This Week in Hockey East: January 17, 1997

Hockey East Preview: Jan. 17-21, 1997 by Dave Hendrickson

Boston University and Boston College renew their rivalry this week with a home-and-home series that takes center stage in Hockey East. Second-place UNH and third-place UMass-Lowell also take turns in each other’s barn, as do Northeastern and UMass-Amherst. Providence visits Maine for two that could prove decisive in the race for third place.

Merrimack enters the weekend as the only team facing a non-conference foe. They entertain Ohio State, rarely seen in these parts, for two contests. Lowell and Providence extend their weekends with Tuesday night games against Yale and Dartmouth, respectively.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-5 Season record in picks: 84-45

Boston College (9-11-1, 5-6-1 HE) vs. No. 2 Boston University (13-4-3, 11-0-1 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-68 Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA NESN

In BU’s only game last week the Terriers faced last-place Northeastern and had anything but a cakewalk. BU needed a Chris Drury goal with less than seven minutes left in the game to hold off the Huskies, 5-4.

"We weren’t all jacked up to play a team that we hoped was going to be as bad as their record," explained BU coach Jack Parker. "They weren’t. They were a much better team than that, and they’ll be a tough team for people to handle down the stretch. Plus their goalie [Marc Robitaille] played extremely well. We outshot them 50-27, so territorially we played pretty well. I was pretty pleased with the effort, but we just didn’t play with as much emotion as we should. But that probably was to be expected coming off of two big wins [over UNH]. You also have to give Northeastern a lot of credit. They played very, very hard and played one of their better games."

Tom Poti, who returned from the World Junior Tournament to play the last half against UNH the previous weekend, was given three days off at that point to recover from the tournament’s rigors. Coincidentally, he scored a goal and added an assist in the Northeastern game.

Mid-season addition Tommi Degerman continued his impressive performances, adding another two assists in the game. He is playing left wing on a line with Chris Drury and Mike Sylvia.

"Once he arrived it was obvious that he understood what we were doing right off the bat," said Parker. "Two days of practice and he knew all our breakouts and forechecks…. And he was as skilled, or more skilled, than the guys that had previously been on that line. He will absolutely stay on one of the top two lines."

Dan LaCouture has enrolled and will play this weekend. "He’ll play left wing on one of the first two lines with Bates or Drury," said Parker, who will juggle the lines before deciding the combinations on Thursday. "For the first time in a while we have some depth and a lot more talent up front.

"This isn’t quite as big a game as the last time [that BU played BC] as far as the standings are concerned," said Parker. "Now we’re ahead of UNH. Last time we were behind them and if we’d lost, we would have buried ourselves deeper.

"But I don’t think the standings have much to do with it. The BU-BC rivalry has more to do with it. It’s important any time you play BC to do well, because it’s so demoralizing for either team if you don’t because it’s such a big rivalry."

Boston College has won both its games since getting back Marty Reasoner, Jeff Farkas and Blake Bellefeuille from the World Junior Tournament. First the Eagles topped UMass-Amherst 5-4, and then they squeaked by a strong RPI team 3-2. The Eagles seem to be building momentum, but whether they’ll have enough for BU remains to be seen.

The last time the two teams played, BU won 6-4 on the strength of Chris Drury’s four goals. "He’s a special player who deserves a lot of coverage," said BC coach Jerry York. "We’ll have to keep a special eye on him when he’s on the ice, that’s for sure."

Jeff Farkas looks to have profited greatly from the junior tourney. After his first game back he noted, "Tonight it felt like I had a couple more seconds to think and react." He had two assists in that game, and added another two against RPI.

"I think Jeff is going to have an outstanding second half of the year," said York. A hot finish could put Farkas into the league’s Rookie of the Year race and, more importantly, help position BC for the playoffs.

Greg Taylor will start both games against the Terriers. He starred against RPI as he has done frequently this season.

PICKS: BU sweeps, 5-3 and 3-2.

No. 6 New Hampshire (16-5-0, 10-2-0 HE) vs. UMass-Lowell (10-10-0, 7-5-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA WNDS-50 Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

UNH opened the weekend with a 7-2 win over St. Lawrence, but fell to Clarkson on Saturday night, 5-2.

"We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play great," said UNH coach Dick Umile about the win over St. Lawrence. "I thought we played much better Saturday but we wound up losing. That’s how it goes. I thought [goaltender Dan] Murphy played well and we had a couple unlucky bounces on goals against us. That was the difference in the game.

"I don’t expect to be scoring five or six goals every game. You’ve got to win the 3-2 and 4-3 games. To do that you have to play strong defense and be opportunistic. We just need to pick up our play and get back the little edge we had before."

Few home-and-home series offer bigger ice differences than this weekend’s games between UNH and the upstart UMass-Lowell River Hawks. Lowell’s Tully Forum is undersized, offering little space between the blue lines; New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center is the only full-fledged Olympic surface in the East.

"Lowell plays hard and tough," said Umile. "They get good goaltending and [Lowell coach Tim Whitehead] has done a great job with them. They’re opportunistic and they do a great job in their specialty situations. They play very physical and cut down your lanes so we have to be prepared to play a tight, close-checking game."

Goaltender Sean Matile sat out last weekend’s games and is questionable for the Lowell series. Matile entered the league on fire, but has struggled to adjust to medication he began taking in the wake of a Dec. 20 seizure. According to Umile, Matile could return against Lowell — but if not, Umile expects him the following weekend.

Clarkson whitewashed Lowell 5-0 to open the weekend, but the River Hawks came back with a stirring 4-3 overtime win against St. Lawrence. Lowell tied the game after pulling its goalie, and then won it on a Greg Koehler goal with 41 seconds left in OT. Had the River Hawks not gotten the extra-skater goal, a loss to St. Lawrence would have dropped them to 1-5-0 since the holiday break.

"We had a three-and-a-half week break over Christmas," said UMass-Lowell coach Tim Whitehead. "It’s the longest we’ve ever had in my six years here. We had 10 freshmen who had never been through that before, and unfortunately they didn’t prepare properly for coming through it. We came back and had four games in six days and that’s where it hurt us. So we’ve paid the price for a couple weeks. We have no excuses, we definitely brought it on ourselves.

"But I’m really pleased with the ways the guys have responded since, in terms of getting back into shape. It was really a great team win for us on Saturday against St. Lawrence."

Two years ago, Lowell tried a three-goaltender rotation with disastrous results. When Scott Fankhouser, who had dropped to number three, played the entire game against Clarkson it appeared to be a return to the failed rotation of two years ago.

"That is something that we’re not really excited about," said Whitehead. "We’re not really in a three-goalie rotation. We’ve got one guy [Marty Fillion] with two other guys as his backup. I’d rather have two guys that I know can start on any given night, but we haven’t gotten to that point and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re just waiting for [Craig Lindsay or Fankhouser] to rise to the occasion and solidify themselves. But Marty did a great job against St. Lawrence."

Lowell now takes on UNH, the first time this year that they’ve tackled one of Hockey East’s top two teams.

"They’re a great team, so it’s going to be a real challenge for us," said Whitehead. "Everybody has to play as a team. For us to be successful this year we have to play as a team and everyone has to work as hard as they can. Our guys know that. They don’t have any false illusions."

PICKS: UNH returns to sweep city, 4-3 and 6-2.

Providence (8-12-1, 6-6-1 HE) at Maine (13-9-1, 5-6-1 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Providence ended a seven-game losing streak with wins over Northeastern, 5-4, and UMass-Amherst, 5-1.

"We’re playing together as a team, that’s number one," said PC coach Paul Pooley, reflecting on the differences between his team’s play now and during the slump. "But we’re also working harder. We’re working harder in practices and we’re working harder in games. We’re being more physical and we’re being rewarded for that.

"Dan [Dennis] played well against both Northeastern and UMass. When Danny plays well, the team gets more relaxed. It frees them up mentally to score goals." Dennis was named Hockey East Player of the Week for his efforts. Pooley has played the senior netminder a lot recently, to get him going for the stretch run.

"He was inconsistent for the first half of the year and he’d be the first to admit that," said Pooley. "It’s important for us to get him sharp."

Pooley will not hesitate to use Dennis in all three Friar games this week, if that will give the team the best chance to win. "Right now our hockey team and how it’s playing is more important than getting anyone ice time."

Pooley made two significant lineup changes before last week’s wins. Freshman defenseman Jason Ialongo and sophomore forward Mike Omicioli did not dress. John Tuohy, a junior, replaced Ialongo in an effort to get more experience on the blue line. Josh MacNevin and Leigh Dean, the two remaining freshman blueliners, have played well, according to Pooley. Ialongo is likely to return to action this week, since sophomore Ben Stadey injured an ankle in the UMass-Amherst game and is expected out for two to three weeks.

"Michael [Omicioli] has played well at times," said Pooley about his other benching. "With him we want him to become more consistent. He can be a great player for us if he continues to work hard and pay the price. Right now our lineup looks pretty solid because everyone is working hard."

Pooley looked ahead to the Maine matchup and two games at Alfond Arena.

"Doing the little things will be important against Maine. You’ve got to know what they’re doing on the faceoffs. You’ve got to know what they’re doing on the power play. Then you’ve got to be ready to execute.

"It is a tough place to play, but it’s a challenge too. I think we play well on the road. I think we like the hostile environment. It pulls us together."

Maine split with Merrimack while playing its fifth and sixth straight games on the road, losing 3-1 and then winning 6-2.

"Friday night we were off," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "We didn’t really execute with the same kind of intensity that I’ve seen us have in previous games. Part of that is because Merrimack and Martin Legault played very, very well. But we didn’t generate much offense to make life difficult for him. Saturday night we played much more aggressively around the net. We were just a more hungry team and without question put together our best 60 minutes since I’ve been back."

Marcus Gustafsson has opened eyes, scoring like an all-league player since being inserted into the lineup eight games ago. "He’s been a real key for us," said Walsh. "He’s played eight straight games now and has 15 points in those games. He’s given us a big boost and given us a second scoring line with Roenick and Cardinal. He’s just got a knack for making the right play at the right time offensively. He’s a very intelligent player and he’s got a scoring, sniping shot."

Also helping to turn around an offense that had stagnated earlier in the year is a more active defense. "We’ve encouraged that," said Walsh. "We’ve got some natural offensive defensemen and there’s no sense holding them back. I’ve been happy with the way we’ve generated some offense from the blue line. It’s always been something that I’ve dwelled on. I think it makes you a more diversified offensive team."

The goaltending tandem of Alfie Michaud and Javier Gorriti has stabilized after causing much concern earlier in the year.

"They’ve both been consistent for us," said Walsh. "In our six-game road spell we lost one game in overtime, 4-3, and lost the other one 3-1. So you can’t fault the goaltenders for those games and we won the other four. So we’re playing better as a team, they’re playing more consistently, and I think that alternating them has taken the pressure off."

Maine now faces Providence, a team directly in its upward path in the standings. Two weeks ago, the two teams met at Schneider Arena. Maine jumped out to a seemingly safe 5-0 lead before the Friars battled back with four third-period goals to make a game of it.

"You’ve got to be patient when you play them," said Walsh. "They play a methodical trap and a conservative game. Typically it’s a low-scoring game. They’ve got a good goaltender in Danny Dennis. They seem to have righted their ship since the last time we played them with two good wins this weekend. So I think we’ll see a rejuvenated Providence team and it should be a terrific Hockey East series."

PICKS:Maine wins on Friday, 5-3. Providence gets the split on Saturday, 4-3.

Northeastern (5-14-2, 1-11-1 HE) vs. UMass-Amherst (9-12-0, 4-8-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

Northeastern lost two games by identical scores this week, 5-4 to Providence on Thursday and BU on Saturday. In their last seven, the Huskies have won three and lost the other four all by one goal.

"The Providence game was the first time we really beat ourselves," said NU coach Bruce Crowder. "We got into a penalty situation that we really hadn’t gotten into all year. It was just one of those games where all of a sudden we were behind 5-1. We battled back and made it 5-4 and made things interesting with the goaltender pulled but it just wasn’t enough."

Freshman Todd Barclay contributed a lot to that game’s interest, scoring a hat trick. "Like a lot of the freshmen here, they’ve been blessed with not only playing right away but getting quality ice time," said Crowder. "He’s a guy who shoots the puck really well. He should shoot the puck almost every chance he gets. He made some real strong plays. It’s got to be a big confidence boost for him.

"In the BU game I thought we played a pretty strong game for us. It was a one goal difference, they scored late in the third period, and we stayed with them."

Goaltender Marc Robitaille earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors for his play in the two games. He stopped 30 shots against Providence and a career-high 45 against BU.

"The biggest thing for us is just staying positive. You’re never satisfied when you’re losing, but we are encouraged. We’re starting to see the light bulbs going on with some of the kids. They understand a little bit more. Our last four losses have been by one goal. We’ve made one step to be a lot more competitive and now we just need to make that other step and eliminate some of the mistakes that will give us an opportunity to win some hockey games.

"Obviously we’re looking to get a couple of W’s anywhere we can," said Crowder, looking ahead to this week’s games with UMass-Amherst. "We need to start coming out on top. [UMass-Amherst coach Joe Mallen] always has his guys ready to play so it should be an interesting series. They’re a little bit older than us, a little bit more experienced than us, so it should be interesting to see how that unfolds over the weekend."

UMass-Amherst lost to BC 5-4 and Providence 5-1 before rebounding with a 7-4 come-from-behind win over Yale. In the third period of the loss to Providence, Mallen paired senior co-captain Tom Perry with the team’s two top forwards, Rob Bonneau and Warren Norris. Perry had returned in the BC game from a broken wrist that had sidelined him for six weeks.

"Tommy missed a lot of games and I needed to get him some playing time," explained Mallen. "We were down by four goals and he was playing well, so I just tried to get him over the boards with Warren and Robbie as a good way to get him the puck a little more. We’re going to need him down the stretch."

Mallen’s move paid off three nights later. The Minutemen fell behind Yale 3-1, but Perry’s two goals rallied UMass to the 7-4 win. Chris Fawcett, one of the team’s fastest skaters, contributed three assists.

Mallen would like his squad to finish in the three-to-six range in the standings. This week’s two games against the last-place Huskies represent an opportunity to move up from seventh place.

"There’s no such thing as an easy game in Hockey East," said Mallen. "Despite their record they’ve got to be one of the best 1-11-1 teams. It’s all a game of momentum and if they can [play well] at BU then they’ll come in with a lot more confidence."

PICKS: UMass-Amherst likes their big ice surface to the tune of 6-3, but Northeastern gains the split with a 5-4 win at home.

Ohio State(5-18-0, 4-12-0 CCHA) at Merrimack (6-13-1, 3-8-1 HE) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Merrimack split with Maine last weekend, winning the opener 3-1 before losing the rematch 6-2.

"I was pleased with the way that we played defense for five periods this weekend," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. "We have to play good team defense to give ourselves a chance to win and I thought we did that for five periods. We had a little breakdown in the third period of the second game and it cost us that game but on balance I was pretty pleased with how we played on the weekend."

Rejean Stringer continued his strong play this season, scoring a goal in the 3-1 win. He leads the team in scoring with eight goals and 11 assists in 18 games.

"He’s a good, solid player developing on the timetable we had hoped," said Anderson. "Halfway through his sophomore year now he’s really starting to become a consistent, productive player for us. That’s the timetable you establish for everybody but not everyone meets that. Fortunately for us, at a time when we really need some offense, he’s starting to kick it into gear for us. But we’re not surprised by what he’s doing. He’s a good steady player."

Anderson deviated from his Martin Legault-and-Eric Thibeault goaltender rotation for the first time this season. Legault, who starred in the Friday night win, came back for Saturday night’s rematch as well.

"I thought we played so well on Friday night that we didn’t change anything on Saturday," said Anderson. "He also wasn’t overworked so there wasn’t any reason to change anything at all." That won’t necessarily hold for this weekend, however. "You never know when somebody’s going to get hot or hurt, so it’s important that we keep both ready."

Anderson assessed the difference between this weekend’s non-conference series with Ohio State and a league matchup. "The points don’t mean anything in terms of league standings, so it’s a chance to make sure that you’re keeping other players fresh and ready to play. But on the other hand you still want to win every game so you still have to put a team out there that you expect to win with."

The series marks Merrimack’s first with Ohio State since entering Division I play. Ohio State’s 5-18-0 record includes wins against Ferris State (3), Bowling Green, and Alaska-Fairbanks. Those teams have a cumulative 24-45-3 record. The Buckeye offense comes primarily from Chad Power (14-12–26), Hugo Boisvert (6-19–25), Pierre Dufour (6-18–24) and defenseman Ryan Root (4-18–22). Power’s totals include a team-leading seven power-play goals and two short-handed tallies.

Goaltending would appear to be OSU’s Achilles heel. Although goalie stats on a weak team must always be taken with a grain of salt, the save percentages of Ray Aho (.836) and Tom Connerty (.811) certainly raise an eyebrow. Both have goals against averages over five. The team’s 133 goals against is far and away the worst in the CCHA.

PICKS: Merrimack sweeps, 6-2 and 6-4.

Yale (5-10-2, 4-8-1 ECAC) at UMass-Lowell (10-10-0, 7-5-0 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

After a good start to the season, Yale has fallen on hard times of late. Losers of five of their last six games, the Bulldogs must turn the season around to avoid falling into the ECAC cellar they occupied last year.

Their penalty kill ranks last in the ECAC (72.6 percent overall) and their power play (19.7 percent overall) has also struggled. One beacon of light, however, has been the play of their ECAC Rookie of the Year candidate, forward Jeff Hamilton. Goaltender Alex Westlund has also played well in stretches; he shares the netminding chores with Dan Choquette.

UMass-Lowell is previewed above against New Hampshire.

PICK: Lowell recovers from being swept by UNH, winning 6-2.

Dartmouth (8-7-0, 3-6-0 ECAC) at Providence (6-12-1, 4-6-1 HE) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Dartmouth has cooled off after a hot start this season. The Big Green have lost four of their last five games following a five-game win streak. Freshman goaltender Jason Wong has been one of the ECAC’s statistical leaders all season. He has been joined recently by fellow freshman Eric Almon, who didn’t get his first start until Dec. 21 against Merrimack. Almon made the most of that opportunity, however, and has played regularly since.

Although the Big Green boast no scorers among the ECAC’s top ten, David Whitworth, Ryan Chaytors, Bill Kelleher and Jon Sturgis remain a dangerous group.

The Dartmouth specialty teams feature a penalty-killing unit that ranks third in the ECAC (84.3 percent). Their power play (20.5 percent) puts them among the ECAC middle of the pack.

Providence is previewed above against Maine.

PICK: Providence 5-3.

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

Copyright 1997 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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