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This Week in Hockey East: December 20, 1996

Hockey East Preview: Dec. 20-21, 1996 by Dave Hendrickson

Will Hockey East ever beat the ECAC again?

Since November 26 — Hockey East’s last victorious date on the calendar — the two leagues have faced each other in 14 games played on seven calendar days. Hockey East has won only two of the games and none of the dates. Over the season the league has posted a dismal 8-18-2 record against its allegedly perennial weak sister. Even second-ranked New Hampshire (2-2-0 against the ECAC) and fourth-ranked Boston University (2-3-1) have stumbled against the senior circuit.

"Hockey (L)East" — this column’s preseason catch phrase — is proving prophetic with a vengeance.

This week offers two more chances for either redemption or more bloodied noses. Maine will face either Princeton or Union in the second round of the J.C. Penny Classic while Merrimack entertains Dartmouth.

After last week’s 1-2 record in picks, may the hockey gods strike this writer dead if he goes against the ECAC again. Said writer is tempted to predict landslide wins for all ECAC teams in an attempt to appease the powers above. Rumor has it, however, that they are offended by shameless acts of sucking up, so this week’s Hockey East-ECAC picks only nod subtly in the ECAC’s direction.

Last week’s record in picks: 1-2 Season record in picks: 57-32

J.C. Penney Classic Maine (7-7-1, 2-5-1 HE) vs. Dalhousie (record unavailable), Friday, 8 p.m. Princeton (8-2-2, 6-2-1 ECAC) vs. Union (5-6-1, 2-4-1 ECAC), Friday, 5 p.m. Consolation Game: Saturday, 4 p.m. Championship Game: Saturday, 7 p.m. All games at Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Grant Standbrook assumes the Black Bear reins for one week before the much-anticipated return of Shawn Walsh on December 24th. Maine opens the J.C. Penney Classic against Dalhousie, a perennial CIAU (Canada’s NCAA) power from Halifax, Nova Scotia. They will then face either Princeton or Union in a tournament final or consolation match.

"It’s difficult to assess Dalhousie," said Standbrook, "because we don’t see them and we’re not really aware of the calibre of talent that they play against. That varies greatly from year to year. They’ve come in here in the past, a Canadian team from the Maritimes, and won the tournament. Other years we’ve handled them relatively easily."

Last year Dalhousie went 1-2 against Division I opponents, beating Alaska-Anchorage before losing to weak Dartmouth and Yale squads. The two years preceding, however, they swept both Ohio State and Merrimack, so they remain a dangerous wild card.

Although information about this year’s squad has proven elusive, they should once again feature Dany Bousquet, who at one point was projected to be a top Black Bear recruit out of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.

"The one team that’s the favorite would be Princeton," said Standbrook. "They’re nationally ranked, they’re playing very well, and they have the best record to date."

Playing very well, indeed. They’re 6-1-1 in their last eight games, are tied for first place in the ECAC, and thumped UMass-Amherst 7-2 last Friday, outshooting them almost 2-to-1 in every period. "They were a very good offensive transition team," said Minuteman coach Joe Mallen. "They outworked us and out-quicked us, and that hasn’t happened in a lot of Hockey East games. They seem to have put all the pieces back together after a down year last year and look like they can do some damage."

Standbrook isn’t sure exactly what to expect from Princeton. "They won the tournament against us a couple years ago and played well using a neutral zone trap which gave us difficulty. I don’t know whether we’ll see that again." The two leagues do not swap tapes so Standbrook hasn’t seen the Tigers play, but he intends to prepare for the trap anyways. "We’ll have to be ready for anything. Obviously, we’ll have a chance to see them play their first round game against Union. It will be very helpful to see them. We know we’re in for a fight."

If instead the Black Bears face Union on Saturday night, they’ll be facing another unknown. The Flying Dutchmen have been riding the goaltending of Trevor Koenig for much of their success. Earlier this month Koenig was ranked third in the nation, compiling a 1.89 goals against average and a .940 save percentage in eight games. Those sizzling stats have cooled slightly in the last few games, dropping to 2.10 and .930, but still add up to some of the best in either league.

Union has yet to give up more than four goals in any game and have only given up that many twice, both losses. Their problem is scoring, which reached a head when Harvard shut them out last week. Except for a 7-3 win over Dartmouth early in the year, the Dutchmen have averaged less than two goals a game this season.

"We’ve got to be doing things well ourselves," said Standbrook. "We’ve got to be better at both ends. Right now we’ve got a horrendous goals against average [3.63 and a .842 save percentage] and we’re not scoring like we should. We’re getting all kinds of opportunities. If we weren’t getting the opportunities I’d be really concerned, but we’ve had the opportunities but just haven’t been putting the puck away. Right now there are more goals going in in our end than in the other end. So we’ve got to shore up our team defense and prevent the high-percentage shot and the second shot."

A major reason for the poor goals against average lies between the pipes where Alfie Michaud struggled through the first thirteen games before giving way to walk-on Javier Gorriti the last two. Gorriti played well in his first full game, earning a win against Boston College, but returned to earth in the final game before exam break.

"Right now Javier Gorriti is our first goaltender," said Standbrook. "We’ll have to watch practices this week to determine whether Alfie Michaud plays or not."

The Maine players will also have to deal with the strange transition from Greg Cronin, their fiery interim coach for the last year, to Standbrook for this weekend, to Walsh.

"Emotionally it was difficult for [the team to see Cronin leave]," said Standbrook. "The team had grown close to him. He’s a very emotional coach. He’s a player’s coach…. Our incoming players have never played for Coach Walsh, have never really met Coach Walsh, so they don’t know what to expect. For the veterans, it will be an easy transition.

"Coach Cronin has made it easier by not varying any of the team tactics, so the transition [in that respect] should be very, very smooth."

PICKS: Maine beats Dalhousie 5-2 but loses in the finals to either Princeton (6-3) or Union (3-1).

Dartmouth (5-3-0, 2-3-0 ECAC) at Merrimack (3-10-1, 2-7-1 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Dartmouth has become one of the quietest surprises in college hockey this year. After years of being mired either in the ECAC basement or frightfully close to it, their winning record now includes three straight wins: 4-1 over Vermont, 6-4 over Merrimack, and 6-5 over UMass-Amherst.

Freshman Jason Wong has been a discovery in the Big Green nets. Going into last weekend’s win over UMass-Amherst, Wong led ECAC netminders with a 1.88 goals against average in league games (2.46 overall) and a .926 save percentage (.904 overall). Many observers consider him the leading candidate for ECAC Rookie of the Year.

Dartmouth beat UMass-Amherst 6-5 last weekend on the strength of three power-play goals, picking up 10 man-advantage situations to UMass’s three. David Whitworth, Ryan Chaytors, and Bill Kelleher — while not ranking among league scoring leaders — have combined to lead the Big Green to an average of four goals a game and more than five in their three straight wins.

Merrimack, on the other hand, is a team going in the opposite direction. They are now 0-6-1 in their last seven. Although they bounced back from a 9-0 drubbing by New Hampshire to play them to a spirited 4-1 loss in the UNH barn, Merrimack desperately needs to put some W’s onto their record, if for no other reason than to keep spirits high.

"Our morale is fine," said coach Ron Anderson. "That’s part of being an athlete — dealing with the peaks of winning and the valleys of defeat. This isn’t something new for us.

"Even though we don’t like where we are, we’re not discouraged. Out of our ten league games so far, we’ve played four of the six games we’ll have to play against BU and UNH. There aren’t a lot of teams that are going to beat those two this year. I like that we can come off the break, play three non-league games, and then take a run at the teams near us in the standings. We’re only four points out of fourth.

"The freshmen have come along really well and the upperclassmen are finally getting it going. That’s really important for us."

Anderson figures that the injured players who have returned will not only be 100 per cent physically, but will also have their full game legs by the return of league play. Before then, however, they must face the Big Green this weekend and avoid a repeat of their 6-4 loss three weeks ago.

"We didn’t play with energy and aggressiveness up there," said Anderson. "We didn’t work hard enough. It was a bad night; we just didn’t play well. I expect us to play much better this weekend back at home."

PICK: Dartmouth 5-3 (although if the hockey gods would just look the other way…)

Dave Hendrickson is the Hockey East Correspondent for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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