Hockey East Media Day Notebook

Sept. 26, 2006

By Elliot Olshansky



Elliot is's hockey editor and runs his Rink Rat hockey blog on
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BOSTON - Last season, when Boston College was picked to finish first in Hockey East by the conference's coaches, it might have come as something of a surprise. Jerry York's Eagles had lost several key players, including All-American defenseman Andrew Alberts, who graduated the previous spring, and forward Patrick Eaves, who signed with the Ottawa Senators the previous summer.


This season, it's not as much of a surprise. BC, returning all but two players from its NCAA finalist 2005-06 team, was picked first again in the preseason poll, garnering eight of a possible nine first place votes (coaches couldn't vote for their own teams), and 89 of a possible 90 points. It nicely matches the first-place ranking the Eagles received in the USCHO/CSTV preseason national rankings when they debuted on Monday, a distinction BC shared with 2006 NCAA champ Wisconsin.


"We return a lot of players," York said, "and we're going to be more of a veteran team this year. I think [the coaches' poll] is a good compliment to our players and to our program, but we realize there's still a lot of good teams in our league, let alone on the national level."


With the high rankings, of course, comes the best possible game from every opponent on the schedule, which is something York says his team is no stranger to.


"I think all good teams do," York said when asked if the Eagles would wear targets on their chests this season. "We're not the only ones. If you have a good program, everybody wants to test you, and see how good you are. That comes with the territory."




In Hockey East, a tough conference schedule also comes with the territory. Defending conference champion Boston University finished second in the coaches' poll with 78 points. Maine came in third with 75 points, as Tim Whitehead's Black Bears garnered the two first place votes - including York's own vote - that didn't go to the Eagles. New Hampshire finished fourth, rounding out a familiar group atop the poll.


Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon, whose Catamounts were pegged as the most likely challenger to the traditional elites, understands full well the challenges that go with trying to compete with the Eagles, Terriers, Black Bears and Wildcats. 


"You have to give a lot of credit to those four schools," Sneddon said, "because they've been excellent for a long time now, and I think that's the respect factor that other coaches have for those programs. We look forward to the challenges of playing those four teams again, as well as the rest of the league. We learned last year that there are no off nights in this league."


At Providence - picked sixth in the coaches' poll with 52 points - Tim Army has re-established the Friars' ability to compete with the top teams in Hockey East, and now looks forward to attempting to build off of his team's fifth-place finish in 2005-06 and attempt to crack the top four.


"We like what we were able to establish last year in the culture," Army said. "The culture includes our identity as a program, and how we want to go about playing on a daily basis and those objectives. I think we did some good things last year. We were able to change our culture, we were able to change the atmosphere, and now we want to build on it. We want to become better, and it's a daily process where you try each and every day to become a better program."


UMass-Lowell was picked to finish ninth, and head coach Blaise MacDonald, whose senior-laden River Hawks were expected to challenge for a spot among the elite in 2005-06, but wound up finishing seventh in the conference, knows just how hard it can be.


"Every time you step up to the plate in this league, somebody's looking to punch you in the nose," MacDonald said. "If you look historically at all the teams and the few times someone's been able to crack the top four, they've had exceptional goaltending. As much as you look at anything else, it's exceptional goaltending that can get you there, and if you don't have it, you're just not going to get there.


"I think our league attracts a lot of very good players, because it's so strong every night, whether it's Northeastern playing UMass, or Merrimack vs. Lowell, or BU against BC, they're highly competitive, well-contested games. To get into that top four, it takes some good fortune, some good recruiting, and a good goaltender."


Both the Catamounts and Friars are well equipped in net with Joe Fallon and Tyler Sims, respectively. It remains to be seen if either squad, goaltender and all, will be able to do the job and crack the Hockey East hierarchy.




Contrary to previous reports, former Boston Bruins head coach Mike Sullivan will not be working with Jack Parker and the BU coaching staff this season. 


"He's probably going to do some color [commentary] on the broadcasts," Parker said. "I thought we could use him like we did in the past with some of our administrative assistants, but they changed the rules, and really tightened up what an administrative assistant can do, so he can do no coaching at all. I thought he could coach the coaches, but he can't even do that.




During the afternoon speaking program, Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna announced that the league would be experimenting with new rules during preseason exhibition games. When Hockey East schools face Canadian universities during the preseason, icing calls will be made against teams killing penalties, and teams icing the puck in any situation will not be allowed to change lines during the ensuing stoppage in play.


"These are experimental rules that the NCAA has asked its conferences and schools to see if they're something that should, down the line, become permanent," Bertagna said.


In addition, Bertagna announced that the four-official system currently in use in the National Hockey League had been added to the NCAA rulebook, and would be in use for selected Hockey East games this season, as it will be in each of the other conferences.


"We're going to use it a handful of games," Bertagna said. "Each of the leagues has been asked to do that. Down the line, I would like to see one officiating system used throughout the country, men's and women's, Division I and Division III."


The commissioner also applauded Boston University for its recently instituted policy about the use of profanity at games.


"This is not a Boston University issue and it's not even a college hockey issue," Bertagna said. "We've got a number of schools that are trying their hands around inappropriate behavior and juggling a variety of interests and responsibilities."


In a printed statement, Bertagna announced that he will be contacting each conference institution individually and soliciting input as to how Hockey East as a whole can deal with the problem of profanity at games, including the possibility of a policy similar to BU's for all events played under the auspices of Hockey East.



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