It’s time to get underway in the ECAC, though surprisingly there are only two games on the conference’s docket for this weekend, as two ECAC schools will host two Hockey East schools.
That means there really isn’t much to say except:
DROP THE PUCK!
Last week: 0-0-0 Season to date: 0-0-0
Boston University (0-0-0) at Rensselaer (0-0-0) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY
One year ago these two teams were playing in front of a national audience as the No. 1 preseason picks in their respective conferences. This year it’s a different story. Boston University was picked fourth in the Hockey East preseason poll, while the Engineers of Rensselaer were ranked fifth in the ECAC.
Hence, there’s not the focus that there was last season on this matchup from a national perspective. Still, for each team getting off to the right start is a definite must.
First, the key departures. Each team lost a Hobey Baker finalist, for the Terriers Chris Drury, the Hobey winner, while the Engineers lose Eric Healey. The Terriers no longer have Mike Sylvia and the Engineers are without Matt Garver. A lot of the offense has been lost there.
Back up the ice, both teams lose three key defensemen. The Terriers are without Tom Poti, Chris Kelleher and Jeff Kealty. The Engineers have lost Pat Brownlee, Chris Aldous and Bryan Tapper.
Of course, Boston University was an NCAA team last season while the Engineers were not.
So who is back for both teams? Dan Ronan will be back on defense for the Terriers, and George Murray will be manning the Engineers’ blue line. Joe DiPenta is back for BU, and Brian Pothier for the Engineers.
Up front Alain St. Hilaire and Danny Riva are back for the Engineers and Tommi Degerman and Albie O’Connell return to the Terriers’ lineup. Michel Larocque will once again be between the pipes for BU, while Joel Laing and Scott Prekaski vie for the starting nod for the Engineers.
And what’s new? Up front it is Matt Murley for the Engineers and Mike Pandolfo for the Terriers. Both come highly regarded, but again, they have yet to play a collegiate game. Both teams have a host of freshmen vying for positions.
Picks: While neither team looks as strong on paper as last year, the first real game for each team could go a long way to making the season. Last year’s 6-0 BU shellacking of RPI showed that perhaps the Engineers were not the team people thought. This year the game is closer, but the result should be the same — a Terrier win. Boston University 6, Rensselaer 4
New Hampshire (0-0-0) at Vermont (0-0-0) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Gutterson Fieldhouse, Burlington, Vt.
As the end of the 1997-98 season fell upon these two teams, they were in seemingly different stages of their programs. While New Hampshire was busy climbing up the NCAA ladder en route to its first Final Four appearance since 1982, Vermont and coach Mike Gilligan were back in Burlington licking the wounds of a 10-20-4 record and a two-game quarterfinal ousting thanks to Clarkson.
This year, things should be different for both squads. Vermont appears primed to overcome its youth and lack of a big-time scorer, while New Hampshire begins life without first-team All-American Mark Mowers.
Heading into the first regular-season contest for both, the Catamounts remain untested in 1998. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are fresh off a 6-1 dismantling of Concordia in a penalty-laden exhibition contest last week.
Just when everyone thought that Jason Krog, the nation’s second-leading scorer last season, would be the one to assuage the graduation losses of Mowers, Tom Nolan, and Derek Bekar, a newcomer stole the show. Freshman Matt Dzieduszycki tallied four assists in the exhibition rout, which earned him Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors.
The UNH blueline corps, which returned every single member from the 1997-98 squad, turned in a solid performance and will no doubt be the overwhelming strength of the Wildcats. Although Concordia lacked much offensive prowess, the Wildcats defense did limit the visiting Canadian team to 13 shots, with goaltender Sean Matile making three saves in his senior debut.
A tougher challenge for UNH should present itself in the form of the Catamounts, who boast a young, but potentially dangerous lineup. Vermont’s top six scorers from last year have returned, including Stephane Piche and B.J. Kilbourne as well as sophomore goaltender Andrew Allen, who had a breakout second half of the 1997-98 season.
Add to the equation the intangible of Gutterson Fieldhouse. There are few better backdrops to a hockey game than Vermont’s barn, and there are no crazier, more loyal fans than the ones found in Burlington. The Vermont crowd represents the greatest home-court advantage in college hockey and after a season in which the Catamounts failed to break the .500 mark, the faithful are itching for a contender.
Pick: Even the most gambling of folks would pick UNH to begin its season 1-0, despite playing in the raucous confines of Burlington. The Catamounts will surprise many this season — you can bet on that — just don’t expect them to do it in one game. New Hampshire 5, Vermont 2
Next week in ECAC action: Friday, October 23: Union vs. Niagara (J.C. Penney Classic with Maine and Moncton) St. Lawrence at Merrimack Colgate at Northeastern Northern Michigan at Clarkson
Saturday, October 24: Union vs. Maine/Moncton (J.C. Penney Consolation/Championship) Rensselaer at UMass-Lowell Vermont at Boston University St. Lawrence at Merrimack Northern Michigan at Clarkson
Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy are ECAC Correspondents for U.S. College Hockey Online. © 1998 Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy. All rights reserved.