Wednesday, May 11, 2016

B.U. Men Shine Under Hottest Lights

Penguins rookie coach Mike Sullivan was living out a Kafka-esque nightmare Tuesday in Pittsburgh. A period away from closing out the NHL's best regular season team, his squad took three straight delay of game penalties for firing the puck over the glass. None of the network broadcasters had ever seen anything like it. The resulting manpower became 5 on 4, then 5 on 3, then 5 on 4, and then 5 on 3. When the ice chips settled, the powerhouse Capitals had tied the game at three, sending it to overtime.

Remarkably, Sullivan appeared calm throughout his tumultuous journey to Bizzaro-world. His face was only one shade closer to red as he sought an explanation from the refs after the third straight delay of game call. "I've never seen it in all the years I've been around the game, I'll tell you that," said Sullivan to in the post-game. "Three delay of game penalties in a row like that. That's a tough one to swallow, you know?" Sullivan's college coach, B.U. legend Jack Parker, knows Sullivan well and was one of the few that detected the immense stress his protege was under.

"When he had is arms folded in front of him, look how hard he was grabbing his stomach," said Parker. "It was like he was in a straight jacket."

Sullivan and the Pens weathered the unprecedented storm, ("It could have been a lot worse," said Parker), got to overtime and then overwhelmed the Caps with a non-stop flurry in the extra session. Former Terrier Nick Bonino was the man of the late-hour, pounding in the series-winner to catapult the Cinderella Penguins into the conference final. Kudos are in order for Sullivan for standing firm when America's top hockey pundits were loudly questioning his tactics.

In the third period prior to the delay of game triple nightmare, Pierre McGuire, a single stride from Sullivan inside the glass, wondered aloud when Sullivan would rein in his run-and-gun Pens, and collapse back into a defensive shell. He asked Sully point blank whether he was worried about all the odd-man rushes against during his in-game interview spot. Sullivan said his troops just needed to make better decisions with the puck. He would not take his foot off the gas.

McGuire and Milbury, From the Gallery
In the overtime intermission Mike Milbury was incredulous that journeyman minor leaguer Conor Sheary was getting the same amount of ice time as superstar Sidney Crosby. Parker leaped to Sullivan's defense. "I heard Milbury," said Parker by phone the next morning. "I always tell people It's real easy to coach someone else's team. Crosby doesn't kill penalties, that's why he was so fresh for the overtime." As far as McGuire advocating for a defensive clampdown? "I've always felt the 1-2-2 defense is like the prevent defense in football," said Parker. "It prevents you from winning the game."
Parker: "It's real easy to coach someone else's team."
Sullivan stuck to his philosophy, distributing ice time through all four lines who hunted pucks down all over the Penguins defensive zone. His fresh troops simply swarmed Washington in sudden death, choking the life out of the Caps with their relentless pursuit. The face of the Penguins franchise,"Sid the Kid," was all smiles in the jubilant post game, and couldn't wait to take on Tampa in a conference final that should resemble a track meet. "It will be fast hockey for sure," said the gleeful Crosby to McGuire after completing the traditional handshake line.

Sullivan has a history of facing down neighsayers. B.U. national championship hockey alum Todd Johnson recalls another bizzare Sullivan anecdote when he was in his original NHL coaching job with the Bruins. "During the lockout (2005), Mike coached a local pee wee team," said Johnson.
"He did all the right things, taught them all the game, shared ice time equally. You'd think the parents would be honored that a former NHL player and the coach of the Bruins was coaching their kids. Well what did they do? The parents had a big meeting and protested that their kids weren't getting enough ice time. What a joke, unbelievable."

After being confronted by passionate youth hockey parents, the slings and arrows from television talking heads is pretty routine for Sullivan. His triumph over both the bizarre circumstances in the series clincher and the NBC neigh-sayers brings to mind the Rudyard Kipling classic Poem "IF."

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
—you’ll be a Man, my son.

One of the biggest stories heading into the NHL's final four is the courageous leadership of Mike Sullivan. A man, indeed.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Back to the Future for Stan Fischler

The Maven
Stan Fischler is an incredibly spry octogenarian, often found riding his bike in Central Park or hustling for a game of "Paddle." He still blogs and reports on camera for MSG Network, patrolling NHL press rooms before games sharing R-rated jokes, and then writing his post-game hockey blog deep into the night. A quintessential New Yorker, he insists that he is from Brooklyn. RinkRap caught up with Fischler prior to Game 4 of the Islanders-Tampa Conference semifinals from Barclays Center. 

"I started watching hockey in '39. The Americans were still playing into the '41-'42 season, I'm living in Brooklyn. By that time I'm 10 years old, so I was very deep into hockey with what the hell is going on. And I knew that Red Dutton changed the name from the New York Americans to the Brooklyn Americans because he wanted to build a Brooklyn rink for the club downtown, right about where the Barclays Center is, where we are now. So I was very aware that something like that might happen, and of course the dream was, since I lived within walking distance, 582 Marcy, near Myrtle, I could walk to the games. That was a nice dream. Now I subway to Barclays. I take it all the time. I get on my home stop 110th and Broadway, I take the local to 96th and then I catch the 2 or the 3 and they go right to here.

What's the commuting time?
Oh about 40 minutes, or about five pages in a book. I read slow.

When did you start realizing that your dream of NHL hockey in Brooklyn might become a reality?
During the last lockout (2012), when they announced that the team would be coming here, I came here, they had a press conference, the commissioner Gary Bettman was here, Charles Wang of the Islanders. Already the building was done, the signing was the fait accompli, dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's. Naturally I was excited about it because I knew exactly where Dutton was... I used to play hockey at the Brooklyn Ice Palace where Dutton's Americans used to practice in '41-42, and the Ice Palace was only about a 10-minute walk from here. It was on Atlantic between Nostrand and Bedford.
You didn't ask me how I played hockey.

Well, how did you play?
The answer is badly.

There Used to be a Ballpark
Last Tuesday, when you saw all the pomp and circumstance of a Stanley Cup second round game in Brooklyn, that must have been a bit of a dream.
The first thing I did was get goose pimples. From the very first time I went to Madison Square Garden in 1939 I was absolutely awe-struck by the whole hockey scene, the ice, the color the whole thing. Even when I worked for the Rangers in 1954-55, the first thing I would do is walk into the building and just look at the ice, it always fascinated me. Of course the fact that this thing was in Brooklyn just knocked me out. Plus it was done very classy, with a color guard and with the anthem sung. What I did, which was sort of a reflex going back to when I was in publicity, I always looked around to see the crowd, to see a full house, a very intense, high decibel count, it was the equal of Nassau Coliseum, which I loved also. It was a combo. I get goose pimples for certain songs, and certain events, and of course when I think about hockey I think about the fact that it was my father that took me to a game. If it wasn't for that, who knows what would have happened?

Of all the New York boroughs, where does Brooklyn rank?
I grew up in Brooklyn. People ask me where I'm from, if I go to visit relatives elsewhere, in Israel with my  son, I say "From Brooklyn." Always Brooklyn. I went to Brooklyn College, my father and mother were both born in Brooklyn. I lived at 582 Marcy for 22 years, you can't get more Brooklyn than that.

I covered the Dodgers for the Journal American newspaper when they won the Series in '55, also covered Game 7 in '56 when they lost to the Yankees. Just recently when my grandchildren were here from Israel with my son Simon, we went to Coney Island, twice. Not for the rides, but for the beach because it was warm. You can't have more Brooklyn than Coney Island and Nathan's hot dogs and the whole schmear.

Didn't you play a lot of paddle ball on Coney Island?
I haven't played paddle for about three years. The last guy I played paddles with was Alan Kreda of the Times, and I beat the crap out of him, he can tell you that. Brooklyn is a good place for paddles. I was supposed to play Sean Avery and he backed out. Lame excuse, too. Of course, I love paddles.

Do these Islander games against Tampa remind you of "The Bums" heartbreaks against the Yankees?
Of courseI was there in '41 when Mickey Owen missed the third strike and Tommy Henrich goes to first base, DiMaggio comes up and starts the kill. That scar never goes away for anybody who was around then. The Dodgers theme was always "Wait Until Next Year," until finally '55. Losing in overtime the way they (the Islanders) did, it was "Wait Until Next Game."

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Captain Calls out for Help

Forester Tradition Threatened

Dear Friends of LFC Hockey,

I played at LFC from 1974-1978 and had the honor to be one of the captains of the 1978 men’s team that won the NCAA D-II Western Championship and finished 2nd in the NCAA National Tournament.
The school and the hockey program gave me a lot when I needed it most, as a young financial aid kid from Lynn, Massachusetts. I am doing my best to give back to the current generation of men and women players and the legacy of LFC hockey, as well as the school in general.
I am writing to ask for your help.  We urgently need your support.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of LFC hockey. Will there be a 51st year? I am not trying to be melodramatic, just realistic.
We have a once in a lifetime situation with our school’s hockey programs.
We need to take immediate action to replace the ice infrastructure at our Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and we need your help.
This is your legacy... we are challenging all former LFC hockey players to come together as a united community and contribute now.
The ice refrigeration system at the rink is in hospice care and has been for this entire season. While the rink staff has “MacGyvered” the operating system since the fall, we were lucky to keep ice through the completion of the season this year as our teams continued their quest to win NCHA conference titles (one of the most competitive D-3 conferences in the country) and compete in the NCAA tournament.
The current refrigeration system will not allow hockey or the rink to continue next year at LFC. We need new ice.
I am asking everyone to give as much as they can.  We are looking for 100% participation.  We have 50 years of men hockey alums and 16 years of women alumni.  Every gift counts.  Historically, a relatively small group of alumni players and friends have given when the program needed financial help.  Now, we need everyone to participate if we are to be successful.
The tradition of our hockey program has been built on your legacy. I am calling on you to be there and help your teammates as we raise the funds necessary to replace the infrastructure and allow our tradition to continue and new memories and friendships be created.

Some background on the situation:
Five years ago, phase 1 of the Home Ice Advantage Campaign raised the funds to replace the rink’s roof, install new accessible seating throughout, update and expand the locker rooms, replace the boards and glass, renovate the lobby, modernize the coaches’ offices -- all which made the rink more efficient and improved the look and feel consistent with the top Division III facilities in the country. If you haven’t had a chance to visit, you would be proud and impressed with the outcome. It looks fantastic.
At the start of the Home Ice campaign, we were aware the rink had been operating with the current pipes, refrigeration and old technology for 47 years since 1969. Consultants were brought in and recommended the roof and ice system be replaced, new boards and glass purchased, and accessible seating installed.  However, we pushed the consultants to provide an experienced estimate on how long the current ice system had left before it died (since the estimated costs were $2million of the $4.5 goal) so that funds could be raised over time.  That estimate was a difficult one given the working condition of the system at the time but given the age of the pipes and equipment, a 10 year estimate was given.  Jackie Slaats, President Steve Schutt and the Board made the prudent decision to complete phase 1 as outlined above while the staff continued to care and nurture the existing ice system.  The other contributing factor for this course of action was that only $2 million of the original $4.5 million goal for the Home Ice Campaign was raised at the time the project was slated to begin so there were not sufficient funds to underwrite the roof and other necessary improvements plus replace the ice infrastructure. 
Now is the time we must deal with our current challenge and invest in the future.
The updated rink not only makes for a better overall experience for our current student- athletes and fans, but it is an invaluable asset to help our coaches recruit the best possible players who are considering LFC as well as other D-3 colleges in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the east (NESCAC.)  The arena complements the new recreation center, making south campus an impressive state-of-the-art athletic/recreation/wellness core for the College.
Let’s finish the job. We need to make a decision to start the ice replacement by April.  Please act now, and don’t think some white knight is going to save the day. You can make this happen.
Please push yourself to support this dire situation with as large a gift as you can.  Our need is $2 million.  Half of that goal ($1million) has already been pledged by a combination of alumni, friends of the College and community rink partners, but now we need every former player, as well as every friend of LFC hockey, to support the initiative to raise the remaining $1 million so that we can get to work on the $2 million dollar project.
Please, join me in protecting the tradition and ensuring the future of LFC hockey. or feel free to contact me at 617-650-3800 or Athletic Director Jackie Slaats at 847-735-5290 to discuss the project and/or your support.  Thank you.
Bonded together by LFC hockey,

Joe McCarthy '78 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Garteig Carries Bobcats Trophy Dreams

Despite any protests from fans of traditional powers Boston College and North Dakota, the undisputed #1 team in the country is the school that no one can pronounce correctly, QUINN-i-piac. Over the past four years they have won 102 regular season hockey games, most in the land, and will undoubtedly be heading to the NCAA tourney for the 4th straight year. Over that span they have won the Cleary Cup as ECAC Hockey regular season champs three of the past four years, have won an NCAA regional and advanced to the 2013 NCAA championship game. Yet despite all that success, one prominent piece of hardware has eluded them, the Whitelaw Cup as ECAC tournament champs, and it sticks in their collective craw.

Man in the Middle: Michael Garteig
"The Whitelaw Cup is something that's very important to us, something we've never done," said Sam Anas, ECAC Hockey 2015-16 scoring champion. "This year we really have to prove to ourselves and the program that we're able to win that playoff cup, and go on further in the NCAA's." Fellow alternate captain and second leading scorer, senior Travis St. Denis, wants to clutch the precious metal before his college career wraps up this spring. "We haven't won any serious hardware," he said to the New Haven Register. St. Denis is the only current Bobcat who played in the 2013 NCAA title game. "That's our main goal as seniors, to walk out with whatever trophy it may be, the Whitelaw Cup (as ECAC tourney champs) or a national championship." Sophomore defenseman Kevin McKernan is fully aware of the 'Cats history of falling in the ECAC semifinals each of the last three seasons. "In the past we've made it there and then kind of faltered off, in the tournament as well. The ECAC Championship in Lake Placid is our first goal."

Pecknold denies that the wide sheet in Lake Placid has been the primary reason for his squad's demise the past two seasons. "I don't think it hinders us more than anybody else, everybody has to adapt and adjust. It's a tough trophy to win. Playoffs is a little bit about 'Did you get a bounce, or a bad call, and what about the goaltending? Did the kid get hot, did the kid not get hot?' When you get to the semis and finals, it's one and done."

 Pecknold Eyes Prize: Whitelaw Cup
Pecknold has not forgotten how two of his best goalies from his tenure at Quinnipiac, Eric Hartzell and current senior star Michael Garteig, both laid eggs in the ECAC semis of 2013 and 2015, respectively. If the Bobcats are going to finally break through in Lake Placid, senior Garteig will have play like he did in the regular season finale against Yale, when he stoned the NCAA's hottest team 4-1 at the TD Bank Sports Center. He could very well face the second seeded Elis again March 19 at Herb Brooks Arena. Their last game in Hamden was a goaltending duel of the highest order, as Garteig outplayed All-American Alex Lyon yet again. "I think Alex Lyon is one of the best, if not THE best in the country," said Garteig to the assembled post-game media. "But I don't think I've ever lost to Alex Lyon." (5-0-3 to be exact). Pecknold stated the obvious: "Gartsy was great. He was our best player tonight, he made some big-time saves to keep us in the game."

Garteig: On the Hot Seat
Despite maintaining their #1 ranking for most of 2016, the Bobcats have scrambled at times, forced into overtime nine times over that stretch, often needing furious comebacks to stay atop the hockey world, as they recorded an unremarkable 3-1-5 in those OT encounters. That is why the finale over Yale was such a powerful statement. "The second half has been a little bit of a struggle for myself and the team included, I just know I could play better," said Garteig. "This weekend was really really good for the team, and also myself." The weekend included photo ops on both Friday (Cleary Cup for regular season title) and Saturday (the annual Fireman's hat for conquering Yale).

Should the top-ranked Bobcats win their ECAC quarterfinal series, Garteig will have a chance to nail two major goals in Lake Placid: 1) to redeem himself for last year's stinker that saw him cough up three soft goals in the first period of the semifinal versus Harvard; and 2) to become the first of Quinnipiac's pantheon of excellent goalies to bring the Whitelaw Cup back to Hamden. The late Dave Peterson, USA veteran Olympic coach, said that one-and-done playoff hockey should be called "Goalie, not hockey," because of the heightened significance of that position. The Olympic Center spotlight will beam bright and hot, directly onto the gold and blue shoulders of Michael Garteig.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Elis Lay Waste to Hockey Night in Jersey

Blue Wave Invades Baker Rink
Friday night began as a festive senior night at ancient Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, with septuagenarian Tiger hockey heroes Mo Cheston (1959) and John Cook (1963) conducting ceremonial faceoffs, Senator and former treasury secretary Nick Brady holding court in the south end zone, and half a dozen local Delbarton prep alums looking to leave their mark for both participants, Yale and Princeton. And then the Bulldogs killed the buzz. Dour Eli taskmaster Keith Allain relegated his two Delbarton players to the stands in street clothes and then turned his Bulldogs loose to torch Tigers goalie Colton Phinney (Chatham, N.J.) for four first period goals, dousing the party at Ol Nassau before it started.

This night belonged to Allain's men in blue: in a fitting pre-game a navy and white flag was hoisted in the parking lot accompanied by cigars and red wine. Ivy League tailgating in sub-freezing temps was somehow justified for the followers of this hockey juggernaut, Yale dismantled their orange rivals 6-0, the equivalent of it a tennis-set "bagel" to clinch a share of the Ivy League hockey title.

For the third time in six years the humorless Allain has assembled a national contender: four lines of
Allain: Testy Taskmaster
urgent forwards, a troika of elite senior defensemen, and the best goalie in the land between the pipes. Alex Lyon is the statistical king of NCAA hockey goalies with his .943 save pct and 1.46 GAA. Undrafted and enjoying a magnificent two-year run, Lyon has created an NHL feeding frenzy for his services, with an estimated 20 NHL clubs eager to sign the 23 year old Baudette, Minnesota, native as soon as his season ends. It may be a long wait. Three members of the Philadelphia Flyers brain trust, led by general manager Ron Hextall, jumped on I-95 for the hour drive Princeton to see Lyon in person for the second time. Hexi liked what he saw. "Nice skills, his size is okay," said Hextall after Lyon held off Princeton's only surge early in the first period. Did Hextall mind that Lyon only plays on weekends, and his season is shortened by Ivy League restrictions? "It depends on the student you are, but for some it's a fine way to go." The ECAC playoffs start next week, and Yale has a bye. The NCAA's start three weeks after that, and if Yale wins their regional, they have another two week wait for the Frozen Four. Lyon might make his suitors wait until April 9, and that's IF he chooses to forego his senior year and that world-class Yale sheepskin. He won't say, but insiders think he'll jump. Allain knows more than anyone that Alex the Great is Yale hockey's one indispensable man.

"Alex has been great all year long and I attribute it to hard work," said Allain. "He's really conscientious about preparing on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, he's got athleticism, he's smart, he approaches things like a pro." The ultimate endorsement coming from a former NHL goaltending coach. The demand for Lyon will never be as high as it is now, and his chance to grab the NCAA brass ring is peaking as well. This all adds up to win now for Yale, because the odds are good that Lyon is playing his final month of hockey in New Haven.

The War on Whitney Avenue: The Rivalry That Isn't

Ever since Quinnipiac joined the ECAC in the 2005-06 campaign, the hockey community in New Haven county rejoiced. "It's the greatest," said New Haven Register beat writer Chip Malafronte. The only guy who won't give the rivalry any love is Allain. "We share a league and we share geography, but the programs are very, very different," said Allain in a New York Times story earlier this season. He then pointed out that they recruit different players, and that Yale does not offer athletic scholarships like Quinnipiac. In his mind, Friday's win versus Princeton had greater significance than the Saturday showdown of ECAC superpowers. "We had an opportunity to share the Ivy League championship tonight," said Allain in the post game media scrum, referring to the fact that this final Ivy victory gave Yale a 7-1-2 record versus Ivy opponents, the same as Harvard, giving them both a share of the crown. "It's a very, very important game." And how about the following night
against first place Quinnipiac? "Two points in the standings." He would not utter another word about the game or the rivalry. Yale has not beaten Quinnipiac in nearly four years, since the NCAA title bout of 2013. 
Eli Glory Daze of 2013
This is the absolute best chance for Yale to knock off the team that has been at the top of the national polls for the past seven weeks. After Quinnipiac shut out the Bulldogs 3-0 at the Yale Whale back in December, Allain had a long list of team flaws that needed correcting: quickness to the puck; more efficiency on scoring opportunities, strength on sticks, and a faltering power play. Had these issues been addressed in the past 10 weeks? "We'll see," said Allain. "If we do those things well we'll be successful." 

Late in the game an injured Yale senior texted that this year's Yale club is better than the 2013 NCAA champs. All-American defenseman Rob O'Gara said the two teams are very similar in all aspects but one: "Our senior class has that experience (of winning it all), and that's something we didn't have freshman year." O'Gara fired home his 13th career goal in the first period and is playing like a colt.

"It's the end of the year, it's exciting," said junior power forward John Hayden, team leader with 15 goals. "I feel good, I feel fresh, I feel confident."

Connecticut's answer to BU-BC, less history, but more intensity. Cats and Dogs. Puck drop 7 pm.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Raging Baby Bull

The Mercurial Jake Walman

* HIGH: Providence Defenseman Jake Walman enters soph campaign as player to watch for Team USA after impressive August World Junior camp;

* HIGHER: Walman blows away NCAA competition with barrage of goals in November, is named national player of the week as he pots hat trick, 4-goal weekend from defense position, continues to score goals at historic rate all fall, is lock to make Team USA for prestigious World Junior tourney starting on Christmas;

* LOW: 2 weeks before final USA WJC Camp,International Federation declares dual-citizen Walman ineligible for Team USA due to
lack of time representing his country.

* HIGH: Hockey Canada in unprecedented move, invites an American college player with ties to USA Hockey to THEIR Camp, eager to get the hot-shooting Walman onto their blue line to bolster their gold medal chances. Having been raised in Toronto watching Team Canada compete at the World Juniors religiously every Christmas, Walman is ecstatic to put on the Maple Leaf and represent his OTHER Country;

* LOW In a seemingly innocuous play in his last Hockey East weekend before departing for Canada's training camp, Walman separates his shoulder. He never gets on the plane, is out for a month. A very dark winter solstice for the ailing Walman;

HIGH February 13 Walman dominates UConn, back on the blue line for reigning NCAA Champs. He exudes supreme skill and energy over the entire ice: moving the puck briskly out of danger, pounding shots mercilessly at the Huskies goal, and throws the signature body check of the night with his previously damaged shoulder. He has passed all the tests, he is playing at 100%, his coach and the pro scouts in the stands sing his praises.

HIGH Feb 19 6:40pm ET: Walman enjoys a spirited warmup prior to the Friars showdown with first place Notre Dame. He moves non-stop, shooting, passing, virtually dancing the entire 15 minute session. He is playing with unbridled joy.

* LOW Feb 19 7:10pm ET: A mere twenty seconds into the game, Walman collides with a Notre Dame forward at center ice. It appears hardly noteworthy until you see Walman recoil in pain, and then shock. He crawls over the boards and is immediately taken down the hall to the medical room. Coach Leaman puts his palm to his forehead: he has just lost his most valuable player for the foreseeable future, Walman has blown out his shoulder again.

A tale of two Jakes
This nephew and namesake of Jake Lamotta, college hockey's Raging Bull, has been sent to the canvas AGAIN, this time in a knockout :20 into the first round. Will he get up again?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Mullen plays Broadway...Again!

NYC Hockey's First Family Back at the Garden
Hockey referees, if they are doing their job well, are usually anonymous. But last Saturday at the World’s Most Famous Arena the name on the back of a striped shirt sparked a story of hockey greatness three generations in the making. Mike Mullen was one of two ECAC referees policing the showdown between NCAA powers #1 Quinnipiac and #5 Harvard. It had been 22 years since Mike’s last trip to the Garden, when as a 10 year old he attended the NHL All-Star game to watch his dad Joe Mullen play, a future Hall-of-Famer.

“This was my first time ever on this ice,” said the 32-year old Mullen from a large post-game gathering near the Zamboni doors. “I told the guys back in the locker room that this was my first trip back here since my dad played in the 1994 All-Star game, so it was pretty cool being here.”

The Mullen name is legend on the west side of Manhattan: both his dad and his uncle Brian cut their teeth on the asphalt in the infamous region known as Hell’s Kitchen, playing roller hockey with electrician’s tape pucks and skating on old-fashioned 4-wheel quads. Joe and Brian Mullen graduated to starring roles in college and then the NHL, a feat that simply astounds the next generation.
Brian and Joe Mullen, Heroes of Hells Kitchen
“Me and my two brothers, Ryan and Patrick, we played out in the back yard,” said Mike. “We played roller hockey on roller blades, never on roller skates, really. We’ve gone down to where they grew up and it’s crazy how far they came in the sport of hockey, growing up where they did.”

The Mullen family tree has deep roots at more than one Madison Square Garden: Mike’s grandfather Tom was a rink maintenance man at the old uptown Garden (West 50th Street) who used to skate behind the water barrels that resurfaced the ice before the Zamboni era. When the Rangers moved downtown to the new Garden in 1968 Tom made the transition, and soon got his youngest son Brian a job as the Rangers’ stick boy. Brian came full circle two decades later when he was traded to the Rangers in the late 1980’s, playing four seasons for the Blue Shirts. “My dad was still working at the Garden at the time,” said Brian. “He used to sit in the penalty box. So if I got a penalty I had to sit next to my dad. It was something I’ll never forget.”

Last Saturday Brian was back at the building known as the Mecca, gathering with the rest of New York City’s first family of hockey. The Mullens treated Mike’s first game officiating at MSG like a major debut. “Joey called me and let me know that he was going to be down there and told me that he and his wife were going to come watch the game,” said Brian. “So everybody started talking, my sister, my older brother Kenny, all of us decided to go down and support Michael at the game.”
Mike Mullen's Broadway Debut
This impromptu family reunion caught young Mike off guard. “I didn’t expect all these people to come. My parents asked for about six tickets originally, and then yesterday I got down to their house and they said ‘We need six more.’ They needed 12 tickets and I only had six. It’s pretty cool everybody came out to support me, I really appreciated all the family, it’s awesome.”

Proud papa Joe Mullen had to adjust his viewing habits this night. “It was different,” said the 2-time Stanley Cup champion. “It’s hard to watch your son referee when you’re so interested in the hockey. I thought he did a good job out there, he let the guys play and battle, calls were made when they had to be made, and it was a terrific game.”

Mike Mullen’s boss, ECAC supervisor and former NHL ref Paul Stewart, knew this night was more than just a sterling hockey game that saw Quinnpiac beat Harvard in overtime. “Having another Mullen on the ice here in New York, the aspect of his grandfather, his father, his uncle all having been on the ice at Madison Square Garden, it’s a fitting opportunity to keep the cycle of life going, ” said Stewart. “I think it’s what hockey is and should always be: it’s about family, it’s about tradition.”

Like his forerunners, Mike Mullen is blessed with both ambition and skill. He too played college hockey and was working his way through the pro ranks before concussions derailed his dreams of playing in the spotlight. He may, however, have found another avenue to The Show. “The NHL is looking for guys that have played at a high level and I’ve played at a pretty high level and know the game. Knowing the players and what they’re thinking and what the coaches are thinking, it all correlates into the same thing.”

Hall-of-Fame dad liked what he saw from his progeny. “He’s very happy. He loves hockey, he’s involved with it, he likes refereeing, and he seems to be doing very well at it.”

Mike is getting useful feedback from Stewart, an Ivy Leaguer who played and then refereed for nearly two decades in the world’s best hockey league. “He cracks the whip on us pretty good,” said Mike. “He knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best referees that’s ever been in the game, so he’s a person to listen to.”

After a magical night of puck love within the Mullen family fortress, after all the hugs and well-wishes, young Mike exited the World’s Most Famous Arena and prepared to fly to Newfoundland, Canada. He would officiate two AHL games before returning to Stewart’s watchful eye in the ECAC Hockey conference. Based on his gene pool, his mentorship and his attitude, it appears likely that a return trip to Madison Square Garden is in Mike Mullen’s future.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Humble Hall of Famer

Chris Drury (Center) Inducted into U.S. HOF

If you are privileged enough to have the right magnetic strip, you can enter the west entrance to Agganis Arena, and take the steps down into BU hockey’s inner sanctum. For all the delights of the Terriers sparkling hockey mecca, Agganis’s greatest feature is the photo history on display throughout. And as you step down to the gleaming white corridor you pass under a stunner: six sweaty seniors in living color, surrounding the precious Beanpot, having done what no Terrier had ever done before, swept all four Beanpots, a perfect 8-0, capturing their Beanpots at both Boston Gardens, old and new.
BU's class of 1998 "Gang of Six"
The BU hockey class of 1998: Chris Drury (Trumbull, Conn.), Mike Sylvia (Newton, Mass.), Chris Kelleher (Belmont, Mass.), Jeff Kealty (Newton, Mass.), Peter Donatelli (North Providence, Rhode Island) and Tom Noble (Hanover, Mass.). Six of New England’s finest, caught at their very moment of Boston hockey immortality. Anyone who knows Drury, the latest inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, knows that he disdains talking about his own accomplishments. He remained true to form at the H.O.F. banquet last month, with one exception: he could not contain his pride in what his senior class accomplished.

“I could never rank any of the championship teams I was fortunate enough to be on,” said Drury. But I like to identify with my class at BU. We had about 100 wins and 30 losses over those four years, which was lots of fun. We had six kids in our class and we were all from New England. We all grew up dreaming of winning a Beanpo, and to go to BU and go 8-0 and be the first class in history to win the Beanpot all four years was a huge thrill.”

Jack Parker was at the Renaissance Boston for the H.O.F. pomp and circumstance, and the former BU coach and player insisted on dropping a little cold water on Drury’s happy flashback. “I told Chris ‘Hey, I won all three of my Beanpots because you couldn’t play as a freshman, so you weren’t the first guy to sweep it Chris, okay?’” Parker is not ready to concede Beanpot player dominance to any class, because if you scour the record book, Parker’s class was a perfect 23-0 against Beanpot schools in his three years of play, an uncanny record of Boston college hockey dominance.

But once Parker flipped his cap from that of proud player to grateful coach, he began to gush, something Parker rarely does. He paused to consider all the implications, then handed out this rare superlative. “I think Chris Drury was as valuable a player as BU has ever had. He single-handedly lifted teams with his will to win.” Parker then threw out three disclaimers: Jack Eichel (single season greatness); Jack O’Callahan (comparable competitiveness); and John Cullen (scoring). He then painted a hypothetical as to why Drury was BU hockey’s top dog.
“If you woke Chris Drury up at three o’clock in the morning and said ‘Hey, we got a pickup game over at the Boston Skating Club, c’mon over!’ He’d come over, and once the game started, he would HAVE to beat you to the puck in the corner. It’s in his DNA.”

Drury was the ultimate observer 18 years ago. On the ice in his final Beanpot championship, overtime versus Harvard, he vividly recalled his favorite hockey memory, one in which he never touched the puck. “Nick Gillis scoring the overtime goal to beat Harvard to win our fourth Beanpot as a class, to win the Beanpot that year. Seeing Tom Poti make the play, seeing Gillis put it in the net. I had such a perfect angle to see the whole play develop, seeing it all take place and then the joy and the jubilation of winning another Beanpot, that definitely sticks out in my mind to this day.”

BU hockey’s intrepid historian Bernie Corbett also has a fondness for the Terrier class of 1998, the guys who won it all as freshmen. “I like to call it the “No School Announcement” class said Bernie with a laugh. “You had Newton, Hanover, Framingham, Belmont, you had all those Boston area schools.” Only two of the six were from outside Route 128: Donatelli technically being from Rhode Island, but he prepped at St. Sebsastian’s and had an older brother who captained BU. “Really, the only one without a previous connection to BU was Drury,” said Corbett. But Drury ‘s older brother Ted was a Beanpot champion for Harvard, games that Chris drunk up as kid. He adored his Terrier hockey experience, postponing his pro career for one last run at college hockey’s major titles.

Drury, whose hockey resume makes War and Peace seem like a short story, chose one and only one team to shine light on when he was anointed to the Hall. It was not the Silver Olympic squads, nor the Stanley cup winner nor the two NHL squads he captained. It was his beloved Terriers that he singled out, and that moment in time at Boston Garden in 1998, a moment in which he, the king of overtime thrillers, was relegated to spectator and chief cheerleader, the first man in on the red and white dogpile, a celebration of historic proportions.

Agganis security guard Timmy Smith cautiously let in the interloper into the special entrance to BU hockey. There was Matt Grzelcyk below toweling off after some rigorous therapy. Perched above the 12 steps down to BU’s inner circle was the 1998 Glorious Gang of Six photo, dripping sweat and exuding triumph. From right to left are Sylvia, Kealty, Donatelli, Kelleher, Noble and finally Drury, posing with a rare smile. His face is flushed with victory, nose and lips rouge with pumping blood. America’s hockey champion, an athlete defined both by clutch wins and his humble demeanor. Of all the championships he has been part of, this is the moment he cherishes above all, at the Garden, with his mates, clutching the ‘Pot.