Whole New Game
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.
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
Maine’s fantastic goaltending, as Jim Howard and Frank
Doyle made Mike Dunham and Garth Snow look like an average
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.
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.
8 Boston University at No. 1 Boston College
BU: 10-15-9, 6-13-5 Hockey East
BC: 26-6-4, 17-4-3 Hockey East
Season Series: BC leads, 4-0-0
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.
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.
7 Merrimack at No. 2 Maine
MC: 11-17-6, 6-12-6 Hockey East
ME: 26-7-3, 17-5-2 Hockey East
Season Series: Maine leads, 3-0-0
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.
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.
6 UMass Lowell at No. 3 Massachusetts
UML: 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)
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.
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
5 Providence at No. 4 New Hampshire
PC: 15-12-7, 7-11-6 Hockey East
UNH: 18-12-6, 10-8-6 Hockey East
Season Series: Tied, 1-1-1
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
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
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.
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
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.
– Steve Saviano, UNH
It takes a special talent to turn from set-up man to the
nation’s leading goal scorer.
– 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.
– Tony Voce, BC
Hockey East’s best pure goal scorer, his effort all
over the ice helps him earn this spot.
– Thomas Pöck, UMass
No individual changes the game more when he steps over the
– Ryan Whitney, BU
That he rebounded from last year wasn’t a surprise.
That he swung the pendulum this far in the right direction
– 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.
OF THE YEAR
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.
OF THE YEAR
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.
OF THE YEAR
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
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.