This Week in Hockey East: January 10, 1997

Hockey East Preview: Jan. 9-14, 1997 by Dave Hendrickson

Not many people gave Boston University a chance to sweep New Hampshire this past weekend. In fact, this column predicted a sweep going the other way. Even within the friendly confines of Walter Brown Arena on Friday night, the prevailing theme seemed to be "win at home and avoid the sweep."

But the Terriers, looking more and more like a postseason pretender prior to this weekend, served notice that they not only are now the King of Hockey East, but they could make some noise at tournament time as well.

And in fifth place with a bullet is Maine. The Black Bears took games from Providence and UMass-Lowell last weekend. They have now won five of their last six.

Last week’s record in picks: 7-2 Season record in picks: 78-40

Providence (6-12-1, 4-6-1 HE) at Northeastern (5-12-2, 1-9-1 HE) Thursday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

Northeastern (also profiled below against BU) has rebounded from an 0-9-1 streak to win their last three games. After losing to St. Lawrence 6-5 in double overtime to open the Auld Lang Syne Tournament, the Huskies beat UMass-Lowell 4-3 in the consolation game. Then last weekend, they swept a series at Air Force, 5-0 and then 3-2 in overtime.

"One of the things we’ve been looking for," said NU coach Bruce Crowder, "is to develop some team character. In the St. Lawrence game we were down by two and we came back to put it into overtime. Then doing well in the next three games … those are the things that help build character in a young team. That was big for us."

Freshman goaltender Marc Robitaille continues to play his way onto the league’s All-Rookie team, shutting out the Cadets in the series opener. At the other end of the experience spectrum, captain Rick Schuhwerk — dubbed a defenseman who "hits like a root canal" — has also excelled. "He’s a tremendous leader on and off the ice," said Crowder. "He’s been put in a tough position with a new coaching staff coming in and I think he’s handled it extremely well."

The game against Providence pits the Huskies against a Friar team that has lost its last seven, but posted its last wins in a 4-3, 8-0 sweep over Northeastern.

"All I know is that they pretty much embarrassed us the last time we played," said Crowder. "Hopefully we’re a better team now. I haven’t had a chance to see them, but I know that they’re very well coached and they’ll be ready to play."

Providence lost to Maine 5-4 in its only game last week. Maine jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Friars rallied for four goals in the last 10 minutes. The Friars could not, however, get the equalizer.

"I’m not sure if they let up or if we just picked it up a notch," said PC coach Paul Pooley. "It made it very interesting down the stretch. We had a chance with about 20 seconds left. A guy walked out of the corner to tie it up and we had a guy wide open on the back door but we didn’t [put it in]. The 5-4 score really wasn’t indicative of the game. They had us beat and we just came back.

"Dan Dennis played really well. He made some huge, huge saves for us after he got off to a start that wasn’t great. It looks like he’s turning the corner for us and is really responding to the work he’s getting. We saw signs of him playing tremendously down the stretch for us."

Pooley’s praise, however, did not extend to all his skaters. "Some of our skill guys haven’t performed as well as we’d hoped they would," he said. "Some guys have gotten a lot of opportunity and haven’t responded well, so we’re going to make some changes and go with all our seniors up front.

"This is obviously a big weekend for us with Northeastern and UMass. They’re both solid hockey clubs that right now are probably playing as well as we are.

"We’ve got to work through this thing because I don’t think we’re that far away from breaking out of it. But obviously it’s a situation that we’ve lost seven in a row even though we’ve played some games that we thought we should have won. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, so we’ve just got to keep working and hopefully find the chemistry."

PICK: Pooley aces Chemistry 101 with a 5-2 Providence win.

Northeastern (5-12-2, 1-9-1 HE) at No. 3 Boston University (12-4-3, 10-0-1 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA

Good news abounds on Commonwealth Avenue.

BU comes off the high of a sweep of UNH, winning 9-4 at Walter Brown Arena and 3-2 in overtime at UNH’s Whittemore Center.

Perhaps even more importantly for the long run, the Terrier lineup is getting a shot in the arm.

Dan LaCouture is unofficially expected to return for the second semester. LaCouture left the team for personal reasons in late November; BU had posted an 8-1-1 record with him, but going into the UNH series had slumped to a 2-3-2 record in his absence. He is now expected to rejoin the team, but cannot play this weekend. Since classes begin next week, however, he will be eligible to play in the following weekend’s series with Boston College.

LaCouture played with teammate Tom Poti on the U.S. silver-medal team at the World Junior Tournament. Poti, who missed three games entirely, returned in time to take a ride from the airport to Sunday’s game and take his first shift in the second period.

Finnish forward Tommi Degerman, a new face in the BU lineup, earned top billing on Friday night when he scored two goals and added two assists only four days after getting off the plane. BU’s original game plan called for Degerman to be part of next year’s recruiting class, but a career-ending injury to John Hynes and LaCouture’s departure expedited Degerman’s arrival. Although expected to be a third- or fourth-liner at the outset, Degerman showed coach Jack Parker enough in four days of practice to earn the left-wing spot on Chris Drury’s line.

Linemate Mike Sylvia then stole the show in the Sunday rematch with his overtime goal. Hockey East named Sylvia its Player of the Week for his three goals and an assist on the weekend. "Mike Sylvia had a heckuva weekend," said Parker. "He made a great individual effort for the [overtime] goal."

It’s quite the Terrier weekend when Chris Drury — who totaled three assists — is the low-scoring member of his line.

Shawn Bates continued his annual emergence from a first-semester cocoon, and has now scored in his last four games.

Michel Larocque’s spectacular performance at UNH on Sunday, combined with a similar performance the previous weekend against North Dakota, puts him squarely back into the goaltender rotation with Tom Noble. "Noble and Larocque have been playing great for us," said BU coach Jack Parker. "Larocque played fabulous [on Sunday]."

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. The Terrier offense is no longer Chris-Drury-or-bust. Degerman, Poti and LaCouture add depth and skill to a lineup that sorely lacked both two weeks ago. And the much-awaited improved play of Bates and Sylvia gives Terrier followers reason to start dreaming of postseason glories again.

"We’re playing solid defense and our penalty-killing was fabulous," said Parker, who must now convince his team to take last-place Northeastern seriously.

The Huskies (also previewed above with Providence) simply don’t have the horses to match up with BU.

"I don’t know," said Crowder, when asked if his team can catch the Terriers napping after BU’s two emotional wins over UNH. "Jack always has his guys ready to play. I can remember us thinking in past games [at Lowell] when we played BU between Beanpot games that we’d have a chance to catch them. It never happened.

"So our big thing will just be to make steps forward. The kids are starting to get what we’re doing. Now in the last couple of games, they’ve seen some success in what we’re trying to teach them. Our biggest thing is just to try to keep that going."

PICK: Perhaps BU will look down in the standings and assume all they have to do is show up. They may be right. BU 6-2.

St. Lawrence (8-9-2, 3-4-2 ECAC) and Clarkson (10-7-0, 5-4-0 ECAC) at No. 5 New Hampshire (15-4-0, 10-2-0 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

"What you don’t want to have happen is lose both games," UNH coach Dick Umile said after his Wildcats, then ranked second in the country, dropped a disappointing 9-4 loss on Friday night at Walter Brown Arena. Unfortunately, they did exactly that. BU leapfrogged New Hampshire, both in Hockey East and in the national rankings, with a 3-2 overtime win.

Although the team as a whole played poorly in the Friday night loss, their goaltending in the second period sank them. UNH entered the period trailing only 2-1, but after six of 10 BU shots went in, it was time to run up the white flag. Sean Matile, the much-hyped but wildly inconsistent goaltender, allowed three goals on six shots in the period before Umile gave him the hook. Brian Larochelle, whose solid though unspectacular play this year has been instrumental to UNH’s success, proved to be no relief pitcher, allowing three of four shots to go in.

Larochelle redeemed himself in the Sunday return match, playing one of his best games of the year. Unfortunately, he had the misfortune to be outdueled by BU’s Michel Larocque, who was spectacular.

"Friday night was disappointing," said Umile after the overtime loss. "This was a great hockey game. Obviously we didn’t win it, but I’m proud of the way the team played tonight. If we’re going to lose, I want to go down fighting. I thought this was two solid teams that were evenly matched that played a great game."

Umile downplayed any psychological advantage the sweep may have given BU. "We respect them and they respect us," he said. Umile then added, "We can’t control the regular season standings now, but those standings only position you for the Hockey East playoffs. If we both wind up one and two and take care of business, we’ll have a rematch in the Hockey East finals at the Fleet Center. That’s fine with me. There’s a long way to go. We’ll be fine.

"We don’t think we’re going to go and blow people out," said Umile, when asked about BU’s ability to shackle UNH’s offense, the top scoring unit in the country. "If teams don’t play well against us we have the capability to score four, five or six goals. But believe me, this is how you have to play against one of the top teams in the country."

After being in BU’s shadow the last few years, UNH missed its first opportunity to establish supremacy. In the mind games played between top teams, that missed opportunity could come back to haunt the Wildcats.

"Next week will be a big test for us," said Larochelle after the game. "Hopefully we won’t have any letdowns because psychologically this was a big weekend for us. And these games are important for us for NCAA seedings."

St. Lawrence stumbled out of the gate with a 2-7-1 record after being picked to finish fourth in the ECAC preseason poll. But the Saints have turned things around in a major way, winning both the Grand Rapids and Auld Lang Syne tournaments in the span of five days after Christmas. They now show only one loss in their last seven games, dropping only a 4-2 scrum to Colgate last weekend.

Goaltender Clint Owen returned on fire from his half-season suspension. He led his team to the Grand Rapids tournament win, standing tall in the nets while his team was outshot 50-30 by Ohio State. At the Auld Lang Syne it was deja vu all over again, as Owen backstopped a 3-2 win over Dartmouth despite the Saints’ being outshot 35-21. This past weekend, Owen allowed only one goal on 38 shots in a 1-1 tie with Cornell. Job Bracco tended the nets in the loss to Colgate, and could soon become the forgotten man between the St. Lawrence pipes.

Paul DiFrancesco dwarfs the other Saint goalscorers, placing fifth in ECAC scoring with 14 points in nine league games and 12-15–27 totals overall.

Earlier this season Clarkson looked to be making a big move in the ECAC with five wins in six games, including wins against Boston University and Boston College. But they stumbled in December. They’ve posted only a 2-3 record in their last five games, averaging only three points a game in that stretch. This past weekend they recorded a 3-2 overtime loss to Colgate and a 5-2 win over Cornell.

Their recent drop in scoring would seem to be a temporary lull. Clarkson boasts three of the ECAC’s top scorers. Todd White leads the league in scoring (11-10–21, 16-18–34 overall). J.F. Houle ranks third (5-10–15, 8-18–26 overall) and Chris Clark is sixth (7-6–13, 10-10–20 overall).

The Golden Knights also feature one of the ECAC’s top netminders in Dan Murphy. Murphy impressed in last year’s postseason and is again turning in great performances (2.79 goals against average and a .909 save percentage in 17 games).

PICK: UNH must put their lost weekend behind them to avoid problems with this one. St. Lawrence is on a roll and Clarkson could be ready to break out. The wrong mental outlook for UNH could result in another double-dip. St. Lawrence wins 6-5 with Clint Owen standing on his head. UNH then rebounds 5-4 over Clarkson.

Clarkson (10-7-0,5-4-0 ECAC) and St. Lawrence (8-9-2, 3-4-2 ECAC) at UMass-Lowell (9-9-0, 7-5-0 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

After a come-from-behind 6-4 win over Boston College, UMass-Lowell

lost 8-5 to Maine. The River Hawks fell behind the Black Bears 5-0 and 8-2 and couldn’t come back.

"Friday night [against BC] was a great team win for us," said UMass-Lowell coach Tim Whitehead. "But [the Maine game] was another thing. Sometimes it’s pretty simple. They just got a lead that we couldn’t chip away at. It’s just not going to happen every night for us.

"I thought we might have a few [blowout losses] early on," said Whitehead, whose squad had been picked in the preseason to finish last. "We’re not going to make too big a deal out of the loss, just like we wouldn’t make too big a deal if we’d won."

Even though the River Hawks were playing in their fourth game in six days, Whitehead added, "We’re not going to make any excuses for the loss. We’re going to come back … and work hard.

"We’ve got to get ready for Clarkson and St. Lawrence now. No one is going to point any fingers. These guys have got a great attitude. The loss didn’t feel too good, but that’s good."

Despite the lopsided game, Maine coach Shawn Walsh had kind words for Whitehead after the game.

"At this point, Tim is one of the guys you’d have to look at as Coach of the Year," said Walsh. "For a first-year coach to do that is tremendous. They were picked so low in the league and they’ve been competitive."

Lowell’s Greg Koehler earned his second Hockey East Rookie of the Week honor for his two goals and three assists on the weekend.

(Clarkson and St. Lawrence are previewed above, against UNH.)

PICK: UMass-Lowell struggles, dropping a 4-2 game to Clarkson and a 6-3 game to St. Lawrence.

Maine (12-8-1, 4-5-1 HE) at Merrimack (5-12-1, 2-7-1 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Maine won two games this weekend is are looking more like a team destined for third than the seventh-place team that struggled during the first semester. The Black Bears jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Providence and held on for a 5-4 win. They then repeated their late-game disappearing act with an

8-5 win over Lowell after being ahead 8-2. The Black Bears have now won five of their last six.

"We’ve got some things to learn in terms of how to protect a lead," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "We played a lot of young players in the third period. I really wanted to use them, because if they make a mistake they’ll learn quicker. It sure is nice to learn in games that you win."

Senior captain Reg Cardinal earned Hockey East’s Player of the Month for his exploits in December. Cardinal is ranked 13th among Hockey East scorers with 11 goals and 11 assists in 21 games.

"This team needs a gentler touch," said Walsh, when asked about his milder demeanor on the bench. "They need a more positive approach. I could drive the 42-1-2 team but this team I’ve got to cajole a little bit."

Walsh credits the team’s confidence since their 6-1 win over Princeton in the J.C. Penny Classic as a key factor in their surge.

"And Robert Ek has really given us a lift on defense," said Walsh about the 6-5 defenseman who joined the team three games ago. "He’s a terrific defenseman. We haven’t had a freshman D come in here and be that good in a while.

"I’m also very impressed with Shawn Mansoff. He’s got great talent. He’s really coming into his own. The more I watch him the more I realize what a tenacious defensive forward he is. So I’m giving him a lot of penalty killing responsibility and he’s playing great."

Walsh isn’t focusing on the league standings. "You can’t worry about the ends. You have to worry about the means. We’ve just got to get better as a team and get back to the little ingredients that make Maine tough to play against.

"Merrimack won the other night so they’ll be confident," said Walsh, looking ahead to this week’s series which will mark Maine’s sixth straight game on the road. "We’ve just got to work on getting better and not get too caught up in wins and losses."

Merrimack beat Army 5-1 in their only game of the weekend.

"I was pleased that we played as solid as we did," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. "We had a couple of people out but I thought we still played a steady game from start to finish. We did a pretty good job defensively in particular. I was pleased with the way that we played down in that building since we always have trouble there."

In the Army game Anderson sat Jayson Philbin, who had already missed the two games required by the league for his second game disqualification. Philbin received the DQ in a Dec. 21 game against Dartmouth, which marked his first game back from another disqualification. "We felt that given the situation it would be a good idea to let him miss one more game, just to give him a chance to cool his heels a little bit," said Anderson.

Although prior to the Syracuse Invitational Tournament Merrimack had been off to its worst start since entering Division I play, their recent performances have sparked some optimism.

"We started the second semester with three games on the road," said Anderson, "two in the Syracuse Tournament and one at Army. We’re 2-1 and we could have won the Cornell game too. That was a pretty good game against the number-one team in the ECAC so I think we’ve started the second semester very well.

"I think we can continue to play well against Maine. Obviously we’re going to have to play our best. We’re a team that has really struggled against Maine in the past. We’ll just have to play our best and hope that’s good enough."

PICK: A month ago Merrimack’s best might have been good enough against Maine. Not now. Maine sweeps, 5-3 and 4-3.

UMass-Amherst (8-11-0, 4-7-0 HE) at Providence (6-12-1, 4-6-1 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

"I thought it was a pretty evenly played game," said Minuteman coach Joe Mallen after UMass-Amherst fell to BC 5-4. "We certainly had our opportunities to score…. We just missed a couple of those opportunities. But I think this game is a good sign. Boston College is in the middle-upper part of the pack right now. It was a one-goal game and I don’t think we played our best. I think if we’d played our best game we’d have beaten them.

"I thought that [goaltender] Brian Regan played really well for us. We got scoring from a kid like Jeff Blanchard again which is a positive sign for us this time of year." Blanchard, a freshman, has scored all three of his goals in the last three games.

"Mike Gaffney is also playing really well for us," said Mallen about the blueliner named the number-two star in the loss to BC. "He’s learned the defensive end a lot better and he certainly can shoot the puck. He’s putting things together. Some of the things he could do in high school, he couldn’t do his first couple of years here. Now he’s starting to rush the puck full ice and score goals.

"We’ve got enough manpower to get the job done right now. We’ve just got to get everyone to come to play and execute.

"At this time of year you’re trying to take your strengths and keep them going the right way while you eliminate your mistakes and weaknesses. Right now I think we’re starting to tighten up a bit more defensively in terms of backchecking and our defensive structure. If we continue to improve that we’re going to win a lot more games and make a playoff run.

"If you look at the standings right now anywhere from third to ninth is wide open. It’s only going to be a few points that separate those teams. If we have a strong January and early February I think we can finish in the three-to-six range. Our goal is to try to get home ice and if we can get home ice then get to the Fleet Center."

(Providence is previewed above against Northeastern.)

PICK: Providence picks up their second win of the weekend, 4-3.

Rensselaer (10-5-2, 5-2-1 ECAC) at Boston College (8-11-1, 5-6-1 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

BC lost to UMass-Lowell 6-4 before welcoming back Marty Reasoner, Jeff Farkas and Blake Bellefeuille from the World Junior Tournament with a 5-4 win over UMass-Amherst.

"It was a tough three games without them," said BC coach Jerry York, "because they’re so integral to our special teams and the different parts of our game. We leaned on them so much during the course of the year and then all of a sudden they were taken away.

"But even though we lost those three games, the other players had to play some different roles for us and that will benefit them. It makes them all better players. If you look at some of the players in our league who have played in the World Juniors you see an extra jump in their game.

"One of the things we saw was Kevin Caulfield coming on so strong," said York. As a result, York shuffled his lines to put Caulfield on Reasoner’s right wing opposite Brian Callahan. Jamie O’Leary now centers Farkas and Bellefeuille. "We felt we could use Kevin in that role and play him a lot."

Reasoner, Farkas, and Bellefeuille will be excused from team practices and workouts for four days, giving them recuperation from the 21-day tournament. BC’s schedule dovetails nicely with this approach since the Eagles don’t play on the weekend. This allows the three players to rest and still get three days of practice in before Tuesday’s game.

"That will be a big week for us with RPI on Tuesday and then BU Friday and Saturday," said York. "We’d like to get a home ice spot [in the playoffs.] That gives you the best chance to advance. That’s a realistic goal for us."

Rensselaer comes in 6-1-2 in their last nine games. Their number one gun is Eric Healey (4-8–12, 14-13–27 overall). Healey earned MVP honors in the holiday RPI tournament and also pulled down ECAC Player of the Week. He teams with Matt Garver and Alain St.-Hilaire to form a potent combination.

"That whole line, Eric with Alain and Garver work real well together," said Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen, talking to ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy. "[They have] good instincts as to where they will be and they’re always one play ahead of each other."

Freshmen Joel Laing and Scott Prekaski split time in the Engineer nets. The duo has earned ECAC Rookie of the Week honors in past weeks.

PICK: Rensselaer 5-4 over BC.

Yale (4-8-2, 3-7-1 ECAC) at UMass-Amherst (8-11-0, 4-7-0 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

(UMass-Amherst is previewed against Providence above.)

Yale, an ECAC doormat last season, has surprised this year, to a great extent because of freshman forward Jeff Hamilton. Hamilton has won ECAC Rookie of the Week honors and is a top ten ECAC scorer with 11 points in nine league games.

On the down side, Yale’s penalty-kill ranks dead last in the ECAC, both in terms of league (67.4%) and overall (72.6%) play.

Goaltender Alex Westlund had been among the ECAC stat leaders with a 2.71 GAA and a .910 save percentage until Rensselaer bombed him last week for seven goals. Westlund and Dan Choquette share time between the Bulldog pipes.

PICK: UMass-Amherst 3-2.

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

Copyright 1996 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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