Ah, the rites of spring, or at least late winter. They warm the cockles of the heart.
If by that you thought of the Beanpot just past, or of this week’s Maine-BC or UNH-BU matchups — as opposed to Valentine’s Day, you dummy — you’ve earned a few evenings of sleeping on the couch, but also a nomination to the Get-A-Lifer Hall of Fame.
Having said that, however, this is certainly a great time to be a fan. The Maine-UNH telecast on Sunday lived up to all its hype and then some. As did BU’s exciting win over Northeastern for the Terriers’ fifth straight Beanpot.
It looks like this season will go right down to the wire. Not only are Maine and UNH still separated by just one point, but Boston College, despite its inconsistency, is still lurking in the weeds four points back. And only four points separate fifth place from the cellar.
On to the awards…
KOHO Player of the Week: David Cullen (D, Maine) assisted on three goals in Maine’s wins over Northeastern and New Hampshire. He leads Hockey East defensemen in scoring with 31 points.
KOHO Rookie of the Week: Mike Pandolfo (F, Boston University) notched his second hat trick of the season in BU’s 6-3 win over Merrimack. He now has 11 goals.
Heaton Defensive Player of the Week: Markus Helanen (G, UMass-Amherst) stopped 27 of 28 shots to lead the Minutemen over Merrimack.
Hockey East Standings
Record in picks last week: 6-3
Season’s record in picks: 105-56, .652
Game of the Week No. 2 Maine (21-2-4, 13-2-2 HEA, 1st) hosts No. 6 Boston College (18-9-2, 12-5-0 HEA, 3rd)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, ME
Maine took over first place in Hockey East and inched closer to the nation’s number-one ranking by first topping Northeastern, 5-1, and then winning its marquee matchup against New Hampshire, 4-3.
Even more encouraging for the Alfond Arena crowd was how well the Black Bears played against UNH, outshooting the Wildcats, 29-19, and holding a significant territorial advantage.
"The home crowd was a key," says coach Shawn Walsh. "And
David Cullen really sent a message about being an All-American."
Cullen’s defensive partner and comrade on the power play, Peter Metcalf, returned from an injury and also contributed in a big way.
"His return really helped us," says Walsh. "He’s just so good offensively, breaking out the puck and on the power play. He eliminates forecheckers and he makes the right choices on the power play….His poise is exceptional."
Steve Kariya continues to insert himself into the Hobey Baker Award picture. Hockey East’s awarding of its Player of the Month award to Jason Krog in January raised a few down east eyebrows since Kariya held a slight statistical advantage (7-14–21 to 6-14–20) and accomplished that against a tougher schedule. Maine faced four top 10 teams and played eight of its ten games on the road; UNH played two nationally-ranked teams and had an even home-away split of its ten games.
Only four assists now separate the two stars, which makes for a statistical dead heat, especially considering that Krog is a center and Kariya a right wing.
"Stevie has clearly become a Hobey Baker candidate and maybe a frontrunner," says Walsh. "It’s nice to see that he’s finally getting mentioned because he’s having a Hobey Baker season. It’s time that people notice.
"He impacts the game more than anybody that we’ve seen. He does it in both ends. He’s having a [former BC Eagle Marty] Reasoner-like stretch run. He’s playing like a Hobey Baker winner."
This week, the Black Bears will be hoping to contain Brian Gionta and Jeff Farkas as well as they did Krog last week, save for a one-timer in the second period. Other than Gionta, who burned them for two goals and three assists on Jan. 9, the Black Bears have stymied virtually every top player they have faced.
Brian Swanson, Rejean Stringer, Jeff Farkas, Paul Comrie, Jerry Keefe, Darren Clark and Mike Omicioli are all in the nation’s top 20 in scoring, but have yet to score a single even-strength goal against the Black Bears. Only Gionta (two goals), Krog (one goal) and Mike Souza (one goal) have broken the ice in a total of 19 player-games.
"We don’t necessarily match lines," explains Walsh. "We have enough natural checkers. Everyone has bought into the checking mode, led by Kariya. He’s diving to block shots."
Although BC has had a disappointing season to date, Walsh still considers the Eagles an exceptionally dangerous opponent.
"They’re a great team," he says. "I think they’re the most talented team in the nation. When they put it on all cylinders, we saw how good they could be on Jan. 9 [when BC won, 7-4.] Hopefully, we’ll learn from that game."
Maine could be without first-liner Barrett Heisten, who has a hip pointer.
Boston College rebounded from its frustrating Beanpot loss to BU with a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime win over UMass-Amherst and a 6-4 victory over Harvard in the tournament’s consolation game.
"We were in a funk as a team because of the loss and then we faced UMass, which we had just beaten twice in a short period of time," says coach Jerry York. "So it was a very difficult game for us to prepare for. All of a sudden, we were down in the second period.
"There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the Beanpot at BC. We haven’t had a lot of success [in it] and it bothers us. I thought we played perhaps our best game of the year against BU, but could only score two goals against [Michel] Larocque. We were flat-out disappointed.
"We’ve had a difficult time scoring goals for the last month of our season….That’s something we’re going to have to correct."
Last year, however, the Eagles rallied after a similar first-round Beanpot loss in overtime and ran the table up to the national championship game.
"We’re involved in a pretty good pennant race with Maine and New Hampshire, so we’ve got a lot of motivation to finish strong," says York. "We’ve played well all year. We’ve been inconsistent in the offensive categories, but I feel good about our club. I think we’re going to have a good February."
A must-win game beckons this weekend. A win will vault the Eagles back into the thick of the hunt for the regular season title. A loss, however, will pretty much doom BC to third place.
"Not many people may feel the way that we do, but we feel [first place] is an attainable goal for us," says York. "New Hampshire and Maine have had great runs, but we’re just four points back and we play each of those teams, and they play each other twice more.
"We think we’re right in the hunt. But we need to win on Saturday, there’s no question there. It’s a good championship race. We’re very, very focused on it.
"It’s going to take a big-time effort because Maine is a good club and it’s a difficult place to play. But we’re going in with a pretty good mind-set."
The key to the game, according to York, is clear.
"You don’t get many shots on them, as was evidenced by New Hampshire [on Sunday]," he says. "And we’ve had trouble scoring goals, so we’re going to have to put some pucks on Michaud and score some goals. You’re not going to score two or three goals and win that one."
PICK: Based on the UNH game, Alfond Arena has become the most hostile place in the league for visiting teams. The 5,587 Maine-iacs help keep the Black Bears in first place, 4-3.
No. 4 New Hampshire (21-5-1, 13-3-1 HEA, 2nd) vs.
Boston University (11-14-2, 6-9-2 HEA, T-5th) and
Merrimack (9-17-1, 5-11-1 HEA, 7th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Walter Brown Arena, Boston, MA FSNE
Saturday, 7 p.m., Whittemore Center, Durham, NH
In New Hampshire’s only game of the week, the Wildcats lost to Maine, 4-3, and as a result dropped into second place in Hockey East.
"I was a little disappointed with the way we started out in the first period, but the guys battled back and gave themselves the opportunity to win," says coach Dick Umile. "Obviously, we didn’t get it done and you have to give credit to Maine.
"But it’s not the end of the world."
UNH partisans are no doubt already looking ahead to Mar. 5 and 6 when the two teams meet again, this time in the Wildcats’ barn.
"There’s a lot that has to be done before that," says Umile. "To get to that point, you have to win a lot of other ones first, otherwise those two become irrelevant."
And, for starters, UNH takes on BU, a matchup that over the last few years has been among the league’s best, but doesn’t have quite the same luster since the Terriers are having a down season. But Umile doesn’t buy that.
"They’re not down right now," says Umile. "[BU coach Jack Parker] has done a terrific job. He doesn’t get the credit that he deserves with a team that lost a lot [of talent.] As difficult as it has been for him, he’s got them winning right now.
"[They just won] the Beanpot and then we have to play them on Friday night at BU. [Like Alfond Arena last week,] it’s another one of the premier places to play."
Boston University defeated Merrimack, 6-3, and then won an unprecedented fifth straight Beanpot with a 4-2 win over Northeastern.
"I’ve been involved in a lot of Beanpot championships," says coach Jack Parker, who won three as a player and now totals 14 as a coach. "But I can’t remember being more proud and grateful after the way our season had been going.
"I’m real happy for my seniors. I told them in the dressing room that this was the question of the night: What do Jeff Kealty, Chris Drury, Chris Kelleher, Tommy Noble, Peter Donatelli and Mike Sylvia [last year’s seniors] have on our three seniors?
"And the answer is nothing. All of them won four Beanpots."
Carl Corazzini scored the game-winner, a positive omen for a player that had been mired in a sophomore slump but has now scored in three straight games and five of the last seven.
"A lot of what’s happened to Carl is what’s happened to the club," says Parker. "Carl has been struggling to score goals. He had a great freshman year for us, but [this year] the puck wasn’t going in the net for him. I think he and a lot of other guys were trying to score goals instead of just going out and playing hockey.
"They weren’t using their legs enough. They were thinking, where can I go where I can pick off a pass? We talked and talked and talked about trying to get him and a lot of other guys to move their feet a little more.
"Carl is one of the fastest skaters in college hockey, definitely the quickest guy on our club, and of late he’s been using his legs. Carl’s season has kind of reflected ours. He’s going good right now and so is the team."
The question now is, will BU leverage the tournament win into a strong stretch drive into the playoffs or will it revert to the play that had resulted in an 0-6-1 record heading into February?
"Sometimes teams come off a Beanpot championship and get full of themselves and get hammered the next weekend," says Parker. "We did that last year. But I think that this team has struggled so much that I hope it will be a catalyst for us.
"There have been many other teams that have won the Beanpot and it’s been quite a catalyst for the rest of the year. We’ll find out against UNH on Friday."
Merrimack lost its seventh and eighth straight games this week, falling 6-3 to BU and 3-1 to UMass-Amherst.
"We’re in a funk right now and we’re not playing very well from the goal on out," says coach Chris Serino. "We’ve all got to play better.
"Early in the year, we probably played a little over our heads, but we were getting exceptional goaltending. Right now, we’re playing a little better in some areas, but not in other areas. We’ve got to get more consistent. When we do that, we’ll get out of this. There’s no easy way to break a losing streak."
The silver lining in the cloud has been the play of the top line, which consists of Rejean Stringer, Kris Porter and Greg Classen.
"Stringer, Porter and Classen were fabulous on Friday night [against BU,] especially Stringer," says Serino. "I feel bad for that kid. He’s one of the elite players in this league.
"Everyone talks about Krog and Gionta and Kariya, but they all have defensemen who can rush the puck and move the puck and take some of the heat off them. [Stringer] has to do it all. He’s still right there, fifth in the country in scoring."
Another positive is that backup netminder Cris Classen saw third-period action in both games and may have earned a start with his play.
"He did okay and maybe he’s coming around so he can give Tommy [Welby] some rest," says Serino.
The biggest negative beyond the two losses, however, is a huge one. The Warriors have now lost three defensemen — Stephen Moon, Tim Foster and Brad Mills — for at least this weekend and, most likely, some time beyond that. They now have only five available blueliners and John Kovalsky, a forward who hadn’t dressed prior to the UMass game but now must be part of the third pair of defensemen.
"That’s devastating to us in an area where we were not that strong to begin with," says Serino. "But that’s basically what we have."
Serino is now faced with the decision of whether to change the team’s direction for short-term gain or stay the course.
"It’s a fine line because I don’t want to change everything because I’ve got some young kids that are just learning and they’re going to be good at it," he says. "If I change just to compensate for what we have right now, it’s going to hurt us in the long run. That’s the fine line we have."
PICKS: UNH rebounds with a 4-3 win at BU and a then a 6-4 decision over Merrimack.
Providence College (14-13-0, 9-9-0 HEA, 4th) hosts Army (14-13-1) and
Boston University (11-14-2, 6-9-2 HEA, T-5th)
Friday, Saturday, 7 p.m., Schneider Arena, Providence, RI
Providence split its home-and-home series with Lowell, ironically winning on the road on Friday, 5-2, before losing back at home one night later, 4-2.
"We played well on Friday, but on Saturday they just deserved to win and we didn’t," says coach Paul Pooley. "Our team Friday night was different than ours on Saturday and their team on Saturday was certainly different."
It was a big specialty-team weekend for both clubs. On Friday, the Friars scored a shorthanded goal and two on the power play. In the rematch, however, they went 0-for-9 on the man advantage while Lowell scored one while a man up and another while a man down.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the weekend is that it continued a trend that has seen Providence post a 1-5 record on Saturdays following Friday night wins. The last four of those losses have come at home.
"It’s our mental preparation, not physical," says Pooley. "That’s something we have to work on.
"We play differently at home at times. We get a little too fancy, where on the road we keep it a little more simple. I think we have more success when we keep it simple.
"The frustrating thing from a coach’s point of view is that we talk about trying to keep the game simple, and then we have 21 turnovers on Saturday night at home. You’re not going to turn the puck over to an aggressive team and win. That’s something that we have to continue to work on, realize that if the opportunity isn’t there, dump it in."
The Friars will likely have the opportunity to put that plan in action again this week, since they’ll be strong favorites over Army on Friday before hosting BU on Saturday.
"[BU] has a big game against UNH on Friday night," says Pooley. "That’s a real big game for them just because of the emotion that goes along with that. Then we play them here on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see who comes out strong.
"Obviously, it’s a real big game for us. They’re right behind us in the standings, so it’s a four-point game."
Boston University is profiled above against New Hampshire.
(For a detailed look at Army, see Jayson Moy’s Season Preview.)
PICKS: Providence wins on both Friday and Saturday this time, dominating Army, 5-2, and then edging BU, 3-2.
UMass-Lowell (15-13-0, 7-11-0 HEA, T-5th) hosts
UMass-Amherst (7-17-2, 4-12-2 HEA, T-8th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Paul E. Tsongas Arena, Lowell, MA
UMass-Lowell split with Providence as both teams won on the road. While a sweep would have propelled the River Hawks into a tie for the final home-ice spot, a split with the solid Friars is nothing to sneeze at.
"We played poorly the first night at home, but we had an inspired effort the second night," says coach Tim Whitehead. "We played a lot more physically and a lot more impressively.
"They’re a good hockey team so the win down at their rink was very important for us. It was another good step, to beat a good team on the road."
In their only action of the week, the River Hawks take on their sister school from Amherst. Lowell took the first of the three clashes, 4-3 in overtime, to kick off the season.
"It’s a rivalry that’s been building for the last several years between the state schools," says Whitehead. "We have the Alumni Cup that goes to the winner of the series each year, so we’re real excited about the game.
"UMass is playing real good hockey right now so we expect it to be a real tough game."
UMass-Amherst almost knocked off Boston College, taking a 3-0 first-period lead on Friday night only to fall in overtime. One night later, however, the Minutemen took an important two points from Merrimack, 3-1.
"I feel good that in the three-game series against BC, the number seven or eight team in the country, we went from 7-1 to 3-1 to 5-4 in overtime," says coach Joe Mallen. "We did our job in terms of being prepared, making some corrections and improvements, and we certainly had it going our way. We had the crowd out of the game scoring some goals early and played real well.
"The bottom line is that they’ve got more top weapons in their arsenal than we do, guys like [Brian] Gionta, [Jeff] Farkas and [Blake] Bellefeuille. Those guys really rose to the occasion late in the game. We’re still playing four freshmen defensemen and those [BC players] did a great job down low.
"Obviously, it was a very disappointing loss. But for us, the important thing was to win the Merrimack game. I told the team on Saturday morning that the team that was mentally prepared would win the game.
"I’m sure that Merrimack was very well-prepared, but they’d lost a few games and we had really had a tough one the night before, so it was a collision course for the two teams. Fortunately for us, we came out with a win that we needed."
The Minutemen are now only four points out of fifth place, by far the latest in the season they have been in that position, and this week face two of the teams that are in that fifth-to-ninth place cluster.
"We’re in pretty good shape in that we’re all done with the top three teams in the league," says Mallen. "Thank God for that, I guess. But UMass-Lowell is playing really good hockey right now. For them to beat Providence in Providence and beat Merrimack at Merrimack, they’ve got to be starting to pull away a little bit.
"A lot of what Northeastern brings into the game [on Saturday] will depend on how they handle the emotion of their Beanpot game."
PICK: Lowell continues its strong play since New Year’s, winning 4-2.
Northeastern (9-15-3, 4-11-2 HEA, T-8th) vs.
Merrimack (9-17-1, 5-11-1 HEA, 7th) and
UMass-Amherst (7-17-2, 4-12-2 HEA, T-8th)
Friday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA
Saturday, 7 p.m., Mullins Center, Amherst, MA
Northeastern lost to Maine, 5-1, before putting on a heroic performance against BU in the Beanpot championship game. The Huskies outshot the Terriers, 38-23 overall and 14-2 in the third period, but could not beat goaltender Michel Larocque.
"It was pretty obvious that the difference tonight in the game was [Larocque]," said coach Bruce Crowder after the Beanpot loss. "He was tremendous. He stopped us every opportunity that he could.
"I thought our team played a great game, as good as we could play, limiting [BU] to two shots in the third period, but, for whatever reason, it wasn’t in the cards.
"I’m very proud of my players. We’re a very young team and they handled adversity pretty good. They played hard for 60 minutes. We’re going to be a pretty good hockey team.
"There are little things that are the difference between being a pretty good hockey team and a championship hockey team, things like defensively where we missed a couple assignments.
"But I like the mobility of our defensemen. And I like what our forwards are doing, except that maybe I’d like them to score a few more goals. But I like the mixture of the Huskies right now and I think the future looks pretty good.
"I think we’re going to be fine. Now we’ve got to refocus. We’ve got ourselves in the middle of a heckuva playoff race right now. We’ve got two huge games coming up on Friday and Saturday."
As for the clanged posts and crossbars that might have spelled a different outcome for the Huskies, Crowder said, "Shoulda-Woulda-Coulda. It’s over now. There’s nothing we can do about it."
He even offered some gallows humor for journalists mindful of BU’s Beanpot dominance this decade.
"On behalf of writers who asked me to win today so the [headlines] would be different, I’m sorry," he said.
The Beanpot may have also served as a coming-out party of sorts for freshman Ryan Zoller, who assisted on the game-winner that put the Huskies into the championship game and then had both of Northeastern’s two goals in the title tilt.
"He’s really starting to come on," says Crowder. "He’s a kid that we think can be the difference in a lot of games. He was the MVP of his league last year. He got off to a slow start — he didn’t really know what college hockey was all about — but he’s gotten himself into shape and he’s going to be fine."
Merrimack is profiled above against New Hampshire.
UMass-Amherst is profiled above against UMass-Lowell.
PICKS: Northeastern sweeps the weekend, 4-2 over Merrimack and 3-2 over UMass-Amherst.