THURSDAY SEMIFINAL COVERAGE AT ESPN.com AND ESPN360.com
- Watch both games live at ESPN360.com
- Pregame chat with INCH writers live from the Frozen Four, at ESPN.com SportsNation
A BOOST FROM PEREIRA
After beating New Hampshire in the dramatic Northeast Regional Final last week, each of the Boston University Terriers piled onto the team bus and crowded around a cell phone they used to dial sophomore forward Joe Pereira, who was back home in Connecticut.
Pereira’s message was typical.
“He said he almost ruptured his spleen when we scored because he was so happy,” said sophomore forward Nick Bonino, who is Pereira’s roommate at BU.
Just another Joe-ism. The humor – albeit a bit dark – in Pereira’s response is that he was hours removed from leaving Massachusetts General Hospital, where he had just spent the last eight days recovering from a spleen that was lacerated in two places from a freak injury that occurred during the first period of the Hockey East championship against UMass Lowell. Pereira was curling behind the net when the blade of his stick got caught up in the netting and snapped. A jagged piece sliced into his stomach and hit his spleen.
“It felt like a sword went through me,” said Pereira, who is with the team in Washington, D.C. this week for the Frozen Four, though he won’t play.
Pereira went back to the bench writhing in pain but told BU trainer Larry Venis he’d be OK. After hitting the ice for his next shift, though, Pereira definitely knew that wasn’t even close to the case.
“Matty Gilroy passed me the puck,” Pereira said. “And he started yelling at me, ‘Why didn’t you pass the puck back to me?’ I was like, ‘I couldn’t see you.’ I didn’t know who was on my team.”
So Pereira again returned to the bench, but this time, he fainted. Venis helped carry him back to the locker room to strip off his shirt. It didn’t take Venis long to figure out Pereira had a spleen injury, and he was rushed to the hospital, which luckily was just blocks away from the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. So lucky, in fact, that doctors told him he could have lost his life if the rink was any farther away because he lost so much blood and his spleen was quickly filling up with toxins.
“I kept telling the doctor,” Pereira recalled, “‘Just take it out. I want to play in the national championship game. My team is going to get there. Just take it out.’”
In many ways, it’s almost a miracle Pereira traveled with the team this week. Doctors told him there was no chance he’d be healthy enough in time to go to the Northeast Regional in Manchester the weekend after the Hockey East championship, and D.C. was by no means a certainty. In fact, he had to get cleared Monday for the trip, and he still has more tests and X-rays to undergo when he gets back to Boston.
“In my mind, I just wasn’t going to tell the doctor I was going to D.C.,” Pereira said. “I was just going to get on the plane and go, but the coaches made me get written permission. It’s something you dream about when you’re little playing hockey, going to the Frozen Four. I dreamed about coming to BU and playing hockey. That’s a Connecticut and New England thing. Then you get here and you think about the championships they’ve won, and then you [also know] they haven’t been here in 12 years. Now we’re back. It’s a dream come true. Obviously, you want to be in the lineup playing, but just to be a part of this team is great.”
That’s the thing about Pereira. He’s always bouncing around smiling and laughing – a self-proclaimed “goofball” – and you’d never know he was weeks away from an injury doctors deemed serious enough to be fatal. His comment to his teammates about rupturing his spleen after Jason Lawrence’s game-winning goal in the final seconds of BU’s win against UNH was just another case of him cracking up the room.
For that, the Terriers have the ultimate boost heading into Thursday’s game against Vermont. The spirit of their team has returned. The guy they visited in the hospital was the Pereira they knew. He was down and out, drowning in pain and barely able to lighten the mood of the room. His teammates visited daily, doing anything they could to boost his spirits. Now he’s back to return the favor.
“It’s an inspiration,” said senior forward Brandon Yip, who had an infatuation with Pereira’s morphine button during hospital visits. “We were all bummed out when he got injured, especially at this time of the season and such a serious injury. For him to make the trip down here, he’s just a big part of the team.”
Pereira was told by doctors he can’t start working out for at least another three months, but if he does everything he’s supposed to, he should be fine to return to the ice next season. It’s just those first three months that might be a challenge for the kid who can’t go anywhere without wanting to grab a hockey stick.
“I’m going to cut that down,” Pereira said of his recovery time. “I’m hoping in the next two weeks I can get back into the gym again with the boys. I’m going to talk to a different doctor and try to sneak in there without anybody seeing me. It’s tough to keep me away, especially me because I always want to be around the guys fooling around.”
He’s convincing enough to make you believe he’ll be back in record time, but he’s lighthearted enough to understand what his teammates mean when they say he’s their go-to guy for a laugh.
“We have a board with Joe-isms,” Bonino said. “I don’t know how many come to mind. He said, ‘How much are penny stocks?’ That was one of the funnier ones he’s said. [He says], ‘Speaking to the devil,’ when he tries to say, ‘Speaking of the devil.’ It’s not like he says things totally off the wall. It’s that he knows what he wants to say, and sometimes he gets too excited and it’s all bouncing around his head and he’ll morph it into a different word. ‘Mitsubishi’ he has trouble saying. He’s always coming to the rink with clichés. He gets everyone pumped up. He’s the energy guy.”
“He tells jokes, but they’re not funny because no one can understand them,” senior forward Jason Lawrence said. “Every word he says is like mumbled into some different language, and I think we’re all laughing at that instead of the actual joke. He’s good. He lightens the mood in the locker room. He’s good to have around.”
Especially this week, when everything is so serious. Pereira won’t be on the ice against Vermont, but he’ll be an integral piece to the team’s mood before it takes the national stage.
“I’m happy I’m here,” Pereira said. “It stinks I can’t play in the big game, but the good thing about this team is everybody feels part of the team. I still feel like I’m an asset to the team.
“I’m that guy who keeps everybody loose to make everyone laugh. I’m that goofball, the energy guy. That’s my job. That’s what they want me to do. That’s what the team expects me to do. That’s how I’ve always been.”
DEALING WITH THE BYE
Three of the four teams at this year’s Frozen Four have faced unique circumstances in preparing to play themselves for competition in the NCAA Tournament. Bemidji State, Vermont and Miami were all off from competition the weekend before the regional rounds, but played well enough when they returned to the ice to win twice and advance to this weekend’s Frozen Four.
For Bemidji State, their weekend off on March 20-21 was a product of the College Hockey America schedule. Their championship tournament took place one week earlier, and after the Beavers got the trophy and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, they had a week to regroup before heading to Grand Rapids, Mich. for the Midwest Regional.
The Beavers had to deal with two exciting events, and manage their emotions. Extra time between games helped them do that.
“The first couple of days back home were overwhelming,” Bemidji State forward Tyler Scofield said. “We took it in and enjoyed it, but we’re mature athletes. The second we took the ice, it’s all business and we realize that.”
Vermont and Miami faced different circumstances. They were upset on home ice in the quarterfinal rounds of the Hockey East and CCHA playoffs. Both were in good standing for at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament and used the time off to regroup, concentrate on what they needed to improve and successfully went through their regionals with two wins.
“The coaching staff has done a great job with us for the past couple weeks and the whole season,” Vermont senior forward Dean Strong said. “We’re just taking it day-by-day. That’s been our motto since day one and that’s how we’ve handled the past couple of weeks. It’s been a little harder the last 10 days, but I think we’ve done a good job and we’re ready for tomorrow night.”
Miami has been on the week-on, week-off pattern for three straight weekends. They also faced a weekend off by earning bye in the first round of the CCHA playoffs prior to hosting the quarterfinal series.
“Fortunately for us this is the third time around,” Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. “We focused on some things we needed to work on. I can tell you we did exactly the same thing coming into this weekend. I don’t want to say we’re used to it, but I will say they are used to it. It’s been a long six weeks.”
For all three, regional success was rewarded with another weekend off before their teams departed for Washington D.C.
- Joe Gladziszewski
FAMILIARITY, SCOUTING HELP VERMONT’S APPROACH
The last two Hockey East teams Boston University has played have given the Terriers fits with intense defensive pressure. Vermont has learned from that and is hoping to do what UMass Lowell and New Hampshire couldn’t do: beat BU.
Lowell was extremely physical and tried to dominate BU’s attackers in the Hockey East championship, which the Terriers won, 1-0. And if any team understands the River Hawks’ strategy, it’s UVM, which was swept by Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
“I’ve talked a lot about it with [Lowell coach] Blaise [MacDonald] before,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, who is the chief orchestrator of the team’s defense. “We play a similar style to Lowell. We concentrate on good team defense. We both possess good team speed, same with UNH.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, used an aggressive forecheck against BU in the Northeast Regional Final, which ended in a 2-1 score. The Terriers had a tough time even getting the puck out of their zone, and when they finally squeezed past their blue line, they were stagnant in the neutral zone. One of BU’s most dominating traits this season has been its ability in transition, and it’s flown almost effortlessly up the ice. UNH added another wrinkle, though, taking away the Terriers’ passes along the boards. It took a second-intermission philosophy change to get BU back on the right track.
“Those guys played them just as good as anybody else has played them all year,” Vermont senior forward Dean Strong said. “The coaching staff showed us what was going on in those games and how we can clog them up in the neutral zone. Hopefully we can do a good job like UNH and UMass [Lowell] did in those two games.”
As a group, the Catamounts paid very little attention to the Hockey East championship during the live broadcast. “We didn’t really want to see [Lowell] excel, and we didn’t really want to see anyone else play,” junior forward Viktor Stalberg said – and they didn’t see the regional final. They’re going primarily off game tapes to pick apart the Terriers’ tendencies.
Sneddon has mentioned the team won’t rely too heavily on the tape from the Catamounts’ sweep at Agganis Arena in November. He said UVM has changed enough since then – more aggressive offensively, not as much of a neutral zone trap anymore – that it’s better to rely on recent history.
But most importantly, Vermont wants to keep the puck on the Terriers’ side of the ice, which is the more traditional way to ensure BU can’t score.
“Our No. 1 defensive plan is to keep the puck in their zone for as long as possible,” Strong said. “We don’t want to overlook our offense. As long as we can keep the forecheck, keep the cycle going on in there, and then when they do get possession there, we’ve got to get on them in a hurry and try to eliminate their opportunities.”
- Jeff Howe