This Week in Hockey East: January 30, 1998

Had a bad day?

I can top it.

For starters, a tape recorder malfunction destroyed three interviews.

After that came all the trivial little disasters that by themselves don’t amount to a hill of beans, but put together make you afraid to go near sharp objects.

And the piece de resistance to top it all off?

May I have a drum roll, please…

My car, affectionately known as the Slob-mobile, stalled out and died after unexpectedly navigating two feet of water on a back road after the Friday night BU-Maine game.

That’s not the bad news.

Days later, still waiting for it to dry out, a breakthrough occurs.

It starts for 10 seconds, but then dies. Half an hour later, another 10 seconds. Only to die again. Half an hour after that, my blood pressure rising, it starts and I rev that baby so hard that it simply can not stall out on me again.

And it doesn’t.

The only problem is that a minute later the tail pipe and area around it is now on fire.

Which is awfully close to the gas tank.

And it takes so long to pull all the pins on the dang fire extinguisher that I have to measure it in dog years.

Now, a day and a half later, my mechanic tells me the car is now safe to drive.

I am convinced he has secretly taken out a life insurance policy on me.

So if you think the following appears to be written by an alien, you’ll be right. I’ve never claimed to be normal, but right about now I’m off the charts.


This week’s Hockey East KOHO Player of the Week is Chris Drury, who scored a goal and added three assists in two games against Maine. The goal made Drury the all-time leading goal scorer at BU.

The Rookie of the Week is Scott Clemmensen, who also broke a record. Clemmensen set a new NCAA regular-season mark of 254:23 without a goal.

This week’s top action revolves around the Beanpot, especially the opening-round BU-Northeastern match-up, and UNH’s games against Northeastern and Maine.

Last week’s record in picks: 5-4 (we won’t discuss the Super Bowl)

Season’s record in picks: 93-49

The Beanpot No. 3 Boston University (16-4-2, 9-3-2 HEA) vs.

Northeastern (15-7-2, 9-5-2 HEA)

No. 8 Boston College (15-7-3, 9-5-2 HEA) vs. Harvard (6-9-2, 6-5-1 ECAC)

Friday, 6 p.m. (BU-NU), 9 p.m. (BC-HU), FleetCenter, Boston, MA WABU-TV68

Boston University won its first two games in a row since Dec. 7 with a pair of one-goal victories over Maine, 4-3 and 3-2. Discounting empty-net goals and its contest against Division I Independent Niagara, all nine games since the last back-to-back wins have been tied or decided by one goal.

"That might be who we are," said coach Jack Parker, who underwent a heart procedure earlier this week. "I don’t know. We’re getting opportunities. I do believe that we’ve got enough talent that we’ll start putting some pucks in the net.

"I don’t mind winning [one-goal games], but it’s hard on the players. It’s an emotional game that way and you don’t have time to relax because there’s a lot of pressure all the time. You get more tired than if it was a free-wheeling 6-3 game. It’s a hard way to play.

"The two games with Northeastern and these two [against Maine] were mentally tough, intense games. I think winning three out of those four is great points-wise, but is also great psyche-wise. It makes us feel comfortable about ourselves that we can play in those types of games and win. We might be battling down the stretch and be able to win a lot of games that way."

In the Friday night game, Chris Drury, this week’s Hockey East Player of the Week, scored his 99th career goal to claim ownership of BU’s all-time record.

"He’s a great player even when he doesn’t score," said Parker. "He’s great defensively, he’s such an agitator, and he’s such an example. No one works harder in all three zones."

As an additional example of Drury’s complete game, BU statisticians showed him winning 26 of 32 faceoffs in one of the Maine contests.

On Saturday night, freshman Russ Bartlett set up Mike Sylvia’s game-winner on the power play with a feed from along the goal line.

"That was a fabulous pass by Russ Bartlett," said Parker. "He’s a real clever freshman. That’s where he’s really effective, making passes down low."

Although the lion’s share of the credit for that score went to Bartlett and Albie O’Connell for teeing it up, Sylvia continues to be a money player who scores big goals. Last year, he had five game-winners. This year, despite being separated from long-time linemate Drury in order to provide better offensive balance, he already has four.

While the game-winning goal statistic may often be meaningless, Sylvia’s tallies have typically been just the opposite. On Dec. 9, his strike with just a minute left salvaged a tie against Boston College. His third period goal on Jan. 17 against Northeastern broke a 2-2 deadlock and allowed the Terriers to split their home-and-home series with the Huskies.

"He’s a competitor," said Parker. "He’s been snakebitten at times scoring-wise, but he’s always gotten big goals. He doesn’t often get the seventh goal in a 7-2 win, but he’s always involved in the tight games getting big goals.

"He’s almost like Mike Prendergast a few years ago. They’ll get you 15 or 18 [a year], but they’ll get you six big ones."

Northeastern also took two wins and four points in the league standings to stay abreast of BU and BC in a three-way tie for first. The Huskies took a couple close ones over Merrimack, 4-2 and 3-2.

"In this league, it’s tough to sweep," said coach Bruce Crowder. "When you can do that, it’s just a big boost obviously in the standings, but also for the kids’ morale because it’s definitely a mental thing a lot of times.

"The kids could have come in on Sunday and just been happy with a split, but the kids played well, they played hard and they came home with a ‘W’ in a very hard-fought game.

"The thing that I was really impressed with was our team defense. Merrimack is a very explosive team. They have those four guys who are having tremendous years and we were able to hold them to two goals each game."

Marc Robitaille continues to be one of the top netminders in the league and the single biggest contributor to the Huskies’ surprising turnaround.

"I don’t know if there’s a player in the league that has helped his team individually as much as Robitaille has helped us," said Crowder. "He’s been focused and he’s been equal to the task. It’s good to see because he’s a hard-working kid and he deserves it."

Freshman Bobby Haglund scored his second and third goals of the season 18 seconds apart on Friday to help secure the win.

"That was a great game for him," said Crowder. "He’s a kid that we need to get going. He got banged up and missed a month and it’s taken him a while to get back on track.

"It’s interesting that it’s somebody different every night. You look at the scores from Friday to Sunday and it was scrambled around all three lines again. Even the fourth line got a big one for us from Matt Keating. It’s a unique thing that any kid that dresses, figures he has a chance to be a big plus for this team."

The Huskies are certainly acquiring experience in playoff-style, low-scoring close contests. Of their 25 games, 20 have been decided by by two goals or less. Each of their last 12, and 18 of the last 19 have fit this profile.

"As a coach, you’d like to sit back and maybe get a breather now and then, but if that’s the way they want to play them and we continue to be successful, then so be it," said Crowder. "The kids get comfortable. They don’t get panicky. It’s definitely a huge plus."

Life doesn’t get any easier now for Northeastern’s Cardiac Kids. They are paired against third-ranked BU in the Beanpot opener, a non-league game. Their eight remaining Hockey East contests include three against UNH, three against Maine and one each against BU and BC.

"These are games you want to play," said Crowder. "They’re easy for us as coaches because if kids can’t get up for these games, they shouldn’t be playing. For us, every game down the stretch is going to be huge. We’re going to keep plugging away and take them one at a time."

Boston College had been undefeated in 1998, posting a 4-0-1 record since the New Year, including a 6-3 win over UMass-Amherst on Saturday. The away part of that home-and-home series on Friday was postponed because of the snowstorm. BC, however, took one on the chin on Tuesday, losing 9-3 to UNH.

Scott Clemmensen had no sooner broken the NCAA regular-season shutout record (which admittedly falls far short of Blaine Lacher’s combined mark for regular season and postseason play), than he allowed three in the remainder of the UMass-Amherst game and then eight against UNH before getting the hook.

Goaltending looked like the Eagles’ Achilles’ heel coming into the season, and proved to be exactly that at times during the first half. Clemmensen would be very good at times, but also throw in a stinker or two.

The latest streak, however, seemed to assuage worries that BC was headed back to superpower status, but was missing a goaltender that could compete on an equal footing with Michel Larocque, Marc Robitaille and Sean Matile.

The answer to that question remains unclear.

Of course, the UNH debacle was hardly just Clemmensen’s fault. The entire team played poorly.

It’s also possible to make too much of one game, especially since UNH has the wherewithal to embarrass many a goalie and many a team. But Tuesday’s contest was one of the most eagerly anticipated ones of the year and the Eagles’ failure to rise to the occasion must concern BC followers.

The Eagles now have a Beanpot tuneup against UMass-Lowell on Friday before taking on what is on paper, at least, the bottom team on the Beanpot totem pole.

Harvard comes in as the Beanpot’s weakest sister. While the other three Boston teams are tied for first place in Hockey East, Harvard sits in fourth place in the ECAC, and even that ranking is deceiving. The Crimson have played more games than the other six top teams and have also posted a dismal 0-4-1 record outside the league.

Except for their early November win over Colgate, they have beaten only teams on the bottom five rungs on the ECAC ladder.

(For more on Harvard, see this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICKS: Northeastern upsets BU 3-2. BC flattens Harvard 6-2.

No. 4 New Hampshire (17-4-1, 9-3-1 HEA) at

Northeastern (15-7-2, 9-5-2 HEA)

Maine (9-11-3, 6-9-2 HEA) at No. 4 New Hampshire (17-4-1, 9-3-1 HEA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

Sunday, 2 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH, WMUR-TV9

New Hampshire’s only game of the weekend, a home tilt against Brown, was postponed because of power outages. This makes a bizarre total of three lost games for the Wildcats in the last three weekends. Their canceled trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence of two weeks ago has only a remote chance of being made up — there are no open weekends and the ten-hour trip all but eliminates the possibility of rescheduling for the midweek.

A Brown makeup date could be arranged given the more manageable transit times, but it, too, will have to be a midweek contest or a Sunday game after already playing on Friday and Saturday. An announcement is expected soon.

The Wildcats made up for lost time, however, not to mention lost statistics, on Tuesday with a 9-3 drubbing of the heretofore red-hot BC Eagles.

"We’re real happy with the outcome of the game, obviously," said coach Dick Umile. "We weren’t happy with the way that we played in the first period. I give credit to them and the fact that we hadn’t played in a while. But once we got our legs going in the second period, I thought we got control of the game."

Sean Matile (2.46 GAA, .912 SV%) shut the Eagles out in the first period to give UNH a 1-0 lead despite being outshot 11-6.

"He played well in the first period when he had to," said Umile.

Umile’s juggling of the lines provided results that speak for themselves. Umile added Rob Gagnon to the Mark Mowers and Tom Nolan line, and Gagnon scored a big second-period goal.

Umile also moved Chad Onufrechuk onto a line with Jason Krog and Derek Bekar. The junior responded with two goals.

After planning to give Matt Swain his fifth start of the season against Brown, Umile carried that over to the BC game and was rewarded with two goals and an assist from his freshman.

"He’s a big strong kid who can score goals," said Umile. "He was in the right places, he’s a strong kid and made the most of his opportunities to score. Between him and Chad Onufrechuk, we got four goals out of guys that haven’t done a lot of scoring for us."

The Wildcats are now one point out of the three-way tie for first between BU, BC and Northeastern. UNH, however, holds one game in hand over BU and three over the other two frontrunners. With all three first-place teams only playing one game this weekend, the Wildcats’ games against Northeastern and Maine give them the opportunity to leapfrog into first place.

"We knew this was an important week starting with Boston College and now against Northeastern and Maine," said Umile. "Northeastern is on top regardless of the games in hand. They’ve done a good job, they have solid goaltending and they compete real hard. We respect them and expect that game to be another barnburner.

"Then we’re off a day and go at it with Maine. With everything so close, you can move pretty far in the standings with one win or loss, so this is a big weekend for us."

Northeastern, fully profiled above for the Beanpot, will be hoping that the defense which stood in such good stead last weekend against Merrimack’s big guns (Martin Laroche, Kris Porter, and Rejean Stringer — the number two, three and four scorers in the nation) also pays off against New Hampshire’s heavy artillery.

"They’re going to be a challenge," said coach Bruce Crowder. "They have those two lines that may be the best in the nation. We’ve got to make sure that we play them smart and don’t give them any opportunities that we shouldn’t.

"We’ll play it pretty close to the vest, stay in their faces and not give them a lot of time to do things. They can hurt you."

Maine dropped 4-3 and 3-2 games this week to BU and now has just Sunday’s game against UNH remaining from a five-game gauntlet consisting solely of the Wildcats and Terriers. Although the Black Bears don’t have any points to show for their efforts, they’ve played very well.

"We’re not a great team this year, but we’re not terrible either," said coach Shawn Walsh. "I’m really encouraged with how we’re playing. Obviously, I’m not happy with our record, but we’re playing hard. We’re not going to be a team too many teams will want to face in the first round of the playoffs."

Two weekends ago, Maine hosted UNH and fell 2-1 and 5-0.

"They’re a great team," said Walsh. "It’s a challenge to play great teams. We’re playing awfully well right now. We’re very close to any team in the country, as is evidenced by our performance in the last four games.

"We’re just going to give it our best shot. If we can play as well as we did [two Saturdays ago against UNH], even though we lost 5-0, I’ll be very happy."

Coming off a weekend against BU’s Michel Larocque and Tom Noble, the Black Bears will now be facing a goaltender in Matile that has had their number this year.

"He’s played awfully well against us," said Walsh. "He’s given us one goal in three games. Not many guys have done better than that."

Walsh dismissed the idea that UNH’s spate of canceled games might work to Maine’s advantage.

"Postponements don’t mean anything," said Walsh. "The only advantage we might get is if Jason Krog winds up in the hospital. I think he’s clearly the Hobey Baker frontrunner, the way he’s played. He’s the best player we’ve seen.

"They’ve got a great team. And it’s not just Krog. It’s Bekar. It’s Matile. It’s Nolan. It’s Mowers. It’s a quality, quality team."

PICK: UNH takes two, 4-3 and 4-3, to take over first place.

No. 3 Boston University (16-4-2, 9-3-2 HEA) at Merrimack (9-14-1, 4-10-0 HEA)

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

Boston University is profiled above.

Merrimack dropped two close ones to Northeastern last weekend, 4-2 and 3-2.

"I thought we actually played pretty good hockey," said coach Ron Anderson. "But we didn’t capitalize on some of our chances. Their goaltender made some great saves and really was the difference."

The Warriors continued their effectiveness on the power play, scoring twice in seven chances on the weekend. Even more importantly, they stopped the hemorrhaging of their penalty-killing unit, which had been by far the worst in the league (71.4 percent overall and 64.9 percent in Hockey East). The Warriors allowed only a single power-play goal by the Huskies in seven chances.

Jayson Philbin is finally making his mark in a Warrior uniform. Now patrolling right wing on a line with Casey Kesselring and Sandy Cohen, Philbin appears to be playing the best hockey of his collegiate career and assisted on one of Cohen’s two goals last weekend.

Merrimack is still in striking distance of seventh-place Providence and also has the chance to effectively clinch a playoff spot with a win over UMass-Amherst.

"We’re just looking to build on our play of late and have the strong second half that we feel we’re capable of," said Anderson. "We’re playing good hockey."

PICK: It’s always a war when Merrimack hosts BU. Why should this be an exception? BU, 4-3, in overtime.

UMass-Lowell (9-10-3, 6-5-3 HEA) at No. 8 Boston College (15-7-3, 9-5-2 HEA)

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

UMass-Lowell took three of four points from Providence, settling for a 2-2 tie in the Tully Forum farewell game before taking a 5-1 return match.

The River Hawks then celebrated their gala opening of the Tsongas Arena, but left with a bad taste in their mouths after a 2-1 overtime loss to Dartmouth. A critical penalty in the last minute of regulation led to the Big Green’s decisive power-play goal.

"It was a pretty dead-even game," said coach Tim Whitehead. "There were a couple wide-open plays, a couple goals that were called back and a couple hit posts by both teams. So there was some exciting play. It was a pretty good 1-1 game [in regulation], not your typical snoozer of a 1-1 game.

"But in a 1-1 game like that, our guys have to realize that one mistake can mean the difference in the game. It developed as one of those games where it was going to come down to one play, one way or another. We certainly had our opportunities to make that one play ourselves, but we didn’t do it.

"We have to play smarter in that type of game. It’s different if tons of goals are going in both ways. But in a low-scoring, 1-1, even game like that, it’s going to come down to a turnover or a penalty that you shouldn’t have taken or that type of thing. Obviously, we’re going to have to learn from it."

On the positive side, the new on-campus arena marks a major step forward for the team, a step that will become even more important when the new student center is built nearby.

"It’s a huge boost for our program because it shows a great commitment from the university to the hockey program, and just towards improving the quality of life on campus," said Whitehead. "In the long run, I’m sure the arena will have character just like the guy it’s named after. It’ll just take us some time to build that character."

The River Hawks, who only practiced on the Tsongas Arena ice one time before the opener, won’t get a chance this weekend to christen it with a win. Their only game is at Boston College.

Coincidentally, last weekend’s Lowell games were against a Providence team that had just absorbed a pummeling at the hands of BC. The River Hawks did a good job of keeping the Friars down, taking three of four points.

Once again, they are faced with an opponent that is licking its wounds. UNH humbled BC 9-3 in front of a SportsChannel audience.

"It might help us, or it might hurt us," said Whitehead. "I won’t know until I’ve seen the tapes of the game. But it definitely presents a different situation."

Boston College is profiled above.

PICK: BC rights the ship 5-3.

Providence College (12-9-2, 6-7-1 HEA) at UMass-Amherst (3-16-2, 0-11-1 HEA)

UMass-Amherst (3-16-2, 0-11-1 HEA) at Merrimack (9-14-1, 4-10-0 HEA)

Friday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA AudioNet

After an impressive start this season, Providence has hit a rocky stretch, gaining only a tie in the last five games. That tie came at Lowell last Friday after a snowstorm turned a commute of an hour and change into more than four hours.

"Friday night was a good point for us," said coach Paul Pooley. "It was almost like a victory, because we had to deal with some adversity. Mark Kane played well in net for us.

"We came back on Saturday and played decent early on, but couldn’t score. We had some great chances, but then they came down and scored. We didn’t play well at all one-on-one. They beat us three times one-on-one to cause goals.

"It’s almost like we weren’t playing with a tremendous amount of confidence. We didn’t score and we got back on our heels a little bit. But that’s something we’ve got to work through. We’ve just got to keep fighting."

Rookie Boyd Ballard, for whom Hockey East had been smooth sailing until two weeks ago — when Boston College dumped the Friars 6-0 and 8-0 — now appears to be having a crisis of confidence. Like many a young goaltender before him, the pucks that once seemed as big as beach balls are looking mighty small.

"He’s never been in that situation before, and I think he’s fighting it a little bit," said Pooley. "It’s almost like he had too much, too soon. The first half was easy for him.

"We were scoring goals, which makes it a little different too. Now we’re not scoring as many goals, so every one that goes in is a factor. There are a lot of things of things that work on the psyche of a goalie."

And while the goaltending has become suddenly suspect, so, too, has the goal scoring. The team’s leading scorers, Mike Omicioli and Fernando Pisani, are struggling. Omicioli hasn’t scored a goal in the last nine games, and both players have been held without a point in seven of the last nine.

With Providence relying heavily on those two for the offense, it’s small wonder, then, that the Friars had been shut out three straight games before the weekend and only scored three times in the Lowell series.

As often happens when a scoring drought hits, players redouble their efforts, but sink deeper in the quagmire as they do so as individuals.

"Omicioli is doing that right now and it’s killing us," said Pooley. "Fernie [Pisani] has had a couple great chances, but just couldn’t bury them."

A major component of the problem is also the power play, which has now scored only one goal in its last 34 chances.

"It’s anemic," said Pooley. "We’re forcing it. In one clip of the tape that I just watched, we lost three faceoffs and had three chances to get the puck in and didn’t because we tried to be too cute.

"We’ve got to get back to basics. We’re not making the easy play. We’re trying to make the difficult play. We’ve got to make better decisions with the puck. We’ve got to keep it simple."

Pooley hopes to get defenseman Richard Miller and forward Jerry Keefe, one of the most skilled players on the team, back from injuries.

"We’re relying on too few guys right now," said Pooley. "At the beginning of the year, we didn’t have to. We’re not that far away from playing well again."

Pooley is also using a firm hand in trying to get his team playing the way he desires. In the Saturday loss, he sat Omicioli for the third period.

"We have to become more regimented," said Pooley. "Winning masked a lot of things earlier in the year. When we were playing well, we could let things go a little bit, but now my philosophy is that we have to get tight. We have to get more demanding, hold people accountable and make sure we’re doing all the little things right, because right now we’re not.

"I just have to assume the leadership role on the team. Here’s what we’re going to do, and you’re going to do it. Not to be egotistical, but that’s what we need to have happen right now. I have to step up, assume that and guide them. I think they’re looking for it."

On paper, this is the weekend to get back on track. The Friars face UMass-Amherst, a team still winless within the league, and 4-12-1 Brown.

Even so, Pooley is taking nothing for granted.

"They outshot us the last time that we played them," he said of the Minutemen. "We beat them 5-3, 5-3, and that was with Ballard playing well. Ballard made the team look good, so it gave the team confidence and when they had a chance to score, they scored.

"Now when we have a chance to score, we know how important it is to score so we’re a little up tight. So we’re snakebit, so we don’t score.

"They come down, beat a guy, shoot and it’s a goal. It’s demoralizing. But that’s when your true character comes out, so that’s what we have to have happen."

UMass-Amherst had one of its two-game set with Boston College postponed because of the snowstorm on Friday and lost the other 6-3. Although Eagle goaltender Scott Clemmensen did set a new NCAA regular-season shutout record against the Minutemen, coach Joe Mallen still saw good coming out of the loss to one of the league’s hottest teams.

"I want to congratulate Scott Clemmensen for his record," he said. "It’s a great milestone. But, hey, we scored three goals against them and it was a 4-3 game with 11 minutes left. I thought it was a pretty evenly played game. The action was up and down, not just in one end."

On the positive side, Tim Lovell appears to be mostly over injuries that have hampered his play.

"This is as close to 100 percent, skating-wise, as he’s been in about six weeks," said Mallen.

If the Minutemen are going to make a move for the eighth and final playoff spot, it needs to begin this weekend. After this, they finish with UNH (three times), Maine (three times), BU (twice), BC (once) and UMass-Lowell (once).

As a result, this week’s contests against seventh-place Providence and eighth-place Merrimack take on added importance. In particular, the head-to-head battle with Merrimack could either give the Minutemen a shot at the playoffs or seal their fate.

Even so, Mallen isn’t focusing on the Warriors.

"I look at all the Hockey East teams the same way," he said. "I can’t emphasize one game over the other. I would be foolish for us to focus on the Merrimack game when we play Providence first.

"Obviously, Merrimack didn’t get any points last weekend so they’re catchable. Anyone is catchable if we can get a series of wins. We’re just hoping to get four points this weekend."

Merrimack is profiled above.

PICK: No rest for the weary. The Minutemen lose to Providence, 3-2, and Merrimack, 5-3.

Mayor’s Cup Brown (4-12-1, 4-7-1 ECAC) at

Providence College (12-9-2, 6-7-1 HEA)

Saturday, 8 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

"It’s not like URI-PC basketball," said Providence coach Paul Pooley about the Mayor’s Cup rivalry. "But we’re going to have a great crowd for it. It’s not like it’s a huge, huge game in terms of emotion. The buildup isn’t big, but once you get on the ice, the buildup starts."

Brown had its only game of the weekend canceled at UNH due to power outages. As a result, the Bears will be playing their first game in 11 days this weekend.

Although they did beat nationally-ranked Yale in mid-November, the Bears have only three other wins on the season. All three came against the bottom three teams in the ECAC.

They have lost all five nonconference games and overall have been outscored 75-49.

(For more on Brown, see this week’s ECAC Preview.)

PICK: Although rivalries tend to minimize talent disparities, this one should be no contest. Providence 4-1.