This Week in Hockey East: November 22, 1996

Sweeps by BU and UNH put them atop Hockey East with 6-0-0 records. They threaten to run away from the pack and make it a two-horse race. Of the remaining teams, only Boston College is above .500 in league play. All other teams have at least three league losses.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Maine. At 0-3-1 they run the risk of soon becoming irrelevant, something they haven’t been since 1985-86.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-4 Season record in picks: 33-16

Boston College (4-3-1, 2-1-1 HE) vs. No. 6 New Hampshire (7-2-0, 6-0-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA NESN

Boston College hopes to accomplish two things this weekend: turn Hockey East into a three-team race and get coach Jerry York his 500th career win. A split or better would accomplish the former, but they’ll need a sweep for York’s number 500. Last week they took three of four points from Providence, a team that has given the Eagles troubles in recent years.

"It was significant that we were able to get two goals in the last two minutes to get a tie on Friday night," said York. "But what I really liked was what we did in the third period on Saturday with a 4-3 lead. We really put a lid on the game, allowing only six shots in the period despite Providence having three power plays. We were just in a great defensive, checking mode.

"Greg Taylor was really big for us on both nights," said York. "He stopped a breakaway in the closing seconds on Friday to preserve the tie. And he was very good on Saturday.

"I’m also really happy with the play of our centers," he continued. "I like to have strength up the middle. Marty Reasoner, Jamie O’Leary, and Jeff Farkas are developing into a real focus of strength there."

"UNH should be a good matchup for us," said York. "They just swept Maine and they have six straight league wins. It will be a very good test."

Blake Bellefeuille should return to the lineup. He injured a knee on Friday and did not play on Saturday. An MRI, however, showed no damage but instead a bad bruise. He expected to return to the practice ice this Tuesday.

New Hampshire has jumped out to their best start ever, sweeping Northeastern, UMass-Amherst, and Maine. Their explosive offense scores goals in bunches, as they did last Friday night.

"We fell behind by two," said coach Dick Umile, "but we stayed confident and came back." UNH scored five unanswered goals in the second period to turn a 2-0 deficit into a commanding 5-2 lead. "Then on Saturday we jumped out in front in the first period. But the second period was a center zone kind of game and they tied us up. Then they went ahead of us early in the third. But again we stayed confident and came back." A Derek Bekar power-play goal with 2:36 left won it for the Wildcats 6-5.

Sean Matile finally joins Brian LaRochelle in goal. Matile, who has been ineligible until this weekend, arrives with an almost absurd amount of hype. Coach Dick Umile has attempted to keep expectations under control, but many UNH fans see Matile’s size and like to think "Ken Dryden." Comparisons to probably the greatest goaltender in collegiate history, if not history in general, may be premature.

"Sean gives us good depth at the goaltender position," said Umile. "Brian LaRochelle has played well for us. I’m going to play both of them for the next 10 or 15 games. Then we’ll evaluate if one is playing significantly better than the other."

After three consecutive sweeps, can the Wildcats do it again?

"I’m not even thinking about a sweep," said Umile. "Sweeps are really difficult in this league. If we win on Friday, then we can start thinking sweep. But Boston College will be the best team we’ve faced. They were picked right behind us in the preseason poll. They’ll be a tough opponent."

UNH’s Tom Nolan, one of Hockey East’s leading scorers, injured a knee on Friday night and is out for three weeks. Injuries have sadly been the story of Nolan’s career, often sidelining him when he’s playing his best hockey.

"I wish Jerry York the best," said Umile with a laugh, "but I hope he doesn’t get his 500th until after this weekend."

PICK: UNH 5-4 on Friday. BC 4-3 on Saturday.

Merrimack (3-5-0, 2-4-0 HE) vs. No. 2 Boston University (7-1-0, 6-0-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Merrimack split with UMass-Amherst last week, winning 6-2 before dropping the back end of the home-and-home 6-5.

"I’m pleased that we’re starting to get our offense on track," said coach Ron Anderson. "We can’t rely on defense and goaltending all the time. Unfortunately, as our offense started to find the range, we played some shabby defense at times. On Saturday, we didn’t get away with it."

Rejean Stringer earned Hockey East’s Player of the Week honors for his two goals and five assists. He now ranks third in league scoring. Fellow sophomore Kris Porter was the recipient of much of Stringer’s playmaking largesse, notching his first career hat trick in the Friday night win.

"These are guys we expected to score when we recruited them," said Anderson. "You figure that they might go through an adjustment period as freshmen, but now that they are sophomores it isn’t surprising that they’re starting to realize their potential. Of course, we welcome their increased contributions."

Goaltenders Eric Thibeault and Martin Legault have split netminding duties so far this year and are likely to do so again this weekend. Thibeault’s best collegiate moments have been against BU. He set a league record with 54 saves in 1994-95 to key a 3-2 upset and then nearly duplicated the feat last year with 50 saves in another upset, this time 7-4.

"We can’t get caught in skill and individual situations," said Anderson. "They have too much firepower. We’ll have to get good team play in all three zones, as opposed to trying to beat them one-on-one."

The Warriors are banged up. They played last weekend without John Jakopin, Sandy Cohen, Chris Halecki, Joe Savioli, and Ryan Guzior. As of early this week, the status of these players was unknown.

Boston University dominated Northeastern last weekend to the tune of 5-2 and 8-1. Since their loss to Vermont, they have averaged over six goals a game while holding their opponents to three or fewer goals all but once.

Chris Drury threatens to make a farce of the league scoring race with nine goals and five assists in six league contests. Drury earned Hockey East’s Player of the Week the first two weeks in November but was edged out by Stringer’s performance. In his "off" week, Drury scored three goals and added an assist.

Tom Noble also leads the league, posting a 2.00 goals against average and a .927 save percentage in three league games. He continues to rotate with Michel Larocque.

This looks like a mismatch on paper, just like in past years. However, in past years the paper has lied. Merrimack has upset BU each of the last two years. Look for deja vu all over again.

PICK: BU 6-3 on Friday. Merrimack 3-2 on Saturday.

Providence (3-5-1, 2-3-1 HE) vs. Northeastern (2-5-1, 1-4-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Providence picked up only one point in a home-and-home series with Boston College last week.

"We played well on Friday night," said coach Paul Pooley. "We had two goals disallowed that were clearly in, and then gave up two goals in the last two minutes. So we had to settle for a tie in a game we should have won.

"Our specialty teams hurt us on Saturday night," he continued. "We went 0-for-7 on the power play, and gave up a short-handed and a power-play goal."

Going into the season, the blue line represented the major question mark for the Friars. They had graduated five of their top six defensemen. Those questions remain.

"We’re giving up too many easy goals," said Pooley. "We’ll play solid hockey for a stretch and then make the wrong play at the wrong time. Some guys are on the ice for a lot of goals. We need to figure out who really should be playing on the PK [Penalty Kill] and power play. It’s time to evaluate some players and maybe get some new ones into the lineup.

"On the plus side," he continued, "Dan Dennis played really well. He’d had a tough time against BU the week before, but he’s back.

"Hey, I’m still positive. We’ve been playing teams picked ahead of us in the preseason, and some of our guys are pressing, but we’ll get better."

Pooley looked ahead to the Northeastern matchup. "These are two very similar teams. There isn’t a lot of goal production on either side. Both try to play solid defense and win that way."

Bruce Crowder’s Huskies came off a three point weekend in Maine before dropping two to BU, 5-2 and 8-1.

"It was a shot of reality, I guess," said Crowder. "At times we played well and could skate with them, but at times we couldn’t. And BU is a team that will make you pay for your mistakes."

"I told my team after the Maine series, ‘Don’t get too high. There are no trophies awarded in November.’ This week I told them, ‘Don’t get too low. There are no trophies awarded in November.’

"We just finished a really tough stretch," Crowder continued. "Our last six games have been against UNH, Maine, and BU. We learned a lot in those six games.

"This week should be an interesting series," he said. "Both teams are trying to find themselves after just finishing a tough stretch in their schedules. Providence is obviously a very well-coached team. We’ll have to see what kind of a team we’re going to have here."

Northeastern could pick up a split, but Providence College’s edge in experience should fashion two defensive wins.

PICK: Providence sweeps 4-3 and 3-2.

Army (5-6-0, 2-6-0 vs. Division I) at UMass-Amherst (2-6-0, 2-6-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

UMass-Amherst split their home-and-home with Merrimack.

"The first night Merrimack came out with a vengeance," said UMass coach Joe Mallen. "Last year we swept them, so they came out strong. They capitalized on our mistakes and Eric Thibeault played very well in goal for them.

"The next night it was a completely different story. We fell behind but we battled back for the win."

"People need to look at more than just our record," said Mallen. "We’ve played series with two of the top teams in the country in BU and UNH. In our other games, we’ve split. We’re moving in the right direction. With those two tough teams past the board, we hope to improve our record."

Goaltender Rich Moriarty, who had sparkled in a 1-0 loss to UNH the previous week, lasted only a period before Brian Regan replaced him and got the win. "Those things happen," said Mallen. "He did struggle, but that was after a great performance last week."

Mallen looked ahead to the weekend.

"I take Army as seriously as I take Vermont. There’s nothing automatic about a win against Army. They are much improved and always work hard. They beat Minnesota-Duluth earlier this year and almost beat UMass-Lowell after trailing them 3-0. We’ll have to play well."

Army began last weekend dominating St. Michael’s 8-0 before putting the scare into Lowell. As Coach Mallen noted, UMass-Lowell appeared on the way to a comfortable win over Army, leading 3-0 after two. But Army almost pulled the game out before losing 4-3. Army struggled on the penalty kill, giving up three of Lowell’s four goals in only four River Hawk power-play opportunities.

Army’s top players include goaltender Daryl Chamberlain, blueliners Leif Hansen and Mike Opdenaker, and forwards Andy Lundbohm, Bill Morrison, Frank Fede, and Joe Sharrock.

Army won’t catch the Minutemen napping.

PICK: UMass-Amherst 5-2.

UMass-Lowell (5-3-0, 3-3-0 HE) at Maine (4-4-1, 0-3-1 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

New Hampshire swept Maine 6-3 and 6-5.

"I thought the key on Friday night," said coach Greg Cronin, "was when Reg Cardinal had Brian LaRochelle down-and-out and couldn’t put it away to make it a 3-0 lead. And even though they scored the five goals, I thought the scoring chances were fairly even. UNH really scored some poor goals. Give them credit, they worked hard, but those goals shouldn’t have gone in."

Goalie Alfie Michaud struggled. All Maine’s goaltending eggs are in Michaud’s basket and right now that’s looking like trouble.

"It’s unusual to watch a Maine goalie flopping around like a fish in the crease," said Cronin. "It’s not our style of goaltending…. I just want him to go out and play standup goaltending. Because if we’re going to do anything this year, we’re going to have to ride his shoulders to some degree."

"Saturday was a good college hockey game," he said. "They went up 4-2 in the first period, but we came back and went ahead in the third. We killed a five-on-three, but in the end they won on a power-play goal with a little over two minutes left in the game. Personally, I thought the penalty was a bad call. It looked fairly innocent to me."

If Maine can’t stop the bleeding now against UMass-Lowell, they are heading for disaster. Maine plays Lowell their next three games, two this weekend in Orono, and one to open the Governor’s Cup. After that, it’s either Vermont or UNH followed by two against Boston College.

"Unfortunately, we’re only skating 12 scholarships right now," said Cronin. "The NCAA cut us back to 16 and then we had the four guys leave so late we couldn’t fill their spots."

Injuries have depleted that scant figure even more. Jason Mansoff (infected elbow) and Scott Parmentier (bad back) lead the list of Black Bears on the shelf. Their return date is not yet known.

"My expectations are certainly lower than they were three weeks ago. It feels like we’re down to our last player.

"Tim Whitehead has obviously done a great job at Lowell," Cronin continued. "They were picked last but they are showing a lot of character. And they’ve got great depth at goaltender."

Lowell and Marty Fillion shut out Rensselaer 3-0 in a mid-week matchup before traveling to Army. Against the Cadets, they built a 3-0 lead after two and then hung on for a 4-3 win. Scott Fankhouser saw his first action in the nets since Fillion’s return.

"It’s always a great challenge to face Maine up there," said coach Tim Whitehead. "They have a great atmosphere for a college game. After their last couple of weekends, they’ll be playing really hungry. We’ll have to match their intensity and work as hard as they do."

Look for the Fillion-Michaud matchup to trigger a UMass-Lowell sweep.

PICK: UMass-Lowell 4-3 and 3-2.

UMass-Amherst (2-6-0, 2-6-0 HE) at No. 4 Vermont (6-2-0, 2-2-0 ECAC) Sunday, 1 p.m., Gutterson Field House, Burlington, VT

What’s up with Vermont?

Four wins against tough nonconference opponents to open the season earned the Catamounts their first ever number one ranking. They appeared a clear choice as the top team in the east. The Elves worked their magic, Tim Thomas brick-walled the Catamount crease, and players like Matt Sanders diversified the offense. Coach Mike Gilligan even fought off complacency, muttering after games about how much better his team needed to play.

A bewildering two weeks, however, began when Rensselaer shocked the Gutterson faithful, pulling out a 4-2 win. Then, after struggling to a 1-0 win over Union, the Catamounts got dumped by Cornell 6-4 before barely pulling out a 5-4 win over Colgate. Perhaps even stranger, the Elves — Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin — were held pointless in the Rensselaer and Union games, the first weekend shutout of their collegiate careers. And when Vermont came back from a 4-1 deficit against Colgate, Eric Hallman, not the Elves, scored four times to avoid the weekend double-dip. In 103 previous games with the Catamounts, Hallman had scored six goals.

Has Vermont fallen down a rabbit hole into a very different world?

"Despite the losses," said UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen, "Vermont is absolutely a top contender for the national championship. And I know from my playing days at Boston College how tough it is to play at Gutterson."

The good news for UMass-Amherst is that they are a much better team than their record. They’ve simply played a lot of early games against top teams. The bad news is that this is another one of those games.

PICK: Vermont 4-2.

Boston College (4-3-1, 2-1-1 HE) vs. Northeastern (2-5-1, 1-4-1 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

(Both teams are previewed in earlier home-and-home contests.)

Look for Jerry York to grab his 500th career win in this game.

PICK: BC 4-2.

Harvard (1-3-1, 1-3-1 ECAC) at No. 2 Boston University (7-1-0, 6-0-0 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-68

A young Harvard squad has gotten out of the gate slowly. After opening the season with a win, the Crimson have failed to score more than two goals in each of the last four games.

The Crimson scoring comes primarily from junior Henry Higdon (27 points last year) and sophomores Craig MacDonald (17) and Craig Adams (17). MacDonald, a fourth round NHL pick, took some time getting adjusted to the collegiate game, but last year scored 13 of his points in the last 20 games. Adams contributes more than points; his physical play has prompted comparisons to Rick Tocchet.

Harvard returned most of last year’s blueliners. Senior captain Ashlin Halfnight, World Junior Tournament veteran Jeremiah McCarthy, and fourth-round NHL pick Ben Storey lead this group.

Freshman J.R. Prestifilippo has won the starting netminding job. away from Peter Zakowich. Prestifilippo arrived at Harvard one of the most highly-acclaimed local goaltending recruits. Despite a weak game against Princeton, he should eventually become one of the ECAC’s top goalies.

(BU is profiled above in their home-and-home series with Merrimack.)

PICK: BU 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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