Between the Lines: Weekend Wrapup, Nov. 9, 2003
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
• New Hampshire was off to a great start, earning the nation's No. 1 ranking, but against a weak schedule to that point. Then it lost a game to Niagara when it had eight players sitting about because of a violation of team rules, and lost the top spot. That ranking should return after a weekend which saw the Wildcats win a road game at Boston University and a home game against recent No. 1 Maine. So far, the Wildcats have come through two-thirds of a brutal three-game stretch unscathed. In that stretch, they play three Top 10 opponents, a stretch which concludes Wednesday against Boston College. But when four of the nation's Top 10 teams are in your conference, stretches like that are going to happen. Fact of the matter is, right now, New Hampshire is a favorite to return to the Frozen Four yet again.
• This thing with UNH's Mike Ayers and Boston University is pretty ridiculous. He's shut them out in a ridiculous four straight games. We know Ayers and his defense are great, but BU is not Sisters of the Poor. What is going on here? Most of the time, these kinds of trends are coincidences, a numerical happenstance. Like when a team is 1-4 on Saturdays and 4-1 on Fridays. Or when a team is 8-1 during a full moon. But this thing with Ayers and BU ... I don't know. There's got to be something going on here. Ayers is good, but he does allow goals against other teams — at least, most of the time. Remarkably, as well, is that Ayers pulled off this four-pack in four different buildings — home at the Whittemore Center, at the Fleet Center in last year's Hockey East tournament championship game, at the Centrum in Worcester in last year's NCAA Northeast Regional final, and Friday at BU's Walter Brown Arena. So we offer this theory as to why this is happening to BU ... New Hampshire's defense is so strong down low, and Ayers so good at not allowing rebounds, that you need pretty plays to score goals on them. Crashing the net and getting garbage goals doesn't really work against UNH because their defense and goalie are so unflappable. And the Terriers simply don't have the snipers, or the power play, to make that happen right now. ... Hey, it's just a theory.
• We have our first official Friday Night Hockey Game of the Week jinx. Boston College is 0-2 on CSTV this year, 4-0-1 otherwise. But this is just one of those numerical happenstances, right?
• Two of the best days in Colorado Avalanche franchise history: getting Chris Drury, hiring Bob Hartley. Two of the worst days in Colorado Avalanche franchise history: trading away Chris Drury, firing Bob Hartley. Buffalo and Atlanta thank you.
• CSTV's petition drive to convince cable companies to carry the channel (currently it's only carried on satellite) is something college hockey fans should be interested in. Of course, considering my contempt for the cable industry, what I'd really prefer is that 90 million more households just get satellite dishes. But with Fox News Corp. set to purchase satellite provider DirecTV from General Motors, it's hard to know who the good guys are. So, until the FCC decides to do its job, we just live with it, and be happy that at least there are ways to watch more college hockey than ever.
• Who are the only unbeaten teams in the nation? Dartmouth at 2-0-1, and St. Cloud State, at 7-0-1. Every single year, St. Cloud loses big name players, and every year they are written off for having lost them. And yet every year, Craig Dahl manages to get his team rolling and finding new stars. This year, it's junior Mike Doyle, breaking out with eight points so far. But most of all, the Huskies are doing it with defense this year. Ryan Lemere and Matt Gens are anchoring a defense that's allowed barely two goals a game this season, and the goaltending, led by Adam Coole, has been superb. Coole is a transfer from Minnesota-Duluth and he got to head into his old building and sweep the Bulldogs this weekend. It must have been sweet for Coole, and also for St. Cloud, which knocked off a team that had been playing well and has its own NCAA tournament aspirations. The detractors come out of the woodwork every year when the Huskies lose in the NCAAs, but all Dahl does is manage to put together great teams, year after year, amid an ultra-competitive recruiting environment.
It is true, however, that it was much too early to say Maine was the nation's best team. By the same token, it is much too early to say that about anyone. It appears we are in for quite a dogfight, and don't count Minnesota out either.
• You know what I hate? When you swear to yourself that you are going to buy an embattled stock when it dips below $10, because you just love the company and know it will rebound. And then you chicken out the day it drops to $9.50, and then 12 months later, the stock is at $56. This is why I'll never be a millionaire.
• It's not time to panic in Crimson-land, but until there are clear indications to the contrary, Cornell is still the team to beat in the ECAC. Also until proven otherwise, there's little optimism, nationally speaking, for thec ECAC this year other than those two teams again.
• Lake Superior State head coach Frank Anzalone said before Friday's game that his team was getting better to the point where, at least, it wasn't losing 7-1, 8-1 type games anymore. That night, the Lakers lost to Nebraska-Omaha, 7-1. Regaining past magic is taking a while.
• It's OK to again root for one of my favorite people in baseball, Lee Mazzilli.
• Were we premature in our praise for Maine? The undefeated Black Bears became the next No. 1 team to fall from the top, losing twice this weekend. But there is hardly any shame in losing road games to New Hampshire and Boston College. It is true, however, that it was much too early to say Maine was the nation's best team. By the same token, it is much too early to say that about anyone. It appears we are in for quite a dogfight, and don't count Minnesota out either. I don't care if the Gophers lose another pair of games next weekend. There's too much ability for them to just disappear, and Don Lucia is not one to worry too much about his team's record before December.
• That said, allowing 12 goals at North Dakota is a bit worrisome for Minnesota. The Gophers lost their goalie and top defenseman just before the school year started. And remember, too, that defenseman Keith Ballard — on my preseason all-America team — and Chris Harrington were both out with injuries. Minnesota has two games coming up at Wisconsin and at home against Michigan Tech. I'd be shocked if the Gophers weren't at least 3-1 in those games.
• On the other hand, praise here is really necessary for North Dakota, which cast off a lot of demons in sweeping the Gophers at The Ralph. Brandon Bochenksi, for one, had just three assists in nine career games against Minnesota before finally breaking through on Friday. His goal also happened to be, remarkably, the first power-play goal of the season for the Sioux. And how about defenseman Matt Jones? He had one goal all of last season, but scored two Saturday against the Gophers to give him four now for the season.
• The United States' Under-17 team just won a gold medal in another international tournament. With the success of this age group, and the Under-18s, why doesn't this translate to success at the World Juniors? In other news on this front, Moe Mantha recently resigned as coach of the Under-18 team to become coach of Saginaw in the OHL. This is particularly noteworthy because Mantha recently railed on players who had committed to the U.S. National Team Development Program, from which the Under-18 team is drawn, only to withdraw and go to Major Junior in Canada instead. So, what did Mantha do? The same thing, of course. It's good to see hypocrisy is alive and well. And who took over for the Under-18 team? Lou Vairo, former Olympic team coach and a key figure in USA Hockey, who nevertheless has been critical of USNTDP. Go figure.
• Have you noticed the leading scorers in the NHL? Of the top five, the first three are European and the next two are American — Bill Guerin (Boston College) and Keith Tkachuk (Boston University). Of the top nine point getters, there is one Canadian (Alex Tanguay) and eight Europeans. This is not a new trend, but it is more obvious than ever. What is Europe doing right and everyone else still doing wrong? By the way, of the top six goaltenders in save percentage, there's one European, one Canadian and four Americans.
• Is it safe to say that Princeton has set the record for the most players with hyphenated last names on its roster? I'm not sure if there's been much research in this field, but with Grant Goeckner-Zoeller, Neil Stevenson-Moore and Sharm Fouladgar-Mercer among their top 12 forwards, I think it's a safe bet. This is probably the polar opposite of Yale's roster from a few years ago, which featured an alarming number of last names four letters or less: Brow, John Chyz, James Chyz, Dart, Earl, Nam, Noe, Shea, Wax. Whoa! And then there was New Hampshire's roster around the same time: Dzieduszycki, Sadowski, Shipulski, Corey-Joe Ficek, Boguniecki, Filipowicz, Bragnalo, Onufrechuk, Dellezay. What the...?!? Spooky. ... By the way, for as bad as Princeton is right now, the sophomore and freshman classes have some real talent, and give the Tigers reason for hope. Goeckner-Zoeller is the most impressive freshman, and he plays on a line with a guy I think will be superb, sophomore Patrick Neuendorfer, who is already an assistant captain. They also have a goalie, who despite an 0-13 career record to this point, is a real keeper as well, Eric Leroux.
• All five home teams won their CCHA games on Friday. All but one road team won their ECAC game on Friday. Saturday, home teams were 2-2-1 in the CCHA, 3-2-1 in the ECAC. What does it mean? Nothing.
• Massachusetts' two-game, home-and-home sweep of Merrimack isn't incredibly impressive all by itself, but the upstart Minutemen held the Warriors to just 24 shots total the entire weekend — 12 in each game. UMass is the popular pick to make some noise this year, even make a run for the NCAA tournament. It's Don Cahoon's fourth season at the helm and a lot of pieces are in place, coming off last season's impressive two-game sweep at Maine in the Hockey East playoffs. It is true, however, that UMass really hasn't won any huge games. But at 7-1, including 4-1 in Hockey East, that's certainly plenty to hang your hat on.
• I've got my three-year old on the path to hockey righteousness. I've got him going around chanting "Let's Go Islanders" on a fairly regular basis now, and when watching games, he throws out a routine "Kvasha!" If he starts saying Czerkawski I'll be really impressed. Even moreso if he can start saying Dzieduszycki.