2003-04 Hockey East Mid-Season Review
Head coach Tim
Whitehead seemed quiet about his Maine team’s
chances before the year, a bit too quiet, in retrospect. It’s
almost like he knew what a good hand he was holding, while everyone
else could only guess. In a sense, that’s true: three Black
Bears – Jeff Mushaluk, Michel Leveille and Dustin Penner –
sat out of games last season, so it was as if he was keeping them
secret. Leveille and Penner have helped fill the gaps left by the
graduation of a deep and talented corps of forwards, and Todd Jackson,
Colin Shields and Greg Moore have been impressive in leadership
of the Black Bears’ best offensive (Francis Nault) and defensive
(Cliff Loya) defensemen has been offset by the play of Prestin Ryan,
who probably fills both of those roles now. And none of that, of
course, mentions the real reason the Black Bears have earned the
nation’s No. 3 ranking at the holiday break: goaltenders Jimmy
Howard and Frank Doyle, who are really no surprise at all.
Walter shares the UMass Lowell lead in points with Elias Godoy
got to call this one a tie between a couple of players who have
helped UMass Lowell match its conference win total from all of last
year: Ben Walter on offense and Chris Davidson
in goal. Calling last year’s UMass Lowell goaltending situation
a little unstable is like calling Britney Spears a little bit of
an exhibitionist, and the River Hawks shed another layer in August
when Dominic Smart decided not to return to school. Davidson has
stepped up, however, posting a GAA (2.90) and save percentage (.889)
that are huge improvements over last year (3.85, .848). He’ll
get additional help in the second half when sophomore transfer John
Yaros becomes eligible. Meanwhile, Walter has gotten it done at
the other end, as his 11 goals trail only Tony Voce (14) and Steve
Saviano (12) among conference players. It’s more than twice
his goal total from last year and ranks him tied for eighth in the
nation in goals.
HAPPENED TO …
offensive woes belong to more than one player, but the Grady Little-sized
share of the blame has gone to Frantisek Skladany.
The skilled Slovakian hasn’t disappeared in games –
in fact, he still carries the puck, creates chances, and in many
games has been the Terriers’ most noticeable player. But he’s
been virtually invisible on the scoresheet, held without a goal
until BU’s last game of the first half, against Niagara. Head
coach Jack Parker and the Terrier faithful hold out hope that he
can duplicate last year’s second half, when he scored 13 of
his 14 goals after Dec. 7. He’ll need to find the back of
the net more often for BU to win another Beanpot and reach the NCAA
There have been
twice as many new logos in the league (four, counting Providence’s
since-abandoned hooded Patriot head) as there are top-35 freshmen
scorers (two), a surprising lack of production from the rookies,
although it’s picked up for some of them of late. Maine’s
Luchiano Aquino, New Hampshire’s Brett Hemingway and Boston
University’s Kenny Roche are three who you can expect to see
moving up the charts, and perhaps breaking into the top 25, as the
season progresses. But for now, as we mentioned a
few weeks back, the best freshmen reside on the blue line. Boston
University’s Kevin Schaeffer leads a crowded
field here, with UMass Lowell’s Cleve Kinley, Maine’s
Mike Lundin and Providence’s Dinos Stamoulis close behind.
too plentiful in the early going, but Merrimack provided a stunner
in the final weekend of league play before the holidays. With a
convincing 7-2 win at New Hampshire to end a 29-game
winless streak against the Wildcats, the Warriors didn’t just
shake the monkey from their backs – they knocked him to the
floor and kicked him around a bit. That game, which featured a 5-1
Merrimack second period, has highlighted some big questions in the
UNH camp. Among them: How has this team, once 7-1-0, stumble to
4-4-1 in its last nine? Where has the defensive intensity disappeared
to? And is there an explanation for Mike Ayers’ recent struggles?
Birnstill and the Northeastern Huskies wrapped up their first
half with back-to-back shutouts for their first wins of the
No wonder Northeastern’s
path to a first victory seemed longer than Frodo’s
route with the Ring (and don’t worry, you won’t get
too many Tolkien references from me; I’ve slept through both
of the first two movies and am shooting for the hat trick when my
fiancé drags me to the theater this weekend). The Huskies,
after a 3-3 tie with Colgate to open the year, had to head west
to face Denver, a team that has clearly shown itself to be among
the top 10 teams in the country and a Frozen Four contender. Upon
their return, Bruce Crowder’s troops faced Maine-UNH-UNH-BC
to wrap up their remarkable eight-game stretch in which they scored
exactly two goals in each game. Boston College gets credit as well,
especially for the hugely entertaining two-game series at North
Dakota, but how tough can your schedule be when you’ve got
more talent than your opponent every night? The choice here is Northeastern.
strong in the top 10 of both polls (13th in the INCH Power Rankings),
even though the Minutemen’s most impressive results were a
pair of ties – against Maine and New Hampshire, both at home.
They’ll have plenty of opportunities to earn quality wins
in the second half, when they meet those two teams twice (with three
of four games on the road), Boston College in a home-and-home, and
Boston University three times (including two after the Terriers
hit their peak, something you can time by the groundhog).
Like last year’s
Boston College-New Haerence title
could come down to the final weekend. The top two teams in the standings
at the midway point – Boston College and Maine –
meet in Orono March 5-6. Last year BC had to share the title when
UNH took three out of four points on the final weekend, a fate they
could avoid this year by either wrapping things up early, or taking
care of business in the end.
Merrimack have a goaltender? We
wondered in our Hockey East preview if the Warriors could catch
a spell of good luck – something answered with an emphatic
“no” when sophomore Matt Johnson suffered a broken jaw.
One thing we do know, however, is that Merrimack has found a new
goaltender, as Casey Guenther has stepped in for Joe Exter. The
memories of Exter certainly remain – indeed, he’s close
by, working out with the team as he continues his comeback with
an eye on a pro career – but Guenther has upheld Exter’s
standard of keeping his team in almost every game. It’s more
than most knew to expect from the junior, who struggled in just
eight appearances last year (1-2-0, 4.44, .855).
Kaltiainen a championship-caliber goaltender? He’s
put together performances, and numbers, that should have answered
this question already. But fair or not, when it comes to playoff
goaltending, there’s only one time of year when you can prove
your mettle. And mixed in with his exceptional games this year have
been outings like BC’s 7-4 win over Providence Nov. 21, when
the Eagles’ offense had to bail out the Espoo, Finland, native
time and again. Since that game, however, he’s allowed two
goals or fewer in four straight – the type of performance
he’ll need come March (and the first two Mondays in February)
to quiet the critics.
First Half All-Hockey East Team
two teammates could share this spot, it would certainly be Howard
and Frank Doyle.
Vanek is indeed unbelievable, but you could make a case that
college hockey’s best Austrian resides in Amherst.
you imagine where the Terriers would be without the resurgence
is the Pied Piper of Hockey East: as he goes, so go the Eagles.
He’s playing a sweet tune so far this year.
one-time assist wizard has developed a goal-scoring touch in
his senior season.
argue for teammate Ryan Shannon in this spot, but the conference's
best goal scorer (14) gets the nod.
this to a friend
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