Hockey East Preview: Dec. 11-14, 1996 by Dave Hendrickson
Exam week sidelines six of the nine Hockey East teams this weekend. What the league lacks in quantity, however, they’ll try to make up in quality.
First, Boston University hosts Boston College in one of the top rivalries in the sport. Although both teams are far from peak form, this contest could be one of the most spirited of the year. UMass-Amherst, the only other active league squad, plays two surprising ECAC teams, Princeton and Dartmouth.
Last week’s record in picks: 6-4 Season record in picks: 56-30
Boston College (7-7-1, 4-4-1 HE) at No. 4 Boston University (9-3-2, 7-0-1 HE) Wednesday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA NESN
Outside the Boston College locker room hangs a board showing the Hockey East standings, the tags for all nine teams displayed in their proper places. All, that is, except one — which is hung upside down. Yes, Boston University holds a very special place in the hearts of Boston College.
"I think somebody from the team just did that," said a laughing Marty Reasoner after BC’s win over Maine. "It’s usually on the bottom."
Fans from the West may recognize this battle as Hockey East’s version of Minnesota-Wisconsin or Michigan-Michigan State. Whether the two teams are good or bad, passion always fills the contests.
"Historically, BU has always been our rival," said BC coach Jerry York. "We just haven’t kept our end of the bargain the last six or seven years. They’ve been beating us on a continual basis. Late last year we secured a win from them, but their program has just been better than ours since ’91-’92.
"We don’t want them to drop their standards at all. We just want to bring our standards up so that when we do play, it’s for first place and for a pivotal place in the national rankings. That’s the charge we’ve accepted, and what we want.
"Our teams are getting closer," York continued. "My first year here, we were light-years away from them. This will be a good test for us to see if we are in fact closing the gap."
The Eagles, to a man, are looking forward to the contest.
"These games are played on pure emotion," said Marty Reasoner. "We proved last year that we could play with them (when BC beat BU at season’s end). We’re excited about the challenge. They’re one of the top teams in the league, and a top team in the country, so we look forward to it."
"The guys are really positive right now," added Greg Taylor. "Everyone has a great attitude and I think it’s going to be a great game on Wednesday."
Taylor may hold the result in his hands — his glove hand, to be specific. He broke that hand during an off-ice workout, and missed five games before returning to play twice this past weekend. After appearing rusty in a 6-3 loss Friday, he looked sharp the next night, winning 5-3. Even so, his hand is not fully healed.
"If I get a good, hard shot on my glove side it’s pretty painful there still," said Taylor. "But it’s to the point where I know I can’t hurt it any more, so all I’m doing is just playing through the pain out there, and that’s fine by me.
"It definitely had an effect on me this weekend. In [Friday night’s] game I was pretty timid. I would try to cover up the puck and I had no strength in my hand. I don’t think I caught one puck all weekend. I could get my glove in front of it, but I couldn’t catch anything. It definitely was a distraction. It was tough on me mentally to fight through that and just concentrate on the game."
Special teams are likely to prove pivotal, as they did in BC’s weekend series with Maine. After giving up three power-play goals and getting none of their own on Friday, they turned the tables on the Black Bears and enjoyed an identical 3-0 advantage in their Saturday win.
"We’ve gotten progressively better on our power-play," said York. "What’s concerned us is our penalty killing. Going into the weekend we were first in the league in power plays and last in penalty killing."
Another concern is containing BU’s Chris Drury, the league’s leading scorer. "We’ll certainly be conscious of when he’s on the ice," said York. "He’s had an unbelievable start, but he’s been a good player for a couple years. This is his third year and he’s a little more battle-tested. He’s a key to their game, so we’ll have to be conscious of him."
Boston University enters the game at the low point of their season, having gone 0-2-1 in their last three games, during which they’ve only scored twice. One frustrated BU fan who made the trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence was heard to mutter, "I drove 1000 miles to see one goal?"
"[Our problem is] goal scoring," said BU coach Jack Parker. "Our power play has suffered a major shortage and our overall goal scoring has really fallen off. With guys like Lacouture dropping out and John Hynes unavailable because of injury, all of a sudden we’re very, very thin up front.
"We’re just not putting the puck in the net. We’re getting opportunities. We’ve outshot our opponents by a two-to-one margin in our last four games, and only won one of them. In our last three we’ve had over 120 shots and only gotten two goals. That’s been a major problem for us. We need to finish better and play a little bit harder around their net.
"We’ve gotten so uptight about not scoring that we’re messing up really good opportunities, shooting it right into the kid or shooting it wide," said Parker. "Other times the shot totals are deceiving. There’s not a lot of grade A chances each period."
The Terrier power play, which devastated teams last year, shoulders much of the blame.
"We’ve tried a lot of different combinations," said Parker. "We’ll try another one for BC. We’re changing the power play around and we’re changing the people around because we just haven’t found the right combinations."
After picking up just one point in their three road games, the Terriers will happily trade their recent bus rides and hostile rinks for Walter Brown Arena and rabid BU fans.
"I don’t think that there’s any question that being on the road has a lot to do with [our lack of success]," said Parker. "We took a four and a half hour bus ride in the snow down to Yale that should have been two hours or two and a half hours.
"We also had the Clarkson and St. Lawrence trip. There’s no question that playing on the road this time of year is pretty tough. Certainly two out of those three games we should have won, but we didn’t. But you’ve got to win on the road if you’re going to be successful."
Despite his team’s recent troubles, Parker expects a well-played game. "This is always a big rivalry that brings out the best in both teams. I think we’ll both play up to our capabilities and then some on Wednesday night."
Parker listed three keys to the game.
"Goaltending is always a key," he said. "BC gets opportunities. They’re a good offensive team. Tommy Noble will play and he’s been playing really well. So our overall team defense and Tommy’s ability to focus and play well against them will be important.
"Special teams are big in any big game. We’ll try to get our power play on track and we’d like to keep killing penalties as well as we have. We’re doing a really good job with that.
"We also have to just keep from getting tired. We have so few [bodies] up front that we have to be real careful how we play everybody, getting everybody off and on with quick shifts."
Parker plans to dress 11 forwards because of the Hynes injury. Defenseman Shane Johnson will also not be available, serving the second game of a fighting suspension.
PICK: BU responds to the comfortable confines of Walter Brown Arena, winning 4-2.
Princeton (7-2-2, 6-2-1 ECAC) at UMass-Amherst (7-7-0, 4-6-0 HE) UMass-Amherst (7-7-0, 4-6-0 HE) at Dartmouth (4-3-0, 2-3-0 ECAC) Friday (Princeton), 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA Saturday (Dartmouth), 7 p.m., Thompson Arena, Hanover, New Hampshire
Joe Mallen scored a hat trick of sorts this week. Mid-week, UMass-Amherst announced that they had extended his contract by three years. Mallen has guided the Minutemen from their rebirth in 1993-94, when they played a Division II and III schedule, to the present day.
"When you coach an expansion club, you don’t get all those wins and people don’t understand," said Mallen. "It’s been a lot of work and we’re starting to see some dividends now. I was really grateful that the university extended me the opportunity to build the program."
His team then gave him the personal hat trick with a 5-3 and 3-1 sweep over Providence. "They were two very well-played games by both teams," he said. "We got a lucky bounce in the second game to help us win it, but they were very evenly-played games and we were very satisfied with the results."
Gerry Cahill, a senior who had only scored 11 goals in his first three years, has emerged as a significant contributor for the Minutemen. In the five games leading into last weekend, he had scored eight goals and added two assists.
"He’s a self-made player," said Mallen. "He was heading to (Division III) Salem State and wound up coming with us as we started the program. Right now he’s simply doing what we ask our guys to do, and that’s just to play at a high tempo, shoot the puck quick and hard, and put it on the net. When you do that, good things will happen.
"He’s also killed penalties for the first time for us this year. Although, if you look at his results, you might think we should have done that earlier. But he’s got real good speed and he’s got real good chemistry working with Rob Bonneau on the penalty kill."
Mallen’s penalty-killing unit now totals six short-handed goals and is red-hot. They entered the weekend having stopped their opponents in 24 of their last 26 power-play opportunities, while scoring four short-handed goals. They added to that total with a pivotal Warren Norris short-handed goal on Friday.
"Our first year here (against Division III opponents) we got a lot of short-handed goals," said Mallen. "It was a philosophy where we were trying to capitalize on the other team’s mistakes. But the last two years (against Division I) we were just so young and inexperienced that our chances were slim and none. Now we’re at the point where we’re capable of capitalizing on some of these mistakes and as a result we’ve been fortunate to get six short-handed goals."
Brian Regan has also stepped up his play in the nets. "I think we’re playing better team defense," said Mallen, "but [this past weekend] Brian Regan took it as a personal challenge going head-to-head with Dan Dennis who is an All-America and Hobey Baker candidate. I think Brian really played up to that level."
This week the Minutemen face Princeton and Dartmouth. Most observers expected the two teams to again be weak sisters of the ECAC, but the Tigers and Big Green have so far stood the experts on their heads. Princeton is tied for first place and Dartmouth is over .500 for what seems like the first time since the Hoover administration.
"I’ve got a great deal of respect for both Princeton and Dartmouth," said Mallen. "Both teams seem to be playing great hockey at this time of year. We think that these are going to be two very difficult non-league matchups for us."
Princeton comes in as one of the biggest eye-openers in the ECAC. A week ago the Tigers accomplished something they’d never done in the thirty-five year history of the league: they earned a first-place standing all to themselves.
Cornell caught them this week for a share of the top spot by playing three conference games to the Tigers’ one. However, Princeton remains one of the biggest surprises in the nation.
Skeptics will point out that Princeton has yet to beat anyone significant and they’ll have a point. Although sweeps over rivals Harvard and Yale may delight their followers, they won’t go a far in establishing just how strong the Tigers are.
Unlike UMass-Amherst, which has played seven games against teams with winning records and five against top-ten teams, Princeton has played only two against teams above .500 and none nationally ranked. In those two games they lost, 5-2, to Clarkson and beat Colgate 4-3.
Princeton coach Don Cahoon dresses only five defensemen and uses only four in the regular rotation. Those four — Steve Shirreffs, Michael Acosta, Dominique Auger and Darren Yopyk — may all be freshmen and sophomores, but they are playing at a level that belies their youth.
Scott Bertoli, with six goals and five assists in league games, ranks among ECAC leaders in league scoring, followed by Jason Given (6-3–9). Goaltender Nick Rankin has also posted numbers among the ECAC elite: a 2.26 goals against average with a .928 save percentage going into last weekend.
Princeton comes off a 4-4 tie against Army and a 4-3 win over Yale. Cahoon seemed to treat the Army game as little more than an exhibition, leaving home five regulars to rest, including Acosta, Rankin, and Given. They then rode three power-play goals to beat the Bulldogs and retain a share of the ECAC lead.
"To get off to the start we’ve gotten off to, we shouldn’t be unappreciative of that," said Tigers coach Don Cahoon. "But obviously we’re going to have to play a whole lot better than that if we’re going to stay in the fray here."
Dartmouth, the ECAC’s perennial 97-pound weakling, has flexed its muscles in recent weeks. In their last four games they’ve beaten Colgate (3-2), Vermont (4-1), and Merrimack (6-4).
Leading the Big Green scoring are David Whitworth (9 points), Ryan Chaytors (8), Jon Sturgis (6) and Bill Kelleher (6). Their lone ECAC statistical leader is goaltender Jason Wong, who has posted a 2.25 goals against average and .913 save percentage in three league games.
Their surprising performance has not been based on a significant difference in play at home (a 3-2-0 record) versus on the road (1-1-0).
PICK: UMass-Amherst sweeps, beating Princeton 5-3 at home and Dartmouth 4-3 on the road.
Dave Hendrickson is the Hockey East Correspondent for U.S. College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.
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