Tag: Cam Atkinson

Rubin: Reflections and Lessons Learned from College Hockey 2011

By Dan Rubin

When Boston College won the Hockey East Association championship, I asked Joe Whitney and Cam Atkinson a fair, basic question in the postgame press conference:

Since the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, they have won the Beanpot, Hockey East, and NCAA championships.  Then you come back this year and win Beanpot and now Hockey East.  How do you manage to stay within yourself with the rising expectations on the team that you are expected to make another deep run?

Whitney replied very basically that they can’t look at the step ahead before they overcome the obstacle in front of them [paraphrasing, of course].  They had to take it, as he said, “one trophy at a time.”

That line will stick with me personally forever because I realize now how hard it really is to win as much hardware as BC did.  Based on rules and technicalities, the Eagles were sent to St. Louis for their regional bracket. And they promptly lost their first game against Colorado College.

As an east coast college hockey person, I never paid much attention to the western teams.  Maybe it was brute arrogance on my part, but based on the last few years, I never thought the east coast dominance would be challenged.  The best eastern teams were some of the best in the nation, and, with the exception of RPI, I figured any team from an eastern conference could and would win.

Well such is the topsy-turvy way of college hockey.

The dust settles tonight on the 2010-2011 college hockey season.  When either Michigan or Minnesota-Duluth hoists the championship trophy, it will provide an exclamation point on a season that resurrected the western teams and showed us that college hockey is ready for a great decade of competition ahead.

Here are some of the storylines we’re looking at tonight:

Storyline #1 – How Did We Get Here?

This Frozen Four provided some of the best upsets I’ve seen in recent history.  Thanks to the way the NCAA scheduled the brackets (based on rules and technicalities), the best teams had decided disadvantages against lower seeds, with the exception of North Dakota.  Indeed, the Midwest Regional was set up so the Fighting Sioux could crush opposition; and they did.  North Dakota won both their regional games by an aggregate 12-1 count.  They dropped six on Denver, and then promptly saw Shawn Hunwick stop each of their 40 shots in the national semifinal in front of a sellout crowd as Michigan shocked them.

I had North Dakota tabbed as the national champion after BC went down.  This team was just plain solid all-around, ranked #1 in the national polls despite a #3 ranking in the computer.  But they ran into the hot team at the right time when Michigan clobbered them.

Those Wolverines are an enigma.  They played themselves right out of a #1-seed in the CCHA Tournament, ceding that position to Miami.  But maybe that was good news for Michigan, since Miami was forced to go east and play UNH in Manchester, which resulted in a Wildcat win.  The Wolverines, meanwhile, won a hard-fought overtime game over Nebraska-Omaha before taking care of Colorado.

Duluth took care of the ECAC, beating Union and Yale on the road to the Frozen Four.  What was even more impressive than that was the way they did it.  They outmuscled the Dutchmen in a shutout win, and then watched the Bulldogs self-implode like a drummer from Spinal Tap in the regional finals.  They then knocked off a Notre Dame team that got to the Frozen Four in equally surprising fashion.

Those Irish had won two games that were essentially road games, winning in Manchester, NH over Merrimack [34 miles away] and UNH [36 miles away].  Their goaltender, Mike Johnson was a wall, and I’m tabbing him as the name you’ll most likely see at some point in the NHL in the next few years.

In a year typified by shocking wins on the basketball bracket’s side, hockey provided some equal thrills.

Storyline #2 – Michigan at Minnesota-Duluth

I bring up the point about Notre Dame winning “road games” because the Wolverines will deal with the same in the national title game.  All four teams traveled great for the Frozen Four, and both games on Thursday were sellouts.  But Duluth is only 150 miles [that’s 2.5 hours in Minnesota highway speak, as opposed to Massachusetts… which puts you in New York] from St. Paul.  They averaged 6,000 people per game in a home arena holding 6,800.  If you don’t think Bulldog fans will make the drive to the Twin Cities, you’re crazy, especially where the first two games were sellouts.

Michigan went [6-2] on neutral ice and [16-2-1] on home ice.  When playing true road games, the Wolverines went [7-6-3].  Don’t discount the fact that this game is being played in Minnesota against a team from Minnesota.

Storyline #3 – Tickets?  Selling tickets?

That last point brings me to this point – this is the year that attendance figures soared for college hockey.  The sport is generating more interest than ever before, and they did so in the wake of a Frozen Four last year that was utterly disastrous.

It was a great idea to move the national championship weekend to a football field last year.  The state of Michigan hosted the infamous Michigan-Michigan State game on a football field that sold out to the tune of 75,000+ people.  The NCAA, capitalizing on that popularity, granted its Frozen Four last year to Ford Field, thinking the right matchup could generate a ton of interest.

Instead, the Frozen Four resulted in the football field being divided in half with temporary seating and end zone bleachers.  Yes, the games drew over 30,000 people, which is a national tournament record for hockey.  But it did not translate well on television, and the games were blowouts.  In addition, the field seemed utterly cavernous, since 30,000 is only half of the actual capacity.  There were plenty of empty seats as a result.  And the games just weren’t that great, even though I was thrilled Boston College won the crown.

This year, the national championship weekend moved back to an NHL arena.  It also generated the right matchups, just as the 2009 weekend did when BU made its mad-dash comeback for the ages on Miami to win the crown.  When it makes great television, it makes for an increase in popularity.

Storyline #4 – Tupac > Biggie

As an east coast hockey fan, I tend to think that my teams have the best support in the nation.  I tend to be very arrogant about the quality of Massachusetts hockey, from the high school level on up.  I look at my high school, Malden Catholic, which won the Super 8 state championship behind a first line going to BC, BU, and UNH.  I think that we have the best hockey from youth leagues on up in the nation.

But MC finished the season ranked #14 in the nation… behind 13 schools from Minnesota.  I would’ve put that MC team against any team, anywhere, for any game.  I still would.

But it was very humbling to hear that Minnesota high school hockey is that much more popular and that much more talented.  And now, with the way this Frozen Four has shaken out, it’s time to admit it – the west coast is back.  This was the first time since the mid 2000s that no eastern team made the Frozen Four, and it breaks a string where the last three national champions came from Hockey East [and, more importantly, from Commonwealth Ave].  It’s forced me to admit that the west coast is back, and it’s made me, [albeit begrudgingly] state that this year belongs to the western conferences.

This will be the west’s finest hour, with the national weekend coming from its two power conferences, and the announcement coming in the past couple of weeks that Big Ten Hockey is on the way.  A conference is about to form with some of the best programs in the nation’s history, and the college hockey landscape is about to change.  Hockey East’s supremacy is definitely being challenged right now, and it’s place as the greatest conference in college hockey is going to have a great argument when a conference forms from Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and the newly-debuting Penn State.

Storyline #5 – Who’s Going To Win?

I’m picking Minnesota-Duluth basically by pulling their name out of a hat.  But the real winner of the weekend is the hockey fan, who can look to the next decade with a wide-eyed look that will provide some of the best action in the nation.

BC Denies Merrimack A Hockey East Crown, 5-3

By Dan Rubin

BOSTON, MA – It’s just not enough for Cam Atkinson to lead Boston College.  It’s just not enough to graduate with Beanpot titles, Hockey East titles, and NCAA rings.  And it’s just not enough to graduate as one of the most prolific, legendary players in Eagle history.

Atkinson scored two goals, including the game winner, as the Eagles clinched their third Hockey East crown in four years with a wild 5-3 victory over the Merrimack Warriors before over 14,000 fans at TD Garden on Saturday night.

“With the last two teams standing, the game was fitting for this environment,” said BC head coach Jerry York.  “It was a good structured game from my position on the bench watching.  Merrimack was very strong in different areas, and we were very strong.  There were a lot of battles with back-and-forth goals.”

The win positions the Eagles for a potential top seed in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, NH, as well as a chance at the #1-seed overall in the NCAA Tournament.  It also positions the Eagles for a run at their third championship trifecta, having won the Beanpot, HEA, and national title in 2008 and 2010 as well.

After an initial first ten minutes where the only action consisted of dueling chants by Warrior and Eagle fans in the balcony, the teams exploded for three goals over the course of a minute and a half.  BC jumped on board first at 9:15 when Pat Mullane stripped the Merrimack defense deep in Warrior territory.  He made two deke moves and let the puck slide right through Joe Cannata’s five-hole, giving the Eagles a soft 1-0 lead.

Merrimack responded almost immediately.  Winning the ensuing draw, the defense passed up to their third line on the ice.  Carter Madsen passed to the right wing from the center, finding the stick of Ryan Flanigan.  The junior wristed an absolute laser beam top shelf, rocketing past John Muse and rattling the water bottle to tie things up 26 seconds later.

It took another minute before Boston College responded in their own right.  Cam Atkinson, who has been there for BC so many times this year, found Brian Gibbons in the slot.  Cannata was off balance and went for a kick save that opened the five-hole up wide.  Gibbons slid it through, putting BC up 2-1.

The game then fell back into a little bit more of an easier pace, although both teams had golden opportunities.  For Merrimack, they had an opportunity on the power play when Joe Whitney went to the box for tripping.  The Warriors had three rebounds that Muse shut the door on, and the fourth went through the net minder only after the offense ran him over.  The goal was denied after review, and the sides evened up as Mike Collins went to the box for slashing.

When the penalty to Collins expired, Cannata misplayed the puck behind his net right to the stick of the awaiting Whitney.  But Cannata made a Hail Mary dive across the crease and paddled the puck away to keep the game 2-1.

Dodging that bullet, Merrimack got their chance when Mullane went to the box for holding with 50 seconds left.  The line of Collins, Cucci, and Stephane da Costa knifed through a typically rock solid BC defense for cross-ice passing.  Da Costa found Cucci from right to left, and Cucci found Collins on the right side.  Collins elevated it past Muse to tie things up heading into the locker room, 2-2.  In a period that sometimes felt like the Eagles were going for the early kill, the Warriors had plenty of life.

“Merrimack has four lines that can go,” said Atkinson.  “They have a lot of guys who are talented.  Da Costa is a great player.”

“It starts and ends with the players,” said Warrior head coach Mark Dennehy. “If you have great players, you’re going to win.  We have a group of guys who come from programs who know how to win, and they’re great people.”

The Eagles got their first golden opportunity of the second period halfway through when Merrimack went to the box for two men, giving BC a 5-on-3 advantage.  Madsen got two minutes for hooking, and with 40 seconds remaining on his, Kyle Bigos got the gate for slashing.  Cannata backed his defense with three to four tremendous saves, and the Warriors gained enough momentum to hold BC scoreless despite some great offensive looks.

That “bend-don’t-break” attitude translated into a huge shot discrepancy in favor of BC in the second, but Merrimack kept it even where it mattered most – on the scoreboard.  Although they were outshot 14-8 through the first 17 minutes of the period, BC gave a Steven Whitney hooking penalty with 27 seconds left, and the game remained tied through two frames, 2-2.

The Warriors opened up the third period with a flourish, peppering Muse but were unable to score, rattling off five quality shots in the first three minutes.  One, a Type-A challenge from the slot, Cucci, handcuffed the senior, but he deflected it with his shoulder to keep the score tied.  Muse would get another huge break at the seven minute mark, when his defense misplayed the puck back through his crease behind his body.  It barely missed crossing into the net, avoiding a potential disaster for the Eagles.

Merrimack seemingly outplayed BC for the first ten minutes of the third period, but just before the halfway mark, the Eagles put the game winner on the board.  Joe Whitney made a deke move that Cannata made a highlight reel save on, but Cam Atkinson, in the same fashion he’s done throughout his collegiate career, slammed the rebound behind the Warrior goalie.  BC led, 3-2, and set their sights on the Hockey East crown.

With 6:36 left, Joe Whitney went back to the sin bin for elbowing, giving Merrimack new life.  Less than 10 seconds into the frame, Flanigan took a shot that Muse stopped.  But the second chance slipped behind Muse to tie things up late, exploding much of the 14,000-plus in attendance that were rooting for the Warriors.

The game went to a completely other level when Atkinson did it again with 5:07 remaining.  Taking a shot from the top part of the faceoff circle, he beat Cannata top shelf to give BC a 4-3 lead.   “The puck came right into my wheelhouse,” he said.

15 seconds after that, Flanigan was hooked by Philip Samuelsson on a near breakaway.  Flanigan crashed into the cage (Muse leaped over him by doing his best Carl Lewis impression), and Merrimack went back on the man advantage with about 4:40 to go.

BC killed the advantage and found Samuelsson for a breakout when he exploded out of the box.  Coming in alone, Jordan Heywood made the only move he had, hooking him down and giving BC a power play with under three minutes to go.  The Eagles used the opportunity to set up the icing on the cake, when Brian Dumoulin wristed it in from the point.  The insurance goal was just what BC needed to clinch the crown, the automatic bid, the assumed-top seed, and the conference dynasty.

“We just tried to win each shift,” said Whitney after the game.  “We just kept going back to the bench saying ‘Win each shift.’”

While this game certainly meant the world to these teams, it had to go into perspective that both will play for the national championship.  The NCAA releases the seeding’s on Sunday morning, and it’s not a question of if these schools are going dancing, it’s where and when.  BC is almost assuredly a #1 seed, and Merrimack is also a lock.  So both still have a chance to grab the biggest prize in college hockey – a national championship banner.

Northeastern Finally Hands Boston College a loss, 2-1

By Matt Noonan

BOSTON, MA – It was the final meeting between Boston College [22-7-1,16-6-1] and Northeastern University [11-12-7, 9-8-6] men’s ice hockey teams on Saturday, but despite all the wins and loses between both squads, the Hub may have found its newest college sports rivalry or at least, four games to watch every winter.

Boston College and Boston University is the immediate answer when one thinks about college hockey in Massachusetts or collegiate rivalries in the Hub, but after watching the Eagles and Huskies push each other to the brink during three games in six days, which featured 11-periods, two overtimes and 30-points, it maybe fair to say that this was indeed some quality hockey that was on display for an entire week.

“[Tonight] was a hockey game [because] the other two nights were [awful] games,” said Boston College head coach Jerry York. “This was much more like what hockey in February should be.”

Yet, despite all the fireworks that both teams produced over a span of 96-hours, Northeastern University’s 2-1 win on Saturday should not be classified as a dramatic finish, but rather a subdued win against the Eagles.

“[It was an] extremely gutsy efforts, really proud of them for the focus and the poise they played with. Coach [Greg] Cronin [and Albie] O’Connell and myself worked hard to get them to this level and we’re very proud of them buying into the system that we as a coaching staff have come up with and its great to see them coming together right now at this time of the season,” said Northeastern assistant coach Sebastien Laplante.

The game itself didn’t feature a lot of penalties, fights or back and fourth banter between both benches, but instead, just sloppy hockey, as well as a bunch of young college students who seemed rather fatigued.

Throughout the entire first period, the Eagles spent a great deal of time in front of Chris Rawlings net; yet, they were unable to convert any of their 14-shots into points. The continuous efforts were unsuccessful, but the same could be said for the Huskies offense too that finished the period with only four shots. Their lack of shooting or offense transcended from their first period on Friday, when the Huskies only recorded three shots on Eagles goaltender John Muse and one goal.

Although, after watching a slow first period, it seemed as if the fans just wanted something to cheer about, which did happen when Brodie Reid broke the stalemate and gave the Huskies an early, 1-0 lead. Northeastern would score again, but during the final period when Braden Pimm netted an unassisted goal, which practically put the game away, until Boston College’s Cam Atkinson scored during the final few minutes.

Atkinson’s goal electrified the Matthews Arena, as the final minutes felt like the closing seconds of the 59th Annual Boston Beanpot Championship.

“[Northeastern] did a nice job in a lot of different areas,” said York. “I think its like I said before, it’s a good solid hockey team.”

The Buzzer did sound eventually and due to Boston College’s hard fought efforts, the Eagles left the ice with a loss while Northeastern celebrated the win. The Huskies not only earned their first victory against the number one team in America, but also solidified a spot in the upcoming Hockey East tournament in March.

“We clinched [the] playoffs tonight, but we’re certainly not [going] to stop right now. We want to keep going up and see we’re we can end up in the standings and get better position for the playoffs,” said Laplante.

While the “mini-playoffs” series is indeed over, it certainly is possible to believe that these particular three games will help build confidence and momentum for both squads prior to the start of the conference playoffs.

“This was like one of those playoff series. Two out of three, three out of five series, you just don’t get these very often before we get to playoff situations, so its good for both teams,” said York.

Boston Beanpot: Championship/Consolation Preview

The 59th Annual Boston Beanpot tournament will conclude on Monday February 14, 2011, yet, while we eagerly count down the minutes to an exciting championship game, here are some pre-game thoughts on what should occur before the puck is dropped for both contests.

Consolation Game – Boston University vs. Harvard University:

Noonan’s Prediction: This particular matchup should focus on two things, goaltending and offense. After an exciting overtime win against University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, on Friday, Boston University should have no problem stopping Harvard and wrapping up third place. In fact, the Terriers can set the tone early with a quick goal, which may force the Crimson offense into instant, “attack mode,” but will they be able to combat a well-rounded Jack Parker offense?

SCORE: Boston University 4 – Harvard 1

Libon’s Prediction: Not much to say here. Give Harvard a lot of credit for playing with heart, but Boston University is too strong and should have no problem against the Crimson.

SCORE: Boston University 5 – Harvard 0

Championship Game – Boston College vs. Northeastern University:

Noonan’s Prediction: Boston College relied heavily on their power play units and special teams in order to secure a spot in Monday’s tournament championship. Yet, Northeastern has watched their goaltender, Chris Rawlings, not only act as an anchor for their defense, but has also, allowed his offense to score goals and win critical Hockey East contests. If Rawlings can deny the high-powered Eagles offense, then the Huskies will earn their first Beanpot championship trophy since 1988.

SCORE: Northeastern 3 – Boston College 2

Libon’s Prediction: For Northeastern to win the championship, Chris Rawlings is going to have to continue his stellar play between the pipes. The Huskies offense also better bring their “A-Game” because they are going to be facing one of the top teams in the United States. Boston College will rely on their goaltender too, John Muse, who is arguably is the best goalie in the nation. He will certainly be tested throughout all three periods, but will the Huskies offense bother him so much that he’ll be forced to allow multiple goals? Northeastern has a knack for upsetting ranked teams, but don’t expect an upset against the Eagles. Expect Northeastern to leave it on the TD Garden ice because Cam Atkinson and his Eagles should most likely skate to victory.

SCORE: Boston College 3 – Northeastern 1