This Week in Hockey East: October 24, 1997

Except for two Friday night games — UMass-Lowell hosting UMass-Amherst and Northeastern traveling to Providence — the nonconference fare continues, led by the J.C. Penney Classic, which potentially pits No. 5 Colorado College and No. 6 Maine in the championship game.

Last week’s record in picks: 8-2 Season’s record in picks: 10-2

J.C. Penney Classic

No. 5 Colorado College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) vs. St. Lawrence (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

No. 6 Maine (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HE) vs. St. Thomas University All games at Alfond Arena, Orono, ME Colorado College – St. Lawrence: Friday, 5:00 p.m. Maine – St. Thomas: Friday, 8:00 p.m. Consolation/Championship: Saturday, 4:00/7:00 p.m.

Last week, the visiting Maine Black Bears shocked Minnesota 6-1 in the opener of a two-game set. Although the Golden Gophers came back to salvage a split with a 3-2 win, Maine served notice that it is again one of the nation’s top teams.

"It’s a tough place to play," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "I’m just very pleased that we won one and put ourselves in a position to actually tie that second one late and just couldn’t get it done."

In the preseason, Walsh felt that Maine’s biggest question marks were on the blue line, following the departures of Jason Mansoff and Jeff Libby.

"We went with six [defensemen]: Shawn Mansoff and Brian White, David Cullen and Robert Ek, and Jason Price and Adam Tate," said Walsh. "They played very well. Adam Tate is just a terrific freshman defenseman. He’s playing the point on the power play, is killing penalties and taking a regular shift.

"And obviously, Alfie Michaud was terrific [in goal] all weekend. He’s started out where he left off last year."

Michaud earned Hockey East’s Karhu Player of the Week honors for his performance, particularly his 16 second-period saves in the Friday night win. And in the Garth Snow tradition of offense-minded goaltenders, Michaud assisted on two goals.

On the darker side, the extent of a knee injury to Shawn Wansborough won’t be known until later in the week.

"It looks like it could be a little while," said Walsh. "He got hurt midway through the first period of the first night, so it put an exclamation point on how we played, because we did it without him."

This week, Maine hosts the J.C. Penney Classic, starting out with St. Thomas University, a Canadian Final Four team two years ago, while No. 5 Colorado College and St. Lawrence clash.

The Saints graduated a lot of bodies last year, but return All-America candidate Paul DiFrancesco and talented junior defenseman John Poapst. After losing their top two goaltenders, however, they are suspect between the pipes with junior Eric Heffler and two freshmen, Jeremy Symington and Sean Coakley.

"St. Lawrence has improved dramatically in the last couple years," said Walsh. "They’ve recruited better and have a quicker team."

Colorado College lost WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Eric Rud and top goaltender Judd Lambert from last year’s team, but returns most of its offense, led by All-WCHA selection Brian Swanson (51 points) and All-Rookie pick Toby Peterson (38 points).

"Colorado College’s record speaks for itself," said Walsh. "They’ve been in the Final Four each of the last two years, so we’re excited to have that kind of field."

(For a more detailed look at St. Lawrence and Colorado College from their own conferences’ perspectives, check out this week’s ECAC Preview and WCHA Preview. For a more detailed look at St. Thomas University, you’re out of luck.)

PICK: Maine should have its way with St. Thomas, 6-1. Colorado College will have a tougher time with St. Lawrence, but will still prevail 5-3. The Black Bears then will take the championship game, 4-3, with Alfie Michaud and the Alfond crowd the deciding factors.

Northeastern (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at

Providence College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

Northeastern raised some eyebrows with a 6-3 win over Bowling Green last weekend. When one considers a Husky lineup that included only three upperclassmen — among them David Dupont, who received a game disqualification in the first period, the win becomes doubly impressive.

"We’ve got a long way to go," said coach Bruce Crowder, "but it definitely was a nice start. To have that kind of youth in the lineup and see what they have the possibility of doing was really encouraging for us here."

In last week’s preview, Crowder discussed his displeasure with the strength and conditioning he found in last year’s team and the resolve to change that situation.

"Last year, we didn’t win a single game in the third period," he said. "Unless we were already winning, we failed to win even once."

The Huskies now are one for one in that department. They entered the third tied 2-2, after weathering almost two full minutes of a five-on-three combined with Dupont’s five-minute major, the type of adversity that often causes young teams to falter. In that period, they scored three times, plus an open-netter.

"All in all, it’s nice to see," said Crowder. "Maybe the commitment of the kids in the offseason with the weight training and conditioning showed some immediate signs of working. I thought we played well and stuck to our system."

The Huskies travel down Route 95 to Providence on Friday in one of the two Hockey East clashes this week.

"They were a team that had our number last year," said Crowder. The Friars took all three league games from Northeastern. "They’ve got a lot of new guys in their lineup, too, so I don’t really know anything about what Paul [Pooley] is doing. We’re just going to have to play hockey in a way that whatever they throw at us, we can execute and eliminate our mistakes."

Although the Friars became the only league team to drop an exhibition game to a visiting Canadian team — 6-3 to Guelph — that dubious honor deserves a king-sized asterisk. Not only is Guelph the defending Canadian university champion, it also tied second-ranked Michigan State.

"We started off okay, but we looked like we were playing our first game," said PC coach Paul Pooley. "We outshot them quite badly" — 39-17 — "but just made some mistakes. Their goalie [Mark Gowan] played great. I think he’ll sign an NHL contract. He’s that good."

An 0-for-7 power play didn’t help.

"We had a couple good puck possessions and got some shots away, but I wasn’t totally happy," said Pooley. "Our power play has got to be good this year and we’re going to have to find ways to do it. I wasn’t totally pleased with what was going on out there."

What had to be especially displeasing, however, was the goaltending in the Guelph game. Mark Kane struggled in the second period, allowing five goals on just nine shots. Friar fans have to hope that performance was simply one bad period in a meaningless exhibition game and not an omen of things to come. After last year’s erratic goaltending, however, that might be akin to convincing Sigmund Freud that sometimes a dream is just a dream.

On the plus side, freshman Boyd Ballard turned away all the third-period shots he faced in relief of Kane. Both of them. Two for two is a good start, but Ballard’s prowess remains an open question.

"I’ll have to see who plays well in practice before I decide who plays on Friday," said Pooley. PICK: With both teams very young, goaltending could prove decisive. Northeastern’s Marc Robitaille is rock-solid; Providence’s Mark Kane, Scott Swanjord and Boyd Ballard are still question marks. Northeastern 3-2.

UMass-Amherst (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at UMass-Lowell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Friday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

The UMass-Lowell River Hawks downed Dalhousie last week 4-2 in an exhibition.

"It was a good first step for us," said coach Tim Whitehead. "There were some things we did well, and some things we didn’t do so well. But it’s very early and we’re a very young team. It’s going to take us quite a while to really get where we want to be as far as our systems, and playing defense first and all the little things that go along with that.

"Guys were thinking defense first, but they had to think about it instead of reacting, so it’s going to take us some time."

Still, for the most part, Whitehead liked what he saw.

"Especially the work ethic," he said. "Guys were really hungry and stuck together as a team. There were a lot of positives, but it was just one step. We’ve got a long way to go. There’s a lot of teaching that we have to do, and a lot of practice to get where we want to be."

With a team consisting of two-thirds freshmen and sophomores, Whitehead needs some young forwards to step up and contribute immediately. Two such candidates distinguished themselves against Dalhousie.

"I thought Brad Rooney and Nick Carso played well," said Whitehead. "Both were pleasant surprises. For their first game, they had an impact."

Meanwhile, late recruit Mark Fontas still awaits NCAA Clearinghouse approval. As such, he cannot practice or play with the team.

As has become an emerging tradition, UMass-Lowell hosts sister school UMass-Amherst for its home opener.

"It should be a good opening night," said Whitehead. "It’s becoming a good rivalry. We’re going to have our hands full. They’re an experienced team that I’m sure is ready to make the next step, so it’s a real big challenge for us.

"They’ve got a good, strong defense and goaltending. They’ve got a lot of talent up front. They’re a well-balanced team.

"I actually picked them to finish much higher than I guess the other coaches did [8th in the preseason poll]. I have a lot of respect for where that team is now. They’ve beaten us two out of three two years in a row, so we’ll certainly have our hands full."

UMass-Lowell proved better hosts for Dalhousie than UMass-Amherst. While the Lowell score was a respectable 4-2, the Minutemen whitewashed the Canadian school 7-0.

"It certainly was a nice start for us, but we realize it’s only an exhibition game," said coach Joe Mallen. "We had a variety of scorers, you certainly can’t do any better than not allowing any goals, and we saw some very positive signs.

"Tim Lovell looked very good. It was his first game back after not playing for a year. As the rust comes off, I think he’s going to be doing some great things for us."

While Kris Wallis, Nick Stephens and the injured Jeff Turner have gotten most of the ink regarding the freshmen class, two other important rookies got off to good starts against Dalhousie.

Matt Smith, a 6-6 defenseman from Brampton, Ont., played well, continuing a tradition of beef on the Minuteman blue line. Smith joins, among others, Brad Norton (6-5, 235), Dean Stork (6-3, 210), Kevin Tucker (6-5, 223) and the relatively diminutive Tom O’Connor (6-2, 205) and Mike Gaffney (6-1, 205). Apparently, cross-training sessions for this group involves playing line for the UMass football team.

The other significant rookie performance came from 6-4 Finnish goaltender Marcus Helanen, who played one period and is likely the heir apparent to Brian Regan’s job after Regan graduates this year.

"Brian Regan looked good," added Mallen. "He only had 10 or 12 saves, but he played very well."

Like Whitehead, Mallen admires his state school rival.

"I think they’re a good team," said Mallen. "They’re real strong in the goal with Marty Fillion. With Mike Nicholishen and Chris Libett they have two really outstanding defensemen. And they’ve got some good firepower up front with Greg Koehler and Shannon Basaraba and some of those guys. I think it’s really going to be a tight game."

PICK: Fillion – Regan, Nicholishen – Gaffney and Koehler – Lovell is a wash. The supporting cast decides it for Lowell, 3-2.

Boston College (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Notre Dame (3-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce Athletic and Convention Center, South Bend, IN

Boston College opened its season with a 3-2 win over visiting Bowling Green. Even more impressive than the win, however, was the list of significant contributors.

Third-stringer Andy McLaughlin tended the nets well. He hopes to interject himself into the mix along with still-injured Mike Correia (out several more weeks with a popped hamstring) and freshman Scott Clemmensen, who broke his foot on Oct. 1, but got two strong practices under his belt before backing up McLaughlin for the BG game.

Fourth-liner Andy Powers scored one goal while freshmen defenseman Bobby Allen and Marty Hughes scored the others.

"That’s the thing that’s been missing in our program," said BC coach Jerry York. "We’ve always had some quality players, but we’ve never had the kind of depth you need in Hockey East."

Allen, in particular, played a very strong game both offensively and defensively. Just one game into the season, he already looks like a cinch for the All-Rookie team. Hughes also showed his offensive flair with the game-winning goal, which earned him Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors.

"That adds such a dimension to your team when you can add an offensive threat from the blue line," said York. "They both have had a history of scoring goals. They’re dangerous players. I’ve always felt that good teams can strike in a lot of different ways."

Although he didn’t score like his two freshmen defensive brethren, Rob Scuderi also showed a flair for hitting the home run pass and, aside from getting turned once, solid play in his own zone.

The transformation on the BC blue line is dramatic. The three freshmen are already playing better than the three of last year’s seniors that they replace. Not only did the rookies play well offensively, the entire BC defense allowed not a single breakaway, a statement all too rare last year.

Of course, before their enshrinement in the BC Hall of Fame is complete, they’ll need to duplicate last weekend’s efforts against better offensive teams than Bowling Green. But watching Bobby Allen, in particular, play just the one game reminds you of Nomar Garciaparra scooping up his first ground ball in spring training. He has the look…

In the Don’t Stop the Presses Department, Marty Reasoner and Brian Gionta looked dynamite together even though they didn’t score a point. It’s easy to see how they lit up Ottawa one week earlier. This duo will be tough to stop.

Notre Dame is one of the biggest early Western surprises. At the beginning of the season, coach Dave Poulin talked about the need to develop a winning mentality to take their fair share of the 12 one-goal losses the Fighting Irish sustained last year. So far, at least, that seems to be developing in light of a 4-3, 4-1 sweep over St. Cloud last weekend. They now stand 3-0-0, including, as do all CCHA teams, wins over Canadian teams.

Will they stick with Powlus at quarterback this week? Whoops, wrong Boston College-Notre Dame game.

The Fighting Irish had trouble scoring last year, averaging only 2.6 goals a game, but return six defensemen and starting goaltender Matt Eisler.

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

PICK: Notre Dame wins the pigskin battle 28-27 when the Eagles go for two. But BC wins the important Clash of the Catholics this weekend, 4-2.

No. 4 New Hampshire (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Alaska-Anchorage (0-2-1, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Alaska

New Hampshire beat a rebuilding Vermont team 5-1 in UNH’s home opener, but coach Dick Umile fell far short of a ringing endorsement of his team’s play.

"After watching the film, I don’t think we played as bad as I might originally have thought," he said. "We just gave up more shots than I would have liked to in the first period. Sean Matile had to come up with two or three really good saves because we turned it over, but after that we settled down and played well in the second and third period."

In the two combined, UNH held the Catamounts to only 10 shots.

The second line of Mike Souza centering Derek Bekar and John Sadowski continued to shine, with Souza scoring twice to repeat the number one star honors he earned the previous week.

"He’s a goal-scorer, and he’s playing very well right now," said Umile. "That whole line is playing well."

Umile intends to play it by ear as far as his goaltending is concerned this weekend against Alaska-Anchorage. Matile is the starter, but freshman Matt Carney could see action either in relief or as a starter in one game.

An even greater unknown is how the team will react to the marathon road trip.

"I don’t know if there’s much we can do," said Umile. "We’re only going out the day before because of classes, obviously. We get out there sometime around two o’clock on Thursday. We’ll have a skate and hopefully by seven o’clock the next night, they’re ready to play.

"I’ve never taken a team out to Anchorage so I really don’t know how it will affect them, but it’s probably no worse than having to go out and play in Denver with the altitude changes. So we just have to find a way to get comfortable and get ready to play."

As for Alaska-Anchorage, this much is known. In Alaska, it can get pretty cold.

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

Okay, okay. Maybe you’d like a little more information from this column.

In short, Alaska-Anchorage is a touch football team playing amongst Purple People Eaters. Last year, under new coach Dean Talafous, the Seawolves committed a scant 90 penalties for 191 minutes in 32 league games, a mind-boggling average of less than three penalties a game. To put that in perspective, North Dakota, league runner-up for least penalty minutes, totaled 222 penalties for 534 minutes. Stunning numbers.

Whether through lack of aggressiveness or talent or both, however, the Seawolves had trouble scoring, averaging only 2.4 goals a game. Based on their two losses and a tie this year — 4-2 to Alberta and 5-5, 4-0 to Alaska-Fairbanks — that remains a problem.

On the plus side, Doug Teskey in goal is a strength.

PICK: Alaska Anchorage wins the battle of least PIMs, 4-18 amd 8-14, but UNH wins the war of W’s and L’s, 4-2, 6-1.

Merrimack (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Ohio State (1-1-0, 0-1-0 CCHA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, Ohio

Based purely on Merrimack’s performance against Guelph last weekend, the Warriors look like a legitimate dark horse in Hockey East this year. Two weeks earlier, Guelph tied No. 2 Michigan State and one night later it beat Providence 6-3. Merrimack, however, humbled Guelph, holding a 9-1 lead at one point before the game slopped its way to a 10-5 finish.

"It looks like we have some guys who can score some goals," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. "But since we gave up five, we’re still not settled on our team defense."

In past years, the Warriors played tighter to the vest than they did down the stretch last season and in the Guelph exhibition. Is a change in playing style taking root at Merrimack?

"Your personnel has a lot to do with how you’re going to play," said Anderson. "We’re still not so sure that we don’t have good team defense. It’s something we work awfully hard on. Ideally, you have both, some offense and good team defense.

"We’re certainly not going to become a run-and-gun team. We’re going to become a team that still works hard on defense, but we’ve been trying for years to get some improved firepower up front. Hopefully, we’re getting closer to that stage."

The Guelph contest did little to clear the muddied goaltending waters, since the Warriors faced so few shots early and finished in a sloppy cruise control. Nonetheless, Cris Classen started and played about 30 minutes, recording seven saves while allowing one goal. Tom Welby played roughly 20 minutes in relief, stopping 12 shots and giving up two goals. Tim Thompson stopped three of five shots in the closing minutes.

"We saw pretty much what we thought we were going to see out of them," said Anderson. "That being the case, we’re still not settled on who we think are our best or who we’re going to play."

Looking ahead to Ohio State, Anderson noted that the Buckeyes already have an official game under their belt — a 3-0 loss to No. 7 Miami — in addition to a Canadian exhibition game, while his own squad has only played the Guelph exhibition.

"It’s early in the season for us," he said. "They’re a little further along than we are in their preparation for the season, so we expect to have two tough games out there."

Prior to Ohio State’s 3-0 loss to Miami, it defeated Toronto 5-0 one week earlier. The Buckeyes are led by sophomore goaltender Ray Aho, an honorable mention for the CCHA All-Rookie team. Fellow sophomores Hugo Boisvert (11-27–38) and Eric Meloche (12-11–23) lead the offense along with senior blueliner Ryan Root, who scored 35 points last year and was a force on the power play.

PICK: Ohio State does have a "real" game under its belt, a potential concern for the traditionally slow starting Merrimack. The Warriors also have nagging questions about their defense and goaltending. Still, this vote goes to the Warrior offense. They sweep this weekend, 5-4 and 5-3.

No. 3 Boston University (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Vermont (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, VT

Entering his 25th season at the BU helm, coach Jack Parker reflected on his position prior to last Saturday’s home opener.

"I was thinking before the game, I’m a pretty lucky guy," he said. "This is a nice way to make a living, getting jacked up for another college hockey season with a bunch of good guys to hang around and the prospects of a pretty good team."

His Terriers then did nothing to dampen the mood, dominating last week’s No. 10 team, Rensselaer, 6-0. Tom Noble tossed a shutout, while Chris Drury and defenseman Tom Poti continued to be the big guns in the Terrier offense. Still, Parker felt far from complacent following the win.

"We could go and get beat 5-1 by Vermont next week," he said after the game. "Sometimes it’s bad to have things go so easy in your first game. You pay the price for a while.

"Our whole philosophy here is progress, not perfection. We’d just like to make some progress game-to-game and see if we can get better during the early months of the season.

"I’ll go to practice tomorrow and tell the guys, ‘We’re not going to remain the same. We’re either going to get better, or we’re going to get worse.’

"It isn’t automatic that we’re going to play like we did tonight."

This year’s squad displays greater speed than past editions, but less size.

"That’s a big question mark with this team," said Parker. "We don’t have the look up front that we’ve had in the past. Last year we had Danny LaCouture, Billy Pierce and Matt Wright, who are all 200-pounders, fast skaters, and can really bang guys.

"Pete Donatelli will fill that role for us this year, and he’s done a good job so far for us, but we still don’t have those 6-2 guys. Therefore, we’ll play through guys, but we won’t be as physical a team.

"But we might be a little quicker than we’ve been the last few years, so that’s going to help."

Six freshmen got their first taste of official Division I action and performed well. The four new forwards were distributed over all but the top line, and Joe DiPenta and Colin Sheen saw time on the blue line.

"All the freshmen played extremely well," said Parker. "In particular, I thought Joe DiPenta looked like a junior or senior out there…. And Colin Sheen played very well considering that he’s a roverback out there playing with Poti."

Vermont lost to UNH last week 5-1. After the first period, the Catamounts were held to only 10 total shots. Look for more of the same this week.

Where have you gone, Martin St. Louis? Cat nation turns its lonely eyes to you (and Eric Perrin and Tim Thomas). Woo-woo-woo.

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

PICK: In a mere shadow of last year’s Battle of the Titans, Drury outscores UVM 2-1 and BU wins 5-1.

UMass-Lowell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Rensselaer (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

Against BU last week, the Rensselaer Engineers didn’t skate, didn’t hit and didn’t come close to winning the game. Without a game under their belts, compared to BU’s two, they had none of the game conditioning they needed.

It’s now a week later and the tables are turned. They’ve completed a "real" game against an elite team while Lowell played an exhibition against Dalhousie.

This week, the Engineers get a shot at proving why they were the ECAC coaches’ pick to win their league. Their defensemen get to prove they are not, in fact, turnstiles. And Eric Healey, Matt Garver and Alain St.-Hilaire get to prove they’re not pretenders in the race for top Eastern line.

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

PICK: Lowell picked the wrong time to trek to Troy, New York. Rensselaer takes out frustrations pent up from last week’s embarrassment, 5-2.

Union (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at

Providence College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

After hosting Northeastern on Friday night, (see the preview above) Providence then welcomes Union on Saturday. Union was the surprise of the ECAC last year, earning first-year coach Stan Moore ECAC Coach of the Year honors. Moore instilled a stifling defensive system and as a result the Skating Dutchmen finished a surprising fifth place.

Credit for much of that success also went to goaltender Trevor Koenig. While Vermont’s Tim Thomas and Clarkson’s Dan Murphy were expected before the season started to collect all the netminding awards, Koenig led the nation in goals against average (2.03) and save percentage (.931). He won the Dryden Award for the most outstanding goaltender in the ECAC, and earned first team All-ECAC and All-America honors.

Koenig’s supporting cast this year, however, looks shaky. The returning "Dirty Dozen" — the Dutchmen lost 13 players and returned 13 — include three of their top six scorers from last year: Brent Ozarowski (29 points), Ryan Campbell (20), and Mark Szucs (20). However, nine other forwards graduated as did four defensemen.

That adds up to a lot of holes in the dike for the Dutchmen to fill.

PICK: Koenig can’t do it all. Providence wins 4-2.