November mailbag

What school should Hockey East try to get for the 12th team once Notre Dame comes in? Should they add a 12th team? – Anonymous

As of right now, it looks like Hockey East will start its future with Notre Dame as an 11-team league simply because there has not been a lot of serious talks with schools that may join the league, but since Notre Dame will not be joining the league until 2013-14, there is plenty of time to talk with potential candidates. Because of location, Holy Cross and RPI look like the best choices to join Hockey East. RPI is an interesting option because of its history.

The Engineers have rejected the possibility of joining Hockey East twice, which may make the league a bit hesitant about them. They do, however, have a rich hockey history in which they’ve won NCAA championships, played in national tournaments and competed against some of the Hockey East teams in the ECAC back before Hockey East was formed.

Holy Cross does not have that same history of national success, which may be a concern in a highly competitive league like Hockey East, but they’ve proven over the last few years that they can beat anybody. The Crusaders upset top-seeded Minnesota in an NCAA regional in 2006 and beat BU this season. Their rink is a bit small with a capacity of 1,600, almost 1,000 seats less than Merrimack’s Lawler Arena.

There are other options as well. Quinnipiac has been mentioned because of its state-of-the-art rink and growing interest in its hockey program, but it does not have the history of a highly competitive program that would make it a good option within Hockey East. It seems at this point like RPI would be the best choice should Hockey East add a 12th team, but it is also unclear how far west the league is willing to look and what type of assets it values in a 12th team (level of competition, facilities, tradition etc.)

What’s the most surprising storyline in Hockey East this season? – Anonymous

The most surprising storyline at this point would have to be the success of UMass-Lowell. The Riverhawks were picked to finish ninth in the league in the preseason poll and were an unknown considering they entered the season with a new coach, three young (in class year) goalies and a roster that seemed to only add one scorer in freshman Scott Wilson to a team that finished in eighth place offensively.

But the Riverhawks have proven themselves to all the naysayers. They have won seven of their last eight games, pushed their way into the national rankings and sit in fourth place in Hockey East entering the weekend. The only team they’ve really struggled to beat all year was BC, but that was before BC entered into its recent funk. Although BU fans may be bitter about UML’s 7-1 thumping of BU, what the Riverhawks have done so far this season should be appreciated. They’ve proven that parity in Hockey East is still strong and that there is no easy win in this league.

How likely do you think Rollie will be to get the start in future games? – Anonymous

Kieran Millan has to lose his job again, and as long as last Saturday’s game was an aberration, Millan won’t be losing his job any time soon. The biggest issue with Millan right now is that he seems to be a little too comfortable as the starter. He has said a few things that make it seem like he feels like he is owed the starting job because of how well he has played in his time at BU. While Millan did deserve to earn the first shot at being the starting goaltender, he did not earn the right not to lose his job, and that’s something Millan needs to remember.

I’d love to hear specifics about the recruiting process regarding how BU finds their players. For example, I would assume that Parker is coaching nearly every day during the hockey season. And I’m assuming Powers, Bavis and Geragosian are at BU games and practices for most of the time during the college hockey season. When do they find time to see the players? (particularly ones far away?) I’m assuming you need to see a player numerous times before making an offer to him? Are there other coaches that we don’t know about that see these players during the recruiting process? – Anonymous

As far as we know, there are no other coaches who do the recruiting for BU other than any coach listed on the coaching staff. Any time a coach is missing from a BU practice or game, it is because he is off recruiting somewhere. There are some breaks during the hockey season that make for a good time to go on a recruiting trip, and high school players also play on weekdays, so a coach could go recruit somewhere and still be at all the BU games. Coaches also go to showcase tournaments, especially in the summer, to see the best kids from a certain area play against each other, and that is a major way to find players. BU constantly has recruits coming for visits to Agganis during the week, and those visits provide coaches with another time to see a player or judge his character. BU coaches also have many contacts throughout the junior hockey world, so even if they only get to see a certain player in person a couple of times, they can always talk to people they know in that player’s league who can offer a perspective on him.

For BU player strength and conditioning work, how many days a week and hours are players expected/required to spend performing weight and cardio training? Do the players perform their strength training on an individual basis or does the entire team perform the work together at designated times? Finally, when the players are in the gym performing their training work, does Mike Boyle oversee every training session or does he just work with the players every other session or at some other cadence? – dff100

The hockey team basically works out (by doing some sort of exercise, not just in the gym) six days a week. They normally play games Friday and Saturday nights, and then they either have Sunday or Monday completely off from all aspects of hockey. Whichever day they don’t have off as well as Tuesdays through Thursdays normally involve gym workouts, practice in the mid-afternoon and video sessions. The team typically works out together at a specific time, but sometimes injured players will work out on their own. The team also does river runs about once a week. Mike Boyle does not oversee every training session, but he always has someone from his staff at Agganis with the players. He sets their work out routines, and the staff makes sure the players follow them. BU also has a big white board in the gym that lists each player’s name and his stats in workout categories. Boyle does work personally with the players over the summer and before the season gets going as much as he can.

I wonder if Coach Parker has ever considered playing Ben Rosen at the point on the power play. – Anonymous

Ben Rosen likely could play the point on the power play, and if the power play is struggling, he may end up there at some point, but he is not at the top of the list for options at the point. Both Adam Clendening and Alexx Privitera came to BU with the expectation that the two of them would be quarterbacks on the power play, and Chris Connolly, Sahir Gill and Wade Megan have all proven that they can play the point effectively as well. With Max Nicastro’s booming slap shot, it seems that Rosen would be a fourth or fifth choice on the point for the power play, thus making it unlikely that he would play there for a substantial amount of time this season.

I have a question regarding the recent change in defensive philosophy which began during the first BC/BU game where the team changed from a zone defense to a man-to-man defensive scheme. It appears that ever since this change went into effect, the team has looked more solid defensively, giving up fewer goals, odd-man rushes and grade-A chances. I wonder if Coach Parker could comment on how and why he feels this change in defensive scheme has led to better play and results on the part of the team. Also, could he explain the basic differences in the two schemes? – Paul

You’re right, Paul, ever since that weekend when BU played Merrimack and BC (Nov. 11 and 13, respectively) the defense has really stepped up. That was the weekend coach Jack Parker changed the system from zone defense (each player is responsible for a part of the ice) to a man-to-man version (each player is responsible for a specific player).

The main reason it’s worked is because, along with the new system, the team is stressing “accountability,” making sure each Terrier was on his man. With zone defense it’s too easy to not feel responsible for a player and, in turn, goals, but with man-to-man, if your guy scores it’s more on you.

Of course, goaltending needs to get some credit for this recent hot streak as well. The defense has been much improved, and Parker’s been especially impressed with Sean Escobedo and Max Nicastro lately, but Kieran Millan has more than held down the fort since that first BC game. Grant Rollheiser was impressive as well in the one game he started (4-3 win over Vermont on Nov. 18), given is sporadic playing time.

I’m curious about everyone’s favorite topic – Adam Clendening. I feel like he was really catching on at the end of last year which was really good for us. But this year he’s kind of back to his old ways, like first semester last year. So do you think last semester was a fluke or does he actually have it in him to be a consistent and solid player on this team? Or will he forever be too concerned with goal scoring to be a defenseman? -Anonymous

Last spring was not a fluke; that is how Clendening is expected to play and has indeed played for much of this season. Parker explained that last year, Clendening tried to do too much during the first half, and then the next semester rolled around and he started to figure it out. This year has been up and down, but, as Parker has pointed out, Clendening doesn’t get frustrated when he tries to do too much and fails, a problem of his last year. Clendening has had a tendency to step it up big time in the team’s bigger games (BC, UNH, Merrimack, Cornell), which is a big plus.

Clendening should (operative word) be “a consistent and solid player,” as you put it, not only on this team but also in all of college hockey, by Parker’s expectations. He said last week that him and Garrett Noonan are two of the best defensemen in Hockey East, though they “still learning how to live up to their [and] how to be responsible for their capabilities.” I think the Blackhawks would agree.

I’m interested in the emergence of the 4th line as a “go to” for BU. They bring some jump, energy and hard hitting action. Bernie said during the broadcast of the MSG game that they were BU’s best line. How’s about some coverage and love for those guys? -Anonymous

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the 4th line is the “go to” line for BU (it’s still the fourth line, after all), but they have certainly impressed of late. During Red Hot Hockey in particular, Justin Courtnall, Ben Rosen and Ross Gaudet played well, so much so Parker put them on the ice in overtime – leading to, of course, Gaudet’s game-winning goal.

Though he wasn’t on the fourth line at Madison Square Garden, Yasin Cissé has been a big part of that line’s revitalization. Cissé has shaken off a lot of his early rust after missing nearly two years with ankle and thoroughly pleased Parker. He’s very fast, good with the puck and physical, and Parker has gone as far as to say Cissé has the potential to play on the first line (though that would take a lot of bad luck for BU to happen this year). When you get a player like that on your fourth line, it’ll certainly help.

Will Alexx Privitera ever see any playing time this year? To be completely honest I think he is about 10x better then that traffic cone Ryan Ruikka. -Anonymous

Since this question as been submitted, Alexx Privitera has indeed received more playing time, and that looks like it will be the case for the foreseeable future. Clendening, Noonan, Escobedo and Nicastro are all playing well and have pretty solidified spots in the lineup, leaving the threesome of Ryan Ruikka, Patrick MacGregor and Privitera rotating in and out. Three guys, two spots. That’s the problem (or benefit) of depth.

Parker is a fan of Privitera (even though I don’t once remember calling the coach calling him by his name; it’s always ”6” or “the freshman defenseman”), and is working harder now to get him into the lineup on a regular basis. With the temporary loss of Clendening during the intercession, Privitera should play in all three of those games (Notre Dame, Merrimack and an exhibition against the U.S. U-18 Team), so Parker wants to prepare him for that.

That said, Parker does share your opinion, Anonymous, on Ruikka. He values the junior in terms of skill/ice time as well as leadership (the latter of which he has mentioned on multiple occasions), so don’t hold your breathe waiting for Ruikka to take a more permanent seat on the bench.

Also don’t forget about next year. It’s important to have Privitera learn to hold his own because in 2012-13, he’ll be a mainstay blue liner. Ruikka may or may not come back for his last year of eligibility (he’ll technically graduate in May, and has the option of going to grad school at BU to keep playing), and there’s always the risk of Clendening going pro after this year.

Do you think Parker shows too much unconditional love towards certain players? It seems to me that some of the “stars” get massive amounts of ice time and are pretty much allowed to behave anyway they choose on the ice with no repercussions while other hard working guys are healthy scratches or get minimal ice time. Is he afraid that these guys will be early departures if he takes a stand and benches them? -Anonymous

You might have a point. Rarely, if ever, does Parker ever bench one of his “star” players. Last week, after BU’s 5-3 over BC despite overall poor play, Parker strongly suggested someone would be sitting the next night. The only two that did were Cason Hohmann and Privitera, two players who were not at fault for “stupid” penalties or “selfish” play on Friday. Parker’s reasoning on Saturday was that, after looking at the game film, there weren’t nearly as many stupid penalties as he thought there was.

Still, you have to wonder if Parker’s afraid to take a stand. He benched Alex Chiasson for a game against UMass early this season, but that’s about it in terms of sending a signal to the big-name players. He probably should have benched Chiasson again Saturday night after Chiasson’s lazy play led to the third BC goal on Friday night, and then the assistant captain took two lazy penalties in a row. Parker voiced his displeasure with those plays when we spoke to him this Wednesday, but other than giving Chiasson a stern talking-to after Friday’s BC game, he did not do anything to our knowledge.

Beyond that, other stars have performed pretty well. Parker loves Corey Trivino. He’s liked Nieto and Coyle, especially together. Gill has impressed him with his skill and flexibility, being able to move from line to line. Though he hasn’t scored, Connolly has produced assists-wise and is the captain, so he surely won’t get benched. Parker has suggested that if he continues to struggle finding the back of the net dropping him down isn’t out of the question, but I don’t expect that given the fact that his line has produced.

On defense, guys have stepped it up a lot. Parker mentioned on Wednesday that Escobedo and Nicastro, two guys with big expectations coming into the season that struggled a bit, have really been coming into their own lately. Clendening, as discussed earlier, has had his ups and downs, but Parker likes his overall play. Noonan is arguably the most at fault for so-called “stupid” penalties, but I’m beginning to think that’s just his personality. Noonan is just a goofy, easy-going guy, and Parker has said Noonan lets his emotions get the best of him on the ice sometimes. Maybe the coach has just accepted that that’s who Noonan is.

One Comment

  1. Some thoughts on a 12th team coming into HE. The most logical and probably the best fit would be RPI by far, if HE is not going to go west to accommodate ND’s travel schedule. HE cannot get an IVY team,and shouldn’t/wouldn’t even try. Clarkson and St Lawrence will not go without each other. Nobody really cars about Union, Colgate and Quinnipiac. UConn would be a horrible choice. Holy Cross Hockey just isn’t exciting. Maybe RPI now realizes being tied to the IVY league is not all that great and a move to HE will benefit their program. I’d bet their fans would love the change.