This Week in Hockey East: February 13, 1998

BC and Northeastern were the week’s runners-up, and not just because they faced each other in the Beanpot consolation. The Eagles’ win in the early game on Monday positioned them nicely for an NCAA at-large bid, moving them up to eighth in the Pairwise Rankings.

The Huskies, despite their loss in the consolation game, went a long way towards insuring a home-ice berth with a 5-3 win at Maine, a game that earned Hockey East KOHO Player of the Week honors for Todd Barclay. Barclay’s hat trick and assist triggered the win at Alfond Arena.

BU’s Carl Corazzini earned Rookie of the Week honors after scoring the game-winner against Northeastern in the Beanpot semifinal and then adding another two against UMass-Lowell. Last week’s record in picks: 6-2 Season’s record in picks: 101-58, .635

(As far as the picks go, since it’s been asked, if two teams tie and anything other than a tie was picked, that’s counted as a wrong pick. And if a Friday night win and then a Saturday night loss is picked for a series, then a split the opposite way — a Friday loss and a Saturday win — is considered two incorrect picks. It ain’t easy, folks. Please don’t try this at home. It requires a trained professional.)

No. 2 Boston University (20-4-2, 11-3-2 HEA, 1st) vs. UMass-Lowell (10-12-3, 7-7-3 HEA, 5th)

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

Saturday, 7 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA

After knocking off Lowell 7-3 in a Friday night prelude, Boston University continued its Beanpot dominance in the nineties, taking its seventh title in nine years. As noted in last week’s column, the six senior Terriers — Chris Drury, Chris Kelleher, Mike Sylvia, Tom Noble, Jeff Kealty and Peter Donatelli — now become the the first class to win a Beanpot championship in all four of its years.

(And an apology is extended to the energetic Donatelli, whom I omitted last week due to an error in the Hockey East media guide. I knew he was a senior, but scanned the guide for the full list. He was incorrectly listed as a junior, so I missed him. It was one case where this geezer would have been better off just using his brain and forgetting the reference materials.)

The championship didn’t come easy, though. Harvard, the Rodney Dangerfield "I don’t get no respect" team of the Beanpot, took BU into overtime, tied 1-1. Crimson netminder J.R. Prestifilippo was exceptional and Noble, for whom BU’s goaltender rotation was juggled to give the start, also had to come up big while facing much less action.

"I’m so happy for the seniors," said coach Jack Parker after the game. "No one would second-guess playing Tommy Noble, but just the fact that we got out of the rotation, people could have thought that Michel Larocque should have played. But I talked to Rocco about it today and said, ‘This is something the seniors have a chance to do. Let’s let Noble be part of it instead of just watching it.’ He was not only part of it, he won it for us."

Going into the overtime, Parker told his team, "We’re playing well. Let’s just keep playing hard and see what happens. Let’s not worry about losing and trying not to lose. Let’s just play well. This is a great college hockey game. You ought to be proud of how you’re playing. You ought to be glad that they’re a worthy opponent."

In the overtime, tournament MVP Tom Poti made a stellar offensive play to set up the game-winner, putting a pass between a Harvard defender’s legs to Nick Gillis at the goalmouth. It was Poti’s second big assist of the game.

"I could sit here for days and talk about what he does for this team," said Drury, the beneficiary of Poti’s first helper. "He’s one of the best defensemen in the country, in any league. The things he does out there are indescribable. He puts on an even better show in practice."

Gillis, who seems to have found a home on the right wing with Drury and Tommi Degerman — a mighty nice neighborhood, that — tipped the game-winner into the net.

The win marked BU’s third ever Beanpot championship game overtime. The Terriers dropped the first such game to Boston College, 5-4 in 1957, but defeated Northeastern 4-3 in 1987. Any overtime win is dramatic, but this one took on an extra luster because of how well both teams were playing.

"There were times when everyone was close-checking and then all of a sudden it would break out and there would be some great opportunities and great saves," said Parker. "Then it would be back to control again. From a coaching point of view, it was a pretty sound technical game by both clubs."

The Terriers now turn to a home-and-home with UMass-Lowell this week, just seven days after their 7-3 win over the River Hawks. In that game, BU’s freshman came to the fore, led by Carl Corazzini, winner of the league’s Rookie of the Week award, who scored twice. Scott Perry and Russ Bartlett contributed a goal and an assist each, Joe DiPenta had two assists and Juha Vuori added another helper.

"They’re all coming along pretty well," said Parker. "We thought that we had a great freshman class. They’ve been contributing all year, but they’re getting much more confident now."

UMass-Lowell lost to the Terriers 7-3 in a contest sandwiched by the Beanpot semifinal and championship games. It was still anyone’s game late in the second period with BU leading 3-2, but a rash of penalties resulted in four Terrier power-play goals in the span of nine minutes.

By game’s end, BU would capitalize on five of its 10 man-advantage opportunities, with Lowell’s 17 penalties resulting in 51 minutes in the box. The Terriers took 11 penalties for 38 minutes.

"For that game to end up 7-3 was frustrating for us," said coach Tim Whitehead. "They’re definitely a very talented team, and when they get ten power-play opportunities, they’re going to score. Certainly that was the difference in the game."

More ominously, leading scorer Greg Koehler was assessed his second game disqualification for a tangle with Drury. As a result, he missed Lowell’s 3-1 win over UMass-Amherst, and will also miss the Friday night BU rematch.

John Campbell and Mike Mulligan, who both scored against BU, repeated their efforts against the Minutemen to help the River Hawks overcome Koehler’s absence.

PICKS: With Koehler out, Friday night could get ugly unless a post-Beanpot letdown occurs. BU wins 5-3, and completes the sweep with a 3-2 win in the second-ever game at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.

No. 4 New Hampshire (19-5-1, 11-4-1 HEA, T-2nd) vs.

Providence College (13-11-3, 7-8-2 HEA, T-6th)

Friday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

After three games in six days, New Hampshire took the ice only once this past weekend. The Wildcats defeated UMass-Amherst 4-1, taking control with two Tom Nolan first-period strikes.

Time out for an editorial comment.

Is there anything that better symbolizes Nolan’s career than the fact that the senior has never once been named Player of the Week? There’s always been someone else’s shadow for this kid to fall under, but all he’s done this year is lead Hockey East in league scoring and be second in the country overall.

That’s not to endorse a spate of nasty-grams to the league office, but simply to point out what a well-kept secret the kid from Springfield is. If plans for an USCHO All-Underrated feature article materialize in the next few weeks, look for his ironic inclusion.

End of editorial comment and back to the win over UMass-Amherst.

"We came out better in the first period than in our last two encounters with Boston College and Maine and went ahead 2-0," said coach Richard Umile. "We played well overall, went 2-for-3 on the power play and did a good job of killing penalties. So overall, I thought we played okay."

For Umile, some topics are getting extra emphasis now that the stretch run to the playoffs is underway. "You’ve got to win the low-scoring games," he said. "It’s going to be tight checking down the stretch. It’s like we’re into playoff hockey now."

The Wildcats are perhaps better prepared for that type of game than ever before. Second only to BU in team defense — Northeastern is a distant third — UNH is poised to break a team record for fewest goals allowed in a season. The Wildcats have allowed 62 to date and the thrice-achieved top mark is 77.

"That was our major goal coming into the season," said Umile. "The entire coaching staff and the players knew that that’s what we needed to do. It became a major team goal for us to accomplish."

A few weeks back, Providence’s scoring drought and goaltending woes might have made the Friars seem like cannon fodder for the Wildcats, but not now.

"It’ll be a tough weekend, " said Umile. "We’ve got a good rivalry going with Providence. They’re well-coached and well-disciplined. They play a very solid, defensive-type game and get good transition off their solid defense. I think they’re a team that matches up well with us."

Providence College took three out of four points last week and ended an eight-game winless streak with a 3-3 tie at BC and a 2-0 shutout over Merrimack.

The return of Jerry Keefe came not a moment too soon. The skilled forward jump-started the Friar offense, and the second line in particular, with four points on the weekend. Not only did that line total 10 points, but against BC it also matched up against the Marty Reasoner line. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but during Keefe’s two extended absences, most recently for eight games due to a broken thumb and five games earlier with a shoulder injury, PC recorded a 3-8-2 record, compared with 10-3-0 with him in the lineup.

That’s not to say that the kid is the next Gretzky, but he’s the catalyst on a second line with Mike Mader and Nick Lent. If the second line isn’t scoring, then the offensive burden falls entirely on the shoulders of the Mike Omicioli-Fernando Pisani-Jon Cameron line.

"Jerry has a tremendous amount of skill," said coach Paul Pooley. "He adds a lot to our lineup. Earlier in the year, we had two lines that could score, and that’s what we’ve been missing. The Omicioli line was the only line that was scoring for us after Christmas when Keefe and Heath Gordon were out. Getting two lines going frees you up for match-ups and lets your third and fourth lines be big and strong and bang."

Being big, strong and banging is what the Friars are all about. They may be the biggest team in the league. Other than scattered exceptions like Omicioli and Keefe, their roster is replete with 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 bruisers. They then use this to good advantage, working the puck down low and in the corners and cycling as well as any team in the league.

Gordon is expected back this weekend.

With freshman goaltender sensation Boyd Ballard — a strong Rookie of the Year candidate in the first semester — struggling, junior Mark Kane has filled the void nicely. His shutout against Merrimack was his first as a collegian.

"He adds a lot of energy for us," said Pooley. "He moves the puck really well. That adds another element back there, because when they dump it in and you just let it sit there, they’re barreling in on the forecheck and are going to create turnovers off it."

On the negative side, the Friar power play continues to struggle, going 0-for-6 on the weekend, including a glittering five-on-three opportunity for over a minute against Merrimack that could have put the game away. Going into that game, Providence had capitalized on only 7.5 percent of its chances in the last 11 games. During that stretch, PC posted a 1-8-2 record. Prior to the drought, the Friar power play had clicked at a 23.9 percent clip, while the team enjoyed a 11-3-1 mark.

"Honestly, I thought we got a lot of easy goals in the first half," said Pooley. "We’d go 3-for-6 and get a junk goal at the end. We got some easy goals early, but we had two lines that could score. If the power play goes dry, with Keefe and Gordon out, there’s a second unit that’s no good or a first unit that isn’t going. There’s no competition within the team."

It’s a good thing for the Friars that they got back to their winning ways and developed some momentum, because this weekend they face New Hampshire, a team second only to North Dakota in offensive prowess. PC is coming off a shutout over Merrimack, one of the league’s better offensive teams, but UNH poses some unique problems.

"Merrimack does it a little differently than UNH, " said Pooley. "[Rejean] Stringer has really turned his speed on, but they mostly do it with good puck skills and being opportunistic in transition. UNH is just flat-out fast. Their third line is as fast as their first two.

"We’ll have to play great defense and capitalize on the chances we get. Our power play has got to get a little bit better. Our PK did well against Merrimack, but up there on that big sheet against a team as talented as UNH, we’ll have to make sure that we’re doing a good job on the PK. We’ll need to play smart and not give up any odd-man rushes or easy back-door goals.

PICKS: UNH continues to run the board into the playoffs, winning 5-2 and 4-3.

No. 10 Boston College (17-8-4, 10-5-3 HEA, T-2nd) vs. Merrimack (9-17-1, 4-13-0 HEA, 8th)

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

Saturday, 8 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA AudioNet

Boston College came off the heartbreak of its Beanpot semifinal loss to Harvard and salvaged a 3-3 tie with Providence before the Monday night consolation game.

"We beat Providence handily the first two times in January," said coach Jerry York, "but everything we did was right and everything they did was wrong. The score was no indication of the caliber of the two teams. We expected a hard game and it was a tough, hard grind for us."

The Eagles played without Marty Hughes, sidelined with a broken right ankle, and Chris Masters, out with a separated shoulder. With Ken Hemenway in a limited role due to the flu, they played most of the game with four defensemen.

York has reunited Brian Gionta with Marty Reasoner on a line with Andy Powers. When Gionta and Jeff Farkas played together in the World Junior Tournament, York initially kept the pairing together when the two returned, leaving Blake Bellefeuille on Reasoner’s wing. Now, however, York has restored the Gionta-Reasoner mix that was so effective in the first half.

"I like Gionta with Reasoner," he said. "With the World Juniors, Brian left us for such a long time that Blake went back there. But Blake is a natural center, so that’s where we’d like him."

Gionta continues to lead Hockey East freshmen in scoring with 35 points in 27 games.

"He’s been an instrumental part in the success we’ve had this year," said York. "He’s gotten better and better as he’s gone around the league a few times. He’s a better player now than he was earlier, and he was real good early."

BC then took on Northeastern and an unconscious Marc Robitaille in the Beanpot consolation game. The "losers’ bracket" is never where anyone wants to be, and frequently results in a go-through-the-motions performance by both teams. But with an at-large NCAA tournament bid potentially hanging in the balance, the Eagles poured on all kinds of offensive pressure, outshooting the Huskies 34-9 in the first two periods, only to be foiled by Robitaille’s heroics. They broke it open in an ironically even-played third period, however, to win 4-1.

Powers scored twice in the pivotal third period, with linemates Reasoner and Gionta assisting on the second, and Reasoner sending him off on a breakaway for the first.

"We’ve been looking for someone to play [with those two]," said York after the game. "Andy made a statement tonight. That was an excellent goal, beating Robitaille top-shelf. He had a lot of jump on his shot. He played well with Marty and Brian."

As a result, Boston College now jumps to eighth in the Pairwise Rankings, which determine the selections for the national tournament.

"We want to play in the NCAA tournament as an at-large entry, so it was unbelievably important," said York. "We’d like to win the [regular-season] championship or win the playoff championship. That guarantees you a spot. But if you don’t win either of those, this game becomes very important. Plus, it’s just good to win games.

"We’ve just got to continue to play as well as we did. I thought against Harvard last Monday we played 55 minutes as well as we’ve played all year. We’ve talked about how you have to play 60 minutes against good teams. If you’re playing Our Sisters of the Poor, you can play 30 minutes and win, but against Harvard and Northeastern, you have to play for a full 60 minutes. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard because the other team influences the 60 minutes.

"I think we’ve played well defensively over the course of the year. Not many teams get more than 20-22 shots on our goaltender. But we’ve got to make sure that of the 20-odd shots, the quality chances aren’t real high. We’ve had a tendency to break down and all of a sudden give up a tremendous opportunity."

The Eagles now take on Merrimack, a team that upset them earlier this year, 6-4.

"They have some excellent goal-scorers," said York. "The line [of Martin Laroche, Kris Porter and Rejean Stringer], in particular, is as good a line as we’ll see in Hockey East. That makes them a dangerous team. They’ve beaten us the only time we’ve played, so we’re going to have to play well. Up at Merrimack, it’s a hard, physical game.

"We really have to get Marty Hughes back on our club. We’re surviving without him, but he’s an integral part of our team. There’s a chance that he might be able to play this weekend. He’s been a tough loss for us. As we look forward to Merrimack, we’ve got to get him and Chris Masters back. Those have been two tough losses for us."

Merrimack lost its only game of the week, suffering a 2-0 shutout at the hands of Providence. The surprise starter in the nets, Tom Welby, performed adequately in the loss.

"We didn’t have a lot of zip in our game offensively," said coach Ron Anderson. "We played a pretty solid game defensively and I thought our goaltender did a good job, but they were just a little sharper than us offensively.

"It isn’t something we’re going to hang our heads about. I just told the guys that it’s not going to get fixed unless we fix it. So we’re going to show up this week, work really hard and get ready to go for the weekend. We know what we’re capable of and we know what can happen if we’re not real sharp. We just have to sharpen ourselves up a little bit."

The Warriors have now lost five straight. While they have improved their league-worst defense, the offense, once ranked one of the top ones in the league, has disappeared. In the five losses, they have scored a total of only nine goals.

"When you’re getting goals, it feeds itself," said Anderson. "When they’re not going in, you start to press a little harder. You’re a little more sluggish and your legs don’t seem to be there. You stop anticipating and all of a sudden you’re reacting to situations instead of pro-acting. I think that’s what’s been happening. We’ve lost our zip a little bit, lost our confidence and our anticipation."

Along with the rest of the offense, the power play — which is still ranked first overall in the league with a 27.0 percentage — has struggled of late, going only 1-for-13 in the last three games.

"It ties into not scoring goals, period," said Anderson. "We’re not really moving our feet, getting after pucks, driving to the net, forcing mistakes and forcing opportunities for ourselves. We’re waiting for opportunities to happen. You’re not going to get any if you wait for them to happen."

Life doesn’t get any easier for Merrimack this week, with a home-and-home on tap against No. 10 Boston College.

"They’re really explosive offensively," said Anderson. "We have to sustain the way that we’ve been playing defense lately and try to find some way to get our offense going. It’s important that we’re playing well defensively, playing against a team like BC. We have to make sure that we don’t neglect that, but we still have to get some offense going as well."

PICKS: Boston College 4-2 and 6-3.

UMass-Amherst (5-18-2, 2-13-1 HEA, 9th) at Maine (10-12-3, 7-10-2 HEA, T-6th)

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

Maine hosted Northeastern in the Black Bears’ only game of the week and lost 5-3.

"We just didn’t play very well," said coach Shawn Walsh. "A lot of credit has to go to Northeastern. They outworked us and dominated us on faceoffs. We had a 2-1 lead, but they got two goals in the second period, and we’re not a good come-from-behind team.

"When we did get it to 4-3, they got a goal 16 seconds later, so give them all the credit in the world. They were very impressive. I think they’ve got a vastly underrated talent pool there."

Walsh isn’t so sure that the usual line about Northeastern — "not much talent, but great work ethic" — doesn’t sell the Huskies short.

"I’m not so sure," he said. "Todd Barclay got three goals and he looked pretty good."

The loss could prove the deciding factor in Northeastern hosting Maine in the playoffs instead of the busses traveling in the opposite direction. Although the Huskies hold a six-point advantage and game in hand, the Black Bears have a much easier schedule down the stretch.

The loss likely makes a sweep at Northeastern next weekend mandatory. For Walsh, however, if wins are the "means to an end" of home-ice, it’s important to concentrate on the former.

"We have to keep our focus on the means," he said. "And that is the upcoming game on Friday night and then worry about Saturday night once that occurs. We can’t get caught up in the ends. Home ice hasn’t been very good to us anyways. We’ve played much better on the road."

The Black Bears are a surprising 4-6-1 at home against NCAA teams, with most of their impressive performances on the road: a 3-1 win over UNH, a tie with BC and one-goal losses to BU.

"Whether we get home ice or not isn’t a major concern as much as getting some ‘W’s and getting some momentum going into the playoffs," said Walsh.

The drop in Maine’s fortunes at home prompts a search for reasons. The knee-jerk reaction is to wonder if the fans have lost their edge during the difficulties of the last couple years.

"I wouldn’t blame it on the fans," said Walsh. "I don’t think we’ve played particularly well at home and given them a reason to really get involved. That’s our responsibility. We’ve had a couple great games here and they’re anxious to help us when we’re playing well. But we just haven’t put together our best efforts at home."

The fans may have an extra incentive this weekend, however, when Maine expatriate Tim Lovell returns to the Alfond ice with the UMass-Amherst Minutemen. It will be Lovell’s first time back after his transfer a year and a half ago.

"We understand that they’re playing much better," said Walsh. "Their backs are against the wall, so I know they’ll give it a great effort. I’m sure Tim will be a great leader this weekend."

UMass-Amherst couldn’t keep its momentum going from its wins over Providence and Merrimack one week earlier, falling 4-1 to New Hampshire and 3-1 to UMass-Lowell.

"Against UNH, Brian Regan was spectacular in goal — it was one of his best outings of the year," said coach Joe Mallen. In his last four starts, Regan has posted a 2.50 GAA and a .919 save percentage. "He realizes that we’re getting down to the last part of his senior year. He has a lot of pride in his game and he’s really picked it up. He knows that if we’re going to win games, he needs to play well."

Unfortunately, the rest of the team’s defensive performance against UNH did not match Regan’s.

"We did not play well defensively on the blue line," said Mallen. "We allowed four or five breakaways and two power-play goals. But I thought we played a decent game in terms of it being David versus Goliath. We came out of the game with the satisfaction of playing them pretty tough overall."

Less satisfying was the loss to Lowell, which gave the River Hawks a sweep of the season series. Initially a slow game that saw the first-period shot totals at a snoozing 5-4 — "like two boxers feeling each other out," according to Mallen — it came awake in the second period, but not in the way the Minutemen had hoped for. Lowell seized the lead while outshooting its sister school 17-8, and continued to the win.

UMass-Amherst now travels to Alfond Arena, where the Black Bears may not be as dominant as in the past but still present many problems.

"You certainly can’t go up there thinking that it’s going to be an easy night, that’s for sure," said Mallen. "It’s one of the toughest places to play in the league, despite the record. They may not be where they want to be in the standings, but it’ll be interesting to see where they finish up.

"Their 3-1 win over UNH a couple weeks ago just shows you what kind of team they can be. They’re not going to sit back in their rink against us; I think it’ll be a real up-and-down game."

PICKS: Maine 5-3, 4-2.

Army (13-13-1, 1-11-0 vs. aligned D-I) at

Northeastern (17-10-2, 10-6-2 HEA, 4th)

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

Those who thought Northeastern’s Cinderella season would turn midnight last Thursday at Alfond Arena got a big surprise when NU topped Maine 5-3. The Black Bears had just upset UNH 3-1, while the Huskies were coming off a Beanpot loss to BU and were losing a war of attrition on the blue line. Maine appeared to be the heavy favorite and, with a comparatively light schedule down the stretch, appeared a reasonable bet to catch Northeastern for the final home ice spot.

"That was a tremendous win," said coach Bruce Crowder about the four-point swing. "The kids went up there a little disappointed and shorthanded with injuries, but they played well and found a way to win."

Todd Barclay, this week’s KOHO Player of the Week, sparked the offense with a hat trick and an assist, breaking a personal drought of four games without a point. He now leads the Huskies with 16 goals and five assists for 21 points.

"He had a tremendous game for us," said Crowder. "He shot the puck very well. We’d love to see that out of him every night, obviously. He does have the capabilities to do that."

Although the remaining schedule contains a succession of land mines, the Huskies now hold a five-point edge over UMass-Lowell and a six-point lead over Providence and Maine in the battle for home ice. The Black Bears, though, continue to be the likeliest challenger after considering all the stretch-run games.

"We don’t have home ice yet, but it helped put a couple nails in the thing," said Crowder. "But we’ve got a tough row to hoe, and schedule-wise they might have it a bit easier. What it’s going to boil down to is that we’ve got control of our own destiny. We play Maine twice at home and if we take care of the task at hand, then we’ll have home ice."

After the strong play up north, however, the Huskies hung Marc Robitaille out to dry for two periods in the Beanpot consolation game, one with NCAA tournament implications for the Huskies. Although they came alive in the third period, it was too little, too late and BC won 4-1.

"Nobody comes in this tournament and says, ‘Wow, I hope I can play in the consolation game!’" said Crowder. "But the one thing college hockey has is that these become important games for teams battling for the NCAA postseason picture.

"I have no excuses. We just didn’t play well. We got beaten in every aspect of play. It’s just something the coaches will try to evaluate."

On the plus side, Robitaille was spectacular. For the second straight year he won the Beanpot Eberly Award, given to the goaltender who competes in both games and achieves the highest save percentage. Last year’s .944 mark was tops, as was this year’s .916.

On the injury front, defenseman Mike Jozefowicz has finally returned and not a moment too soon. Aaron Toews’s neck injury is requiring further medical opinions. He will definitely not play this weekend. David Dupont and Scott Campbell also missed the Beanpot consolation game and are day-to-day.

Army has been following a predictable pattern. They’ve beaten up on many of their non-Division I and Independent foes, but lost to teams from the four conferences. Although the Cadets have had many close-but-no-cigar losses to these teams, including two in overtime, they can put only one game against UMass-Amherst in the win column.

Linemates Andy Lundbohm, Greg Buckmeier and Jon Toftey continue to lead team scoring.

PICK: Northeastern 4-2.