I don’t have anything to complain about this week.
Neither does Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder, whose team swept UNH in yet another Husky stunner. Everyone keeps waiting for the NU Cinderella season to turn midnight, but it seems these kids can’t tell time.
Their own Roger Holeczy took the KOHO Player of the Week award on the strength of his three goals and one assist against New Hampshire.
BC’s Brian Gionta earned Rookie of the Week honors with his Texas hat trick and assist in a 7-3 win over UMass-Lowell along with a goal and an assist one night earlier.
The Heaton/Hockey East Goaltender of the Month award went to BU’s Michel Larocque for his 6-0-0 record, 1.27 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Last week’s record in picks: 6-4 Season’s record in picks: 121-65, .651
Hockey East Standings
No. 3 Boston University (23-5-2, 16-4-2 HEA, 1st) at
Northeastern (20-12-2, 13-7-2 HEA, 4th)
Merrimack (9-23-1, 4-19-0 HEA, 8th) at No. 3 Boston University (23-5-2, 16-4-2 HEA, 1st)
Thursday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA
Boston University swept UMass-Amherst last week, 3-1 and 5-1, putting its impressive stretch run at 12 wins in 13 games. The Terriers have allowed only six goals in their last five and outshot the Minutemen 42-27 and 43-13 on the weekend.
"I thought that from a technical point of view and from an emotional point of view we played very well," says coach Jack Parker. "UMass played real well, much better than in games we’ve played in the past. They’ve improved greatly and Brian Regan obviously played well, making a lot of saves.
"[But] in general, they were games we pretty much controlled. I was happy with the outcome and around the league as well."
Ah, yes, around the league. The Terriers got a big helping hand from Boston’s other ice dogs, the Northeastern Huskies, who swept then-second place UNH. Two weeks ago, BU was not in control of its own destiny, trailing New Hampshire by a point with no head-to-head games remaining. Now, the Terriers are three points in front with only two games left.
Wunderkind Tom Poti completed a rarity for blueliners, collecting his first collegiate hat trick on Saturday. Poti, who might be the top offensive defenseman in the nation, trails only Chris Drury for the team lead in points. Poti now totals 14 goals and 25 assists.
"He just creates things," says Parker. "And when he shoots the puck, it goes in the net. When Danny Ronan shoots the puck, it doesn’t," he adds laughing.
No knock intended, of course, on Ronan, who is known more for his hip checks than his one goal and six assists.
Several milestones were set in the Saturday night home game. Drury became only the fifth Terrier in school history to reach 200 career points, while the win marked BU’s 300th at Walter Brown Arena, dating back to the 1971-72 season.
With goaltender Tom Noble sidelined with a hamstring pull, Michel Larocque — winner of the Heaton/Hockey East Goaltender of the Month award — played both games against the Minutemen and will continue the double duty this week.
"There’s no question that he’s had a great career here so far," says Parker. "He’s been a big-game player for us. We’ve been blessed with two great ones in Noble and Larocque. But Noble won’t be back for at least another week, so it’ll be Larocque for a while here.
"He’s played extremely well. He’s got the best numbers, but he also has the poise. When he’s in the net, everything is calm. He knows how to handle a game and the defensemen in front of him. Everything seems to be copacetic, so to speak, when he’s in the cage. He gives everyone a lot of confidence.
"I don’t think there’s any question that he’s the best goalie in the league. They may be raving about [Michigan State’s] Chad Alban, but I can’t believe that anybody is as good as Larocque and has the future that he has."
On Thursday, the Terriers take on the same Northeastern team that removed most of the drama in the race for the regular season crown with its surprising sweep of UNH.
"We weren’t surprised by it," says Parker. "We’ve had some real battles with them. They’re a real good hockey team. They’ve got a lot of freshman and sophomores, but they’re real old freshmen and sophomores. They’ve played a lot of hockey.
"They’ve got a lot of skill, a lot more skill and confidence up front than they’ve had the last couple years. And, obviously, they’re in the same boat as we are. Their goaltending gives them a lot of confidence and they play real hard in front of him.
"When you have a goaltender that’s as hot as Marc Robitaille is, you’ve got a chance to win any game. They certainly have added to that with great team defense. They’re a much more offense-minded team than people expected they’d be at the beginning of the year."
What a week Northeastern had! The Huskies swept UNH, the number four team in the country, 5-4 and 2-1. In doing so, they rose to 13th in the Pairwise Rankings and now are in striking distance of an at-large NCAA berth.
"We were pretty consistent for six periods of hockey," says coach Bruce Crowder. "Looking back, I don’t think they really dominated like some other teams have done to us for different stretches.
"The other thing for us was just the composure that this young team showed. Obviously, UNH is a tough place to play and they had [Senior Night and ceremonies honoring legendary coach Charlie Holt]. We were able to stay focused throughout the 60 minutes and we got goals when we needed them and saves when we needed them."
Going into the game, Crowder had indicated that facing the second-highest scoring team in the nation would tell a lot about his young defense. With junior David Dupont sidelined by injury and sophomore Aaron Toews’s career ended following the discovery of a congenital spinal problem, the Huskies rolled out five freshman defenseman along with a senior who’d been number eight on the blueline depth chart.
UNH’s forwards, including the top four scorers per game in the nation, had to be licking their chops. By the weekend’s end, however, they were licking their wounds. It was a two-game TKO for the Northeastern freshmen.
"They’re a group that’s getting better and better, probably because, unlike normal freshmen, they have the demands of playing, and playing in key situations," says Crowder. "I don’t think I’d trade them for anybody right now.
"I like what they give us, especially Arik Engbrecht, John Peterman and Mike Jozefowicz. Matt Brown’s getting better because he’s getting a lot of quality ice time and Dougie Carlson’s the same thing.
"We’re still making mistakes as a young team. We’ll probably make them until the end of the year, but they learn from them and a lot of times they don’t make the same one twice."
Roger Holeczy, Hockey East’s Player of the Week, led the offense with three goals, including the Saturday game-winner, and a great assist on Billy Newson’s Friday night shorthander that also proved to be the game-winner.
"He’s really started to come on the last two or three weeks," says Crowder. "He and [Todd] Barclay and Newson are comfortable playing together. That sophomore class was very much like this freshman class. They got a lot of quality ice time last year and they learned from it. They’re just bringing it to the rink every night."
Newson added two goals and two assists on Friday night, but was sidelined for most of the rematch at the Whitt by a groin pull. He is listed as day-to-day.
Brian Cummings has provided some of the muscle to complement the speed and skill of the 5-8 Newson and the 5-9 Holeczy. His big hit, which never showed up in the box score, helped spring Holeczy for the Saturday night game-winner. Up front, the Husky whole has been more effective than the sum of its parts because of the mixture of offense and physical play.
"It’s good, as a team, that you have the ability to do either one," says Crowder. "We’re still not scoring a lot of goals, but I think physically we can play with people. We exploded a little bit outside our norm on Friday, picking up five, but I think you need a mixture.
"You just can’t have a whole group of bangers and you just can’t have a whole group of finesse players. You’ve got to have balance. I like the way our team is shaping up in that regard right now."
The Huskies now own a 7-3-1 record in games they’ve entered the third period either tied or behind. Last year, they didn’t win a single game in that category, prompting a no-nonsense emphasis on offseason conditioning. The sweep over UNH represents two more returns on that investment.
"The kids have got the confidence that if we’re down by a goal or tied or up by a goal, [we’ll come through,]" says Crowder. "Third periods have been pretty good for us this year. Because of that, the kids continue to bring that work ethic to practice and realize that it’s going to pay dividends down the road."
In the Huskies’ last nine games, they’ve faced New Hampshire and Maine three times each, Boston University, Boston College and Army. Even after a gauntlet like that, however, they must now take on No. 3 BU and No. 5 BC to close out the regular season. When asked about the two tough opponents, Crowder laughs and says, "Just replay the last month’s tapes."
"Obviously, both BU and BC are tremendous hockey teams," he adds seriously. "They’re a little bit different. BC’s more of a flowing type of a team. BU’s more of a come-at-you team and a little bit more physical.
"I’m being redundant, but we’ll be a better team come Sunday or Monday morning after playing these two teams."
PICKS: Northeastern keeps it going, 3-2.
Merrimack (9-23-1, 4-19-0 HEA, 8th) at No. 3 Boston University (23-5-2, 16-4-2 HEA, 1st)
Sunday, 2 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA
This could be a game that means a lot or means nothing at all. When the two teams eat their pre-game breakfast on Sunday, they’ll know which of the two scenarios apply.
Unless UMass-Amherst gets at least one win or two ties against Boston College and Maine, Merrimack takes the eighth and final playoff berth regardless of this game’s outcome.
And if BU defeats Northeastern on Thursday night, this game becomes moot for the Terriers, too. They will have clinched the regular-season title already.
As a result, this game could be a meaningless prelude to the two teams meeting in the playoff quarterfinals one week later.
The flip side, however, is that BU could need this game to finish first in Hockey East and Merrimack may need it to qualify for the playoffs.
Either way, Boston University coach Jack Parker doesn’t see much difference in how his team will approach the game. Even if the two teams will be facing in the playoffs, there’ll be no sense of holding back a trump card or two for next week.
"You want to play as hard as you can and as well as you can down the stretch," he says. "You don’t even want to worry about who you’re playing next weekend. It’s possible that it will be…an important game for us as well as for Merrimack, so I don’t think there’s any question that the game will have a playoff atmosphere.
"It will certainly be a different attitude in terms of imminent reward if, by chance, we’ve already gotten the first seed. But I don’t think it’ll be much of a difference, because we’ve had some real battles with Merrimack. It will be important for us to play real hard, just to make sure that we’re on a roll going into the playoffs, too."
Merrimack dropped 4-2 and 6-4 games to Providence, extending its losing streak to a school single-season record of 11. The two games were, in some ways, typical since the majority of the losses during the skein have been by only one or two goals.
"It obviously didn’t go the way we wanted," says coach Ron Anderson, "but I thought we gave ourselves a real chance to win both nights. Providence is a pretty stingy team defensively. We gave ourselves a good chance to win down there on Friday until they got the empty-net goal.
"And I thought the game at our place might have been one of the best games we played all year. I thought we came out and played hard, strong and with a lot of determination. We had ourselves a 3-1 lead, but give Providence credit. They played really well and came back on us."
The latter game was not only Senior Night at Merrimack, but also Anderson’s home farewell. He was treated to a standing ovation from the crowd prior to the game and was greeted by many former team members as he left the ice.
"You need emotion to play this game, game in and game out, and you need it to coach as well," says Anderson. "I’ve always tried to muster emotion out of our players and out of myself.
"Saturday night was a different kind of emotion. It was extremely gratifying to get the send-off that I got, not only from the fans, but obviously from all of my former players that were here. To see them and think that they thought that much of their experience here that it was important for them to come back and wish me well.
"Those are the kind of kids that we’ve been fortunate enough to have come through our program and the kind of personalities and characters that we’ve been able to develop.
"I actually had four of my student managers, kids who aren’t on scholarships and don’t get any of the glitter or glory, come back. One of them was my first student manager from 15 years ago.
"It was heart-warming and extremely gratifying. I really appreciated it."
This week’s opposing coach, BU’s Jack Parker, weighed in on Anderson’s firing.
"They’re not going to find a better coach," says Parker. "It’s obvious that people want change for change’s sake instead of looking in the mirror and changing what they could help Ronnie with. They’re getting rid of a really fine coach and that’s too bad. It’s too bad for the sport, because he’s a great guy, too."
Not all of the milestones were tinged with sadness, however. Rejean Stringer passed the career 100-point barrier, the first Warrior to do so before his senior year. Stringer leads the country with 41 assists to go with his eight goals.
"It’s pretty obvious that he’s developed into the kind of offensive player that we projected he would," says Anderson. "This season is obviously no exception. He’s having a great year, numbers-wise, right up there with Kris Porter.
"I’m glad to see Reggie got there. He’s got great vision and great skills. He really sees the ice well. If he’d shoot the puck more and score some more goals himself, he’d have even more points, but he’s more of a set-it-up guy. He’s got 41 assists this year. That’s a heckuva tribute to his playmaking ability."
Anderson, like Parker, doesn’t see any holding back of special plays this Sunday, even if the game won’t matter in the league standings.
"My style is that we play to win every night," says Anderson. "You use everything you’ve got. We’re not the kind of team that can hold anything back anyways, so you can rest assured that we’ll be using everything we’ve got to try to win the hockey game. That’s first and foremost in our mind.
"It’s always a tough battle against them, especially at their place. We’ve had two real solid outings against them here this year already. We’re still trying to play our best hockey every time we step on the ice. I thought last Saturday may have been our best game of the year. We’re hoping that we can improve on that this Sunday."
PICKS: Merrimack plays BU tough, but the Terriers prevail, 4-2.
No. 5 Boston College (21-8-4, 14-5-3 HEA, 2nd) at UMass-Amherst (6-23-2, 3-18-1 HEA)
No. 5 Boston College (21-8-4, 14-5-3 HEA, 2nd) at
Northeastern (20-12-2, 13-7-2 HEA, 4th)
Wednesday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Saturday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA AudioNet
Last week, Boston College swept UMass-Lowell, 5-4 and 7-3.
A major factor was its power play, which capitalized on two of three chances on Friday night, including the game-winner with three minutes left, and three of eight chances on Saturday. It now ranks first in Hockey East in league games (27.4 percent) and second overall (27.9 percent).
In the waning minutes of a 4-4 game on Friday, coach Jerry York put that success in perspective for his team as it went on the fateful man advantage, telling his players, "All the statistics tell us that we have [one of] the top power plays in the country, but to be a real effective unit, you’ve got to be able to score when you really need a goal. Let’s throw out the statistics and let’s get one because we need it."
They got it.
Last year’s four-freshmen-and-a-sophomore unit has been supplemented by this year’s freshmen, Brian Gionta and Bobby Allen, as well as benefiting from an extra year of maturity, according to Blake Bellefeuille.
"Last year, we were all new guys," he said. "We all played together last year, so we had some experience coming into this year.
"Our power play is pretty simple. We just try to wrist it down to the net, get position and whack rebounds in. It’s really been working for us lately."
In addition to his game-winner on the power play, Bellefeuille added an even-strength goal, also in the third period, and an assist in the 5-4 win. It marked his second straight two-goal game.
"He’s becoming a dominant player in this league," says York. "He’s had a hot stick recently. He’s so strong on his skates. He’s not very tall, but he’s 195 pounds. He’s hard to play against."
The Saturday night game at Conte Forum turned into the Brian Gionta and Marty Reasoner show, with both players totaling five points. Gionta got a Texas hat trick and an assist while Reasoner assisted four times and put one in the net himself.
The two have been torrid of late. Gionta, the league’s Rookie of the Week, now has hat tricks in two of the last four games. Reasoner has at least two points in each of the last five contests for a total of 15, passing York among all-time BC scorers.
"I benched him just before that," says York with a laugh. Becoming serious again, he adds, "He’s a lot better player than I was."
The dynamic Gionta represents the Eagles’ best complement to Reasoner since David Hymovitz two years ago. He has now accumulated 23 goals and 19 assists and is a shoo-in for Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
"Brian has tremendous quickness and anticipation," says York. "Just when you think you have him, he’s got that extra speed that jumps in….We’ve known from real early that he’s a special player. Now he’s really giving it and going."
Along with Reasoner, Mike Mottau factored prominently in helping create some of Gionta’s opportunities. The defenseman has now scored in the last seven games, totaling 14 points.
"Brian was on the receiving end of some great passes," says York. "You can’t discredit the people that moved the puck to him.
"Brian finishes so well. He just has a great knack for scoring goals. He’s a fearless competitor.
"He’s had a great year, but he reflects our team. Our team is getting better. It’s great playing with Marty Reasoner. I’d like to come back and play with Marty."
The other Marty, defenseman Marty Hughes, returned to action after missing eight games with a broken ankle. Without him, BC typically dressed only five defensemen.
"He looked better than I expected," says York. "When he gets a little more confident with his ankle, he could be back where he was earlier. He’ll certainly be a catalyst for us down the stretch."
Unsung heroes Ken Hemenway and Jamie O’Leary were honored on Saturday night as BC’s only seniors.
"This is the first time that they’ve been playing for anything in February," says York. "They don’t get a lot of publicity, but they’re integral parts of our club and have given us good upperclass leadership. I’m very pleased with the way both Kenny and Jamie are playing."
The Eagles can now theoretically finish as high as first or as low as fourth. They open with a Wednesday night makeup against UMass-Amherst of a Jan. 23 contest postponed because of weather. They then take on a Northeastern team fresh off a surprising sweep of UNH.
"Nothing surprises me in our league this particular year," says York. "Our depth this year is so good.
"Marc Robitaille really changes the game right around for Northeastern. They go from a 7 to a 10 when he’s in the net."
Even though the Huskies may be "a 10," York likes what he sees in his own team.
"Late in the season, with a lot at stake, you want your team to be playing its best hockey," he says. "I think right now we’re playing our best hockey of the year.
"We’ve got some good strength on our skates. We’re tough to knock off the puck. We seem to be moving the puck very unselfishly and creatively. That makes us a dangerous offensive team."
(Northeastern is previewed above.)
UMass-Amherst lost two to BU, 3-1 and 5-1, last weekend.
"We went into the third periods the two nights [down just] 1-0 and 2-1," says coach Joe Mallen. "I thought we tactically played pretty well both nights up to that point. The second night, there was just no doubt that the difference in the game was Poti and Drury. Poti had a hat trick in the game. That’s a pretty special thing for a defenseman in this league to do.
"But I thought we played well, overall. It was the same thing for us, struggling to score goals. We did a great job on our penalty kill against them. They were just 1-for-12 on the weekend. So we were pleased with that.
"Right now, we just have to put those two games behind us and get ready for our two games this week."
In facing BC on Wednesday, the Minutemen take on a team with a five-game win streak.
"It seems like they’re flying right now," says Mallen. "They had two big wins over UMass-Lowell. They came from behind and scored a lot of goals. To me, they look like they’re playing like the BC teams of old. They’ve got great skill and move the puck. They’re just a tough team to play against."
With Reasoner and Gionta forming one of the hottest combinations in the league, Mallen could opt to match a defensive line whenever BC’s top unit is on the ice.
"Every team tries to make some sort of match-ups," says Mallen. "It just depends on the flow and tempo of the game. Going into it, I don’t know if I want to put individual people on those guys, but it’s our home game and we have the last change, so we can put on whoever we want."
PICKS: BC takes two, 4-3 over Northeastern and 5-3 over UMass-Amherst.
No. 6 New Hampshire (22-8-1, 14-7-1 HEA, 3rd) at
Providence College (15-15-3, 9-12-2 HEA, 7th)
No. 6 New Hampshire (22-8-1, 14-7-1 HEA, 3rd) at UMass-Lowell (13-15-3, 10-10-3 HEA, 5th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI
Saturday, 7 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA FOXNE
Superstitious New Hampshire fans have got to be muttering, "Hendrickson, please shut up!" Two weeks ago, I promised a trip to the Final Four. Since then, the Wildcats have lost to UMass-Amherst and then suffered last week’s 5-4 and 2-1 losses to Northeastern.
Against UMass-Amherst, the Wildcats could tip their fedora to Minuteman goaltender Brian Regan and figure that they wouldn’t lose many games in which they outshot their opponent 41-18. Sean Matile’s sub-par performance wasn’t likely to be repeated.
The double-dip to Northeastern, however, wasn’t simply a matter of an opposing netminder standing on his head. The Huskies displayed a surprising ability to skate with the best offensive team in the East.
"I’m not surprised that they were difficult hockey games," says coach Richard Umile. "They’re a very good team and they played well. We could have won both games by a goal, but we lost both games by a goal.
"Obviously, we feel disappointed, but it isn’t like we were supposed to go in there and beat up on them. They’re a good team, they’re playing well and you’ve got to give them credit. They found a way to win and we’re finding ways not to score goals when we have opportunities."
On Friday night, Northeastern not only shut down the UNH power play which went 0-for-7, but also added two shorthanded strikes.
"Specialty situations hurt us," says Umile. "We had our opportunities to score goals, but we’re a little snakebitten right now."
FOX New England play-by-play announcer Sean Grande noted in the Saturday telecast that UNH is 19-1-0 in games which it led going into the third period, the lone loss being two weeks ago to UMass-Amherst. The Wildcats are only 3-7-2, however, in games in which they were tied or trailed entering the final stanza.
From a purely statistical point of view, one would expect teams to have losing records in such circumstances and winning ones when they lead. Even so, UNH’s losses in both games after being tied going into the third prompted questions of whether there was a tangible factor at work or if it was a statistical fluke.
"I think it’s probably statistical," says Umile. "If you look at the games [against Northeastern], both teams played good third periods. They scored on their opportunities and we didn’t."
Now, for the first time in two years, UNH enters a weekend with no chance at first place.
"You have to look at it positively," says Umile. "We have home ice for the playoffs. Who we’re going to play is irrelevant this season more so than other years, because every team is good in the league.
"It’s going to be a tough first round for anyone that has home ice because of the parity within the league. So you’ve just got to be playing good hockey.
"Right now, we’re not playing with the confidence we were playing with two weeks ago. The important thing is that we have to play solid, two-way hockey with confidence and win these games."
Like UNH, UMass-Lowell lost two last weekend, dropping 5-4 and 7-3 games to Boston College.
The Friday night contest at the Tsongas Arena went down to the final four minutes tied, 4-4, until a marginal Lowell penalty opened the door for the formidable BC power play which capitalized.
"The difference in the end was the power play with [four] minutes to go in the game," says coach Tim Whitehead. "They’ve got a good power-play unit and they converted
"It was a real up-and-down game for both teams. There were a lot of turning points in that game. We didn’t play our best hockey, but it was still winnable. A couple penalties that we took at the wrong times cost us."
The River Hawks also allowed three critical two-on-ones in a one-minute span early in the third period that BC turned into two goals. They sorely missed All-Hockey East defenseman Mike Nicholishen, who was serving a one-game suspension for a game disqualification.
His return to the lineup on Saturday, prompted BC coach Jerry York to observe, "Nicholishen in the lineup makes them a lot better club. He gives us a lot of trouble. He’s strong and he moves the puck well."
Although the River Hawks entered the Saturday third period tied, 3-3, they surrendered four unanswered goals to create the final 7-3 score.
"Boston College earned the sweep," says Whitehead. "They definitely deserved it. They were the better team. They have a couple exceptional players, but they’ve got a real solid team, even though Reasoner and Gionta dominated the scoresheet."
One silver lining in the cloud was the play of Chris Bell, who scored three goals and added an assist on the weekend. Bell, a solid freshman last year who was overshadowed by Rookie of the Year Greg Koehler, now has 13 goals and 12 assists.
"He was a bright spot for us, but I don’t think he’s real excited about it," says Whitehead. "We’re going to need him playing that way down the stretch for us. That’s what he did last year and we expect the same thing this year. He really competes and it pays off for him."
Lowell now prepares for its one remaining game of the season, the home finale against UNH. A win would clinch fifth place.
"It’s the last home game for our seniors, so it’ll be a special night there at the Tsongas," says Whitehead. "The important thing for us is to refocus and bounce back. A loss is like a win. You’ve got to put it out of your head and get back to business for the next week.
"In the month of February, we’ve faced some real good competition. We feel that going into the playoffs that’s only going to help us."
Providence had the yang to UNH’s and Lowell’s yin last week, sweeping Merrimack 4-2 and 6-4. Although the Friars will still likely finish in seventh place, the wins were most welcome considering PC’s 1-10-2 record in its previous 13.
"The weekend was obviously good," says coach Paul Pooley. "We won two, which was great.
"Friday night, we played real well, limited their shots and played pretty well defensively.
"On Saturday, we did what we had to up there. Merrimack came up with a lot of energy and emotion for Ron [Anderson’s final home game] and Senior Night. So it was a good win."
Captain Mike Mader has joined Mike Omicioli and Fernando Pisani on the Friar’s top line. Each scored a goal on Saturday. Mader and Pisani also scored on Friday.
Another line, of Troy Lake, Jon Coe and Jon Cameron, also put the puck in the net well, with Lake and Coe each getting goals in both games.
"I thought Boyd Ballard played very well for us on Saturday, as well as Lake, Coe and Cameron," says Pooley. "Even though Omicioli, Pisani and Mader got a goal each, I thought Coe’s line really played well."
The Friars finish their regular season with one game against UNH. Whether they are catching the Wildcats at the right time or wrong time remains to be seen.
"It’ll be a tough test even though they’ve dropped a little bit," says Pooley. "We’ve just got to be ready to play. Hopefully, we’ll get playing a little bit better as well with our specialty teams and go into the playoffs strong."
PICKS: UNH doesn’t stay snakebit for long. The Wildcats take two, 5-4 over Lowell and 5-3 over Providence.
Maine (14-14-3, 10-11-2 HEA, 6th) at UMass-Amherst (6-23-2, 3-18-1 HEA)
Friday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Maine had one of the oddest weekends in recent memory, slaughtering Nebraska-Omaha 11-0 on Friday night before losing the rematch 4-3.
"Friday night, we were on all cylinders," says coach Shawn Walsh. "Saturday night, we did everything but finish. We limited their chances; they had three shots in the third period and scored twice. Those types of things happen.
"We knew going in that the games didn’t count, so I played [senior goaltender] Javier Gorriti in his first game on Saturday night. It was Senior Night and I thought he deserved that for his loyalty to the program.
"Unfortunately, it backfired….But we actually played pretty well. We had 70 attempts to 28. I’ll take that any time in terms of territorial domination. The pucks just didn’t go in the net.
"I’m not so much concerned about the outcome as I am pleased with how we’re playing.
"Our biggest concern, obviously, is Stevie’s injury."
Steve Kariya (23-23–46) suffered a collapsed lung early in the Saturday game when he was hit while holding his breath, resulting in the puncture.
He is expected to be out for this week’s action, but is probable for the playoffs if the lung seals itself soon, which, according to doctors, happens in 98 percent of all cases. If not, however, Kariya could miss the playoffs.
"That’s a big loss," says Walsh. "Our major concern right now is just making sure that he’s healthy."
The Black Bears have also lost sophomore defenseman Jason Price, who left the team to play major junior hockey in Canada.
They now travel to Amherst where they finish out the season against a team they swept in Orono, 6-1 and 12-2. Since then, however, the Minutemen have played improved hockey.
"They certainly have played everybody tough and this will be different, playing in their rink," says Walsh. "The game will obviously mean a lot towards seeding, depending on how the games earlier in the week go. We can finish anywhere from fifth to seventh.
"In a way, we can dictate, within some semblance of reason, who we’re going to play by our performance in this game. We want to get to .500 and finish as high as we can — that’s our goal — and certainly try to go into the playoffs with a little momentum."
Hockey East teams under NCAA consideration will also be viewing this game closely, apart from its effect on the league standings. A win or tie makes Maine a "Team Under Consideration" for the Pairwise Rankings and hence the NCAA tournament. As a result, teams that did well against the Black Bears will want to see Maine win.
This, naturally, results in some delicious ironies. BU fans must root for the Black Bears because of the 3-0-0 Terrier record against them. One can hear the groans of discomfort from the Babcock Street stands already.
The same holds true for UNH (3-1-0) and Northeastern (2-1-0). Boston College (1-1-1) can safely be apathetic.
UMass-Amherst (previewed more fully above), could need this game to gain a playoff berth and pay back Maine for the 12-2 beating it inflicted on the Minutemen when the two teams last met three weeks ago.
"Some coaches say that revenge isn’t great motivation, but I think our guys are going to be particularly up for the game," says coach Joe Mallen.
"It was certainly a big change and turn of events from Friday and Saturday night in Orono last week [when Maine defeated Nebraska-Omaha 11-0 only to lose one night later 4-3]. We just want to make it a completely different game than the ones we saw up in Orono."
PICKS: Maine 5-3.