This Week in Hockey East: January 3, 1997

Hockey East Preview: Jan. 3-7, 1997 by Dave Hendrickson

New Hampshire and Boston University square off in one of the most eagerly anticipated series of the year. These two teams have run away from the pack, UNH with a perfect league record and BU having only a tie to blemish its standing in Hockey East.

Of the six Hockey East teams involved in tournaments last week, only New Hampshire and Merrimack survived the first round. Merrimack dropped its title game against Cornell, but New Hampshire bested seventh-ranked Colorado College to take the Badger Showdown.

Last week’s record in picks: 12-5 Season record in picks: 71-38

No. 2 New Hampshire (15-2-0, 10-0-0 HE) vs. No. 6 Boston University (10-4-3, 8-0-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA NESN Sunday, 2 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH NESN

New Hampshire isn’t just on a roll, they are on A Roll. Firmly entrenched as the nation’s number two team, they boast a school-record 14-game win streak after winning the Badger Showdown. The Wildcats opened the tourney disastrously, falling behind 4-0 against host Wisconsin while being outshot 16-1. But they exploded for five goals to own the lead by the end of the first period. They won 9-7 on goals by seven different scorers.

"Obviously we didn’t want to put ourselves in that position," said coach Dick Umile. "We didn’t do much right for the first 10 or 12 minutes. We just wanted to get a couple of goals to get back into the game, but we got a bunch of them and played well from that point on."

The Wildcats then beat seventh-ranked Colorado College 4-3 in the finals. "We played extremely well and jumped out 2-0," said Umile. "Then they got a couple of quick ones, but we stayed together, played good defense, and waited for our opportunities.

"We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We know we don’t have to rely on any one player. We have a lot of players we rely on."

Umile expects a tough series with BU, even though the Terriers seem to be struggling.

"I don’t know about them struggling," said Umile. "North Dakota [which beat and tied BU last week] is playing extremely well right now. They’re tough to beat out there. I expect great games between two evenly-matched hockey teams."

Boston University took only one point from a weekend series at North Dakota, losing 6-4 before gaining a 2-2 tie. BU has slumped to a 1-3-2 record in its last six games, dropping the Terriers to sixth in the country. Although the third-ranked Fighting Sioux also outshot the Terriers 95-55, BU coach Jack Parker remained upbeat.

"I think the shot totals were deceptive," said Parker. "We played well and really put out a great effort in a tough building."

Chris Drury continued his Hobey Baker campaign, scoring goals in each contest. Shawn Bates, as Parker predicted last week, began emerging from his first-half cocoon, as has been his wont throughout his BU career. Bates scored in both games. Goaltender Michel Larocque also earned accolades for his performance in the 2-2 tie.

"[Larocque] played fabulously well," said Parker. "He made [a] save in overtime that turned into a breakaway for us, and had two simply fabulous saves in the third period." Larocque’s performance has earned him a start this weekend.

"We’ve been playing short a few guys, but that will make us a better team down the stretch," said Parker. Reinforcements are also on the way. Tommi Degerman, a forward from Finland, joins the team. Additionally, two familiar faces will return from the World Junior Tournament, although not in time for this weekend’s series. Tom Poti, as expected, will be one.

The bigger news is that Dan LaCouture will also be back for the stretch run. LaCouture left the team for personal reasons, and many speculated that he would not return. Parker said that LaCouture’s unspecified problem has been dealt with and he "absolutely" expects to have him back in the Terrier lineup. The freshman left winger had scored six goals in ten games and brought a physical presence to BU’s top line. It seems hardly coincidence that BU posted an 8-1-1 record with LaCouture and a 2-3-2 record without him.

Despite the Terriers’ recent struggles, they still show only a single tie to blemish an otherwise spotless Hockey East record. As a result, this weekend represents a battle for the league’s top spot.

"We obviously have to play good defense and get strong goaltending," said Parker. "Our problems have been in the offensive end. We can’t win 9-6 shootouts against them, so we’ll have to play well through center ice and in our own zone."

PICK: BU is catching the Wildcats at the wrong time. A month from now, with Poti and LaCouture back in the lineup, it might be a different story. But look for a UNH sweep, 4-3 at BU and 6-3 at home.

Maine (10-8-1, 2-5-1 HE) at Providence (6-11-1, 4-5-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Providence dropped a heartbreaking triple-overtime game to Cornell 4-3 despite outshooting the Big Red 55-30. The match ranked as the fifth-longest in NCAA history. With no legs left for the consolation game, the Friars lost 6-2 to Colgate.

"We started [the game against Cornell] slow and tentative," said PC coach Paul Pooley. "But after they scored to make it 3-1, we took control of the game for the most part. But their goaltender [Jean Pelletier] was tremendous." Pelletier earned tournament MVP honors despite not playing in the title game. "He did for them what Dan Dennis did for us last year. Plus, we couldn’t put the puck in the ocean.

"It’s our inability to score goals that’s hurt us this year. This game was typical of that. We played well and had 40 grade A chances to their 20. You just can’t lose those kind of games."

Pooley played Dan Dennis in both games, even though Dennis vomited in the Cornell game, requiring a cleaning-up of the ice around him for which the Friars were assessed a time-out.

"He really settled down in the Cornell game and played well," said Pooley. "We have to get him going. We need him sharp to make a run."

Providence’s string of six straight losses has forced Pooley to reevaluate personnel and make some changes.

"Our grinders are playing hard, but just aren’t getting it done," he said. "I’m probably going to go with more skill in the lineup." Pooley — who had already put a "skill" line of Mike Omicioli, Russ Guzior and Fernando Pisani together — will also insert forward Jon Cameron back into the lineup after several games out. Josh MacNevin, an offensively-gifted blueliner who sometimes gives back in the defensive end what he adds to the scoring, will also likely get more ice time.

Maine opened the Denver Cup with a 4-3 overtime loss to the host team. They then pummeled Air Force 12-5 in the consolation game.

The Denver contest marked Maine coach Shawn Walsh’s first game following a one-year suspension. Walsh, who had said he would use the tournament as his own training camp to evaluate personnel, was pleased with his team’s play.

"The Denver game was just an excellent game," said Walsh. "[Denver coach] George Gwozdecky felt that they played their best game of the season. There was a lot of excellent up-and-down play."

Both Maine goaltenders, Alfie Michaud and Javier Gorriti, performed well. "I may continue to go with both of them," said Walsh. "I’ll evaluate that one game at a time."

Walsh noted that he now feels he has a better handle on his personnel. In particular, the line of Reg Cardinal, Trevor Roenick and Marcus Gustafsson really caught Walsh’s eye. The line scored two goals in the Denver game and poured in five against Air Force.

"Gustafsson has been a nice addition," said Walsh. "That line has been on a tear since he joined it."

Defenseman Robert Ek, who just joined the team from Sweden after finally being okayed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, made a big impression — and not just because of his 6-foot-5, 230-pound size.

"He’s a dynamite player," said Walsh. "Even though he only had two practices with us before the tournament, he only allowed three scoring chances, which is really good for a defenseman."

Unfortunately, at the same time the Black Bears added Ek they also lost blueliner Leo Wlasow, who is out six to eight weeks with a broken leg.

"We need to work on our overall positional play," said Walsh. "It’s not what it can be, especially when we’re coming down low in the defensive zone."

Walsh looked ahead to the upcoming weekend, when the Black Bears will travel to Providence and UMass-Lowell. "Providence is always a difficult team to play against," he said. "They play a very structured style and obviously are very well-coached under Paul Pooley. We’ve already played Lowell three games and all of them have been nip and tuck to the end. We’ll just have to do our best and see what happens."

PICK: Maine 4-3 over Providence.

Boston College (7-10-1, 4-5-1 HE) at UMass-Lowell (8-7-0, 6-4-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

UMass-Lowell, picked last in the Hockey East preseason poll, ranks as one of the league’s top surprises in third place.

"We’ve done well because the guys have realized that they have to play as a team to be successful," said UML coach Tim Whitehead. "They’ve pulled together and adopted the team concept. It’s a real tribute to our juniors and seniors. Hopefully the break hasn’t changed that. But I’m not worried about that. They’ve come back with a really good attitude."

The River Hawks will have only two days’ rest after games in the Auld Lang Syne Tournament before hosting Boston College and Maine. They dropped the tournament opener to Dartmouth 6-2 and faced Northeastern in the consolation game, losing again, 4-3.

"This is the longest break we’ve ever had," said Whitehead. "To come back and play four games in six nights is really a challenge, especially with four tough matchups. Everyone is going to have to contribute. Our success is going to depend on the entire team, but that’s typical for us. We have to scratch and claw for everything we get."

Boston College dropped both games at the Mariucci Classic, 4-2 to host Minnesota and 7-4 to Clarkson. The Eagles have now lost three straight and seven of their last ten.

"I thought we played very well against Minnesota," said BC coach Jerry York. "We were only down 3-2 late in the third and I thought we had the crowd on their seats." A Golden Gopher tally, however, put the game away. "We were missing three of our best players [for the World Junior Tournament], but so were they. I thought Jamie O’Leary really stepped up his play to help fill in.

"The next night we didn’t play well at all. Jamie O’Leary went out with a hip pointer early and we just didn’t play well after that."

Despite the losses, York was encouraged by the play of defensemen Brendan Buckley and Ken Hemenway, who excelled both nights, according to York.

"We’ve got two very important league games coming up," said York. "We won’t have [Marty Reasoner, Jeff Farkas or Blake Bellefeuille] for the Lowell game, but they are supposed to fly in on Sunday night so we hope to have them for the game against UMass-Amherst." York hopes to have O’Leary back in action against Lowell, but that remains in doubt.

PICK: Lowell catches BC at the right time, beating the Reasoner-less Eagles 6-3.

Maine (10-8-1, 2-5-1 HE) at UMass-Lowell (8-7-0, 6-4-0 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

Both teams previewed above.

PICK: Lowell catches Maine at the wrong time, losing 5-2.

UMass-Amherst (8-10-0, 4-6-0 HE) at Boston College (7-10-1, 4-5-1 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

UMass-Amherst got caught in an RPI goal-scoring spree, losing 9-5 before coming back to beat Bowling Green 5-4 in the consolation game.

"What’s really tough this time of year," said UMass coach Joe Mallen, "is that you don’t get a chance to practice, so you really don’t know what you’re going to get from your team in a tournament.

"Against RPI I thought we had some good scoring opportunities in the first period, but we just couldn’t beat [Scott Prekaski]. Then in the second period they got some quick scores and just broke the game open. But it didn’t feel like a 9-5 game."

Mallen was pleased with the way the Minutemen rebounded in the consolation game. "It was one of our most solid efforts of the year. Bowling Green is a really good team even though they’ve struggled lately. We got important goals from Jeff Blanchard, who scored his second after just getting his first goal the night before, and Tom O’Connor, who got his first one."

As he had planned, Mallen split the netminding duties against Bowling Green — to give Rich Moriarty more time between the pipes while also getting Brian Regan right back into action after giving up nine goals the night before. Both played well.

"BC should be a really good test for us," said Mallen. "They’ve proved they can play with anyone. But if we’re going to move up in the standings, we have to beat teams like BC."

Boston College was previewed above.

PICK: BC welcomes Marty Reasoner and company back with a 5-3 win.

Merrimack (4-12-1, 2-7-1 HE) at Army (9-7-1, 1-6-1 vs. aligned D-I teams) Friday, 7 p.m., Tate Rink, West Point, NY

Merrimack broke its eight-game winless streak with a 4-3 win over Colgate, but then lost 4-1 to Cornell in the title game. Cornell was coming off a triple-overtime, 95-minute thriller against Providence, the fifth-longest contest in NCAA history. As such, the Big Red might have been expected to suffer from tired legs, but they took advantage of strong goaltending and Merrimack defensive miscues to win the Syracuse Invitational.

John Jakopin continued his recent strong play on the blue line, both defensively and also adding a goal and two assists. Rejean Stringer also continued to be a top Warrior performer up front, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the win over Colgate, as did Rob Beck. Coach Ron Anderson continued his goaltender rotation; both Eric Thibeault and Martin Legault played well.

The Warriors take on an Army squad that has won six of its last nine games. All six of those wins, however, have been at the expense of either non-Division I schools or other D-I independents. Against "affiliated" D-I schools, they scared UMass-Lowell before losing 4-3, got thumped by UMass-Amherst 8-0 and tied a strong Princeton team 4-4. Princeton coach Don Cahoon, however, had curiously treated the game as little more than an exhibition, leaving several key players home to rest for a league match the following night. The tie and their season-opening win over Minnesota-Duluth, however, prove that the Cadets are not to be trifled with.

Frank Fede (8-11–19) leads the scoring, with Bill Morrison (5-9–14), Andy Lundbohm (6-7–13) and Greg Buckmeier (4-8–12) not far behind. Junior goaltender Daryl Chamberlain (4.15 goals-against average and .873 save percentage) already owns the team record for most shutouts and his 2.41 career GAA ranks third all-time among Cadets. A tougher schedule this year has contributed to Chamberlain’s statistical decline.

PICK: Merrimack wins 6-2.

Northeastern (4-12-1, 2-7-1 HE) at Air Force (4-9-1, 0-6-0 vs. aligned D-I teams) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Cadet Ice Arena, USAF Academy, Colorado

Going into the Auld Lang Syne Tournament, Northeastern had posted an 0-8-1 record in its last nine games. It then dropped the tourney opener to St. Lawrence, 5-4 in overtime before coming back with a consolation victory over UMass-Lowell, 4-3. A weekend series against lightly-regarded Air Force appears to be just what the doctor ordered for the Huskies, despite the crowded schedule.

"We’ve obviously got to start winning games and feel what that’s like again," said NU coach Bruce Crowder. However, Crowder doesn’t expect easy ones against the Falcons. "Air Force can be just as scary as any team in the country. Last year my Lowell team beat every team we played more than once except for Air Force." Lowell finished in the top ten, but managed only two ties with the Falcons.

Even though his team sits in the Hockey East basement, Crowder sees some positive signs.

"We’re starting to come together as a team," he said. "There aren’t as many questions now in terms of X’s and O’s and personalities. The team and I have had our honeymoon period and we’ve streamlined some things. Now they know what to expect from me. We’re going to be better."

Air Force dropped both its games in the Denver Cup last week, losing 7-3 to Yale before getting pounded by Maine 12-5. The Falcons have lost all six games against aligned Division I teams, coming within two goals only once, in an early-season game against Princeton.

Senior co-captain Todd Lafortune picked up his tenth goal of the season against Maine and added three assists on the weekend. Justin Kieffer scored his sixth, seventh and eighth goals and added an assist. In the nets, freshman Aaron Ratfield and senior Pat Kielb split the duties, with Kielb absorbing a 12-goal shellacking at the hands of the Black Bears.

PICK: Northeastern gets a much-needed sweep, 6-2 and 6-4.

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

Return to Feature Articles Return to News and Game Recaps Return to US College Hockey Online