Man, I thought, I can’t wait for tonight’s game. Minutes later, I was padding over to the computer.
Although the UNH-Merrimack rematch that night proved to be a dud, this still is an exceptional year to be a Hockey East fan. The league is posting an unprecedented 25-7-1 record against non-league foes, four teams are in the top ten and additional dark horse candidates could legitimately cloud the postseason picture. Every team has at least one top-notch player to get its fans on their feet.
Heading the Hockey East list of players to be thankful of while wolfing down stuffing, mashed potatoes and a slab of turkey is UNH’s Jason Krog, the league’s KOHO Player of the Week. The multi-faceted forward, who led Hockey East in overall scoring last year, earned number one star honors in both games against Merrimack.
On Friday night, his game-winner, a real game-winner (unlike so many others that render that statistic meaningless), unknotted a 6-6 game with less than three minutes left. The clutch goal completed his first collegiate hat trick and cut off a string of three unanswered Merrimack goals.
On Saturday, he assisted on three first-period goals that took the Warriors out of the game early.
Northeastern’s Graig Mischler takes the Rookie of the Week award for his goal and assist leading to a 3-3 tie with UMass-Lowell.
This week, with the exception of a lone Northeastern at UMass-Amherst tilt and the Governors’ Cup, all other action involves games against the ECAC. The two leagues will face off against each other 10 times over the weekend.
To date, Hockey East has posted a 12-4-0 record against the ECAC, 4-1-0 against the CCHA, 5-1-1 against the WCHA and 4-1-0 against Independents. As such, this weekend gives the ECAC a shot at redemption while potentially giving Hockey East partisans more fuel for their "My conference is the best" bonfire.
No doubt, the interconference picks will see Dave "Homer" Hendrickson and Jayson "Homer" Moy each believing more in his league than the other guy. By late Saturday night, we’ll see who is muttering, "Duh-oh!" .
Last week’s record in picks: 10-3 Season’s record in picks: 52-19
Governors’ Cup No. 10 Maine (6-4-1, 4-3-0 HEA) vs. Vermont (2-6-2, 0-3-2 ECAC)
UMass-Lowell (6-3-1, 4-2-1 HEA) vs. No. 5 New Hampshire (8-3-0, 4-3-0 HEA)
All games at Whittemore Center, Durham, NH Friday, 5 & 8 p.m., Maine-Vermont & UMass-Lowell-New Hampshire Saturday, 4 & 7 p.m., Consolation & Championship games
After New Hampshire won a wide-open, up-and-down showcase of two of the league’s best offenses, 7-6 over Merrimack, the Wildcats came back to dominate the rematch 6-1.
"We played a solid hockey game tonight," said UNH coach Dick Umile on Saturday. "We played much better defensively away from the puck. We beat a good team."
Judging from the reactions of Umile and his players after the 7-6 shootout, they knew that a win was still a win, but that playing such a style would not be conducive to their long-term success. The 6-1 victory, although not as riveting from a fan’s perspective, was a significant step forward.
"It’s important [to play well defensively] just for feeling good about yourself as a team," said Umile. "It’s the kind of hockey you have to play in the playoffs. That’s a long way away, but that’s what we’re striving for."
Although the Wildcats seem tailor-made offensively for their Olympic-sized home ice, Umile dismissed any talk that his team faces a disadvantage when it has to adjust to smaller ice surfaces.
"We play better in smaller rinks," he said. "We’re a quick team, so smaller rinks are conducive to the way we play. We can transition quicker and it can be to our advantage, too. It’s not a disadvantage."
While scoring 13 goals on the weekend, UNH got offensive contributions from unexpected sources. In the 6-1 win, defensemen Christian Bragnalo, Eric Lind and Jayme Filipowicz all scored on shots from the point. The three goals marked UNH’s first from blueliners on the season, perhaps a fitting tribute to last year’s co-captain, Tim (Goose Egg) Murray, who scored not a single goal but totaled 37 assists on the way to an All-Hockey East berth.
"I don’t count on defensemen scoring," said Umile. "If they score, it’s a bonus. We’ve got guys who can score. I want our defensemen to play defense and stop the attack."
Also providing unexpected offense was senior Dylan Dellezay. Dellezay scored only three goals in his first three years, but scored twice on Friday to total five since Umile inserted the erstwhile role-player on a line with Mark Mowers and Tom Nolan.
"We knew this year it would be important for someone to step up where Eric Nickulas left off," said Umile. "Dylan is a very talented player. He hasn’t put up numbers [before], but he played very well for us last year. We were hoping that he’d take it to another level, and in fact he has.
"We knew what he did in practice every single day. Now he’s playing relaxed and isn’t worried about me being on his ass," said Umile, grinning. "Maybe that’s the secret. Don’t coach ’em; just let ’em play."
Jason Krog’s hat trick and three-assist games, of course, were no surprise, nor was his selection as the league’s Player of the Week. With Dellezay teamed with Mowers and Nolan, Krog has anchored a line with Derek Bekar, last week’s Player of the Week, and either Mike Souza or Rob Gagnon.
"All the guys I play with are talented," said Krog. "It doesn’t really make a difference whether I’m playing with Nolan and Mowers or Bekar and Souza. They all have as much talent as anybody.
"I’ve always been like that. I think I’ve been able to play with different kinds of players, small players, big players, fast and slow."
UNH now enters the Governors’ Cup as one favorite along with No. 10 Maine.
The Black Bears split two home games with Boston College, getting rocked 6-1 in the opener and then coming back to rock the Eagles back, 12-5.
"We showed the extremes of our inconsistency," said coach Shawn Walsh. "That’s typical of a young team. The second night we played with a lot more emotion. The first night, they had all the puck luck and the second night we had all the puck luck. So the reality of it is that both teams are pretty equal.
"I actually thought the first night we played much better than the score, especially five-on-five. Their specialty teams just killed us."
In that first game, BC built a 3-0 edge going into the third solely on power-play goals, while Maine’s rebound in the second game included five power-play goals in nine chances. The Black Bears still lead the league in man-advantage efficiency, scoring on 39.5 percent of their chances in league games and 38.6 overall.
"It certainly won the game for them the first night and probably won the game for us the second night," said Walsh. "That can happen in college hockey. If your power play is clicking, you’re going to win most of your games."
The series marked the second straight weekend in which Maine lost the first game, but, with its back to the wall, came back to get a split. Going back yet another week, however, it also was the third straight weekend in which the team dropped its first game.
"We’ve rebounded well, but I’m more looking at why we’re not getting anything done the first night," said Walsh. "Counting the BU game, which was really the only night but was the first night, it’s almost like we’re wasting five days of preparation the way we’ve played the first night.
"We have to find a way to play better this Friday night, because once we play a game, it seems like we make the necessary adjustments that it takes. So I have to look at my angle of coaching, the team’s ability of retention and just our overall execution the first nights."
This week’s tournament begins an extended road stretch for the Black Bears, who won’t return to Alfond Arena for game action until January 16. Although they are off for almost a month — not playing games from Dec. 13 to Jan. 9 — the stretch still includes eight straight road games.
"I’m looking forward to it," said Walsh. "Our team has always played well on the road. If not the [second] BC game, our best [performance] was the opening game at Minnesota. Over the years, we’ve been as good, if not better, a road team than a home team. I think it brings our team together. It’s going to be challenging, but it’s also going to help us out."
After weeks of juggling the lineup because of injury, Walsh now has some lines that, based on the second BC game at least, are healthy and clicking. Unlike past combinations which strove to spread the top scorers across several lines, Walsh has put Steve Kariya, Shawn Wansborough and Scott Parmentier together on an intimidating top line.
Freshman Anders Lundback centers Bobby Stewart and Cory Larose on the second line; two more freshman, Dan Kerluke and Mattias Trattnig, join sophomore power forward Ben Guite on the third.
"We’ve finally found some lines," said Walsh. "It’s taken us 11 games through big-time injuries to three of our best four forwards. Now, for two games in a row, we finally had the opportunity to have the same players in the lineup.
"We found something. Lundback had a breakthrough game on Saturday night. He won 80 percent of his faceoffs and just was dominant out there. And the line of Kerluke, Trattnig and Guite played the way they played against Minnesota.
"The only way that can work is if the freshmen step out. And they did. They played great. So maybe we can now use that to move forward."
UMass-Lowell currently stands second in Hockey East standings with a 4-2-1 mark. The River Hawks have been winning ugly, but it’s the W part there that counts.
This past weekend, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Northeastern and held on for a 3-2 win. They then had to come back to gain a 3-3 tie at Matthews Arena.
"The first time we played Northeastern [a few weeks ago], it was an honest win, [7-2]," said coach Tim Whitehead. "This time was ugly; it could have gone either way. We got a win in the first game and a tie in the second, but it could have bounced the other way very easily.
"But, hey, we’ll take them. Not all the weekends are going to be pretty."
Whitehead had emphasized reducing penalties as the season unfolded, but that came apart over the weekend. After being assessed 11 penalties for 23 minutes in the first game, Lowell then got slapped with 17 more for 46 minutes on Saturday. Although Northeastern had only one fewer trip to the penalty box, Whitehead still was unhappy about the development that now has his team first in the league with 22 penalty minutes a game.
"We were chipping away pretty well and had gotten into the middle of the pack," said Whitehead. "But this one weekend was a pretty hard-fought weekend, and unfortunately the penalty minutes for both teams skyrocketed. It’ll take a long time before the average will come down.
"No question, that something we want to improve. We had been pleased with the progress that we had been making, but we took a nosedive. The guys know that and we’ve addressed it."
On the plus side, statistically speaking, the River Hawks now rank third in Hockey East team defense, allowing 3.20 goals a game.
"There’s definitely room for improvement," said Whitehead, "but at the same time those numbers have come down quite a bit. We’re pleased with our progress. I don’t know where we’ll end up, but we’re definitely better than we were last year. We’re just trying to get better on it every weekend."
The River Hawks now face their second top ten team of the year, having lost 6-2 to Maine several weeks ago. Along with Maine, UNH ranks as a significantly tougher offensive team to corral than Lowell’s foes to date. How the River Hawks fare against the Wildcats will say a lot about where this team stands right now.
"People might look just at their forwards because that’s where the focus seems to go," said Whitehead, "but they’re a real well-balanced team.
"You have to be aware of the rink, you have to be aware of what their strengths are, and put together a solid game plan. Hopefully, it’ll give us every opportunity to win the game and if it comes down to the third period and the game is up for grabs, hopefully we can steal one from them."
Vermont, which had been 1-6-2, got a boost on Tuesday when it came back to defeat UMass-Amherst 3-2 in overtime.
The Catamounts still aren’t scoring much, however. They are led by freshman defenseman Andreas Moborg (6 points) and junior alternate captain Stephane Piche (5 points).
Goaltender Andrew Allen has played the lion’s share of the games, posting a 3.24 GAA and .891 save percentage.
(For a more detailed look at Vermont from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)
PICKS: UNH and Maine advance to the championship game, UNH 5-3 over UMass-Lowell and Maine 5-1 over Vermont. UMass-Lowell will then beat Vermont 4-2 in the consolation game and UNH takes the tournament with a 5-4 victory.
(If there are any deviations in the first round, whichever of UNH and Maine makes the title game will win it, while the other takes the consolation.)
Clarkson (4-3-2, 2-2-1 ECAC) and St. Lawrence (3-5-1, 2-2-1 ECAC) at No. 2 Boston University (7-1-0, 3-1-0 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-TV68 Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-TV68
St. Lawrence (3-5-1, 2-2-1 ECAC) and Clarkson (4-3-2, 2-2-1 ECAC)
at No. 8 Boston College (9-3-0, 5-3-0 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA
BC and BU act as travel partners this weekend, hosting Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
Clarkson encountered more of its historic early-season doldrums when earlier it could muster only a single point out of a four-game, two-weekend spell against Ohio State (two games), Princeton and Yale. The Golden Knights, however, showed signs of snapping out of the funk with a 4-3 win over St. Lawrence; a 3-3 tie to Union in which the Dutchmen had to score not one, but two, extra skater goals to steal a point; and a 11-0 humiliation of Rensselaer.
St. Lawrence made it two hot North Country teams with back-to-back shutouts over Rensselaer (1-0) and Union (7-0). Eric Heffler totaled 64 saves in the two wins, while forward Paul DiFrancesco upped his scoring to 6-8–14 in nine games, including two shorthanded goals.
(For a more detailed look at Clarkson and St. Lawrence from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)
Boston University is heeding the words of coach Jack Parker to "get after it in the non-league games as well as the league games and make sure we’re ready to play." The Terriers jumped all over Brown en route to an 8-1 win and then outplayed Harvard by a large margin, taking a 5-3 victory.
The win over the Crimson was yet another one sparked by the top line of Chris Drury, Mike Sylvia and Tommi Degerman. The trio scored four of the five BU goals. Early in the season, especially during the several weeks that Chris Heron was sidelined, there was concern that perhaps the Terriers had placed all their eggs in one basket. Other than Heron, Albie O’Connell was the only other significant returning scorer up front.
"The philosophy of putting your three best players together isn’t a bad philosophy," said coach Jack Parker. "We wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t have so much confidence in our freshmen."
Although those freshmen haven’t yet shown the kind of flashes of greatness that Drury, Shawn Bates, Jay Pandolfo, Mike Pomichter, Tony Amonte and Shawn McEachern did in their rookie campaigns (not to mention blueliner Tom Poti last year), the freshmen forwards have still filled their secondary roles quite well. Last year, Heron didn’t begin to really show what he could do until the latter stages of the season.
"I remember my first home game," recalled Drury after the home opener earlier this year. "I couldn’t do anything. I felt like my legs were in mud.
"All the upperclassmen were talking on the bench after the game tonight, [saying,] ‘They look like players, not just freshmen.’ I thought they all looked great."
There may or may not be a future Drury or Amonte in the bunch, but, for now, continued solid contributions are the only expectations.
Although the Terriers only rank sixth in league standings, they hold at least three games in hand against everyone ahead of them, rendering that placement meaningless. A chance to use those extra games to begin leapfrogging teams, however, won’t begin for another week.
After Boston College Jekyll-and-Hyde-ed its way to a 6-1 win and a 12-5 loss at Maine last weekend, the Eagles returned home and on Tuesday night used four third-period goals to top Brown 6-3.
Perhaps Maine coach Shawn Walsh said it best, after facing the Eagles twice.
"I was terrifically impressed with BC," he said. "[Blake] Bellefeuille and [Brian] Gionta are just two guys who are tremendous players. They are already great college hockey players. And BC’s defense is mobile.
"They’re going to be around all year. They look to me like they’re going to be an NCAA tournament team."
This writer agrees, although it’s tough to make sense out of the weekend’s disparate results.
"The scores probably were not indicative [of how either team played]," said BC coach Jerry York. "I don’t think we were 6-1 better than Maine on Friday night, and I certainly don’t think they were 12-5 better than us on Saturday night.
"We had some great jump in our legs on Friday and won a lot of battles for loose pucks. Maine had the jump in their legs on Saturday and won those loose-puck battles.
"That’s a pretty hostile environment for a young team like ours. Give Maine credit. They bounced back and played very well."
Had BC completed the sweep over then-ninth ranked Maine, the Eagles likely would have vaulted even higher than their current No. 8 spot in the polls. Even so, York still saw a silver lining in the loss.
"I think our team matured a lot," he said. "We learned an awful lot over the weekend. Saturday night, we took way too many penalties and lost our composure late in the second. It was 4-2 with about eight minutes left [at that time], so it will be a good learning experience for us."
The Eagles stay atop Hockey East with a 5-3-0 league mark, although every team but Northeastern has at least one game in hand on them. They’ll stay there this week unless the Huskies bypass them with a win over UMass-Amherst in the only league action of the week.
"We look forward to [playing] two of the hottest teams in the ECAC, Clarkson coming off an 11-0 win over RPI and St. Lawrence with back-to-back shutouts," said York "Hopefully, we can carry the Hockey East banner in our ECAC week."
Like almost every successful team, the Eagles are receiving significant contributions not just from their stars, but from their role players.
"We feel pretty good about the play of a lot of different people on our team," said York. "Matt Mulhern and Nick Pierandri are doing an outstanding job for us and both are playing with a broken navicular bone in their wrist. They have a cast on and are fighting through that. That’s an interesting injury to play with."
PICKS: Both ECAC teams struggled earlier in the season, but have spanked their most recent opponents. If BU and BC weren’t playing so well themselves, it would be the classic case of "wrong place, wrong time."
Instead, BC bests St. Lawrence 3-1 and Clarkson 4-3. Similarly, BU beats Clarkson 3-2 and St. Lawrence 4-1.
Princeton (5-2-2, 2-2-2 ECAC) at Merrimack (5-6-0, 2-5-0 HEA)
Merrimack (5-6-0, 2-5-0 HEA) at Yale (6-1-0, 5-1-0 ECAC)
Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Ingalls Rink, New Haven, Conn.
enigma (ah nig ma), n. 1. a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation (e.g., 1997-98 Merrimack hockey)
Will the real Merrimack hockey team please stand up?
Is it the one that has beaten Boston College and Maine, and put on a virtuoso offensive display in a 7-6 loss to UNH?
Or is it the team that got smoked by UNH on two Saturdays, 14 days apart, 11-4 and 6-1?
Survey says… "We’re confused."
In victory, UNH coach Dick Umile voted for the "good Warriors."
"We beat a good team," he said after completed the sweep. "You can take Porter, Kesselring, Cohen and Stringer and they can play with anybody…. I’m thrilled we got our three and we’re outta here."
In Friday night’s 7-6 thriller, the Warriors got big dividends from doing the little things well. Specifically, their performance on faceoffs, particularly on offensive zone draws taken by Rejean Stringer, proved a significant factor. Twice, Stringer won the drop cleanly and got the puck to super-sniper Kris Porter, who rifled shots past UNH netminder Sean Matile.
"If you can win faceoffs, you can do a lot of things," said Merrimack coach Ron Anderson. "We just happened to win a couple faceoffs in our [offensive] zone. A lot of times you get people in position, but you can’t get the puck to them…. We won a few faceoffs in a row there so we stayed with it."
Although ultimately Merrimack fell one goal short, the performance seemed like one more brick in the foundation, one more reason to see the Warriors as a potential player in the league. Not as a second-tier team, but one of the big boys.
Then came the Saturday night disaster.
"They played like the nationally ranked team they are," said Anderson. "We were tired and didn’t have much left."
Anderson had juggled his lineup heading into the rematch, moving Chris Halecki onto the second line with Martin Laroche and Casey Kesselring. Sandy Cohen dropped to the third line with Vince Clevenger and another new arrival on the line, Jayson Philbin. Ron Mongeau dropped to the fourth line and Mike Rodriques replaced Chris Silvestro on defense.
"We were trying to get a little more balance and become a little more defensive," said Anderson after the loss. "Obviously, we didn’t do a very good job at that again tonight. We’ve been giving up a lot of goals, so we’re trying to get some fresh legs in and trying to get some people in that we feel will be a little more defense-conscious for us as well."
Although Merrimack’s masochistic opening league schedule — UNH three times, Maine twice, BU once, Northeastern once, and BU still on the horizon — is bound to skew statistics to some extent, the stark reality is that the Warriors are giving up an average of 6.29 goals a game in the league and 5.27 overall, both more than a goal a game worse than the next-to-last Minutemen of UMass-Amherst.
Cris Classen, who was pulled after one period and three goals on Saturday, did not look particularly strong one night after playing very well, recording 39 saves. The defensive problems, however, go beyond the goalie and beyond the defensemen, according to Anderson.
"It’s not the defense, it’s team defense," he said. "We’re not a very physical team right now and we’re not playing very honest defensively. We sort of look to get the puck and go as opposed to making sure we’re in position to tie people up and cover people if we don’t get it. We’ve been cheating a little bit and hoping to get the thing, and when we don’t get it, it causes a lot of problems."
Anderson will be looking to turn that situation around against two strong defensive teams from the ECAC, Princeton and Yale.
"We’re playing a couple good non-league teams next week," said Anderson. "They’re doing pretty well, so we’ll be prepared as if they are any other team."
Merrimack will have to face Princeton, however, without Cohen, whose boneheaded spearing disqualification sends him to the stands.
If, in fact, Merrimack is as strong as it has looked at times this year, these non-league games won’t count in the standings, but could be a factor in a dark horse bid for an NCAA tournament berth.
"You address that at the beginning of the year," said Anderson, "and you address it every time you play [a non-league game], that every game is significant. It’s not something we overlook, but it’s not something we want to spend a lot of time dwelling on either."
Princeton comes in with a 5-2-2 record. The Tigers entered last weekend one of two undefeated teams in the country, but dropped games to Cornell and Colgate, 2-1 and 8-4, respectively. The loss to Colgate marked only the second time the Tigers have given up more than three goals. They did get back on the winning track, however, with a Tuesday night win over Army, 9-3.
Jeff Halpern (9 points) and Brian Horst (7 points) are the only Tigers to crack the ECAC top thirty scorers. Steven Shirreffs and Michael Acosta are two blue line standbys who have each added 5 points. Erasmo Saltarelli has posted a 2.99 GAA and a .905 save percentage.
Yale has stunned observers by jumping out to a 5-1-0 league record and 6-1-0 overall. This year, the Bulldogs have continued their recent trend of limited scoring, despite the presence of sophomore Jeff Hamilton (10 points). Their success has been fueled primarily by great goaltending and team defense.
Netminder Alex Westlund is standing on his head so far, boasting numbers of a 1.13 GAA and a .961 save percentage.
Protecting him on the blue line is Ray Giroux, one of the ECAC’s finest, and Daryl Jones. The two form an exceptional tandem.
Yale coach Tim Taylor is faced with an unexpected quandary. He has been playing only one freshmen, Ben Stafford, on a regular basis, but had expected to get some of his other rookies some experience in nonconference games such as this one. Additionally, Westlund’s backup graduated last year, so this game would also prove an ideal testing ground for other goaltenders.
But with a 6-1-0 start, NCAA tournament considerations arise. Teams with losing records can experiment in nonconference play, but teams that are part of the national scene cannot.
"It’s something I’m tossing around in my mind right now," said Taylor. "It is unique to find ourselves here with some serious concern about the RPI, and who to play….
"At the beginning of the year, I looked at these nonconference games as opportunities to [experiment]. Now, they’ve got added significance in terms of a national ranking. We have to be worried about that, so I can’t tell you how I’m going to deal with that."
(For a more detailed look at Princeton and Yale from an ECAC perspective, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)
PICKS: Merrimack sweeps, 5-3 over Princeton and 3-2 over Yale.
Yale (6-1-0, 5-1-0 ECAC) at
Providence College (7-3-0, 3-3-0 HEA)
Providence College (7-3-0, 3-3-0 HEA) at Princeton (5-2-2, 2-2-0 ECAC)
Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI Sunday, 5 p.m., Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, Princeton, New Jersey
Providence took two 5-3 games from UMass-Amherst on the weekend to extend its winning streak to six games. The Friars then, however, entered Thanksgiving with a 3-2 Tuesday night loss to Northeastern.
"It was great to win two," said coach Paul Pooley before the Tuesday downer. "At times we played very well; at times they outplayed us. Goaltending was big for us. Boyd [Ballard] played very well. Our specialty teams were also good. They were very close, competitive games that could have gone either way."
Mike Omicioli leads the Friar scoring with 11 points in the league and 17 overall.
"I knew coming in that it was his time to step to the forefront," said Pooley. "He worked very, very hard over the summer and was in the best shape of his life. He now realizes what he can do and how his game is based upon work ethic and being consistent. He’s done that for us so far and has obviously been our best player."
The 5-5 playmaker is one of just a couple players under six feet on a Providence roster dominated by redwoods.
"The thing is that he does not play small," said Pooley. "We have some guys who are six feet or above who don’t play as big as Michael. He’s strong, he gets in the corners, he’s good in traffic. When he’s playing his best hockey, he knows he’s six-two."
The Friars now prepare for Princeton and Yale.
"They are obviously very good teams with tremendous records," said Pooley. "I don’t know much about either one yet, but both play defensive hockey from what I understand. It’s going to be a very tough weekend for us."
(Yale and Princeton are profiled above and in greater detail in this week’s ECAC Preview.)
PICKS: Providence 4-3 over Princeton and 2-1 over Yale.
Northeastern (5-5-1, 4-3-1 HEA) at UMass-Amherst (2-8-0, 0-6-0 HEA)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Northeastern battled Lowell last week, dropping a 3-2 Friday night affair before getting a point with a 3-3 tie on Saturday.
"It was ugly," said coach Bruce Crowder. "We were very inconsistent. I don’t think we executed well. I thought Friday night was probably, all in all, our better game. We just fell asleep out of the gate, [falling behind 3-0,] and just couldn’t make up the ground."
Graig Mischler earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors for his goal and assist to secure the tie.
"We didn’t expect a lot out of him," said Crowder. "I think the reason that he’s coming hard out of the gate is because he’s a kid who wasn’t heavily recruited. He wants to show some people that Graig Mischler can play hockey at the Division I level.
"He’s a kid who maybe because he didn’t have high expectations from us, got overlooked at times. But he just keeps battling. He shows us that he deserves to play."
The Huskies headed into Thanksgiving with a Tuesday night 3-2 victory over Providence to even its overall record at 5-5-1. With a 4-3-1 league mark, they now are tied with UMass-Lowell for second place. They could even vault into first with a win on Saturday.
All of which could lead a young team into overconfidence against UMass-Amherst, currently in last place and winless in the league. Northeastern plays the Minutemen the next three games.
"If we were a team that had a lot more than eight wins last year, I think we could do that," said Crowder. "But I think we know that we’re going into a hornet’s nest.
"They’re looking for numero uno. It’s not going to be easy. We’ve got three games in a row [with them]. We can actually make it very, very tough on UMass-Amherst, or we can give them hope.
"All that I know, is that we’ve got to have our guys ready, whether it’s Amherst or BU."
UMass-Amherst dropped two 5-3 games to Providence on the weekend, and then suffered a 3-2 overtime loss at home to Vermont. The loss to Vermont was perhaps the toughest of the season since the Minutemen carried a 2-1 lead into the final two minutes. A Catamount goal with 1:41 remaining, however, put the game into overtime and another strike 1:29 into the extra session gave Vermont the win.
"I honestly think we aren’t playing that bad," said coach Joe Mallen. "We’ve just got to find a way to win those games instead of losing them. The last goal was a long shot, about a 65- or 70-foot shot that cost us the game. I thought that up to that point, even up to the last couple minutes, that we had played a solid game overall. It was just one of those things."
Considering that Tim Lovell’s arrival had heightened expectations in Amherst, a sense of discouragement could begin to creep in over the team’s tough start. At this point, however, Mallen doesn’t see that problem arising.
"I think the guys in the locker room feel that we can win any game on any given night," he said. "Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of bad breaks early in the season. Hopefully, those will come back to us later in the season.
"The ideal thing now is just to keep our guys focused, so that night in and night out we’re ready to play because the way the league is right now, and even the way the non-league games are, we feel we can beat anybody on any given night. We just have to prove that."
This weekend opens the first of three games against Northeastern, the one team projected to finish lower than the Minutemen in the preseason coaches’ poll.
"Where they were predicted and where they are now are two different stories," said Mallen. "They’re more towards the middle of the pack right now. I just see the league as being extremely strong. I think that we have a good team and we know where we stand in the league right now.
"I see Northeastern as being a real good opponent. We’re in a situation where a win or a couple wins right now would turn us in the right direction. That’s what we have to look for on Saturday night."
PICK: The Huskies, as long as they don’t read their newspaper clippings too much, will prevail 4-3.