Sunday, March 17, 2013
Hockey East semis have opposite themes
By Brion O'Connor
BOSTON -- On Friday, the Hockey East championships move to TD Garden with a pair of semifinals that couldn't be more different in terms of familiarity.
The first pits league regular-season champion UMass-Lowell against fourth-seeded Providence in a rematch of last year's quarterfinal matchup, won by the Friars. But this marks the first time in 12 years that both the River Hawks and Friars are in the Hockey East semifinals.
The second match is a classic confrontation, with second-seeded Boston College, currently ranked fifth in the country, taking on third-seeded Boston University in what could be coach Jack Parker's final game after 40 years at the helm of the Terriers program.
"The only team that wins the last game of the year is the national champion," Parker said. "Everybody else loses their last game of the year. And when it happens, it's like somebody shot you in the head because you're going so hard. It's 24/7 from September to that last game. And when that last game is over, there's no practice tomorrow."
Providence punched its ticket to the Garden with a hard-fought 3-2 win over fifth-seeded New Hampshire on Sunday, taking the quarterfinal series two games to one. The result forces the Wildcats to wait and hope that an NCAA invite comes their way after they dropped to a tie for seventh in the national PairWise rankings.
The game turned on two Providence power-play goals, scored by Tim Schaller and Nick Saracino, over a 44-second span in the second period, enabling the Friars to reverse a one-goal deficit and take a 3-2 lead. The freshman Saracino, who notched the game-winner, has proven to be a Wildcat killer this season, scoring seven of his 11 goals against UNH. Friars freshman goaltender John Gillies (30 saves) made the lead stand, knocking out 11 shots in the final frame.
UNH, the nation's leading penalty-killing unit (91 percent), couldn't solve the Providence power play. In six games against UNH, the Friars' power-play unit scored six of the 13 power-play goals that the Wildcats surrendered over the season.
Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell, currently ranked No. 6 in the country, dispatched Maine in a two-game quarterfinal sweep. The River Hawks took the regular-season series against the Friars, 2-1, highlighted by a 4-1 win in the season finale.
In Friday's nightcap, BC will take on the Terriers for the 262nd time in their storied rivalry. The teams first met in the 1917-18 season, and since that game, BU has forged a slight edge, going 128-116-17. However, in the games that Jerry York has been behind the Eagles bench since 1994, the squads are absolutely deadlocked, 37-37-7. While BC is assured a spot in the NCAA field of 16, the Terriers need to win the Hockey East championship to guarantee their spot.
"I think it's nice that we get to play them, " Parker said after his squad swept Merrimack on Saturday. "BC has always brought out the best in us, and vice versa. So it should be a real great college hockey game. We can't end their season, but I'd like to extend ours by getting to the final, that's for sure."
The Eagles, the defending national champions, are looking for their fourth straight Hockey East tournament crown. York's participation in Friday's semifinal, however, depends on the outcome of his eye surgery on Monday, and how quick his recovery is. York suffered a second detached retina of his right eye since January. Still, he left little doubt about the respect he has for his longtime adversary and friend.
"Jack and I have enjoyed a relationship that has stood the test of time," York said upon hearing of Parker's retirement announcement. "It goes back to our high school days and dates back 50 years. We've competed against one another and we've coached against one another for a long, long time. There have been so many unbelievable games that have provided countless memories for the both of us."