Column: Jack Frost departed, took winter sports with him

Column: Jack Frost departed, took winter sports with him

Oh, winter sports season, I hardly knew thee.

You gave us some great moments this year but, once again, you built us up here at Northeastern with the scent of success – only to slip away and end before anyone was ready.

Suddenly, the baseball team has already played eight games (in addition to its exhibition against the Red Sox before Spring Break) and it was totally over 60 degrees the other day.

With that warm breeze came the distinct realization of another disappointing winter on Huntington Avenue.

Basketball

One of the most talented men’s basketball teams in school history learned late Sunday night that its season was over. The team knew it wasn’t going to be asked to the senior prom, but it didn’t even get asked to dance at the junior semi. The Huskies didn’t earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament, but they certainly made a case for themselves to play in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). Now, they’re left to wait for next year, and seniors like Jose Juan Barea and Aaron Davis are suddenly finding themselves forced to move on from NU sports. Maybe attendance at the first annual Northeastern Formal will increase by 14 now, at least.

The Huskies came up short in their bid to vie for the Colonial Athletic Association championship, but beat NIT-invite Old Dominion in the competition. After their win against the reigning CAA champion Monarchs, perhaps the most satisfying of the season, the Huskies stumbled out of the gate against eventual winner UNC-Wilmington in the semifinals. Having to deal with last-seeded James Madison before that, the three games in three days proved to be too much. They’re a better team than they were last year, and have beaten other NIT-invite Hofstra, but that was apparently not enough. Looking at their schedule, it was probably their poor road record that cost them in the end.

Still, to end the whole season in such a condensed tournament format seems anticlimactic. I know it’s the most feasible way to do it when every team has to travel to a central location, but it’s like handing teams six-shooters with four bullets loaded to take on consecutive duels. The top four seeds get a bye for the first duel, but each team is left to fire away without much time to think and if you shoot a blank, you’re out before you even heard the click on the empty chamber.

The men’s season fell apart just as quickly last season. Then-junior Jose Juan Barea and the Huskies went up to Vermont with all the momentum they could ask for (an eight-game win streak, many by double-digits) to play for the America East title. But a heated struggle for the ball early on threw things off and, soon after, Barea sprained his ankle; the momentum – and an NCAA tournament appearance bid – vanished. The Huskies were paired to play Memphis in the NIT soon after, but Barea was suspended by the university for the struggle in the AE championship and the Tigers (now a No. 1 seed in the big dance) were more than too much to deal with after the derailment.

Hockey

This season was pretty much a forgettable one for both the men’s and women’s hockey teams. While the NESN-televised home win over UMass Lowell between Beanpot games was certainly an exciting moment after an 18-game winning drought, the men’s team finished with its lowest win total in 36 years.

Neither the men’s or women’s hockey team made the playoffs; just when the men’s team thought they had a shot to slip in, those hopes were dashed by a UMass-Amherst team that wasn’t going to budge.

Last year was also disappointing, maybe more so, but on a completely different scale. The 2004-05 men’s hockey team came within one overtime period of winning the Beanpot, and got there with some of the gutsiest hockey the tournament had ever seen. They entered the Hockey East Tournament at the end of the season on the heels of a senior night blowout of UMass-Amherst, but were shut down by New Hampshire in two games over two nights by a collective margin of nine points. Just like that, season over.

And that’s how things have been going lately at Northeastern in the wintertime. I’ll follow baseball and crew, and take in the sunny optimism the spring brings, but there’s really no question it’s the winter sports that matter most here.

Knowing that in the mid-to-late 1980s Huntington Avenue played host to Beanpot-winning men’s hockey teams, an undefeated women’s hockey team and a hoops team that saw three players drafted by the NBA, led by Reggie Lewis, frustrates me in the here and now. It wouldn’t have been too unreasonable to think some of that success couldn’t take hold looking at the landscape of things last year. Some of those same pieces were in place, namely a near-Beanpot win and two pro-ready players (Barea and Shawn James) on the men’s basketball team. It’s just hard to believe all that potential’s lived itself out, with little to show for it.

There were some great moments these last two winters, to be sure. But how long is it going to be before this school actually wins something special? Puts its resources into really going after something, and actually following through with it? I’d like to know how the school can run the men’s basketball team on virtually the same budget as last year (a small one, compared to other CAA schools) when it has to travel thousands of extra miles to accommodate a more nationally- representative league and non-league schedule, but that’s another issue entirely.

Right now, it feels like hoping for anything of sports significance around here anytime soon would be just a pipe dream. But just because we’re talking about winter sports like ice hockey doesn’t mean we need to behave like characters in “The Iceman Cometh.”

– Tim Coughlin can be reached at [email protected]

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