While Maine’s offensive prowess grabs all of the attention, it’s been the Black Bears’ ability on the defensive side of the puck that has separated this year’s team from previous editions, and what has the Black Bears likely headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
A key part of that Maine defense is senior defenseman Ryan Hegarty, a draft selection of the Anaheim Ducks. Hegarty leads all Maine defensemen with a plus-11 rating on the year despite drawing the assignment of defending the opposition’s top line. Hegarty’s not the type of player to put up all-world offensive numbers, but when Maine head coach Tim Whitehead needs a key defensive shift, Hegarty’s number 44 is the one called most frequently.
This weekend in Boston, Maine joins Providence in hoping to break the Boston College/Boston University stranglehold on the Hockey East tournament championship, with either the Eagles or the Terriers having captured the Lamoriello Trophy in each of the past seven seasons. We caught up with Hegarty in advance of the Black Bears descending upon Boston in search of their first league tournament title since 2004.
Kevin Zeise: Things got rather heated in game two of your series against Merrimack last weekend; how important was it for your team to keep their emotions in check for the decisive game three, and again this weekend?
Ryan Hegarty: It’s very important. I think it was pretty evident against Merrimack that we’re the type of team that plays hard and shows our emotions, but we sometimes get a little heated. With the teams we’re playing this weekend, we can’t afford to allow allow our emotions to get out hand like that, it takes us out of our game plan when we do that.
INCH: How do you think your team is playing now, relative to other points in the season?
RH: I think we’re playing really well. We’re playing more as a team, and sticking to our systems and trying to play our game and not letting the other team dictate the game. It’s really helped us out over the past two months or so. The first part of the season, we didn’t really know our identity, who we were and how we were playing, but we found it at the perfect time. Now we know how we need to play in order to win games.
INCH: Maine hasn’t won a league tournament title since 2004. How does your team feel about its chances to end that drought this season?
RH: In these types of scenarios, we’ve just got to take it one step at a time. Boston University is a very good opponent, and we know that if we win, facing either Boston College or Providence is going to be a very hard-fought game. I think those two Boston schools have won seven tournaments in a row, and it’d be nice to get that streak eneded. I like our team’s chances; we’re a great team, and we’ve proven we can play with the best teams in the country. I like our chances a lot.
INCH: Let’s talk about your goaltender, Dan Sullivan; how important has his emergence been to the team this season?
RH: He’s been unbelievable. Everyone knows that you can’t go far without a good goaltender, and he’s just brought that next level of confidence to the whole team. He makes the stops he’s supposed to make, and he makes a lot of the ones that all good goaltenders make. He’s really changed the dynamic of the team with his ability to make plays.
INCH: How do you see your role on this year’s team?
RH: My defensive partner (junior Mark Nemec) and I, we go up against the other team’s top line and try to shut them down. Whether it’s five-on-five, or on the penalty kill, we’re out there against the other team’s best players and try to keep them off the board. If we can shut them down, it gives our top scorers a better chance to score some goals and win some games for us.
INCH: You’ve played every game this year and some at the end of last season with Mark Nemec as your defensive partner. Can you talk a little bit about the chemistry that the two of you have on the ice, and what makes you two such an effective pairing?
RH: We’ve been playing together for about three years now, and we’ve come to the point where we can predict what the other player is going to do. There are times when we have to take some risks, but we always seem to know what the other person is thinking, and that makes it easier to read the play. It’s been incredibly helpful that we’ve played together for so long.
|HOCKEY EAST CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND CAPSULES
No. 1 Boston College
Record: 27-10-1 (19-7-1 Hockey East)
Eagles Fact: Boston College has six players with 30 points or more for the season. Only Minnesota can match the Eagles’ scoring depth, while no other team in the country currently has more than four 30-plus point scorers this season.
How Boston College Wins: Ratchet the offense back up. The Eagles swept Massachusetts despite scoring just five goals in the two games after averaging 4.4 goals per game in the 11-game winning streak leading into the playoffs. They’ll need more than just the stellar goaltending of Parker Milner to claim their third straight Hockey East title.
No. 3 Boston University
Record: 23-13-1 (17-9-1 Hockey East)
Terriers Fact: Despite having the league’s second-best power-play unit during the regular season and scoring 11 goals in the three-game series against New Hampshire, the Terriers were held scoreless in 11 opportunities with the man advantage last weekend.
How Boston University Wins: Ride the hot goaltender. Kieran Millan, the tournament MVP as a freshman in 2009, has been huge for the Terriers this postseason, averaging 50 saves per game last weekend against New Hampshire. Another strong weekend from the seasoned netminder is critical for the Terriers’ chances.
No. 4 Maine
Record: 22-12-3 (15-10-2 Hockey East)
Black Bears Fact: Maine has gone 2-1 this season against each of the three other teams competing in the Hockey East championship weekend.
How Maine Wins: Play disciplined hockey. Maine had the league’s best power-play during the regular season, but also racked up a whopping 131 minutes in penalties in the quarterfinal series with Merrimack (the Warriors had 138 for the series). It’s hard to put a power play unit that converts slightly better than one out of four chances on the ice when your own players are constantly in the penalty box.
No. 7 Providence
Record: 14-19-4 (10-14-3 Hockey East)
Friars Fact: Providence’s series win over UMass Lowell last weekend have made the Friars the first seven-seed to ever advance to the Hockey East championship weekend (previously, seventh-seeded teams were 3-44-1 in the Hockey East playoffs, easily the worst mark of all playoff seeds). Providence is also making its first appearance in the league’s final four since the 2001 season.
How Providence Wins: Stay loose and hungry. Tim Schaller’s return last weekend provided a huge confidence boost, but it was the desire to keep the season going that pushed the Friars into the semifinals. They’ll need a similar effort and attitude at the TD Garden this weekend if they’re to earn one more weekend out of the season.