This Week in Hockey East: January 1, 1999

So there I was at the Tsongas Arena back before the holidays, the clock was ticking down and then the buzzer sounded. I’d picked UMass-Lowell to beat Boston University, in part because of BU injuries, but the Terriers had proven me wrong with a 5-3 win.

I was trying to type in one more paragraph before heading down to the post-game press conference when all of a sudden my subconscious heard something of interest.

Off to my left, a group of BU fans were chanting, "Dave was wrong! Dave was wrong! Dave was wrong!"

Soon all of us were laughing.

I must say that I’ve never had such a good time being heckled. A tip of the fedora to those Terrier fanatics for their creativity.

Now for the awards…

KOHO Player of the Week: Michel Larocque (G, Boston University) made 60 saves over two Mariucci Classic games to earn All-Tournament goaltender honors.

Heaton Defensive Player of the Week: Bobby Allen (D, Boston College) was also named to an All-Tournament team, in this case at the Norwest Denver Cup. He posted a 1-3–4 scoring line.

And, finally, in a VCR note…

Fox Sports New England will re-broadcast last year’s Hockey East championship tilt between Boston College and Maine on New Year’s Day at 8 p.m. A preview of the upcoming TV games, set to begin on Jan. 9, will also air.

Hockey East Standings

Record in picks last week: 4-3 Season’s record in picks: 65-34, .657

No. 4 Maine (11-1-3, 5-1-2 HEA, 2nd) at Denver (8-7-0, 5-7-0 WCHA) and at No. 2 Colorado College (13-4-0, 9-3-0 WCHA) and at Boston University (8-9-1, 5-4-1 HEA, 4th) Friday, 2:05 p.m., McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

Sunday, 7:05 p.m., Colorado Spring World Arena, Colorado Springs, CO

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

Maine limped into the break, missing Brendan Walsh and Bobby Stewart because of injuries and Barrett Heisten and Doug Janik to the World Junior Tournament. At last partially because of being shorthanded, the Black Bears had to settle for a 3-3 tie with Colgate in the ECAC/Hockey East Holiday Doubleheader after jumping to a 3-0 lead.

"Am I glad it’s over," said coach Shawn Walsh after the game, laughing. "Get us some players!"

Turning serious, he added, "Every game we get by during this spell is encouraging because we’ve got four real good players that are coming back to us. They’re going to come back [one at a time], but they’re a big part of our team. To get through this is a good testament to our depth.

"It was very important tonight not to get anybody hurt and we didn’t. To be honest, that was more important than anything because we’re just a beat up team right now."

Despite being hampered by injury, freshman Niko Dimitrakos impressed with two nice assists. Sophomore Dan Kerluke scored a goal, his fourth in two games.

"Kerluke is really coming into his own and Dimitrakos is too," said Walsh. "Dimitrakos really wasn’t getting much ice time with the other guys here. He showed me he belongs in the lineup.

"[Eric] Turgeon is another guy. He stepped up and played real tough defensively."

With a shortage up front, blue-liners A.J. Begg and Adam Tate moved to forward and Turgeon, a redshirt freshman, filled Begg’s role as a physical, stay-at-home defender. Turgeon laid out several Red Raiders and will be tough to keep out of the lineup.

As for the four absentees, Brendan Walsh is expected back for the trip to Colorado. Stewart may be ready for the Tuesday tilt against BU. But Janik and Heisten won’t be back until the following week’s marquee match-up against BC, unless Team USA is eliminated and the two return early for the BU game. Since the Americans lost their first two, that looks possible.

"We’ve gone to the ice 15 times and only one team has beaten us," said Shawn Walsh. "I can’t complain. Especially with [three] good players out the last four games, and three games with Stewart."

With only Brendan Walsh expected back for the swing West, the Black Bears could adjust their game plan to keep the legs fresher.

"We might," said Walsh. "We’re going to have to gauge that. It’ll depend on the available bodies. We trapped [against Colgate] in the third period because I thought we were tired and it helped. It clogged up the neutral zone.

"Against certain teams — like last year in the playoffs — you have to play that way to have success."

Maine will then resume its rivalry with BU, one that has been among the league’s best for years.

"BU is clearly playing better," said Walsh. "[Michel] Larocque is carrying them, but they’re growing up. Jack [Parker] is a great coach and he’s going to have them very well prepared.

"They’re going to be fresh and they’re a good team. They’re playing well now. It’ll be an emotional game and that’ll be good.

"Whether we have Barrett or Dougie will be a big factor certainly in that game because they are such important pieces to our puzzle. It’ll be a good battle between probably the two best goalies — [Larocque and Alfie Michaud] — in this league right now."

(For a detailed look at Denver and Colorado College, see Todd D. Milewski’s WCHA Preview.)

Boston University’s habit of getting outshot by a wide margin, only to be rescued by the heroics of Larocque finally caught up with the Terriers in the Mariucci Classic championship game.

They went into the break with a 4-3 win over Lowell after being outshot, 42-19, and then surprised many with a 2-1 win over a sizzling-hot Ohio State squad thanks to "Rocco’s" 29 saves. But in the title game, Princeton got revenge for an earlier 9-1 butt-whipping at BU’s hands. The Tigers blanked BU, 3-0, while outshooting them, 34-16.

On the plus side, freshmen defensemen Pat Aufiero and Chris Dyment returned from injury, bolstering the paper-thin Terrier defense. Aufiero had missed all but BU’s opening game because of a fractured wrist. Forward Tommi Degerman remained sidelined.

In another positive, coach Jack Parker has been getting strong performances from freshman forward Jack Baker, who has joined captain Albie O’Connell and Carl Corazzini to form an effective unit. Prior to the break, Baker scored in three consecutive games, his first three collegiate goals.

"He’s got some pretty ones, too…" said Parker. "He struggled a little bit earlier finding his position but now he seems to have found a home on that line."

PICKS: Maine takes two of the three, defeating Denver, 4-3, losing to Colorado College, 3-2, and then topping BU, 4-2.

No. 5 New Hampshire (12-3-1, 7-2-1 HEA, 1st) at No. 2 Colorado College (13-4-0, 9-3-0 WCHA) and Denver (8-7-0, 5-7-0 WCHA) Saturday, 7:05 p.m., Colorado Spring World Arena, Colorado Springs, CO

Sunday, 7:05 p.m., McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

New Hampshire put a hurtin’ on Rensselaer, 9-3, in the ECAC/Hockey East Doubleheader before dispersing for the holidays. After achieving most of their early success through excellent team defense, the Wildcats have become an offensive powerhouse of late.

In the first 10 games of the season, they scored more than four goals only once, and that exception came against a hapless Lake Superior State team. (Speaking of which, how the mighty have fallen….)

Since then, however, UNH has achieved the feat in five of six games, once against BC, twice against a UMass-Amherst squad that was ranked second in league defense and then Rensselaer.

The Wildcats are now tops in Hockey East overall scoring (4.23 goals per game), a major surprise after losing Mark Mowers, Derek Bekar and Tom Nolan. Did coach Dick Umile foresee this kind of offensive improvement?

"I didn’t think that by this time we’d be scoring eight or nine goals," he said after the drubbing of RPI. "I just thought we’d get better as the young kids came along. Tonight, we didn’t have to rely [on the first line] even though Haydar got a goal.

"Other guys are starting to step it up, like [Corey-Joe] Ficek and [Matt] Swain and [Jason] Shipulski, while [Jason] Krog and [Mike] Souza are still doing their thing. We’re getting contributions from all the lines and guys are feeling good.

"The puck is starting to go in. We’re pretty quick and can move the puck. That part of the game is always going to be part of UNH. And we’re a pretty tough team defensively. We’re playing really gritty defensively.

"We’re a happy team with good leadership. As a team, we’re playing very, very well and we’ve got a good attitude."

UNH now will join Maine in repeating the Denver – Colorado College gauntlet that Boston College just completed last week.

The Wildcats, who had only captain’s practices in the week leading up to the RPI torching, returned to campus for practice on the evening of the 28th. Following a couple days of practice, they then planned to fly to Colorado on New Year’s Day.

The match-up against Colorado College offers not only a clash between the No. 2 and No. 5 teams in the country, but also a head-to-head showdown between two of the Hobey Baker Award favorites, Brian Swanson and Krog.

The two are remarkably even statistically. Swanson leads the country with 2.22 points per game this season; Krog is second with 2.00. Over their career, Krog has 1.46 points per game; Swanson is a micron behind at 1.44.

Both share the ironic distinction of being a second-team All-American in a year when they were not a Hobey finalist (1997 for Krog, 1998 for Swanson) and a Hobey finalist in a year when they were not an All-American (Krog in 1998, Swanson in 1997).

Let the showdown begin.

(For a detailed look at Denver and Colorado College, see Todd D. Milewski’s WCHA Preview.)

PICKS: Colorado College should have the advantage, having played more recently and being at home. And Denver did win the Norwest Cup, knocking off Boston College in the process.

Nonetheless, the pick here is to stick with the hot hand: UNH, 4-3 over CC and 5-3 over Denver.

No. 7 Boston College (10-5-1, 6-3-0 HEA, 3rd) hosts Minnesota (7-8-2, 5-5-2 WCHA) Saturday, Sunday, 2:05 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

Boston College toppled No. 2 Colorado College in the Norwest Denver Cup, 5-3, only to fall to host Denver, 4-3 in overtime.

"It was a well-played game," said coach Jerry York. "We played hard. We played smart, but Denver did likewise.

"We’re proud of our club. We had a good tournament, and played two excellent opponents in CC and Denver."

Mike Mottau, Bobby Allen and Jeff Farkas were all named to the all-tournament team despite the title game loss.

The Eagles were without top scorer Brian Gionta, who is playing for Team USA in the World Junior Tournament. He will also miss this weekend’s series with Minnesota.

With WCHA schedules offering so little room for non-conference games, Eastern fans rarely get a chance to see the Golden Gophers, typically one of the crown jewels of Western collegiate hockey.

"We’ve worked hard to coordinate schedules to allow us to play Minnesota," said York. "We hope the series continues for a while. It’s a nationally-acclaimed team that is great to bring to the East to play a series with.

"It’s a unique opportunity to see two long-storied teams face off against each other. The series has some jump, no question about it."

Adding a little flavor to the match-up are the two programs’ recruiting practices. Minnesota recruits exclusively in-state; Boston College recruits almost exclusively in New England and New York.

"Their Americans have to be from Minnesota," said York with a laugh. "They’re unique in that their team is a product of their state. We’re a little more wide-breadth with our recruiting."

(For a detailed look at Minnesota, see Todd D. Milewski’s WCHA Preview.)

PICK: What was the last weekend that BC took more than half the available points? The end of October?

Well, call me an idiot — that’s a figure of speech, you don’t actually have to jump at the opportunity — but this looks like a 4-3, 5-4 sweep for the Eagles.

Silverado Shootout

UMass-Lowell (6-9-0, 4-7-0 HEA, 7th) vs. Army (7-7-0)

Air Force (7-9-1) vs. Minnesota-Duluth (3-11-2, 2-8-2 WCHA)

Friday (semis), Saturday (conso/championship), 11:05 a.m/3:05 p.m.,

Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.

UMass-Lowell returns to game action this week after being off since Dec. 12, when Boston University completed a weekend sweep of the River Hawks.

In many ways, that 4-3 loss was their season in a microcosm. They outshot BU, 42-19, but still lost because Terrier goaltender Michel Larocque stood on his head while Lowell’s goaltending continued to struggle.

Even so, the River Hawks have made considerable progress defensively since the start of the season. In the first eight games, they allowed an average of over 33 shots. In the six games since then — ignoring the no-show in the Governor’s Cup consolation game — they cut that to 22.

In that recent stretch, they outshot their opponent in all but two games, one a 28-28 deadlock and the other a 22-20 deficit. Ironically, they lost all the shot-advantage games and won the two exceptions.

"We’ve been focusing on team defense and we have made some important strides," said coach Tim Whitehead. "It hasn’t always translated into wins, but sometimes that’s life.

"We have to just keep improving that area. You’ve got to believe that if you consistently do the right things defensively it will translate [into wins.] Hopefully, it will."

A new face between the Lowell pipes looms, although not for this weekend. Cam McCormick, a freshman who was ineligible for the first semester, may have to wait until classes begin the last week of the month, but could also be cleared for the Jan. 8 weekend.

Since both senior Scott Fankhouser and freshman Jimi St. John have been inconsistent, McCormick could get his shot as soon as he becomes eligible.

Until then, the River Hawks, who were off from the 12th until the 27th, will look to continue their defensive improvement in the Silverado Shootout. In particular, they don’t want to allow Army 36 shots like they did back on Nov. 14, when they were fortunate to squeak out a 4-3 win.

"A lot of stuff that we’d been working on was coming around [up to] the break," said Whitehead. "Now it’s a question of whether we’ll pick up where we left off or whether we’ll be a little rusty after going three weeks without a game. My guess is that we’ll be a little rusty, but hopefully the other teams will be, too.

"Getting out of here and flying out there is going to be fun and should pull the team together a bit. We are going to focus on the defensive stuff, keeping the shots down. And our penalty kill has really been improving dramatically — [now sixth in league games with a 77.59 percent kill rate] — and we’re excited about that.

"It sounds like a great tournament. We did have that cliffhanger with Army already, so we know they’re going to be gunning for us. They certainly played well enough to beat us last time, so I’m sure it’ll go right down to the wire, one way or another, again this time.

"And Duluth and Air Force are two teams that aren’t normally on our schedules, so it’s going to be exciting for us to play either one of those two teams, either in the consolation or the championship game."

Since busses have already broken down twice for River Hawk road games — both wins — the team might be well served to prepare for a white-knuckle flight and have a backup plan for the bus ride to Logan Airport and from Minneapolis to Duluth.

"We’ve been driving down to Tully [Forum instead of the Tsongas Arena] for practice the last three days," said a laughing Whitehead, "so the cars will be warmed up and ready to go, just in case."

(For a detailed look at Minnesota-Duluth, see Todd D. Milewski’s WCHA Preview. For Army and Air Force, see Jayson Moy’s Season Preview.)

PICKS: Lowell takes better care of business this time against Army, 4-2, and then takes the Silverado against either Duluth or Air Force, 5-3.

Providence College (7-8-0, 4-4-0 HEA, T-5th) at Cornell (6-3-1, 4-1-1 ECAC)

Tuesday, 7 p.m., Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY

Providence frittered away a 4-1 start of the season by stumbling into the break with a 3-7 finish.

"We certainly dropped off in our consistency in everything from goaltending to playing good defensive hockey," said coach Paul Pooley. "We’ve got to tighten up our game.

"Offensively, we’re scoring enough goals, for the most part, to win. We’ve just got to change some things, make some personnel decisions, get better goaltending and play a little better defensively. Those are the things that we’ve talked about as a staff and have to happen for us to be a better hockey club."

Like last year, inconsistent goaltending has haunted the Friars. Sophomore Boyd Ballard can be spectacular one night, but then allow softies the next. Senior Mark Kane’s highs and lows tend to be less extreme in both directions, but he didn’t finish the first semester well, stopping only 22-of-28 shots in a 6-5 overtime loss to Dartmouth.

"Boyd has to be more consistent," said Pooley. "That goes back to his whole work ethic and conditioning levels. You’ve got to push him. He’s got to understand what it takes to play at this level over a long period of time.

"When he’s working real hard and he’s conditioning himself, he plays well. It’s more of a mental thing, I think, in challenging himself. He struggled a little bit after the [Nov. 14] Duluth game and Mark took over. But then Mark really struggled against Dartmouth.

"From a coach’s point of view, it doesn’t give you much confidence at times and I think the players sense that, too. That’s been the biggest change in our hockey club, our confidence level.

"Boyd, I feel, is going to have a real big half in the second half. And Mark is going to come back refocused. That’s something that has to happen for our hockey club.

"We’ve also blown four two-goal leads this first half [of the season] and they’re games that we’ve lost. That’s something that we have to work on as well."

The Friars returned to official practices on the 29th after starting their break following the Dec. 11 Dartmouth game. Since then, they’ve had nothing more than captain’s practices and conditioning.

"We’ve been off a long time, but it’s probably been good for us," said Pooley. "We’ll have a week to practice before we play Cornell. That’ll give us time to tighten up some things and go over some things and have two-a-days a few times. That’ll be good."

Of course, taking on Cornell in the lions’ den known as Lynah Rink is no easy first step into the season’s second half.

"I’ve never been there," said Pooley, "but I understand that it’s going to be very, very tough. We’re going to have to play smart and make good decisions with the puck, from simply getting the puck out to getting the puck in. We have to just play more of a boring style and a smart style of hockey."

(For a detailed look at Cornell, see this week’s ECAC Preview by Becky Blaeser and Jayson Moy.)

PICK: Cornell may be 7-3-1 and Providence 7-8-0, but it says here that Cornell isn’t 7-3-1 good and Providence isn’t 7-8-0 mediocre. The Friars win, 4-3 in overtime.

UMass-Amherst (4-11-1, 2-6-1 HEA, 8th) at Northeastern (5-10-1, 1-7-1 HEA, 9th)

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

UMass-Amherst takes on Northeastern in a mid-week game that could prove important if either team is going to make a move out of the nether reaches of the Hockey East standings.

With a Dec. 30 game against Western Michigan still to go as of press time, the Minutemen had only a single win over Air Force in the last eight games. While they have played a tough schedule in that stretch, wins and losses tend to snowball for young teams and right now the momentum is in the wrong direction.

Northeastern, on the other hand, went into the break with a 7-7 tie against No. 4 Maine and a 4-3 win over No. 8 Princeton, both on the road. Not exactly typical performances of a team with one league win.

"I don’t think their record really reflects where they are," said coach Joe Mallen. "I think maybe that second game up at Maine where they scored seven goals might have given them the shot of adrenaline that they needed. For them to go and beat Princeton at Princeton… that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

"But [this will be] their first game back from the break. We’ll have the chance to play the two games against Western Michigan and try to get back up on the saddle.

"It could be an interesting game in that they could be rested coming into it, or maybe their timing won’t be what they hope it will be. For the most part, we’ve matched up with them pretty well for the last couple years, so it should be an interesting match-up."

Northeastern appeared to have righted its listing ship with its impressive performances going into the break.

"Looking at that stretch — two against Maine and one against Princeton, all on the road — for us to come out of it 1-1-1, we feel pretty good about it," said coach Bruce Crowder. "But we’ve still got a long way to go.

"The good news is that we did that. The bad news is that we were off two weeks before we had a chance to do it again. Hopefully, it doesn’t take three weeks to get back to playing that way again."

Prior to the break, Leon Hayward earned league Rookie of the Week honors for his two goals in the 7-7 tie with Maine.

"We’ve got some freshmen who have stepped it up in the last little while and Leon is one of them," said Crowder. "He’s a kid that has been in and out of the lineup, but every time… that he played something happened offensively. He didn’t score, but at least there were opportunities that were arising. He played well up at Maine and he also played well at Princeton.

"He’s getting a lot of quality ice time. He’s killing penalties for us and getting a regular shift right now. Chris Lynch is another freshman and the same thing with Willie Levesque. Those guys, forward-wise, have really stepped up to the forefront."

Billy Newson, who missed eight games, returned to the lineup in the Maine series. With him in the lineup, the Huskies are 3-4-1 this season. Without him, they are 2-6-0.

Coincidence? Don’t bet the rent check on it.

Another injury casualty, defenseman Arik Engbrecht, who has been out all year with a back injury, is still in a wait-and-see mode after taking a shot and then resting this past month. Until now, he has been fine while skating, but run into problems after any physical play. It’ll soon be fish-or-cut-bait time for Engbrecht’s season.

As for the Minutemen, will they hold an advantage with two post-break contests under their belts?

"Hopefully, not," said Crowder. "We’ll have four or five practices before we play the game so hopefully that’s something that we can iron out. But you never know until that first period how you’re going to come out.

"Our biggest thing is that we’ve got to start winning some Hockey East games."

PICK: Northeastern picks up where it left off, winning 4-2.

Thanks to Max Caulkins and Scott Weighart for their contributions to this preview.