This Week in Hockey East: October 25, 1996

Hockey East took it on the chin last week, dropping four of its six games against the other three conferences.

CCHA power Michigan State and four ECAC teams prepare for battle with Hockey East this week. Providence and Merrimack, as well as UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell, open league play with home-and-home series.

One of the top games of the year features the number two and three ranked teams in the country, Vermont and Boston University, facing off at Walter Brown Arena.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-1 (not including exhibitions)

Vermont (1-0-0) at Boston University (1-0-0) Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA

Who is The Beast of the East?

We will know by the end of Saturday night.

Boston University played just well enough to win against Rensselaer last week. "We played pretty well at times but fell into some defensive lapses," said coach Jack Parker. "We weren’t sharp." Parker singled out Shawn Bates, Chris Drury, Michel Larocque, and the freshmen for strong performances.

Bates was not expected to play due to a hip injury sustained in last Friday’s practice, but gave it the thumbs up after the pregame skate. Brendan Walsh, who was left home from the trip to attend to academic concerns, rejoins the team.

Walsh’s return likely means a repeat of the lines BU opened the season with against Minnesota: Bates centers freshman Dan Lacouture and Matt Wright; Drury is between Bill Pierce and Chris Heron; and Walsh centers Mike Sylvia and Albie O’Connell.

Tom Noble will be in the nets for the Terriers.

Parker wants to stay five-on-five against the Catamounts. "With their offensive strength and their power play proficiency, we’ll need to stay out of the box. We probably can’t shut down their first line, but we want to make sure they don’t kill us.

"The other thing we’ll have to do is go to their net and get the rebounds. [Tim] Thomas has shown he can stop the first shots. We’ll need to work for the rebounds and create traffic in front of the net to keep him from getting a good look at the puck."

In Vermont’s win over New Hampshire, they displayed more balanced scoring than last year, when almost all of their offensive production was generated by the Catamount top line of Eric Perrin, Martin St. Louis, and J.C. Ruid. In the win, the first three goals were scored by other forwards, although the third tally was a power play goal assisted by St. Louis and Perrin.

Tim Thomas excelled in the nets. Although that’s hardly news to Vermont followers, his importance to the Catamounts cannot be overstated.

Despite the comfortable victory margin, coach Mike Gilligan was unhappy with some of his team’s play. "There are some glaring changes that will need to be made in order to beat a solid BU team," said Gilligan. "We can’t always rely on Tim [Thomas]. We’re going to tighten up in the neutral zone. Our defensemen have to make some better decisions, as well.

"BU will get as many chances as UNH and they’ve got some kids who regularly put it in. That’s what scares me."

Look for Tim Thomas to be the difference in this game.

PICK: Vermont 4-3.

Michigan State (2-0-0) at Boston College (0-2-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

Boston College returns home after a double-dip against sixth-ranked Bowling Green. Despite the losses, Coach Jerry York remains upbeat. "We played one of the top four or five teams in the country and showed some marked improvement in some areas over our play last year. We outshot and outchanced an excellent team in both games. Unfortunately, we were not as good on the special teams."

The Eagles power play, next-to-last in the league last year, buried them against the Falcons. For the weekend they went 0-for-13 while giving up two short-handed goals.

At first glance the penalty-killing unit also dragged BC down, giving up four goals in 13 Bowling Green power play opportunities. However, in their defense, they also scored two short-handed goals themselves, and two of the Falcon power-play goals were during five-on-three advantages.

The one brightest note for the Eagles was the offensive production of their heralded freshman class. Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille, and Mike Mottau scored the BC goals in the opening game. Farkas added an assist in the rematch.

Unfortunately, BC gets no respite. The seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans await them. "Now we play another top ten team," said York. "But we benefit from scheduling such strong non-conference opponents. It makes us a better team. I feel last weekend was very rewarding for us. We played well and I feel very positive about this team."

Greg Taylor will be in the nets, after splitting chores with Mike Correia last weekend.

Although Michigan State lost leading scorer Anson Carter to graduation, they still return eight of their top 10 scorers from last year. Up front they distribute their scoring among: Mike Watt (17 goals, 22 assists for 39 points last season), Mike York (12-27–49), Sean Berens (12-25–37), Richard Keyes (14-14–28), and Steve Ferranti (12-14–26).

Spartan defensemen contribute significantly to the offense. Tony Tuzzolino (12-17–29), Chris Bogas (1-20–21), and Jeff Kozakowski (6-14–20) comprise the most offensively-active blueliners.

Junior Chad Alban (3.07 GAA, .876 save percentage) is a workhorse in the nets, accounting for all but two of the Michigan State decisions.

PICK: Michigan State 5-3.

Providence (1-0-0) at Merrimack (0-0-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA Merrimack (0-0-0) at Providence (1-0-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

After opening this home-and-home series at Merrimack, Providence will raise their Hockey East championship banner on Saturday night. But coach Paul Pooley isn’t about to let his team rest on their laurels. "I don’t look at us as defending champs. Big deal. That has nothing to do our season right now…. We’re picked for fifth, or in some polls sixth, in our league and that’s right on. We’ve got a lot of work to do."

The Friars are led by All-Hockey East goaltender Dan Dennis, preseason All-Hockey East blueliner Hal Gill, and a first line of Mike Omicioli, Russ Guzior, and top recruit Fernando Pisani. Pisani, who set an Alberta Junior Hockey League record for playoff assists by a left winger last year, picked up where he left off, nabbing three assists against Army to open his collegiate career. Fellow rookie Jason Ialongo and junior Stefan Brannare both netted two goals.

Providence’s biggest question mark is on the blue line where they graduated five seniors last year. Pooley hopes to overcome that loss "with good goaltending and good team defense as opposed to relying on any one individual or any one set of players. We’ll have to play great team defense to be successful."

The matchup against Merrimack features two teams with similar styles, according to Pooley. "This will be a very, very good test for both teams. They both play hard. They both play good defense. It’ll be a war."

Merrimack coach Ron Anderson hopes his Warriors are ready for battle. "We’re notoriously slow starters," he said, "but we have to get off to a good start some time. If we do, that would set the stage for a strong season."

Goalie Martin Legault, an integral part of a strong Warrior campaign, twisted a knee in last weekend’s exhibition win over St. Francis Xavier. Although the injury is minor and Legault could probably start this weekend, Anderson remains wary of rushing him back too soon. The coaching staff is pleased with the play of backup Eric Thibeault and could feel by the weekend that he gives them the luxury of playing it safe with Legault. As of Tuesday, however, it was too soon to tell.

The first line of Rob Beck, Martin Laroche, and Cam Neely-impersonator John Jakopin appears primed for a huge season. What could surprise fans, though, is the second unit. Casey Kesselring appears fully recovered after an injury-prone 1995-96 campaign. He teams with Rejean Stringer and rookie sniper Sandy Cohen. Cohen scored on his first shot in last weekend’s exhibition, surely a mouth-watering omen for Warrior fans hungry for a winner.

Although celebrated rookie Jayson Philbin did not impress, fellow freshmen Andrew Fox, Chris Halecki, Joe Savioli, and Drew Hale appeared to be solid contributors.

Look for the home town fans to go home grumbling twice.

PICK: Providence 4-3 on Friday. Merrimack 3-2 on Saturday.

UMass-Amherst (0-0-0) at UMass-Lowell (0-0-0) WNDS-TV

Friday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA UMass-Lowell (0-0-0) at UMass-Amherst (0-0-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

The big story out of Lowell is that Martin Fillion must sit out this series and the next because of a disciplinary suspension. As of Tuesday, coach Tim Whitehead had not decided whether Scott Fankhouser or Craig Lindsay would open the series.

The River Hawks will field a young squad. Freshmen and sophomores comprise eight of the 12 forwards, four of the six defensemen, and one of the goalies.

As a result, Whitehead has set his expectations appropriately. "At this point of the season we’re looking more for effort than results. If we keep getting the effort, the results will take care of themselves."

Even so, Whitehead is excited about opening against sister school UMass-Amherst and competing for the Alumni Cup, given to the winner of the season’s series. "I like the rivalry we have with UMass-Amherst… I think it’s great. I’m glad it’s our opening game of the season."

UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen had more tepid praise for the competition between the two schools. "UMass-Lowell has been trying to build this into a rivalry, but within the league there are all kinds of rivalries being built as our program develops. However, the Alumni Cup is unique. We were lucky enough to win it last year and hope to do so again this year."

Rob Bonneau and Warren Norris lead the Minutemen up front. Brian Regan, a former league All-Rookie selection, tends the nets behind an experienced blue line corps.

"It should be an evenly matched series," said Mallen. "It will probably come down to special teams and experience."

PICK: UMass-Lowell 4-3 on Friday. On Saturday UMass-Amherst evens it 4-2.

Colgate (0-0-0) at Maine (1-1-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Forward Mike Harder, defenseman Jack McIntosh, and goalie Dan Brenzavich lead the Colgate Red Raiders. Last year Harder earned second-team All-ECAC honors for the second time in his three years. Going into this season with 159 career points, he needs another 54 to become the Colgate all-time scoring leader.

McIntosh and assistant captain Todd Murphy provide senior leadership on the blue line while trying to replace Brad Dexter.

On the other side of the ledger, Maine entered last weekend’s games against Michigan and Lake Superior State concerned about their defensive zone play. But against Michigan, that was the strongest part of the Black Bear game, according to coach Greg Cronin. "Shawn Mansoff, Leo Wlasow, and Alfie Michaud played very well," said Cronin. "Unfortunately, our offense was atrocious. I was disgusted by our lack of fire."

A Saturday night practice in Sault Ste. Marie brought the aggressive side out of the Black Bears the next day. "We did a good job of playing smashmouth offense against Lake State. And the power play that was non-existent against Michigan got us three goals.

"That was a long trip, " said Cronin. "It will be nice to play at home. We’ll need to build on our aggressive play against Lake State and pick up the team defense. I’m not happy giving up seven goals in two games."

Auntie Em, it’s good to be back home.

PICK: Maine 5-2.

Union (0-0-0) at New Hampshire (0-1-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

UNH fell 5-1 to second-ranked Vermont last week but remains a top ten team.

Leading defenseman and captain Tim Murray injured a knee and is out for the weekend. His loss hurts deeply since the blue line remains a major question mark on the Wildcat squad. Erik Johnson, who had moved to forward for the Vermont game, moves back. Rookie Dan Enders who had assumed Johnson’s place, remains in the defensive rotation.

New Hampshire will need to capitalize on their chances better. They created numerous odd-man rushes, especially early in the game, but couldn’t convert. Coach Dick Umile said, "Our shooting was horrendous. We missed the net far too many times."

Union College finished 11th in the ECAC last year. Led by new head coach Stan Moore, the Skating Dutchmen hope to score more than in 1995-96, when they finished last in league scoring. Chris Ford (8-18–26), Brent Ozarowski (13-11–24), and Russ Monteith (6-11–17) led the scoring for Union last year. All three return.

The Dutchmen graduated their top two defensemen, but return both goalies, Trevor Koenig and Leeor Shtrom. Koenig, a junior, saw the majority of the action and posted a 3.13 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage.

UNH will show why they’re top ten material.

PICK: New Hampshire 6-2.

Colgate (0-0-0) at New Hampshire (0-1-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

Both teams are described above in previews of games against other teams.

Although Colgate will put up more of a fight against New Hampshire than fellow ECAC member Union did, the Wildcats will still prevail.

PICK: New Hampshire 4-3.

Northeastern (0-0-0) at Rensselaer (0-1-0)

Friday, 7:30 p.m., Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

The Rensselaer Engineers mustered a fine performance last weekend before Boston University closed them out 5-3.

One of the major questions for the Engineers going into the season rested in the nets. Freshman Joel Laing reportedly had an excellent game against BU and could be the answer. Northeastern, however, probably will not face Laing. Fellow rookie netminder Scott Prekaski, up next in the rotation, is expected to receive the nod.

Other Engineer players who caught USCHO ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy’s eye were freshmen Brian Pothier and Doug Shepard, as well as much-improved sophomores Mark Murphy and Matt Garver.

Northeastern begins their rebuilding program under Bruce Crowder. "We’re going to try to establish what we have to work with here," said Crowder. "Once we have a better feel for the team, we’ll incorporate a system that will allow us to be successful."

Dmitri Vasiliev, Jonathan Calla, and Maine transfer Brad Mahoney comprise one top line. Top returning scorer Scott Campbell, rookie Billy Newson, and Justin Kearns make up the other.

Freshman Marc Robitaille will tend the nets.

Rensselaer gets the nod based on their impressive performance against BU, even if the Terriers weren’t operating on all cylinders.

PICK: Rensselaer 3-2.

Michigan State (2-0-0) at Northeastern (0-0-0)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

Both teams are discussed above in previews against other opponents.

Marc Robitaille could come back in the nets for the Huskies depending on his play against Rensselaer. Otherwise, fellow freshman Judd Brackett or upperclassman Kevin Noke will get the nod.

Michigan State is ranked seventh in the country. Hockey East coaches pegged Northeastern for eighth out of nine in the league. No contest.

PICK: Michigan State 6-1.

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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