No matter what the year, every hockey season has something that makes it special and worth coming back for. This past year, Hockey East had its share of downs, from the tragic injury to Travis Roy in his first shift, to the penalties imposted on Maine for violating NCAA rules.
There were the ups too. The exciting season put together by the UMass-Lowell River Hawks and their “sweep” of No. 1 Boston University, to the upstart Providence Friars winning their first Hockey East Championship since the league started in 1985.
Let’s look at each team individually, and assess not only their 1995-96 season performance, but also their future.
(30-7-3 overall, 17-5-2 in Hockey East – 1st place)
Tragically, the signature moment of BU’s season came on opening night when Travis Roy crumpled to the ice paralyzed, minutes after the raising of the 1995 National Championship banner. The seemingly unavoidable nature of the accident, the charismatic likableness of its victim, and its heart-rending occurrence eleven seconds into the fulfillment of Travis’s lifelong dream combined to form a haunting backdrop for BU’s 1995-96 season.
Ironically, this dark moment may have become college hockey’s finest hour. An outpouring of support mushroomed that continues to this day, a tribute to the fraternity of fans that has put aside rivalries to help raise money for Travis’s staggering medical bills. College hockey stands unified praying for a miracle for Travis.
In the wake of this tragedy, the mantle of leadership fell heavily on the shoulders of captain Jay Pandolfo. Coming off an injury-plagued junior season, Pandolfo responded with a year that earned him first team All-America and All-Hockey East honors and a Hobey Baker nomination. Pandolfo (38-29–67 overall, 22-18–40 in HE) got off to a great start, including a shorthanded hat trick, and dueled with sophomore teammate Chris Drury (35-32–67 overall, 22-20–42 in HE) for league scoring honors all season. Drury was also a Hobey Baker finalist, All-Hockey East, and a second team All-American.
Midway through the season BU looked invincible. They began 1996 perched atop college hockey with a 15-1-1 record. Some pundits claimed the squad to be superior to the previous year’s national championship team. Although preseason All-Hockey East picks Chris O’Sullivan and Mike Grier were having statistically disappointing years, Pandolfo, Drury, and defenseman Jon Coleman were having monster seasons while Bob Lachance and Sean Bates were racking up points that would have made headlines elsewhere. Meanwhile, Tom Noble was compiling some of the best goalie stats in Hockey East.
The first serious chinks in the armor developed when UMass-Lowell swept the Terriers 8-6 and 5-4 during the last weekend in January. The losses exposed defensive problems and made some wonder whether BU’s goaltending was as good as its statistics. Coach Jack Parker had to abandon his goalie rotation and primarily go with Tom Noble. Even more troublesome, though, were the problems among the defensemen. Although Coleman was having a great year, other blueliners were struggling. Eventually Parker had to sacrifice some scoring punch and shift O’Sullivan back to defense. Despite closing the regular season first or second in all the polls, the Terriers were giving their fans reason to be concerned.
After overwhelming UMass-Amherst in the HE quarterfinals, BU seemed the prohibitive favorite against upstart Providence College. But the Friars struck for a 5-2 lead and this time BU’s penchant for playing less than sixty minutes at full throttle came back to haunt them as PC held on for a 5-4 win. Then, in the NCAA regional they took a presumably safe 3-0 lead into the final period against Clarkson but had to hang on for a 3-2 squeaker. It was an ominous entry into the national championship semifinals. There they were throttled by the eventual champion Michigan Wolverines, who dominated the opening minutes to the tune of an 18-1 shot advantage, en route to a 4-0 triumph. For most programs, a loss in the national semifinals would be the end of a successful season; at BU, however, there remained feelings that more had been within reach.
The 96-97 squad will again be loaded with talent, barring a mass exodus of the many Terrier high NHL draft picks. The departing seniors include Doug Wood, Lachance, Pandolfo, and the courageous J.P. McKersie. McKersie, who was almost killed when hit by a car two years ago, never quite returned to his old skill level, but was an inspiration to teammates and fans alike. The returning stars include Drury, Grier, O’Sullivan, Coleman, Bates, and Noble. Supplementing the already stacked deck of talent will be defenseman Tom Poti, one of the most highly regarded recruits in the nation. Jack Parker, who celebrated his 500th career win this past year, will have many more W’s headed his way with talent like that on his roster.
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS-LOWELL
(26-10-4 overall, 16-6-2 in Hockey East – 2nd place)
When Lowell coach Bruce Crowder and his players talked at the onset of the season about making the NCAA tournament most people thought they were nuts. Fifth place finishers in Hockey East (11-12-1, 17-19-4 overall) the previous year, the River Hawks had no marquee recruits, nothing but question marks in net, and had lost league scoring leader Greg Bullock to the International Hockey League. The Hockey East coaches had pegged them for sixth place in their preseason poll, a selection which began to appear optimistic when UML could manage only ties against lightly regarded Air Force in their second and third games of the year.
But Lowell’s schedule for October through December included only three games against teams that would finish over .500, allowing them to pile up unimpressive wins while fitting together the pieces to the puzzle. Since at that point they had posted a 9-2-2 record against sub-.500 teams while struggling to the tune of 0-2-1 against the winning teams, Lowell seemed like a nice bunch of overachievers who would grab home ice for the playoffs, make a little noise, and then get on with their lives. When they split their first four games in January against middle-of-the-road competition, the “good but not great” label seemed ready for indelible ink.
The pieces to the puzzle, however, had been quietly falling into place. During the last weekend in January, the puzzle became complete. The River Hawks entered Walter Brown Arena, a place where they had *never* won a game, and prepared for battle with top ranked Boston University, who sat atop the polls with an 18-1-3 record. A classic David versus Goliath matchup. Not only did they beat the Terriers 8-6, but they completed the sweep back at the Tully Forum in front of a sardine-packed overflow crowd. Armed with the knowledge that they could play with anybody, the River Hawks rolled through the rest of the regular season, finishing a white hot 12-1-1, going 7-1 against teams over .500 from January on.
After sweeping Northeastern in the Hockey East quarterfinals, Lowell entered the third period of the semifinals leading Maine 2-1 with a HE championship matchup against a Providence team they had owned all season only one period away. Maine, however, dominated that third period as did BU in the consolation game. Although the double-dip was disappointing, the River Hawks hoped for atonement in the NCAA tournament.
Shocked at being sent to the West regional despite being the third seeded Eastern team, Lowell prepared to be the “home” team against the Michigan State Spartans in Munn Arena for the second time in three years. There they rose to the challenge, winning 6-2 in front of a sea of Spartan green. One game away from their first ever NCAA championship semifinal, Lowell fell to eventual finalist Colorado College 5-3.
The single biggest key to their dramatic turnaround was goaltender Marty Fillion. In 94-95, the River Hawks had endured the weakest goaltending in Hockey East; this year, however, Fillion had emerged to become among the top half of all league netminders.
Brendan Concannon earned his Most Improved Player honors, finishing fourth among Hockey East scorers (11-23–34, 23-39–62 overall). All-Hockey East forward Christian Sbrocca (10-23–33, 17-42–59 overall), Jeff Daw, and Neil Donovan provided the bulk of the offense but former bit players like Marc Salsman and Ryan Sandholm emerged from the shadows to give UML some of the best depth in the country. In fact, all nine forwards on Lowell’s top three line finished with double-digit goals scored. Although it was Dave Barozzino whose twelve goals set a school record for defenseman, Ed Campbell, David Mayes, and Mike Nicholishin also anchored a solid defense.
Next year the single most important returning member will be Coach Bruce Crowder, winner of national Coach of the Year honors. Since most of the offense is graduating, Crowder could shift UML to a more defensive style to best utilize the returning talent. Departing are Sbrocca, Concannon, Daw, Jon Mahoney, David Dartsch, and Bill Riga at forward as well as Barozzino and Mayes on the blueline.
This wealth of senior leadership was instrumental in Lowell’s excellence in close games (8-2 in one-goal games and 5-1 in those decided by two goals) and could prove hard to replace. Neil Donovan, who slumped over the last half of the season, will lead the remaining forwards; it remains to be seen if role players like Salsman and Sandholm, who were effective as finishing touches to their lines, can step up and be forces themselves. Campbell (assuming he doesn’t go pro) and Nicholishin will be the defensive leaders. Goaltender Scott Fankhouser returns from a year in juniors; this could make this year’s backup Craig Lindsey the odd man out. Whether Crowder can wave his magic wand yet again with next year’s young squad remains to be seen, but the growing legion of UML fans have learned to be optimistic.
UNIVERSITY OF MAINE
(26-9-4 overall, 14-6-4 in Hockey East – 3rd place)
From the moment Maine skated off the ice in Providence, RI in April of 1995 Maine’s goal for the past season was simple: to return to the national championship game and this time bring home the hardware. Maine only lost three seniors after the successful 94-95 campaign, but they were all on defense. Chris Imes, Dave MacIsaac and Jacques Rodrigue all graduated following the 1994-95 season.
The experienced Black Bears started slow. After winning the Great Western Freezeout Tournament in Southern California, they lost games to eventual National Champion Michigan, and Boston University. Maine could only manage two ties at home against New Hampshire, and after a loss to Providence the next week Maine was 5-3-2 and people were questioning if this team really had what it took to win it all.
Maine would regroup however. They would shut Boston College out on consecutive nights (5-0 and 4-0) which snowballed into an eight-game winning streak for the Black Bears. In fact Maine would go unbeaten in 10 straight games and pushed their record to 14-3-3, a solid contender.
But it was not to be. On December 21, 1995 the University of Maine announced the findings of an 18-month, $400,000-plus self-investigation of their athletics department. The investigation found that 27 of the 40 NCAA violations uncovered were against the hockey program and levied stiff sanctions against the Hockey Bears.
The hockey program was banned by the university from competing in the 1996 NCAA Tournament, their head coach Shawn Walsh was suspended without pay for a period of one year, their top-recruiter, Grant Standbrook was forbidden from recruiting off-campus for a period of six-months, and Greg Cronin was also forbidden from recruiting off-campus for one month. Maine also gave up two scholarships for the 1996-7 season, and one for the following year. Cronin was given the reins, and Maine’s dream to return to the national title game was over just as the season had hit the halfway point.
At times over the last part of the year Maine was an average team. They finished the year 12-6-1 under Cronin, and would wind up finishing third in Hockey East, while placing second in the Hockey East Tournament.
Perhaps the proudest moment of the year for Maine hockey fans came in the Hockey East semi-final game against UMass-Lowell. Trailing 2-1 entering the third period Maine got 4 unanswered goals to pull away from the River Hawks and win 5-2. Providence would beat Maine 3-2 in the Hockey East Championship game to end the Black Bears season at 26-9-4.
It is difficult to sum up the season for the University of Maine, because no one will know what kind of effect the University’s self-imposed penalties had on the team. Clearly there were times this team let down because of it, but the team never did give up.
Cronin was in a similar situation with Colorado College several years back. Once the program was sanctioned, the coaching staff lost complete control of the team, and the players broke both team and civilian rules, dragging the freshman with them.
To the credit of the Maine players, they did not break. The team hung in there, and had the chance to go out a winner in the Hockey East Championship game but fell just shy.
There were bright spots for Maine individually as well. Several players had great years, including Tim Lovell (21-19–40), and Shawn Wansborough (27-16–43). Lovell missed the playoffs because of a leg injury, but Dan Shermerhorn was key down the stretch. Shermerhorn picked up much of the scoring slack and finished with a impressive 20-23–43.
Also, newcomer Brett Clark was a big part of filling the defensive holes left by the departure of Imes, MacIsaac and Rodrigue. Clark was runner-up for Hockey East Rookie of the Year, and was on the Hockey East Rookie team. Teammate Steve Kariya was also on that team. Junior Jeff Tory also had a solid campaign as his 41 points from the blueline (4-37) earned him All-American honors for the second consecutive year.
Maine only loses three players, forwards Brad Purdie, and Tony Frenette, along with backup goalie Blair Marsh. While Maine waits for the NCAA to rule on their case June 1-3, clearly the man-power is there for another championship run by the Black Bears in 1996-7.
(21-15-3 overall, 12-9-3 in Hockey East – 4th-place)
When Paul Pooley’s Providence College Friars went to the Hockey East Championship game in 1995, people labeled it a great run, but never did anyone really they think it would happen again this year.
The Friars were picked to be in the lower-half of Hockey East in 1995-6 but ended up squeaking into fourth-place one point ahead of Boston College. The biggest key to this was their 12-4-2 start overall, the execution of Pooley’s defensive minded system and the play of All-Hockey East Goaltender Dan Dennis.
Injuries would plaque the Friars, and they would drop 4 in a row, then 5 of 6, and then 7 of 9. The cries of “I told you so” seemed to echo around Hockey East as Providence drifted back toward the pack.
When Providence met Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, most people thought the red-hot Eagles would probably pull off the upset. However, a healthy, determined Providence team disposed of them in two games, and then moved on to the Hockey East Final Four to meet defending national champion Boston University.
The Friars stunned the Terriers early and often then hung on to win 5-4. Providence would play the following night for the Hockey East Championship against Maine. It was the second year in a row that the Friars would play in the title game, and this time they were on the money side of a 3-2 score.
Providence would advance to East Lansing, Mich. and the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota knocked them off 5-1 bringing their impressive season to a close in the first round.
Three players were key to Providence’s first Hockey East Championship since 1985. Joe Hulbig (Hockey East Tournament MVP) was especially good against Boston University and Maine scoring key goals, as was freshman Mike Omicioli. Omicioli was named to the All-Tournament team with teammate Jason Gould, who led Providence’s terrific defensive effort, and goalie Dan Dennis, who played brilliantly at times this season. Dennis was certainly a key to Providence’s successful year. Dennis finished with a 3.33 goals against average and a nice .898 save percentage in 37 games for the Friars.
Another key to Providence’s success was the close-checking, slow-down defensive style that Paul Pooley has instilled in his team. Pooley, who came from Lake Superior State in 1994, has shown in the past two Hockey East tournaments that his system can and does work. Providence has taken stuffing the passing lanes and cycling down low and made them into a science. They were especially effective at shutting down teams like Boston University and Maine for long periods of time, while taking great advantage of power-plays and odd man rushes.
Next year’s seniors will have the benefit of having two years under this system, but Providence will lose some key players from its blueline crew. Justin Gould, Scott Balboni, Jon Rowe, Jay Kenney and Eric Sundquist all depart to graduation from the defense. Providence also loses some important forwards in Dennis Burke, Joe Hulbig, Trevor Hanson, and Mike Gambino. Certainly this will leave some gaps for the defensive-minded Pooley, but with Dennis returning he will at the very least have a proven goaltender to count on and if Pooley gets a good freshman class, he could once again surprise the critics.
(16-17-3 overall, 12-10-2 in Hockey East – 5th place)
The names roll off the tongues of the BC faithful: Leetch, Janney, Stevens, Emma, and Brown. The glory years under Len Ceglarski were easy times to be a fan. The Eagles team of 84-85 is still considered by many to be the greatest college hockey team ever.
But the golden memories have dimmed for BC fans, replaced by one losing season after another. In recent years the program hit rock bottom when a disgraced Steve Cedorchuk was fired in the wake of a scholarship scandal to be replaced by the Bruins’ Mike Milbury, only to have Milbury flee without coaching a single game. If the time-honored adage that adversity builds character is true, BC fans entered this season with quite enough character, thank you, can we please start having some fun?
The Eagles had closed out the 94-95 campaign with an embarrassing loss in the play-in round of the Hockey East playoffs in front of a nearly empty Conte Forum. The Hockey East preseason picks showed little reason for optimism, projecting BC to finish next to last. When the team stood 7-12-3 in mid-January, it seemed like “deja vu all over again.”
But a five-game win streak propelled the Eagles into a fight for playoff home ice. Although they fell short of that goal, their record of 9-3-0 down the stretch bode well for their opening round matchup against Providence College. Indeed, that playoff series seemed to match two teams going in opposite directions. The Friars had started strong, but had faded down the stretch. If momentum counted for anything, the smart prognosticator would have chosen the red-hot Eagles. But 5-2 and 4-2 losses ended the BC season.
In retrospect, the Eagles may not have been quite as good as their late season record seemed to indicate. Examining their record another way, they piled up a record of 9-3-0 against the four Hockey East teams finishing below them, while only going 3-10-2 against the four above them (including regular season, playoffs, and Beanpot contests). Nonetheless, the wins over Maine and BU down the stretch and the generally more consistent play during the latter half of the year were positive signs that the young squad held considerable promise.
Although it would be tempting (and obvious) to conclude that the turnaround from last year was due solely to Hockey East Rookie of the Year Marty Reasoner (16-29-45 overall, 12-19-31 in HE), that would overlook, among other things, the terrific season also had by linemate David Hymovitz (26-19-45 overall, 16-14-30 in HE). Hymovitz was chosen to the All Hockey East squad, the only Eagle so honored.
Additionally, the freshman class consisted of more than just Reasoner. In perhaps the brightest news for BC fans, the eight members of the freshman class (110 points) outpointed the four sophomores (41 points), eight juniors (72 points), and six seniors (99 points). As these players mature and become more productive, BC’s fortunes should rise with them.
The hardest members to replace next year will be Hymovitz and Don Chase up front as well as Tom Ashe and Greg Callahan on the blueline. Reasoner will need to pick up where he left off this year, while some potential sniper will need to replace Hymovitz as the recipient of Reasoner’s playmaking prowess.
Greg Taylor (assuming he doesn’t turn pro) will be expected to be one of the elite netminders in the league. Mike Correia returns from a strong year in juniors to back Taylor up. Continued development by this year’s freshman class will be key along with the integration of another strong group of recruits led by Mass public school standout Blake Bellefeuille. (Special thanks to Rick McAdoo.)
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
(12-18-4 overall, 8-12-4 in Hockey East – 6th place)
Perhaps the largest disappointment in Hockey East this year was the play of the New Hampshire Wildcats. Hockey East’s 1994-95 3rd-place team, NCAA Tournament participant, and preseason Hockey East third place team never materialized despite having bragging rights to some of the most talented players in the league.
Things started well for the Wildcats. They began the year 3-1-2 including two ties at Maine, and they kicked off the opening of their new Towse Rink with a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory over the Boston University Terriers. After losing the back end of the home-and-home with BU, UNH would proceed to get swept by Merrimack. Those three losses began a period of nine games in which UNH would only go 2-7.
They never really rebounded. Over the rest of the season they didn’t play above .500, splitting four straight series and finished the season at Maine being swept in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. They finished the back stretch a disappointing 2-5-2.
The disappointment for Wildcat fans can be attributed directly to weak goaltending. Senior Trent Cavicchi never got on his game, and struggled with a goals against average of over 4 goals a game. Cavicchi struggled so much that eventually UNH Coach Dick Umile went away from him and gave the reins to sophomore Brian LaRochelle. LaRochelle played well at times, and certainly was enough to give UNH fans hope, but he was not the answer either as his inexperience proved to be his largest handicap.
The clear strength for the Wildcats was their offense. UNH boasted the 16th ranked scoring offense in the country, despite finishing 6th in the league. Their offense is young, and deep. They are led by junior Eric Boguniecki who in only 32 games racked up 23 goals and 28 assists for 52 points. He was tied for second in league scoring with BU’s Jay Pandolfo at 40 points (20-20). Boguniecki really picked it up late in the year after recovering from an injury and was the leader down the stretch for the Wildcats.
Two sophomores were also key to the UNH attack. 1995 Hockey East Rookie of the Year Mark Mowers had another great year with 21 goals and 26 assists for 47 points. Erik Nickulas scored 26 goals to lead his team, but tailed off toward the end of the season.
UNH’s defense, at times weak, will get weaker through graduation. Of the six graduating seniors, two are defenseman in Todd Hall and Steve Pleau; Cavicchi is also lost to graduation.
Certainly the loss of these three players will be felt, none more so than Hall, who was admired around the league after he had another great season, earning him All-Hockey East honors after he lost his sister in a tragic accident in November. Other graduating seniors are Mike Sullivan, Tom O’Brien and Pat Norton.
The core of the UNH offense (Boguniecki, Mowers and Nickalus) will return, and if they land some quality recruits to shore up the defense and goaltending this team will make some noise.
(10-21-5 overall, 6-13-5 in Hockey East – 7th place)
Coming off a fourth place Hockey East finish in 94-95, the Huskies were again expected to be at least a middle-of-the-pack team. Projected to finish fourth in the league’s preseason poll, the Huskies based much of their optimism on preseason All-Hockey East selections defenseman Dan McGillis and forward Jordan Shields.
The Huskies, however, got off to a poor start, salvaging only a tie in their first five games. They continued to stumble along, entering the new year with only three wins and two ties in their pockets. Having played far below expectations, the Huskies appeared to turn the corner with a 6-2-2 streak, the most notable of these a 4-1 win over Harvard in the Beanpot semifinals. This would result in the Huskies’ first appearance in a Beanpot title game since 1988, when they won their fourth title. A fifth Beanpot might salvage the season and perhaps springboard the team to a strong finish.
Unfortunately, the final was a sloppily played 11-4 humiliation at the hands of BU. The Fleet Center began emptying after two periods and the clicking of remote control buttons could be heard all over New England. Indeed, the game served as a springboard for the rest of the season, although not the one Northeastern fans had hoped for. The Huskies would win only one more game before being eliminated from the playoffs in two straight games at the hands of UMass-Lowell.
Most of NU’s problems could be traced to a lack of offense. The squad finished dead last in Hockey East in goals scored. Jordan Shields, who was supplanted on the first line, had a solid but unspectacular season, finishing 11-18-29 in Hockey East games, a few points off the pace of his junior year. Although the scoring was sparse, the defense was solid, anchored by All-American Dan McGillis.
The goaltending tandem of Mike Veisor and Todd Reynolds kept the Huskies in a lot of low scoring games. Although Reynolds did struggle due to injury problems in some games midway through the season, his .905 save percentage in league contests still bested that of all other Hockey East goalies.
Despite the disappointing year, the Huskies sported some of the best nicknames in college hockey. Mike “Bud” Veisor and Dan “Dobie” McGillis won top honors in the Best Individual Nickname category. Additionally, the top line of Mike Santonelli, Mike Collett, and Danny Lupo was dubbed the “Catholic Line” since all three originate from Boston area Catholic high schools.
Next year would appear to be a rebuilding one for the Hunnington Hounds. They will be losing their top performers at all positions: goalies Veisor and Todd Reynolds, defenseman McGillis, and forwards Shields, Collet, Lupo, Craig Carmody, and Tomas Persson.
Since Hockey East is expected to eliminate shootouts next year, Northeastern will also be “graduating” its prowess in that category; for the second year in a row they won all five of their shootouts. To avoid the lower regions of league standings next season, the Huskies will need some underclassmen to rise to the challenge while also getting production out of this year’s recruits.
UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS-AMHERST
(10-18-6 overall, 4-14-6 in Hockey East – 8th place)
There aren’t many programs that would look at an 8th place finish as a successful season, but it was that for the second-year UMass-Amherst hockey program. After being the Hockey East punching bag the year before, UMass-Amherst finished solidly in 8th and made the Hockey East quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
UMass-Amherst began their 1995-6 season by winning 4 of their first 5 games, and 6 of 9 to start out surprisingly well at 6-3. Even though most of the competition was not all that tough, they did post a win over UMass-Lowell, who went to the NCAA Tournament. For UMass-Amherst it did serve their purpose, it gave them confidence something a fledgling program needs badly.
The strong start would not continue for UMass-Amherst, but it was enough to keep them in 8th place as they held on down the stretch. UMass-Amherst would go 1-10-6 after the Christmas games, their one win over Merrimack giving them the series sweep and the key to finishing in 8th place. One of the six ties was also notable since that gave the Minutemen a 1-1-1 record against rival sister school UMass-Lowell; winning the resulting shootout gave them the tiebreaker and the Alumni Cup, to be awarded annually to the winner of the series. This is a rivalry that will bear watching.
By making the playoffs, the limping Minutemen were awarded the right to play Hockey East Regular Season Champion, and defending National Champion, Boston University. UMass-Amherst hung tough the first game, losing only 5-2, but the final game of UMass-Amherst’s season will sting throughout the summer as Boston University plastered them 14-1.
UMass-Amherst was led by forwards Rob Bonneau and Sal Manganaro. Bonneau led UMass-Amherst in assists with 30 (16-30-46) while Manganaro led the team in goals with 23 (23-23-46). Manganaro had also led the Minutemen in scoring for the 1994-5 season. Manganaro will be lost to graduation while Bonneau will be called upon to fill the scoring void.
Another big hole for UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen to fill is the loss of two senior defenseman. Dale Hooper and Jaynen Rissling were UMass-Amherst’s best defensemen throughout the season; Rissling was also the Minutemen captain. Other losses for UMass-Amherst are backup goalie David Killduff, and forward Jon Jacques.
UMass-Amherst will need to count on more than just Bonneau to keep them competitive in 1996-7. Goaltender Brian Regan, while not posting the numbers, is regarded as one of the best goalies in Hockey East. Regan, spectacular at times, will need to improve his consistency. They need a solid season from him.
Assistant Captains Mike Evans and Blair Wagar also will need to step up both in the locker room and on the ice to fill the void left by Manganaro. Certainly Joe Mallen surpassed expectations this year; who knows what UMass-Amherst will bring to the table next year.
(10-19-5 overall, 4-18-2 in Hockey East – 9th-place)
Certainly 1995-96 was a year of disappointment for the Merrimack Warriors. Picked to fight for home-ice in Hockey East, the Warriors finished dead last and out of the playoffs. Rather than naming them the most disappointing team in the league, perhaps the moniker “Tough Luck Kids” would be more appropriate.
Unlike other last place Merrimack teams, this one was not the laughingstock of the league by any means. Merrimack played in 18 games decided by two goals or less, but only compiled a 4-14 record in those games. At 10-19-5, that 10 game difference played a huge part in why Merrimack missed the Hockey East playoffs.
There were a few shining moments for this 1995-96 Merrimack Warrior team, the largest of which was a late season 7-4 victory over Hockey East Regular Season Champion Boston University. This win went a long way towards reinforcing the idea that Merrimack was perhaps the best last place team Hockey East may have seen in the last few years, if not ever, and spoke to the parity which the league exhibited this season.
The other huge moment was the home-and-home sweep of the then-No. 10 ranked UNH Wildcats. This sweep was the beginning of the end for UNH, who went on a long skid following this series.
Merrimack only won one other Hockey East game, that against Northeastern. Merrimack struggled against teams it needed to beat all year long. Perhaps the best case was losing all three games to UMass-Amherst. This cemented the Warriors in last place with little hope of moving out, despite the late season collapse by the Minutemen.
People around the Merrimack program will tell you two things. First, that this team, while being labeled overrated, was still a quality team. Their only problem was that they didn’t know how to win. Great defense and solid goaltending led Merrimack to many a close game, but only rarely did they get the elusive “W”. Lastly, people around Merrimack will tell you that they look ahead to next year with great expectation.
While losing key players in Tom Costa, Ryan Mailhiot, Chris Davis, next year’s team will be filled with quality senior leadership. Most of these seniors have experienced the frustration of two straight seasons of being competitive but not winning the close games. They will no longer be satisfied with “just being close”. Couple that with one of the best recruiting classes in Merrimack’s Division I history, and Merrimack could in fact fight for the home ice people thought they’d get this year.
They will need to get more consistent in every area. When the goaltending, defense and forwards all played solidly Merrimack was a team to be reckoned with, but when one part let down it seemed to put the entire team behind the eight ball. Merrimack will need goalie Martin Legault to return to the form of 1994-5 when he had a .903 save percentage and a 3.39 goals against average in 28 games.
Legault’s defense will continue to be important for the Warriors. They will be led by Steve McKenna, and Hockey East All-Rookie Darrel Scoville. John Jakopin, who moved to forward during the late stages of the 95-96 season, may move back to defense with several recruits expected to step right in at forward. The move would reunite Merrimack’s twin towers on defense with McKenna (6-foot-8 235 pounds) and Jakopin (6-foot-6 235 pounds). While having the talent at defense they will need to be more consistent in their own zone.
If Merrimack can count on their young players up front, and gain the consistency in their own end Merrimack may well enjoy their best Hockey East season in 1996-97. (special thanks to Merrimack Sports Information Director Tom Caraccioli)
The 1995-96 Hockey East season will not soon be forgotten. Much happened, both on and off the ice, that will be hard to let go of. As we tie the final knot in this season, let’s not look at where we came from, but where we are now. College hockey, as a fraternity, grew closer this past season. With that in mind, we should all be anxiously looking over our shoulder waiting for October and the birth of a new season.