This Week in Hockey East: January 22, 1999

KOHO Player of the Week: Jason Krog (F, New Hampshire) scored three goals and assisted on three others in UNH’s sweep of Merrimack. In the process, he became the Wildcats’ fourth all-time scorer. He also leads the country in points-per-game.

KOHO Rookie of the Week: Barrett Heisten (F, Maine) finished the week 1-4–5, including the game-winner against UMass-Amherst.

Heaton Defensive Player of the Week: Josh MacNevin (D, Providence) led a Friar defense that allowed just five goals in three games and also totaled five points himself (1-4–5).

Hockey East Standings

Record in picks last week: 8-0 (Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.) Season’s record in picks: 89-44, .669

No. 2 Maine (16-2-4, 8-2-2 HEA, 2nd) at

Merrimack (9-11-1, 5-6-1 HEA, 6th)

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

Maine rebounded from its loss two weeks ago to Boston College — only its second on the season — to post convincing victories over Yale and UMass-Amherst, 6-1 and 5-0, respectively.

Any fatigue from their five-games-in-nine-nights-and-multiple-time-zones road trip appears long gone now as by all accounts the Black Bears had jump aplenty in their stride.

"I’m pleased we got through the week with two wins," said coach Shawn Walsh. "We have some areas of our game that we have to improve, but all around every part of our game was pretty effective."

What’s to improve after outscoring two teams, 11-1?

"We’re setting our sights on some pretty loft goals," said Walsh. "If we’re going to be close to achieving them, we’re going to have to all step up in certain specific areas. Each player has got a thing or two that they’ve got to get better at."

On the injury front, Bobby Stewart returned after missing the last seven games. Brendan Walsh, however, remained sidelined. He has attempted to play in two of the last 11 games dating back to Dec. 12, but the coaching staff is trying to give him enough time to get totally healthy.

In the wake of their home wins over Yale (at Portland) and UMass-Amherst (at Orono), the Black Bears will hop on the busses again, this time to face Merrimack twice.

"It’ll be another tough Hockey East road weekend," said Walsh. "What makes our schedule difficult is that we’ve got to play the same team back-to-back in their rink. That’s always a tough task."

(Because of geography, all other league two-game sets are played in a home-and-home fashion, while Maine either hosts both games or is on the road for both.)

"Clearly, Merrimack has two of the premier players in the country [in Rejean Stringer and Kris Porter] and they seem to have a better supporting cast," said Walsh. "Chris [Serino] has done a great job motivating them. They’re going to be a very worthy opponent."

Merrimack began a brutal four-game gauntlet against the No. 4 and No. 2 teams in the country with 6-1 and 5-1 losses to New Hampshire.

"I didn’t think we competed at all [on Thursday ] night at UNH," said coach Chris Serino after the second loss. "But I thought we competed pretty good [on Saturday] for a couple periods. We weren’t winning them all, but we were winning our share of the one-on-one battles, which you have to do against them.

"Then in the third period, we didn’t win one. They out-competed us for the puck….I’d be lying if I told you I thought they’d get four goals against us in the third period. I thought we’d come out fired up.

"Face the facts. They’re a good team. They’re going to outshoot you. We’re probably not going to dominate a game against them. But for two periods, we gave ourselves the opportunity to win. Not competing in the third period was disappointing."

UNH, with the best penalty kill in Hockey East (92.13 percent), shut out the Warriors’ power play, 0-for-7.

"Our power play…I was hoping we wouldn’t get any more," said Serino. "Guys with the puck weren’t carrying it and forcing people to come after them. They just stood there and passed the puck. There were things we wanted to do. We got to where we wanted to be, but then we didn’t perform them, for whatever reason. That was disappointing."

One bright light was the play of the fourth line: Ryan Kiley, Nick Torretti and Joey Gray. Kiley, in particular, played like a man possessed.

"I thought that line played pretty good [on Saturday]," said Serino. "I also thought the young kid, Nick Parillo, had two good games. I put him on the [first] line with Porter and Stringer. He’s going to be a good player."

Could the lopsided losses prove discouraging to a squad about to host the No. 2 team in the nation?

"The scores disappoint the kids, but we’re past the point of 2-1 moral victories when we lose, or playing good but losing," said Serino. "Losing is losing. And we’re not here to lose. We lost to BC, 2-1. We just lost to UNH, 5-1. They’re both losses. We’re not here to lose.

"The day that my players walk out [satisfied] after losing a game because the team was better than we are and it was a close game, that’s the day we’ll all pack it in. That’s not what we’re here for. It’s not what we want to be here for."

PICKS: Maine is just too good, winning 4-2 and 3-1.

No. 4 New Hampshire (17-4-1, 9-2-1 HEA, 1st) vs.

UMass-Lowell (12-10-0, 4-8-0 HEA, 8th)

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

Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH

New Hampshire swept Merrimack, 6-1 and 5-1, to maintain its position atop Hockey East. Maine lurks just one point behind and Boston College trails by three.

"These were two big games for us," said coach Dick Umile after completing the sweep. "Chris [Serino] has got his team playing well. They were within four points of us coming into the week.

"I was very impressed with the way the team won the game. It was playoff hockey….Obviously, it was a great weekend for us and I’m pleased."

The Wildcats’ top line of Jason Krog (16-27–43, 2nd in the country), Mike Souza (9-24–33, 12th) and Darren Haydar (19-11–30, 17th) continued to wrack up points by the barrel, scoring two of the six goals at home and four of UNH’s five on the road.

"They proved what they can do," said Umile. "Merrimack played us very tough and then [those three] took charge. Jason Krog, with all the attention he’s gotten, [and the rest of] the line took charge.

"They’ve got to be one of the top lines in the country."

Goaltender Sean Matile, whose inconsistent play has been underlined by the unblemished record of his cohort in the UNH nets, Ty Conklin, may have turned the corner by almost posting a shutout at the Volpe Center. "It feels good to play a lot better than I’ve recently played, so that’s really positive," he said. "I finished the weekend on a positive note for myself and the team so that’s great."

The senior, who has played brilliantly in Merrimack’s rink throughout his career, added a humorous note when asked about the compact-sized facility.

"[We] Canadian boys, we’re used to playing in this for our junior hockey," he said. "I felt like I was 16-years-old out there. That’s the way it should be. We’re used to playing in these littler rinks.

"And a little colder helps, too. I fall asleep at the Whittemore Center."

The Wildcats will be looking to not fall asleep next week against UMass-Lowell and instead continue the strong play that has gained them eight wins in their last nine games, including four against teams that have spent time in the top 10.

"Every game, you’ve got to respect your opponent," said Umile. "Lowell is playing well right now and we’ve got to go down to Lowell the first night. But I like the way the team is playing. The way the team is playing right now, we’ve just got to keep focusing in on ourselves and play well.

"I think we have a good team from the net out. Everyone is playing well. It’s a tough league so as long as you respect your opponent and do the best you can do, that’s all you can ask for."

UMass-Lowell completed a six-game win streak — regrettably all against non-conference opponents — with a 2-1 victory over Yale, but in its first league contest in over a month, lost 5-2 to Providence.

"We had a good stretch run there after Christmas, but it’s over," said coach Tim Whitehead. "It’s back to reality. If you don’t come to play on a given night, you’re going to get it handed to you. I don’t think either team was particularly sharp, but obviously Providence was sharper than we were.

"It wasn’t a real exciting game from a fan’s standpoint, two teams that were playing their fifth game in [10] days. But we were on even turf as far as that, so there wasn’t any excuse not to be ready.

"We did some good things. We only gave up 17 shots total in the game, so we were pretty aware defensively. But we gave up some quality shots and it cost us. We had ours, but we didn’t capitalize.

"Providence has a really good defensive corps. I have a lot of respect for those kids and I thought they got the better of us."

Prior to surrendering four goals on 17 shots in the loss, Scott Fankhouser was on a roll, allowing only six in the six preceding games. He now ranks third in Hockey East in overall goals-against average (2.77), and has raised his save percentage to .897 and record to 11-7-0.

"Since Christmas, he’s been real consistent for us, which has been great," said Whitehead. "He’s definitely taken a step and if he wasn’t his sharpest against Providence, I’m sure he will be sharp against New Hampshire. He’s gained a lot of confidence over this stretch in January and he has played more consistently.

"He’s been patient with himself and has worked very hard. He’s competing a lot harder in games and in practices. It’s nice to see someone make improvement like that."

As for Fankhouser’s backups and heirs apparent, Lowell is still waiting on Cam McCormick, who played some major junior hockey, to become available, while freshman Jimi St. John is once again eligible. And Brendan Hynes, a 21-year-old whose NCAA clock would have been ticking this season whether he played or not, saw 4:29 of mop-up duty in a 7-1 win over Union.

The River Hawks have their work cut out for them this week with a series against No. 4 New Hampshire. Whitehead has done his homework and noticed that the Wildcats are tops in the league overall on the power play (23.36 percent) and on the penalty kill (92.1 percent).

"We have to shut down their power play and respect their penalty kill," said Whitehead. "They do a really good job. We can’t allow them to dominate the special teams. We need to play them even on special teams and then see what happens five-on-five."

PICKS: UNH sweeps, 4-3 and 4-2.

No. 6 Boston College (13-7-2, 8-4-0 HEA, 3rd) vs.

Providence College (12-9-0, 7-5-0 HEA, 4th)

No. 6 Boston College (13-7-2, 8-4-0 HEA, 3rd) hosts

UMass-Amherst (5-14-1, 2-9-1 HEA, 9th)

Friday (BC-PC), 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA FOXSNE

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

Tuesday (BC-UMA), 7 p.m., Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, MA

Boston College continued its frustrating ways last week, losing to Harvard, 3-1, in a game that prompted one long-time college hockey devotee to say, "If I had to watch three of those in a row, I’d become a basketball fan." Considering what an exciting team the Eagles are when they are on, the statement was an eye-opener.

They did rebound with a 5-1 win over Northeastern, but since opening the season atop the national rankings with a 4-0 record, the Eagles have posted a record of only 9-7-2. Their mid-week loss to Harvard was but the latest example of what has become surprisingly predictable.

"From such a good start, we’ve kind of won-one-lost-one, never playing poorly, but not playing consistently at the top of our game," said coach Jerry York after the win. "We need a string of consecutive, consistent efforts. We haven’t been able to do that.

"We’re still within sight of Maine and New Hampshire, but we have to start winning back-to-back games. They’re not making it easy. They keep rolling, those other two teams. They don’t lose many."

Part of the push for more consistency has been an emphasis on scoring "ugly" goals.

"We been talking to our club about how we’ve got to get more traffic-type goals: pucks bouncing, whacking at rebounds and getting deflections," said York. "As opposed to the 35-foot slapshot just under the crossbar. We’ve got to be more of a mucking-type team offensively."

One of BC’s strongest muckers, Mike Lephart, had a big week, scoring the lone goal against Harvard and then two against Northeastern.

"He quietly is developing into one of our top, top forwards," said York. "He’s got tremendous strength in his skating. He’s very powerful on the ice and he’s getting a good scoring touch now. I thought late last year he really became a player, but this year he’s moving up.

"He’s going to be an all-league type of player for us. He’s up there with Blake [Bellefeuille] and Jeff [Farkas]."

The Eagles will now try to do something they haven’t managed since October, namely sweep a weekend. It won’t be easy with the hot Providence Friars on tap.

"Except for the Beanpot, we’re playing all Hockey East now, so it’s very important for us to win games and keep pace," said York. "Our goal is a league championship, but Maine and New Hampshire aren’t showing much fault in their footsteps. They’re moving and marching and we have to stay with that."

Last weekend, Providence swept two league games from the UMass schools, 8-1 over Amherst and 5-2 over Lowell. As a result, the Friars are now in the driver’s seat for fourth place. In fact, their squandering of a 4-2 late-third-period lead against Northeastern on Jan. 9 is the only blemish on their 1999 record.

"We’ve been doing okay," said coach Paul Pooley. "We’re getting some balance from our lines and both of our goaltenders are playing pretty solid. We’re playing pretty well defensively, but we’ve got to improve in some areas.

"We’ve been finding a way to get it done, for the most part. In the six games after Christmas, we should be 6-0, but we’re not [because of the loss to Northeastern].

"We’ve still got to get better and work on some things. This weekend will be a big challenge for us."

A significant reason behind PC’s success has been the strong play of junior defenseman Josh MacNevin, selected as this week’s Heaton/Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week. The offensively gifted rearguard opened the season with points in seven of the first eight games, but then hit a dry spell. Starting with the first game before the break, however, he’s scored 12 points in his last seven.

"He’s really picked it up," said Pooley. "The one thing I’ve noticed about Josh is that he’s picked up his enthusiasm up in terms of his leadership role before the game in the dressing room. Just the things that you notice as a coach.

"I think it’s helped his play. He’s gotten a little more assertive personally within the team. He’s always gone about his business, but I think he’s now become more assertive as a leader.

"His results are a result of him doing that. I’ve been very, very impressed with his play."

The Friars will now see if they can continue their winning ways against No. 6 Boston College.

"I agree with what Shawn [Walsh] talked about when he was on the game of the week: just playing good defense and taking care of the puck and waiting for your opportunity," said Pooley.

"[BC is] a very aggressive team. They come at you a lot. That’s kind of their whole mode. They’ll take some chances, but they play good defensively. But their whole mode is to take the puck and go. That’s one of the things that we have to be concerned about and try to take that away.

"Obviously, number 12 for them [Brian Gionta] is very, very good. And their ‘D’ are good and Farkas is playing well and Bellefeuille is having a good year. They have nice balance in their lines.

"But I think that Gionta and the defensemen are the guys [that you have to contain.]"

Last week, UMass-Amherst experienced two more lopsided defeats, 8-1 to Providence and 5-0 to Maine. In their last three contests, the Minutemen have been outscored a total of 21-3.

"I actually thought we played real well at Maine," said coach Joe Mallen. "I believe we made a positive step back in the right direction despite the 5-0 score. But on special teams, they scored three power-play goals and two that I believe were four-on-four. Five-on-five, it was an even game."

Special teams have been a problem. The Minutemen have the weakest power play in the league (10.9 percent compared to next-worst BU at 16.4). Their penalty killing (78.4 percent) ranks seventh, a figure made worse by their league-leading 19:21 minutes of penalties per game.

"We’ve had some situations where we’ve taking too many penalties and we’ve addressed that," said Mallen. "And we’re certainly working every day to improve our power play and our penalty kill."

Considering that the team has only one senior, the recent string of lopsided scores and the 1-8-0 record in the last nine games threatens to ferment discouragement.

"We haven’t allowed them to get discouraged," said Mallen. "They’re such a young group of kids. We haven’t beaten them into the ground. We’ve addressed the issues as they’ve come up and tried to improve on them. We’ve kept a let’s-get-better-every-day attitude. I think our kids will respond to that over time.

"We’ve lost the series this year to BU and UNH and we’ve tied the series with Maine. We have the opportunity to win the rest of the remaining series, so we’re trying to be positive and optimistic and see if we can pick up some Hockey East points."

Beginning on Friday, the Minutemen will have three opportunities in five days to get those points.

"It’s pretty simple," said Mallen. "The kids know the importance of these Hockey East games. Northeastern seems like it’s playing a lot better in the last four or five games. BU is coming off a couple losses, so I’m sure they’ll be hungry. And certainly BC can beat anyone in the country. Those are three very good games and we’re just looking forward to them."

Several banged-up players are day-to-day for the weekend. Rookie defenseman Justin Shaw, however, will be out an extended period of time.

PICKS: BC splits with the Friars, winning 5-3 at home in front of the FOX cameras, but losing 4-3 on the road. Back at Kelley Rink, the Eagles dominate UMass-Amherst, 5-1.

Boston University (8-12-2, 5-7-2 HEA, 5th) at

UMass-Amherst (5-14-1, 2-9-1 HEA, 9th)

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

Boston University lost its lone contest of the week, 3-1, to Northeastern on the Hockey East Game of the Week telecast. After the game, coach Jack Parker was none too happy.

"Well, my observation is that with the exception of Michel Larocque, that was a shameful exhibition," he said. "[Tommi] Degerman, for his first game back [from a back injury,] gave us a pretty good effort.

"It was a terrific job by Northeastern. They worked real hard through center ice; they beat us to every loose puck. They beat us on power plays; they beat us man-down.

"They had a hell of a game, and we stood around and watched them. That was about ten steps backwards watching that game."

Parker took a time out in the second period. When asked after the game whether he had been trying to get his players charged up, he didn’t equivocate.

"[I was] trying to get them to act like men out there instead of walking around afraid to compete," he said. "It didn’t work. They continued the same lack of effort; they continued the same lack of courage; they continued the same lack of competitiveness.

"That was one of the worst exhibitions I’ve seen any BU team put on in their own building. And it’s not the first time this year."

After a few days, Parker’s continued to praise Larocque, but tempered his criticism of the rest of the team, taking blame on his own shoulders.

"Watching the game, it just looked like we were a real nervous team," he said. "I think that’s my fault. I’m trying to get them to play a little harder and with a little more intensity, but it made them play nervous and a little jumpy.

"They’re also looking nervous because they’re trying not to lose instead of trying to win. That’s a hard way to play."

As a result, Parker is taking a different tack with his team in preparation for this week’s one game against UMass-Amherst.

"I don’t think it matters who we’re playing," he said. "What matters is how we’re approaching the game. We’re going to try to be a little looser and be less uptight about mistakes. We’ll take that thought process this week in practice and continue it into games. We’ll play with more enthusiasm and flow instead of uptight-ness and non-excitement."

UMass-Amherst is previewed above in its game against Boston College.

PICKS: BU gets back on track, 4-2.

Northeastern (8-12-1, 4-9-1 HEA, 7th) vs.

UMass-Amherst (5-14-1, 2-9-1 HEA, 9th) and Brown (3-8-4, 2-6-4 ECAC)

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

Sunday, 3 p.m., Meehan Auditorium, Providence, RI

Northeastern took two of four league points last weekend, losing to BC, 5-1, before impressing the FOX TV audience with a 3-1 win over BU.

"That’s a good hockey team," said coach Bruce Crowder after the BC game. "We’re a team that’s trying to become a good hockey team. We’ll just continue to work at what we have to do and hopefully get to a point where we we’re not really beating ourselves or giving our opponents the amount of opportunities that we gave BC tonight.

"That’s not a team you want to fall behind and have to play catch-up against. You might be able to do it once in a while, but you’re not going to be able to do it every night.

"We’re going to learn from playing teams like BC and hopefully get better."

Goaltender Jason Braun played well in both weekend games, but at no point more so than in the first period against BC when the Huskies fell behind by two.

"If it wasn’t for Braun," said Crowder, "2-0 could have been maybe 22-0."

Two nights later, the Huskies invaded Boston University and came out with a satisfying win.

"It was a real good game for us from beginning to end," said Crowder. "We stuck with the system, the kids played and they competed. We didn’t get flustered when it came time to get flustered. It was a tremendous win for us."

Brian Cummings scored goals against both BC and BU, a potential harbinger for his return to the offensive form that netted him nine goals and 22 points as a freshman last year.

"He’s starting to chip in," said Crowder. "We’ve got a bunch of guys who are sophomores who are in that same funk. They had pretty good freshman years and their sophomore years haven’t really been as expected. He’s starting to come out of that a little bit."

Against the Terriers, freshman defenseman Jim Fahey contributed two assists.

"He’s a kid that we’re very happy to have at Northeastern," said Crowder after the win. "He’s maturing each game out. This is probably his first game in a while when he’s done some offensive things for us but at the same time, he’s a defenseman in my eyes, and I want that taken care of first. He had a tremendous game for us."

The Huskies, who have leapfrogged UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell the last few weeks while exiting the cellar, will now see if they can continue their climb as they host UMass-Amherst.

"UMass-Amherst is a team that we have to take very seriously," said Crowder. "They’ve shown that they can play and compete with anybody. For example, take their weekend with Maine [on Nov. 13-14]. For us, we’re just looking at one team at a time and one game at a time. If we want to move up in Hockey East, this is a game that we’ve got to have."

UMass-Amherst is previewed above in its game against Boston College.

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

PICKS: The Huskies take two, 4-1 over UMass-Amherst and 4-2 over Brown.

Thanks to Scott Weighart for his contributions to this preview.