From 1984 through 1989, the two leagues played games against each member of the opposing conference, with the games counting in both leagues’ standings. In those days, wags in Hockey East press boxes would announce, "WCHA rules tonight. Two assists for every goal."
I find myself wondering sometimes if we’re back to "WCHA rules" again. Phantom assists are on the rise. If you’ve traveled around the rinks and been paying attention, or even watched the games on TV, you’ve probably seen it, too.
There are some stalwart defenders of statistical purity, but it’s increasingly become like trying to plug holes in a dike. To keep up with another school’s perceived largesse in awarding points, a competing program feels compelled to follow suit. Soon, the ante has been raised so many times that it’s gone past the gray regions. A player steals the puck from an opponent and beats the goalie, yet somehow assists are awarded.
Admittedly, a lot is at stake. Perceptions about players for consideration on All-America teams and the Hobey Baker Award are influenced by statistics. But when a surfeit of phantom assists diminishes the importance of that statistic, what’s the point?
Contrary to the conventional wisdom espoused here last week, Maine did not have to get at least three points against Northeastern last week to still have a shot at playoff home ice. After the Black Bear-Husky split, it came to light that Maine would win a three-way tie for fourth place with Northeastern and UMass-Lowell.
In such a tie, Maine would finish fourth by virtue of its 3-2-1 head-to-head record with the other two schools, Lowell would take fifth with a 2-2-2 mark and Northeastern would have to settle for sixth because of its 2-3-1 record.
UMass-Amherst’s stunning upset of New Hampshire last week put Boston University back in control of the Hockey East race with two weeks remaining. The Minutemen swept league awards as a result of their 4-3 win.
Hockey East Standings
Goaltender Brian Regan took the KOHO Player of the Week award with his 60 saves on the weekend and, in particular, his 38 stops in the upset.
Teammate Nick Stephens earned Rookie of the Week honors with the game-winner and three assists in the series. Last week’s record in picks: 7-1
Season’s record in picks: 115-61, .653
No. 3 Boston University (23-5-2, 14-4-2 HEA, 1st) vs. UMass-Amherst (6-21-2, 3-16-1 HEA 9th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA WABU-TV68
Boston University took 5-1 and 3-2 wins over Providence College this past weekend to complete a season’s sweep begun with a 1-0 squeaker on Jan. 10.
"I was real happy with how we played," said coach Jack Parker. "With the exception of us falling off our attack against Providence in the middle of the second game, I thought it was a solid weekend for us.
"We’ve really battled with Providence over the years and we certainly battled with them this year. The 3-2 game probably wasn’t as close as it looked, but the 5-1 game was much closer. We’ve always had good wars with them, so to get all three of those games the way we did — 3-2, 1-0, and then 5-1 in their place — was a pretty nice season against Providence College, that’s for sure."
Freshman Nick Gillis, elevated to right wing on Chris Drury’s line a few weeks ago, scored both game-winners and added two assists. Which begs the question: is Gillis playing better now, or is he just scarfing up crumbs off Drury’s table?
"The reason he’s on Drury’s line is that he’s playing a lot better," said Parker. "Playing with Chris Drury can get you a lot of points, but he’s helped Chris out as well. It’s not a one-way street. He’s played well and he’s gotten a lot more confident.
"He’s always been a great goal-scorer and playmaker. He realized he had to work a little harder to earn a spot, but once he did, his skills started to come out for us. That’s good for him and good for his linemates."
Making the sweep even sweeter was UMass-Amherst’s stunning upset of UNH on Sunday, giving the Terriers sole possession of first place and control of their own destiny.
"Obviously, getting four points and winding up back on top of the league with four games to go is nice," said Parker. "We got a good break from UMass and we didn’t falter."
Despite the potentially critical turn of events, Parker doesn’t see his players suddenly energized by being back in Hockey East driver’s seat as they head into a home-and-home of their own against UMass-Amherst.
"I don’t really think they take that into consideration," he said. "They know that the exact same thing could happen to them, because UMass now all of a sudden is fighting for a playoff berth. There’s still a long way to go when you have just one point on one club and three points on another. Any type of faltering on our part opens the door for either UNH or BC."
Goaltender Tom Noble had to leave the Saturday night contest with a pulled hamstring. The hope is that he’ll be ready for his usual turn in the rotation, at home on Saturday, but early in the week he remained day-to-day.
The Terriers last faced UMass-Amherst on Oct. 31 in a 5-2 win at Walter Brown Arena that stood 3-2 well into the third period. They begin this home-and-home on the big ice surface in Amherst.
"Up there, it’s always been goaltending, power plays and penalty kills," said Parker. "We’ve had a lot of physical games with them with a lot of opportunities both ways, shot-wise. So both goaltenders have to stand up to the pressure. Those are usually the keys against UMass. Also being focused and ready to go.
"Having them beat UNH is a plus for us in more than one way. It lets us know that that’s a real good club, because UNH should have had the advantage playing in the big rink. We’re not used to playing in the big rink, but UNH is. And yet UMass turned around and handled them pretty well.
"We’ll have all we can handle, that’s for sure."
UMass-Amherst lost to UNH 7-3 on Friday, but then stunned the Wildcats, then atop Hockey East and ranked third nationally, 4-3 back at home on Sunday.
"On Friday, I thought the kids played pretty well," said coach Joe Mallen. "The difference was the power play. They were 4-for-6 and had a shorthanded goal. It was 2-2 even strength and we outshot them by a couple. For us to outshoot them in their building was a positive step, we thought.
"Going into the second game, we tried to stick to a basic game plan and we got outstanding goaltending from Brian Regan. We were down 3-2 after two and when we went into the third period, I just asked everybody to do things quicker and stick to the system.
"When we gained the lead, guys like [Mark] Mowers and [Tom] Nolan absolutely picked it up to the nth degree. It was impressive. They were just all over us. Brian Regan just held the fort for about the last five minutes of the game and we were able to hang on for the win.
"Despite beating them on Sunday, I’m very, very impressed with the way that Mowers, especially, and Nolan, [Derek] Bekar and [Jason] Krog are playing. Those four guys are just outstanding. Sean Matile as well."
Regan’s heroics earned him Hockey East KOHO Player of the Week honors, but he almost didn’t get the start.
"To be honest, he didn’t have a great game on Friday night," said Mallen. "I really hemmed and hawed about whether I wanted to come back with him. But one thing about Brian is that he’s a great competitor. Usually, if he doesn’t play well, he comes back and plays real strong, which was the case here. In this game, he just looked like he was on top of every shot.
"I was talking to him about Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek [in the Olympics]. When the puck was being sent across the ice for one-time shots, they were already right on it or were on it before the shot was even taken. That’s how Brian looked the other night. He was on top of everything.
"For him, our defense really played a decent game. Mike Gaffney played a good game offensively, but we gave Brian good protection and didn’t allow many rebound shots. That’s something that helps him a lot."
The league honors didn’t stop there. Nick Stephens took the Rookie of the Week award for his game-winner and three assists on the weekend. Admittedly, his goal came on a play where all he had to do was put a puck into an open net just a few feet away after Dan Juden beat Matile to a loose puck, but the games against UNH still amounted to a breakout weekend for the freshman. He’d totaled just one goal and one assist previously.
"Nick Stephens is an unbelievably fast skater," said Mallen. "In some ways, he reminds us of [UMass-Lowell senior] Shannon Basaraba, who is really a great skater. Nick needs to learn a lot more about the game itself, but that speed can be a scary factor. He’s got speed, a great work ethic and he’s really tough, but he’s still learning a lot about the game."
Fellow freshman Jeff Turner continued his impressive comeback from the broken leg he suffered in the season’s first practice, scoring two goals on the weekend and assisting on Stephens’ game-winner. Turner, whose injury required three screws in his leg and the reattachment of a ligament, has now scored goals in the last three games.
"I had said after he got hurt that I didn’t feel comfortable with our second line," said Mallen. "I had thought he could have been our second-line center. Now he’s bearing that out. This kid is showing what we thought he could do. He’s going to be a real good player in the league."
With perhaps an extra jump in their step following the upset of UNH, the Minutemen prepare for a series with Boston University. Despite the truism that any team in Hockey East can beat any other on any given night, there’s nothing like beating the team on top to reinforce that ideal.
"There’s no doubt that hockey is a game of momentum," said Mallen. "If you can get some winning momentum, that goes a long way. As we found out this year, some losing momentum can go a long way, too. I know everyone feels a lot more optimistic going into the last four games after that win."
In principle, the Minutemen have their destiny in their own hands since they are one point behind Merrimack for the final playoff berth with one game in hand. The schedule, however, provides some fine print. Merrimack faces seventh-place Providence twice this weekend and first-place Boston University once. UMass-Amherst faces BU twice this weekend, followed by lone games against third-place Boston College and sixth-place Maine.
So the Minutemen have their work cut out for them, but that still beats where they stood just a few weeks ago, still waiting for their first league win.
Tim Lovell returns for the run at the playoffs after serving a four-game suspension for an unidentified violation of team rules.
PICKS: BU 3-2 on the Mullins Center ice and 4-2 back home at Walter Brown Arena.
No. 4 New Hampshire (22-6-1, 14-5-1 HEA, 2nd) vs.
Northeastern (18-12-2, 11-7-2 HEA, 4th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA
Saturday, 8 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH FOXNE
New Hampshire lost control of the Hockey East race when UMass-Amherst stunned them 4-3 in a Sunday afternoon back end of a home-and-home series. The Wildcats had taken a 7-3 win at the Whittemore Center.
"Believe it or not, we played better on Sunday than we did on Friday night when we won 7-3," said coach Richard Umile. "That’s how crazy the game is. On Friday night, we played better as the game went on and obviously played well on the power play."
The Wildcats scored in four of their five man-advantage situations, putting them atop Hockey East with a 26.5 percent success rate in league games.
They also added a shorthanded goal, their 13th of the season. Their penalty kill unit now ranks first in overall efficiency (89.5 percent) and, in one of the more amazing statistics of the year, has allowed only one more goal while shorthanded than they have scored themselves.
With special teams like that, goaltender Sean Matile setting league career shutout marks in just his second year, the top four scorers in Hockey East and an underrated "No-Name" defense, this writer last week predicted not only two blowout wins, but a trip to the Final Four in April.
Was the "Hendrickson Kiss of Death" at work in the Sunday afternoon upset?
More likely, it was Brian Regan winning the goaltending battle. The Wildcats outshot UMass-Amherst 41-18, but still wound up on the short end of the stick.
"I can’t tell you how disappointing it was," said Umile. "I won’t take any credit away from UMass. They found a way to win the game. We didn’t give them that many opportunities, but every one that we gave them, they scored. They hung in there, played together and found a way to beat us.
"I give credit to Regan. He played well. Matile has had a good season. Obviously, [Sunday] wasn’t his best game, but he’s done a lot for us throughout the season, so it was a chance for us to maybe score some goals to help him out, but that didn’t happen."
As a result, BU is now in the driver’s seat. The Terriers can take the regular season championship and a first step towards an NCAA opening round bye by running the board of their games against UMass-Amherst (twice), Northeastern and Merrimack.
"It’s not the end of the world, as I told the team, but obviously it’s out of our hands right now," said Umile. "Now we have to rely on something else happening, but that’s what’s going on in the league. That’s how tight the league is.
"Now, it’s going to come down to how we respond after a disappointing loss that took it out of our control. We’ve got to play and focus on what’s ahead. If you have a chance to win it, you better pay attention to what you’re doing down the stretch, otherwise you won’t have any opportunity."
In their previous game against Northeastern, a 5-2 win on Jan. 30, UNH jumped out to a 2-0 lead on two first-period shorthanded goals.
"I’m not going to rely on scoring two goals shorthanded to beat Northeastern," said Umile laughing. "That’s for darn sure. They’re a well-coached team and they play hard. Obviously, they’ve proven that.
"It’s going to be a solid physical game. It’s going to be who does the best job defensively."
Northeastern split with Maine last weekend, coming back to take the opener 4-3, but then dropping the back end 4-1.
Billy Newson figured in each NU goal, scoring twice and assisting on the two others. The flashy 5-8 forward also adds a mosquito-like quality to the Husky penalty kill.
"He’s learning to play with his head," said coach Bruce Crowder. "He’s always been very quick. At other levels, he’s been in situations where he was able to compensate with his quickness for his mistakes. At this level, you can’t and he’s really eliminated them. He’s been fantastic the last half of the season.
"He had a great game, but that’s very typical of this team. It’s somebody different every night that’s stepping up. [Friday] it was Billy; a week ago, it was Matt Keating, Bobby Haglund and Graig Mischler.
"It’s nice, because sometimes it’s tough for teams to play us. We’re not going to wow teams offensively. But when you’re dealing with a bunch of young kids and they know that if they come to play on a certain night they can be the hero, that can go a long way."
The Huskies also showed increased maturity compared to earlier in the season by making sure they got the puck deep once they took the lead and forced Maine to beat them 200 feet.
"That was one of our goals for all three periods," said Crowder. "Maine is a good transition team. If we were turning it over in the neutral zone, they were going to capitalize."
Crowder also pointed to a seventh player that helped the Huskies score twice within 11 seconds in the third period.
"I think it’s the crowd, to be honest," he said. "The students have really gotten into this. When the crowd is behind you and all of a sudden the place is rocking, it brings [the players] up.
"I’ve said all along, that if we can get this place packed and get four or five thousand people, they’re going to be good for a goal or two a night. That’s one of the goals outside the goal: to get the fans more involved. I think we’ve treated them to some pretty nice hockey."
Although it falls into the "So what else is new?" category, Marc Robitaille again was terrific in the nets, stopping 37 shots while his team was outshot 40-23.
"Robitaille played outstanding," noted Maine coach Shawn Walsh after the game. "We had breakaways, we had two-on-ones, we had good chances, but Marc has been the backbone of their team. Probably in our league, he may be the one player that means more to his team than anybody. That was evident tonight."
When asked about Robitaille’s ironman status of playing all but 22 minutes this year, Crowder responded tongue-in-cheek.
"He doesn’t have to skate," he said. "He just stays in the blue paint all the time. Why should he be tired? It’s one of the easiest jobs in hockey. He just stands there. He got seven minutes’ rest last Friday night. What do you want?"
On a more serious note, he added, "It’s no big deal. This is college hockey. New Hampshire is using the same kid every night. Clemmensen at BC is playing every night. We’re using the same kid every night."
Crowder felt that his team played well in the rematch, but just didn’t get the W.
"I thought we played better tonight than last night," he said after the game. "We forced some things and created some offensive chances. We battled a lot better. It was just one of those things that wasn’t meant to be."
As a result, the battle for home ice remains undecided, as noted above. The Huskies could finish anywhere from fourth to sixth.
"It really hasn’t been a focus," said Crowder. "I felt that if we made it a focus, it would be a deterrent. We’ve pretty much stayed close to the game plan. We’re a young team and we’re going to have learning experiences from everything we do. We’re going to just take one game at a time."
So the Huskies now switch their attention from Maine to New Hampshire.
"It gets easier," said Crowder with a laugh. "It’s going to be tough. I saw today that they have the top four scorers in the country or some crazy thing like that" — four in the top six, to be exact — "and I’m playing five freshmen defensemen. Something has got to give. We’re going to learn a lot more about our guys. It’s just another challenge, just like they all have been over the last six or seven games."
The contest pits Northeastern’s league-worst overall power play (13.6 percent) against UNH’s league-best penalty killers (89.5 percent), who have also displayed a shorthanded scoring prowess.
"That’s what killed us the last time they played us," said Crowder. "Our biggest thing is that we’ve got to get something on the power play. We’re not generating a whole lot of offense off it. We’re generating opportunities, but we’re not seeing the red light go on.
"That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year. At times we move it well and create some opportunities, but there’s nothing at the end of it for our effort."
Crowder hopes to get back blueliner David Dupont, who remains day-to-day.
As noted last week, defenseman Aaron Toews was forced to retire because of a congenital spinal condition discovered during treatment of an unrelated injury. Toews, whose father played linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was advised by doctors to avoid all contact sports.
"It’s another bit of adversity for this team," said Crowder. "It’s bad enough that we’re playing the youth we’re playing, but he gave us a real stabilizing factor back there [on defense]. He’s a guy that came to play, he was a competitor and he was great in the locker room. He’s going to be sorely, sorely missed for the rest of this season and the years ahead.
"I’m just so damn happy that we found it out the right way and we didn’t find out the wrong way."
PICKS: Stung by the upset this past week, UNH sweeps, 4-2 and 5-3.
No. 7 Boston College (19-8-4, 12-5-3 HEA, 3rd) vs. UMass-Lowell (13-13-3, 10-8-3 HEA, 5th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA AudioNet
Saturday, 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA
Boston College was idle last week, a scheduling victim of Hockey East’s odd number of teams, thus becoming Exhibit A in the case for expansion. With ECAC teams committed to league play every weekend from the beginning of February on, good nonconference games are tough to find.
Other than the Beanpot, the only nonleague games for Hockey East teams since the end of January have been Northeastern’s one game against Army and Maine’s series this weekend with Nebraska-Omaha.
Although it wasn’t the ideal time to be off, coach Jerry York — who had his team watch the Maine-Northeastern and BU-Providence games last weekend — chose to emphasize the positive.
"We had a couple days off and it should be good for us," he said. "We can come back refocused and refreshed. We realize that we have four games left in our regular season and we want to be playing the best hockey of our year."
Even while inactive, the Eagles had a good weekend, solidifying their position nationally while No. 5 Michigan, No. 7 St. Cloud, No. 9 Miami and No. 10 Wisconsin all lost twice. As a result, BC moved from No. 8 to No. 7 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and are also at the No. 7 position in the Pairwise Rankings.
"We’re very conscious of that, but we’re trying to keep our focus within the league," said York. "We need a little bit of luck here and we have to take care of our own business, but our sights are still on the Hockey East [regular season] championship.
"Then we have the playoff championship. So a lot of things are happening within Hockey East."
This weekend, the Eagles take on UMass-Lowell in a home-and-home series chock full of playoff positioning implications.
"As you look around the league, there are some great match-ups, no matter who you play," said York. "There’s a lot of quality within the conference. This weekend is a pivotal weekend for both teams."
UMass-Lowell swept Merrimack last weekend, 4-3 and 5-1, including its first win at the Tsongas Arena.
"It was good to get the result," said coach Tim Whitehead. "Sometimes you work hard, but you don’t get the end result. It was very important for us to win at home and we did. I thought the game could have gone either way. We were fortunate to come out of it with the win, but the guys came out to play on Saturday and I thought we earned that victory. It was good to get four points."
The sweep vaulted the River Hawks back into the race for playoff home ice.
"It’s definitely a goal of ours, but we’re not getting too carried away," said Whitehead. "We’re battling with some very good teams that are shooting for the same thing. But that’s definitely our goal. We just have to win some hockey games to do it.
"If we win a couple games and the other teams win more than that, then so be it. We’re just worrying about ourselves right now and trying to play as well as we can down the stretch. We’re not focusing as much on winning and losing as playing hard and playing good hockey."
Marty Fillion, for one, is playing very well, reminding fans of his play in the postseason two years ago. He has won his last four starts, while posting a 1.75 goals-against average. So what has been the difference for Fillion?
"He’s played," said Whitehead laughing. "It’s no secret that he hadn’t played his best hockey this year. After Christmas, Scott Fankhouser earned the number-one spot. Marty had an opportunity to go back in the net three weeks ago and he’s earned the spot back.
"We felt that down the stretch run, it was important for our seniors to contribute and lead the way. With Mike Nicholishen and Chris Libett healthy now, Fillion back in the lineup and Shannon Basaraba his good old dependable self, we’re headed in the right direction.
"Whether it’s going to translate into wins down the stretch, we’ll have to wait and see. But we feel we’re at least positioned to play our best with those guys getting the ice time."
Basaraba contributed his second career hat trick on Saturday night, a departure for a player who has spent more of his career using his speed to set up his linemates.
"He’s trying to shoot the puck more and he’s certainly getting a ton of ice time," said Whitehead. "The combination means the puck is going in more for him. He’s been very dependable all year, a very steady two-way player. He’s our best defensive forward.
"Goals aren’t everything, but it’s good to see the puck go in. Everybody likes to score. I’m definitely happy for him as a senior to see the puck going in the net for him, because it’s tough to just get praise for playing defensive hockey all the time or setting up goals. He’s really rounding out his game and leading the way up front for us."
The next stop on the tough road to playoff home ice is a series with Boston College. In the opener, the River Hawks will be without Nicholishen — who posted a 2-3–5 line last weekend — because of a game disqualification for leaving the bench (though in a peacemaker role). They will continue to be without Craig Brown (torn pelvis ligament) and Andrew Korzen, who was sidelined for the year back in November with a knee injury.
"They’ve got a very strong power play and they’re a very well-balanced team from the goaltending to the defense to the forwards," said Whitehead. "They’re a good hockey team and they’re playing very well right now. It’s a very big challenge for us."
PICKS: The River Hawks would have a better chance to split by picking up a game at home against a rusty Eagle squad if Nicholishen were playing. Of course, that logic fell apart two weeks ago when Lowell knocked off BU without Greg Koehler. Still, this looks like two 4-3 wins for BC.
Providence College (13-15-3, 7-12-2 HEA, 7th) vs. Merrimack (9-21-1, 4-17-0 HEA, 8th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI
Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA
Providence lost 5-1 and 3-2 games to Boston University last week. The Friars have now posted a 1-10-2 record dating back to Jan. 10, scoring only 17 goals in the 13 games. They now rank last in Hockey East offense.
"[In the 5-1 loss,] we could have made it 3-2," said coach Paul Pooley. "We had a couple great chances and didn’t bury it. [Michel] Larocque made some saves, but I think we hit him more than he made some saves. But, obviously, he’s a tremendous goalie and played well for them.
"On Saturday night, they jumped out with three power-play goals. Then we got a spark, played very well, had some chances and made some plays, but were just a little too late.
"It seems like everyone is looking for somebody to lead the way. When somebody gets a goal or steps up, then somebody else follows, but its almost a little too late sometimes."
Boyd Ballard kept PC in the 3-2 game, particularly in a first period in which BU outshot the Friars 17-1. The freshman goaltender, who played brilliantly during the first semester until slumping in January, appears to be back in form.
"He made some good saves and was very steady in there," said Pooley. "It was very promising for us for him to play that well, because that’s what we need to have happen. It all starts around your goaltending and he gave us a chance to win that game."
As a result of his return to form, he’ll be starting both games this weekend and, barring a relapse, probably into the playoffs.
"Mark Kane has played well for us, but I still think Ballard is the guy that we have to go with for us to win," said Pooley. "There’s no doubt in my mind that he has to be our goalie and he has to be on. He can take us to a point where we have a chance to beat anybody, whether its UNH, BU or BC in the playoffs."
Until then, the Friars appear locked in seventh place, with only a mathematical chance of catching Maine for sixth place and no chance of falling to eighth. Pooley, however, doesn’t see any change in game preparation because of this.
"Our goal is that we have three weeks to become the best team that we can be," he said. "We need to get back on track, get our specialty teams in order and do the simple things for us to get a chance to win.
"I don’t care if we’re going to UNH, BU or BC [for the playoffs]. I think we can beat all those teams if we’re on and we’re playing with good goaltending.
"Our power play has to get us a goal and our PK has to be better. We’re going to work on that, fine-tuning our game over the next few weeks. But we’re just worried about playing good.
"A win would be great for us, whether we’re in seventh, sixth or eighth. It doesn’t matter."
The Friars will be taking on Merrimack, the only team they’ve beaten in the last 13 games. In fact, you have to go back to 1994 for the last Warrior win over PC.
"They transition the puck very well," said Pooley. "Their power play is very, very good, so we have to make sure that we’re disciplined. We have to use our speed to make sure that we’re playing good defense against them and not giving them odd-man rushes."
Merrimack’s losing streak stretched to nine games with 4-3 and 5-1 losses to UMass-Lowell over the weekend.
"Obviously, you’d like to win two instead of losing two," said coach Ron Anderson. "I thought we played pretty well on Friday night at their place. We just didn’t seem to have it on Saturday night. It was a game for a while, but they beat us on special teams."
The Warriors got another encouraging performance from freshman goaltender Tom Welby when he stopped 40 of 45 shots on Saturday. Sophomore Cris Classen made 27 saves on 31 shots one night earlier.
"I thought Welby played very well," said Anderson. "I think we’re at the point where right now both of those guys are playing well enough to be in there and playing on a regular basis. Unless something happens, we’ll probably just rotate them for the rest of the year. We’ll at least give them both the opportunity to develop and see if anybody emerges.
"We’re reasonably pleased with the play of both of those guys the last three or four weeks. That’s what we had hoped would happen. Obviously, it would have been nice if they could have both stepped in at the beginning of the year and played very well, but, like I’ve said, Cris didn’t play much last year so it was almost like we had two freshmen. They’re both starting to come on now and are playing pretty well down the stretch."
With the Warriors suddenly facing a UMass-Amherst challenge from the rear for the last playoff berth, they’ll be hoping to take advantage of an opponent in as bad a slump as their own.
"The last game here against Providence, we checked them pretty close and they checked us pretty close," said Anderson. "It was a 2-0 game. I’d be surprised if either game [is] high-scoring this weekend.
"We’ve got to get our offense up to where we can get ourselves three or four goals anyways. We’re playing better defense now, but we’re struggling with offense.
"That’s been the tale of the tape for us all year. When the offense was going good, we couldn’t keep it out of our net. Now that we’re playing better team defense and our goaltending has come along, we’re not scoring as well as we’d like to."
The Saturday night home game marks Anderson’s final game at the Volpe Complex.
"I’ll approach it like any other game, obviously, but certainly it takes on a little more significance," said Anderson. "I’ve had a lot of good memories in the building. Now, I just hope we can make some more on Saturday night."
PICKS: Providence wins 4-2 on Friday. Merrimack comes back on Saturday, however, and gives Anderson a winning home sendoff, 4-1.
University of Nebraska-Omaha (11-17-2, 4-13-0 vs. aligned D-I) at Maine (13-13-3, 10-11-2 HEA, 6th)
Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME
Last Friday, Northeastern came back to top Maine 4-3 and reduce Black Bear hopes of home ice to the slim possibility of a three-way tie with the Huskies and Lowell.
Even so, coach Shawn Walsh praised his team’s performance.
"I’m really encouraged with how we played," he said. "We played well and played hard all night long. The shots were 40-23. That pretty much speaks for itself."
One night later, Maine got the W, 4-1, led by Alfie Michaud’s 37 saves on 38 shots.
"The puck went in the net for us tonight," said Walsh after the game. "That was the difference. I actually feel we played better last night and territorially dominated the game more last night. The difference was [Marc] Robitaille came down to Earth tonight and Alfie played very, very well.
"Obviously, we were really disappointed with last night’s loss, but we decided to just keep coming after them and play hard and we got the lead. But I don’t think it was a 4-1 game; it was closer than that.
"Now we’ve got to ask for some help if we’re going to finish in fifth place."
Steve Kariya scored twice and added two assists on the weekend. He has now earned points in the last eight games.
"Steve is coming on now," said Walsh. "He’s a great player. It’s a long season, but I think he knew how important this season was for us and he obviously took it upon himself to lead us offensively."
Sophomore Jim Leger, a role-player on the lower lines, added a goal along with his customary hustle.
"You know what you’re going to get from him when he gets on the ice," said Walsh. "He works his tail off. He’s not a real pure offensive player. He’s more a worker. He works and he’s quick. He’s got a great attitude and he’s very coachable. He’ll dive or do whatever it takes to make the play.
"I think this team lacks those kind of guys. The forwards that graduated last year all had that in their blood. Dan Shermerhorn would do anything defensively. [He and Reg] Cardinal and [Trevor] Roenick were the guys I’d have on the ice with a one-goal lead.
"We don’t have those players yet. You have to develop that. I think that’s something we’re lacking, and we’re certainly looking forward to recruiting and developing that."
The Black Bear power play, which had undergone a mid-season drought after burning up Hockey East in the early going, is back to its previous smokin’ ways. In the last four games, the Bears have scored 10 power-play goals, including at least two strikes in each contest.
"It’s really going now," said Walsh. "What’s nice is that we’ve put in some new people. Marcus Gustafsson has helped it. Robert Ek has really helped it. [On Saturday,] he made a great play on the goal by [Scott] Parmentier. It’s nice to see us move the puck the way we’re moving it."
Maine is the odd-team out this week in terms of conference play in the nine-team league. As a result, the Black Bears are hosting Nebraska-Omaha in a game with no effect on either the standings or the Pairwise Rankings.
"It’s a shame it doesn’t mean anything in the Pairwise," said Walsh. "I didn’t know that when I scheduled it. I think it should. They’re a Division I opponent, no different than in basketball. If North Carolina plays Centenary, the games count.
"I’m disappointed. Whoever made up that rule doesn’t encourage emerging teams. We need emerging teams and we need those games to count, because all they’re saying is that we should not be scheduling them. That disappoints me and I think it’s a rule that needs to be looked at."
Nonetheless, the games still could serve as an important tuneup for the playoffs.
"We’re going to play everybody," said Walsh. "We’re going to give a lot guys ice time and try some things with our eye towards three weeks from now."
Nebraska-Omaha stunned many observers earlier in the season when it took three straight games from Division I conference teams, one to gain a split with UMass-Amherst followed by a sweep of Denver. A couple weeks later, the Mavericks put another one in the W column against Union.
Since then, however, 10 straight losses to aligned D-I teams have injected a temporary dose of reality into what looks like a power in the making. Even so, sweeps of Air Force and Mankato State, then last weekend’s three of four points from Alabama-Huntsville, have restored some momentum for the fledgling program.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they won’t have the 8,000-plus crazies behind them that they enjoy at home. They will have some pretty good goaltending behind them. In recent weeks, junior goaltender Jason Mitchell (5-11-0, 3.42 GAA, .893 SV%) came within seconds of a shutout and, one night later, sophomore backup Kendall Sidoruk (3-4-0, 4.11 GAA, .867 SV%) stopped a penalty shot with less than a minute left to preserve a win.
In the other end, Jason Cupp (10-12–22), Billy Pugliese (14-7–21) and Derek Reynolds (6-14–20) lead the Maverick scoring.
PICKS: Maine sweeps 5-2, 4-1.