Men’s Hockey: ‘Ugly’ season serves for learning

Men’s Hockey: ‘Ugly’ season serves for learning

Bereft of a quick response and with a face cloaked in the discontent that comes after six full months of unsatisfying results, first-year men’s hockey coach Greg Cronin sat down in an Agganis Arena pressroom chair last Saturday.

It was at this very moment, if it hadn’t happened already before, that the full weight of a 3-24-7 season fell hard and direct on his shoulders.

“Anyone that watches this team knows we compete,” Cronin said. “The guys play hard, they finish checks and they grind it out down low. But unfortunately, when you don’t have a lot of talent, your special teams get defeated. That happened tonight. I think when you don’t have a lot of depth, it manifests itself in special teams. And we failed at special teams more than anything else this year.”

The record, at times, seemed almost preposterous. 1-19-6? The statistics are even more unbearable. Just 67 goals to the opponent’s 120? 2.0 goals per game to 3.5 from the other bench?

For Cronin it’s a season that, like it or not, will not soon be forgotten.

“Who’s kidding who?” he said after his team’s 5-3 loss to Boston University on March 4, the second straight 5-3 loss to BU and the final contest of the season. “I think we were 1-18 or something at one point. Who the heck is having fun in that season?”

Offensively, the Huskies never got a sparkplug. Injury-wise, they never had any luck. Schedule-wise, it was once again an historic year for the Hockey East and its presence in the national rankings.

At the end of the season, NU – with a roster of just three seniors- lived and died by junior defenseman Steve Birnstill and two flashy, creative freshman forwards, Joe Vitale and Ryan Ginand, who all missed games due to injuries.

“This season is something we can learn from,” Cronin said. “It’s a sturdy foundation for battling adversity. And this is big adversity. It’s 34 games of just ugliness.”

Ugly as the record was and draining as many stretches were – including a mind-boggling 0-13-5 run from Nov. 15 to Feb. 6 – the Huskies were at heart a close, positive-thinking group. For opposing coach Boston University’s Jack Parker, this was easy to see.

“First of all, the thing that jumped out to me the most this weekend was how hard NU played against us,” Parker said, prefacing his comments about NU on a night when his team had clinched the Hockey East championship outright. “It’s a credit to their coaching staff that they were going that hard knowing they had nothing to win. If that keeps happening, sooner or later you’re not going to play hard anymore, but this team never stopped when they were out of it.”

NU’s senior captain and defenseman Chuck Tomes reflected on the team he led through one of its toughest seasons in recent memory.

“All year, no one ever gave up,” Tomes said. “We came to work everyday no matter the situation. Even this week in practice, knowing it was over, we never stopped.”

Tomes, like fellow outgoing senior forwards Brian Swiniarski and Steve Sanders, would have a lot to be disappointed in, watching the team fall so hard from a Hockey East playoff spot last season. True to his nature, Tomes was more concerned about where the freshmen he saw develop would end up.

“This year, there’s not a whole lot of positives,” Tomes said. “It was hard at the beginning with a lot of freshmen. But by the end of the year, they didn’t play like freshmen at all. They all contributed, and were playing in all situations. It just showed what the future of the team will be.”

The ups and downs of a season can often be a persistent nuisance for the most dedicated of coaches. In the year-long work that comes with being a collegiate hockey coach, results on the ice is all that matters. Three wins isn’t, of course, what Cronin was looking for in his Huntington Avenue debut.

“It’s been humbling,” Cronin said. “I’ve coached hockey for 18 years at every level conceivable and this group has worked harder than any group I’ve ever coached… One thing I’ve learned this year, and it will make us all a better coaching staff, is that our guys had a great attitude every day they showed up, and that’s a lesson in life.”

Leave a Reply