Like the many of us who visited in-laws over the holidays, there are some HE teams that are sure glad the holiday season is behind them. The annual in season holiday tournaments and non league action are a pivotal turning point in the season and represent the last non-hockey east match ups before the home stretch.
Lets start with some holiday cheer:
- Hockey East produced 3 tourney winners including UMass Lowell (Toyota UConn Tourney), Maine (Florida College Classic) and Northeastern (Mariucci Classic). Of the three, Northeastern’s trip to Minnesota was by far the most impressive. For those of us who have been downplaying the recent turnaround, its time to take notice and give NU some credit. They have beaten the likes of Notre Dame (sweep in South Bend), Michigan and now Minnesota all on the road. As always, there is a caveat and NU still will have some detractors (much like Lowell has recently) as Minnesota was missing its 2 top scorers in Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad. I would argue that the wins over a full roster of Notre Dame and Michigan players was a more impressive feat; either way, no one can argue that NU is en fuego and will be a force to be reckoned with as they gain confidence down the stretch.
- UMass Lowell became the first HE team to take the unheralded UConn classic that featured an impressive win over RPI and a closer than expected finals win over a UConn squad that seems to be a proverbial thorn in the Riverhawks side this year. The Ice is Life has his usual smug yet entertaining take on the tournament but makes a very valid point as far as the reason behind Lowell’s allotment in the UConn tourney was concerned. Given Lowell’s anemic season last year, I am sure the invite list to some of the more acclaimed tournaments was SHORT to say the least. Needless to say, a win is a win and some hardware was attained none the less. The BF is still not drinkin the cool aid yet as I still firmly believe a team cannot turn things around in such a precipitous fashion and feel things will even out as the season winds down. Doug Carr (Hanover, MA) much like Tim Thomas for the Bruins, will be the parmount figure if Lowell can make some noise when it counts.
- Maine beat UMass 5-2 to win the Florida Classic in Estero, FLA led by Shawn Walsh MVP award winner, Spencer Abbott. This was the 5th Florida Classic championship for Maine as it won a crucial game against another HE team in UMass who is looking to erase a sub par first half of the season. When you play a pugnacious team with top heavy talent like Maine, you must remain disciplined and for UMass, some undisciplined play led to 3 Maine PP goals on 7 power plays. It amazes me how unprepared Toot Cahoon’s teams can be when it is clearly obvious that a chippy team like Maine will do everything in their power to goad you into penalties. Maine has the talent on their first line and special teams but seems to lack depth in lines 2-4 which underscores the importance of staying out of the box and keeping their stars off the ice as much as possible. To Maine’s credit, they took advanatge of these opportunities and will look to continue their momentum into Wednesday’s game versus Vermont and subsequently their match up with arch rival UNH at Frozen Fenway this Saturday.
Some Holiday Jeer:
- BU was a team under the microscope as everyone was eagerly waiting to see how the Terriers would respond to the much maligned exodus of Charlie Coyle and Corey Trivino. As I said in my post last week, all the solidarity in the world will not be enough for the Terriers. BU fell to future HE member Notre Dame 5-2 before a sellout crowd of 4,829 at the Compton Center. As USCHO senior writer Jim Connelly wrote in his blog this week, the concern for the Terriers is beyond the lack of depth up front as defensively they struggled mightily against Notre Dame. Despite the fact that perrenial powerhouses like BU have a plethora of talent every year, the mental drain that is derived from the loss of key players like Coyle and Trivino especially will be too much to overcome. Granted, the return of Adam Clendening from the WJC will certainly help the defensive core but it just may not be enough.
- I have been the effusive in my praise of the talent Dick Umile has brought to UNH and felt strongly that the Wildcats would score their way out of the 8 hole in Hockey East. It might be time for me to eat crow as UNH suffered another humbling loss to a Brown team that also took care of Providence in the Mayor’s Cup. Like UMass, the Wildcats are amazingly winless away from the Whittemore Center this year. Much like the Philadelphia Flyers learned last year, you can’t win strictly with a prolific offense. The Wildcats are 2nd to last in HE in goals allowed per game (3.5) and netminder Matt Digirolama was pulled for the 3rd time this season in the loss to Brown. Custer’s last stand for UNH is this weekend at Fenway and I am betting they fall on their sword!
- Boston College is also a team that seems to be limping along as they finished a disappointing 3rd in the GLI tourney over the holidays. As the BC Hockey blog explains, the Eagles simply did not show up in the first period and were victimized by too many costly mistakes. That said, with Bill Arnold returning from the World Juniors, there is simply too much talent on the Eagles squad to continue in this stretch of mediocrity. Arnold should solidify the lines and with a litany of names like Hayes, Kreider (who I believe is the best player in the nation), Cross, Dumoulin, etc.. on the roster, BC should snap out of this so called funk.
The Rest of the holiday action in Hockey East:
In the Ledyard Bank Classic, Merrimack lost in an NHL esque shootout to St Lawrence as the Warrior’s allowed an uncharacteristic 6 goals to the Saints of the ECAC. They won the consolation game in Hanover, NH 3-0 over Holy Cross and have a crucial weekend ahead against the Boston powers, BC and BU.
UMass had an impressive win over Cornell in the first round of the Florida Classic before falling to HE foe Maine in the finals. In typical UMass jekyl and hyde fashion, they take one step forward and then lay an egg. Big week ahead for UMass with a tilt at Providence and then onto the Fens on Saturday for game 1 of Frozen Fenway.
Vermont continued to struggle and lost to Lake State in the opening round of their own tournament, the Catamount Cup in Burlington. They did manage to beat Ferris State in the consolation game 4-2 in what tenuous head coach Kevin Sneddon called the first true 60 minute effort of the year.
As Mentioned previously, Providence fell to a formidable Brown Bears squad in the Mayor’s Cup who took down two HE teams this past week.
The Forum’s Frivolous Facts:
♦ Nice to see Hockey hotbed Hingham, MA get some love as HBO crews were in town on Christmas Eve filming NHL 24/7 at the Boyle residence. Brian Boyle (BC) will be playing in the Winter Classic Jan 2nd in Philadelphia and is one of many household NHL names to come from Hingham. Tony Amonte and Marty MCinnis are just a few of the other Hingham residents who have had exemplary NCAA careers. Even though Amonte and Boyle took the prep school route via Thayer and St. Sebatstians, Hingham High School continues to be a mainstay public school program that is a perrenial contender in the Super 8 Tournament. The program was spearheaded by the late Garrett Reagan and has risen from a top D2 program to one that competes annually with the D1 powerhouses like Catholic Memorial and Malden Catholic. As I always say, the South Shore is the RIGHT shore and its nice to see Hingham respresent the South Shore so well.
♦ It was nice to see Jimmy Hayes make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks on Friday night against the rival Red Wings at the United Center. The Hawks seem to have an affinity for lumbering, Dorchester Irish lads named Hayes as they made it a family affair when the team drafted Jimmy’s brother Kevin in the first round of the 2010 draft, 24th overall. Coach Joel Quenneville has this to say about Jimmy Hayes upon his callup to Chicago:
I like his size,” Quenneville said. “[But] he’s got a nice set of hands. He’s got some quickness to his game.
Fellow BC alum and former teammate Ben (Big game Benny)Smith has also been on a see saw journey between Rockford and Chicago and it would be fantastic to see them both end up on the 4th line together. Smith has scored some crucial goals for the Hawks including the game 6 winner (Round 1) in OT last year against the Vancouver Canucks. As a Hawks season ticket holder, its great to season some HE talent joining the ranks of fellow HE alum, Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg (Vermont).
♦ Although it was somehwat contrived and forcefed, if you haven’t watched the NBC SPorts Network documentary “Onward to Victory” I suggest you get your DVR”s ready. Granted there seems to be some angst amongst alumni of Hockey school’s with a far greater puck history than ND, but if you can get past that- and you should, tune in to the hour long documentary. The Compton Family Ice Center is the focus of this show as it appears to be one of the finest college hockey barns in the country.
♦ Jesse Connelly had a nice feature on Jay Pandolfo’s (BU) last stand on Long Island where he joins D Mike Mottau (Avon, MA) and GM Garth Snow (Maine) with the Islanders. I was incredulous when I read that Pandolfo was still giving it a go in the NHL, thought he was all done for sure.
♦ Not only is Northeastern red hot on the ice but they are also blazing hot on the recruiting path. The Indianapolis Star had a feature on NU recruit G John Gillies (South Portland, ME) and referred to him as the “top golatending prospect in the USHL.”