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Saturday, November 15, 2008

On Hockey

Trying times for the Tims
PC, Maine coaches staying positive in battle for lesser hardship

At the very last possible minute, the very last possible symbolic lesion was dealt to Friar Puck’s spirits last Sunday when the Maine Black Bears –in town last night and tonight- hatched the goose egg in their Hockey East win column through a 2-1 nipping of the suddenly disfigured Boston College Eagles.

The more expectable upshot –a facile BC victory- would have rendered last night’s affair a matter of who would cease to blink first. In other words, barring a 65-minute knot, somebody would render the opposition the last winless team in the league.

Instead, the Friars had to resort to thawing themselves out and hurling off that mortifying persona of solitary winlessness. Furthermore, as head coach Tim Army observed Tuesday in the first league-wide teleconference of the season, in a respectful credit to his forthcoming opponent, “You beat BC, you’re playing good hockey.”

By the final buzzer last night, Maine was good enough to build on that Chestnut Hill venture, kilning a 3-2 victory before a colorfully bipartisan Schneider Arena mass of 1,876. The Friars, who have now authorized the icebreaking goal in all but two outings, abolished two deficits in the second and third periods and blew away the Bears in the shooting gallery, 37-17. But their guests, one pace ahead in the way of confidence coming in, kept a pace ahead in the way of overall momentum control all evening.

Even so, the Black Bears are not exactly absolved themselves. And by their not-so-ancient standards sculpted by the late Shawn Walsh and propped up impressively by Tim Whitehead, they won’t fully restore order in Orono for a while.

Last spring, the once nine-time national tournament participants (1999-2007) snapped their string of prosperity at a rate reminiscent of Wall Street circa October 1929, finishing ninth overall in the league.

Delete would-be senior goaltender Ben Bishop and sophomore scorer Andrew Sweetland, which was precisely what happened within weeks of Maine missing out on the 2008 Hockey East playoffs, and it’s plain to see that Whitehead has a slow, excruciating replenishing project at hand.

The bookends of the past six days are as favorable as it can get for the moment. “It is one thing to have moral victories, those are fine,” Whitehead said during Tuesday’s conference call. “But those only carry you so far, until you need a real victory.”

Army’s sentiments exactly –Friar Fanatics would hope.

The Friars have similarly failed to rinse out all of their vinegar from the tail-end of last season, when they tripped inches in front of home ice boundaries then went into roly-poly mode against BC in the quarterfinal. Some are inclined to point to the towering losses of triple-digit point-scorer Jon Rheault and sturdy goaltender Tyler Sims as a principal impediment.

Beginning with a 6-0 stick-lashing by Boston University in last year’s home finale, the Friars are now 0-9-1 in their last ten tangles with conference cohabitants. With only a single point courtesy a come-from-behind 2-2 knot with Vermont last weekend and a 0-5-1 Hockey East record, their dwelling in the dreaded #10 slot is growing increasingly forlorn by the night.

Not so surprisingly, during Tuesday’s teleconference, Army and Whitehead were two of only three skippers directly inquired about their freshmen –the third being Mark Dennehy of the perennially plebeian Merrimack. After all, if there’s any merit to the principle of rebuilding from the bottom up, the two Tims will pounce on the chance to highlight their respective leading point-getters –PC’s Matt Bergland with 10 points going into last night, Maine’s Gustav Nyquist with seven.

As it happened last night, Nyquist sprinkled an additional goal to his young resume with the first goal last night before Bergland scraped out PC’s second equalizer.

Additionally, the Friars’ Justin Gates and the Black Bears’ Scott Darling have barely tipped the overall balance scale in their respective goalie guilds ahead of senior Chris Mannix and junior Dave Wilson respectively. The rookies constituted last night’s goalie showdown, Darling pushing away 35 Providence stabs en route to #3 star status behind Friar Matt Taormina –who raked in a flashy, ice-kissing equalizer at 6:29 of the third period- and Maine sophomore Jeff Dimmen, who grabbed a helper and the game winner barely five minutes after Taormina’s strike.

Army: “We’ve gotten good contributions from all of our freshmen. In fact, the bulk of our scoring has come
from our sophomore and freshman classes. And then you can add Johnny Cavanagh to that group as a junior.”

Whitehead: “We are very pleased with our freshman class. They and the sophomores make up the bulk of our team, so it is important that they do contribute right away, and they have. We have strong freshmen at all three positions.”

Wow. If only The Hockey News still ran its “Separated At Birth” feature. Army and Whitehead, for lack of other feasible options, are banking on a bright immediate future.

Those immediate futures reconvene tonight on the PC campus, and the Friars simply need to tip the scale the other way. They need to translate their now slightly weightier desperation. And quick.

Al Daniel can be reached at hockeyscribe@hotmail.com

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