NHL's loss could once again be Hockey East's gain

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NHL's loss could once again be Hockey East's gain

Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker doesnt especially remember packed houses for Terriers hockey games during the last NHL lockout in 2004-05.

Thats probably because Terriers hockey has always been kind of a big deal on their Commonwealth Ave. campus, and the Scarlet-and-White crazed BU hockey fans have always packed the house.

How did the last lockout impact the BU hockey program? The detail Parker remembers most was the school's star-studded alumni game. New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro was there, carrying the puck up the ice like a forward from his place between the pipes, attempting to score goals. Tony Amonte, Mike Grier, Chris Drury, Tom Poti, Shawn Bates, Jay Pandolfo and Joe Sacco were also among the accomplished BU alums that showed up for the benefit game with the NHL just entering a year-long hibernation that year.

Weve always drawn well. It might have affected other schools with bigger crowds than usual, said Parker. I can tell you that it drastically affected our alumni game. I think we lost 9-2 and Ricky DiPietro kept trying to score goals from his net by carrying the puck out. We dont have an alumni game scheduled this year, but I probably should have done one if wed known there was going to be another lockout.

On a more serious note Parker guessed that no NHL will mean more TV face time for the NCAA hockey programs built in New England.

We have our own TV package with NESN, and I think were going to have some better choices for games being broadcast if the Bruins arent playing on a Friday or Saturday night, Parker said.

Even though there won't be a repeat alumni game this season with BU alumni like Matt Gilroy, Ryan Whitney, John McCarthy and Chris Bourque, Hockey East itself may once again be an unwitting beneficiary if the NHL misses significant time due to the lockout.

Programs like BU and Boston College wont see much of a bounce because theyre well-established programs with their own rabid following. But theres a reason Hockey East last sold out both nights of the Hockey East tournament at TD Garden in 2004-05 when the NHL was on a season-long hiatus.

Theyve sold out one night or the other during the two-night tournament in the seven seasons since, but that was the last year college hockey filled the Gardens seats to capacity for two straight nights.

Hockey East commissioner and Harvard alum Joe Bertagna is a firm believer there still isnt a very significant cross-over between pro hockey fans and college hockey fans. The lockout gives those NHL hockey fans the chance to feed their hockey hunger this fall and winter with college games.

It also arguably gives hockey fans a chance to view the game in its purest form.

Sure there wont be the blood and guts glory of NHL fights or the elite playmaking skills of a Sidney Crosby-type player on display -- there hasnt been an offensive talent like that in Hockey East since Paul Kariya playing for Maine in the early 1990s -- but every hockey fan should take in the rivalry of a Boston College-Boston University hockey game at least once. This might just be the year to do it while the TD Garden goes silent on Thursday and Saturday nights with most of the Bruins fleeing for paying puck gigs in Europe.

I dont know about nationally, but Ive always felt that the Bruins crowd and the college hockey crowd dont overlap all that much, said Bertagna. Maybe with more of the college hockey players in the pros that dynamic has changed a little, but when I was growing up they were two very different crowds.

The New England breed of hockey fan is going to be starved for hockey once October and November roll on without the NHL, and both Division 1 college hockey and the AHL should see a bump in attendance. Bertagna didnt want to be perceived as profiting on the misery of an NHL saddled by labor strife, but there is tangible evidence his league will gain some fans this season.

Bertagna further indicated both NESN and NBC Sports are going to be looking for additional programming if there are no NHL games until mid-December at the earliest.

I dont want to seem eager to capitalize on somebody elses misfortune because we are partners with TD Garden, and I can feel for what theyre going through, said Bertagna. But having said that I can see two ways the lockout could affect us . . . especially if its long. I think both NESN and the NBC Sports will be looking for other programming, and theyre already doing our games to an extent. It would be a natural place to look for more college hockey.

The reality is the last time we sold out the building on both nights of the Hockey East tournament was the last time there was a lockout. Weve had good crowds, 14,000-15,000, but that was the last time we banged both nights out. I think it was because those other parallel hockey fans that dont usually come to our games hadnt been in to Causeway Street all year. They were hungry for hockey at that point, and we were able to provide them with a good event at the Garden.

That could mean an expanded TV schedule for Div. 1 college hockey as well as greater exposure for a college sport thats been woefully under-promoted through the years.

Cory Schneider, Brian Boyle, Chris Bourque, Andrew Alberts, Daniel Winnik, Ryan Shannon, Jimmy Howard and Stephan Gionta all starred for Hockey East during that 2004-05 lockout season in an excellent showcase of future NHL careers. That same level of quality player will be in Hockey East again this season skating for Boston College, Boston University and the eight other schools making up whats arguably the best college hockey conference in the country.

The quality of local college hockey coupled with the inexpensive ticket prices offer a nice alternative to those puck fans flush with Bruins tickets for games that will never actually be played. The coaches across Hockey East are hoping to see some of those unfamiliar faces in their rinks this season while Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman keep hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement.

I hope the NHL lockout ends today just like I hope the referee lockout ends in the NFL, said Merrimack hockey coach Mark Dennehy. But were also very excited and if we can occupy some pro hockey fans in the meantime then were happy to do that as well.

There are people that dont cross over -- theyre more pro hockey fans than college hockey fans. College hockey is one of those sports where you come to it once and you can really get hooked. In these difficult economic times its definitely more fiscally affordable than the NHL. The students in the crowd and the culture of college hockey bring things to the arena that youll never see at a pro hockey rink.

The sad fact is NHL fans wont be truly happy until logic and reason prevails in the CBA negotiations between the players and the league.

But, just as was the case in 2004-05, there are hockey alternatives locally for the discerning fan. Perhaps the most effective message from the NHL fan base would be to simply move on to something else like Hockey East, and show stingy NHL owners just how easily they could be replaced if they dont get their act together.

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

BRIGHTON -- The third season is usually a pivotal one when it comes to an NHL player's development and trying to forecast exactly how high their ceiling will be.

So it is for David Pastrnak, who is expected to take a major leap forward in his third year after showing flashes of great promise in each of his first two seasons.

“The [World Cup] is done, so now all of my focus is on being as ready as I can for this upcoming season,” said Pastrnak, 20, who threw probably the biggest hit of his career on unsuspecting teammate Patrice Bergeron when the Czechs played Team Canada in the preliminary rounds. “I feel way bigger, very comfortable on the ice, and I obviously feel really good right now.”

Pastrnak has had moments of dazzling brilliance in Boston so far while riding the usual learning curve that every young player travels in Claude Julien’s system. In addition, injuries last season sidetracked his development process.

Pastrnak put up 21 goals and 55 points between Boston and Providence as the youngest player in either league as an 18-year-old rookie two years ago. Last season he had 15 goals and 26 points in 51 games for the Bruins while also missing significant time because of a fractured foot. The injury not only sidelined him for a few months but also made it difficult for him to jump onto the moving train of the NHL regular season once he was ready to return.

Just as the former first-round pick was really catching fire at the end of the year, time ran out on a Bruins team that had a few too many older veterans with empty gas tanks after being ridden hard throughout the season. Pastrnak scored goals in each of the final couple of games, and showed off the game-breaking ability that should be on full display if he's healthy and placed in a position to succeed.

His World Cup stint ended on a high note, as he played his best game of the tourney against Team USA, though he didn’t make a major impact in the elite international competition. He put on five pounds of muscle during the offseason and clearly looking bigger and stronger at 189 pounds after ending last season closer to 180.

Part of that is the natural physical maturation process for somebody Pastrnak’s age as he gain’s “man strength”, and some of it was a dedicated effort. He worked out in Boston with the B’s training staff for much of the summer for the first time in his career.

The expectation is that Pastrnak is going to be running on the right wing with David Krejci on Boston’s second line, and the search in training camp is for a left wing who can bring added playmaking ability and maybe a little size and strength to the mix. In a perfect world Krejci and Pastrnak will develop into the same dynamic, two-way combination of Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Pastrnak and Krejci could be a lethal offensive duo to be sure, but they’ll also have to pay attention to the little details if they want to stay together playing for Julien. Perhaps with that in mind, Julien was looking to temper expectations for Pastrnak

“I don't know if [the World Cup experience] accelerates expectations. But it's certainly encouraging to see that a guy that's got that experience to go and play at that level, and made himself better,” said Julien. “We know he's skilled and we know he's fast, and he's also gotten stronger. He's taking steps in the right direction here. We can look at those guys that are first overall picks and say, wow, some guys are exceptional.

“Some of the guys, you've got to give them time to grow and develop. That's what we need to do with David Pastrnak. I think we've got to stop putting expectations too high for him, and allow him to grow properly. He's going to have some growing pains and there are still some things he's going to want to get better at. There are still some things that he's going to want to learn that we're going to want to teach him. Let's give him that opportunity to grow properly without the extra pressure and extra expectations that maybe are not realistic.”

One would argue Pastrnak put those expectations on himself when he posted the 21 goals and 55 points as an 18-year-old, but that’s neither here nor there. Instead, the Pastrnak development project can, and should, be one of the things considered when we evaluate Julien’s current ability to get the most out of his young prospect-type players.

The bottom line with Pastrnak and the Bruins is this: It’s his contract year and motivation should be sky high. The Czech youngster is one of the few people who can step up and help fill the offensive void left by the free-agent departure of Loui Eriksson. Expectations are much higher for an experienced, talented 20-year-old than they are for a wide-eyed 18-year-old, and Pastrnak needs to make a big stride forward. Now is the time for Pastrnak to show all he’s learned, and completely unleash the array of offensive skills that caught everybody’s eye in the first place.

The Bruins need Pastrnak, and young players, to step up and start taking ownership of the hockey team.

Beleskey, Spooner and McQuaid highlight Bruins lineup vs. Red Wings

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Beleskey, Spooner and McQuaid highlight Bruins lineup vs. Red Wings

The Bruins announced their lineup for the second preseason game on Wednesday night at home against the Detroit Red Wings, and it was slightly more veteran-laden than the youthful Boston group tapped for Monday night’s opening loss to the Blue Jackets.

Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Adam McQuaid and Dominic Moore lead the grizzled group of Bruins players readying for the exhibition tilt against their Atlantic Division rivals, and 19-year-old Zachary Senyshyn will make his preseason debut after getting fully medically cleared from appendectomy surgery a couple of weeks ago.

The 2015 first round pick has had a bit of a rough summer after bouts with mononucleosis and appendicitis forced him to miss Bruins rookie camp, but Senyshyn has quickly regained his strength and the blazing speed that's his biggest asset as a player. 

Austin Czarnik, Peter Mueller and Sean Kuraly are the only players from the opening night roster that will be in again to show their stuff against the Winged Wheels, and undoubtedly to get another long look from the Bruins coaching staff. Here is the full Black and Gold lineup for Wednesday night’s home date against the Red Wings with the untelevised exhibition game to be streamed on bruins.com

 

FORWARDS: Noel Acciari, Matt Beleskey, Anton Blidh, Austin Czarnik, Brian Ferlin, Jesse Gabrielle, Justin Hickman, Sean Kuraly, Dominic Moore, Peter Mueller, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Spooner.

DEFENSEMEN: Linus Arnesson, Chris Casto, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller.

GOALIES: Malcolm Subban, Daniel Vladar.