This Week in Hockey East: October 31, 1997

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On a more serious note, Hockey East now stands 11-3-1 in its interconference record. And there’s not a single game against a Division I Independent in the lot to pad the results. All 15 games have been against members of the other three major conferences.

The league’s Karhu Player of the Week is Merrimack’s Casey Kesselring, who scored three goals and assisted on three others in a two-game road trip to Ohio State.

Maine defenseman Adam Tate is Hockey East’s Rookie of the Week after assisting on five goals in the J.C. Penney Classic.

Last week’s record in picks: 11-2 Season’s record in picks: 21-4

No. 5 New Hampshire (3-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Rensselaer (1-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) Friday, 7 p.m., Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

New Hampshire swept its series with Alaska-Anchorage, 5-2 and 4-1.

"It’s a long way to go to play two hockey games," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "But I think we’ve improved from the Vermont [opening] game to where we’re at right now.

In all three games this year, the Wildcats have allowed double-digit shots in the first period and then tightened the screws in the second and third.

"It’s not like we’re giving up 20," said Umile. "We’re giving up 12 or 13 in the first period, but averaging something like four or five in the second and third, which is great. If we could play like that in the first period, I’d be really happy. But maybe that’s getting a little too greedy."

After opening against second-tier teams, New Hampshire now takes on two heavyweights in the form of Rensselaer and Boston College.

"It’ll be a real test," said Umile.

Rensselaer gained a measure of redemption for its opening stinkeroo against BU by defeating UMass-Lowell 4-2. The Engineers scored three times in the first and held a 4-0 lead until Lowell’s too-little-too-late comeback attempt in the third.

At least based on that one game, Rensselaer is more than a one-line team of Eric Healey, Alain St. Hilaire and Matt Garver. A makeshift second line of Doug Battaglia, Steve Caley and Brad Tapper accounted for five points in the win over Lowell, a potentially important development if the Engineers are going to be a factor on the national scene.

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

PICK: UNH bests Rensselaer 5-3.

No. 5 New Hampshire (3-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Boston College (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Tuesday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

UNH (previewed above) travels to Boston College for this rare Tuesday night matchup, in which the Eagles will be playing in their third game in six nights. BC has opened the season with back-to-back 3-2 wins over Bowling Green and Notre Dame.

No doubt, the BC faithful would feel more comfortable if their Eagles had exploded more forcefully in the two contests against projected second-tier opponents. But a win is still a win is still a win. Even more importantly, perhaps, was the way BC pulled out the game in South Bend.

"It was a character-type win for our club because we were down 2-0 at a visiting rink with ten minutes left on the clock," said coach Jerry York. "I thought we showed a tremendous amount of character to come back from that type of deficit."

Freshman goaltender Scott Clemmensen, a big piece to the Eagle puzzle this year, returned from the walking wounded to play his first collegiate game. He stopped 24 of 26 shots and, according to York, "certainly had a very fine game."

The freshmen continued to contribute, with defensemen Marty Hughes and Bobby Allen setting up the first and second goals, respectively, and Brian Gionta scoring the game-winner with an assist from Mike Lephart.

Although Marty Reasoner only shows one point to date, his picture-perfect setup of Gionta’s goal was but the latest example of his playmaking talents. "Marty was dominant during the course of the game and certainly a key to the win," said York.

PICK: UNH prevails, 4-3.

Merrimack (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HE) at Boston College (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

In last year’s playoffs, BC (previewed above) broke Merrimack hearts that had hoped to translate the school’s first-ever home ice into another first — a FleetCenter appearance. The revisiting of that match-up could be one of the top games this weekend.

Merrimack could muster only a split of its Ohio State road trip, falling 5-3 after taking the opener 7-2. The Buckeyes outshot the Warriors in both games, 48-32 and 43-35.

"[I’ve got] mixed emotions," said MC coach Ron Anderson to describe his reaction to the weekend. "It’s always tough to go into someone’s building and win two and, in particular, their building because it’s a little unique."

Although the Warriors fell short of the hoped-for sweep, several individual performances stood out. Most importantly, sophomore goaltender Cris Classen stepped to the plate and hit one out in the opener, stopping 46 of 48 shots.

"He played very well," said Anderson. "Time will tell, but he showed us what we hoped he’d show us down there this weekend."

Freshman Tom Welby played between the pipes in the second game.

Player of the Week Casey Kesselring scored three goals and three assists, serving notice that he could move into the Hockey East scoring elite. Sophomores Sandy Cohen, who had four goals and an assist, and Chris Halecki, who scored his first goal and added an assist, gave early signs of making major strides from last year’s respective point totals of 14 and one.

"I’ve said that there are sophomores that now have to take their games to the next level," said Anderson. "We were happy for Chris Halecki to get his first goal and for Sandy to get off to a good start.

"Sandy’s a natural goal scorer who went through the learning stage last year of what Hockey East and Division I hockey is all about. He got going this weekend, and we hope that continues for him. He’s certainly one of those guys we need to step up his game."

The Warriors begin a three-games-in-three-nights stretch on Friday, opening with BC and then proceeding to nonleague games against Union and Air Force.

"It’s a good early-season conditioning, tempo-building type of situation for us," said Anderson. "In a two-week period we’re going to play five games, four against non-league teams. That should get us right to where we’re at the top of our game by the time we come out of this weekend."

PICK: This one could go either way, but look for BC to have deja vu all over again, winning 3-2.

UMass-Lowell (1-1-0, 1-0-0 HE) at No. 6 Maine (2-1-1, 0-0-0 HE)

Friday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Predictably, Maine defeated St. Thomas 6-1 to set up a championship game slugfest with then-No. 5 Colorado College. Holding a 5-3 lead going into the third, the injury-hampered Black Bears had to settle for a 6-6 tie and a shootout loss. After the ten-minute mark, they played without four regulars, including two of their three seniors.

"It was a game that exposed our weaknesses and, at the same time, gave me cause for encouragement," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "It was a contrast of an experienced team [with] a young team that was playing its freshmen in key situations, especially with our injuries.

"I was pretty pleased with how we held up, although I think Colorado College, with the team that was out on the ice, outplayed us. We were fortunate to get the [tie] because of a tremendous effort by Steven [Kariya]."

Walsh had originally projected Kariya to reach All-America status by this, his junior, year. After his freshman season, however, that appeared overly optimistic, even though he squeaked onto the league All-Rookie team.

But with five goals and six assists in four games — three of the four against top-ten teams — Kariya is making a prophet out of his coach.

"Based on what he’s done against Minnesota and Colorado College, he’s clearly established himself as one of the Hobey Baker frontrunners," said Walsh.

On the blue line, in addition to Adam Tate’s five-point Rookie of the Week performance, junior defenseman David Cullen also contributed two goals and three assists in the Colorado College game and played great defense.

"He’s been a dominant player in both ends," said Walsh. "He’s stepped it up a notch and taken care of the void left by Jeff Libby. He’s making a case for being one of the better defensemen around."

Maine hosts UMass-Lowell and then Providence, both of which split games last weekend.

"First and foremost, we’ve got to get healthy," said Walsh.

Walsh expects Jason Price and Shawn Wansborough (being fitted for a knee brace) to return this weekend. Scott Parmentier and Marcus Gustafsson could take another week before returning.

Before last week’s opener against state-school rival UMass-Amherst, Lowell coach Tim Whitehead joked about the Alumni Cup at his team’s kickoff luncheon. The Cup, awarded annually to the winner of the series between the two schools, has gone west to Amherst both years of its existence — despite Lowell’s higher position in the standings.

"I thought last year we really overachieved as a team," said Whitehead, stating facts before moving his tongue into his cheek. "We were picked to finish last; we did much better than that and got back to the Fleet.

"But [athletic director] Dana Skinner came to me and said, ‘Yeah, but what about the Alumni Cup?’ You know, basketball school vs. hockey school.’

"So this year, we don’t care where we finish in the standings, and we don’t care about getting back to the Fleet. As long as we win the Alumni Cup."

After the laughter died down, Whitehead expressed his admiration for the UMass-Amherst squad and indicated that winning the Alumni Cup would be no small feat.

That night, the River Hawks drew first blood, winning 6-4 at home.

"We played well, but we didn’t play great," said Whitehead after the game. "We’re not where we need to be yet… but it was a good step in the right direction." Greg Koehler picked up where he left off last year, netting four goals and assisting on one other on the weekend. Defenseman Mike Nicholishen again showed why he earned All-Hockey East honors last year, quarterbacking the power play flawlessly and playing solid defense in his own end.

The River Hawks then headed out the Mass Pike to Troy, N.Y., to face Rensselaer. After falling behind 4-0, they rallied in the third, but could only narrow the gap to 4-2.

It doesn’t get any easier, though, taking on Maine in Orono.

PICK: Banged up or not, Maine is just too strong, winning 5-3.

Northeastern (2-0-0, 1-0-0 HE) at Colgate (2-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Friday, 7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY

Northeastern (2-0-0, 1-0-0 HE) at Cornell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY

Break up the Huskies.

After finishing in the cellar last year, they now share a piece of the Hockey East lead with a 1-0-0 record. While perhaps the results are a tad incomplete, wins over Providence (2-0) and Bowling Green (6-3 one week earlier) are still steps in the right direction.

"I don’t think it was a hockey classic, by any means," said Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder about the PC tilt. "It wasn’t a game that would keep you at the end of your seat, but we were happy to be on the right end of it."

The Huskies led Providence by only a 1-0 score until an empty-net goal with 30 seconds left sealed the W.

"It’s good for our kids to be in a close game like that," said Crowder. "It was good, given the youth that we have, not to buckle."

Shutting out the Friars also ranks as a significant step forward for a club regularly playing three freshmen, a sophomore and junior transfer David Dupont on the blue line.

"That’s huge," said Crowder. "As coaches, you take it from a different perspective sometime than the players, but at the same time, for them, any time you can get into those situations and come out successful, it’s just a vote of confidence."

Northeastern now travels to face the Colgate Red Raiders and the Cornell Big Red, both of whom will be celebrating their official home openers (although Cornell already unfurled its 1997 ECAC championship banner last week in a home exhibition game against Ryerson).

"It’s going to be a real learning experience for a young team going into those two buildings," said Crowder. "Both places will have the sea of red going.

"It’s going to be a good environment to take a young team early in the season. Hopefully, we can keep minimizing our mistakes, and it’ll be a great learning experience for us."

As for Colgate, it’s appropriate that this game be played on Halloween night. So far, the Red Raiders are the consummate trick-or-treat team. They opened the season by shocking Michigan at Yost Arena and gained an impressive split. Then, last week, they had to go into overtime to beat Army. What’s up with that?

Dru Burgess has the hot hand right now, netting a hat trick against the Cadets.

Cornell features junior Kyle Knopp (32 points) along with Ryan Moynihan (27 points as a freshman) at forward. Jeff Burgoyne ranks as one of the league’s best defensemen. But goaltender Jason Elliot is Cornell’s straw that stirs the drink. Elliot has won back-to-back ECAC Tournament MVP honors and posted stellar numbers the last two years (2.35 GAA, .923 SV% and 2.73 GAA, .909 SV%).

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

PICK: A tough road trip for the Huskies. They drop both, 3-2 to Colgate and 4-1 to Cornell.

UMass-Amherst (0-1-0, 0-1-0 HE) at No. 3 Boston University (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA

BU jumped out to a 3-0 lead against a supposedly rebuilding Vermont team, but then had to hang on for a 3-2 win.

"They weren’t tougher than I expected, but they might have been tougher than my guys expected," said BU coach Jack Parker. "We played real well in the first half of the game, got a nice lead and were in very, very good control of the game.

"Then all of a sudden we got completely out of our game, took some stupid penalties and let the crowd get to us. We lost our poise and let Vermont take it to us. We were very, very fortunate to win the game. We led 3-1 going into the third period, they got the only goal in the period and they also dominated territorially. [Goaltender] Michel Larocque stole it in the third period for us."

Given BU’s abnormally high reliance on its freshmen this year, attention continues to be focused on the rookies’ performance.

"Scott Perry played very well," said Parker. "He was probably the only freshman who really jumped out at me as playing solid throughout."

Tom Poti continued to stake his claim as potentially the top offensive defenseman in the country, scoring one goal and assisting on BU’s two others. He has three goals and two assists in two "official" games, but factoring in the exhibition-status Ice Breaker Invitational would give the sophomore five goals and four assists in four games. In total, Poti has scored or assisted on nine of BU’s 15 goals so far this year. Stunning numbers.

In their only game of the weekend, the Terriers host UMass-Amherst. Aside from a UMass 10-2 trouncing of BU in the 1919-20 season, the Terriers have owned this series, winning all 15 contests since. The Minutemen lost to state-school rival UMass-Lowell 6-4 in their only action last week. Specialty teams proved decisive as Lowell scored three goals in its 10 chances, compared to one in 10 for UMass-Amherst.

"I thought our rotation and our end-zone play was good," said coach Joe Mallen. "Our failure to clear the puck when we had possession was what killed us in the game."

But Mallen still remains optimistic. "I saw a lot of good things, especially in the third period," he said. "This was a game [in which] we lost some of the one-on-one battles, and we lost some of the loose-puck battles. Those are things I’m sure we can correct."

Despite the loss, Mallen could look to impressive performances by forwards Tim Lovell, who totaled four points, and Jeff Blanchard. Although most fans know Lovell well, Blanchard is an unrecognized face in the crowd. Blanchard’s intensity helped set up a Lovell goal.

"That was just a terrific effort," said Mallen. "To get the tar knocked out of him like he did and give us that second effort, I thought that was going to turn the game around right there.

"His improvement from the end of last year to now has just been terrific. If he keeps it up, he’s going to have a good sophomore year."

PICK: BU once again, 5-2.

Providence College (1-1-0, 0-1-0 HE) at No. 6 Maine (2-1-1, 0-0-0 HE)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Providence suffered a frustrating 2-0 loss to Northeastern before picking itself up with a 5-4 overtime win over Union. If not for the comeback, the Friars could have headed into road trips to Maine and Minnesota-Duluth with three losses in an exhibition and two regular-season games.

"[Northeastern goalie Marc] Robitaille played well, [Union’s Trevor] Koenig played well, and the kid from Guelph played tremendous — we put 50 shots on him," said Providence coach Paul Pooley after the win. "So we’ve faced three pretty good goaltenders in our first three games."

Pooley’s own goaltending had been a question, but Mark Kane allowed only one goal in the Northeastern tilt and freshman Boyd Ballard made two game-saving stops in the overtime against Union.

"[Ballard] was huge," said Pooley. "He made some big-time saves to give us a chance to win that game. That’s tremendous for his first game."

Forwards Mike Omicioli and Fernando Pisani were a constant force, scoring three of the five Friar goals. Although he didn’t score, Jerry Keefe looks to be a lock to improve on the 23 points he scored last year.

PICK: Maine wins 5-3.

Union (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Merrimack (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HE) Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Center, North Andover, MA

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

Sunday, 2 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA

Union dressed 10 freshmen in its 5-4 overtime loss to Providence last week. After graduating 13 seniors — "The Dirty Dozen" — last year, the Dutchmen are thin up front and often left All-American goaltender Trevor Koenig out to dry. Other than breakaways and deflections, Koenig consistently stopped the first shot, but too often had to face second and third chances.

(Merrimack and UMass-Lowell are previewed above. For a more detailed look at Union from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICK: Union drops two, 5-2 and 4-2.

Boston College (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HE) at UMass-Amherst (0-1-0, 0-1-0 HE)

Sunday, 2 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

(Both teams previewed above)

PICK: Here’s a focus test for the young BC team. If it looks ahead to Tuesday’s game against UNH, Tim Lovell and company will send them home with long faces. The Minutemen may jump on top, but BC prevails 4-2.

Air Force (1-1-0, 0-0-0 vs. aligned D-I) at Merrimack (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HE)

Sunday, 7 p.m., Volpe Center, North Andover, MA

Air Force will be hoping to use fatigue as a weapon in this game since Merrimack will be playing its third game in three nights. Whether it has the talent to achieve that, however, may be another story.

The Falcons return three of their top five scorers: Justin Kieffer (34 points), Nels Grafstrom (23 points) and defenseman Dan Davies (23 points). Last year’s top goaltender, Pat Kielb, graduated, leaving the netminding mantle to Aaron Ratfield, who compiled a 3.29 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage in 12 games.

Air Force opened its season with an unimpressive split with Nebraska-Omaha. The Falcons won the opener 4-2 despite being outshot 38-12, and then lost 6-1.

PICK: This game could be unsuitable viewing for young children. Merrimack 10-1.

Army (2-1-0, 0-1-0 vs. aligned D-I) at UMass-Lowell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HE)

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

Army graduated all but three of its top ten scorers last year. Andy Lundbohm (46 points) and Greg Buckmeier (44) are the major returning players, but unless coach Rob Riley gets unexpectedly strong contributions from incoming freshmen and junior varsity players hoping to make the step up, the scoring looks rather thin.

Goaltender Daryl Chamberlain (2.95 career GAA, 889 career SV%) returns for a senior year in which he could rewrite the Cadet record book.

Although historically, teams have viewed the service academies as pushovers, Army took Colgate to overtime one week after the Red Raiders upended Michigan. UMass-Lowell can’t count these chickens before they’re hatched.

PICK: UMass-Lowell 5-1.