February 21, 2014

Hockey East: BC coach Brown relives Olympic memories

By Andrew Merritt

Greg Brown (Southborough, Mass.), the associate head coach at BC, played for the U.S. at the Olympics in 1988 and 1992. Photos/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal (left); USA Hockey

In 1988, Greg Brown was a 19-year-old Boston College sophomore, coming off a strong freshman campaign in which he’d scored 10 goals and 27 assists for the 1986-87 Eagles.

But instead of wearing the maroon and gold of Boston College in 1987-88, Brown trained, practiced, and traveled to Calgary to put on the red, white and blue of Team USA in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Brown, a Southborough, Mass., native, was a two-time Olympian, playing for the Stars and Stripes in Calgary and again four years later in Albertville, France. As the men’s hockey tournament careens toward its finale on Sunday between Canada (1-0 winners over Team USA on Friday) and Sweden, Brown has enjoyed reliving some of the memories of his time among the international elite.

“It really is special to be able to have that opportunity, so fortunate that I was able to do it,” said Brown, now in his ninth year as an assistant coach under Jerry York at BC. “The games and the competitions are so exciting, and the intensity is so great, but the whole experience of being there with the other athletes in the village, it’s really something you can’t describe unless you’ve had the opportunity to do it.

“It is fun to watch the Olympics now, and the memories come back.”

The 1988 U.S. team didn’t have a great tournament, going 2-3 in group play to wind up in the seventh place game against Switzerland. Brown had an assist in that 8-4 victory, one of four helpers he had in the tournament.

Ironically enough, in 1992 Brown went without any points, but his team fared far better. The Americans went 4-0-1 in group play to win Group A, then beat France in the quarterfinals before losing to the Unified team in the semifinals. Czechoslovakia beat the Americans 6-1 in the bronze medal game in Albertville, but it was still leaps and bounds ahead of Team USA’s performance four years earlier.

Brown was a member of one of the last few Olympic teams to play under the old format that allowed for little to no NHL participation. That meant that rather than a group of professionals gathering for a three-week crash course in team preparation, the mostly amateur roster had a lot of time together to form team chemistry.

Now, Olympic teams have to come together quickly, much like the teams at the World Junior Championships, where Brown was an assistant coach for Team USA this year.

“It is compact. When we played, the teams were put together and we trained the whole year, so it’s much different,” he said. “What they’re doing now is similar to what we did with the World Junior team. You really have to come together and establish an identity and your roles. There’s very little practice time.

“It’s a huge challenge for a coaching staff, to try and build that team chemistry, that team identity in such a short window.”

The Americans of 2014 may end up with the same fate as Brown’s 1992 team after falling to Canada and settling for a berth in the bronze medal game against Finland. Even so, for one Team USA alum, it’s been a fun – and nostalgic – tournament for watch.

Player of the Week

Matt Willows, jr., UNH

Willows scored twice in UNH’s home win over BU on Friday night, including the game-winner, and then followed up with his second hat trick of the year to lead the Wildcats’ victory at BU on Monday.

Games of the Week

Maine at Northeastern, Friday and Saturday

The glut in the middle of the Hockey East standings stands to loosen up this weekend, and the two-game set between the third-place Black Bears and fifth-place Huskies could be the biggest difference maker. Just one point separates the teams, with UNH tied with Maine for third. By the end of the weekend, things ought to look very different as a result of the two clashes on Huntington Ave.

Hockey East power rankings

  1. Boston College (24-4-3, 15-1-1 HEA) – With a sweep of Vermont, The Eagles clinched the regular season Hockey East title with two more weekends of play to go, the earliest the title has been cinched up since UNH did it with four games remaining in 2008.

  2. UMass-Lowell (20-7-3, 10-4-2 HEA) – They needed some literally last-second heroics from Joe Houk in Saturday’s game to do it, but the River Hawks swept UMass, running their unbeaten streak to six straight games (5-0-1)

  3. Northeastern (17-10-3, 9-6-1 HEA) – Good luck making sense of this one: The Huskies, who were shut out by UMass at home on Feb. 7, beat the Minutemen 5-4 in Amherst a week later.

  4. New Hampshire (18-15-1, 10-8-0 HEA) – The Wildcats got it back together with a sweep of BU over the weekend, which included Matt Willows’ hat trick on Monday, and kept UNH inside the bubble to host a second-round playoff series.

  5. Vermont (15-11-3, 7-9-0 HEA) – The Catamounts gave BC its stiffest challenge in some time Friday night, but even with Mario Puskarich’s extra-attacker goal with 18 seconds to go they couldn’t get past the best team in the country, and ended up with their first back-to-back home losses since mid-November.

  6. Maine (15-10-3, 9-5-2 HEA) – The northerners are showing a lot of life down the stretch, with four wins in their last five games including a sweep of Merrimack last weekend. Yet remain a woeful 1-9-2 on the road, and visit Northeastern this weekend.

  7. Providence (15-9-6, 7-7-2 HEA) – The Friars ran into red-hot Steven Summerhays, who made 47 saves Friday and 36 more in Saturday’s shutout for Notre Dame. Providence hasn’t scored more than two goals in any of its last five games.

  8. Notre Dame (17-12-2, 6-9-2 HEA) – With their sweep of Providence last weekend following a win over Maine the weekend before, the Irish have picked up league points in three straight games for the first time all year.

  9. UMass (8-19-4, 4-11-3 HEA) – The four goals the Minutemen scored in Saturday’s loss to Northeastern is the most they’ve had in a loss since an 8-4 defeat to Maine on Oct. 26. Melrose, Mass., native Conor Sheary had two of the goals, plus an assist, to move to 102 career points.

  10. Boston University (8-18-4, 3-10-3 HEA) – The Terriers’ Jan. 24 win over Vermont snapped an eight-game winless streak that was the program’s longest in 20 years. Since then, however, BU has gone 0-5-2, putting it one game away from matching that ignoble mark.

  11. Merrimack (7-18-3, 2-12-2 HEA) – Assuming Mike Collins (Roslindale, Mass.) does pick up his 10th goal of the season, the Warriors are on pace to have back-to-back seasons with only one player scoring double-digit goals.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com