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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

BU bracing itself for take-off (or two?)
Regardless, Wilson far from the whole problem or solution

Their fairly unexpected and certainly unflattering exclusion from the NCAA bracket was the first rattling biff to the face of the BU Terriers in the aftermath of their slow start and searing finish of a 2007-08 season.

Big blow #2 is a label that could easily be welded on to the premature pro defection of rising junior goaltender Brett Bennett, which leaves their projected trinity of stoppers for the coming season with an aggregate two collegiate games to its credit. (Those bite-size credits were logged by rising sophomore Adam Kraus, who will now team up with freshmen Kieran Millan and Grant Rollheiser).

Will a hasty take-off on the part of Colin Wilson, 7th overall pick of the Nashville Predators in last Saturday’s NHL Draft and the reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year, be the final prickly point to BU’s triangle of anguish?

If the faithful, wintry congregants of Agganis Arena answer “Yes” –which appears exponentially imminent by the day and could come to prompt fruition once the NHL’s summer signing tempest takes off as early as this coming week- then they’ll be inclined to go on to Part B of that question. It reads: Does seeing four other soon-to-be-Terriers ranked in the Central Scouting Service, and subsequently selected within the first 100 picks, offer any comfort?

If the answer to this is also a “yes”, it’s a brittle vision at the very least. There might be some merit in anticipating a substantial youth movement, but another pile of questions lie beneath regardless.

True, even if Wilson deletes himself from the equation, Terrier coach Jack Parker could still have a potential league-leading (albeit tied with Boston College) 10 NHL satellites at his disposal, one more than he had on his 2007-08 roster. Before the selection board had even cracked triple digits, three forthcoming Terriers in Corey Trivino (New York Islanders, 36th overall), Vinny Saponari (Atlanta, 94th) and David Warsofsky (St. Louis, 95th) as well as a distant 2009 recruit in Max Nicastro (Detroit 91st) were all summoned.

But, as wise, apt-to-flourish coaches like Professor Parker ought to know well, “esse quam videri” or “to be rather than to appear” is the objective. And Terrier fans, going on twelve years without a venture to the Frozen Four, can ogle at superficial, yet-to-be-tested promise all they want. But there’s a harrowing chance that that will be the best they can resort to for the time being.

Should Wilson defect, it would mean a lump farewell to BU’s top three point-getters from last season (seniors Pete MacArthur and Brian Ewing). The best experience they would have coming back is rising senior Chris Higgins, the centerpiece on the Terriers’ starting line between MacArthur and Ewing who cultivated 14 goals and 32 points last year and has scraped out a grand total of 85 collegiate points in the Hub.

Furthermore, Wilson, MacArthur, and Ewing combined for 10 out of BU’s 19 game winning goals last season while another was inserted by recent graduate Ryan Weston. The trio also accounted for 19 of BU’s 40 power play goals.

Even if the Terriers’ seasoned returnees and poised frosh crop can step up to recompense those kinds of losses, the defensive corps is flailing with an overlooked vulnerability of its own. For all the Wilson talk that’s circulating, Boston also have a pair of blueliners, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colby Cohen, who just spent their freshman campaign –as a unit in the second half too- making decent all-around contributions under the eyes of the Colorado Avalanche. There’s no cause to rule out the possibility of the 2007 first-rounder Shattenkirk and/or second-rounder Cohen breaking off for the Mile High franchise.

In other words, that savory stock of 10 draftees is by all means subject to contraction. Not to mention, the back line owes itself an emergency kit of capable reserves in case of defection, which, as everyone learned from Kyle Okposo at Minnesota, can now occur any time of the year.

Then again, they might just as easily stick around and keep the BU’s generally stable backline intact. But it does nothing to shield the crease crisis. Bennett and the recently graduated Karson Gillespie were, at best, subpar successors to 2007 alumnus John Curry this past season. And looking at what the Terriers will have to work with come autumn, the best their fans can do is pray that a John Muse breaks out on their bookend of Commonwealth Avenue.

It’s all possible, to be sure, but the urgency is more distinct than the prospects, for Beanpot titles and poll recognition suddenly don’t come so easy.

Eagle encounters define Friars’ respective runs
In a nod to the current issue of The Hockey News (newsstand date: July 1) wherein “Our Team Reports look back on the defining moments for all 30 NHL teams this season” the Free Press offers the same look at PC’s program:

The 2007-08 PC women salvaged their rep as a gritty, sincere Hockey East title challenger through a bizarre, underhanded wishbone victory in the final weekend of the regular season.

Needing but one point out of a possible four in a home-and-home set with the cliff-clutching Boston College Eagles, they came up empty on their first swing through a chin-knocking 4-2 setback at The Heights. The subsequent afternoon, ex-Eagle Sarah Feldman, of all people, sandwiched two BC goals with her own pair of strikes at 0:34 of the first and 6:52 of the third to force overtime.

In the bonus round, goaltender Danielle Ciarletta –whose constellatory counterpart Molly Schaus pushed away a hefty 39 Friar shots- recorded the last two of her 25 saves in the final minute. After the fourth buzzer, PC had its sixth consecutive passport to the WHEA semis. The Eagles, a national semifinalist in 2007, had a crash claim to file, despite having wrested away three of the season’s final four points.

Two weeks later, after the Skating Sorority ultimately settled for second place in their run, the Tim Army Corps endured a more vinegar-based seminar to define their stance in the Hockey East landscape, also at the hands of the Eagles. Going into the best-of-three quarterfinal series at Conte Forum, the most superficial data –particularly PC’s 2-0-1 regular season series transcript with both wins coming on the BC campus- convinced some hopeful Friartown eyes that the doves were soaring in their direction.

Turns out it was a flock of revamped, talon-flaunting Eagles coming in for a definitive kill. Jerry York’s students, capstones when it comes to the post-season, sculpted rapid 4-0 leads and paced themselves comfortably to a set of 5-1 knockouts of the Friars. For all of the curious, dream-stirring parity that defined the better part of the Hockey East season, athletic Darwinism ultimately kicked in and kicked the likes of the Friars in the jaw. Looking ahead, PC’s arduously simple remedy will be to concoct a stable preservative for their poise that helped spark the shinier points of the regular season.

NU bench tabs D-III pioneer
The Northeastern women’s team introduced Dave Flint as their new head coach Monday, roughly one month after Laura Schuler broke away to fill Harvard alumna Julie Chu’s post as an assistant at Minnesota-Duluth.

Flint comes in fresh off of five years behind the Division-III Saint Anselm bench, where he coached the likes of recent Friars’ pick-up Arianna Rigano the past two seasons. Flint’s overall transcript with the St. A’s program he helped to launch read 88-15-2 over the course of four jumpstart seasons. His four-year reign climaxed with a 2007-08 campaign where the Hawks went 23-2-1 (17-1-1 in conference play) and commandingly vacuumed the ECAC Women’s Open title on home ice through 7-0 and 7-2 knockouts of Saint Michael’s and Sacred Heart.

With Flint raring to clutch the next rung at a D-I program that failed to cultivate more than eight wins per season in four years of Schuler, the sanguine Husky hypothesis is that he’ll re-thicken the Matthews Arena ice to what it was when Joy Woog, or better yet Heather Linstad, were calling the shots. This much is clear-cut, though: Flint’s hiring only reiterates the Hub Husky program’s fast-emergent rep as the unswerving Massachusetts Institute of Goaltending.

Northeastern implicitly intends to keep Chanda Gunn on staff and have a rising sophomore and reigning team MVP in Leah Sulyma ready to protect her starting post from incoming rookie and Swiss phenom Genevieve Schelling. Last season, they also had the volunteer tutelage of Todd Lampert, who has pitched in at goalie camps with the likes of Joe Bertagna and Paul Vincent.

And now, with Flint, Northeastern has hauled aboard a veteran goalie coach who holds that very position with the budding 2010 US Olympic Team and is also noted for having worked in his summer jobs with former Bruin stoppers Peter Skudra and Andrew Raycroft as well as Boston College alumnus Scott Clemmensen.

Of course, the Friars can easily play at this game with the Huskies, what with former BU stopper Bob Deraney, their own alumna Amy Quinlan, and the ageless official goaltender’s coach Bob Bellemore all on their bench crew.

Passed over
Both of the draft prospects with a future at PC in place, blueliners Bryce Aneloski and Danny New, were among the handfuls of Hockey East family members bypassed over last weekend’s NHL Draft. With that, the Friars’ 2008-09 roster will have no more than three draftees (Mark Fayne of New Jersey, Joe Lavin of Chicago, and Pierce Norton of Toronto) to speak of, half of what they had in the previous two seasons. It is also the first time PC won’t have any fresh new NHL picks coming to training camp since 2001.

Meanwhile, 2009 BC recruit Patrick Mullane, rising Vermont sophomore Jack Downing, Massachusetts pick-up Eric Filiou, up-and-coming Merrimack goalie Joe Cannata, and Northeastern recruit Brodie Reid all left Ottawa with their paper-based promises unfulfilled.

Coming from the heart
Would-be freshman Denver defenseman David Carle, whom this author formerly covered at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, was recently forced to retire by what was diagnosed as a hazardous thickening heart condition –hypertrophic cardiomyopathy- just days before last weekend’s draft.

Carle, who had considered the likes of BC and BU before choosing the alma mater of his older brother and Sharks pin-up Matt Carle, disclosed his condition promptly. Although, the Tampa Bay Lightning decided to pick the once-projected third-rounder 203rd overall for the mere sake of letting him experience the thrill of seeing his name on that selection board. Carle plans to take up a sentimentally quenching off-ice role in the Denver program, and the Free Press wishes him the best in his tough transition.

Quick Feeds: The Boston College men’s team made the customary championship day trip to Capitol Hill Tuesday. Incidentally, the Eagles are the only Hockey East inhabitant to have visited either Bush White House, and they have done it in both the first and final years of Bush Jr. The president also said that it was “Good to see you again” in an address to the Minnesota-Duluth women’s team, which paid its fourth celebratory visit to DC in the last eight years after three-peating between 2001 and 2003…UConn women’s scoring beacon Jaclyn Hawkins (career totals: 137 GP, 69 goals, 143 points), only six weeks removed from her commencement ceremony, accepted an assistant coaching position with the Huskies last Monday. With her, the WHEA will have a tentative total of 13 sidekick skippers who saw playing action earlier in this young century…According to his official online profile, BC recruit and recent Maple Leafs’ second round draft choice Jimmy Hayes is a second-cousin of former Friar and retired 17-year NHL veteran Tom Fitzgerald…UMass-Amherst fans lamenting the seizure of John Carlson –the 27th overall pick by Washington- by the OHL’s London Knights mirror the long faces of BU buffs from two years ago. It may be hard to remember, considering all of the ice chips he’s tossed on it since, but there was a time when Patrick Kane, now a freshly crowned NHL rookie of the year, appeared to be an incoming freshman for Jack Parker before the same London franchise lured him away…T-minus 99 days and counting until the PC women host their traditional Canadian club exhibition. Mark it down: Friars vs. Brampton Jr. Thunder, Sunday September 28, 2 p.m.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Bruins Commentary

Way to not go splitting Bears
Consistent progression key to more wins, fanfare

On Friday, April 4 of this year, the Bruins basically fulfilled their chore in Boston's collective Golden Year of Athletic Achievement. They stamped their first playoff spot in four years (three seasons) by means of a gritty 2-1 tip-over of the flailing host Ottawa Senators and in effect set the path for a half-full seven-game tussle with Montreal.

For GM Peter Chiarelli, the berth clincher was more than just a fun-sized taste of payback against his former franchise. The state of affairs for the inhabitants of ScotiaBank Place ought to serve as a cautionary role model for the Garden's now third-year ice architect as he aims to keep building on the promise he has thus far established.

After Chiarelli left his position as Ottawa's assistant GM, the Senators cleansed their scratched record of early summer vacations and reached the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. That was right before dual coach/GM Bryan Murray incomprehensibly opted to fix what wasn't broken, relinquishing the bench and handing that over to John Paddock. By February 26, Paddock was canned -the official KO bolstered by a 4-0 drubbing in Boston- and Murray reassumed his two-billed hat for the rest of the shoddy journey.

A Zamboni's-load of good that did. Not. The Senators wobbled to a seventh-place finish and submitted to Pittsburgh in four easy first round games.

It's safe to assume that Chiarelli knows better than to mess with the effective coaching regime he brought in last summer. For once, in Claude Julien, the Bruins have a foreman who is neither lacking in sufficient experience and/or expertise (e.g. Steve Kasper, Mike Sullivan) nor simply proving that he has it when he goes elsewhere (Pat Burns, Mike Keenan).

Rest assured, that's plain for all eyes to see and will not be toyed with. The same outlook applies to the padded personnel.

On the whole, the playing roster should also be kept intact and fostered in the same even-flowing manner that it was this past season. This franchise doesn't just want to stop fooling its fans and prove it's a legitimate winner, especially when it has four neighbors who have just won or challenged for their respective championship. It also wants to knead faces that the whole city -better yet, the whole region- can relate too.

Frankly, the Bruins haven't had anybody close to that since Ray Bourque. And, incidentally, Bourque's discharge to Colorado in March 2000 occurred ten months after Boston's last triumph in a playoff series. Well, well.

So how do you revive the franchise face application process? More than anything, you start young.

This means doing everything in your commonsensical power to make the following homegrown players untouchable: forwards Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic; goaltender Tuuka Rask; and defenseman Mark Stuart.

Wouldn’t you know it? As of right now, with Free Agent Launch Day aka Canada Day aka July 1 looming, all those names are fastened under the Bruins’ control and confirmed for September camp.

Foolproof experience and trusty leadership are also musts, but it doesn't look like it can be favorably extracted from the likes of Glen Murray anymore. The two-term Bruin whose 40-plus goal seasons earlier this decade were piteously wasted by the underachievement of his overloaded colleagues is now at a point where 100% health and productivity are beyond reach. He is one of the few recognizable players who appear likely to be ushered out, melancholy as that process may be. (Although, has anyone thrown out the possibility of Murray following the Cam Neely route?)

On a brighter front, Marc Savard and Marco Sturm have served their purpose for the most part. Although, Savard, the man of endless assists, could stand to treat himself to more regular goals. Then there's the too-often-forgotten P-J Axelsson, the lone Bruin who has hung about long enough to recall that 1999 playoff triumph firsthand. Re-signing the ring-bearing Aaron Ward for a second full season in Boston was naturally wise as well.

Starting crease custodian Tim Thomas is himself well-seasoned and carrying out his vocation on an exponentially better basis. Whether or not Rask is ready for a full-time backup position is still a tad gray an issue, but summoning him now can't be any riskier than reeling in Manny Fernandez, ignoring skepticism about his knees in the process, and sure enough placing $4.5 million worth of a battered Minnesota Wild import in the cooler after October. That was Chiarelli’s minor mistake last summer.

Next to coaching, the foundation that the aforementioned Lucic has led in is probably the most important entity to let alone. After all, running a franchise like this is a two-way game: winning and publicity. And those NESN ads starring Lucic and Shawn Thornton with, what do you know, lunch pails, are a start.

Since Lucic is the one who seems to be check-marking all the Gordie Howe tasks, maybe the next step is to follow the example of the cohabitant, newly champion Celtics. Where the Cs have a roaring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce demanding "Let me hear it!!!" maybe flash the same past-to-present montage and snarling, dirt-swiping bear followed by a stick-wielding Lucic who says "Let's rock and roll!" or something to that effect.

That’ll make for just the buzz the spoked Bs need. But between now and the autumnal equinox, we can stand for continued quiet while we settle into the second half of the Red Sox season.

Keep it cool, Pete. We’ll see you, and hopefully a majority of familiar faces and perhaps a gratifying free additive, in a few months.