Some don’t think too highly of outdoor hockey games. The points made by these members of the media and fans are never wrong, and their opinions are certainly valid. For players, outdoor games typically mean bad ice, odd adjustments and a whole mess of distractions that can pull the focus from the win. For fans, it means inflated ticket prices, three hours in the freezing cold, bad sightlines and potential for a truly mediocre experience.
I’ve never found myself on the side of those who generally hate these games, even as they’ve become more common and lost some of their appeal. While it usually just means more work for us and forced, often contrived storylines, the players almost always speak highly of their experience. They genuinely seem to enjoy it, so I’m all for it as long as college hockey players say they want to do it.
With all of that said, I’m glad this season’s glut of outdoor hockey is over. In Hockey East, it was Frozen Fenway, which concluded with Boston College’s 2-1 win over Northeastern Saturday afternoon. There were three Hockey East games played on Yawkey Way this season, and they were all pretty good games. But, like I said, I’m glad it’s over. We have seven weekends of league games remaining, with a few midweek matches and the Beanpot mixed in there, before the postseason begins. And now that all of the games will take place indoors for the remainder of the year, we’re in for a truly fantastic finish in Hockey East.
Non-conference wins are good, but Northeastern has some work to do in Hockey East
Northeastern pieced together a 7-0-1 run that included a win at Michigan, a sweep of Notre Dame and a tournament championship in Minneapolis after losing to Massachusetts on Nov. 12. The Huskies positioned themselves on the bubble for an at-large bid, and helped other clubs in Hockey East out with the wins.
Last Friday, though, Northeastern resumed its league schedule, and saw that unbeaten streak end with a 4-3 loss to Boston University. Losing one game in league play is hardly something for Northeastern to panic about, but the following afternoon’s loss to BC does raise some questions about the Huskies.
With the weekend over, Northeastern finds itself in ninth place in Hockey East — a point back of New Hampshire for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Huskies are also two points back of Massachusetts and four short of UMass Lowell. Meanwhile, the Huskies have played more Hockey East games (15) than any of these teams. With only 12 league games left, points are at a premium for Northeastern. A pair of one-goal losses to two of the league and nation’s best won’t derail Northeastern too heavily, but it simply can’t afford many letdowns.
What’s more is the on- and off-the-ice disciplines problems that were a major question with Northeastern prior to the season appear to be arising once again. Cody Ferriero and Braden Pimm both missed this weekend’s games due to team rules violations — reportedly stemming from some form of behavioral problems in Minnesota — and assistant captain Steve Quailer’s temper tantrum cost the Huskies a chance to tie BU late on Friday. As of now, these are isolated incidents. Ferriero and Pimm will likely be in the lineup next weekend, as the Huskies close their season series with Lowell, and there’s no reason to think Quailer won’t be his usual self moving forward.
The margin for error on St. Botolph Street is zero, though, and any slip-ups will make those big wins in November and December nothing more than high points of a wasted season.
Nothing’s roasting on Chestnut Hill
BC coach Jerry York is accustomed to offense. Production is often something BC fans take for granted, and it’s usually about this time that the Eagles put it all together and blow opponents away. The second half is still fairly young, and the Eagles are in good position in the conference and the national pictures — currently tied for first in Hockey East and fourth in the Pairwise. The last six games, though, have led some to wonder if the 2011-12 Eagles are like the BC teams of recent years.
In their last six games, BC has scored just 10 goals, an average of 1.6 per game. Their opponents, on the other hand, netted 15 in that time. This stretch has been pretty rough for BC, and it’s gone 2-3-1 in that time. The most recent defeat, a 4-0 loss to UMass in Amherst on Friday night, was especially puzzling for York. BC ended the night with 35 shots on goal, but York seemed especially troubled with the lack of quality scoring chances and second and third opportunities — things that have been problems recently. On the season, BC is averaging about 29.5 shots per game, but that figure has fallen to about 25.5 in this recent stretch. Now, the 35 against UMass and 30 on Saturday in the win over Northeastern may signal the end of this part of the problem. Still, though, the finish just isn’t there. Not only is BC missing the pretty goals that we usually see, but they aren’t getting the dirty ones either.
York’s tried different line combinations throughout the season, but nothing has stuck just yet. For the last two years, York knew he’d get about a goal per game from his top line of Joe Whitney, Brian Gibbons and Cam Atkinson. Those three are gone, however, and no one has really stepped in to replace them.
Obviously, the Eagles are a lock for home ice and will likely earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament even if they fail to win the league championship. But BC’s aspirations are greater than simply getting there, and they’ll need someone — or some group — to pick it up if that’s going to happen.
UMass’ goaltending situation got a lot more interesting on Friday night
I’m on the record as believing Jeff Teglia should have entered the season as the starter for UMass. The sophomore despite a rough freshman season has a winning background and drew praise from UMass coach Don Cahoon upon signing his NLI for maturity and remarkable athleticism. We’ve seen both of things things from Teglia at times, but it also took him about a season-and-a-half to pick up his first career win.
Freshman Kevin Boyle has started more often than not for UMass, with appearances in 12 games compared to seven for Teglia and five for Steve Mastalerz. Cahoon’s decisions for starting have, more often than not, been about the week of practice, as none of the three have been good enough to warrant the No. 1 label, while none have been bad enough to be left out of entirely.
Expect that to continue, too, after Mastalerz made 35 saves in 4-0 win over BC on Friday night. The shutout was the first of Mastalerz’s career, and the first ever for UMass against BC.
Currently, the Minutemen are on a three-game unbeaten streak and a 3-1-1 stretch, including a win over Cornell and the shutout of BC. The run pushed UMass into seventh place in Hockey East and tied with Maine for 23rd in the Pairwise. A different goaltender has accounted for each of those three wins.
Awaiting UMass on Friday night is a game with Vermont in Amherst, which will decide the tiebreaker between the two clubs. Teglia defeated the Catamounts on Jan. 7 at Fenway Park, so he would seem to be the likely starter. But, if the last three seasons have taught us anything, the next week of practice will be the greatest factor in Cahoon’s decision.