Not surprisingly, Merrimack and Maine — last year’s two hottest teams down the stretch — garnered the league’s weekly awards. Merrimack forward Martin Laroche earned Karhu Player of the Week honors for his three-goal, seven-assist weekend. Maine forward Matthias Trattnig got the Rookie of the Week nod for his two power-play goals against Lowell that wiped out an early 2-0 deficit.
This week, BU travels to Orono in Hockey East’s first clash between nationally-ranked teams. UNH also hosts Boston College and Merrimack, two teams looking to make inroads on the BU-Maine-UNH triad.
Last week’s record in picks: 9-2 (pending UMass-Lowell vs. Army) Season’s record in picks: 30-6
No. 3 Boston University (3-0-0, 1-0-0 HE) at No. 6 Maine (4-1-1, 2-0-0 HE)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME
After opening the season with three of four games against ranked nonconference teams, the Maine Black Bears turned their sights to Hockey East last week,
beating UMass-Lowell 6-2
"I think what’s helped us is our schedule," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "Having played Colorado College and Minnesota twice [apiece] has been a real blessing."
Maine also owes much of its success to its specialty teams. The Black Bears led the country last year with a 30.2 percent power play. This year, they’re making 30.2 look like chopped liver, entering last weekend with a 33 percent rate in three games against two top-ten teams from the WCHA (not to mention five power-play goals against St. Thomas). The Bears then abused Lowell and Providence to the tune of 4-for-7 and 4-for-5, respectively.
They can now point to an unconscious 48-percent conversion rate on the man advantage.
"We’ve really just been fortunate," said Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "It’s not that we’ve been creating a lot of chances, as much as the chances are going in the net. That kind of thing is going to even out at some point, but right now we’re happy with it."
That level of success, though certainly unsustainable, is no accident.
"We work on special teams every day," said Walsh. "We always have. The key is that you’ve got to have the right personnel. We’re fortunate to have a point man of David Cullen’s ability."
Matthias Trattnig, the 18-year-old power forward from Graz, Austria, scored twice on the power play against Lowell, earning Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors. This followed right on the heels of teammate Adam Tate being honored one week earlier.
Walsh had originally expected Trattnig to take some time before making an impact because of the freshman’s youth and power-oriented style, but could be ready to alter that opinion.
"He’s coming on maybe quicker," said Walsh. "[Anders] Lundback is as well, [and he] had a nice night on Saturday. Our freshmen are really coming on for us. But we’re still just young. We dressed 15 first- or second-year players both nights this weekend."
This weekend, the Black Bears host Boston University in what is easily the Hockey East matchup of the young season.
"They’re a quality team," said Walsh. "They’re going to be no different than Colorado College and maybe better, or no different, than Minnesota. It’s going to be a game that really tests our inexperience. Historically, we’ve played very, very well against them over the years. We’re going to do our best and see if it’s good enough."
Boston University defeated UMass-Amherst 5-2 in its only action last weekend.
"I was very pleased with the way that we played technically, and as the game progressed, we got more into it emotionally," said coach Jack Parker.
"They are a much improved team. From the defensive point of view, they were really solid. Tim Lovell gives them a whole new look offensively. They were a threat whenever he was on the ice, and it was hard for us to become threats because they played so hard defensively."
The Terriers may have scored three power-play goals against UMass-Amherst, but will have trouble matching Maine’s success rate on the man advantage. As a result, the usual dictum about staying out of the box applies doubly here.
"Their power play is real simple," said Parker with a laugh. "They pass it once to the point and they shoot it at the net.
"I don’t think Shawn Walsh and his staff get enough credit, because people just look at the good players and the depth that they have, but the reason why they are real good on the power play is the reason they’re real good every place else. That’s because they just outwork the opposition. They don’t do anything fancy. They just outwork you.
"Whether they are home or away, they have a tendency to make things real difficult, more because of their work ethic than their overall skill. They have as much skill as anybody else, but they’re so good because they just work so hard.
"Our process is to do the same. Talent isn’t going to win this game. Work ethic is going to win this game. One of the things that we learned last year from Maine is that when we went up there for games that we didn’t think counted and they did, they just outworked us in every phase of the game. From that game on, we didn’t lose a game until the national championship because we took a page out of their book.
"Hopefully, we can take a page out of their book before the game starts, instead of afterwards."
Michel Larocque will be in the BU nets as Parker follows the evenly split rotation between Larocque and Tom Noble.
"Goaltending is always a key," he said. "Your goaltender has to play well, because they’re going to put traffic in front of him. They’re going to make a mess out of it in the crease, so he’s got to stay focused and kick out the long shots with traffic coming in.
"At the same time, you’ve got to get to their goalie [Alfie Michaud], because he’s a great goaltender. He played really well in the second half of last year and thus far this year. He’ll be a problem that we have to solve. The best way to solve goaltending problems is to make traffic in front of their net. They’re really good at keeping the traffic away from the net, so we’ll have to really work hard to get to their net."
PICK: One could easily make a case that no one in the country is playing better than the Black Bears right now. BU may be undefeated and ranked higher, but look for that to end this week. Maine 5-3.
Boston College (4-1-0, 2-1-0 HE) at No. 5 New Hampshire (4-1-0, 0-1-0 HE)
Friday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH
For Boston College, its three games began with the downer of a 5-4 loss to Merrimack. It seemed eerily reminiscent of last year, when the Eagles would elevate their play against BU, in particular, and then lose to teams it was expected to beat. Would this year be a rerun of last year’s disappointing season?
A 3-1 win over UMass-Amherst got BC’s ship righted and its Tuesday night
6-4 upset of fifth-ranked New Hampshire
wiped away all but traces of Friday’s disappointment.
Against UNH, the Eagles battled back from a 4-3 third-period deficit, scoring three unanswered goals for the big win. "I liked the way we played in the whole game," said coach Jerry York, "but particularly the way we came back from going down 4-3. New Hampshire is a good club, we were tied and all of a sudden, bang, they were ahead 4-3. I thought we showed good poise. That’s a great sign for our club."
Although a more mature team than last year, BC still relies on major contributions from six rookies. Brian Gionta has teamed nicely with Marty Reasoner on the top line.
"He’s going to be a great player," said Reasoner. "He’s 5-7, but he plays like he’s 6-4."
While not making as big a splash as Gionta, Mike Lephart is also playing well up front and scored the game-winner against UNH.
Of even greater significance, however, are the four freshman whose main job is defensive: goaltender Scott Clemmensen and defensemen Bobby Allen, Marty Hughes and Rob Scuderi.
"We have to be patient with these four players," said coach Jerry York. "Those are difficult positions — goaltender and defense — to break in at this level, but they’ve done a good job for us."
Clemmensen played the bookend games of the three-game set while Andy McLaughlin took the nets against UMass-Amherst. Statistically, Clemmensen didn’t shine, since the Eagles allowed only 27 shots against Merrimack and 20 against UNH, while he allowed a total of nine goals. Even so, the goals that were scored were all quality opportunities. Steady, but unspectacular, isn’t a bad start.
"He’s real solid," said York. "I think he’s playing well."
For New Hampshire, this past week gave the Wildcats a chance to prove how good they really are. Defeating a rebuilding Vermont team and Alaska-Anchorage were good wins to start the season, but how they fared against stronger teams like Rensselaer and Boston College, both of which are flirting with the top ten, would carry more weight.
The Wildcats topped Rensselaer in the final minute, 5-4, but then
fell to BC.
In both games, a disturbing trend emerged. The top line of Mark Mowers, Jason Krog and Tom Nolan scored all but one of the nine goals. Mowers earned his third career hat trick in the BC loss. The second line of Derek Bekar, Mike Souza and John Sadowski scored only once after matching the top guns against the lesser teams in the first three games.
A hip pointer sidelined Bekar for the BC tilt; he has only a 50-50 chance of playing this weekend. Jason Shipulski replaced him on the second unit, reuniting last year’s freshman "S" line.
So to what extent will UNH be expecting the top line to continue to carry the scoring load?
"Hopefully not a whole lot," said coach Dick Umile after the Tuesday night game. "[But] they did all right. They got four goals, didn’t they? When we get Bekar back, we’ll be a different team, and then, who knows? Souza and Sadowski scored a nice goal in the third period. Bekar isn’t going to turn the whole thing around, but it’ll be nice to get him back."
Mowers added, "Lately, I guess it has been a little [dependent on our line]. Hopefully, it’s not going to be like that. We’ve got some other good players. In the first couple games, it was Souza, Sadowski and Bekar that were producing and a freshman got a goal in our home opener. We don’t want it to be [just one line.]"
The other top concern that emerged from the BC game was the penalty kill. The Eagles scored three power-play goals.
"They did better a job in the specialty situations than we did," said Umile.
One can expect a lot of practice time spent on the PK before Friday.
PICK: UNH gets its revenge at home, 5-4.
Northeastern (2-2-0, 1-0-0 HE) at Merrimack (4-1-0, 1-0-0 HE)
Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Center, North Andover, MA
Merrimack (4-1-0, 1-0-0 HE) at No. 5 New Hampshire (4-1-0, 0-1-0 HE)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH
In past years, an automobile commercial claimed, "This is not your father’s Oldsmobile."
A similar slogan could be adopted for this season’s Merrimack Warriors. After a long struggle for respectability since entering Division I play, they now boast a 4-1-0 record, six of the top 10 Hockey East overall scorers, and even received a vote in the USCHO poll this week.
After opening the weekend against Northeastern, the Warriors then run the gauntlet of three games against New Hampshire and two against Maine leading into Thanksgiving. Ouch!
"You’ve got to play them sooner or later," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson.
Sophomore Cris Classen (3-0-0, .911 SV%, 3.33 GAA) is erasing many of the question marks everyone scribbled between the Merrimack pipes as the season opened. He not only backstopped the 6-4 win over BC, he also came back the following night to again play well in
a 5-4 win over Union.
"We wanted to find out if he could play back-to-back games," said Anderson. "I thought he played very well…. We’re still trying to find out exactly what he’s got since he didn’t play much last year, but he’s given us real solid efforts. We feel nothing but good things for him right now."
Freshman Tom Welby played in the nets for the
9-1 win over Air Force.
The defense is also playing better than expected, although Classen’s play probably has rendered the blue line Merrimack’s biggest concern.
"I think our defense is playing a little better than I thought we’d be capable of because some of those guys didn’t play a lot last year," said Anderson. "We’re obviously happy to see that."
It’s the offense, though, that is really carrying the day for Merrimack, which is averaging six goals a game. And aside from Air Force, it is accomplishing this against primarily good defensive teams. Ohio State held Miami to only two goals (and an empty-netter), and last week kept Clarkson, ranked tenth at the time, to only three goals in two games. Meanwhile, Merrimack scored 10 in two games against the Buckeyes.
Similarly, going into its midweek game against UNH, BC had allowed only five goals in three non-Merrimack games, but surrendered five to the Warriors. Even against Union, a rebuilding team that is struggling, Merrimack had to beat All-American goaltender Trevor Koenig in scoring five times.
The top line of Casey Kesselring, Martin Laroche and Sandy Cohen is kicking butt and taking names. Members of this line figured in on three of the goals against BC, all five against Union and three more against Air Force.
Laroche’s 10 points on the weekend earned him Hockey East Player of the Week honors, one week after Kesselring won that distinction. The duo’s 13 points place the two of them behind only Maine’s Steve Kariya in the league’s overall scoring race. Trailing his linemates by only two points is Cohen, whose nine goals on the season apparently leads the country.
"They’re playing real well right now," said Anderson. "They seem to be finding each other real well and working hard. That stuff happens when you get on a roll."
Last year’s top line of Rejean Stringer, Kris Porter and Chris Halecki (who replaces the graduated Rob Beck) scored four times — all by Porter with a "Texas hat trick" — against Air Force to put them in a tie for sixth place in league scoring.
"It’s been a long time since we’ve had two or three lines that were a real threat when they went onto the ice," said Anderson. "Right now we’ve got two that are real productive for us. You don’t always get a lot of good scoring opportunities, so you want to make sure you’ve got some people who can put it away."
That they do.
Last week, the Northeastern Huskies fell to .500 after a 6-3 loss to Colgate and a tough 4-2 loss to Cornell.
"The Friday night game [against Colgate] is one we really didn’t deserve to win," said coach Bruce Crowder. "It was 3-3 with 12 minutes to go, but it probably should have been a lot worse.
"In Saturday’s game we just ran into a little hard luck. The kids really played well, but we just had a lot of adversity. We had a guy out for five minutes for hitting from behind, but about two minutes later our guy gets hit from behind. No call. He’s coming to the bench, he can’t get there and one of our players hops over to help him get to the bench. Too many men on the ice.
"So we’re in Cornell, having to kill off almost two minutes of a five-on-three. We did a good job. They scored with like one second to go.
"It was one of those things that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards. Their tying goal was one where they just threw the puck in front and it just went in off one of our guy’s skates. On the winning goal, our guy put it off the glass in our end, which is the play you want, and it hit an upright and went right into the middle of the hash. And the fourth goal was an empty net.
"We didn’t get the W, but as a coaching staff, we could pull a lot out from that game as improvement. We worked hard and obviously it wasn’t good enough, so it means we’ve got to work a little harder."
The Huskies now face another two games on the road, but unlike their trek through New York last week, will have short jaunts to Merrimack and Lowell. They’ll have to do it without impact rookie Bob Haglund, who injured his shoulder in the Cornell tilt and will be out 2-5 weeks.
Three other freshmen — Kevin Welch, Graig Mischler and Matt Keating — will be hoping to duplicate their feat of scoring just 12 seconds into the Cornell game.
"Their enthusiasm and the excitement that they bring is fabulous for us," said Crowder. "They gave us a big jump in that game."
(New Hampshire is profiled above.)
PICK: So who is the Merrimack wise guy that rang one off the post with 14 seconds left against Air Force last week to spoil what could have been a perfect 10-1 prediction? Off with his head!
Merrimack stays hot against Northeastern, winning 5-2.
That sets up a shootout against UNH, which will be playing its third game in five nights, including an emotional rematch against BC. Merrimack really opens eyes with a 5-4 win.
Northeastern (2-2-0, 1-0-0 HE) at UMass-Lowell (2-2-0, 1-1-0 HE)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Tully Forum, Lowell, MA
In both their 6-2 loss to Maine and their 4-1 win over Union, the UMass-Lowell River Hawks spent significant time in the penalty box. Maine made them pay for their wayward ways, going four-for-seven on the power-play, while Union could not, mustering only one goal in 10 man-advantages.
"We’re not the best skating team right now, and we’re taking some penalties because we’re out of position defensively," said Lowell coach Tim Whitehead. "We’ve got to improve our skating and we’ve got to improve our defensive positioning. Those are the penalties we’re taking… It’s not like our guys are taking two-handers to people."
In the Union game, Whitehead introduced a freshman line of Jeff Boulanger, T.C. Harris and Brad Rooney which scored and played well. It marked the first collegiate game for Harris, who had been recuperating from mononucleosis.
"They got better as the game went along," said Whitehead. "I started giving them more ice time because they earned it. I was pleased with how they played as the game went on. All three of those kids have good hockey sense."
Whitehead experimented with Craig Brown — a forward last year who also has recovered from a bout with mono — on defense, where he played well.
(Northeastern is profiled above.)
PICK: Northeastern could surprise in this battle of two very young teams, but Lowell will pull it out, 3-2.
Providence College (1-2-0, 0-2-0 HE) at
Minnesota-Duluth (3-3-0, 2-2-0 WCHA) Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, MN
Providence lost its lone game last weekend,
6-2 to Maine.
"I thought we played very well," said Providence coach Paul Pooley. "Five-on-five we executed what we wanted to do. We broke down a couple times, but they had 22 grade-A chances and we had 22.
"We didn’t have that many turnovers. We played really well five-on-five. We did some good things, cycled the puck, played pretty good defensively. Specialty teams is what makes Maine so good."
Maine, which now sports a 48 percent power-play success rate, scored on four of its five advantages.
"We were in position a couple times," said Pooley. "We should have had the puck out a couple times. [They got] a couple lucky bounces, but we definitely have to work on our PK.
"If you get the puck on your stick, it’s got to get out somehow. Instead of hitting somebody, it’s off the glass. If it hits Kariya, next thing you know, it’s in your net."
The Friar man advantage scored once in five opportunities, but gave up a shorthanded goal.
"I thought our power play did pretty well for the most part," said Pooley. "The shorthanded goal we gave up, we had them running around, but we made an errant pass. But that’ll come. You can always work on specialty teams."
Providence now takes on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, a team that returned six of its top eight scorers and WCHA Rookie of the Year goaltender Brant Nicklin (18-15-4, .897 SV%, 3.25 GAA last year).
"It looks like they’re scoring some goals," said Pooley. "So we have to play good defense.
"It’s obviously a different environment. Our kids haven’t been out there. We have a couple Minnesota kids that will educate our other guys about it, but it’s a big challenge for us.
"We always play well going out West. We played well against Western Michigan" — splitting a two-game set two years ago — "and now we’re playing Duluth, a new opponent that our guys don’t know much about. So I’m excited. It’s a great time for it."
(For a more detailed look at Minnesota-Duluth from a WCHA perspective, check out this week’s WCHA Preview.)
PICK: The Bulldogs have split all three series so far this year, and it looks like Providence will make it four. Minnesota-Duluth 4-2 on Friday; Providence 4-3 on Saturday.
UMass-Amherst (0-3-0, 0-3-0 HE) at University of Nebraska-Omaha (1-4-0, 0-2-0 vs. aligned D-I) Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Nebraska
UMass-Amherst dropped two this week, 5-2 to Boston University and 3-1 to Boston College.
"I thought it was a really well-played hockey game," said coach Joe Mallen, echoing the words of BU coach Jack Parker above. "We were looking at 3-2 [going into the third] after surviving a five-minute major. I thought it was a good showing for us and I didn’t think the score was indicative of the overall game."
Tim Lovell scored both Minuteman goals, giving him a piece of all eight that the Minutemen had scored on the season through that game.
"He certainly is an important cog in the wheel and his production is really helping us, but we really need to get production from other people now," said Mallen.
The Minutemen then played to another close-but-no-cigar loss against BC.
"It was a real evenly played game," said Mallen. "The shots on goal were within one. The penalties were even. It was just a turnover late in the game up the middle that wound up in the back of the cage.
"We hit the post twice in the game. We did a good job killing penalties. They were 1-for-6 and we were 1-for-6, so we made some improvement there [after giving up three power-play goals against BU]."
Mallen’s squad now travels to the Midwest to taking on the fledgling Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, Division I’s newest program. The Mavericks have a roster loaded with bushels of USHL graduates and have been surprisingly competitive this year. Last weekend, they outshot Princeton both games, including 35-22 in the second game, but lost and 5-2 and 5-3.
Prior to that, they split a two-game set with Air Force, losing 4-2 after outshooting the Falcons 38-12, and then winning both the shots battle (37-29) and the one on the scoreboard, 6-1.
This would seem to point to either a throw-everything-on-the-net philosophy which renders shot totals meaningless, or problems in the net with the Maverick tandem of Jason Mitchell and Rodney McLeod.
>From UMass-Amherst’s perspective, two wins are a must, no matter how competitive UNO has been.
"The key is that we’ve started with three Hockey East games and we have three Hockey East losses," said Mallen. "That’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We played real hard in all three games.
"Now it’s up to us to see if we can go out to Nebraska-Omaha and see if we can get a couple wins and come back the next weekend against Lowell and Union and see if we can get a couple more and get back to .500."
PICK: It won’t be a cakewalk, but the Minutemen take two, 5-3 and 4-2.