getting to the playoffs is the first hurdle, even the teams
in the bottom
half of the standings are shooting for a trip to the FleetCenter.
And like a blackjack player hitting on 14, those teams are
hoping for playoff seed number 6 or 7.
up in the 8 spot and, most likely, you’re headed to
Boston College. And the house wins.
think there will probably be an upset this year in Hockey
East among the teams going to the Fleet Center,” said
Merrimack head coach Chris Serino. “But I believe
it won’t be the team that’s playing BC.”
Warriors are among four teams battling for spots six through
nine, along with UMass Lowell, Boston University and Northeastern.
Providence separated itself from that pack a little bit
– at least for the moment – with two road victories
easy enough to understand Serino’s pessimism about
anyone’s chances against BC. Maybe you scratch out
a win against the Eagles; you can at least play them even
for 65 minutes, as the Warriors have done twice and Boston
University did Monday night. But in a best-of-three format,
the hopes of winning twice are dismal.
this, when you think about your team’s chances of
beating the Eagles two times in a weekend: in 16 conference
games to this point, the Eagles have only lost once.
isn’t on your side, either. Each of the last five
years the top seed has reached the FleetCenter, and none
of those teams lost a single game in the process. Upsets
elsewhere might be rare, but they’re not unheard of
– in fact, in four of the past seven years, one of
the top four teams has lost in the first round, and last
year two of them did.
not to say that Massachusetts and Maine – the teams
likely to end up second and third, in some order –
are easy matchups. Far from it, but at least they don’t
carry an aura of invincibility. Massachusetts is still a
newcomer among the Hockey East elite, and they literally
aren’t as good as their record – they gained
two victories by forfeit vs. UMass Lowell. As for Maine,
the Minutemen showed that the Black Bears were beatable
last season, and they can get stuck in defensive games where
close scores make upsets more likely (witness the four 1-0
games they’ve played since Christmas).
of those teams could still unseat Boston College for the
top spot, especially with UMass facing the Eagles in a home-and-home
this weekend. But as the preseason polls predicted, most
people still expect BC to finish first.
said this from day one,” Serino said. “I think
they are the best team in the country. They are one of the
few teams in our league – maybe the only team –
that can play poorly and still beat you. They’re just
so talented. They’re solid all the way down their
lineup, they’ve got great scorers, and their defense
is better than any team in the league. I don’t see
fans will focus on the battle for first place or eighth
place, with the conference title or a trip to the playoffs
on the line. But keep in mind that the fight for the sixth
and seventh positions could be just as fierce, and just
as important once the postseason begins.
AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Jackson's two goals Saturday give him a career-high
15 on the year.
Action Figure – The surprise of the Hockey
East weekend was Maine’s 2-2 tie Saturday night against
Alabama-Huntsville – a team that sits in the same
position in College Hockey America (third) as the Black
Bears do in the American college hockey polls.
tie would have been a loss, however, were it not for the
efforts of senior Todd Jackson, the Black Bears’ leading
goal scorer all year. He had both goals on Saturday to give
him 15 on the year, good for fourth among Hockey East players.
sense, head coach Tim Whitehead compares Jackson to Niko
Dimitrakos, the current San Jose Shark who had three solid
seasons for Maine, but broke through as a senior to become
a second-team All-American. Both players came to school
possessing terrific speed, Whitehead said, but it took a
while for their hands to catch up.
speed is really elite,” Whitehead said of Jackson,
“and his playmaking ability has caught up with his
speed. You see that every so often – when you’re
that fast as a freshman, it’s tough to make plays
at that speed. Sometimes their skills have to develop.”
the way, the Black Bear captain has assumed the leadership
role on a team that has exceeded expectations. Maine heads
into this weekend’s series against Northeastern just
four points behind Boston College in the Hockey East standings,
and the Black Bears’ 20 wins trails only BC (21) nationally.
speed and hockey sense helps make him a terrific defensive
forward, and his five shorthanded goals rank tied for second
in the nation.
Dancing – Some shuffling on their top lines
paid off for both Massachusetts and New Hampshire on Saturday
Wildcats got the biggest boost, with Justin Aikins scoring
in overtime to take a 3-2 win and salvage a split in the
series. Aikins had scored the night before in Amherst while
skating on the second line, but the nation’s assist
leader (25) played between Steve Saviano and Sean Collins
nice to get a chance like that," Aikins told Al Pike
of the Foster’s Daily Democrat. "Saviano
and Collins are a treat to play with. Everybody has seen
the way that they play, so it’s a lot of fun."
meanwhile, threw junior center Tim Vitek between Greg Mauldin
and Stephen Werner at the start of the series, with hopes
that he could help rekindle the spark that those wings had
last year with Matt Anderson, who is injured and out for
the year. The trio was quiet in Friday’s UMass win,
but Vitek tipped in a Mauldin shot on Saturday for his fifth
goal of the season.
coach Don Cahoon had tried Vitek, a quick, savvy center,
between the two high-scoring wings to start the season.
Although it didn’t take at the time, he saw potential.
If they fulfill that potential the rest of the way, Vitek
could give the Minutemen another potent offensive weapon.
Your Wounds – Jim Healey has emerged as the
No. 1 goaltender at Merrimack, and unbelievably he’s
the only freshman who has played one-third of his team’s
minutes between the pipes in Hockey East. Healey stopped
41 shots last week in a 4-4 tie with Boston College to earn
the conference’s Rookie of the Week honors.
Warriors had the luxury of bringing Healey along slowly
since Casey Guenther played well early on. But since the
New Year, Healey has played better, and he’s made
four straight starts. He should start again Thursday night
been playing great, as we expected him to,” head coach
Chris Serino said. “We didn’t have to throw
him right in the fire, but when Casey started to struggle
a little bit, he was ready. For [this stretch of] three
weeks, with just one game each weekend, we’ve got
to go with the hot hand.”
that’s been Healey, and he’s put up some solid
numbers. He’s 3-6-1 on the year (3.10 goals-against
average, .893 save percentage), with seven of his 12 appearances
coming since Jan. 1.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
College at Massachusetts (Fri.) The
Saturday game bears watching as well, of course, but
there’s talk out of Amherst that this could
be the first hockey sellout in Mullins Center history.
If the Minutemen win, they would take over first place
in the conference – and send a large group of
fans home happy.
You’re There: Stop in at the Hangar Pub and
Grill on University Drive, where their 19 flavors
of wings headline some terrific bar food. They have
24 beers on tap, too. If you’re in town Thursday
you can catch the Toot Cahoon Radio Show there as
back, Sean Fields, who was his old
self at the Beanpot after struggling for long stretches
this season. There’s no better big-game goalie
in Hockey East, and probably not in the country.
To Jim McCabe, the Boston Globe’s
esteemed golf writer who dabbles in college hockey
when the greens are snow-covered. His piece on BC
last Sunday was terrific. It’s easy to identify
what makes a team great once they’ve won a title
– witness all the fawning over the Patriots
and the Tom Brady-to-Joe Montana comparisons. It’s
something else to do it with two months left in the
it comes to tweaking rules, the NHL doesn’t
get much right – and I’m not optimistic
about the results of the general managers’ summit
held this week in Las Vegas. But at least they ditched
the strict interpretation of the in-the-crease
call that took a goal off the scoreboard
Monday night. It would be a shame if that kind of
call haunts someone, Brett Hull- or Tim Taylor-like,
come NCAA Tournament time.
Something to watch for in the Boston College-Massachusetts
series: both teams use their points extremely well
in their offensive end. In UMass’ case, it’s
probably a product of having high-scoring Thomas Pöck
back on the blue line, but other defensemen benefit as well.
Nick Kuiper had a goal in each of last weekend’s games
against UNH, and Marvin Degon stands tied
for third on the team in scoring behind Pöck and forward
Greg Mauldin. The Eagles offensive weapons from the point
are led by Andrew Alberts and J.D. Forrest, but all six
defensemen seem to get the opportunity to shoot. Forrest’s
apparent goal Monday night – it was waved off –
was a perfect example of strong work down low by the Eagle
forwards, followed by a great pass to the point by freshman
For years, Boston University used success
in the Beanpot as a springboard for a strong finish to the
year. Northeastern, although it was playing
in the consolation game, would like to see a similar result.
“Coach said before the game that winning is contagious,”
said Jason Guerriero, who scored the first goal in the Huskies’
3-1 victory over Harvard. “With this win, hopefully
we can get on a little roll now. Winning feels good, and
hopefully we go into this weekend playing Maine
back-to-back at home with a good feeling and roll
Reigning Hockey East Player of the Week Bobby Goepfert of
Providence has been rejecting shooters’
bids a lot lately (he’s got wins in five of his last
six games). Meanwhile, you can bid on Goepfert’s game-worn
jersey from last season on
ebay, in an auction that ends Friday. It’s the
road jersey with the Skating Friar on the front. I might
have selfishly hung on to this information, but I've already
Ben Walter’s return to the lineup last weekend gives
UMass Lowell a huge boost. The sophomore
had a goal and an assist Sunday against Providence,
his 17th goal of the season.
River Hawk freshman Cleve Kinley, with 1-4—5 in his
last four games, is earning rave reviews from head coach
Blaise MacDonald. “Cleve Kinley is without question
our top defenseman this season,” said MacDonald. “He’s
playing with a lot of confidence, savvy, poise, and is really
starting to make plays for us offensively. We know that
he’s a great defender already, but now he’s
transitioning the puck well, jumping into the play, and
creating offense. He’s a player that with the naked
eye a lot of people overlook his value. As coaches we see
him every day, and he has just gotten better and better
as the season has progressed.”
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves must've smiled to see his
son, Ben, behind the Boston College bench
during the Beanpot. Head coach Jerry York wasn't shy about
consulting his captain-turned-assistant coach on occasion
Merrimack grad Joe Exter earned his first
professional victory Saturday night, stopping 20 shots in
a 4-3 overtime win for the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL.
The Beanpot adopted a fantastic tradition from the Great
Lakes Invitational in Detroit of raising the winner’s
banner to the FleetCenter rafters for the coming year (if
the NCAA has any sense, out-of-towners will get to see it
in April, but don’t be surprised if it’s taken
down). With Monday’s victory and its win at the GLI, Boston College
now has two championship banners hanging in NHL
arenas – that’s more than 18 of the 30 teams
in the NHL can claim.
Former Eagle Brooks Orpik has been enjoying Boston
College's success as he enjoys a breakout season
with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I feel just as involved
now as when I was there," Orpik said at NHL All-Star
Weekend, where he played in the YoungStars Game. "The
equipment guy is still sending me shirts and hats."
Brooks, not to nit pick, but you don't exactly need free
swag any more, do you? Plop down the old credit card at
Hockey East Shop.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this
report. Special thanks to Joe Gladziszewski and Jess Myers.