March 10, 2004
Whole New Game

By Nate Ewell

 Hockey East

Leading scorer Colin Shields and Maine are poised to take a run at their first Hockey East Tournament title since 2000.

(Photo by Monty Rand)

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What seemed like a sleepy Hockey East race for much of the season has been awakened with a jolt in the past two weeks. All of a sudden it’s anybody’s game as Boston College, which had a seven-point lead in the standings just days ago, seems beatable.

And while the regular-season conference title was rarely in doubt over the past six months, it’s nonetheless been a memorable season. Looking back, here’s how history will remember the 2003-04 Hockey East campaign:

• Boston College’s impressive 26-6-4 regular season, including a 4-0-0 mark against Boston University and the Beanpot title.

• Maine’s fantastic goaltending, as Jim Howard and Frank Doyle made Mike Dunham and Garth Snow look like an average duo.

• UMass Lowell’s forfeits, which changed the face of the conference standings at midseason.

• Boston University’s struggles after being picked to finish third in the league in the preseason.

Now, as the playoffs begin, there’s a chance to write another chapter – whether it’s BU erasing a season of futility, BC regaining some of the invincibility it showed most of the year, or someone else stepping to the fore.


 First-Round Matchups

No. 8 Boston University at No. 1 Boston College
10-15-9, 6-13-5 Hockey East
BC: 26-6-4, 17-4-3 Hockey East
Season Series: BC leads, 4-0-0

Terrier Fact: Senior Sean Fields needs one more victory to set the school record for career wins. He’s currently tied with Scott Cashman with 60.
Eagle Fact: Until their current three-game losing streak, BC was the nation’s only team not to lose back-to-back games.

How BU Wins: The Terriers need to possess the puck and generate some offense. The last time these teams met, in the Beanpot final, the ice was tilted so far in BC’s favor that the Zamboni had to shift to a lower gear to get uphill.
How BC Wins: The Eagles need to keep BU on its heels from the start. Early Eagle goals could signal a long night for the Terriers.

No. 7 Merrimack at No. 2 Maine
11-17-6, 6-12-6 Hockey East
ME: 26-7-3, 17-5-2 Hockey East
Season Series: Maine leads, 3-0-0

Warrior Fact: The Warriors were 1-9-2 against the league’s top four teams in the regular season.
Black Bear Fact: Maine’s 10 shutouts this season are twice as many as the previous school record of five, set last year.

How Merrimack Wins: The Warrior power play and penalty kill both finished third in the league, a sign of the skill their top players possess. These are the league’s two most-penalized teams, and games with lots of special teams could favor Merrimack.
How Maine Wins: Be sure to score at least a goal. Three of Maine’s seven losses have been by 1-0 scores.

No. 6 UMass Lowell at No. 3 Massachusetts
10-21-7, 7-12-5 Hockey East
UMA: 16-11-6, 12-9-3 Hockey East
Season Series: UMass leads, 3-0-0* (two wins by forfeit)

River Hawk Fact: Ah, the dreaded asterisk. Without it, UMass Lowell would be hosting this series.
Minutemen Fact: UMass is five games over .500 (including forfeits), but has been outscored 91-78, including 28-17 in the third period.

How UML Wins: Get balanced offense. While Elias Godoy and Ben Walter can always be counted on for production, the River Hawks have gotten a boost of late from the line of Andrew Martin, Jason Tejchma and Bobby Robins.
How UMass Wins: The Minutemen, who have scored just 10 goals in their seven-game winless streak, have a simple equation: score more and you’ll win.

No. 5 Providence at No. 4 New Hampshire
15-12-7, 7-11-6 Hockey East
UNH: 18-12-6, 10-8-6 Hockey East
Season Series: Tied, 1-1-1

Friar Fact: Providence has the top overall power play in the conference (21.5 percent), and ranks second only to UNH in league play.
Wildcat Fact: New Hampshire’s 12 losses this season equal the most for the Wildcats since 1995-96.

How PC Wins: The Friars need defenseman Stephen Wood to continue his strong play of late. Wood had 4-7—11 in the last nine games of the regular season.
How UNH Wins: Dictate the tempo. The Friars will want to slow the game down, but if UNH can play at its pace, generating offense in transition, they will have success.

After a season in which the preseason favorite went wire-to-wire, the Hockey East Tournament looks downright wide open – even though there are two clear-cut favorites. Maine’s impressive showing last weekend gives the Black Bears a lift. What's more, they possess nearly every element necessary for postseason success – great goaltending, physical presence, and senior leaders on offense (Todd Jackson, Colin Shields) and defense (Prestin Ryan). Favorite status still belongs to the regular-season champs, however, especially since Boston College will be bolstered by the healthy return of Ben Eaves and Matti Kaltiainen. Both missed two of the three games in the Eagles’ current losing streak. With them back, a stifling defense and three or four lines that can score, BC still has to be considered the team to beat.


UMass Lowell has had its share of March success, reaching the Hockey East semifinals 12 times in 19 seasons in the league. Many of those have been unexpected, and the River Hawks, despite their sixth seed, are prime candidates to make a run again this year. “I’m really impressed with how hard they work,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead after his club split with Lowell two weeks ago. “They are going to be a dangerous team for whoever gets them in the first round. I hope it’s not us.” Whitehead got his wish, and Blaise MacDonald’s young team will face Massachusetts – a team the River Hawks beat twice, only to forfeit those wins for using an ineligible player. Two wins in Amherst will give them a baker’s dozen appearances in Boston; two more wins and Lowell could be celebrating its first Hockey East title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Even though they have more losses (on paper) than any team in the tourney, it’s not that far-fetched.


F – Steve Saviano, UNH
It takes a special talent to turn from set-up man to the nation’s leading goal scorer.

F – Ryan Shannon, BC
The Eaves brothers’ injuries left the Eagles’ No. 1 line in a state of flux for much of the year, but Shannon was a constant.

F – Tony Voce, BC
Hockey East’s best pure goal scorer, his effort all over the ice helps him earn this spot.

D – Thomas Pöck, UMass
No individual changes the game more when he steps over the boards.

D – Ryan Whitney, BU
That he rebounded from last year wasn’t a surprise. That he swung the pendulum this far in the right direction was.

G – Jim Howard, Maine
Howard and his partner, Frank Doyle, deserve to share this spot, but as the national leader in GAA (1.18) and sv. pct. (.952), Howard gets the nod.


Some coaches, presented with the wealth of talent at Jerry York’s disposal, would have taken the laid-back approach – dump out the bucket of pucks before practice and let ’em play. But York’s much more active and creative, and uses more props than Gallagher. Boston College players got to read a business book – From Good to Great – and watched video of Tiger Woods, the Super Bowl, the 2001 BC title and York’s 1984 NCAA title team at Bowling Green. The result? BC has won every championship it had a shot at thus far. He may have only lived up to preseason expectations, but York has earned this honor.


Ben Eaves’ injury opened this race right up, and no fewer than four of his teammates emerged as legitimate candidates. But the pick here doesn’t come from the league champion – instead we look west to Thomas Pöck at Massachusetts. Pöck, the forward-turned-defenseman, turned around the Minutemen program with his stick skills and unparalleled savvy with the puck. He led UMass to its best finish ever in Hockey East play, and helped generate unprecedented interest in the sport in Amherst. Years from now, when fans wonder who woke up Hockey East’s sleeping giant, Pöck and head coach Don Cahoon will deserve the credit.


It wasn’t a banner year for rookies in Hockey East – only one played significant minutes in goal (Jim Healey of Merrimack) and only one resided among the league’s top 35 scorers (Michel Léveillé, technically a sophomore, of Maine). Several contributed on defense, led by BU’s Kevin Schaeffer, UMass Lowell’s Cleve Kinley and Maine’s Mike Lundin, but the nod here goes to Léveillé. He gave the Black Bears a much-needed creative offensive presence at center, helping fill the skates of the departed Martin Kariya. And if following in the footsteps of a Kariya at Maine doesn’t earn you some accolades, nothing will.


Stephen Gionta arrived at Boston College with a familiar name and a good work ethic, but no sense of impending stardom. He’s been brilliant as a sophomore, playing in every situation and filling in admirably in Ben Eaves’ spot on the top line. “(Gionta) has a lot of those traits that you’re born with, or your family gives you,” head coach Jerry York said. “He competes every single shift. And his skill level is considerably better than even last year. He’s always been a good player defensively, and he’s always been a hard worker, but his skill level, and his stick skills, have made a big improvement.” This year, Gionta’s been more than a name you recognize – he’s been a player you recognize, and one Hockey East opponents can’t look forward to facing for two more years.

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