This Week in Hockey East: November 1, 1996

Rumors of the demise of Hockey East have been greatly exaggerated.

The league won two of three games against top ten teams last week while splitting four other nonconference clashes. Boston University holds down the number four spot in the rankings while Providence moves up to 10th.

This week features three home-and-home series, Providence and Merrimack acting as travel partners against Colgate and Union, and Maine hosting Division II national champion University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Last week’s record in picks: 7-4 Season’s record in picks: 13-5

UMass-Amherst (1-1-0) vs. Boston University (1-1-0) Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA NESN Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

Last week BU lost the title Beast of the East to Vermont 4-2.

"We’re not playing really well offensively," said Jack Parker. "We have a lot of work to do. But in general I like my team."

Parker singled out Chris Drury and Mike Sylvia as the most effective forwards and also complimented rookies Tom Poti, Dan LaCouture, and Greg Quebec. However, Parker added, "I was disappointed in a couple of guys we depend on who absolutely disappeared. That will have to be addressed."

Terrier practices this week could focus on the power play, which proved pivotal against UVM. It will take time before BU smoothly integrates the replacements for Jay Pandolfo, Mike Grier, and Chris O’Sullivan.

Tom Noble and Michel Larocque should split netminding duties this weekend.

UMass-Amherst split a home-and-home series with UMass-Lowell, dropping the opener 5-2 on the road before winning 4-2 back in Amherst.

"We had some first game jitters, " said coach Joe Mallen. "Give UMass-Lowell credit, they played their game in their rink with its small ice surface. The opposite happened the next night. We played our game on the larger surface at the Mullins Center."

Mallen considered Chris Fawcett and Dean Stork the unsung heroes of the weekend. Fawcett, one of the fastest Minutemen, picked up a goal and then set up another on a give-and-go with Dan Juden in the first game. He then added another goal in the home opener.

Stork played his first official game after sitting out last year with eligibility problems with the NCAA Clearinghouse. He brings not only his 6-3, 210 pounds, but also reportedly great skating ability to the Minuteman blue line. Stork picked up his first assist over the weekend.

"We have to stop Drury and Bates," said Mallen. "It’s important that we play good defense and stay out of the box."

Revenge could play a large role in this matchup. The Minutemen ended last season with a 14-1 humiliation at the hands of BU. Look for 7,000 plus fans in Amherst to almost make the difference.

PICK: BU 5-2 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday.

UMass-Lowell (1-1-0) vs. Boston College (1-2-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA WNDS-TV50

Boston College knocked off seventh-ranked Michigan State last week with a Blake Bellefeuille breakaway goal with only 22 seconds left.

"Bellefeuille had a tremendous game," said coach Jerry York. Bellefeuille is one of four 18-year old freshmen on the Eagles. "At that age level, their upside is tremendous."

York juggled the lines prior to the game, placing Bellefeuille on the top line with Marty Reasoner and Andy Powers. Jeff Farkas moved from wing on Reasoner’s line to instead center the second line with Matt Mulhern and Brian Callahan.

Ryan Mittleman caught the ire of the coaching staff for his poor play against Bowling Green to open the season. As a result, the forward lost his spot on the fourth line to Tony Hutchins, a freshman out of Lawrence Academy. A gifted scorer who tallied 23 points last year, Mittleman will have to work his way back into the lineup.

Although the power play is still oh-for-the-season (0 for 18), York saw positive signs in the Michigan State game. "I was encouraged by our power play despite our not scoring goals. I thought we moved the puck well, especially in the third period."

Although Greg Taylor was spectacular in the net against Michigan State, he and Mike Correia will likely split goaltending duties in this series. "Mike Correia played exceptionally well against Bowling Green. We’re going to get him in our lineup this year," said York.

UMass-Lowell opened with a split against UMass-Amherst.

"I’m very pleased with our progress," said coach Tim Whitehead. "The first night [win] was a great night, obviously. And I could see some real positives in the second game too, especially the way we worked until the last whistle. We didn’t opt for excuses. I was very happy with our attitude and work ethic."

Looking ahead to BC, Whitehead said, "This weekend should be a good challenge. Obviously they are a very good team."

Martin Fillion completes his suspension for breaking team rules by sitting out this weekend. Scott Fankhouser tended the net both games last weekend. Whitehead was noncommittal about which dufflebag he’d use this weekend, but look for Fankhouser to start on Friday, with his performance dictating whether he again gets the nod or if Craig Lindsay takes his place.

PICK: Boston College 5-2 on Friday, and 4-3 on Saturday.

New Hampshire (1-2-0) vs. Northeastern (1-1-0) Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

New Hampshire edged past Union, a lightly regarded ECAC team, 3-2, before losing to Colgate 6-5 in overtime. According to coach Dick Umile, "It was ironic. On Friday we didn’t play well as a team and we won. Then on Saturday we played well, but we lost.

"We still weren’t opportunistic enough against Colgate, though. We should have had seven or eight goals. Unfortunately, we gave up the game-tying goal in the last minute after they pulled their goalie, and then they beat us in overtime."

Although some reports indicated a weak performance in goal by Brian LaRochelle, Umile deflected that assessment. "It really hurt us to lose both Tim Murray and Eric Fitzgerald on defense." The two are the Wildcats only senior blueliners, not to mention their most reliable pairing. "We had to play the freshmen defensemen a lot, and they made some freshmen mistakes."

Umile hopes to get one of his senior blueliners back this weekend. Fitzgerald looks more probable than Murray, but Murray planned to try skating with a brace on around midweek.

Despite the slow start and the injuries, Umile remained optimistic. "I’m positive we’ll be a good team. We just haven’t put it together yet."

Bruce Crowder’s rookie-laden lineup got out of the chute slowly in their game against Rennselaer and lost 4-3 before shocking seventh-ranked Michigan State 6-5.

"We got some great play from some of our freshmen which, as far as this coaching staff is concerned, is very encouraging," said Crowder. Goalie Marc Robitaille, Roger Holeczy (two goals), Billy Newson (game-winning goal), and defenseman Brian Addesa led the way among the eight Husky freshmen in the lineup.

Crowder noted some of the areas he’d like to see improved. "You need to learn how to play the score. There’s no use when you’re up by two goals [late in the game] trying to beat somebody at the offensive blue line one-on-one. Get it deep and make them come 200 feet. But those are the little things we’re trying to work out as the year goes by."

Justin Kearns, who scored only seven goals last year, already has three in two games. He ties Holeczy for the team lead.

Injuries to upperclassmen have shaved paper-thin Northeastern’s depth. Seniors Eric Petersen, Brad Klyn, and Mike Santonelli as well as junior Kevin Noke all missed the Michigan State game. Bob Sheehan then injured a shoulder during the game, exacerbating the problem. Santonelli and Noke are definite scratches for the upcoming weekend.

"Usually my practices are pretty intense and we work pretty hard," said Crowder, "but with our depth problems I can’t afford to do that now."

On paper, this should be a two-timing romp for New Hampshire. But Northeastern is playing over their heads while attrition is decimating UNH’s blue line, just like last year.

PICK: Northeastern 5-4 on Friday. New Hampshire 6-1 on Saturday.

Merrimack (0-2-0) at Colgate (1-1-0) Friday, 7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, New York

Here we go again?

Merrimack desperately needed a good start but dropped both ends of a home-and-home with Providence last week. They outshot the Friars 33 to 21 in the first game, only to be stymied by Friar goalie Dan Dennis 3-2. The Friars then turned that domination around in the second game, outshooting the Warriors 46-34 and winning 3-0. Martin Legault played very well in the second game, but in a losing effort.

"We just didn’t score any goals," said coach Ron Anderson. "We’re notoriously slow starters, but we also don’t want to make excuses."

When asked if he planned anything against Colgate’s exceptional Mike Harder, Anderson replied, "Our concern is us. We’ve got to find the right combinations. We’ve got to get the puck in the back of the net."

Anderson juggled lines late in the 3-0 loss. More adjustments can probably be expected.

Eric Thibeault tended the nets in the opening game last weekend; Martin Legault played in the rematch. Anderson will decide on his goaltenders later in the week.

Colgate pushed Maine to the brink before a third period rally rescued the Black Bears. New Hampshire was not so lucky. Despite their preseason selection as the number five team in the ECAC, they’ve started stronger than that and are a very real threat.

Forward Mike Harder stands head and shoulders above the other Red Raiders. Many experts consider him only a notch below his more celebrated conference-mates, Eric Perrin and Martin St. Louis. Harder picked up two goals in Colgate’s comeback win over UNH.

Goalie Dan Brenzavich provides Colgate’s other key to a win.

PICK: Colgate 4-1.

Providence (3-0-0) at Union (0-1-0)

Friday, 7 p.m., Lawrence H. Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY

Providence fans loved last Saturday night. It began with the raising of their Hockey East Championship banner. It ended with them on top of league standings with a 2-0-0 league mark, courtesy of their sweep over Merrimack.

"Goaltending was important," said coach Paul Pooley. "Friday night they had more play than we did, but Dan Dennis made some key saves. Our specialty teams also came up big. We got a short-handed goal and two power-play goals."

The Friars defense received a scare when Hal Gill’s preliminary test for mononucleosis turned up positive. Gill, the only full-time returning blueliner from last year’s squad and a preseason All-Hockey East selection, sat out the Friday night game. He returned on Saturday when the test was determined to be a false positive.

Freshmen defensemen Jason Ialongo and Josh MacNevin played well both nights. This bodes extremely well for the team’s fortunes, since their loss of last year’s five defensemen constitutes their major roadblock to contending for the league title.

Dan Dennis earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors for his stellar performance, recording a 1.00 goals against average and a .970 save percentage in the series.

Going into last weekend Union College didn’t look like much competition for UNH. They finished 11th in the ECAC last year and were facing the nationally ranked Wildcats. The Skating Dutchmen, however, almost pulled off the upset, outshooting UNH 26-21 but coming up short in the only category that counts, 3-2.

Union’s top scorers from last year — Chris Ford (26 points), Brent Ozarowski (24), and Russ Monteith (17) — did not score against UNH, but picked up two assists. Senior John Sicinski (9 points last year) and newcomer Ryan Campbell accounted for the goals.

Goalie Trevor Koenig posted a 3.13 GAA and .911 save percentage last year. He allowed three goals on 21 shots against the Wildcats.

Union College trailed the rest of the ECAC in goal scoring last year and could muster only two against an injury-depleted UNH defense. Once Providence puts the defensive clamps on, Dutchmen fans may give their boys a standing O if they can even muster a shot on goal.

PICK: Providence 4-0.

University of Alabama-Huntsville (1-0-0) at Maine (2-1-0)

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

The Black Bears needed three third-period goals to catch Colgate 4-3 last week. Coach Greg Cronin found fault with two specific aspects of his team’s play. "They bottled us up at times in our own zone. We’ve got to get better at moving it out of there.

"And our special teams was an abortion." The Black Bears gave up three power-play goals in only four Red Raider opportunities, while they could only ring up a single man-advantage tally themselves in six chances.

Although most fans instinctively write off a Division II opponent, Cronin does not share their casual dismissal. "I hate these type of games. You’re expected to win and win big. But they come up here totally enthusiastic about playing us and go at it with nothing to lose.

"We don’t know much about them. So we’re going to worry about our team, especially our specialty teams."

The University of Alabama-Huntsville is not just any Division II team. They are the D-II national champions, posting an undefeated 26-0-3 record last year. When they beat Penn State 15-0 to open this year’s season, they stretched their winning streak to 35 games.

The Charters graduated four of last year’s D-II All-Americans as well as five of their six defensemen. Returning players include honorable mention All-American Tony Guzzo (13 goals and 39 assists for 52 points), K.C. Schneider (16-8-24), Jamie Baby (8-14-22), and Eric Bilyeu (11-10-21).

Forward Ty Hartigan and defenseman Jim Alauria and Mark Motowski transferred to UAH from the deceased UIC program; fellow transfer defenseman Jason Mucciarone arrived from Elmira College.

UAH has shown in the past that they could steal a game or two from their D-I brethren. Three years ago they split a series with Merrimack; two years ago they beat Ohio State 4-3.

Can they do it again?

Don’t count on it. Maine is stronger than both of the D-I teams UAH beat. They could scare the potentially complacent Black Bears for two periods on Friday, but it will stop there.

PICK: Maine 5-3 and 5-0.

Providence (3-0-0) at Colgate (1-1-0) Saturday, 7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, New York

Paul Pooley talked about the Colgate matchup. "Mike Harder is a tremendous player. They’ve had a very effective power play and he’s certainly a big part of that. We’ll need to be disciplined and stay out of the box."

Both teams, covered in detail above, could be poised to rise above their middle-of-the-pack preseason projections.

PICK: Providence 3-2.

Merrimack (0-2-0) at Union (0-1-0)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawrence H. Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY

If Merrimack loses to Colgate on Friday night, could this become a "must-win" game? The first weekend in November is ridiculously early for such designations, especially against a non-conference opponent. But a win here would be a huge shot in the arm for the Warriors. A loss would also be a shot, but somewhat lower.

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

PICK: Merrimack 2-1.

I am indebted to University of Alabama-Huntsville’s Dr. Tim Newman who provided me with a wealth of information. Without his assistance, the preview of UAH’s games with Maine would have been superficial at best.

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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