Monday, December 28, 2015

Tkachuk 2.0

Tkachuk: Grit comes Naturally

It was the second game of 17 year old Matthew Tkachuk’s young career as a World

Junior candidate, USA’s split squad White team vs Sweden in front of a couple

hundred fans at Herb Brooks Arena in early August. Despite the low-key

surroundings, was a major career crossroads event for Tkachuk. According to head

coach Ron Wilson, Tkachuk appeared to be a projected cut going into that Sweden

game. And then the puck dropped.

Tkachuk found himself on a line with Dylan Larkin and Anders Bjork and together

they helped the son of Boston hockey God Keith Tkachuk generate an offensive

explosion, erupting for five points including a natural hat trick in the second period.

He ripped his three goals in a span of 3:31, causing Wilson to change his tune

immediately following the game.

“Tkachuk was the best player. He scored three goals and had two assists. He looked

like his old man out there, who I coached previously. It looks like he is going to get

to stay, he was one of the borderline calls for us, but he made up for it, we have no

problem keeping him around.”

Young Tkachuk’s full offensive repertoire was on display, complete with one-timers,

net crashing and a world-class assist off the rush to set up Bjork in the third. But it

was a goal he scored after he had fallen that made Wilson a believer.

“He has a nose for the net and he fights and claws and he’s tenacious like his dad

was. He scored a goal tonight that reminded me just of his dad. When he’s on his

knees and he poked at the puck, he got a rebound and he poked at it, that’s a Keith

Tkachuk goal, and his son made him proud, for sure.” Comparing any American

player to Keith Tkachuk is daunting. The BU product from Melrose bypassed

magical milestones of 500 goals, 1000 points and 2000 PIM’s over his 19 year NHL

career, one of the great power forwards in NHL history.

“It’s a great compliment by coach Wilson,” said Matthew Tkachuk when he heard

that he was being compared to his dad. “It’s pretty hard to play like him, he was a

great player. I’m just trying to make an impression on my coaches, make my

teammates better. I feel like every game is a bubble game from now on. You have to

go out and work your hardest and prove to them every shift that you should be on

this team.”

Matthew will never be confused with his dad physically. Keith had arguably the

greatest hockey derriere of all time, taking up a lion’s share of his 235 pound bulk

on a 6’2” frame. Matthew’s body is much better suited to the panther-quick version

of today’s hockey, a lean 6’1,” 195. But don’t mistake his quickness for finesse; there

is a lot of sandpaper in this kid’s makeup. “It’s a huge part of my game, I love flirting

with the edge, I like playing physical, I like playing gritty, I like ticking off the other


Even though Matthew was raised in St. Louis, he is fully aware of his Boston

heritage. “It’s a great sports city. I lived there in the summers, or have the past few,

not this year. I know growing up my dad was a huge believer in Red Sox and

Patriots. He grew up a Bruins fan, even the Celtics. Though we weren’t a basketball

family, but every time they’re on we seem to watch it. It just speaks to what sports

does for that city.” But when asked why he wasn’t interested in playing for a

Beanpot school his rapid-fire responses took a pregnant pause. “Ooh… It’s a cool

event, I think my brother (Brady, committed to BU) is going to be experiencing it in

a couple of years. I decided to take the OHL route and I’m sticking by it and couldn’t

be happier.”

So college fans in Boston will have to wait a couple of years before seeing the next

Tkachuk in the Beanpot. Matthew, however, is projected as a top-10 NHL draft pick

this year, so performing in Boston Garden will be not be a case of if but when. He has

been groomed for the NHL for as long as he can remember. “I’m really fortunate to

have grown up around the game for so long, seeing all the players coming through,

like Dougie Weight and Chris Chelios, I saw all those guys when I was younger, I

actually had a couple of players living at my house. It’s just great to see what they

can do.”

For Chelios, a recently addition to the Team USA coaching staff, experiences déjà vu

when he eyeballs Matthew Tkachuk. “I remember him as a kid during the Olympics

running around the room with his brother. But now watching him, everything was

net front just like his father. He showed signs of it the game before, crashing the net,

getting his stick on the puck. It’s funny to watch him, it’s just like watching Keith 20

years ago.”

In the subsequent game versus Finland, young Tkachuk found himself riding

shotgun with elite snipers Colin White of Hanover, Mass. and Minnesota man Brock

Boeser. Although he did not ring up the gaudy scoring numbers from the game

before, Tkachuk was a net-front force once again, scoring a greasy goal from the

dirtiest part of the rink. Late in the tie game he was given all the ice time he could

handle, an unspoken covenant with the coaching staff that he would park himself in

front of the net and create havoc. He honored that trust. Following the overtime win

over the Finns, Coach Wilson singled out Tkachuk once again. “He was one of our

best players.”

Two days earlier this unpolished 17 year old was on the verge of being sent home to

St. Louis. Now, after cuts and a team consolidation, he is firmly entrenched as go-to

force. He is a mainstay of the power play and has rung up four goals in his last two

games.  He must be the proudest kid at the Olympic Center right? All his dreams

unfolding before him, confidence peaking?

“I wouldn’t say it’s high, I wouldn’t say it’s low. I expect to play the best I can every

night,” said the surprisingly subdued Tkachuk after a post-game shower. “It’s a great

compliment from coach Wilson; I felt I played pretty good, but I felt I definitely could

have been better.” Cue the record scratch sound effect. The youngest impact player

on this squad has gone from outhouse to penthouse in 48 hours, Streisand is singing

“Star is Born,” and Boy Wonder remains even-keeled? Where in the world does he

get that from?

“Of course I’m happy for him,” came the long-awaited comments from proud papa

Keith Tkachuk. His name has been crossing more and more lips on each tier of the

Olympic Center as Matthew’s star began rising. The consensus was that the man

known as ‘Walt’ would swoop in to Placid see his son’s destiny being created first

hand. “We haven’t even spoken, just giving him his space,” said Keith. Is he surprised

how even keeled Mathew is after his oldest boy’s star turn? “Yes, he’s so young. I’ve

seen him grow up, he realizes the big picture, he wants to get better. There’s a

pressure to continue, build on the success.”

From there, the dad began to analyze the hockey reality that paved the way for

Matthew’s success: how he’s surrounded by guys who have all grown up on the

power play, point producers who like to hang around the half wall. They’re aren’t

naturally inclined to get dirty down low, and Matthew has filled that void and

embraced it. And that role is vital to the team’s success. Shortly after Wilson praised

the 6’1” Tkachuk for his fearless play, the coach challenged his 6’3” forward Alex

Tuch of BC to sharpen his mean streak. USA has underachieved in three of the last

four World Juniors, failing to make the semifinals each of the last two. Wilson

spelled it out in the presser: “We need net presence.”

Greatness finds those individuals through opportunity, sometimes before they know

they are ready. 17 year old Matthew Tkachuk has been groomed for this high-end

hockey job through nature and nurture, ahead of schedule, just like his dad. As a 19

year old, Keith played in both the World Juniors and the 1992 Albertville Olympics,

scoring a massive goal against the Russian “Unified Team” in the semifinals. He

scored from that same dirty area that Matthew has been working to earn his chops.

Current USA Hockey GM Jim Johannson was on that Olympic team with Keith, and

can’t help but compare father and son.

“I think down low the battle effort is real similar, I think the sturdiness is very

similar,” said the man known as JJ. “Keith, when he was younger, was more of a

spurt player, pretty immediate, pretty straight line. I think Matthew is a little bit

more creative. They both know how to get the edge on guys.” Then Johannson gave

the best dissection of the week between father and son. “I think they’re both smart

enough to know that when they get a guy under them, the guy might either take a

penalty against him, or the guy might overplay him the next time.  Matthew is

certainly elusive enough to get away when they do that. I think Keith would have

probably bowled him over.”

Today’s hockey no longer has roster spots for china shop bulls, but Team USA is now

enamored with the son of one. The sleek new edition of Tkachuk 2.0 should be ready

for its global debut New Year’s in Helsinki.

Hanging Out with Team USA's Colin White

Colin White: WJC Medal Hunting  Nancie Battaglia/USA Hockey
He's the leading scorer of Boston College as a freshman, he's an NHL first round pick, he's a Boston prep kid with parents who were sports stars in America's deep south; his biggest sports passion away from the rink is the NBA; He was named player of the game in USA's upset over World Junior champion Canada, he is 18 year old Colin White.

RinkRap: I'm looking at your bio, your folks have southern roots. How did you become a New England Yankee?
WHITE: Well, they lived in Pittsburgh originally. Then they both went south. My dad's work brought him up here. I lived here, moved to Nebraska for a couple of years because my dad was training for the Olympics out there, and then his work brought him back here, and have been here ever since.

RinkRap: How old were you when your dad was training for the Olympics? Was this track and field?
WHITE: Yeah, Track and Field. Age one to five. I was young, but I remember going to the track with him when I was five.

RinkRap: How important was he to your development?
WHITE: He's been huge. He's talks to me every day about stuff, helps me out. Anything I need, he's there for me. It's really special to have him, someone who's gone through the same thing.

RinkRap: He's a football guy. Is he picking up the nuances of ice hockey?
WHITE: Yeah, he's watching every night to try and help me every way I can which is awesome to have because he cares about it just as much as I do. Seeing him trying to pick up little things, pretty special.

RinkRap: Noble and Greenough, there's a nice little connection between them and B.C. Part of the pipeline? You and Miles Wood got a good thing going on?
WHITE: Yeah, he's my roommate, actually, too. It's pretty funny.

RinkRap: So he must be giving you World Junior advice?
WHITE: He definitely was. He said 'Just have fun with it, every moment, really. It doesn't happen often. But Nobles and B.C., there's a lot of guys there, so it's pretty fun to have in the locker room there.

RinkRap: Miles must have been the first guy to get plucked out of the Flood-Marr tournament to play in the World Juniors.
WHITE: I know, it's crazy, crazy.

RinkRap: I see some of your Tweets about Boston pro sports. What's your number one team you like to follow?
WHITE: I like following the Celtics a lot, for some reason. A good friend of mine has tickets a lot there, so I get to go to a lot of the games, so it's a pretty fun experience.

RinkRap: It's funny, there's not a lot of college hockey guys who would put NBA as #1. What is it that you like?
WHITE: Guys are so big, skilled guys, it's fun to watch if you ever want to get away from hockey sometimes, it's fun to watch different sports.

RinkRap: There are some parallels, the way they play without the ball?
WHITE: The same thing, five guys, moving it around, getting open without the ball, so you can translate it into your game really well watching basketball.

RinkRap: After your two years with the National Program, how cool is it to come back to Boston?
WHITE: Its awesome, I love being back here in Boston. It is home for me. Being able to have all my friends and family around all the time is awesome. So I'm loving it. 

RinkRap: How about playing at The Heights? They are giving you a lot of mature minutes up there. For a freshman, you're kind of a go-to guy. Do you like that?
WHITE: Yeah, I like it a lot. Coach York has a lot of trust in myself, which is great and out team's been doing unbelievable as well. Everyone is contributing, so the key is to keep trying to do that.

RinkRap: You look like you'll be part of history when coach York gets 1000. 
WHITE: It will be when I get back, yeah.

RinkRap: Has this year lived up to all your expectations?
WHITE: It's been awesome. I'm loving it so far.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Honest General

USA's Wilson: Hockey's Honest Abe
When you listen to USA World Junior coach Ron Wilson speak on the record, you notice a distinct difference from him and other high end coaches: he tells the truth, or at least, his truth. He does not rely on cliches or half truths, he will offer his genuine point of view, damn the consequences. Immediately after beating Canada Saturday he was greeted by TSN reporter Mark Masters, one of Toronto's endless supply of barking media dogs. Wilson once again spouted truth. "It felt especially good because I haven't won a game in four years. What better way to get back on the horse; beating Canada meant a lot to me."

For all intents and purposes, Team Canada at the World Juniors is Team TSN. The broadcast giant has devoted all its resources over the last 25 years into building the World Juniors into a major broadcast property, programming thousands of hours to fill the Christmas/New Year's holiday with images of amped up hockey teens draped in red Maple Leafs gleefully conquering hockey nations in Olympic-like settings. Starting in the epicenter of Toronto, Canada's holiday mantra is that Christmas represents World Junior Eve. And for hockey fans on both sides of the border, it's damn good theater.

Wilson: "I'm not what I'm painted by the Toronto media"
At this 2016 event, Wilson is irresistible fodder for the TSN media machine. When TSN is not on its World Junior beat, it is reporting on Canada's other favorite sports subject, the Leafs. And by coverage, we're talking about multi-day reports every day for the entire season and beyond. If you listen to the locals from Canada's hockey-mad Mecca, Wilson was run out of town by the rabid fans and media of Toronto in 2012. Four consecutive losing seasons will do that to you. Wilson's boss with the Leafs, and former college roommate at Providence, Brian Burke could not save him, but he did send him off with a fat contract extension shortly before the firing. And the soft-spoken 57 year old Wilson went quietly into the night, not heard from on the big stage until now, the World Juniors.

He has reappeared as the coach of Team TSN's chief rival, Team USA, who just so happened to be playing Canada on opening day of the tourney. The guy with a penchant for saying exactly how he feels, with no filters, is simply irresistible to TSN. They sent a reporter and a crew down to Boston the week before Christmas to file reports on their rival's last WJC tryout camp, wasting no time before poking the bear in the middle of a press scrum after practice. "Boston says you are laid back guy, have you mellowed?" Wilson took the bait and ran with it. "I'm not really a loud person," said Wilson, and a slow rumble of media laughter began. "You find that hard to believe. I'm not at all what I'm painted by some people in the media, especially, I hate to say it, the people of Toronto painted me all wrong. I probably played right into their hands. I'm not that type of a person."

The first thing Toronto's insatiable hockey universe hears from Wilson four years after riding him out on a rail is that they had it all wrong when it comes to their perceptions of him? It is no wonder TSN covered flights and hotels for their news crew to hustle down to Boston. In Saturday's half hour pre-game show, Masters reported how Wilson was "nervous" about his club's encounter with Canada. Wilson is part of TSN's media circus, but from his veteran perspective, he is busy coaching his squad, a squad that has boldly cut half a dozen high profile players including Leafs premier prospect Jeremy Bracco. Wilson, sporting his middle-aged reading glasses on the bench Saturday, had his charges amped and eager to confront their Canadian counterparts on Boxing Day. And when USA forward Alex DeBrincat got bounced from the game for crossing the line, Wilson dexterously moved his chess pieces, sliding up Brock Boeser and Ryan Donato to create two new lines, which both worked seamlessly. His choice of goaltenders, his biggest call of the day, was a jackpot as Alex Nedeljkovic stole the show.

Wilson and Yanks: Great Day at the Office Nancie Battaglia/USA Hockey.
For USA and Wilson, facing and beating the champs and their media horde on opening day was a supreme outcome; now TSN must turn their cameras inward as USA merely goes about their business with the confidence of having just scalped the best. "It gives us a feather in our cap," said an ebullient Wilson in the post game. Masters squeezed the final bit of news from the the Wilson topic by posting his last win as a hockey coach, February 15, 2012. Then he and his media mates went about the business of mitigating the painful yet not fatal loss to the Yanks.

Wilson's atypical honesty prompted him to reveal his cards as far as where this teen tourney fits on his lengthy resume. "It would mean everything. I have accomplished a lot, especially with the national team: I've won the World Cup, we finished second, silver medal in Vancouver, and we could have won that game. A gold medal here would certainly top my career off, as far as I can see I'm not going to have an opportunity to coach again, so the ultimate goal is try and win the gold medal."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New Beast in the Northeast

The Delbarton bus was idling outside Walter Brown Arena in Boston, full of pizza and winning grins, ready to take this group of rowdy hockey teens home to New Jersey. The captain and future Vermont Catamount Andrew Petrillo was stationed in the very back, talking about the Green Wave’s three big wins in Massachusetts. Coach Bruce Shatel was tucking into a peperoni slice up front, and goalie Troy Kobryn finally stashed his pads under the bus, hopped in with a grin, and the victory tour headed south.
Shatel's troops bag 3 wins in Boston
Shatel had done what years ago would have been unthinkable: a weekend sweep of Boston Catholic League powers Malden Catholic and Catholic Memorial, coming on the heels of an upset over highly touted Dexter prep. The Jersey guys had come into the Hub of hockey and claimed three major scalps, and were riding their luxury bus south like Roman Triumphs from the history books. For all intents and purposes, this was a historic group of wins, especially from the perspective of a hockey man from the previous century.
Jersey puck pioneer Richie McLaughlin
“We were (below) the Mason-Dixon line. No one thought we played hockey,” said Richie Mclaughlin, Randolph high school’s championship coach and a product of Livingston High and the New Jersey Rockets. He was a Jersey pioneer back in the early 1980’s, playing big-time college hockey for Merrimack College up in Massachusetts. “I used to love starting the game because they would have to say where you were from over the loudspeaker. There were always people who said something like ‘Ahh, from New Jersey.’ They just thought I was some dopey kid playing hockey that don’t have a chance in the world. It always meant something to beat out a kid and to play well up there. It was always in the back of your mind that you had to play better every game and every shift because you’re from New Jersey. The coaches are all from Massachusetts, everyone’s from Massachusetts. There was no one else from New Jersey, it was new, it was something new and you had to prove yourself every day, to everybody.”

“I know exactly what Richie is talking about,” said Delbarton coach Bruce Shatel, whose Green Wave skaters have been directly responsible for Jersey shedding the reputation of second class hockey citizens. “We had something to prove about 10 years ago; I think over time we’ve been fortunate to have had some success.  Anybody who knows anything about hockey knows that guys can play in New Jersey.” Shatel had watched the NHL’s New Jersey Devils host the Maple Leafs the night before, and was armed with fresh intel. “If you look at the game last night, (Kyle) Palmieri is on the sheet, and so is (James) Van Riemsdyck, they’re both New Jersey natives. We got Johnny Gaudreau, you know, a superstar in the league, and hopefully our guy Kenny Agostino is going to get his opportunity to make his mark. You know, as far as going up there (Mass.) with something to prove, years ago I think we all felt that way, but now I think there’s a mutual respect.”

Maybe even envy. Malden Catholic is the three-time defending Super-Eight champion of Boston, but they could not contend with Delbarton’s relentless forecheck for three periods, and succumbed to the Green Wave 4-1 on December 19. “You know, they’re a class program,” said Malden coach John McLean in the post game. “I don’t know if we’re going to see many teams like that this year. They’re deep, they’re big and they’re strong. They’ve got some high-end talent. I’d like to play them another 10 times to be honest with you.”
Power forward Anthony Farinacci
Perhaps their most talented scorer is 6’3” power forward Anthony Farinacci, a senior who blasted in the tying and winning goals versus Malden Catholic. At this writing he has not declared his intentions, considering everything from a NESCAC school to a gap year in British Columbia before going Division I. He is impossible to ignore on the ice due to his shot and net drive. “Anthony Farinacci could play on any team. He’s a college prospect,” said Boston-based player agent Matt Keator, whose clients include Zdeno Chara, Paul Stastny and Chris Kreider. “They (Delbarton) always produce kids that go to college and can play.” And it’s not just Shatel and Delbarton developing these kids. New Jersey has benefitted from USA Hockey’s coaching outreach, manifesting in elite travel teams throughout the Garden State. “Go to Division I rosters, there’s New Jersey kids sprinkled around all over the place,” said Keator. “That has a lot to do with the development models they have in place down there, whether it’s with the New Jersey Avalanche program or the Colonials, you’ve got great developers of talent down in that area, people that work with players and make them elite. It’s a whole different landscape now.”

A vital component to Shatel’s current juggernaut is the impact he gets from his four freshman, all groomed by New Jersey travel programs. “The one thing we learned on our first trip to Boston (beating Dexter) is that none of our 9th graders were scared, and that’s important,” said Shatel. “They dove right in and that was real nice to see.” As a former scout for the St. Louis Blues, Keator knows talent on a national scale, and said it is common knowledge that both Ryan Siedem and John Farinacci are two of the best 2001’s (birth year) in the country. Young Farinacci combined with his older brother Anthony on the winning goal Saturday, and potted the game winner on Sunday. “For him to make the team as a freshman was unbelievable,” said an obviously proud big brother Saturday. “And now he had a point with me on the same line, it’s pretty cool.” Young John replaced his big brother as the offensive hero the next afternoon against a gritty Catholic Memorial squad. He swooped into the slot and one-timed a perfect feed to break a scoreless tie in the third period. Shatel was obviously impressed: “The freshman came up big, burying it to make it 1-0.”
“It feels great,” said the 5’9” 155 pound 14-year-old, who looks like he’s never handled a razor in his life. He imparted wisdom nevertheless. “It’s a great thing for our program, taking down three amazing teams.” Young John was referring to the three-team sweep of Beantown’s best, a feat that Shatel could not remember having ever accomplished. The captain, whose brilliant skating and precision passing kept the Green Wave rolling all weekend, spoke for all. “As a New Jersey high school team nobody expects us to do this,” said Petrillo. “In everybody’s mind in the hockey world this isn’t supposed to happen. Well, we have a special group; we love proving everybody wrong, that’s what we’re all about.” 

The late December sun sunk into the westbound ribbon of the Mass. Pike, as the victorious econoliner headed home, undefeated and brimming with hard-earned confidence to help them with future battles.

McLaughlin still bursts with pride when the boys come back to Jersey with scalps from up north, because he remembers the old days. “It was a big deal to go up there and win. It was great to say that hockey’s not just in Massachusetts. It’s still a big deal. These guys don’t think it as much any more, but it is a big deal.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

The New Haven Miracle

In their last game before the holiday break, Yale beat Boston University 3-2 in New Haven in what was considered a minor upset. This begs the question, when WAS the last time Yale beat BU at the Whale? A lengthy shuffle through the record book is required, but there it is: February 18, 1978. 38 seasons ago, the dark ages of no facemasks and steel-post skates. An Internet search reveals Peter Gammons calling Yale’s 7-5 win “college hockey’s upset of the decade” in Sports Illustrated. This demanded a closer look. What we found was a moment in time carved permanently into the memories of participants from both Red and Blue: Rhodes Scholars, 1980 Miracle Men and a coaching icon. It was also the finest hour for late coach Tim Taylor of Yale, colored by the backstory of a hockey friendship for the ages.

1978 was the “Year of the Terrier” in eastern hockey; the NCAA champs’ roster was a murderer’s row featuring three members from the Miracle on Ice: Jim Craig, Jack O’Callahan and Dave Silk. BU was 21-0 as they roared into New Haven to face a bunch of Ivy Leaguers that were three games below .500. How in the world did Yale knock off the beast of the east? We begin with BU’s captain.
Boston Media Darlings
“We were rolling and we were playing great,” said Jack O’Callahan last week, animated on his commute home to the Chicago suburbs. “We were cocky, for sure. That year we were getting more press than the Bruins, we were in the newspapers more than any of the other sports teams in Boston at that time.” Let that sink in--a college hockey team getting top billing in the pro sports mecca of Boston? Preposterous. Yet if you drop by BU’s famous eatery T. Anthony’s today, you will see a 1978 Boston Globe Magazine cover featuring O’Callahan and his best bud John Bethel framed in living color next to the takeout counter. Another era, indeed. 
Jackie Parker and the Brash Brothers
The Terriers team bus pulled into New Haven on a February Friday night before their Saturday matchup with 9-12-1 Yale, a game to be televised all over New England on Bob Gamere’s ECAC Game of the Week. These were the pre-Hockey East days, with Yale playing the role of Christians to the Lions of BU. “Yale didn’t belong out there,” was the brutally honest assessment of Yale’s equipment manager Ed Maturo, now serving Quinnipiac. “It was like David and Goliath.” Yet head coach Jackie Parker smelled trouble. Yes, Jackie Parker, not the mellowed 70-year-old statesman of the sport now known as Jack Parker. This was Parker as a brash 32 year old, with his signature red plaid sports jacket and his four pack-a-day smoking habit. It was no coincidence that his club was the cockiest and winningest team in the NCAA in 1978. “Any time we went into a building it was a hostile environment,” said Todd Johnson, a freshman center on that club and Parker’s close friend today. “They didn’t like BU. We fed off that, there was no question, and Jack would always tell us ‘Go out, and be cocky.’ He got a kick out of it. Yeah he’d say it in the room and we’d go out and warm up in front of packed houses. They didn’t like us. We liked that.”

Jackie Parker knew this team as well as any he’s ever coached, and he didn’t like what his gut told him the night before this game. “I could tell we didn’t seem as focused as we should be. When you don’t respect your opponent you get beat. And I thought a little of that was going on.” Like many disciplinarian coaches, he knocked on doors the night before. “Jack, he’d go room-to-room,” said Johnson. “He came into my room and he goes ‘What are you doing?’ I go “I really don’t feel well, and my mother told me to take a hot bath.’ He goes ‘Eh, OK.’ ” 

Parker’s own gut issues were realized in the lobby the next day at noon. His captain, O’Callahan, was AWOL. “We’re in New Haven in some hotel," said O'Callahan. "So we get up to go to the game and John Bethel my roommate both at school and on this trip, very good hockey player, we were like three minutes late for the bus going over to the rink. We get down to the lobby, again, we were cocky, right? And so we’re late for the bus and Parker left without us! He left me and Bethel at the hotel. And Bethel was kind of hot about it, I was like ‘whatever, let’s just get a cab.’ Well trying to get a cab in New Haven back then was next to impossible, and so we waited around for this cab for half an hour or so. So we get to the game late, you know Parker’s there, he’s really mad at us. I’m a team captain, Bethel was one of our top players, and he’s like ‘Who the hell do you guys think you are, being late for the bus? You cocky this and that.’ He just laid into us. Bethel starts arguing with him. We’re playing Yale, a team we’re expected to beat pretty handily, but the game started out on a funky note because he benched me and Bethel for the first period. Both of us are on the power play, both of us played a lot of minutes, and we sat there for the first period. Parker had a sour puss on, the team was like ‘What the hell is going on?’ Dissension on the bench, and you know, Bethel is in bad mood, Parker is in a bad mood. So anyway, that’s how it started.”

All of this was unbeknownst to the Yalies, who after years of dismal play, were enjoying a minor renaissance and were ready for their televised moment in the sun. “We felt good going into the game,” said sophomore Gary Lawrence, a future Rhodes Scholar and emblematic of Yale’s elite prep roster. “Tim (Taylor) prepared us well; we knew what we were up against: Silk, (Mark) Fidler and Bethel. This was a big game for Tim. He and Parker had known each other for a long time.” Parker and the late Tim Taylor had spent countless hours on the ice at the old Lynn Arena playing with and against each other throughout their hockey childhood. At Taylor’s 2013 memorial service, Parker spoke lovingly about how Taylor took it upon himself to help the younger Parker with his faceoffs. Boston native and Harvard man Taylor finally got his chance to be a head coach in New Haven, and it was in his second year that Yale was primed to serve notice via Boston media that there was a pretty decent hockey club two hours south of the Hub.
Tim Taylor: Pride in Preparation
There were three high-profile goalies in the belly of the Yale Whale that night: BU captain Brian Durocher; the soon to be famous Jim Craig; and Yale sophomore Keith Allain, who was busy setting save records for the Bulldogs. But it was the unheralded Yale freshman Mark “Chico” Rodrigues who stole the show during this matinee. “I saw the crowd and the TV cameras and I went nuts,” said Rodrigues to the Boston Globe in the post game. Ironically, Rodrigues had applied and been accepted to BU. "I don't think they even knew I played hockey." "It was one of the few games that Keith Allain didn’t play,” said Maturo. “There must have been 30 scouts, I think Chico made about 45 saves and he got drafted that year, from that one game (laughs). Never played many more after that.” So with Durocher and Rodrigues between the pipes and Allain and Craig on the bench, it was Game On. The Bulldogs scored early, but Silk answered for the Terriers a scant two minutes later. This set the tone for a high-scoring dogfight featuring 12 goals and four lead-changes, turning the elegant Yale Whale into a certifiable madhouse. “It was a wild game. If you’ve ever been in Ingalls rink, the Whale, I mean it was packed, SRO plus,” said Yale junior Kirk Bransfield, who proved to be another unlikely hero. “It was wild, wild, it was going crazy, holding on and holding on and staying in the game. CJ Marrottolo (North Haven, Conn.) who coaches at Sacred Heart, coached at Yale a long time said ‘I’ve been down there a million times and I’ve never seen the place that wild.’ The roof practically coming off the building. People cheering and screaming.” Johnson remembers the Bulldog fans taunting the Terriers. “Oh yeah, they’re chanting 21-1!”

Clashing Captains: O'Callahan and Blue (Yale SID)
But the Terriers were professional killers, and they crept into the lead in third period, and were handed a power play. BU had a phenomenal record in one-goal games that year, and were ready to turn out the lights on Yale and their raucous crowd. “I think everybody in the rink is thinking BU is going to score and pull ahead by two,” said Taylor in the post game. But a blocked shot, one of dozens for the fearless Elis this afternoon, flipped the script. “Donny Blue blocked a shot,” said Bransfield. Blue, the captain of these upstarts, scooped up the puck and sailed into the BU zone flanked by Lawrence on a two-on-one. Blue chose to shoot rather than pass, then crashed the net and stashed the rebound to tie the game at four with his brilliant short-handed goal, rattling the champs and re-igniting the combustible crowd. And with five minutes remaining in a tie game, the Bulldogs tore the roof off the sucka.

Bransfield was a defensive defenseman, but he cheated into the attacking zone and collected an errant puck to score his first goal in two years. “Jimmy MacDonald was fighting for it, and he threw it out in front of the net and it came off Anders Carlsson’s skate right onto my stick, and I just let it rip. It beat Durocher up high to the Zamboni side of the rink. The place went wild.” And for the first time ever, the stoic Tim Taylor actually succumbed to emotion. “Tim was raucous on the bench,” said Bransfield. “There was a huge celebration when we went ahead 5-4, the band was going wild in the rink. I came skating across, did the toe jump with the stick up in the air. Taylor’s on the bench, he’s got his fist pumping.” Seven seconds into mosh pit party the Bulldogs smoked Durocher again and bedlam reigned. “I don’t think he (Taylor) even saw David Harrington’s goal, being the 6th goal, because he’s too busy, got his hands on my shoulders talking to me, saying all sorts of stuff.” The on ice party continued to rage, as two minutes later MacDonald set up Carlsson for the Bulldogs' symbolic knockout. Four unanswered goals, three in exactly two minutes and 10 seconds. Bob Gamere screamed into his mic, “THE ROUT IS ON.”  Down goes Frazier, Down goes Frazier. No one had ever KO’d BU, let alone a bunch of Ivy Leaguers with a losing record. The final score appeared to be a respectable 7-5, but Jackie Parker’s cocksure Terriers had been spanked, and spanked hard. BU’s Johnson reflected. “Not good. Not only did you lose, but you lost to an Ivy League school that didn’t win very often. It wasn’t good.”  

This was not, however, the typical struggling Yale squad of the previous decade. Taylor was the new sheriff in town, a chess master who had already orchestrated upsets over eastern powers BC, Cornell and Providence before this gem, a performance the Globe's Joe Concannon called a "masterpiece." He knew Parker’s team, with its devastating power play designed to find the off-wing shooter. With a week to teach, his squad was fully briefed. “It was amazing how well we were prepared for that game,” said Bransfield. “Every single time that puck would go over there, you’d be saying to yourself  ‘I can block this shot, I can block this shot, because you knew it was coming, you knew almost methodically where it was, second nature, because he had gone over it so much that week.”

Taylor had beaten his protégé, and Parker acknowledged the significance. “We were the #1 team in the nation, undefeated and untied, Timmy was just starting to build a program. That was a real benchmark win for Yale under Tim Taylor.” The two old pals had a friendly chat before the game, and an unexpected three-way meeting afterward in the bowels of the still shaking Whale. “My oldest daughter Allison, probably ten years old at the time, always took the road trips with us,” said Parker. “I was in the dressing room with the team afterwards, and then I came out and she was standing outside the door crying. And I said ‘Allison, what’s the matter?’ She said, ‘What’s the matter? We lost!’ Because, you know, she had never seen us lose that year yet. And I said, ‘Allison, you don’t go crazy when you win, you shouldn’t cry when you lose.’ ‘Oh, I’m not crying just because we lost. I’m crying because we lost to such a lousy team!’ And I remember saying ‘Alison, come with me.’ And I brought her down to Timmy’s office. ‘Timmy, Come out here. I just want to tell you some perspective my daughter has on this.’ ”

Happier Times for Durocher and O'Callahan
Levity also flows from the players on both sides, as this game resonates in perpetuity. Chicago resident O’Callahan was in New York for a post 9-11 fundraiser, chock full of Big Apple financial heavyweights. He found himself in a room full of Yalies, three of whom who played in that fateful game. “They found out I was in the room,” said O’Callahan. “These three guys, good naturedly of course, harassed me the whole night about that game. It was like the greatest thing that ever happened to Yale hockey was knocking off the undefeated BU team in 1978. Here we are 20 years later they wouldn’t leave me alone about it. They were telling everybody ‘Yeah we kicked your ass!’”

“I was with my brothers, Steve, Bobby and Jimmy MacDonald,” said Dave Harrington, who along with MacDonald, combined for four points on that historic night. “Bobby has a photographic memory and was able to take Jack through the game shift by shift. It was laugh-out-loud funny.”

Shortly after that fateful game, O’Callahan and his mates went on to win the Beanpot, the NCAA championship, and then dwarfed all that by capturing Olympic gold. He was later portrayed in a popular movie about those magical two weeks in Lake Placid. Knowing a thing or two about upsets, he gets the final word.

“That, was Yale’s Miracle on Ice moment.”

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Four Coaches Sound Off

Seth Appert, Keith Allain, Ted Donato and Rand Pecknold, four veteran Division I coaches sound off as they approach the NCAA Holiday break. We'll start with Pecknold, whose Quinnipiac Bobcats are undefeated and enjoy the top pairwise ranking in the country. Despite jumping off to an historic start, Pecknold knows his 'Cats are far from perfect, especially with their propensity to take penalties. Here were his comments after taking four penalties in the second period against Yale Friday night.

"You know we go in spurts. They're young and they're immature and they're excited and they're into
PECKNOLD: We've got to be smarter. (USCHO)
it. You want them to be fired up so we got to play on that edge, but we got to be a little smarter." And on Landon Smith's brilliant snipe that proved to be a dagger to the rival Bulldogs: "He's a goal scorer. He had a two on one, he's got Sam Anas with you, everyone's thinking he's going to pass it to him, and he's just short side under the bar. That's a big time goal. He's got one of the best releases in the country, and we want him to use it, we want him to shoot that puck if he feels like he's got an opening."

Pecknold's Whitney Avenue rival Keith Allain's Yale squad has hit a low point, likely
ALLAIN's Struggling Bulldogs: We're Close
to plummet in the polls after being swept at home by Quinnipiac and Princeton. Here is where taskmaster becomes educator. Allain calmly assessed his club after being shut out by their Hamden neighbors. "I give them a 'B'. I thought Alex (Lyon) did a good job. We're close, but not where we need them to be. I've got a good group in there and we've got some work to do. There are a number of things: We have to be more efficient with our scoring opportunities, we had a number of good opportunities that we didn't execute very well; I think we need to be quicker to pucks; We need to have stronger sticks; We need to do a better job getting the puck out of our zone; on special teams tonight I thought our penalty kill was very good, our power play wasn't. Is that a long enough list for you?"

Three hours west in Troy, New York, Ted Donato was chafing after Harvard's ungratifying scoreless tie with RPI. A week prior his Crimson's offensive arsenal forced Notre Dame to take nine penalties resulting in three power play goals and an easy Harvard victory. On this night at the Houston Field House he felt the game was characterized by
DONATO: Officiating not where it should be. (Crimson)
blocking and tackling rather than skill, and that Division I hockey officials are struggling to maintain order on the ice. "In all honesty it turns into less than a hockey game, it was a wrestling match down there at the end. It's not healthy to have all these 0-0 games. Maybe that's just the status of hockey these days. We had 75 shots over the weekend and three power plays, it doesn't really make a lot of sense."
Q: Is it all the blocking and tackling out there? Is that the state of Division I hockey?
"I think so, I don't think it's anything to do with any particular team. If you look at the National Hockey League and college hockey in general, they don't really resemble each other in how the games are called. That's just the reality of it. I personally don't like it. The standard, in general, is not where it should be."

APPERT: Love conquers analytics (ECAC)
100 feet down the hall the loquacious Seth Appert was holding court with the Capital District media regulars. His Engineers have a winning record and is the only team to beat powerhouse Boston College, yet RPI is near the bottom of all the new puck-possession analytics. "Scoring chances, yeah, they're important, shots on goal are important, but what's really important is how hard you're playing for the other guys in the room, especially in college. It may be a little different in pro, but teams that have won at high levels here at RPI, the teams I've won with at Denver loved each other, loved the program, and wanted to do anything they could for each other. I thought we lost sight of that last year, and our older guys have done a really good job of that this year. Some teams play with each other, we need to be a team that plays for each other. Teams that play for each other will do anything for each other. They'll block shots, they'll take hits, they'll backcheck. Teams that play with each other only want to do things that they want to do. More often than not this season we've been a team that's played for each other. Teams that love each other and play for each other win, and that trumps analytics."

Love conquers analytics, that will be the final word as the Holiday season envelopes us.


Saturday, December 5, 2015

White-Hot Goalie Garteig Scalps Yale

Quinnipiac's Garteig Conquers the Yale Whale
Quinnipiac and Yale's rivalry made the New York Times on Thursday, a story with quotes calling this NCAA border war the best sporting rivalry in Connecticut. Yale coach and relentless contrarian Keith Allain, however, downplayed the rivalry to the Paper of Record, saying that Yale recruits different players, doesn't offer scholarships and that the two programs are "very, very different." Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold countered. "I'm O.K. if Yale doesn't want to call it a rivalry." And then he spread that mantra to the players in his room. It seeped out in the post-game presser from supreme goaltender Michael Garteig who had just shut out Yale and is undefeated in 7 career starts against the Bulldogs. "It's always fun when we play them. Whether they say it's a rivalry or not, to us it is, so it's fun when we play here, and it's fun when we beat 'em."

Garteig had oodles of fun in Friday night's showdown, especially when Yale began their desperate push in the third period when they were down two goals, as he willed himself to keep Yale's plethora of Grade-A chances off the scoresheet. Allain, a former standout goalie for Yale, was not particularly impressed. "We were slow to shoot on a couple of occasions," said Allain in the press conference. "We put a couple right in his belly, but he did his job." It was up to Pecknold to put Garteig's audacious accomplishments in perspective. "He's really good, his numbers prove it. I thought he played great tonight, he battles and we kind of feed off that battle level." In terms of the inner workings of this rivalry, Yale's trump card has always been superior defense, let by their All-American goalie Alex Lyon. This statement game saw Lyon clearly outplayed by his Quinnipiac counterpart, who was fully aware of the star-power in the crease 200 feet away from him all night. "I can't score goals on him and he can't score on me, well I hope not, at least," said Garteig with a laugh. "You know he's a good goalie, obviously he's got the accolades to prove it. We got to do what we do to get goals on him and we did that tonight."

There was no doubt that this night belonged to Garteig: not only did he record his 3rd shutout in five games to leave rival Yale scrambling with a 4 point deficit in the standings, but he broke the Quinnipiac goaltending record with 60 career wins. No one better than Pecknold to put that accomplishment into perspective; the veteran coach has coached every star goalie in the program's history. "We've had some great goalies at Quinnipiac, I've been very fortunate. Jamie Holden, Justin Eddy, (Eric) Hartzell, J.C. Wells, we've had a lot of great goalies. For Gartzie to put that number up there, he didn't get a win his freshman year, so he did it in three years. I'm proud if him, he plays hard and I say it all the time, we feed off him. He's great in practice for us and it makes us better. He's a big part of this team, no question."

Meanwhile, eight miles south down Whitney Avenue, in rink that is 17 years older than the Quinnipiac varsity program, Yale's bedrock goaltender was beaten cleanly for three goals this night: Tim Clifton wrist shot stick side; Landon Smith snipe over the glove; Devon Toews wraparound glove side. Three is far too many to compete with Garteig while on his current six-game streak that features a 0.34 Goals Against Average. Quinnipiac captain Soren Jonzzon echoed Pecknold regarding the Bobcats' reliance on Garteig. He told New Haven Register beat writer Chip Malafronte, "When he's playing that well behind us, it gives us confidence to play more aggressively. We know if we missstep (and) they beat us, 97 out of 100 times he's going to bail us out." Jonzzon's math needs correcting. Over Garteig's last six games, he has bailed out his team 98.5 times out of 100, according to his save percentage. He has been the driving force in Quinnipiac's undefeated streak to start the season, which has historians scouring the record books. At this writing it stands at 14-0-2 and counting  Has Garteig ever been on a streak anything like this? "I won 42 games in a row in juniors," he said gleefully. "Keep er going."