excel offensively, and my job is to make sure that they pay attention to the team defense side of the game.”

The result? Yale stands relatively comfortably in third place, four points ahead a three-way tie for fourth. A successful trip to the North Country this weekend could secure a top-four finish and a first-round bye in the new format of the ECAC Tournament.

And while he’s not about to turn away from a couple of wins, Taylor isn’t enamored with that “reward.”

“I’m sure every coach is telling his team that this is playoff hockey right now,” he said. “But if you do well enough over these next couple of weeks to get home ice, then you have to sit around and wait for a week. This is the time of year when you’re supposed to be playing. The way we’re playing, we’re better off playing than sitting and resting for a week. That could change if you get some injuries or get banged up, but right now it’s the truth.”

2. Follow the bouncing ball – Scheduling conflicts with the FleetCenter and the NCAA men's basketball tournament will force Hockey East to play this season's championship weekend one week earlier than conference coaches would like.

So while the ECAC, MAAC, CCHA and WCHA are playing their quarterfinal series March 14-15, Hockey East will be crowning its tournament champion and awarding its automatic bid (College Hockey America will also play its championship that weekend).

Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna explains that the conflict came up because of a change in the dates of the Frozen Four. After the dates were originally scheduled, the FleetCenter booked Hockey East for March 14-15 and joined Boston College on a successful bid to host the first and second rounds of the basketball tournament the following week. By the time the Frozen Four was pushed back a week, to April 10-12, Hockey East couldn't adjust the dates of its championship accordingly.

League coaches – not wanting to wait around for a week for the NCAA Tournament to start, or worse yet, to find out if they got a bid – voted to explore the possibility of an alternate site. But the nine athletic directors decided to stay at the Fleet.

"The ADs have the financial responsibility for the league," Bertagna said, "and like most leagues, the bulk of our finances come from our tournament. I think the ADs felt, and I agree, that we can’t disrupt what we’ve got at the Fleet Center."

As a result, some teams may end up practicing for a week without being sure whether or not they'll get a tournament bid. One that might be red-hot will have to cool their jets for a week. They could always catch some exciting roundball at the Fleet, or watch the other conference championships.

"If someone catches fire, sweeps their quarterfinal series, wins the tournament, then has to sit a week, we will hear more from the coaches," Bertagna said. "But who knows – maybe they can use that week to scout other teams, and it could work out to be a good thing."

Three Great Weekend Getaways
120x60 - Brand Red
1. Boston University vs. Providence (at Providence Fri., at BU Sat.)
Hockey East's two hottest teams collide (see above), and home ice in the first round could be on the line. The coaches will want to keep their scouting reports handy – that first-round series, wherever it is, will likely feature these two teams again.
While you’re there: During the Providence Frozen Four in 2000, a friend and I came up with an elaborate rating scheme to evaluate our favorite bars. Sadly, the champ is gone. You can go to America Restaurant on Pine Street and get a great meal; I'll be stuck wondering how we gave Challenges five stars but it still couldn't survive.

2.Quinnipiac vs. Holy Cross (at Holy Cross Thurs., at Quinnipiac Sat.) – The Bobcats' toughest remaining tests as they pursue the MAAC regular-season title. They are one point behind Mercyhurst, but with a game in hand and the Lakers facing a much tougher slate, they control their own destiny.

3. Brown at Dartmouth (Sat.) – These two teams enter the weekend tied for the fourth spot in the ECAC (with Union). The result of this game could go a long way towards determining the conference's fourth and final first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament.

3. Take a seat and give me 10 – An unusual penalty call and an early defection contributed to Mercyhurst’s surprising 8-3 loss to Sacred Heart Friday night in MAAC play.

After the Pioneers’ Ryan Bremmer scored to give Sacred Heart a 3-1 lead, Laker goaltender Andy Franck was assessed a 10-minute misconduct – a penalty that, unlike a minor, a goalie has to serve. According to Rule 4-4-a in the NCAA rulebook, “A misconduct penalty involves the removal of a player, including a goalkeeper, from the game for a period of 10 minutes; however, a substitute is permitted to replace that player immediately.”

That substitute was freshman Ryan Kobel, a veteran of 4:24 of collegiate action entering the game. Junior Matt Cifelli, who had split time in goal with Franck for the first half of the season, left school a few weeks ago, shortly after Franck had assumed the starting position full-time.

Sacred Heart outscored the Lakers 3-1 over the next 9:03, and by the time Franck returned to the ice, the Pioneers led 6-2. The rout was on, and Mercyhurst had lost control of its destiny in the MAAC regular-season title race.

The Lakers still lead in the standings by a point, but second-place Quinnipiac has a game in hand.


Ottawa Senators – Recalled defenseman Brian Pothier (Rensselaer) from Binghamton of the AHL.


Baton Rouge Kingfish (ECHL) – Added center Chris Bell (UMass Lowell) to the roster.


• Boston University's Ryan Whitney (No. 17) and Yale's Chris Higgins (No. 20) earned mention among the top 50 NHL prospects in The Hockey News' Future Watch issue, on newsstands now. Former Eastern college players on the list include Rick DiPietro (BU, No. 5), Ron Hainsey (UMass Lowell, No. 19) and Chuck Kobasew (Boston College, No. 27).

The issue also features top 10 rankings of prospects for each NHL team. Among those mentioned:

  • Trevor Byrne (Dartmouth, No. 10 for St. Louis)
  • Joe Callahan (Yale, No. 9 for Phoenix)
  • Ed Caron (New Hampshire, No. 9 for Edmonton)
  • Colin Hemingway (New Hampshire, No. 7 for St. Louis)
  • Dave LeNeveu (Cornell, No. 4 for Phoenix)
  • Dominic Moore (Harvard, No. 7 for NY Rangers)
  • Mike Morris (Northeastern, No. 2 for San Jose)
  • Dennis Packard (Harvard, No. 8 for Tampa Bay)
  • Mike Ryan (Northeastern, No. 7 for Dallas)
  • Noah Welch (Harvard, No. 8 for Pittsburgh)

• The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will bring its first-ever U.S. franchise into Black Bear territory, beginning in 2003-04. The Sherbrooke Castors have announced plans to relocated to Lewiston, Maine, for next season. The City of Lewiston will help fund improvements to the Central Maine Civic Center, where the team will play.

Three Stars
3. Clinchers
Boston College, Cornell and Harvard are the first teams to secure home-ice advantage. Many more dominoes will be in place after this weekend's games.
2. Cornell fans
Loved the "This is our house" sign at Bright Saturday night. Especially since it was true.
1. The snow
Players up and down the East coast got an extra day off from practice this week, which can't be a bad thing at this time of year.

• Good to see Niko Dimitrakos (Maine) record his first career NHL goal on ESPN2 Tuesday night. Dave Ryan and Brian Engblom – who called Maine's championship in Anaheim in 1999 – were in the booth for the Deuce.

• Defenseman Garrett Stafford returned to action for New Hampshire Wednesday night against Merrimack after sitting out two games for an academic-related suspension imposed by head coach Dick Umile. Stafford posted three assists in the win. Defenseman Kevin Truelson missed the game, however, and Umile told the Foster's Daily Democrat that he will be out of Friday's game at UMass Lowell as well with a nagging foot injury.

• The expansion of the NCAA Tournament field to 16 this year has changed the way we'll watch the next few weeks. Cornell, for example, has a little less to gain by winning the ECAC Tournament thanks to the elimination of the first-round bye. Joe Bertagna said that it's changed the way he looks at games from the conference office: "With the bye being so important, you used to hope that your best teams would do well, so you could be in a position to get one or maybe even two teams a bye. Now you hope your bubble teams do well, because you could be in a situation to get four and maybe even five teams into the tournament."

• Bentley's Friday night win over Iona included dramatic swings of momentum. After the Falcons opened the scoring, Iona scored the next four goals. Bentley scored the following four, however, including three in the third, to win. Bentley lost to the Gaels the next night to drop into a tie for fourth in the league with Canisius.

• Cornell's Ryan Vesce continued his impressive play with two goals, including the game-winner, in the showdown against Harvard. He has 3-4—7 over the last two weekends.

• Boston College still leads Hockey East in team offense (4.10 goals per game), team defense (2.15), power play (20.9 percent) and penalty kill (88.5 percent) in conference games.

• Boston University's Jack Parker, college hockey's winningest active coach, moved into third place on the all-time win list with his 675th victory. Meanwhile, UNH coach Dick Umile's next win will be the 300th of his career.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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