March 6, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

BU Sweep Leaves Northeastern Stunned

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

In September, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon kidded about the lack of a favorite in the 2009-10 Hockey East season. He hesitated to give any team an advantage over another in the earliest stages of the season.

While holding court at Hockey East Media Day at the TD Garden, the coach, coming off a run to the Frozen Four, proclaimed that the days of the Big Four were over.

“It’s like it’s the Big Ten, sometimes,” he said with a laugh.

Twenty-six regular season games a side later, and these 10 teams still refused to answer any questions.

Entering Saturday, there were a few things decided: New Hampshire would be the No. 1 seed in the Hockey East Tournament. Boston College earned the No. 2 seed. And Providence, well, Providence was the lone team that never found itself in the conversation. Other than that, no team knew where or who or if they’d play when the postseason began.

The night before, with an equally convoluted set of circumstances and tiebreakers bouncing around, there was hope that the five games would provide a little clarity. Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell clinched their spots in the season’s next chapter. Still, there were four spots remaining and five teams battling to extend their season like brothers fighting to see who gets to sit shotgun.

When five pucks dropped at five rinks from Boston to Orono, Maine, clarity was in sight.

Still, though, the teams didn’t seem too anxious to make any of those decisions. Entering the third period, four of the five games were tied.

At Matthews Arena, the score stood at 3-3 as BU and Northeastern traded lefts and rights. For BU, home ice was the prize for a win – given a UMass-Lowell loss or a tie – and for the Huskies, anything from sixth place to elimination was a very realistic possibility.

Last season, BU coach Jack Parker turned to Matt Gilroy when he needed some magic. Saturday night, it was Gilroy’s little brother Kevin who vaulted BU to a victory. Kevin’s goal at 13 minutes, 32 seconds of the third period gave BU the lead and eventual win.

The shot not only clinched home ice for BU, but, as two other scores rolled in, it also eliminated Northeastern.

Massachusetts’ win over Maine completed a weekend sweep and clinched UMass the seven seed in the tournament. For their struggle, they get a date with Jerry York’s wrecking crew in Chestnut Hill, Mass., next weekend.

But the straw that broke the Huskies back was Vermont’s tie with Lowell. A UVM loss would have clinched a playoff spot for Northeastern. Instead, it’ll be the Catamounts heading east next weekend for a best-of-three with top-seeded New Hampshire.

The Terriers welcome Merrimack, who will make their first appearance in the Hockey East Tournament since the 2003-04 season. When the BU players went home for the Winter Break, their record stood at 4-9-3 and qualifying for the conference tournament quickly become more possibility than probability.

“I believe how well we played tonight. I believe how hard we played tonight. I would not have believed two weeks ago that we’d finish in third place in Hockey East,” BU coach Jack Parker said following the game.

There isn’t much time for BU to think about its remarkable turnaround, though. Merrimack hasn’t been a particularly favorable matchup for BU this season.

“First I hear we were in third place,” Parker said, “then I heard we had to play Merrimack. At least we’re playing at home. I don’t think we’ve really played a good game against [Merrimack] this season. I think they’re very good.

“They deserved to make the playoffs. It wouldn’t surprise me if they made it to the Garden. I hope they don’t get there, but it wouldn’t surprise me. But who do you want to play? UMass is hot as heck. Obviously they turned it around beating Maine twice.”

Across Matthews Arena, NU coach Greg Cronin said a little bit less than Parker. Forced to reflect on the season moments following the final buzzer that ended the career of five of his players, he spoke of how obviously disappointed he was but the sense of shock came through more. Before closing the season on and 0-4-1 stretch, the Huskies began the second half of the season with a 10-4-0 record.

“The Beanpot rolled around, I was like ‘whoa.’ I was surprised how quick it came up.” Cronin said following the game. “Then, all of a sudden, the season’s over. It’s like ‘Holy smokes, what just happened?’ It was a constant battle to stay healthy. We were behind the pack and then we got back into fourth place, right where we thought we should be. We get a healthy team, and then the gauntlet at the end there.”

No matter which team fell from the pack, there would have been moments to point to where they could have picked up more points or scored another goal or made another save. Taking solace in anything is difficult for Northeastern following last season’s run to the NCAA tournament, and the realization that, of UMass, Vermont and themselves, they were the only team that truly controlled its own destiny when the weekend began.

The first chapter of the 2009-10 season closed Saturday night with BU’s Kevin Gilroy, UMass’ Justin Braun and few other players around the league put an exclamation point on, what proved to be, the least regular season this league has ever seen.

From what the last six months have showed us, we won't be able to put the second chapter down either.

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