This Week in Hockey East: January 9, 1998

And it’s pouring media this week, as Sports Channel New England (soon to be Fox New England) begins its Hockey East Game of the Week on Saturday with a Boston College-Maine clash. Look for an upcoming interview with play-by-play announcer Sean Grande and color analyst Cap Raeder.

Adding to the exposure will be a new addition, a Hockey East AudioNet Game of the Week. Opening with Friday’s Maine-Merrimack game, Hockey East becomes the first collegiate conference in any sport to sponsor an exclusive Internet-only broadcast package. Kudos to Commissioner Joe Bertagna and Director of Media Relations Ed Saunders, who

expressed interest in this outlet at the beginning of the year and followed through on it.

On the ice, UMass-Lowell earned all the headlines last weekend, smacking around Colgate 7-1 and Merrimack 8-4. Coach Tim Whitehead will be a millionaire if he can bottle whatever he concocted for a New Year’s punch for the River Hawks.

Lowell’s Greg Koehler earned Koho/Hockey East Player of the Week honors with four goals and four assists. Teammate Jeff Boulanger walked away with the league’s Rookie of the Week award with three goals and three assists.

Last week’s record in picks: 5-5 (and it could have been much worse)

Season’s record in picks: 75-40

No. 1 Boston University (12-2-2, 5-1-2 HEA) at Boston College (11-6-2, 5-4-1 HEA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA WABU-TV68

Boston University hung onto its No. 1 ranking by the skin of its teeth following a 3-2 loss to Princeton (despite a 32-18 shot advantage) and a 6-2 win over Niagara. No. 2 North Dakota actually garnered more first-place votes, but the Terriers squeaked by with 264 points to 261 for the Fighting Sioux.

This week’s resumption of hostilities with arch-rival BC and then Providence — both teams who have earned top-ten support this year — could clear the muddy waters of who is number one, especially since North Dakota hosts No. 8 Colorado College for two games.

The BU-BC matchup, their last this year until either the Beanpot championship game or the postseason, promises to be another great contest. In early December, BC outplayed BU for significant parts of a 5-1 loss, but saw the game turn on a second period in which the Eagles outshot the Terriers 15-3, only to be outscored 2-0. The following night back at Walter Brown Arena, BC held a 3-2 lead until Mike Sylvia’s tying six-on-four goal.

"We’re 18-1-4 against them the last few years," says BU coach Jack Parker. "If you looked at all those games, you’d be amazed at how many were so close. If you look back in the history of the series, there’s been times when BC has won 10 in a row.

"It’s almost like when we play each other, it’s a flip of the coin. Sometimes the heads comes up 10 times in a row. It seems like it should be 50-50, and in the long run it will be. I think we’ve played each other almost 200 times and each has almost a hundred wins.

"We’re fortunate that we’re in the streak right now, no question about that. When they break it, it’ll be a relief for them. Obviously, they will break it. I just hope it’s not the next game."

The Terriers go into the game banged up. Greg Quebec is expected out for the season following ankle surgery. Albie O’Connell has not played the last two games because of a shoulder injury and won’t be back until next weekend against Northeastern. However, Juha Vuori, who missed the Niagara game, will play.

Boston College was off last week, following a 3-2 loss to Northern Michigan in the Bank One Badger Showdown opener and a 6-6 tie with Harvard in the consolation game. The Eagles fell off the top 10 map after the tournament, which perhaps is unfair considering that they were without four of their top players.

Their number-two, -three and -four scorers, Brian Gionta, Jeff Farkas and defenseman Mike Mottau, were all with the U.S. Junior team, where they certainly distinguished themselves. Farkas led all scoring in the tournament with six goals and four assists in seven games; Gionta finished fifth with five goals and three assists. The pair were the United States’ top two scorers, while Mottau finish fourth on the team behind Michigan State’s Mike York.

A fourth Eagle, Bobby Allen, would have been a lock to make the team but was sidelined with an injured shoulder. He returns to action this week.

Considering the absences, BC’s tournament performance was not as disappointing as it might have seemed on the surface.

"We were very competitive in both games," says coach Jerry York. "We had some holes to fill with the three missing World Junior players and Bobby Allen’s injury, but went right to the wire with Northern Michigan and they have a fine team. We would have liked to have capitalized on more goal-scoring opportunities. It was a very tight, defensive battle.

"The next night, goals came a lot easier for us. They were harder to defend, but they came easier. It was a wide-open, offensive affair by both teams. That’s what happens often in consolation games, particularly of Christmas tournaments."

Freshman Mike Lephart distinguished himself in the consolation game with a hat trick, the first for any Eagle this year, earning him last week’s Hockey East’s Rookie of the Week award.

"Mike has certainly improved as the season has gone along," says York. "He played on a line with Marty Reasoner and Blake Bellefeuille" — a line he’ll stay on this week — "so that should help his point production. Those are two really good players to play with."

Gionta, who had played with Reasoner all season before leaving for the junior tournament, will now play with Farkas. York has given both a few days of recuperation; they traveled back from the tournament on Sunday, but won’t return to practice until Wednesday. Andy Powers will join the two on the left side.

The goaltending trio of Scott Clemmensen (3.25 GAA, .867 SV%), Andy McLaughlin (3.79 GAA, .858 SV%) and Mike Correia (no games due to a hamstring injury) continues to be the biggest BC question. McLaughlin got the hook after giving up five goals in the first half of the tie with Harvard.

"Andy fought the puck that night," says York. "There’s no question about that, but he’s played well for us during the year.

"It’s going to be a week-by-week process with the goaltending. Mike has practiced and we’re trying to get him into a hockey game, but he’s gone almost a full year without playing in a game situation. That makes it tough when all the games are so important for us."

As a result, Clemmensen will get the start against the Terriers. Depending on his performance, he could also get the nod the following night against Maine.

"We’d certainly like to even up the season’s series with BU with a well-earned win," says York. "But they’re an outstanding hockey team. We’ll have to be at the top of our game. With Maine the next night, it’s going to be quite a weekend of hockey here at BC."

PICK: The Eagles will not only play as well as they did in the first two games against BU, they’ll also get the W, 4-3.

Northeastern (12-5-2, 6-3-2 HEA) at

Providence College (11-5-1, 5-3-0 HEA)

Providence College (11-5-1, 5-3-0 HEA) at No. 1 Boston University (12-2-2, 5-1-2 HEA)

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

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

Northeastern followed up its Mariucci Classic championship with another one, this time in the Saskatoon Chill Out. After dropping a Thursday-night exhibition against Saskatchewan 6-4, the Huskies beat Regina, 3-1, in the tournament opener and got their revenge against Saskatchewan, 3-2, in the title game.

They return for just this one game on Friday before a two-game set with BU next weekend shows how well this surprising first-place team stacks up against the nation’s elite.

"This start was important for us confidence-wise," says coach Bruce Crowder. "It’s an interesting situation because there are teams that are beating teams that you’d never expect. I’m not saying it’s wide-open, but we may not be that far out of it.

"We’re awfully young. It was a good first couple months of the season, but we’ve got a lot of hockey left."

As described in

Last To First And Lovin’ It, the Huskies have risen from the Hockey East cellar on the backs of its kids — only three players who aren’t freshmen or sophomores dress for most games.

"They’ve raised the level of the bar on what’s expected," says Crowder. "Now it’s up to them to maintain that. It’s part of maturing to not accept anything less.

"They’ve raised the bar themselves. It hasn’t been the coaching staff. They’ve found ways to compete and now we’ve got a little idea of what we can do. We like what we’re doing and we want to keep doing it. We’ve got a lot of tough hockey ahead of us, but it’s nice to be in a situation like this.

Crowder still sees an opportunity for improvement in some of the game’s finer points.

"[They need to correct the] little things, like turning the puck over at the offensive blue line when you’re up by two, not getting it deep, not forcing them to go 200 feet," he says. "There are a lot of things like that that you’ve got to learn from being in those type of environments and learn that when you do screw up, the coach is probably going to scream at you when you get to the bench."

Providence dropped its only game last weekend to Colgate 3-2.

"They had two five-on-three goals, three power-play goals and their goaltender was outstanding," says coach Paul Pooley. (Technically, one of the two five-on-threes had become a five-on-four by the time of the goal, but his point remains valid.) "That sums up the game. We had some great chances, but [Dan Brenzavich] made some great saves. They just scored on the power play and we didn’t."

>From Pooley’s perspective, a couple of the key penalties "were kind of questionable, but a penalty is a penalty and that’s the way it is."

Providence now returns to Hockey East play and what Pooley refers to as "two huge games." After playing more non-conference games to date than games within the league, the Friars now take on two of the teams ahead of them in the standings.

Up first is Northeastern, a team that has beaten them twice already, 2-0 (including an empty-net goal) and 3-2.

"They outworked us both games," says Pooley. "We came back and had some great chances, but their goaltender played very well, as he’s done the whole year. We just have to be ready to play and work for 60 minutes. They’re a hard-working hockey club. Robitaille is playing tremendous. He equalizes a lot of things for them."

Pooley’s own goaltender, freshman Boyd Ballard, has also been playing well.

"We’re not giving up many goals," says Pooley. "He’s made some big saves for us; he’s making the saves when he has to. We’ve just got to find a way to score more goals for him."

The Friars will then take on Boston University, previewed above. BU’s defense outstrips all rivals in the league. The Terriers are giving up an average of 2.06 goals per game (2.34 within the league), two-thirds of a goal less than their closest rival.

"The big thing is that you’ve got to get traffic in front of the net," says Pooley. "And you’ve got to be patient, because you’re probably not going to get a lot of scoring chances.

"We’ve got to limit their chances, play great defense, stay out of the penalty box as much as possible and try to shut them down and wait for our opportunities. And when we get one, put it in the goal."

PICKS: Not a good week for Providence. Northeastern 3-2, BU 4-2.

Maine (8-7-2, 5-5-1 HEA) at Merrimack (7-10-1, 2-7-0 HEA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA AudioNet

Maine finally returns from the holiday break after being off since its last game on Dec. 13 until resuming practice on the 3rd.

While off the ice, the program still wound up in headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. Three hockey players — Brian Masotta, Matt Oliver and Shawn Mansoff — were charged with "criminal threatening" for allegedly making a phone call that included exceptionally ugly threats and racial language.

"All three have been suspended indefinitely," says coach Shawn Walsh. "Mansoff is fighting it vigorously. He’s hired a lawyer and said he wasn’t in the room and wasn’t even around. Of the three, he is the only one that may be back. He may have been erroneously charged, but we’ll see."

Masotta has already admitted his primary role in the incident and has publicly apologized. For Oliver, this was not his first problem — he had been suspended for disciplinary reasons the latter half of last season. Both are gone. Mansoff remains suspended, but could return depending on the outcome of the Jan. 16 court date.

Immediately, many observers — most of them, but not all, among the legion of knee-jerk Maine-bashers — proclaimed this yet another case of ethical bankruptcy in Orono and laid the latest sins at Walsh’s feet.

Having read a transcript of the phone call, this writer can only feel disgust for the genetic garbage that chose to spew out such hatred.

However, are the Maine hockey players who had nothing to do with the phone call to blame? Obviously not.

Are Walsh and the Maine program in general to blame?

Look at it this way. Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne was vilified, and justly so, for his handling of the Lawrence Phillips incident. The running back assaulted a former girlfriend, but was suspended only until Nebraska’s next big game. After that, Osborne supported his "troubled" star.

Has Walsh defended Masotta? No. Masotta is gone. Unlike Osborne, Walsh has made the right ethical decision. The only player who may return is one who is claiming that he is innocent. Should Walsh throw a potentially-innocent player to the wolves because it might be good PR? If he did, that would say a lot — and none of it good — about Walsh.

No student body is totally composed of angels. Neither is a hockey team. A coach can’t chaperone his players. All he can do is act decisively and ethically to deal with transgressions.

Which Walsh has done in this case.

"It was an isolated incident between two students that knew each other," he says. "Unfortunately, these things happen. Part of being a college coach is problem-solving. Unfortunately, this had to be dealt with immediately and swiftly."

Okay. Enough of the distasteful stuff and onward to the fun…

With Masotta gone, Walsh has summoned Javier Gorriti to back up top goaltender Alfie Michaud. Prior to the Dec. 12-13 series with UMass-Lowell that closed out the first semester, Michaud had bottomed out with some exceptionally weak performances. Losing Masotta essentially puts the Black Bears into the nerve-gangling position of sinking or swimming with Michaud. Last year, that resulted in sinking in the first half, and swimming like a gold medalist in the second.

"Interestingly enough, Alfie played very well at Lowell [in the last games before the break] without Brian Masotta around," says Walsh. "I had suspended Brian for academic reasons for the Lowell series, so who’s to say? Alfie gave us very good goaltending in Lowell, which is a tough place to win."

Walsh will be filling the lineup with other replacements. Despite the extraordinarily long layoff, several players are still banged up or otherwise unavailable. In addition to Masotta, Oliver and Mansoff, Maine will be without Tuomo Jaaskelainen, who has temporarily returned to Finland on a family matter. Jason Vitorino, Matthias Trattnig and Ben Guite are still banged up. Only Guite is expected to play.

Maine hosted Merrimack in mid-November and split the series, losing 5-4 and winning 6-4. At the time, Merrimack was scoring a lot but giving up even more. Although the Warriors have tightened up defensively and, at the same time, lost some of the offensive punch, Walsh still sees an offensively talented team.

"They are obviously a very high-scoring team," says Walsh. "We played two evenly-played games in November. You have to be very conscious of their top two lines."

Merrimack dug a hole for itself against Niagara, falling behind 3-0 until captain Martin Laroche scored a hat trick in the school-record span of 1:40 to lead the Warriors to a 5-3 win.

No such heroics were available two nights later against UMass-Lowell, however, as the River Hawks convincingly downed Merrimack 8-4.

"It was a pretty lethargic effort on our part," says Anderson. "I thought we broke down all over the place. I don’t think we forechecked very well, we didn’t cover people very well, and I don’t think our goaltending was very good.

"You don’t play 160 games [in college hockey] like you do in baseball. It’s something where we better go to work… and say, ‘We better correct some things, guys.’ It doesn’t get better unless you make it get better.

"[I knew we were in trouble] in the middle of the first. When I saw we weren’t skating, I knew we we’re going to have trouble sooner or later unless Lowell didn’t skate either. When I saw that, I knew it was going to be a long night."

In the second intermission of the Niagara game, Anderson had challenged the Warriors, telling them that the third period would define the rest of their year. No coach, however, can repeat such entreaties game after game, even when the team is sputtering as it was against Lowell.

"It was no more of a challenge than it is every single night," says Anderson. "Every time you step on the ice, it’s supposed to be the same way. There’s no excuse. You’re challenged all the time."

Particularly disturbing was the weak play of goaltender Cris Classen. In the six previous games, he had posted a 2-2-1 record — he relieved backup Tom Welby in one game — with a 3.08 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. He’d also earned a Hockey East Player of the Week award. Pretty encouraging stuff for the consensus biggest Merrimack question entering the season.

Admittedly, in the Lowell game, he had a schizo defense in front of him. Some Warrior defensemen played very well, including All-Hockey East candidate Darrel Scoville. A couple other blueliners, however, were brutal. Even so, Classen still allowed four soft goals before getting the hook with 8:36 remaining.

"It wasn’t only him," says Anderson. "It was him and our defense. And our forwards didn’t play very well either. Our team really revolves around our forwards. If our forwards aren’t playing well, we aren’t a very good team."

The silver lining in the cloud was the 3-for-6 performance of the power play. It has been sizzling at an 11-for-24 clip in the Warriors’ last six games, using a four-forwards-plus-Scoville configuration. In a startling turnaround from past years, the Warriors now lead the nation in power-play percentage. Still, a strong power play can only cover up so many other poor performances.

"You play a small percentage of a game on the power play," says a rueful Anderson.

Other than Scoville, linemates Kris Porter (22-11–33) and Rejean Stringer (4-26–30) have been the top standouts in even-strength play. Despite being integral parts of the Warrior power play, they still entered the Lowell contest with plus-minus ratings of +7 and +5, respectively, to lead the team along with defenseman Ryan Guzior.

PICK: Maine scrapes off the rust and wins 5-3.

Maine (8-7-2, 5-5-1 HEA) at Boston College (11-6-2, 5-4-1 HEA)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA TV-SCNE

The league’s television package kicks off with this matchup between Maine and BC, both previewed above.

For the Eagles, the television spotlight is but the latest indicator that they are back as one of Hockey East’s marquee teams.

"Maine as an opponent brings a lot to the table for TV also," says BC coach Jerry York. "We’d certainly like to play well in the first game in the Fox TV package."

The contest acts as the rubber game in the series after a strange two-game set in November. BC took the opener 6-1, but then lost the rematch 12-5.

"They’re just loaded with talent," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "You have to play well defensively because they have such skillful players."

PICKS: The Eagles fly, 5-4.

No. 5 New Hampshire (14-4-1, 6-3-1 HEA) and UMass-Lowell (8-8-2, 5-5-2 HEA)

at St. Lawrence (3-11-1, 2-4-1 ECAC) and Clarkson (8-5-2, 4-2-1 ECAC) Friday (UNH) – Saturday (UML), 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Appleton Arena, Canton, NY Friday (UML) – Saturday (UNH), 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY

New Hampshire ended its break by packing three games into five days. After splitting contests in the Denver Cup, defeating No. 8 Colorado College 5-3 and losing to No. 4 Miami 4-2, the Wildcats traveled to the latest site for hockey mania, Nebraska-Omaha, where they beat the Mavericks 6-2.

In the Denver Cup, UNH was the only team that would have had to beat two top-ten teams to win its tourney. UNH partisans could have claimed that Miami had an advantage going into the championship game, after facing a much easier first-round foe.

"I didn’t look at it that way," says coach Dick Umile. "That’s the easy way out. I thought it was an opportunity to play two top teams, which you have to do in postseason play. It was a great opportunity to play teams that you don’t usually play.

"I thought we played well against Colorado College and okay against Miami. We’re disappointed that we lost it, but we played against two of the top teams in the country."

On New Year’s Eve, the Wildcats then took on Nebraska-Omaha and its 8,000-plus fans.

"I thought Nebraska-Omaha was absolutely terrific," says Umile. "I tell you, it is going to be one of the premier places to play college hockey. The enthusiasm, the fans, everything about it out there is great.

"It’s a well-coached team. Mike Kemp and his assistant coaches have done a terrific job very quickly. They’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. It’s just a fabulous place to go and play hockey."

Mark Mowers has picked up points in all three games since his return, getting two assists against CC, and a goal each against Miami and Nebraska-Omaha.

"He wasn’t at 100 percent at the tournament, but now that we’re practicing he’ll be back to 100 percent," says Umile. "He played and everything went well. He made a couple moves in the games [that showed] that he’ll be back to 100 percent real quick."

This week, UNH heads for the North Country for the last two of a five-game stretch of nonconference games.

"Every weekend, it just gets tougher and tougher," says Umile. "You just keep respecting your opponent. This weekend we go to St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The following weekend we go up to Maine for two. We just have to be ready to play every weekend."

UMass-Lowell entered the break with five losses and two ties in its last seven games, but rocketed out of the second-half gate with a 7-1 demolition of Colgate and an 8-4 domination of Merrimack.

With only four points separating first and seventh place in Hockey East standings, the latter win moved the River Hawks into a tie for third. They have, however, played more league games than any other team. As a result, they could be leapfrogged by several teams playing within the league this weekend while the River Hawks head to the North Country.

"We had a real good week of training camp," says coach Tim Whitehead. "In fact, it was almost too good. The pucks were just jumping in the net. I was a little worried that it would be tough to translate it into the game. But we played well because we practiced well this week.

"And when a couple fall in for you, it gets your emotion level up. The guys really got moving with the puck and attacking the net."

In the Sunday night contest against Merrimack, the River Hawks got points from 15 different players.

"Friday night was more one line production-wise," says Whitehead. "It was a good team win because we kept the puck out of the net, but it was important to get contributions from everybody [on Sunday].

"The one concern we’d had going into the game was that because we’d scored seven goals on Friday night, there was the temptation for guys to maybe think, ‘Hey, what about me? Where are my points?’ There was a little of that in the first period.

"We sensed some guys trying to get cute and make the extra pass and the long stretch pass and that type of thing. Once the guys got back to playing it simple and getting it up the boards and making the easy passes, it went well."

Goaltender Scott Fankhouser played well in both games. He has now started three straight games after replacing former top netminder Marty Fillion early in a 7-3 loss to Maine. In fact, he’s played in six of Lowell’s last seven games, two of them in relief.

Fankhouser went into the break on a high note, making 36 saves against Maine to help grab a point in a 3-3 tie, and has continued with his best play in a River Hawk uniform. In particular, he had one great three-save sequence early in the Colgate game before his teammates took control.

"That’s what you need out of a good goaltender," says Whitehead. "When the game was up for grabs, he came up with a couple second- and third-shot saves. He’s real good with the first shot. When he makes second- and third-shot saves like that, it’s great. He worked real hard over the break and he’s playing well."

With All-Hockey East defenseman Mike Nicholishen out with a knee injury before the break and mono since then, Whitehead has moved Doug Nolan back to the blue line to fill in.

"He’s doing a great job," says Whitehead. "He’s a great team player. This isn’t tennis or golf. I like those sports, but in hockey you’re going to be asked to do things that aren’t [your preference.] He’s probably a little frustrated that he hasn’t been able to play forward, but we’ve talked about it.

"I think it’s making him a better hockey player. When you learn to play to play defense as a forward, you learn to appreciate how tough it is on the defensemen and it makes you a little smarter on your forecheck and how you play the game.

"He hopes it’s a shorter experience than I do, but he’s doing a real good job. He’ll eventually go back to play forward, but at least if he’s called upon, we know what he can do."

Jeff Boulanger joined Greg Koehler in giving UML a sweep in the weekly league honors. Boulanger’s 3-3–6 weekend gives him 8-8–16 on the season and points in four of the last five games.

"He’s strong, he works hard and he’s very tough along the boards," says Whitehead. "He’s tough and he’s got real good hands in tight areas. He and Kyle Kidney on that line are just physical presences. They complement [Brad] Rooney very well."

St. Lawrence has struggled this season and entered the break with four straight losses. Although the Saints then lost both games in the Great Lakes Invitational, they almost toppled No. 6 Michigan, losing 3-2, and suffered a similar fate in the consolation game to Michigan Tech, 6-5.

Freshman Erik Anderson is giving All-ECAC forward Paul DiFrancesco a run for the Saint scoring lead, with both at 11 points in 14 games.

Goaltender Eric Heffler has been a major surprise, posting a 2.07 GAA and a .940 save percentage. In late November, he tossed a shutout weekend at Rensselaer (1-0) and Union (7-0).

Clarkson seems to be repeating its pattern from previous years by getting off to a slow start (2-3-1, this year, plus another two exhibition losses), but heating up (now 8-5-2) and becoming one of the hottest teams down the stretch.

Captain Chris Clark (6-9–15) leads the Golden Knight scoring, but has plenty of help with Ben Maidment, Dana Mulvihill and Matt Reid with 13, 12 and 12 points, respectively.

Senior All-American Dan Murphy, an iron man who played in all 112 Clarkson games during his first three years, has surprisingly seen fellow senior Chris Bernard play all 60 minutes of each of the Golden Knights’ last four wins. Bernard now has a stellar 1.75 GAA and .928 save percentage to go along with his unblemished 4-0-0 record.

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

PICKS:At the risk of seeming like a homer, this looks like a Hockey East sweep. Prior to last weekend, this was looking more like a split weekend, at best, for Lowell, but now the River Hawks are hot. Look for a 4-3 win over Clarkson and 4-2 against St. Lawrence.

New Hampshire continues to look like one of the top teams in the country. They’ll win 5-2 over St. Lawrence and 5-4 over Clarkson.

UMass-Amherst (2-13-2, 0-8-1 HEA) at Air Force (9-7-0, 0-2-0 vs. aligned D-I)

Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Cadet Ice Arena, Colorado Springs, CO

UMass-Amherst began the second semester on a disastrous note, losing 5-0 to Army. In past years, the Minutemen have returned from the holidays in a similar fashion, last year dropping a 9-5 tilt to Rensselaer and the year before losing 7-1 to Maine.

"We have historically struggled a bit coming back off the break," says coach Joe Mallen. "Part of it, I’ve always thought, hasn’t been so much loss of momentum at the break, but we’ve just run into the meat of the schedule where there are no easy games."

With the Minutemen entering 1998 with an eight-game winless streak and the meat of this season’s schedule looming in February, the Army game took on added significance. Unfortunately, it became a missed opportunity.

Now they’ll turn to the back two-thirds of a three-game stretch against the service academies and look to better launch their second half against Air Force.

"These non-league games are where we want to gain some momentum going into the rest of our season," says Mallen. "If you look at the remainder of our schedule once we get down towards the end of January and into February, it basically reads Maine, Maine, UNH, BU, BU, UNH, Maine, BU. It is really a tough stretch."

Mallen wasn’t exaggerating. In the month of February, the Minutemen play New Hampshire and Maine three times each, Boston University twice, and UMass-Lowell once.


As a result, two wins this weekend are imperative. Still, Mallen remains upbeat.

"We’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude and an optimistic attitude," says Mallen. "I think our guys have done a good job at that. We just feel that if we take it one game at a time, play well and work hard, we can win any game we play.

"And our young kids have been playing terrific for us, so I feel optimistic about the future of our program."

The Air Force Cadets, under first-year head coach Frank Serratore rely on Justin Kieffer, Scott Bradley, Nels Grafstrom and defenseman Dan Davies for the bulk of their scoring.

Sophomore Aaron Ratfield (4.66 GAA, .875 SV%) is their top netminder.

So far this year, the Cadets have not fared well against Division I teams from the four conferences, losing 5-1 to Yale and 9-1 to Merrimack.

PICKS: The Minutemen prove that the Army game was an aberration, winning 4-2, 5-2.

Colgate (11-5-0, 6-2-0 ECAC) at Merrimack (7-10-1, 2-7-0 HEA)

Sunday, 2 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Merrimack, previewed above against Maine, hosts Colgate, an enigma in recent weeks if there ever was one.

The Red Raiders looked horrendous against UMass-Lowell, trailing 7-0 before the game was half over. They allowed numerous odd-man rushes, exhibited poor defensive coverage and, in particular, allowed a virtual tip drill on shots from the point.

They then showed their flip side, however, using three power-play goals and good goaltending by Dan Brenzavich to rebound with a 3-2 win over Providence.

The Red Raiders still lead the ECAC in scoring, averaging 4.12 goals per game, but the thumping at the hands of Lowell and a 6-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth the week before leave a lot of questions unanswered.

Perhaps most indicative of their dual-nature is their performance on the man advantage. They lead the ECAC with 18 power-play goals and rank second in percentage (18.9), but have surrendered an appalling seven shorthanded goals. Only one other ECAC team has allowed as many as three.

(For a more detailed look at this baffling team, check out this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICK: If both teams play as poorly as they did against Lowell last weekend, coaches Anderson and Don Vaughan will probably be jumping off a bridge.

Look for both to get at least partially back on track, with Merrimack earning a 5-4 win.