This Week in Hockey East: December 27, 1996

Hockey East Preview: Dec. 27-31, 1996 by Dave Hendrickson

After two sparse weeks Hockey East rebounds into full-scale action. All but Boston University will be participating in tournaments, while the fourth-ranked Terriers travel to North Dakota to play the fifth-ranked Fighting Sioux.

Look for plenty of upsets this week. After a week or two off, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll be operating on all cylinders and who’ll be sputtering.

Since the number of teams to be discussed explodes at tournament time — 26 this weekend — USCHO correspondents Jayson Moy (ECAC), Jim Thies (WCHA) and Paula Weston (CCHA) have provided their commentaries instead of my own about the teams in their respective conferences.

Last week’s record in picks: 2-1 Season record in picks: 59-33

No. 4 Boston University (10-3-2, 8-0-1 HE) at No. 5 North Dakota (11-4-1, 11-4-1 WCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND

Boston University entered exam break on a high after beating arch-rival Boston College 6-4 on the back of Chris Drury’s four goals, two of them short-handed. BU coach Jack Parker looks for a positive carryover effect from the win. "Winning a BC game, no matter what time of year it is, always has a good psychological effect on our team," said Parker. "Vice versa, if they beat us it has a good effect on their team. So I think that will help us out. We played short-handed, but played really well."

BU played short-handed, in part because of two suspensions. Shane Johnson served the second game of a two-game fighting disqualification. Brendan Walsh did not dress because of breaking team rules. Both players return this weekend, and not a moment too soon.

"Shane’s return is a huge deal because as we add Shane we lose Tom Poti," said Parker. Poti, their flashy freshman defenseman, will miss the next four games — two against fifth-ranked North Dakota and two against second-ranked New Hampshire — while he plays in the World Junior Tournament. "We only played nine forwards against BC because of all our injuries and [other missing players] so we obviously need Brendan back as well. We still will only have 17 skaters out at North Dakota."

Prior to the BC game, the Terriers had only scored two goals in three games while going 0-2-1. Freshman Dan Lacouture’s departure from the team for personal reasons has shifted an unhealthy scoring burden onto Hobey Baker candidate Drury. With Walsh also out of the lineup in the BC game, Drury’s 20 goals matched that of BU’s entire second and third lines combined.

"I’m very concerned about that. We don’t want Chris to stop scoring," said Parker, laughing, "but at the same time we need to have some other players chipping in. Mike Sylvia has to pick up the slack. I truly believe that Shawn Bates will do what he usually does the second half of the year. He usually struggles the first half and then comes on strong. If you look at his stats, he’s done that every year. And we’ve got to get more out of our freshmen and sophomores.

"We’re going to have our hands full with North Dakota. They’re at the top of the WCHA. [North Dakota coach] Dean [Blais] has obviously done a great job turning that situation around, going from the middle of the pack to the top pretty quickly. It’s a great rink and a great place to play. Once you get there," Parker added. The Terriers will leave BU at 4:30 a.m. on the 26th and arrive at noontime, just in time for an afternoon practice.

North Dakota has emerged as a WCHA power after last year posting their first winning record in five seasons. The Fighting Sioux boast four of the top ten scorers in the WCHA. Dave Hoogsteen and Jason Blake lead the league with 23 points in 16 games. Ian Kallay (18 points) and Kevin Hoogsteen (17) aren’t far behind.

Their top defensemen include Curtis Murphy (14 points) Dane Litke (12), Brad Williamson (6), Mitch Vig (6) and Mark Pivetz (5).

Toby Kvalevog tends the nets for the Fighting Sioux. He has posted a 9-3-1 record with a 3.09 goals-against average (good for fifth in the league) and an .872 save percentage.

PICK: A tough road trip for the Terriers. North Dakota sweeps, 5-2 and 4-3.

Bank One Badger Showdown No. 8 Colorado College (10-5-1, 10-5-1 WCHA) vs. No. 9 Vermont (9-4-0, 2-3-0 ECAC) No. 2 New Hampshire (13-2-0, 10-0-0 HE) vs. Wisconsin (7-8-1, 7-6-1 WCHA) Friday, 5 p.m., 8 p.m. Consolation/Championship, Saturday, 5 p.m., 8 p.m. All games Central Time. All games at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI

The way his team was playing before the break, New Hampshire coach Dick Umile may have petitioned the North Pole for a postponement of Christmas. The second-ranked Wildcats were riding a twelve-game win streak, during which they averaged over six goals a game while giving up a mere 2.75.

"We may be surprised that we’re number two, but we knew we were going to have a good team this year," said Umile. "We paid our dues last year with a young team, losing some kids, and a lot of injuries. When you have a losing season it just makes you reevaluate and work harder. The guys have made that commitment."

Recently, New Hampshire posted six players among Hockey East’s top ten scorers. Last year’s three All-America candidates — Eric Boguniecki, Mark Mowers and Eric Nickulas — have been joined by Tom Nolan, Derek Bekar and Jason Krog to power the top scoring offense in the country (5.53 goals per game). Nolan and third-liner Greg Dumont return after missing the last month with injuries.

Umile looks forward to opening against host Wisconsin and the fiercely partisan crowd. "We’re going out there with confidence that we’re a good college hockey team playing in one of the premier Christmas tournaments. We’ll probably be playing in front of something like 15,000 people. That’s what you want to do as a college hockey player. We want to go out there, play well, and have an opportunity to win."

Umile feels that his team is playing with the right degree of confidence.

"There’s nothing wrong with being a confident team," he said. "We’re a team that has confidence that we can succeed. [But] overconfidence hasn’t entered our team. We’re realistic. We know that we have a good team but that you have to earn it each week. You’re only as good as your last game."

Although Wisconsin won’t be playing in its own rink, the Badgers should still have the home-ice advantage with fans packing the Bradley Center. Goalie Kirk Daubenspeck (6-6-1, 3.40 GAA, .883 save percentage) will get plenty of action, and he will need to be at the top of his game for the Badgers to have a chance. Brad Engelhart (9-5–14) is among Wisconsin’s top scorers, while any time Rick Enrico (4-10–14) is near the puck good things happen for the Badgers. Maybe this is the kiss of death, but the Badgers are 14-0-0 all-time against New Hampshire.

Colorado College comes into their rematch of last year’s NCAA semifinal against Vermont on a two-game winning streak. The Tigers swept Northern Michigan 7-2 and 7-3 two weeks ago, scoring five times in a span of 4:34 in the first game, a school record against league competition.

CC will be without Toby Petersen and defenseman Dan Peters, who are in the World Junior Tournament.

Brian Swanson (8-13–21) is third in the league in scoring. Jason Goodmundson (10-8–18) and Darren Clark (7-11–18) are tied for seventh. The Tigers have gotten help from a lot of players this year, with 10 different guys netting game-winning goals. Goalie Judd Lambert (8-4-0, 3.40 GAA, .875 SV%) hasn’t had the type of season he wanted so far. CC is just 3-3-1 on the road.

Don Lucia needs one victory to reach the 200-win plateau as a collegiate head coach. Lucia is 199-130-21 (.599) in 10 campaigns, including a 96-33-11 (.725) mark in his four years behind the Colorado College bench. His previous six campaigns were at Alaska-Fairbanks.

One looks at Vermont and wonders how the Catamounts could be in tenth place in the ECAC. There is definitely one answer. They have only played five league games, tied for fewest in the league with travel partner Dartmouth. That would also explain the absence of Catamounts among the league scoring leaders.

But reports of the death of the French Connection have been greatly exaggerated. Factoring in non-league contests, Martin St. Louis leads the ECAC in scoring (10-18–28), and his linemate Eric Perrin is tied for third (10-13–23). The other member, J.C. Ruid, is no slouch either; he is eighth in the league (6-12–18).

What is surprising, though, is the absence of Tim Thomas among goaltending leaders. Thomas earned the Dryden Award for the best ECAC netminder last season with a 2.34 GAA and a .924 save percentage. This season his numbers (3.11 and .909, respectively) are not as impressive.

Also surprisingly, the Catamounts rank 11th overall in the ECAC on the power play, with only a 14.8 percent efficiency. They only have 12 power play goals on 81 attempts, and have allowed four short-handed goals. They allowed only four of those in 38 games last season.

PICKS: New Hampshire 6-3 over Wisconsin and 5-4 over either Colorado College or Vermont.

Dodge Mariucci Classic Clarkson (8-5-0, 4-3-0 ECAC) vs. No. 3 Miami (OH) (14-4-0, 10-2-0 CCHA) Boston College (7-8-1, 4-5-1 HE) vs. No. 6 Minnesota (10-6-0, 9-5-0 WCHA) Friday, 4 p.m., 7 p.m. Consolation/Championship, Saturday, 4 p.m., 7 p.m. All games televised on MSC. Game times Central Time. All games at Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

BU’s Chris Drury and his four goals sent the Boston College Eagles into the break shaking their heads over their 6-4 loss to the Terriers. No one likes to lose to a top rival, and BC certainly won’t be the last victim of the Chris Drury Show, but two goals in particular had to haunt the Eagles like Scrooge’s bad gruel.

Drury’s first short-handed goal developed on a two-on-none while BC held a five-on-three man advantage. How did that happen? Then when a five-minute major assessed against BU gave the Eagles a chance to get back into the game, Drury scored his second, back-breaking short-handed goal. Perhaps some smart-aleck fan this weekend at Mariucci will suggest that BC decline all penalties.

Especially since they will be missing three-fifths of their top power-play unit. That unit consists of four 18-year old freshmen and an 19-year old sophomore. Unfortunately for the Eagles — at least in the short-term — Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille and sophomore sensation Marty Reasoner will instead be skating for the U.S. team in the upcoming junior tournament.

Only defenseman Mike Mottau and Cam Neely lookalike Kevin Caulfield remain for the power play. Although BC coach Jerry York hasn’t decided who will fill the roles, look for him to move upperclassmen Brian Callahan, Jamie O’Leary and Ken Hemenway onto his top unit. Callahan leads BC scoring with 14 goals and nine assists. O’Leary is the only true center remaining with Farkas and Reasoner gone. Hemenway led the team in power-play goals last year with eight.

"The field is outstanding," said York, optimistic despite the absences. "You just have to look at Miami’s record. We’ve already played Clarkson so we know how tough they are. And Minnesota is always strong.

"We’ll be without some of our top players, but I view this as an opportunity for other players to get additional ice time and speed up their development. This is their chance to show what they can do." On the plus side, Greg Taylor’s broken glove hand is now 100 per cent. Taylor, one of the top goalies in Hockey East, missed five games before coming back and playing through pain and an inability to completely control shots to that side.

"It should be a tough tournament to figure out," said York. "Everyone is coming back after not being in practices, so teams will be rested but maybe not in top form."

BC will open the tournament against the one other squad that placed three players on the U.S. junior team. Minnesota will be playing without defenseman Ben Clymer and forwards Erik Rasmussen and Wyatt Smith, all key players. Currently fourth in the WCHA and five points behind North Dakota, the Golden Gophers want to rebound from a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Cloud State in its last game. With those three players gone, Minnesota will rely on Casey Hankinson (7-7–14), Brian LaFleur (4-7–11), and Ryan Kraft (5-5–10).

Goalie Steve DeBus (6-4-0, 2.99 GAA, .896 save percentage) is having a steady season. Erik Day (3-1-0, 1.00 GAA, .956 save percentage) backs up DeBus and has also impressed. Day went into the freshman record books earlier this year, gaining a shutout in his first career start.

Two weeks ago ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy noted that Clarkson has started to see more balanced scoring. Nine different Golden Knights scored ten goals against Boston College and Boston University to key a sweep. In Clarkson’s last two, an 8-4 victory over Brown and a 5-4 loss to Harvard, nine different players scored the 13 goals.

Senior captain Todd White, who scored twice each evening, leads all ECAC scorers with 16 points (10-6), and is second in the league overall (13-13–26).

Miami is off to its best start ever, and there may be little to stop them. At first, the key to success was defense. Junior goaltenders Trevor Prior and Adam Lord were the stingiest duo in the CCHA. According to coach Mark Mazzoleni, as the team gained confidence in its defense, the team played more confidently overall. Mazzoleni says that each Miami player feels as though he can contribute, which leads to a true team effort.

Leading the team in scoring is sophomore forward Randy Robitaille, who has 11 goals and 11 assists in 22 CCHA games. His plus-minus rating is +9; in fact, there are only two players on the team in the minus, and those players have played just a few games each.

Miami leads the CCHA in goaltending. Prior has an .896 save percentage, with a goals against average of 2.25. Lord’s save percentage is .903; he averages 2.48 goals against.

This team nearly leads the CCHA in special teams. They are third on the power play, and second on the penalty kill.

PICKS: Boston College falls twice without Reasoner and company, 5-2 to Minnesota and then 3-1 to either Miami or, more likely, Clarkson.

Syracuse Invitational Merrimack (3-11-1, 2-7-1 HE) vs. Colgate (7-6-1, 4-4-1 ECAC) Providence (6-9-1, 4-5-1 HE) vs. Cornell (6-3-1, 6-2-1 ECAC) Friday, 5:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m.. Consolation/Championship, Saturday, 5:15 p.m., 8:15 p.m. All games at Onondaga War Memorial, Syracuse, NY

Providence took two weeks off for exams and Christmas after suffering a 5-3 and 3-1 sweep at the hands of UMass-Amherst. The back end of the home-and-home took frustration levels to a new high when the Friars had their fourth controversially disallowed goal of the season, each of which has cost them points in the standings. Adding insult to injury, both goals they surrendered prior to UMass-Amherst’s empty-netter seemed to reflect unlucky bounces more than anything. PC coach Paul Pooley still refused to resort to excuses.

"We need to refocus on working hard and deserving to win," said Pooley. "I told my guys that I don’t think we’ve deserved to win because I don’t think we’ve been doing things as well as we should be. We’re not totally paying the price on the ice and off the ice. It was a wake up call for us because I thought we were in a position to win both games but let them get away.

"I always tell our guys that there’s a fine line between winning and losing. Right now we’re just below that line. Last year we were just over. The difference is that we won the close games last year. Hey, I’m excited about the second half because instead of being 6-9-1 we could be 10-5-1 if things would have bounced our way. But they haven’t, so we just have to find a way to win. We have to make sure that we’re consistent throughout the game and get back to what we’re all about as a hockey team."

Merrimack dropped a 5-2 contest to Dartmouth, giving the Warriors only a single tie in their last eight games. Their 3-11-1 record marks their worst start since entering Division I in 1989.

"We were playing all right but once we got behind, the legs let go, we ran out of gas, and lost our composure as well," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. Anderson’s reference to composure focused on freshman Jayson Philbin. Philbin, who had just returned from a one-game suspension for running a goalie to touch off a brawl in a 9-0 loss to UNH, flew off the handle in the third period. His actions earned him two five-minute majors and another game disqualification. Since a second game DQ results in a two-game suspension, he will be ineligible for the entire Syracuse tournament.

The Dartmouth power play maneuvered successfully to generate wide-open opportunities against which Merrimack goalie Martin Legault had no chance. "We were trying to be aggressive, but we were slowly aggressive," explained Anderson. "All that does is take you out of position. We had an idea of what we wanted to do but we had to do it with some quickness. We just didn’t do it quickly enough. Early in the game when we had fresh legs, we were fairly effective, but once we started to get tired, we probably should have changed what we were trying to do. We tried to keep doing it and they exploited that."

Merrimack will open against Colgate, who beat the Warriors earlier 7-3. Anderson expects to split Legault and Eric Thibeault in the tournament, since he feels both have played well and the games are on back-to-back nights.

"[Colgate] has already beaten us so we know we have to pick our game up," said Anderson. "We have to get ourselves back into condition and regroup a little mentally and strategically."

John Jakopin is providing one of the bright spots for Merrimack. After battling illness at the beginning of the season, he now provides both offense and defense from the blue line. "He’s obviously a big, strong guy for us who can skate," said Anderson. "He’s got good range, so we’re trying to utilize that. We turn him loose when he sees the opportunity. He’s been an asset for us offensively because he creates some things not only for himself but also for some other people."

Colgate endured a 1-5-0 stretch before turning things around in the last two games. The team earned three hard ECAC points with a 4-1 defeat of Union and a last-minute 3-3 tie against RPI.

Senior Rob Mara starred for the Red Raiders that weekend. He tallied three goals on the weekend, two against Union, and the game-tying goal with 32 seconds left against RPI. His efforts earned him ECAC Player of the Week honors.

Mike Harder is back in the goal-scoring department with two in his last three games. He is tied for third in ECAC scoring with nine goals and fourteen assists. His linemate Dave DeBusschere also has 23 points (10-13).

Cornell headed into the break tied for first in the league despite not faring well in its last two outings. The Big Red were upset by RPI 4-2, and tied Union 3-3.

Jason Elliot is among the ECAC netminding leaders with a .917 save percentage and a 2.50 GAA. He has continued to give the Big Red solid goaltending.

The Cornell power play ranks the best in the league, hitting at 28.8 per cent. The Big Red have only had 52 power play attempts, second lowest in the league, but have converted 15 times.

Cornell uses a balanced attack in its game. This is evidenced by looking at the scoring charts of the Big Red. Despite an ECAC-leading 34 goals in league action, not one member of the Big Red is in the league’s Top 10. Sophomore Kyle Knopp is tied for 11th in the league with nine points (2-7), but does not even make the Top 16 in overall scoring.

PICKS: Colgate 5-1 over Merrimack. Cornell 4-3 over Providence. Providence 4-1 over Merrimack (or 4-2 over Colgate with Merrimack recording the same loss against Cornell).

RPI Marine Midland Holiday Hockey Tournament Brown (1-9-1, 1-7-1 ECAC) vs. Bowling Green (8-8-2, 4-8-2 CCHA) RPI (7-4-2, 4-1-1 ECAC) vs. UMass-Amherst (7-9-0, 4-6-0 HE) Friday, 5:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m.. Consolation/Championship, Saturday, 5:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. All games at RPI Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

UMass-Amherst opened the month with a sweep of Providence and hoped to use that to launch a winning streak going into exams. But they dropped games to two ECAC teams — where have we heard that before? — losing 7-2 to Princeton and 6-5 to Dartmouth. Although coach Joe Mallen was impressed with both teams, particularly Princeton, he felt that several factors prevented the Minutemen from putting their best foot forward.

"We were pretty banged up with nagging injuries," said Mallen. "We were also one of the few teams playing while heading into exams. I think that took a bigger toll than I thought it might. Also, in the Princeton game [goaltender] Brian Regan pulled his groin about halfway through the game and didn’t let us know. He was struggling a little bit in terms of trying to get across the crease. He made some terrific saves in the game, but I think that hurt us a little."

Regan, who has played most of the UMass-Amherst games, could not go the next night against Dartmouth. But the key wasn’t goaltending; it was the guys in stripes. Mallen chose not to discuss the officiating, but a questionable Dartmouth goal was allowed and the Big Green also used their 10-3 superiority in man-advantage opportunities to score three power-play goals.

Regan will return for this tournament, but Tom Perry is still out with a broken wrist. Lost too is the momentum that seemed to be building at the start of the month. Even so, Mallen thinks his squad has a shot at winning it.

"It’s anybody’s tournament," he said. "RPI is very much improved. I got to see them early in the year and they’ve completely reloaded and look to be a much better team than the squad we saw last year. I also have great respect for Bowling Green and Brown.

"But the question is the same as it is with a lot of the holiday tournaments. Everybody takes off for exams and takes a break from practice. All of a sudden you just reassemble everybody and go out and play hockey. It’s a tough way to do it. Obviously the team that has their timing together has the best shot at winning the whole thing."

Mallen hopes that being off for just one week — despite the resulting distractions that exams forced his team to endure against Princeton and Dartmouth — will pay off in better timing and perhaps a tournament win.

RPI is another of the ECAC’s pleasant surprises. The Engineers are fourth in the league, but hold the highest winning percentage, and also lead in league points per game.

Freshman goaltender Joel Laing ranks second in the ECAC with a .938 save percentage, and a 2.33 GAA. He splits time with another freshman, Scott Prekaski. Prekaski has a 2.92 GAA, and a .917 save percentage. The duo earned ECAC Co-Rookies of the Week honors two weeks ago.

Eric Healey leads the scoring barrage of RPI with 17 points (7-10). Alain St.-Hilaire (6-6–12) centers Heale, and the other winger on the line is Matt Garver (3-9–12). This high-scoring line has proved pivotal to RPI’s surprising season. When Garver was out with a separated shoulder, RPI was shut out in three consecutive games.

Brown can not seem to get many things going for them. The team is suffering through a six-game losing streak and is in last place in the ECAC. The Bears are in last place in total defense in the ECAC, giving up an average of 5.00 goals per game, and eighth in total offense, averaging 3.27 goals per game. The Bears also lead the league in penalty minutes, amassing a whopping 282 in nine games.

During the slump, there have been three one-goal losses, two of them in overtime, so the Bears might be close to turning the season around. Little by little they have seen the offense improve. Adrian Smith and Jade Kerey each recently had two-goal games. Defenseman Jimmy Andersson is the team’s leading scorer (1-12–13).

The power play unit is also second in league efficiency, hitting at 25.4 per cent. Their 16 power-play goals rank third in the league.

The last time Bowling Green and Brown met was at this same tournament on Dec. 30, 1982. BGSU won 7-4. Much has changed since then. In fact, much has changed this season.

Bowling Green is a team in pain. The Falcons were supposed to be a top-ten team this season, according to preseason polls. Instead, Bowling Green has struggled defensively, especially with goaltending, and is tied for fifth place in the CCHA with Western Michigan and Ferris State.

The problem for Bowling Green isn’t offense. Curtis Fry has 19 points in 14 games. Mike Johnson has 18 points in 14 games. But the Falcons haven’t been able to lift themselves out of the quagmire in the middle of the CCHA. They had a chance on Dec. 14 when they played Western Michigan; the game ended in a 2-2 overtime tie.

PICKS: RPI 4-3 over UMass-Amherst. UMass-Amherst 5-1 over Brown or 5-4 over Bowling Green.

Denver Cup Yale (3-5-2, 3-5-1 ECAC) vs. Air Force (4-7-1, 2-4-0 vs. Div I) Maine (9-7-1, 2-5-1 HE) vs. Denver (8-6-2, 6-6-2 WCHA) Friday, 4 p.m., 7 p.m.. Maine game/Denver game, Saturday, 4 p.m., 7 p.m. All game times are Mountain Time. All games at Denver Arena, Denver, CO. Saturday night game televised on FSRM.

The Maine Black Bears are sky-high indeed going into the Mile High City. Maine dominated both Dalhousie 10-2 and ECAC leaders Princeton 6-1 to win the J.C. Penney Classic in their own back yard. Winning that tournament could serve as a launching pad for the second half of the season.

Of potentially even more significance, Shawn Walsh finally has emerged from his year-long suspension. For most Maine freshmen, Walsh is a man they’ve never played for and perhaps never even met. For most upperclassmen, Walsh is The Man.

"I haven’t seen them play," said Walsh, whose suspension forbade any contact with the team. "I’ve listened to a few of the games on the radio [and read the newspapers], but I’m going in blind. Not totally blind, but I don’t really have too many impressions formed about this particular team. I’m looking forward to using the Denver tournament to get an idea about our personnel. It’ll be my training camp."

Probably the most important personnel decision confronting Walsh will be in the nets where Javier Gorriti started both tournament games while Alfie Michaud mopped up.

"I’ll have to wait and see," said Walsh. "I’ll give both of them the opportunity to see where they’re at…. I think that the key is developing the players and not necessarily making judgments on them right away."

Maine will open against the host Denver team. They will then play the early game on Saturday, win or lose, since their NCAA restrictions prohibit them from appearing on TV this year. As an oddity, the afternoon contest could be an untelevised championship game while the cameras broadcast an evening consolation match across the state.

"Denver is a quality team," said Walsh. "They were a top preseason pick in many polls, ranked as highly as fifth in the country. They seem to have righted their own ship when they swept Minnesota-Duluth two weekends ago. They’ll be a very, very good team on their own ice surface."

Denver has played well lately, going 5-1-2 over its last eight games. After a poor start, the Pioneers are starting to climb back into the fight in the WCHA. Antti Laaksonen (8-5–13) has had five multiple-point games and leads the Pioneers in all games with 16 points. Paul Comrie (5-6–11) has points in last three games and is second on the team overall with 15 points. Warren Smith (2-9–11) has been hot the last six games, scoring nine points. Goalie Stephen Wagner (4-2-0, 2.82 GAA, .906 SV%) is third among league goalies.

Teams tumble in a hurry in the ECAC standings with a loss, due to the tightly-packed standings. The Bulldogs of Yale are a great example.

Before ECAC play two weekends ago, they were a surprising third in the league. But a 4-3 loss to Princeton combined with nine other games throughout the league to drop the Bulldogs into a tie for seventh.

Alex Westlund earned honorable mention honors for his performance in a 1-1 tie versus Boston University. Westlund is third among ECAC goalies overall with a .912 save percentage and a 2.66 GAA, a huge improvement over his .859 and 4.95 numbers of a year ago.

The Bulldogs may have found a future star in freshman Jeff Hamilton. Currently tied for sixth in the league in scoring (4-7–11), he was named ECAC Rookie of the Week a few weeks ago.

Yale also has John Chyz and Keith McCullough, both of whom are tied for eleventh in the league in scoring with nine points, three goals and six assists each. Air Force has been inactive since two games against UMass-Amherst the last weekend of November. Air Force dropped the two games, 4-1 and 10-2. In 12 games this season, senior team co-captain Todd Lafortune leads the team with 12 points and nine goals. He leads the team with three power-play goals and has scored at least one point in each series this season and has at least one goal in all but the UMass-Amherst series.

Freshman Aaron Ratfield started the Friday game against UMass. He went the distance and allowed four goals with 33 saves. He has played in six games this season, starting in four. He has a 2.20 goals-against average and has a .926 saves percentage in 299 minutes.

Head Coach Chuck Delich is on the verge of becoming the Academy’s winningest coach. With 154 wins, Delich is tied with the current record holder John Matchefts. Matchefts did it in 11 seasons, while Delich is in the middle of his 12th.

PICK: Maine takes another tournament, squeaking past the hometown team 4-3 and then cakewalking in the final, 5-2 over Yale or 7-2 over Air Force.

Auld Lang Syne Tournament Northeastern (2-11-2, 1-9-1 HE) vs. St. Lawrence (4-8-1, 3-3-1 ECAC) UMass-Lowell (8-6-0, 6-4-0 HE) vs. Dartmouth (6-3-0, 2-3-0 ECAC) Monday, 5 p.m., 8 p.m.. Consolation/Championship, Tuesday, 5 p.m., 8 p.m. All games at Thompson Arena, Hanover, NH

Northeastern has gone 0-8-1 in its last nine games. However, three one-goal games and two two-goal games were among that discouraging stretch, including 5-3 and 2-1 losses to UMass-Lowell before a two-week break. After suffering two lopsided losses in early November, Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder said, "A month from now 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."

Crowder’s words are proving roughly prophetic. The Huskies are piling up the losses but are showing improvement. They still have a ways to go, though, if they want to move out of the Hockey East basement.

Team strength — physical strength, that is — is an area of weakness, according to Crowder. A strong believer in the value of weight training, Crowder was appalled at the lack of attention given it on past Husky squads. Although the weight training facilities were upgraded after Crowder’s arrival, improving team strength will require long-term attention before seeing dividends.

"I believe that you have to lift to compete at this level," said Crowder. "Right now, when our team goes into the corners, we lose more battles than we win. We’re just not strong enough to win our share. That’s not going to get fixed overnight."

Goaltender Marc Robitaille continues to give Huskie fans reason to hope for the future. The freshman may not be submitting league-leading statistics because of the weakness of his team, but he remains one of the league’s better rookies.

UMass-Lowell ranks as one of the top surprises in Hockey East. Picked for last in the league’s preseason poll, they remain two games above .500 and sit in third place in the league standings.

Two major icebergs lurk in the Lowell waters, however. The River Hawks have not yet faced BU or UNH, the runaway top teams in the league. All other teams, except the two powers themselves, have taken at least two lumps from the Hockey East bullies. This scheduling anomaly may indicate that although UML may be the overachievers of the league, they may not be long for third place.

Before the break Lowell swept two close ones from Northeastern, 5-3 and 2-1. Leading the River Hawks are goaltender Martin Fillion (3.29 GAA and a .910 save percentage) and forward Neil Donovan (16 points in 10 league games, 23 points overall). Greg Koehler has proven to be one of the top rookies in the league. He is one of nine or 10 freshmen that see action.

St. Lawrence picked up three points in its last ECAC weekend with a 3-3 tie at Harvard, and a 5-4 overtime win at Brown.

Scott Stevens netted the overtime winner against Brown. Paul DiFrancesco scored two goals against Harvard, and another against Brown. The junior is second in the league in scoring with five goals and seven assists. Stevens is also among the league leaders with nine points.

One of the strong points for the Saints is their power play, which is ranked first in the league at 27.3 percent. At the same time, however, short-handed goals are a problem. The Saints have allowed four short-handers during 33 opportunities on the power play.

Eric Heffler, the junior walk-on, got both starts between the pipes because Jon Bracco was not 100 percent. Both Heffler and Bracco are expected to be in the nets for this tournament.

Dartmouth is riding a wave of success as well. The Big Green are on a four-game winning streak, due in large part to freshmen goaltenders Jason Wong and Eric Almon. Dartmouth started its streak when Wong took over in the nets. He leads the ECAC with a 1.88 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in league play.

The other freshman goaltender, Eric Almon, received his first varsity start last Saturday and stopped 42 of 44 shots in a 5-2 victory over Merrimack in North Andover. He earned ECAC Rookie of the Week honors for his efforts.

PICKS: St. Lawrence 4-2 over Northeastern. Dartmouth 4-3 over UMass-Lowell. On New Year’s Eve UMass-Lowell 4-2 over Northeastern (otherwise the ECAC takes both games).

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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