This Week in the ECAC: October 30, 1998

We’ve had a little feeler for this year’s ECAC in the past three weeks; now it’s time for three more teams to get into the action with some exhibitions.

Meanwhile, last week was a good week for some ECAC teams, and not for others. St. Lawrence swept a pair from Hockey East rival Merrimack, while Vermont outslugged Boston University. On the other side of the coin, Rensselaer, Colgate and Union took losses against Hockey East from UMass-Lowell, Northeastern and Maine.

The upside of the Union loss to Maine was a first-round J.C. Penney Classic victory over Niagara, giving Kevin Sneddon a positive result in his first game as a head coach.

The Golden Knights were swept at home against CCHA foe Northern Michigan to round out the ECAC action from last weekend.

ECAC Player of the Week — Jason Reid, Sr., D, Vermont ECAC Goaltender(s) of the Week — Marty Phillips, Jr., Vermont; Eric Heffler, Sr., St. Lawrence

This week, Princeton, Brown, and Cornell get into exhibition action with their first games of the season, while Vermont, Union, Rensselaer, Colgate, and St. Lawrence all battle in non-conference action.

The start of the ECAC conference season is next week when Harvard hosts Brown.

Last week: 4-5 Season to date: 5-6, .455

Vermont (1-1-0) at St. Cloud (1-1-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) Friday – Saturday, 8:00 pm, National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, Minn.

Everyone knew that come the 1998-99 season, Vermont would be better and Boston University would struggle a bit without Chris Drury and Tom Poti. Still, not many people expected the Catamounts to upend the Terriers in front of more than 3,700 fans at Walter Brown Arena last Saturday night. Now there’s no rest for the weary as the Catamounts meet up with a WCHA heavyweight, St. Cloud, which opened its season with a weekend split against Minnesota. [For more on St. Cloud, please refer to "Terrible" Todd Milewski’s WCHA Preview.]

Nonetheless, head coach Mike Gilligan and his squad have to have confidence heading West, coming off a big early-season upset that showcased phenomenal special teams play and unlikely scoring heroes. In a rare occurrence for the team from Burlington, the Catamounts converted on five of seven power-play chances en route to the 8-6 win over the Terriers. Defenseman Jason Reid, who had a mere five collegiate goals heading into contest, recorded a hat trick, while B.J. Kilbourne added three assists in Vermont’s first victory of the season.

"That’s something that we haven’t seen the Catamounts do for about 100 years, but it’s great to see happen," said Gilligan of his 71-percent extra-man efficiency.

Reid took home ECAC Player of the Week and USCHO Defensive Player of the Week honors, but perhaps more impressive was the play of Vermont goaltender Marty Phillips, who came up with a 30-shot performance against a Terrier offense that outshot the visitors 36-18. Phillips got the nod between the pipes after expected starter Andrew Allen was roughed up in the season opener against New Hampshire the week before. After his victory over BU, Phillips has guaranteed himself at least half a game against St. Cloud.

One of the main issues for Vermont this weekend, aside from goaltending, will be discipline. The Catamounts conceded 13 power-play chances to the Terriers and were to lucky to escape Walter Brown with only two scored against them.

"I felt that we were just hanging by a thread on the penalty-kill," Gilligan said. "I didn’t feel comfortable defensively at all [Saturday night]."

The Terriers were indeed an ominous force all night and the lack of defensive stability displayed by the Catamount defense may give good cause for concern heading westward.

Picks: It took Jason Reid 74 games to collect his first collegiate hat trick, and the smart money says it’ll take more than one game for him to notch another. He, as well as the Catamount power play, will be cooled off by the crisp Minnesota air. The Huskies sweep, 6-3 and 4-3.

Army (1-1-0) at Colgate (0-1-0) Friday, 7:30 pm, Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY Army at Rensselaer (1-1-0) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Houston Fieldhouse, Troy, NY

Army split a home series against Alabama-Huntsville last weekend — a 3-2 loss and a 2-1 win — and now heads to face two ECAC foes in Colgate and Rensselaer.

Greg Buckmeier and Jason Choi, the two leading goal-scorers for the Cadets last season, got the goals Friday evening, and Choi also registered an assist on Saturday night. Also Saturday, freshman Nathan Mayfield scored his first collegiate goal, and Andy Foss notched the first goal in the win.

In net, Corey Winer takes over for Daryl Chamberlain. Chamberlain finished in the top eight in all goaltending categories during his time at the Academy.

"Corey is a fighter [who] responds to pressure," said head coach Rob Riley. "He has shown that he can win those close games, but we need him to do more of that this season."

Winer was spectacular this past weekend making 36 saves on Friday, and 40 on Saturday.

The power play is an area where Riley would like to improve his club. Last weekend, the Cadets went 2-14 and 1-5 with the extra man.

"We need to improve our productivity on the power play," he said. "And that also helps us win those close games."

Colgate started off the season in Boston last weekend, dropping a 2-0 decision to Northeastern. The Red Raiders may be 0-1-0, but head coach Don Vaughan liked some of the things he saw.

"We didn’t have the outcome we wanted," he said. "But it was a 1-0 game after two periods with a power-play goal. We were really pleased with our defense and forwards, so it was a pretty good effort."

How can you say your forwards played well if you were shut out?

"We moved the puck well," explained Vaughan. "We passed well, we were able to skate with the puck. The one point that concerns us was that we were not putting it in the net. We just have to work on getting the puck into the net."

Shep Harder played well in net for the Red Raiders, and with two games this weekend, Harder and highly-touted freshman Jason LeFevre will each get a start.

"(Harder) played real well, and that was probably his best game since he’s been here," said Vaughan about the junior. "That’s an important sign for us that he has started nicely. We’ve also got Jason (LeFevre) here and he is gradually adjusting to the college game.

"We’ll definitely split the two this weekend, in what order I’m not sure right now."

Of his young players, Vaughan liked what he saw of one in particular.

"I’m still very excited about (Etienne) Morin," he said. "He skated well, he got himself free a lot, and he seems to find the open area very well."

Rensselaer looked sharp in an outing against Boston University two weeks ago. But last week, in an 8-4 loss to UMass-Lowell, the Engineers looked like a totally different team. The Engineers surrendered five second period goals, and were never really in the game.

"First and foremost, even though you have experience at some positions, you can’t let teams outwork you," said head coach Dan Fridgen. "You have to come out and work consistently and that’s part of being a good hockey team. We can’t be a chameleon hockey team, and that’s what we were Saturday. We certainly weren’t the same team we were against BU. Our inexperience showed itself Saturday; we had crucial turnovers at crucial parts of the game."

The Engineers were in the penalty box for 12 RiverHawk power plays. The other thing was that 11 of the power plays were full two-minute power plays– until the ‘Hawks scored on five of them.

"We did a good job of battling back," said Fridgen. "We never threw the towel in, but you’re never going to build sustained momentum in the penalty box. If the referee is going to call it tight, you have to adjust, and we didn’t do a good job of that.

"Whenever somebody scores a goal, the next line up and next few shifts are very crucial to the momentum of the game. We tried to get things going, but we would get hauled off to the box….We tied the third period, 1-1, but we dug a hole for ourselves and we couldn’t climb out of it."

Engineer fans saw a surprise in net on Saturday as Joel Laing started his second consecutive game. Scott Prekaski did relieve Laing in the second period, but Laing went back in at the start of the third. The reason that the second consecutive start was odd was because Laing and Prekaski had been rotating every game since the two came onto the Rensselaer campus two years ago.

"I base it on how practice is going," explained Fridgen. "Joel has been looking very good in practice and that’s why he started Saturday. It’s not going to be an automatic rotation basis — if both guys are playing well, maybe, but I just think that it’s got to be earned."

Picks: Army will play both of these tough as they have in recent years. Without Chamberlain, it’s a little tougher, and the Cadets get swept on the road. Colgate 5, Army 2 and Rensselaer 5, Army 2.

Merrimack (0-2-0) at Union (1-1-0) Saturday, 7:00 pm, Achilles Rink, Schenectady, NY

After suffering a tough 6-1 defeat at the hands of the host Maine Black Bears in the championship game of the J.C. Penney Classic one week ago, Union (1-1-0) welcomes winless Merrimack (0-2-0) to Achilles Rink Saturday night.

Merrimack has been a different team since upsetting top-seeded Boston University in last year’s HE playoffs. The Warriors possess a potentially-explosive tandem in Rejean Stringer and Kris Porter, who posted four points between them in last weekend’s series against St. Lawrence, and will be looking to its first "W" of the season against the susceptible Dutchmen. [For more on the Warriors, see Dapper Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East Preview.]

"They’re a pretty explosive offensive team. I’m sure that they will be itching to get a win after getting swept by [St. Lawrence] over the weekend," said Union head coach Kevin Sneddon. "Our team as a whole was up and down all weekend. But that is to be expected from a young team. They have the potential, and we have to stay with the ups."

Union reached its highest point last Friday night when the team battled back from a 3-1 deficit, including two crucial tallies in the final 4:45 to defeat Niagara, 5-3. Mark Szucs supplied the offensive spark for his team, scoring two goals, including the game-winner, while adding an assist. One of the most promising signs for the Dutchmen was the play of Leeor Shtrom, who knocked away 69 shots on the weekend.

"He played fantastic for us last weekend," said Sneddon of Shtrom. "He’s stepped it up and now that he knows he’s the number-one goalie, he’s responded."

As was evident from the Maine contest, the Dutchmen are far from competing with the best teams. The youth of the Union squad can not be overlooked this weekend although thus far in the season, it has been making only cameo appearances. Merrimack should be a good test for the Dutchmen in their home opener.

Pick: Union plays 60 minutes of total hardcore hockey and gives the Achilles crowd an opening-night victory. Union 5, Merrimack 2.

Buffalo Showcase No. 10 St. Lawrence (3-1-0) vs. Colgate (0-1-0) Saturday, 7:30 pm, Marine Midland Arena, Buffalo, NY

On the strength of a second-place finish in the Ice Breaker and a sweep of Merrimack, St. Lawrence has taken the tenth position in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online Poll.

"We’ve done the little things right, we’ve gotten good leadership, good scoring, and good goaltending," said head coach Joe Marsh. "So far, so good."

After defeating the Warriors 4-1 on Friday, the Saints changed their lineup on Saturday, dressing eight different players for the second game. The result was the same — a win, this time by a 6-3 margin. The win was also sophomore Jeremy Symington’s first as a Saint.

"I’ve seen a lot of different people in the lineup and the guys are responding well," said Marsh. "We’re going to have some tough decisions as the regular season comes around as to who to sit, but I’m really pleased at the efforts.

"We’re getting timely goals and the scoresheet has been spread out and it’s important that we develop some depth. Especially on the third and fourth lines, because we have an outstanding first line with (John) Poapst, (Bob) Prier, and (Eric) Anderson, depth isn’t something where you count names on a roster. It’s getting the kids into the crucial situations, and I’ve had a chance to do that so far."

The Saints could aptly be dubbed the "Road Warriors," as they play their third straight weekend away from the confines of Appleton Arena, this weekend at the Buffalo Showcase at the Marine Midland Arena. Last season the Saints opened up on the road as well, and didn’t have their home opener until Nov. 21.

"Honestly, that’s good early on," said Marsh about going on the road. "I don’t mind going on the road, it brings the kids together and you get some of the distractions out of the way. These kids have worked hard so far, and I think everybody right now is on the same page. I just want to stay healthy and keep things going, because we’re going to face tough ones every night."

Going to Buffalo is exciting for Colgate as well. Don Vaughan likes the trip, and is looking forward to it.

"I tease our guys about this," he said about playing at Marine Midland Arena. "A lot of them want to play in the pros, and they’ll get a taste of what it’s like to play in a pro arena. So this is good that we get to get on that iron lung, because anytime you can change it up, it helps bring your team together."

Pick: You have to think that the road will wear on the Saints at some point — or maybe it won’t. It’s an early test as to what the regular ECAC season will be like. It’s St. Lawrence 4, Colgate 2.

Exhibitions Guelph at Cornell Saturday, 7:00 pm, Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY New Brunswick at Princeton Saturday, 7:00 pm, Hobey Baker Rink, Princeton, NJ New Brunswick at Brown Sunday, 4:00 pm, Meehan Auditorium, Providence, RI

You have to love exhibitions. Well, actually you don’t have to love them, but it’s a chance for the fans to see their teams. What the teams get accomplished during these is to get lines straight, get the kinks worked out and get some real hitting going on.

We could provide you with quotes, but every one probably be like this. "We’re tired of hitting each other in practice," Joe Hockey said. "We’re ready to get out there and hit other people."

So, have fun at the exhibitions this weekend, and we’ll talk more about Cornell, Princeton, and Brown next week.

Picks: We’ll go the Dave Hendrickson route (otherwise known as the cheap and cowardly method). Cornell, Princeton and Brown by an average of three goals.

Next week in ECAC action:

Friday, November 6: Brown at Harvard Union vs. Rensselaer (Capital Skate Classic, Glens Falls, NY) Princeton at Boston University Niagara at Cornell Clarkson at North Dakota Acadia at Vermont

Saturday, November 7: Clarkson at North Dakota Acadia at Dartmouth McGill at Yale

Sunday, November 8: Niagara at Dartmouth Harvard at UMass-Amherst

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions to this preview.

Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy are ECAC Correspondents for U.S. College Hockey Online. Copyright 1998 Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy. All rights reserved.