This Week in Hockey East: January 8, 1999

Well, folks, I’ve been kidded about writing a novel in this space every week, but there’ll be no novel this time. In all probability, I’ll be on the road without computer access as you read this.

As a result, this preview has been compiled one week early, will have no results or comments from the most recent action and the team records will be one week out-of-date. And the length will be comparatively puny compared to the usual.

To the wise guy in back, knock off the applause.

Hockey East Standings

No. 2 Maine (13- 1-4, 6-1-2 HEA, 2nd) at No. 6 Boston College (11-5-2, 6-3-0 HEA, 3rd)

Yale (4- 8-0, 3-5-0 ECAC) at No. 2 Maine (13- 1-4, 6-1-2 HEA, 2nd)

No. 6 Boston College (11-5-2, 6-3-0 HEA, 3rd) at Harvard (6- 8-1, 2-8-1 ECAC) Friday, Saturday (FOXSNE), 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA Wednesday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME

Wednesday, 7 p.m., Bright Hockey Center, Cambridge, MA

Regardless of what happened in the World Junior Tournament, Maine will finally have Barrett Heisten and Doug Janik back for these two marquee games against Boston College. The two were slated to return for this past Tuesday’s game against BU, but only if Team USA was eliminated early. The two did in fact play against BU.

This promises to be a great series. Even before the season started, Fox Sports New England could see its potential and picked the Saturday tilt as its inaugural telecast of the season.

"It’ll be exciting," said coach Shawn Walsh. "They’ll get [Brian] Gionta back and we’ll get our two guys back and we should have everybody back [from injuries] by then.

"I told our players that by our play in the first half, we’ve created some fun games in the second half right to the end. This is going to be a fun weekend. It’s what college hockey is all about."

Boston College returns to the Hockey East wars with this series after some strength-testers against the WCHA’s Colorado College, Denver and Minnesota.

"The second half of the season is when things are really going to become clear about who’s going to make a run for a league championship," said coach Jerry York. "It appears in Hockey East that Maine, ourselves and New Hampshire have all put ourselves in the best position, with BU and Merrimack not that far back.

"It’s an interesting position. You do play the first half to put yourself in position for the second half. We’ve done that.

"We’ve been fortunate to have stayed relatively free of injuries."

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

PICKS: Maine and BC split, BC squeaking out the opener, 4-3, before Maine returns the favor, 3-2.

The two titans then take their mid-week tussles with the ECAC, Maine 4-2 over Yale, and BC 5-2 over the what’s-wrong-with-the-Crimson.

No. 4 New Hampshire (13-4-1, 7-2-1 HEA, 1st) hosts Clarkson (7-7-1, 4-3-0 ECAC) and St. Lawrence (10-6-1, 5-1-1 ECAC) Friday – Saturday, 7:30 pm – 7 pm, Appleton Arena, Canton, NY

Friday, Sunday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

New Hampshire plays its last two non-conference games of the season with a pair against ECAC traveling partners, Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The "away" portion of this scheduling agreement was canceled last year after ice storms wreaked havoc throughout upstate New York and northern New England. Since these are two of the ECAC’s best, the match-ups have been eagerly anticipated.

"We’ve had a good first half and we’re going to enjoy it," said coach Dick Umile after the Wildcats trounced Rensselaer, 9-3, in the ECAC/Hockey East Holiday Doubleheader. "We’re going to come back and play some good hockey out West [against Denver and Colorado College] and then come back home and play St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

"It’s great that we’re playing those teams. Those are the teams we want to play against.

"Right now the team is playing well. They’re playing hard. They’re playing with intensity. We’re quick and aggressive. I like the way we’re playing.

"But we’ve got a whole second half ahead. It’ll be nice if we play this well in the second half."

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

PICKS: Clarkson headed into the New Year on a positive roll while St. Lawrence was going in the other direction. No matter, UNH wins both, 4-1 over St. Lawrence and 3-2 over Clarkson.

Boston University (8-10-1, 5-5-1 HEA, 4th) vs. Merrimack (8-9-0, 4-4-0 HEA, T-5th)

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

Sunday, 2 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA

Tune in next week for Boston University coach Jack Parker’s comments on his team’s recent performances and future outlook. This writer’s week- long absence, combined with the timing of the holidays and BU’s participation in the Mariucci Classic, combined to render impossible a conversation with one of college hockey’s most quotable coaches.

Merrimack returns to Hockey East action after losing two of three non-conference games following exams. The Warriors lost 3-2 to the shocking Niagara Purple Eagles. (Purple People Eaters is more like it, for those whose football memories go back a few years.) But join the club: so, too, have Michigan, Ohio State, Rensselaer, St Lawrence and Colgate.

The Warriors then finished third in the Rensselaer/Marine Midland Bank Holiday Hockey Tournament — say that fast three times — bowing to the host team, 6-5 in overtime, before defeating Union, 4-1.

Rejean Stringer, who led a third period comeback against Rensselaer with a goal and two assists, was named to the all-tournament team, as was defenseman Drew Hale. Hale, who has played some terrific hockey this year, scored a goal and added three assists in the tournament.

On the down side, defensemen Roland Grelle and Stephen Moon suffered injuries against the Engineers and, as a result, missed much of that contest and then sat out against Union. Grelle twisted an ankle; Moon aggravated the same knee that sidelined him for the year’s first nine games.

Without a doubt, dropping down to just four defensemen didn’t help the cause against Rensselaer. However, both are expected back for the BU weekend.

It’s a series could go a long way to shaping Merrimack’s second half.

"They’re a good team," said coach Chris Serino. "If we want to keep pace in Hockey East, it’ll be a huge weekend for us because with their last four wins in Hockey East, they’ve jumped ahead of us a little bit.

"We’ve got a couple games in hand, but those games in hand don’t mean anything unless you win them. It’ll come down to which team gets the better goaltending and plays the better defense."

PICKS: The Warriors and Terriers split, each winning at home, 4-3.

Providence College (8-8-0, 4-4-0 HEA, T-5th) vs. Northeastern (6-10-1, 2-7-1 HEA, T-8th)

Providence College (8-8-0, 4-4-0 HEA, T-5th) at Brown (2-5- 3, 2-5-3 ECAC)

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

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

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Meehan Auditorium, Providence, RI

After being off for three and a half weeks, Providence swung back into action on Tuesday against Cornell, the first of four games in eight days.

Now the Friars return back to Hockey East action with a home-and-home against Northeastern.

"Whoever outworks each other in the game will probably win, if the goaltending is equal," said coach Paul Pooley. "It’ll probably come down to those two things, because both teams will probably get some chances.

"They’re very similar hockey clubs. We might have a little more in terms of the top end with [Mike] Omicioli, [Jerry] Keefe and [Fernando] Pisani, but their depth is tremendous and they work hard.

"[NU coach Bruce Crowder] does a good job. It’s going to be a very, very competitive series. No question."

The Friars will then battle Brown for the Mayor’s Cup and city bragging rights.

"It is a little bit of a game that we look towards," said Pooley. "It’s always a nice one to win. We’ve only won one of them since I’ve been here, even though we’ve played well in a couple.

"There is a little more emotion when you get into the game. The guys look forward to it. You see each other around the city so you want to be ready to play."

Northeastern will be completing an important week with this series. It opened the week on Tuesday by hosting UMass-Amherst in the Huskies’ first game after the break. If they’re going to make a move out of the basement, this is the week to get started.

"The most critical thing for us is to play smart hockey," said coach Bruce Crowder. "I thought we did that over the last two games [before the break]. We simplified things as a staff and didn’t have kids run around with their heads cut off.

"We have to continue to get back into that. We were finding ways earlier to beat ourselves, going 80 miles to accomplish something we could have done in two miles."

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

PICKS: Providence and Northeastern each win at home, 3-2. PC gets Pooley his second Mayor’s Cup, 4-2.

UMass- Lowell (8-9-0, 4-7-0 HEA, 7th) hosts St. Lawrence (10-6-1, 5-1-1 ECAC) and Clarkson (7-7-1, 4-3-0 ECAC) UMass- Lowell (8-9-0, 4-7-0 HEA, 7th) at Union (2-12- 1, 1-6-0 ECAC)

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

Tuesday, 7 p.m., Lawrence H. Achilles Rink, Schenectady, N.Y.

UMass-Lowell continues its hiatus from league play with three games against the ECAC in five days, followed by the River Hawks’ final non- conference game of the season next Friday against Yale.

Clarkson and St. Lawrence, the first two on the docket, have been going in different directions as of late — Clarkson up and St. Lawrence down — but the two North Country teams have always been a prominent non-conference measuring stick for Hockey East teams.

"Those are great traditional rivals," said coach Tim Whitehead. "And then we have Union and Yale the next week. Those four ECAC games are a great opportunity to see what we’re going to get out of some of the guys over the second half of the season before we get back into league play.

"Obviously, the competition will be tough. Both of those teams are playing real well. And we always have tough games with Union and Yale. Whether we win or lose, it always goes down to the wire. So it’ll be very challenging for us.

"But it’s good to play some non-league games right after Christmas and get a chance to see some different people so that when you’re back into league play, you’re tested."

As noted in last week’s preview, freshman goaltender Cam McCormick, who was ineligible for the first semester, could be cleared for action this weekend.

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

PICKS: Lowell takes two of three from the ECAC, losing to Clarkson, 5-3, but topping St. Lawrence, 4-3, and Union, 5-3.