New format working well for some Hockey East teams

The 11 schools in Hockey East had played anywhere from five to nine league games heading into the weekend.

Providence was at the top of the standings with 12 points in eight contests. Merrimack was at the bottom with 1 point in six outings. The University of Massachusetts had played the most league games — nine of its 20 — and had 4 points to show for it. UMass-Lowell (8 points) and Boston University (4 points) have played just five so far.

The transition to a schedule geared more toward nonconference games — Hockey East teams are playing seven fewer league games than in the past — has worked better for some teams than others.


“There are some schools for whom the extra nonleague games have been an attraction and they’ve been able to put together a schedule that they are pleased with,’’ said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. “There are some other schools that are finding they’re not having the ability to get the home games they want, just the reality of kind of a pecking order almost.

“Some schools can do home-and-home and others are being invited [for a road contest] but the opponent won’t come back with them. We’ve also had a couple of schools changing coaches, it left them at a disadvantage in completing a schedule.

“So, I wouldn’t say it’s unanimous. I think there are some schools — and you can probably figure out which of them — are fortunate enough to maybe have a little bit more flexibility.’’

One point on which they can all agree, however, is that adding Notre Dame to the mix was a very positive move.

The Fighting Irish were in Lowell last weekend for a two-game set against the River Hawks, and both contests were met with enthusiastic support. On Friday night, there were 6,515 fans at the Tsongas Center and on Saturday afternoon, there was a crowd of 6,405.


“That’s one of the things we expected with Notre Dame coming into the East and coming into some campuses maybe for the very first time, that there would be a big draw not just on the name but how good their program is,’’ said Bertagna. “That certainly came to pass last weekend.

“Competitively, they knew they were going to get a challenge. I’m excited about Notre Dame. We’ve had more television games because of Notre Dame. So far, the early reaction is it’s been living up to our expectations.’’

One result of the shorter league schedule is that every game carries that much more weight.

“One example I can use is the Beanpot tournament, as great as it is, kind of suffered a little bit when BU kind of made it its own,’’ said Bertagna. “Jack Parker was the first to say it, that their success kind of hurt the event.

“In Hockey East, and the statistics back it up, 90-plus percent of all the championships were won by BC, BU, UNH, and Maine. It did start to take away a little bit of the buzz [of the Hockey East tournament].’’

Now that can’t be said. UMass-Lowell and Providence have emerged as major contenders in the league and there is plenty of drama going down the stretch.

“Last year, when the final game of the season was Providence and Lowell and whoever won that game was going to win their first regular-season title, it was a huge changing-of-the-guard moment for me,’’ said Bertagna.


Family tree

Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson had to scramble last weekend in preparation for the games against Lowell. He even tapped into the club team, bringing up forward Joe Aiken to fill out the roster. Bertagna said Aiken has plenty of local ties to Boston.

Aiken’s father, John Aiken, was a goaltender at Harvard during the 1970s. Aiken’s grandfather, also named John, was a practice goalie for the Bruins in the late 1950s. Both are natives of Arlington.

Back then, practice goalies sat in the stands during games and suited up only when a goaltender got hurt, because teams carried just one goaltender on the bench during that time. Practice goaltenders could be called on to play for either team.

In Aiken’s case, Montreal was playing against the Bruins at Boston Garden and the Canadiens netminder got hurt, so Aiken suited up for the Habs. In 34 minutes, he gave up six goals in his one appearance during the 1957-58 season.

The hockey lineage doesn’t end there. Aiken’s uncle, Paul Aiken, played at Boston College on a line with Brian Leetch’s father.

Busy man

BU goaltender Matt O’Connor has played three straight games heading into “Red Hot Hockey’’ Saturday night against Cornell at Madison Square Garden. O’Connell is coming off a career-high 55-save effort against North Dakota in a 3-3 overtime tie at Agganis Arena last Saturday. Twenty-four of O’Connor’s saves came in the third period. In his three latest outings, O’Connor’s save percentage is .960 . . . BC announced it has added four forwards for 2014-15 during the early signing period. Sonny Milano and Alex Tuch will be coming from the US National Team Development program. Zach Sanford, from Manchester, N.H., will be coming from Waterloo in the USHL, and Tanner MacMaster, a speedy centerman from Calgary, is playing for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. “This elite class of forwards is a group we are very excited about,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “Much like the impact this year’s freshman class is having, we anticipate the same kind of results from these four next season.’’


Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.