defensemen who made significant contributions were once
considered scarce, an endangered species that only survived
thanks to the heroics of ultra-talents like Brian Leetch
or Tom Poti.
a quick glance around the league shows that those days may
be over. Freshmen are making contributions on the blue line
in impressive – perhaps even unprecedented –
seven freshmen defensemen from Hockey East are listed on
the NHL Central Scouting Service’s 35-player
preliminary rankings of collegians eligible for the
2004 NHL Draft.
University skates three freshmen defensemen, each of them
notable, and the same is true at Northeastern. Merrimack,
one year after a breakthrough performance by now-sophomore
Bryan Schmidt, has two rookie defensemen following in his
footsteps (Jeff Caron and Ryan Sullivan). Two freshmen patrol
the UMass Lowell blueline, with Cleve Kinley earning accolades
and power play time for his two-way ability. Maine’s
Mike Lundin and Providence’s Dinos Stamoulis have
looked like future stars.
University head coach Jack Parker raves about Kevin Schaeffer,
who Sunday against Yale became the first BU freshman defenseman
ever to record a hat trick.
three freshmen defensemen have played well, especially Schaeffer,”
head coach Jack Parker said. “We knew more about what
we were going to get from Sullivan and Morrow, but Schaeffer
has been the best of them.”
head coach Bruce Crowder sees a bright future in his defense,
thanks to freshmen Steve Birnstill, Bryan Cirullo and Brian
think for the most part they’ve been extremely good,”
he said. “You can definitely see the potential and
upside in all three of them. The flip side is that they
are still freshmen, and they still have nights or shifts
when they are going to struggle. But all in all, they are
all getting quality ice time, and they are all contributing.”
on the Blue Line
freshmen defensemen have played at least 10 games
already this season: Boston University: Thomas Morrow,
Kevin Schaeffer, Sean Sullivan Maine: Mike Lundin, Tom Zabkowicz Massachusetts: Mark Matheson UMass Lowell: Cleve Kinley, Jake
Pence Merrimack: Jeff Caron, Ryan Sullivan Northeastern: Steve Birnstill, Brian
Cirullo, Bryan Deeth Providence: Dinos Stamoulis
the infusion of young talent on the blueline, the obstacles
freshmen defensemen have always faced remain the same.
defensemen have to adapt to the speed of the game, and the
strength factor,” Crowder explains. “They are
boys in men’s bodies, and these guys are all 18-year-old
freshmen going against men who are 22 or 23 years old. They’ve
got to make the effort off the ice and get their strength
up to that level.”
do so many seem able to overcome those speed and strength
roadblocks and contribute at a high level right away? Coaches
identify a few reasons:
Necessity: Early departures can force players
to play earlier – and play in more significant situations
– than they otherwise might have. Necessity is not
only the mother of invention, it seems, but also of on-ice
performance. Lundin, for example, didn’t even sign
with Maine until Francis Nault was denied a fourth year
of eligibility by the NCAA.
Schemes: The “dead-puck era”
calls for defensemen to make the simple plays – chipping
the puck off the glass and out of the zone, or dumping it
deep into the offensive zone. Plus, when all five players
on the ice are committed to defense, individuals are less
likely to make glaring mistakes.
Goaltending: By all accounts, the goaltending
from top to bottom has never been better in Hockey East.
Nothing like a nice glove save to make you forget a youthful
mistake by a defenseman.
Preparation: Clearly, junior coaches and
leagues deserve some credit when defensemen arrive on campus
prepared to play the college game.
all these contributions, coaches are quick to note that
these defensemen are “still freshmen.” And there’s
one sure sign that, no matter how good freshmen defensemen
have become, you’re better off once they are sophomores:
Boston College and New Hampshire, arguably Hockey East’s
top two teams, don’t have any rookie defensemen in
their regular lineups.
AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
defenseman Bryan Cirullo and Northeastern seek their
first win this weekend.
on Two – Friday night's Boston University
vs. Boston College game will get the attention, but across
town on Saturday night another intriguing matchup takes
place. When winless Vermont (0-10-2) pays a visit to Northeastern
(0-9-2), you know neither team will walk away happy with
seem like a nice break from Hockey East action for head
coach Bruce Crowder’s team, but he doesn’t see
it that way.
college hockey, you’ve got to come to play every night
– whether it’s Hockey East or not,” he
said. “Look at Wayne State beating Michigan State,
or just this weekend and Quinnipiac, getting that league’s
first win over a Hockey East team. To me, every game is
Hockey East. We’re playing a team Saturday night that’s
in the same dilemma that we’re in. It might be one
of the most exciting games in college hockey this weekend,
even though on paper it doesn’t look that way.”
the Huskies this year, if it’s not one thing, it’s
another. Goaltending plagued them early in the year, but
lately they can’t score – remarkably they’ve
scored two goals, no more, no less, in each of the last
we can get three, we’ll get 33,” Crowder said.
“We’ve had plenty of chances, we just need them
to start going in.”
Guns – While noting the accomplishments of
freshmen defensemen, above, it’s only fair to salute
some recent breakthrough performances by rookie forwards.
out of the gate, Providence’s Chase Watson and New
Hampshire’s Jacob Micflikier were the league’s
rookie scoring stars. As the temperatures dipped, however,
a few more forwards have gotten their skates under themselves
and begun to make their mark offensively.
Luciano Aquino has been outstanding of late, possibly his
team’s best forward in its current four-game unbeaten
streak. Aquino, who was held without a point in October,
had 3-4—7 in November and was named Hockey East’s
Rookie of the Month.
who have come on lately include (with November stats): New
Hampshire’s Brett Hemingway (3-3—6), Boston
College’s Brian Boyle (4-1—5), Boston University’s
Kenny Roche (2-3—5), UMass Lowell’s Jason Tejchma
(2-3—5), and Massachusetts’ Kevin Jarman (3-0—3).
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
While it’s too bad the conference’s perfect
record against Atlantic Hockey had to end at Merrimack’s
expense, at least we’re not looking at all those non-conference
games as automatic wins any more. (Right? C’mon, this
is proof – it can happen.) Coaches around the league
were probably relieved, since Quinnipiac’s victory
gives their teams a word of warning headed into their next
game against an Atlantic Hockey opponent.
There’s not much better than a two-team trip through
New York’s North Country to play Clarkson and St.
Lawrence, as UNH and UMass Lowell
are doing this weekend. It’s a traditional college
hockey trip that teams from across the country have made
for years – and it’s yet another reason that
the proposed NCAA Division III reforms need
to be defeated for the sake of all of college hockey.
Great Weekend Getaway
University at Boston College (Fri.) There’s
nothing in sports that divides the city of Boston
quite like a BC-BU game (someday a “who do you
start, Pedro or Schilling” debate probably will,
but we’re not there yet). There’s good
news on both fronts, as BU found its much-needed scoring
Sunday vs. Yale (albeit in a highly unlikely place,
in the unheard-of form of two hat tricks from defensemen).
BC, meanwhile, expects to get Patrick Eaves and Dave
Spina back in the lineup. Spina has missed all but
one game this year and adds even more offense to a
lineup already deep up front. Eaves and his brother,
Ben, have both been healthy for the whole game only
seven times in the team’s 14 outings this year.
You're There: Visit the Coolidge Corner Clubhouse
in Brookline, home of The Wayne Gretzky sandwich (mmm,
bacon) and owners of a claim to fame so great, they
should hang it out front: it’s Bill Simmons’
favorite sports bar.
Hearty congratulations to Paul Pooley and
the Providence team, which brought the Skating
Friar back to the front of its sweaters for last Tuesday’s
Mayor’s Cup game, ending the two-month flirtation
with the hooded Patriots logo used by the rest of
the athletic department. The Friars wore last year’s
jerseys against Brown, and the Woonsocket Call
reports that they have placed an order for new sweaters,
to be delivered later this year. Here at INCH, we
celebrated by taking advantage of a great deal offered
by one of our sponsors: a $10 Skating Friar T-shirt
the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. From
thoughts that the CCHA couldn’t beat anybody,
or that UMass was ready for prime time, the Mavericks
spoiled more theories than Peter Jennings’ special
on the Kennedy assassination. They also halted the
Minutemen’s road winning streak at seven games
and non-conference unbeaten streak at 11 games.
The Brampton Battalion acquired Luciano Aquino’s OHL
rights this week in a trade and plan to try to talk the
Maine freshman into playing major junior
hockey. Time will tell how it plays out – Aquino’s
family history might suggest a jump (his brother, Anthony,
left Merrimack for major juniors), but these deals often
don’t play out for the major junior team (like the
Calgary Hitmen’s acquisition of Cornell goaltender
David LeNeveu around this time last year).
You have to love the honesty, enthusiasm and appreciation
from UMass Lowell forward Elias Godoy upon
learning that he was named Hockey East Player of the Week:
“I knew coming into Tuesday night’s game that
I had to pick up my play from the previous weekend. Coach
Blaise MacDonald and I talked about my performance against
Boston University, and we both agreed that it wasn’t
my best. I resolved to play better overall at New Hampshire,
and it was a great effort for me with the three goals and
the assist. I give a lot of credit to my linemates for helping
me, they did an excellent job of getting me the puck, especially
on the power play. It’s a great honor to be named
Hockey East Player of the Week for the first time in my
Hard to believe that Providence junior
David Cacciola, who stopped 26 shots in the 1-1 tie vs.
Brown last week, still doesn’t have a win. He’s
0-3-2 despite leading Hockey East in goals-against average
(1.68) and save percentage (.945).
There could be reason for concern in Durham,
where Mike Ayers has struggled in two of his last three
starts. He’s 1-2-0 in that time, with a 4.85 goals-against
average and a .845 save percentage; in the two losses,
those numbers are 6.55 and .771. Ayers and sophomore
Jeff Pietrasiak have alternated starts the past two
weekends, and head coach Dick Umile could give each
a start this weekend with two non-league games at Clarkson
and St. Lawrence. Then again, Ayers – a competitor
who loves to play as much as possible – might
benefit from back-to-back games to help him get into
a groove, especially heading into two key Hockey East
games before the holidays (at Massachusetts next Thursday,
vs. Merrimack next Saturday).
With Ayers and Boston University’s
Sean Fields both having difficulty at times early in
the season, INCH’s first- and second-team Preseason
All-Americans haven’t lived up to their lofty
standards. Luckily for us, we did all right with our
third-team pick, Yann Danis of Brown.
Tickets for Hockey East's championship weekend at the
FleetCenter went on sale Monday. Championship tickets
can be purchased through Ticketmaster and at the FleetCenter
box office. Ticketmaster can be reached online at www.ticketmaster.com/artist/852156
or by calling (617) 931-2000.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this