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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hockey Log: Sunday Edition

Long-term thinking
With new contract, Army, Friars anticipate steady strides


Friartown has no hockey hot seat, in case that wasn’t evident before.

Anywhere, and that means anywhere, away from the urban wilderness of the Dunkin Donuts Center, you won’t find that nearly absurd pressure cooker where the basketball fans and media’s vocal petition seems to automatically presage a shift in front office personnel. Men’s hockey may be a runaway silver medalist in the way of Friar Fanaticism –and it’s literally the hottest ticket on campus- but by the same token, it’s safely pocketed in reasonable solitude.

How much influence that kind of dynamic has on PC hockey’s better allotment of progressive wiggle-room, though, is as grey as a Providence puckster’s shoulder cap. The bottom line is that Tim Army’s fresh contract extension, declared Wednesday to now be valid through at least 2013, is emblematic of a refinement in trust.

Do the math: Army’s tenure as the boss of his beloved alma mater is lined up to last at least eight seasons, more than double the three years digested so far prior to Wednesday’s new deal. The last time such an announcement like this was made, it was when Army initially emerged for his third dip into Schneider Arena –a dozen years after he left his sidekick position with Mike McShane to join Ron Wilson’s NHL coaching firm in Anaheim.

When he tabbed Army as the new Friars foreman 37 months ago, athletic director Bob Driscoll guaranteed nothing in the way of tangible longevity. Now that he has, there is little or no remaining cause to speculate that the past three years have been mere experimentation. Well, maybe not from Driscoll’s perch.

Asked for a self-evaluation, Army offered, “I am pleased with the culture and identity that we have established for our program over our first three years. Our overall depth in respect to speed, skill, and hockey IQ has improved allowing us to progress as a hockey team.”

The last of those three elements Army named off naturally apply to himself and his tutoring sidekicks just as much as it does their understudies. Certainly, Army has confessed to the occasional stumble brought on by excessive ambition or by a brief-but-fatal mishap or by a simple decision on his pupils’ part to not measure up with their adversary in any given vinegary defeat.

After an altogether half-full ride in 2005-06, where they finished 5th in Hockey East at 14-10-3 (17-16-3 overall) and ultimately submitted to New Hampshire in double overtime on elimination night, the Friars had a classic post-Rockstar crash in 2006-07. That year was lowlighted by a seven-game losing streak, ten wins altogether (with only one of those in interleague action), and another drown in Lake Whittemore, this one much more bitter in a 1-8 quarter-final series that ended 10-0, Wildcats in a combined two games.

So if you really want to point to experimentation, perhaps the chin-rubbing question for the most recent season must have been “Which Tim Army Corps is closer to the truth? The 05-06 or 06-07 version?” And as it happened, the 2007-08 trek was a curious toaster pastry for the palates of PC fans. That is, there was plenty of good stuff to be found deep in the middle portion, but not so much at the bookends.

Before and after they kept a respectable grip on the lottery-ball Hockey East pennant race and again popped up in the polls as they did in 2005-06, the Friars commenced and curtained their seasons on four-game losing streaks. They missed out on home ice for the conference quarter-final by mere ice shavings, but squandered it in excruciating fashion as Boston University pummeled them by an 8-0 aggregate to finish the regular season. A week later, though it was a 4-5 matchup, the eventual national champion Boston College Eagles made the Friars their first of many mortified rag dolls.

Impeding as that lack of a nimble start and short stock of endurance at the end both were, Army and Driscoll have together confirmed that they need only find a way to splash some Windex on those parts of the lens. After all, before they were wild game for the Terriers and Eagles, the Friars had some fun applying one of the first fatal stabs at Northeastern by way of a late January sweep. The Huskies, formerly tied with UNH at the top of the standings, were out of rational contention well before PC was.

Between the end of the tempestuous regular season and the merciless BC lashing, the 07-08 Friars’ data was as half-full as geometrically possible. Their conference record read 11-11-5 along with a GF-GA count of 66-66 (and 89-89 overall).

And as previously noted, success has stalked Schneider Arena for a few conspicuous blotches of time. The 2008-09 locker room users’ manual will now instruct the Friars to let that success settle in and get comfy on their bench.

“Although we have improved and played good stretches of hockey, we still haven't added the key element of consistency,” Army acknowledges. “As we move forward, our expectations are to become a more focused and reliable team so that we can become a consistent national presence.”

Where have they been?
The following is a randomly concocted “starting lineup” of Friar alumni from the not-too-distant past and a snippet of where their playing endeavors took them in the 2007-08 season.

Jamie Carroll ’07, F, 114 GP, 23-26-49 scoring totals over three PC seasons (he had transferred from Iona College): The monument forward (6-2, 215 lbs.) spent the vast bulk of his first pro season helping the newfangled Port Huron Icehawks come to within one overtime goal of claiming the IHL’s Turner Cup. With the team’s second-leading scoring totals of 30-40-70 in the regular season, Carroll pitched in an assist as part of Port Huron’s Game 7 rally effort, which was ultimately zapped in the third overtime by the Fort Wayne Komets. In addition to that exhilarating near-miss, Carroll also earned a slurp of AHL action, getting in on two games with the Rockford Icehogs –Chicago’s affiliate.

Torry Gadja ’06, F, 135 GP, 37-41-78 scoring totals in four PC seasons: A conventional semipro nomad in his first year out of college (split between ECHL teams in Cincinnati and Pensacola) Gadja settled down in Biloxi, Miss. to join a team that was finally reconnecting with its fan base two seasons after it was displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Gadja played in 62 games for the Sea Wolves, inserting 7 goals and 17 helpers in the process.

Peter Zingoni ’04, F, 137 GP, 34-47-81 scoring totals in four PC seasons: For the second consecutive season, Zingoni was stapled onto the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms roster from start to finish. Between those two seasons, Zingoni has garnered his most substantial playing log, getting in on more than sixty games after playing in no more than 33 in his first two pro campaigns. Zingoni’s most prominent teammate was most certainly Woonsocket-bred goaltender Brian Boucher –until the Flyers handed him over to the San Jose Sharks.

Jeff Mason ’05, D, 125 GP, 6-24-30 scoring totals in four PC seasons: Latching on to his third team in as many ECHL seasons, Mason was reunited with fellow Friar alumnus Dinos Stamoulis (a 2007 graduate) with the Gwinnett Gladiators –the Atlanta Thrashers’ neighboring AA affiliate. Together, the two former PC backliners missed but two games and kilned an aggregate five goals and 21 assists for Gwinnett.

Jason Platt ’04, D, 106 GP, 5-19-24 scoring totals in four PC seasons: Platt, who in the spring of 2007 returned to the Divine City to pitch in on the P-Bruins playoff run, spent his whole 07-08 year with the August Lynx of the ECHL, opposite 2007 alumnus Chase Watson. The former Edmonton Oilers’ draftee pitched in a professional career-best eight points (all in the form of assists) in 58 games worth of action.

David Cacciola ’05, G, 37 GP, 8-20-6 record in three PC seasons: the man who essentially left the crease in the hands of now-freshly graduated Tyler Sims has been passed around the Central League ranks in his first three pro campaigns. His most recent stop: the Texas Brahmas, with whom he garnered his busiest season to date (42 games played after playing in fewer than 30 in previous years) and charged up his first two career assists.

Nicastro not a rebel
Max Nicastro, a pickup by both Boston University and the Detroit Red Wings this past year, has already learned the precious principle of reaction –against one of the NHL’s most hard-nosed fan bases, no less. The 91st overall pick last month, Nicastro had allegedly told his hometown newspaper, the Ventura (Calif.) County Star, “my heart sank when the Red Wings called my name.” Whether that was the paper or the prospect talking, they had just pulled the pro hockey equivalent of singing Green Day’s “American Idiot” at a jingo’s karaoke cookout.

So, naturally, before the burgeoning defenseman reported to his first development camp this past week, he scrambled to propitiate the Detroit masses. According to his clarification, he had merely anticipated being selected by the Nashville Predators –who, incidentally, made potential BU ripples by taking Colin Wilson in the first round- more than any other team. As Nicastro told the Wings’ nhl.com correspondent, “I thought I was going to go to Nashville just because they had the most interest in me. (The people here) took it the wrong way…I had no clue I was going to be here.” Nicastro is BU-bound for the autumn of 2009.

Hockey East officially strikes silver
Going on its 25th Anniversary season, Hockey East fundamentally saw its 25th birthday Friday. July 11, 1983 –intriguingly one week after Americans acknowledge their independence from Britain- was the day that PC’s Lou Lamoriello and the governing personnel of four other schools (BC, BU, New Hampshire, Northeastern) decided to break off from the ECAC. In addition to these milestones, October 19 of this year will mark 25 years since Lamoriello’s appointment as the league’s first commissioner. Projected participants in both the foundational and silver anniversary campaigns of Hockey East include: Tim Army, the Friars’ fourth-year coach and the top point-getter (60) in the icebreaking 1984-85 season; Jack Parker, Boston University’s head coach of 35 years and counting; David Quinn, one of Parker’s former players and current assistants; Don Cahoon, a former assistant coach with UMass-Lowell, now going on his nine season as the foreman behind the UMass-Amherst bench; and Bob Deraney, the current PC women’s coach who tended the nets at Boston University from 1983-87.

Budding laborers
Five Hockey East players –including rising PC senior Pierce Norton- constituted a portion of the 24 invitees to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect camp, the first to be overseen by newly hired coach Ron Wilson, who put in an appearance Thursday. Norton, a Toronto 9th-rounder in 2004 who wore #68 in the ice-based portion of this year’s camp, caught a firsthand glimpse of rising UMass-Amherst senior Alex Berry, BC recruit Jimmy Hayes, incoming BU goaltender Grant Rollheiser, and soon-to-be Vermont junior Viktor Stalberg. But Day 3, strictly an off-ice day designated for lessons on athletic nutrition and strength training, had the hopeful Buds retreat to a farm area for such “Strongman” contests as relay-racing old Molson Canadian kegs, lugging wagons overstocked with hay, and lifting a supersized tractor tire. All team and body-building events were conducted in part by a Canadian Strongman vet.

Northern Exposure for UVM
The recent release of the Vermont men’s season schedule confirmed a revolutionary excursion with RPI for an October 11 non-conference game in Quebec City. A press release notes this as the first US collegiate game to be held in PQ and explains it’s arrangement as a means of commemorating the French-Canadian community’s 400th year of existence. Incidentally, if you discount the never predictable slowdown at the border, the Catamounts would actually cover less ground en route to La Vielle Capitale (rough estimate: 185 miles) than they would by venturing to PC (205 miles) or Maine (225) and about the same mileage if they visited any of the Hub clubs.

Quick Feeds: Former Friar captain and P-Bruin Jay Leach, along with brother and former UNH Wildcat Andrew Leach, will co-conduct a youth hockey camp July 14-18 in Dover, N.H. Special guests slated to stop in for an autograph session include former Boston Bruin Steve Leach and Jay’s fiancĂ©e, none other than NESN’s Kathryn Tappen…Less than two months removed from her revolutionary inclusion in the IIHF Hall of Fame, former Friar Cammi Granato has resumed Operation Integration, making the resuscitated US Hockey Hall her next target. In a snippet on the women’s hockey-specific website, sheskateshard.com, Granato bluntly stated “Women belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It's not just an NHL hall of fame. It's international. It needs to be done.”…Perhaps you can decipher an explanation for this peculiar occurrence: the original June 5 press release honoring the Women’s Hockey East All-Academic players declared that 81 had met the criteria. Since then, that same release has boasted headlines declaring that the league had 83 athletes of such distinction. And most recently, that very same headline read “84 Student-Athletes Named to WHEA All-Academic Team” even though, by a simple head count, there were a collective 83 named off in the subsequent text…Were any particularly ardent PC hockey fans watching ESPN’s broadcast of Red Sox-Twins last Monday? In the top of the eighth, while left-handed Minnesota hitter Alexi Casilla was revving up in the batter’s box, the fans in the background came into clear camera view, revealing one college-aged-looking man in a white Skating Friar t-shirt.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On Hockey

Silver Sticks
Twenty-five years later, Lamoriello recalls conception of Hockey East


On Monday, June 30, Hockey East stamped the official 25th Anniversary crest on its website, acknowledging the basic beginning of the league’s 25th year of operation. But, as is chronicled in its official timeline, the league’s actual “birthday” falls on Friday precisely twenty-five years to the date of a historic convention between PC’s own Lou Lamoriello and the governing personnel of four other New England programs.

Lamoriello at the time was just in the process of relinquishing his protracted coaching tenure with the Friars so as to fixate his energy on his duties as the PC athletic director. The founding convention, he explained, was led by the likes of himself, Boston College’s Bill Flynn, Boston University’s John Simpson, New Hampshire’s Andy Mooradian, and Northeastern’s Joe Zabilski as well as the head coaches and presidents of those five colleges.

All components of a 17-member Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) at the time, the converging representatives settled on a unanimous decision. They would break off to establish a new league entitled the Hockey East Association, ready for launch in the autumn of 1984.

Though expectably sopped up in his current three-billed duties with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils –as their President, CEO, and general manager- Lamoriello took roughly five minutes of his time Wednesday to offer his thoughts on the silver anniversary via phone.

Considering all that has blossomed in the time since that landmark meeting, he offered, in a nutshell, “I think it shows that the decision by these schools, including Providence College, was not only the right one but a very progressive one.”

Indeed, through its first 24 active campaigns, Hockey East, which had accumulated the likes of Maine and UMass-Lowell before it began play, has grown to ten member schools, branched out to established a women’s league, and enjoyed a collective five NCAA Championships, 13 national finalists, and 33 Frozen Four participants. Not to mention, six Hobey Baker winners to help underscore a myriad of prominent alumni.

Incidentally, that level of attainment has come to dwarf what the ECAC –the very league that the HEA’s founding inhabitants ditched- has garnered in the same time frame. Since 1983, the ECAC has sent ten teams to college hockey’s final frontier and has not produced a champion since Harvard in 1989.

That aside, Lamoriello recalled the premise to break off having more to do with the multi-sport ECAC’s specific treatment of hockey.

By the 1982-83 campaign, ECAC teams were only playing one another 21 times a year and, as Lamoriello sensed, “What transpired was the ECAC at that time was trying to reduce the schedule of hockey and quite frankly we thought it was a black mark on hockey and so we decided we would go in another direction.”

Once they exercised their independence in 1984-85, Hockey East teams were locking sticks with one another 34 nights apiece. Between that and some slivers of non-conference action, nobody played fewer than 38 regular season games that year.

The NCAA has since enforced a balancing act on all six of its Division-I conferences, allotting everyone 34 regular season games. These days, the ten teams making up Hockey East are confined to 27 intra-conference games.

Come what may, the encouraging evolution, Lamoriello said, is undeniable. And the modern godfather of Friar Puck ought to know growth and accomplishment when he sees it. Previously the catalyst behind the upbringing of PC’s Schneider Arena in 1973, Hockey East’s first commissioner, and the namesake for the league’s playoff trophy since 1988, Lamoriello has essentially led his brainchild league by example since moving to New Jersey in 1987. Most telling to that are three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and last autumn’s opening of Newark’s Prudential Center.

As for those whom he’s left Hockey East to, the Johnston native said, “I certainly do communicate with the Hockey East office and I have a lot of respect for what (current commissioner Joe Bertagna) and (associate commissioner Kathy Wynters) and that whole office has done…and the number of student-athletes that have come through is just tremendous.

“I think the league speaks for itself. It was a real pioneer for college hockey. It was the first league to have an interlocking schedule with the WCHA. It was the first to have a national television deal. I don’t recall (every exact milestone), but there are a lot of great things that have transpired.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hockey Log

The PC men's hockey team shall remain the Tim Army Corps through at least 2013, as announced Wednesday afternoon. Linked here is the initial press release from the Friars' official website:
http://friars.cstv.com/sports/m-hockey/spec-rel/070908aaa.html

More to come from the Free Press in our Sunday hockey notes spread.