This Week in Hockey East: November 8, 1996

Providence College provided the big surprise last week, dropping games to both Colgate and Union. The two teams, picked to finish fifth and eleventh in the ECAC respectively, have proven tougher than expected competition for Hockey East teams.

This week could easily see sweeps in all four of the home-and-home series, although the rule of thumb this year appears to be the oldest cliche in the book. On any given night…

Last week’s record in picks: 8-4 Season’s record in picks: 21-9

Providence (3-2-0, 2-0-0 HE) vs. No. 3 Boston University (3-1-0, 2-0-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

BU swept UMass-Amherst last week, 7-2 and 6-3 to grab their share of the lead in league standings.

"Both scores did not indicate how competitive the games were," said coach Jack Parker. "In Friday night’s game we jumped out fast with Chris Drury’s hat trick in the first period, but the rest of the game was not indicative of a 7-2 score. The score on Saturday was really deceptive because we only led 4-3 with two minutes left before getting two goals to put it away.

"I was very happy with the second win," he added. "It was a solid game on the road on an ice surface larger than we’re used to."

Before Providence lost two non-conference games on the road last weekend, this home-and-home series promised to be a clash between two top ten teams. The Friars fell out of the national rankings, but still remain a formidable opponent.

"They’re still 2-0 in the league," said Parker. "Those losses will probably make them even hungrier than normal. I expect a low-scoring game. They’ll play it close to the vest as they always do. And of course they’ve got a great goaltender in Dan Dennis."

Providence coach Paul Pooley rested Dennis against Union only to watch Trevor Koenig toss a 2-0 shutout at his Friars. The Skating Dutchmen outshot Providence 35-29.

"Union just outworked us," said coach Paul Pooley. "It was a hard fought game, but they deserved to win.

"Our specialty teams let us down against Colgate," said Pooley. Specialty teams had been the difference for Providence in their sweep of Merrimack the previous week. "We played really well five-on-five, but we made some poor decisions on the penalty kill. We gave up three power-play goals and a short-handed goal. You can’t lose the special teams battle on the road."

The Friars, who outshot Colgate 35-20, did so with some players sitting out due to a coach’s decision. They return this weekend. Dennis will definitely be in the nets on Friday and will likely play both weekend games.

"We’ll be working extra on the penalty kill this week. We also have to work on shooting the puck. Too many times we’re trying to make the pretty play and we don’t even get a shot."

This promises to be a hard-nosed, defensive series. With a more experienced defensive corps and more firepower up front, BU will sweep.

PICK: BU 4-2 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday.

New Hampshire (3-2-0, 2-0-0 HE) at UMass-Amherst (1-3-0, 1-3-0 HE)

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

New Hampshire finally shifted into high gear last weekend after spinning its wheels for the first few games. Tied with Northeastern at 2-2 in the third, the Wildcats exploded for five goals to run away with a 7-3 win. The following night at the Whittemore Center, they completed the sweep 9-4.

Seven different scorers connected for UNH on Friday, a welcome change from last year when only the top two lines produced. Saturday’s scoring proved more concentrated. Three players accounted for seven of the nine Wildcat goals. Eric Nickulas notched a hat trick, while Jason Krog and Tom Nolan added two each.

Nolan had appeared injured after a failed breakaway in the Friday game, a cause of concern given his past injury-prone seasons. Coach Dick Umile wasn’t concerned, though.

"He wasn’t hurt," explained Umile. "He was only hurt that he wasn’t scoring on his breakaways."

Defenseman and captain Tim Murray returned on Friday, sporting a knee brace. He played well and suffered no ill effects from the injury. Blue line mate, Eric Fitzgerald, will probably play after missing last weekend with numbness in his arm caused by an injury to his surgically-repaired left shoulder.

"We’re very pleased with our fourth line," said Umile. Three freshmen comprise the line. "[John] Sadowski and [Jason] Shipulski are as quick as anybody and [Mike] Souza’s a big, strong kid who can hold the puck. Souza has been a goalscorer all his life, but he also plays a solid, all-around game."

UMass-Amherst experienced the other end of a sweep last week at the hands of BU.

"We made a big improvement on Saturday night," said coach Joe Mallen. "It was still a 4-3 game with two minutes left. I think we showed some good progress. For once we stifled their power play and got two of our own. We had also outshot them going into the third.

"No one likes to lose two," he said. "But we’ve taken some good steps towards what we’re trying to build here.

"We’ll be facing another tough team, though. UNH has an explosive offense. They weren’t picked second in the league for nothing. They have those three great forwards, [Eric Boguniecki, Mark Mowers, and Eric Nickulas]. It should prove very challenging."

PICK: New Hampshire 6-4 and 5-4.

Northeastern (1-3-0, 0-2-0 HE) at No. 10 Maine (4-1-0, 0-0-0 HE) Friday & Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

"We’ve got a tough stretch here," said coach Bruce Crowder. "In three weeks we play series against UNH, Maine, and BU." The Huskies suffered two lopsided losses to New Hampshire, 7-3 and 9-4, to open the six-game gauntlet. They did, however, have the Wildcats knotted at 2-2 early in the third period before UNH blew the game open.

"A month from now," said Crowder, "we’ll eliminate a few of these mistakes and maybe the score is 5-3 instead. Two months from now, maybe it’s 3-3. And three months from now, we’re winning these games. That’s our outlook for this year."

Freshman Marc Robitaille has played well in the Husky nets, but Crowder pulled him midway through the Saturday game to get a look at Kevin Noke, a returning goaltender who hadn’t seen any significant time in past years. Robitaille is still expected to see the bulk of the netminding duties.

Maine swept Division II champs University of Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, 7-2 and 5-1.

"We went into last week a decided favorite," said coach Greg Cronin. "We were more interested in looking at personnel and special teams than anything else. We won the two games and met those goals. We scored on six of our 10 power-play opportunities and only gave up one goal in 11 short-handed situations. I was pleased with that.

"I was especially pleased," he continued, "with the play of Dan Shermerhorn, who has been our best forward all year, and Steve Kariya, who played very well. Jason Mansoff really stepped it up on defense as well."

Scott Parmentier sat out last weekend with a bad back, but is expected to return against Northeastern. Jason Vitorino, out with a leg injury, is doubtful.

This looks like a long weekend for the Huskies.

PICK: Maine 5-2 and 7-4.

Merrimack (1-3-0, 0-2-0 HE) vs. UMass-Lowell (2-2-0, 2-2-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA NESN Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

This series between old-time Merrimack Valley rivals, matches up the only two Hockey East teams that split last week.

After opening with a 7-3 loss to Colgate, Merrimack salvaged the start of their season with a 3-2 win over Union.

"Our special teams did not play well against Colgate," said coach Ron Anderson. His Warriors gave up four power-play goals in six chances, while getting none in five chances of their own. "We have to get better at the penalty kill. But I did think we had more intensity at Union. We up-tempoed the game at the start and were more aggressive. We got some turnovers and goals, and it got us a win on the road."

"I thought our goaltending was very good," he added. Legault tended nets during the loss to Colgate. Thibeault stopped 42 out of 44 shots for the win over Union. It marked the fifth time Thibeault has recorded more than 40 saves, according to Merrimack stats wizard Mike Machnik. Thibeault holds a 4-1 record in those games.

"I don’t have any problem with the defense," said Anderson. "But we need to find more offense. We still don’t have any goals from our second and third returning scorers."

The call for more offense could prove hard to deliver since freshman sniper Sandy Cohen separated his shoulder and will be out at least three to four weeks. Illness struck down John Jakopin for the Union game. He is expected to return. Freshman Joe Savioli also sat out the Union game due to a shoulder injury. His return date is unknown.

UMass-Lowell fashioned an impressive comeback against Boston College on Friday to win 6-4 before succumbing to the Eagles 8-4 the following night. In both cases BC led by two goals entering the third period.

"When it was played five-on-five," said coach Tim Whitehead about the Saturday night loss, "it was a pretty good game. But it was tough for us to get into the flow with all of the penalties."

The River Hawks gave up four BC power-play goals in ten chances.

"We took some penalties we shouldn’t have taken," he said. "That’s the first time we’ve done that this year, so I’m not concerned. It was a learning experience for our team. We’re a young team and now they know they’ve got to be disciplined. Some nights it’ll seem that you’re not getting the calls. That’s when you just have to stay disciplined."

Preseason All-Hockey East goalie Martin Fillion returns from his suspension. In his absence Scott Fankhouser started all four games, but was yanked for Craig Lindsay in both games against Boston College.

PICK: Merrimack 4-3 and 3-2.

Notre Dame (3-2-1, 2-2-1 CCHA) vs. Boston College (2-3-0, 1-1-0 HE) Friday, 8 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

It’s a Notre Dame weekend at Chestnut Hill. The Golden Domers will attract gridiron scalpers, major media representatives, and packed stands at their Saturday football game. The Fighting Irish hockey team will generate considerably less interest the night before.

Even so, coach Dave Poulin’s rebuilding efforts are showing fruits. After a difficult first year in which they went 9-23-4, Notre Dame now sports a winning record and is fresh off a stunning 7-5 upset of then third-ranked Bowling Green. Even their two losses have been noteworthy: a 2-1 loss to a Miami squad that already has seven wins, and a 6-3 loss to superpower Michigan. The days of losing games a touchdown and a field goal to zip have passed.

Sophomore Aniket Dhadphale leads the Fighting Irish scoring with three goals and four assists. Freshman Joe Dusbabek and junior Lyle Andrusiak have picked up six points to date. Returning top scorers Tim Harberts and Brian Urick have totaled five and four points respectively.

Goaltender Matt Eisler has dropped more than a goal off his goals against average from last year, posting a 3.33 GAA and a .914 save percentage.

Last week Boston College split against UMass-Lowell, BC’s first opponent not found in the top ten. The loss disappointed fans who had considered the River Hawks easy pickings compared to Bowling Green and Michigan State. After losing a two-goal, third period lead at home, the Eagles translated that same advantage into a win at Tully Forum.

"I thought Friday we played a superb forty minutes," said coach Jerry York, "but then we walked through the last twenty. [On Saturday] we played well for the full sixty.

"It was nice to get some power play goals," he said. The Eagle power play had entered the weekend oh-for-the-season, but scored four in the win. "Our top power-play unit now has a 19-year old sophomore and four 18-year old freshmen . We feel that group has a tremendous upside." That group includes sophomore Marty Reasoner, who looked like a man amongst boys in the second Lowell game, and freshmen Mike Mottau, Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille, and Kevin Caulfield.

Mike Correia and Greg Taylor split netminding duties last weekend. York wants to avoid wearing Taylor out, while also giving Correia some experience so he’ll be ready to replace Taylor next year.

"I’m looking for a split of 24 and 10 games for Greg and Mike this year," said York. "That way Greg will be fresher when the games get more important.

"We have the makings of a very fine hockey team," he said. "But it will take until January or February for us to put it all together. That’s not a bad time to be peaking."

PICK: Boston College 4-3.

Rensselaer (2-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) vs. UMass-Lowell (2-2-0, 2-2-0 HE) Wednesday (11/13), 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

Rensselaer visits Lowell (previewed above) for a rare mid-week clash. The Engineers are a mystery team, having played BU tough in a 5-3 loss while beating Northeastern 4-3 and Army 6-2.

Freshmen goalies Joel Laing and Scott Prekaski have played well. Who gets the nod in this game will likely depend on this weekend’s games. Eric Healey, Mark Murphy, and Alain St. Hilaire have caught ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy’s eye as particularly productive Engineers.

In this battle of very young teams, the nod goes to the kids playing on their own ice.

PICK: UMass-Lowell 5-4.

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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