This Week in Hockey East: October 23, 1998

Okay, enough already with the exhibition games against Canadian teams. Boston College outshooting Toronto 27-1 in one period? Methinks we’re ready for the real thing.

Of course, there have been "real" games already, starting with BC winning the Icebreaker Invitational. But all such contests have been on the road. In these parts, we’ve still been waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

This should be a good week, though, for Get-A-Lifers. Start out with a trip down the Mass Pike on Thursday night for UMass-Lowell at UMass-Amherst, the first Hockey East game of the year and only one until next week. Heck, what else are you gonna do, watch Seinfeld?

Then on Friday and Saturday nights, take your pick of an abundance of nonconference games that sandwich a Saturday matinee at Lowell. You are going to slake your college hockey thirst with a Saturday doubleheader, aren’t you?

Auntie Em, it’s good to be back.

Maine Black Bear defensemen David Cullen and Peter Metcalf earned the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week awards, respectively. Cullen compiled a 1-2–3 scoring line and Metcalf added a highlight-film goal and an assist in Maine’s sweep at Nebraska-Omaha.

Northeastern’s Todd Barclay took Player of the Week honors with three goals and an assist in the Huskies’ split with Bowling Green.

Last week’s record in picks: 9-2 Season’s record in picks: 9-2, .818

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

UMass-Amherst (0-1-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

Thursday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA

Rensselaer (1-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at

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

Saturday, 2 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA

UMass-Lowell tuned up for its traditional season opener against sister school UMass-Amherst with a 7-1 win over Ottawa. While these exhibition games must always be taken with a grain of salt, there were several good signs for the River Hawks.

"In the first game, people are going to make mistakes," says coach Tim Whitehead, who adds with a laugh, "And they did. But we kept working hard and didn’t play the score in the third period. We didn’t change the way we played."

Lowell dressed nine freshmen, which contributed to a tentative first period before a five-goal explosion in the second.

"No question there’s going to be some adjustment there," says Whitehead. "Plus some of our older guys are in different roles now. They’re being asked to do more. So that’s natural."

Junior John Campbell, who scored twice and assisted on another, could be the latest in a long line of initially unheralded Lowell players who develop into significant contributors.

"I think he’s got great potential," says Whitehead. "He’s improved each year. He surprised a lot of people in his freshman year and in his sophomore year he improved on that. This year I expect he’ll take another step. He works very hard. That’s why good things happen for him."

Of the rookies, Dan Fontas scored two goals, several defensemen led by Kevin Kotyluk impressed and goaltender Jimi St. John stopped all 17 shots he faced over the closing 26:09.

"He did well for himself," says Whitehead of St. John. "They had some chances on him. He made a couple good saves and stopped a breakaway. He came to play."

Even so, senior Scott Fankhouser is entrenched firmly as the number one netminder and will get the start against the Minutemen.

Which is a contest that will feature two very young teams, who’ll be depending on big contributions from underclassmen.

"They’ll be nervous, obviously, with [it being] the first Hockey East game and the first road game, too," says Whitehead. "We have some kinks to work out, but with a young team like this, we’re not going to get too anxious or too frustrated with small mistakes. As long as people are trying to do the right things and are headed in the right direction then I’m going to be pleased."

A lot of people, this writer included, expected No. 5 Michigan State to dominate the young UMass-Amherst squad last weekend. Instead, the Minutemen went into the last five minutes of the game trailing only 2-1. Although an MSU power-play goal, the Spartans’ second of the game, would result in the final 3-1 margin, coach Joe Mallen’s troops acquitted themselves surprisingly well.

"It was perfect for what we wanted," says Mallen. "We thought it was a good test to put our young kids in front of five or six thousand people and get the opportunity to play a top team.

"We felt that we had some real good scoring chances, equal scoring chances early in the first period for sure and going into the second period, too.

"I know our kids were pretty disappointed with the loss. We thought we had a chance to tie the game or eventually go ahead. I hope that gives us just a little more adrenaline coming in to our game this week."

For the second straight contest, sophomore goaltender Markus Helanen played a strong game between the pipes. On the heels of last week’s 37-save shutout in an exhibition game, he stopped 31 of the 34 Spartan shots in the loss. He now stands second in the league in save percentage with a .911 mark.

"We had great goaltending from Markus," says Mallen. "He played very well."

If Helanen can again stand on his head and freshmen defensemen Tony Soderholm, Chris Brannen and Justin Shaw can continue to hold their own, the Minutemen could get their Hockey East season off to a great start against UMass-Lowell.

"I’ve got a lot of respect for Lowell," says Mallen. "As far as I’m concerned, they’re a very solid team in our league, capable of beating anybody on any given night. They, like Providence, kind of wait in the weeds to attack some of the teams in this league. This is going to be a real good test for both teams."

While the Thursday clash is the only one of the week for the Minutemen, Lowell returns to action against Rensselaer in a Saturday matinee.

The Engineers will be coming off a high note, having knocked off BU in overtime 4-3. Danny Riva scored the game-tying and game-winning goals. Alain St. Hilaire, the lone returning member from last year’s imposing top unit, added another along with Troy-area phenom Matt Murley, the most eagerly anticipated freshman at the Houston Field House in some time.

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

PICKS: UMass-Amherst would be a tempting pick coming off the Michigan State trip, but Lowell still looks stronger. RiverHawks, 3-2.

Rensselaer, though, is another story. The Engineers go home with a 4-2 win.

J.C. Penney Classic Niagara (1-1-0, 1-1-0 vs. D-I) vs.

Union (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC)

Moncton vs. No. 3 Maine (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) Friday, 4 p.m. (Niagara-Union), 7 p.m. (Moncton-Maine), Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Saturday, 4/7 p.m., Consolation/Championship, Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Maine traveled to Nebraska-Omaha last weekend and swept the Mavericks, 7-2 and 3-0.

"Any time you can get two wins on the road, you’re pleased," says coach Shawn Walsh. "They were much better than last year. They were very, very physical. It was as physical of a series as we’ve been in for a long, long time."

In addition to the two W’s, the Black Bears also addressed several of the problems that hindered them last season.

"Two areas we really want to improve on, areas where we weren’t in the top 20 nationally last year, are penalty killing and team defense," says Walsh. "I thought in both areas we did a nice job. We limited their rush chances and with the penalty killing, any time you hold a team 0-for-15 you’re obviously going to be happy."

Prior to the trip, Walsh commented publicly on his team’s dramatic rise in preseason polls and projections, noting that potentially runaway expectations were developing before the Black Bears had proved anything on the ice.

"For two years, we’ve only been a .500 team," says Walsh. "Last year, we were below .500 in the league. I think that perhaps the tradition we’ve built and the respect for our freshman class was actually overrating our team slightly.

"The challenge I put to the team was to be better than a .500 team. That’s why the second game was very important for us out there."

Alfie Michaud, who played both games while freshman Mike Morrison waited in the wings, now boasts league-leading totals of a 1.00 goals-against average and a .965 save percentage. Morrison could see his first action this week in the Moncton matchup, but Michaud could again play both games.

"I want to watch practice again this week before I make that decision, but Alfie’s right on top of his game," says Walsh. "He’s playing great, the way he played in the playoffs last year. I don’t want to get him off his game."

Although little is known about Moncton, a sneak peak ahead to the championship round shows either Niagara or Union lurking. Union will be seeing its first action this year after a last-place finish (4-15-3 ECAC, 6-22-4 overall), while Niagara raised eyebrows across the college hockey world last weekend with a split that could have been even more against then-No. 2 Michigan. Niagara fell to the Wolverines, 6-5, with two seconds remaining in overtime on Friday night and then secured a 2-1 win on Saturday.

"In a tournament setting, you don’t want to worry about anybody but your opponent in the first game," says Walsh. "Clearly, Niagara did send a message by their performance in Michigan, but right now we also have to worry about Moncton. Who knows who we’re going to face in the second round?"

Barrett Heisten, who was knocked out cold last week in a big center ice hit, will probably play. Ironically, he was wearing a mouthpiece for the first time in a game in three years. Bobby Stewart, however, will miss about three weeks with a hernia.

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

PICKS: Maine dominates Moncton, 6-1, and takes the championship game 4-2 against Niagara or 4-1 over Union.

Lake Superior State (0-4-0, 0-4-0 CCHA) and Miami (0-3-1, 0-3-1 CCHA)

at No. 9 New Hampshire (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) and

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

Friday (LSSU) – Saturday (Miami), 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

Friday (Miami) – Saturday (LSSU), 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

New Hampshire took a 4-1 lead in the third period against Vermont, having outshot the Catamounts 30-12, but had to hang on for a 4-3 win.

"I thought we played well for the first two-and-a-half periods," says coach Dick Umile. "Obviously, it’s a great place [and a tough place] to play up at Gutterson Field House. I thought we had control of the game, but they are a typical Mike Gilligan coached team.

"They hung in there and put the heat on us in the end. They made it interesting with a couple of goals in the third period. Then a penalty on us with two minutes to go made it real interesting, but we came out of there with an important win.

"I was pleased with the fact that we won, but I was a little disappointed with our composure at the very end of the game. We’ll get better at it."

Although Jason Krog opened the scoring — no big shocker, there — Matt Swain, Ryan Harris and Tim Walsh formed an effective line that got UNH’s third and fourth goals on the night. The trio seemed like spare parts last year while totaling two goals in a collective 29 games, but with all of the Wildcat openings up front could become important contributors.

"They played very well and that’s important," says Umile. "Krog scored in the first minute and [his line with Mike Souza] had plenty of chances. But we’re going to need guys like Swain, Walsh and Harris along with Chad Onufrechuk and guys like that.

"That’s a good sign. Hopefully, it will be spread out each week. But we really don’t care who scores as long as we come out with a W."

The Wildcats will now hope to grab another two nonconference W’s. This time, though, it will be at the potential expense of two strangers rather than the relatively well-known Catamounts.

"Our fans don’t get to see Lake Superior or Miami, teams that we don’t play a whole lot, so we look forward to them coming in," says Umile. "It will be a difficult weekend, but we’ll just prepare for them like we normally do for any team."

Providence massacred Toronto, 8-0, combining in a Friday-Saturday tag team with BC to outshoot the overmatched visitors by a combined 97-12. Given such a lopsided contest, how much could a coach tell about his team’s readiness for the regular season?

"Not very much. They weren’t that good," says coach Paul Pooley, who charitably added that Toronto had been missing some players due to injuries. "[BC and we] both basically dominated from the start.

"But that’s fine. It’s better to win 8-0 than 1-0. It gave our kids some excitement playing against somebody else. Let’s see what happens Friday night. That’s the big thing."

Although Pooley is himself a CCHA refugee, his experience as an assistant coach at Lake State dates back to more than four years ago, rendering all but useless what he knew about this week’s foes. Not even the famed Laker system that he migrated East is the same.

"I think [LSSU coach Scott Borek] has changed a lot," says Pooley. "I don’t think he’s playing with the same system as when I was there and they’ve changed last year to this year quite a bit, too. So it’s really not a program I’m familiar with in terms of the way they’re playing anymore.

"I know some of the personnel from recruiting and [PC assistant coach David Berard] knows the personnel real well. So there might be a little insight into that, but it just comes down to playing the game and executing."

Miami and Lake Superior are off to tough starts, 0-3-1 and 0-4-0, respectively. Last year, both teams finished in the middle of the CCHA after tailing off badly down the stretch. Both teams are young, especially Miami which must replace 10 graduated seniors.

(For more on Miami and Lake Superior, see this week’s CCHA Preview.)

PICKS: A sweepola for Hockey East, 4-2 and 5-3 for UNH and 4-2 and 3-2 for PC.

Colgate (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at

Northeastern (1-1-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

Northeastern split a weekend series at Bowling Green, opening with a 4-2 win, but dropping the back end, 5-3. Although BG isn’t the total doormat it was last year, the split still was disappointing.

"We learned a lot," says coach Bruce Crowder. "We can play a lot better. We’ve got a long way to go."

The good news was that the top line of Todd Barclay, Billy Newson and Roger Holeczy played extremely well, scoring six of the Huskies’ seven goals. The bad news was also that those three scored six of the seven goals. Other than Sean MacDonald’s shorthanded marker during a too-little, too-late, third-period rally, NU’s other lines were shut out.

"That’s one of the things we learned," says Crowder with a rueful laugh. "We definitely have to produce more offense. We just didn’t do it. We had seven goals on the weekend and that’s pretty much what our average was last year. We’re going to have to learn to do a lot better."

Of continuing concern is the Husky man-advantage. Last year, it posted a league-worst 13.0 percent overall conversion rate, but that was expected to improve this season. On both nights at Bowling Green, however, Northeastern managed only a 1-for-7 performance while the Falcons were scoring twice on the advantage. It’s tough to be successful giving away a goal a game on the special teams.

"Our power play was very ineffective," says Crowder. "As a staff, that’s an area where we’re putting a lot of our concentration."

On the plus side, and a very major plus it could be, freshman goaltender Jason Braun has emerged from a pack that included fellow freshman Scott Sutton and sophomore Dan Calore. Braun gave Northeastern very solid play between the pipes. As noted in last week’s column, Crowder intended to split the weekend action between two goalies unless one was a clear-cut choice above the other candidates and then on top of that played very well on Friday. Braun succeeded on both counts.

"He pretty much took charge," says Crowder. "He played extremely well. He’s very competitive and made some big saves when he had to. It was good to see. It was a nice, pleasant thing coming out of the trip."

Even while getting lit up for five goals in the second game, Braun was more the victim of his teammates’ poor play, according to Crowder, than the problem himself.

"I thought he played well, but we didn’t play well at all in front of him," says Crowder. "We became very undisciplined and took a lot of penalties." Two other NU rookies, defenseman Jim Fahey and forward Willie Levesque, saw a lot of ice time with mixed results.

"I thought they did well for their first game," says Crowder. "I thought Jimmy played well on Friday night, but on Saturday he might not have played up to his par. Willie was pretty consistent through the two games."

This week, Northeastern will be hosting Colgate for the Red Raiders’ season opener and the Huskies’ final nonconference game before opening league play.

"It’s going to be their first game of the year, so as far as working special teams and such we’re not going to be in a position to pre-scout them," says Crowder. "Donnie Vaughn is a great coach and he’ll have them ready. The first game of the year, you get all jacked up and ready to play. Hopefully, we’ll be patient and be able to handle things and be better offensively."

Colgate got off to a great start last year and even rose to a number 10 ranking at one point. The wheels fell off down the stretch, though, as the Red Raiders went 0-7-1 to end the season. This year’s squad features Jed Whitchurch and Andy McDonald as its top forwards and Cory Murphy as a talented offensive defenseman. Highly-touted recruit Jason LeFevre challenges Shep Harder for top billing between the pipes.

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

PICKS: Colgate’s suspect defense meets Northeastern’s top-heavy offense. We’ll go with home cookin’ on this one. Huskies rule, 4-3.

Vermont (0-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Boston University (0-1-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

Saturday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA

Last week, Boston University lost to Rensselaer in overtime, 4-3. In the USCHO BU Season Preview, coach Jack Parker said, ""We’ll probably struggle at the beginning trying to get our young freshmen defensemen acclimated. The focus of our attention will be on getting those guys some experience and getting them comfortable."

Those growing pains were evident in the loss. The Terriers held a 2-0 lead only to surrender a breakaway goal to get Rensselaer back in the game. And, fittingly, the game-winner came on an odd-man rush.

"I thought we played team defense pretty well and I thought our defensemen handled the RPI forecheck very well, but we got lost a few times at center ice and gave them some breaks," says Parker. "We had control of the game in the first period and gave away a complete breakaway from their blue line clear in all the way.

"In the third period, we were up, 3-2, and gave up a three-on-one to tie it up on a bad read by a defenseman and a bad change. Then they got a bad-luck bounce off our defenseman’s stick and they jumped up two-on-one and scored the winning goal. I think we gave up four or five odd-man opportunities that were just, in general, bad reads.

"But I also thought that considering that we had four defenseman who had never played a college hockey game before, they all played pretty well, especially in front of a hostile crowd. They handled the forecheck well.

"There were a lot of positives. We learned a lot out of that game, we got a little confidence out of that game, and we learned about our personnel and got some experience. Unfortunately, we had to suffer a loss to do it."

Although the Terriers expect to get Joe DiPenta, one of only three experienced BU defensemen, back from a broken ankle, Parker still intends to keep sophomore Juha Vuori on the blue line. Vuori moved back just two weeks ago after having always been a forward.

"I think we’ll definitely stick with [him on defense,]" says Parker. "He’s played very well there. I thought he was our best defenseman the other night. He played well on the initial rush.

"He’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s terrific coming out of the zone with the puck. He’s extremely poised and confident in attacking from the blue line with the puck, so we’ve got ourselves a pretty good offensive defenseman."

BU now goes into its second game of the season with a loss already on the books for the first time since 1988-89. Superstitious Terrier fans may want to forget that note since 88-89 also marks the team’s last losing season (14-21-1). Black cats and walking on sidewalk cracks aside, though, one loss is a long, long way from being an ominous harbinger of losses to come.

"It’s nice when you get off on the right foot," says Parker. "The next game up you’re going to be either 2-0 or at least .500. Now, you could be 0-2 or at best .500. There’s no question that winning the first game while you’re learning is a big plus.

"We’re going to lose some hockey games this year; we’re going to win some hockey games this year. But I do believe that we’re going to grow quicker than I thought we were going to grow."

The next growth opportunity will be against the Vermont Catamounts, who took UNH down to the wire last week in a 4-3 loss. They’ll be on the road this week, though, fighting the BU faithful instead of rallying behind the Gutterson Field House crowd.

"They’ll be a physical team and I think they’ll be a team that really puts a lot of pressure on our defense as far as how hard they come after us forechecking," says Parker. "RPI came at us at times, but I was surprised they didn’t come at us quite as hard as I thought they might have in front of the big crowd. But whether on the road or not, UVM will probably come at us a little bit harder."

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

PICKS: Fear not. There’s no 0-2 BU record in the offing. Terriers win 4-2.

St. Lawrence (1-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Merrimack (0-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA)

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

Merrimack looked good in a 6-0 win over Ottawa, but then again, what Hockey East team didn’t look good against its overmatched northern brethren? Even so, the Warriors fit coach Chris Serino’s maxim of "a wide-open offense with defensive accountability" to a T, allowing only 12 shots.

"We’ve got some guys that can create offense and I don’t want to take that away from them," he says. "But we’ve got to do it when it’s the right time. We turned the puck over a couple times at the offensive blue line, but for the most part if we didn’t have plays we put it in and worked down low. When we had plays, we made them.

"There’s a fine line, but right now I’m happy. They’re at least trying to do the things that we’ve been working on and we did them 100 percent. The effort was there."

Unfortunately, a potentially huge cog in the lineup, 6-5 Stephen Moon, was limping around the Volpe Complex during the game instead of anchoring the defense and running the power play. Moon has a significant patella tendon problem that could require surgery. If so, it could knock him out for a minimum of six weeks. If healthy, Moon is expected to be one of the impact newcomers around the league.

In his absence, forward Vince Clevenger joined Andrew Fox at the points on the top power-play unit. Clevenger was a third- and fourth-line center as a freshman last year, but Serino envisions a bigger role for him this year.

"Vinnie shoots the puck pretty well and he handles it pretty good, too," says Serino. "We’ve got to have someone back there who can shoot the puck. Once we get going, teams are going to collapse down on Porter and Stringer, so you’ve got to have a threat up top."

Unheralded freshman Ryan Kiley, a local kid out of Reading and the Valley Jr. Warriors, contributed two assists and could add spark to a third or fourth line.

"He went a year of prep school and two years of juniors," says Serino. "He paid his dues and he wanted a chance to be a Division I hockey player. And he is a Division I hockey player.

"He’s worked his way into the lineup. He’s a goal-scorer, but he’s doing all the other little things. He works his [butt] off. He’s a big strong kid and he skates like hell."

The Warriors now entertain St. Lawrence, which almost won the Icebreaker Invitational two weeks ago on the shoulders of goaltender Eric Heffler. While Minnesota outshot the Saints 50-24, Heffler prevailed in the 6-4 opening round win and he nearly did it again when Boston College posted a comparable 31-14 advantage on the way to a 3-2 BC championship. In a rarity for a member of the losing team, Heffler was named tournament MVP.

"Thank God we got a hell of a goaltender," said SLU coach Joe Marsh after the game. "I thought he was a no-brainer for the MVP."

Although Heffler has had a week off to cool down, Serino knows that right now the Saints are playing much better than their preseason projection as the ECAC’s ninth-best team.

"It’s going to be a great matchup," says Serino. "St. Lawrence is a very good team. They got great goaltending in the Icebreaker Classic and we’re going to have to play much better than we played [against Ottawa] to beat them. It’s just a matter of us growing up.

"We’ve got to keep working on defense. We’ve got to keep working our defensemen on breakouts and moving the puck. If we do that, I know we’ve got scorers up front and will put some pucks in the net. Whether it’s St. Lawrence or anybody, we’ve got to work hard on the defensive part of the game or we’ll get beat by anybody."

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

PICKS: Conventional wisdom would see a split here, but this writer has never been overly encumbered with wisdom of any kind. Merrimack sweeps, 4-3 and 3-2.