This Week in Hockey East: November 15, 1996

Northeastern provided the headlines last week.

The Huskies stunned 10th-ranked Maine, taking three of four points in Orono. Given little chance after being abused by New Hampshire 7-3 and 9-4 the previous week, Northeastern rode goalie Marc Robitaille’s 42- and 38-save performances to a 2-2 tie and 4-3 win.

Ironically, Northeastern boasts a 2-0-1 record when going against a team in the top ten, but they’ve dropped all three contests they’ve played against lesser-ranked foes. That could bode well for the Huskies since they face second-ranked Boston University this week. Then again, it could also be a meaningless statistic culled by a Get-A-Lifer with too much time on his hands.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-3 (Rensselaer vs. UMass-Lowell pending) Season record in picks: 27-12

Northeastern (2-3-1, 1-2-1 HE) vs. No. 2 Boston University (5-1-0, 4-0-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA NESN Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA

Last weekend’s home-and-home series with Providence began predictably for Boston University but ended anything but. The Friday night game, a typical close-to-the-vest affair with the Friars, stood 2-1 BU going into the third. Tom Noble had made numerous big stops early. The Terriers then scored two third period goals to seal the win.

Saturday night’s contest in Providence, however, defined the term "unexpected."

"I thought it was going to be another 2-1 or 3-1 game like last night," said Chris Drury after BU’s 8-6 win. Instead the game featured Drury’s career-high five points, a clear 75-foot shot that eluded All-Hockey East goalie Dan Dennis, and a record-setting 56 third period penalty minutes for the Terriers.

Game disqualifications to Shane Johnson and Brendan Walsh resulted from a fracas during the post-game handshake and will prove the toughest to swallow. Johnson and Walsh must sit out Friday’s game.

"Brendan Walsh has been playing very well," said coach Jack Parker, "and Shane Johnson is one of our best defensemen. But the one place where we do have some depth is on defense, so we should be okay there.

"I am very concerned about our power play," he said. BU netted only two man-advantage goals in 14 weekend opportunities. "We haven’t been very sharp on it since the first game of the season."

On the plus side, Tom Poti impressed despite a rough second period on Friday night.

"Poti is a tremendous player," said opposing coach Paul Pooley. "Plus Bates and Drury. They’ve got three game-breakers that you’ve got to control." Rarely is a rookie defenseman with only six games under his belt called a game-breaker, but in Poti’s case the term is apt.

Northeastern’s Marc Robitaille has earned the term game-breaker himself, breaking Black Bear hearts with his performance in the nets last weekend. Hockey East named him Rookie of the Week for his feats.

"Any time you get any points in Orono you’re happy," said coach Bruce Crowder. "To take three out of four was exceptional, especially considering the way we played against New Hampshire the weekend before. We definitely got some good goaltending from Marc Robitaille.

"I said at the beginning of the season," said Crowder, "that we had the toughest start of anybody with two games each against UNH, Maine, and BU. We’re a young team and we’re getting better. But against BU we’re going to have to eliminate even more of our mistakes."

Will Northeastern’s success against top ten teams continue against BU? Don’t count on it.

PICK: BU 4-2 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday.

Maine (4-2-1, 0-1-1 HE) at No. 9 New Hampshire (5-2-0, 4-0-0 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

"Brian LaRochelle should be delighted to hear we’re coming," said Maine coach Greg Cronin. "In four of our seven games the opposing goaltender has been named the Star of the Game. We’re great for a goaltender’s save percentage. It’s almost comical.

"Someone asked me what we should do to improve our goal scoring," Cronin continued, warming up to the subject. "I said we should put a bucket of pucks in the slot and see if we can shoot them into the open net. Right now I’m not sure that I’d like our chances. I guess you could say we’re a little snakebit."

Northeastern goaltender Marc Robitaille stole a point in the opening game, giving up only two power-play goals while facing 44 shots. He outdueled fellow rookie Alfie Michaud again in the second game, turning a 41-23 shot disadvantage into a 4-3 win.

"This weekend we actually played two of our best games of the year," said Cronin. "That sounds stupid, but we doubled them in shots, attempts, and Grade A opportunities. I’m not taking anything away from Northeastern. They played hard and their goaltender was exceptional. But we also beat ourselves. We took 85 shots in two games and only scored five goals. If we keep up those kind of percentages, it’s going to be a long year."

Cronin looked ahead to this weekend, concerned about UNH’s offense.

"Northeastern had 25 Grade A opportunities in two games. With UNH’s firepower, they’re likely to get that many in one night. We’ve got to try to limit those opportunities and play a tight defensive game. And we’ll need better goaltending from Alfie Michaud."

New Hampshire also ran into hot goaltending and one-goal games, but emerged from the weekend with two W’s. Rich Moriarty almost pulled one out for the Minutemen on Friday night. The Wildcats outshot UMass-Amherst 41-19 but could only get a Mark Mowers power-play goal past Moriarty.

"Overall we played well," said coach Dick Umile. "We created plenty of scoring opportunities, did the little things, and shut them out. Moriarty was terrific. He almost made the difference."

On Saturday, UNH built a 4-1 lead in the second, only to watch the Minutemen come back and force an overtime. The Wildcats averted disaster, however, pulling out a 5-4 win.

Now they face a Black Bear squad still smarting from a loss and a tie at home to Northeastern.

"Greg Cronin has done a terrific job," said Umile. "Maine has certainly lost some people, but they’re always in games. They have similar lines. They play hard and tough. It should be a good series."

Before Maine’s struggles with Northeastern, this series had split written all over it. Now, who knows? Flip the mental coin and it turns up…

PICK: Maine 4-3 on Friday. New Hampshire 3-2 on Saturday.

Providence (3-4-0, 2-2-0 HE) vs. Boston College (3-3-0, 1-1-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Providence College dropped their fourth straight, getting swept by BU 4-1 and 8-6.

"I’m not concerned at all," said coach Paul Pooley. "I don’t even think about it. We’ve shown we can play. We just need to learn how to win."

The second of the two losses to BU proved especially frustrating. It marked only the second time in Pooley’s two-plus years that the Friars would lose a game they scored six or more goals in.

"I thought we played a great game," said Paul Pooley. "If it wasn’t for goaltending, it wouldn’t have been an 8-6 game."

Pooley yanked Dennis after a bad goal put the Friars down 3-1 after one. But when replacement Mark Kane gave up a soft one himself — an unobstructed shot from the point — Pooley sent Dennis back in. BU’s Jon Coleman promptly beat Dennis from close to the red line.

"Danny bailed us out a lot last year," said Pooley. "Hey, he had one off night. Big deal."

The positive news is that the young defensemen who seem to hold PC’s fortunes in their hands are developing well.

"Ialongo and MacNevin are playing solid for the most part," said Pooley. "They’re learning to play against guys like Bates and Drury."

Meanwhile, Boston College hosted a Notre Dame squad that had been raising eyebrows around the CCHA. But BC dominated them thoroughly, outshooting them 32-17 on the way to a 6-1 win.

"I thought we were solid in all three zones," said coach Jerry York. "We finished our chances in the offensive zone, checked extremely well in our own end, allowing few chances against Greg Taylor, and played really strong in the neutral zone."

On the downside, BC’s power play continued to struggle, going 0-for-7. Except for a one game power-play explosion against UMass-Lowell, the Eagles have tallied only a single man-advantage goal all season. However, the first power-play unit consists entirely of teenagers: 19-year old Marty Reasoner and BC’s four 18-year old freshmen. The unit has talent and should produce consistently by midseason.

"Providence always gives opponents trouble with their tight checking," noted York. "Over the last couple years they’ve had great goaltending with Bob Bell and Dan Dennis. This has become a heated rivalry. We’d like to make atonement for them knocking us out of the playoffs last year."

Goaltending and special teams should decide the winner in this tightly matched series. Dan Dennis should get back on track in time to gain a split for the Friars.

PICK: Boston College 3-2 on Friday. Providence wins at home, 4-2.

UMass-Amherst (1-5-0, 1-5-0 HE) vs. Merrimack (2-4-0, 1-3-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

"We played one of the best teams in our league very close," said UMass coach Joe Mallen. "We lost a 1-0 game on Friday and then we worked really hard in the second game to come back from a three goal deficit only to lose in overtime. You can’t get much closer than that. But they were still losses. Even so, I saw a lot of improvement in our team."

Rich Moriarty stood on his head in the Friday night game, stopping 40 out of 41 shots. Only a Mark Mowers rebound goal on the power play eluded him.

After four games against BU and UNH, the league’s top two teams, the Minutemen look to pick up some points against Merrimack, another team that has started slowly.

"They have great team speed," said Mallen. "And whenever you play them, especially at Merrimack, it’s a battle. They’re coming off a big win over UMass-Lowell. It could really be a tossup who’ll come out on top. That’s how competitive it is in this league."

Merrimack split its series with Lowell, losing 6-3 before winning 6-2 at home.

"We actually played better on Friday when we lost than on Saturday," said coach Ron Anderson. "We just got some bounces on Saturday and did a better job of putting the puck in the net. Our goaltending was also very good."

Eric Thibeault, who has been in Martin Legault’s shadow for much of his Merrimack career, got the win. He now leads the league in both goaltender categories, boasting a league-leading 2.36 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.

Much-heralded rookie Jayson Philbin has begun to make an impact with his "smashmouth" style. Invisible early in the season, Philbin scored two goals against Lowell. In John Jakopin’s absence on Saturday, he skated wing on the top line with Casey Kesselring and Rob Beck.

"It’s only been six games," said Anderson, "but Jayson is starting to become productive numberwise and the player we projected him to be when we recruited him."

The Warriors now face UMass-Amherst.

"They beat us three times last year," said Anderson. "So they’re setting their sights on us this weekend. It should be a hard, aggressive series between two teams battling it out for respectability."

John Jakopin and Joe Savioli are day-to-day, while Sandy Cohen, Chris Halecki, and Ryan Guzior are not expected to play this weekend.

PICK: Merrimack 4-3 and 3-2.

UMass-Lowell (3-3-0, 3-3-0 HE) at Army (4-5-0, 2-5-0 vs. Division I) Saturday, 7 p.m., Tate Rink, West Point, NY

UMass-Lowell split a home-and-home series with Merrimack last week, taking a 6-3 win at home before dropping the back end 6-2. Preseason All-Hockey East goaltender Martin Fillion returned from a team suspension to play both nights.

"He’s been just dying to play," said coach Tim Whitehead after Fillion’s strong play in the Friday night win. "And he did a great job. I’m really happy for him."

"It took about a period and a half to get the nervousness out of my system," said Fillion. "But things went smoothly after that. I felt I was back to where I was last year. It’s going to be fun now."

Neil Donovan tallied two goals and three assists in the win. He also made a terrific defensive play on a Merrimack two-on-one to probably save a goal with the score 3-2.

"From the first day Neil has been doing all the little things that don’t show up on the score sheet," said Whitehead. "So it was nice to see him get the reward for his hard work. I’m very proud of all the upperclassmen. They deserve an A plus.

"We’re younger this year," continued Whitehead, "so there’s also the opportunity for players to increase their role and get more ice time. Guys like Doug Nolan are taking advantage of that."

Lowell dropped the second game of the series despite outshooting the Warriors 37-30.

Army opened the season with a surprising 6-4 win over Minnesota-Duluth. They then lost four straight to Division I teams before splitting last weekend with fellow D-I Independent Mankato State.

Goaltender Daryl Chamberlain figures prominently in Army’s success. Last year he posted a 2.30 goals against average with a .907 save percentage. He hasn’t matched those statistics so far this year, but Army has also faced stiffer competition than usual.

Army’s blue line features experience with seniors Leif Hansen and team captain Mike Opdenaker along with juniors Darren Clapprood and Anthony Felice.

Leading returning scorer Andy Lundbohm came back from a wrist injury last weekend and promptly picked up four points in the two Mankato State games. Lundbohm, a sophomore, plays on a line with seniors Bill Morrison and Frank Fede. Joe Sharrock, Greg Buckmeier, and Chuck Sawicky provide most of the remaining Cadet offense.

UMass-Lowell has posted a 3-0 record in Friday night games and an 0-3 one on Saturdays. This is a Saturday game. Meaningless statistic or omen?

They have also split all three weekends they’ve played. Since this is the only game they play this weekend, what does that mean? A tie?

Forget the nonsense. This one goes Lowell’s way.

PICK: UMass-Lowell 6-2.

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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