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March 14, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East Youth Runs Wild

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

BOSTON — Following his team’s 5-4 loss to Northeastern Sunday night, Boston University coach Jack Parker was sure to thank captain Joe Pereira.

The club’s lone senior regular likely played his final game for the Terriers. And he carried himself as he always did in his four years on Commonwealth Ave., with the grit and determination that allow a 5-foot-10, 185-pound kid become one of the league’s most complete players. Following the loss Sunday night, Parker pointed out the primary manifestation of his team’s youth. An aspect of BU that plagued it all season.

“I thought we were very tentative to start the game. I though we were trying not to lose,” he said. “A team that’s really sure of itself shows that. I don’t think we’ve been sure of ourselves lately. It shows in that we play harder when we get behind.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Massachusetts coach Don Cahoon bid a similar farewell to his goaltender Paul Dainton. Like Pereira, Dainton entered his final season as a collegiate hockey player charged with instilling a work ethic and understanding of Hockey East in a series of freshmen much larger than normal. Coincidentally, one of UMass’ underclassmen following Dainton was Mike Pereira, Joe’s younger brother.

In 2010-11, several of the league’s 10 teams dealt with serious youth movements resulting in both flashes of brilliance and excessive forehead scratching from their coaches.

For UMass, 11 freshman played at least 15 games. The Terriers, meanwhile, dressed six rookies for at least 14 games, and nine sophomores for at least 30. Both clubs refused to rely on their youth at any point this season. Only when they were eliminated from the Hockey East Tournament did Parker or Cahoon discuss their experiences this season, and the excitement both feel for the next few seasons.

“I thought all of our freshman had great years. A few of them had dips in their scoring down the stretch, but they still played really hard,” Parker said. “A few of them got better and better. I thought for sue that Matt Nieto had a much better second half, and I thought Adam Clendening had a much better second half. I thought Charlie Coyle played hard all year, but his points went down, especially his point production.

“The question now is who we keep, because if all we lose is Joe Pereira as a regular player for us then, with what we have coming back, we should be a very, very good team next year,” he continued. “There may be some other guys exiting, though, so we’ll see.”

Beyond BU and UMass, Massachusetts-Lowell dressed 15 freshmen or sophomores for at least 10 games this season, including a pair of freshman goaltenders. While the youth in Amherst and Boston will only likely resulted in shorter-than-expected seasons – the Terriers still have a door to the NCAA Tournament open – it resulted in the end of Blaise MacDonald’s time at the school. Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon dealt with the problem as well, dressing 11 underclassmen for at least 10 games and finishing in seventh place as a result.

However, teams with their share of kids did experience some success this season. In Chestnut Hill, BC coach Jerry York played 11 underclassmen regularly and is currently preparing for the Semifinals of the Hockey East Tournament. On Friday, the Eagles will play Northeastern in the first of two seminfinals at the TD Garden. The Huskies, too, answered questions about their youth. However, like BC, Northeastern successfully paired their underclassmen with a series of gifted upperclassmen who understand how to win games at this level.

It required half a season for Northeastern to find its balance. Through December, the Huskies put together a 3-9-4 record, since January 8, Northeastern is 11-5-4, including a pair of wins over BU to advance to next weekend’s semifinals. Leading the way for the NU rookies has been winger Brodie Reid, who scored two goals and assisted on another in Sunday’s win. Reid’s three points gave him 28 for the season on 11 goals an 17 assists.

“This entire weekend … I was really impressed with Brodie Reid,” Parker said Sunday night. “He can really shoot a puck. He’s a terrific freshman forward for them.

“I didn’t notice him the first time we played [Northeastern] earlier in the year, but I noticed him in the Beanpot and other games I saw on tape. They have a nice mix of older guys and younger guys, and they did a great job.”

Hockey East has been home to each of the last three national champions, and it may very well provide another one this season with teams like Boston College and Merrimack looking better every week. The coaches within the league take more pride, however, in referring to the conference as the nation’s most competitive. A title that players, coaches and fans from the WCHA regularly – and often rightfully – attribute to their conference.

Doubting the depth of any league in the conference is bad idea – even Atlantic Hockey and the now-defunct College Hockey American sent clubs to the Frozen Four in recent years. Still, Hockey East coaches and their astoundingly young rosters are hopeful for the next few seasons.

Given the connections of the coaches in Hockey East, the pride they take in each other’s national success motivates them to compete internally. The last three seasons proved the depth of this league, as the 27-game conference schedule provided both BU and BC the knowledge to win games of all kinds. Last season alone, BC outlasted Alaska, 3-1, outraced Yale in a 9-7 shooutout before blowing both Miami and Wisconsin out the Frozen Four. BC coach Jerry York was certain to credit the league for providing his club the experience and tenacity to complete its run.

Again this season, the Eagles, this time goaltender John Muse, believe playing in Hockey East is the reason many consider them to be the favorite for their second consecutive national title and third in three season. For Hockey East, it would be the fourth in a row.

“I think it’s the most competitive league in the country,” Muse said following the Eagles 4-2 win over UMass in Game 2 of their quarterfinal series Saturday night. “It’s tough to say, because we don’t play as many non-conference games as other teams. I think out league, top to bottom, has shown it’s one of the best – if not the best – in the country.”

From what we saw this season, the league possesses the young talent to keep the title in the league for seasons to come.

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