November 6, 2003
A Good Deal

By Nate Ewell

 Hockey East Notebook

This week's schedule
National TV Schedule

Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook

WCHA Notebook

Sometimes, 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 poker hand.

This weekend’s 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:

• Friday: Maine at Boston College
• Friday: New Hampshire at Boston University
• Saturday: Maine at New Hampshire

Sure, 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.

Three 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.

Nevertheless, this convergence of games between the big four wasn’t something the conference did by design.

“Some of 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.

Considering that 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.

“Even though 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.”


UNH's 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 Ayers.”

One of them: “Him lay crease.”

Jack 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.

Of course, 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.

“They 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.”

For 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.

Included 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 Hockey.

It's 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).

Previous 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 Tim Whitehead.

“I 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.”

The Black Bears, who travel to Boston College and New Hampshire this weekend, are 7-0-0 for the first time in the program’s history.

As 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.

“He 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
120x60 - Brand Red

Maine at New Hampshire (Sat.)
It’s 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 go wrong.

Stick Salute

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.

Bench Minor

Northeastern’s 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.


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 last year.

• 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 the anniversary.

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’ three PPGs.

• 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 thirds.

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

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