Wild Ride Continues: Hockey East Preview
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
BOSTON Can it get any crazier in Hockey East?
In a year in which Boston College had to fight just to make the postseason, and Northeastern almost became the first team out of the “big four” to win the regular season title, two underdogs won their quarterfinal series last weekend, setting up an intriguing final four at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Boston University vs. Boston College
Suffice to say, the Eagles are going to have their hands full.
Boston University might be the best team in the country, boasting a roster that’s as deep as any other in the nation.
“What more can you say?” asked BC head coach Jerry York. “They’ve lost once in the last 17 games. They’re having an incredible year. We’ve watched them play a lot during the year. We have a formidable challenge in front of us.”
But the Eagles are no slouches, sweeping UNH last weekend in Durham to make it back to the semifinals.
“We feel like we’re peaking,” said York. "We’re playing our best hockey of the year these last three weeks.”
On the other hand, while the Terriers might be the best in the country, they were taken to the limit by eighth-seeded Maine last weekend, including a 6-3 loss last Saturday at Agganis Arena.
“We’re very, very fortunate to still be in this tournament,” BU head coach Jack Parker said.
But Parker didn’t mind the beating his Terriers took on Saturday. In fact, he believes it could provide a message to his players after the run they’ve found themselves on.
“Frankly, if you told me we were going to get to the Garden by losing one of the games, I would have said that would be ok because we need to get slapped up beside the head, and we got slapped,” he said. “We got embarrassed in our own building on Saturday night. We come back and play much better on Sunday and got ourselves here. We’re fortunate, and we’re happy. Now it remains to be seen if we can learn that lesson.
“Obviously, the teams we’re playing from here on are not teams we’re going to have any ability to look by at all. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play.”
Northeastern vs. Mass.-Lowell
Northeastern is legit. All season, pundits were just waiting for the Huskies to fall part just as they did last season in February, but it never happened.
Brad Thiessen is a big reason for that, and he was just named a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
Reminiscent to last year’s national championship netminder, John Muse, Thiessen played every second in net for the Huskies this season and finished 25-10-4 with a 2.07 goals against average and a .932 save percentage.
Thiessen has been a source of stability, especially after the bounces started going against the Huskies as of late.
Northeastern lost the regular season to BU on the last day of the regular season. Then in last weekend’s quarterfinals, led in the deciding game against UMass before allowing the tying goal with just seconds to spare. But, Thiessen was a calming influence, and the Huskies were able to advance to Friday’s semifinal.
“I think we do have a mentally tough group,” said Northeastern head coach Greg Cronin. “These are the same seniors that went through a three-win campaign back in their freshman year, so I think the stinger of that is still there. It’s an easy reminder of how fleeting success can be.”
As for the River Hawks, the sweep of third-seeded Vermont last weekend has peaked an already rising interest in a program that appeared to be on the chopping block two years ago before chancellor Marty Meehan squashed the idea of eliminating the UML program from Hockey East.
“There’s an awful lot of excitement on campus for our team,” said Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald. “We’ve had two good years in a row. To get to the Garden given the landscape of Hockey East this year, is an amazing accomplishment. It’s a very difficult task to perform. Everyone is excited. The community is excited. In Hockey East home games we averaged almost 5,000 fans per game. It’s clearly a big thing in this community and a big thing to this university.”
MacDonald also knows the challenge that sits ahead in Northeastern.
“From start to finish that is a team that has played very, very well,” he said. “They’ve gotten exceptional goaltending, big time performances from guys like (Ryan) Ginand and some players who have had career types of years.”
Boston University over Boston College, 3-1
Northeastern over Lowell, 2-0
BostonUniversity over Northeastern, 2-1