This Week in Hockey East: December 6, 1996

Hockey East Preview: Dec. 5-8, 1996 by Dave Hendrickson

BC coach Jerry York’s 500th win (see Jerry York: The Road To 500 Wins, elsewhere on USCHO), New Hampshire’s taking of the Governors’ Cup, and BU’s two losses led the Hockey East news last week. The league returns to its usual slate of home-and-home series after a week of non-league games.

Last week’s record in picks: 10-7 (Tuesday game pending) Season record in picks: 50-26

No. 2 New Hampshire (11-2-0, 8-0-0 HE) vs. Merrimack (3-8-1, 2-5-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

New Hampshire won the second Governors’ Cup, beating host Vermont 8-6 and then Maine 7-2. Since the semifinal game against the Catamounts paired two top-ten teams, many considered that game to be the de facto championship. Vermont jumped out in front 2-1, dominating the first period with a shot advantage of 19-9 before UNH struck for five goals in the second.

"Matile kept us in there in that first period," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "They were getting some pretty good shots out in front, but he’d stop the first one and then we’d clear it after that. But they were getting scoring opportunities. St. Louis’ line was pretty exciting. But in the second period we took the game right away from them and exploded. We gave them a couple [of] soft goals in the third period to make it close. But once we got going in the second period I thought the guys played great."

Umile didn’t consider the passionate Catamount home crowd the reason for his team’s slow start. "We look forward to going up to UVM. It’s one of the premier places to play in college hockey. I don’t think the reason we weren’t playing well in the first period was because of the crowd. If anything, I think the crowd helps you in games like that and the guys just rally together and play hard."

In the championship game, the Wildcats again used a second-period explosion, scoring four unanswered goals to put away the Maine Black Bears. The UNH offense’s penchant for scoring goals in bunches has finished off many teams that have hung on for a period or two.

"Hopefully we won’t get so used to these second period [outbursts] that we keep waiting one period," said Umile. "The good thing is that we’ve got a very balanced team. We really have six forwards that can put the puck in the net at any time. And we’re getting it from the freshman line too. Once we get going we’re capable of scoring in bunches because we have some pretty good goal-scorers here."

Mark Mowers earned tournament MVP and Hockey East Player of the Week honors for his five goals and two assists. He now ranks third in overall league scoring with 10 goals and 11 assists in 13 games. Defenseman Jayme Filipowicz was a Hockey East Rookie of the Week Honorable Mention for his +8 performance in the tournament.

UNH faces a Merrimack team that swept them early last year, precipitating a downward spiral the Wildcats never pulled out of.

"There’s no secret that they’ve given us a tough time," said Umile. "With us at the top of Hockey East, they’ll really be going after us. We expect it to be a tough weekend and definitely respect them. They never get any credit for how well they play. Merrimack may not win a lot of games, but they always work hard and they take you right to the end. Hopefully we can come out on top."

The only good thing for Merrimack last weekend was that their two losses were against non-conference teams. Facing two very winnable games, the Warriors dropped a 6-4 contest with Dartmouth and then lost 5-2 to Rensselaer.

"Both of our opponents played very focused and worked hard," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. "And unfortunately we were kind of casual. Even in the RPI game when we were listed with 40 shots, we didn’t have 40 scoring opportunities. We talk about being prepared, but maybe it’s human nature to get lazy around the holidays."

A similar effort against UNH could result in double-digit goals for the buzzsaw Wildcats.

"Maybe it’s the best thing for us," said Anderson. "There’s nothing wrong with playing the best." In fact, Merrimack’s only point in their recent 0-4-1 stretch was against third-ranked BU. "Hopefully, we can iron out some of the kinks and have a good performance going into the exam break.

"We have a lot of players coming back from injuries," continued Anderson. "All but Ryan Guzior have been cleared to play. But conditioning is a key. None of the returning players have their game legs yet. We’re trying to work them back in there."

John Jakopin will remain on defense. Although the coaching staff had hoped to move him back up front to fill a power forward role, a rattled blueline corps needs him more.

PICK: UNH sweeps, 5-3 at Merrimack and 7-2 at home.

UMass-Amherst (5-7-0, 2-6-0 HE) vs. Providence (6-6-1, 4-3-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI NESN Sunday, 2 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

Providence split a home series with Western Michigan, winning the opener 4-3 in overtime before dropping the return match, 5-4.

"Friday night was a good hockey game," said PC coach Paul Pooley. "They were up 2-0 and then we came back. Both teams had chances to win. We were fortunate to win it in OT." Travis Dillabough got the game-winner, his fifth of the season.

"Saturday night we played really well," continued Pooley. "We just made some major mental mistakes. They had five shots in the second period and scored four goals. If you look at the scoresheet, they scored four goals within 19 seconds." Those backbreaking sequences occurred in the second period, when a Western Michigan goal at 3:37 preceded another one 10 seconds later, and then a goal at 9:51 was repeated in just nine seconds.

"We just broke down mentally and made some young mistakes. It’s not physical, it’s mental. We’re just not making the right decisions at the right time," Pooley said.

The Friar power play connected all weekend long, going 2 for 4 on Friday and 3 for 4 on Saturday. "Our power play moved the puck well," said Pooley. "Obviously it had some success. But you know, when your power play is going like that you should win the hockey game. We didn’t. It’s unfortunate."

Providence faces ninth-ranked Vermont in a Tuesday night match before this weekend’s home-and-home with UMass-Amherst.

"The weekend games are huge games for us. With UNH and BU out in front, everyone else is bunched in together. It would be great to get a couple wins against UMass going into Christmas break. It’s our goal to make sure we win so many series each year. We’ve already won two. We want to get number three out of the way. So they’re huge games."

UMass-Amherst dominated Air Force last weekend, 4-1 and 10-2.

"We had to play five of our first ten games against the top six teams in the country," said Minuteman coach Joe Mallen. Although they dropped all five, UMass-Amherst has posted a 5-2-0 record against unranked foes. "We’ve won four of the last five games — two against Air Force, one against Army, and one against Merrimack. That’s a pretty good stretch for us at this point in the program."

"Our special teams need to improve," said Mallen. "There’s no doubt about that. But I’m happy with our progress. We’re really playing a good up-tempo brand of hockey with good speed and quickness. We’re putting ourselves in a position where we can win any game on any night."

Mallen, like all other Hockey East coaches, looks at Providence and expects a tough, defensive struggle.

"Their system works really well in their rink," he said. "We’ve got to be prepared to play a grind-it-out kind of game."

PICK: Providence wins the grind-it-out game at home 4-3, but the underrated Minutemen get the split on their larger ice surface 5-4.

UMass-Lowell (6-6-0, 4-4-0 HE) vs. Northeastern (2-9-2, 1-7-1 HE) Thursday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

UMass-Lowell dropped both games in the Governors’ Cup, losing first to Maine 4-3 and then 6-4 to Vermont in the consolation game.

"Our game against Maine was just a great hockey game," said Lowell coach Tim Whitehead. "We had a 3-1 lead going into the third but we probably didn’t deserve it. Sometimes that happens. And I don’t think we were comfortable with that.

"It was very similar to the first time we played Maine, when we had a 4-1 lead in the first period and we may have deserved only a 2-1 lead. I think that allowed Maine to be a little more focused for the next period and it allowed our guys to almost loosen up a bit. We’re a pretty inexperienced team. We’re just not comfortable yet playing with that type of lead.

"But we’ve obviously played very well when we’re behind this year. We’ve had some great comeback wins, which is something we didn’t really do last year. That’s an encouraging thing. We almost did that the next night against Vermont. We were behind 2-0 and then 4-2 going into the third and we ended up tying it with a couple minutes left. Unfortunately, they got the game-winner and then an open-net goal."

This week his squad faces their old mentor, Bruce Crowder, for the first time.

"It’s going to be fun for all the guys on the team and definitely for myself," said Whitehead, who was Crowder’s assistant for five years. "It’ll be a great series. You’ve got two teams that weren’t supposed to have much success this year but both of them have surprised some teams. Anything could happen this weekend. Nothing would surprise me."

Northeastern tied Rensselaer 2-2 before dropping a 4-3 contest with Harvard.

"We’re playing better and that’s the big positive," said NU coach Bruce Crowder. "We lost to Harvard by a goal but we also killed off 12 out of 12 Harvard power plays. We just needed to play more five-on-five hockey. We have to keep focused and keep working. It isn’t going to happen overnight."

Crowder singled out captain Rick Schuhwerk and freshman goaltender Marc Robitaille for their play. "Rick has played consistent defense for us. He brings a lot of ‘positiveness’ to our team.

"And then you have Marc Robitaille," continued Crowder. "We had to have a conversation with him a week ago and tell him that he didn’t have to carry the whole team on his shoulders or be a hero. We just want him to learn from each night, get better, and improve his consistency. He’s seeing a lot of rubber this year, which is really a great situation for him. He’s getting a lot of experience with no pressure on him."

Crowder recalled his UMass-Lowell years fondly. "I have a lot of great memories. There were a lot of very, very positive moments for me there.

"I’m sure it will be a lot of fun for the Lowell kids playing against me for the first time. I’m sure they won’t have any trouble getting up for the game. But our kids won’t have any trouble getting up for this one either. Lowell knocked them out of the playoffs the last two years. So it should be a really good contest."

PICK: Northeastern ekes out a 5-4 win at home before the River Hawks get the split 6-3 back in their barn.

Maine (6-6-1, 1-4-1 HE) at Boston College (6-6-1, 3-3-1 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

After a midweek 4-2 win over Northeastern, Boston College lost 6-3 to Clarkson before getting Jerry York his 500th career win with a come from behind 6-4 win at St. Lawrence.

"I told the team not to think about 500," said York. "We kid about it sometimes, but we’re focused on other things. We try to downplay individual achievements and emphasize our team goals."

Beyond the milestone win, the biggest news out of Chestnut Hill is that goalie Greg Taylor will return to play this weekend. The decision to play him in one game or two has not yet been made, but he will play in at least one.

In the interim, Mike Correia has filled in well, though not quite at Taylor’s level. "He started slowly," said York, "but he’s come on real strong. He’s had a tough stretch [with Taylor out], playing a lot of games in a short amount of time. But now he say say, ‘Hey, I can play at this level.’ "

York has emphasized keeping the shot totals down, a point even more important in Taylor’s absence. Prior to the Eagles’ road trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence, they had held powerful UNH to 20 and 24 shots in losing efforts and then Northeastern to 23. On the road, however, they surrendered 33 to Clarkson and 39 to St. Lawrence. With totals like that, Taylor’s return gains added significance.

"Our power play is slowly getting better," said York. "We started out this season 0 for 18, but we’re looking a little more dangerous out there now." BC features sophomore Marty Reasoner and four freshmen — Mike Mottau, Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille and Kevin Caulfield — on its top man-advantage unit.

Bellefeuille earned Hockey East’s Rookie of the Week honors with a goal and an assist in all three BC games this past week. He is tied for the league lead in rookie scoring with eight goals and six assists in 12 games.

Maine came back for a 4-3 win in the semifinal round of the Governors’ Cup against Lowell before losing decisively to the second-ranked UNH Wildcats.

"I thought we played well against Lowell," said interim coach Greg Cronin. "We outshot them 31-15. As usual, we had to come from behind to win it. In the second period we outshot them 11-3 but were outscored 2-1, which has been a reflection of our entire season. But I thought we played a solid game defensively and the puck started to go in for us in the third period.

"Against New Hampshire I thought it was a good first period by both teams. Then they opened it up in the second period. They capitalized on some turnovers on our part. They’re a talented team. You turn the puck over in dangerous areas of the ice against them and they’re going to score. They took advantage of that and won the game decidedly, 7-2."

Walk-on goalie Javier Gorriti replaced Alfie Michaud in both games, earning his first Division I win, over UMass-Lowell. Although Cronin has delivered biting criticisms of Michaud this year, he supported his goalie this time. "Alfie’s playing real well," he said. Cronin said that he did not yet know whether Gorriti would play this weekend.

The many Black Bear injuries seem to be abating. Ben Guite missed the UNH game with an elbow injury and Bobby Stewart has been out with a knee problem. Cronin hopes to have them both back for the BC series.

PICK: Boston College sweeps, 5-4 and 4-2.

No. 3 Boston University (9-3-1, 7-0-1 HE) vs. Yale (3-4-1, 3-4-1 ECAC) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ingalls Rink, New Haven, CT

Boston University stunned its backers with back-to-back ECAC road losses last week, dropping games to St. Lawrence 2-0 and Clarkson 4-1.

Coach Jack Parker, who was not available for comment, was very upset with his team after the losses. The Daily Free Press quoted a livid Parker:

"I’m concerned with two or three individuals, and I’m concerned with the whole team’s demeanor," Parker said. "They’re banging sticks when they don’t score goals and mouthing off to the officials when they don’t like a call. It’s inappropriate behavior, and it detracts from the focus we’ll need to win."

Shane Johnson tops the list of likely receipients of Parker’s wrath. Johnson must serve a two-game suspension for a fight in the Clarkson game, his second fighting-related suspension this year. Other doghouse candidates are Chris Drury and Mike Sylvia, who both picked up 10-minute misconducts for arguing with the officials.

Johnson’s suspension depletes an already short-handed squad. The Terriers began the season with less depth than usual due to late defections to the pros, then lost freshman standout Dan Lacouture last week when he left school for personal reasons. Defenseman Chris Kelleher is listed as day-to-day due to a knee injury and may miss the Yale game, further thinning the blueline gang.

In past years, missing a few players for a game against Yale would be no big deal. Last year the Bulldogs finished in last place in the ECAC, going 7-23-1 overall and 4-17-1 in league play. They weren’t a particularly competitive last place either, giving up more goals than any other ECAC team and coming within two goals of finishing last in goals scored as well. They then graduated their only player who merited any league honors, leading scorer and defensive standout John Emmons.

So how are the Bulldogs hovering near .500?

They’ve done it by beating not only last place Brown, but also by knocking off two of the ECAC’s strongest teams, Cornell and Clarkson. In their last four games they’ve topped Cornell (4-3), lost to Colgate (4-3 in OT) and Princeton (4-2), and then defeated Brown (4-3 in OT).

Despite being expected to lack any firepower at all, they have three scorers among the ECAC top ten. Rookie of the Week Jeff Hamilton, a 5-10, 165 pound freshman out of Avon Old Farms, sits in third place with four goals and six assists for ten points. Sophomore John Chyz (3-6–9) has already exceeded his five-point total of last year. And junior defenseman Daryl Jones, formerly a defensive specialist, has also cracked the top ten with 1-7–8 totals.

PICK: BU 6-3.

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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