This Week in Hockey East: October 16, 1998

Boston College gave credence to its number-one national ranking by taking the Ice Breaker Cup with an overtime 4-3 win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State, followed by a 3-2 victory over upstart St. Lawrence.

Brian Gionta earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors for his hat trick and game-winner over OSU.

In the four exhibition games played over the weekend, league teams got the W each time. UMass-Amherst goaltender Marcus Helanen stopped 37 shots for a shutout and the league’s Defensive Player of the Week award. New Hampshire’s Matt Dzieduszycki took Rookie of the Week honors with four assists.

This week, four teams play exhibition games while the other five hit the road for playing-for-keeps action.

If you’ve been a total slacker and haven’t yet done so, be sure to check out the

Hockey East season preview.

No. 8Maine (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) at University of Nebraska-Omaha (0-0-0, 0-0-0 vs. aligned D-I)

Friday, 7:35 p.m. CT; Saturday, 7:05 p.m. CT; Civic Auditorium, Omaha, Nebraska

Maine opens its season with an it-counts-it-doesn’t-count series with Nebraska-Omaha. The games will be included in Maine’s overall record, but since the Mavericks are classified as an "emerging" program the NCAA will not recognize the outcomes in its postseason tournament considerations.

This allows new programs to attract top teams which might otherwise be concerned about an adverse affect on their strength of schedule. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, two wins over a very weak team can actually lower one’s NCAA postseason ranking.

That said, the Black Bears will certainly be playing for keeps, especially after last year’s series in which they followed an 11-0 drubbing of the Mavs with a 4-3 loss.

And if that isn’t enough motivation, the UNO crowds will up the ante. Last year, the Mavericks had 19 consecutive sellouts of 8,314, a feat topped only by Minnesota.

"It’ll be a wild atmosphere," says Maine coach Shawn Walsh. "It’ll probably be as wild as they’re going to have all year because they’re going into it unbeaten. The fans will be going into it with increased expectations plus the fact that they beat us the last time they played us last year.

"So the recipe is there for an intense environment for our players, which is perfect. Last year we went into Minnesota and the year before to Michigan. I like these type of openings."

Nebraska-Omaha recorded a 12-19-3 record last year, including two wins over Denver and singletons against Maine, UMass-Amherst and Union.

The Mavericks return 22 players, led by top scorers Jason Cupp (10-14–24) and Billy Pugliese (14-9–23) and number one netminder goaltender Jason Mitchell (3.48 GAA, .891 Sv%). They will, however, be without Vic Sharma (4-12–16 in 19 games) due to academic ineligibility.

PICKS: Maine sweeps, 5-3 and 4-3.

New Hampshire (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) at Vermont (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Gutterson Field House, Burlington, VT

New Hampshire entertained the Whittemore Center faithful with a 6-1 exhibition win over Concordia last Saturday. Three freshmen forwards who could have a big say in the Wildcat offense — Matt Dzieduszycki (four assists), Darren Haydar (two goals, one assist) and Ryan Cordeiro (one goal, one assist) — had strong games.

Senior Jason Krog added a goal before leaving the game with a bruised knee on a hit from behind. He is expected to play against Vermont.

"We saw some new names and some older guys playing different roles," says coach Dick Umile. "Overall, I was pleased with the level of intensity and the quickness of our team. I was happy with that and obviously the freshmen did some scoring along with Krog and [senior Chad] Onufrechuk.

"The defense was strong. I thought they controlled the game. Sean Matile didn’t have to make many difficult saves."

Krog and Mike Souza appear to be one possible combination for the upcoming season, a natural pairing of a great playmaker and sniper.

"There’s no question that those two can play very well together," says Umile. "It just depends on how our other combinations are going.

"But [one of those other combinations was John] Sadowski and [Jason] Shipulski along with [Corey-Joe] Ficek and they played very well. I was pleased with them."

The Wildcats now travel to Vermont for what is becoming a season-opening ritual. Last year, at the Whittemore Center, UNH dominated 5-1. This time, however, the raucous confines of the Gutterson Field House will be the setting.

"It’s where you want to play just like I’m sure that we’ve become one of the prominent places to play," says Umile. "We really respect Vermont and they respect us. Their program and their fans are very similar to UNH, so it’s what we want to do each year. It’s college hockey at its best."

Vermont has some excellent young talent, led by three sophomores: defensemen Andreas Moborg and Martin Wilde and goaltender Andrew Allen. The Catamounts also return their top scorers, seniors Stephane Piche (11-12–23) and B.J. Kilbourne (7-13–20).

But when your top scorer weighs in with just 23 points, it shows where the primary vulnerability lies.

The early scuttlebutt out of Burlington, though, is that freshman Donni Richardson, a skilled 5-4 forward, could be another UVM waterbug who frustrates opposing defensemen and delights the hometown fans.

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

PICKS: UNH quiets the crowd, 3-1.

No. 9 Boston University (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) at Rensselaer (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

Boston University took no prisoners in a 9-3 win over Windsor. Eight different players scored, including two goals by Chris Heron and one each by Tommi Degerman and Albie O’Connell. The three upperclassmen are being counted on to lead the Terrier offense, so as early indications go these were welcome signs, indeed.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, BU got good performances out of several rookies, including defensemen Pat Aufiero and Chris Dyment, who must replace All-Americans Tom Poti and Chris Kelleher.

"We knew they would step in and play right off the bat," said coach Jack Parker after the game. "They’re not surprising us; we thought they’d be very poised. I think Dyment is a real, real smart player. Aufiero’s got great skating skills. The two of them are going to be great players in this league.

"I thought all the freshmen played extremely well for their first time out."

Perhaps the most surprising outcome of the game was the switch to defense by sophomore Juha Vuori. With the loss of three blueliners and only two coming in as recruits, depth became a major concern. Vuori’s move could go a long way toward assuaging those worries.

"He played great tonight, and he never played the position before this week," said Parker.

Of course, BU’s record still stands at 0-0-0 and the question marks won’t be answered for sure until Vuori, Dyment, Aufiero and company prove their mettle against Division I competition.

That begins this week with a clash against Rensselaer, with whom they’ve tangled every year but one since 1990-91. The Terriers have won six of the seven contests.

"It’ll be a different tempo game when we play up at RPI with a hostile crowd," said Parker. "They’re a very quick team. I’m concerned about how we’ll adjust to that in our zone."

Rensselaer, the hockey team formerly known as RPI, disappointed last year after being picked in the preseason to take the ECAC. Expectations are lower this year due to important losses.

Even so, the Engineers feature two excellent junior goaltenders, Joel Laing (2.96 GAA, .908 Sv%) and Scott Prekaski (3.18 GAA, .903 Sv%), as well as senior forwards Alain St-Hilaire (10-28–38) and Mark Murphy (9-27–36).

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

PICKS: In past years, there have been some real BU cakewalks. Not so this year. Michel Larocque pulls one out of the fire, 3-2, BU.

Northeastern (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) at Bowling Green (1-0-1, 1-0-1 CCHA)

Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, Ohio

Northeastern dominated the first two periods against Windsor last weekend, building a 4-0 lead, before tripping all over itself in a sloppy third for a 5-3 final.

A repeat performance against Bowling Green — 8-27-3 last year, but already 1-0-1 this year — could prove disastrous.

"Bowling Green is a little bit like where we were a year ago," says coach Bruce Crowder. "They had a terrible season and those kids sat home all summer, [determined to avoid a repeat.]

"It’s a tough place to play. Probably none of these guys have seen it, but I played out there. It’s a low ceiling, a little bit like BU’s rink, and they’ll have 6,000 fans going crazy.

"We’re going to have to be very disciplined and take care of the little things, because if we don’t we’re in for a pretty big wakeup call out there."

All eyes have been focused on the Husky nets since All-American Marc Robitaille signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Four official practices into the season, freshman Jason Braun appeared to be the front-runner for the spot and he did nothing to change that against Windsor, posting 35 shutout minutes. Fellow freshman Scott Sutton also blanked the Lancers in 12 minutes of play. Sophomore Dan Calore surrendered all three goals.

Although the early returns show Braun in the lead, however, a lot can change in a week. Against Bowling Green, Braun could see all of the action, some of the action or none of the action.

"It’s going to be a wait-and-see situation," says Crowder. "It depends on what happens on Friday night. If whoever gets the nod on Friday night plays extremely well, then I’ll throw him right back in.

"I’m not afraid to do that. I’ve done that in the past and that’s good for college kids. But it’s got to be a definite, clear-cut decision that one kid is better than another kid. We’ll continue to look at it."

Aside from Braun, defenseman Jim Fahey and forward Willie Levesque also stood out among the newcomers.

"We’re very encouraged with our incoming freshmen," says Crowder. "It’s something we want to continue to see grow."

After finishing last in the CCHA last year, Bowling Green has made a good first step in making amends by taking three of four points from Miami of Ohio, 4-2 and 5-5. In the process, the Falcons outshot Miami 29-16 and 46-22.

Dan Price (14-16–30) leads the returning scoring and Shawn Timm (3.77 GAA, .883 Sv%) the goaltending.

(For more on Bowling Green, see this week’s CCHA Preview.)

PICKS: This series could go either way. As the host team, the Falcons are probably the favorite, but we’ll go with a Northeastern sweep, 3-2 both nights.

UMass-Amherst (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) at No. 5 Michigan State (0-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA)

Saturday, 7 p.m., 7 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, Michigan

UMass-Amherst defeated Concordia, 4-0, in an exhibition contest, but was outshot 37-21 requiring a big game from sophomore netminder Marcus Helanen.

"There were a lot of shots from the outside, but he did a nice job," says coach Joe Mallen. "He played real well, just very solid."

Mallen also saw good things from some of the rookies who will be getting a lot of ice time this year.

"All of our freshmen defensemen played pretty well, especially Chris Brannen, Justin Shaw and Tony Soderholm.

"And [forward] Darcy King looked like he could put a dent in the lineup right now. He’s small, but with good hands. He’s playing well."

King scored the first goal of the game.

Although facing the number five team in the country in front of a notoriously tough crowd may seem daunting, Mallen puts the game in perspective.

"There’s not that much difference between going into Michigan State than going into BU, BC, UNH or Maine," he says. "There’s the same sort of scenario where we’re playing a top-10 team and we’ve just got to go out and give it our best."

That said, the Minutemen go in as big underdogs.

"We might be the youngest team in the country," says Mallen. "Right now, we’re learning a lot on the job. We have to find some way to score some goals and hope that Marcus and the defense can do the job on the back side."

Michigan State will warm up for this Saturday night season-kickoff with a Tuesday exhibition against Western Ontario. The Spartans biggest question will be how effectively sophomore Joe Blackburn (2.23 GAA, .889 Sv% in five games) can replace the departed Chad Alban (an unconscious 1.57 GAA, .924 Sv%).

On the plus side, they return an experienced defense and Hobey Baker contender Mike York (25-31–56).

(For more on Michigan State, see this week’s CCHA Preview.)

PICKS: This could be a tough learning experience for the young Minutemen. MSU is just too talented, 5-1.

As for the exhibitions…

Toronto at No. 1 Boston College (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

Ottawa at UMass-Lowell (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

Toronto at Providence College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

Ottawa at Merrimack (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

PICKS: What are you, nuts? This may be Toronto and Ottawa, but it ain’t the Maple Leafs and Senators. Hockey East sweeps all four by an average margin of three goals.

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions to this preview.