This Week in Hockey East: October 17, 1997

Although the season has barely begun, injuries to BU’s Chris Heron and both of Boston College’s goalies could have a significant impact on both teams’ chances this week.

And be sure to check out the Northeastern preview for some interesting developments in Husky-land.

Last week’s record in picks: 2-0 Season record in picks: 2-0

No. 8 Maine (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at No. 7 Minnesota (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m. CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN MSC, WABI-TV5 Saturday, 7:00 p.m. CT, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN MSC

Maine opens its season with a road trip to Minnesota, where the Golden Gophers lost to the forget-the-rebuilding-let’s-reload Michigan Wolverines in the annual Hall of Fame game. The Gophers led 2-0 before the Wolverines came back to win, 3-2.

"I’m concerned about the fact that they’ve played a game," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "Much like Michigan State had an advantage over BU [in the Ice Breaker tournament], I see a similar advantage for Minnesota. They know a lot more about their team than we know about ours right now.

"They also have terrific speed up front and that concerns me."

The Gophers do return four of their top five scorers in forwards Ryan Kraft (25-21–46), Casey Hankinson (17-24–41), all-rookie selection Dave Spehar (20-17–37) and Reggie Berg (11-26–37).

However, they lost WCHA Player of the Year Mike Crowley, the defenseman who made their offense go. They also lost number two defenseman Brian LaFleur. Although the Black Bears also lost their top two defensemen, Jason Mansoff and Jeff Libby, the Minnesota blue line losses cut deeper. All-rookie pick Ben Clymer (7-13–20) is expected to pick up much of the slack.

Minnesota’s Steve ("Warm Up") DeBus (25-12-1, 3.15 GAA, .888 SV%) earned first-team All-WCHA honors and could be a critical advantage over Alfie Michaud (17-8-1, 3.09 GAA, .864 SV%), who is expected to get the nod both games.

"I’m fairly pleased with how we’ve come through camp," said Walsh. "We’re still not where we really need to be, though. Our freshmen especially are thinking a lot. Until they can start to play naturally it’s going to hurt us. We’re probably going to rely on six of them, although I’m not sure all six will play the first game."

Penalties could prove the decisive factor. Last year, Minnesota led the WCHA in penalty minutes (26.4 per game); Maine finished last in Hockey East (15.71 per game) and first in the nation in power-play efficiency (30.2 percent). If those tendencies haven’t changed with the the personnel, Maine could reap the benefits.

(For a more detailed look at Minnesota from a WCHA perspective, check out this week’s WCHA Preview.)

PICK: The safe pick would be a split, especially with already battled-tested Minnesota taking the opener, while Maine scrapes off the rust. But when your editor is a Minnesota fan, it pays to go for the jugular. Maine sweeps 4-3, 4-2.

No. 10 Rensselaer (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at No. 4 Boston University (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-TV68

BU split its games last weekend in the inaugural Ice Breaker Invitational. The Terriers lost, 3-1, to a Michigan State team that had already played a tune-up game, and then beat Clarkson, 5-4.

What created a lot of attention, however, was not the on-ice action, but the off-ice discussions over whether the games should be treated as exhibitions or not. As noted here last week, BU coach Jack Parker left no doubt about where he stood on the matter.

"We only have six days of practice before we play those games," he said at the time. "They’re definitely not going to count."

Clarkson coach Mark Morris seconded that sentiment. "We entered into the agreement to participate under the notion that it was going to be two exhibition games," he said. "All the coaches agreed at dinner that that was the case. That was the notion that all the coaches were under going into the tournament."

Nonetheless, controversy erupted. Soon NCAA officials were being consulted.

"The fact is that the NCAA allows us to play X amount of games," said Parker. "If they’re going to give us more games, we can play more. At any time, we can call them exhibitions.

"For example, we play 34 games every year. If we would like to play an exhibition game, we could call RPI in the middle of the summertime and say, ‘Instead of playing that first game as a real game, let’s play it as an exhibition game. We’ll only play 33 real games and one exhibition.’ As far as the NCAA is concerned, we still played 34 games. Only 33 of them are going to count. We can do that any time we want….

"We didn’t decide the day before that we were going to play exhibitions. We decided last spring when we signed the contract that we were going to play exhibitions.

"Where people thought the NCAA would get involved in this, I have no idea. The NCAA doesn’t get involved in this. It’s not the NCAA’s business. They said we could play 36 games. We could play 30 of them as real games and six as exhibitions if we wanted to."

One the ice, the Terriers met with predictable results — in fact, almost the exact results picked here last week. They faced a Michigan State team that, like BU, had been picked to win its conference, but had also been on ice for two weeks to the Terriers five days and already had played a game against Canadian university champion Guelph.

"I thought we all played much better the second night after having the first game under our belts," said Parker. "I thought we were kind of lethargic and legless the first night, but that’s expected. We only had five days of practice.

"I thought Drury played extremely well and most of our defensemen played well, especially Tom Poti and freshman Joe DiPenta."

Drury scored three goals and added an assist, earning him the first of what is certain to be many Player of the Week honors.

Poti totaled two goals and two assists. Unlike some offensive defensemen who give back almost as many in their own zone as they create in the opponent’s, Poti was not on the ice for a single goal.

Unfortunately, Chris Heron fractured his shoulder and will be out six to eight weeks. Heron came on strong last year and was expected to be a key contributor up front.

This week, the Terriers host Rensselaer, the team picked first in the ECAC’s preseason coaches’ poll.

"We had all we could handle with Clarkson and RPI was picked higher than Clarkson," said Parker. "They didn’t have a senior last year, so they have everybody back from last year’s squad. They’ll be an experienced team.

"We have the advantage of playing at home, obviously, and hopefully we’ll take advantage of that."

Rensselaer features All-American Eric Healey, who scored 30 goals and 56 points last year while teamed up with Matt Garver (44 points) and center Alain St.-Hilaire (40 points).

Partisans of the two leagues may debate the merits of those three compared to Drury and any two warm bodies, or UNH’s Jason Krog, Mark Mowers and Tom Nolan. Whatever the outcome of that debate, Rensselaer clearly has a formidable weapon in its three big guns.

Additionally, the Engineers rely on a experienced defense and two sophomore goaltenders, Scott Prekaski and Joel Laing, who split time equally.

(For a more detailed look at Rensselaer from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICK: BU pulls out a 4-3 thriller.

Bowling Green (0-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Boston College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

My kingdom for a goalie.

No doubt, that is what BC coach Jerry York is thinking. Freshman goaltender Scott Clemmensen fractured a bone in his right foot on Oct. 1 catching a football as part of a preseason workout. Although initially expected to return to practice last Friday and play against Bowling Green, that estimate has proven too optimistic. He will miss the Bowling Green game and is questionable against Notre Dame the following weekend.

Returning goaltender Mike Correia popped his left hamstring during an intrasquad scrimmage and is expected out four to five weeks.

"They’re just barely walking around," said a rueful York.

Which leaves no one but Andy McLaughlin between the pipes. Literally. In BC’s 10-0 exhibition thumping of Ottawa, McLaughlin, BC’s third-stringer, was the only netminder dressed.

"We did not have a backup," said York. "If Andy had gone down, I don’t know what we’d have done."

The BC staff is hoping to receive NCAA Clearinghouse approval for George Barker, a freshman who played some high school hockey but had expected only to play intramurals so had never submitted the paperwork. Early in the week, he had been cleared to practice, but not yet to play. Old-timers will be fumbling through their cerebral cobwebs to remember the last time a team suited up only one goalie for a Division I contest.

Otherwise, the Eagles look primed to take off after having whipped the same Ottawa squad that held Northeastern to a 3-3 tie one night earlier.

"Ottawa was probably tired after playing Northeastern the night before," said York. "But given that context, we moved the puck exceptionally well for early in the season. Our special teams were very good and we got steady goaltending from Andy McLaughlin."

Much of the Eagles’ hopes this year ride on the shoulders of their three freshman defensemen: Bobby Allen, Marty Hughes and Rob Scuderi.

"All three stepped in and really pleased the coaching staff with their performance," said York. "They all collectively moved the puck from the zone very well. That’s a key to college hockey. If you can move the puck, it prevents the long forecheck."

Freshman forward Brian Gionta earned Rookie of the Week honors with five points against Ottawa. The 5′ 7" dynamo played on Marty Reasoner’s line, a pairing that should create headaches for opposing defensemen all year long.

Getting the job done against an overmatched Canadian team, however, is a far cry from beating the Hockey East iron.

Bowling Green doesn’t fit the iron category either, though. The Falcons graduated the potential All-Americans — Curtis Fry, Mike Johnson and Kelly Perrault — that York recruited before coming East. Defenseman Peter Ratchuk also unexpectedly turned pro.

Tragically, Dan Price, a 17-goal scorer last year, is also unavailable. He was the driver in an automobile accident that killed a passenger and also injured Price’s knee. Police say that alcohol was a factor.

Small wonder, then, that they lost 3-0 last weekend to Western Michigan. BG coach Buddy Powers must be shaking his head, wondering what can go wrong next.

"[The losses] change their whole complexion," said York. "They were more of a senior-oriented team last year. I’m sure Buddy will have a good group of players. I’m just not as familiar with them as last year. But I think it’ll be a good test for both teams."

(For a more detailed look at Bowling Green from a CCHA perspective, check out this week’s CCHA Preview.)

PICK: BC passes the test with flying colors, 5-2. If this were the NHL, third-stringer Andy McLaughlin would be renegotiating his contract.

Vermont (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at No. 6 New Hampshire (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

Last weekend, UNH beat New Brunswick 6-1, in a game coach Dick Umile used primarily to evaluate talent and prepare for the season opener against Vermont. As a result, he got to see his three freshmen defensemen — Eric Lind, Sean Austin and Mark White — play a fair number of minutes, freshman native son Corey-Joe Ficek score a goal, and backup netminder Matt Carney stop what little third-period action came his way.

"Lind, Austin, and White are going to help us," said Umile. "They’re good, strong kids. Carney handled himself fine and the local kid, Ficek, played real well. We were pleased with the kids. We were looking to see what they could bring to the table."

The first line of Mark Mowers, Jason Krog and Tom Nolan should be unstoppable. All three had over 50 points last year and deserved All-Hockey East berths, though injury and ballot-splitting kept Nolan off the team. Against Ottawa, the line generated one glittering chance after another but failed to capitalize until the final five minutes.

So, Coach, were you thinking of benching them for the Vermont game?

"They were driving me crazy," said a laughing Umile. "Instead of little, short passes, they were trying to hit home runs. They were driving me nuts."

Count on Nolan, Mowers and Krog to drive Vermont nuts this week.

The second line of Derek Bekar, Mike Souza and John Sadowski was the best surprise of the Ottawa game. Brad English also delivered two solid hits on his first shift and could be an important physical role player on the fourth line. Although the third line consisted of Rob Gagnon, Jason Shipulski and Dylan Dellezay, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Ficek replace Dellezay there before long.

"The third line looked like the third line last year," said Umile, referring to last year’s "S line" of Souza, Shipulski and Sadowski. That pairing provided effective counterpunching to teams worn down trying to defend Boguniecki & Company on the top two lines.

Souza, a sophomore, provided the best assessment after the Ottawa game.

"This wasn’t Maine, and it wasn’t Boston University, and, more importantly, it wasn’t Vermont, who we’re playing next week," he said. "These guys were okay, but I think Vermont will be tougher in the offensive zone, so we’ll have to bear down a little more."

Vermont somehow won’t look the same without The Elves — Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin — darting this way and that up ice, not to mention Tim Thomas, a brick wall in the nets for most of four years. The three graduated All-Americans leave King Kong-sized skates to fill.

Stephane Piche, who played both with and against St. Louis and Perrin as a youngster, will be looked upon the make the biggest step up offensively. Three untested faces — James Tierney, Andrew Allen and Marty Phillips — will be looking to replace Thomas in the Catamount nets. Simon Tremblay and Jason Reid are the only sure-fire returning blueliners.

Looks like a lot of holes for the UNH snipers to draw their cross hairs on.

(For a more detailed look at Vermont from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICK: UNH in a first-round TKO, 5-1.

Bowling Green (0-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Northeastern (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

The times, they are a-changin’.

"I had three kids among my better players last year show up and do the two-mile run in 17 1/2 minutes, one in 16 3/4 and one in 16 1/2," said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder. "In a two-mile run! And they’re supposed to be Division I athletes! By the time you get them in shape, the season’s half over."

Crowder determined that this season would not be a repeat.

"This year, we put a lot of accountability into the kids coming back," said Crowder. "They had to send us every month what they were doing. We’ve seen some great improvements in kids. You can see some kids have an extra quicker step."

The noticeable improvements, however, were not universal. Eric Kaminski, the fourth-leading Husky scorer last year, has temporarily left the team.

"Eric is looking to get himself in shape before he’s allowed to come back," said Crowder. "He’s no different than anyone else. It’s basically in Eric’s hands right now."

One player who surprisingly will not be back is Brian Addesa, one of only two Husky defensemen who played in more than 20 games last season. Addesa, who was involved in 31, was cut.

"We told everybody coming back from last year’s team that it was going to be a dogfight," said Crowder. "We were going to have kids coming in that were going to push kids. If kids weren’t ready for it, or didn’t come up a step, [they’d be in trouble.]

"We felt that Brian needed to take it up a step anyways. We just felt looking at him that that didn’t really happen. In all honesty, any time you get into a rebuilding situation, if you’re going to be successful, you have to get in the habit of recruiting better than what you have. It’s just the nature of the beast."

Northeastern tied an Ottawa squad, 3-3, that BC would shellack 10-0 the following night. Even so, the Huskies dominated all but the second period despite playing only two juniors or seniors.

The line of Roger Holeczy, Todd Barclay and Billy Newson looked particularly good. So, too, did the new faces on the blue line: freshmen John Peterman, who looks like the power-play quarterback the Huskies lacked last year, Mike Jozefowicz and Arik Engbrecht, along with junior transfer David Dupont.

"We have to clean up our neutral zone defense," cautioned Crowder. "There were a lot of situations that we gave up opportunities where our defense was pinching. We also have to clean up our discipline after the whistle. And we’ve got to take care of finishing. We had opportunities, we just didn’t finish."

(Bowling Green is profiled above in its game with Boston College. For a more detailed look at Bowling Green from a CCHA perspective, check out this week’s CCHA Preview.)

PICK: Northeastern gets a feel-good start to its season, 3-2.

Guelph at Merrimack (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Exhibition Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Center, North Andover, MA

Canadian university champion Guelph takes on Merrimack and Providence in exhibition games this weekend. Guelph will be no pushover. Although outshot by third-ranked Michigan State 49-12, it still held on for a 3-3 tie.

For Merrimack, this will be the first chance to sort out its goaltending puzzle. Although Cris Classen was considered the heir apparent to the job, he’s had mixed results in intrasquad scrimmages. Tim Thompson looked exceptional in one, but ordinary in the other. Such competitions, however, must be taken with a grain of salt.

The same is true for the Merrimack defense. Andrew Fox, Tony White and Mike Rodrigues must make the step from bit players to significant contributors. Otherwise, it will be a long year for whoever is in the Warrior nets.

One new defenseman who has looked outstanding is Steve Moon. Moon, however, is ineligible to play this year because he played in three major junior exhibitions a few years ago. Next year, after sitting out the first three games, he will begin play as a sophomore. "John Jakopin in his junior year" and "monster" are just some of the phrases used by salivating Merrimack followers to describe his play. As Red Sox fans are wont to say, wait till next year.

Based on the scrimmages, the offense won’t have to wait for anything. It looks like run-and-gun time in North Andover this year. The first line of Rejean Stringer, Kris Porter and Chris Halecki poured in 12 goals in the two scrimmages. The second line of captain Martin Laroche, Casey Kesselring and Sandy Cohen totaled seven, with five for Laroche.

A potential third line shapes up of bull-in-a-china-shop Jayson Philbin and long-time prep school linemates Vince Clevenger and Ron Mongeau, who look to prove that the total can indeed be more than the sum of its parts.

Of course, while the intrasquad scrimmages point to giddy offensive prospects, they don’t exactly provide ringing endorsements for the defense and goaltending, Merrimack’s potential Achilles’ heels.

PICK: Merrimack wins 4-3.

Guelph at Providence College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Exhibition Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Providence fans will be looking to see how freshman goalie Boyd Ballard performs. The early returns are good, but at this point we’re only talking about the Dixville Notch votes. Ballard, or returnees Mark Kane and Scott Swanjord, will need to be more consistent than Dan Dennis was last year for the Friars to return to the FleetCenter.

Captain Mike Mader, one of only two seniors, likes what he’s seen of the freshmen.

"Boyd Ballard has been a pleasant surprise," he said. "The rest of the freshmen are all big. Everyone is over six feet. Jay Leach is a big defenseman. He’s 6-4, 210. He’s a mobile defenseman for a big kid.

"Heath Gordon looks pretty good. They all look good. They’re all big and physical. They’ll add a lot to our team.

"I don’t think we were physical enough last year. We got beat up at times. We ended on a sour note when we didn’t make the FleetCenter in Hockey East, so that drove us this summer to get back to the FleetCenter and see what we can do from there.

"We’ve got to own the boards and own the corners. That’s huge for us. With these guys being so big, I think we can overpower teams with our strength and with our speed."

PICK: Providence wins 2-1.

Dalhousie at UMass-Lowell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Exhibition Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

UMass-Lowell opens its schedule with an exhibition against Dalhousie. The River Hawks will be moving into the Tsongas Arena later this season, but will be staying put in the Tully Forum until the new facility is ready.

At present, the target opening date is Dec. 6 against UNH. If that schedule slips, the school would seem likely to opt for Jan. 23, when it hosts Providence. That would be the first home game following the return of students for the spring semester.

Coach Tim Whitehead will be looking to see who will fill the nets following the graduation of Neil Donovan, Ryan Sandholm and Marc Salsman. The obvious answer is Hockey East Rookie of the Year Greg Koehler. Beyond Koehler, however, the returning forwards will have to step it up a notch and the incoming freshmen will need to contribute right away.

The River Hawk power play will also bear watching in this game, since the departed trio were all members of the top unit. During Lowell’s successful first-half run last year, their special teams ranked among the best in the league.

PICK: Lowell 4-1.

Dalhousie at UMass-Amherst (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) Exhibition Sunday, 2 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

In Amherst, the Minutemen encountered tough luck when premier recruit Jeff Turner broke his leg at the end of the first practice. He is expected out until at least January. Although this is a significant blow, coach Joe Mallen likes what he sees so far out of two other forward recruits, Kris Wallis and Nick Stephens.

Will Tim Lovell show some rust after sitting out all of last year? He’ll need to contribute right away for the Minutemen since they follow this exhibition with eight league games. How quickly the team gets out of the chute will go a long way to determining its ultimate fate in the league standings.

PICK: UMass-Amherst 4-2.

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

Copyright 1997 Dave Hendrickson . All Rights Reserved.

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