Team of the Week: Northeastern
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Northeastern hockey was rocked last week with the news that head coach Greg Cronin and assistant coach Albie O'Connell would be suspended indefinitely while the school investigated potential recruiting violations.
But the team had to still go on, at the most important time of the year. The one remaining coach, Sebastien Laplante, had to get his team ready to play last weekend. And if things weren't difficult enough, the Huskies had to face Boston College, who they had just lost to in a wild Beanpot final.
Up against this kind of adversity, the players and Laplante came through with flying colors, and it's for that that Northeasterns earns Team of the Week honors.
"The beauty is that I didn't have time to think," Laplante said. "The foundation was laid out already. There was no panic on the players part, or on anyone's part. We just executed the plan."
The Huskies cooled off the red-hot Eagles, tying Friday, 7-7, before shutting things down and earning a 2-1 win Saturday.
"If I had the secret, we'd beat them 10-0," Laplante said. "Saturday was all about tightening things up. I give all the credit to the players for sticking it out, making smart decisions. At the end of the game, I was very pleased with the energy level. I felt like we could've kept playing. We were smart with our decisions, and not taking too many penalties. Obviously, you don't want to give Boston College too many power plays.
"We rolled our lines and weren't worried about matchups. We had our fourth line against their first line sometimes. We just executed. And of course our goaltender (Chris Rawlings) was a huge part. I know there were goals he'd want back from the previous games, but (Saturday) his rebound control was phenomenal."
Laplante was left to fend for himself, which is hard enough when preparing during the week, but nearly impossible when running the bench during the game. Third string goalie Bryan Mountain helped Laplante on Friday. By Saturday, Laplante got permission from the school's compliance department to bring in a volunteer assistant, who turned out to be Rob Rassey, a 2009 alum. Rassey has a full-time job and won't be able to help at practices, but at least he can help change defense pairs on the bench during games.
Though this is an unprecedented challenge for him, Laplante has certainly seen a lot in hockey. A native of Cap-Rouge, Quebec, the 39-year old played at Northeaster from 1989-93, scoring 27 goals in his sophomore season. He then spent a number of years in the minor leagues, winning a championship in Quad City in 1997, before starting a job in the "real world" as a physical therapist. He briefly returned to Quad City in the 1997-98 season, but blew out his knee after three games, and that was it.
He jumped into coaching a junior team part time while working as a physical therapist in California. Eventually growing dissatisfied with that, he got into coaching full time in major junior in Quebec, before Cronin came calling in 2009.
"I'm an alum here, and to be part of the program — we never won when I was here, and I wanted to be a part of that," Laplante said. "My wife and I decided that it was worth pursuing. I wasn't really happy with the full-time job."
Most of the time, Laplante is the guy breaking down video for Cronin, so implementing a game plan is within his comfort zone.
"This week is a little different," Laplante said, noting the whirlwind is over. "But by the same token, I did a lot of the video work every week already, so it's not really different. We've had good support from the staff. Everyone is stepping up and helping with every task that they can. The players have resiliency, focus and the drive to do well.
"I won't take any of the credit. I used the word foundation earlier. That's the right word. There's a lot of confidence and trust in one another."
It doesn't get any easier this week with New Hampshire on the schedule, and there's no indication when, if ever, Cronin and O'Connell will return.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Laplante said. "They're an offensive powerhouse. They have good, solid, skating defensemen who can bring it up and join the play. You can't blink. Their ability to score goals is frightening."