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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Wiser after winning
Champion Eagles can still mold a better overall season

More and more pundits are dusting off their keyboards for the new season and, seemingly by knee-jerk instinct, assigning the national champion Boston College Eagles to the #1 slot in both the conference and national polls. It’s by no means an unwarranted prophecy, though.

Reliable blue paint hog John Muse is back at The Heights in more clear-cut collegiate shape than he was as a freshman last autumn. Senior forward Brock Bradford is back from an injury-slighted, five-game run with a presumably sturdy arm and a “C” over his heart. Bradford –who did muster a point per game when available last year- shall be flanked by –just to name a few- sophomore scoring beacon Joe Whitney, junior Ben Smith, senior Benn Ferriero, and a promising rookie by the name of Joe Whitney.

And there was an antsy buzz over the early departure of Nathan Gerbe for what reason, exactly?

It’s settled that the BC roster never lacks the means to makes ripples in the playoff ponds. But the extra coat of reverence for 2008-09 comes with the explicit lessons normally restricted to also-rans that they filched last season.

Friar Fanatics, still having to wait another six days to start icing the psychological lesions sustained seven months ago in the Hockey East quarterfinal, just might know it best. That series, by a factor of two points, was almost booked for Schneider Arena rather than Conte Forum. Nothing short of free spirited speculation can conclude what would have happened in that event.

Come what may, once they deftly cleared the home ice hump, the Eagles vented all of the winning energy they had saved during the bumpier portions of the season. They were again the program to which Jerry York has instilled gratifyingly prosperous consistency; the program that has now logged eight Frozen Four appearances and six NCAA title game entries in the last 11 seasons.

But eyeball every ingredient of their run, beginning with the OT own goal discomfiture versus Michigan at the Icebreaker Invitational and ending with the 5-1 steamroll over Notre Dame in Denver, and the degree of luck doesn’t lie. If they’ve never felt it in their physics or calculus lecture halls, York’s student-athletes of last season surely found out what it’s like to earn points on a curve.

Imagine, for a nanosecond, if the regular season champion New Hampshire had struck first in one of the three overtimes of the Hockey East semifinal. No Lamoriello Trophy, no automatic bid for the fourth-place Eagles.

Or what if Vermont had enough steam to polish off their Charlestown Chiefs-like turnaround? After all, getting to the league championship game wasn’t enough for the third-place Catamounts to woo the selection committee, was it?

Yet another puck-friendly parable one can take out of math class. One malfunction early on can, and all but always does, thump the whole endeavor off course.

The Eagles effectively maneuvered through it all last spring, but that flirtation with ultimate disappointment isn’t likely to relent so kindly a second time.

Never mind the fact that BC swallowed a learning experience through its 2006 NCAA shortcoming versus Wisconsin, then another the following year when they submitted to Michigan State. If they are to punch in a fourth consecutive passport to the final frontier, they will have to resort to consistently inflicting their oppressive, roundly braced roster.

In other words, no more letting York rhetorically shake his head after tying Maine’s paper Black Bears, 3-3. Next time that happens, he just might need to send everyone to the goal line and repeatedly holler “Again!” for the next hour.

But hey, these guys are –at last- certified champions. Logically, they wouldn’t let that happen.

PC’s core classes look to their leaders
In a nod to the current edition of The Hockey News (press date: October 14), wherein you “See which players need a hot start to the season in our Team Reports,” the Free Press offers the same report for PC:

PC men’s coach Tim Army can’t be consistent enough in expressing his pertinent craving for consistency out of his players –a lack of which has bumped the Friars little by little in recent seasons. As a second-year captain, Laughlin is a radiant individual embodiment of that need. Granted, if Laughlin storms out with an acetylene twig, his October will be no different from that of last year, when he stamped a pleasurable 5-3-8 scoring transcript in the first six games. This time around, he could stand to show that he can run up those numbers for the length of the season. He is, after all, by class year hierarchical standards, filling the skates of Jon Rheault –likely the last 100-point man the Friars will see for a while. Who better than the elder captain to set a team standard?

Across the arena, there’s no telling how consistent the line combinations will remain for the women’s team. But, for the moment, freshman Laura Veharanta is linked up with certified cage-stuffers Mari Pehkonen and Alyse Ruff, plugging the void left by Jean O’Neill’s recent injury. Most anybody, including any one of Veharanta’s four offensive classmates, could have been summoned to stab at that taxing enterprise. But, at least initially, Veharanta was the chosen trainee, and she ought to have studiously and/or instinctively have Xeroxed something off the blades of Pehkonen and Ruff. Even if that’s just a gentle-firm welcome-to-PC, there’s no cause for her to delay the learning process. If the future really is now with the class of 2012 –as the advocates insist- then the “now” half involves setting the tone at the earliest possible time.

Tempo promptly shot up
The wee hours of the Women’s Hockey East Association’s usage of the shootout had the flawless first-shift fortunes of Mario Lemieux. The only 2008-09 league game on record up to this point is last Wednesday’s technical 2-2 draw between New Hampshire and Boston College –though really a 3-2 Wildcat win by virtue of Kacey Bellamy’s strike in the fifth round of penalty stabs.

From an entertainment angle, from which the women’s game in particular has but nothing to lose, Bellamy impeccably embodied the league’s sizzle from the face-off dot to the net.

BC coach Katie King to the Foster’s Daily Democrat: “It’s like the playoffs. It made it fun for the kids. It made it exciting and that’s what it’s all about.”

UNH skipper Brian McCloskey: “It’s just what I hoped when we vote it in. Can it do anything but enhance the game?”

Based on the upshots effect on each team’s records, it could enhance the fervor of the pennant race if it comes into frequent-enough use. But stat scarfers will want to enhance their alertness in order to track it. For right now, the Wildcats’ boast a 1-0-0 transcript in conference play, but are 0-0-1 overall. The Eagles, 1-0-1 overall after their Clarkson series last weekend, claimed the single point for the Hockey East standings, but tacked another tie onto their national persona.

What does this mean? Entertainment value aside, it will be more to the benefit of aspirant NCAA contenders to stash away the W within regulation. Otherwise, as was just the case for the Cats, they spill a potential dollop of poll recognition.

Quick Feeds: All hail the Hub Hunks. They really do. This publication, as well as Inside College Hockey, US College Hockey Online, and the coach’s panel all expressly foresee a 1-2 finish between BC and BU respectively in the Hockey East men’s league…Colin MacDonald and Cody Wild, both Friars of the not-too-distant past, were deferred from Edmonton training camp and shall again team up on the Springfield Falcons, on tap for the P-Bruins this afternoon at 4:00 at The Dunk…Speaking of Wild, Jim Connelly of USCHO recently listed the would-be senior bouncer as one of PC’s key returnees for this season. True, everyone trips over their own skate once in a while. But judging by the seemingly robotic response by young fans who were asked “Who’s your favorite Friar?” during games last season, this particular misprint is a psychological slapshot to the shin for Friar Fanatics…The still-infant, Providence-based Naukabout apparel manufacturing company has hopped on the roster of Hockey East’s business partners…Apparently, some PC women’s fans want an explanation on Ohio State perching one of its assistant coaches behind the Friar cage for parts of last weekend’s series. Just keep note of this: Bob Bellemore and Amy Quinlan take in every game from a hawk’s-eye view in the press box. There are no grounds for a Spygate-like search warrant in either case. It’s all merely scrutinizing the action and tweaking one’s own tactics accordingly… This author’s picks for the out-of-market game of the week: certified CCHA powerhouse Miami-Ohio will perk up the Gutterson Fieldhouse in a two-game visit to Vermont, which is striving to similarly cement itself in the Hockey East Parthenon.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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