A Good Deal
however rare, things can come together for you in the most
unexpected way. It’s a premise that’s familiar
to any card-playing novice who’s been dealt an unbeatable
Hockey East games offer four of a kind – all aces
– as the conference’s four highest-ranked teams
square off against each other in three games that could
determine the course of the rest of the season:
Maine at Boston College
• Friday: New Hampshire at Boston University
• Saturday: Maine at New Hampshire
Massachusetts and UMass Lowell share the top of the standings
with Maine entering the weekend, but most agree that whoever’s
going to win the conference title will have to go through
Boston. Or Chestnut Hill. Or Durham. Or Orono.
of these teams have been ranked No. 1 in the nation already
in this year (BU being the lone exception), setting up an
early-season weekend that is sure to generate excitement
in College Hockey Nation.
this convergence of games between the big four wasn’t
something the conference did by design.
these things are planned, and some of them aren’t,”
said Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna, who agreed to
a five-year contract extension this week. “This one
just kind of happened.”
When the conference
office begins its scheduling process each year, it starts
with the weekends around the Beanpot in February, since
those Monday games present their own sorts of challenges
for three Hockey East schools. Then the league looks towards
the last weekend of the season—which can give us great
finishes, like last year’s Boston College-New Hampshire
series that decided the regular season title.
From there, says
Bertagna, it’s about filling in the blanks, and if
a great weekend like this one appears, it’s a bonus.
most people have Xanax-ed the Red Sox season into their
memory banks by now, and add in the Patriots’ bye
week, and you’ve got the makings of a big weekend
for college hockey in New England.
the season is a month old,” Bertagna said, “only
those of us who are immersed in it every day really feel
like it’s college hockey season. A weekend like this
one kind of slaps the rest of the sports world in the face
and reminds them that we are here.”
AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Mr. Zero – With apologies to Sports Illustrated’s
Steve Rushin and my colleague Mike Eidelbes, I stole their
idea and checked out the anagrams for the name “Michael
of them: “Him lay crease.”
Parker and the Boston University Terriers probably wish
he just laid there. Ayers, New Hampshire’s goalie,
enters Friday night’s game at BU having posted three
straight shutouts of the Terriers, a scoreless streak that
stretches for 194 minutes, 24 seconds.
New Hampshire can credit more than just Ayers’ ability
between the pipes for the streak, although he deserves the
attention he gets. Head coach Dick Umile has gradually instituted
a smart defensive philosophy in Durham, although it often
gets lost around the high-scoring Wildcats (they lead Hockey
East teams in offense, and are second in defense). Their
defensive effort was on display last Friday against Union,
even though the nine goals they scored made headlines.
played with more urgency in their game and they were much
more desperate than we were,” Union head coach Nate
Leaman told reporters afterwards. “I bet if we charted
it, they won about 90 percent of the loose-puck battles.
From the beginning they were going through the puck and
we were going around the puck.”
Boston University, the matchup with Ayers and UNH could
help define the Terriers’ offense—is it a balanced
one, or a struggling one? No Terrier has more than two goals
through four games. Players like David VanderGulik, who
Parker thought was ready to take the next step this season,
have struggled, posting just 1-0—1 on the year.
in Ayers’ three-shutout streak against BU was last
March’s Hockey East Tournament championship game,
a 1-0 affair that New Hampshire won when Tyson Teplitsky’s
pass deflected in past Boston University’s Sean Fields.
That game illustrates that there’s more than just
Ayers’ brilliance at work here – anybody who
watched the Boston College-Notre Dame game on CSTV a couple
weeks back might want to brace themselves for another 1-0
showdown on this edition of the network’s Friday Night
Nice to be No. 1 – Maine’s two wins
last weekend – over Merrimack and Boston University
– allowed the unbeaten Black Bears to hold on to the
top spot in the polls (although not the INCH Power Rankings;
yes, Maine fans, we’re aware of the discrepancy).
No. 1 teams this season have had all the luck of Sports
Illustrated cover boys, but even the prospect of falling
from the top doesn’t phase Black Bears head coach
like that challenge,” he said. “If we’re
in the top spot now, hopefully we’ll be able to handle
it even better if we’re there later in the year. It’s
a good experience for our team; if we win, that’s
great, and if we lose, well, we got that experience and
hopefully we’ll handle it better the next time.”
Black Bears, who travel to Boston College and New Hampshire
this weekend, are 7-0-0 for the first time in the program’s
They Were Saying – We took a look at UMass
Lowell's Ben Walter last
week, and the remarkable start that has seen him double
last year’s goal total already.
He deserves another mention, though, if
only to share two quotes that sum up the difficulties he
and his team had last year, and the confidence that they’ve
got in the early going.
was the poster child for how our team played last season,"
head coach Blaise MacDonald told the Lowell Sun.
"He played great but ran into some hot goaltending.
He's getting the same looks (at the net) this season as
he did last season."
Even better, from Walter himself: “Last
year I could tell you the manufacturer of each piece of
equipment of every goalie in the league.”
Great Weekend Getaway
at New Hampshire (Sat.)
nearly impossible to pick one of the three games involving
BC, BU, Maine and UNH as better than the others, but
we’ll give the edge to the Black Bear-Wildcat
tilt Saturday night, especially if both can survive
Friday’s challenges. This one has a bit more
of a rivalry feel than the other two games, although
it's like picking the best episode from the third
season Simpsons DVD set. You really can't
To Maine fans, who have created an
atmosphere at Alfond that has been better than ever.
Saturday’s third-jersey promotion, in which
every fan got a free blue T-shirt, rewarded the crowd
and gave them even more reason to be excited to face
the Bears’ archrival, Boston University.
0-5-1 start is the team’s worst since
1990-91. If the Huskies don’t beat Providence
Friday night, it will mark the longest winless stretch
to start a season in the program’s history.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Merrimack gives fans an opportunity to
salute Joe Exter Friday when the Warriors host Massachusetts
on Joe Exter Night at J. Thom Lawler Arena. Exter will address
the fans – whose outpouring of support as he fought
for his life last spring was tremendous – and will
be available for autographs between periods.
Thanks, Big Dig. Last weekend’s Northeastern-UMass
Lowell game was delayed a little more than a half
hour as the River Hawks’ trip from Lowell –
usually about an hour – took two and a half hours.
Overshadowed a little bit by Walter’s heroics has
been the play of UMass Lowell goaltender
Chris Davidson, who shined again Wednesday night against
Boston College (37 saves) after earning Hockey East Player
of the Week honors.
Northeastern welcomes Joe Santilli back
to the lineup Friday night against Providence, hoping for
a spark from the sophomore who has missed every game this
year due to injury. Santilli posted 10 points in 19 games
last season, spending most of that time on the top line
with Mike Ryan and Jason Guerriero. Northeastern sophomore
Brian Swiniarski has four goals in the last five games.
With his next goal, he will match his total from all of
Hockey East, as part of its 20th anniversary celebration,
is looking for its top all-time fan and top current student
fan. See the conference
web site for more information. The conference is also
looking into producing a set of 20 hockey cards to commemorate
Providence’s David Cacciola may not
have a win in his three appearances headed into Friday’s
game at Northeastern, but he leads Hockey East in overall
save percentage (.953).
Not only is Maine outscoring opponents
when the Black Bears are shorthanded (five goals to three),
but senior captain Todd Jackson is outscoring opponents
in that situation all by himself. Jackson leads the nation
with four shorthanded goals, compared to Maine opponents’
Coaches constantly stress the importance of the first and
last shifts of a period. Extra credit, therefore, to Boston
College’s Chris Collins, who not only scored
two goals Wednesday night against UMass Lowell, but scored
them in the final minute of the first and second periods.
New Hampshire wore its new silver third
jersey against Union. The Wildcats, who previously had a
more of a gray third jersey, are 5-0-1 all-time in their