Maine's Balancing Act
not as if Bananas the mascot is standing outside Alfond
Arena blindfolded and holding a scale, Lady Justice-style,
but that would be an appropriate symbol for the 2004-05
Maine Black Bears.
has been the key to success in Orono, and it's the primary
reason that the Black Bears carry a nine-game unbeaten streak
in conference play into this weekend's series against Northeastern.
The Huskies, coincidentally, are the last league team Maine
lost to, way back on Nov. 12.
key aspect will be our depth," head coach Tim Whitehead
said earlier this week. "Every guy who pulls on the
sweater needs to contribute. We aren’t going to have
a player go out and carry us. We need everyone playing well.
We have a very slim margin of error with this team."
points to four game-breaking players on last year's team
who aren't back this season: Prestin Ryan, Todd Jackson,
Colin Shields and Frank Doyle. The one remaining true game-breaker
on the roster, goaltender Jimmy Howard, was slowed in the
first half of the year by a summer bout with mono and a
series of injuries.
who wasn't cleared to train at full strength until after
Christmas, is rounding back to his typical form. He's benefitting
from an offense that features nine players, including eight
forwards, within 10 points of the team's scoring lead.
Soares, Keith Johnson, Brent Shepheard, Steve Mullin, John
Ronan," Whitehead said, reading off names from his
line chart. "Those five have really become improved
players for us this year. Those are the kinds of guys who
have emerged. Michel Léveillé, Derek Damon,
Greg Moore – they already were key players for us,
and they’ve continued to be."
started the season flying offensively, but as he slowed,
the rest of the team took over. He had only one point in
an eight-game span in November and December, but the team
only lost two of those games (neither in the league). He's
picked the pace back up lately, with five points in five
games, and things seem to be clicking for the whole team.
despite not having any players among Hockey East's top 13
scorers (Damon is tied for 14th with 22 points), Maine is
third in the league with 3.23 goals per game. That output
seems to impress even Whitehead.
first step, we needed to generate more scoring chances,"
he said. "The next step was to actually score. I still
don’t think we’re going to be a prolific scoring
team, but we need to get enough goals. And we need to get
the odd power-play goal once in a while, which we’ve
way or another, Maine has managed to find enough offense.
Now, with Howard back to full strength, the Black Bears
are rolling –
bad news for anyone who hoped their 6-6-0 start showed that
the balance of power in Hockey East was tilting away from
AND HEARD IN HOCKEY EAST
Hopefuls – As we noted with our debut of
Go-To Guys this
week, one scout told INCH recently that no fewer than 25
guys had a shot at the Hobey Baker Award this season. So
how many of those hail from Hockey East?
coaches, fellow media folks and scouts we've talked to see
three levels of candidates at this point:
Front-Runners: Boston College's Patrick Eaves, New Hampshire's
Sean Collins and UMass Lowell's Ben Walter all have good
shots at becoming finalists for the award. Each has impressive
numbers, and they are leading their teams to success as
Second Fiddlers: If it weren't for the names above, you'd
be hearing more about BC's Ryan Shannon, UNH's Preston Callander,
and even BC's Andrew Alberts.
Still in the Hunt: These players have done enough to earn
mention, but need a big February to truly get in contention:
Boston University's Peter MacArthur, Maine's Jimmy Howard
and Merrimack's Bryan Schmidt.
Big Test – UMass Lowell’s 13-game unbeaten
streak is the best in the nation, and has garnered plenty
of attention for the River Hawks. But this weekend’s
home-and-home with New Hampshire will have everyone's attention,
especially from the skeptics who still want to see if Lowell
is for real.
can you doubt a run of 10-0-3? To be fair, only two of UMass
Lowell’s wins in that streak have come against teams
that are over .500, and neither of those teams are in the
nation’s top 15 (Dartmouth, St. Lawrence).
expect New Hampshire to be among the doubters, however.
The River Hawks' run began with a 3-3 tie against New Hampshire
Nov. 23. In that game, Granite State native Peter Vetri
– in just his fourth career decision – made
27 saves Lowell. Wildcat head coach Dick Umile had nothing
but praise for Lowell.
very dangerous on the power play," Umile told the Foster's
Daily Democrat. "They move the puck. They’re
a good transition team. They come after you and they’re
aggressive. It’s a combination of their goaltending
playing well for them and they’re playing with an
awful lot of confidence right now."
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
New Hampshire vs. UMass Lowell (in Lowell Friday,
in Durham Sat.)
you like offensive hockey, you can't miss these games.
New Hampshire enters as the No. 3 scoring team in
the country, and UMass Lowell isn't far behind at
No. 7. Both are especially dangerous on the power
play: the River Hawks have the best PP in the country
(25.8 percent) and UNH is No. 3 (24.2).
The American Hockey Coaches Association
worked with former college players who spent last
year in the NHL to obtain 29 autographed NHL jerseys
that will be auctioned off on eBay, beginning Friday
at 2 p.m. The proceeds from the auction will go to
"Hockey Coaches Care," a relief fund for
the amateur hockey community initiated by the AHCA.
Did it feel like something was missing on
Wednesday? No, it wasn't the lack of a buy-six-pizzas-for-$5
each special. It was the only night this week that
we didn't have Hockey East action.
While Providence got a much-needed win
Tuesday night against Connecticut, 4-3, the wait continues
for the Friars' first Hockey East victory since Oct. 29.
It isn't an easy road ahead for Providence, beginning Saturday
at Boston University. With the exception of a home-and-home
series with Merrimack, all but two of their remaining games
are against teams in the INCH Power Rankings,
Eight Providence players were suspended
for the UConn game for an unspecified violation of team
rules, leaving the Friars with just 10 skaters and five
defensemen in the lineup. All eight will be eligible to
return to the lineup Saturday night.
New Hampshire's first line gets plenty
of recognition, and rightly so, with the top three scorers
in the league. The second line is pretty good, too. But
the third line, featuring sophomore Josh Ciocco and freshmen
Matt Fornataro and Mike Radja, has been a reliable source
of offense lately. They combined for five points against
Merrimack on Friday, the third straight game the trio had
at least a goal.
Boston College's Cory Schneider is 5-0-3
through his first eight Hockey East games (7-0-3 overall).
It's early yet, but worth noting that the only goalie ever
to play a season in Hockey East without a league loss (playing
in at least 10 games) was Garth Snow, who went 11-0-1 for
Maine in 1992-93.
Andrew Alberts' performance against UNH Monday night showed
just how valuable he is to the Boston College
team. He was, as one observer put it, the most dangerous
player on the ice, at both ends. He scored his first goal
of the year in the second period and created several other
chances, all while playing his usual terrific defensive
Massachusetts' last chance for a win in
January comes Friday night at Boston College. The Minutemen
had hoped a four-game homestand could provide a jump-start,
but they went 0-3-1 in that stretch. Now they hit the road
for four straight.
Merrimack has lost seven straight, and
the return of Brent Gough hasn't helped the team's offensive
pace the way many expected it to. Gough did score goals
in back-to-back games last weekend, however, his first goals
since his first two games back from injury. The Warriors
are off until next Saturday against UMass.
At some point in the next week we hope someone in Dayton,
Ohio, compliments Mike Ayers on his hat. Ayers, the former
New Hampshire goalie now playing in the
ECHL with the Dayton Bombers, proudly sports a throwback
Patriots hat featuring Pat Patriot.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this